By Laureen McMahon
In his book Brother Astronomer, Vatican astronomer Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ, revisits the 17th-century conviction of Galileo by the Roman Inquisition for spreading the heresy that the earth revolved around the sun.
Galileo wasn't excommunicated, says the American-born researcher and planetary scientist, but was found "vehemently suspect of heresy," put under house arrest, and required to recant his statements before his death in 1642.
Brother Consolmagno will give the Newman Association of Vancouver Carr Lecture on Monday, Feb. 27, in UBC's Hebb Theatre, 2045 East Mall in Vancouver, at 7 p.m.
The event, co-sponsored by St. Mark's and Corpus Christi Colleges, is free and open to the public.
Brother Consolmagno, who had an asteroid named after him by the International Astronomical Union in 2000, will also speak at the Vancouver Planetarium's Star Theatre, 1100 Chestnut St. in Vancouver, on Saturday, Feb. 25, at 7:30 p.m.
Admission is by donation, and the talk is offered with the assistance of the UBC Department of Physics and Astronomy.
The Carr Lectures, which memorialize St. Mark's College Basilian priest Father Henry Carr, the first official Catholic lecturer to teach at UBC, were offered between 1992 and 1996, says Newman Association member Norma Wieland.
"We are grateful to the colleges for their assistance in reintroducing the lectures. Brother Guy is a sought-after speaker for his approachability to discussions of science and religion, and his presence is a real coup."
People of faith, says Brother Consolmagno, should not be afraid to address the great cosmic questions.
Nothing in Holy Scripture, he notes, either confirms or contradicts the possibility of intelligent life on other planets.
"However you picture the universe being created ... the essential point is that ultimately it was a deliberate, loving act of a God Who exists outside space and time," he says in his 2005 booklet Intelligent Life in the Universe.
The Vatican, says Brother Consolmagno, has supported cosmological research, including the work of respected astronomer and mid-19th century Jesuit Father Angelo Secchi, who was the first to classify stars according to their spectra.
Pope Leo XIII founded the Specola Vaticana (Vatican Observatory) in 1891 to signify the Church's intention to encourage scientific discoveries.
Galileo was allowed to continue to write books during his confinement, says Brother Consolmagno.
The Church officially revoked its condemnation of Galileo in 1992 after a Vatican commission under Pope John Paul II began research in 1979, but the damage to the Vatican's denunciation of Galileo is still being felt today, he added.
"It's what everyone remembers when they want to accuse the Church of being hostile to science."
Human beings, he warns, can never fully comprehend the mind of God. "It is crazy to underestimate God's ability to create in depths of ways that we will never completely understand."
Nothing is ever proved in science, including evolution, says Brother Consolmagno.
"Scientific theories become obsolete; they're supposed to.
Twenty-five years from now, our theory of the Big Bang will be out of date, which is why it's perfectly okay to admit we don't know all the answers.
"God made the universe and He made it good. In fact, He loved the universe so much that we believe He sent his only Son to us. So, it's up to us to honour and respect and get to know the universe that He created."
More information is available from St. Marks College at UBC, 604-822-4463.