Posts Tagged ‘Science’
Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, a researcher and spokesman at the Vatican Observatory, recently shared his thoughts on science and religion on The Washington Post’s blog.
With news about the Higgs boson particle, the so-called “God Particle,” that’s helping scientists understand how the universe was built, Br. Consolmagno says he’s explained multiple times that “No, the God Particle has nothing to do with God…”
Although not a particle physicist, Br. Consolmagno is often interviewed because of his role as a Vatican astronomer. He says some are surprised to hear that the Vatican supports an astronomical observatory, but that science and religion complement each other:
But the real reason we do science is in fact related to the reason why so many people ask us about things like the God Particle. The disciplines of science and religion complement each other in practical ways. For example, both are involved in describing things that are beyond human language and so must speak in metaphors. Not only is the ‘God Particle’ not a piece of God, it is also not really a ‘particle’ in the sense that a speck of dust is a particle. In both cases we use familiar images to try to illustrate an entity of great importance but whose reality is beyond our power to describe literally.
Finding God in all things is at the core of Ignatian Spirituality and is rooted in the growing awareness that God can found in everyone, in every place and in everything. But in rocks from outer space? Jesuit Brother Bob Macke says yes. Currently in his first year of theology studies at Boston College, he shared his thoughts on how God can be found in lunar material, some of which is more than 4.5 billion (yes, with a B) years old.
One of the things that attracted me to the Society of Jesus was the Ignatian principle of finding God in all things. I saw Jesuits seeking and finding God in so many ways, from ministering in the Third World, to delving into questions of philosophy and theology to exploring the grandeur of the universe.
As someone with a background in physics and astronomy, I am no stranger to the idea that by studying God’s creation we encounter God. As a 38-year-old, first-year theology student at Boston College and a recent graduate of a physics doctoral program, I can see in hindsight a pattern of formation as a Jesuit brother that has only strengthened this idea.
After I completed philosophy studies in 2006, I began my regency assignment teaching physics and astronomy at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, a wonderful opportunity to teach in my field and minister to students. During that time, I heard from a friend at the Vatican Observatory, Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, who told me about an opportunity to study meteorite physical properties in a doctoral program at the University of Central Florida. I had spent a summer at the Vatican Observatory doing exactly that kind of research. So, with the provincial’s blessing, I left regency after only one year and spent the next four years at the University of Central Florida measuring the densities of meteorites, the percentages of pore space within them and their responses to a magnetic field. And somehow, as part of graduate studies and in the context of Jesuit life, I was to find God in these rocks from outer space.
Studying meteorites can be tedious work, but the pursuit involved travel to New York, Washington, Chicago and London where meteorites are held in museum or university collections.
As I studied more than 1,300 specimens, sometimes the tedium of the repetitive process became too great. I then would hold one of the more primitive meteorites in my hand and muse upon it, reminding myself that it was 4.5 billion years old, one of the earliest objects to form when the solar system itself was forming, and holding clues to that history.
Embedded within the meteorite are a few tiny grains of material that survived the heat and shock of its forming and that remain essentially unchanged from the moment they were created in stars. They are literally stardust. I am awestruck, and in that awe I once again encounter God.
Georgetown University is hosting a series of three events entitled “Jesuits and the Sciences” which will explore the history of Jesuit engagement with the sciences and some challenging questions scientific advancement presents to humanity in the near future. As the University continues the construction of its new science building to house a unique collaboration between Physics, Chemistry and Biology Departments, these symposia will bring faculty and students together to reflect on the significance of the Sciences in the context of a Catholic/Jesuit University.
September 14 (Wednesday):
BEFORE THERE WAS A GEORGETOWN: JESUITS AND THE SCIENCES
- John O’Malley, SJ; Georgetown University, Theology Department
- Mordecai Feingold; Professor of History, California Institute of Technology
September 19 (Monday):
AFTER HUMANS: BLACK HOLES AND TEILHARD DE CHARDIN
- John C. Haughey, SJ; Woodstock Theological Center, Senior Fellow
- Ilia Delio, OSF; Woodstock Theological Center, Senior Fellow
September 28 (Wednesday):
WHAT DIFFERENT JESUIT SCIENTISTS DO DIFFERENTLY
- John Braverman, SJ; St. Joseph’s University, Department of Biology
- Cyril P. Opeil, SJ; Boston College, Department of Physics
- Kevin Fitzgerald, SJ; Georgetown University, Biochemistry/Pharmacology Dept.
All three will take place in Lohrfink Auditorium (McDonough School of Business Rafik B. Hariri Building) from 5:00-7:00PM.
Br. Consolmagno said one of the primary purposes of the observatory is to be an ongoing demonstration that the church is supportive of science and scientific research. Upon his appointment to the observatory in 1993, he said the first instruction he received was, “Guy, do good science.”
The supposed conflict between religion and science really doesn’t exist, Consolmagno said. “Science grew out of religion.”
Historically, the church has fostered science and the academic life, he pointed out, and churchmen have been in the forefront of scientific advancement.
“There is nothing in the Bible opposing evolution,” he said, “but there is something in the Bible against astrology.”
Biblical literalism is a recent development, not traditional Christianity, he said.
To apply a modern reading to a 2,000-year-old text “does violence to the text,” Consolmagno said, “and that’s not me saying it, it’s Augustine saying it.”
Read more about Consolmagno’s views on science and religion at the La Crosse Tribune.
Four Jesuits in history have had asteroids named after them. Jesuit Father George Coyne, director emeritus of the Vatican Observatory and president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation and Brother Guy Consolmagno, curator of meteorites at the Vatican Observatory, are the two living astronomers with that distinction. They shared their observations of life, faith, friendship and the universe from their seats in the Vatican Observatory with Krista Trippet, host of the Speaking of Faith radio program on American Public Media during a recent show. Go here to download the interview or to listen to the interview directly.