That’s So Second Millennium
Episode 094 - Maureen Condic (rerun, full interview)

Episode 094 - Maureen Condic (rerun, full interview)

February 10, 2020

This week, events have forced another "greatest hits" episode, and so we bring you for your convenience the entire Maureen Condic interview from the June 2019 Society of Catholic Scientists meeting in a one hour and forty-five minute extravaganza. The following are Bill's liner notes from the first run episodes.

  1. University of Utah’s information page for Dr. Maureen Condic. She is an Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy, with an adjunct appointment in Pediatrics. Her research focuses on the role of stem cells in development and regeneration. She has taught human embryology in the University’s Medical School for 20 years.
  2. See Dr. Condic’s biographical summary in the list of speakers at the Society of Catholic Scientists 2019 conference titled, “What Does It Mean to Be Human?” At the conference, this embryologist and specialist in developmental neurobiology delivered the St. Albert Award Lecture: “Human Beings are Defined by Organization.”
  3. Dr. Condic is the 2019 recipient of the St. Albert Award, named for Saint Albert the Great, the Catholic Church’s patron saint of natural scientists. The award is given annually to a Catholic scientist whose life and work give witness to the harmony that exists between the vocation of scientist and the life of faith. See more details about the award, including its previous recipients.
  4. Dr. Condic’s previous awards include the Basil O’Connor Starter Scholar Research Award, created in 1973 and presented by the March of Dimes to support a young scientist’s promising new research. The March of Dimes was established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, initially to fight polio. Today, the foundation focuses on health problems in babies, especially premature birth, birth defects, and low birth weight. Find context for the program of research support here.
  5. Dr. Condic also has been the recipient of a Scholar Award for research from the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience.
  6. In 2018, she was appointed to the National Science Board. The NSB establishes the policies of the National Science Foundation and serves as advisor to Congress and the President.
  7. She is a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, which is dedicated to promoting the Catholic Church’s consistent life ethic and supporting research in bioethics and moral theology.
  8. When confronted with alternative views and occasionally accused of being “brainwashed” with a pro-life stance, Dr. Condic says one must ask, what view actually makes more sense of the world? A quote from the episode: “What vision of the world actually accounts for most of the data? In my experience, it’s a Christian vision of the world, and particularly a Catholic vision of the world, that very much endorses precisely the kind of questioning mind that promotes scientific investigation….”
  9. Another key thought from the episode: The information generated in scientific disciplines is so huge, it forces many scientists to make their own fields of specialized inquiry “narrower and narrower.” Also, “they have no time” to give deep consideration to many big questions about life, the world, and the origin of the universe. “Particularly in biology, there’s such an intoxication with success.” Individuals who are indeed brilliant and making remarkable progress for people may become confident that they can answer all the important questions.
  10. Starting at about the 22-minute mark in this episode, Dr. Condic tells the story of an event that changed her life and produced her commitment to public advocacy and public education.“ She saw a need to combat ignorance or oversimplification about scientific advancements and to be “an advocate for patients and knowledge and factual information.”
  11. Dr. Condic also provides a valuable, clear update on parts of the debate about disease treatments using embryonic stem cells as opposed to adult stem cells, with research on the latter having resulted in a huge number of clinical trials and prospects for various treatments. A major new phase of the research has moved on to the use of induced pluripotent stem cells, which do not raise the same ethical issues as embryonic cells.
  12. In presenting the St. Albert Award during the Society of Catholic Scientists conference, president Stephen Barr, Ph.D., pointed out Dr. Condic’s “courageous public defense, on scientific and philosophical grounds, on the human status of human embryos.”
  13. Our discussion of totipotent, pluripotent, and plenipotent stem cells helped to clarify a complex subject of great importance to many people, such as those who suffer from diseases awaiting therapies capturing the power of these cells. Dr. Maureen Condic, as a pioneer in this field, contributed insights in 2013 by developing the concept of plenipotent cells. See her journal article.
  14. Our discussion also led to a sense of wonderment about the ability of cells to follow such complex paths of development, starting with the organism created when sperm and egg combine. The product and the process can easily be dismissed as a simple mass of cells, or one can recall Psalm 139:14, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” In this episode, we discussed how it seems viscerally sad that the amazement, which is itself so full of potential, can be lost in everyday discussions of human life.
  15. Related to this, Dr. Condic pointed out that there is an unfortunate lack of philosophical education among many scientists. Here is a blog post from Scientific American discussing synergies between science and philosophy—synergies which are at the core of this podcast’s mission.
  16. We discussed the relevance of the philosophical concepts of form and substance. Here’s a web page explaining those concepts.
  17. This book, written by Dr. Condic and her brother sounds like it is a rare and valuable synthesis of philosophical and biological insights about life: Human Embryos, Human Beings. She noted in our episode that such an extended, on-point synthesis is rare for various reasons, including the need to clarify vocabulary used on both sides of the dialogue, avoiding the risk that we will talk past each other.
  18. She has written another book, this one examining the biological and philosophical issues around human twinning, Untangling Twinning. It is scheduled for publication in the summer of 2019. For now, a computer search using this title yielded, as one of the first finds, a copy of a news release written by TSSM podcast co-host Bill Schmitt and posted at classicaltheism.com.
  19. The conversation involving Dr. Condic, Dr. Giesting and Schmitt turned to the complexities of the nation’s debate about abortion. That debate engages a mix of biological facts (which may or may not be probed in the full context of updated knowledge), personal experiences, and deeply held principles, positions, and emotions including authentic sympathy for the circumstances in which pregnant women find themselves. Although providing scientific insights is a crucial advancement of the debate because people deserve to have comprehensive information, the laying out of certain biological facts alone will not necessarily change minds, Condic said.
  20. In many cases, much of the public presentation of the abortion controversy dividing people is manufactured, but there is room for honest discussion on particular grounds. We each can play a part in adding to human understandings in this controversy. People evolve their judgments on the wide scope of the debate incrementally over time.
  21. But the search for a full overview is complicated; indeed, Dr. Condic referred to difficulties she and her brother Samuel Condic encountered (different vocabularies, etc.) in compiling their book Human Embryos, Human Beings. The book aims to bring together philosophical and biological insights about human life at its beginning. In short, the abortion debate requires us to spend more time in listening to each other, asking questions, probing the basis of people’s stances, and less time in simply lecturing, she said.
  22. Paul talked about his experience with identical twins in his family. Twinning is a complex arena for understanding “who you are,” raising core questions with biological and philosophical implications. Our discussion around the microphone extended to research on the topics of compaction and chimeras. Condic has written a book that delves into the complexities. Untangling Twinning is scheduled for publication this summer.
  23. There are also biological phenomena complicating an understanding of our human nature in sexual terms. There can be complex factors differentiating between one’s genetic sex and one’s hormonal sex, Condic said. A very small segment of the population has genetically compound sexual identities. Intersex disorders can occur in a variety of ways, although in the vast majority of cases questions of a person’s gender identity are not grounded in physical causes, Condic said. Studies in some areas raise questions within the LGBTQ community itself. Among many, endeavors focusing on a “gay gene” that would undergird a statement that “I was born this way” have been diminished by a view that gender identity is fluid or is driven by non-genetic factors.
Episode 093 - The Great Divorce between Philosophy and Science

Episode 093 - The Great Divorce between Philosophy and Science

January 27, 2020

Bill and Paul are both losing their minds with stress this week, so we're glad to just get the episode out. It takes in a bit of philosophy and Paul manages to use some illustrative points from the history of geometry and geology if that's your thing.

I didn't get her credited in the outro, but Morgan Burkart produced the audio for this episode. Like her style? Let us know in a review and look her up at Ball State University.

Episode 092 - Scientists and Religion with Dr. Tom Ryba

Episode 092 - Scientists and Religion with Dr. Tom Ryba

January 13, 2020
  1. Dr. Thomas Ryba is a senior lecturer and adjunct professor teaching philosophy and religious studies at the School of Interdisciplinary Studies in Purdue University’s College of Arts. He also holds the title of Notre Dame Theologian-in-Residence for the Aquinas Educational Foundation, offering instruction and guidance on staff at the Saint Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center at Purdue.
  2. Ryba kindly adjusted his schedule to meet with Paul and Bill in December 2019 for an interview about themes central to his 30 years of teaching in service to students and faculty and his enduring interest in the connections between the learning of science and religion.
  3. We discussed trends which suggest today’s cultural and academic emphasis on science-based knowledge draws young people away from their interest in religious insights and practices. He said that, while he’s seen a doubling in the proportion of students who come to college having received no substantive knowledge of traditional faiths, a sizable percentage of people engaged in the hard sciences at Purdue are actively interested in religion. He added he observes a strong ethos of welcoming of diverse people of faith on the campus.
  4. Ryba is among those planning an academic conference which this year will explore links between articificial intelligence and human consciousness, including ethics for robots.
  5. His convictions about a long-standing complementarity of insights from science and faith echo his own graduate research, which explored analogs between Girardian mathematical group theory and an understanding of the Holy Trinity in Christian belief.
  6. In our TSSM interview, Ryba spoke of a Purdue graduate whose studies of physics and electrical engineering have gone hand-in-hand with his preparation for the Jesuit priesthood. Rev. Luis Jimenez, SJ, continues his academic work at the University of Puerto Rico while serving as a priest and lecturing throughout Latin America, he said.
Episode 087 - Fr. Robert Spitzer and Intellectual Culture (rerun)

Episode 087 - Fr. Robert Spitzer and Intellectual Culture (rerun)

November 25, 2019

Unfortunately, this week Paul got deathly ill and that prevented us from recording the promised "end of the world" episode. Here instead is a re-edited version of Bill's interview with Fr. Robert Spitzer from August 2018 (originally run as Episode 20). One of our earliest interviews and still, amid all the great guests who have given time to this little podcast, one of the best.

Episode 086 - Indianapolis Gold Mass

Episode 086 - Indianapolis Gold Mass

November 18, 2019

Today's episode is a rundown of the Indianapolis Gold Mass, followed by a short selection of readings from Scripture and a bit about Albert the Great specifically, with a scrap of meditation on the vocation of a scientist.

  1. Gold Masses for those in the natural sciences were celebrated in a dozen cities on Nov. 15, the feast day of St. Albert the Great, who is the patron saint of natural scientists. One of those Masses, as described by TSSM co-host Dr. Paul Giesting, took place in Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
  2. The Society of Catholic Scientists is the pre-eminent sponsor/supporter of these Gold Masses as part of an initiative established relatively recently. The Society’s website contains a page where the most comprehensive listing of planned Gold Masses is compiled.
  3. What is a Gold Mass? The SCS provides this information.
  4. Here are details of the life of St. Albert the Great.
  5. The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese, is expected to publish an article about the Nov. 15 Gold Mass in early December.
Episode 084 - Gold Masses, Politics As Religion, Jordan Peterson

Episode 084 - Gold Masses, Politics As Religion, Jordan Peterson

November 4, 2019
  1. This week Bill prods Paul along as he recovers from a massive proposal hangover. This week's episode is the end of a much longer conversation that may or may not otherwise remain on the cutting room floor about Jordan Peterson and other topics as far afield as Homestar Runner.
  2. We run down the list of Gold Masses that have been publicly announced to take place this coming month--featuring such highlights as a Mass celebrated by the Bishop of Bismarck, ND and a talk at Benedictine University in Lisle, IL on "The Mystery of Faith: from the Gold Mass to Gravity Waves."
  3. From there, we segue to discussing how in the contemporary world people try to fill to gaping hole left by religion with politics even more than science, and we finish with Bill's comments on one of Jordan Peterson's messages in an interview with Patrick Coffin on the essential role that living our own lives well plays in changing the world.
Bonus Episode - SCS and Gold Masses with Jonathan Lunine
Episode 079 - Conversion and Witness with Jonathan Lunine

Episode 079 - Conversion and Witness with Jonathan Lunine

September 30, 2019
  1. Dr. Jonathan Lunine is the David C. Duncan Professor in the Physical Science and chair of the Department of Astronomy at Cornell University. He is also the vice president and a co-founder of the Society of Catholic Scientists.
  2. Here is information about the Vatican Observatory. It was one of the starting points for Lunine’s exploration of the compatibility between science and the Catholic faith.
  3. He met Stephen Barr in 2014, and this led to their discussions about establishing the Society of Catholic Scientists. Here is a talk given by Barr at the University of Chicago.
  4. Here is a talk by Lunine about Georges Lemaitre, a Catholic priest recognized as an originator of the Big Bang theory. In our conversation, Lunine described a presentation on Lemaitre that he gave at Cornell as a kind of “coming-out party” for him as a Catholic convert with his own story to tell. He has addressed Catholic students with the advice to share one’s faith story but to be judicious, following the practice of St. Paul, who adapted his messages to his audiences. A recommendation for discussions of faith: “There’s a time and a place for everything.”
  5. Lunine mentioned Elaine Ecklund, who has studied what scientists think about the American culture’s understanding that science and religion are incompatible. Harvard physicist Lisa Randall, who has said belief in God is incompatible with science, is an example of the resistance to faith that many scientists encounter in academia, Lunine said. Our culture gives much credibility to scientists, who owe it to their audiences to be clear about when they are speaking as individuals rather than scholarly experts. Lunine also mentioned the Thomistic Institute, which has a chapter on the Cornell campus founded by a graduate student.
  6. Part of the difficulty in the dialogue between science and religion is a popular but erroneous view that the Bible was intended to be a book of science. Here is a discussion of St. Augustine’s examination of this claim. Another challenge, Lunine said, is that our children generally grow up without a substantive education in religion.
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.