Faith and science Peter Hodgson
THERE are many people who have new ideas in science and religion and naturally they want to publicise them by teaching and writing. Some of these ideas may be based on careful research, and others are just wild speculation. If everything was disseminated there would be such a mixture of good and bad ideas that further progress would be practically impossible. There has to be some way of avoiding such chaos.
The results of scientific research are published in established journals, and any scientist is free to submit an article for publication. To ensure that it is worth publishing, the editor of the journal sends the article to two or three referees, who examine its suitability. If it reports experimental work, they check that the measurements have been made properly and the results presented in sufficient detail. Theoretical work must be properly carried out. The results must be new, and advance our understanding of the subject significantly. The whole must be clearly presented, and established results distinguished from speculations. Even if it is a good article, the referee will usually have a list of criticisms and questions that are forwarded to the author, and the article is not accepted until the necessary corrections have been made to the satisfaction of the editor. This process takes some months, but it generally works well and ensures that only worthwhile articles are published. If an article is rejected, the author can always send it to another journal. A scientist who protested that his freedom was being restricted, or that unjust censorship was being exercised, would not get very far. The system is not perfect, and occasionally a very original article is not accepted. The task of the referee is hard, and his responsibility is heavy, and receives no credit, but it is accepted as a duty to the academic community.
This process applies to research articles published in professional journals, but seldom to articles in magazines and the popular press. Responsible editors may ensure that articles are read by other experts, but this is not mandatory. There is thus much greater likelihood that inaccurate articles may be published.
There is similarly a need to ensure that teaching at all levels is carried out by people who are profession ally qualified, and this is done by requiring candidates for a teaching position to submit evidence of professional competence with a list of publications, and to attend an interview.
IN THE CASE of religion, much more is at stake. A false idea about religion can do more harm than a false scientific statement, and yet in many cases less care is taken to ensure the correctness of what is taught or written. Those who attend Catholic schools, universities and seminaries, who listen to sermons or who read articles in Catholic periodicals and newspapers, have a right to know that all they hear or read is in accord with the teaching of the Church expressed by the Magisterium. It is correspondingly a duty for those responsible for such institutions and periodicals to ensure that this condition is satisfied.
Once again, as in the case of science, some people are unwilling to accept such conditions. The answer is the same: firstly that if you accept a position at a Catholic institution or write for a Catholic periodical the rights of the students and the readers must be respected, and if this condition is not acceptable you remain free to move elsewhere, but never to act or write contrary to the truth.