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Miller tackles faith and science at assembly

By Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross

Are faith and science in conflict with each other? Bishop Paul Sirba, in remarks welcoming speaker Joseph Miller of the Magis Institute to the annual Diocesan Assembly Oct. 14, said, “I think this is one of the key points where our culture gets stuck.”

Joe Miller
Joseph Miller, from the Magis Institute, addresses the Diocesan Assembly Oct. 14. (Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

Miller, who went from working in technology to working as an evangelist, agreed, telling an audience of about 240 that a perceived conflict between faith and reason is a real obstacle for people who might otherwise be more open to a dialogue with Catholics.

He tried to ease concerns some in the audience might have had, promising only “a modicum of science” that should be more than good enough to engage those who perceive a conflict between faith and reason, who are “not scientists, either, for the most part.”

Relying on the work of Charles Taylor, Miller described a process of secularization that has taken place since about the year 1500 through a series of stages.

The result, he said, is that many people remain on the fence. For instance, he cited the late Apple founder Steve Jobs as saying, “Sometimes I believe in God, sometimes I don’t.”

“Young people think about God and spiritual matters more than their parents,” he added, citing a Pew survey. They become “nones,” “but they’re still haunted,” he said.

In subsequent talks, Miller presented a series of videos of Catholics and other Christians who in the past or currently have been on the cutting edge of science.

The topics ranged from the physics of the Big Bang to the incredible informational complexity of DNA and even the possibility of intelligent life on other planets.

He suggested as starting points for discussion two key questions: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” and “Do you think you are completely explicable by natural forces?”

But Miller also addressed another question that is important for engaging people who are troubled by questions about science and faith — happiness — and said evangelization begin with that question. He pointed out different levels of happiness, beginning with pleasure and moving up through ego competition, contribution to society, and transcendence, pointing out that only the last really satisfies.

Liz Hoefferle, director of catechesis and RCIA for the diocese, said the conference drew people from across the diocese.

“It was encouraging to be reminded, and shown a lot of evidence, of how faith and science are truly compatible,” she said. “It was very helpful to see that the most credible scientific theories, backed by some of the most respected scientists in their fields, provide evidence consistent with what we believe about the creation of the universe and the origins of man. It was also helpful to hear that science cannot disprove the existence of God. It is not within its realm or capabilities to do so.”

She said the emphasis on happiness was also an important tool for evangelization.

However, she said a great deal of information was presented in the talks, and therefore follow-up is important. Her department has placed additional resources on the diocesan website at, and she also directs people to the Magis Center at

The Diocesan Assembly received funding from the Catholic Religious Education Endowment Fund (CREED Fund), which provides financial support of educational opportunities for the enrichment of faith and the spreading of the Gospel by the laity, deacons, priests, and Catholic schools in the Diocese of Duluth. The fund is supported in part by the Evangelization Through Education capital campaign.