Faith in Science

By Rita Buettner

When I was a child, my physicist father used to bring home prisms, fiber optics, and plate-sized lenses to share with his children. When Halley’s Comet swung by in 1986, he woke me up before dawn and we went to find it with our homemade telescope. At 8, I was only mildly impressed with the comet we wouldn’t see again until 2061, but I was dazzled by a shooting star and was thrilled to hear a rooster crow.

One clear, chilly evening as we were shivering under the stars, I asked my father how he could be a scientist and also have such a strong belief in God.

“No matter how much we understand and control everything in the universe we need to remember that it is all created by God in his unchanging act of creation,” he said.

Not all scientists would agree with him, of course, but for my dad and for countless other scientists of faith, their belief in God and their desire to understand the world He created are inextricably linked.

The question of how science and faith overlap has been discussed for centuries. When I came to this Jesuit university three years ago to edit the magazine, I started a list of topics and story ideas we might like to address. “Science and faith” was quickly added to our ever-growing list. Because we have so many rich, compelling stories to share about Loyola alumni, faculty, and students and only so much space, however, we waited nearly three years to explore the topic in print.

Then, earlier this year, we found ourselves facing the perfect timing to delve into the topic—this December, following the reopening of the expanded, enhanced Donnelly Science Center. Suddenly an idea we had started discussing in 2009 seemed not only relevant but important; after all, the building proudly bears a quote—a favorite of our president—from the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

As is often the case, when we started nosing around, we came across numerous angles for the piece. Rev. Frank Haig, S.J., readily agreed to write an essay. We searched for students majoring in both science and theology and found two—both eager to talk about their intellectual journeys at Loyola. I met Rev. Jim Salmon, S.J., for lunch at Ignatius House and he shared with me the history and mission of the annual “Cosmos and Creation” conference. We hired a freelance writer who works for NASA to speak with academics in both areas to see how they intersected.

This week when my father and I were discussing the topic, he recalled a joke a Jesuit friendRev. David Allen, S.J., who lives in Loyola’s Ignatius Houseshared with him several years ago:

A man once said he could make life and challenged God to a contest. God went first. He made a man from clay and breathed life into him. Then God said, “Your turn.”

The man started to pick up some clay to make his man, but God stopped him.

“Wait!” God told him. “You have to use your own clay. This is all mine.”

Do you have a science and faith joke of your own to share? We welcome your thoughts, your reaction to the cover, the stories, and the topic itself—or tell us where we should aim our telescope next.

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