Science in the Bluegrass —
Celebrate science at the Gold Mass

Chris Graney

There is going to be a Gold Mass — for those in science — in the Archdiocese of Louisville. You may be familiar with the Red Mass, for those in the legal profession, or the Blue Mass, for public safety, or the White Mass, for healthcare.

A Gold Mass follows in the same vein — the “gold” comes from the color of the trim on the academic hoods worn by those who obtain advanced degrees in science.

The Gold Mass will be on Nov. 3 at 6 p.m. at Holy Family Church, 3938 Poplar Level Road. While the Mass is for scientists, science educators and science students, all are welcome. A reception will follow immediately after the Mass with a special presentation by Dr. Kate Bulinski, a scientist from Bellarmine University. She will speak on “Faith and Science: Compatible and Complementary.”

To borrow the words of Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, the Mass and reception will be a celebration of the work and study of the scientific community and also an affirmation of the Catholic Church’s “long tradition of scientific inquiry and accomplishment.”

That long tradition to which Archbishop Kurtz refers is the logical result of the compatibility and complementarity that Dr. Bulinski sees. This compatibility and complementarity exist because our faith and science are both oriented toward truth.

In science, discovering truth involves “reproducibility”—the idea that different scientists conducting the same experiment or observation will get the same result.

Suppose Taylor says, “a rock dropped from a height of 16 feet will take one second to fall to the ground,” while Pat says, “no, it will take a much longer time.”

Well, anyone can get tape measures, rocks, timers and cameras and reproduce the experiment to see what the truth is.

And, as Father George V. Coyne, the late director of the Vatican’s astronomical observatory, put it, “the truth is not democratic.” Suppose we take a poll about what will happen with the rock and find that people vote three-to-one in favor of Pat?

That matters not. A rock dropped from a height of 16 feet takes one second to reach the ground.

Of course, things can be more complicated than this in science. What if a whiffle ball were dropped? What if the rock were dropped on the moon? And ideas in science can change. Aristotle theorized that a rock falls because rocky material naturally moves to the lowest, central point in the universe. Newton theorized that it falls because it is drawn by a universal force of gravitation toward the Earth. Einstein, that it falls because the Earth warps space and time.

Science leads us to discover truth, but science does not always have the truth right now. Our scientific knowledge grows with time.

Faith is not science, of course. No experiment, for example, tells us that all people are created in God’s image and likeness and are of equal and infinite worth. Indeed, experiments show that we are unequal in so many ways: I measure up to no Olympic gymnast!

But science complements and is compatible with faith, in that faith, too, says that truth exists, that it can be known both through revelation and through reason (Rom 1:20 and the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 32). It says that our knowledge of truth is imperfect but grows over time, and that we do not determine what is true by our opinions or our votes.

Therefore, we should expect the church to have a long tradition of scientific inquiry and accomplishment. And, from Copernicus to Volta to Mendel to Lemaître, it does.

Come to the Gold Mass and celebrate that.

Chris Graney is an astronomer and historian of science with the Vatican Observatory (www.VaticanObservatory.org), and a parishioner of St. Louis Bertrand Church.

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