*Please read post before viewing video
Well, I should be the biggest proponent of not falling prey to the still pervasive stereotype that faith and science are mutually exclusive of each other and that you must be one or the other. You can’t have your foot in both camps, so to speak. But, as we know because it’s one of the main themes of this blog, you can and people do on a regular basis.
So, I was doubly disappointed to find out that I was subconsciously buying into that stereotype myself. A long time friend and Astronomy Club colleague of mine is a very keen ( to say the least ) ham radio operator and radio astronomy enthusiast– a real “tecchie” as the lingo goes. . As a matter of fact, Ed Kucbel, has often been my “go to” guy to help me interpret technical information and science terminology for my articles . So much so that I often refer to him humorously as “Mission Control” 🙂 But when I recently sent him a radio astronomy article that I thought he would be interested in that I had linked from a Vatican Observatory Blog post, I was surprised to learn that he had already seen the article as he also subscribes to the Sacred Space Blog.
“Yup—I’m just a Catholic boy” he kidded in his response.
How could I not have known that? We have been colleagues in the Club and worked on more than one project together over the course of the past 20 years! But I realized that it was not only about the fact that it never came up in conversation ( and why should it? ) but that I had been “assuming ” that the tech and science guy had no religion. Yes, I had –even though I should, more than anyone, know better.
So I decided to explore this further with him and Ed has been kind enough to let me share the highlights of our conversation on this blog.
First of all, Ed told me that the topic of religion simply does not come up with his friends in the tech community. However, he doesn’t hide it from them or feel the need to. In fact, most of his friends are aware that he is a practicing Catholic and although there may be some friendly ribbing back and forth, it simply is not an issue. And had we not discovered our shared connection to the Vatican Observatory Blog, I likely would never have known either. But here we are. So, I was comfortable in moving the conversation from religion to personal faith and I was struck by how similar our perspective is. Is it a Catholic thing? 🙂
For example, Ed feels that studying astronomy and in fact, anything related to the natural world, doesn’t diminish his faith and in fact, enhances it. God’s creation is vast and it is impressive —and the more you know about it, the more you are moved by it. Of course, that is assuming that you believe in God in the first place. This is truly the crux of the matter when it comes to these kind of discussions. Folks like me and Ed ( who just happen to be Catholic but I am assuming that may be the same for the member of any faith that is flexible enough to accept science into their dogma) do not find it a stretch at all to open up what we believe is God’s creation to the infinite possibilities that science is revealing. And as I have said before in this blog, I worry that I am over simplifying things and perhaps I should be more analytical rather than simply accepting that God created everything –even prior to the Big Bang ( the theory of which, ironically enough, was developed by a scientist who was a Jesuit priest ) which scientifically is the beginning of everything. But didn’t “someone ” have to first light the match?
Ed points out that physics and chemistry are the same throughout the Universe and he finds that to be comforting evidence that God did indeed create Heaven and Earth. But perhaps not in the way that many Christians believe. What we believe and how we view the origin of life on Earth has a lot to do with how we integrate faith and science, especially in regard to the potential existence of life elsewhere. To that end, Ed has forwarded the above video – Evolution of Life on Earth and in Space in which well known theoretical physicist Dr. Michio Kaku interviews Astrobiologist , Dr. Robert Hagen, author of the book “Genesis” ( and not the one in the Bible) This video is well worth viewing if you want to further inform your interest in this subject and of course, wind up with even more questions.
Dr. Hagen points out that, as we have heard before from other astrobiologists delving into the subject of the origins of life, ( and contrary to popular opinion ), “life” doesn’t necessarily need all the things that we think it needs to survive. For example, we now know that there are forms of life, discovered as recently as the 70’s, right here on earth that can live without light. There are living communities of microbial life that have evolved in hydrothermal vents deep on the ocean’s floor. Many scientists believe that these were the types of environments where life might have first sparked some 3.5 billion years ago. And yet, I am willing to bet that most people will tell you that light is an essential requirement for life to exist on other planets. Yet, we know that there are life forms on our own planet that survive without ever seeing light. Dr. Hagen tells us that, although it is likely that we would share some DNA with ET life forms, there are other aspects that could have evolved differently in another environment. But what really interested me is his statement that it is very likely that life has evolved elsewhere.
“Life is a cosmic imperative” he says. “It arises everywhere and it arises quickly.”
He reminds us that it is commonly accepted in the science community that our nearest neighbour, Mars, was once habitable and that life likely arose on Mars and has since gone. He talks about the panspermia theory that Mars was likely hit by an asteroid in the past and that debris that was thrown off from the collision travelled to earth containing spores of microbial life which then took root here. To which Dr. Kaku quips ” If we want to see what a Martian looks like, we just have to look in the mirror..” 🙂
I find it especially interesting that Dr. Hagen describes life as a “cosmic imperative” and I have no doubt that is absolutely true. But, if I was a person of faith ( and I am ) reflecting on this, I would ask the question: seeing as the word imperative generally implies a command, who or what issued the order?
I can’t leave this post without a few short words on the theory of evolution. Again, it is a popular misconception that people of faith are all creationists. Well- I suppose that depends on what faith you belong to, but as a Catholic, I have long been a supporter of evolution and as a thinking person, I don’t know how you can deny what is right in front of you as we see examples every day of how species adapt to their environment. From my understanding, the Catholic Church is not opposed to evolution and nor does it conflict with any Catholic dogma that I am aware. ( but please feel free to correct me if am wrong. ) It’s still a pesky question but I look at it quite simply. Catholics generally believe that the Old Testament , including the story of Creation, is metaphorical. In other words, there was no Adam and Eve –at least not in the way we understand them to be . Perhaps they are archetypes –concepts to represent the masculine and feminine aspects of our species. The Catholic Church apparently accepts that man’s body evolved from other biological life forms but his soul was specially created by God. In his 2014 speech to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope Francis stated that not only are the Big Bang and Evolution “real”, but that “evolution is not inconsistent with the notion of creation because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve. ”
And at the risk of sounding flippant ( because I sure don’t mean to be ) –this works for me! 🙂 Other faiths may take a different view, especially the more fundamental Christian religions that hold the Creation story to be literal, but I believe that these are the faiths that may be less open to the discovery of life elsewhere. And when that discovery of life is made, I wonder and worry how they will integrate that into their faith and world view? That is one of the main themes of this blog and Ed agrees with me that , at some point in time, some more rigid dogma will require a re-write.
Would love to hear your thoughts on this, especially if you are of a different faith and perspective. It’s not about disagreeing with each other-it’s about starting the conversation 🙂
Many thanks to Ed/”Mission Control” for sharing his thoughts and Dr.Kaku’s video.
Mission Control shares some Aurora photos from our area ( Northwestern Ontario ). In the second photo, the” blood red” aurora is apparently rather rare. Almost biblical? 🙂
Photos courtesy of Ed Kucbel