Topic: Science

Br. Clement Lepak, OP's picture

A Mirror Among the Stars: Science is Ordered by Wisdom

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A reflection on Feast of St. Albert the Great, Patron Saint of Scientists.

Image de la galaxie spirale, NGC 4414,, NASA (available through Wikimedia Commons)

A white hole is thought to be a source of light and matter that is radiating into our universe from an unknown and unapproachable source. Unlike a black hole, which pulls in unceasingly all that approaches it, a white hole is thought to have such a thrust that nothing can enter into it. This speculative model describes an event which spews out energy, light and matter, but which may be highly unstable, collapsing upon itself and then exploding. Some theorists posit a "cosmic counterpoint" to black holes, so that there would be a cosmic balancing, a supernal yin-yang of light, matter and energy. There is no firm evidence that they actually exist, but the concept of a white hole, an unceasing font of waves, vibration and spectra, makes for a marvelous model of contemplation.

As created beings, we can identify the subsistence of all substances at any moment, and reflect that all created things are unceasingly supported and upheld by Being. Unlike the concept of the white hole for which we have found no positive confirmation, when it comes to the source of being, we do stand on evidence: it’s called reality. You’re touching it now. And yes, it’s really real.

Adding another level of intelligibility to this vital sustaining process, we could speak of the other transcendentals such as the good and the true, as well as the related realities of beauty, communicability and love. The leap that allows one to move from the basic physical speculative model of the white hole to the awareness of the font-of-life as emanating from within us, is grounded in the principle that all creation may serve as the springboard towards contemplation. It is wisdom that allows us to order our experience and reason thus, from effects to their cause. Through creation, God ceaselessly offers endless paths for contemplating Him. Man-made artifacts show their wear and begin to age as soon as they are constructed. The table I am writing at shows its age by the exposure of the composite material underneath the varnished surface, which has been rubbed away by constant use over the years. In the brickwork opposite me, visible through the window, I see white lines of more recent mortar that has been used to fill in cracks caused by tremors, weather, shifting. From these artifacts and all others we can come to the conclusion that ‘stuff’ doesn’t last: it wears away, it deteriorates, and if it is living, it dies.

Even great stellar events, such as white holes, stars, and galaxies are limited and in a state of transition but their vastness and abundance of years gives them a fabled, quasi-infinite authority. Yet beyond them, not in size and age, but in mode of being, in perfection, and in goodness, shines the source of all, who even now is in our presence and closer to us than our very self. It has been said that, “The wise man will dominate the stars.” The truth of that statement does not rest in warp drives, time travel or harnessing the energy potential of stars. It rather lies in this: that we will be lords of the stars to the extent that we are lords of our own hearts ordered to the praise of God. In the wondrous signs of creation, and the speculative thought of the sciences, we are afforded manifold opportunities to contemplate the depths and the riches and the knowledge of God. May devotion and knowledge increase hand-in-hand, as God's holy people walk through the darkness of this world into the light with joy, understanding and song.

O, Font of Life and Wisdom, Holy Trinity, God beyond all praise! Amen.

Br. Emmanuel Taylor, O.P.'s picture

Saintly Scientists

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“The heavens proclaim the glory of God.” - Psalm 19:2

St. AlbertSt. Albert the Great blazed a path to God through the natural sciences. Now, --whether a professional scientist, a more casual bird-watcher, or one who simply enjoys watching nature shows--you too can be a saint. Conducting scientific investigation can lead you to God if you follow the example of Albert. If you follow this pedagogy you will be a saintly scientist.<--break->

The first step of a saintly scientist is to see. The Dominican historian Simon Tugwell describes Albert as “an inveterate looker at things” (Albert & Thomas: Selected Writings, 29). St. Albert was a great scientist because he delighted in looking at things. To learn to see things is the first step of a saintly scientist.

St. Albert found time to explore the natural sciences even though he had other jobs. He had official positions in the Church: he was Provincial of the Order of Preachers and he was Bishop in Regensburg, Germany. However, these official duties did not stop him from looking at things. As he would travel on business he would visit mines, “going far out of his way to do so, because of his interest in mineralogy” (Albert & Thomas, 8). He incorporated into his busy life his, the habit to see things.

From seeing things, the next step is to understand. “The natural scientist seeks to understand the cause of all these things,” writes St. Albert in his book On Minerals (III 1.10). This means that it is not enough simply to see things. To be a saintly scientist you must also wonder about their cause.

St. Albert sought understanding across many areas of science. He loved not only geology, but also biology. He studied animals of many varieties in their natural habitats. He also kept some animals, including snakes and even a “puppy with one white eye and one black eye.” (Albert & Thomas, 29)

Finally, to be a saintly scientist requires not only seeing and understanding nature but also seeing and understanding God. In addition to his scientific enquiries, Albert sought to see and understand God. From Scripture he developed his vision of God. This ability to “see” God is called contemplative prayer--it can just as easily be called contemplative vision. It is because St. Albert the Great combined his natural vision with spiritual vision that he proclaims with delight: “The whole world is theology for us, because the heavens proclaim the glory of God” (Comm. Matt. 13.35; trans. Tugwell, Albert & Thomas, 29). Albert shows us that the study of nature can bring us to God. Let us follow his example, and be saintly scientists who proclaim the glory of God.