Astronomy and Belief: Catholic Scientist Pens a Great Piece

I have posted about science vs religion before and you all know I believe them to be entirely compatible–and so does the Church. Here is a really great article by an Astronomer for the Vatican Observatory that I had to share on my blog.

‘Why does the Vatican have an observatory? Aren’t there more important things to do than look at the stars?’ Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno SJ has been asked these questions many times; indeed, he asks them of himself. At an event hosted by the Mount Street Jesuit Centre last month, he explained how he encounters God in his scientific studies:

There are three religious beliefs that you have to accept on faith before you can be a scientist. You may not think of them as religious, but I can name religions that do not have these beliefs.

The first thing you must believe is that this universe actually exists. This may seem obvious; but if you believe, as some religions do, that ‘everything is illusion,’ then what is there for a scientist to study? If you were a solipsist, then being a scientist would be just wasting your time studying a figment of your imagination.

The second thing to believe is that the universe operates by regular laws. How can you go searching for the physical laws of the universe if you do not believe there are physical laws to be found? Today we have a thousand years of finding those laws and seeing how we can use them to make the telephones work; but who was the first person a thousand years ago to think that such laws exist, and that they could be discovered? Where did he or she get the faith to believe that there might be laws to be found?

If you were a pagan Roman and you saw lightning strike, you said the god of lightning threw it; if you saw crops grow, you attributed that to the goddess of crops. If you believe that everything that occurs in the universe is the result of the whims of demons and deities, there is no point in looking for scientific laws.

Christians in Roman times were accused of being atheists, because they refused to believe in these pagan gods. And rightly so; there are many gods I do not believe in. Indeed, even Richard Dawkins only believes in one fewer God than I do!

And the God I believe in is not of the universe, but existed before the universe began; not a part of nature, but super-natural. If you believe in that kind of God, then there is room to ask how the rest of the world works, and room to wonder if it works by regular laws. We know from scripture that God is responsible for the universe, in a step-by- step manner. Genesis outlines a creation story that is fundamentally different from the Babylonian story in that rather than the physical universe being an accident, Genesis tells us that God deliberately willed it to exist.

And here is the third thing you have to believe as a scientist: you have to believe that the universe is good. We get that, again, from Genesis. If you think the universe is a morass of temptations, then you will be afraid to be too involved in it; you will want to meditate yourself to a higher level, perhaps. If you believe that, you are not going to want to be a scientist. But instead, we believe in a God who so loved the universe that He sent His only Son…

So why do people think that there is a conflict between science and religion? Too often the assumption is that science and religion are systems of epistemology, ways of knowing facts. Science gives me one set of facts, religion gives me another set of facts, and so surely there is going to be a time when the two systems conflict.

But that is not what science is at all, and not what religion is at all.

We all learn science in school, where it is taught as a big book of facts; and you had better use this year’s book, because last year’s book of facts is out of date. But that should immediately tell you that science is not just facts. Science continues even as the facts change. What we do in science is learn how to have a conversation about those facts… how we can talk about understanding how the universe we have observed seems to work, and how we can use that understanding to guess the next place to look. Science is not the facts, it is the conversation.

In the same way, faith is not about a bunch of things I must accept, blindly, closing my eyes to the truth. On the contrary, remember what Moses says to his people after giving the Tablets of the Law: ‘do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.’ (Deut 4: 9) It is not, ‘close your eyes’ but rather, ‘pay attention to what you have seen.’

Faith is not accepting a bunch of facts in the absence of evidence. It is making choices in the absence of all the facts… whether it is your choice of school, or job, who you will marry, where you will live. When you made those choices, there was no way you could know how it would turn out. That’s life, making choices in the absence of sufficient data. But you make these choices in the expectation that things will turn out well. That’s faith. Sometimes that expectation is going to be shattered, but you go ahead anyway; what else can you do?

These expectations based on faith occur in science all the time. When I choose what field…

Read the rest of his piece here by clicking this link.

The Best Medicine

tumblr_mde4ncT1kk1qbzun1o1_500I have always been a big fan of modern medicine—maybe it’s my Catholic upbringing which implies the sciences are gifts to us from God’s grace, or maybe it’s just because I’m all about the quick fix to ease my aches and pains. I hold medical researchers, doctors and smart people in high regard.

If I’m completely truthful, I actually don’t hold the agnostic or atheistic researchers and doctors in high regard—those types think they are gods so I absolutely hope to steer clear of them. But the humble faith-filled smart doctor people have my complete affection and respect.

But today I experienced the most natural form of healing which involved no medicine, no research, no health studies, and no cardiovascular exercise: lunch with my mother.

I’m telling you, and I’ve said this before on my blog, that my mother is one of those people that lives her life the way the saints did: in self-sacrifice for the people God has entrusted to her and in complete obedience to Him and His will.

She would say, “Are you kidding me?”

And I would say, “No, I am not kidding, Mom. I want to be you…the same way I wish to be a saint but never will be.  You give me an ideal to strive for and you offer mercy and forgiveness before I even realize I miss the mark.”

I could write about how Mom goes to daily Mass, takes care of my father and mothered and continues to mother eleven children who never got hooked on drugs (ha ha ha why is that my standard, that none of us ever got hooked on drugs…ha ha ha).. and I could write about how when we were wealthy and then had hard times she went immediately to work to make ends meet; how she loves and forgives and loves and respects and loves and loves and loves her husband.  This is huge; because marriage is really hard.  Especially for me, lately.

I could tell you all that, but instead I’ll just talk about my lunch with my Mom today, which will give you an example of how to be a mother:

Me: Mom I’ve been in such a funk lately.

Mom: I know darling–you haven’t written any blog posts in almost two weeks and I miss them.

Me: I know. I’m a little worried after sending out all these resumes at the beach that some of my future employers might read my blog so I don’t know what to write anymore.  What if they read what I write and think I would make an awful employee?

Mom: Yes, maybe. But does it matter?

Me: No, it doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t want to work for anyone long term who didn’t get it.  And Husband and I are like friends passing in the hallway.  After 15 years of marriage I don’t think he likes me.

Mom: Sure he does darling.

Me: And he does this and this and this.

Mom: Yes

Me: And this and this and THIS. And he did THIS!

Mom: Yes.

Me: And here I am 43 years old. And I have everything I ever wanted: marriage, children, family, house, blah blah.

Mom: Yes. (she holds my hand.)

Me: So how are the rest of the siblings?

And then my mom updates me on everyone… All of my ten siblings, what’s new and what every one is up to.

And then I take it back to me.

Me: So I don’t know. I’m just all crabby lately.

And she says, “We have to have lunch at least once a week.”

And I say yes, yes, we do.

And we will.

Because I need her. Because my mom doesn’t judge or try to control me. My mom doesn’t get focused on petty stupid things and she doesn’t engage in gossip. My mom doesn’t like to go shopping (I really hate to “go shopping,” like it’s some sort of special event) and she doesn’t use passive aggressive tactics to manipulate me.  She just LOVES ME.  And she loves her other ten children just as unconditionally.

Like God. None of us says she loves one more than the other. No favorites. Unconditional love available for eternity for all of us.  Just like God.  So that’s where I’ve learned my concept of God, from my mother.

And my mom is my medicine.

Science, Spirituality, Religion and Alcoholism

brain1“Science teaches us that the earth is not the center of the universe. Faith teaches me that neither am I.”

Growing up Catholic, by osmosis I instinctively “knew” that science and religion were compatible. My parents were primary proponents of education; and academic achievement was encouraged in our home. Additionally, my parents ensured we were educated in our faith, through parochial schools or Catechism classes.

Both science and faith were priority and entirely compatible. Nobody told me this. I just understood it to be true.

It wasn’t until I became an adult, when worldly views made their trek through my life experiences that I discovered there were those who thought religion and science were at odds with each other. I learned there were two camps: either life was guided by faith or it was guided by reason/science.

In recovery from alcoholism, I’ve encountered this same spirituality vs science phenomenon. The two schools of thought are either to take the AA 12-Step spirituality road to recovery or take the Science-based medical and knowledge road.

My Catholic perspective lends itself to me approaching recovery in an “all of the above” manner. And for me, my Catholic faith is the perfect bridge between the two schools of recovery thought: spirituality and science.

Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit, argued in a 1959 book The Phenomenon of Man that science and religion were two vital sides of the quest for perfect knowledge. And in his 1996 encyclical Fides et Ratio, Pope John Paul II wrote, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, never conflicts with the faith, because the things of the world and the things the of the faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are”.

(this from Wikipedia): Catholic scientists (many of them clergymen) have been credited as fathers of a diverse range of scientific fields – including physics (Galileo), acoustics (Mersenne), mineralogy (Agricola), modern chemistry (Lavoisier), modern anatomy (Vesalius), stratigraphy (Steno), bacteriology (Kircher and Pasteur), genetics (Mendel), analytical geometry (Descartes), heliocentric cosmology (Copernicus) atomic theory (Bošković) and the Big Bang Theory on the origins of the universe (Lemaître).

Look no further than the Vatican Observatory or the Pontifical Council of Science to glean how the Church feels about science.

In his 2011 book, Hi-jacking the Brain, Louis Teresi, MD explains the science behind 12 Step programs. An alcoholic himself, Teresi  credits 12 Step recovery for helping him quit drinking. He had science and knowledge, but was unable to beat this disease because his approach at first lacked the spiritual component.

He grapples in the book with the paradox that alcoholism is an organic brain disease but with a spiritual remedy.  To his scientific mind, this spiritual remedy did not make sense until he experienced it for himself and was able to ascribe to the phenomenon in scientific terms.

The author uses examples from animal sociobiology, as well as sophisticated human brain-imaging studies to demonstrate that empathic socialization and altruism are instinctive and ‘naturally rewarding’ and, along with Twelve-Step Work, act as a substitute for the ‘synthetic rewards’ of drugs of abuse.

While his approach is commendable—and I love the book– it seems to me that science can never adequately explain why spirituality works. To me, it’s more than the internal workings of the limbic system within my brain that keeps me in balance spiritually. It’s God. It’s that power greater than me that fills my soul.  It’s not within me and my brain matter or synapses that keeps me from taking a drink. It’s my faith in God that enables me to do what I wouldn’t normally be able to do without God’s help.

Dr Teresi grew up Catholic, but now considers himself “Christian-lite.”  Perhaps it was his Catholic upbringing which provided him the foundation to embrace science whole-heartedly, achieving a Magna Cum Laude in Biology from Harvard and an MD from Harvard with an honors concentration in Neuroscience.

On my bookshelf are Alcoholics Anonymous (the Big Book), Healing the Addicted Brain, Hi-jacking the Brain, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Holy Bible, Catholic Catechism, Womens Guide to Recovery, 24 Hours A Day, Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola and Living Sober.  My recovery experience also includes today’s best addiction medications which helped get me going in the right direction in the beginning. Add face-time at regular 12 step recovery meetings to this and I’ve got myself a pretty good chance of staying sober today,  by the grace of God.

Addiction Inbox

I found a blog called “Addiction Inbox” that is full of Recovery Science info–I signed up for email updates and look forward to exploring the site more thoroughly.

The first post I read was (not really to do with science) about a new novel by a recovering alcoholic.  Apparently the marketers of the book are not hiding the sober characteristics of the author, which I think is cool.

The book is called The Next Right Thing by Dan Barden.

Here is a link to the blog Addiction Inbox.  like.