A few weeks ago we got word that an asteroid was careening toward earth. I was beyond excited. I am a total amateur scientist, though I taught environmental and health reporting at John Carroll University. I took classes in several universities and even corporations to learn as much as I could. I wanted to help students report accurately the many aspects of contemporary science, especially environmental science. Some classes and conferences were sponsored by big name laboratories for the pharmacology industry, others by the activists facing down strip mining, and the deleterious results of lead paint in urban homes. I was in love with my subject.
Still, I’m glad the asteroid missed us and flew off somewhere else into space and we were spared. A gift, perhaps, but it led me to think of other realities of our universe and our faith. We are not dodging other bullets so well like climate change, the pandemic, the disappearance of animal and insect species, the disappearance of the rain forest and our coveted pristine land and valleys sullied with pipelines. All of this coupled with the fairly recent death of George Coyne, S.J., a respected astronomer and former head of the Vatican Observatory, made me think of the spirituality of loving our earth and the universe that God has put in place for us.
I have worked with the Jesuits for 25 years or more and I love their ability to see God in all things, an expansion of the earth, humanity and universe. Let me share a few scientific facts with you about these fearless explorers of our universe. There are 35 craters on the moon and several asteroids named after Jesuits! (I looked everywhere and could not find a single Sister of Charity among these nomenclatures!)
The Jesuits were probing the stars and galaxies since the founding of their Order. Giovanni Riccoli, a gifted Jesuit astronomer, wrote above his seventeenth century map of the moon, that, “Neither do men inhabit the moon nor souls migrate there.” Some Jesuits supported Galileo (a big no-no since he was declared a heretic teaching a heliocentric universe and for which he was right.) Christopher Clavius, S.J., for whom the largest crater is named, was a key developer of the Gregorian calendar and was referred to as “the Euclid of the sixteenth century.” I could go on and on.
I find it disappointing, no, I find it very sad that many Americans do not trust scientists. We seem to discount the debate which science always encourages though it insists on the requirements of reason and evidence. As far as the relationship between faith and science, Fr. Paul Mueller, S.J., has said, “…science helps faith. The Church loves and appreciates science. Scientific pursuits and religious life go hand-in-hand.” Mueller further says that doing science is just like working on a mission, an unknown territory where you find ways to help the human race and reveal the glory of God.
So, why do some Christians discount climate change, especially not knowing more about the science it demonstrates and more to be discovered? There seems to be a preference for the security of profit and comfort in dealing with what is tangible, not faith-oriented or challenging of the spirit. It is this attitude that ignores the care and protection of the inhabitants of the earth for generations to come.
Father Coyne said in an interview, “Doing science is for me a search for God.” Seeking the answers as to why rivers and oceans are rising, why land is falling under, why temperatures are melting glaciers is serving the people and animals who suffer the results of these catastrophes. It is doing the work of God. To dismiss it, is to add to the suffering of the world and the universe.
Americans seem to be very slow in the acknowledgement of the unnatural decline of our resources. We have pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement. We have reduced regulations for major carbon producing industries. Why are we so negligent as the richest country on earth? Can we ask for the following?
I will ask for guidance in my prayer, to be lifted beyond selfishness, to be inspired to do something or several things in my corner of the world for the betterment of the environment.
I will reflect on Psalm 8, used for Fr. George Coyne’s funeral, and ask God to touch my heart in reverence for creation and respect for science.
You and I may never have a crater or asteroid named after us, but take heart. Diane Ackerman, novelist, The Zookeeper’s Wife, and superb nature writer has a molecule named after her, dianeackerone! I think I prefer a crater!