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St. Thomas Aquinas, the great theologian and doctor of the Church, embraced the science of his day in order to illustrate points he was making. Unfortunately, the science of his day was not always accurate. While the scripture and the definitive teaching of the Church will stand forever, science is constantly growing and changing, revising theories, and sometimes throwing out an entire system and replacing it with something new. Nonetheless, theologians can learn from scientists, with the proviso that when science moves on they move on too.
One of the problems with listening to science is that we need to know what the research actually shows. Unfortunately, we cannot rely on the media to accurately report new research. Every time I read about a discovery or a study that appears to contradict the Christian understanding of the human person, morality, or the nature of the universe, I go to the Internet and try to find the original article. Too often I discover that the reporter has gotten it wrong; sometimes misrepresenting the findings, often not understanding the statistics, or even slanting the coverage rather than simply reporting the findings. Too often a headline-grabbing study fails to meet the minimum standards for credible research. The study is later totally discredited, but that story is rarely covered. Unfortunately, most people read the headlines, are therefore deceived, and come to view science as contradicting revealed truth.
However, when I am able to sweep away all the distortions of the media and the bias of some researchers, I find that learning more about the universe and the human person, enhances my understanding of theology and morality. The more I learn, the more I see how the scriptures give us wisdom that it has taken generations for the scientists to grasp.
For example, theoretical physicists appear to be on the brink of discovering the elusive "One Theory of Everything." For some time physicists have been faced with two distinct theories of the laws of nature, one which applied to very small things and one which applied to everything else. The two theories contradicted each other. This upset the physicists because they were absolutely convinced that there had to be one set of laws that applied to everything, everywhere, through all time.
The conviction that there had to be one theory of everything drove brilliant men to spend their lives looking for the answer. They had faith in the order of the universe and for me, whether they knew it or not, that faith reflects the reality that there is one God who made and sustains that order.
It now appears that the one theory of everything may require a universe that has more than the 3 dimensions of space and one of time that we can perceive. The physicists have not yet completely agreed on how many of these extra dimensions there are and how they function: but my reaction is, of course, the universe is much more complex that we can perceive, I have always known this, the Bible tells me so.
I am sure when the physicists solve this puzzle, the solution will reveal the glory of God.
Likewise, those who are studying the Theology of the Body are constantly edified by the new research on the chemistry and architecture of the human brain. The radical feminists tried to convince the world that the differences between men and women were oppressive cultural constructs that had to be eliminated. The Church defended the differences between men and women and now we have evidence that science is on our side. Brain scans show how women's and men's brains are different.
Women are designed for mothering, which is good because the new research on the importance of early attachment reveals that babies need mothering. Scientists now understand that from the beginning of life, brain growth is experience-dependent. Each experience causes the baby's brain to make connections. Babies are born looking for the light in their mother's eyes. They have a primal need to experience the love of the mother, to look into their mother's eyes, and see her unconditional acceptance. The interchange between mother and baby literally builds the brain and lays the foundation for psychological health. The brain of a baby whose mother does not look lovingly into his eyes does not grow properly. Lack of positive attachment is at the root of many psychological disorders. Fathers are important too, but mothers are designed to supply this crucial need.
When I read about the importance of the mother's eyes, I could not help but think of the words of the Salve Regina, "turn then, most gracious advocate, and your eyes of mercy toward us." When we feel like poor banished children, we need a mother's eyes of mercy.
In the Middle Ages, theology was considered the Queen of the Sciences. Let us restore her to her proper place and bring all the fascinating new insights of science under the mantle of their Queen.
Dale O'Leary is an internationally recognized lecturer and author of "The Gender Agenda: Redefining Equality."