Religious Faith and Scientific Faith

In his March 24, 2016, post, “Contra Pinker on religion,” to his blog, Just Thomism, James Chastek tells us that the faith he sees operative in the acceptance of scientific doctrine by the “great majority of persons” who accept scientific doctrine does not differ from the faith operative in the acceptance of religious doctrine by the “great majority of persons” who accept religious doctrine. As he puts it:

Priests and consecrated persons have access to a hidden realm in the same way scientists do. The great majority of persons have no more direct or distinct experience of God than they have a justified insight into scientific claims, and the way in which they could learn the science for themselves if they only had the time and talent is the same way in which they could become preternaturally holy and achieve the unitive way if they only had the time and talent.  Science is just as interior and of the subject as religion is; if I trust your testimony about dark matter or global warming (probably after it’s backed up by anecdotes, a gesture at some data, the social pressure to believe, and my sense that you just sound like a smart guy) then I’m in a cognitive state called faith. The way in which we can come to know the value of science by its fruits in technology is no different than knowing the value of religion though the holiness of the saints. In good logic, Pinker sees the value that many give to holiness as disordered and mistaken,  but there are all sorts of persons who say the same thing about technology.

I have seen many quite similar statements elsewhere. For example, we can read in Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition* (pp. 157-158) that:

Most people who believe that E = mc2, and who believe almost any other widely known and generally accepted scientific proposition, do so on the basis of faith in exactly the sense in question here. They believe it, in other words, on the authority of those from whom they learned it. Everyone acknowledges that this is perfectly legitimate; indeed, there is no way we could know much of interest at all if we weren’t able to appeal to various authorities. But if this is legitimate in other aspects of life, there is nothing per se wrong with it in religion.

It may very well be the case both that the majority of people accept scientific doctrine on the authority of those whom they trust and that the majority of people accept religious doctrine on the authority of those whom they trust. But Messieurs Chastek and Feser have to be aware, or at least should be, that the religious faith which so directly compares with the trust in authority upon which the majority of believers in scientific doctrine rely is just not the religious faith as specified by, say, devout Christianity. Let us take, for one telling example, the doctrine of faith as set forth in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.** There, under the rubric of “The Characteristics of Faith,” we read (p. 47):

Faith is a grace                                                                                                153    When St. Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Jesus declared to him that this revelation did not come “from flesh and blood,” but from “my Father who is in heaven.” Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him. [Emphasis is in the original.] Before this faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him; he must have the interior help of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and “makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth.”

To identify the faith that the catechism describes with the faith that can be declared equivalent to that of the layman in science is then, it seems to me, to fall into equivocation.

Until next time.


* Edward Feser, The Last Superstition. A Refutation of the New Atheism (South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine’s Press, 2008)

A September 14, 2017 Update. You may easily purchase a copy of The Last Superstition. A Refutation of the New Atheism through, by clicking on the following:

**Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., Reality. A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought, translated by Patrick Cummins, O.S.B. (Ex Fontibus Co., 2006-2012)

**Interdicasterial Commission for the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York and London: Doubleday, 1994)

About Rchard E. Hennessey

See above, "About the Author/Editor."
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