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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