February 11, 2010

Bro. Guy Consolmagno

Earlier this week I attended a wonderful lecture by Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J., the Vatican's lead astronomer assigned to the Vatican Observatory. Bro. Consolmagno is curator of the Vatican's meteorite collection. Consolmagno researches the connections between meteorites and asteroids, and the origin and evolution of small bodies in the solar system.

During the lecture titled "Why Does the Pope Need an Astronomer?", Consolmagno explained the most extraordinary history of the Vatican Observatory. Consolmagno easily dispelled commonly held myths about the Church and its relation to science, and various and commonplace misinterpretations of the Galileo fiasco.

When it comes to the Protestant phenomenon of "creationism" and "creation science," Consolmagno pulls no punches. He says creationism is not bad science – it is just not science at all. Also, creationism is bad religion. It makes a pagan-like god of the Christian God (like the forever meddling Zeus). In 1966, Consolmagno said, "Religion needs science to keep it away from superstition and keep it close to reality, to protect it from creationism, which at the end of the day is a kind of paganism - it's turning God into a nature god."

The idea that religion needs science (and conversely) reflects the words of Pope John Paul II: "Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish."

I agree with Consolmagno's views about religious fundamentalism. Personally, I have found that creationists have truth and error so intertwined that they are incapable of engaging in logical argument.

Consolmagno inspires a love for the study of God's creation. I recommend his readable and fun books. Consolmagno has an extraordinary ability to explain difficult scientific matters in a manner easily understood by the non-specialist. Here are some titles:
The Heavens Proclaim: Astronomy and the Vatican

More biographical information from God’s Mechanics:
"Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J., was born in Detroit Michigan. He earned undergraduate and master’s degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate in planetary science from the University of Arizona, was a researcher at Harvard and MIT, served in the United States Peace Corps in Kenya, and taught university physics at Lafayette College before entering the Jesuit order in 1989.

"Consolmagno was appointed to the Vatican Observatory in 1993. His research explores connections between meteorites, asteroids, and the evolution of small solar system bodies, observing Kuiper Belt comets with the Vatican’s 1.8-meter telescope in Arizona, and curating the Vatican meteorite collection. He is the author of more than one hundred scientific papers and articles and a number of books including Turn Left at Orion (with Dan Davis), Worlds Apart: A Textbook in Planetary Sciences (with Martha Schaefer), and Brother Astronomer.

"Consolmagno has served on the governing board of the Meteoritical Society and as chair of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society. He is past president of Commission 16 (Planets and Satellites) and secretary of Division III (Planetary Systems Sciences) of the International Astronomical Union. He has held chairs as a visiting Jesuit scholar at Saint Joseph’s University and at Fordham University."

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  1. How fortunate you were to be able to attend such a lecture by such a man! Maybe I missed it, but where was the lecture held?

    More books to check out! Yay!

  2. University of California, Merced


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