Who was Pope Luciani?

Albino Luciani, Pope John Paul I, was the first pope born in the 20th century. His reign of 33 days is among the shortest in the two thousand years of papal history. He was known in Italy as Papa Luciani and was also widely remembered as ‘the smiling pope’.

Pope Luciani, John Paul I, in the Papal Gardens at Castel Gandolfo Vatican Observatory

1. Welcome to the Luciani School. Let us introduce you first to Pope Luciani, our patron, and then to the CST pedagogy of the School.

Quite far from being a ‘prisoner of the Vatican’, Pope Luciani was fully engaged with the daily news reading several newspapers each morning before starting his day, including one from Venice where he had been Cardinal-Patriarch for 12 years before his election as Bishop of Rome. In the Vatican Luciani would speak the Venetian dialect with those Venetian sisters in his court to make them more comfortable, and the smiling pope’s humour was always evident to those around him. He would often joke with the sisters when seeing his picture in the daily papers: “But you see how they got me”, lamenting the wrong take of his pic. 

2. John Paul I was a skilled communicator and writer. His book Illustrissimi, written while he was a cardinal and Patriarch of Venice, is a witty and thoughtful series of letters to diverse historical and fictional persons including Jesus, King David, Figaro the Barber, Empress Maria Theresa, Pinocchio, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and Christopher Marlowe. 

3. This School of Catholic Science Thinking is inspired by Pope Luciani’s thought-leadership, his pastoral genius and his personal style and example; and so we revere him as our Patron. I’m Michael Hewitt-Gleeson, Founder of SOT, and this course is curated as a School of Thinking project to commemorate the memory of Fr George Coyne who died in 2020 and whose CST work we teach each day. The Luciani School is an open independent school – anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Fr George Coyne SJ, Papal Astronomer, in the Vatican Observatory at Castel Gandolfo

Instruction

4. If you wish, you can complete the reading of the 25 Paragraphs of text, follow the hyperlinks and READ the book and also WATCH the streaming masterclass and the extra material in the SEE ALSO appendix. If you follow this pedagogy it should take you, all up, a total of about 7 to 10 hours. You can do it once or repeat many times and all in your own time and place. You may invite anyone who may be interested. You may start a study group of your own. On completion, you may ask for a Certificate of Catholic Science Thinking from the School. There are no fees of any kind.

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What is Catholic Science Thinking?

5. Perhaps first it’s useful to say what it’s not. Catholic Science Thinking is not thinking about Catholic Science. Why? Because there’s no such thing as ‘Catholic Science’. Science is science. There’s no Catholic Science or Japanese Science or Silicon Valley Science and so on. Science is universal. It’s either science or it’s not science.

6. ‘Catholic Thinking’ is a human knowledge tradition. It’s a very successful tradition. It’s one of humanity’s great global religions. It’s been around a lot longer than ‘science thinking’ which is a relatively recent development in human thinking.

7. Catholic means … universal. Therefore it means diversity. Diversity means survival. Survival means growth.

Catholic Is Not Monolithic

8. Catholic is the opposite of monolithic. Catholic is not rigid and inflexible because there are many differing ways to be a Catholic. For example, Catholic thinkers in Italy may differ from those in America, or China, or Nigeria.

9. There exists now a great matrix of Catholic thinkers all around the world. You can find Catholic thinkers with a Judaic emphasis on tradition, law and judgement. Perhaps Cardinal George Pell of Australia is such a thinker. You can also find innovative thinkers like Swiss theologian Fr Hans Kung in a different part of the universal matrix. This broad diversity has helped the Catholic Church survive for over two thousand years. Many Catholics believe this expansive diversity is evidence of the genius of the Holy Spirit.

10. The Catholic Church, for example, now based in the Vatican City State,  is the most successful human memeplex ever invented, curated and replicated over two thousand years of continuity. What comes a long way second? One thousand years of The Crown, perhaps.

11. Catholic covers a fertile memeplex. It’s eclectic. It’s broad. It’s flexible. It’s coherent. It’s a valuable collection of diverse ideas and themes and narratives that have survived and evolved and stood the test of time.

On many concrete questions, the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views.

Pope Francis, Laudato Si‘, para 61.

12. The Catholic tradition is deeply held in trust because, for those thinkers who have the gift and conviction of faith, it is transcendent and divine. It is personally inspired by the triune God

• Number of baptised Catholics by country (2010)

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Human religious traditions 

In

13. In The World’s Religions Ninian Smart, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Lancaster, writes about the rich cultural diversity of human religious traditions:

‘So long as humans are brought up in different paths, so they will see the world differently, and for each path some things will seem natural and right and others not. But the paths cross. We can benefit from that. For example: we can see social justice, which Marxists struggle for; human freedom, which liberals emphasise; love of God and fellow humans, which Christianity preaches; brotherhood, which Islam promotes; calm and mysticism, which go with Buddhism; devotion and pluralism, which Hinduism points to; harmony with nature, which Taoism commends; ‘the cultivation of interpersonal behaviour, which is a lesson from Confucianism; holism in life, which we find in Africa; finding meaning through suffering, which Judaism has had to emphasise; the importance of inner sincerity, which we find among the Sikhs. These and many other spiritual and moral values are not, of course, mutually incompatible’.

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CST – Catholic Science Thinking

14. The Scientific Revolution is about 350 years old since the end of the Renaissance in the 16th Century or a bit earlier if we start from Galileo, the ‘father of the scientific method’. So, in timescale, Catholic thinking has survived about 20 centuries and science thinking, so far, about 4 centuries.

15.Will science thinking also survive 20 centuries to the 36th century?

16. It’s a fair thought experiment about comparative human thinking but no-one can predict the future. On current trends, by 2030, there will emerge two distinct classes of cognitive exponents; whether they be carbon or silicon there are no guarantees that either will survive another thousand years.

17. Today, when we consider and explore and discuss Catholic Science Thinking (CST) we are talking about Catholic scientists and their thoughts, their ideas, their methods of thinking and their personal narratives. We are also talking about how their Catholic tradition, their religion, has impacted on their ideas, how it has cultivated their imagination and how their Catholic thinking has inspired their science thinking and how they do their science.

The Pope’s Astrophysicist

18. For example, in 1978 Pope Luciani appointed the mathematician, philosopher and astrophysicist, Fr George Coyne SJ, to be Papal Astronomer and Head of the Vatican Observatory which illustrious scientific post he held for many years until 2006. 

19. Under the patronage of the papacy and as head of the Observatory’s research group at the University of Arizona in Tuscon USA, Coyne was able to do science based on a technique called polarization studies; using the polarization of light to study the distribution of matter around young stars – stars that have just been born, or are in the process of being born. He found that matter tends to be distributed in a disc around the new born star resembling the same process of the birth of the planets about the Sun. He was fascinated by the possibility that a young star may have the physical conditions to perhaps develop a planetary system. Literally, the birth of a star and its planets. 

20. Here, in 2014, Fr Coyne gives a TEDx Talk called, “We are all made of stardust”

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What is science?

21. Science is a human way of thinking. It’s idiosyncratic to humans because of the pre-frontal cortex (PFC) found in humans and not in other species. It’s not that other species do not conduct experiments by trial and error. They do. But only humans can use their PFC to research, measure, record, publish, peer-review and reappraise their experiments according to a scientific method.

22. Science thinking is the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural world following a systematic methodology based on evidence. Therefore there are many systems of human thinking that are not explained using the scientific method; like the arts, geopolitics, business, law, media, ethics, religious knowledge systems, and indigenous knowledge systems.

23. For example, the indigenous knowledge system of the diverse Australian aboriginal culture, known as The Dreamtime, has evolved over 60,000 years, a record-breaking Darwinian timescale of 600 centuries! This knowledge system has not (yet?) been explained by science. There are no Nobel Prizes for Dreamtime Scientists!

24. Science thinkers use a set of tools and systems for studying the natural world through observation, measurement and experimentation. There are three main branches of science: physical science, Earth science and life science.

• Physical science is the study of inanimate natural objects and the laws that govern them. It includes physics, chemistry, and astronomy. In physics, we try to break down the whole universe into a set of fundamental, mathematical laws that explain the smallest things in the universe and the largest. In chemistry, we study the composition, structure, changes and properties of matter: focusing on the scale of chemical bonds and reactions. And in astronomy, we study celestial objects, including the origin of the planet on which we live.

• Earth science is the study of the Earth and the physical components that make it up: the constitution of the atmosphere, the seas, the land, and how those things are tied together. It includes geology, oceanography, meteorology and paleontology. 

• Life Science includes the study of biology, medicine, anthropology, and ecology; living organisms and their organization and relationships to each other and their environment. Also called bioscience.

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Catholic Science Thinkers

25. Catholic Science Thinkers are scientists who are also Catholics. They may have been scientists because they were Catholics or in spite of being Catholics. Or, they may have been science thinkers who were Catholic educated or have shown an interest in Catholic Thinking. Or, they may Catholic thinkers who were science educated or who have shown an interest in Science Thinking. From a wide spectrum there are many ways to be a Catholic Science Thinker. Here, for example, are a diverse range of ten Catholic Science Thinkers and some of their thoughts:

Pope Luciani

We wish finally to express our support for all the laudable, worthy initiatives that can safeguard and increase peace in our troubled world. We call upon all good men, all who are just, honest, true of heart that… they might bring men to mutual understanding to combining efforts that would further social progress, overcome hunger of body and ignorance of the mind and advance those who are less endowed with goods of this earth, yet rich in energy and desire.

Fr George Coyne

Not even we scientists reflect enough on the amazing achievments of modern science. Through physics, biology, chemistry and mathematics we’re able to put the universe in our heads. We are made of stardust and, in us, the universe is thinking about itself.

Galileo Galilei

Philosophy is written in this grand book, the universe, which stands continually open to our gaze. But the book cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and read the letters in which it is composed.

Gregor Mendel

My scientific studies have afforded me great gratification; and I am convinced that it will not be long before the whole world acknowledges the results of my work.

Maria Gaetana Agnesi

(It is) the right of women to study the fine arts and the sublime sciences

Louis Pasteur

The idea of God is a form of the idea of the Infinite. As long as the mystery of the Infinite weighs on human thought, temples will be erected for the worship of the Infinite, whether God be called ‘Brahma,’ ‘Allah,’ ‘Jehovah,’ or ‘Jesus’; and on the pavement of those temples men will be seen kneeling, prostrate, annihilated, in the thought of the Infinite.

Sir Alexander Fleming

It is the lone worker who makes the first advance in a subject: the details may be worked out by a team, but the prime idea is due to the enterprise, thought, and perception of an individual.

Professor Laura Bassi … 

Fr Bernard Lonergan

Discovery is new beginning. It is the origin of new rules that supplement, or even supplant, the old. Genius is creative. It is genius precisely because it disregards established routines, because it originates the novelties that will be the routines of the future. Were there rules for discovery, then discoveries would be mere conclusions.

Sir Gus Nossal

I am most proud about the science I’ve done with my own two hands because I have always thought that even if your life path takes you into a leadership position outside the area you were known for, your legitimacy remains in that first field.

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CST Certificate Assignments: Read and Watch …

READ THE BOOK

26. Question: What is the most interesting insight you have from the READ excercise?

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WATCH THE

MASTERCLASS

Religion. Faith. Science.

A Masterclass with George Coyne and Richard Dawkins

26. Question: What is the most interesting insight you have from the WATCH excercise?

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Instruction

If you wish, you can complete the reading of the 25 Paragraphs of text, follow the hyperlinks and READ the book and also WATCH the streaming masterclass and the extra material in the SEE ALSO appendix. If you follow this pedagogy it should take you, all up, a total of about 7 to 10 hours. You can do it once or repeat many times and all in your own time and place. You may invite anyone who may be interested. You may start a study group of your own. On completion, you may ask for a Certificate of Catholic Science Thinking from the School. There are no fees of any kind.

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• SEE ALSO

The Pope’s Astronomer

American astronomer and physicist, Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ, is the current Director of the Vatican Observatory, and President of the Vatican Observatory Foundation

See two related videos – Papal Space Rocks at https://youtu.be/5OI4wb2XIZc​ and The Pope’s Telescopes at https://youtu.be/ccoGKAL6Qas

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“God Particle” Physicist, Fabiola Gianotti, Academician, Pontifical Academy of Sciences

In 2020, Pope Francis appointed “God particle” physicist Fabiola Gianotti to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Fabiola Gianotti, Director-General of CERN, is a particle physicist working at high-energy accelerators. In her scientific career, she has made significant contributions to several experiments at CERN, including ATLAS at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Here she presents her credentials to the Academy …

List of Academicians of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences:

http://www.pas.va/content/accademia/en/academicians.html

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George Coyne presenting “Quantum Cosmology and Creation” at Nobel Conference 49: The Universe at Its Limits

George V. Coyne, S.J., Ph.D. McDevitt Chair of Religious Philosophy, Le Moyne College, Syracuse, NY, former director of the Vatican Observatory, and head of the observatory’s research group based at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

SUBJECTS: -Beginning of Lecture (6:23) -Summary of Lecture Content (8:50) -The Search For Truth in Science (11:40) -The Search for Truth In Religious Belief (21:42) -A Mutual Interaction: Cosmology & Christian Faith (31:18) -Scientific Evolution & the Quest of Christian Faith (46:56) -Beginning of Q&A (1:02:00)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ReQcK3Wd-A&t=5466s

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• List of Catholic Science Thinkers:

This is the Wikipedia list throughout history of cleric-scientists including Nicolaus CopernicusGregor MendelGeorges LemaîtreAlbertus MagnusRoger BaconWilliam of Ockham, and others …

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Catholic_clergy_scientists

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• From the Vatican Archives:

Official documentation of the papal pronouncements and publications of John Paul I including Apostolic Letters, Homilies, and Speeches …

http://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-i/en.html

The Papal Coat of Arms of
Pope Luciani, HH John Paul I

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