On Thursday, speaking with astronauts 254 miles above the Earth, Pope Francis proved how science and faith can serve each other.
Telecasting with the crew of the international space station, the Pope began by asking, "As you're contemplating the unbounded limits of the universe; it makes us think about where we come from and where we're going, in light of your experiences in space, what are your thoughts regarding the place of man in the universe?"
"I think that our objective here," Italian astronaut, Paolo Nespoli responded, "is that of knowing our being and to fill our knowledge to understand what's around us. But on the other hand, an interesting thing is that the more we know, the more we realize how little we know."
Both the question and the answer were beautiful.
In Pope Francis’ question, we see a religious leader humbled by the unknown of Space. As with the journey of faith, the Pope seems to be saying, the exploration of space requires resolute humility. In turn, Nespoli’s words bind God’s unique omniscience to humanity’s desire for knowledge.
The compatibility of these viewpoints is inspiring. After all, from Galileo’s troubles to the broken ruins of Palmyra, history and contemporary reality testify to those who see faith and knowledge as mortal enemies.
Later in the papal-interplanetary discussion, American astronaut, Randy Bresnik, expanded on this theme. "What gives me the greatest joy every day," Bresnik explained, "is to be able to look outside and see God's creation maybe a little bit from his perspective. People cannot come up here and see the indescribable beauty of our Earth and not be touched in their souls."
Bresnik continued, "As we see the peace and serenity of our planet as it goes around at 10 kilometers a second, and there are no borders and no conflict, it’s just peaceful… as we work to get more access to space and more people can see that perspective from space, maybe humanity’s future is a lot better than the one we have now."
I understand why the Pope was moved by those words. Bresnik illustrates that far from being mutually exclusive with faith, scientific advances can actually deepen faith. In this case, a human-made craft has granted a new window to the hand of God. It's a worthy counterpoint to those like Richard Dawkins, who claim that science and faith are mortal enemies.
Yes, emotive social and political debates aren’t going away. But on Thursday, in the Vatican and space, the gifts of science and faith shone forth together.