That’s So Second Millennium
Episode 040 - Kirby Runyon: Christian planetary scientist

Episode 040 - Kirby Runyon: Christian planetary scientist

December 31, 2018

I had the chance to have an unofficial interview with Kirby Runyon. (Planetary science is a very publicity-heavy field, and planetary scientists often labor under certain constraints regarding their contact with the media. We avoided mentioning his institutional affiliation to emphasize the point that this interview in no way characterizes any official position by his institution. You can find out where he works, and get access to some of his work, via web search if you are curious, and there's a clue around 13:00 as well.)

We opened the interview with a discussion of Kirby's research on surface processes on planets. He works on data returned from the Moon, Mars, and Saturn's moon Titan to evaluate how winds, asteroid impacts, and other forces shape the surfaces of those bodies.

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Episode 038 - Jill Pasteris: Uncertainty and Faith

Episode 038 - Jill Pasteris: Uncertainty and Faith

December 17, 2018

0:00 Experience as a Christian scientist

1:00 The billion year contact; awe

2:00 Awe and the vast scale of Earth science

3:00 Discoveries never shake faith

4:00 Evolution, randomness, the shortage of provable things

6:00 The bureaucratic mindset: certainty and judgment

7:00 Yucca Mountain, studtite, and uranyl peroxides (Peter Burns, Karrie-Ann Hughes)

8:00 Uranyl chemistry

9:00 Guy Consolmagno's thought experiment on planetary atmospheres

10:00 Uranyl peroxide buckyballs...

11:00 NOT in the initial fate and transport model for Yucca Mountain

12:00 Real life is lack of certainty

13:00 Where we'd put uranium if we had to...

14:00 Hanford, Washington and uranium migration

15:00 Phosphates as immobilizers

16:00 Humans and squirrels: digging stuff up to bury it again

17:00 Kirby Runyon

18:00 Difficult conversations

20:00 The Bible

21:00 Cyclic nature of human history, scriptural history

22:00 The second millennium history of reaction, after reaction, after reaction against hypocrisy

23:00 Secularism and the irreligious right

24:00 Progressive movement as a para-Christian critique of society

26:00 Modern psychology and spirituality:

Fulton Sheen's image of the psychologist pulling Christian truths out of the garbage can

and passing them off as discoveries

29:00 The need for God

30:00 Companions on the way

31:00 Providence

Episode 037 - Jill Pasteris: Christian scientist

Episode 037 - Jill Pasteris: Christian scientist

December 10, 2018

3:00 Jill's career
5:00 Finding companionship as Christian scientists (not Christian Scientists...that's different...)
7:00 "Spiritual beings having a human experience"
8:00 Bioapatite; clearing up "loose ends" making a 20 year career arc
9:00 Apatite and phosphate: environment
13:00 Flint, Michigan: lead and protective minerals
14:00 Raman spectroscopy
16:00 Raman on the Mars 2020 rover; Alian Wang
17:00 Laser pointers, cat videos [the brave new world we live in]
18:00 The physics of Raman
19:00 Why lasers and Raman went hand in hand
20:00 Rayleigh vs. Raman scattering
21:00 Raman spectra
22:00 Raman: a (usually) nondestructive technique
23:00 The lecture example and the ease of sample prep for Raman
25:00 Raman peak heights and thermodynamics
26:00 Fingerprinting vs. understanding

Bonus Episode - Nicolaus Steno

Bonus Episode - Nicolaus Steno

December 5, 2018
We talked about Steno quite a bit over the past several months. Briefly, he was a brilliant observational scientist. Brought up in Lutheran Denmark amid the violence of the seventeenth century, he wandered Europe and won fame as possibly the foremost observational scientist of his day, first in anatomy as a tremendously skilled dissectionist and then, via the bridge of biological fossils, as one of the most important precursor figures of what would become geology in the following two centuries. He laid down, if one can forgive the pun, the laws of geological chronology or stratigraphy (superposition, original horizontality, and inclusion) and even the most basic law of crystallography, the law of constant interfacial angles.
But Steno placed more importance on his faith. He spent time in both Catholic and Protestant countries and eventually decided to become Catholic. By the end of his life he had forsaken science for the Catholic priesthood, been ordained a bishop, and spent a long lonely time attempting to convince Protestants in Northern Europe to return to the Catholic faith of their ancestors. He lived an austere life that probably killed him relatively young, much as is said of Fr. Michael McGivney of the Knights of Columbus or the African American priest of the same era, Augustus Tolton.
I was listening to Bishop Barron's Word on Fire podcast last night about Cardinal Newman's Apologia pro Vita Sua, and I remarked on the similarities between Steno, Newman, Tolton, and other figures of the last few centuries like Isaac Hecker of the Paulists and for that matter even GK Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. These were intelligent men whose virtue and love for others could not be denied, and yet it is easy to look at the aftermath of their lives and conclude that they failed. Was there something they should have done differently? Perhaps it was just that too few people joined them. Perhaps their contributions are still waiting to be gathered up into a new synthesis of faith. There is a great deal more I'd like to say on that subject, but it will have to wait to another day.
Episode 036 - Anne Hofmeister on Galactic Rotation, Math, and Glass

Episode 036 - Anne Hofmeister on Galactic Rotation, Math, and Glass

December 3, 2018

The times below are continuations from the last episode. My opening is about 1:30, and then we start with galaxy motions at "26:00".

26:00 Galaxy motions

27:00 Galaxy rotation curves: do not match Keplerian orbits

28:00 Galaxies spin more like records (laggy soft records); mass distribution is nothing like the Solar System

29:00 Hurricanes as a better analogy for galaxies

30:00 Stars in a galaxy move in local organization

32:00 Nebulas

34:00 The opposite extreme: rigid body rotation

35:00 Gravitational attraction between stars creating coherence

36:00 Curiosity that gravity and electrical forces are both inverse square laws

37:00 Poisson's equation

38:00 Summing densities in Poisson's inhomogeneous term is physically meaningless; intensive quantities can't be summed that way

40:00 Gauss' theorem: flux through a surface and quantity within a volume

41:00 Summing is for extensive variables

42:00 Pressure an ambiguous variable

43:00 Future work

44:00 Thermal expansivity: Giauque

45:00 Problems with the glass transition measurements done in the past: need to completely drive out water from the experimental charges

48:00 Wrapup

Episode 035 - Anne Hofmeister Shakes Up Earth Science

Episode 035 - Anne Hofmeister Shakes Up Earth Science

November 26, 2018

TSSM goes heavy: hard-hitting journalism from one of science's great controversialists, Anne Hofmeister. Intrigued? Disagree? Write me an email ( or look her up at Washington University in St. Louis' EPS department website.

The times below are keyed to the start of the interview and ignore my opening (just over 2 min).

0:00 Introduction

1:00 Anne's background (sorry, this part Anne was talking so quietly that I can't seem to fix it with Audacity, but bear with us; we moved the microphone and figured some things out and it gets better)

2:00 Spectroscopy and heat transfer

3:00 Thermal conductivity experiments and their pitfalls

5:00 Criticism of the history of thermodynamics and heat transfer; identification of light and heat

6:00 Problems with equilibrium and elastic collisions in theories of thermodynamics

8:00 Criticism of phonon theory

10:00 Electron and vibrational transfer of heat decoupled; metals and heat transfer

13:00 Garnet

14:00 Earth's interior: convection, the Rayleigh number

15:00 Viscosity

16:00 The Earth's mantle: nearly all solid

17:00 Plate tectonics without mantle convection

18:00 An even more radical idea: heat is being trapped inside the solid Earth

19:00 [there was a distortion I had to cut]

20:00 Implications: heat generation is in the crust (this part is widely known!)

21:00 Implications: the core is melting, not solidifying?

22:00 The geodynamo and magnetic field

23:00 The core: buffered at the temperature of melting high pressure iron

24:00 Magnetic modes diagram for the planets: spin and magnetic field


Episode 032 - Science and Saints

Episode 032 - Science and Saints

November 5, 2018

Intro: Nobel Prize announcements

Donna Strickland

Nadia Murad

Segue: Lemaitre press release

Transition: the early 20th century golden age from Chesterton to Fulton Sheen

Theme: All Saints Day



Albert the Great

Roger Bacon

Nicolaus Steno

Gregor Mendel

Georges Lemaitre

Please leave us feedback here by hitting the "Email Paul" link or using the "Facebook" link and commenting or messaging us there.

Image: Braulio of Saragossa and Isidore of Seville, writing his Origins (Etymologies)

Episode 029 - Geological Awe

Episode 029 - Geological Awe

October 15, 2018

For a change of pace, we discuss emotions and aesthetics and the sense of awe at the scale of the universe and the planet that we inhabit. Paul discusses the "billion year contacts" at his old stomping grounds in the St Francois Mountains of southeast Missouri and the lost world of the earliest visible life in the Burgess Shale. Paul and Bill close with a reflection on how the awe that we feel at comtemplating the enormous scale of space and time of the created world ought to make us better appreciate the audacity of the Christian claim that the Being who set all of this in motion...emptied Itself and became man.

Episode 028 - Absolute Geologic Dating

Episode 028 - Absolute Geologic Dating

October 8, 2018

In this episode we continue into the next logical topic, absolute dating, which is done via measurement of radioactive parent and daughter isotopes. Thus we move from the 19th century and classical physics into yet another way in which 20th century physics has revolutionized science.


Paul gives a rundown, with many apologies for the exact data of isotope numbers and half-life lengths he has managed to forget, of the theory of radioactive decay. Bill, our proxy for the man on the street, starts us off with a common notion of half-life. From there we cover some of the basics and most commonly used isotopic systems: uranium-lead, thorium-lead, a discussion of why carbon 14 is so seldom used in geology, potassium-argon, and a note that more systems are always being brought into use. We discuss the distinct types of rocks that are best used for radiometric dating and how the relative dating methods have to be used in an interwoven system with radiometric dating in order to assemble the whole system of geochronology that we use today.


We end the podcast with a discussion of how science is the very opposite of a conspiracy theory or a political campaign. The geologic dating systems need interlocking data, and they also benefit from it. In such a system, contradictions do spring up--one study doing biostratigraphy might conflict with another using zircons. What science does is not to sweep that under the rug...instead we throw resources and graduate students at it until we get a resolution to the conflict.


(Zircon photo credit Harald Schillhammer via Note the pink and brown coloration...brown zircon is commonly that color due to radiation damage from the uranium and thorium it contains.)

Episode 027 - Relative Geologic Dating

Episode 027 - Relative Geologic Dating

October 1, 2018

In this episode Paul lays out in a more systematic way the methods used in geology since the late 18th century to erect the detailed stratigraphic history of the Earth. Lithostratigraphy, which works via Steno's Laws, can be used on all the rocks in any outcrop. Its shortcoming is that it cannot be extended beyond a regional scale, at best--say, the state of Wyoming, or Wales and Corwall, etc. Biostratigraphy, the use of fossils, which includes the selection of specially suitable index fossils, allows correlation of strata across continental, oceanic, and worldwide scales. However, not every rock--not even every sedimentary rock--is a good home for fossils. It is only by the use of both methods in tandem that a complete relative geologic timescale has been assembled and erected.


You will note that in passing I mentioned that the idea of extinct organisms was difficult for European scholars, specifically, in the 17th century to accept, and then I go on to give you a tell by speaking of Renaissance "gurus"...of course, I mean to contrast European thought with Indian thought, in which the idea of extinct organisms is not so hard to fit in to an idea of long, cyclical histories of periodic destruction and remaking of the Earth and universe.


Two specific points: One, the word evolution contains a lot of conceptual components. What we are discussing in this episode, what is almost beyond realistic controversy at this point, is what I would term "succession of species." Matching sequences of fossils, in their relative age relationships as indicated by Steno's laws, recur in innumerable outcrops across the Earth. (I note in passing that an all-knowing Creator building this out of nothing in instantaneous creation must assuredly have known that this would deceive human beings eventually into thinking that there was a succession, and then you have to deal with the intellectual baggage of God deliberately lying to us.) That is different than the mechanism by which this succession of species was made to occur: inheritance, survival of the fit and extinction of others as environment and competition varied with time, mutations, viral transport of DNA, and whatever else actually caused this succession of species. That is less clear.


Two, the early workers in stratigraphy (especially the British ones) by and large wanted the Biblical narrative, and even the Biblical minimalist narrative to work out. The evidence forced them out of this interpretation. To reiterate the point from last episode, there was never a conspiracy to submerge the Bible story of creation and Noah's flood: the cycle of observation, reflection, and criticism of ideas killed theories depending on excessively broad interpretations of the Genesis text.

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