Friday, May 22, 2015

Not One or The Other

Stephen Barr and Dermott Mullan on Planets, Priests and a Persistent Myth:

Most news accounts don’t mention that Piazzi was a Catholic priest. In fact, the remarkable story of the Catholic clergy’s contributions to science is one of the best-kept secrets of scientific history. The exception is Gregor Mendel; it is widely known that the science of genetics began with the experiments of the Austrian monk.

But it is the rare person who knows that the big-bang theory, the central pillar of modern cosmology, was the brainchild of the Belgian Catholic priest and physicist Georges Lemaître. In the 1920s, Lemaître showed that Albert Einstein’s equations of gravity allow space itself to expand and, connecting this to observations that distant galaxies were flying apart, he formulated his famous theory of how the universe began.

The Jesuits have an especially rich scientific tradition. In the 16th century, the Jesuit astronomer Christopher Clavius developed our modern calendar. In the 17th century, Jesuit Giambattista Riccioli mapped the moon, and Christoph Scheiner helped discover sunspots. Francesco Grimaldi discovered the enormously important physics effect called “diffraction,” the effects of which you can see in the colorful bands of a glimmering CD. In the 19th century, the Jesuit Angelo Secchi, a founder of astrophysics, pioneered the study of the sun and stars using the spectra of their light and developed the first spectral classification of stars, the basis of the one now used.

But Jesuits don’t have all the glory. Blessed Niels Stensen (1638-86) made major contributions to anatomy, especially of the glandular-lymphatic system, and, even more impressively, helped found the science of geology by developing the correct theory of sedimentary rock, geological strata and the origin of fossils, which unlocked Earth’s history. Marin Mersenne (1588-1648), of the Minimite Order, made fundamental discoveries about sound. The work of the Abbé Lazzaro Spallanzani, one of the top biologists of the 18th century, is taught in high-school textbooks today.

Wait, you mean that science and religion aren't mutually incompatible? Imagine that.