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‘Your God is too small’: The Pope’s astronomer putting faith in science

Friday 27 April 2018

Media and Communications Office, Photography: Ken Nakanishi
 
‘Your God is too small,’ Br Guy Consolmagno posited to his audience.

The crowd, gathered inside Federation Square’s Deakin Edge auditorium, were fixed on Br Guy’s vivid presentation slides as he navigated the enchanted ticket holders through a galaxy of scientific understanding and spiritual reflection.
 
 
The talk formed the second chapter of the Sparks of Beauty series hosted by the Archbishop’s Office for Evangelisation. The four-part initiative is designed to provide insight into the ways in which faith and the arts coexist.

Br Guy is the Director of the Vatican Observatory, one of the oldest astronomical research institutions in the world and prior to his appointment as Director in 2014, had been based at the Holy See’s observatory since 1993.

The Vatican’s support of astronomy is visually represented by the Vatican Observatory’s dome, established by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 and situated behind St Peter’s Basilica.

As the spokesperson for the institution, Br Guy brings the learnings and discoveries of the observatory to the world.
 
 
His passion for sharing the harmony between science and faith has seen him awarded the Carl Sagan Medal for excellence in public communication and has inspired an extensive writing collection.

The Deakin Edge theatre offered a fitting backdrop to Br Guy's address as the abstractly shaped glass façade depicted a myriad of reflections from the city’s lights, as if forming a galaxy of its own.

Drawing on the writings of G.K. Chesterton, Br Guy suggested that the human understanding of the universe had been limited by what humans have perceived the cosmos to be versus the reality of what the cosmos truly represents.

‘We tend to make the universe shrink to match our expectations. Pull yourself out of the universe that you and I live in,’ he said. ‘The universe is marvellous and that’s why I claim that doing science is a religious act.’
 
‘I think today it’s important to remind religious people that science is part of our religious heritage. That science began in the medieval universe that was founded by the Church. That so much of science was done by people acting out of religious motive.’ 
 
Following Br Guy's talk and prior to his Q&A session, musicians from Hawthorn's Immaculate Conception Catholic Church performed both individual and collective pieces. Led by Fiona Dyball (Song leader), arresting performances by Damian Whelan (Keyboard), Jane Schleiger (Violin), Patrick Shannon (Violin) and Daniel Nguyen (Flute), allowed for a period of reflection as the theatre's acoustics soared throughout the venue.  
 
  
When asked how he reconciled his faith with his science, Br Guy explained it was how ‘nerds like me deal with religion’. 

‘Of all the possible ways of understanding God, there are a few traits of how I recognise truth when it comes to science that I feel I can also recognise when I see the God of Christianity. Firstly, if it can completely explain everything, it can’t possibly be true … there has to be a God that is richer and deeper than that.  
 
‘Catholicism … has the complexity that can deal with not only all the things the world has thrown at us but also all the things that the world can throw at us.

‘It shares with other great religions, the fact that it has survived great changes in our scientific cosmology. The cosmology of Genesis was of a flat earth with a dome with water above and below the dome and bigger than that is God who made it and that is consistent with Catholicism.
 
‘Now we have a universe that is 13.8 billion light years in every direction and bigger than that is the God that made it. But it’s still a God that acts out of love, beauty and joy.
 
‘It’s not because of my science I believe in God but it is because of my God I believe in science,’ concluded Br Guy. 
 
Br Guy has an asteroid named in his honour, 4597 Consolmagno, an accolade that seems to solidify his place in the universe.

Similarly, his irrepressible personality and enthusiastic communication serve to reinforce Br Guy’s importance to Earth’s arenas of science and religion.

What’s more, the animated applause that erupted following his final words seemed to ensure his star will shine brightly in the local spotlight as a snaking queue of Melburnians quickly formed to thank the faith-filled scientist.
 
 


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