The Astronomer Who Found God in the Stars

During his tenure at Harvard, the astronomer Owen Gingerich—who died two weeks ago at the age of ninety-three—was known as a colorful professor who would engage in such stunts as propelling himself with a fire extinguisher to demonstrate the laws of physics. Gingerich also made important contributions to the history of science and was a committed advocate of Pluto’s status as a planet. And unlike some other prominent students of the cosmos, he remained committed throughout his life to belief in God. Neil Genzlinger writes:

Professor Gingerich was raised a Mennonite and was a student at Goshen College, a Mennonite institution in Indiana, studying chemistry but thinking of astronomy, when, he later recalled, a professor there gave him pivotal advice: “If you feel a calling to pursue astronomy, you should go for it. We can’t let the atheists take over any field.”

He took the counsel, and throughout his career he often wrote or spoke about his belief that religion and science need not be at odds. He explored that theme in the books God’s Universe (2006) and God’s Planet (2014). He was not a biblical literalist; he had no use for those who ignored science and proclaimed the Bible’s creation story historical fact. Yet, as he put it in God’s Universe, he was “personally persuaded that a superintelligent Creator exists beyond and within the cosmos.”

Margaret Wertheim, reviewing that book in the Los Angeles Times, called it “lucid and poetic.”

“In this time of sectarian wars, when theists and atheists are engaged in increasingly hostile incivilities,” she wrote, “Gingerich lays out an elegant case for why he finds the universe a source of encouragement for his life both as a scientist and as a Christian. We do not have to agree with his conclusions to be buoyed and enchanted by the journey on which he takes us.”

Read more at New York Times

More about: Science, Science and Religion

Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy