Families blog – Wholly curious

Ann Rennie 19 May 2024

The wonder of science is a compliment to the wonder of God.

Albert Einstein often highlighted the importance of holy curiosity. It’s a phrase that has a particular resonance as it combines the holy of faith and the curiosity of science. This phrase is similar to the two wings of which Pope John Paul II spoke: ‘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.’ 

Over the course of history, science and its wondrous discoveries have improved the lot of mankind. Inventions have made life easier, communication faster, medicine better. These advantages are more widely available than ever before as innovations improve our quality of life. Old heresies have been consigned to history as new proofs enrich and expand the common good.

Studying science at school, I didn’t mind putting on a lab coat, goggles and doing funny little experiments to see strange chemical reactions. Peering through microscopes was fine, but dissection of any sort made me queasy. Physics was for the really clever students and maths was another language altogether. I admired those who could understand atoms and the speed of light and gravity and thermodynamics. The periodic table is still a mystery to me.

As I type this on a laptop, I am amazed at how far we have come in 50 years. I remember doing university assignments by hand and going into libraries to stalk dusty tomes and arcane monographs on shelves, to do some reading to come up with evidence to support my position on the theme of a book. I could not move paragraphs around with cut-and-paste or use voice-to-text or any of the other assistive technologies that benefit us today. I have not used ChatGPT for this column, but I know it’s scarily plausible.

What we need to do is be aware of that ethical line between using and attributing resources and outsourcing the work altogether. We must not let science erase our originality, even as we muddle along to get things right. This is where holy curiosity also comes in. It is a reminder that we still need a framework that dignifies the holiness of the human being. Technology can be a gift, but we also know that there is a shadow side where deep fakes lurk.

Faith and science do not have to cancel each other out. Pope John Paul II put it succinctly when he reminded us that ‘science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish.’

I am in awe of the Big Bang Theory that tells us that the universe was formed 14 billion years ago. It humbles me to know that there are other galaxies out there and the universe is ever expanding and that there are black holes and dwarf planets and dark matter. The cosmos always brings me back to faith. There was that singular divine creative moment when God bespoke all things.

When I gaze out at the stars at night I am wrapped in wonder. I stand with all those men and women of history who have gazed ever upwards to the celestial ceiling and wondered. Above and beyond the rational explanation of science is the beauty and enormity of God’s grand design.

Newton observed that gravity explained the motion of the planets, but it could not explain who set the planets in motion. For people of faith, the answer is God.

Ann Rennie is a Melbourne writer, teacher and former REC. She believes in the Good News and the power of words to change the world.


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