Thursday, July 5, 2012

Happy for Science, Sad for the Church

   The other day, scientists at CERN in Switzerland celebrated the discovery of the Higgs boson--or something very close to it--that explains why all matter has mass.  They were able to make this discovery because they kept learning new things about the universe and therefore were able to ask new questions of it.  The search for the Higgs boson was intense, e.g., it took billions of dollars and the exhausting study of over 500 trillion sub-atomic collisions.  And finally, the universe revealed itself in this new and wondrous way!  One grateful scientist exclaimed, "Thanks, Nature!"

   The discovery challenges the Standard Model of particle physics.  This model, as I understand it, is the latest and best mathematical understanding of how the universe works at the sub-atomic level.  The measurements from the Higgs boson diverge from the Standard Model.  These measurements will be fully tested and if they are proved to be true, scientists will happily admit that the Standard Model is wrong and they will change it to accommodate the new measurements.  What a refreshing example of humility and openness to the truth these scientists are giving the world!

   In the past, the church has also changed its "Standard Model" to accommodate new insights and understanding, though not always happily or willingly.  E.g., it changed when it discerned that Galileo was right, that slavery is immoral, that religious freedom is from God and must be respected for all peoples, that there is salvation outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic church.  

   Today however, church leaders are not disposed to test new insights, and if they are found true, make the necessary changes in the church's "Standard Model" of experiencing God and of moral teachings.  For example, Sister Elizabeth Johnson and Sister Margaret Farley have been severely criticized without being truly tested to see if they have discerned truth that God is revealing to us today.  Even fifty years after Vatican II, some leaders today will not consider the council's teaching that we should adopt a new style for understanding the church and for relating to the everyday world.  To them, the "Standard Model," of understanding the church and relating to the world is unchangeable.  It is as if the Spirit has withdrawn from the world, so there is no opportunity for progress and no need to test new insights.  (Cf. 1 Jn. 4:1)

   In light of the new scientific discovery and its celebration, the church leaders' intransigence stands out as all the more embarrassing.  And harmful.  The church has been losing scientists for centuries, and even today, many look at the church and simply turn away.  What does their loss do?  To them?  To the church?  To today's society and culture?

   Look, for example, at Lawrence Krauss and his new book, A Universe from Nothing, which he wrote with atheist, Richard Dawkins.  Speaking to comedian Stephen Colbert, Krauss took an excursion from his field of science and glibly declared that God is no longer necessary to explain the origin of the universe.  Critics strongly question his understanding, or misunderstanding, of "nothing."  But on Amazon, there are more five star reviews than all the others combined.  I wonder if Krauss or his "five-star" readers know that Catholic cosmologist/mystic, Brian Swimm, describes this "nothing" as "fecund emptiness."  Another writer has called it the "pregnant void."  Far from being nothing, it is a wondrously exciting something.

   Also worrisome to me, Krauss is a university professor, influencing young minds.

   As we celebrate science's latest victory, we look thoughtfully at our church and ask, "How is it influencing today's world?"    


1 comment:

  1. In answer to your question, unfortunately, by focussing on picayune matters with an eye to upholding the church's absolute authority over the lives of the so-called faithful and everyone else.

    The world is an exciting and challenging place today, ripe for engagement by a church eager to share the good news in word and deed. Sadly, my church seems to have forgotten about the good news and Jesus who showed the way.