Faith Comes First - A hospice nurse treats a patient in Mount Carmel House, a home for the dying in Rochester, N.Y. Liz Quirin argues that a personal, faith-filled approach offers much more comfort, especially at the end of life, than a world based on science and technology.CNS photo/Mike Crupi
Faith Comes First - A hospice nurse treats a patient in Mount Carmel House, a home for the dying in Rochester, N.Y. Liz Quirin argues that a personal, faith-filled approach offers much more comfort, especially at the end of life, than a world based on science and technology.
CNS photo/Mike Crupi

When Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer and philosopher Galileo Galilei scientifically contradicted the Church with his view that the earth revolves around the sun instead of the other way around, he was eventually put under house arrest where he stayed until he died. It took the Church more than 300 years to apologize for the mistake.

Fast forward to the birth of world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, exactly 300 years after the death of Galileo.

Hawking, alternately accused of being an atheist or agnostic, has written extensively on evolution.

"What I have done is to show that it is possible for the way the universe began to be determined by the laws of science," he wrote in 1989. "In that case, it would not be necessary to appeal to God to decide how the universe began. This doesn't prove that there is no God, only that God is not necessary."

Calling God unnecessary trivializes world religions and our belief system, which Hawking may or may not have intended.

Jerry Coyne, an American professor of biology known for his commentary on the intelligent-design debate and a much more radical scientist, has described religion as "creeping superstition," and described science and religion as "not only different ways of understanding the world but incompatible ways of understanding the world."

While these giants of science sometimes debate over the relevance or irrelevance of religion, other scientists and medical personnel, from doctors to nurse's aides to medical transcribers, go quietly about their daily work, not only being guided by their faith but relying on it to make decisions, sometimes about life and death.

Regarding death, I prefer to meet with, dialogue with and perhaps be cared for by someone like Dr. Lynne Nowak.

She spends her days as a medical director in a hospice program. Not a glamorous position in these times of technology, pop science, designer genes and cures for every ailment, but when terminal diagnoses are delivered, a faith-filled physician can be more than a comfort. She can be trusted to look for the best way to complete life's journey.

When she talked recently about one of her patients who wanted to withdraw from machinery that kept him alive, her eyes filled with tears. While she was taught to heal, to do no harm, she has chosen to accompany people as they face their final days on earth.

While people generally shy away from discussing the "end game," Nowak spends every day with someone who is facing that very game, and while everyone knows the outcome, she makes it her business to provide compassionate care to the patient and the family and friends who also need understanding and support.

Nowak's faith guides her decisions. She doesn't wonder whether God exists; she doesn't question God; she calls on God and her faith to guide her decisions each day as physician and healer as she interacts with vulnerable patients who believe beyond doubt that God not only exists but will welcome them home with open arms.

Our problems do not rest in a debate over science or religion. Rather, our problems flow from whether religion can remain relevant in a secular world where people like Coyne extol the virtues of godless societies. We must make sure we not only believe and profess our faith, but stand up for our rights to practice our religious beliefs.

While Galileo may have questioned Pope Urban VIII's decision to place him under house arrest, he did not question God's existence.

As people continue to probe scientific frontiers constructing hypotheses and testing theories, knowing, accepting and partnering with a loving God would make life's journey more exciting and rewarding, especially at the end.

      Click here to read Tom Sheridan's Viewpoint.

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