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Jesuits, science and a Pope with a chemistry degree: A productive pairing?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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The new Pope Francis who has a degree in chemistry (Image: Wikipedia Commons)

In 1915, an exceptionally bright Italian youngster walked the two miles from his home to the Campo dei Fiori in Rome to hunt for science books in the weekly market fair. His step was determined and his face was grim. His countenance hid the fact that he was trying to recover from a great tragedy, the sudden death of his brother who had been his closest companion. Science would provide respite from his grief.

The Campo dei Fiori was the same place where the 16th century friar Giordano Bruno had been burnt for his heretical beliefs regarding multiple universes and Copernican astronomy. The boy mostly found books on theology and other topics which did not interest him, but tucked away in the heap was a two-volume compendium on physics by a Jesuit priest named Andrea Caraffa. Written in 1840, the volume expounded on all the classical physics that had been known until then. It was better than nothing and the boy bought it with the meager allowance he had saved. Taking it home he devoured it, not even noticing that it had been written in Latin.

Thus was launched Enrico Fermi’s momentous career in physics. There is something exceedingly poignant about the fact that Italy’s most famous scientific son found his life’s bearings in a book written by a member of the Catholic Church, the same institution which three hundred years earlier had sent a scientific heretic to his death in exactly the same location.

They have just elected a new Jesuit pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, who has taken the name Francis. In the coming days the media will undoubtedly scrutinize his views on everything ranging from women in the church to the recent sex scandals. On my part I would be interested in his views on science and on evolution and cosmology in particular. I do not know what Pope Francis specifically thinks about these topics. But the story of Andrea Caraffa inspiring young Enrico Fermi gives me hope that the new Pope will look kindly toward science. Something else makes me even more hopeful: the new Pope has a master’s degree in chemistry.

Wikipedia has a list of Jesuit scientists going back to the 17th century. These Jesuits delved into topics across the spectrum of science, although astronomers seem to be especially prominent among them. There’s Giovanni Zup who discovered the orbital phases of Mercury, Giovanni Saccheri who wrote on Non-Euclidean geometry, Benito Vines who was known as ‘Father Hurricane’ and Pierre Chardin who was involved in the discovery of Peking Man. Among the most prominent recent Jesuits is Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno. Many of these Jesuits studied at prominent universities and later occupied faculty positions themselves. Their contributions to and study of science would be consistent with the Jesuit emphasis on scholarship. In their missionary work Jesuits often took the message of science to people on other continents. For instance it was a Jesuit who helped found the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science. Jesuits also introduced Western astronomy to China during their travels there and in turn brought back original Chinese research back to the West. Most prominently, Jesuits have founded many influential schools and colleges – including Georgetown University and Boston College – which emphasize teaching and research in science. Compared to other members of the Church, Jesuits’ record on science is not bad at all.

The long Jesuit association with science demonstrates that it is very much possible for science and religion to co-exist in harmony and for one to inspire the other. Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno sees both science and religion as instruments allowing us to explore the universe and our role in it. Both spark debate and dialogue, and both shed light on human nature and thought. The website of the Jesuit society of the United States says that

“From the early days of the founding of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits have been engaged in various intellectual enterprises. These have included teaching, research, and writing. The Jesuit thrust to “find God in all things” has had the result that these efforts were not solely confined to the more “ecclesiastical” disciplines (like philosophy and theology), but were extended to the more “mundane” or “secular” disciplines. In the areas of science and technology many Jesuits have made, and continue to make, contributions. These contributions range from astronomy and algebra to natural history and geography.”

In their quest to “find God in all things” the Jesuits are voicing an opinion similar to what Newton voiced when he said that for him, God was in the essential nature of the universe. For Newton God was the name of the entity that sowed the deep mysteries of the cosmos for us to reap. You don’t have to believe in any kind of supernatural God to appreciate how such a view might not just be consistent with scientific inquiry but might even greatly encourage it, obsessively so in Newton’s case. Einstein too used God as a metaphor for the mysteries of the universe that could be uncovered through playful inquiry. Einstein and Newton both shared the Jesuits’ emphasis on finding their chosen objective in scientific investigation and they both saw scientific inquiry as a great game. It’s a view that Consolmagno clearly relishes:

“Doing science is like playing a game with God, playing a puzzle with God. God sets the puzzles and after I can solve one, I can hear him cheering, “Great, that was wonderful, now here’s the next one.” It’s the way I can interact with the Creator.”

Consolmagno seems to have perfectly reconciled his scientific and religious views.

It is likely that the new Pope’s views on science would be refreshingly modern and thoughtful, but it is also likely that they would be perfectly consistent with those held by his predecessors. For all we know, his views on abortion or evolution might be contrary to everything we know about science. The new Pope is a Jesuit and a chemist but he is also a human being who has to conform to the opinions of more than a billion of his followers around the world. We will have to wait to hear his opinions on the various scientific topics with which the Church has wrested and partially reconciled over hundreds of years. But whatever the new Pope has to say, I find satisfaction in the fact that a Jesuit and a chemist in the Vatican  - an intellectual descendant of Andrea Caraffa and Pierre Chardin – is far from the worst that the Church can do when it comes to science.

Ashutosh Jogalekar About the Author: Ashutosh (Ash) Jogalekar is a chemist interested in the history and philosophy of science. He considers science to be a seamless and all-encompassing part of the human experience. Follow on Twitter @curiouswavefn.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. jeaguilar 7:11 am 03/14/2013

    “For all we know, his views on abortion or evolution might be contrary to everything we know about science.”

    Interesting observation. However, what does science teach about abortion that is inconsistent with Catholic teaching?

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  2. 2. Dr Tom Weidig 8:59 am 03/14/2013

    “For all we know, his views on abortion or evolution might be contrary to everything we know about science.”

    Whether you prioritize the right of the embryo for continued survival or the right of the carrier mother for self-determination is a matter on an ideology, which has absolutely nothing at all to do with science itself. At best, science can accurately describe pregnancy.

    With respect to evolution, please show me where the church or the pope has said that Darwinian evolution did not matter! I believe what they do say is that the emergence of life and humans is wondrous but do not despite the scientific explanation.

    Your comment shows a breathtaking lack of depth in your thinking about these matters, which is common in current society and drives a lot of unjustified accusations against the Church.

    Oh and by the way, I am rather an atheist than a believer.

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  3. 3. David Marjanović 9:17 am 03/14/2013

    It’s true that the choice of pope could have been much worse. And on other topics, Francis is OK with contraception if it’s used to prevent infection; baby steps. However, contraception for any other reason is apparently still taboo, allowing abortion is “a culture of death”, and homosexuality is demonic and straight from “the Father of Lies” – he was furious when Argentina introduced marriage equality.

    Speaking of the new pope and Argentine politics, his relations to the military dictatorship (1976 – 1983) were… a little… close. The Wikipedia article on him is a good start. There’s even a photo where he gives communion to the dictator, rather curious in view of what people he considers unfit for communion.

    Finally, Angela Merkel has a doctorate in physics, had a job at the Academy of Sciences of East Germany, is married to a professor of physics, and holds nine honorary doctorates* – and? Not much has changed in Germany or the EU.

    * All of them, however, were awarded after she became chancellor, and at least some were explicitly awarded for political reasons, like one for her successful efforts to bring Germany and Poland more closely together.

    However, what does science teach about abortion that is inconsistent with Catholic teaching?

    Well, it finds that there is such a thing as a medically necessary abortion, necessary unless (in extreme cases, which is many of them) you want both the woman and the fetus to die. In the recent case in Brazil where the “woman” was a 9-year-old girl pregnant by rape with twins, the church’s reaction was atrocious; the church evidently thinks the girl should have become a martyr instead, and excommunicated the doctor who saved her life (and also excommmunicated everyone else except the girl herself – oh, and the rapist, I think).

    It also finds the soul to be a wholly unnecessary hypothesis, meaning there’s no reason to assume a magic moment of ensoulment. And keep in mind how much Catholic teaching about abortion has changed in the last few hundred years.

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  4. 4. David Marjanović 9:20 am 03/14/2013

    With respect to evolution, please show me where the church or the pope has said that Darwinian evolution did not matter!

    John Paul II accepted evolution, and Benedict XVI reaffirmed this. Only the hypothetical origin of the soul is still officially left to miracle.

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  5. 5. curiouswavefunction 9:22 am 03/14/2013

    Science tells us that believing that life begins at conception is a tall stretch. I believe the church differs on this view. If you are an atheist I would urge you to read Sam Harris’s “Letter to a Christian Nation” in which he has an excellent discussion illustrating the problems with believing that life begins at conception and how any such belief would be incompatible with what we know about developmental biology. Of course I don’t expect a pope to change his mind on this overnight; as the commenter above mentioned, you take baby steps. His views on abortion and contraception until now seem to be in line with the status quo.

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  6. 6. cflores 9:46 am 03/14/2013

    It’s shameful that you equate Einstein’s view of the universe with a theological one. They are absolutely incompatible.

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  7. 7. emmecola 10:04 am 03/14/2013

    I don’t think he has a master’s degree in chemistry, he studied chemistry at the high school. In any case, it’s better than nothing!

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  8. 8. erbarker 11:29 am 03/14/2013

    It is not necessary to show the church or the pope has said that Darwinian evolution did not matter. It is enough to show that evolution and creation can not both be true. If the church teaches creation than it denies evolution. If it teaches evolution it denies creation. They are not compatible. No doubt the church is mounting a valiant effort to reconcile the irreconcilable. When pope Benedict XVI decreed “The big bang” he ruled out the other impossibles, i.e. multi-verse, bubble, repeating, etc. Now the Catholic church is locked into the Big Bang. Just as the Church won the war with mythology (wizards, shamans and the like) in the age of enlightenment, just as surely, so will science destroy religion.

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  9. 9. Dr Tom Weidig 12:01 pm 03/14/2013

    >> Science tells us that believing that life begins at conception is a tall stretch.

    A tall stretch? It is the starting point of a new organism as the two DNA fuses into one. I cannot think of a more natural point at which to start about a new life.

    Wikipedia says “Fertilisation (also known as conception, fecundation and syngamy) is the fusion of gametes to produce a new organism.”

    This definition is completely consistent with science.

    The only place I think where the church is not inline with science is on homosexuality, as I believe that the evidence strongly points to a neurobiological origin, you are born gay or not. Accepting this as a scientific fact, they should rationally speaking accept their difference and help. But then again, many left ideologies somehow think society makes people gay.

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  10. 10. curiouswavefunction 12:16 pm 03/14/2013

    Yes, but a three-day old embryo consists of about 150 cells. If that’s the starting point of a life and a potential human being, then almost any other mass of undifferentiated cells in the body may be considered a starting point. As Harris says in his book, “Almost every cell in your body is a potential human being, given our recent advances in genetic engineering. This means that every time you scratch your nose, you have committed a Holocaust of potential human beings.”

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  11. 11. Dr Tom Weidig 4:47 pm 03/14/2013

    >> Yes, but a three-day old embryo consists of about 150 cells. If that’s the starting point of a life and a potential human being, then almost any other mass of undifferentiated cells in the body may be considered a starting point.

    No, it is not like any other mass of cells, because it has an intrinsic dynamic of development unlike other cells. These are very special cells.

    Is it not strange that many adore a new born baby and would like to protect it at all costs, but a three-day old embryo not. So where is the dividing line between a bunch of cells and a cute baby? Until when can you destroy it? And if cells are not important, then surely a baby is also negligible, its level of awareness and intelligence is surely much lower than most of the adult animals we kill to eat.

    The only natural dividing line is the fusion of DNA where the new organism starts. Anything else is even more debatable. And even if you don’t agree, you surely are not telling me that my definition (or that of the church) is contrary to science?

    The real danger with atheism à la Davis or Dawkins is that they are mixing science with their own ideology.

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  12. 12. Catcher_in_the_ryee 6:33 pm 03/14/2013

    >>”So where is the dividing line between a bunch of cells and a cute baby?”
    The dividing line in my opinion should be when life can be sustained outside of a mother’s uterus. As long as the “fetus” is dependent for survival on the mother, I think the mother’s rights come first.

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  13. 13. Catcher_in_the_ryee 6:41 pm 03/14/2013

    >>”…almost any other mass of undifferentiated cells in the body may be considered a starting point.”
    Definetly not true if you are considering a starting point of “a new life”. But it can most certainly be a starting point for a new tumor.

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  14. 14. ricky2718 1:23 am 03/15/2013

    “The dividing line in my opinion should be when life can be sustained outside of a mother’s uterus. As long as the “fetus” is dependent for survival on the mother, I think the mother’s rights come first.”

    So the fetus isn’t human before that point because it’s not viable outside the womb? What if an adult got into a car accident and is quickly dying and won’t survive (i.e. is not viable) outside of a hospital? Does that make the adult not a human? It’s the same situation except replace “womb” with “hospital”. In the latter, the organism is human, but it’s not human in the former? I understand the womb and a hospital are very different, but in both cases, the organism is not viable outside the womb/hospital, yet one is still considered human, whereas the other is not.

    Just because a fetus isn’t viable outside the womb, doesn’t make it any less human. It just means it hasn’t developed enough to survive outside the womb, but it’s still a living organism with its own DNA, growing and developing towards being ready to be born and further growing and developing towards adulthood. What else can it be but human?

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  15. 15. ricky2718 1:31 am 03/15/2013

    So let’s be frank here. The abortion debate isn’t really about whether or not the fetus is human. It clearly is human. It’s a new living organism with DNA different from everybody else’s. The real issue is whether the mother can claim to be “the boss” of the baby while it’s inside of her. The Church says ‘no’ because both are human, and both have a right to life, and both lives are of equal value. The Church teaches that an unborn child’s value is intrinsic, and is not dictated by whether or not the mother decides to keep him/her, or whatever the law says. That is, the unborn child is nobody’s property. It has value in and of itself because it is a human being. Unfortunately, in today’s society, human embryos and fetuses are considered property.

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  16. 16. gohawks1994 11:24 am 03/15/2013

    Good job illustrating the many contributions the Church and Jesuits in particular have made to the scientific community, but your “abortion and evolution” comment runs off the rails.

    Life is essentially defined as the division of cells; the Church’s opposition to abortion hinges on the preservation of life. Scientifically, the Church is correct. Whether it’s a life that is yet work protecting is a moral discussion, not a scientific one.

    Also, the doctrine of the Catholic Church is not in any way at odds with Evolution, and there is no reason to suspect that Francis or any other Catholic Clergy oppose Evolution. Science and Faith are rarely truly at odds. Science describes the how, the when, and the what. Faith deals with the “why.”

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  17. 17. NathanialHörnblowér 12:24 am 03/16/2013

    …i’m currently reading “the book of god and physics” by enrique joven – this novel goes into great detail of the jesuits and their pursuit of what i take as an overall appreciation of life in general and all its mysteries! isn’t that what it’s all about anyway? as an atheist – i’ve always held that science and religion go hand in hand – they are both after all philosophy/hypothesis/imagination…some might argue with me and say: “what? science is fact!”…well…like religion – it’s the value(s) that we assign to life – not just values in the moral sense but in the sense of measurement/meaning/labels!! i applaud the history of the jesuits’ ongoing pursuit of knowledge…isn’t that what we’re all in pursuit of anyway??? congrats to pope francis!

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  18. 18. Janet Fro 3:09 am 03/16/2013

    First of all, I thank and congratulate you on the civil and educated debate found here in the comment section. It is a refreshing change from most public “dialogue.”

    I must now admit that I am not scientist, so I am not real strong on that front. I am a Catholic (by choice not just birth.) However, I am not the strongest in apologetics. I tend to talk a bit too Monty Python, I’m sure.

    That aside, I touch on the homosexual issue.

    We are not to hate anybody. Period. From the Catholic Catechism concerning homosexuality: They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.

    It is also commonly accepted, in my understanding, that the Catholic Church understands and accepts that people are “born that way.” That does not make you less a person in any way.

    However, the human body is designed in a way that certain things happen when certain parts go in certain places and that is “normal” and the design. The Catholic Church believes that one needs to be open to the correctness of the design and open to life. (I won’t go into this further but there is more.)

    Furthermore, it is standard dogma that these relations occur within a sacrament known as marriage. Yeah, there’s more to that too.

    So if you have a relationship that cannot produce life, because it is not possible because there is no male-female thing, it not considered a marriage open to life.

    That may seem odd. I’m sure I have not explained it in the best way. My apologies on my apologetics.

    And for the record, sins of the sexual nature are not small potatoes, but they are not the highest rated either. Urges are natural. People succumb to them. There are greater sins. And all are forgivable.

    I’m sure I’ve made a great mess at explaining this. Take away that Catholics are not to hate homosexuals or anybody. We all have great great value.

    Thanks for listening (reading.)

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  19. 19. curiouswavefunction 4:39 pm 03/16/2013

    Janet, thanks for your articulate comment. I do have a question for you. You say that since a gay relationship cannot produce a life it is not regarded as marriage by the Church. But would you agree that producing a life is not the only hallmark of a marriage? The nurturing, education and moral upbringing of a child is as important as bringing the child into this world; in fact we all look down upon a marriage if the parents neglect the child’s development. So why can’t we consider a gay marriage as a marriage if the couple adopts a baby and raises it with the same care and responsibility as one brought up in a successful heterosexual marriage? I ask this sincerely.

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  20. 20. Janet Fro 11:45 pm 03/16/2013

    I am still thinking on how to best answer the question you’ve presented. On the surface it seems like such a simple one. But if I answer in a simple minded way, I may put false info out there. Give me a little time to put my ducks in a row so that my answer is complete while concise. I need to distill it a bit.

    But for the moment, I agree with your comment that nurturing, educating and caring for children both with the physical and spiritual. Neglect is a horrible thing.

    I’ll be back as soon as my brain functions correctly.

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  21. 21. Janet Fro 2:45 am 03/17/2013

    Okay. I’m sure that I will make a greatly convoluted mess of this, but will try to at least avoid incomplete sentences like the one I used above. *cringe*

    Understand that every point leads to another point. I will try my best to keep it on track. Also understand that people much greater than I have spent their lives studying such matters. I am not strong on philosophy (Thomas Aquinas called it the “handmaiden of theology” and a way to clarify truths that cannot be proven.) My chances of hitting the nail on the head are very, very slim. I am unsure of your personal background and education concerning such matters. Forgive me if I try to define something that you are already solid on. Also understand that if you are a non-believer, some of this will sound pretty wacky. While it may sound like it, I am not what you would picture as typical Catholic (at least how the media portray us.) I’m a person who researches and reads a lot about Faith. This does NOT make me an expert. However, it does mean that I look into aspects of my faith that I want to understand better. If I have background as to the why behind the teachings, I have an easier time of accepting them. That probably doesn’t speak highly of my “faith” in my Faith, but I don’t mean it in an irreverent(doubting) way. I’m just a curious monkey.

    With that, I dive in.

    Marriage is a Sacrament. That begs for a short definition of a Sacrament. A Sacrament is an outward sign of inward Grace. It is a material sign of the mysterious, spiritual and sacred. Whereas God can dole out Grace whenever, wherever and however He wants; He put together Sacraments because He understands that we are both spiritual and corporeal. He understands our nature, and that we are really into seeing and doing stuff. It makes it more “real” to us. This is why Jesus made that whole jump into humanity thing. It wasn’t because He HAD to. God could have done it a different way, because He’s GOD. The Incarnation took place because God dealt with humankind in a manner best suited to their nature. For more on that Sacrament thing:

    And this: The principal reason for a sacramental system is found in man. It is the nature of man, writes St. Thomas (III:61:1), to be led by things corporeal and sense-perceptible to things spiritual and intelligible; now Divine Providence provides for everything in accordance with its nature (secundum modum suae conditionis); therefore it is fitting that Divine Wisdom should provide means of salvation for men in the form of certain corporeal and sensible signs which are called Sacraments.

    Marriage was made a Sacrament, a Covenant with God, because it reflects what God is (we are created in his image,)and draws us closer to Him. A quick, and not very complete definition of God (by whatever name you wish to assign): He is creator and love. A couple quick items from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (though not unique to just the Catholic Church.) Feel free to do a quick scan if you like. Or delve as deep as you like: “God is love and in himself he lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in his own image” 2331 “In creating men ‘male and female,’ God gives man and woman an equal personal dignity. Man is a person, man and woman equally so, since both were created in the image and likeness of the personal God.” 2334 “Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God, with equal dignity though in a different way. The union of man and woman in marriage is a way of imitating in the flesh the Creator’s generosity and fecundity.” 2335 “Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others”. 2332

    Here’s a link to that:

    But in short, marriage is an outward sign of God as lover and creator. As a reflection it must contain love and the ability to create.

    Of course, there are those who say there is no God. If you want that debate, I simply say that Thomas Aquinas puts it pretty well in his Five Ways ( He’s a pretty smart guy. Also know that the Big Bang Theory is the brain baby of Georges Lemaître (a Catholic Priest.) Dovetails nicely with Aquinas.

    Then there is the marriage as the “domestic Church.” I’m just going to cut and paste from the Compendium: “The Christian family is called the domestic church because the family manifests and lives out the communal and familial nature of the Church as the family of God. Each family member, in accord with their own role, exercises the baptismal priesthood and contributes toward making the family a community of grace and of prayer, a school of human and Christian virtue and the place where the faith is first proclaimed to children.” My words: If a person is a cell in the body of the Divine universe, the family is an organ made up of the cells.

    This FINALLY brings me back to your ACTUAL question! Yeah. From your post: “But would you agree that producing a life is not the only hallmark of a marriage?” It is NOT the only hallmark. I very much agree with you. It is not just creating. It is also loving.

    Jesus was pretty clear on the love thing. “And one of them, a doctor of the Law, putting him to the test, asked him, “Master, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus said to him, “‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind.’ This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like it, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:35-40) This is of course from the Bible but is delved into a bit more in the Baltimore Cathechism (

    That fruitful thing though, is a foundational marriage stone in that one must be open to it as that is part of living in accordance to the will of God, and being LIKE God. And that is the greatest “law.” The part you don’t often hear about is that we are not called to just making babies right and left, and then not taking care for them. I don’t have a source pulled up right now, but it’s in there. Don’t make babies and then neglect them.

    This is kind of an awkward segue. Another cut and paste, as they say it better than I can reword it…”To love God, our neighbor, and ourselves we must keep the commandments of God and of the Church, and perform the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

    My dear children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue, but in deed and in truth. (I John 3:18″

    In other words, less talk; more rock. Don’t just go through the actions, placing too much focus on the trappings. You got to put Faith into action for the benefit of ALL. Boots on the ground.

    There are 7 chief corporal works of mercy: feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; clothe the naked; visit the imprisoned; shelter the homeless; visit the sick; bury the dead. The Jesuits (harkening back to that Pope Francis,) kind of rock at this. Social justice, though the poor will always be with us (so don’t go too far down that liberation theology slope.)

    There are also 7 chief spiritual works of mercy: admonish the sinner; instruct the ignorant; counsel the doubtful; comfort the sorrowful; bear wrongs patiently; forgive all injuries; pray for the living and the dead.

    This makes that connection back to your question. If a sexual act cannot produce life, it is sinful. If something is sinful, you cannot promote it. Take into consideration there are big and little sins. The ranking system is a constant point of debate.

    The use of the word admonish is a bit strong to me, as I have a hard time joining that to the love everybody and not judging parts. That’s where that moderation thing comes in as well as the popular saying “hate the sin, not the sinner.” In other words, I’m working on it.

    Now why this extends to civil marriage?…not exactly solid on that other than the Church cannot PROMOTE it. Again with Thomas Aquinas as he talks about the four kinds of law (Eternal, Divine, Human, Natural.) Not sure how the overlap on these four work. Maybe you can tell me.

    When it comes down to it, I’m sure there are practical legal matters at work here as well (human law.) If something is legal under standard law, can a church be forced to go against its own dogma to be in compliance with that law? Could the Catholic Church be sued for not marrying a same sex couple? I don’t know the answer. While a spiritual organization, the Catholic Church does exist IN the world. Money is needed and used in its operation. I cannot say this theory is correct, only that it could be a possibility.

    In conclusion: God is love and creation. We are made with girl and boy parts in His likeness to love and create. Marriage is an outward sign of that(because we like signs.) Therefore marriage must contain love and at least the potential for creating life. If not it is out of line with that Covenant (we break the contract,) and it is invalid and null. We must care for creation, our own and all of God’s, loving them. Love means being excellent to each other providing the needed things for the body and the soul. We are not to green light things that are out of line with God’s laws. But at the same time, there is more than one kind of law.

    In the end, we are all imperfect but loved. We all sin, in a great variety of ways. The ranking system is beyond our making (though if love is the greatest…flip it to hate being the worst.) Arguing if one sin is worse than another is silly. Grace and Mercy exist for us all. We are simply humans. That is great and small, and wonderful all over.

    I hope this wasn’t too out of line or too long. I hope it was at least partially concise. It is a whole lot subjects to break down.

    Thank-you for your sincere question. Much appreciated. And of course, God Bless!

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  22. 22. Rodrigo Juri 10:38 am 03/17/2013

    It could be the most interesting thing to have access to the Pope´s degree thesis for his master in chemistry. At least its title or abstract.

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  23. 23. marclevesque 6:02 pm 03/18/2013

    Dr Tom Weidig -

    “So where is the dividing line between a bunch of cells and a cute baby? Until when can you destroy it? And if cells are not important, then surely a baby is also negligible”

    No, -then surely a baby is also negligible- does not follow from what you say. A case in point, our medical and legal systems do not decide where the “line” is, and still, clearly, they do not find infants negligible.

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  24. 24. marclevesque 7:20 pm 03/18/2013

    Janet Fro -

    “Social justice, though the poor will always be with us (so don’t go too far down that liberation theology slope.)”

    About the “liberation theology slope”, I think I understand you to mean that while we work on increasing social justice we should not condemn “the rich”, like hate the sin and not the sinner, but then why should the poor always be with us.

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  25. 25. Janet Fro 2:00 am 03/19/2013

    Poor is such a relative term and in so many ways.

    Spiritually or economically? I think when Jesus said the poor will always be with us, He could have meant both. Mother Teresa spoke of the United States as one of the poorest places she had ever been. She wasn’t talking about money.

    Money in itself is not bad. It is what you do with it, or more likely what you allow it to do to you. Money and dependence. Poverty and trust. Maybe some truth in it. If you are tied to something, you are controlled as much by it as you control it. If you are not tied to the physical, you are have more freedom. Though that’s a tough one to do as we all like to eat and such. Condemn the rich? Perhaps not just for being rich, but maybe not encouraging the bad behavior that was used to gain their wealth.

    Janice Joplin, with her “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” was on to something. Anne Lamott says it very well (so much better than I.) I don’t have the book at hand or I would quote it. Perhaps at a later time.

    I think this is in part what Pope Francis is talking about when he asks for a poor church.

    All my opinions. I am not theologian.

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  26. 26. mhuque 3:06 am 03/19/2013

    Being a student of chemistry for the last 40 years, I first congratulate the new Pope, to be the first South American Pope, the first M.Sc. in chemistry pope and the first to be called Francis. In my long journey through chemistry, I never found a tiny contradiction between science ( chemistry ) and religions.I think that in near future, he will deliver his opinion on debatable topics between science and religion.

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  27. 27. moroplogo 12:30 pm 03/19/2013

    “find God in all things”

    For my point of view : ” Universe and God are One, this at least is a certainty ” .

    ” God ” Pure Spirit ” ,

    You are Life Love Energy and Light .
    Eternal and Infinite God , Your Body is the atom and the sun , all the galaxies and other unknown bodies which make up the Universe , with all the different forms of Life that abound there of which we know not and cannot know their limits in space and time .”

    This is my creed , reading in this website :

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  28. 28. M Tucker 5:12 pm 03/19/2013

    “The long Jesuit association with science demonstrates that it is very much possible for science and religion to co-exist in harmony and for one to inspire the other.”

    I totally agree Ash! Exploring the history of science and the contributions to science of those with strong religious beliefs is a wonderful journey to take. My favorite story involves George Lemaitre a Catholic priest, physicist, astronomer and arguably the founder of modern cosmology; Arthur Eddington an astronomer, devote Quaker, pacifist, and philosopher of science; Albert Einstein, we all know who he is; Edwin Hubble, I’m reasonably sure most who visit this site knows him; and Pius XII who reigned as Pope from 1939 to 1958.

    After Hubble’s discovery of the expansion of the Universe most have forgotten Lemaitre contribution to science. Lemaitre actually first proposed an expanding Universe, first proposed the origin of the Universe (he called it the hypothesis of the primeval atom), first derived what later became known as Hubble’s law, and made the first estimate of what became known as the Hubble constant. His work was influenced, of course, from his study of Einstein’s general relativity. I will not bother to go into all of it but in 1951 Pope Pius XII attempted to use Lemaitre’s theory to justify Creationism and Lemaitre objected. He actually persuaded the Pope to stop using science to advance his religious beliefs. It seems Lemaitre believed that science has nothing to say about religion and religion has nothing to say about science.

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  29. 29. juliocavalli 7:25 pm 03/20/2013

    There is a conceptual mistake of the author of the article: Bergoglio, the new pope, does not have a master’s degree in chemistry.
    Chemistry was his orientation at high school. When someone finishes High School in Argentina, the person ends with an orientation. In this case as a chemical technician. But it is not a degree. Just an orientation at secondary level. We have – in Argentina – 6 levels of education: preschool (kindergarten), primary, secondary, tertiary, university and postgrade (masters).
    Regards from Buenos Aires.

    Julio Cavalli*

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  30. 30. marclevesque 10:58 pm 03/20/2013

    Janet Fro -

    I’m no theologian too, but after a bit of searching in the New Testament, I’m pretty sure Jesus was speaking in this case in an economic sense. After Judas asked him “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?”, he answered “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me” (I don’t know how that became “we will always have the poor with us” in more recent versions of the bible).

    Condemn the rich ? Personally I don’t think so, and from what I found neither did Jesus. When he said “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” and “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” I think it may have been more of a reproach he used in a specific situations than a general condemnation of having more. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” –I love that song.

    I hope Pope Francis does help, in whatever way, the economic situation of the poor as he is implying he will, and a lot of people are hoping he will. And personally, about “the rich”, I’d like to see a lot less difference between the top and bottom salaries in any given company for example.

    (I haven’t read Anne Lamott but I just stumbled on this quote of her’s I really like : “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a better past”)

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  31. 31. Dr. Strangelove 3:17 am 03/21/2013

    “there are those who say there is no God. If you want that debate, I simply say that Thomas Aquinas puts it pretty well in his Five Ways”

    Aquinas’ philosophical arguments are based on Aristotlean physics, which had been debunked by Galileo since 1600s. The design argument had been debunked by Darwin since 19th century. Big Bang does not prove God. It only proved itself – Big Bang. Read David Hume and Charles Darwin instead of Aquinas and Aristotle. They have more compelling scientific arguments.

    If God created the universe, then who created God? If God was uncreated, does it require a greater suspension of disbelief to say the universe was uncreated? If not, why go that far? Why not stop with the universe?

    The Big Bang was a singularity. A point of infinite density. All the mass and energy of the universe were contained in a single point. Mass and energy were not created. They were already there to begin with.

    The ancient Greek natural philosophers believed nothing can come from nothing. Everything that exists has always existed (in one form or another).

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  32. 32. sunspot 6:58 pm 03/21/2013

    Perhaps my earlier comments were a bit too harsh; I see that they were removed (formerly #14). But my intention was to point out where this post could be improved. As they say, “No one likes a critic.”
    Summarizing, less harshly:
    1.The Pope does not conform to the opinions of his followers; rather he teaches his followers, and leads by example.
    2. Bruno was not a martyr to science; he was condemned for his religious beliefs, including many unscientific beliefs based on his interpretation of scripture.
    3. This post missed two very major contributions to 20th century science from Abbot Gregor Mendel (officially “the father of genetics”), and from Father Georges Lemaitre (the “father” of the big bang). Without Mendel, Darwin had no mechanism to explain evolution; and without Lemaitre, Einstein had an unrealistic model of the universe.

    All critiques should include the positive. Br. Guy Consolmagno is a great example of priests committed to science, having been an MIT PhD, and Harvard Postdoc long before joining the Jesuits. Another prominent planetary scientist, Father George Coyne, was sought out by Richard Dawkins, to present the case for religion and science in a long interview on YouTube. See

    Pope Francis is just continuing a very long history of support for science by the Catholic Church. Catholic universities support the sciences very strongly, and have graduated many thousands of prominent PhD scientists. In short, readers and bloggers should seek balanced, scholarly sources to find the truth about science and religion. If you only rely on the militant atheist publications, then you know that you’re only getting one side of the story. That’s not a very scientific method of finding truth.

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  33. 33. curiouswavefunction 7:34 pm 03/21/2013

    JanetFro, thanks for your detailed take on this, I will have to think more about it and I appreciate the dialogue. Sunspot and MTucker, thanks for your note regarding Lemaitre, I am not sure which comment was removed though. Lemaitre and Mendel are both very good examples of how science and religion can co-exist, which in fact was the point emphasized in most of my post, most prominently through the quotes by Consolmagno. In fact most of the post rejects the “militant” atheists’ take on science and religion. I don’t think Mendel was a Jesuit though. Julio, thanks for the correction.

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  34. 34. sunspot 8:23 pm 03/21/2013

    curiouswavefunction: (re: comment #33)
    The support of science by the Catholic clergy is not exclusive to the Jesuit order. Mendel was specifically recommended to the Augustinian order by his physics teacher. The Benedictine order founded dozens of universities which have supported the sciences for centuries. I read recently that Dr. Herbert Boyer, who was on the cover of Time as the pioneer of gene spicing, credits the late Fr. Joel Lieb (Benedictine order, St. Vincent College) for inspiring his interest in genetics research.

    In fact, Br. Guy Consolmagno just presented a Threshold lecture at St. Vincent College a few weeks ago. He was preceded by Neil DeGarsse Tyson in 2010, and Carl Sagan in the 1970′s, among many other famous scientists. No sir, the Jesuits are not alone in the support of science in the Catholic church.

    In fact, Pope Francis has an entire Pontifical Academy of Sciences. See:
    The Academy has invited hundreds of famous scientists, (e.g. Stephen Hawking, to help guide scientists, clergy and members of the church in their understanding of science and their search for the Truth. Nope, the Jesuits are not alone.

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  35. 35. sunspot 8:29 pm 03/21/2013

    Typo alert re: comment 34: “…on the cover of Time as the pioneer of gene sp[l]icing..”. Although “gene spicing” might be a good alternate name for it. ;)

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  36. 36. karl 12:04 am 03/22/2013

    as an atheist with a “shameful” catholic upbringing I’d say the new pope can have a doctorate in chemistry and still think the world began 6500 (god) years ago in 7 (god) days.
    I know that Jesuits are the secret service of the church, and even if they have some academic credentials they are first and foremost agents of the church, which means that they will side with the idea that the rabbits are rumiants (as said by their book) if things come to us vs them.
    lastly, how can we trust an institution that has repeatedly sided up with fascism, the vatican state was created by Benito “Il Duche” Mussolini, and they remained mum on the extermination of jews, and sided up with the dictators in argentina and other places.

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  37. 37. sunspot 11:19 am 03/22/2013

    @Karl, comment #36
    You are entitled to have your own beliefs, but you should not distort the beliefs of others. I do lots of reading on all religious beliefs, and Popes do not teach literal biblical interpretation (erroneously called Creationism); and, the only place I’ve seen any Catholic clergy referred to as secret agents of the church was in fiction (e.g. Dan Brown novels, etc.).

    In addition, your history seems clearly distorted by anti-catholic writers; try some scholarly, unbiased historians. I’m told that a Cambridge professor, Eamon Duffy, does a good job, but I’m sure there are others.

    Lots of us have had “shameful” upbringing, but you can only blame yourself if you simply swallow stories or blog comments about the religious beliefs of Catholics or any other faith. Good luck in your search for the truth.

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  38. 38. M Tucker 7:17 pm 03/22/2013

    Sunspot, have you read “The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery? It presents a nice short history of the creationist movement in the US and their relentless attempt to rewrite geology and biology. Not a single one of the modern creationists who brought the movement into the 21st century was a Catholic. All of those attempting to introduce creation science and young Earth creationism into public education belong to fundamentalist Protestant sects. I’m sure there could be a Catholic priest somewhere who might adhere to a completely literal interpretation of the Bible but I have not encountered one yet.

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  39. 39. sunspot 8:27 pm 03/22/2013

    M Tucker re: comment #38
    Yes, I agree that literal creationism is not a Catholic teaching. In addition, the entire fabrication of the conflict between science and religion in the late 1800s was intended to stir up anti-catholic feelings among scientists. Scholarly historians discredited the conflict thesis 50 years ago, and verified that the Catholic church has promoted scientific investigations well before Galileo and Bruno were supposed martyrs for science. But those who want to believe that the Popes have been anti-science will still make up stories to justify anti-catholic rants.

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