Catholic Contributions in Science

Writing in the "Houses of Worship" section in the Wall Street Journal, Professors Stephen Barr and Dermott Mullan take on the persistent myth that the Catholic Church is opposed to science. 

In fact, the remarkable story of the Catholic clergy’s contributions to science is one of the best-kept secrets of scientific history. The exception is Gregor Mendel; it is widely known that the science of genetics began with the experiments of the Austrian monk.

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But it is the rare person who knows that the big-bang theory, the central pillar of modern cosmology, was the brainchild of the Belgian Catholic priest and physicist Georges Lemaître. In the 1920s, Lemaître showed that Albert Einstein’s equations of gravity allow space itself to expand and, connecting this to observations that distant galaxies were flying apart, he formulated his famous theory of how the universe began.

The Jesuits have an especially rich scientific tradition. In the 16th century, the Jesuit astronomer Christopher Clavius developed our modern calendar. In the 17th century, Jesuit Giambattista Riccioli mapped the moon, and Christoph Scheiner helped discover sunspots. Francesco Grimaldi discovered the enormously important physics effect called “diffraction,” the effects of which you can see in the colorful bands of a glimmering CD. In the 19th century, the Jesuit Angelo Secchi, a founder of astrophysics, pioneered the study of the sun and stars using the spectra of their light and developed the first spectral classification of stars, the basis of the one now used.

See their full essay here.

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