Theology and astronomy meet in Manchester

Questions of faith and science: Manchester 25 - 27 November 2016
Questions of faith and science: Manchester 25 - 27 November 2016

A leading Jesuit scientist will be the main speaker at an event in Manchester that will challenge us to consider life beyond our own world. Fr Chris Corbally SJ of the Vatican Observatory will be asking: Would you baptise an extraterrestrial? and other questions from the frontiers of Faith and Science when he takes part in Living Theology at the Catholic Chaplaincy of Manchester's Universities later this month.

Fr Corbally is a member of the British Province of the Society of Jesus who obtained a PhD in astronomy at the University of Toronto (Canada) in 1983. Since then, he has been a research astronomer of the Vatican Observatory and was its Vice Director for the Vatican Observatory Research Group in Tucson until 2012. He is a member of the Royal Astronomical Society and the American Astronomical Society; he is also the President of the National Committee for Astronomy in the Vatican City State for the International Astronomical Union.

Not a trivial question

Speaking shortly before leaving for Montreal, where he will be giving the keynote talk at a McGill-Creor graduate interdisciplinary conference, followed by a colloquium to the McGill Space Institute, Fr Corbally said: "The trivial answer to 'Would you baptise an extraterrestrial?' is, 'Only if it asks'. But the question is not trivial. It makes us think deeply about our science and our faith, and that is the whole quest of this Manchester 2016 weekend.".

The weekend of Living Theology talks at Manchester Universities' Catholic Chaplaincy will start on Friday 25 November with a presentation by Fr Corbally entitled ‘Taking Science Seriously and Talking about God’, for which entry is free. He will then give two presentations on Saturday (26 November): ‘A Quick Survey of Modern Cosmology’ and ‘Star Wars? ET and Religion in the Light of the Kepler Planets’. These will be complemented by two talks by Fr Michael Smith SJ in which he will consider Evolution and Genesis and give a presentation of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ (1881 – 1955), the Jesuit palaeontologist, renowned for his work in understanding the link between evolution and faith.Fr Chris Corbally SJ

The Living Theology speakers on Sunday 27 November will be Fr Corbally who will address ‘Astronomy and the Star of Bethlehem’, and Gabriel Fonseca of Manchester University who has a PhD in Computer Science. His topic will be ‘The Brain, Consciousness and the Divine’. The weekend will conclude with  a talk entitled ‘The Real Science of the Real God’ by Fr Smith, and a panel discussion involving all participants. Mass will be included in the Saturday and Sunday schedules.

Entrusted to the Jesuits

The Jesuits – in the service of the Pope and the Church – have been involved in astronomy since the earliest days of the Society of Jesus. They were among the first to observe the coloured bands on Jupiter's surface, the Andromeda nebula and Saturn's rings; and they theorised about the way the moon affected the tides. Pope Gregory XIII called on Jesuit astronomers and mathematicians to study the scientific data that led to the development of the Gregorian Calendar. In the middle of the 19th century, Father Angelo Secchi SJ conducted research at the Roman College and was the first to classify stars according to their spectra.

The Vatican Observatory itself (Specola Vaticana) itself has a long association with the Jesuits, starting when Father Johann Hagen took over as director in 1906. Its operation at Castel Gandolfo near Rome was entrusted by the Pope to the Society of Jesus. But as the bright night skies around Rome made it harder to observe the stars, a second research centre was founded in Tucson, Arizona (USA) in 1981, making the Vatican Observatory one of the world’s largest and most modern centres for observational astronomy. Fr Corbally is the Vice-Superior for Tucson of the Jesuit Community of the Vatican Observatory.

‘Would you baptise an extraterrestrial?’ is taking place at Manchester Universities' Catholic Chapaincy, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PG. Tickets are available from the Chaplaincy at £20 (£10 Day Pass) or £10 for students (£5 Day Pass). They can be reserved via