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Vatican astronomer brings perspective on science, religion to UC series

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Father Chris Corbally is not your average Catholic priest. He's not your average scientist, either.

He believes in evolution, doesn't rule out the possibility of extraterrestrials, and works as a researcher for the Vatican Observatory.

University of Charleston President Ed Welch asked Corbally, president of the National Committee for Astronomy in Vatican City, a range of questions about his line of work, which blurs the lines between two often disassociated topics: science and religion.

Corbally spoke at UC on Tuesday evening as part of the university's annual Speaker Series, sponsored by Dow Chemical Foundation.

His answer to Welch and audience members' questions, he said, was simple -- he's "advancing the science of heaven."

"You look to the Bible to find out how to go to heaven -- not to know how the heavens go. If you're trying to find out how things go, look to science and textbooks. If you want to know what the relationship is between the creator and creation, look to the Bible," Corbally said. "Science will tell us how, but it will never tell us why."

While Corbally is often met with confused looks when he introduces himself as an astronomer of the Catholic Church, he says the belief that Christians are anti-science dates back to the church's condemnation of Galileo in the 15th century. That, he said, boils down to difficulty with transition and understanding new ideas.

"I think we need to not be so quick to condemn. Mistakes were made, but they were understandable mistakes. New ideas are hard to assimilate," he said.

Tuesday's audience had an array of questions for Corbally: What are aliens' experiences with God? Is the Big Bang theory real? Why do we look up to pray? If God made the universe, then who made God?

While Corbally admits to not knowing all the answers, he does offer insight on how science and faith do not have to be two separate ideals.

"God gave the universe freedom to explore, and that's the wondrous thing. So that scientists can go back and see all the various galaxies and star systems and life forms and extinctions that are because of the patience of God to allow the freedom of creation," he said. "It's a much more satisfactory relationship with God than one that dictates every step of the universe.

"I like a god that gives us a freedom, and with that, of course, is always a responsibility."

The key is to balance the two -- to appreciate the importance of science and religion both separately and together, Corbally said. Earthquakes happen because of movements of the earth's crust that are crucial for life to exist. Hurricanes happen because of a necessary redistribution of energy from the sun.

"Some natural things are natural evils. Sorry, you can't have it both ways -- that's the constraint of matter. Without those things, there wouldn't have been conditions for life to happen," he said. "We have to accept the world in its less than ideal manner. I know people die in natural disasters.

"We have to realize that God's not a magician -- he is there with us. As tough as it is to accept that's what our world is like, God is there."

The answers to the universe's mystery are not only weighed between science and religion, but between fear and awe, Corbally said. There's a fine line between being scientific and looking for answers and between creating "The God gaps" -- pointing to God as an explanation when there is no clear solution.

"Science isn't going to answer all the questions because the methodology of science is not designed for that. When you don't know, God becomes God in the gaps," he said. "It's a pity when we do that -- pull him in as the easy explanation. That's so demeaning of God -- he is much bigger than that.

"When you look at the night sky ... it's a feeling of awe and of fear. We can all resonate with that fear, but I hope that through faith in God, that fear can be transformed back into an awe -- a wonder of what we are as intelligent and emotional creatures," Corbally said. "We're able to make sense of this universe and be related to the creator, and it's that that removes the fear.

"It's all under a God who has created the universe not because he had to, but because God loved so much that he simply has to create."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.

 

 


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