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Home : Special Features : Faith and Science
8/18/2010 10:07:00 AM
Faith, science mingle fruitfully at Catholic schools
St. Mary's Academy photo
Students from St. Mary's Academy in Portland perform a science  experiment.
St. Mary's Academy photo
Students from St. Mary's Academy in Portland perform a science experiment.
Ed Langlois
Of the Catholic Sentinel

Faith and science complement each other at Catholic schools and colleges in the Northwest, something that cannot happen so readily at public institutions.  

Kelly Cromwell, the middle school science teacher at St. Luke School in Woodburn, stands at her desk, where a Bible sits. On the wall behind her is a poster of Albert Einstein.

Cromwell is a stickler for scientific method. She tells students not to lose heart if experiments fail multiple times. That's science. She also discusses divinity and creation, something many of the world's great scientists have come to as they reach the limits of their investigations.   

"Faith and science interact almost every day here," Cromwell says.

"Science and religion are both quests for truth. They ask different questions," says Jesuit Father Tom Lankenau, a former wildlife biologist who now teaches at Gonzaga Prep in Spokane.  

People of faith should pay heed to science and science needs to be open to what the church can offer, Father Lankenau argues. In genetic engineering, for example, the church can provide ethical and moral options that just make good sense.

Sadly, Father Lankenau says, many scientists look at Catholicism and see only the Inquisition and the Crusades. As a result, they discount religious insight.

But, the priest explains, no one has an exclusive lock on the truth.  

Take a Michelangelo painting, for example. "Science can tell you about weight, pastels, chemical make up," the priest says. "Religion can tell you the meaning."

One of Father Lankenau's heroes is the ant expert E.O. Wilson. Wilson began his work acknowledging a sense of awe.

"Science can't answer the awe question," Father Lankenau says.  

Steve Mayer, a chemistry professor at the University of Portland, meets regularly for lunch with Holy Cross Father Tom Hosinski, a UP theologian. The two talk faith and science.  

Mayer says that scientists who try to explain away the beginnings of the universe and other unknowns are living out a line from the Wizard of Oz — "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."

"The man behind the curtain is everything," Mayer says.

He cites physical constants like universal gravitation.  

"The constants have to be so precise, otherwise the whole thing falls apart," Mayer says. "The earth falls off its axis and flies into the sun, or flies away from the sun."

Or take the way molecules give rise to symmetry or vibrate when hit by certain radiation, making a whole host of things possible.  

What about DNA? How do the instructions for making different organs work? No one knows yet.

And then there is dark matter, somehow affecting light and gravitation and maybe speeding the rate of expansion in the universe.

"In the end there are all these mysteries," Mayer says. "I look at stuff like that and it's so elegant."

The next major issue in faith and science is the relation of brain, mind and person. No one understands why, when the brain has so many sections and sectors, humans have a unitive experience of personhood — or soul.

"One of the beauties of science is that it gives you such a deep sense of wonder about the world you live in," Father Hosinski says.

Related Stories:
• Faith and science both seek truth

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