“The whole universe and you are in some ways created in the same way. This is one of the many gifts that God gives us.”
—Dr. Karin Öberg
At the recent Word On Fire Conference 2023, Dr. Karin Öberg spoke about the mystery of science. As a Harvard astrochemist, Öberg not only shared incredible scientific insights but also shed light on the deeper perspective gained by viewing science from the lens of our Catholic faith. She also discussed the limits of science, questions that science cannot answer, and the importance of employing reason and other intellectual disciplines to arrive at the truth.
The Mysterious Inspiration behind Science
Most of us are familiar with the scientific method, the process by which scientists devise a reliable approach to discover the answer to a specific question—or at least rule out incorrect answers. The scientific method is taught in elementary schools and used by scientists at every level to expand our understanding of the natural world.
While we often take the scientific method for granted, Dr. Öberg invites us to take a step back and marvel at how scientists initially think of the questions to which they seek answers. In a field that is dominated by what is provable and observable, isn’t it amazing that we don’t know where our inspirations to wonder about such truths come from? While scientists are seeking concrete and impervious explanations for the natural world, it could very well be something supernatural (like the Holy Spirit), inspiring us to research these questions in the first place.
Faith and the Big Bang
Beyond supernatural inspiration, Dr. Öberg sheds light on the ways that faith can empower and enhance science despite the fact that many view the two as unrelated or even conflicting. Our faith gives us an openness to accept possibilities that those opposed to faith may shy away from. The Big Bang is an excellent example of this. Since the Big Bang suggests the universe had a beginning, many atheist scientists were resistant to the theory because it could imply a creator. In fact, the scientist who developed the theory was a Catholic priest. Perhaps his faith made him more likely to entertain the idea of the Big Bang compared to some of his contemporaries.
The Limits of Science
Through these examples, Dr. Öberg beautifully illustrates the fundamental good of science. However, science is not the only practice by which we can arrive at truth. Öberg stresses the importance of “reclaiming reason” and the validity of history, testimony, philosophy, and personal experience in pursuit of the truth. There are specific questions that science simply cannot answer, particularly questions about what lies outside our universe. The limits of science allow us to wonder, to look beyond ourselves, outside the universe, and unto the Creator.