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Guy Consolmagno’s studies mix religion and science

Contributing Writer

Published: Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Updated: Sunday, October 31, 2010 18:10

Central Florida Future

Adolfo Ceballos

Astronomer Guy Consolmagno was more than 5,000 miles from the place he works and calls home when he spoke at the Pegasus Ballroom on Monday.

Consolmagno, a Jesuit brother for the Vatican Observatory, located in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, presented "Astronomy, God and the Search for Elegance," to more than 100 students and community members. His speech explored what it means to be a scientist and how his profession goes hand-in-hand with religion.

"Science is about drawing the story out in order to create a deeper understanding for the problem," Consolmagno said. "Science deals in descriptions, not proofs. If someone tries to use proofs to describe science, then all they have proved is that they don't know what science is."

Consolmagno's speech explained where religion comes into play with science and why it doesn't separate from the field, which is a subject that seems wholly dissimilar.

"Science is God's way of playing with us," he said, adding that the universe is filled with puzzles for scientists to find.

Consolmagno explained that human nature is what allows religion to intersect with science.

"That desire to find truth and reason is religion," he said. "Whatever motivates you to get up in the morning: That's your religion."

His presentation addressed how all scientists are humans, and therefore prone to error. He stressed that science is littered with instances where scientists were wrong. According to Consolmagno, who has also worked at Harvard, MIT and for the Peace Corps in Kenya, this is a good thing.

"You have to admit that you don't know it all," Consolmagno said. "The most important thing a scientist can say is ‘I don't know.' Otherwise, you wouldn't bother trying to find out."

Daniel Britt, a UCF physics professor and friend to Consolmagno, said Consolmagno's calling is "to do world-class science on cutting-edge issues."

"His side job, essentially, is to show us how to do that world-class science under a religious setting," said Britt, who has published dozens of scientific papers with Consolmagno.

Consolmagno also explained how important elegance is to both science and religion. In science, he said, theories are often determined by their aesthetic appeal.

"It takes time, experience and training to learn what elegance looks like," Consolmagno said. "It is like a compass that tells you which theory to go with. It depends all on the scientist."

In addition to the students and professors in the audience, other members of the community came to see the author and former guest of "The Colbert Report."

"It just sounded interesting," said local resident Jon Phipps, a self-described "lapsed Catholic."

Other audience members came from local churches.

Consolmagno summed up his presentation with the distinctions between science and religion, and highlighted why the two need to mix together.

"In science, we are dealing with human-made theories," he said. "They are only approaching truth because no human-made theory can be perfect. Religion is perfect, but it lacks understanding. No religion has perfect understanding."

Consolmagno believes that the pursuit of understanding is a worthwhile aspect to science and life. He described the pursuit as the ability to look at the universe and accept it because of God's existence.

"Sometimes it takes time to recognize elegance," he said. "Symbols only have meaning when they are understood."

For more information about Consolmagno's research and the Vatican Observatory, visit www.vaticanobservatory.org.

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