Friday, March 4, 2016

Faith in the Stars, Science in the Vatican

On to a controversial topic that isn't politics – religion! I very rarely mention my faith in professional circles because it's not usually relevant. Science and religion has been on my list of potential blog topics since the creation of this blog a year ago. Reflecting on the astronomy and faith talk I attended on Wednesday inspired me to finally “come out of the closet,” to use Brother Guy's phrase. I've been subject to prejudice and harassment about my faith by classmates, professors, colleagues, and even strangers since college. The amount of intolerance of honest and informed differences of opinion and differences of belief are astounding in such an enlightened age. I've grown a pretty thick skin.

Science and religion have never been at odds with each other, in my opinion. I'll never understand why we in modern times pit them against each other in a false dichotomy. They address two different areas of our universe: science the what/where/when/how, religion/theology/spirituality the who/why. Religion flows flawlessly with science/reason. Science/reason never disproves religion. It can't. They operate on different plains.

“God created the Universe. The Universe is worthy of study. Science is an act of worship.” - Bother Guy Consolmagno

The beauty and the wonder of the Universe is why I was inspired to study astrophysics. And to become an astronaut, of course. But there are many paths to being an astronaut. The stars called to me as young as elementary school. I wanted to learn all about this awe-inspiring creation.

I was raised Christian and converted to Catholicism when I was 25 and in graduate school. I treated my conversion process as the scientist I am: systematically studying the data and weighing the evidence before coming to a conclusion. Perhaps because of my adult conversion and my upbringing, I'm far more open-minded about spiritual journeys than many. Each person's path is their own, one right for them, and it's not for me to judge or claim mine is better than any other.

I was excited to drive up to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach on Wednesday evening for a talk with Br. Guy, a Jesuit with a PhD in planetary science from MIT who now serves as the Director of the Vatican Observatory. Joining him was the university chaplain Rev. David Keck and radio show host Marc Bernier who I had worked with previously on local spaceport issues. I knew Br. Guy from my early days at the University of Central Florida where one of my graduate school planetary science classmates was also a Jesuit brother, but it had been several years since I had heard him give a talk.

Br. Guy started off discussing two fallacies that some use in the science versus religion debate. The first, a false wall between reason and faith. People are whole; we don't compartmentalize well. We don't turn off our brains on Sundays. We don't ignore reason when thinking about religion. We also don't put aside our faiths when we consider science. The two work together well and don't need to be separated.

The second fallacy he mentioned was about science and faith just being about facts. Neither are. Science is a process of discovery where we constantly test ideas, are proven wrong, and learn something new. Religion is a process of understanding God, who we are, and the world we live in. For example, Genesis isn't a history book. The creation story in Genesis isn't meant to be taken as a collection of historical facts (according to Catholic teaching; others may disagree). It's a moral book. There is always more to discover about science. There is always more to discover about theology.

I always smile when people wonder if the Big Bang contradicts Catholic teaching on creation. Those people don't know their science history. Georges Lemaitre, a Catholic priest also with a PhD from MIT, developed the theory of the Big Bang. At the time, people mocked it because they thought it promoted the existence of God, not contradicted it!

What about creation or evolution? “Yes,” Br. Guy responded. “Evolution is description of how God creates.” Evidence of the acceptance of evolution can be found in the writings of Saint Augustine of Hippo, a bishop, who lived 354 – 430 AD!

Upon thinking of the science and human society lecture I attended last week by a “skeptic,” I was surprised when Br. Guy addressed other points of view. “Religions need atheists, agnostics, and skeptics. They keep us honest. We're all searching for the truth,” he said. “All humans and only human look at the stars in wonder. Something within us desires something in Heaven and the heavens.”

"Cosmology, Science, and Faith With Brother Consolmagno and Rev. David Keck" - March 2, 2016

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