In case you are losing sleep over this burning question, you can Google a four-part (yes, a four-part) series on this issue over at the website of Chronicles magazine.
The author is Thomas Storck, whom I have tangled with in the past, even before I published The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy. (I also recommend this article by Gerard Casey, head of the department of philosophy at University College, Dublin.) He and I recently had an exchange in the Catholic Social Science Review. Here is his article and here is my reply. You may decide for yourself who was the victor.
One of my points — a pretty obvious one, or so I thought, for anyone who understands the contours of ecclesiastical authority — is that the Church cannot pronounce on the mechanics of the cause-and-effect relationships that exist in the sciences. Two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen either make water or they do not. Wages are either increased this way or they are increased that way. These facts may help us form our moral conclusions, but they are, obviously, not themselves subject to moral critique. Something either works a particular way or it doesn’t.
Storck continues to argue that the Church must have the authority in some cases to declare that the sciences are “simply wrong.” Thus if economics says wages rise by doing X, but the statements of prelates seem to imply that they can rise by doing Y, then so much the worse for economics. If we allow the cause-and-effect relationships in economics to exist autonomously (again, he speaks as if cause-and-effect relationships could be subject to moral rebuke!), he demands, then “where does it end?” He says a psychologist could then say that promiscuity leads to human flourishing, and that I would be helpless to object.
I trust my readers have already spotted the fallacy, but just in case: even in this situation the proper objection is not to the cause-and-effect relationships. The psychologist’s research could in fact be unimpeachable: behavior A may well lead to emotional state B. The question is whether emotional state B in fact constitutes human flourishing. This is a philosophical/theological question, not a technical question involving the operation of forces in the natural world, and thus falls well within the province of the Church.
I understand the magazine’s irascible editor, Thomas Fleming, is calling people at LewRockwell.com (and, by extension, me) “ignorant, pseudo-Catholic poseurs.” Classy, as usual. When Tom has anything like a book whose Spanish translation features a foreword by the Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Worship and the former Primate of Spain, a highly regarded layman’s guide to the old Latin Mass, or a sympathetic study of Progressive Era Catholicism, published by an Ivy League press, that’s been hailed in the major historical and theological journals, he can let me know. I’ll wait by the phone.