When I think of the relationship between the church and science, I automatically think of a roller coaster ride. There were bumpy and unpleasant parts to their relationship in the past but there were also times where the collaboration was amazing.
One big creaky and difficult part of the ride was when the scientific revolution was beginning. During this time, the church had great power and science was building up its importance, thus marking an important time in the relationship between religion and science. A passenger of the roller coaster at this time was Galileo Galilei an incredibly smart astronomer and mathematician whose work still influences scientific discussions today. During his time (late 16th century to early 17th century), Galileo professed many scientific theories and among them was heliocentrism, which states that the Earth and all other planets revolve around the sun. The Catholic Church did not agree with Galileo for they believed God had created the universe for humanity and thus must be at the center of it. I learned about Galileo’s personal life through the very well written historical memoir Galileo’s Daughter. There I saw a man who suffered because his life’s work conflicted with his religious beliefs. Galileo was seen as a heretic, his works were banned and he was put in house arrest for the rest of his life. The leaders of his religious institution denied him of any affiliation with the church. Yet he still believed in God and in his teachings. This was an incredibly difficult time because the relationship between religion and science strained scientist’s relationships with the church.
The Catholic Church also had a bumpy ride when the theory of evolution is announced in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Charles Darwin introduced the theory of evolution. Darwin studied various species and concluded that all plants and animals (including humans) were created through an evolutionary process. Many Catholic leaders disagreed with Darwin because his theory was presumed to go against Holy Scripture and implied materialistic behavior. At this time, science had become more prevalent in the world, which could explain why many Catholic clergy offered theistic views of Darwinism. The conservative members of the Church disagreed with the different interpretations of Darwinism. This was an especially difficult time because many people believed in Darwinism but Darwinism also created a social interpretation. In the U.S. Catholic immigrants were seen as “less fit” or “less evolved” and thus were not treated humanely. Some groups even tried to sterilize these unfit immigrants. It was a difficult time for the church because many of the lay people agreed with the science behind evolution but at the same time the science caused social harm to the church’s followers.
Currently, the Catholic Church is in the exciting part of the roller coaster. The church is agreeing with modern science to raise awareness about the environment’s health. Last year, Pope Francis the first delivered the Laudato Si Encyclical. This Encyclical preaches “the care of our common home”. Many environmental scientists have warned that the environment has been incredibly mistreated by humanity. Some of the pressing issues scientists are concerned about are that climate change is getting worse, deforestation is increasing the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, coastlines are sinking, to name a few. The Pope wrote this encyclical to address the issues scientists have raised about climate change through a theological perspective. Pope Francis explains “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”(Francis 217) It is truly beautiful that the Pope reminds us that God made our universe not as a pool of resources but rather as a community that must work in harmony. The Pope wants the environment to be stable and taken care of because it is our common home. Also, the population that is the most affected by environmental mistreatment is the poor. Pope Francis emphasizes that as Christians we must care for the most vulnerable and for God’s creation. Pope Francis is siding with science. Their relationship is stronger than ever on this issue because they both want humanity to work together and combat the injustice of environmental mistreatment.