When Discoveries dare Doctrines; Where does the Church stand? (Vol. 1, No. 6)

In recent times, there is a geometric progression in new discoveries raising some problems for the doctrines of the Church. For instance, among the theological community, the disclosure of the existence of the black race generated a hushed but heated debate: whether the blacks had souls, and therefore whether they were materials for baptism. One theological unsound response was that the blacks were fitted for labour in the tobacco fields of the New World. Today, the prospects of new discoveries in outer space and many more transmute the terms of discourse to a different key. Perhaps, in the nearest future, the inventions of robot and its capacity to be recognised in the church will be thrusted into the theological discourse.

In fact, we are living in the midst of a culture that is hostile to the gospel and consequently, a sort of persecution that is polite, disguised as culture, modernity and progress. To be precise, in bio-ethics, the discovery of Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs) like In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), Artificial Insemination (AI), Gamete Intrafallopian Transfer (GIFT), Zygote Intrafallopian Transfer (ZIFT), Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), are all discoveries daring the doctrines of the Church as regards the sacredness of human life. Well, all these scientific innovations notwithstanding, there are certain age long truths in the history of the Church towards the development of science that must be put into consideration.

Meanwhile, in this write up, we intend to expose how these discoveries are daring the doctrines with the factors responsible for them, we also wish to express the indubitable principles of the Church in response to any of the discoveries. But before then, there are certain age long truths in the history of the Church towards the development of Science that must be unfolded. This is to enable Science to know that she has a mother, who will always clearly express her objective teaching to her (Science) even if in the process, her (Church) shoes get soiled by the mud of the street. Hence we look into the mother-daughter relationship between the Church and Science.


The relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and Science is a widely debated subject. Historically, the Church has often been a patron of sciences. It has been prolific in the foundation of schools, universities and hospitals, and many clergy have been active in the sciences. Historians of Science such as Pierre Duhem credit medieval Catholic mathematicians and philosophers such as John Buridan, Nicole Oresme and Roger Bacon as the founders of modern science. The Church remains the single greatest private provider of medical care and research facilities in the world.

Following the Fall of Rome, monasteries and convents remained bastions of scholarship in Western Europe and clergymen were the leading scholars of the age – studying nature, mathematics and the motion of the stars (largely for religious purposes). Since the Renaissance, Catholic scientists have been credited as fathers of a diverse range of scientific fields: Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744–1829) prefigured the theory of evolution with Lamarckism; Friar Gregor Mendel (1822–84) pioneered genetics and Fr Georges Lemaitre (1894-1966) proposed the Big Bang cosmological model. The Jesuits have been particularly active, notably in astronomy. Church patronage of sciences continues through elite institutions like the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Vatican Observatory.

In the 19th century, the conflict thesis emerged to propose an intrinsic conflict or conflicts between the Church and Science. The Church itself rejects the notion of innate conflict. The Vatican Council (1869/70) declared that “Faith and Reason are of mutual help to each other”. This was reaffirmed in Pope John Paul II’s 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio, that “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 present Papal astronomer Brother Guy Consolmagno describes science as an “act of worship” and as “a way of getting intimate with the creator”.

Furthermore, in his 1893 encyclical, Providentissimus Dei, Pope Leo XIII wrote “no real disagreement can exist between the theologian and the scientist provided each keeps within his own limits. . . . If nevertheless there is a disagreement . . . it should be remembered that the sacred writers, or more truly ‘the Spirit of God who spoke through them, did not wish to teach men such truths (as the inner structure of visible objects) which do not help anyone to salvation’;

For more clarification, the Catechism of the Catholic Church asserts: “Methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. Now the question goes thus; has there ever been a scientific truth which does not assist one to salvation, and if there is, what could be the cause?


The dichotomy affecting the modern world is in fact, a symptom of the deeper dichotomy that is in man himself. He is the meeting point of many conflicting forces. In his condition as a created being, he is limited by a thousand shortcomings, yet he feels unlimited in his yearnings and destined for a higher life. Conscious of the freedom of creativity, Sophocles had earlier indicated in his antigone: ‘Numberless are the world’s wonders, but none more wonderful than man; the stormgrey sea yields to his powers’. Besides, the man-made machine draws attention beyond itself to man, the machine maker. It impels us to enrich the awareness of the latent capabilities which man must bring to fruition. So, man’s thought cannot be restricted to the platitudes of the customary.

First and foremost, a critical consideration of the outer space for instance speaks volume to this obscurity. Through science fictions and entertainment industries in such films as Star Wars and Odyssey, it is revealed that the future of space exploration is pregnant with both positive and negative consequences. Among the positive benefits of space exploration is the enrichment of our religious claims. We can rise in admiration to praise the God who has given such power to men (Mtt. 9:8). We can lose ourselves in ecstacy in realising the sacramentality of reality; whatever is, is a symbol that points beyond itself. That’s what the Psalmist found long ago, “the heavens declare the glory of God; the vault of heaven proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). Whatever the scientists may say does not nullify nor make superfluous such an affirmation.

The negative side unfolds boldness of discoveries towards doctrines. This is predicated on the fact that man’s increased confidence in his skill and technical knowhow will further fuel his experiment of understanding himself without God (anthropocentrism). It is reported that the first Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, according to his own account searched outer space for God, as if God was another element studied by the empirical sciences. Far more significantly, the Church, after the Easter, celebrates the feast of Ascension, when Christians think of Christ as rising up from the earth driven by the power of his own personality (not by chariots like Elisha nor by rockets like the Columbia) into Heaven. This raises the question of locating the place of heaven in our cosmic geography. Powerful cameras have scanned the heavens sending us splendid pictures; Saturn and her rings, marvellous photographs and her moons. Will further space exploration disclose what biblical cosmology refers to as Heaven? Are there other forms of life out there? Are there men in the far-off galaxies? If there are, do they also come under the curse of Adam and under the Lordship of Christ? Or are these idle questions? – Well, the symbol of ascension and the sublimity of space should serve to lift us from our earthliness to the exploration of another region of experience, a spiritual universe which is a higher view point.

Far more significantly, technologies no doubt raise new ethical problems such as the dignity and right of the child to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought up by his own parents. Scientists claim to produce human embryo through various procedures like artificial reproduction and parthenogenesis, throws the entire world and scientific community into confusion as to when human life begins. Assisted Reproductve techniques can open way to other forms of biological and genetic manipulation of human embryos, such as plans for fertilization between human and animal gamates. Bearing in mind that these manipulations are contrary to the personal dignity of the human being, when children who are product of these reproductive techniques grow to become Priests, what will be the stand of the Church? We shall attempt to answer this elsewhere and at another time. Meanwhile, the church teaches that such biotechnological interventions in the process of procreation are wrong and insists that technological processes should respect the dignity of the human person as it carries out its function and research. What is technically possible is not, for that reason morally admissible. Hence we look into the general principle of the Church in the midst of scientific discoveries.


Today, we are on the threshold of writing a new chapter in the annals of our human achievement. It is expedient for a thinking faith to reappraise itself when new evidence threatening its foundations emerges. This has always been the case when we trace the development of doctrines. Doctrines arise, develop themselves and are made serviceable to new aims; this in all cases takes place through Theology. But Theology is dependent on innumerable factors, above all on the spirit of the time; for it lies in the nature of theology that it desires to make its object intelligible. It therefore follows that theology comes to take flesh among us when we interpret our present day experiences from the point of view of our faith. That is when we allow the tradition handed on to us by the past generation to be influenced by the experience of the present generation without corrupting the message of our Lord Jesus as this tradition extends to the next generation.

The Church as the custodian of the message of Christ therefore, has the authoritative responsibility to make the tradition handed on to her to be ever relevant to the existential condition of the present day. The Church believes that Tradition is dynamic because there are certain experiences which our Fathers in faith never had and so were unable to forward to the table of theological discourse. In other words, new scientific discoveries create an enabling environment for the Church’s continuous deliberation on her doctrines, but without compromising the authenticity of the gospel message.

It is worthy to note at this juncture that the interpretation of the Church’s tradition within a given historical circumstance, is done in a manner that considers the faith of the faithful (sensus fidei), following the spirit of the tradition that lends credence to the scripture and the apostolic creed. Providentially, this unshakeable stand of the Church has continued to guide the faith of her members due to the wisdom bestowed on her by our Lord Jesus Christ. So, the Church is not discouraging discoveries rather she ensures that in the midst of any, the fear of God must guide the scientists for that is the beginning of wisdom. Moreover, in his address at the conference of regenerative medicine, Pope Francis, on Friday 29th April 2016, says that research requires unwavering attention to moral issues if it is to be an instrument which safeguards human life and the dignity of the person.


In the midst of these new discoveries, I wish to re-affirm Christ’s unquestionable assurance to his body the Church, that not even death will ever conquer her (Mtt. 16:18b). Against this backdrop of divine certainty, I therefore assert; ‘that the Holy Mother Church cannot continue to guide the innovations of this world is an illusion, and that she will finally bow to the spirits and doctrines of this world remains a delusion’. Sursum corda! The rays of God’s glory is shed upon the Church that it may be seen as the gate of salvation open to all nation and the visible face of Jesus Christ in the world.

Caution; One thing interestingly significant about this direction of history is that it is not outside the purview of divine intelligence. We only need to remain steadfast to God who has permitted the unfolding of history towards this direction. In addition, we ought to firmly, faithfully and without error interpret this historical movement to his glory, for through Him, all things come to be. Let us not be in a haste to forget that the new worlds to conquer are new avenues to everlasting self significance, self definition and self fulfilment. Our narrow mindedness should therefore give place to a horizon as wide as God’s. God’s love is as inclusive as his creation.


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