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Pope’s astronomer hits the bar

pope astronomer [Desktop Resolution].JPG

By James Dacey, Birmingham

This is the Pope’s astronomer, Brother Guy Consolmagno. And yep, those are the Maxwell equations printed on his t-shirt with the punchline: “and there was light”.

Consolmagno was answering questions tonight in the informal setting of a student union bar as part of the British Science Festival, which is currently taking place in Birmingham.

He was a lot more candid than I expected, describing the Pope as “a really great guy” who reminded him of Ludvig von Drake, the Walt Disney cartoon duck that is fascinated by knowledge.

On the customary question of how he squares his religious belief with the pursuit of rational scientific facts, Consolmagno jokingly compared it to separating his nationality from his favourite football team.

On a more serious note later in the evening, Consolmagno said that he sees no reason for conflict between science and Catholic teachings, which interpret the Bible rather than taking it literally. He was keen to distance the Catholic church from creationist views, which he described as a “much more modern idea”.

Consolmagno is one of 12 scientists working within the Vatican observatory where he also has the task of curating the Vatican’s meteorite collection. His own research involves studying the physical properties of meterorites, in particular how they form from dust in the absence of water and significant pressures.

When asked whether he thought there could be life on other planets he said is comfortable with the idea. He says the notion that liquid water beneath the icy surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa could offer habitable conditions for life is one of the most fascinating questions in physics.

On the question of whether he would baptize an alien, Consolmagno says “yes, but only if they asked”.

Consolmagno says it is coincidence that his appearance in Britain is at the same time as the ongoing papal tour, which will also be visiting Birmingham this Sunday.

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  1. Father Ron Smith

    So. The Vatican has moved on since the fatwa agaionst Galileo?

  2. Dileep Sathe

    Science and Religion: Consolmagno jokingly says that separating science and religion is like separating nationality and favourite football team. If it is a statement, really made as a joke, then there is no problem or there can not be any discussion also. However, I suggest readers (who want to debate on science and religion somewhat seriously) to see the earlier recent story on this blog, title: M theory, Science and Religion … contributed by Hamish Johnston, 8th Sept, and also see my comment dated 9th Sept.

  3. jjeherrera

    “So. The Vatican has moved on since the fatwa agaionst Galileo?”
    Some people are apparently unaware of the existence of the Pontificial Academy of Sciences , one of whose members, by the way, is Stephen Hawking .
    Whether the Academy really influences the Vatican is quite another question.

  4. Marco Avanzi

    Astronomers of the Vatican Observatory are Jesuits who throw with their research a bridge between science and faith.
    I was lucky enough to attend lectures of Father George Coyne is former Director of the Vatican Observatory, that the current Director Father Jose Funes, both are people with considerable scientific knowledge and a great humanity.
    The Observatory also has a website done very well with science news, photos and video about astronomy and other interesting news.
    I wonder if one day it will come true as suggested by another Jesuit priest astronomer of the Vatican Observatory, Brother Guy Consolmagno, you can meet other intelligent creatures from outer space and to bring them the word of the Lord.
    We hope that this new evangelization can take place as soon as possible we just have to keep waiting.

    Best Regards


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