July 25, 2015 12:39 pm

This Sunday on StarTalk: Are Science and Religion Compatible?

Photo of Halleys Comet, taken by the Vatican Observatory in 1910.

Image courtesy of The Vatican Observatory.

Are science and religion compatible? Or is the chasm that separates the two even wider than mere incompatibility, bordering on the antithetical?

In this week’s episode, Neil deGrasse Tyson talks with two eloquent spokesmen for each side of the issue, if an issue this pervasive and far ranging can be reduced to two opposing viewpoints.

On one hand, Neil interviews Richard Dawkins: evolutionary biologist, author, Professor Emeritus at Oxford University and one of the most widely recognized spokesman for atheists and the secular movement.

On the other hand, Neil speaks with Rev. James Martin, SJ, a Jesuit priest and author who is the editor-at-large of America, the National Catholic Review.

I’ve read many of Professor Dawkins books, from The Selfish Gene in high school to Unweaving the Rainbow and The God Delusion as an adult. So I am familiar with his public beliefs. And, full disclosure, I consider The God Delusion to be one of the most important books I’ve ever read.

I was less familiar with Father Martin, although I have seen him numerous times on The Colbert Report, where he was the show’s recurring “chaplain.” Martin is a firm believer in evolution who explains on the episode that he himself is confounded by people who ignore carbon dating and archeology. He even points out that the current Pope, Francis, studied chemistry in order to explore his natural interest in the natural world (“God’s creation”) and mentioned the recent encyclical about climate change.

The episode is filled with pretty frank discussions of major differences between the rational approach to the universe embodied in science, and the faith based context for understanding the cosmos.

During the episode, Neil and Father Martin discuss the Vatican Observatory. Neil recounts the story of how Vatican astronomers updated the Julian calendar to the Gregorian one, based on their scientific observations of the cosmos. (And yes, they also discuss the Catholic Church’s persecution of Galileo, and even Father Martin condemns how long it took them to pardon him.)

In looking for an image for this week’s show, I ended up on the Vatican Observatory website.  And there I found a picture of Halley’s Comet from 1910, which you can see at the top of this post. I saw photos taken by the telescope at Castle Gandolfo and by the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope. I even found a blog with coverage of all of the latest discoveries, including the image of Pluto’s atmosphere just released by NASA and the simulated flyover of Pluto’s icy mountains. The Vatican Observatory is run by Br. Guy Consolmagno SJ, who has also been a guest on our show, in our Season 2 episode, Holiday Lights.

In fact, you may want to check out the site yourself, as well as the website for the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope. It certainly supports Father Martin’s premise that religion and science can work together, or at least that one can believe in God and still pursue scientific knowledge.

But whichever side of the fence you are on, I hope you’ll join us for Exploring Science and Religion with Richard Dawkins this Sunday at 7:00 pm EDT on our website, iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn and SoundCloud.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!
–Jeffrey Simons

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