The incredible discovery of the Pope’s astronomers

Among the ideas that are dying hard: The Catholic Church would not like science. The debate is old. In the glass half-full, some universities and hospitals founded by the Catholic Church, the battalion of Catholic scientists and philosophers – some of whom were even clergy – cite their influence on the discoveries and intellectual debate of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, but also the effervescence of monasteries.

In the half-empty glass we find generations, here and there marked by a rather literal catechetical doctrine of Genesis, and controversies, including the resounding trial of the Inquisition against Galileo. An episode that, although it must be placed in the more global scientific context of the time, is nevertheless a great injustice.

To unite faith and science

The pastoral constitution Gaudium and Spesone of the most important documents of the Second Vatican Council, also suggested this mea culpa: “In this regard, allow us to deplore certain views that have existed among Christians themselves, insufficient attention to the legitimate autonomy of science. Sources of tensions and conflicts, they have made many minds believe that science and faith are opposite.”.

The section ended with a footnote referring to the work of historian Pie Paschini, Vita e opere di Galileo Galilei (2 volumes, Vatican, 1964), published by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences under the pontificate of John XXIII – a book whose history deserves an article in itself, since commissioned in 1942 by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and completed as early as 1944, it was kept hidden, because it was considered inadequate and disturbing by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

No matter what, Gaudium and spes strongly praised the scientific approach: “Moreover, he who with perseverance and humility strives to penetrate the secrets of things, he, though he is not aware of it, is as led by the hand of God, which sustains all beings and makes them what they are. . »

A revolution on the Big Bang

It is this intuition that inhabits the scientists of the Vatican Observatory, for the most part Jesuits, and from whom two of them – the fathers Gabriele Gionti (Jesuits) and Matteo Galaverni (diocesan priest of Emilia-Romagna) – come to make an important discovery about the universe origin, Big Bang. Nothing less.

In what ? By proposing a new mathematical approach that is likely to change the understanding of things. In a press release published in late April, the Observatory indicates that the new perspective evoked by their discovery “can cause a revolution in our understanding of the early universe”.

Explain the researchers in detail to La Vie “the physics that describes the very first moments of the universe is still unknown”. In short, they continue, “It is about finding a theory of quantum gravity, because such a theory could combine the behavior of gravitational forces on a large scale (as in Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which dominates at great distances) with quantum mechanics (which studies physical phenomena at atomic and subatomic weight). »

A large number of Catholic scientists

To perform approximate calculations in quantum gravity, they further explain Einstein’s ‘alternative’ theories of gravity (called ‘effective theories’) are often used. To study in detail the implications of these new theories, it is customary to transform them into another theory or ‘framework’ that is mathematically easier to study. This transformation is called the transition from Jordan’s frame to Einstein’s frame. “

The fathers Gionti and Galaverni have therefore shown that the previously used framework often does not work as expected, but they have found a completely different framework than the previous ones, and which works. “In this frame, the speed of light becomes zero in the presence of strong gravitational fields.”

In its press release, the Observatory lists the two researchers in a branch of Catholic scientists: “By pursuing this research, fathers follow Gionti and Galaverni in the footsteps of other Catholic scientists. In the 17th century, fathers Giovanni Battista Riccioli and Francesco Maria Grimaldi carried out the first precision studies of gravity. By timing the fall of objects at the Asinelli tower, Italy in Bologna. , they were the first to accurately determine “acceleration due to gravity”, ie the intensity of gravity. In the twentieth century, Father Georges Lemaître from Belgium, working from Einstein’s ideas, developed the theory known today as ” Big Bang Theory “. Lemaître’s ideas were later confirmed by the telescopic observations of the American astronomer Edwin Hubble.”

Science, a “trace of God”

But what conclusions can ordinary Catholics draw from this discovery? “The result of fathers Gionfi and Galavani, believes the observatory’s team, confirms that our universe appears mathematically ordered and harmonious. It is a “cosmos” (= “order” in Greek), which is in contrast to “chaos” (= disorder). It is logical for a believer to believe that this order is the fruit of the creation of an atoning God. He created the universe in a mathematical order and sent his only son to perfect it by having him take this “substance” which is a “product” of the same created universe. This is not proof of the existence of God, but “aesthetic” reasoning, in the sense that the mathematical beauty of this universe ignites believers with a love of God that through love created this universe. As believers, we know that God created this universe in a loving relationship with the Son, and that love is, in fact, the Holy Ghost. When we do science, it is as if we find traces of this love in the universe and therefore a trace of God. That is why we say that research is sometimes a form of prayer. »

A French woman in her seventies, who went through a Catholic institution in her youth, and who had broken with religious practice while preserving a life of prayer, confided in us one day: ” I prayshe told us in the hope that God hears me, for I am full of doubt about his existence, and this doubt makes me suffer. » She told what for her constituted the primitive tear: the gap between literal courses on Genesis on the catheter and the first science courses given in the same institution.

Vatican Astronomical Observatory, soon open to the public

But above all, the impossibility of questioning teachers due to being considered rude. How would she feel in the city of Albano, not far from Castel Gandolfo, when she entered the Vatican’s Astronomical Observatory, born five centuries ago? The place, which very much deserves to be known, should soon be partially open to the public.

Each summer, it welcomes 25 students from around the world who are destined to become professional astronomers. A museum should also see the light of day there, even though the opening date is still unknown – the health crisis has been there. Among other fascinating and moving things you can discover photos and stories about popes and the sky, the famous telescope where Pope Paul VI was immortalized, as well as the nuns’ manuscript books from the beginning of the 20th century – Emilia Ponzoni, Regina Colombo, Concetta Finardi and Luigia Panceri – true cartographers of the sky, who discovered and cataloged more than 400,000 stars between 1910 and 1922.

Women of science and faith whose history has recently been unearthed. Furthermore, there is a cliché of these working women … who have nothing to do with a “cliché”.

“Science, marriage, faith, these are love stories”

Perhaps this septuager, when she sees these believing women scrutinizing the sky with austerity, would make her her own words from Guy Consolmagno, American Jesuit, passed by Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technologycurrently director of the Vatican Observatory, which La Vie had met last summer: “As a scientist, you have to be able to say: I do not know, otherwise you will stop leading! And it’s the same for a believer. I think it’s very important to say: I do not know, I need to know. If you believe you have solved God’s questions, then your faith is dead. It’s the same for marriage. My parents were married for 72 years before they died six months apart (my father was 100 and my mother 97), and until recently they learned from each other. A marriage is not a problem to be solved and ends once one has figured it out. It tells ourselves that there is always something to explore, all sorts of little contradictions that we are going to spend our lives trying to understand. » With twinkling eyes he declared: “Science, marriage, religious life, faith, these are love stories.”

We asked him how he felt about looking at the sky while he was doing: “The universe is more than ushe told us at the time, and when we look at it, there is first this larger universe out there that pulls us out of ourselves. Then comes a day when you realize that there are not only planets in the distance, but that you are walking on a planet right now, and of course God is out there in the sky, and also in this part of it over there that is here. This blue sky above us is not an impenetrable barrier that sets us apart from the rest of the universe. » As in Michelangelo’s fresco in the attic of the Sistine Chapel, science can be the link in this small space that brings the finger of man and God closer together.

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