Bishop John Keenan, the Bishop of Paisley describes the Catholic Church and science as “conjoined twins in the advancement of knowledge”

(12 May 2015) Bishop John Keenan, the Bishop of Paisley describes the Catholic

Church and the science as “conjoined twins in the advancement of knowledge”

Dogmatic certainties are as likely to be found in both science as they are in

religion writes Bishop Keenan, but rather than competing, science and religion

should complement one another.

Bishop Keenan claims that no one should feel “compelled to make a choice between science or religion,

presuming that aligning ourselves with one entails rejecting the other.”

Adding “finding the really important truths of existence needs both faith and

science working somehow in


The full text of Bishop Keenan’s article appears



Bishop John Keenan is

Scotland’s youngest Bishop. He was appointed Bishop of Paisley by Pope Francis

in February 2014  He is a graduate of the University of Glasgow (LL.B) and the Gregorian University,

Rome (S.T.B., Ph.L)

Bishop John Keenan

12 May 2015

Friends of the


Dispassionate readers, who have studied the Galileo caricature of a

war between science and religion will know that, for almost two thousand years

either side of that sorry, somewhat isolated affair, the Catholic Church and the

science lab have been conjoined twins in the advancement of knowledge.


Easter Sunday morning this year as Christians gathered to celebrate the

Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, scientists deep underground at CERN were

also gathering excitedly to switch on the Large Hadron Collider for first time

since it had been temporarily shut down.  Before giving up the ghost the

Collider had already accomplished its mission of discovering what we speak of so

easily as the ‘God Particle’. Despite the exhausting efforts of earnest

campaigners against it, the desire on all sides to intertwine science and

religion is as alive and well as ever.

You only need to recall how John begins

his Gospel.  Thinking of the very first verse of the Bible he proclaims, ‘In the

beginning was the Word’, or Logos in the original Greek.  We all know that Logos

means Reason, the very source of the Greek philosophy of his time and of the

method of modern empirical science subsequently.  With this verse, John

pronounced definitively on the Bible’s conception of God in favour of a God who,

being Truth, acts with respect for the premises of reason.  Soon after, we find

Christians heartily mocking other irrational gods of the time which, being so

hopelessly capricious, are to them, no more than the work of human hands or, as

we would say, the figment of men’s imaginations.

That is not to say there have

not been wobbles in the partnership between science and religion. The medieval

Scottish, Catholic scholar, John Duns Scotus challenged Thomas Aquinas’ embrace

of Aristotelian empiricism and reason, and inclined, rather, towards a God who

was so sovereign that He was entitled to behave as irrationally as He pleased.

The Reformers, in their turn, sought to purify the act of religion by an appeal

to faith alone, sola fides, in the assurance that faith was somehow better, more

spiritual and pure when uncoupled from the limits and demands of rational

investigation.  Freed from the impurity of philosophy and science, religion

would at last lead men to salvation.

No wonder men of science, feeling quite

understandably scorned by such tendencies, would construct their own path to

progress, in competition with the path of faith, and invite the masses to follow

them as dogmatically as any priest ever had.  Our own age, heir to these

entrenched positions, has felt compelled to make a choice between science or

religion, presuming that aligning ourselves with one entails rejecting the

other.  It need not.

In order to foster anew the natural complementarity of

science and religion, Pope John Paul II came up with the colourful image of a

bird seeking to soar into the skies. He began his encyclical, Fides et Ratio,

with the vivid words that, ‘Faith and reason are like two wings by which the

human spirit ascends to the contemplation of the truth’.  Flying needs two

wings, just as finding the really important truths of existence needs both faith

and science working somehow in harmony.

The criticism of science

counterbalances religion’s all too easy temptation to fall into credulity, as if

nothing could happen just by chance and even the most absurd bad luck is somehow

all ‘meant’, by God.

Faith, on the other hand, saves reason from futility.

For, in a world without some transcendent Truth and Good, where everything is

just chance, how can any small part of it have any meaning at all? If you and I

are really just stardust then how can this dust have inalienable rights; how can

our loves be anything more than a mere collision of matter: how can our striving

for justice for the weak be any more right than a totalitarian state’s will to

absolute power?

It was Leon Lederman who first coined the phrase ‘The God

Particle’ and in the book of the same name he parodies the Genesis story of the

Tower of Babel where no-one understood another’s language or method and

everything had become confused. Into this contention the Lord said: “Let us go

down again and give them the God Particle so that they may see how beautiful is

the universe I have made.”’

It might not be the Very New Testament Lederman

claimed it to be but it does offer a taster of a new, more hopeful, chapter in

the long history of the Book of Science and Religion.


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