On Becoming a Catholic

I am a scientist. From an early age, science has been important to me. Science is very effective at learning about the physical world. But science does not address the meaning of life. And the pursuit of science, though noble, does not in itself make one a good person.
I was raised as a Southern Baptist. I learned a lot about the Bible during these years. I learned about God and Jesus. When I was nine years old I became a Christian and was baptized. But for me, the Baptist Church left a lot of questions unanswered. Also, I had difficulty reconciling science with faith. In college, I was introduced to Catholicism. I read various Catholic writers and regularly attended daily Mass. I was especially impressed by St. Augustine’s Confessions. It was the first time I had encountered an intellectual, yet deeply spiritual, view of Christianity. I have attended Mass ever since, but I never took the step of becoming Catholic.

While I was in graduate school at Caltech, I met my wife, Cecile, at church. I was very impressed by her and her loving example. We have been married 38 years. She is a devout Catholic. Her faith is a constant inspiration for me. We have five children: William, Edward, Thomas, John, and Elizabeth. They are all wonderful people.

I believe in God. The beauty, order, and complexity we see in nature points to the existence of a creator, but I do not feel this proves that God exists. There is strong scientific evidence that the universe had a beginning about 13.772 billion years ago. This also points to the existence of a creator. But scientific understanding can change with time, so it is not wise to base one’s belief in God on science. I think a more convincing proof of God is the very existence of the universe. It is not enough to have started out the universe in a Big Bang. What, however, continues to hold the universe in existence? Another proof is the existence of natural moral law, which we all experience. Attempts to derive the moral law from natural processes are not convincing to me; a more appealing alternative is that the moral law was created by God and put into our hearts. God revealed Himself to the Jewish people, as is recorded in the Hebrew scriptures. God was revealed to be a just giver of laws, but also merciful, loving, and forgiving.

I believe in Jesus. Jesus manifested the mercy, love, and forgiveness of God in a way that profoundly affects me. Jesus forgave sins, something only God can do. Christians believe that Jesus is both God and man. As man, Jesus was absolutely faithful and obedient to God the Father, even unto death. Our sins are forgiven through His sacrifice, and we receive the promise of eternal life with God through His Resurrection.

I believe in the Holy Spirit. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). I encounter holiness in the Mass and holiness in God’s people. This holiness is especially present in the lives of the saints. It is made manifest through the workings of the Holy Spirit.

I believe in the Catholic Church. The Church is imperfect; there are a number of actions that the Church regrets, such as the inquisitions, the crusades, and more recently the sexual abuse scandal. Nevertheless, the Church has always been a reliable witness to Jesus. The Church has an ancient spiritual and intellectual tradition. I have encountered the love of Jesus in the lives of the Church faithful.

Science cannot prove these beliefs. But neither is it inconsistent with belief in Christianity. There have been many Christian and Catholic scientists. That Einstein’s theory of gravity implied that the universe is expanding (and thus had a beginning) was discovered by the physicist Georges Lemaitre, a Catholic priest. There have also been many atheistic scientists. Science really says nothing about whether or not belief is reasonable. Belief is a matter of the heart. The heart is not a matter of emotion. The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason. It is the place of decision, where we choose life or death. I believe I am not just a bunch of atoms, I am a person, with a consciousness, free will to carry out good or bad decisions, and a conscience that God has given me to help judge those decisions. I have an eternal soul, and I pray that my soul will be judged to have been a friend of Jesus.

By the grace of God, I have decided to enter the Catholic Church.

About Jack Wisdom

Jack Wisdom is a Professor of Planetary Science at MIT. He was awarded a MacArthur (“genius”) Fellowship. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
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