VATICAN CITY — The International Year of Astronomy 2009 has obviously started out with a big bang — even here in the Vatican.
You can read here some of the events the Vatican has planned for the yearlong, star-studded celebrations.
Vatican astronomer U.S. Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno has already published his first post for the Cosmic Diary — in which more than 50 scientists from around the world detail what it’s like to be an astronomer.
In case you missed it, you should also read Brother Guy’s fascinating posts he wrote for the CNS Bible Blog back in October. There are five posts: God’s omnipotence, In the stars we see God, Aliens!, Stars are not to be worshipped, and A tragic world without stars.
Pope Benedict XVI has also been promoting a greater appreciation of the heavens. He gave an early greeting in December to all those participating in the Year of Astronomy and highlighted how the church and many of his predecessors embraced celestial studies.
The pope’s homily on the feast of the Epiphany was, in part, a homage to the world’s astronomers.
He said he saw signs of there being “a new flowering” of Christianity’s special view of the cosmos thanks to the many scientists of faith who, “following in the footsteps of Galileo, do not renounce reason or faith,” but understand the two mutually enrich each other.
Many in the church are hoping the pope’s pronouncements supporting Galileo and the Vatican’s participation in the Year of Astronomy (which marks the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first observations of the cosmos with a telescope) will help dispel the nagging myths that the church is hostile to science or still holds a grudge against the 17th-century Italian astronomer.
I recently asked Brother Guy for his thoughts about the lingering misconceptions. In an email, he said the Galileo affair is “too murky and too complicated to ever be explained easily.”
He also thinks no one speech or event can overturn these well- entrenched misunderstandings.
However, he finds astronomers tend to be more open to the role of religion and faith. One reason, he said, may be because gazing skyward often inspires people to ponder the big questions, such as who made the universe and why we are here.
Another is the active presence of Vatican scientists in the field. They work alongside other top-notch astronomers, are well-respected, and “give encouragement to those astronomers who practice a religion, while breaking down prejudices among those who do not,” Brother Guy said.