Vatican Astronomer speaks out on faith and science after eclipse

Fathers Corbally and Gabor of the Vatican Observatory watch as the sun peaks out from behind the clouds on the day of the Great American Eclipse, Aug. 21. Photo by Ellen Petersen.

By Ellen Petersen, The Circuit.

For the eclipse on Aug. 21, Benedictine College hosted special guest Father Paul Gabor, S.J., as well as Father Christopher J. Corbally, S.J., astronomers of the Vatican Observatory in Arizona.

During his time here, Fr. Gabor gave a special presentation, “The Babylonians and the Leap Second: Precision Measurements of Earth’s Rotation Rate,” in which he discussed the history of solar and lunar eclipses as well as tying in the risks he feels the world and Church are now at risk for.

“I’ve been involved in this leap second debate since 2011 and I thought it was a way of how to bring in the issues of science and its impact on society,” Gabor said.

“Things are becoming more and more inaccessible to the general public and we somehow assume the general public will be fine leaving things to the experts,” Gabor said.  “We’ve seen in society the consequences of this alienation.”

Gabor mentioned that his chief concern of the widening dichotomy between scientists and the public is something to be apprehensive about and aware of, but should not cause fear or despair.

“I think that first and foremost what has to be said is that science is not the same thing as it is presented,” he said. “Quite often in the media you have somebody that is a professional atheist that has had some background in science but has moved on to making a living out of debating publicly.

“This type of thing is not to be taken seriously at all. It shouldn’t alarm people at all. They just found a nice niche in the market and it is quite popular to put the Word of God on the cover of books to increase sales.”

Gabor has no doubt, however, that science will remain important and beloved.

“Science is such a thing that people love to be involved with,” he said. “Depending on the field, overall, science is really a part of our vocation as human beings.”

Here Gabor referenced a certain saying from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola known as the Principle and Foundation: “God created man to praise, reverence and serve God, and by this means to save his soul.”

“This idea that we are called to praise God’s greatness — this is something that I think naturally ties in with science,” Gabor said. “Our ability to understand the world is quite miraculous in a way. It is no small matter that we, limited beings that we are, have the capacity to go ever deeper into the mystery of God’s creation.”

Gabor is not alone, as he mentioned several other scientists with similar feelings including physicist Richard Feynman, best known for his work in quantum mechanics and particle physics.

“He was one of the people who really was extremely clear about feeling this sense of privilege to understand the world through discovering these laws of nature,” he said.

Similarly, he mentioned Galileo, who believed God has given His people two distinct books: the book of Sacred Scripture and the book of Nature. It is for this reason that Gabor believes “God has given us a very clear indication that He wants to be known.”

“The idea of the two books, of Sacred Scripture and of Nature, implies that they were written by the same author and therefore there can be no contradiction,” he said. “I just think that we should, as Christians, embrace what science tells us about this world rather than try and somehow be leery of science or be hostile towards it.

“I think many people feel left out.  Second Vatican Council calls us very clearly to engage with the world rather than be in our little Catholic ghetto. This idea I think needs to be emphasized. Science is something to be embraced and cherished and happy about.”