Faith and Science
By Paul McAvoy, Photography by Matthew Lomanno
Engineering is an art of precision and practicality, using a blend of creative thinking, science and math to solve real-world problems. If there’s one thing that drives an engineer crazy, it’s a flaw or fallacy that continues to get passed along even though it’s wrong. For Tim Roemer of Bow, N.H., that fallacy is the mistaken idea that science and religion are incompatible.
“A friend of mine asked me once in grad school where I was going when he saw me on campus,” Tim said, “and I told him I was going daily Mass. He essentially said, ‘You’re an engineer; you’re smarter than that. Why are you going to church?’ He meant it in good fun, he didn’t mean it in an offensive way, but I kind of took it as a view that people who are religious are dumb, and it hit home to me – there are a lot of people who don’t believe that faith and science mix. A family member asked me the same thing, 'Do Catholics believe in science? And I said, ‘Hey, look who I am – I’m a Catholic who’s into science!'”
For Tim, this misperception is exactly why he started a Facebook group called Catholic Engineers, which now has more than 3,400 followers. He wanted to show that faith and science weren’t incompatible, and to refute the idea of ‘scientism’ – the notion that the scientific method is the only way to know truth. “I also wanted to show other engineers you’re not alone, you’re not an island in a sea of secular engineers,” Tim said. “There are other Catholic engineers out there and you might not know it. Nobody’s going to raise their voice in the workplace saying, ‘I’m a Catholic’…it’s taboo to bring up your faith in science circles.”
At 26 years old, Tim has come to embrace and champion his Catholic faith, but it took the better part of 10 years to get to this point. He describes his early years attending a Catholic grammar school but eventually falling away from the faith. A friend helped reintroduce him to Catholicism in high school, and when he went on to the University of New Hampshire (UNH) for degrees in mechanical engineering he was drawn to the Catholic student group there. After a positive experience at a retreat, he began attending Mass at St. Thomas More Parish in Durham more regularly. It also sparked an interest in learning more about the Catholic faith, which Tim pursued through conversations with friends, connecting with Father Andrew Cryans, the pastor, and through the Word on Fire videos of Bishop Robert Barron.
Through his study, Tim was inspired by the idea of the New Evangelization, the call for all Catholics who see a need to jump in and fill that gap and boost the faith in their daily roles. When he looked around at the UNH campus ministry students, he noticed something interesting. “Oddly enough in the Catholic student organization, almost all the men in the group and some of the women were engineering majors, all from different disciplines of engineering!” And yet, something was still missing in the world of science and engineering – people weren’t talking about their faith.
That notion that science and religion are essentially incompatible is widely held among young people, according to a 2014 study by Nicolette Manglos-Weber and Christian Smith of Notre Dame University. In the study, entitled Understanding Former Young Catholics, the authors describe a nationwide trend among millennials to view religious beliefs as illogical and unscientific. More than 59% of practicing Catholic youths and non-Catholics agree with the statement “the teachings of science and religion often ultimately conflict with one another.” The authors go on to describe the general attitude of the study participants who are practicing Catholics as being almost ashamed of their beliefs when asked about how the two intersect. “Being ‘scientific’” the authors state “is seen as being smart, savvy and realistic about the world we live in. Being ‘religious,’ by implication, is seen as being gullible, naïve, and weak.”
This is exactly the attitude that Tim is hoping his Catholic Engineers Facebook page will counter, and judging by the rapid growth of its members he may be on to something. On it he posts inspirational videos and photos, links to articles about Catholicism and science, and shares pieces from other sites dedicated to evangelizing. Through the page Tim sees a community forming, not only of Catholic engineers and scientists who support one another in the faith, but also of people who believe that science and faith can exist harmoniously together. “I’ve gotten one comment from a mom who said every day she shows her son the things I post so that he can see faith and engineering together, even though he’s young and still into Legos. Other people are thrilled to see the page and just find like-minded people out there.”
Tim modeled his page after sites like the Catholic Gentleman, which focuses on evangelizing to young men, and he incorporated influences of St. Patrick, the patron saint of engineers (the logo Tim designed is a three leaf clover made out of gears), and St. Joseph, patron saint of workers.
The true fruit of Tim’s work is the community that is forming around the site. “Down the road, one thing I’d love to do is to reach out to the members to put on a mini-conference or seminar, to have strong Catholics who also have a presence in engineering and get them to speak,” Tim said, “We would include people in the NH STEM community to reflect and share stories, and build up that unity and bonding.”
Tim’s work in science has taken him from the classroom, where he taught science at a private high school in New Hampshire for over two years, to the manufacturing floor of an automotive parts developer, where he currently works. He is also ready to welcome other changes in his life as he prepares to marry his fiancee Olivia this summer. The two met at UNH in the Catholic Student Organization and will be married at St. Thomas More Parish. A side project that involved youth ministry at Sacred Heart Parish in Lebanon put Tim on the front lines of parish ministry, and though he is no longer doing that work he has taken some valuable lessons he learned into his project to connect and evangelize scientists and engineers.
“We really suffer in the education system when we don’t do anything to promote faith and science,” he insists. “I want to see a change culturally where they’re not at odds with one another, but where instead we find ways that they connect.”