Vatican astronomer Brother Guy Consolmagno will give a free lecture on science and faith at UVic Thursday night. (Photo courtesy of the Vatican Observatory)

Vatican astronomer contends science needs faith

Head of the Vatican Observatory to speak at UVic Nov. 23

The man known as the Pope’s Astronomer will give a free lecture this week at the University of Victoria.

The head of the Vatican Observatory will give a public lecture on science and faith on Thursday, something organizers hope will address the controversy surrounding Governor General Julie Payette’s comments linking belief in God with astrology and climate change denial.

Brother Guy Consolmagno, who has post graduate science degrees from MIT and the University of Arizona, will separately address UVic’s Physics Department and the general public.

“The timing of his visit couldn’t be more fortuitous,” said Father Dean Henderson, who is UVic’s Catholic chaplain. He said Payette’s comments continue to stir up controversy in the news media.

“The governor general’s comments have generated a lot of smoke and heat. We hope Brother Guy’s talk can shed some light,” said Henderson.

Consolmagn’s public talk is titled, “From Galileo to Laudato Si’: Why Science Needs Faith.” The latter is the name of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on the environment. Galileo is an obvious reference to the Renaissance scientist required by the Inquisition to renounce his belief that the sun was the centre of the universe.

That dispute 400 years ago remains a rallying point for atheists maintaining that faith presents an obstacle to science, but Henderson notes it was more complex. Not only was Galileo supported by the Church financially through much of his career, but his belief in the heliocentric solar system was advanced a century earlier by a Polish Catholic priest, Copernicus, without being sanctioned by the Catholic Church.

Henderson said Consolmagno will counter the idea that faith and science are in an inevitable conflict by arguing that the belief in God as the creator of the universe was the basis for the development of modern science.

Because early scientists such as Isaac Newton and Galileo believed in a lawful and rational God, they were confident he had created a physical universe governed by discoverable laws.

Henderson called the Governor General’s lumping together of astrology with Judeo-Christian monotheism as “incredible.”

There are academic studies both supporting and contradicting Payette’s premises. A 2013 “meta-analysis” consolidating 63 pieces of original research on the subject reported that the higher a person’s IQ, the less likely he or she is to hold religious beliefs.

Titled “The Relation Between Intelligence and Religiosity: A Meta-Analysis and Some Proposed Explanations,” it is the work of three academics from the universities of Rochester, N.Y. and Northwestern, in Boston.

On the other hand, the Washington D.C.-based Marriage and Religion Research Institute has collected another raft of studies showing that the more frequently a family attends church or another “house of worship,” the better its children do in school, in terms of marks, attendance and level of attainment.

And a opinion survey done by Gallup published in Baylor University sociologist Rodney Stark’s book, What Americans Really Believe, indicates that 31 per cent of those who never go to church accept “junk science” beliefs such as astrology, palm reading, the paranormal and UFOs as valid while only eight per cent of those attending church weekly believe such things. The survey also found the more conservative the church, the less likely its members were to believe in “junk science.”

Consolmagn’s free public address will be held at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 23 in Room B150 (Flury Hall) in the Bob Wright Centre, across Ring Road from Parking Lot 1.

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