Across the Universe: Recognizing the Star
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This column first appeared in The Tablet in December 2009 The fall of 2009 found me team-teaching a course called “Dynamic Evolution” at LeMoyne College, a small Jesuit university in Syracuse, New York. The biblical scholar from Leuven, Fr. Jan Lambrecht SJ, concentrated on the world-view of the New Testament in the first half of the course; my task was to bring the students forward through the cosmologies of the middle ages and the scientific revolution, to present day views on space and time: quantum theory and relativity. It’s been an exhausting journey. For many of the undergraduates, the shocking message has been how little we know for certain. After an academic path focused mostly on memorizing “facts” they must now come to the realization that everything they’ve been taught is, if not exactly wrong, then at least woefully incomplete. With everything we learn, we also learn how much more there is to know. Certainly, the world of certainties is an illusion. … Continue reading

Across the Universe: When reason itself becomes flesh
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This column was first published in The Tablet in December 2008 “In the beginning was the Word.” So opens the Gospel according to St. John. When I was young they called John’s Chapter 1, verses 1-14, “The Last Gospel.” We heard it repeated so often, at the end of every Mass, that the words went past us without registering. Word as used here is our weak English translation for the Greek logos. Logos carries a great weight of philosophical meaning, from “rational discourse” to the fundamental order of the universe. It is the word from which we get logic. Try substituting “Logic” or “Reason” for “Word” in that Gospel: “In the beginning was Logic. In the beginning was Reason. In the beginning was the fundamental rational basis of the universe…” This is our foundation, of course, for science. Logic and reason were with God from the beginning. God is He who built the universe on them. Indeed, the first verse concludes, “and the Logos was God.” That is one … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Christmas Presence
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This column first ran in The Tablet in December 2007 Job is not a book most people think of for the Christmas season. But there’s an echo of the angels’ Christmas song to the shepherds when God asks Job (in Chapter 38, verse 7) if any human can claim to have been around at the moment of creation, that time “when the morning stars sang together, and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy.” The song of the morning stars is poetry of the highest order. Kepler referred to the motions of the planets among those stars as “the music of the spheres.” In one of my favorite childhood novels, A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle, her young hero actually encounters, in person, the singing spirits of stars. The image reminds us that in its essence, creation is a source of joy; and a lot of fun. What’s it like, I am sometimes asked, to be both a Jesuit brother … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Spinning our Hopes
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This article was first published in The Tablet in December, 2005. I also ran it a year ago on this blog, before many of you became regular readers… and before I knew how to embed pictures. So I am running it again, with pictures this time. Every December, along with the Christmas rush and the endless round of holiday parties, planetary astronomers have another deadline facing them: the annual Lunar and Planetary Science conference. The meeting is in March; the deadline for submitting papers is early January. [For 2016, it’s January 12.] It’s challenging enough to write up results on deadline; but what is harder, is that really you ought to have some results worth writing up. My last month has been a scramble as I try chasing after the faintest wisp of an idea to see if it has enough substance to talk about in front of a thousand highly critical peers. Lately [this was 2005] we’ve been observing Centaurs, … Continue reading

Across the Universe: When Reason Itself Becomes Flesh
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This column was first published in The Tablet in December, 2008) “In the beginning was the Word.” So opens the Gospel according to St. John. When I was young they called this (John’s Chapter 1, verses 1-14) “The Last Gospel.” We heard it repeated so often at the end of every Mass, that the words went past us without registering. When they tried teaching us Greek in High School, this was a favorite passage; it was an easy exercise, using the same few words over and over, ringing changes on their position and grammar. But of course the underlying philosophy is anything but easy. Word as used here is our weak English translation for the Greek logos. Logos carries a great weight of philosophical meaning, from “rational discourse” to the fundamental order of the universe. It is the word from which we get logic. Try substituting “Logic” or “Reason” for “Word” in that Gospel: “In the beginning was Logic. In the beginning was Reason. In the beginning was the … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Christmas Presence
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This column was first published in The Tablet in December, 2007) Job is not a book most people think of for the Christmas season. But there’s an echo of the angels’ Christmas song to the shepherds when God asks Job (in Chapter 38, verse 7) if any human can claim to have been around at the moment of creation, that time “when the morning stars sang together, and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy.” The song of the morning stars is poetry of the highest order. Kepler referred to the motions of the planets among those stars as “the music of the spheres.” In one of my favorite childhood novels, A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle (who, sadly, died this past year [2007]), her young hero actually encounters, in person, the singing spirits of stars. The image reminds us that in its essence, creation is a source of joy; and a lot of fun. What’s it like, I am sometimes asked, … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Recognizing the Star
avatar

This column was first published in The Tablet in December, 2009) In November and December of 2009, I was team-teaching a course called “Dynamic Evolution” at LeMoyne College, a small Jesuit university in Syracuse, New York. The biblical scholar from Leuven, Fr. Jan Lambrecht SJ, concentrated on the world-view of the New Testament in the first half of the course; my task was to bring the students forward through the cosmologies of the middle ages and the scientific revolution, to present day views on space and time: quantum theory and relativity. It’s been an exhausting journey. For many of the undergraduates, the shocking message has been how little we know for certain. After an academic path focused mostly on memorizing “facts” they must now come to the realization that everything they’ve been taught is, if not exactly wrong, then at least woefully incomplete. With everything we learn, we also learn how much more there is to know. Certainly, the world of certainties is an illusion. … Continue reading