By: Joshua Heine, Public & Global Affairs Intern
On February 4, Niagara Foundation was pleased to welcome Reverend John Cunningham, a Jesuit priest and physics professor at Loyola University Chicago, for a Friends in Faith event. Irving discussed his work at Loyola as well as the dialogue between faith and science.
Born and raised in Western Pennsylvania, Cunningham became interested in science and mathematics in high school. Originally studying meteorology, his interest in particle physics began after a conversation with a friend employed at Fermilab (formerly the Fermi National Accelerator) in Batavia, IL. His desire to join the Jesuit order arose from the order’s passion for education–particularly towards science–and he became inducted in 2005 after earning his Master of Divinity in Berkeley, CA. In addition to his divinity degree, Cunningham also holds a Bachelor of Science and a Doctorate in Physics as well as a Master of Arts in Philosophy.
Regarding the relationship between faith and science in his own life, Cunningham stated that he never experienced a conflict between his work as a physicist and a priest. For him, science is an important part of creation, and scientific research is a method of observing and praising God in the natural world. He also mentioned that he worked with other scientists of different faiths who did not experience a conflict in their work either.
When asked if his classes are more scientific or religious in nature, Cunningham stated that his classes are overwhelmingly science-focused. However, he noted that religious ideas appear in class discussions, which he uses to demonstrate to students that even scientific issues are “multi-leveled” due to religion and ethics. While the majority of his students at Loyola are Catholic, Cunningham noted that about 20 percent of his students are Muslim and many other students adhere to other religions. For Cunningham, it is important to maintain scientific objectivity in the classroom while showing his students the influence and importance of religious ideas on science.
When asked if he had seen something during his scientific work that reaffirmed his Christian faith, he noted that there were several times where this has happened. He cited a moment when he and his physics class were using a telescope. Jupiter was orbiting directly above them, and they were able to observe the rotation of Jupiter’s moons. Cunningham said that observing the lunar rotations and the beauty of the planet itself served as reminders of God’s creative wonders.
We thank Reverend Cunningham for his insightful talk, and hope to continue to work with him and everyone in the Niagara community to encourage further dialogue between faith and science.