That’s So Second Millennium
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 063 - SCS 2019 Panel, part I

Episode 063 - SCS 2019 Panel, part I

June 13, 2019

After laboring through some technical problems, here is our first full post-SCS Conference episode.

 We had a 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 conference was a heady experience, and as a self-taught amateur podcaster and interviewer, I was absurdly far out of my comfort zone. Things went surprisingly well save for one critical error: I neglected to do much of any testing of my laptop and microphone before I started recording. A whole bunch of lessons I hopefully learned there... In any case, today's audio may be the worst of the conference. I had to think long and hard about whether to air this episode, or what if anything to cut. Bill had backup audio starting halfway through this episode, so feel free to skip ahead to about 17:10 to miss the problematic section. 

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

Post Christian: Sides to Religion

Post Christian: Sides to Religion

June 6, 2019

My grandmother, Georgia (Joiner) Bredewater, was born on this day in 1921 in Texas.

Just a quick one today in the run-up to the big event at Notre Dame. I had the chance to be on the Pat Flynn Show (upcoming) and we talked about a variety of things. Pat has a very intellectual take on faith. As I was thinking through my life so far in preparation for that conversation, I was considering how it has taught me that there are multiple sides to religion and faith, and I realize that I am lagging behind where I could be on all of them.

You could divide these up any number of ways, but for today I will draw out four of them:

  • Intellectual faith. This is about thinking through the philosophical, scientific, theological, and historical issues surrounding a religion and its teachings and deciding whether it seems credible or not. This is how I approach a lot of life (at least on the conscious level!) and was definitely my way in to the Catholic faith in the first place. Catholic Christianity has a huge, well-lit, clearly signed set of intellectual entrances and a huge, expansive, richly decorated set of chambers where we can stand or sit or kneel and enjoy pondering the intellectual beauty of it all.
  • Emotional faith. Interestingly, despite all many emotional issues, I had a practice of emotional faith from the very beginning. I have always been attracted to music, and during the years of high school after my initial conversion at 14 I would cultivate this side of myself by singing and teaching myself to play the tunes of different hymns on my clarinet. In a way, as it says in Revelation, I have fallen away from my "first love" as embodied in and built up by these practices, and that hasn't helped me.
  • Community of faith. On the other hand, as a teenager I was really an island, like that Ethiopian in the Acts of the Apostles where Deacon Phillip is whisked into his presence just long enough to present some Biblical apologetics, baptize him, and then get whisked away again. I often wonder how that Ethiopian got on when he got home. Fortunately for me, I wound up at the Wash U CSC for four or five pretty happy years... then I went to grad school, and the emotional beating that that applied to me, followed by over a decade of moving every two years (or less), has left me pretty rootless again.
  • Meditation and contemplation. And yet, that time at grad school was not wasted in terms of faith either. It was at Notre Dame, for heaven's sake, and you will not find me among those people grousing about Notre Dame selling out its Catholic identity. There are plenty of rich veins of Catholicism there if you take a moment to find them. Somehow I was led to an education for ministry class for adults, and there I got my first real lessons in mental prayer. (We used Opening to God by Fr. Thomas Green, a book whose memory I still cherish.)
Episode 061 – Preview of SCS Conference 2019

Episode 061 – Preview of SCS Conference 2019

May 27, 2019

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.

School vs. Life

School vs. Life

May 16, 2019
For all that it's an in-joke with myself, when Hidden Brain comes up in the queue, to mutter "Here to depress the hell out of you, I'm Shankar Vedantam," it has a great deal of insightful and important content. Take the most recent episode contrasting doing well on tests versus doing well at life. The episode starts with a note that GED recipients have been found to be just as good at tests as their peers with high school diplomas (I can only assume these studies control for a wide range of criteria) yet have much lower incomes, get fired, and are involved in divorces or the equivalent sort of messy breakup far more often. It goes on to discuss the very long term results of some interventions taken in Michigan, decades ago, with young children that revolved around teaching them the "soft" or "non-cognitive" (and I would quibble fiercely with that term) skills of persistence, cooperation, delaying gratification, etc. and that have proved to make not only those children's lives better, but their own children's as well.
 
I myself am another sort of "experiment" relevant to the question of what makes for success. I always did well in school, but I was ingesting the lesson from early in life that I would fail at real life afterward. I can't begin to go into all those details today, but there is an enormous role played by parents, family members, teachers, and other adults in the young child's life, pushing them one way or another. Our episodes with Darcia Narvaez scratched the surface of her enormous work on this topic. Fortunately, it is possible to learn new and better ways of coping with the world in adulthood, but it is devilish hard even to realize what the problem with one's life is in order to be able to confront it at all. It is then a long hard slog of rewriting habits. There are no fast fixes for a warped childhood.
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!

Setting Myself Up To Fail

Setting Myself Up To Fail

May 2, 2019

I am scrambling this week to make preparations for TSSM to help cover the Society of Catholic Scientists Conference coming up June 7-9 at Notre Dame. I will just post a few thoughts.

I recall reading CS Lewis' autobiography many years ago and hating myself for not reading anywhere near as many good books as he did when he was young... hating myself because I knew that while I was probably more or less just as intelligent as he was, I could not force myself to spend my time well.

If you listen to the TSSM podcast much at all, you realize that Bill lets me talk for long whiles. I haven't exactly read nothing, and I haven't exactly thought nothing, but I oscillate between suspecting I have something valuable to say and fearing that I'm being judged for my ignorance. Ironically, when we hired a professional to evaluate our podcast strategy (Paired, Inc, good people to talk to if you're in the Indianapolis area), their first comment was that the content was too complex and abstruse for the average listener. To which I internally respond, "Perhaps I'm just good at sounding as if I know anything about what I'm saying."

It would be called "impostor syndrome" if it were false, but I dunno if it's false.

Anyway, I take this two directions. One is to note the language that I used above: "I could not force myself to spend my time well." A therapist years back gave me a list of common thinking problems, one of which has stuck with me: "We think we can horsewhip ourselves into compliance." Yes. Yes, that's me. My father for years had this note pinned to a bulletin board: "The floggings will continue until morale improves." One of those Freudian slip, joking-not-joking sort of things. I learned the lesson well. No wonder I found ways to drug myself up with compulsive behaviors and dissociate with computer games or compulsive non-CS-Lewis-caliber reading on or off the internet, and things have only started to change since that priest in Chicago (may he be blessed in eternity) referred me to my first Twelve Step group. I was and continue to need the help of a Power greater than myself to get out of this trap.

The other direction is that I have come to think that podcasts are not a platform for expounding new ideas, however informally. They serve a really valuable purpose for me in that my stable of podcast subscriptions keeps reminding me of things that have tended to swim away from me in the past: I'm better off being Christian and Catholic than not. I have a future, and there are steps I can take to get there. I subscribe to a handful of podcasts that keep me at least a little bit conversant with what the progressive establishment is debating within itself. These podcasts also give me a loose connection to familiar voices, a step toward community (although definitely not by itself the real thing).

Realizing this, and having the chance to ponder the SCS' mission over the past few weeks, I have come to think that perhaps the most valuable thing we can do with this podcast is also to seek to enhance a sense of community among Catholic and Christian scientists. What we've been doing serves this purpose to a considerable extent, but it will provide us a valuable sense of focus going forward.

Episode 056 - Darcia Narvaez on the (other) tragedy of the commons and moral/economic disengagement in civilized society

Episode 056 - Darcia Narvaez on the (other) tragedy of the commons and moral/economic disengagement in civilized society

April 22, 2019

Today we present the second half of the interview with Darcia Narvaez, social scientist at Notre Dame and a specialist in childhood inculturation, attachment, and bonding issues.

We start out this half of the interview with a discussion of what Karl Polyani called the "great transformation" of European society, involving the breakdown of the pre-modern order and its safeguards for a stable population by means of understandings about community use of land, perhaps resulting in the popularity of emigration to the New World by dispirited, dispossessed, and to some extent dangerous people.

Several times Darcia disparages "hierarchy," understood in its general sense of social stratification, which she or other who have influenced her theorize to have caused huge social catastrophes, including the corruption of the Christian Church by its integration into the late Roman state and the collapse of populations and cultures in the New World on contact with the colonizers from Europe. Late in the podcast I ask her explicitly whether there is any benefit to civilization... let us know in the comments on Facebook or Podbean what you think about the answer!

Darcia's claim is that humans are by nature more egalitarian than other animals. This goes right down to childrearing, where human children, born so completely needy, have an innate expectation that their requests for assistance will be met. She comments that there is a Native American word, "wetiko," that was used to describe an attitude thought of as akin to a sickness that characterized those who acted in an aggressive and exploitative way toward others. Whether or not premodern peoples were all more free of this, it's certainly a common feature of civilized peoples. The Old and New Testaments certainly testify to this, and the need to confront it with compassion and an egalitarian attitude. We discussed the specific example of the disease of the large organization, society, business, or government, in which those at the top are simply disconnected, both intellectually and morally, from those at the bottom.

We mentioned subsidiarity, and might have mentioned clericalism... the social science of these concepts will hopefully be fodder for future podcasts.

Episode 055 - Darcia Narvaez on socialization and isolation

Episode 055 - Darcia Narvaez on socialization and isolation

April 15, 2019

Find Darcia's writings and resources across the internet:

Faculty website

Author website

Resource Page at Psychology Today

Topics we discussed in this podcast:

The human need for socialization from the very beginning, and ways that goes awry in contemporary society.

Things we can do to learn some of these lessons later in life:

  • Self-calming via breathing, meditation, prayer. (Does our contemporary culture of outrage stem from a lack of the ability to calm ourselves that we are meant to learn starting in infancy?)
  • Build a social network. We were meant to have interaction with an extended family that spans all age ranges for proper socialization. It's not too late to play with children, talk to the elderly, interact with people at other stages of life.
  • Learn new languages and interact with people in different cultures. What are their reasons for doing the things that they do?
  • Spend time with nature.
  • Practice going outside yourself, defusing rigid thinking and attachment to "it has to be done this way." Intelligence is a measure of flexibility as much as anything.

Bill asked about social media and our tendency to seek out those who already agree with us. Darcia noted that we need guidance on how to socialize. Up through age 30 or so, it's natural for human beings to get that kind of guidance from others. Unfortunately we get that guidance through TV and video games now.

As usual, this was the first half of our interview. More discussion and more questions than we could possibly answer next time!