Jesuit brother sees faith, science connected


One who loves God and one who loves the scientific universe have much in common, scientist and Jesuit brother Fr. Guy Consolmagno told a Detroit Mercy audience recently.

In fact, he said, “They are one in the same.”  

Consolmagno visited Detroit Mercy March 29 to speak with students and faculty about “Where Faith and Science Meet.”

“Most students going to college in engineering or science enter those fields looking for the truth,” he said. “They’re frustrated because religion is very full of fallible people, so they’ve given up on religion but they’re still looking for God.”

Consolmagno stirred the crowd all night with witty jokes and quotable statements like that one.

He told of his early life and how that segued into his love for science and eventually becoming a member of the Jesuit community.

Consolmagno was a senior at U of D High School when man landed on the moon in 1969, popularizing the study of science.

“Space was everything,” Cosolmagno said. “Growing up, every bright little boy was going to be a scientist.”

He always knew he wanted to go to a Jesuit college after high school, so he attended Boston College.

It didn’t take long for Cosolmagno to realize that a typical freshman lifestyle of binge drinking and excessive partying was not for him.

“I had to get out of the freshman dorms, so … I decided to become a Jesuit,” said Cosolmagno.

After being told by a Jesuit priest to pray about this decision, he decided that becoming a priest was not the right job for him after all.

He eventually transferred to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to be a science journalist, and ended up majoring in earth and natural sciences, writing a master’s thesis about the moons of Jupiter and augmenting his skills with post-doctoral work at Harvard and MIT.

Eventually, studying rocks got old to him, he said.

“I could not see the value of doing science when people are starving,” he noted.

In an effort to live a life with more value, he joined the Peace Corps in 1982 and was sent to Kenya to teach astrophysics to graduate students at the University of Nairobi, where he discovered his love for teaching.

Through this experience and his others with philosophy and science at Harvard and MIT, Cosolmagno said he learned plenty about how those subjects provoke intriguing discussions.

“Science is not just looking and going, ‘Oh, wow,’ ” he said. “Science is then talking about what you saw with other people and then that starts a conversation about the universe.”

After teaching in Kenya and at Lafayette back in the U.S., Cosolmagno still hadn’t given up on his goal of becoming a member of the Jesuit community.

By this time, he was 40 years old and felt he was too old to start a family and “raise teenagers,” but he wanted to stand for something bigger than himself.

“I joined the Jesuits as a brother once I found out they can do other things as well,” Cosolmagno said. “And for the first time in my life, I felt content and like I was where I belonged.”

He was forced to study philosophy once he became a Jesuit.

“The thing about philosophy, mathematics and science is that it’s logical,” Cosolmagno said.

There are three logical axioms, or assumptions, that he believes underpin science:

n Reality exits.

n The universe operates by repeatable laws.

n Science is worth doing because looking at and understanding the universe is good within itself.

But what do these mean to someone without a PhD in philosophy and the sciences?

“We all assume that reality exists, right?” Cosolmagno asked.

The crowd nodded.

He said that as humans, scientists cannot prove reality to be otherwise, once again tying philosophical thought into science.

Related to the second axiom, he said, “Science is tying to come up with an explanation for the things we see in nature,” which is why scientific laws exist.

“If you don’t believe in god, then you have to come up with another way to explain nature,” said Cosolmagno. “But to be an atheist, you must have a very clear idea of the god you don’t believe in. Otherwise, how do you know you don’t believe in him?”

At this point in the evening, he was starting to pull together the strings of his argument.

“If you believe that the universe was made the way it is in Genesis, then you have a universe that was made in a logically ordered fashion…,” he said.

This logic underlying the universe’s creation forgoes the religious attributes of Genesis, according to Cosolmagno.

He looped back around and connected this logic to what he termed as God’s creation process and the intent behind it.

The third axiom is that science is worth doing because looking at and understanding the universe is good within itself, he said. 

“There is a lot of evil in the world and we don’t know why, and this evil can lead us to mistakenly believe that the universe is evil,” he said.

Cosolmagno left his listeners with a couple takeaways.

First, “Religion gives you the basis that allows science to occur,” Cosolmagno said.

Second, “Religion acts as a basis for scientific discovery,” he said.

Cosolmagno said that the more he has discovered in science, the more he has felt himself connecting with God.

He said that religion worships truth, logic, love and joy.

“How can you be a person in this universe and not love it?” he asked.