That’s So Second Millennium
Episode 097 - Social Distancing and Loners in the American Psyche

Episode 097 - Social Distancing and Loners in the American Psyche

March 23, 2020

Bill and Paul discuss the topic on everyone's mind, the coronavirus and social distancing, through the lens of social polarization and isolation that already so characterized American, Western, and modern society in general.

  1. One should not assume that “social distancing” breaks connections. Paul and Bill got together to talk about the subject and found that it connects to many other things, at least as an intellectual exercise. But also with many emotional, spiritual and sociological implications.
  2. Bill said that, upon first hearing about “social distancing,” he instinctively connected it to a phenomenon he ponders and writes about a lot—the phenomenon of social polarization. (He writes about it in his OnWord blog, and in 2018 he wrote a book (When Headlines Hurt: Do We Have a Prayer?) reflecting on Pope Francis’ concerns about the polarizing effects of contemporary news and digital information flows.
  3. Social distancing, apart from the validity of scientific claims that it is needed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, looked to Bill like a physical, societal manifestation of the polarization trend which leads to the isolation, exclusion and defamation of people. It encourages them toward confirmation bias because they choose to hear only the opinions that back up their pre-conceived notions.
  4. Paul said social distancing also seems to tie into America’s infatuation with the “loner.” He recalled the self-imposed isolation discussed in Robert D. Putnam’s 2000 book, Bowling Alone.
  5. Both participants in the conversation connected the concept of loner with many ideas: the modern assumption that being a loner need not carry high risks, like it once did, because of the protection offered by government; the omnipresent promise among colleges that they will prepare their students to become “leaders” as opposed to followers; the observation by Alexis de Tocqueville (in Democracy in America) that Americans of the 1800s were instinctively individualists; and the more recent observation that we live in an age of celebrity when everybody wants to famous, even in relatively impotent, purposeless  ways.  This latter notion was discussed by Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft in an episode of EWTN’s “The Philosopher’s Bench.”
  6. It is especially sad that, at a time when Pope Francis points out that the Church has many valuable responses to the tendency toward social polarization and isolation, “social distancing” has prompted an end to Mass attendance. As remarked in a blog post by David Seitz, OFS, one of Bill’s favorite Franciscan commentators, the loss of civic solidarity and civil conversation is a profound kind of penance.

Image by Austin Monroe from Pixabay.

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 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 085 - Albert the Great, the Medieval Synthesis, and a Faith That Works

Episode 085 - Albert the Great, the Medieval Synthesis, and a Faith That Works

November 11, 2019
  1. Today's episode is getting recorded in a tight slot on Sunday night. Bill is out of town at a workshop on self-publishing and Paul has spent an awful lot of time over the last three days peering into the engine bay of a 1987 Jeep Wrangler and screwing and unscrewing things.
  2. Robert Barron and Brandon Vogt pulled excerpts from the Joe Rogen - Dawkins interview and spent two weeks rebutting them. That's one point of departure for today's episode. The other, of course, is that the feast of Albert the Great is this coming Friday, meaning Gold Mass season is at its frenzied (?) peak, and Albert the Great is one of the cast of figures who put together the great medieval synthesis of Catholic Christian thought with Aristotelian philosophy and science. I myself just finished a curious old book called Roman Science by William Stahl, and that will probably also be in the back of my head as I riff a bit. (Yes, for tonight I'm writing the liner notes first and attempting to monologue to fit them.)
  3. Bill has an ebook, hence the self-publishing drive: When Headlines Hurt, Do We Have a Prayer?
  4. Get up to date listings on Gold Mass locations and times!
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 069 - Fr. Lawrence Machia OSB and Daniel vanden Berk, part II

Episode 069 - Fr. Lawrence Machia OSB and Daniel vanden Berk, part II

July 22, 2019
  1. For background on Fr. Machia and Dr. Vanden Berk and this interview, see the show notes for Episode 68.
  2. In Episode 69, we mentioned approvingly one of the many books about Galileo, who was central to Fr. Machia’s talk at the conference. The book is Galileo’s Daughter. Contrary to a still-commonplace assumption in popular culture and the average person’s understanding of history, Galileo did not see his life as one centered on conflict with the Catholic Church.
  3. People’s instincts to see a huge conflict between science and religion in our own time deserve to be taken seriously. Co-host Paul points out that, even in his youth, he was interested in the polemic potential between his faith and his interest in geology. This was crystallized (no pun intended) by his reading of Great Geological Controversies, published in 1983 by Oxford University Press. It identified challenges—among scientists themselves—which were raised to previous understandings in geology.
  4. How can scientists of faith, such as the members of the Society of Catholic Scientists, play a role in addressing the conflict between science and religion as it exists today? They can act as witnesses to the compatibility of the two fields of knowledge in their own lives, said Dr. Vanden Berk.
  5. Fr. Machia pointed out that, as expressed by Saint John Paul II, one key to the compatibility is that one discipline does not pretend to do what the other does. Don’t read the Bible as a science text, he said, since science is not what the Bible is about; it spends a relatively tiny amount of time on subjects that might be construed to be science-focused. The two fields of knowledge have their own distinct competencies.
  6. Saint John Paul II wrote about the compatibility of science and religion. Here’s an essay by noted bioethicist Father Tad Pacholczyk on the subject, drawing from John Paul’s insights.
  7. As Fr. Machia points out with reference to the insights of Pope John Paul, one area of relationship between the disciplines of science and religion is the subject of ethics. After all, what’s the point of doing anything, like scientific research, if you’re not thinking about why you’re doing it? In the case of science, humans confront issues of power over creation—and how to exercise that power. That answer is informed by how we see our humanity, and that question was exactly the topic of the SCS conference at which we held this podcast discussion.
  8. Galileo himself wrote about the compatibility of these fields of knowledge in his letter to Madame Christina of Lorraine in 1615. Here’s an essay discussing that letter.

Times continue from the Episode 68 listing.

28:00 Galileo's Daughter

30:00 Biblical minimalism

32:00 Geological arguments about the Flood

34:00 Conflict thesis persistence; Daniel another who never saw the conflict

36:00 Need to teach the contemporary theory, wherever our religious theories place us

37:00 Contributions of Catholic scientists to the future of science: need to respect the "volume argument"

38:00 Galileo on the Bible as not an astronomy textbook

40:00 Past, present and future of science

42:00 Wrapup

Episode 064 - SCS 2019 Panel, part II

Episode 064 - SCS 2019 Panel, part II

June 17, 2019

This is the second part of our panel discussion with two conference attendees, Merissa Newton, a philosophy instructor at the University of New England and Geoffrey Woollard, a cancer researcher at the University of Toronto.

[This file is vastly improved from the original version; Bill was able to provide a backup from his portable microphone.]

The individual videos of the conference talks are or will be posted soon at https://www.catholicscientists.org/ideas/theme/video-archive

Episode 062 - Jonathan Lunine SCS Conference Preview

Episode 062 - Jonathan Lunine SCS Conference Preview

June 3, 2019

We had more insane audio problems on this episode; Paul's audio from Zencastr was unusable. I had to record a new introduction and first question, then splice in our backup recording from Zoom.

Jonathan Lunine is a prominent planetary scientist. He teaches at Cornell and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences; he has won a Urey award and holds a number of other academic distinctions. He worked with the radar and other instruments on the Cassini mission to Saturn and is co-investigator on the Juno mission now in orbit at Jupiter as well as on the MISE instrument for the Europa Clipper mission. He is on the science team for the James Webb Space Telescope, focusing on characterization of extrasolar planets and Kuiper Belt objects.

I opened the interview by asking his side of the story of the beginning of the Society of Catholic Scientists. We discuss its growth so far and how it is reaching the point where hopefully more members will become involved in planning and carrying out activities.

We discussed the overall trajectory of conference themes so far. (Remember, kids, two points may suffice to draw a straight line, but not to define a trend!) The first SCS conference topic was Origins (mostly of the physical universe). The second focused on the Human Mind and Physicalism. This third one zooms out somewhat again and covers humanity more broadly, and touches on two hot-button points:

- If we have all these distinctively human features (consciousness, free will, etc.), is there any way of knowing when in absolute, archeological/geological time those came into existence?

- Given all our biological and electronic capabilities, we can change our own bodies and brains in radical ways, and these capabilities are only going to grow. Where should we stop? What channels should these abilities be directed into, and where do the dikes belong?

Jonathan hopes that the diversity of speakers, not just from different sciences but across the science-facing pieces of the humanities, will become a hallmark of the SCS conferences: a place where badly needed interdisciplinary conversations are fostered. We discuss the difficulties inherent in our siloing, not just of academic disciplines, but of journalism, too.

Once again, SCS conference will happen June 7-9 at the University of Notre Dame. We will be providing bonus episodes during the conference as we discuss the topics and speakers with conference attendees, and will have breakdowns of the conference and speaker interviews rolling out over the ensuing weeks.

Also be sure to check the SCS website for videos of the actual talks!

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.

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!