Catholicism and science

The unity we perceive in creation on the basis of our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord of the universe, and the correlative unity for which we strive in our human communities, seems to be reflected and even reinforced in what contemporary science is revealing to us. As we behold the incredible development of scientific research, we detect an underlying movement towards the discovery of levels of law and process which unify created reality and which at the same time have given rise to the vast diversity of structures and organisms which constitute the physical and biological, and even the psychological and sociological, worlds.

Contemporary physics furnishes a striking example. The quest for the unification of all four fundamental physical forces – gravitation, electromagnetism, the strong and weak nuclear interactions – has met with increasing success. This unification may well combine discoveries from the sub-atomic and the cosmological domains and shed light both on the origin of the universe and, eventually, on the origin of the laws and constants which govern its evolution. Physicists possess a detailed though incomplete and provisional knowledge of elementary particles and of the fundamental forces through which they interact at low and intermediate energies. They now have an acceptable theory unifying the electro-magnetic and weak nuclear forces, along with much less adequate but still promising grand unified field theories which attempt to incorporate the strong nuclear interaction as well. Further in the fine of this same development, there are already several detailed suggestions for the final stage, superunification, that is, the unification of all four fundamental forces, including gravity. Is it not important for us to note that in a world of such detailed specialization as contemporary physics there exists this drive towards convergence?

In the life sciences, too, something similar has happened. Molecular biologists have probed the structure of living material, its functions and its processes of replication. They have discovered that the same underlying constituents serve in the make-up of all living organisms on earth and constitute both the genes and the proteins which these genes code. This is another impressive manifestation of the unity of nature.

By encouraging openness between the Church and the scientific communities, we are not envisioning a disciplinary unity between theology and science like that which exists within a given scientific field or within theology proper. As dialogue and common searching continue, there will be grow towards mutual understanding and a gradual uncovering of common concerns which will provide the basis for further research and discussion. Exactly what form that will take must be left to the future. What is important, as we have already stressed, is that the dialogue should continue and grow in depth and scope. In the process we must overcome every regressive tendency to a unilateral reductionism, to fear, and to self-imposed isolation. What is critically important is that each discipline should continue to enrich, nourish and challenge the other to be more fully what it can be and to contribute to our vision of who we are and who we are becoming. – from a 1988 letter to Rev. John Coyne, S.J., Director of the Vatican Observatory