Radio Show

Father Robert Spitzer Talks Faith and Science


Friend of the show Father Robert Spitzer, president and co-founder of the Magis Center, stops by to discuss faith, science, and suffering with Father Dave.

To begin, Father Spitzer explains some of the work of the Magis Center and its resources for dioceses that help teach classes about the Sacraments and the relationship between God and science.

Father Spitzer is a physicist and reacts to the recent death of Stephen Hawking: “He came up with some very important discoveries about the universe and was an extraordinarily resilient human being. He had ALS perhaps worse than anybody, and he lived through it longer than perhaps anybody with great resilience and courage … I had a debate with him on the “Larry King Show” a few years ago, and we have some profound differences with respect to ultimate reality and meaning, and those came out in the show. … We had our little tussles, and we do disagree on these things, but he had a very good spirit and was an enormously talented intellect.”

Brett asks Father Spitzer if people subscribe to Stephen Hawking’s view of religion because they believe him to be very smart, therefore he has a greater understanding of spirituality. Father Spitzer agrees: “Absolutely. But look, you cannot disprove God with science. Science really begins with observational data, and observational data has the limit of what we call our event horizon of our universe. … God is very much outside of our universe, and so, you can’t disprove a God who is outside of our universe by using data from observation within our universe. It’s impossible.”

Father Spitzer also explains why Hawking’s view was flawed, “Stephen made a claim in that debate that scientists now believe that we know enough about the universe to know that the universe doesn’t need a creator. Anybody who has taken Philosophy 101 knows that is an impossible claim. Science is an inductive discipline. That means we don’t know everything about the universe. We don’t even know if we know everything about the universe, and we don’t even know when we can know everything about the universe because scientists don’t know what they don’t know until they’ve discovered it by observation. That’s the problem of science. How can you claim that we know sufficiently enough about the universe now to know it doesn’t need a creator? Impossible claim! … When you imply that the only valid truth is a scientific truth, that claim itself is not a scientifically validatable claim. Because it’s a universal claim right, ‘All valid truth is scientific.’ Well, you put an ‘all’ in there and that’s a universal claim. Science can’t make a universal claim, it can only make a factual claim, which is conditioned by the space and time coordinance of your observations.”

Father Dave points out that as priests, they deal with a lot of suffering from others, and it’s harder for someone to have an academic or philosophical conversation if they are in the midst of something serious: “Sometimes we kinda grapple for the things to say and come out with platitudes like ‘Oh, it’s God’s will.’ How does suffering really key into our everyday lives?”

Father Spitzer explains that in these situations, it’s important to pray from the heart and to trust God: “Spontaneous prayers are easy and are conduits of grace and bring God into the conversation. The last thing you want to do when you’re really suffering is to turn in on yourself. You become more lonely and more resentful. You have to let God in by any means possible. … Fear is useful, what is needed is trust. We have to reorient and get a rational grasp on our suffering in order to control our fears and resentment.”