That’s So Second Millennium
Episode 060 – What Does It Mean To Be Human? (SCS 2019)

Episode 060 – What Does It Mean To Be Human? (SCS 2019)

May 20, 2019

Today we continue our conversation with Stephen Barr about this year’s Society of Catholic Scientists conference, which will feature great speakers discussing the nature of humanity and its bounds in terms of time and technology. You can see a full list of speakers here and the program for the conference here.

School vs. Life

School vs. Life

May 16, 2019
For all that it's an in-joke with myself, when Hidden Brain comes up in the queue, to mutter "Here to depress the hell out of you, I'm Shankar Vedantam," it has a great deal of insightful and important content. Take the most recent episode contrasting doing well on tests versus doing well at life. The episode starts with a note that GED recipients have been found to be just as good at tests as their peers with high school diplomas (I can only assume these studies control for a wide range of criteria) yet have much lower incomes, get fired, and are involved in divorces or the equivalent sort of messy breakup far more often. It goes on to discuss the very long term results of some interventions taken in Michigan, decades ago, with young children that revolved around teaching them the "soft" or "non-cognitive" (and I would quibble fiercely with that term) skills of persistence, cooperation, delaying gratification, etc. and that have proved to make not only those children's lives better, but their own children's as well.
 
I myself am another sort of "experiment" relevant to the question of what makes for success. I always did well in school, but I was ingesting the lesson from early in life that I would fail at real life afterward. I can't begin to go into all those details today, but there is an enormous role played by parents, family members, teachers, and other adults in the young child's life, pushing them one way or another. Our episodes with Darcia Narvaez scratched the surface of her enormous work on this topic. Fortunately, it is possible to learn new and better ways of coping with the world in adulthood, but it is devilish hard even to realize what the problem with one's life is in order to be able to confront it at all. It is then a long hard slog of rewriting habits. There are no fast fixes for a warped childhood.
Episode 059 – Origin Story: Society of Catholic Scientists

Episode 059 – Origin Story: Society of Catholic Scientists

May 13, 2019

We welcome Stephen Barr back to the show. We are humbled and delighted to be your podcast hosts for the Society of Catholic Scientists Conference 2019 and hopefully beyond. In that context, today we interview Dr. Barr about his experience as a writer and speaker on the relationship between Catholic faith and science that led up to an eventful conversation between himself and Jonathan Lunine. He discusses the formation of the Society of Catholic Scientists in 2016 and the conferences they immediately began holding in 2017. Credit should be given to First Things for giving him a platform to become known to the wider community, and the Lumen Christi Institute for being instrumental in putting together the logistics for the first SCS conference in Chicago.

If you are a Catholic scientist, whether a student or a graduate, there is still time to register for the Society and the conference coming up June 7-9 at Notre Dame. The deadline for registration is May 15.

TSSM at SCS 2019

TSSM at SCS 2019

May 9, 2019

All I've got time to share with you this week is the exciting news that we will be providing coverage of the Society of Catholic Scientists conference happening at the University Notre Dame from June 7-9. We will be sharing interviews with Stephen Barr, the president of the SCS, about the Society and the conference in the coming weeks, along with more interviews hopefully to come with speakers and other people involved in putting things together. Bill and I are excited about this chance to help out a group that we think is doing such important things by bringing Catholic scientists together!

Episode 058 – Let’s Act Like We’re on the Winning Side (Since We Are)

Episode 058 – Let’s Act Like We’re on the Winning Side (Since We Are)

May 6, 2019

This ended up being an emergency episode Paul recorded solo, since Zencastr ate all but a few minutes at the beginning of each recording. There seem to be serious problems with Zencastr since Paul’s MacBook died and he had to resurrect his Windows laptop.

 

The Big Bang; cosmology seems to require a beginning, uncaused cause

Problems of mind; intellect / qualia, possibility of free will.

There is no materialist explanation of human intellect, only assertions of dogma and crude shufflings of the feet.

 

Ongoing occurrence of miracles, Lourdes medical board, Fatima, Shroud of Turin; Bob Schuchts

There are far too many miracles and supernatural phenomena that defy materialist explanation: Eucharistic miracles, healings at Lourdes and elsewhere, Fatima, demonic possession…

The testimony of the first Christian disciples requires absolutely crazy explanations that themselves defy our best science even if we reject the idea that Jesus rose from the dead.

The continuing existence and expansion of the Church in the face of persecution is likewise historically unparalleled, save only for the continued existence of Judaism.

 

Second of all, it provides perspective and healing for human problems that nothing else does.

John Warner Wallace from Breakpoint podcast; LAPD homicide officer

What has God done in my life... we GET to that, we don't start there like Mormons

Christianity provides a shockingly direct answer to the question of evil: the transcendent, all-good God is Himself willing to experience it.

The Christian faith continues to spread in Africa and Asia in the face of continued persecution, whether of the violent or of the brainwashing variety. Why is that?

The attempts of Western society to escape Christianity have made us amazingly miserable amid all our material possessions and security. Why do we so halfheartedly turn away from these distractions?

The most characteristic failing of our age, I would argue, is addiction, and addiction has evoked a powerful response in the form of the Twelve Steps. Although these Steps are deliberately offered to everyone with no attempt made to proselytize them to any specific religion—indeed many recovering addicts refuse to identify themselves as religious—nevertheless, the principles of the Steps are completely and suspiciously consistent with Catholic Christianity.

The Catholic intellectual tradition has a tremendously formidable intellectual structure, the most robust philosophical realism, an enormous storehouse of moral philosophy and psychological insight, and a wealth of stories of human drama in the lives of both saints and sinners.

 

Why do we slave along as intellectual second or third-class citizens in the modern world? I was just looking at the want ads of literary agents and realized that they are all blithely “progressive” members of the stumbling, bumbling cultural vanguard. Our culture is shaped by stories forged out of this nihilistic experience of forgetting an entire civilization’s worth of wisdom.

 

We are looking to help out at the Society of Catholic Scientists Conference this year, and are in talks about how we can do that. We’re really excited about working to create a greater sense of community among Catholic scientists!

Setting Myself Up To Fail

Setting Myself Up To Fail

May 2, 2019

I am scrambling this week to make preparations for TSSM to help cover the Society of Catholic Scientists Conference coming up June 7-9 at Notre Dame. I will just post a few thoughts.

I recall reading CS Lewis' autobiography many years ago and hating myself for not reading anywhere near as many good books as he did when he was young... hating myself because I knew that while I was probably more or less just as intelligent as he was, I could not force myself to spend my time well.

If you listen to the TSSM podcast much at all, you realize that Bill lets me talk for long whiles. I haven't exactly read nothing, and I haven't exactly thought nothing, but I oscillate between suspecting I have something valuable to say and fearing that I'm being judged for my ignorance. Ironically, when we hired a professional to evaluate our podcast strategy (Paired, Inc, good people to talk to if you're in the Indianapolis area), their first comment was that the content was too complex and abstruse for the average listener. To which I internally respond, "Perhaps I'm just good at sounding as if I know anything about what I'm saying."

It would be called "impostor syndrome" if it were false, but I dunno if it's false.

Anyway, I take this two directions. One is to note the language that I used above: "I could not force myself to spend my time well." A therapist years back gave me a list of common thinking problems, one of which has stuck with me: "We think we can horsewhip ourselves into compliance." Yes. Yes, that's me. My father for years had this note pinned to a bulletin board: "The floggings will continue until morale improves." One of those Freudian slip, joking-not-joking sort of things. I learned the lesson well. No wonder I found ways to drug myself up with compulsive behaviors and dissociate with computer games or compulsive non-CS-Lewis-caliber reading on or off the internet, and things have only started to change since that priest in Chicago (may he be blessed in eternity) referred me to my first Twelve Step group. I was and continue to need the help of a Power greater than myself to get out of this trap.

The other direction is that I have come to think that podcasts are not a platform for expounding new ideas, however informally. They serve a really valuable purpose for me in that my stable of podcast subscriptions keeps reminding me of things that have tended to swim away from me in the past: I'm better off being Christian and Catholic than not. I have a future, and there are steps I can take to get there. I subscribe to a handful of podcasts that keep me at least a little bit conversant with what the progressive establishment is debating within itself. These podcasts also give me a loose connection to familiar voices, a step toward community (although definitely not by itself the real thing).

Realizing this, and having the chance to ponder the SCS' mission over the past few weeks, I have come to think that perhaps the most valuable thing we can do with this podcast is also to seek to enhance a sense of community among Catholic and Christian scientists. What we've been doing serves this purpose to a considerable extent, but it will provide us a valuable sense of focus going forward.

Episode 057 – The Best Thing Out There

Episode 057 – The Best Thing Out There

April 29, 2019

  Apologies for the sound quality today; Zencastr wasn’t working, so we recorded on Zoom, and even then there were problems with the audio especially in the latter half of the podcast.

  The question we take up at the beginning of the Easter season is this: Why has Western society gone to such pains to throw away the best thing going, intellectually and otherwise?

  In his ongoing podcast research, Paul has come across the Pat Flynn Show, and listened to some really good interviews with Fr. Robert Spitzer (a TSSM interviewee) and Ed Feser (whose talk at the 2018 Society of Catholic Scientists conference was the topic of one of our most popular episodes). Bob Spitzer’s interviews in particular were some of the most inspiring things I’ve encountered recently and really led me to propose this series of conversations with Bill about how Catholic Christianity is the best way of looking at the world.

  Of course, Western society has drifted hard away from its roots in classical Greek and Jewish/Christian heritage. Ireland is the most recent example of a society, one of the last to retain a semi-traditional cozy relationship between the Church and the state, now deciding to punish the Church for the crimes of the hypocritical members of its clergy by trying to erase its very history. Progressivism in general replaces traditional dogmas with dogmas-of-the-day, and the record up to this point has been pretty dismal.

  We spend some time discussing the roots of what the contemporary West seems to consider its greatest achievement, modern science, in the critical tradition of Scholasticism (knowledge of which was practically the first thing to go after the Reformation began the process of intellectually punishing the Church). We would do better to have a broader memory of the Scholastic tradition even among us Catholics...to recall that it was a movement in which Thomas Aquinas was embedded, rather than remembering only him. In our time as well we don’t need single hero figures, we need a community. The scientific community knows this very well.

  We go on to consider what this fraught term “dogma” really means. The Christian dogmas are really testimony, and they can’t change without repudiating the unrepeatable testimony of the events of salvation history. This is the context of the warnings at the end of the Apocalypse of John, “cursed be he who adds or takes away from the words of this book.” As Chesterton and many others have pointed out, these dogmas are not a straightjacket but a foundation and structural members that allow us to build both intellectual structures and actual human lives that don’t sink into the morass of changing human inventions. Admittedly there are many Christians, Catholics included, who seem to take comfort in the false idea that the Bible, or Tradition, provides us all the answers we could possibly want to know and there is no need or use in further growth. That is not the teaching of Jesus when he commented that the Spirit would [future] lead us to all truth.

  The high Middle Ages confronted the question of harmonizing Aristotle with Jesus Christ. This was both a creative and a logical process that led to great works of criticism and synthesis… excellent practice for the scientific process as we now know it.

  A reminder that the Society of Catholic Scientists Conference is approaching June 7-9. Registration is open through May 15.

Post Christian: World War I Museum

Post Christian: World War I Museum

April 24, 2019

Two weeks ago I went with some friends to Kansas City. I drove through Kansas City once in I-70 in 2016, but I had never stopped before. Turns out it's a wonderful place, and I really want to haul my brother and his family there sometime to catch a game at Kauffman Stadium, with all the attractions directed toward children, and eat a lot of barbeque and drink some Boulevard beer.

We went to the jazz museum and the Negro Leagues museum, as well as the World War I museum. When we asked why it was in Kansas City of all places, the answer was that no one else had one, so they figured why not. Given Kansas City's location, an enormous number of soldiers passed through by rail on their way to and coming back from Europe, an enormous fraction of the total number from the West, so there's at least that much connection. In any case Kansas City dedicated a prominent hilltop to this museum. It has an enormous pillar that you can ride up to get the most elevated view of the city (aside from aircraft).

With Darcia Narvaez' words about egalitarianism in my mind, I reflected (as I have often done in the past) on the absolute madness of World War I. Understanding how it started seems easy to me, but I cannot imagine how the war continued through the end of 1915, let alone ground on for three additional years. The question of why the leaders of the countries involved kept ordering their men to fight I set aside for today; the question I am interested in is why the common soldiers and civilians did not revolt years earlier than they did. What gave them such durable loyalty to the aristocratic and oligarchic governments that sent them to such fruitless slaughter?

Based on what I know of ancient and medieval Europe, I find the men of World War I far more ready to acquiesce to authority than their forebears. Can you really read the history of the Hundred Years' War, the Wars of the Roses, or the whole sorry tale of the Holy Roman Empire and its "rights of private warfare" and imagine that those states could ever have forced their subjects to such extremes? How long would any army of Crusaders have stayed in those trenches, with nothing better than the War Ministry's authority to compel them?

There are far too many reasons to discuss in a blog post, but I want to bring up one axis before I close. The states of Europe of the early 20th century were fired by nationalism, tribalism writ large. I have heard that although many, many aspects of human culture are mutable, one unshakable aspect of sociology is our tendency to identify in-groups and out-groups, to designate some human beings as our enemies and in essence to deny them humanity. Europe of the Middle Ages had their national identifications, but their local identity was in many cases stronger and more important, and they also had the overarching sense of brotherhood in a common faith, family, and indeed in the most visceral Christian image, they had an awareness of themselves as one body in Jesus of Nazareth. They betrayed this understanding regularly, but they balked at the kind of slaughter that makes World War I stand out as a satanic spectacle in the history of our species.

Episode 056 - Darcia Narvaez on the (other) tragedy of the commons and moral/economic disengagement in civilized society

Episode 056 - Darcia Narvaez on the (other) tragedy of the commons and moral/economic disengagement in civilized society

April 22, 2019

Today we present the second half of the interview with Darcia Narvaez, social scientist at Notre Dame and a specialist in childhood inculturation, attachment, and bonding issues.

We start out this half of the interview with a discussion of what Karl Polyani called the "great transformation" of European society, involving the breakdown of the pre-modern order and its safeguards for a stable population by means of understandings about community use of land, perhaps resulting in the popularity of emigration to the New World by dispirited, dispossessed, and to some extent dangerous people.

Several times Darcia disparages "hierarchy," understood in its general sense of social stratification, which she or other who have influenced her theorize to have caused huge social catastrophes, including the corruption of the Christian Church by its integration into the late Roman state and the collapse of populations and cultures in the New World on contact with the colonizers from Europe. Late in the podcast I ask her explicitly whether there is any benefit to civilization... let us know in the comments on Facebook or Podbean what you think about the answer!

Darcia's claim is that humans are by nature more egalitarian than other animals. This goes right down to childrearing, where human children, born so completely needy, have an innate expectation that their requests for assistance will be met. She comments that there is a Native American word, "wetiko," that was used to describe an attitude thought of as akin to a sickness that characterized those who acted in an aggressive and exploitative way toward others. Whether or not premodern peoples were all more free of this, it's certainly a common feature of civilized peoples. The Old and New Testaments certainly testify to this, and the need to confront it with compassion and an egalitarian attitude. We discussed the specific example of the disease of the large organization, society, business, or government, in which those at the top are simply disconnected, both intellectually and morally, from those at the bottom.

We mentioned subsidiarity, and might have mentioned clericalism... the social science of these concepts will hopefully be fodder for future podcasts.

Post Christian - What Are Churches For?

Post Christian - What Are Churches For?

April 19, 2019

Photo by LeLaisserPasserA38 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78064310

I was minding my own business, trying to do a little work on my aunt's laptop while mine is in the shop, when I noticed this Washington Post article about 1) massive donations to repair Notre Dame de Paris after its roof caught fire on Monday, taking the 19th century spire with it, and 2) criticisms of the hyper-wealthy people who will open their checkbooks to replace a European landmark but not whatever other social causes the critics think most important.

My first thought on seeing the fire was simply, "How does this still happen?" Fires have of course consumed any number of cathedrals, palaces, temples, city halls, fortresses, and other buildings of note over the centuries, but we have an awful lot of fire suppressant and monitoring technologies these days. Repair work of some kind was already going on as shown by the scaffolding over the roof prior to the fire.

The article drew out a second line of thought that had been lurking in the back of my mind. France is of course the birthplace of modern Western secularism, the country where the hypocrisy of the Catholic Christian establishment yielded directly to the raging adolescent fury of revolution. It is where the modern pattern of punishing Christianity for the sins of the hierarchy and political establishment by pretending it never had any intellectual foundation was first constructed.

It's a mercy, in that environment, that so much of France's medieval legacy survived in the form of art and architecture. In a way it's good that the French opinion of their own culture is so staggeringly high. Yet these churches are so empty. When I visited France in 1998, I was deeply saddened by this. I wandered through many of these churches in Paris, Saint-Malo, Tours, and Amboise. The churches whose names you might recognize are kept up as museums; there are many, less famous, that are falling into decay even within towns like Amboise. The sprinkling of priests and faithful is spread across the remaining churches exceedingly thinly.

It all makes me feel a little better about our situation here in the United States. Still, when my local parish was holding its campaigns to rebuild the 19th century church and 1920s school building, I kept thinking, "I am glad that we can be this generous to repair roofs and redo tuckpointing... how about we put out this effort to fill these buildings with new people hearing the Good News about how Jesus can actually be in their lives after we rebuild them?"

I listened to two podcasts by Bishop Robert Barron and John Stonestreet of the Colson Center about the fire and how it has been discussed in the media. They commented that today's secular culture wants to focus on Notre Dame de Paris as simply a landmark, an icon of French culture, a pretty building from a long time ago. The desire seems to be to strip this structure of its builders' purpose: to construct a memorial to the transcendent human being whose death we commemorate today, and all the truths that come to us after recognizing him. A memorial place in which the True God, the Being upon which all reality is constructed and the Creator that constructed it, could be worshipped in that man's name.

To be fair, I think the culture of modern media does this to almost everything. We live in such a shallow time. When we confront memorials of centuries past, whether buildings like Notre Dame or books or works of art, we would do better to consider for a while why their makers did what they did and whether human beings with a different outlook on life have something to teach us, or to remind us.