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The questions are what matter

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You would be well advised to go straight to the Podcasts and listen to Pat Coyle’s interview with Brother Guy Consolmagno. Treat this paragraph as a signpost to and advertisement for the real thing. You may know of Guy. He is a Jesuit brother, graduate of M.I.T., and research astronomer and planetary scientist at the Vatican Observatory. He speaks with such enthusiasm and clarity that you could easily miss the depth and wisdom of his observations.

When he joined the Vatican team, his director gave him a simple instruction: “Do good science.” This was not so much as a way of communicating with other scientists; rather it was as a way of getting to know more about God who, as St Paul told the Romans, reveals himself in the things he has made. Just as real theology is not a study of facts so much as a conversation about the God we do not understand, the same is true of science: not an accumulation of facts, but a conversation about the aspects of the universe which we do not understand.

The subject matter of astronomy is not so much the stars as the scientists who study them. The good questions are more important than the text-books of “facts”. “I would be disappointed to find a universe that did not continually surprise me. We used to think that the expansion of the universe was slowing down. Instead we have been surprised to find that it is speeding up. And nothing is more surprising than the claim that God so loved the world as to become part of it. Only an infinite God could do that.”

One of Guy’s missions in Dublin was a talk in Gonzaga College about astronomical ideas that were almost correct. They were the fruitful mistakes of science. We are getting things wrong all the time; and we make progress by loving our mistakes and forgiving them. The enterprise of astronomy is so vast that we have no hope of reaching the end of our questions; but it is an astonishing and marvellous thing that we can seriously explore what happened 13.8 billion years ago.

To Pat’s question about evil in the universe, Guy’s response was both classical (evil is the absence of good) and original: the absence of good, especially in a system that is mostly good, will manifest itself in a way that feels like it is an entity when it is really the lack of an entity. Evil is most visible in good situations. We should not despair to feel the evil poking round us. It is a sign that God is all around us.