Science, Spirituality, Religion and Alcoholism

brain1“Science teaches us that the earth is not the center of the universe. Faith teaches me that neither am I.”

Growing up Catholic, by osmosis I instinctively “knew” that science and religion were compatible. My parents were primary proponents of education; and academic achievement was encouraged in our home. Additionally, my parents ensured we were educated in our faith, through parochial schools or Catechism classes.

Both science and faith were priority and entirely compatible. Nobody told me this. I just understood it to be true.

It wasn’t until I became an adult, when worldly views made their trek through my life experiences that I discovered there were those who thought religion and science were at odds with each other. I learned there were two camps: either life was guided by faith or it was guided by reason/science.

In recovery from alcoholism, I’ve encountered this same spirituality vs science phenomenon. The two schools of thought are either to take the AA 12-Step spirituality road to recovery or take the Science-based medical and knowledge road.

My Catholic perspective lends itself to me approaching recovery in an “all of the above” manner. And for me, my Catholic faith is the perfect bridge between the two schools of recovery thought: spirituality and science.

Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit, argued in a 1959 book The Phenomenon of Man that science and religion were two vital sides of the quest for perfect knowledge. And in his 1996 encyclical Fides et Ratio, Pope John Paul II wrote, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, never conflicts with the faith, because the things of the world and the things the of the faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are”.

(this from Wikipedia): Catholic scientists (many of them clergymen) have been credited as fathers of a diverse range of scientific fields – including physics (Galileo), acoustics (Mersenne), mineralogy (Agricola), modern chemistry (Lavoisier), modern anatomy (Vesalius), stratigraphy (Steno), bacteriology (Kircher and Pasteur), genetics (Mendel), analytical geometry (Descartes), heliocentric cosmology (Copernicus) atomic theory (Bošković) and the Big Bang Theory on the origins of the universe (Lemaître).

Look no further than the Vatican Observatory or the Pontifical Council of Science to glean how the Church feels about science.

In his 2011 book, Hi-jacking the Brain, Louis Teresi, MD explains the science behind 12 Step programs. An alcoholic himself, Teresi  credits 12 Step recovery for helping him quit drinking. He had science and knowledge, but was unable to beat this disease because his approach at first lacked the spiritual component.

He grapples in the book with the paradox that alcoholism is an organic brain disease but with a spiritual remedy.  To his scientific mind, this spiritual remedy did not make sense until he experienced it for himself and was able to ascribe to the phenomenon in scientific terms.

The author uses examples from animal sociobiology, as well as sophisticated human brain-imaging studies to demonstrate that empathic socialization and altruism are instinctive and ‘naturally rewarding’ and, along with Twelve-Step Work, act as a substitute for the ‘synthetic rewards’ of drugs of abuse.

While his approach is commendable—and I love the book– it seems to me that science can never adequately explain why spirituality works. To me, it’s more than the internal workings of the limbic system within my brain that keeps me in balance spiritually. It’s God. It’s that power greater than me that fills my soul.  It’s not within me and my brain matter or synapses that keeps me from taking a drink. It’s my faith in God that enables me to do what I wouldn’t normally be able to do without God’s help.

Dr Teresi grew up Catholic, but now considers himself “Christian-lite.”  Perhaps it was his Catholic upbringing which provided him the foundation to embrace science whole-heartedly, achieving a Magna Cum Laude in Biology from Harvard and an MD from Harvard with an honors concentration in Neuroscience.

On my bookshelf are Alcoholics Anonymous (the Big Book), Healing the Addicted Brain, Hi-jacking the Brain, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Holy Bible, Catholic Catechism, Womens Guide to Recovery, 24 Hours A Day, Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola and Living Sober.  My recovery experience also includes today’s best addiction medications which helped get me going in the right direction in the beginning. Add face-time at regular 12 step recovery meetings to this and I’ve got myself a pretty good chance of staying sober today,  by the grace of God.

6 thoughts on “Science, Spirituality, Religion and Alcoholism

  1. Let me ask a different question: is it possible to reconcile literal belief with science and reason? What do you, for instance, think of evolution or the age of the universe?

    I do not want to be offensive – just curious! It’s very encouraging to read of your success with staying sober.

    • Hi! Thanks for stopping by and no offense taken at all. It’s tough to offend me :) I love your question. Even before the development of modern scientific method, Catholic theology did not insist on a literal interpretation of biblical text that might, as St Augustine wrote in the 5th century, contradict what can be established by science or reason, so Catholicism has always been able to reinterpret scripture in light of scientific discovery.

      Today, the Church’s official position is a fairly non-specific example of theistic evolution, stating that faith and scientific findings regarding human evolution are not in conflict, though humans are regarded as a special creation, and that the existence of God is required to explain the spiritual component of human origins.

      Catholic schools in the United States (my children attend a Catholic school) teach evolution as part of their science curriculum. They teach the fact that evolution occurs and the modern evolutionary synthesis, which is the scientific theory that explains why evolution occurs. This is the same evolution curriculum that secular schools teach. Bishop DiLorenzo of Richmond, chair of the Committee on Science and Human Values in a December 2004 letter sent to all U.S. bishops: “…Catholic schools should continue teaching evolution as a scientific theory backed by convincing evidence. At the same time, Catholic parents whose children are in public schools should ensure that their children are also receiving appropriate catechesis at home and in the parish on God as Creator.

      Does this answer your question or am I rambling? I had written an essay on this so that’s why my response was pretty quick :) I was able to copy and paste from my previous thoughts on this issue.

  2. I’m fairly certain Darwin was a Christian too.

    There are some scientists who have come to faith because of their science. One of my friends is a doctor and she says that for her, the miracle of the human race continuing is one of her proofs of God. (First, you have to have the couple having sex at the right time of the egg being released, then a sperm has to meet the egg, then it has to get fertilised, then the fertilised egg has to find a suitable place to implant, then it has to survive the womb doing its best to get rid of it, then it has to be born and be looked after and survive to adult hood to repeat the process.)

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