Are relics scientific? Are science and faith at odds? How can a faithful Catholic reconcile the Big Bang Theory with the book of Genesis? Father Robert Spitzer, Jesuit priest and president of the Magis Center, discusses these burning questions with Father Dave and Brett from the Tower of Hope on the Christ Cathedral Campus in Orange, California.
Father Spitzer begins by talking about evidence for the existence of Jesus and the science behind the Shroud of Turin. “First of all,” he says, “if you’re going to discount the existence of Jesus, then you’re going to have to discount the evidence of the Roman historian Tacitus, who was certainly no friend of Christianity.” Likewise, Jewish historian Josephus, another enemy of the Church, wrote to the Roman emperor in the first century A.D. about the execution of Jesus and the spread of Christianity. Despite widespread claims to the contrary, experts generally agree on the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth.
The Shroud of Turin, Father Spitzer says, presents an even more compelling case — not just for the existence of Jesus as a man but also for his resurrection. “(It) is absolutely the most scientifically tested relic in the history of humankind, and it has a lot of information that correlates beautifully with the Gospel message.” After extensive testing, Italian physicists determined that the image of the face of Jesus is only on the surface layer of the shroud, proving that the cloth was not dyed with vapor or gas, nor was it burned. Instead, the only feasible explanation physicists accept is an astoundingly powerful and extremely brief flash of light, such as the one that Christ’s body likely emitted upon his resurrection. “Basically, what it requires is six to eight billion watts of light energy for one-forty-billionth of a second,” Father Spitzer explains. Beyond this astounding discovery, other scientific evidence for the shroud’s authenticity includes its perfect 3D imprintation and symmetry.
Although some might think it strange to mix science and faith, the Catholic Church has had a long relationship with science. “The very first person to discover the Big Bang Theory in 1927 was Father George LeMaitre, a Belgian priest,” Father Spitzer says. “Of course the Catholic Church supported him in this! We have a Papal Academy of Sciences.” Despite popular belief, the Catholic Church has never denied the scientific mechanism for the creation of the earth 13 billion years ago.
“So, does that make us non-Bible-believing?” Father Dave asks.
“Pope Pius XII said we do not take the Genesis account to be literal science,” Father Spitzer replies. “Science, of course, attempts to give an accurate description and explanation of the physical universe by the use of scientific methodology. That’s not what the biblical author was doing in conjunction with God’s inspiration. The biblical author is giving us sacred truths necessary for salvation.” Chief among these truths, Father Spitzer says, are the doctrines of monotheism, promotion of human dignity, the creation of human beings in the image and likeness of God, and the ultimate goodness of creation.
Photo credit: The Vatican-authorized replica of the Shroud of Turin is seen on exhibit in front of a mosaic of Christ’s resurrection in the golden-domed Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia. (CNS photo/Teresa Siwak, courtesy The Way)