That’s So Second Millennium
Post Christian: The Galileo business in 250 words

Post Christian: The Galileo business in 250 words

August 29, 2019

I prepared these notes for an interview with Brigid Ayer on the Faith in Action Show for Catholic Radio Indy, but ended up using almost none of them. We talked instead about matters in the present day, and why Bill (also on the interview) and I started TSSM. The interview is planned to go up the third week of September, with the podcast version of the episode on their PodBean feed Monday the 16th and the radio broadcast later in the week.

The dominant proximate source for this was a blog post or two from the Vatican Observatory blog, which I cannot even find right now, due to a surplus of riches in their coverage of the subject. For your own purposes, there are also a million books. I loved Galileo's Daughter; I haven't yet gotten up the courage to tackle The Galileo Affair: A Documentary History.

Science, Church, Galileo.

The Galileo affair was a messy piece of work, which a number of people, bishops and cardinals included, inside the Church recognized at the time. Galileo himself remained a Catholic and endured his condemnation with irritation as an obvious miscarriage of justice and a misapplication of the Church's own teachings. At the time, his ideas were considered by a number of people to be heretical both because they contradicted simple-minded interpretations of certain passages in the Bible and because, essentially, they contradicted Aristotle.

Aristotle's philosophy is immensely insightful, and continues to be a viable means of interpreting reality, but not all of it equally. The Scholastics had fought a long campaign to integrate Aristotle into the fabric of Christian doctrine, and the result was a beautiful intellectual accomplishment, but it allowed Aristotle to take too much significance even in matters where his thinking is simply not that insightful or valuable. He took the geocentric universe for granted.

When Galileo set out to prove the geocentric model wrong, it was easy for people at that time of religious turmoil to condemn him. On one side, Catholics who were sensitive to the shrill Protestant shrieking about Scripture were not eager to be forced into reading the handful of passages that seem relevant to the issue poetically or figuratively. On the other, in attacking something that Aristotle taught, essential or not to his philosophical framework, Galileo could be read by others to be trying to overturn all of philosophy and theology along with it.

The condemnations of 1633 were never enforced all that rigidly, and during the 18th and 19th centuries the official proscriptions on his thought and writings were loosened. The popes since Leo XIII have piece by piece vindicated Galileo completely, culminating in two statements by John Paul II (in 1991 and 2000, as I recall, and also belonging on the reading list) that said the cardinals and popes in 1613-1633 had made mistakes and been wrong to treat Galileo the way that they did.

The condemnation of Galileo was never a matter of infallible magisterium. The magisterium of the Church is exercised in the matters of faith and morals, not astronomy or philosophy, and not even social science. Further, the trial of an individual is not the sort of place one would look for magisterial teaching. Some of the Ecumenical Councils were called to try heretics like Arius, and those are the very definition of magisterial teaching, but you only get an E.C. called to debate your writings if you have 1) a massive movement, hence your trial is not really about you, but about ideas wandering at large in society and 2) the issue you are leading people on about is actually squarely in the arena of the teachings of the faith.

Episode 074 - Karin Oberg

Episode 074 - Karin Oberg

August 26, 2019
  1. Karin Öberg is Professor of Astronomy and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University. Planetary formation—or stars and stellar evolution—is a focus of her research. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Society of Catholic Scientists. See her CV here.
  2. Öberg spoke of her first academic route to astronomy being via chemistry rather than physics. She discovered the field of astrochemistry while an undergraduate at the California Institute of Technology. She earned her PhD in astrophysics at Leiden University in the Netherlands.
  3. She joined the faculty at the University of Virginia in 2012. One year, later, she received an assistant professorship at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, which is located at Harvard.
  4. Öberg was baptized as a Christian in her youth but then drew away from the faith. She said she never adopted an atheistic, materialistic perspective largely because of two key principles she holds to: moral realism and one’s personal agency as an individual making free decisions.
  5. During her college years, Christianity remained a living question for her partly because of the friends with whom she associated. Books influenced her deeply: Lord of the Rings, The Screwtape Letters, The Abolition of Man, Mere Christianity, and Orthodoxy. This combination brought her back to Christianity, first in the Anglican Church.
  6. After joining the faculty at Harvard, she completed a two-year RCIA program at St Paul’s Parish in Harvard Square to join the Catholic Church. One concern she felt in her new Catholic experiences, she said, was that the statements in the Mass did not always seem to line up with personal beliefs articulated by individuals.
  7. Öberg said she has not personally experienced any bias against her Catholicism at Harvard, and indeed she has felt welcomed in the astronomy community and among other colleagues. She helps to mentor some Catholic and Christian students. Some Catholic colleagues have experienced prejudice, in the biology department, for example. She said one factor is that her research does not touch on any controversial subjects. But she wants to let students know they should not be anxious about living out their Catholic faith because of fear of prejudiced encounters. Overall, being open about one’s faith has a net positive effect on oneself and others, despite occasional crosses one might have to bear.
Episode 073 – Jonathan Lunine

Episode 073 – Jonathan Lunine

August 19, 2019

In this episode we have Jonathan Lunine on the podcast, this time talking to him about his own spiritual journey from Judaism to Catholic Christianity, and from the secular surface of life as a scientist to a deeper life where the beauty of science is one prominent part of a larger whole of human experience. We also get the chance to discuss some of his work in studying the planets during the era when they changed from objects seen through a telescope to worlds we can map and even sample and bring back to our laboratories.

  1. Jonathan Lunine, a planetary scientist at Cornell University, is a member of the board of the Society of Catholic Scientists. He spoke of the influence of reading Carl Sagan’s The Cosmic Connection and receiving Sagan’s advice for pursuing a career in astronomy.
  2. Dr. Lunine has been on the scientific teams leading several missions of space exploration, including Cassini and, now, the James Webb Space Telescope.
  3. He described his early spiritual journey, seeing how science and religion could be intertwined. The journey took him from Jewish family roots to a Methodist church and then to Catholicism. He spoke of being impressed by the connection between the Catholic faith and its Jewish roots.
  4. Astronomers have been excited to learn of the abundance of planets to be found in our galaxy. As Dr. Lunine pointed out, thanks to initiatives like the New Horizons spacecraft, we have turned our “cosmic backyard” into a place where we can study an enormous variety of geology “and even, potentially, biology.”
  5. He expressed gratitude for astronomers and others who became role models embracing the compatibility between science and faith. A key figure, about whom he has made presentations, is the Belgian priest Georges LeMaitre, known as the father of the big bang theory.

This was one of our most enjoyable conversations, and we definitely hope to have Dr. Lunine back on the podcast again.

Episode 072 - Benjamin Rybicki

Episode 072 - Benjamin Rybicki

August 12, 2019
  1. Dr. Benjamin Rybicki, a member of the Society of Catholic Scientists, is Senior Research Scientist in the Department of Public Health Services at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. He received his PhD in Epidemiology from the University of Michigan. His research focuses on the epidemiology, demographics and genetics of sarcoidosis, Parkinson’s disease, and prostate cancer.
  2. There is a strong humanistic theme in biology, and it does entail a deep concern about human beings, but Dr. Rybicki said his experience suggests the humanistic impulse is separated from religious faith in many cases. His particular interest in epidemiology grew partly from an interest in the application of statistics to medicine. At the Henry Ford Hospital, there is a large population of African American patients, among whom there is a heightened risk from prostate cancer and sarcoidosis.
  3. Berylliosis, which occurs more rarely from beryllium exposure, has a similar genetic susceptibility pattern to sarcoidosis.
  4. background can increase the risk of, and the behavior of, certain diseases as experienced by people, although it’s not directly related to race. African Americans tend to have a different inflammatory response to pathogens than people of European descent.
  5. Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disorder, most commonly in the lungs. It varies in how it progresses and presents itself. The treatment of choice is steroids, and they also have particularly important side effects.
  6. One’s Catholic faith is an important element in the practice of medicine. An understanding of the human person made in the image of God will influence one’s decisions, including the choice of treatments and the balance of risks and benefits, Dr. Rybicki said. This shows itself, for example, in considering quantity and quality of life and what medicine can provide. We must be mindful of how we’re respecting the dignity of the human person through medical interventions. We must think about how to improve the human condition without getting carried away with ideas of manipulating other factors—extending to intelligence and physical prowess. “I can definitely see that coming down the pike.” Doctors may enhance aspects of life that have nothing to do with the disease condition they’re treating. For example, choosing to change a gene might lower your heart disease but also increase your risk of cancer. We have to be careful. Consider where are we going in the direction of creating a highly medicated society, treating everything with drugs without considering alternatives such as behavioral changes. Tinkering with the human body can have unintended effects. Dr. Rybicki shares this insight with young Catholic doctors: Make your Catholic faith a strong part, a driving force, in the work you do. (Editor’s note: By the way, listeners may be interested in the mission of the Catholic Medical Association.)
  7. Dr. Rybicki devoted part of his talk to Jerome Lejeune, a pioneer in genetics and in the understanding of Down Syndrome who took his Catholic faith very seriously. Now declared a Servant of God on the pathway toward possible canonized sainthood, Lejeune made sacrifices in his medical career as he maintained his principles about the dignity of every human life while medical science took a different course regarding Down Syndrome.
  8. The 2019 Society of Catholic Scientists conference was very well done, Dr. Rybicki said. He said he enjoys learning about subjects with which he is not familiar, and conference attendees seemed to share that experience. Videos from the conference are available on You Tube.
Episode 071 - Sonsoles de Lacalle

Episode 071 - Sonsoles de Lacalle

August 5, 2019
  1. Sonsoles de Lacalle, a physician and neuroscientist, has recently taken the position of professor and Chair, Health Science, at California State University Channel Islands. She previously served as associate professor of biomedical sciences at Ohio University and Director of the Office of Advanced Studies in Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.
  2. Dr. De Lacalle, a member of the Society of Catholic Scientists, holds both an MD and a PhD from the University of Navarre in Spain.
  3. Her research focuses on the field of aging and dementia and the effects of estrogen on brain cells. She sees her pursuit of positions in research and administrative support of research advancement as an extension of her Catholic faith. She sees herself as a “builder” of support systems bearing fruits of well-being for all through the advancement of important research.
  4. De Lacalle cites the Opus Dei message of building one’s relationship with the Lord and extending Christian values and virtues through one’s everyday professional work.
  5. She said there are signs in the world’s current culture of a strong, concerted attack against the idea of God and against the idea that we are the mere creatures of a supernatural Creator. Amid the challenges facing believers today, we can draw hope from confidence in the truth and victorious love of the Kingdom of God—we know how the story ends. Through her connection to the study of osteopathic medicine at Ohio State, she saw the value of that field’s commitment to care for the entire person and to respect each person’s inherent dignity.
  6. Another positive sign she has seen is a trend which may be beginning with New York University’s plan to offer free tuition to its students preparing to be doctors. It is hoped that leaving graduates unencumbered by debts could make them better able to enter certain fields of care where additional medical personnel are especially needed but remuneration is relatively low.
  7. Among the current research in which de Lacalle wants to spread the word about crucial impacts for human well-being is the study of human physical activity and exercise—their high correlation with brain health through the production of lactic acid, which supports the brain’s executive functions in neurons.