OnBeing interview with directors of Vatican Observatory

Not getting this particular public radio program on our local stations, I was not even aware of the “OnBeing” series until we listened to this particular interview in our church small group.

It is a podcast episode titled “Asteroids, Stars and the Love of God”. Guy Consolmagno and George Coyne are interviewed for the better part of an hour.

I thought it an excellent interview and an hour well-spent. I’m curious if others here who are interested would agree? I’m not Catholic, but I was very impressed with how these two represent the Jesuit tradition. Perhaps any others here who have been selling Catholics short could benefit from this as well.

One statement that caught my attention was this one:

“The opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty.”

I’m not sure I’m entirely on board with that, but it did get me thinking. I suppose I could see that in at least one important way. Where there is certainty, there is no doubt, but then there is no faith (trust) either. If one consents to live by faith, then perhaps that faith must inevitably be accompanied by doubt. But certainty doesn’t leave room for either. If one is to have a “mustard seed” of faith, the implication is that such a small thing can coexist with a lot of other baggage – but not certainty, perhaps.



All ‘sound bites’ are made to grab our attention, and the above statement is a sound bite - however, one way to discuss certainty is to consider it as ‘sense certainty’. I think some philosophers have discussed this, to mean that any thing we know via our senses is regarded as certain - when we think about it, how else can such information be regarded. In making faith in opposition to such certainty, we are acknowledging that faith is a type of evidence of things unseen (or not based on our senses). What is certain (to continue this theme) regarding faith however, is the act derived from, or based on faith. Thus we understand people’s faith by their works and personal attributes.

To add another twist to this, much of science is not sense based, but reason based - science does require that anything we derived from thought and intellect be subjected to some form of sense based examination.

I would restate this as, when we base something on our senses, we do not see a reason to doubt (unless we are deceived by another, and even then, something must have been done to our senses). This again infers certainty to our sense responses (but this must be confined to objects that we know via our senses) - we also infer a good faith aspect regarding our belief in our senses. If we base our actions on faith, we are still inclined to trust our senses in terms of understanding our acts, but we know all are based on a faith aspect of our being.

Hope this clarifies (does not add to any confusion).


Thanks. That does clarify. Even our sensory based certainty cannot be absolute certainty, but we flippantly refer to it as certainty since it seems to us about as close as we can get. But our senses do fool us too.

The snippet as I shared it is indeed a mere “bite”, but the whole interview surrounding that quote was no mere sound bite at all, and gives it more context I think.


I simply wanted to emphasise a notion of certainty - the context (and the entire podcast) is both informative and (perhaps more important) shows that science can be fun. I liked the comments on ‘educated ignorance’ when discussing science, and that it is an endless discovery of the creation. I am drawn more to the ‘risk and faith’ discussed in the podcast, although I agree that we may consider doubt and certainty in that context.


I noticed (and liked) what he said about “educated ignorance” as well.

Meanwhile, I also found somebody else’s use of the same quote I referenced above. The novelist Anne Lamott said the same thing, perhaps quoting the same priest that Guy may have been quoting from. Here is Anne’s commentary on it.

“I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me–that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.”

This may not shed a lot of light of the analytical kind, but I enjoy her perspective on the humanity involved. She has a lot of other great thoughts expressed as well.

Reading snippets of Anne Lamott’s thought which I think are very insightful, these kinds of expressions often come up hard against the seemingly unyielding surface of scientific objectivity. People who glory in the messiness of humanity tend to run afoul of that scientifically suspicious eye that rejects all postmodernism in no uncertain terms. That is, there are true things about reality that are true for everybody no matter how we personally appraise, accept, or reject that truth. Therefore anything that is emotional/subjective is, at best, provisional speculation until science sinks its analytical teeth into it to distill out any truth that may be there.

At least … that is the hard-core materialist’s take on it. I follow that latter course as far as rejecting postmodernism, but think that the rest of what I described above sinks into an unwholesome religious Scientism. There will always be truths, important truths, that we need to embrace and even act on that are forever beyond the reach of the jaw-snapping hounds of science.

Note … I’m not accusing Lamott of being a postmodernist in any way or form since I have not read her work beyond the page of quotes I found above. I just note that similar words to some of hers are sometimes found on the lips of postmodern thinkers.

“… there are truths about reality…for everybody…”

I agree with this and I think we, in our postmodern world, may have forgotten such things include an inner peace, a moral compass, a sense of being anchored in what reason has shown are eternal truths. The odd insistence by anti-theists (or as you say materialists) that their version of science is all there is, robs many people in that they become convinced not to seek the values that appear mysterious to such scientists. Reason and mystery are not self-excluded, and once religion(s) ensure the content of their faith is anchored in values that seek the well being of humanity and this world, harmony between reason and faith becomes obvious. The Christian faith provides a universal message that may be embraced by anyone who chooses to see and hear. This aspect of the Christian faith is both empowering and also brings risk - it is easier to say we are right, the rest are wrong, we will go to heaven and the rest to hell. Such sound bites are derived from a profound ignorance of the Christian faith - the Gospel clearly shows us Christ rejecting those who give Him lip service, and accepts those who do good, whatever their intellectual/scientific views.

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