Science and faith are two wings that ‘flap together’

Lindsay Steele
University of Iowa professor Joshua Weiner, secretary/treasurer of the university’s new Society of Catholic Scientists chapter, introduces Father Joseph Sia during an event at Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City April 28.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

Before answering a call to the priesthood, Father Joseph Sia worked as a research assistant at the University of Philippines’ Institute of Human Genetics. One day, a couple walked in, concerned about the strong possibility that their future children would inherit a devastating illness. The couple wondered whether they should forgo marriage and children, considering the circumstances.

As a young doctor, Father Sia considered the dynamics of faith and science at play. The couple’s faith pointed them toward marriage and children, while science pointed them toward caution. Father Sia wondered, “Would scientific knowledge affect their willingness and freedom to live out their marriage vows?”

He knew that the seeming disconnect between science and faith was a matter of perspective. Would it help if that couple, or any couple, understood that children are a gift from God regardless of their state of health? Science and faith, he believes, “are two wings that flap together.”


Father Sia shared this experience during a talk at Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City April 28. “My hope is to inspire you to utilize faith and science to contemplate the truth, just as St. John Paul II has said, and to contemplate what it means to consider this with continued attention — to constantly think about it. As scientists, you are always thinking,” Father Sia told the crowd. “I hope to give you new insights, not necessarily answers … I hope my reflection will trigger something in you.”

A new chapter

The fledgling University of Iowa Chapter of the Society of Catholic Scientists hosted the event, hoping to garner interest to begin meeting regularly next fall. The society responds to St. John Paul II’s call to Church members who are active in the sciences to “be of service to those who are attempting to integrate the worlds of science and religion in their own intellectual and spiritual lives.”

Stephen Barr, a retired University of Delaware professor, founded the organization about seven years ago. Its 2,100 members worldwide attend conferences, lead college chapters, host lectures and other activities and direct people to online educational materials and resources. Science faculty members Joshua Weiner, Jeff Long and Kate Ahlers-Dannen are working to establish the Iowa group. Eventually, students will lead the chapter, Weiner said.

The university chapter’s first official event was a Gold Mass held last November on the feast of St. Albert the Great, patron of natural sciences. Weiner anticipates future meetings will include book studies and discussions catered toward students and community members interested in the sciences.

A connection to Father Sia

Weiner and Long became acquainted with Father Sia while the latter served as pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City. Father Sia now serves as pastor of St. Patrick and St. Mary of the Visitation parishes in Ottumwa and St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Bloomfield. “It was kind of him to drive up and celebrate Mass and give a talk,” Weiner said. “He has such a unique story and journey,” said Ahlers-Dannen. “It seemed really appropriate to have him here as we get the chapter up and running.”

The wings of faith and reason

Father Sia began his talk by quoting St. John Paul II’s 1998 encyclical, “Fides et Ratio” (On the Relationship between Faith and Reason). “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 priest encouraged science students and professionals to view science as an opportunity to deepen faith. Scientists learn to research, observe and analyze with a sense of curiosity. These same tools can help people “discover God,” Father Sia believes. “Science is the search for truth, and God is truth.”

Joseph Correa, a graduate student in the university’s pharmacy program, appreciated the talk. “There can sometimes be a stigma or misunderstanding that Catholics or anyone with faith don’t trust science or (believe) that faith and science are contradictory … the analogy of faith and science being two wings of truth really resonated with me.” He sees the new chapter as an opportunity to meet other Catholic scientists and learn how his faith and research can work together. “My faith is the biggest thing in my life and I am studying in a science field, so this is really the perfect group to be involved with.”

A bright future

More than 70 people attended the talk. “It was a great turnout,” Weiner said. About 30 people signed up to learn more about the university’s Society of Catholic Scientists chapter. “I think we’ll be able to really get the Iowa chapter moving in the fall with student involvement.”  

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