I was not always a person of faith, as I have noted in some of my past writings. In fact, it seemed that the only “religious faith” I used to have was that my quasi-mighty Portland Trailblazers were going to win the NBA championship each and every new season that started. Talk about misplaced faith! In fact, being the arrogant snot that I was, I tried to “prove” that God didn’t exist while still in my late teens and early twenties; something which now seems as utterly preposterous as it was arrogant. Needless to say, I have thankfully matured (some) intellectually, emotionally, and definitely spiritually over the years since.
All of that said, I have run into and debated more than a few atheists in recent years, long after my conversion to faith in God and Catholicism. Sadly some of those atheists are members within my own extended family. One of the reoccurring memes that keeps arising from many of my atheistic debating friends, either implicitly or explicitly, is this twisted notion of what they think faith is.
Many atheists and agnostics today seem to be of a similar mindset that faith is nothing more than an appeal to superstition. To them, it is a naivety that is born of ignorance or a disdain of science. And while it is accurate to say that certain religious faiths could indeed be construed in such a way, the cardinal theological virtue of faith as taught by the Catholic Church is nothing of the sort. (The other two of the three cardinal theological virtues are hope and love, in case you cared.)
What faith truly means in the context of that theology is not some archaic medieval reliance on God as an all-encompassing explanation because we don’t understand the esoteric realities of the physical world. True faith is not irrational or sub-rational. It certainly does not lie below the threshold of reason. Indeed the virtue of faith is a surrender on the far side of reason. It is informed in its foundation, and as such it is merely a “leap beyond the place currently illumined by philosophy and science,” as Father Barron has so eloquently said. Further paraphrasing him, this created war between faith and reason is a matter born of a misunderstanding of what faith truly is by an ever-growing secular society.
Most atheists seem to think that faith is the antonym of reason. It is contrary to science in their estimation. The irony of that mindset is not lost on those who truly do understand the virtue of faith. Indeed it was belief and faith that were often the catalysts for many brilliant scientists to want to discover the intricacies and explanations of our Devine Creator God and his universe. It was men and women of faith, specifically in the Catholic mold, that were responsible for the creation of many of the modern sciences and even the university system via the Catholic Church.
The list of luminaries in the history of the sciences often show people of true faith to be the very founders of certain branches of study or discoverers of new scientific theories. Indeed, it is interesting to note how many fathers of the various sciences were actually Fathers (priests). Father Gregor Mendel was the founder of genetic science. Father Georges Lemaitre was the scientist that proposed the big bang theory. Father Roger Joseph Boscovich was responsible for the precursors of atomic theory, as well as being a brilliant astronomer and polymath. Father Roger Bacon is credited with being the father of the modern scientific method. The list of Catholic scientists that understand and are practitioners of the theological virtue of faith is impressive, even into these modern times.
So you see, faith is not an anti-science and anti-reason philosophy or mindset. On the contrary, it is by that light of faith that we can see past the darkness on the path that science and philosophy has not yet illuminated the way for us yet in order to make ever greater discoveries and thereby further substantiate our faith in God and his creation. True faith and reason are not only compatible, but as history has shown, are often a great catalyst in the furthering of science – in great spite of all atheistic claims to the contrary.