Vatican Observatory Director Explains Why Faith and Science Can — and Must — Coexist

Guy Consolmagno, S.J., director of the Vatican Observatory and president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation, has described the mission of the observatory as, in part, convincing the world that faith and science coexist and complement each other. As the keynote speaker at the online Seaver Spotlight event March 11, the former physics professor, who now leads one of the world’s oldest astronomical institutes, made a powerful case for religion’s place in our understanding of the cosmos, and of the integral role of science in religious practice. Seaver College’s signature program, hosted each semester and bringing together a mix of students, alumni, faculty, campus staff and university leaders, was cohosted by LMU Mission and Ministry.

In his presentation titled “Your God Is Too Small,” Consolmagno opened by quoting the early-19th-century British author and lay theologian G.K. Chesterton: “The earth is so very large, and the cosmos so very small. The cosmos is about the smallest hole that a man can hide his head in.” The point, Consolmagno said, is that the universe should be viewed, “not just intellectually but in our hearts,” as much larger than the picture most people hold in their heads.As he showed a telescopic image of a cluster of galaxies, Consolmagno explained: “Every one of those blotches of light are billions of stars with tens of billions of planets. And there are hundreds of billions of such galaxies that we can see. To be able to take that all in requires religion. And I maintain that to do science requires religion.”

“Every logical system has axioms — things you have to accept ahead of time before you can reason on them,” Consolmagno later said, before listing three axioms “found in one of the most important books for any scientist, the Book of Genesis”: The universe is real, it follows laws, and it is worth spending time getting to know it. Consolmagno noted that the climax of the creation story is the day of rest — “the day when we as human beings not only have to worry about filling our stomachs and keeping ourselves warm, but we are shown by God’s example that we also have to feed our souls … and that feeding our souls means looking at the universe and contemplating it, and contemplating the creator who made it so.

”Consolmagno argued that in formulating the universal laws of gravity, Newton could describe the path of an apple with a mathematical equation, but he could not explain why gravity existed — or the apple itself, and how its smell and taste can evoke powerful childhood memories.“

God made it and God found everything good,” Consolmagno concluded. “That’s the part missing from the scientific cosmology if you’re left only with equations. But in fact, that’s why we do the cosmology — because God made it, it’s a way of getting closer to God, and because this universe is good and beautiful…not just the sunset, but the equations that describe the sunset. It is only when we embrace cosmology with our entire soul, both our reason and our heart, that we actually can find God in that cosmology. And if you don’t use both, then your God is too small.”