Message: Today we see in the examples of Herod and the Magi that science can be used for both good and evil.
Epiphany Sunday is good moment to consider the uses of science. Perhaps you had a son return from college and tell you he now "believes in science." Or even that science has disproved Christianity. For an in-depth response I encourage you to read Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism by Alvin Plantinga.
My goal in this homily is more modest. I would like to address two uses of science: Science can be used for power over others, but it can also spark contemplation. Herod represents the former; the Magi the latter.
The Magi, a.k.a. the Wise Men, were scientists of their day. They studied natural phenomena in the heavens and made a long journey to find the truth. Herod encourages them to "search diligently" not because he cares about the truth in itself, but to defend his power.
In the attitudes of Herod and the Magi we can see that science is neither good nor bad in itself. It all depends on how a person uses it. Science has given us Zyklon B, napalm and the atom bomb. It has also given us kidney transplant surgery, MRI's and pasteurized milk.* The latter, by the way, were all inventions of scientists with Christian faith.
Christians have consistently embraced science as a means of improving human life. Hospitals and universities developed in the Christian milieu of medieval Europe. Christians have imitated the Magi in studying the heavens. It's no accident that 35 lunar craters are named for Jesuits. Nor should it surprise us that the Big Bang theory was first proposed by a Catholic priest named George LeMaitre.
Science can be used for great good. It can also enhance the power of evil men like Herod. Science leads some people away from God, but science itself is not to blame. As I explained on New Year's Day, many people have an Epicurean philosophy and they claim the mantle of science to promote that world view. But science can also lead men to God as happened with the Magi.
Next Sunday we have the birthday of man who combined faith and science: Blessed Niels Steensen. Known as Steno he is the "Father of Geology" and also a convert to Catholicism who went on to become a priest and later bishop. In 1988 Pope John beatified him - but all that is story for another Sunday. The point to remember is that although geological discoveries about the age of the earth have been used to call into question the Bible, the man who founded geology did not see it that way. He embraced both the truth of science and the truth of the Bible - and the Catholic faith.
Today we see in the examples of Herod and the Magi that science can be used for both good and evil. A bad man can use scientific discoveries to wield unjust power. But science can also bring a person to worship the true Source of creation. Let' be like the Magi. When the saw the child ("with Mary his mother"), they prostrated themselves and did him homage. Amen
And now the Epiphany Proclamation (Date of Easter 2015 & other Christian feasts)
*The man who gave us pasteurization (as well as vacines) was a life-long Catholic. Against the philosophy of Positivism he said:
The mind that confesses consciousness of the idea of the Infinite - and no mind can fail to be conscious of it - accepts more of the supernatural than is contained in all the miracles of all the religions. For the idea of the Infinite has two characteristics; it imposes itself on the mind, and it baffles the mind's effort to comprehend it.
Joseph Murray performed the first successful kidney transplant. Here's a quote from the Guardian article about him:
"Towards the end of 1954, 23-year-old Richard Herrick lay delirious and paranoid in a hospital bed in Massachusetts, trying to pull out his catheter. His symptoms were caused by chronic nephritis – the kidney inflammation that was killing him. His brother Ronald offered to do something extraordinary – donate a healthy kidney. This was before the days of immune-suppressing drugs, but Ronald appeared to be Richard's identical twin and his surgeon, Joseph Murray, believed transplantation ought to be possible in such cases. Murray, a practising Catholic, consulted various religious leaders to discuss the ethical implications of transplant, and, to check that the brothers really were identical, called on the Boston police department..."
Raymond Vahan Damadian a believing Christian invented the first MR (Magnetic Resonance) Scanning Machine. Here is an interesting article about him.
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