This lesson’s title comes from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. It teaches us that we can learn about God just by observing the world around us. For example, when we see a beautiful sunset, we learn God is beautiful. When we see powerful waves washing ashore we learn about how mighty God is. When we see the incredible detail contained within a single flower, we learn just how much God cares about life’s tiniest details.
God has given us the natural world as a gift and as a way to learn more about him. In a way, by studying the natural world, we are also learning about God. Nowadays, we refer to this study of the world around us as “science.” Sadly, many Christians believe faith and science are opposed to one another, but this isn’t the case! This lesson will explore several ways God is revealed to us through our faith and through science.
Introduction and Opening Prayer
One of the greatest gifts God gave mankind was reason. Reason is our ability to look at the world around us and understand how things are related to each other. For example, reason helps us to understand cause and effect. If I drop a pencil, I know it will always fall to the ground. That means there must be something causing it to happen. This line of reasoning, is how Sir Isaac Newton first came up with his theory of gravity.
Reason is the starting point of science. When people look at the world, they have many questions they want answered. Science is one way of answering those questions. The question science is best at answering is the question “How?” Science helps us understand how things in nature behave.
While it is nice to know how things happen, as human beings we can’t help but wonder why things happen. Faith helps us understand why things are the way they are. Science can tell us how the world was created, but we need faith to understand why it was created. Another way of saying this is science teaches us about the world around us and faith teaches us about God.
Faith refers to things we need God to reveal to us because we can’t discover them on our own. Faith tells us God created us because he loves us! Faith can tell us why there are bad things in the world (sin). It can also tell us why Jesus came to be with us (God loves us and wants to save us from all those bad things!)
We all have many questions and we need both faith and science to answer them. Read the following questions and try to guess if it is question that we need faith, science, or both to answer.
- How do birds fly?
- Why did God create us?
- What makes plants grow?
- Why do we need to go to Church on Sunday?
- Who/What made the world?
- How can we solve problems like world hunger?
- What is the best way to live our life?
- Why is there something rather than nothing?
- Why do bad things sometimes happen to good people?
- What makes me happy?
Did you have a hard time answering some of those questions? If you did, that is actually a good thing! Faith and science are not opposites and there are some questions that we need both to answer.
Let’s look at the question “How can we solve world hunger?” Because it is a “how” question, our first thought may be that it is a question for science to answer. For example, science can help us figure out how to grow crops in desert environments, or help keep food from spoiling while being transported. However, our faith tells us to be generous to the poor and to give to the hungry. We also learn to pray to God for his help. When it comes to something like world hunger, we should look to faith and science for answers!
In the same way, there are some “why” questions that we need both faith and science to answer. As an example, consider the question “Why do the seasons change?” Even though it is a “why” question, science has an obvious answer – the Earth is tilted at an angle; as it revolves around the sun the seasons change based on which part of the planet is tilted closer to the sun. Be careful though: just because science has an answer does not mean faith can’t add something to the discussion. The Bible is full of metaphors related to the seasons. God created the seasons to teach us something about the cycles of life.
Men and Women of Faith… and Science!
If anyone doubts that faith and science can go together, they would be wise to learn about the lives of the many men and women who have excelled at both! Below, we will learn about some of them.
Many people struggle to understand how the universe was made. In the book of Genesis we hear the story of the 6 days of creation. However, in science class, we learn about the Big Bang Theory. Are these two stories in conflict with each other? Not according to the man who first proposed the Big Bang Theory, Fr. Georges Lemaitre. That’s right, a Catholic priest came up with the Big Bang Theory! He was also worked with Albert Einstein. He chose to focus on what the two have in common: the belief that God created the universe. Another way of saying it would be that God was the author of the Big Bang.
The science of genetics helps us understand many of the physical traits we possess. If you wanted to know how Mr. Kenny ended up with red hair, you would ask a geneticist. While many people know a little bit about genetics, few know anything about the man who founded genetic science – Fr. Gregor Mendel, another Catholic priest! By studying pea plants, he was the first person to understand how physical characteristics are passed on from generation to generation.
Who doesn’t love rock candy? It is a great sweet treat; however, we would not understand how it is made if it were not for the work of Nicholas Steno, a Catholic bishop and scientist. He was among the first to understand how crystals work. He also made important contributions to the field of medicine and our understanding of human biology.
While Jimmy Buffet may not know where he’ll go when the volcano blows, thanks to our next Catholic scientist, he’ll at least know how big the eruption is. Fr. Giuseppe Mercalli was an Italian priest and volcanologist ( a scientist who studies volcanoes.) He is famous for developing a scale used to measure the intensity of volcanic eruptions. His work was influential in the development of the Richter scale as well – the scale used for measuring earthquakes.
Don’t worry, we didn’t forget the ladies! Our next Catholic scientist was both a rock star in the early days of computer science and a Catholic nun! Sister Mary Kenneth Keller was the first American woman to earn a PhD in computer science and also helped to develop a programming language known as BASIC. One of her dreams was to expand the use of computers to more than just a few people. She felt like it was one of the most underused tools of her time. History has certainly proved her right.
The final Catholic scientist we will highlight was the first woman ever to teach at a European university. Born in 1711, Laura Maria Caterina Bassi was an expert physicist and a pioneer in the study of electricity. On top of her many academic and professional achievements, she was also the mother of 8 children. In order to balance all of her responsibilities, she was known for giving her lectures in her home. She was among a group of 25 scholars who advised Pope Benedict XIV on scientific questions.
This lesson’s featured saint is St. Hildegard of Bingen. While she is not as well known as some of the the other saints we have learned about, her life had many important lessons for our modern world. Although she lived almost 1000 years ago, in 2012 Pope Benedict XVI named her a doctor of the Church, in recognition of the lasting importance of her life and writings. The title doctor of the Church, is given to people who have made important contributions to Catholic theology (the study of God) and doctrine (Catholic beliefs).
In this icon, we see the light of the Holy Spirit shining on St. Hildegard as she writes one of her most important works, “The Scivias” In it, she describes many of the visions she experienced throughout her life.
Next to her feet, we see a lyre. St. Hildegard was also a very gifted musical composer. In the middle ages, music was considered a very important science.
Pope Benedict XVI named her a doctor of the Church in recognition of her many contributions to the Church’s theology, doctrine, and spirituality.
St. Hildegard was not just a gifted theologian and spiritual writer, she was also an expert in the fields of medicine, philosophy, and natural science. She believed we needed faith to understand God, but that we could see glimpses of him in the natural world around us. Her life was a beautiful witness to the idea we discussed in this lesson’s title: “The invisible things of God and revealed in the visible things he has created.”
Many of her works survive to this day, including some of her musical compositions. Watch the video below to hear one of the songs she composed. Music in the middle ages sounded very different than it does today, but it is very beautiful. Isn’t it cool that we can still listen to music written by a Catholic saint nearly 1000 years ago?! What does her music make you think about?
Let Us Pray
In this lesson, you have learned the many ways we can learn about God by studying the world around us. One saint who believed very strongly in this was St. Francis of Assisi. There is a good reason he is the patron saint of animals and animal lovers. As he walked through the countryside, it is said he would often preach to all of the animals he encountered along his way.
St. Francis believed very strongly that the beauty of the world was one of the most incredible gifts God has given us. When we receive a gift what are we supposed to do afterwards? We are supposed to say thank you! St. Francis wrote a prayer to God thanking him for the gift of creation. It is called the “Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon.” Your prayer challenge this week is to pray it as a family and to discuss what it means to you.
Live it Out Activities
What good would a lesson on science be without some experiments to go along with it? Below, you will find some classic at-home science experiments related to a few of our featured Catholic scientists. Choose one or more to try as a family. Kids, make sure you only do these with adult supervision!
In honor of Fr. Giuseppe Mercalli, build your own baking soda volcano.
To help you remember Fr. Gregor Mendel and his pea plants, try this experiment to see how seeds germinate. (Note: Be sure to buy pea seeds. Frozen peas etc. will not work.)
Remember our friend Bishop Nicholas Steno? Try making rock candy in order to remember his contribution to understanding crystals.
After you have finished your experiment(s), have each child choose one of our featured Catholic scientists and make a poster for them on a page of the Destined Journal. Print off and paste in their picture, then draw pictures of what they are famous for. Include any other information about them that you wish.
More to Explore
After this lesson, if your children have decided they want to be part of the next generation of Catholic scientists, have them explore more of the experiments found on this website:
If any adults want to do a deep dive into the relationship between the Catholic faith and reason, I encourage them to read Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical “Fides et Ratio” (Faith and Reason.)
Warning: Fides et Ratio is not an easy read, but it is very profound. If you do not have the time/desire to read the entire document, I invite you to spend some time reflecting on the opening line: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”
The following video does an outstanding job explaining Church teaching on faith and reason: