03 October 2007

Total eclipse of the mind

Rather than burning heretics, these days the Roman Catholic church likes to grapple with the latest ideas on cold dark matter and disc galaxies. So much so, that the Vatican is hosting a scientific conference for astronomers, their second in seven years, and has observatories in Italy and the USA.

While some might think a dogmatic view of the world and free enquiry make for odd bedfellows, Brother Guy Consolmagno, curator of the Pope's meteorite collection (yes, really), explains: "They want the world to know that the Church isn't afraid of science."

Brother Consolmagno makes a brave case for religious endorsement of the scientific method: "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 never going to be afraid of what science is going to come up with."

This is an interesting departure from the scientific method as I understand it. I'm not aware of any branch of science that allows the assumption of a God to underpin its outcomes. When Watson and Crick uncovered the human genome I don't think they stayed up nights thinking: "But where does God fit into all this?"

And what is Brother Consolmagno's defence for allowing God into the equations of space-time?: "Because it's true."

With such arguments on their side, no wonder the church is not afraid of science. But science should be wary of them, no matter how plush the Vatican's observatory, or how agreeable the lunches.

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