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Fr. Robert Spitzer, SJ, during a 2010 appearance on "The Larry King Show".

Fr. Robert Spitzer, SJ, Ph.D., 62, is president of the Magis Center (www.magiscenter.com),
headquartered in the new chancery office of the Diocese of Orange, California. The centers
goal is to demonstrate that faith and reason and science are compatible, and to combat the
increasing secularization of society, particularly among young people.

Fr. Spitzer was born and reared in Honolulu, Hawaii. His father was an attorney and
businessman; he was one of five children. His father was Lutheran; his mother a Catholic and
daily communicant. He attended college at Jesuit-run Gonzaga University in Spokane,
Washington, initially pursuing a career in public accounting and finance.

He went on a retreat led by Fr. Gerard Steckler, a former chaplain for Thomas Aquinas College,
and he got me very interested in theology and the Church. He began attending daily Mass
and taking classes in theology and Scripture. He bought a copy of St. Thomas Aquinas Summa
Theologica from a used book store and began reading it. I saw the solidity of faith in the light
of reason, he said, and once that happened, I was ready to go.

He joined the Society of Jesus in 1974, and was ordained a priest in 1983.

Fr. Spitzer is the author of several books, including Healing the Culture (Ignatius Press, 2000),
Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life (Ignatius Press, 2008), New Proofs for the Existence of God
(Eerdmans, 2010), and Ten Universal Principles (Ignatius Press, 2010), as well as numerous
articles for scholarly journals, and has delivered hundreds of lectures. He is a teacher, and
served as president of Gonzaga University from 1998 to 2009. He continues to produce an
enormous volume of work despite suffering from poor eyesight throughout his adult life (he has
not, for example, been able to drive a car for 30 years), which has gotten worse in recent years.

Fr. Spitzer recently spoke with CWR.


CWR: Prominent atheists often frame the debate between themselves and religious people by
saying you either believe in sciencehowever they may define itor what they call the fairy
tales of the Bible. What response would you offer such a viewpoint?

Fr. Spitzer: To start, I wouldnt let them get away with saying faith and science contradict one
another. Were privileged to live in a time when there is more evidence from physics for a
beginning of the universe than ever before. I made this point to [atheist scientist] Stephen
Hawking in 2010, when I appeared along with him on Larry King Live. Stephen knows this.
(Watch the discussion online.)

The debate centered on what was before the beginning of the universe. If you say nothing,
then there has to be a God. You cant move from nothing to something. Even Larry King got
that. He asked another physicist on the program, Leonard Mlodinow, How about that Leonard,
how can you make something from nothing? All Leonard could do was to equivocate on the
term nothing.

CWR: Speaking of Stephen Hawking, he made the news recently when he officially declared
himself to be an atheist. Do you find atheism widespread among the scientific community, or
do a handful of atheist scientists receive a lot of publicity?

Fr. Spitzer: About 45% of working scientists are declared theists. Another vocal group, lets say
20%, describe themselves as atheists. A third group is the agnostic naturalists. Theyre not sure
whether or not God exists, but they dont what to compromise the naturalistic method by
believing in God. I wouldnt describe them as atheists.

CWR: Scientists often marvel at the intricacies of what Christians call Creation, but seem to
suggest that these things developed on their own without a Designer outside the system to
create them. Do many scientists have blinders on when it comes to God?

Fr. Spitzer: Im the executive producer of Cosmic Origins, a film which features eight physicists
talking about their faith. Owen Gingerich, a well-known astronomer at Harvard University, for
example, says, I cant prove to you that mathematical intelligibility comes from God, but Im
psychologically incapable of believing otherwise. So, I call it Gods universe.

Scientific atheists view it differently, but it has nothing to do with science. It never did. Science
cant disprove God. Scientific evidence has to come from observation of things within the
universe, and God is outside the universe. How can you use evidence from within the universe
to disprove a Being that is outside it? It doesnt work. Its impossible, any more than a cartoon
character within a cartoon can disprove the existence of a cartoonist outside the cartoon who
created him.

No scientist can know the universe so sufficiently to know it doesnt need a Creator. What
Hawking says is pure hogwash. Science must remain open to new discovery. Its an inductive
discipline. It works from particular observations, and we unify those observations with our
theories. But we dont know if our theories have enough data to be complete. Why is that?
Scientists dont know until they have discovered it.

CWR: Often it happens that the majority of the scientific community believes something, and
then its proven not to be true.

Fr. Spitzer: Yes. Its called scientific revolution, and it happens all the time.

Hawking is being foolhardy, at best. Scientific atheism is not scientific. It is based on the
scientists emotional and intuitive decisions, his feelings towards God. An atheist like Richard
Dawkins doesnt want to be responsible to an authority outside himself.

Some people argue that religion has done more harm than good. But thats not the case.
Religion has led to every kind of social good: law, culture, public education, hospitals, humane
treatment of widows, orphans and the helpless (and not just to Christians). People point to bad
things that religious people have done, but that doesnt characterize religion, but weak human
beings who are religious.
Other people are bitter about suffering in the world. How could a loving God allow it? When
they dont get an answer they like, they refuse to believe in God.

All these are emotional reasons and have nothing to do with science.

CWR: When discussing faith and reason or faith and science is it important to distinguish
ourselves as Catholic? For example, we wouldnt want to associate ourselves with certain literal
interpretations of the Bible made by fundamentalist Protestants. There seems to be a tendency
among atheists to lump all Christians together.

Fr. Spitzer: Yes, we have to distinguish ourselves. You cant be a biblical literalist and a Catholic.
Our view on inspiration of Scripture is different than a conservative Evangelical view. Some of
the things they say really get scientists rankled up.

There are two views on inspiration. There is the typewriter or dictation theory, which says that
God dictated to the authors of Scripture their books word-for-word: the truth about everything,
about nature, about salvation, all lumped together. God dictates it to the biblical author, and
thats that.

That is not the Catholic view. With us, God works with the biblical author so that he, though
inspired by God, is using his categories and concepts that belong to his time and understanding.

The job of the biblical author is to give the truths of salvation, but not the truths about the
explanations of the universe. In the 5th century BC, for example, when Genesis was written, it
would have been impossible to tell the story of the creation of the world using the modern
scientific tools of today. Since the scientific terminology was not available, it was easier to have
God say, Let there be light. (Actually quite a profound statement, as I reflect on the Big Bang
event.)
Its ludicrous to believe that the writers or readers of Scripture at the time could have
understood it using the scientific tools of today.

The purpose of the biblical author was to challenge the four big heresies of the day: 1) that
there were many gods instead of one, 2) that the sea, sky, wind and other forces of nature were
God rather than creations of God, 3) that human beings were cannon fodder or playthings in
the hands of the gods rather than made in the image and likeness of God and loved by Him, and
4) that matter is evil and only the heavens are good, rather than God looking at things He has
created and seeing that they were good. Each of these things relate to salvation.

As Catholics, we need to know that the Catholic Church is not against science. Nicolaus
Copernicus (1473-1543), who developed heliocentric theory, was a Catholic cleric. Gregor
Mendel (1822-84) was an Augustinian monk and abbot and was a founder of the modern
science of genetics. Nicolas Steno (1638-86) was a Danish bishop who was a pioneer in anatomy
and geology. Most impressive of all was Msgr. Georges Lemaitre (1894-1966), a Belgian priest
who proposed the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe. These were all Catholic priests.
Stephen Barr, a physicist featured in Cosmic Origins, has written about the many priest-
scientists who were at the forefront of the development of science.

There are Vatican observatories outside Rome and in Tucson, Arizona; theres a Pontifical
Academy of Sciences. Many Nobel Prize winners are Catholic scientists. It is ludicrous to say
that the Catholic Church is against science.

However, the Catholic Church is very different than other churches in regards to science and
Scripture. In his [1943] encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu, Pope Pius XII explained that biblical
truths are for salvation, and that the Bible pronounces truths necessary for salvation. Sciences
role is to determine the truths that describe and explain the universe and nature.

CWR: While Catholics respect the role of science, Catholics also believe that natures laws can
be suspended to allow miracles to occur.
Fr. Spitzer: Yes. God is not harnessed in by natural laws. He can suspend them any time he
wishes. There are miracles all over the place. There are many books substantiating miracles, for
example, the miracles of Lourdes. There is a medical commission which has been set up at
Lourdes which has documented miracles to the hilt.

CWR: Do you think Catholics feel pressure to compromise their beliefs for fear of being labeled
non-scientific or even superstitious?

Fr. Spitzer: Yes, unfortunately, but they dont have to. Science points to the existence of God.
This is what the Magis Center is about.

CWR: At a so-called Reason Rally in Washington DC in 2012, new atheist Richard Dawkins said
about religious people: mock them, ridicule them, in public. He specifically mentioned the
doctrine of the Holy Eucharist as something that should be ridiculed with contempt. Do you
think Dawkins is out of effective arguments and has just decided to get mean?

Fr. Spitzer: That is mean! Dawkins has been debated by good scientists and prelates, and has
been effectively put in his place. Whats left is for him to air his grieving heart. Its not scientific.
What hes talking about is breathing contempt. And when someone wants to breathe
contempt, theres something amiss, something antithetical to love and peace. People need to
pray for Dawkins. He wouldnt like that, but its what he needs.

CWR: A section of the Magis website has an interview with Dr. Pim von Lommell talking about
life after death and near death experiences (NDE). Explain what an NDE is, and why you give it
the attention you do.

Fr. Spitzer: Many of our kids today are closet materialists, and theres no faster way to change
their thinking than by introducing them to NDEs. NDEs can occur when someone has a heart
attack, is clinically dead for a time, and then revived. By clinically dead, we mean that for a brief
period a patient has no electrical activity in the cerebral cortex, and little, if any, electrical
response in the brain. In this situation, a person cannot be conscious, cannot see, cannot hear,
cannot engage in cognitional activity, cannot remember and cannot recall. About 20% of people
who have undergone clinical death who have been gone for over 30 seconds make
extraordinary claims about their experiences during death.

Their trans-physical form leaves their physical body and winds up looking at the physical body
away from and above the body. They are able to see, hear, experience consciousness, recall,
move (even through walls) and defy gravity. Whatever this trans-physical form is, it is living.

CWR: Is it the soul?

Fr. Spitzer: Catholics would call it the soul, but for the materialist, Id call it a trans-physical
form. But whatever it is, it is self-conscious and remembers what is going on, despite the fact
that clinical death has occurred.

We can verify these claims from the reports of the people who have had NDEs and can report
on unusual data that can be corroborated by researchers. For example, a man is dead and
someone removes his dentures and puts them in a drawer. He is revived, and he knows without
being told where the dentures can be found. How could he have known? The only way is that
he observed them being removed while in a trans-physical form.

Or, a person dies and in an out-of-body experience she passes through the walls of the hospital
and sees an old shoe on a third floor ledge outside. She is revived, and tells the doctors about
her experience. Someone crawls out on the ledge and finds the shoe. Both of these are real-life
examples.

Eighty percent of blind people who undergo a NDE report that they were able to see for the
first time. Others report going to the other side, seeing God, or a white light, or Jesus, or
loved ones who have died. Once they come back, they tell us they no longer have a fear of
death.
I indicate on our Magis website, however, that I report on NDEs with some trepidation. All such
experiences need to be corroborated by researchers. Some who report NDEs could have an
agenda and be lying.

CWR: What is the background to the work done by the Magis Center?

Fr. Spitzer: PEW surveys indicate that 34% of young people have no religious affiliation or belief
in God, as opposed to 20% for the general population. This number is up from 24% 10 years
ago. In other words, weve been losing young people at 1% per year. These numbers ought to
shock everyone; some of these are Catholic kids who no longer believe.

Now, these are not people who say, Im bored with Church or the priest was mean to me in
the confessional, but who say, I do not believe in any religion. This is different than anything
weve seen in the history of the country. Were experiencing an incredible secularization of our
culture.

I recently gave a lecture at USC. A young man came up to me and said, I recently converted to
being an agnostic, but I have to say that this was the best lecture Ive ever heard. You changed
my mind. This is central to the work of the Magis Center: giving young people the information
they need so they can believe. We need to get scientific apologetics information to our kids. We
need to stop the hemorrhaging and keep good, analytical kids from walking out the door. Its
particularly bad in parts of the country that are less religious.

In 2009, I wanted to develop a contemporary apologetics program for Catholic high schools. I
approached [Catholic philanthropist] Tim Busch and asked his help. I worked out of his office in
Irvine, California, until recently when we moved into the new chancery office of the Diocese of
Orange (the Bishop of Orange, Kevin Vann, is on our board of directors).

Ive written much of the material for the program myself, and Ive been approaching Catholic
high schools to ask them to include our program. I argue to the kids that faith and reason, and
faith and science are compatible. I also reach out to religion teachers, who are often
uncomfortable with talking about science.

Besides high school, we have programs for colleges, parishes and an internet audience. If you
visit our site we offer much free material, and there is a store where you can buy additional
resources. Our four landing pages are: faith and science, happiness and suffering, virtue and
freedom and the reasonableness of Christianity.

Right now, I travel extensively to give presentations. It is my goal to be able to give webcasts,
where I can sit in my office and present material all over the country, and to train a speakers
bureau to give presentations.

CWR: What are your needs?

People who are interested in joining our speakers bureau should email us through our website.
Parents and teachers should look at our material on our website, both to teach their children,
and to be marketing agents for us to high schools. We hope theyll knock on the doors of
religion teachers, or ask their parish staff to make us part of their Confirmation program. We
also welcome prayers, and are in need of donations to continue our work. We will certainly put
any donations to good use.