February 17, 2017

Faith and science need not be in conflict, says Jesuit brother and astronomer

By Sean Gallagher

It is a popular notion in contemporary culture that faith and science are in conflict.

Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno experiences just the opposite, a great harmony between the two.

He has immersed himself in both the life of faith as a Jesuit and in the life of science as one who earned a doctorate in planetary science at the University of Arizona, and did post-doctoral work at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The director of the Vatican Observatory, Brother Guy spoke in a Feb. 7 presentation at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis about the relationship of faith and science.

“Science gives me understanding,” he said. “My understanding is always incomplete. My understanding of the universe comes from science, but the truth is out there, not in my science. It’s very different.

“Religions are full of religious truths, but I know I don’t understand them. And I’ll never understand them. And as I go through life and experience new things, I constantly find myself going, ‘Oh! That’s what they were talking about.’

“Both science and religion are incomplete ways of understanding truth. In religions, we have truths that we don’t understand. In science, we have understanding that only approaches truth, without ever actually getting there.”

Brother Guy also noted that truth can be expressed in many ways beyond scientific evidence.

“There are truths that only poetry can express,” he said. “You don’t walk up to your beloved and say, ‘Whenever I see you, my pulse goes up by 2.3 percent.’

“There are truths beyond what can be measured by science. But science can measure really cool things. And science has beauty. It’s not just poetry and art that have beauty.”

Brother Guy said that many of the planetary scientists he interacts with understand this, showing off their paintings of how the bodies in space that they research appear to them in their minds’ eye.

“The people who don’t get it are the people who worship science,” he said. “And trust me, no scientist would be so stupid as to worship science. We know better.

“It’s the people who haven’t had the chance to really do or learn science because they haven’t had the chance for a good education who will be left open to the myth that’s sold on television.” †


Related story: Vatican Observatory director reflects on how astronomy can lead to worship

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