Science and religion: ‘We need to get our arguments right’

This is story is part of The Catholic Messenger’s continuing coverage of the Vision 20/20 convocation. 

Anne Marie Amacher
Diego Martinez, left, and Louis Granato, both of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport, talk with Father James Kurzynski before his talk on secularism, atheism and scientism June 6.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

Father James Kurzynski, a science-loving priest from Wisconsin, spoke on “Evangelizing in an Age of Secularism, Atheism and Scientism” during a June 6 workshop on the first day of the three-day Vision 20/20 Convocation at St. Ambrose University.

Scientism “claims that science alone can render truth about the world and reality” (www.pbs.org). It is a mode of thinking confronting scientists, Fr. Kurzynski said. Does the church support science? Yes. Does is support scientism? No.

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A rise in atheism, he noted, is sadly eroding trust in God’s presence. Is it possible to evangelize right now in this scary world as Catholics? Yes, he said, but Christians need to get their arguments right. It’s not going into a fight, but winning the hearts of others. Give people the opportunity to give the church another shot.

The third “ism” he addressed, secularism, is unintentionally creeping into the lives of Catholics, he said.

Fr. Kurzynski admits he is not a scientist, “but I love science.” Living in rural Wisconsin as a child he would look endlessly into the dark, black sky at night and wonder and learn. When he entered seminary, no faith and science classes were offered. He felt that was a deficiency. So he contacted the Vatican Obser­vatory’s Father George Coyne, S.J., who was director at the time. “Do you have anything for non-scientists,” Fr. Kurzynski asked. No, he was told.

Ten years later Fr. Kurzynski wrote to Jesuit Brother Guy Comsolmagno, who now leads the Vatican Observatory, and asked him the same question. The research astronomer asked the priest why he waited 10 years to ask about developing something. The question led to a collaborative effort to organize a faith astronomy workshop in Arizona several years later. Today, Fr. Kurzynski is one of several bloggers for the Sacred Space Astronomy (formerly Catholic Astronomers).

Fr. Kurzynski then shared a story about an eighth-grade public school student who asked if she could interview him for an assignment. He agreed. Her question: “Why does Christianity reject evolution?”

“I could have declared war on the school,” he told participants in the packed workshop in the Rogalski Center ballroom. But he didn’t. He explained to his audience that the church accepts science and evolution, but opposes certain types of theories such as Darwinism (the theory of the evolution of species by natural selection). “Science in its proper context has zero conflict with faith. But there is conflict with application of science.”

He spoke on the trap of secularism, returning to his story about the eighth-grade interviewer. “We as Catholics need to step out of emotionalism. We are the people of Jesus Christ who commit to pursue truth. To be evangelizers is to be humble. Be the bearer of Christian love, a messenger of the church.”

Faith, reason and evangelization should persevere. “Don’t throw up your hands.”

So, how did he respond to the middle-school student? He said he shared his belief about evolution based on Scripture and Tradition. From Genesis 2:7 he pointed out the notion that “humans came from preexisting matter is not contrary to Scripture.” He also shared quotes on Tradition from Pope Pius XII, St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.

He encouraged people to watch videos on the Vatican Observatory’s YouTube channel. “There is a treasure trove of faith and science there.”


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