Saturday, January 15, 2011

Pope Benedict XVI, the Big Bang, and Science: No Surprises Here

Once in a while a journalist gets it right. Like today, in an article about Pope Benedict XVI, the Big Bang model for how this universe got started, and the Catholic Church.

In a way, I can understand how the Pope's remarks about the Big Bang may have seemed - strange - to many journalists, at least in America. And why quite a few folks may have cringed when they read headlines like "Pope: God Behind Big Bang" (CBS News).

Maybe I'm projecting my own attitudes on others. I'm fascinated by the universe and the way it works - and have been interested in the study of natural phenomena we call "science" since I was a pre-teen. And, corny as this sounds, I have a passion for truth. That's part of why I had to stop listening to a particular radio station, not all that long ago. There were too many programs about "Bible science," which tended to be - I'll be charitable and call them imaginative.

'Rational Christian' isn't an Oxymoron

I've written before - often - about the notion that faith and reason, religion and science, are opposites: how one either has religious faith or reasons scientifically. But not both.

That's not the way the Catholic Church works.

Bottom line: some churches may require folks to check their brains at the door; the Catholic Church recognizes and encourages people to use what God gave us - including our brains.

Pope Benedict XVI's Epiphany Homily

After reading a particularly egregious example of journalistic ignorance regarding home schooling and science, I put together a sort of reality-check list, which I've adapted for this post:
  • Being a Christian does not necessarily involve
    • Thinking Bishop Ussher was right
    • Being a Protestant fundamentalist
    • Disliking 'real' science
  • Not all Christians are dolts
    (May 20, 2010, March 6, 2010)
I'll get back to a journalist who understood what Pope Benedict XVI said - and bothered to look up facts about the Catholic Church and science, before submitting the story. If more reporters took a few minutes to Google the topics they expound on - and that's another topic.

First, though, here's an excerpt from what Pope Benedict XVI said, earlier this month. This is a short excerpt: I recommend reading the entire homily.
"...And so we come to the star. What kind of star was the star the Magi saw and followed? This question has been the subject of discussion among astronomers down the centuries. Kepler, for example, claimed that it was 'new' or 'super-new', one of those stars that usually radiates a weak light but can suddenly and violently explode, producing an exceptionally bright blaze.

"These are of course interesting things but do not guide us to what is essential for understanding that star. We must return to the fact that those men were seeking traces of God; they were seeking to read his 'signature' in creation; they knew that 'the heavens are telling of the glory of God' (Psalm 19 [18]:2); they were certain, that is, that God can be perceived in creation.

"But, as sages, the Magi also knew that it is not with any kind of telescope but rather with the profound eyes of reason in search of the ultimate meaning of reality and with the desire for God, motivated by faith, that it is possible to meet him, indeed, becomes possible for God to come close to us.

"The universe is not the result of chance, as some would like to make us believe. In contemplating it, we are asked to interpret in it something profound; the wisdom of the Creator, the inexhaustible creativity of God, his infinite love for us.

"We must not let our minds be limited by theories that always go only so far and that - at a close look - are far from competing with faith but do not succeed in explaining the ultimate meaning of reality. We cannot but perceive in the beauty of the world, its mystery, its greatness and its rationality, the eternal rationality; nor can we dispense with its guidance to the one God, Creator of Heaven and of earth...."
(Pope Benedict XVI (January 6, 2011))
I'm not entirely sure how reporters got "Big Bang" out of that - but one journalist, at least, showed a remarkable level of understanding:
"God or the Big Bang? Why not both? Things aren't all black and white in the Vatican, it seems.

"Pope Benedict XVI made headlines last week during a sermon that made a case for the similarity of science and religion, two disciplines on quest for the truth. Christopher T. Baglow, director of the Pope Benedict XVI Institute for Faith, Ethics and Science explained the nuance the pope tried to convey.

" 'The Italian word in question is concorrenza, which means "rivalry," not "concurrence," ' he told In other words, Pope Benedict pointed out that God and the Big Bang aren't at odds -- not that they don't square up.

"Surprised? Don't be. The church has long argued for a reconciliation of science and faith. Reality is a far cry from the caricature often seen in pop culture, in movies like 'The DaVinci Code' and 'Angels and Demons' that portray the Catholic Church as butting heads with science.

"That's good fiction, but it's just not true.

"In fact, it was a Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Georges Lemaitre, who first proposed the Big Bang theory in 1927, on the basis of Albert Einstein's theory of relativity, according to the American Natural History Museum in New York. The current Pope wrote about it in a 1995 book, and John Paul II called science a 'highway to wonder' way back in 1979...."
(Gene J. Koprowski, (January 15, 2011))
It's getting late, and I've got dishes to wash. Anyway, I've been over this 'science AND religion' stuff before.

Given my assumptions about the nature of reality, I'm not surprised when folks who honestly seek truth find themselves converging on the same point, no matter where they started.

Related posts:
Link list for posts on on science, religion, reason and faith:In the news:Background:


Brigid said...

Perhaps not? "I'm entirely sure how reporters got "Big Bang" out of that"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Daan van Schalkwijk said...

Very much agreed Brian! Thanks for the piece.

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...


Got it - thanks!

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...

Daan van Schalkwijk,

Thank *you* for that comment.

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.