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March 07, 2007

Comments

Tim H.

I'm an astrophysicist, too, and I've met Consolmagno. He's a great speaker and is able to explain his work on asteroids quite clearly to those of us in other areas of astronomy. Friendly, and a good guy, all around.

Dr. Eric

I was under the impression that he was Italian, but he was born in Detroit!!! He's an Italian-American :-)

He's right about our American Catholicism being Protestant too :-(

We're always singing Protestant hymns, even at a very orthodox church.

bill912

"Mars attackes(?) earth dog!" Can it be anything other than a prelude to invasion? Stock up on food and water! Build a bomb shelter! Tin foil your windows! Get the biological weapons ready! Call Gene Barry!

DJ

Nothing wrong with Protestant hymns IMHO.

Cool, I want a job like that with the Vatican. I need a change of pace.

Labrialumn

So, the Bible is a Protestant book now? ;-)

If you reject creation-fall-redemption, you can't have the Gospel, what you typically end up with, then, is Chardinism.

Tim H.

Yep, he's certainly American. I didn't talk to him much about religion, when I met him, but he brings up a great point on the Big Bang model and religion. It took a Christian astrophysicist (Lemaitre) to reject the existing paradigm, which held that the universe had always existed, that there was no beginning, and that the universe had always looked essentially the same as it does now.

Having done the general relativity calculations to show that a beginning in time was possible, Lemaitre gave a wonderfully clear and concise argument from thermodynamics to show that having a beginning and a cosmological evolution were actually probable.

The 19th century and early 20th century cosmology (a primitive "Steady State model") was assumed to be so basic, that I've often wondered if it took a committed Christian to even think that the Big Bang solution could be found in the math and physics.

'thann

Cool story! I love reading stuff like this.

BTW, you might want to change "tenant" to "tenet" throughout the story to make it clear what you mean.

'thann

bill912

The Big Bang: "And God said: 'Let there be light!'"

MomLady

I highly recommend his book, _Brother Astronomer: Adventures of a Vatican Scientist_. A paper of his, "God Under the Dome" which appeared in _The Planetarian_, talks about how presenting science to the general public inevitably involves people like planetariuam lecturers (which my husband was) in the ongoing discussion of science and religion. It was a really good read, but not, as far as I can tell, available online.

DJ

The 19th century and early 20th century cosmology (a primitive "Steady State model") was assumed to be so basic, that I've often wondered if it took a committed Christian to even think that the Big Bang solution could be found in the math and physics.

Not to be cynical, but I always thought it was Hubble's observations that caused the theory because his observations went against what was believed at the time. Hubble's observations almost tell you about the big bang without any work. That or they tell you that we're the center of the universe. :)

I'm not surprised when I see physicists talking about this universe being created by other universes colliding and coming up with various theories to disprove an absolute beginning point of any sort. They need to recreate some sort of self-sustaining nature of the universe, otherwise they have to go with the alternative of there being a God.

You can't separate science and religion no matter how hard you try.

bill912

Even Carl Sagan wondered where the original hydrogen came from.

Tim J.

His thoughts on science are a great deal like my thoughts on art. It's all tied to the praise of God and His good work in creating the universe.

Converging lines.

Pseudomodo

This is interesting...

I was under the impression that he was not a priest but the linked article say that he is.

Can anyone confirm this?

Rob

Jimmy, I'm just happy that you're the type of hoopy guy who really knows where is towel is.

Tim J.

Rob, that would be "hoopy FROOD".

Esau

"The Big Bang theory that the universe originated in an extremely dense and hot space and expanded was developed by a Belgian priest."

"It's interesting to note that those people, the first scientists, were all monks, they were all clerics,"


People today aren't even aware of this fact!

Here are some examples of scientists who were Catholic clergy:

1. Mendel, a monk, first established the laws of heredity, which gave the final blow to the theory of natural selection.
2. Copernicus, a priest, expounded the Copernican system.
3. Steensen, a Bishop, was the father of geology.
4. Regiomontanus, a Bishop and Papal astronomer; was the father of modern astronomy.
5. Theodoric, a Bishop, discovered anesthesia in the 13th century.
6. Kircher, a priest, made the first definite statement of the germ theory of disease.
7. Cassiodorus, a priest, invented the watch.
8. Picard, a priest, was the first to measure accurately a degree of the meridian.


"The conflict between evolutionary science and creationism in the United States comes from the Protestant tradition, not the Catholic one, he said."

"American Catholicism is in a Protestant culture," he said. "We borrow a lot of our attitudes, along with a lot of our hymns, and not always the best of either."

Unfortunate, but true.

Mary Kay

Great story. I love it stories that disprove the science versus religion myth.

Annalucia

Pseudomodo, he's NOT a priest, he's a Jesuit brother.

I love this guy ;-) Every February he lectures at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago and my husband and I go every time. And ``Brother Astronomer'' is a good place to start. Among other things it has a vivid description of meteorite-hunting in Antarctica.

Pseudomodo

Thanks Annalucia,

If you google him, more than half the results claim he is a priest. However there is one interview where he admits to being a lay brother.

Leo

Well said Esau.

I would add Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1446) who suggested that the earth might not be stationary, that the universe has its centre everywhere and that every direction is relative. St Augustine of Hippo said that time and space were created; that the past is a memory the future is an expectation and that only the present exists, this is in Book 14 which contains non-theological speculations and is only rarely published.

The scientific quest presupposes an ordered cosmos, where the order we see is truly objective, rather than the by-product of a big brain which subjectively attributes patterns to what is random (eg seeing constellations of ploughs etc. in random arrangements of stars - cf Hume's problem of causality and induction). Belief in a rational Creator and Sustainer is the best guarantor of an ordered cosmos, causality, induction, the existence of objects when they are not being observed and other minds.

Science attempts to explain more and more phenomena with fewer and fewer principles/laws. Belief in God takes the scientific quest for explanation to the ultimate logical step.

Catholics outside the US (ie the majority of the world) tend not not get their underwear in a twist over evolution/creation. The same applies to most Protestants (with the exception of some Evangelicals).

Outside the US, Catholics tend not to see any conflict between what is accepted as mainstream scientific fact and faith. They look with alarm and compassion at the ammunition that supporters of Creationism/Intelligent Designer needlessly give to people like Richard Dawkins.

It is deeply puzzling to most people, outside the US, why so many people in the most technologically advanced country are so scientifically (and theologically) illiterate. My best explanation is the baleful influence of Sola Scriptura Protestantism and its simplistic reading of Genesis 1.

Jenny

Esau,
I don't know who Steensen is, but for geology look no further than Nicolas Steno. His laws of stratigraphy are taught in every intro geology course and he has been declared a Blessed by the Church. I pray that he will one day be canonized to be the patron saint of geologists.

Also, in the whole science/faith thing, recall that the University system was started by the church.

Maureen

Brother Consolmagno is very upfront that he is a Jesuit _brother_, not a priest. He doesn't feel called to be a priest, believes that being a brother is part of his charism, and has found it very useful in working and talking with certain groups, like the Mennonites. (It also apparently piques a lot of the academics who are Jesuits, as some have the misconception that all smart Jesuits with advanced degrees are priests, and that any Jesuit not a priest must be dumb and ignorant.)

But it's also eminently practical as a charism, since Consolmagno came into the order already an astronomy professor with a doctorate. If he had chosen to go on to study as a priest, he would have had to take years and years of theology, philosophy and humanities courses, thus eliminating years of being able to do things in his field. Instead, God and the Jesuits got somebody who'd already done all the schooling on his own dollar and time.

Tim H.

DJ--

Yes, it was Hubble's observations that sparked the Big Bang theory. After Hubble's observations showed an expanding universe, though, there were still ways to explain this without an initial point in time.

Hubble and Lemaitre at first tried to get it to work with an infinitely old universe (the reigning assumption of the time) that had been very small forever and then suddenly started expanding. This would *not* have been a Big Bang, as we understand it today, because it had no beginning.

I've looked at that paper; I'm not sure that it fails in any way, mathematically, but it's got a jury-rigged feel to it, over all.

Lemaitre's great insight was that the entropy (disorder) in the universe was observed to be increasing. That means it was more orderly in the past. Because there are fewer ways to be orderly than disorderly, it is unlikely that the universe had been disorderly, then randomly fell into order, and then started growing disorderly again. So the most likely scenario is an early state of high order. And it would be likely that it was created in this state, rather than being infinitely old. He even calls this initial state an "atom," or "superatom," I think--a term that's hung around in the popular press.

Impressively, Lemaitre's paper on the thermodynamic argument is short and doesn't even contain equations.

I'll have to look again at what papers followed that one, but I think Lemaitre and Hubble then did the General Relativity to get it to work in detail.

So: Hubble did the observations that led to the Big Bang theory. Lemaitre had the insight on a moment of creation. Hubble (and Lemaitre?) then did the theory in full.

Tim J.

Interesting info. Thanks, Tim H.

Josiah

I think we're all overlooking a key point here: Guy Consolmagno is a supercool name.

Tim H.

You're welcome, Tim J.!

As for why the Big Bang theory sometimes gets short shrift from conservative Christians, part of it is the way it is adopted by those promoting an atheistic form of biological evolution. I get a number of students who are uneasy about the Big Bang, thinking of it as an atheistic explanation of the universe, just as they think biological evolution is an atheistic explanation of Man. They tend to lump the two together, but then so do the atheists.

Regardless of how you measure the timescale of Genesis 1, if you take it more literally, the Big Bang is a much more religiously compatible theory than the 19th & early 20th century cosmology it replaced. Before Hubble & Lemaitre, cosmologists were squeamish about letting there be a limit to either time or space (both being dimensions in space-time), whether a beginning or an end. It seemed mathematically inelegant and raised all kinds of other problems, so they thought. The solution? Have both space and time extend infinitely in all directions. For time, that meant no beginning and no end. No beginning then meant that it had always existed. Why would it have been there at all, then? Don't ask!

It is impressive that cosmologists have only in the last 75-80 years come back to the earlier view that, indeed, the universe did come into existence and have a beginning. A t=0 point, singularities be damned.

Saint Augustine was able to comprehend this 1,600 years ago, in books 10-13 (or 11-13?) of his _Confessions_. He brilliantly explains that it doesn't make sense to ask, "What was God doing before He made the Universe?" Because there was no "before," before. Time is a property of the created universe, just like space is. Something the 19th century cosmologists had a problem accepting.

I contend, as a scientist, that the "why?" of the universe's existence cannot, in principle, be answered wholly through science. Because our laws of physics are themselves properties of the universe they exist within, we probably cannot use them to understand the pre-existing conditions that would give rise to the universe. If we could, then we would simply be pushing farther back our definition of the "universe" to encompass the state of existence that gave rise to our particular universe, but it would leave us with exactly the same question on how that state of existence came to be.

On both scientific and philosophical grounds, then, I hold that our scientific understanding of the universe can only take us back so far. Beyond that will necessarily be the exclusive realm of theology.

One last note--when I was at the Space Telescope Science Institute (where I met Consolmagno), we had a number of great astronomers come visit. Among them was cosmologist J. Richard Gott, who gave a talk entitled, "Can the Universe Create Itself?" On the way to the talk, a friend joked to me that for once, she'd like to go to a talk with a rhetorical question for its title that *wasn't* going to be answered affirmatively! Anyway, at first I was worried that Gott had gotten the answer to the Big Question, purely from scientific work. But then his conclusion turned out to be, "Yes, the universe *can* create itself, as long as it already exists."

I left at the end, much comforted. :)

Mike Petrik

Re Lemaitre, Hubble and Einstein --
From Wiki: Fr. or Msgr. Lemaître proposed what became known as the Big Bang theory of the origin of the Universe, although he called it his 'hypothesis of the primeval atom'. He based his theory, first presented in 1927 and published in the pages of Nature in 1931, on the laws of relativity set forth by Einstein, among others, although at the time Einstein believed in an eternal universe and had previously expressed his skepticism about Lemaitre's original 1927 paper. A similar solution to Einstein's equations, suggesting a changing radius to the size of the universe, had been proposed in 1922 by Alexander Alexandrovich Friedman, as Einstein informed Fr. Lemaître when he approached him with the theory at the 1927 Solvay Conference (Friedman had also been criticized by Einstein), but it is Fr. Lemaître that made the theory famous with his widely read papers and media appeal. Fr. Lemaître also proposed the theory at an opportune time since Edwin Hubble would soon release his red shift observations that strongly supported an expanding universe and, consequently, the Big Bang theory. In fact, Lemaître derived what became known as Hubble's Law in his 1927 paper, two years before Hubble.

Esau

THANKS JENNY & LEO for your INFORMATIVE posts!!!

I appreciate the 'edumucation'! =^)

Ya guys ROCK!


I would add Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1446) who suggested that the earth might not be stationary, that the universe has its centre everywhere and that every direction is relative. St Augustine of Hippo said that time and space were created; that the past is a memory the future is an expectation and that only the present exists, this is in Book 14 which contains non-theological speculations and is only rarely published.
Posted by: Leo | Mar 7, 2007 2:31:21 PM

I don't know who Steensen is, but for geology look no further than Nicolas Steno. His laws of stratigraphy are taught in every intro geology course and he has been declared a Blessed by the Church. I pray that he will one day be canonized to be the patron saint of geologists.
Posted by: Jenny | Mar 7, 2007 3:09:51 PM

J.R. Stoodley

Esau,

you wrote

1. Mendel, a monk, first established the laws of heredity, which gave the final blow to the theory of natural selection.

Perhaps you mean the final blow to rational opponants of the theory of natural selection? Mendel's laws of inheretence only support evolution by natural selection and remove one of Darwin's own objections to his theory, namely that if an individual is an equal combination of the traits of his two parents any favorable trait would be lost through dilution. With traits coded by distinct genes they are not lost but favorable genes will inevitably increase in frequency in the population over time, leading to adaptive phynotypic changes.

I have read that Mendel accepted Darwin's theory and was confident that some day his discoveries would be merged with Darwins, as indeed they were in the early 20th century.

I would not have guessed you were an anti-evolution type. Perhaps you may want to clarify what you meant.

J.R. Stoodley

*phenotypic

I can't spell to save my life.

Mike Petrik

J. R.
As I understand it, "natural selection" is not a synonym for the hypothesis of "evolution" as proposed by Darwin, but is instead just one component part of that hypothesis. In this connection, some Christians who are conceptually receptive to evolution object to the natural selection component as inconsistent with God's causation and involvement. These Christian skeptics consider the "natural selection" concept to be nonessential to the general theory of evolution.

I also understand that Catholics are not required to object to natural selection since, properly understood, it is not incompatable with our belief that God is the prime cause of all existence and that He can intervene whenever he wishes, most especially including through "secondary causes." Most specifically, natural selection may be a process set in motion and caused by God. Of course, neither are Catholics required to accept the authenticity of natural selection.

Jeb Protestant

"American Catholicism is in a Protestant culture," he said. "We borrow a lot of our attitudes, along with a lot of our hymns, and not always the best of either."

What is interesting is that many people, such as Roman Catholic theologians, accept evolution because they have been taught the JEPD garbage that Moses didn't write Genesis and that the Bible isn't inerrant. These ideas came generally (though not exclusively) from liberal protestants. That last two popes have bought into these liberal views of the Bible.

There are many solid reasons to reject evolution and embrace a literal, historical view of Genesis 1-11.

Michael

Jeb Protestant,

I didn't realize that St. Augustine was influenced by liberal protestants....

Jeb Protestant

Michael,

Are you saying that Augustine believed in the JEPD theory?

Actually, Augustine inclined toward a literal understanding of Genesis --

http://capo.org/cpc/lavallee.htm

Esau

What is interesting is that many people, such as Roman Catholic theologians, accept evolution because they have been taught the JEPD garbage that Moses didn't write Genesis and that the Bible isn't inerrant. These ideas came generally (though not exclusively) from liberal protestants. That last two popes have bought into these liberal views of the Bible.


Jeb:
Could you please provide proof for your assertion above?

Anon
There are many solid reasons to reject evolution and embrace a literal, historical view of Genesis 1-11.

There are also many solid reasons to accept evolution and embrace a literal, historical view of Genesis 1-11.

Esau

There are also many solid reasons to accept evolution and embrace a literal, historical view of Genesis 1-11.

Posted by: Anon | Mar 9, 2007 3:12:22 PM


Somebody's actually thinking! ;^)

Some Day

...Like an idiot.

Anon

Don't be too hard on yourself Some Day!

Esau

Some Day & Jeb:

You both might want to refer to the following document:

MESSAGE TO THE PONTIFICAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES:
ON EVOLUTION

Jeb Protestant

Esau,

According to Rome, the Bible contains historical and theologica errors. I start with the presuposition that the Bible is inerrant without any theological errors.

I forget where JP II came out in favor of JEPD. Ratzigner supports lots of higher critical views -- Paul didnt' write the Pastorals, Daniel didn't write Daniel, three Isaiahs.

Esquire

Jeb,

Newsflash. The Catholic Church has taught for 2000 years that the Bible is inerrant without any theological errors.

(But you already knew that, didn't you?)

Esau

According to Rome, the Bible contains historical and theologica errors

Really?

It was actually Rome who, in the Councils of Rome (382 AD), Hippo (393 AD) and Carthage (397 AD), not only selected the books of the bible but also declared them inerrant, inspired and God-breathed!

bill912

Any stick to bash the Church with is good enough for him; truth is irrelevant to him.

Jeb Protestant

Read Raymond Brown's book Responses to 101 Questions About the Bible where he claims that the Bible has historical and theological errors. The book was printed with the imprimateur and he was twice appointed to the Pontifical Commission (once by John Paul the Great).

Esau

Ahem... the following are a few quotes from Protestant sources cited by one of our illustrious apologists:


Roman Catholicism has a high regard for Scripture as a source of knowledge . . . Indeed, official Roman Catholic statements concerning the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture would satisfy the most rigorous Protestant fundamentalist.

(Robert McAfee Brown, The Spirit of Protestantism, Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1961, 172-173)


There was never a time in the history of the western Church during the 'Dark' or 'Middle' Ages when the Scriptures were officially demoted. On the contrary, they were considered infallible and inerrant, and were held in the highest honour.

(Peter Toon, Protestants and Catholics, Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1983, 39)


[After quoting 19 eminent Church Fathers to the effect that Scripture is infallible and held in the highest regard (bolstering his own thesis in this book), Harold Lindsell, former editor of Christianity Today and well-known evangelical scholar, has this to say about the Catholic reverence for Scripture]:

The view expressed by Augustine was the view the Roman Catholic Church believed, taught, and propagated through the centuries . . . It can be said that the Roman church for more than a thousand years accepted the doctrine of infallibility of all Scripture . . . The church has always (via Fathers, theologians, and popes) taught biblical inerrancy . . . The Roman church held to a view of Scripture that was no different from that held by the Reformers.

(The Battle For the Bible, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976, 54-56)

And, of course, the quote I personally LOVE to use in many of my discussions:


Martin Luther, in his commentary on St. John, in Ch 16, he says this:

“We are obliged to yield many things to the Papists (there, he means Catholics); that they possess the Word of God which we received from them. Otherwise, we should have known nothing at all about it.

Esau

Read Raymond Brown's book

Jeb:

A Lesson in Logic for you --

Raymond Brown does NOT = Catholic Church (or, in your lingo, "Rome")

bill912

"Rome" does not=Catholic Church, either. The Roman Catholic Church is ONE of 23 Churches that make up the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

Tim J.

"Read Raymond Brown's book Responses to 101 Questions About the Bible where he claims that the Bible has historical and theological errors. The book was printed with the imprimateur and he was twice appointed to the Pontifical Commission (once by John Paul the Great)."

I believe we have been over this. Some book by some guy (regardless of imprimatur, the guy's position, or what have you) does not mean diddly in terms of real Church doctrine. You KNOW this.

Good grief, Brown is one of Realist's favorites, along with J.D. Crossan (and probably Kung... who knows?), who has theorized that Jesus' body may have been eaten by wild dogs!

Read. The. Catechism.

Read Dei Verbum, that's Vatican II.

Esau

"Rome" does not=Catholic Church, either.

Thanks, bill912 for the correction! =^)

The Roman Catholic Church is ONE of 23 Churches that make up the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

Church v. Rites again?

grrrrrrrr..rrr... ;^)

Jeb Protestant

Tim,

Are you saying that the two popes who appointed Brown to the PBC and Ratzinger (who said "the PBC enjoys the full confidence of the Magisterium") didn't know what Brown taught?

Can you point to anyone on the PBC who had substantially more conservative views than Brown? Brown's views are quite similar to Fitzmyer's, Senior's, Wainsbrough's, etc.

Tim J.

"Are you saying that the two popes who appointed Brown to the PBC and Ratzinger (who said "the PBC enjoys the full confidence of the Magisterium") didn't know what Brown taught?"

What does that have to do with CHURCH TEACHING on the matter?

I have no clue who was on the commission, but SURELY you see the lapse in logic... the fact that Brown was appointed to the commission (he and others like him could hardly complain, afterward, that the Church did not consider all arguments) does not mean that the commission ended up endorsing his views, or that his take on scripture has had any special influence on Church doctrine. It just doesn't.

Brown may have been one of the more philosophically rigorous proponents of higher criticism, and so warranted a seat on the commission. You can not wring from that the idea that either JPII or BXVI (then Cdl. Ratzinger) were in agreement with any particular aspect of his work.

Do the leaders of your denomination (if you claim one) hold identical beliefs? If I read a book by some notable member of your communion, can I assume he speaks for the whole body?

Jeb Protestant

Tim,

Are you denying that higher critical approaches to the Bible have been supported by recent popes?

For example, when Benedict says that the Pastoral Epistles were written after Paul, do you doubt he denies Pauline authorship? When he talks of "Tritero-Isaiah" do you think he nonetheless contests liberal views of this book's authorship?

Tim J.

Jeb, I am no Bible scholar, so perhaps others can answer more intelligently, but the private statements or books of any Catholic - Pope, Cardinal, whatever - do not equal Church teaching. Again, if you want to criticize Church teaching, then please criticize WHAT THE CHURCH TEACHES, and not cherry-picked private statements by this or that Catholic.

In addition, your views of what is "liberal" scholarship, and the Church's may be two different things, and in that event, I will go with the Church. Not all the fruits of higher criticism have been rotten, and the Church acknowledges this.

Not knowing your beliefs about the scriptures, I can't really address them, but, following Church teaching, I do not take a literalist approach to every book of the Bible. I understand that there are different literary forms included in the Bible, and that this has to be taken into account when interpreting it, along with the whole culture of written communication at the time different books were written.

A first-century Jewish audience read with different assumptions and expectations than we do. If two gospel writers record an event differently, I don't see this as cause for the desperate working-out of an airtight harmonization between the two.

All this may be seen as the result of the good fruits of legitimate form criticism. There has been a lot of nonsense propagated in the name of higher criticism, as well, but I have seen none of it penetrate the teaching of the Church.

The Church teaches CLEARLY that the gospels must be accepted by faithful Catholics as true records of what Jesus really did and taught. That's good enough for me.

Tim J.

Touching on the authorship of the Pauline epistles and references to Tritero-Isaiah, I haven't a clue. As I said, I am no Bible scolar.

I DO know, however (thanks to Church teaching) that these are inerrant and infallible scriptures. I am free to disagree with B16, or any Catholic, about the authorship of, say, Hebrews. Judging just by the tone and my experience of Paul's writings in general, I think Paul wrote it, though he seemed to be writing in a different way than he often did. That doesn't bother me at all. I write differently at different times and to different readers. That is not, in itself, evidence that it was not written by Paul. But others think differently.

As a Catholic, I am free to believe either way, as long as I accept the divinely inspired, inerrant, infallible nature of what is written.

Esau

For example, when Benedict says that the Pastoral Epistles were written after Paul, do you doubt he denies Pauline authorship? When he talks of "Tritero-Isaiah" do you think he nonetheless contests liberal views of this book's authorship?


Jeb,

This is certainly news to me.

Care to cite actual documentation for this or did you just make it up?

David B.

Clippety-clop, clippety-clop, clop!

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