BELIEVING that God created the universe in six days is a form of superstitious paganism, the Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno claimed yesterday.
Brother Consolmagno, who works in a Vatican observatory in Arizona and as curator of the Vatican meteorite collection in Italy, said a "destructive myth" had developed in modern society that religion and science were competing ideologies.
He described creationism, whose supporters want it taught in schools alongside evolution, as a "kind of paganism" because it harked back to the days of "nature gods" who were responsible for natural events.
Brother Consolmagno argued that the Christian God was a supernatural one, a belief that had led the clergy in the past to become involved in science to seek natural reasons for phenomena such as thunder and lightning, which had been previously attributed to vengeful gods. "Knowledge is dangerous, but so is ignorance. That's why science and religion need to talk to each other," he said.
"Religion needs science to keep it away from superstition and keep it close to reality, to protect it from creationism, which at the end of the day is a kind of paganism - it's turning God into a nature god. And science needs religion in order to have a conscience, to know that, just because something is possible, it may not be a good thing to do."
(more at the link)
And another, older, interview:
AM: And how did you come to work for the Vatican?
GC: Long story. I'd been an astronomer for 15 years before I decided to enter the Jesuits. And I did my undergraduate work at MIT and my doctorate at Arizona. And at one point I wondered why was I wasting my time doing astronomy when people are starving in the world - a little voice of conscience.
So I joined the Peace Corps. While I was there, I discovered that I loved teaching. But mostly I discovered that the people in Africa, the people in Kenya, where I was, wanted to know about astronomy. That's what they wanted from me. And they were as fascinated and as excited about it as I was, as anyone in America.
And I understood then why it's important. It's one of those things that makes us more than just well-fed cows. It satisfies a really deep hunger to know, to go someplace, to explore. And that is a hunger that is as human, as basic to human beings as food and shelter and anything else. And it's denied to a person only at the cost of denying them their humanity. By telling poor people, "No, no, you have to go hunt for food, you can't do astronomy," you are saying that they're less than human. And that's wrong. And it's a tragedy.
AM: And why does the Vatican fund this research?
GC: There's a political reason. It's a simple one, that they want the world to know that the Church isn't afraid of science, that they like science, that science is great, this is our way of seeing how God created the universe, and they want to make as strong a statement as possible that truth doesn't contradict truth, that if you have faith, then you're not going to ever be afraid of what science is going to come up with. Because it's true.
And the one time in history that they screwed up on this, the Galileo affair, the Church was wrong. And we've admitted it was wrong. How many times has science abused the Church? How often have you heard a scientist apologize to the Church?
AM: Do you think that was the only time in history that it happened?
GC: The whole scientific enterprise really does coincide well with Christian theology. The whole idea that the universe is worth studying is a Christian idea. The whole mechanism for studying the physical universe comes straight out of the whole logic of the scholastic age. Who was the first geologist? Albert the Great, who was a monk. Who was the first Chemist? Roger Bacon, who was a monk. Who was the first guy to come up with spectroscopy? Angelo Secchi, who was a priest. Who was the guy who invented genetics? Gregor Mendel, who was a monk. Who was the guy who came up with the Big Bang theory? Georges Lemaître, who was a priest. There is this long tradition; most scientists before the 19th century were clerics. Who else had the free time and the education to gather leads and measure star positions?
AM: Okay, but you brought up Galileo, I didn't. Are you saying that was a single incident, or was it a period of time --
GC: A bit of both.
AM: -- and if it was a period of time, when do you think it changed, and how and why do you think it changed? Because it took a pretty long time to apologize.
GC: Well, yes and no. You probably aren't aware of all the other apologies before the most recent apology....