Hundreds of people flocked to the Strasenburgh Planetarium Oct. 5 to learn more about the connection between science and their Catholic faith.
Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory, delivered the third-annual Catholic Courier Lecture before a crowd that filled both the planetarium’s Star Theater as well as the nearby Eisenhart Auditorium, where an overflow crowd of 300 listened and watched via a live feed.
People had begun lining up outside the planetarium nearly two hours before Father Robert Schrader, pastor of Rochester’s Peace of Christ Parish, took the microphone and introduced the Detroit native as “the pope’s astronomer, director of the Vatican Observatory, Motown meteor man, Brother Guy J. Consolmagno!”
Brother Consolmagno’s presentation, titled “From Galileo to Laudato Sí: Why Science Needs Faith,” may be viewed online at www.catholiccourier.com. He began his lecture by playing a brief video that showed him and his colleagues working with the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope, which is situated on Mount Graham in Arizona. In the video, Brother Consolmagno noted that the Catholic Church has been involved in scientific work since at least the 1500s and has operated an observatory facility since the late 1800s. Science and religion are similar in that both are ways of learning how we interact with the universe, he added.
“The interaction in my own life is that religion gives me the reason to do the science,” to wonder why there are stars and how they work, for example, Brother Consolmagno said in the video. “Looking at the sky reminds you that there’s more to the universe than what’s for lunch. What’s more, if you believe in a universe that God so loved that he sent his son, then not only are you going to want to study the universe because it’s kind of cool, but it’s also an act of worship.”
Centuries ago Catholics believed science was united with philosophy and theology, but the work of Galileo shattered that idea, as it promoted, for example, the notion that the planets moved according to regular mechanisms, rather than the movements of angels, Brother Consolmagno said. In an attempt to recreate this unity some theologians began using science as the basis of their theology, painting God as a sort of divine watchmaker who designed the mechanics of the watch and then set it in motion to run according to those mechanics. This theory is flawed, Brother Consolmagno told those gathered at the planetarium.
“A god who is only a watchmaker, a god who is only a watch winder, is not the God of Scripture, is not a god of love. It’s not a personal god who would be involved in your life,” Brother Consolmagno said. “What’s more, as you try to invoke God to explain things that otherwise you can’t explain, you’re very likely to realize that, ‘Wait a minute, I can explain those. I guess I don’t need God,’ and that becomes a road to atheism.”
Brother Consolmagno also addressed such current issues as global climate change and Laudato Sí, Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on the subject. This encyclical is based on the best science of our day, and yet Pope Francis is not telling anyone that it is the absolute truth or gives specific instructions, Brother Consolmagno said. What the encyclical does, he continued, is point out the connection between humans, God and the universe that he loved so much that he sent his son to save.
“He didn’t send his son to save nice people or philosophical ideas, (but rather) because he loved the world. This is the universe that was cleansed and quickened by the Incarnation. This is the universe that is sacred because it has been touched by God. This is the universe that is God’s child, and I am God’s child within this universe. This is the connection between the human and the divine,” Brother Consolmagno explained.
Laudato Sí also proposes that the ecological problem of climate change is symptomatic of economic and social-justice problems, which themselves are symptomatic of original sin, Brother Consolmagno said. In his encyclical, Pope Francis suggests technology cannot solve these problems, and their solution must be a change in ethics and humanity.
This viewpoint is intriguing, noted several students from the University of Rochester’s Catholic Newman Community, who attended the lecture with Father Brian Cool, the community’s director.
“It was really interesting,” student Dane Johnson said of the presentation.
“I was (happy to see) that he’s building a bridge between science and religion,” added fellow student Andres Guevara.
“People tend to think of those (subjects) as separate, but they aren’t,” Marilyn Catherine of Rochester’s St. Monica Parish said after the lecture. “He did a good job melding those two things together, and doing it in a joyful manner.”
“I think what he does with his vocation and his ministry is something I don’t hear enough about,” added Mercy Sister Kay Kanich. “I thought his talk was absolutely marvelous.”