Vatican astronomer Br Guy Consolmagno on Q&A

NZ Q&A: Vatican astronomer Brother Guy Consolmanga is touring New Zealand. And our reporter Whena Owen caught up with him at Mt John Observatory for some southern stargazing

“My faith tells me that the universe makes sense, it’s not just random chaos”

Comment from Gezza:


The final segment of Q+A was interesting last night. It featured an item on the visiting Vatican Astronomer.

He’s a Jesuit monk, sounds like a really nice guy, & is head of the Vatican Observatory which has 7 astronomers. He talked about how Georges Lamaitre, a Catholic priest, physicist & astronomer, was the first to propose the Big Bang theory, & the long history of the Vatican astronomers. He has an asteroid named after him.

He joined a tour of stargazers visiting the new Ngai Tahu visitors centre & the Observatory at Mt John down South. Was impressed with its set up & noted that this observatory was the first to – & best placed in the world (for reasons not given) – to detect extra-solar system planets in space that have been ejected from their solar systems.

The skies above the observatory were clouding over with dense cloud, so the would-be stargazers were taken inside the observatory for a talk & look around. By the time their inside tour had finished & they came back outside, the skies had “miraculously” (my word, not his) cleared & the viewing (the official astronomers’ term) was excellent.

It’s the basically that the Universe – and everything around him on this planet – are so beautiful & that the universe shows order, not chaos, that convince him that God created it all.

As hurricanes & earthquakes & tsunamis & tornadoes & volcanic eruptions & cataclysmic events on earth aren’t beautiful, & have killed millions of believers & non-believers – even though I agree that the Cosmos shows a semblance of both order & disorder (randomly-occurring densities after the Big Bang generated the first galaxies, but even the randomly sized & asteroids & comets which have impacted the earth through its history have gravitationally & mathematically calculable orbits, so order in that sense) – I was expecting something more than just his awe, which I share, & couldn’t help noting his failure to see that all on earth is not beautiful.

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32 Comments

  1. Duker

     /  30th April 2019

    If hes a jesuit priest then hes a ‘Father’ not a Brother. The jesuit order doesnt have ‘layman in vows’ like that

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  30th April 2019

      That’s the most important thing you took from it?

      Reply
      • Corky

         /  30th April 2019

        The Jesuits him as child…you now see the man.😒

        Reply
        • Corky

           /  30th April 2019

          *had* *a*

          Reply
        • Gezza

           /  30th April 2019

          They may not have had him as a child. They have a history of attracting Catholics to join them as scholars & scientists. Duker may be correct that I mis-described him as a “monk” because he doesn’t strike me as an ascetic & the Jesuits are a mixed bunch, but one word is such microscopic thing to focus on for such a macroscopic topic.

          Reply
          • Duker

             /  30th April 2019

            I was incorrect about Jesuit Brothers
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Consolmagno

            BROTHERS
            Other Jesuits feel God’s call to be brothers.
            https://www.beajesuit.org/jesuit-commitment

            Reply
            • Gezza

               /  30th April 2019

              Thank you, Duker. Any thoughts on his, re the universe & earth’s beauty being evidence of God creating it all? (Not expecting you to, just curious if you agree.)

            • Duker

               /  30th April 2019

              No I dont
              “It’s the basically that the Universe – and everything around him on this planet – are so beautiful & that the universe shows order, not chaos, that convince him that God created it all.”
              Their idea of order isnt really there at a deeper level.

              From Auckland Physics professor Richard Easthers blog regarding Simon Bridges sister showing a creationist video in her classroom.

              “Can you give another example? At the 8-minute mark, the narrator – quoting Hawking again – intones: “If the rate of expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, the universe would have recollapsed before it ever reached its present size.” This is presented as an example of “fine tuning” since, if things were ever so slightly different, the universe could not provide a home for human beings. This line of reasoning goes by a number of names – the “God of the gaps”, the “watchmaker argument”, or the “teleological argument”; claims that the universe shows evidence of purpose and design in ways which cannot be plausibly accounted for by blind chance are a longstanding part of debates around the existence of God (or gods). We are asked to draw the inference that the “fine tuning” needed to ensure that the early universe is sufficiently delicately balanced for humans to appear on schedule is part of God’s handiwork.

              This apparent “tuning” is undoubtedly a feature of the first mathematical descriptions of the Big Bang which were written down in the 1920s, and most scientists did see this as something that needs an explanation. Hawking certainly wrote the words attributed to him: they are from Chapter 8 of his blockbuster, A Brief History of Time. However, by the 1980s (when Hawking wrote his book) we had a far more sophisticated understanding of how the early universe might have worked, and much of Chapter 8 is spent explaining the idea of “inflation”, a burst of exceptionally rapid expansion that can occur right after the Big Bang. Inflation would drive the universe toward this state of balance, removing the need for any supernatural explanation. To be clear, the status of inflation is an active research topic today [I spend a lot of my time thinking about it] but anyone who has read Chapter 8 – including the makers of the video – should know that this quote misrepresents both Hawking and the science.

              So the design isnt really there according to current thinking but was just a part of 1920s maths to describe big bang
              https://excursionset.com/blog/2018/7/31/theres-a-creationist-in-the-science-class
              Vatican Astronomers are inherently looking for a grand design when they study the universe. As more is understood there isnt one.

            • Kimbo

               /  30th April 2019

              @ Duker

              Sorry, but there is a big leap between the Creationism / Creation (pseudo) Science / Intelligent Design that Bridges’ sister (if accurately reported) was indulging (and if it was part of the NZ school science curriculum, wrongly), and Consolmagno. He specified he isn’t a creationist (i.e., the Primeval narrative of Genesis 1-11 are not literal and/or scientific accounts), and neither is that the Vatican’s position.

              Instead, Consolmagno’s faith, along with the Vatican’s desire to assist in discovering scientific truth, motivates his research – just as all manner of scientists are motivated by a host of personal concerns that may in some way conflict with alleged scientific “objectivity” (not that such a thing can ever be absolutely practiced).

              And as Consolmagno said, the “humility” to admit he does not know indicates he has a good handle on the skepticism underlying the scientific method, parking his personal faith motivation, and letting the data speak for iftself.

            • Gezza

               /  30th April 2019

              @ Duker
              Vatican Astronomers are inherently looking for a grand design when they study the universe. As more is understood there isnt one.

              Yes. He’s not the only astronomer/cosmologist who are determined to see the Triune God as behind the theoretical order out of chaos, but they are very few, among their efllow scientists, as I understand it. I haven’t heard of any who have genuinely professed they would lose their faith if anything else is discovered that might raise questions about whether it is true. Their faith is motivated by other beliefs & those make it posdible for endless interpretaions of phenomena to fit their ever-developing God model.

            • Gezza

               /  30th April 2019

              * fellow

            • Gezza

               /  30th April 2019

              It’s the old, “obviously the Bible gets it wrong, but this is what I need to believe, so … time means nothing to my otherwise impatient God … and … My God works in mysterious ways … and so … the more humans of all & no faiths learn … obviously this is is how he did it.

            • Duker

               /  30th April 2019

              but its exactly what the Jesuit brother is saying
              “This line of reasoning goes by a number of names – the “God of the gaps”, the “watchmaker argument”, or the “teleological argument”; claims that the universe shows evidence of purpose and design in ways which cannot be plausibly accounted for by blind chance are a longstanding part of debates around the existence of God”

              The classroom was a private school not part of the state curriculum.

            • Kimbo

               /  30th April 2019

              but its exactly what the Jesuit brother is saying
              “This line of reasoning goes by a number of names – the “God of the gaps”, the “watchmaker argument”, or the “teleological argument”; claims that the universe shows evidence of purpose and design in ways which cannot be plausibly accounted for by blind chance are a longstanding part of debates around the existence of God”

              Sorry, are you quoting Consolmagno (in which case, link, please!), or what you think he says and/or means…much less what he personally believes?

              The classroom was a private school not part of the state curriculum.

              My understanding is that private schools still have to stick to the public science curriculum. If you wanted to introduce the Intelligent Design videos in an English class (to study them as a discourse), then yeah, sure. Indeed, thinking about it, you likely can introduce them in a science class – to show an example of a how-not-to-do-it non-science posing as science!

            • Kimbo

               /  30th April 2019

              @ Duker

              Sorry, got it. So you seem to be arguing a seamless “he said/he meant/so what?”

              …by quoting Richard Easthers,

              …citing the example of the likely “Intelligent Design” agenda of Simon Bridges’ sister,

              …and putting those words and that sentiment into the mouth and mind of Consolmagno

              …and the mission statement and purpose of the Vatican Astronomy Project.

              See the problem?

            • Kimbo

               /  30th April 2019

              ….especially as later in the same link, Richard Easters writes the following:

              Are cosmologists all atheists? No, we’re not. I know, respect, and work with cosmologists who are devout adherents of most of the world’s major religions. I also know plenty of noisy and outspoken atheists in science. (In fact, given this diversity of viewpoints my own suspicion is that science and religion actually have far less overlap than both hard-core atheists and creationists seem to think.).

              And as Consolmagno is part of the same peer-reviewed scientific discipline as Easthers, that commendation almost certainly applies to him and the Vatican Astronomy Project!

            • Duker

               /  30th April 2019

              private schools like Kings ,Scots etc arent integrated schools so no need to follow the state curriculum. mt hobson middle school is one of those.

              ‘Private schools get some government funding but are mostly funded through charging parents school fees. They develop their own learning programmes and don’t have to follow the national curriculum.’

              https://www.education.govt.nz/our-work/our-role-and-our-people/education-in-nz/

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  30th April 2019

              The expression ‘Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man.’ has been attributed to Aristotle and Ignatius Loyola. There are less credible versions attributed to others.

            • Duker

               /  30th April 2019

              Kimbo
              Easther rebutted part of the intelligent design view of the Vatican Astrologer Astronomer
              he didnt do it directly of course but in expanding on a NZ school Creationist video that claimed some words of Hawking for some thing more than incredible coincidence in the big bang. (If the rate of expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million..etc)

              its terrible linking of comments for some reason which make it hard to follow

            • Gezza

               /  30th April 2019

              You’re taking yourself down a rabbit-hole Duker. On Q+A he never advanced the Creationism or Intelligent Design pseudo-scienific theories. Consalmagno simply said he sees beauty & order not chaos in a system that actually has random effects everywhere, some of them on earth decidedly & clearly not beautiful. Some cosmic events like supernovae may even have wiped out other life forms out in the universe, so who is to say even those are beautiful? They just look awesome & stunning from here.

              Br Guy is likely going to find his unproveable supernatural/metaphysical but empirically undetectable God behind whatever is discovered in Science, & be able to claim that you can’t prove him wrong because its properties make it undetectable.

              He doesn’t need to argue for erroneous theories like Intelligent Design & irreducible complexity.

              The start point will be first there must be a God, & he will naturally be the one he believes in (those who believe in other unproveable gods will have the same start point).

              It doesn’t really matter as long as he assists in real discoveries in the universe no one fully understands yet. But I’m saying the reason he sees what is he does is because he doesn’t the see the evidence against it. That’s a personal choice, driven by what his faith teaches to explain those away.

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  30th April 2019

            If a Jesuit is in holy orders, he’s called Father.

            Monks are called Brother, unless they are Eastern Orthodox. Theirs are called Father.

            Reply
            • Duker

               /  30th April 2019

              That’s at odds Gezza with the summary given …was it you

              “’Its the basically that the Universe – and everything around him on this planet – are so beautiful & that the universe shows order, not chaos, that convince him that God created it all.”

              What I was saying is the idea of order or beauty is just our human mind seeing it, and even havings some empirical numbers to prove its order. The reality is different. The cosmos is far from beautiful. The atoms in mybody were created eons ago maybe from a different star and just regurgitated in this world

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  30th April 2019

              A different star ! What a lovely idea. I know, of course, that stars are not the twinkly diamonds that I see in the sky, but I like to think of them like that. I love diamonds, they’re like wearing stars on my hand.

            • Gezza

               /  30th April 2019

              Well, that’s my own summary after watching it last night. I found him an instantly likeable man from what I saw of him & clearly an astronomer of repute, but I didn’t take from what said that he was advocating any specific theory like Intelligent Design & it’s associated subsets (some see ID as a subset of Creationism, but not Young Earth Creationism as it envisages a longer term timeframe & the hand of God driving everything, every single uncountable sub-atomic particle and anti-particle interaction & appearance/annihilation in existence.)

              He just didn’t get into that. He spoke of how much beauty & order, not chaos, that he sees. That’s the perspective of a creator theist & maybe an artist, or anyone who appreciates wonder & splendour etc.

              There IS order is the universe. We know – or the physicists & cosmologists know – the universe is not simply chaotic. The laws of gravity underpin most of what we can see happening, but there is still more to learn about why galaxies contain insufficient visible matter to explain exactly how they are all moving.

              But there is randomness everywhere. So, while he is clearly an intelligent man, he is seeing order & beauty only – what he wants to see & was only talking in a general & simplistic way about how he reconciles what he sees with his own particular creator god beliefs.

              And he doesn’t need to subscribe to any particular theory – nor did he advance one. They don’t actually matter. For him, HOWEVER it works, whatever he finds, is just evidence of his incredible God’s unknowable plan for that to be how it is.

    • Griff.

       /  30th April 2019

      The Jesuits

      We are the Society of Jesus, a Roman Catholic order of priests and brothers

      http://jesuits.org/aboutus

      Reply
  2. Ray

     /  30th April 2019

    He is quite well known in astronomical circles, I certainly have heard of him, so even wider circles.
    Not sure just how he reconciles what he see in the sky with what his religion insists is the truth (let us not forget who threatened Galileo with burning if he didn’t recant his theories) but that is his problem, though I notice even “Bishop” Brian manages to slip past rich men and keyholes, so it isn’t generally a problem to these types.

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  30th April 2019

      Well it’s easy to do that if you assume Jaweh, or The Triune God, or Allah, started the Big Bang, because nobody knows why or how it happened.

      And if, as I infer above, you don’t allow yourself to notice all the evidence of how long this God took to get around to producing the solar system, earth, & finally humans, if that was its original objective – and all the things that harm humans, & all the other living things in creation, that it produced as well.

      You first have to start with a psychological need to believe in this God. After that, you find all manner of reasons to explain these things away. All religions do. Christianity invented the voncepts of “sin”, man’s sinful nature, & “free will” to explain our species’ propensity to regularly kill other humans in competition, fear, & anger, that are, in my view, one of the many indications that we are still just Great Apes, and our evolved brains still have deeply-embedded animal instincts.

      Other religions have similar needs & ways of explaining away these indications that we just evolved, like everything else is still doing, & that our species probably eventually will evolve again sometime (if we don’t kill ourselves or kill the first next-evolved branch of us as a threat).

      AI even looks on the way to being one of the next steps in overall evolution in the universe. Just a personal observation.

      Reply
    • Duker

       /  30th April 2019

      “he reconciles what he see in the sky with what his religion insists is the truth (let us not forget who threatened Galileo with burning if he didn’t recant his theories”

      catholic Church has largely accepted modern science. They have moved on from 500 years ago hence the Vatican Astronomer.
      Its the modern worlds ‘morals’ ( in the biggest sense of the word) they have a problem with not its science
      Its the non catholic fundamentalists who are are at odds with modern science and still believe God created every thing directly and fast.

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  30th April 2019

        Well, yes. The Catholic church & nearly all the churches (let’s ignore the creationists because although they stay true to the Bible they are now a complete embarrassment to the others, who have had to reinterpret bits of it to survive) have been unable to resist the overwhelming evidence of the sciences that have kept whittling away the Biblical mysyeries that can’t be explained in the simple-minded Goddidit concepts of the ancient writers.

        So they have have had to turn away from genealogies and suchlike for estimating the age of the universe, & Jaweh for the natural causes of plagues, illnesses (including people possessed by devils), coincidental astronomical events etc, the earth revolving stound the sun, the errors in evolution of man the universe & everything, so they now have a Bible which is not to be taken literally except where Jesus (& sometimes Jaweh) worked magic miracles which ARE still to be taken literally, because there’s no proof they didn’t happen – except all the evidence around us that they can’t happen, and because they argue that their God is a theoretical metaphysical / supernatural creature so he’s ALWAYS going to be undetectable.

        And because of confusing, esoteric & entirely mental-exercise-like philosophical “reasons” that can always be relied on to fail to empirically prove his existence at all, and have had to be invented & defended like mad, to supply implausible justifications for why he allegedly actually appeared in person, & at other times in particular natural phenomena where he clearly identified himself, & spoke to & actually demonstrated miracles to various ancient people in their mythology, to prove his existence but he suddenly stopped doing that after Jesus was executed.

        The apostles & early converts clearly expected Jesus to return in glory in their lifetimes. The churches have done a superb job of explaining how they got that wrong & how it’s not knowable when he’ll come by playing about with back-engineered scriptures & getting rid of those from sects who disputed Jesus’s divinity ever since Paul kicked the religion back into life.

        The churches have played a very useful role in our societies in ensuring huge numbers of people have generally behaved well towards others – though not always towards those of other religions – in the past, and still, because of their promised eternal reward for doing so, & the promise of an eternal punishment for those who are wicked. That cannot be scoffed at. Christianity has been of incalculable benefit to the development of Western civilisation & without it, it would not be what it is.

        In many ways I don’t want to see it disappear because of the regulation of baser behaviours it provides, these days through stressing love, brotherhood, compassion etc that were all exemplified by Jesus.

        It’s just that he obviously isn’t the rght creator God, nor is Jaweh. It’s a problem trying to work out how you can regulate people’s behaviour for the better by equally gentle persuasion & dome kind of carrot when you can see how manipulable they are & how hateful & dangerous they can be across the spectrum of human behaviours at times.

        Many religions & their own Gods or foundational figures around the world have had about the same level of success & failure there, though.

        Reply
  3. Kimbo

     /  30th April 2019

    I…couldn’t help noting his failure to see that not all on earth is beautiful.

    Indeed. But then, perhaps, indeed most likely, a discussion of the impact of “the Fall”, and what that doctrine means to a scientists/priest was outside the scope of the sound bites that Q&A broadcast.

    Reply

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