It takes a lot of faith to do science, says Jesuit astronomer


By Carol Glatz, Catholic Information Service

ACCORDING to a self-proclaimed science “fanatic” and “a bit of a nerd” to the Catholic Church, people shouldn’t ask this Jesuit astronomer why a scientist would believe in God.

The most interesting question is, “Why do I believe in science?” “Which is actually a” courageous thing to do these days when people try to cast doubt on science, “said longtime director of the Vatican Observatory, Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, said. addressing an online “MasterClass for Global Leaders” focused on the work of NASA and the Vatican Observatory.

“But I believe it.”

The three-hour event brought together several expert speakers and panelists from the worlds of science, technology, philosophy, art and economics to discuss topics related to the title of the event, “L ‘future of man, the economy and the universe’.

Pope Francis greets Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory, during an audience with students from the Observatory’s Summer School, at the Vatican in 2018. Photo: CNS

Brother Consolmagno, who specializes in planetary science, said he once lost his faith in science.

Before becoming a Jesuit, he had worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and suddenly felt that science was no longer worth doing.

“Why am I wasting my time worrying about these ice covered moons” when there are starving people in the world, he said.

“So I left science and joined the Peace Corps” in 1983 where he served in Kenya, teaching astronomy and physics at the University of Nairobi and taking a small telescope with him to small villages.

When everyone showed the same excitement and interest in looking at the night sky, Brother Consolmagno said he realized: we all have the same curiosity and the same pleasure because we do not just live by bread.

Bro. Consolmagno, leads a workshop on faith and astronomy at the Vatican Observatory. Photo: CNS

“What makes us human is this curiosity, not being satisfied with the answer,” he said, and that’s the key to doing science.

Many scientists are not active, he said, “but we all believe in the truth” and “we all seek the joy of doing science,” he said.

Brother Consolmagno said that science is based on the belief that the physical universe is not a dream or an illusion, but that it is real and can be studied.

This belief is consistent with his faith in God, who “created the universe deliberately, step by step in a logical manner”, saying throughout the process: “It is good”.

In fact, Genesis is not the science of creation, but the story of how “God deliberately chooses to have entities like us who are aware of themselves,” he said. .

The climax of the story is the seventh day – a day of rest and reflection, “when we can make discoveries”, ask the questions and enjoy the discussion.

He said that what gives him faith in science, confidence in a particular theory and belief that he is “on the right track” are “the same tools we can apply to our faith in God.”

For example, he said, people can admit they were wrong and realize that more was happening than they thought; they may find that a solution can be applied to a whole host of problems and that these same solutions are discovered over and over again or are successful for many others elsewhere.

“It gives me confidence that I’m doing something right,” Elder Consolmagno said.

A scientific theory must also be “elegant” and “so magnificent that there must be some truth in here somewhere.”

Ultimately, science, or more specifically astronomy, is an open and evolving conversation “between thinking, feeling, emotional but rational people looking at the universe, seeking to understand” beauty, joy and truth.

“And love, joy and truth are the markers of the presence of God,” he said.

Bro. Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory. Photo: CNS

During the discussion segment of the program, Andrzej Dragan, physicist, artist and atheist, told Brother Consolmagno that as a quantum scientist he had no faith in science “because science did not have to. everything needs my faith because the fundamental principle of science is to doubt ”and to question everything.

Dragan said that Saint Matthew was right when he suggested that people judge something by its fruits. “Enough is enough” because science has shown “it works” resulting in “naked monkeys landing on the moon” and other amazing things.

Brother Consolmagno said that doubt is part of faith.

“If you were sure, (then) you wouldn’t need faith,” he said. There is a doubt, “but we believe that we can resolve these doubts and learn something more, it is faith that we need, and I am not even talking about a faith in God, I am talking about a faith in dealing with it. “

And, he said, if people were to judge value solely by its fruits, one could easily argue that the technological fruits of pollution, horrible weapons and the atomic bomb could justify not making science at all.

This narrow view based on functionality does not make people “look further and does not allow us to appreciate the joy we experience when we look further,” said the Jesuit brother.

The theoretical physicist Krzysztof Meissner agreed that faith is necessary in science; “We have to believe that there are laws in physics” at work “behind all that we can see”.

“You wake up in the morning and you know that the sun will be there, that you can walk because the laws of physics have not changed, our existence is based on this faith that the laws of physics are universal in time and in space, ”Meissner said.

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