That’s So Second Millennium
Episode 103 - Richard Doerflinger on Covid-19, Commercial Confidence, and Imperfect Science

Episode 103 - Richard Doerflinger on Covid-19, Commercial Confidence, and Imperfect Science

June 8, 2020

Bill interviewed a leading Catholic voice in public affairs, especially in bioethics and the culture of life: Richard Doerflinger.

  1. His latest column for Catholic News Service examines the implications of the “Science Wins” maxim publicized by Pfizer Inc. in a recent TV commercial. You can see the commercial here.
  2. Doerflinger mentioned libertarian bioethicist John Harris in connection with the developments and moral controversies surrounding research on embryonic stem cells some years ago. Once concerns about human dignity were successfully eased by the development of pluripotent cells, science and society both did win from a prudential pullback from reliance on embryonic cells.
  3. Phronesis is practical moral judgment that integrates human wisdom and prudence to make the best decisions possible on public policy and practice given the facts human beings know from science—in light of virtue as a crucial factor.
  4. In the Catholic journal First Things. James Hankins has written recently about Machiavelli as the political guru of his day, who introduced scientism as a values-free guideline for geopolitical strategy. Machiavelli’s own predictions about outcomes in the absence of moral judgments led to strategic failures rather than successes, Doerflinger pointed out.
  5. The only law of history is the law of unintended consequences, according to Niall Ferguson, famed analyst of history, economics, and science. Doerflinger commented that unintended negative consequences have indeed been known to result from cases where science was unleashed without the exercise of human prudence.

Photo credit: The Criterion (Indianapolis)

Episode 101 - Pandemics as a Science Problem; Skepticism in a Diseased World

Episode 101 - Pandemics as a Science Problem; Skepticism in a Diseased World

May 11, 2020

Part 2 of a three part conversation between Paul and Bill, where the main themes are skepticism, Catholic education, the mysterious absence of the Spanish Flu from our historical consciousness prior to 2020, and the philosophical conundrums of materialism, transgenderism, and scientism.

  1. Paul and Bill continued their conversation about skepticism toward science and religion. They touched on several examples of science failing to show that it “knows everything” or gets everything right. There must be a constant push for additional inquiry and knowledge. Bill said the teaching of religion in K-12 Catholic schools needs to express the hunger to learn more—the dynamic sense of joy in seeking God—just as the teaching of science sets an exciting stage for learning.
  2. The co-hosts discussed the lack of sure scientific knowledge about the COVID-19 pandemic. This led to references to the Spanish flu. Its history is poorly understood by most people, just as there was poor understanding in 1918 about the flu’s origins and impacts.
  3. Philosophy and natural science became unmoored from each other after the 17th century. Bertrand Russell appeared to share an opinion that Paul considers quite natural—the reluctance to accept that no philosophical inquiry into reality can be conducted without employing at least some original, foundational assumptions.
  4. Stephen Pinker acknowledges that materialistic thinking suffers from logical inconsistencies, Paul said. He referred to Pinker’s landmark book, The Blank Slate, an inquiry into the origins of human nature.
  5. Quantum physics, in its effort to explain how everything works by describing the behavior of atoms, is full of paradoxes, Paul said.

Image by Miroslava Chrienova from Pixabay

Thanks to Pat Flynn!

Thanks to Pat Flynn!

April 19, 2020

I had the privilege of being on the Pat Flynn show on Holy Saturday (episode here). Pat comes from the worlds of both fitness / bodybuilding and philosophy and puts out new episodes nearly every day on those topics. He is a revert / convert to the Catholic faith and has an intriguing life story. If you're not familiar with him, definitely go over and fish in his well-stocked pond for topics of interest. You would do well to listen in to his conversation with Jared Zimmerer of Word on Fire, for starters! He has also had Society of Catholic Scientists (SCS) president Stephen Barr on not once, but twice.

Happy Divine Mercy Sunday, everyone. Bill and I will be back with another episode (or two... depending on how chatty we get) next week.

If you happen upon this post as a Pat Flynn fan, may I suggest checking out our homepage where you can find links at the upper right to our interviews with many members of the SCS, especially speakers at the 2019 SCS Conference, and to a list of other popular episodes.

If the SCS specifically intrigues you, they have a ton of media, like videos of talks both at SCS Conferences and elsewhere, and an impressive archive of biographies of Catholic scientists. Definitely go to their homepage to learn more.

Episode 099 - Secular Franciscans on World’s New Views, Old Values

Episode 099 - Secular Franciscans on World’s New Views, Old Values

April 13, 2020

In this episode, Bill presents excerpts from an interview with fellow Secular Franciscan Tim Short, director of formation for the Indiana Region. They discuss, among other things, St. Francis' attitude toward creation and how it relates to the larger picture of the medieval Christian intellectual world and the birth of modern science.

  1. Tim Short, OFS, is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order, whose initials in Latin are OFS. This international, canonically approved Roman Catholic order was founded by Saint Francis of Assisi especially for laypeople. Members belong to local, regional and national fraternities. Tim is the director of formation for the Our Lady of Indiana regional fraternity. He previously served as formation director for the Immaculate Conception local fraternity of the Order (still commonly abbreviated as SFO in the United States), located in Mishawaka, Indiana.
  2. Tim and podcast cohost Bill Schmitt are both professed members of the SFO, having professed a lifetime commitment to the Rule of Life which St. Francis composed. Francis also composed rules to govern orders of friars and nuns, the latter commonly called the Poor Clares.
  3. Tim has been instrumental in starting a new website that will serve SFO fraternities’ needs for “ongoing formation.” Find this “OFS Ongoing” website at https://secularfranciscansusa.org/ongoing-formation-resources/ When you visit the site, you’ll see a major resource Tim composed for a series of small-group discussions that can be used by any fraternity but was used first by the fraternity in Mishawaka.  The resource, “A Journey Through John,” is based on the Gospel of John and  reflects the importance Secular Franciscans are to place upon the Gospels as keys Francis used in building an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Resources drawn from Franciscanism, Pope Francis, and the beloved “Peace Prayer of Saint Francis” have been composed by Bill Schmitt and are also described at the new website.
  4. Other priorities in formation include an ever-deeper embrace of the Rule of Life and of the early writings from St. Francis and his friars who provided authoritative insights into the foundational Franciscan charisms.
  5. Tim pointed out in our interview that Saint Francis lived during a time when the old ethos made little distinction between Catholic religious thinking and what we would call scientific thinking. A time of greater doubt and division was emerging during Francis’ lifetime (circa 1180-1226). Francis’ sense of mission emphasized peacemaking, healing, and an embrace of natural life in all of creation, so one can see him as a bridge-builder encouraging love and awe for circumstances we would deem ripe for scientific analysis.

See more of Tim's work at ofsongoing.com.

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 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!
Episode 078 - Fr. John Hollowell

Episode 078 - Fr. John Hollowell

September 23, 2019
  1. Father John Hollowell is a priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. He is well-known for his blog, “On This Rock.” His pastoral duties include parish leadership and chaplain roles at DePauw University and the Putnamville Correctional Faciltiy.
  2. Fr. Hollowell spoke with Paul Giesting about the number of priests throughout history who have also been active as scientists. Here is one list of priest-scientists provided by National Catholic Register.
  3. Pope John Paul II created a commission to review the Galileo Affair, and this resulted in documents officially apologizing for the Catholic Church’s historic, and hyperbolized dispute against Galileo’s statements.
  4. Here is a link to the book that was discussed: Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.
  5. Fr. Hollowell and Paul discussed the long-running football rivalry between DePauw University and Wabash College.
  6. See Fr. Hollowell online at Facebook and YouTube. And also see his interview with well-known digital Catholic voice Brandon Vogt.
Episode 076 - Megan Levis, part 2

Episode 076 - Megan Levis, part 2

September 9, 2019
  1. This is the second half of TSSM’s interview with Megan Levis. We talked at greater length about this graduate student’s research and its good fit with values-informed thought, with the Society of Catholic Scientists, and even literature. The Society held its third annual conference at the University of Notre Dame a few months ago.
  2. In Megan’s presentation to the scientists at the SCS annual conference, she posed the question: How do you distinguish and exercise ethical responsibilities when something like brain organoids are “made in the image and likeness of man rather than the image and likeness of God.” Organoids are multicellular systems built from brain tissue. Are they just cell cultures or something so akin to the human being—particularly when they are brain organoids—that ethical duties arise out of respect for human dignity? This is a relatively new field where the scientific understanding and moral consideration still must develop in tandem, she explained. A New York Times article touched on some of the questions being raised.
  3. Megan’s own main research project as part of her graduate studies at Notre Dame deals with microfluidics. They are devices, a kind of miniature bio-reactor, in which researchers can grow cells and small organs. Her goal is to make it easier and less expensive to make microfluidics that can be used in future research. Here are resources on microfluidics from the journal Nature.
  4. Her collaborations in this area came about from her meeting with a leader in microfluidics technology, Dr. Fernando Ontiveros, while they were both attending a previous SCS conference. His team is exploring new applications for microfluidics, such as the growing of organoids.
  5. At what point should moral concerns tied to the dignity of the human person “kick in” when dealing with the brain and brain organoids? Where do you as a person reside in the body? The existence of a capacity for rational thought is a conventional scientific benchmark for the existence of personhood, Megan said. There are many theories of the complex brain-mind-body connection with personhood. The human person is a complex creature, not reducible to the brain or body alone. Here’s an exploration of some insights from National Geographic.
  6. There is a real role for literature in helping us to explore the many questions that combine operational questions of engineering and more abstract, integrated thinking about persons, Megan says. She recommends renowned author Walker Percy, who explored such subjects in Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book. He comments that being a human is inevitably an uncomfortable process involving tensions within our nature. Our culture tends to look to science for answers to the big questions of human nature, but literature and art are pathways to answers too; literature allows us to think without predispositions and suppositions, to discover truths about ourselves and the world that transcend scientifically measurable parts. As Megan put it, the ability to wonder about the world is a gift that is transmitted sometimes through engineering and sometimes through literature and art.
  7. Megan has been able to work with Ontiveros while he has done research and prepared journal articles at Notre Dame. With the support of mentors and advisors, she has embraced opportunities at Notre Dame and elsewhere to spend time thinking about faith and science in relationship. She attended a conference with like-minded graduate students interested in these connections. She has appreciated the insights of SCS president Stephen Barr and microbiologist Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, OP, a speaker at this year’s SCS conference. Barr is the author of Modern Physics and Ancient Faith. Austriaco has recorded a podcast available through the Thomistic Institute titled The Science and Practice of Christian Prayer.
  8. What does Megan recommend for graduate students and others who want to advance in their bioengineering studies while staying informed and mindful about the faith-related aspects? She highlights the power of community, building friendships and conversations over time with a diverse range of people on similar journeys, including philosophy and science. One can attend relevant lectures and conferences, such as those sponsored by Notre Dame’s De Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture. She recommends the resources of the Collegium Institute. Building and updating such mindfulness is a long-term process requiring persistence, she adds.