What do the genome project and gene therapy, i.e., modern science, have to do with the Gospel and faith? It is now well established that science and religion are not contradictory, but are they related? This is the question of faith and reason which St. John Henry Newman explored in his Oxford University Sermons.
The first sermon titled The Philosophical Temper, First Enjoined by the Gospel was delivered on July 2, 1826. The last sermon was delivered February 2, 1843.
The gist of Newman’s argument in the first sermon is that the Gospel revelation and teaching engenders in the believer a certain habit or character of mind which is favorable to developing his use of reason exercised in natural philosophy. By natural philosophy Newman was referring to the natural sciences.
He notes that Christianity has been accused of standing in the way of progress because Christians believe in the infallibility of the Church.
There are, he writes, a “multitude of half-educated men who are avowedly hostile to Revealed Religion, and who watch every new discovery or theory in science, in hope that something to its disadvantage may hence be derived.” There are others who “though they think it indecorous or unfeeling to attack Religion openly, yet appear confidently to expect that the progress of discovery and the general cultivation of the human mind must terminate in the fall of Christianity.”
For their part, Christians have contributed to the alleged conflict between faith and reason, arguing that Scripture is “a depository of all truth, philosophical as well as religious; although St. Paul seems to limit its utility to profitableness for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness.”
There are some who approach scientific explanations with impatience. Newman explains: “Others, again, have been too diligent and too hasty in answering every frivolous and isolated objection to the words of Scripture, which has been urged,—nay, which they fancied might possibly be urged,—from successive discoveries in science; too diligent, because their minute solicitude has occasioned them to lose sight of the Christian Evidence as a whole…” They lose sight that successive discoveries sometimes solve objections.
Newman states as a premise that: “Science and Revelation agree in supposing that nature is governed by uniform and settled laws.” Next he goes on to briefly state characteristics of a Christian which make science possible: “modesty, patience, and caution, are dispositions of mind quite as requisite in philosophical inquiries.” In addition to these, the believer as well as the scientist needs humility for his work, yet the former requires even more humility and teachability. The believer admits the reality of sin and the fallen condition, as well as the need for grace.
Newman points out that the natural sciences seem to have jettisoned the Christian Church:
“Although, then, Christianity seems to have been the first to give to the world the pattern of the true spirit of philosophical investigation, yet, as the principles of science are, in process of time, more fully developed, and become more independent of the religious system, there is much danger lest the philosophical school should be found to separate from the Christian Church, and at length disown the parent to whom it has been so greatly indebted.”
Newman alluded to the historian Edward Gibbons who thought Christianity was a slavish religion. However, Newman concludes, it was actually from the best characteristics of Christian believers that scientific investigation was made possible.
To put this in modern terms: a researcher in genetics today relies on Christian characteristics and ideals, even though unknown to him, such as the belief in order and purpose in nature, patience and truthfulness in research, and the existence of established laws. In addition to this philosophical habit, the genetics researcher, indeed any scientist, needs to evaluate the morality of using or refraining from acquired capabilities.