Covid, Faith, and the Fallibility of Science
Lecturer: Br. Guy Consolmagno SJ • Respondent: Fr. James Kurzynski
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In the fight against the COVID pandemic, the scientific evidence in favor of vaccination is overwhelming, with firm support from the Holy See. Nevertheless, many faithful Christians remain conflicted. This dichotomy has implications beyond vaccine skepticism. The arguments both for and against vaccination too often assume a false view of what science is and what it can promise. The reality of human fallibility, a consequence of original sin, demonstrates our need to accept uncertainty and imperfection in our science and in our religious lives.
Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ is the Director of the Vatican Observatory and President of the Vatican Observatory Foundation. A native of Detroit, Michigan, he earned undergraduate and masters’ degrees from MIT, and a Ph. D. in Planetary Science from the University of Arizona; he was a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard and MIT, served in the US Peace Corps (Kenya), and taught university physics at Lafayette College before entering the Jesuits in 1989.
At the Vatican Observatory since 1993, his research has explored connections between meteorites, asteroids, and the evolution of small solar system bodies, observing Kuiper Belt objects with the Vatican’s 1.8 meter telescope in Arizona, and applying his measure of meteorite physical properties to understanding asteroid origins and structure. Along with more than 200 scientific publications, he is the author of a number of popular books including Turn Left at Orion (with Dan Davis), and Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? (with Paul Mueller). He also has hosted science programs for BBC Radio 4, been interviewed in numerous documentary films, appeared on The Colbert Report, and for nearly twenty years he has written a monthly science column for the British Catholic magazine, The Tablet.
Dr. Consolmagno’s work has taken him to every continent on Earth; in 1996 he spent six weeks collecting meteorites with a NASA team on the blue ice regions of East Antarctica. He has served on the governing boards of the Meteoritical Society; the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences (of which he was chair in 2006-2007); and the International Astronomical Union (IAU). He currently serves as the chair of the Mars Task Group on the IAU’s Working Group on Planetary System Nomenclature. In 2000, the small bodies nomenclature committee of the IAU named an asteroid, 4597 Consolmagno, in recognition of his work. In 2014 he received the Carl Sagan Medal from the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences for excellence in public communication in planetary sciences.
In 2015, Pope Francis appointed Dr. Consolmagno as director of the Specola Vaticana (Vatican Observatory). As such he serves as an ex-officio member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences
Fr. James Kurzynski is a priest of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin and a hobby astronomer. Originally from the small town of Amherst in rural central Wisconsin, Fr. James completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, majoring in Applied Music (Saxophone, Voice, and Composition). After graduating from UW-SP, Fr. James worked at the University of Nebraska at Kearney as a Hall Director and pursued a M.S.ed. in Group Counseling. After a year at UNK, Fr. James left his position to attend the University of Saint Mary of the Lake – Mundelein Seminary to discern his priestly vocation.
Fr. James earned a Bachelor in Sacred Theology, a Master of Divinity, and a License in Sacred Theology. While pursuing these degrees, Fr. James also studied Spiritual Theology with the Institute of Priestly Formation at Creighton University and completed the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Fr. James was ordained a priest June 28, 2003. Fr. James’ first assignment was as an Associate at the Tri-Parishes of St. Mary’s – Durand, Holy Rosary Parish – Lima, and Sacred Heart Parish – Mondovi. After two years, Fr. James was assigned as Chaplain and Instructor of Religion at Regis Middle and High School and was also assigned Associate Vocation Director. In his final year at Regis, Fr. James was also appointed Parochial Administrator of Saint Raymond of Penafort Catholic Church, serving south east Eau Claire County. From 2012-2015, Fr. James served as Pastor of Roncalli Newman Parish, serving the college students of Western Technical College and the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse. In 2015, Fr. James was named Pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish in Menomonie, Wisconsin, which also serves St. Joseph’s Grade School (3K thru 6) and the Newman Center at the University of Wisconsin – Stout. In 2017, in addition to his responsibilities to St. Joseph Parish and StoutCatholic, Fr. James was also named Pastor of St. Luke Parish in Boyceville, Wisconsin. In July of 2018, Fr. James was named the Pastor of St. Olaf Parish in Eau Claire. Wisconsin. Fr. James also teaches Introduction to Philosophy for the Diocese of La Crosse’s diaconal formation program.
In regard to his interest in astronomy, Fr. James is a member of both the Chippewa Valley Astronomical Society and the La Crosse Area Astronomical Society. He taught an Introduction to Astronomy course during his time at Regis High School in Eau Claire. Fr. James’ first involvement with the Vatican Observatory came when an inquiry led to the development of the first “Faith and Astronomy Workshop” (FAW), designed for parish educators and clergy that are not professional scientists.