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Science follows where faith leads

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Science and faith - the Catholic weekly
The Northen Lights, or aurora borealis, illuminate the sky in Alaiedon Township. (OSV News photo/Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal/USA Today Network via Reuters)

In the era of smartphones and social media when our attention is constantly drawn downwards, this weekend saw an event so spectacular it made much of the planet pause and look upwards to marvel at creation, God’s action and beauty in the world.

The past week has been dominated by reports from around the globe, packed with striking images and videos of the aurora borealis and aurora australis enveloping the night skies with swathes of green, violet, cerise and blue.

For a brief moment, people paused the trolling, hate, and division that usually monopolises social media to share in a common moment of magnificent spectacle. This was the first global solar storm of the Instagram age.

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People forgot to which tribe they belonged, transcended the everyday, and enjoyed with millions of others a shared moment of awe in a world charged with God’s grandeur.

Such heavenly phenomena have inspired humankind and human cultures for thousands of years. These celestial events have fuelled the myths, tales and superstitions of the ancients and still do today in almost every contemporary culture.

 

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Like most happenings today, the stunning show was greeted with scientific explanations, in this case solar particles reacting to the magnetic poles and our atmosphere. However, on this rare occasion when the world’s sky was ‘lit up’, even the scientists turned to other-worldly forces, even religion, for an explanation.

On Monday morning, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, when interviewed on ABC Breakfast, described the auroras as “God’s television set.”

And why not? Why wouldn’t God want to turn our attention elsewhere and show each person he walks with us? With conflicts raging around the globe, a cost-of-living crisis, mental health epidemic and people struggling in every sense of the word, what can be more timely than a rare solar storm sparking a light show that all people can share in? In a time of trial and tribulation for many, we can give thanks for a sliver of heavenly hope.

It is a type of event that does not demand so much explanation but evokes a sense of faith, gratitude and reverence—the reception of a gift.

One of the greatest misconceptions in the secular world is there is an incessant conflict between our faith and science. In contrast, our Catholic tradition and our history bears forth a rich interplay of faith and science throughout many centuries.

After all, it was a Belgian priest George Lemaître who created the Big Bang Theory. Also engaged in the meeting of these mysteries was Nicolaus Copernicus, geneticist Gregor Medel and Louis Pasteur just to name a few.

Catholics have celebrated the insights of faith and science and harmonised these through a shared wonder of God’s creation, including our own.

The truth is that for believers, science can be a form of worship. The pursuit of discovery is an act of devotion in which we seek to celebrate life, seek truth, and draw closer to a God who draws near.

Science and faith - the Catholic weekly
The aurora borealis, also known as the “northern lights”, caused by a coronal mass ejection on the Sun, illuminates the sky over Jericho Beach in Vancouver, British Columbia, 10 May, 2024 (OSV News photo/Chris Helgren, Reuters)

In a written message last week to the International Network of Societies for Catholic Theology (of which the Xavier Centre of Theology at the Australian Catholic University is a member), Pope Francis instructed theologians to collaborate with experts from other religions and scientific disciplines.

The Holy Father said “it is part of our Catholic faith to explain the reason for our hope to all those who ask.”

This is another way of saying that the largest solar storm in more than two decades, occurring in the midst of global turmoil and covering the majority of the world in a celestial glow, gives us good reason to pause, look upward and look outward.

Sure, we can always seek a scientific explanation. But there are times when it is better perhaps to simply adore and give gratitude for what God gives us.

Explanation and even science can only ever take us so far. It is faith that takes you the rest of the way.

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