- Paul and Bill are proud to present this encore episode featuring the Science and Religion Initiative featuring the Science & Religion Initiative program conducted by the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame. In 2019, we interviewed Chris Baglow, Ph.D., director of the program, which equips Catholic high school educators with big-picture insights and detailed tools to communicate effectively regarding the complementarity of faith and reason, science and religion.
- We spoke with Prof. Baglow about topics covered in his recently published book, the second edition of Faith, Science, & Reason. He will be keynote speaker at the 2021 conference of the Society of Catholic Scientists, scheduled for June 4–6 in Washington, DC. Find information about the conference
- We also spoke with Jay Martin, Ph.D., a scholar in systematic theology who was the Science & Religion Initiative’s assistant director and is now Assistant Teaching Professor in Notre Dame’s Department of Theology.
- The initiative, with support from the Templeton Foundation, encourages a coordinated approach to educating young Catholics, helping them to avoid the trap of a focus on science as an exclusive source of truth and “real” knowledge. Such a focus can drive students away from the Catholic Church’s wisdom and values if it dismisses religious faith as meaningless—not worth serious engagement in their minds and hearts.
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.
- For background on Fr. Machia and Dr. Vanden Berk and this interview, see the show notes for Episode 68.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Father Lawrence Machia, OSB, is a Benedictine monk at St. Vincent College and Archabbey in Latrobe, PA. The public can view his 2019 Society of Catholic Scientists presentation on You Tube.
- Father Machia’s talk made reference to Galileo’s letter to Benedetto Castelli.
- Dr. Daniel Vanden Berk is an associate professor of physics at St. Vincent College.
- Fr. Machia and Dr. Vanden Berk, both very interested in astronomy, have worked together on designing planetarium shows on the St. Vincent campus. They have always seen the complementarity of science and religion, faith and reason, in contrast to many people’s rejection of religion based on supposed conflicts with scientific, rational, experiential learning.
- Dr. Vanden Berk was intrigued at an early age by the “Cosmos”- series presented on PBS by Carl Sagan, but the program posited a conflict between science and faith.
- Among Dr. Vanden Berk’s astronomical adventures: working on the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. He has worked with the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, processing data captured by the Digital Sky Survey.
3:00 Machia's time in college, science to theology
5:00 Machia's beginning to discern a religious vocation
8:00 St. Vincent College and the archabbey
10:00 Pre-novitiate and novitiate
15:00 Why TSSM, following on from Lawrence's plans to finish and continue his physics education
16:00 Begin vanden Berk
18:00 Sci-fi influences
20:00 He and his wife's discernment process
22:00 Daniel's early career, the early Hubble mission
24:00 Sky surveys
26:00 Texas sky survey
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 - The question of relativism vs. hyperrationalism
1:00 - God's love is not a "fact" but, say, hominid ancestry is
1:30 - Tapping into the belief in the rationality of science to bring back belief in reality in faith
2:30 - "Kicking in the back door of relativism"
4:00 - Linkages between theology, philosophy, and science: e.g. logical consistency
5:30 - Effects on the rest of schools that participate in the Science & Religion Initiative
6:30 - Encouragment to integrate, say, history, economics with faith as well
7:00 - Congregation for Sacred Doctrine 1977 "The Catholic School"
8:00 - Faith & literature, arts
9:30 - The true limits of dogma; need to understand how limited Catholic dogma really is, and how non-restrictive
13:00 - Teachers woefully overworked and underpaid, not given the ability to succeed
14:30 - Blessed to have excellent but also humble panelists & experts intending to listen to one another
19:00 - Story of the second & first editions of Baglow's textbook
0:30 - McGrath Institute for Church Life: Science & Religion Initiative outreach to high school teachers to integrate science & faith
2:00 - Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference (a good time to be away from Notre Dame)
3:00 - Summer seminars: Foundations Notre Dame, Foundations New Orleans, Capstone
4:00 - Foundations ND: lecture based, top scholars in specific disciplines, with workshops
6:00 - Foundations NO: experimental work and discussions
7:00 - Dialogue between science & theology teachers about their own specialties
8:00 - Capstone: topic-based theme & lecturers; special track for administrators; teaching practices
11:00 - Templeton Foundation study showing schools already trying to do this on their own
12:00 - The need to do this well and not engage in pseudoscience or gloss over tough questions
14:00 - ICL team making "housecalls" to individual schools
14:30 - Baglow textbook on science & faith
18:00 - Vast multiplication of interest from schools just since 2011
19:00 - Real motivations for believing faith is inconsistent with science: the need for hope [and, not made explicit, the appropriateness of hope]
20:00 - "I thought I was the only one"
21:00 - The historical and emotional impulse: rebellion against Christian hypocrisy
22:30 - Baglow makes the Fulton Sheen point: "I also hope THAT God doesn't exist!"
23:00 - The questions he wishes people would ask about God, meaning, science, etc.
24:00 - "What do you mean by 'God creates everything'"
25:00 - The nature of the discourse we encourage
26:30 - "I don't know"
27:00 - "When did science and religion enter into conflict?" - because they have not always been
28:20 - The true role of the university in integrating human wisdom
30:30 - Newman on evolution in the context of Development of Christian Doctrine
0:00 - Three issues: entropy, decoherence, Schrodinger vs. Dirac equations
2:30 - Schrodinger uses a non-relativistic Hamiltonian, with a p^2/2m kinetic energy
3:00 - Dirac equation absorbs special relativity by shifting from scalar to spinor field
4:00 - Quantum field theory as a further extension, accommodating fields that include many particles
5:00 - Field Lagrangian and all the particles and interactions in the Standard Model
6:00 - Even "everyday" gravity is in some sense accommodatable in the theory, just not extreme gravity capable of "separating out the vacuum"
8:00 - Decoherence, not to be confused with the measurement problem
9:00 - Decoherence arising from the interaction of a simple system with other systems
10:00 - Reduced density matrix begins to look classical
11:00 - Zurek and the work on decoherence: states that are "chosen" to survive interaction with the environment
11:30 - Measurement problem not solved by this work
12:30 - Entropy: the proposal that entropy is most fundamentally lack of information
progress from the special case of thermodynamic entropy, to statistical mechanics,
to von Neumann's quantum definition, to Shannon's information theory
21:00 - Craig's career: why is an engineer so interested in the fundamentals of physics?
24:00 - Journey of faith
30:30 - People of Praise in Indianapolis
31:20 - Final thoughts
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
Themes we'd like to grapple with in the Year of Our Lord, 2019, and beyond:
Last year was largely about the intellectual challenge leveled by many against religion, and we will continue talking about that as the podcast moves forward.
Paul's mission this year to work through Road to Reality
This year we also want to broaden the scope to include places where religion and faith converge, which means we're going to discuss psychology.
Looking forward to the SCS conference topic for this coming year: what it is, and has been, to be human. Neuroscience and what it implies for anthropology, and where it meets Catholic Christian anthropology coming the other way.
What is consciousness, anyway? What parts of the brain seem to be involved, and what do they do?
What is free will, anyway? Where are those breakpoints where the soul would have to affect the body in order for that to even work?
Crisis points in the way people in the post-Christian West approach the world.
Center for Ethics & Culture annual conference in 2018: Wilfred McClay & John Waters
"we care about everything, but without God... we have responsibility for everything, but we know that we are flawed and unable to provide solutions"
Post-Christian in this context includes both people who have explicitly renounced the Christian faith of the West and those who have a Christian identity in their back pocket somewhere but in reality are not relying on Jesus Christ or his teachings to guide their lives in any conscious way.
Christianity is a demanding religion. If you suck away all the grace and help it promises, but leave some of its demands for social justice or purity of intention, you have a recipe for constant internal condemnation.
Wilfred McClay (University of Oklahoma) on “Guilt in the Immanent Frame”, and John Waters on “The Importance of Not Being God: A Higher Power Is Indispensable for Human Beings and Human Societies”
No, not THAT John Waters.