Metropolitan Kallistos Ware passed away on 24 August 2022. He was a renowned and popular Orthodox Christian theologian of recent decades, and was considered the most prolific and proficient communicator of patristic theology and Orthodox spirituality in our generation.
From his insights on the integration of Science and Faith:
“Faith in God, then, is not at all the same as the kind of logical certainty that we attain in Euclidean geometry. God is not the conclusion to a process of reasoning, the solution to a mathematical problem. To believe in God is not to accept the possibility of his existence because it has been ‘proved’ to us by some theoretical argument, but it is to put our trust in One whom we know and love. Faith is not the supposition that something might be true, but the assurance that someone is there.”
Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way
“If I do not feel a sense of joy in God’s creation, if I forget to offer the world back to God with thankfulness, I have advanced very little upon the Way. I have not yet learnt to be truly human. For it is only through thanksgiving that I can become myself.”
Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way
And in this six-minute video, he shares his views on biological evolution and our place as humans:
(from minute 4:55 on) “It is possible for God to work through evolution. He did not have to create everything as it is now in the beginning; he could work through the evolutionary process. But of course, in saying that, we’re moving outside the realm of science, which is not going to make statements of that kind. Again, from the religious point of view, we wish to affirm that human beings have a unique status in the universe, because they are made in the image and likeness of God. The human being is not merely a superior ape. But again, using a phrase like ‘the image and likeness of God’ we are saying something about human beings that science can neither confirm nor deny. We are moving outside the scientific area. So, I believe that a correct understanding of science and the way it works can indeed help our task as religious thinkers, but we need to keep a proper distinction; and if the distinction is kept, I do not think we need see science as a threat. Thank you.”
Charles Hard Townes (28 July 1915 – 27 June 2015) was most noted for research that led to the development of the laser, but his work spanned many disciplines, from physics, space exploration, and astronomy. He proved that black holes exist and shape the Milky Way and other galaxies. In 1964, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics with Alexander Prokhorov and Nikolay G. Basov for developing the maser-laser principle. His younger colleague Reinhard Genzel (and also a Nobel Prize winner) at the University of California in Berkeley said:
“He was a very broad scientist, a classical renaissance type — keep your mind open and be curious.”
It is perhaps the most telling fact about life so well lived and deeply tied to scientific research that Charles Townes wanted his faith in God to be mentioned in any remembrances upon his death.
One of the points he often made is that ‘faith’ as an attitude belongs to us not only regarding revealed religion but also our concept of understanding our world scientifically. In 1996, he wrote in “The Convergence of Science and Religion,” IBM’s Think magazine:
“Faith is necessary for the scientist even to get started, and deep faith is necessary for him to carry out his tougher tasks. Why? Because he must have confidence that there is order in the universe and that the human mind – in fact his own mind – has a good chance of understanding this order.”
“Science and religion have had a long interaction: some of it has been good and some of it hasn’t “, he said in an interview in 2005, and continued:
“As Western science grew, Newtonian mechanics had scientists thinking that everything is predictable, meaning there’s no room for God – so-called determinism. Religious people didn’t want to agree with that. Then Darwin came along, and they really didn’t want to agree with what he was saying, because it seemed to negate the idea of a creator. So there was a real clash for a while between science and religions.
But science has been digging deeper and deeper, and as it has done so, particularly in the basic sciences like physics and astronomy, we have begun to understand more. We have found that the world is not deterministic: quantum mechanics has revolutionized physics by showing that things are not completely predictable. That doesn’t mean that we’ve found just where God comes in, but we know now that things are not as predictable as we thought and that there are things we don’t understand. For example, we don’t know what some 95 percent of the matter in the universe is: we can’t see it – it’s neither atom nor molecule, apparently. We think we can prove it’s there, we see its effect on gravity, but we don’t know what and where it is, other than broadly scattered around the universe. And that’s very strange.
So as science encounters mysteries, it is starting to recognize its limitations and become somewhat more open. There are still scientists who differ strongly with religion and vice versa. But I think people are being more open-minded about recognizing the limitations in our frame of understanding.”
[this post was initially written in 2015 for our fb page, and is slightly edited]
Unfolding the Universe: The first pictures from the James Webb Telescope
Yesterday, on 12 July 2022, the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope were released These images provide us with the deepest and sharpest view of our cosmos to date, showing thousands of galaxies in clarity like never before.
This image covers a patch of the sky “roughly the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone standing on earth”, NASA administrator Bill Nelson said. “We are looking back at more than 13 billion years. The light that you are seeing on one of these little specks has been traveling for 13 billion years” That makes the signal we are seeing just 800 million years younger than the “Big Bang.”
Georges Lemaitre and the Big Bang
The “Big Bang” is the starting point that set the expansion of the known universe in motion some 13.8 billion years ago. The Big Bang theory was developed by George Lemaitre – an astrophysicist and a Catholic priest – as a cosmological theory postulating an abrupt beginning of the universe from an initial, superdense concentration of nuclear matter called the “primeval atom” that expanded rapidly building stars and galaxies. The name “Big Bang” that we use today was coined by Fred Hoyle and was meant ironically: he was convinced of a static universe and did not like Lemaitre’s ideas that reminded him too much of a Creator-God. Nonetheless, the new theory gained influence in the following years. It was not until 1964, though, that the detection of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) provided experimental proof.
We may also want to focus on other contributions to astronomy from Catholic Scientists.
The Vatican Observatory is one of the oldest astronomical institutes in the world. The first foreshadowing of the Observatory can be traced to the constitution by Pope Gregory XIII of a committee to study the scientific data and implications involved in the calendar reform which occurred in 1582. The committee included Father Christoph Clavius, a Jesuit mathematician from the Roman College, who expounded and explained the reform. From that time and with some degree of continuity the Papacy has manifested an interest in and support for astronomical research. In fact, three early observatories were founded by the Papacy: the Observatory of the Roman College (1774-1878), the Observatory of the Capitol (1827-1870), and the Specula Vaticana (1789-1821) in the Tower of the Winds within the Vatican.
These early traditions of the Observatory reached their climax in the mid-nineteenth century with the research at the Roman College of the famous Jesuit, Father Angelo Secchi, the first to classify stars according to their spectra. With these rich traditions as a basis and in order to counteract the longstanding accusations of hostility of the Church towards science, Pope Leo XIII formally re-founded the Specola Vaticana (Vatican Observatory) in 1891 and located it on a hillside behind the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Vatican staff members realized that participation in the program ‘to map the sky’ would immediately give their young observatory international recognition. Therefore, Pope Leo XIII commissioned Father Francesco Denza and Father Giuseppe Lais to attend the Astrographic Congress and enroll the Vatican as one of the participating institutions in the international Carte du Ciel project which made a photographic map of the stars.
The pope’s main observatory, by now entrusted to the Jesuits, was eventually moved to the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo in 1935. In the newer time, Father George Coyne SJ (1933-2020) was the director of the Vatican Observatory and was a strong voice for the compatibility of science & faith.
The current director is Br. Guy Cosolmagno. He entered the Jesuit Order in 1989. At the Vatican Observatory since 1993, his research explores connections between meteorites, asteroids, and the evolution of small solar system bodies, measuring meteorite physical properties in Castel Gandolfo and observing distant asteroids with the Vatican’s telescope in Arizona. Along with more than 200 scientific publications, he is the author of six popular books including “Turn Left at Orion” (with Dan Davis), and “Would You Baptize an Extraterrestial?” (with Paul Mueller). In the recent meeting of the Society of Catholic Scientists, he was presented with the St. Albert Award and gave an insightful and humorous talk on “Life in a Fantasy Universe: The Day-to-day Life of Astronomers in the Vatican.”
“Princess Therese of Bavaria was a multi-talented, clever and extremely courageous woman who, against much opposition and with incredible energy, followed her thirst for knowledge and studied the diversity of nature and indigenous people on her numerous travels.”
– Gudrun Kadereit, Princess Therese von Bayern Chair of Systematics, Biodiversity, and Evolution of Plants.
Therese von Bayern (1850-1926) was a Bavarian princess, ethnologist, zoologist, botanist, travel writer, and advocate for the education of women.
She was courageous and tough. An adventurer traveling the world, and not giving in to any hardship whatsoever. Wild animals, extreme climate, travel hardships – such phenomena only spurred her on. From her companions, she demanded the same willingness to subordinate everything to her goal. The expeditionary party had to submit to her regiment without contradiction and forego any comforts. Riding for several days at a high marching pace for ten hours was the rule, as were night camps with strangers and animals in rooms that were noisy, cold, humid, and full of vermins. Neither extreme heat nor cold, neither pneumonia nor altitude sickness and malaria attacks, neither a broken luggage cart nor a broken rib could slow the princess down.
Her scientific mindset was extraordinary. She learned 12 languages, and every expedition was well prepared, she knew which specimens were still missing in the Bavarian museums and collections. It took her nearly 10 years of diligent work to complete the journal-like report on her 1888 expedition to Brazil, the book was well written, and plenty of footnotes comparing her findings with those in the literature.
She was Catholic. Her journal provides insights into her deep piety and her prayerful thoughts. Her faith was also caritative as exemplified in her care for wounded soldiers in her villa in Lindau am Bodensee during WWI.
And she was loyal to the people she loved. In 1864, her mother asked her on her deathbed to care for her father and her brothers, a wish she fulfilled diligently, but as she said later, nearly smashed her, since she was only 13 years old. Her father became the Prince Regent, the de facto ruler of Bavaria in 1886 and she stood at his side until his death in 1912. As a young girl, she fell in love with her cousin Otto, a love forever unfulfilled, given his poor health and psychiatric disease. She always remained loyal to her love and refused to marry despite the wishes of her family.
Starting in the late 18th century, women were opening carrier paths in many disciplines. This presentation will focus on 12 female Catholic scientists that may serve as role models that can guide us to integrate Science and our Catholic faith into our own lives to become one of the “saints next doors”, as Pope Francis encouraged us recently.
12 Women from the late 18th to the end of the 20 century from a variety of scientific disciplines are presented here. They had two characteristics in common:
they have had an impact on the science and/or scientific education of their time and
their lives were informed, transformed, and inspired by their Catholic faith.
Life Sciences / Archaeology
Therese von Bayern (1850-1926) was a Bavarian princess, ethnologist, zoologist, botanist, travel writer, and advocate for the education of women. She led 2 scientific expeditions to South America with a truly adventurous spirit, describing them in carefully researched publications and books. She was elected by the Bavarian Academy of Sciences in 1892 as its first honorary female member and five years later became the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Munich. Her diary reveals her close relationship with God and her deep piety. Her faith was also caritative as exemplified in her care for wounded soldiers in her villa in Lindau am Bodensee during WWI. Another characteristic was her loyalty to the people she loved. In 1864, her mother on her deathbed asked her to care for her father and her brothers, a wish she fulfilled diligently. In 1886, her father became the Prince Regent, the de facto ruler of Bavaria. She stood by his side until his death in 1912. As a young girl, she fell in love with her cousin Otto, a love forever unfulfilled, given his poor health and psychiatric disease. Yet, she remained loyal to her love and refused to marry despite the wishes of her family.
Agnes Mary Clerke (1842 – 1907) was an astronomer and science educator. She was born in Skibbereen, Ireland. Together with her sister Ellen, she received an exceptional level of knowledge, through the Ursuline nuns, and her parents. By the age of eleven, she had read Herschel’s Outlines of Astronomy. At the age of 15, she began to write her own history of astronomy. Agnes’s father owned a 4-inch telescope, and she grew up regularly observing Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s moons. She and her sister spent ten years in Italy, mainly living in Florence where they studied science, acquired literary skills, and became excellent linguists. In 1877 the sisters went to London where the family was reunited.
I am calling Piedad de la Cierva here an “invisible” pioneer because the only information available on the internet is in Spanish, not in any other language. And even in Spain, she is not yet well known. As a chemist, she was a pioneer in three distinct areas, forced to switch gears due to external circumstances, which she developed into opportunities. In Spain of the 1940ies, she was years ahead of her time and therefore failed in her aspirations for a life in academia, turning instead to decades of fruitful industrial research.
Piedad de la Cierva Viudes (01 June 1913 – 31 Dicember 2007) was one of the first female chemists in Spain. After studying in Murcia and Valencia, she obtained her PhD in the National Institute of Physics and Chemistry situated in the Rockefeller Building in Madrid.
De la Cierva later recalled:
“I remember my great surprise when I realized that I was able to calculate the distance between the chlorine and sodium atoms of a salt crystal. And how impressed I was that God, Creator of the Universe, had distributed the atoms, so small, in such an amazing way”.
In 1935, she moved to the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen for her investigations on the nuclear transmutation of aluminum and the separation of bromine isotopes. In Copenhagen, she stayed at the Convent of the sisters of the Assumption where she fondly remembered the friendship of her tutor, Mother Hildegard. In her travels to Paris and Berlin, she met Irène Joliot Curie, the daughter of Marie Curie, herself a renowned chemist and Nobel Prize Laureate, Lise Meitner who would later immigrate to Sweden and the USA, and the couple Ida and Walter Noddak.
Máirín de Valéra (12 April 1912 – 8 August 1984) was a leading expert in phycology – the study of algae – and the first Professor of Botany in Galway, Ireland. She had a winning personality, was known for her rigorous examination of the botanical courses she gave, and for her deep knowledge of seaweeds on the Irish west coast, which she explored mostly on foot or by bicycle. She has a famous father, Éamon de Valéra who was one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Uprising, was Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland three times and was twice as President; and her mother wrote popular children’s books in Irish.
After receiving her Master’s degree from the University of Dublin, Máirin continued her studies and investigations in Aberystwyth, Wales, and then at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Kristineberg, Sweden, turning her interest to seaweeds. She returned to Ireland in 1939 and obtained a position as an Assistant Lecturer in the Department of Natural History at University College Galway. She taught nearly all the botany courses, and with a double workload since she gave many lectures in both English and Irish.
“There is a difference between a living dog and a dead one”. But what exactly makes them different? What is life and where does it come from? The botanist Johannes Reinke (03 February 1849 – 25 February 1931) studied living beings professionally for over 20 years. Nevertheless, life remained a miracle for him and pointed to something beyond. Reinke was clear about what was to him a most evident and yet mysterious phenomenon: life is a power of God. God is the one who initiates life among non-living material and who sustains the power of life during reproduction and the evolutionary process.
He initially studied theology at Rostock, but his focus later changed to botany. In 1879 he became a professor of botany at the University of Göttingen, where he established the institute of plant physiology. From 1885 until 1921, he was a professor at the University of Kiel. Reinke was a co-founder of the Deutsche Botanische Gesellschaft.
Reinke had a keen interest in the systematics, developmental cycles, cytology, and physiology of brown algae. From 1888 to 1892 he published a number of articles on marine algae from the North and Baltic Seas. Also, he postulated that the encrusting algae genus called Aglaozonia was a stage in the life history of Cutleria.
Educated in the mid 19th century he had faced revolutionary changes in the scientific understanding of the origin and evolution of life. Working mainly at the phenotypic level, Reinke was interested in the basic mechanisms and the guiding idea behind all processes which coordinated gene regulation and morphogenesis. What drove Reinke in his search of regulatory mechanisms for evolutionary patterns and processes was his religious belief. He was highly influenced by William Paley’s understanding of Natural Theology. For the origin of the very first life, Reinke believed in creation but once life was established, evolution followed natural laws. This led to his early concept of “Dominanten” entities, which regulate gene transcription and morphogenesis, anticipating the ideas of Goldschmidt and v. Uexküll.
Loeffler, M. (2013). Volker Wissemann. Johannes Reinke: Leben und Werk eines lutherischen Botanikers. (Book review) Theology and Science, 11(3), 327–329.doi:10.1080/14746700.2013.809956
Volker Wissemann (2006). “Johannes Reinke (1839-1931) and his “Dominanten” theory–an early concept of gene regulation and morphogenesis”. Theory in Biosciences = Theorie in den Biowissenschaften. 124 (3–4): 397–400. doi:10.1016/j.thbio.2005.11.007
Out of high respect to this great biologist, who died yesterday at the age of 92, I am breaking the rule to only document Christian scientists here on my blog. Yes, Wilson was not a Christian believer: we cannot say he never was because he was raised a Southern Baptist, but he said of himself that he could not see or feel any transcendence.
His specific field was myrmecology, the study of ants. My admiration comes from this angle: I did my PhD on honey bees and my latest article was on Erich Wasmann, another myrmecologist whose memory Wilson (and his co-writer Bert Hölldobler) kept carefully.