The Catholic Faith And Modern Science

By Dr. Stephen Barr

The Catholic Faith And Modern Science

Are faith & science at odds?  A five part online course with Stephen Barr

In these lectures Prof. Barr will show that the widespread idea that faith and science are opposed to each other is based on serious misconceptions about the history of science, about what the Catholic Church teaches, and about what science has actually discovered about the world.  In the first lecture, he will show how fundamental Catholic beliefs about God dovetail with the basic assumptions of science.  In the second lecture, he will show how the Catholic Church, Catholic clergy, and Catholic lay people powerfully contributed to the founding and development of science.  In the third lecture, he will discuss the beginning and creation of the universe from the viewpoint of both Catholic theology and modern cosmology.  In the fourth lecture, he will show that the idea of the human “spiritual soul” is not in conflict with modern science.  In the final lecture he will show how the idea of biological evolution is perfectly consistent with a Christian conception of the universe.

Stephen Barr, Physics & Astronomy.

About Dr. Stephen Barr

Stephen M. Barr is President of the Society of Catholic Scientists and Professor Emeritus of theoretical particle physics at the University of Delaware. His research has centered mainly on “grand unified theories” and the cosmology of the early universe.  In 2011, he was elected to be a Fellow of the American Physical Society “for his original contributions to grand unification, CP violation, and baryogenesis”.  He writes and lectures extensively on the relation of science and religion.  He is the author of Modern Physics and Ancient Faith (Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2003) and The Believing Scientist: essays on science and religion (Eerdmans, 2016).  He was elected in 2010 to the Academy of Catholic Theology and was awarded the Benemerenti Medal by Pope Benedict XVI. 

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Recommended books and other resources:

History of the Church’s Relationship to Science:
Science and Religion. Lawrence Principe. The Great Courses, 2006. (12 lectures)  [This is a series of audio tapes.  It is extremely good.]
Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion, ed. Ronald L. Numbers (Harvard University Press, 2010)  Chapter 2 (Myth 2: That the Medieval Christian Church Suppressed the Growth of Science”, by Michael H. Shank); Chapter 11 (“Myth 11: That Catholics Did Not Contribute to the Scientific Revolution”, by Lawrence Principe); also Chapters 1, 3, 5.

Articles on the SCS website:                                         

The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution, James Hannam (Regnery, 2011)  [Very readable, enjoyable, and informative book.]

The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages: Their Religious, Institutional, and Intellectual Contexts, Edward Grant  (Cambridge University Press, 1996).  [Scholarly and well written.]

The Seashell on the Mountaintop, Alan Cutler (Author Planet Press, 2013) [A very good and readable biography of Blessed Nicolas Steno, the founder of geology]
Video Archive of SCS website, “Recommended” section: videos about Frs. Georges Lemaitre, Angelo Secchi, Marin Mersenne, and Gregor Mendel.

Science and the Catholic Faith:
Faith, Science, and Reason: Theology on the Cutting Edge (2nd edition), Christopher T. Baglow (Midwest Theological Forum, 2019).  [Every Catholic interested in faith-science issues should have this. Written as a textbook for Catholic schools, but adults will greatly benefit from it.]
Religious Faith Meets Modern Science, Paulinus F. Forsthoefel, S.J. (Alba House, 1994). [It is a very nice little book, but seems to be out of print. Used copies can be purchased on amazon.] 
The Believing Scientist: Essays on Science and Religion, Stephen M. Barr (Eerdmans, 2016).
Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, Stephen M. Barr (Univ. of Notre Dame Press., 2003)  [Especially for those interested in physics and its implications for philosophy and theology.]
Science and Religion: the Myth of Conflict, Stephen M. Barr (Catholic Truth Society, 2017) [A pamphlet that covers a lot of issues in a concise way.]

In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of Creation and the Fall, Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) (Eerdmans, 1995)  [A brilliant exposition of the Creation accounts in Genesis.]
Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God, International Theological Commission (chaired by Cardinal Ratzinger), July 23, 2004, especially sections. 62-69.
Religious Faith Meets Modern Science, Paulinus F. Forsthoefel, S.J. (Alba House, 1994). 
Faith, Science, and Reason: Theology on the Cutting Edge (2nd edition), Christopher T. Baglow (Midwest Theological Forum, 2019) Chapters 8, a9.
Thomistic Evolution: A Catholic Approach to Understanding Evolution in the Light of Faith, Nicanor Austriaco, James Brent, Thomas Davenport and John Baptist Ku  (Tacoma, WA: Cluny Media LLC, 2016), Chapters 25-28.

Class 1:

God and Natural Science, how they fit together

  1. The world as the Creation of God, not the abode of gods.
  2. God versus Nature?  The “God of the gaps” mistake.
  3. The ultimate Cause and natural causes are not competing explanations.
  4. How Nature points to its Author.
  5. God and Cosmic Order.
  6. The Laws of Nature and God as Lawgiver.
  7. Miracles and the Laws of Nature.


Class 2:

The Church and Science: a glorious history

  1. The historical myth of a science-faith “warfare.”
  2. The medieval universities and the foundations of modern science.
  3. The pioneers and founders of science were religious.
  4. The Catholic Church as patron of science.
  5. Important scientists who were Catholic priests or devout laymen.

Class 3:

The Big Bang, the Beginning, and Creation.

  1. St. Augustine, the “beginning of time,” and the Big Bang.
  2. The “Beginning” and “Creation,” are they the same?
  3. Can Physics explain Creation without a Creator?
  4. God is outside of time.

Class 4:

Science and the Human Soul.

  1. The fallacy of “physicalism.”  
  2. Physics and consciousness.
  3. The human difference: reason and free will.
  4. Does science say that free will is an illusion?
  5. The power of reason involves more than matter.

Class 5:

Catholicism and Evolution.

  1. The Church never condemned evolution.
  2. The key philosophical point: Primary and secondary causality.
  3. The key theological point: the spiritual soul.
  4. Some weak theological objections to evolution.
  5. The role of chance in evolution.
  6. Are we meant to be here?
  7. Adam and Eve and Original Sin.