Curiosity landed early this morning on the surface of Mars. The robot, the size of a car, was launched on November 26th, 2011 with initial planning for the mission goes back at least to April 2004. This was a long time coming for engineers and scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab.
With no astronauts on board, no required quotations we all must know going forward, although, Curiosity has a bit of humor as you can follow on the official Twitter account.
— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) August 6, 2012
Call me, maybe? All the ways I could phone home after landing on Mars http://t.co/IiqrN6LW
— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) August 4, 2012
Catholics and the Catholic Church have always been promoters of the sciences. The church pioneered universities and the scientific method. There has been rough patches that folks point to as proof that the church isn’t compatible with scientific research; however, in the end, sciences provides discoveries not possible—nor desirable—from the Church alone.
Science and theology do inform each other. Theology teaches us about creation. Theology teaches us that we are created by God. Science teaches us that the universe was created, the working theory says, in a Big Bang with natural processes leading to the human species. These statements are complementary.
The issues arise, though, when science attempts to move beyond natural philosophy and explain things beyond the scope of science. For example, science tells us that evolution led us to the current state of biology on earth. This is great. Awesome. When that information is then applied to indicate that thus no god created anything as it was the by-product of this natural evolution, then we fall off the rails.
The hard sciences are meant to explain what can be seen and touched, what can be determined through empirical research. Theology is to explain what’s beyond that. Faith and belief. Purpose and reason. Theology can’t tell us how the world was created no more than science can’t tell us why the world was created.
Science helps us keep our faith rational. While faith talks about a “heaven above”, we know that heaven isn’t a few miles beyond the skies and that the place of the dead is below, beyond how far we can dig. The imagery speaks to a spiritual realm, not a physical one.
Theology helps keep our science ordered. Science can’t place value on human life; it must rely on outside criteria for establishing the ethical and moral methods of scientific discovery. Theology rightly informs sciences in this way.
As Curiosity begins to poke around Mars, seeing sights unseen and, hopefully, collecting valuable information that can inform us on the nature of space and planetary evolution, no matter what it discovers, the discoveries will always be compatible with our faith.
Update: Vatican Radio interviewed the Director of the Vatican Observatory about the landing. A little local Austin connection. The Observatory is a graphic design client of Austin CNM’s own Kathryn Whitaker.