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Monday, December 14, 2015

Father George Rutler: The Parameters of Religion and Science

By Father George Rutler

Parameters are measurable factors that define a system, in the sense of a criterion or framework—like the parts that make the whole. The parameters of religion and science complement and serve each other, but are not to be confused. Thus, Cardinal Baronio told his friend Galileo that the Bible tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.

   The Third Sunday of Advent is about heaven, and our Lord commissioned his Church to make people fit for it. The parameters of religion cannot estimate how many people can fit into heaven, since that would mix physics and eternity. But holy religion is obliged to remind physical science of its own limits. The human race was given authority to name all living creatures. That means that we are stewards of God’s creation. “Ecology” is the understanding of all things animate and inanimate, as part of God’s “household,” and thus is related to economics. Debates about climate change invoke serious moral responsibilities and require that religion and science not be confused, so that saving souls not be overshadowed by saving the planet, the latter being an ambiguous concept anyway. This point was lost on a crowd that prostrated themselves on the floor of a chapel in Paris praying that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change save Planet Earth, just days after so many people had been killed in that same city by terrorists.

   Jesus loved the lilies of the field, more beautiful than Solomon in all his glory, but he beautified this world incomparably by passing through it with a reminder of its impermanence: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). The Church has dogmas, but her parameters do not include making a dogma of unsettled science, just as in religion “private revelations” are not binding on the faithful. Science, by its nature, is unsettled, and today’s certitudes may be disproved tomorrow, as with geocentricism centuries ago. Given these parameters, the Church must not allow herself to be appropriated by political and business interests whose tendency is to exploit benevolent, if sometimes naïve, naturalists.

   The eleventh-century King Canute is often mistakenly used as a symbol of arrogance for setting up his throne on an English beach and ordering the tides to withdraw. Just the opposite, he set up that drama to instruct his flattering courtiers in the limits of earthly power: “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws." He then hung his gold crown on a crucifix in Winchester and never wore it again. It was commentary on God’s words to Job: “This far you may come and no farther . . . Do you know the laws of the heavens?” (Job 38:11, 33).


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