Two Jesuits who work at the Vatican ObservatoryBr. Guy Consolmagno, curator of meteorites, and Fr. George Coyne, its former director (whom you might recognize from his appearance in Bill Maher's Religulous) — have been on our interview list for years. Yesterday, Krista was finally able to interview them, together, from a recording studio in Arizona. These two astronomers had a great dynamic between them and have a bit of different perspective from most of the "hard" scientists — usually physicists — we have spoken to over the years. Oh, and they have great sense of humor, as you can see in the video to the right of Br. Consolmagno's appearance on The Colbert Report.

We'll start producing this interview while Krista's out on tour speaking about her new book, and we can't wait to release this program! In the meantime, Colleen and I tweeted some of the lines that struck our ears. A transcript of our Twitter stream:

  1. For the next 90 minutes, tweets from Krista's interview w/ two Vatican Observatory astronomers: Fr. George Coyne and Br. Guy Consolmagno.
  2. Milky Way

  3. 68 degrees in Arizona. They're rubbing it in since it is frigid today in Minnesota.
  4. Fr. George is a Jesuit who grew up in Baltimore. Tells a great story about a priest who hooked him up w/ books from the Reading, PA library.
  5. Br. Guy grew up in Detroit and transferred to MIT when he discovered they had the largest science fiction collection!
  6. Br. Guy joined Peace Corps b/c he "couldn't see the point of studying stars when people are suffering." Realized that all people love stars.
  7. Fr. Coyne: if all we do is feed and clothe people, we're all going to be naked; what really makes us human is music, the arts, science...
  8. Br. Guy: you don't find answers to theological ?s by looking through a telescope; you don't go to the Bible to find answers to science.
  9. Fr. George: "the God of religious faith is a lover."
  10. Moonset

  11. Fr. George: "My understanding of the universe does not need God. I don't need God in my science."
  12. Br. Guy Consolmagno: "The tragedy of Haiti is the tragedy of death. ...There isn't any answer to that."
  13. Fr. George Coyne, astronomer: "To limit our human experience to scientific knowledge is to impoverish all of us."
  14. Br. Guy Consolmagno, on seismic and cosmic activity in the creation of life: "The climate will change. ...The Earth is not a paradise."
  15. Fr. George Coyne: "To have faith is an extreme risk. 'Rock of Ages' is a nice hymn but..."
  16. Br. Guy Consolmagno: "We know our understanding of the universe is incomplete; our understanding of God is incomplete."
  17. Br. Guy Consolmagno: "You have to experience something before you can react to it."
  18. Fr. George Coyne, an astronomer on his science: "It's exciting to be ignorant."
  19. Fr. George Coyne, when he presents papers at scientific conferences: "I'm not dressed as a priest. It just confuses things." Funny moment.
  20. The Vatican Observatory is staffed by all Jesuits, except one diocesan priest. But the observatory was not founded by the Jesuit Order.
  21. Visuale Orion

  22. 4 Jesuits have asteroids named after them: Xavier, Loyola, and the 2 chaps Krista is interviewing: Fr. George Coyne + Br. Guy Consolmagno
  23. Br Guy on Galileo: why is it that 400 years later he's symbol of science religion clash when that's not what it was about at his time?
  24. Br Guy: Don't just learn science from reading Newton & Galileo, but also from Plato, Shakespeare, and scripture
  25. Br. Guy Consolmagno, a Jesuit astronomer: "Truth can sometimes only be expressed in a poetry."
  26. Fr Coyne: language of universe is math; it's a tool to understand beauty; we absract to understand
  27. Br Guy: Being able to do science is trying to understand how God plays with us

Share Your Reflection



Where are the women in the Vatican's observatory? Hopefully, one day the Catholic Church will recognize the tremendous talent they have managed to look past in their focus on male superiority.

Business, Academia, and most of the rest of society as well.
How many women CEO's do you see our there as percent?

Why don't animals have any representation in the vatican?
The first thing the dolphins will ask when they can finally speak is "I need a lawyer!" :)

Actually, it will be "So long, and thanks for all the fish." Douglas Adams had to make an appearance somewhere in here!!!

From a recent Facebook discussion . . . . . . earth -- just a chondrite meteor with a molten core of Fe, Ni with Au and Pt upon which we coexist with the older inhabitants . . . first flowers, then animals, then us . . .

I stand by it -- it's my religion.

think it's weird that the "Return to Innocence" is from Taiwan -- haven to t'ai chi ch'uan and that t'ai chi says the energy source comes up through your feet -- through 'nails' that are channels -- channels to power: earth power. Where else can it come from than ye 'ole 'molten core' of electromagnetic elements circulating around the globe at 9800 degrees F -- heat, pressure, a sun inside the earth.

Just heard this interview this morning. Wonderful! As a person with a Masters in science and an M.Div., it is always refreshing to find like-minded people. Brother Guy summed it up for me: you don’t find answers to theological ?s by looking through a telescope; you don’t go to the Bible to find answers to science.

Line 24: You really need to hear the whole story that this snippet was taken from. The full story has a much greater impact.

Delightful, refreshing conversation from scientists but also astute observers of human life and its interactions and challenges. Thanks for presenting it.

To assail Brother Guy's work because his work is "sponsored" by Rome is to completely miss the point. He's doing capital "S" Science... helping us to understand (very dimly) the wonder of the world we inhabit. And by doing so, he's helping the Church renew and revitalize... He's not the problem... but a potential solution...

I found Krista's interview (although interesting) to be too too cute and friendly. After all these guys sounded like liberal Protestants with open minds...and I watch father (not mine) Corapi telling his viewers that if they even think that Mary was not a virgin they have excommunicated themselves. The mix makes a bad confusing soup. FYI according to a noted author I once interviewed the Vatican has the largest collection of Extraterrestrial sightings etc in the world. Why? Because as the only world wide church with a single leader (allegedly chosen by god).... it has the most to lose if we find intelligent beings, who have come to believe that one does not need god to lead a good life. (Which my local Catholic radio station...keeps telling me is impossible)

I disagree. Writers such as Chesterton,Lewis, Wright, etc have found, the existence of Extraterrestrials would not damage Catholicism (or any Earth religion for that matter). Instead, it might actually inspire and reinvigorate them as both an opportunity to bring their words to a new civilization, and as proof of divine handiwork in creating similar life..

There is also the possibility that these alien beings are religious themselves, leading to a greater diversity of faith.

In response to Lou Nolastnamegiven: You are probably right about the RCC's acceptance of life elsewhere. Just another excuse to try and destroy another culture. (Along with the right wing evangelistic Protestants.) You failed, however to comment of the most important element of my note. That the church is not open minded..especially about it's beliefs. The existence of the Magisterium is all one need to understand how close minded it is. For 1400 years the church would not allow commoners to study the bible, and printing press or not., as Corapi made clear, you're not allowed to think for yourselves...and if you do..and actually believe you might be right, you're out. Just the kind of arrogance the universe needs. The entire Library at Alexandria was burned by a RCC Bishop. The books of the Maya were burned by a RCC Priest. All the Cathars of France; men, women and children were killed with the blessings of the Pope. And who knows how many other tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands were tortured and killed in the name of Jesus. Were it not for the Reformation we would be living in the Dark Ages today. It is the structure of the RCC that breeds the hate and corruption we see even today. It is run by cowards...who can't face the truth that power corrupts...even in the name of god. And a good half of those men publicly condemn the sexuality that they can practice so well hidden in the sanctuaries of the RCC. Sources: Gary Wills and Malachi Martin. PS- I am pro what anybody's sexual orientation is...but to condemn others as being sinful ( and now disordered..whatever that means) who are what one despicable at best.
What the universe does not another belief system to fight over given the example of the RCC over the past 1700 years.(Since Constantine) when pagans were murdered by the score, their places of worship destroyed and god knows what in the name of god.


Your statements are historically inaccurate,

1. The Library of Alexandria was not destroyed by Christians (this is an unsubstantiated myth). In fact, many of the works were preserved and dutifully translated by Christian scholars and monks.

2. "The Mayan book burning" is also an unsubstantiated load of tosh, as the evidence we do have suggests that much of their holy literature was destroyed not at the hands of some phantom Catholic priest but by Mayan peasants rebelling against the elites of their society (their priest caste being among that class).

3. The slaughter of the Cathars was a geo-political struggle, and the nobles who supported the Cathars were the ones who started it (and the peasants followed suit). It doesn't make the slaughter "just" or "right" and I do agree that it was terrible. But it was no holy struggle. It was an act by secular powers to halt rebellious nobles and peasants who would run to them.

4. Your vague numbers that you pull out of thin air do not impress me.

5. If we were in such a "Dark Age" before the Reformation, explain why it was the Church that preserved, translated, and distributed centuries worth of Pagan literature. Explain why it was the Medieval Church that gave birth to the Scientific Method. Explain why it was the Church who created the modern University system. If the Church was so busy crushing the freedom to think and explore and to practice science, please explain the work of Albertus Magnus, Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, John Peckham, Duns Scotus, Thomas Bradwardine, Walter Burley, William Heytesbury, Richard Swineshead, John Dumbleton, Richard of Wallingford, Nicholas Oresme, Jean Buridan and Nicholas of Cusa (just to name a few)

Allow me to answer for you: because the Church is not the caricature you made it out to be.

6. Once again, your vague plead to "countless innocents slain" (this time flavored as "pagans murdered by the score") is so general that it actually borders on parody. If there was any real impetus behind pagan/christian violence it is more a political matter than any other. Allow me to illustrate this point using a well known historical figure: Hypatia.

The following link contains a nine-part essay on the subject of Christian/Pagan violence in Alexandria:

My point (at last!): The Roman Catholic Church is not a perfect institution. I don't even agree with much of it's theology or policies (I am not Catholic myself).

But to rail against it as some kind of all consuming, monolithic force of unspeakable evil is wrongheaded indeed. The crimes you accuse the RCC of are not unique to that institution. They are flaws inherent when the desire for material power corrupts any system.

But is it a fault of the belief system? Is Christianity evil because there are some who have used it to mask their cruel ambitions? No. Is Communism inherently evil simply because those who have used it before have crushed religious beliefs, butchered children, and murdered homosexuals? No. Is Islam inherently evil simply because a handful of political opportunists use it to garner power for themselves? No.

Never confuse the ideology, for the actions of those who USE and TWIST an ideology for an ulterior motive.

As this young man said so well:

"Religion is a response to revelation. Some respond by making the world better. Some respond by making it worse. This is true of both religious and secular revelations. The belief isn't the problem. We are."

Given the continued growth, proliferation and evolution of religious beliefs on this planet, and given the fact that on their own, such beliefs are actually very helpful for both individuals and society as a whole (read David Sloan Wilson's book, "Darwin's Cathedral" for a secular view on this idea), it is very likely that we will encounter a race that has religious beliefs of some kind. In sharing our ideologies and beliefs with them, we shall grow as a race and as a galactic community.

The truth is the real terror is hate. The real arbiter of ignorance is hate. I suggest that you be very of wary of such poison. As it can consume ANYONE.



2.The Fall of the Ancient Maya: Solving the Mystery of the Maya Collapse. David L. Webster. London: Thames and Hudson.

3. Heresies of the High Middle Ages, Walter Wakefield and Austin P. Evans. Columbia University Press


5. God's Philosophers, James Hannam. Icon Books Ltd.


7. Darwin's Cathedral, David Sloan Wilson. University of Chicago Press.

By the power vested in Me I hand the laurel of victory to Ftidus12, win, sir, epic win. A decisive coup d'grace conveyed with elegance and impregnable to undermining.

You do me great honor sir.

Thank you.

For a long time I have pondered the possibility that it is our own machinations which change what we know about the universe. That is, rather than new measuring devices allowing us to see more deeply into the true nature of existence, perhaps it is the creation of these devices which alters its nature. This could explain why, now, the universe seems to be not just expanding, but also accelerating, as our own consciousness/knowledge/creativity seems to be accelerating.