Kenrick-Glennon classes to show links of science, theology

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org
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In some quarters of society, faith and science are considered to be mutually exclusive, akin to oil and water, incompatible with modern life.

One problem with that: It's wrong. The two fit hand in glove.

"Absolutely, they go together," said John Finley, a philosophy professor at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. "Anything legitimately discovered by science can only help in terms of the overall evangelization effort of our Church ... and our understanding of God's creation.

"Since God is the author of it all, of course, it's going to complement what we learn in theology."

The link between science and theology will be explored over the next several years at seminaries across the United States, including at Kenrick-Glennon. Finley recently joined colleague Ed Hogan in winning a $10,000 grant from the Templeton Foundation through John Carroll University to bring science into American seminaries. Kenrick-Glennon is one of seven seminaries with back-to-back grant winners among 31 winners overall over the past two years — appropriately, 15 in 2015 and 16 in 2016.

Finley described winning the grant as a "tremendous privilege ... and great honor." And it's right up his alley.

In his previous teaching stint at alma mater Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., he routinely taught across disciplines — for example, in science, the Bible or philosophy. For the past four years at Kenrick-Glennon, he has focused on teaching philosophy, at Cardinal Glennon College and in the pre-theology program at Kenrick School of Theology.

"I enjoyed that interdisciplinary emphasis, so this makes a lot of sense," said Finley, who worked on the application while on sabbatical for six months at Oxford. "It brings science into dialogue with philosophy and theology."

"Dialogue" is the basis for Hogan's class — Science and Theology: In Dialogue for the New Evangelization, which commences in the first semester of the 2017-18 academic year.

The "conflict" between science and theology "doesn't make any sense because the same God who is the author of revelation is the author of nature, and God won't contradict God," Hogan said. "The same God who gave us the gift of faith is the same God who gave us the gift of reason. So, we unwrap all these gifts and are continually surprised by what the Lord has given us.

"Systematically, they go together and, historically, they go together."

Take the Big Bang Theory: A Catholic priest, Father Georges Lamaître, developed it in the early 20th century. Albert Einstein gave him the thumbs up. Leonardo da Vinci, Nicolaus Copernicus, René Descartes, Johannes Gutenberg, Galileo Galilei, Guglielmo Marconi, Louis Braill and Louis Pasteur rank among numerous accomplished Catholics in science history.

Among current Catholic scientists, Stacy Trasancos, who also received a grant, earned a doctorate in chemistry at Penn State University, and is on staff at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn.; Father John Kartje got his doctorate in astrophysics and is president-rector of Mundelein Seminary/University of St. Mary on the Lake. And Jesuit brother Guy Consolmagno got his doctorate in astrophysics at MIT and is now director of the Vatican Observatory.

Yes, the Vatican has an observatory. Not one, but two: in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, about an hour north of Rome and in Arizona, about four hours north of Tucson.

"We have these great figures," said Hogan, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on John Polkinghorne, a physicist who became an Anglican priest. "At age 50, he quit science, studied theology for four years and was ordained a priest. He took a parish and started churning out books on theology and science.

"He's kind of a stunning example. ... People who think there's a conflict need to do some research."

After Hogan's class in the first semester next year, Finley's class will be in the second semester of 2017-18. His class will be "Man and Woman, He Created Them: What Science Tells Us About Gender."

The theory of gender as a social construction has only been around for about 40 years. Through recorded history from the dawn of unrecorded history, biology determined gender: Women were women, men were men. Now, society calls same-sex unions "marriage" and debates whether transgender people can use restrooms of their identified gender.

"It's amazing how many issues funnel their way back to 'what is a man and what is a woman?'" said Finley, who named a few — celibate priesthood, woman priesthood, abortion, no-fault divorce and contraception, in addition to homosexuality and transgender people. "In some way, they all have to do with our understanding or lack of understanding of what is a man and what is a woman."

Science might provide the answer to these questions.

"There's a very clear biological answer; you can look at it all the way down to the chromosomes," he said. "We have a great opportunity to employ the resources of science and philosophy and theology to articulate what a man and a woman are." 

Kenrick-Glennon Seminary
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