Science Can Be God-Made ‘Fun Riddles’ & Religious Experience – BC Catholic

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Geoffrey Woolard understands the perceived conflict between science and religious faith. The Vancouver president of the Society of Catholic Scientists experienced this first-hand while on the path to Catholicism.

Woollard has a background in biological physics and is completing his doctorate in computer science at UBC. He says the tension between science and religion is something he had to deal with early in his faith journey. “Unfortunately, at the very beginning of my conversation, I … inherited an implicit distrust of science from the first Catholics I came into contact with,” he said.

The Golden Mass for the Scientific Community celebrated at St. Mark’s, UBC. (Georges Malczynski)

It is not just Catholics or religious believers who share this suspicion. Much of mainstream society harbors a widely held assumption that science and faith are inherently at odds.

Fortunately for Woollard, his studies at UBC led him to meet people who could bridge the perceived conflict between science and religion. “When I moved to Vancouver for college, I had fantastic experiences at UBC with faith and science, especially with devout Catholic scientists and engineers who were members of Opus Dei.”

Woolard is working with the society to help bridge this alleged gap between faith and science and to reach other Catholic scientists in Vancouver. Last month, the organization hosted a Zoom event with Vatican astronomer Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ, about how faith and science can work together to bring people closer to God.

Brother Consolmagno discussed past views of religions and science, popes who have promoted scientific discoveries, and his own experience as a scientist and a religious, saying that both science and faith are tools to promote an encounter with God and truth, shaping the understanding of the common man. good.

The society also co-hosted the annual Golden Mass in November, celebrated near the feast day of Saint Albert the Great, patron saint of scientists.

Suzana Kovacic attended both Brother Consolmagno’s talk and the Golden Mass at UBC’s St. Mark’s Church and said Father Rob Allore’s homily, “reminded me why I’m doing this [work].”

Father Allore spoke of the ways in which faith can influence science, making it a mystical experience of meeting God face to face.

Fr Rob Allore, SJ speaking at the Golden Mass. “There is a mystical reward of study, discipline and practice,” he said in his homily. (Georges Malczynski)

“We know that science doesn’t come our way without a little work,” said the Jesuit chaplain at St. Mark’s, who speaks from experience of the intersection of faith and science. He began his studies in biology at the University of Ottawa and later obtained a doctorate in immunology from the University of Toronto. He spent several years working as a researcher before joining the Jesuits.

“So there is a mystical reward of study, discipline and practice,” Father Allore said during the Golden Mass. “I think a lot of scientists will understand that, because after long periods of study and work, we know that sometimes we get to these places where Mother Nature shows us something she’s never shown anyone else. another, and if that’s not a religious experience, I don’t know what is.

For Kovacic, events like the Golden Mass are not just an opportunity to commune with others in his field, but remind him that his research has a supernatural level.

Kovacic, a research associate at SFU, has a doctorate in chemistry and is currently studying COVID-19, a topic Fr. Allore says needs to be understood and discussed globally.

“This conversation is important for how we will care for God’s creation and be leaders in that care and how we will care for our neighbor, our neighbor who is sick or in danger of being sick,” Kovacic said. in an interview.

Brother Consolmagno echoed the idea that studying the universe can bring us closer to God, describing how Job looked at the vastness of creation and despaired of understanding God.

God turns the questions around, asking Job about creation. God’s questions were not to intimidate Job, Brother Consolmagno said, but an invitation to use his imagination to explore the beginning, come to God and make discoveries, because that is the only way for Job or each of between us to fully appreciate who God is.

Father Julio Lagos, SFU Catholic Chaplain, with participants in the Golden Mass. (George Malczynski)

Brother Consologno compared science to prayer: “For scientists, this exploration of God’s creation is a response to an invitation to spend time with the Creator. We play with him, so to speak, to discover the fun puzzles he has given us. We marvel at how the laws of the universe fit together with harmonious and elegant logic.

Kovacic understands this way of approaching God. She did her PhD on a specific bacterial enzyme, focusing on two amino acids in the enzyme. Sometimes she lost sight of the big picture when she studied such a specific topic.

“Father Rob reminded me that God had seen these two amino acids. He made those two amino acids right there in that protein, and he knew that one day I would be the one studying those particular two amino acids,” she said.

“There are very few people who have studied this particular enzyme to the extent that I have studied it, so it was a very personal interaction I had with something that God created.”

The Society of Catholic Scientists continues to regularly host topics related to faith and science so that Catholic scientists can share their knowledge, ideas and gifts with one another.

It also offers a mentorship program that pairs science students with more experienced colleagues as role models. “We really hope to be a place where freshmen can get an education and experience the community, and not be put off by the science, because it kind of doesn’t seem like a place for them,” said said Woollard.

To learn more about the society and its events, visit catholicscientistsvan.org.

In search of the truth, “even if it remains a mystery”

Basically, Geoffrey Woollard’s fascination with science boils down to two things: dance and mathematics.

Woollard is the president of the Vancouver chapter of the Society of Catholic Scientists, and he now integrates his training in biological physics with his doctoral work in computer science.

“I’m interested in what life looks like and how information dances with electrons and atomic nuclei,” he said.

On the surface, his work appears highly technological, using high-powered electron microscopes and contemporary perspectives in computing such as machine learning, deep learning, probability and statistics. But he jokes that it all basically comes down to math.

Woollard’s search for truth and the groundwork behind it also served him well in his understanding of his faith, especially his journey to the Catholic Church. When he moved to Vancouver to attend UBC, he became involved in Opus Dei.

Scientific colleagues he met there helped him to “ignore any defensive or contradictory attitude, and taught me to dialogue, to seek common ground and to vigorously seek the truth, even if it remains a mystery”.

He also pursued questions about biblical revelations about the origins of the natural world and our lived experience in it. “I’m quite pleased with the wisdom I’ve found in our theological and philosophical tradition about what original sin really means, and the open unfolding of creation and its destiny in the new creation.”

Through society, Woolard met many other devout Catholic scientists with whom he published articles while enjoying dialogue and friendship. The Golden Mass is not only an occasion to celebrate the gifts of science and faith, but an apostolic occasion to share with non-Catholic friends, in a public way, one’s experience of God.

It is also one of the ways he will stay connected with other Catholic scientists long after his graduate studies are behind him.

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