If it weren’t such a common thing, it would amaze us every day: the regularity of the world. Let go of a book and it falls to the ground. Do it a hundred times in a row, and it won’t fall just most of the time, it falls every single time. The business of science is to explain such regularities, to put them into numbers and terms and laws. Some of these laws are elegantly simple (as in Einstein’s “e equals m times c squared”), even if it takes a specialist to unpack them meaningfully.
So science exposes the regularities, the laws whereby the world goes round. But if we ask why the world has laws in the first place, why its regularities exist, science has nothing to say. That is a question that science cannot answer, and what it points to is a profound mystery, namely, the mystery that the world can be understood.
It might not have to be such. We might imagine a rather nightmarish world in which the laws just keep changing. Maybe in such a world, when you let it go, a book sometimes rises up to hit the ceiling, sometimes floats in front of you, and sometimes smacks you up the side of your head. Thankfully, we do not live in such a world.
In the divine alphabet, R is for Reason because, in the deepest sense, God himself just is reason. “In the beginning was the Word,” opens Saint John’s Gospel, and “the Word” is “Logos,” reason taken properly in broad sense. Everything that has come to be came to be through the Logos, and without the Logos, nothing came to be. In telling us this, John gives a reading of the opening of Genesis, where the text declares that all creation came into being through the speech of God.
And since God’s speech is Logos, the creation has and has always had a character to it. The world has an underlying intelligibility; and it is this feature of the world that rewards with insight those who study it.
There is a popular but false story that faith opposes reason and reason opposes faith. This story is superficial. In truth, faith and reason are mutually supportive human undertakings. It is one of the ironies of our age that reason is faltering and faith has to rise to its defense. This is the point of John Paul II’s encyclical “Fides et ratio,” although it has hardly been an exclusively Catholic concern.
I believe that one particular calling of Christians at this time is to defend reason against those who deny it. There is such a thing, for instance, as human dignity, something that pertains to every human being without regard to race or sex or intellectual capacity or opinions voiced. For other instance: we can affirm that the difference between true and false is found in the world itself, and not in the power/privilege/sex/gender of the speaker.
Christians should be known as people who say: Although human rational thinking cannot justify itself, we may trust it, because God, who has created everything, is himself Reason.
Out & About, virtually speaking. “The Sacramentalists” is a podcast hosted by three young and enthusiastic priests. They recently talked with me about various “life” questions and friendship. I enjoyed my time with them, and beyond this episode you might appreciate their other conversations too. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/interview-with-fr-victor-lee-austin/id1457082281?i=1000516849636