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Sister Catherine Brodersen, ASCJ, talked with Kelly Fleming in a sophomore theology class Jan. 16 at Cor Jesu Academy. Cor Jesu incorporates Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer’s The Reason Series — on the relationship between faith and science — into sophomore theology with positive results, increasing students’ faith.
Sister Catherine Brodersen, ASCJ, talked with Kelly Fleming in a sophomore theology class Jan. 16 at Cor Jesu Academy. Cor Jesu incorporates Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer’s The Reason Series — on the relationship between faith and science — into sophomore theology with positive results, increasing students’ faith.

Faith’s connection with science

Theology class helps Cor Jesu students ‘believe in evolution and God’

Allison Fields calls herself a “science girl.”

“I love science!” the Cor Jesu sophomore said, with an enthusiasm that has grown in a year and a half at Cor Jesu Academy, the all-girls Catholic high school in Affton run by the Apostles of the Sacred Heart.

Not just from an academic standpoint either; the faith aspect is huge, too — a staple of Catholic education and the cornerstone of the school’s sophomore theology class.

Theology department head Linda Martin and teacher Sister Catherine Brodersen, ASCJ, have infused their classes with lessons about the compatibility of faith and science, that faith works in unison with science … and vice versa. It incoporates The Reason Series of Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer of the Magis Center.

This was eye-opening for Fields, whose background was in public education before entering Cor Jesu in fall 2017. In public school, she had studied science, including the Big Bang Theory of the universe’s creation, but without the faith component.

“I never got to compare it to my faith and see how it was connected,” she said. “Coming here I didn’t quite understand everything about my faith, so there were questions that I had struggled with — the whole Adam and Eve story and how old the earth is. …I had always felt like if I didn’t totally believe the Bible, I was kind of betraying my faith. I learned in The Reason Series, that you can combine the two and it actually makes more logical sense. …

“For me that completely changed how I look at things. I learned that science can never contradict our God.”

Popular culture seems to give the opposite message, though; science and religion appear to be polar opposites, that they conflict — an either-or proposition.

“I feel like we live in a world where everyone’s always telling us pick one or the other, that you can either be religious or believe in science,” Fields said. “But you can put those two together and not have to decide if you believe this part of the Bible or this part of science. They’ll never contradict.”

That’s been news even to students with Catholic education backgrounds.

“At first, I was thinking, ‘Wait, science and faith can be compatible? No, I always thought science and faith were opposites,’” said Ava Hellmuth, who describes herself as coming from “a very, very Catholic family. My faith always made sense to me, but The Reason Series made it stronger. It just made everything connect more.”

She found that “really surprising,” not at all what she had been expecting.

“I thought it’d be like every other theology class: take notes and take tests and not really learned anything new because I knew a lot of the stuff,” she said, adding that Father Spitzer’s series “made me think about my faith in a whole other light.”

Take the Big Bang Theory, for instance. A Catholic priest, Father Georges Lemaître, developed the Big Bang Theory in 1928, and Albert Einstein accepted it as the most reasonable explanation about the creation the universe. Father Lemaître’s posited that a Big Bang created the universe, which has been expanding for 14 billion years since.

Father Spitzer, the president of the Magis Center, has said God created the awe-inspiring universe out of nothingness.

“I had never really thought about how ‘something’ can come from ‘nothing,’” Hellmuth said. “‘Something’ can only come from God.”

Then, consider the minuscule odds of the Big Bang setting in motion the processes that created the heavens, the earth, evolution and the humans, creatures and everything else in God’s beautiful creation.

“The constants for our world to have a low enough entropy to support life … it’s pretty much impossible,” Fields said. “If you think about it, at the time of the Big Bang, all those constants had to be exactly fine-tuned and only God could do that. …

“It’s makes so much sense. ‘Something’ can’t come from ‘nothing;’ we needed our God to start it.”

The feedback from Fields and Hellmuth is typical of the Cor Jesu sophomores who have studied The Reason Series over the past four years. Martin integrated it into the curriculum after attending a presentation and seminar by Father Spitzer in May 2014 at Cardinal Rigali Center. The archdiocesan Institute for Theological Encounter with Science and Technology (ITEST) sponsored that program.

Being a theology teacher, the science in Father Spitzer’s presentation was “way over my head,” Martin said, with a laugh. Still, she was “blown away” by the presentation and “at that moment I thought we had to put something in our curriculum to help the students understand that faith and science are compatible. What science tells us and gives us reason to believe is that we do have a God and God exists … an intelligent God, too.

“The girls can believe in evolution and God. It has been wonderful.”

>> Feedback

At the end of the midterm exam, Cor Jesu sophomore theology students were asked: What was the most important or surprising thing that you learned in The Reason Series? A sampling of responses:

Being walked through how science and philosophy and religion not only don’t contradict but instead work together to provide evidence for truth was so very surprising and interesting.

These two pieces of evidence (fine-tuning and entropy) encouraged my belief that God was the one who created the universe before (with) the Big Bang.

I (had) questioned and wondered about God a lot. The Reason Series helped me understand my existence.

… [T]he concept that ‘nothing’ can come from ‘nothing’ so there had to be a creator of the universe. I had never thought about that before and it gave me proof of God’s existence.

It answered a lot of my questions regarding science and God in a logical and indisputable way. … It is okay to believe in science and God – logical even.

• Since this series, I have helped a non-believer understand why faith doesn’t contradict science. … She hasn’t drastically converted, but she is starting to realize that she had been blind to God’s light.

• The most important things I learned were the reasons for God’s existence. I think it is important and helpful for all Catholics to be able to defend their faith with solid facts.

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