Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Back-to-back talks in the Portland area this month took up the relationship between faith and science. It turns out that faith is enriched by scientific truths and science would do well to keep asking questions, even if the inquiries lead toward a divine presence.

Stacy Trasancos, a chemist with a master’s degree in theology, said Dec. 9 that understanding nature as God’s handiwork leads to the best and most honest science.

“We should be using science to bring people back to the faith, to their creator,” said Trasancos, who gave the latest installment in the Archbishop’s Lecture Series, organized by the Archdiocese of Portland.

The author of three books on faith and science, she teaches online theology courses for Seton Hall University and directs an evangelization institute in the Diocese of Tyler, Texas.

Raised Protestant, Trasancos largely ignored faith as she launched a scientific career in the 1990s. “I viewed the human person as a collection of atoms and molecules,” she told the audience of 200 at St. Anthony Parish in Tigard.

It was when attempting to replicate a tiny part of the process by which plants turn light into food that she was struck with awe and her own smallness. She could only deduce the work of a creator. “There is more going on here that I am going to be able to figure out,” she recalls thinking.

The experience threw her into a relationship with God and eventually into the Catholic Church. The higher identity and cosmic surprises of the human person became clear, said Trasancos, who is a mother of seven and grandmother of six. She read in Catholic teaching that children are gifts, a perspective she said is foreign in science.

Trasancos argued that most scientists who go deeply into natural processes hit a point at which they panic and stop asking questions because their findings lead them past facts and figures into higher realities.

“That is very unscientific,” she charged.

Trasancos reminded listeners that science emerged from the Christian world view that creation is good. She urged a return to the fruitful relationship among science, philosophy and theology.

Father John Henderson, pastor of St. Anthony Parish, gave an opening prayer.

“You are God of the universe, God of all living creatures,” Father Henderson said. “You are God of DNA, H2O and every element in the periodic table. … May we be open to questions and mindful of your grace through Jesus Christ.”

On Dec. 10 during a Jesuit High School lecture series at the Old Market Pub in Southwest Portland, two theologically-trained spiritual directors explained how the world view of Jesuit Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin has framed the modern relationship of faith and science. Father Teilhard de Chardin, who died in 1955, was a paleontologist who posited that evolution was God’s process for inviting us ever closer to loving union with each other and with Christ.

Some scientists and theologians are describing a related new moment in evolution. According to the theory, we humans are evolving from a fear-based life to a more open stance to others, said Mark Lesniewski, a spiritual director and retreat leader at the Franciscan Spiritual Center in Milwaukie. Fear was helpful when humans had to beware of predators, theologians say. But now cooperation and understanding are more necessary for survival and fear is an impediment to thriving.

“It seems there is a groundswell around this,” said Greg Allen, who has taught at Jesuit High School for 30 years and now leads spiritual formation there for students, faculty, staff, parents and alumni. “There is a movement from fear to love.”

Allen said a dualistic world view, based on Plato’s metaphysics, predominated for millennia: world vs. heaven, dark vs. light, body vs. soul. Father Teilhard de Chardin, by contrast, argued that evolution, paired with Jesus’ Incarnation, means that everything is sacred for those who can see.

Allen said that Father Teilhard de Chardin, whose writings were suppressed by church leaders and later accepted, saw human beings as collaborators in God’s ongoing creation, with love as the means and goal. Evolution brings increased complexity in organisms; that leads to more connectivity, Father Teilhard de Chardin said, adding that Jesus’ death and Resurrection draw us toward an ultimate communion.