“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.