The Priest’s Big Bang

If you’re sure about something, you don’t need faith. It’s when you have the doubts that faith kicks in. And that’s true in science as well as anything else. – Guy Consolmagno

Already arriving at peace with the magnetizing mystery in the interplay of science and religion, Guy Consolmagno can console himself, knowing there is a God and maybe, aliens, too. Yet to many of us who are used to running in the notion that science and religion can’t coexist, we might have forgotten that the foundations of science, too, are often laid out by religious scholars. In the 20th century, a historical achievement in astronomy was made by a priest when he proposed the Cosmic Egg – or now we call it the Big Bang theory, a theory akin to the Creation story.

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The Vatican Church’s Astronomers

Can science and religion meet; embracing each other like a soulmate, unveiling depths within each other?

For years, we are used to seeing debates, instead of duet, between science and religion, both in the popular media and public conversation, to the point that we believe the two don’t co-exist. A religious person fears scientific truth beyond humans’ senses. And a scientist is “too smart for school.” Yet Big Bang was proposed by a Jesuit. And algebra was written out by a Muslim scientist.

Today, we divide them like two conflicting poles, often times putting more efforts into pushing them apart than pulling them together, unwilling to find the resonance between the two.

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How Humboldt resurrected the word Cosmos

Etymologically speaking, cosmos derived from the Greek word kosmos that means order or world. But we don’t deliberately use this word to mean the holistic interactions within the universe until Alexander von Humboldt used it in his five-volume treatise Kosmos.

An obsessive note-taker, Humboldt traveled from Germany to South America to explore, observe, and record the minutia details of nature; from the ocean current in the coast of Peru, to the ruins of Inca, to the hostile Orinoco River in Venezuela where he named new species of plants and animals. Together with French botanist Aime Bonpland, they climbed one of the highest volcanoes in Equador, Mt. Chimborazo, to record changes in air pressures and temperatures, laying the foundation for future scientists to investigate the relationship between the living organisms and their habitat. He gave us a map of various vegetation zones, a color-coded map of terrain with its corresponding plants; perhaps the first of its kind, thus kick-starting the era of data visualization that we know and still widely used today.

Charles Darwin adored him, saying:

I am at present fit only to read Humboldt. He, like another sun, illuminates everything I behold.

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The women with life-long love affairs with space

We should be thankful we live in an age that appreciates the wisdom of interconnected; the kind of thinking that appreciates the largeness of life and the interconnectedness of things. After this holistic wisdom was deemed irrelevant and then forgotten by the mechanical and efficiency-focused industrial and post-industrial age, we finally arrive at this stage where the thirst to rediscover and reconnect forgotten meanings is obvious and blossoming.

Astronomers write poems, musicians are inspired by maths, artists reinterpret physics. The sciences and the arts are merging into one, returning to its essence; nature that is hoped to be studied and experienced.

Below are three ladies of space we are currently sharing the world with who courageously put science as seen through the lens of compassion, not as a tool for relentless ambitions.

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What’s behind the night sky?

What’s behind the night sky? Against this dark backdrop there hides millions of luminous stars and galaxies that tells stories of our universe. Stretching our imagination into the edges, the dark night sky is a blank canvas to paint our meanings of existence. There, underneath this infinite and immeasurable heaven, we look up and ponder who we are, which is then responded with a graceful silence from the sky.

In 1977, in the midst of Cold War, the Voyager 1 was sent to the outerskirt of our solar system, while carrying a piece of humanity, The Golden Record. Led by Carl Sagan and Annie Druyan, this gold-plated copper disc recorded 115 images and various sounds, and music from the world; a naked photo of a man and a woman, the sound of a kiss, welcomes from 54 different languages and a humpback whales, music from Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry to Bach’s Partita for Violin Solo no. 3. The only thing is, after traveling for nearly 50 years, Voyager will lose its source of energy and no one knows exactly what’s coming afterwards. Perhaps it will be caught and flung away by another gravity force, or discovered by another spaceship thousands of years in the future. But we will lose our communications. And the Golden Record, attached on the ship, will afloat indefinitely in the midst of interstellar space.

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On Nietzsche’s God is Dead

Nietzsche’s God is Dead is perhaps the single most provocative statement that permeates common understanding and makes every young and modern atheist drool like Pavlov’s dogs. Used in pop cultures like worn out concert tees enduring ages of torments and misunderstandings, this statement sparks debates or ends discussions when done by folks who are unfamiliar with the context.

In Nietzsche’s 1882 collection The Gay Science, he proclaimed God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?” after seeing that god and religion had been killed by science. The post-enlightenment era saw the dawn of a new thinking where humans get to decide who they are and what their purpose is. At least, that was how scientific explorations put us in perspective against the unbiased, vast universe. Yet humans, small and fragile, lose meanings altogether, falling into a dark existential crisis where the purpose of life feels so distant and detached to our everyday life. And while juggling between the ambitious scientific pursuits and the quiet pull of the solitary minds, we feel the heavy agony of finding meaning unto life without a meaningful death. Continue reading “On Nietzsche’s God is Dead”

Oh darkness my old friend

Apparently, melancholy was a dark fluid circling through our body. At least that was what the Greeks think. Besides melancholy, there was also joy, lethargy and sensitivity, and anger. The inherent dogma, that sadness is a hormonal imbalance in the body, persists throughout the modern age under various clinical depression names. Despite this truth, we are reluctant to admit sadness in our life, assuming it as the enemy in today’s obsession to a “fulfilling life”.

Just a few days ago, while lounging on a chic-tropical terrace of a Peruvian restaurant in the middle of Ubud, as the sunlight made its dramatic come down against the palm trees, the slow drag of sadness came unto me. Indeed there is something about afternoons that’s distinctively melancholic. I refused to look at my phone since noising out sadness gives more sadness. So as the sadness sits there in front of me, I thought, what should I do? And it occurred to me that we are never taught how to embrace sadness. Should I think, should I feel? That’s the first question. Then, should I stay silent or do something? Should I listen or should I speak? I froze on what to do. All while sadness sips black bitter tea next to me. Continue reading “Oh darkness my old friend”