Reconciling faith, science and feminism

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March for Science is planned for Earth Day, April 22, and in advance of that NBC interviewed the chemist Michelle Francl, who, as well as being a scientist and Bryn Mawr professor, is also a feminist and a Catholic theologian (and recently appointed as an adjunct at the Vatican Observatory). She will be one of the speakers at the Philadelphia march. She describes science a “long, loving look at the real.”

NBC10: People will be surprised to hear that you are a Catholic theologian in addition to a scientist… Tell me a little about how you marry the two passions.

Francl: This is back to the idea that for me science is a long loving look at the real, a phrase which comes from Walter Burdghardt SJ’s description of contemplative prayer. To look deeply into creation, and the truths revealed there, is for me a way to pray, to listen to and draw closer to God.

For me, there is a fascinating beauty in the shapes of molecules, and the ways in which they work that provokes a sense of awe, even as I understand the quantum physics that underies them. God isn’t who I invoke when I don’t understand the science — God is not a way to cover gaps in what we as scientists know.

Last year I was honored to be appointed one of a dozen scholars at the Vatican Observatory, working with the full time staff of Jesuit astrophysicists and others. It’s a wonderful to chance to merge my theological persona with my chemistry one. The Catholic church considers science to be an important part of the human endeavor, and the Observatory is one sign of that. So is Laudato Si’!

Other local scientists/theologians include Frank Ferrone, a physicist at Drexel, who wrote a book on liturgy; Kathy Duffy, SSJ, another physicist, PhD from Drexel, now at Chestnut Hill, who has written a book on theology of Teilhard de Chardin, SJ; Peter Dodson at Penn, paleoentology, who writes and talks about evolution and faith; and Steve Barr at University of Delaware, who has started the Society for Catholic Scientists which, coincidentally, is having its inaugural meeting in Chicago on Saturday.

Photo from Bryn Mawr College website.

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