Astronomy and Belief — A talk by Br Guy Consolmagno SJ

Photo of an observatory

This informal talk was aimed at exploring the connections, both institutional and personal, between religious faith and the study of astronomy. The goals were to dispel the fear that science and religion are opposed; to explore the deeper question of why institutions and individuals are moved to spend a life studying astronomy; and to inspire those attending to appreciate the universe of stars and planets, visible to everyone, as an expression of a reality that goes far beyond our mundane daily worries and concerns.

Everybody knows about the conflict of Galileo and the Church; but (even allowing that what “everybody knows” is usually incomplete at best) this very conflict should raise some obvious questions: Why would the Church (or anyone) even care about different theories for the workings of the cosmos? What inspires an individual to pursue a life of astronomy, and what motivates a church, or a university, or a government, to support such a pursuit? Brother Guy will relate some of this history of the Church’s interest in astronomy, from the reform of the calendar in 1582, through the 19th century origins of astrophysics on the roof of St. Ignatius Church in Rome, to the mild-mannered Belgian priest whose mathematics developed out of Einstein’s theories the concept we now call The Big Bang. He will then turn to his own personal story of finding, losing, and rediscovering his faith in astronomy through his adventures in America, Africa, and Antarctica.

Brother Guy presented his material in the form of narrative stories based on events in history and his own life as an astronomer at the Vatican Observatory. It was followed by an extensive question and answer period.

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