Sunday, 15 September 2013

The Pope's Astronomer

I listened to a fascinating interview with the Pope's Astronomer this morning, on the Sunday programme on Radio 4.

Ed Stourton did his best, of course (Galileo, yawn, yawn...) but was no match for the Jesuit he was interviewing.

When challenged on why the Pope needed an astronomer, he addressed the larger question of why anyone needs an astronomer.

He answered this by telling of his own crisis of conscience on the issue: how as a young astronomer, he wondered how he could justify such an occupation when there are people starving in the world.

So he quit, and joined the Peace Corps.  He went to Africa, and in a spirit of service, he asked the villagers, as they got to know him, what he could do for them.

They asked him to build them a telescope. Then they looked through it, at the stars, the rings and moons about other planets in the universe, and were both delighted and awestruck.

The point he was making was that there is something profoundly important to us as human beings to expand our knowledge and understanding.

Astronomy is a worthy occupation; as is any role in the sciences (or elsewhere of course) that expands human knowledge in ways that in keeping with the dignity of man, and the truth.

He also addressed the false dichotomy between science and faith very eloquently: once the programme is available on iPlayer, I commend it to you.


The interview is here at 5 min 20 secs (h/t @Londiniensis on Twitter)