Can Science “Purify” Religion from Error?

John Paul II once wrote to Fr. George Coyne, S.J., the former director of the Vatican Observatory, that “Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish.”

Setting aside the fascinating fact that the Vatican has its very own observatory, whose Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) is located on Mount Graham in southeastern Arizona, the statement itself issued by the former pontiff contains a potentially scandalizing assertion if given only a superficial reading. How could it be at all possible that science, especially a modern science in whose name the deposit of faith has been greatly assailed in recent history, can “purify religion,” particularly Christianity, “from error and superstition” without at the same time introducing a corruption of revelation and faith? Moreover, how can religion in general and Christianity in particular “purify science from idolatry and false absolutes” without forcing science to be at variance with its own particular method and practice?

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