That’s So Second Millennium

Episode 020 - Bill and Father Spitzer Talk Intellectual Culture and Education

August 13, 2018

Today was just one of those days where I needed a script to get through a three minute intro. I summarize the interview afterward.

Paul: "Welcome to Episode 20 of That's So Second Millennium.

"I'm Paul Giesting, a geologist, researcher, consultant, writer, and your co-host on this journey through the beautiful frontier country between science, philosophy, and religion as they stand here at the beginning of the third millennium. My opposite number is Bill Schmitt, a journalist, radio personality, and dab hand with the accordion.

"This week Bill managed to snag an interview with Father Robert Spitzer, who runs the Magis Center out on the West Coast and is the host of Father Spitzer's Universe on EWTN. He's published a number of books, which tend to have provocative titles; the one that I've read is called New Proofs for the Existence of God. That's an exciting read for anyone interested in the subject matter of this podcast, and travels through scientific and philsophical and mathematical arguments like the debate over fine tuning--whether Someone had to deliberately create the universe as it is, given how tightly constrained many physical constants seem to have had to be in order for any of the complex structures of atoms, planets, and stars to form and allow the appearance of life--and the question of whether it really makes any sense to speak of a "reverse infinity" and a universe that has always existed. Indian thinkers, Plato and Aristotle, and even Thomas Aquinas either thought that the universe has always existed or at the very least that there is no logical contradiction in saying that it could have always existed in time, even while Aristotle and Thomas asserted that the universe could not have an infinite chain of causes and needed a Prime Mover. Spitzer, in New Proofs, brings forward arguments from the philosophy of mathematics that perhaps this idea of a reverse infinity is not really logically coherent at all...a topic for one or more future podcasts.

"For today, Bill talked to Father Spitzer about the state of culture and the demographics of young people leaving the practice and even the identification of faith and citing as one reason the perceived contradiction between science and faith, initiatives to fight that, and the real absurdity of this perceived contradiction. With that I'll let Bill take it away."

Bill: Introduces our podcast and the motivations: value to filling holes in the culture, addressing the young.

Spitzer: Most recent Pew survey in 2016 comments on the high fraction of young people not just leaving the Church for a while, not just leaving a Church, but leaving faith altogether and becoming agnostic or atheistic. 49% of those leaving cite the perceived contradiction between science and religion as a key reason.

Bill: Proposes two reasons why that might be: was this gap "percolating" for a long time and just not being addressed, or is there a recent development pushing this.

Spitzer: It's both. The gap has been there for a long time [below the surface]. There are a lot of internet resources, social media outlets devoted to pushing an atheistic worldview. This feeds back into schools. Science teachers and professors that publicly espouse atheism meet audiences that are already primed that direction and certainly have no answers to contradict what they're being told.

One of his initiatives is crediblecatholic.com, where there is a bundle of resource modules presenting core arguments for the consistency of the Catholic faith and science and even arguments that discoveries in science point toward faith, not unbelief, in a Creator as the more sensible interpretation of reality. Pushing to get this curriculum into every diocese and every confirmation class and Catholic school curriculum.

Example topics: the Shroud of Turin, evidence for an intelligent Creator, near death experiences, evidence for a transphysical soul, 20th and 21st century accounts of miracles that have been thoroughly investigated with scientific methods.

Bill: The New Atheism is almost built on being shallow, on an attitude of mockery rather than on a serious analysis of evidence. This approach is the opposite: really multi-faceted.

Spitzer: Cardinal Newman talked about the "informal inference" to faith. It's not one argument; it's about twenty lines of reasoning. In our day we have if anything more of these, all the way from philosophical to scientific arguments to faith on the large scale to countless examples of miracles that have withstood thorough scrutiny by skeptical researchers. This is what the Credible Catholic approach is trying to convey.

We've tested the curriculum on beta groups of students in Austin, New York, Los Angeles and gotten remarkably high marks from these groups (97% positive / very positive, rated anonymously).

Bill: Pope Benedict foundation awards for "expanded reason" and the problems with positivism, scientism.

Spitzer: The logical contradiction at the very foundation of Vienna Circle positivism: it makes the self-contradictory claim that "the only valid knowledge is scientifically verifiable knowledge"...good luck checking that statement by scientific methods. That's a school of thought from the turn of the 20th century; we in the Church have been wrestling with it for a long time.

Reminiscence about a debate on Larry King Live with Stephen Hawking (et al.) and the claim that science had replaced philosophy...this is likewise straightforwardly impossible; science and philosophy do fundamentally different things. For that matter, so do science and mathematics.

Bill: A contradiction that I see more than ever: our culture and educational system is arguing for atheism and at the same time dumbing down our understanding of basically everything, while there is a growing s(S)ociety of Catholic Scientists...[a quick back and forth]

Spitzer: Artificial intelligence's potential is overrated when it is claimed that it can become creative in anything like a human fashion. It can't find new truths; they don't love [or will] or have any of the transcendentals. Computers are marvellous tools that, *in tandem with us*, can take us to new places we could not get without this kind of effort multiplier...

Studies on religious and non-religious affiliated groups, with the latter having much higher rates of maladaptions: suicide, substance abuse, impulsivity, depression, etc. Augustine's comment about our hearts being restless until we rest in God seems to be empirically corroborated.

Closing: CredibleCatholic.com, Notre Dame initiatives to educate high school science teachers on the interrelations between faith and science.

"So there we have it. I also want to thank Father Spitzer for taking the time to give this interview. We hope to present many more interviews as That's So Second Millennium matures and gets going. The point of the podcast has always been to get conversations started about these core issues, whether and how to be a logically coherent believer in the modern age. It's started with these conversations between Bill and I, but the point is to move outward and engage with more of you. The time is rapidly coming to expand this outreach another step or two, through social media and ordinary human interactions. Right now you can check out the Facebook page for That's So Second Millennium, and you can leave ratings and reviews on one or more of our podcast servers, Apple, Google Play, Stitcher, or Podbean."