A number of participants from ACME asked if I could provide a summary of my presentation.
The origin of this Astronomy for Catholics in Ministry and Education Conference has an interesting background. While I was in seminary, we never had a class addressing faith and science. Questions would come up from time to time, but we never systematically looked at the relation between faith and scinece.
This lack of background prompted me to write the Vatican Observatory to ask if they offered programs in faith and science – specifically in astronomy. The initial answer from Fr. Coyne was “no,” but he expressed an openness to explore this request further. Fast forward 10 years and the first Faith and Astronomy Workshop (FAW) was born. I want to thank Br. Guy, the late Fr. Coyne, and the staff of the Vatican Observatory for making this request a reality.
When I attended the first FAW, I was more pre-occupied with the apologetic questions of faith and science. This approach of “talking about faith and science” sought clear answers to basic questions I would receive from parishioners and students.
What FAW invited me to do is to rethink my approach to not talk about faith and science, but Do faith and science. Through presentations from professional scientists, visiting active space missions, and visiting professional observatories, I didn’t come away with answers to the epic apologetic questions of our time, but an invitation to live my faith, do real science, and let the bridges naturally emerge.
Through participation in citizen’s science programs on Zooniverse, doing online observation with telescopes from Slooh, and living my faith, I began to understand my questions in a different light. Faith and science ceased to be an epic battle. Instead, faith and science became what they should be: Different dimensions of the human experience.
A biblical scholar that helped influence my change of approach to faith and science was NT Wright and the work he has done with BioLogos. Here’s an example:
Where This Journey Has Taken Me:
This new approach to faith and science helped me develop a language of how I approach this delicate topic.
How do I view science?
Science is a language and tool to help us understand aspects of our lives through observation, measurements, insight, speculation, experimentation, prediction, and application.
With this starting point, I can see how I do “science” in my daily life as a priest. (Intentionally humorous examples)
Try to figure out which brand of votive candles actually burn seven days in the hopes of saving some money and not angering our parishioners.
We contemplate how many palms we can burn in the Church on Ash Wednesday before activating the fire system.
We debate as staffs exactly when the Sun is completely below the horizon on Easter Saturday in the hopes of finding the earliest time to start the Easter Vigil.
We debate when we should turn the boilers off in spring – Cold Parishioners – Tolerable – burst water pipes – not tolerable.
The point of these examples is that science is something we Do. The beautiful aspect of Catholicism is that our faith has a tradition of doing science.
Calendars – How Is Easter Determined? Astronomy! First Sunday after the first full Moon on or after the spring equinox (Br. Guy can correct this is the comments).
Vatican Observatory Origins – Reform of the Julian Calendar.
Chronos – The Ordinary Passing Of Time. Kyros – Sacred Time/Timelessness.
Lesson: Our Astronomical Origins Often Point To Measuring Time.
Sacred Play in Scripture with Stars.
God to Abraham – Count the Stars if you can
Cosmic Liturgy – The rhythms of celestial events as metaphors for Salvation History.
Intuition of all cultures – Constellations as a way to develop connectedness with the night sky – We want to put our story “up there” and we want what’s going on up there to connect with life “down here.”
Lesson: Our tradition encourages us to delight and find joy in the night sky.
Catholics don’t do astrology – We study the night sky, we don’t read palms.
We also have a long tradition of Catholics who do science and Popes who have supported science (We ran out of time and didn’t get to this slide.)
Copernicus – The Great Revolution
Galileo – The Victim of Bad Politics
Pierre Gassendi – The Popularist Science/Priest
Georges Lemaitre – The Father Of The Cosmic Egg
Pius XII – Opened the door to seeing evolution as something not to be rejected.
Pope John Paul II – Evolution is more than a hypothesis.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI – “Green Pope” – Took the Vatican Off the Power Grid in Rome – Stated that rejecting evolution is absurd.
Pope Francis – Dabbled in Chemistry.
How Am I Currently “Doing” Faith and Science?
The most recent development of my journey of faith and science is to do astrophotography. Amid the stress and pressure that Covid-19 has placed upon our world, I realized I needed a healthy outlet to decompress. Astrophotography (and wildlife photography) became that outlet for me.
If you look up “astrophotography,” you will find amazing images with gear that is very expensive. Therefore, I want to walk you through a “astro-spirituality” that can help you enjoy the night sky, but also might lead to a new hobby for you.
There is only one “commandment” I’ve developed in my approach to astrophotography.
If I allow the technical aspects of astrophotography to take over my experience of the night sky, I’m no longer connecting faith with the imaging of the night sky. Keep experience before gear.
The first step to my nights of astrophotography is simply to observe the night sky before I consider gear, targets, or how long I plan to stay out. I’ll take some time to pray for my parish, family, friends, and any intentions I may have. And then I pay attention to what is in the sky.
Sometimes I’ll take my camera out, but not take a single image. Sometimes I’m exhausted and simply want a night of prayerful rest. Put another way, you don’t always need to take images with your camera to image the night sky. Sometimes our eyes and mind will be the “imager.”
Sometimes weather dictates what you can image and what you can’t. For me, its a spiritual call to let go of what I want and open myself to what God presents to me – Not only in the night sky, but in life.
At this point, I shared with you images of the night sky I took with a $60 thrift sale camera lens and an old 18 megapixel camera I bout for $150. They are stacked images of 6, 20 second exposures (total of two minutes of exposure) at 135mm. I was able to get longer exposure at 135mm by the use of my star tracker (I’ll put a video of the tracker I used below). The images below represent a simple JPEG image that is the lowest resolution, a RAW image that tries to get the most data possible, and the last is a RAW “best pixel” stack that edits out data and focuses on the best parts of the image. (The software I use to stack images is a freeware called Sequator.)
For those who would like to continue to explore astrophotography, here’s a “crash course” on camera settings.
And here’s the tracker I use.
Enjoy your nights!