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Vatican astronomer: If you’re afraid of science, you don’t have faith

The Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, who has worked as an astronomer and planetary scientist at the Vatican for more than 20 years, told journalists Monday that faith and reason are hardly at odds.

“If you have no faith in your faith, that is when you will fear science,” Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J., said May 8.

He spoke to journalists at a press conference ahead of a May 9-12 summit on “Black Holes, Gravitational Waves, and Space-Time Singularities” being held in Castel Gandolfo at the Vatican Observatory, just outside Rome.

“The Vatican Observatory was founded in 1891 by Pope Leo XIII to show that the Church supports good science, and to do that we have to have good science,” Br. Consolmagno said, explaining the reasoning behind the conference.

The hope is that the encounter will foster good science, good discussion, and even friendship. Among the speakers will be a Nobel Prize winner in physics and a Wolf Prize winner.

Among the topics of papers being presented at the conference are Strong evidence for an accelerating universe; Black hole perturbations: a review of recent analytical results; and Observing the Signature of Dynamical Space-Time through Gravitational Waves.

“Those of us that are religious, will recognize the presence of God, but you don’t have to make a theological leap to search for the truth,” Br. Consolmagno said. “There are many things we know we do not understand. We cannot be good religious people or scientists if we think that our work is done.”

The summit is also taking place in recognition of Fr. Georges Lemaître, the Belgian physicist and mathematician who is widely credited with developing the “Big Bang” theory to explain the origin of the physical universe.

Addressing common misconceptions surrounding the Big Bang, such as the idea that it did away with the need for a creator, Br. Consolmagno said the solution isn’t just to put God at the beginning of things and call that good, either.

“The creative act of God is not something that happened 13.8 billion years ago,” he said. “God is already there before space and time exist. You can’t even say ‘before’ because he is outside of time and space.”

The creative act is happening continuously: “If you look at God as merely the thing that started the Big Bang, then you get a nature god, like Jupiter throwing around lightning bolts.”

“That’s not the God that we as Christians believe in,” he went on. “We must believe in a God that is supernatural. We then recognize God as the one responsible for the existence of the universe, and our science tells us how he did it.”

The organizer of the conference, Fr. Gabriele Gionti, S.J., said Fr. Lemaître always distinguished between the beginnings of the universe and its origins.

“The beginning of the universe is a scientific question, to be able to date with precision when things started. The origins of the universe, however, is a theologically charged question.”

Answering that question “has nothing at all to do with a scientific epistemology,” he added.

Br. Consolmagno commented that “God is not something we arrive at the end of our science, it’s what we assume at the beginning. I am afraid of a God who can be proved by science, because I know my science well enough to not trust it!”

“An atheist could assume something very different, and have a very different view of the universe, but we can talk and learn from each other. The search for truth unites us.”

He suggested that to demonstrate that the Church and science are not at odds, those who are both church-goers and scientists should make that fact more known to their fellow parishioners.

He threw out some practical ideas, such as setting up a telescope in the church parking lot or leading the parish’s youth group on a nature hike.

The Church, in a sense, developed science through the medieval universities she founded, he explained. For example, Bishop Robert Grosseteste, a 13th century Bishop of Lincoln and chancellor of Oxford University, helped develop the scientific method and was often cited by Roger Bacon.

“If there is a rivalry” between the Church and science, Br. Consolmagno said, “it’s a sibling rivalry.”

“And it’s a crime against science to say that only atheists can do it, because if that were true, it would eliminate so many wonderful scientists.”


By Hannah Brockhaus













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2 comments

  1. Patrick Gannon Reply

    ““That’s not the God that we as Christians believe in,” he went on. “We must believe in a God that is supernatural. We then recognize God as the one responsible for the existence of the universe, and our science tells us how he did it.”
    .
    In other words, the Church starts the scientific process by assuming the conclusion. That’s not how the process works.

    If science tells us how he did it, then it’s all but certain, science will end up eliminating the need for god in the first place. God used to be responsible for floods and droughts, and earthquakes and volcanoes and comets and wars and diseases and so on, but the “god of the gaps” has precious little left to be responsible for. We haven’t figured out how the universe came into existence, although we have theories that do not require supernatural beings, and we haven’t figured out how life (however one defines that), first started, but we’re making good progress, and we haven’t figured out the hard problem with consciousness, but all signs there point to an emergent quality that comes from complex brains. The god of the gaps is all but certain to continue to shrink.
    .
    ““The beginning of the universe is a scientific question, to be able to date with precision when things started. The origins of the universe, however, is a theologically charged question.”
    Answering that question “has nothing at all to do with a scientific epistemology,” he added.”
    .
    That’s complete and utter nonsense. Claiming a supernatural explanation for origins, is in fact, a scientific claim – one with no evidence to support it, of course.
    .
    This statement however is the most damning when it comes to the Church’s view of science: “Br. Consolmagno commented that “God is not something we arrive at the end of our science, it’s what we assume at the beginning.” This approach is the antithesis of the scientific approach. It is the complete opposite of the scientific approach. One does not start with conclusions and then seek out evidence to explain the previously drawn conclusions. The scientific process does NOT work that way, and cannot work that way if it is to continue to have the kind of success it has enjoyed in the last century or two. To be true to the process, one cannot start with conclusions – that is supremely dishonest. That is the kind of dishonest “science” that we should all fear.
    .
    Science has created all sorts of problems for the Church, and those problems are increasing their damage to the institution. Now that we’ve filled the hole in the standard model about how elementary particles get mass (Higgs field), we know that there are no magical soul forces that act on the particles n our natural world, Such forces would have to be able to overcome the strong nuclear forces that bind atoms together, and if such forces existed, we’d already know about them. If there are gods, souls, devils or whatever, they do not act on us in our world. Our science has progressed to the point that these imaginary forces could not act on our particles without us being aware of them.
    .
    Another potentially far more serious concern raised by science is the elimination of original sin as a concept. The DNA evidence is quite firm in illustrating that humans evolved from a pool of a few tens of thousands of early ancestors, and not a single breeding pair – otherwise our DNA would look different, and be far less diverse. I have seen a couple articles in this forum in which the Church seems to be feeling it’s way, trying to figure out how it is going to contradict the catechism that insists on two individuals, given that did not happen. Without original sin, there is no legitimacy for the Church. All the other issues in the Church now – such as having communion after being divorced and remarried – all that is just a distraction from the far greater problem of the legitimacy of the original sin concept as defined by the Church before it knew anything about science, and how things really worked. Those old theologians dug the Church into a hole it will have great difficulty getting out of, as more shovels full of dirt are tossed atop those old ideas with each new discovery.
    .
    What was that original sin anyway? The last several popes have accepted most aspects of evolution, so the Church essentially acknowledges that the creation story is a myth. Our ancestors did not wake up in a garden paradise. They woke up on the menu. They scraped out a living, hoping to survive long enough to reproduce and have some of their kids survive. What was their crime? What did these primitive, struggling early humans do to hurt an all-powerful being to such an extent that he would unjustly punish all of mankind? Was it attaining a certain level of self-aware consciousness and intellect? Maybe learning to use tools and make fire? Or was original sin, learning how to talk? Was that what ticked off the imaginary Big Guy?
    .
    The author and the Church are whistling in the dark, knowing that science is steadily putting them into the graveyard of primitive ideas. This article illustrates clearly that the Church is not interested in the scientific process, and that’s surely because it fears what science is learning that de-legitimizes it. This article is a clear sign of weakness… The Church knows it is in trouble.

  2. thomraff Reply

    Patrick, above, said it completely and well. Both science and religion claim they are the way to the “Truth.” However, only one, science has a way to verify its claims. In addition, science has never found any evidence for anything “supernatural”, thus an honest person is only justified in saying that the supernatural is unknown and has not been verified.

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