The human impulse that can lead to a commitment to religious faith is awe, wonder.
In Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science, author Stacy A. Trasancos expresses that sense of awe well:
"It is fun to consider what journey the particles of our bodies have traversed in the last 4.5 billion years on Earth and through the universe in the last 13 billion years. Did you ever wonder how many other bodies all the uncountable particles in your body have occupied? You and I will never know that answer, but nevertheless the particles that make us up have traveled the universe. What supernova have they come from? What cloud did they touch? What rock did they sit in? What river carried them? What other child held them?"
Trasancos, a scientist who became a convert to Catholicism, does her best in this volume to show that it's possible to hold modern scientific theories as at least provisionally true and, at the same time, to make a commitment to religious faith.
Science and religion, after all, seek to answer different questions. When religion pretends it has solid answers to scientific questions, it eventually finds itself laughed off the stage. By contrast, when science pretends it can answer the eternal questions about purpose -- the why of existence -- it, too, finds itself deep in territory about which it has nothing useful to say.
This book confirms all that. My initial hope for the book was that, despite being called a "Catholic Guide," it would be broad enough to be of use and interest to a much wider range of religious people. Sometimes it is, but mostly it's as advertised -- for Catholics. And Trasancos is clear that the book "is meant as a guide for fellow Catholics."
Her conversion to faith, which happened when she was busy being a scientist focusing on nanotechnology, "was the most satisfying leap I ever dared to take as a scientist and, more importantly, as a person. Now I see science as the study of the handiwork of God. And I see so much more."
So it's doubtful that scientists who reject religion will be convinced by anything Trasancos writes. They would have difficulty with such passages as this: "We need faith and reason equally, but when it comes to science, we must view the universe through a confident lens of faith in the Creator." But, again, such people are not her audience.
The contest and conversation between science and religion has been going on for several hundred years, and it should continue because each has something important to contribute.
And if the impulse that leads to faith is awe and wonder, Trasancos is right that "science can inspire us to express awe and wonder," thus completing the circle.
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TRAINING JOURNALISTS TO COVER RELIGION BETTER
With some regularity, I complain about the quality of news coverage of religion. And with good reason. But I just read this piece about journalists in the Arab world undergoing a multi-day workshop about how to cover religion fairly and well. Maybe we could get the author of the piece to come to the U.S. and doing some training here. Couldn't hurt.
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P.S.: As you may know, there's been a battle in Nebraska, of all red-state places, over whether to abolish the death penalty there. I first wrote about it here last year. Although the forces for abolition won initially, the pro-capital punishment folks fought back. Now there's an upcoming vote on whether to retain the abolition of the state's death penalty. And the Catholic leadership of the state just launched a new online campaign to convince voters to support abolition. May the supporters of abolition prevail.