On April 21, 2015, I had the privilege of presenting with Dr. Curtis Czerwinski on the subject of faith and science. Our night was entitled, “Faith and Science: Fight or Fusion?” Though we did not do an official head count, our conservative estimate is that about 200 came to the event. The audience was predominately college students from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, but also included adult parishioners from Roncalli Newman, professors from UW-La Crosse, and a mix of people from the community. Overall, it was a WONDERFUL night!
Below is a YouTube video of our presentation.
Part One: Dr. Curtis Czerwinski: Avoiding fundamentalism in faith AND science
Part Two: Fr. James Kurzynski: Insignificance to Significance: An exploration of meaning through the eyes of the Vatican Observatory Foundation Faith and Astronomy Workshop (FAW)
Important notes: We got a late start on the night, so my part of the presentation got clipped a bit. In particular, I didn’t take the time to explain “gravitational telescoping” sufficiently at the end of my presentation (in fact, I never even used the term… grrr). Here is the section from my notes that did not make my presentation, but I provide them to supplement the video.
A moment of “Sacred Play” I experienced at FAW was during Dr. Brenda Frye’s presentation on “gravitational telescoping.” Dr. Frye is a professional astronomer from the Steward Observatory and is on faculty at the University of Arizona. Dr. Frye studies some of the deepest parts of the known universe and is currently studying a phenomenon called “gravitational telescoping.” This phenomenon is due to strong gravitational forces that bend light, similar to how our view of a pencil becomes distorted if we dip it in a glass of water. What makes the bending of this light so unique is that gravity is creating “natural” telescopes, reflecting images of objects from much deeper in space that we could not see if it not be for this phenomena. The telescoping makes the image brighter (more easy to see), and making multiple copies of the same galaxy, but at different distances or “layers” of the universe.
What I mean by saying “layers” is that astronomy is like “intergalactic archeology” in which the deeper we “dig” in time, we essentially turn back the clock of time to earlier and earlier images of the universe. What do I mean? First, we have to realize that when we look at the night sky, we do not see the sky as it is, but as it was based on distance. (I want to thank Dr. Frye for allowing me to use her slides for this presentation). A light year is the commingling of distance and the time it takes for light from an object to get to our eyes. Therefore, if we look at something in the night sky that is 20 light years away, we are actually seeing the object as it appeared 20 years ago because it takes 20 years for the light from the object to get to us. Therefore, the further away the object, the further back in time we are seeing, similar to how the deeper an archeologist digs, they are able to find older objects. From this standpoint, the science of astronomy allows us to see the history of time by simply looking into the night sky. (Presuming we have the proper tools to understand what we are looking at).
In this image (slide 12), we see how telescoping works. The galaxies in each picture are not different, but are the same objects visible in different parts of the night sky. Therefore, we are seeing an optical illusion, but that illusion allows us to study objects in a way that would not be possible without the phenomena of gravitational telescoping. Further, these “photocopies” of the image are projected at different distances. What this means is that, to borrow our image of archeology, we are able to study one object at different points of its life (or death).
One of the fascinating aspects of gravitational telescoping is that, even though we know that gravity is bending light to create these images, we do not know exactly what is causing these gravitational forces in the first place. What do I mean? The gravitational telescoping is being caused by what is called “dark matter.” What is dark matter? Science doesn’t have an answer for that question. Dark matter is either a type of matter we can’t find and don’t understand or it may be that our understanding of gravity is deficient and needs to be refined. In either case, we know that something is there because we can see the effects of dark matter, even though we can’t find the “stuff.” Further, the phenomena of gravitational telescoping is making a kind of “walking path” that may help scientists understand the actual shape of the universe. Understanding whether the universe is a sphere, oval, or something irregular like a saddle will help us understand how the universe is expanding and also give us a more accurate picture of the history of time. (Fr. James Kurzynski; Presentation Notes: Faith and Science: Fight or Fusion; April 21, 2015)