On a recent episode of The Late Show, host Stephen Colbert and frequent visitor Neil deGrasse Tyson joked about the astronomical insignificance of New Year’s Day.
Before long, Tyson was talking about the role the Catholic Church played in creating the calendar as we know it. “The world’s calendar is the Gregorian calendar after Pope Gregory,” Tyson explains. “Put that into place in 1582, because the previous Julian calendar was messing up in the year. It was off by ten days. And the pope said, ‘We got to fix this…’ There’s a Vatican Observatory to this day. At the time, before telescopes were invented, these Jesuit priests were put into the service of figuring out why the calendar was shifting in the year.”
Colbert, known for his openness about his Catholic faith, then asks Tyson if it’s true that a Catholic priest formulated the Big Bang Theory. “Yes,” Tyson responds. “Georges Lemaître. Using Einstein’s equations … he deduces that the history of the universe must’ve started with a bang. So Catholics have been in there in multiple places.”
This little exchange might have seemed uninteresting in another era, but not today. The rise in the new atheism and Biblical literalism have made it a commonplace that science and religion are in conflict, and young people are absorbing the idea as axiomatic. In her recent book iGen, about the least religious generation in U.S. history, Dr. Jean Twenge quotes one young person as saying: “I knew from church that I couldn’t believe in both science and God, so that was it. I didn’t believe in God anymore.”
That may be true in some churches, but not the Catholic Church—and it’s worth repeating just as often as the opportunity allows. In Catholicism, belief in science and God are compatible. In fact, Tyson and Colbert’s conversation is a glaring reminder that many Catholic priests and believers have been leading scientists themselves. There are theological and historical reasons for this, but the bottom line is this: Catholicism is a science-friendly religion, and it’s enshrined in the Catholic Catechism.
Read more at Word on Fire.