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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- Dr. Condic also has been the recipient of a Scholar Award for research from the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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….”
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.”
Bill and Paul discuss the upcoming SCS conference at Notre Dame, June 7-9, on “What Does It Mean To Be Human?”
Themes we discussed:
The question of human origins:
from the natural theology perspective… when did consciousness, qualia, free will appear?
From the perspective of Judeo-Christian revelation… how do the origin stories in Genesis compare to contemporary archeology and anthropology?
The question of evolution and its significance in a universe with divine providence.
The question of human modification through bio- and electronic technology.
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.
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!
0:00 - Introduction
1:00 - The power of physicalism/reductionism: a tremendously powerful method
2:00 - Course on physicalism and Catholicism; Sean Carroll's least hysterical "poetic naturalism"
3:00 - The lack of evidence for "emergence" in the sense of "downward causation"
3:30 - Soft and hard emergence
10:15 - Materialism vs. physicalism and reductionism: philosophical materialism
13:00 - Are human beings exhausted by this account of reality?
14:00 - The break with the mechanical universe of 19th century physics underappreciated
15:00 - Laplace's demon
16:30 - Thermodynamics
17:30 - Future not contained in the present
19:00 - Einstein & hidden variables
20:00 - Bell inequality experiments
24:00 - Entanglement
26:00 - Human experience: both, as physical, but also as having choices
27:00 - Quantum physics on many body systems
28:00 - The hard problem of consciousness
29:00 - The explanatory gap
31:00 - The tendency to explain the brain as "just like" some recent piece of technology
33:00 - Complexity of neurons, the continuing relevance of physical laws amid the complexity
35:00 - Continuing relevance of quantum effects at the level of neurotransmitter molecules, etc.
36:00 - Quantum effects in weather and rock mechanics
0:00 - Science is materialist by method, but scientists need not and should not be materialist by philosophy
2:00 - The world must be real and intelligible for science to make sense
3:00 - And faith provides a philosophical basis that allows this to happen
3:30 - Students' testimony on faith and science
4:30 - Removing the faith/science obstacle is only one step on the road toward faith
5:00 - God vs. Godzilla
6:00 - The true God and His use of secondary causes
11:00 - Creation as carmen Dei (song of God; Bonaventure)
12:00 - vs. strepitus naturae
15:00 - Thought and spirit vs. matter
[This harks back to, e.g., the Ed Feser talk at the SCS conference. I personally think there is an enormous gap--bridgeable, but still to be bridged--between these arguments that the ability of the mind to generate and handle abstract concepts implies a non-material component to thought on the one hand, and the work of modern neuroscience to track the activity of neurons around the brain in specific patterns as we think.]
17:00 - Philosophical gaps in the picture of existence without God
18:00 - Infinite regress of causes, temporal/efficient causes and extra-temporal
19:00 - Postmoderns in general have a depressing view: a para-Christian morality without God; doctrinaire atheists live in an even more depressing paradigm of complete lack of meaning
21:00 - Basil & Pope Francis on creation
22:00 - Basil on the interpretation of the six days and other aspects of creation
23:00 - Guides on the tour of creation
25:00 - Symbolic language (numbers) in Scripture
27:00 - Scriptural mandate to tend creation
29:00 - Historic ginning up of the conflict between science and faith
In this episode, we expand on our introduction to the brain by discussing some theories - ranging from well-documented to rather speculative - about the specific structures of the brain that are active (or less active) in situations ranging from autism to depression, stress, and trauma.
At the end we spend a few minutes on a preliminary critique of the materialist reductionary attitude ("interpretation" is too grandiose a word for it) toward brain science by many of its practitioners and reporters. Free will, for example, is not an illusion just because the physical part of the brain where it happens can be injured and we can be deprived of it... but much more on such neurophilosophical issues as the year progresses.
In this episode, we lay out the basic groundwork for future discussions of the human brain.
The brain we humans have apparently evolved in three stages. This can't help but be a tremendous simplification, but it's a commonly encountered statement and seems to have considerable explanatory power.
The lowest part of the brain, the brain stem (the medulla, etc.) and the cerebellum, control unconscious processes, most of which we cannot take into conscious control even if we want to. Often this is called the "lizard" or "reptile brain."
A series of little suborgans, the thalamus, hypothalamus, amygdalae (a - myg ' - da - la, the good Latin pronunciation, for the singular apparently; and my Webster's unabridged also informs me that it just means "almond shaped thing"), putamen (that habit-storing part I could not remember during the episode), and a few other parts form the limbic system, that communicates between the senses and the body, and that serves critical functions for things like emotion and memory that we share with mammals.
The upper part of the brain, the big part in human brains, is the cerebrum. Its regions are referred to as cortex / cortices or lobes. We have large volumes of the brain dedicated to visual and auditory processing, motor skills, and the whole front of the brain is where the neural work of our most human capabilities occurs: judgment, reasoning, wondering, creativity, consciousness.
The following two books informed the discussion today:
I cannot recommend The Body Keeps the Score highly enough. It starts out as a discussion of PTSD, but it grows organically into a discussion of problems that all children, and therefore all of us, are liable to have, and ways that are being discovered to bring both brain and body to peace.
On the other hand, Mapping the Mind is only intermittently good. The first hundred pages I found rough sledding, with little sense the author understood the facts being hauled out and stacked up. It got better. The last few chapters betray the common, poorly thought through materialist reductionism common in the field, no surprise, but the content of the final 200+ pages is mostly good. Autism, depression, and addiction come up, although the stock in trade is discussion people with bizarre, tragic, but fascinatingly specific brain damage and what those episodes suggest about how all the different mental aspects of being human are spread about the brain.