An outstanding physicist speaks
Wlodzimierz Redzioch talks to Prof. Antonino Zichichi, one of the most outstanding contemporary physicists.
Prof. Antonino Zichichi can boast of six discoveries, four inventions and three original ideas, which have opened new horizons in the subnuclear physics of high energies. It is especially worth noting the nuclear anti-matter, effective energy interacting between fundamental components of the subnuclear universe (the so-called quarks and gluons) and the discovery that the last heavy and loaded ‘brick’ of the universe (proton) cannot be broken. As far as his inventions are concerned it is worth remembering the electronic tool to measure highly precisely the time of the flight of subnuclear particles. The complicated system that can measure time intervals with considerable accuracy of +/– 70 picoseconds (a picosecond is one trillionth of a second) is used in all world laboratories and will also be installed in the International Space Station that flies over our heads at the height of 400 km. One of his original ideas concerns the existence of the third ‘family’ of elementary particles. Many people think that Prof. Zichichi deserves the Nobel Prize in Physics. Some explain that he has not received it because he is not only a great scientist but also a man of deep faith and he does not hide his beliefs. Such a man is not liked by the liberal and anti-clerical media and by the intellectual environments thinking that a true scientist must be a non-believer, a materialist. Besides, the scientific activities of such people as Zichichi contradict the promoted contemporary idea that allegedly faith cannot be reconciled with science. The pretext to make an interview with the Italian professor was the International Year of Astronomy announced by the United Nations, which was officially opened in Paris on 15 January 2009. The initiatives related to the Year of Astronomy are co-ordinated by UNESCO and the International Astronomical Union.
Wlodzimierz Redzioch: – Professor Zichichi, why did the UN announce 2009 the International Year of Astronomy?
Prof. Antonino Zichichi: – Because the year 2009 marks the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s discovery of the very precise telescope thanks to which the scientist born in Pisa could discover that there are mountains on the Moon, that the Sun has ‘spots’ (today we know that these are gigantic explosions that influence the climate on the Earth to a considerable extent) and that the Sun circles around its own axis although it needs a whole month for that and not one day like the Earth; that Venus orbits around the Sun; that Jupiter has four satellites; Saturn has rings. These discoveries alone suffice to acknowledge Galileo as the greatest astronomer of all times.
– Why is Galileo Galilei regarded as the creator of modern science? What do we mean by the term ‘scientific method’?
– The scientific method of Galileo is based on a severe theoretical and experimental discipline. The rigour to conduct experiments made him achieve results that could be repeated. Whereas the rigour to describe the achieved results is revealed in his usage of mathematics. The work of Galileo Galilei is still valid since he was the first man to prove that there is universal and precise fundamental logic. In the act of intellectual humility he stated that the One that created the world was more intellectual than the thinkers of all ages. We must surrender facing his intellectual power and if we wanted to discover logic he used creating the world we have only one way – ask precise questions, making rigorous experiments. This is the scientific method. That’ why we regard Galileo as the father of modern science.
– Galileo thought that God gave us two books: the Bible and the book of nature. The language of nature – Galileo states – is mathematics. It is not amazing that thanks to the mind man invented the intellectual system, mathematics, and using it he can examine and understand the world that surrounds him?
– Benedict XVI tries to place the mind in the centre of cultural debate – without this specific kind of characteristic of animate matter science could not exist. The mind let us discover language, logic and science. Thanks to language the Permanent Collective Memory was born, known as writing. No other form of animate matter left traces in the form of the PCM, no other kind of animate matter was able to discover a more precise form of logic – mathematics. Among the various possible logics only one was used to ‘make’ the world as we know it. This logic is called science and is the logic that governs the universe. It was discovered thanks to the studies of inanimate matter (Galileo examined stones, today we examine particles called elementary particles. If animate matter to which we belong had not been given the privilege to have the mind neither science nor mathematics could have existed. Because of the above-mentioned motives the faith in God should correspond to the conviction that mathematics invented by man corresponds to the mathematics used by God while creating the world.
– Many contemporary intellectuals and scientists negate the existence of God and think that science cannot be accepted with the faith in God. You do not share such statements. In the Centre of Scientific Culture ‘Ettore Majorana’ (Centro di Cultura Scientifica „Ettore Majorana") you founded in Erica, Sicily, which thousands of eminent world scientists, including many Nobel Prize winners, visit, there is a tablet with the meaningful statement, ‘Science and faith are both God’s gifts’. Does it mean that the union of science and faith is possible?
– It is a sentence of our great Pope John Paul II. The union of science and faith is possible, what’s more, it is the only way out of the cultural crisis we are experiencing at present.
– For ages the anti-religious propaganda has used ‘the matter of Galileo’ to prove that the Church is hostile to science as if great Galileo had been an atheist and not a faithful son of the Church. What should be done not to make the celebrations of the Year of Galileo, i.e. the Year of Astronomy, an occasion to spread the anti-religious, atheistic and pseudo-scientific propaganda?
– We, in Italy, began the celebrations of the Year of Galileo by celebrating solemn Mass on the day of his birthday and we organised an exhibition in the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels in Rome to show that Galileo discovered modern science by an act of faith in the Creator of all visible and invisible things.
– Among other things you are dealing with the problem of the origin of the universe. Can the theories explaining the origin of the world, like the Big Bang theory, negate the truths of our faith to some extent?
– No, they cannot. The origin of the world, including the Big Bang theory, and the cosmic evolution must respect the above quoted logic. This is the logic that governs all forms of inanimate and animate matter, from its smallest structures as the subnuclear world, to the whole universe, consisting of billions of galaxies (each galaxy has hundreds of billions of stars). Atheism cannot negate the existence of logic (negating it would mean negating the existence of science as such) but states that its Author does not exist and the whole reality ends in the immanent sphere of our existence, i.e. the sphere in which science operates. In a word, atheism rejects the existence of the transcendent sphere of our existence. However, there is a big contradiction: if all things are limited to immanence it should be possible, using the two great achievements of the mind in the immanent sphere: Galileo’s mathematics and science, to prove mathematically and discover scientifically that God does not exist; this God thanks to whom we have the privilege to possess the mind. Nobody in the world has managed to prove it and consequently, atheism is not an act of the mind but an act of faith in nothingness.