Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"Who made God?"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the May 18, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

“Who made God?”

This was the penetrating question asked me a few months ago by one of the children in the diocese. After some conversation about the matter, I could tell by the look on her face that this question demanded more reflection.

This probe into who made whom and who made what has sparked considerable discussion and some controversy recently. As we reflect upon the universe and its origin, we hear terms like evolution, “intelligent design,” creationism. Often this discussion has evolved into questions about who made the first humans, and how did our world and universe come about? The matter revolves around the relationship of religion and science. Often the two disciplines are perceived to be in conflict when really they need not be perceived that way.

The Catholic Church has a long history of interest in science, beginning at least with Pope Gregory XIII, who established a committee to study scientific data and the implications involved in the reform of the calendar, which occurred in 1582. The Church’s interest and commitment have evolved. Today, we have the Vatican Observatory, with two locations: one at Castel Gondolfo, the papal summer residence, and in Arizona, along with a team of astronomers directed by Jesuit Father George Coyne.

The origin of the universe and of human beings is indeed a fascinating question. Scientific knowledge and know-how have exploded in recent decades. We observe the past of the universe, and we observe it in the present. Even in the midst of our enthusiasm, Pope John Paul II expressed a concern: “It is clear that the truth of faith about creation is radically opposed to theories of materialistic philosophy. These view the cosmos as the result of an evolution of matter reduced to pure chance and necessity.” 

In his landmark 1950 encyclical Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII stated that there is no opposition between evolution and the doctrine of faith about man and his vocation. Pope John Paul II reflected further on this matter. He said that the theory of evolution should no longer be considered a mere hypothesis. He goes on to say that a distinction should be made between evolution as a scientific theory and a materialistic kind of philosophy that would deny a God Who creates. He strongly emphasized the fact that “the spiritual soul is created by God.”

So much more information has been gleaned in recent years concerning the origin of the human being, as well as the origin of the universe. DNA and its complexity have given us tremendous insights into the makeup of the human body, although there is still much about it that we don’t know. Yet the body is a reality infused with a soul – a soul made by God – that makes us who we are, here and now. This mystery is made even more profound by a good and gracious God who loves every one of us, without exception. In faith, we know God’s promise is yet to be fulfilled. We accept that in faith, not because of science.

On the other hand, as we look at the physical universe, we observe now a wonderfully dynamic and a complex reality that leaves us aghast and in awe. Now we know our universe to be about 14 billion years old. Scientific discovery and analysis have led us to new discoveries and insight into the continuing formation of universe. At one time in the Church, a furor developed regarding Galileo, and the question whether the sun orbited around the Earth or the other way around. Little did we know! Now we have come to understand that our sun is about two-thirds of the way from the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way. Light from the center of our galaxy takes 30,000 years to reach us. And in this physical family of the Milky Way, there are a billion stars like our sun. And in our universe, there are 100 billion galaxies with similar number of stars!

That reality leaves our minds overwhelmed. Yet the dynamic reality of the birth and death of stars, about which we know more and more, gives explanation to the origin of elements in our material universe. The magnificence of this universe ultimately leads us to a loving Creator, who made it possible.

As we reflect upon the relationship of religion and science, Father Coyne points out two dangers.

Clearly God always makes the first move. Yet, there can be the temptation to take God under our control. That attempt brings us to a kind of religious idolatry.

On the other hand, there can be an attitude that makes science a god – that science is the way to all knowledge. This approach can be labeled as scientism, and is also a kind of idolatry. As Pope John Paul II stated in 1987, “Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.”

His words can only lead us on a common search for truth and discovery in this wonderful and amazing world in which we live.

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