[Originally published in 2015 as Two Good Points Made by the Director of the Vatican Observatory]
Brother Guy J. Consolmagno received a Ph.D. in planetary science from the University of Arizona. He started doing research at MIT, but then wondered why he was doing astronomy when people around the world were starving. As a result, he joined the U.S. Peace Corps and started doing relief work in Africa. However, he says that when people in Africa found out that he was an astronomer, they kept asking him questions about the heavens. He said that even though they didn’t have running water, they wanted to look through a telescope.
As a result, he went back to astronomy, serving as an assistant professor of physics at Lafayette College. After four years of that, he joined the Jesuit order, and in four more years, he was posted at the Vatican Observatory. On September 18th, 2015, he became the director of the Vatican Observatory.
I ran across an interview with him in the October 2nd issue of the journal Science. While I am sure there are a lot of things about which Brother Consolmagno and I disagree (theologically and scientifically), I found two statements that he made in that interview with which I wholeheartedly agree. The first was in answer to the question,
“Does God get in the way of doing good astronomy?”
Just the opposite. He is the reason we do astronomy. I would say that is true even if you don’t believe in God. We do it first of all because we can, because the universe acts according to laws. That is a religious idea…You also have to believe that the universe is real and not an illusion. You have to believe that the universe is so good that it is worth spending your life studying it, even if you don’t become rich or famous.
The interview ended with this quote from him:
If you think you already know everything about the world, you are not a good scientist, and if you think you know all there is to know about God, then your religious faith is at fault.