Dr. Quirino Sugon, Jr.: A Scientist and a Theist

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Dr. Quirino Sugon, Jr. is a scientist; a physicist, to be exact. He derives equations using geometric algebra while teaching physics at the Ateneo de Manila University.

He also heads the Upper Atmosphere Dynamics Program of the Manila Observatory, where he researches on space weather.

“Space weather is the weather in outer space that the satellites experience, starting from the ionosphere, to the magnetosphere, all the way to the heliosphere,” he explains. “There is solar wind from the sun which disturbs the geomagnetic field of the earth. If the disturbance is large enough, the result is a geomagnetic storm which is responsible for the dazzling colors of the auroras in the North Pole, the malfunctioning of the GPS in your cars, and the loss of navigational capabilities of homing pigeons.”

Sugon believes in God. Having been raised a Catholic, he practiced the Catholic faith from his childhood up to high school. Then, he explored the New Age movement and stopped going to Mass. One day, while he was looking for some books by some New Age authors, he stumbled upon a book on Our Lady of Guadalupe. Fascinated by the book’s scientific analysis of the mantle of the Virgin, he bought the book. One book led to another, until Sugon, his doubts resolved, returned to the Catholic faith.

Most people think the Church is against science, religion and science are incompatible, and scientists must be atheists or agnostics. I wondered how Sugon could be a physicist and believe in God at the same time. I asked him some questions on the topic, and here is what he has to say:

It is often thought that religion is opposed to science, and yet you are a theist. How do you reconcile your being a scientist with being a theist?

Science, when understood in its broadest definition, is a search for knowledge. Physical science such as physics is only one branch of science. Theological science such as the teachings of the Catholic Church is also another branch of science. Each branch of science starts from a set of statements that it assumes to be true without proof. These statements are called axioms in algebra or postulates in geometry or principles in physics. From these axioms, a scientist derives theorems or new statements which are true, assuming that the axioms are true.

In physics, for example, we assume to be true the following statements: (1) the universe is governed by laws which remain to be true for all time and space and (2) the universe is defined by a few fundamental constants. That is why, physicists search for the Theory of Everything (TOE), a set of statements preferably written as a single mathematical equation, that shall explain how the electron moves around the atom and also how the stars revolve around the galaxies, starting from the Big Bang to the end of the world.

Similarly, in theology, we also start with axioms, and these axioms are the truths revealed by God Himself through his Prophets and through His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. We call these axioms “dogmas of Faith”, as summarized, for example, by the Nicene Creed. Using the rules of logic, together with data from the Sacred Scriptures, the Catholic Church deduces truths about God and about man’s relationship with God, as summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Each science has its own domain. The domain of physics is the physical world. The domain of theology is God and His relationship with His creatures. Physics and theology start with different sets of axioms, which means their results are practically independent of each other. This means you cannot use physics to argue theological truths, except as metaphors. Once physicists step outside the domain of physics by saying that God does not exist, they are on flimsy ground because the only thing that physicists can prove is that the God Who Created the Universe is not subject to the laws of physics that governs the universe.

There are many things which are not part of the physical world as well that obey their own laws and logic, and this is the subject of metaphysics. For example: What is love? What is justice? What is beauty? Physicists cannot even provide a physically measurable theory similar to Newton’s Law of Gravitation that shall explain something as common as love, because if such a theory exists, then no physicist would be heartbroken. Love is an act of will and will is never deterministic, because a person can always refuse to love. So how can physicists even attempt to disprove, using the laws of physics, the existence of Three Persons in One God: the Father (Lover), the Son (Beloved), and the Holy Spirit (Love between them)?

Do your science and your beliefs mutually influence each other? If yes, how?

There is only one truth. Since the God who created the universe is also the same God who became Man and Who established His Church with a mission to baptize all men and teach them nothing but the Truth, then the physics obtained by studying the universe could never contradict the truths that God Himself has revealed to be true, as taught by the Catholic Church. To study physics is to contemplate on the beauty of the universe, which is but a glimpse of the beauty of God Himself, for God has nothing to look at as guide for what is true, good, and beautiful except Himself.

On the part of believers, what misconceptions do you think they have about the relationship between science and religion?

The first misconception is on the Galileo affair. Many people always bring this up as a bogeyman to show that the Catholic Church is against Science. But what the Catholic Church only asked of Galileo is not to make his statements as absolute truth, but only a hypothesis to save the appearances of the sun revolving around the earth. But Galileo stuck with his belief that the earth revolves around the sun as absolute truth.

This may be mathematically simpler, but simplicity does not immediately imply that it is the correct interpretation of the phenomena, because coordinate systems are mathematical constructions and there is no three-dimensional graphing paper that you can really see in space, so that you can identify a particular point as the origin, the point which is always at rest, while the rest of the universe is in motion.

Einstein abandoned the Newtonian notion of absolute rest, so that there is no more point in talking whether the sun is moving with respect to the earth or the earth with respect to the sun. Had the Church sided with Galileo, then it would have trouble with Einstein.

That is why the Church proposed prudence: in matters involving the physical world: do not speak with absolute certainty, but only propose your ideas as theories or hypotheses that may later be disproved. This is the essence of St. Bellarmine’s letter to Foscarini regarding the Galileo controversy.

The second misconception is on the Theory of Evolution. The Catholic Church actually encourages research on the Evolutionary Hypothesis, such as on how animals adapt to their changing environments, as long as this research do not contradict the dogmas of the Catholic faith, such as the reality of Adam and Eve as our only first parents.

Any other thoughts on the relationship between faith and science that you would want to tell us?

If the readers want to know more about Faith and Science, they may read the writings of Pierre Duhem, who is both a Catholic and a scientist.

Duhem is credited, for example, with the Gibbs-Duhem equation and the Duhem-Margules equation in Thermodynamics. Duhem also studied the history of science and showed that Galileo owed his debt to the medieval scholars in the University of Paris, such as Jean Buridan, a French priest, and Nicole Oresme, who later became a bishop, referring to them only as Doctores Parisienses.

But Duhem’s ideas, such as those in his multivolume work, the Le Systeme du Monde, which traces the history of cosmological ideas from the Ancient Greeks to Copernicus, are revolutionary during his time, because he destroyed the myth that the Catholic Church was against science. In fact, Duhem showed that during the Middle Ages, it is the Catholic Church which helped foster Western Science that made the Renaissance possible.

Sugon would be very happy to discuss science and faith further at his blog www.monkshobbit.blogspot.com.

Cristina Montes

Cristina Montes

Cristina Montes, from the Philippines, is a lawyer, writer, amateur astronomer, a gardening enthusiast, a voracious reader, a karate brown belter, an avid traveler, and a lover of birds, fish, rabbits, and horses. She is a die-hard Lord of the Rings fan who reads the entire trilogy once a year. She is the eldest daughter in a large, happy Catholic family.

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1 thought on “Dr. Quirino Sugon, Jr.: A Scientist and a Theist”

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    Great job adopting the terminology of the Other Side. A real Catholic does not go around describing himself as a “theist”, any more than he describes himself as a vertebrate or as bilaterally symmetric.

    The term “theist” has become popular because it creates false impressions, notably (1) that there is some degree of parity between atheists and religious believers, whether in numbers, contributions to culture, or whatever, and (2) that it really doesn’t matter if you worship the Holy Trinity, Odin, Osirus, Moloch, Quetzalcoatl, Kali, or Jim Jones — all these worshipers have more in common with each other than with the village atheist.

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