Saturday, September 29, 2007

An uneasy truce

I stumbled in from retirement yesterday to attend the groundbreaking ceremony for Stonehill College's new $34 million science center, far and away the biggest commitment of resources in the history of the college. I am proud of the college for its support of science. Ours is a Roman Catholic institution, founded by the Congregation of Holy Cross, who also run the University of Notre Dame and Portland University. We hear a lot these days about the conflict between science and religion, but here at least faith does not impinge on the doing and teaching of science. The science that will be taught in Stonehill's new science center is exactly the same as that taught in any of the great secular institutions of higher learning. In my 40+ years of science teaching at Stonehill, a student would have been hard-pressed to say what was my religion, if any, and I dare say the same is true for my colleagues. And that, of course, is the strength of science as a way of knowing -- what I yesterday called the disentanglement of knowedge and desire.

What about the other way round? Should science impinge on faith? Should courses in religious studies seek to incorporate the latest scientific understanding of the world? One would hope so. Countless events that were once explained through the action of divine agencies are now understood as natural phenomena, such as comets and hereditary disaese. Of course, people of faith can and will find ample opportunity to see God's miraculous action in the world. Science cannot disprove, for example, that Jesus was born of a virgin or rose from the dead. And so, at this institution, and others like it, a sort of uneasy truce exists between faith and science, one domain grounding itself in miracles, the other excluding the miraculous. Not the most felicitous situation, in my opinion, but to each her own.

The college has certainly tolerated my agnosticism (as manifested in my books and other writings), and I have greatly profited -- spiritually and intellectually -- by my friendships with people of faith, especially a number of remarkable members of the Congregation of Holy Cross, men of wise counsel, charitable action, and keen intelligence.