Sunday, October 08, 2017

Revelation and the Word of God

Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation issued by the Second Vatican Council in 1965, explains the importance of divine revelation and its relationship with sacred Scripture (the Bible) and Tradition.  The document was written "so that by hearing the message of salvation the whole world may believe, by believing it may hope, and by hoping it may love" (Preface).

Jesus Christ "perfected revelation by fulfilling it" through his life, death, and resurrection.  He commissioned the Apostles to preach what he taught them.  Consequently, "by their oral preaching, by example, and by observances" they "handed on what they had received from the lips of Christ, from living with Him, and from what He did, or what they had learned through the prompting of the Holy Spirit."  The Apostles and others "under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit" fulfilled this commission by writing down "the message of salvation." Their writings became the New Testament.  The four Gospels "faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation until the day He was taken up into heaven."  In the other books of the New Testament, "those matters which concern Christ the Lord are confirmed, His true teaching is more and more fully stated, the saving power of the divine work of Christ is preached, the story is told of the beginnings of the Church and its marvelous growth, and its glorious fulfillment is foretold."

Thus, reading the Bible is an important part of the Christian life:
in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life. (Chapter 6)

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Honest Science and Christian Faith

In his talk at the conference celebrating 30 years of Touchstone, Professor Thomas S. Buchanan addressed the relationship between science and Christianity.  (The text of his talk can be found online at, but a subscription is required.)

Buchanan pointed out that the media often use the word "scientist" to refer to any researcher, including those in art history, for instance.  This makes it hard to understand the nature of science and what distinguishes it from engineering and other fields.  Buchanan then described actual science:
 The first step is to make observations: What do I see in nature? The observations can come from my own experiences or from thoughts or readings. The next step is to think of interesting questions, such as, Why does a particular pattern occur? Next, I formulate hypotheses that might explain the general causes of the phenomenon I am pondering. Then I develop testable ways to predict whether the hypotheses are true or not. If a hypothesis is true, I can develop a study that will expect a certain type of outcome. Next, I gather data to test my predictions. This allows me to verify or falsify my hypotheses. If they are shown to be wrong, I can refine, alter, expand, or reject my hypotheses and then go back and develop new testable predictions. If the hypotheses are proven to be true, I can then move forward to develop general theories that are consistent with what I have learned. From there, I begin again, closing the loop and applying the new knowledge to other observations in the future.
After describing examples of activities that are not true science, he proposed that Christians should reclaim honest science:
Good scientists think like good theologians do: they believe in universal truth—that what holds true in the lab is true in the world. This is good thinking. Hence, they ought to make good allies for Christians.  We need to train Christian scientists, starting when they are young, teaching them what is real science and what is nonsense. We should also teach students not to venerate scientists, but to respect science and seek after truth, in natural laws as well as theological ones.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Newman's sermon on faith and reason

"The Philosophical Temper, First Enjoined by the Gospel" is a sermon that John Henry Newman preached at Oxford University.  He was, at the time, an Anglican priest.  In this sermon, Newman addressed the concept that Christianity is hostile to science.  Christians who confuse the realms of faith and science may have unwittingly fueled this position by their reaction to scientific discoveries: “To feel jealous and appear timid, on witnessing the enlargement of scientific knowledge, is almost to acknowledge that there may be some contrariety between it and Revelation.”

But faith and reason both pursue truth and follow some of the same principles.  For example, “Science and Revelation agree in supposing that nature is governed by uniform and settled laws.”  Moreover, certain virtues are useful to scientists: “some of those habits of mind which are throughout the Bible represented as alone pleasing in the sight of God, are the very habits which are necessary for success in scientific investigation.”  In particular, Newman mentioned modesty, patience, and caution but acknowledged that scientists who possess these virtues only in part can still be successful and that scientists have forgotten the roots of their discipline due to their success.  Still, “Scripture was, in matter of fact, the first to describe and inculcate that single-minded, modest, cautious, and generous spirit, which was, after a long time, found so necessary for success in the prosecution of philosophical researches.”

Newman chastised scientists who go beyond what their evidence supports: “From seeing but detached parts of the system of nature, they have been carried on, without data, to arrange, supply, and complete. They have been impatient of knowing but in part, and of waiting for future discoveries; they have inferred much from slender premises, and conjectured when they could not prove.”

Elizabeth Li described how this sermon is related to his other works [1]:

Whereas, in the rest of the sermons, Newman defends the faith of the simple, he attempts to defend the faith of the learned in Sermon I. He discusses whether it is possible for educated, intellectual people, and especially scientists, to be Christians or whether the Christian faith impedes intellectual and scientific pursuits.

[1] Li, Elizabeth, "Reason and Faith in John Henry Newman’s Sermons and Poetry,"