Paul Giesting, William Schmitt
Taking science AND faith seriously.
David Seitz, OFS, is a long-time professed member of the Secular Franciscan Order who holds an M.A. in theology from Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit. He has written a book, available on line, called Come Let Us Worship: Reflections on the Words and Prayers of the Mass. He produces podcasts, videos, blogs, and speaks publicly, offering reflection for spiritual growth based on the life and works of St. Francis of Assisi. Find him at tauministries.com and, on YouTube, look for his nickname, Franciscan Dave. Bill, also a Secular Franciscan, recently appeared on Dave's podcast, and I spoke with Bill about that conversation regarding journalism and virtuous communication. We discuss whether missionaries and scientists are also journalists and the spiritual value of seeking and spreading truth. Be sure to find their original conversation at Dave's site.
45 min 52 sec
Here's our pre-conversation with Matthew Cloud prior to the full interview. In this segment we talk a little bit about the Ubuntu distro, the ubuntu philosophy of computer science, and 4th and 5th generation tools for generating working code to solve computer science problems in the context of Matthew's role connected to a grant for cybersecurity education through Ivy Tech and other schools in several states.
11 min 47 sec
Paul and Bill discussed computer education and cyber-security with Matthew Cloud, professor of the practice in the computer science program at Holy Cross College in Notre Dame, IN. Cloud has extensive experience in education, not only through classroom teaching at schools including Indiana’s Ivy Tech network of community colleges, but also through project management, curriculum development, and strategic collaborations with other a range of colleges and universities. Cloud holds a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University and a master’s degree in biomedical engineering granted jointly by the University of Texas and the UT Southwestern Medical Center. He is working within the Holy Cross College science department to grow a distinctive undergraduate program in computer science. Through a different understanding of essential skills and characteristics, such a program could increase access to meaningful information technology careers among students with more diverse backgrounds of knowledge, training, interests, socio-economic resources, etc. Increasing the access to such positions offers advantages to the students, to companies with growing IT and cybersecurity needs, and to the safety and sustainability of societies. You can go to cyberseek.org and get the latest estimates of how many US cybersecurity jobs are currently open, waiting for applicants. Prof. Cloud says that number has been hovering around 500,000. One of the multi-school projects he is helping to lead is funded by a grant from the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity. His focus on a win-win balance between the demand for tomorrow’s computing/AI/cybersecurity/data science professionals and the supply of motivated, well-trained students pursuing these fields takes the form of several partnerships funded by prestigious grants. The goal of attracting more US students, of all backgrounds, into computer-related studies, whether they be focused on engineering or on different fields of study (including the liberal arts, philosophy, and more), is being pursued by many institutions. You can visit http://code.org to see one approach for encouraging young people to consider a computer-related career.
52 min 36 sec
A solo episode from Paul today inspired by the content of Wyoming Catholic College’s Deductive Reasoning in Science course (SCI 301). Greek arithmetic and the Pythagoreans The crisis of incommensurables (irrational numbers) The triumph of geometry over arithmetic Emphasis on axiomatic systems and proofs: Euclid Archimedes: physics within the Euclidean paradigm Aristotle and the medieval: qualitative and categorical accounts of motion The long reach of ancient methods and paradigms Galileo and his big ideas, shaky proofs, and tedious Euclidean methodology 16th century algebra and the need for negative numbers to simplify the cubic equation Galileo’s multiple cases of proportions of times, spaces, speeds in the Euclidean paradigm Overturns in algebraic notation and the advent of analytical geometry in the 17th century The looming role of calculus in Galileo’s attempts to argue by means of infinite parallels Imaginary and complex numbers in the solution of cubic equations with real roots, real physical problems
27 min 7 sec
Jordan Wales, PhD, who teaches theology at Hillsdale College in Michigan, spoke with Paul and Bill about his research at the intersection of robotics and religion. He discussed a compelling concern in the future relationship between human beings and technology. In particular, the concern, about which he spoke at the 2021 conference of the Society of Catholic Scientists, dealt with the interaction between individuals and the entities Wales calls “apparently personal artificial intelligence” (APAI). APAI products are already becoming commonplace in the world of commerce, as this BBC article discusses. People will be increasingly able to purchase, and interact with, virtual friends or babysitters or therapists, for example, Dr. Wales pointed out. This raises moral questions related to personhood, covering both the APAI product and the user of that product. The product will not have an inner life representative of what we think of as a person, although the definition of person has an interesting history influenced by scholars such as Saint Augustine. Human beings can express and influence their own understandings of personhood through their interactions with APAI. These understandings may lead to various types of interaction, ranging from pride and manipulation to excessive empathy, and one middle ground would consist of appreciation for the humanity that underlies the production and information/formation of the APAI product, Dr. Wales pointed out. As the use of APAI grows, there are also concerns about how the aggregated human “input” into the experience of APAI personalities may cause a flattening-out of human perspectives on the unique qualities of each person. One current example of the trajectory for these concerns comes from the use of the auto-correct feature by Google for writing. Long-term possibilities include such features of interactions not only affecting our choices of words and expressions, but also influencing what subjects we think about and how we think about them. This highlights the moral principle that ultimately we must retain our unique personal identities and wisely discern how to exercise our responsibility and restraint in allowing some possible applications of APAI to influence us, Dr. Wales said.
50 min 30 sec
Welcome to this 130th episode of our podcast. Here’s a lively conversation between two geoscientists—testifying to the opportunities for Society of Catholic Scientists (SCS) members to enjoy discussions which are at once elevated by their personal values and grounded in their diverse, expert explorations of God’s creation. Paul spoke with Natasha Toghramadjian, a Ph.D. student in geophysics—and seismology in particular—at Harvard University. She performs wide-ranging research on earthquake dynamics and risks in California and around the world. She spent a year in Armenia on a US Fulbright research grant to design a study on future earthquakes there and the connection between risk preparedness and regional politics. Toghramadjian, a student member of the SCS, was a speaker at the 2021 national conference in Washington, DC. See the video of her talk here, at about the 7-hour, 19-minute mark. The talk was titled, “Earthquakes, their Consequences, and the Jesuit Pioneers of Seismology.” This podcast conversation included Toghramadjian’s mentions of the earthquake hazards in Oklahoma and the Newport-Inglewood Fault in California, considered more dangerous than the San Andreas Fault for the Los Angeles region. A note from Natasha: at one point just before the 16 minute mark, she said "40 meters" when she meant "40 miles onshore." She discussed with Paul the common but wrong view that we hold Christian beliefs despite natural evidence. Scientists use natural evidence, including the enduring laws of physics, chemistry, and biology, in their attempts to understand God’s creation more fully. The two agreed that science and religion are in harmony as paths for pursuing the truth amid great mystery. A “keeper” quote from Toghramadjian: “Every human you encounter is an imperfect representation of whatever they say they stand for. . . . It’s very easy to point to a bad example, a person, rather than point to the source material that we’re all trying to follow but we all inevitably fall short of because we’re fallen.” Show notes prepared by TSSM co-host Bill Schmitt
35 min 18 sec
Word on Fire will be holding a Faith and Science Summit August 9-12 (starting tomorrow!). It will feature at least nine speakers, including the SCS' own Jonathan Lunine and Karin Oberg. Among the topics discussed will be - The history of the Church and science, including a wealth of details that get glossed over by the "conflict hypothesis" - Specific coverage of what went wrong between the Pope, cardinals, and Galileo, and why that's far from a typical example of how the Church treats scientists - The counterexample of George LeMaitre - Theological motivations *for* doing science from the perspective of the Christian faith - Insights from science that have enriched our appreciation of creation, the physical universe, and our own human origins - Catholic theology and speculation about the possibility of extraterrestrial life Find out more at: https://wordonfire.institute/faith-and-science-summit If you're a Word on Fire Institute member: https://wordonfire.institute/faith-and-science-summit-wofimembers
1 min 57 sec
Paul gives an update on his move to Wyoming to take a faculty position at Wyoming Catholic College. We are looking forward to bringing you more Society of Catholic Scientists conference speaker interviews in August.
16 min 26 sec
An intriguing interview with a business school professor from Paul's alma mater, Anjan Thakor of the Washington University in St. Louis Olin Business School. The point of departure for this episode is Prof. Thakor's book of the same title written with Dr. Bob Quinn, and the book was launched as an analysis of why Dr. Quinn left a prestigious faculty position at the University of Michigan to go start a church in Australia. The book and our interview discuss what seems as if it should be common sense: people perform better when they believe what they're doing has a higher purpose than extracting paychecks and profit. Yet this common sense observation is now counter to decades of economic orthodoxy, both in the "practical" world and in academia, which focus on evaluating ways for employers to control and coerce employees using the tools of the market system. And it's not entirely surprising, since in many ways human nature is always poised to devolve into this style of interaction. Listen in and, if you're anywhere near as intrigued by this work as I was, read their book for more. Thakor co-authored The Economics of Higher Purpose: Eight Counterintuitive Steps for Creating a Purpose-Driven Organization with Robert Quinn, business professor emeritus at the University of Michigan. Thakor referred to a University of Michigan study of call-center workers. They came away with a higher sense of purpose—and effectiveness—after talking with students who had received scholarships based on fund-raising efforts in which the workers were participating. If you change a worker’s mental map for seeing their job, this affects their performance. Authenticity requires a business leader’s believable commitment to—and passion about—the organization’s higher purpose, Prof. Thakor said. He also referred to insights from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks about the importance of societal and organizational motivation stemming from a sense of covenant, not merely contract. Covenant entails a sense of shared purpose. Noted business executive Bob Chapman says 88 percent of American workers say they want a sense of higher purpose but don’t feel it is integrated in their work life. Thakor said his own research shows that employees whose companies have a sense of purpose are more likely to describe a sense of purpose in their lives—a spillover effect. The commitment to purpose must be top-down. Then, it cascades through the organization if you help employees learn and absorb what it means for them and their job, Thakor said. Harvard Business Review had a special issue on the importance of a sense of purpose.
46 min 58 sec
Paul and Bill interviewed Timothy Dolch, Ph.D., assistant professor of physics at Hillsdale College. Dr. Dolch is a member of the Society of Catholic Scientists, and he spoke in June at the Society’s 2021 conference, titled, “Extraterrestrials, AI, and Minds Beyond the Human.” His talk, “The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence: An Overview,” offered his perspectives as an astrophysicist with expertise in radio astronomy. The talk, alongside others from the conference’s Saturday session, can be viewed here. Here are some links to terms used during the conversation. What is a parsec? What are the transient luminous events known as red sprites and blue jets? What is the Low-Frequency All-Sky Monitor operated at Hillsdale? What are SETI and the Arecibo Message? What is the Square Kilometer Array telescope now being built? As Dr. Dolch mentioned, part of the discussion at the conference dealt with differing expectations about the process of evolution as it might happen in extraterrestrial life. He referred to another speaker, Simon Conway Morris, Ph.D., an earth scientist studying evolution at the University of Cambridge. Dolch mentioned Solaris, a science fiction novel later made into a film. You can view the film here. This classic work imagines an alternative kind of conscious extraterrestrial life form—other than what human beings might call a person. Our discussion with Dr. Dolch about the Hillsdale community included a mention of the college’s Center for Constructive Alternatives.
1 hr 14 min
Paul and Bill provide an on the scene review of the Society of Catholic Scientists Conference 2021 at the Washington, D.C. Hilton. The themes were Extraterrestrial Life, Artificial Intelligence, and Minds beyond the Human. As an added service, here are some links provided by the after dinner speaker, Jennifer Wiseman, to works and groups dedicated to faith - science dialogue: Book: "The Book of the Cosmos: Imagining the Universe from Heraclitus to Hawking" (Editor Prof. Dennis Danielson, UBC; Perseus, 2000) Book: "The Language of God", by Francis Collins (Director of the U.S. Human Genome Project; Free Press, 2006) Organizations and Websites: Society of Catholic Scientists! catholicscientists.org Dialogue on Science, ethics, and Religion (DOSER), American Association for the Advancement of Science: aaas.org/doser sciencereligiondialogue.org Sinai and Synapses: sinaiandsynapses.org American Scientific Amilation (ASA) asa3.org (network of scientists, engineers, teachers, and science enthusiasts Interested in the relationship of science and Christian faith) Biologos.org Science for the Church: scienceforthechurch.org Scientists in Congregations: scientistsincongregations.org Faraday Institute for Science and Religion: www.faraday.cam.ac.uk
14 min 35 sec
Paul and Bill welcomed Stephen Barr, Ph.D., president of the Society of Catholic Scientists (SCS), for a return visit to TSSM. Dr. Barr, a theoretical particle physicist, is emeritus professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Delaware. We talked with him about the Society of Catholic Scientists and the organization’s fourth annual conference, scheduled June 4-6, 2021, in Washington, DC. The growing membership of SCS now totals about 1,500 in multiple countries. The organization was founded in 2016 by Dr. Barr and five other scientists. Barr, author of Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, described the upcoming conference, which is titled “Extraterrestrials, AI, and Minds Beyond the Human.” See details of the conference The SCS has posted an announcement about live-streaming of conference talks for those who have not registered to attend in-person. The talks will be livestreamed at https://catholicscientists.org/conference2021. The schedule of talks can be found HERE. During the talks, questions for the speakers can be emailed in to questionsSCS2021@gmail.com. As time permits, some questions will be selected from those emailed in and posed to the speakers during the Q&A sessions. Barr gave an overview of the event and the speakers. One of the speakers, Prof. Lawrence Principe, Ph.D., will also be the recipient of the Society’s Saint Albert Award. The award, bestowed annually, is named for St. Albert the Great, patron saint of the natural sciences. Dr. Principe, a historian of science at Johns Hopkins University, has been a leading voice in dispelling the myth of a historical conflict between science and religion, Dr. Barr pointed out. A course titled “Science and Religion” is offered by Principe through the “Great Courses” organization and is available online. The conference’s keynote speaker is Christopher Baglow, Ph.D., director of the Science & Religion Initiative in the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame. Dr. Baglow, whose unique high school textbook Faith, Science, and Reason: Theology on the Cutting Edge has now been published in a second edition, was a guest on a previous episode of the TSSM podcast. Barr pointed out that, although the Society did not hold a conference in 2020, it greatly expanded its website, which now includes instructional materials about science and religion. One feature is a curated historical collection of concise bibliographies about important scientists who were practicing Catholics. Barr thanked his collaborator Andrew Kassebaum for that content, which is more authoritative than other online lists of “Catholic scientists.” The SCS continues to work to expand its services to teachers and students. The SCS website, at org, already contains numerous videos of talks from past conferences. Dr. Barr said the Society’s goals include facilitating wide-ranging intellectual and spiritual fellowship for Catholic scientists and helping to evangelize a secular culture that is infused with thoughts and messages prioritizing science and technology. The work of spreading the faith through science will increasingly use new media. Another form of evangelization is the Society’s support for Church celebrations of “Gold Masses” in numerous localities in the United States and elsewhere. Gold Masses, often planned as Votive Masses in honor of St. Albert the Great, are celebrated for members of the science professions. The Masses are part of the effort to increase the Society’s grass-roots activities through local and campus chapters.
1 hr 10 min
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.
58 min 30 sec
Paul and Bill discuss the basic geological features of the Holy Land, like its geomorphology and tectonics, or translated into lay terms, the reasons why its landscape takes the form that it does and why it suffers a lot of earthquakes. Paul discusses the need for a book bringing together the best geologists and the best textual experts to collaborate and discuss the possible relationships between the texts of the Old Testament and other ancient Near Eastern writings and the geologic record of the Holocene. If that book already exists, let us know in the comments!
27 min 1 sec
Bill and I are excited to bring you an episode about the archeology and secular history of the time when Jesus was born, grew up, and preached. Fuller notes to come on our episode with Dr. Jean-Pierre Isbouts, author of In the Footsteps of Jesus. Jean-Pierre Isbouts, Ph.D., is a best-selling author, historian, and filmmaker who has invested decades of work in to understand and explain the Biblical foundations of Christian faith from an interdisciplinary perspective. His career as a humanities scholar began with his doctoral degree from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. He is a professor of human development at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, CA. Isbouts’s latest book, published in 2017 by National Geographic, is In the Footsteps of Jesus: A Chronicle of His Life and the Origins of Christianity. In addition to reading his books, you can take his course, “The History and Archaeology of the Bible” through the Great Courses library of products. He has made several notable films, and he recently has posted a series of videos embodying his new book, available by searching his name on Vimeo. Isbouts talked with Paul and Bill about key findings that help to increase public understanding of the historical context of Jesus’ life and how he loves to deepen that understanding through visual images of lands where Jesus taught, plus explorations in maps, art, archaeology, and more. His book features a beautiful collection of images. The discussion with TSSM looks into Jesus’ background, which is much more extensive than the typical label of “carpenter.” He notes that Jesus’ role in rebuilding the city of Sepphoris presaged his message of action and solidarity aimed to build the Kingdom of God. The times during which he taught on earth were filled with social and economic chaos, when the rule of Herod and his son decimated the economy of Galilee and displaced thousands of peasants in severe poverty. These historic times, Dr. Isbouts points out, resonate with readers today during a period of pandemic and polarization. We need to hear again Jesus’ call to come together as citizens of the Kingdom to practice basic principles of the Torah—compassion, social justice, and total faith in God as Father. Dr. Isbouts himself says his studies have drawn him closer to the figure of Jesus and “what fired his ministry.” The application of various fields of scholarship helps to tear down walls that many people today see dividing the worlds of science and faith.
35 min 47 sec
Paul and Bill discuss some of the ways in which human minds go wrong. Paul wonders aloud whether the state of spiritual disconnection called "original sin" is specifically manifested in the ways parents relate, or don't relate, to children and the problems that follow from that for the rest of our lives. We discuss Henri Nouwen (a little) and Eckhart Tolle (a little more) and his ideas on how enlightenment has cropped up here and there throughout history but gets suffocated by social conformism. Paul and Bill discussed a number of resources for pondering the nature of sin and how it affects our lives—as well as how people act based on their perceptions of sin in themselves and others. Without the Church’s wisdom and reliance on Christ’s grace, behaviors based on a misunderstanding or dismissal of sinfulness can distort our lives as individuals, in our minds and hearts, as well as our lives in society. The co-hosts concluded that we need to invest time throughout our lives to discern how sin—and a need for forgiveness and grace which is poorly grasped in secular society—in integrated in our mental and spiritual health. We cannot just set aside the matter of original sin and our ongoing inclination toward evil. We tapped into the Catechism of the Catholic Church, especially the paragraphs around #400 and beyond, for guidance to sort this out. Such guidance is important in countless cases, such as reflection on Jesus’ teaching on separating the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. We discussed The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker. Paul spoke of being pointed toward books by Henry Nouwen and commentary by Eckhart Tolle, a popular proponent of new-age syncretism with echoes of Christianity and Buddhism. He also spoke of exploring life-solutions propounded in EMDR therapy. He mentioned having found useful insights when exploring that therapy through Francine Shapiro’s Getting Past Your Past.
43 min 16 sec
Life is pretty intense for Paul these days. We present this interview with Megan Levis from the 2019 Society of Catholic Scientists archives, every bit as relevant now as it was then. It was originally presented as two episodes. Megan Levis is a fifth-year graduate student in bioengineering at the University of Notre Dame. The topic of her talk at the annual conference of the Society of Catholic Scientists was “Created in the Image and Likeness of Man.” She described the University’s bioengineering program. Growing what can be deemed the beginnings of a human brain, for purposes of research, invites important ethical considerations. Levis has found resources at and through Notre Dame for deeper study of the responsibilities entailed in such research. She has worked with the John J. Reilly Center on science, technology and values. She has also been part of the Leadership Advancing Socially Engaged Research (LASER) program within the Graduate School. Levis participated in an NSF-supported workshop on engineering design principles of multicellular living systems. Such workshops reflect a growing nationwide interest in the ethical and societal ramifications of rapidly developing technology related to systems of living things. The interest is prompting collaboration among philosophers, scientists, ethicists and engineers. It’s a false dichotomy to separate faith and engineering. Levis said her advisor [Jeremiah Zartman] has been supportive of integrating values-related concerns, and that integration has made her research better. Now that there is an increased focus in bioengineering on the transfer, or translation, of knowledge from the lab bench to hospitals and clinical practice, the assessment of ethical implications is even more important. Organoids are systems built from human cells that begin to look like an organ. In this new field, it’s important to create room for philosophical understanding, but right now the field is dominated by engineers and scientists largely using terms that sound like clunky jargon. Philosophy tells us we need to define our terms better, Levis said. We need better ways to describe what’s going on in accessible ways that allow for ethical thinking. Engineers tend to look at every component in its specifics, but there is value in seeing how one thing is similar to something else so both may come under similar ethical principles. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
53 min 19 sec
This episode had to be rushed in due to Paul's travel schedule. He got to visit a location peculiarly dear to his heart, Lander, Wyoming, and give a talk at Wyoming Catholic College. It's just Paul's cut of the raw audio, bonus-episode style, since we had to record it Sunday afternoon. Paul and Bill discuss the visit and the substance of his field exercise, including how the ideas of our friend Nicolaus Steno and the 18th century James Hutton play out in a live outdoor setting: Derby Dome in the Wind River Basin, or as it is most often called these days, Johnny behind the Rocks.
26 min 1 sec
A rerun of Episode 6. Do not blame Morgan for the sound quality of this episode! All complaints should be directed to Paul at the email link at https://www.thatssosecondmillennium.net. Bill and I hope to be back in action soon.
37 min 3 sec
Paul and Bill talk here about a mix of psychology and societal dilemmas in light of Catholic values. Twelve-step programs have experience with an interpersonal phenomenon often called “taking someone else’s inventory,” Paul points out. This entails one individual assessing another through a facile psychological analysis of supposed characteristics underlying comments made or behavior shown; it can be prone toward unfortunate intimations of contempt, based on emotional reaction. This has gotten worse in these days of snap judgments which assume the worst, not the best, about complex people in complex situations. Often, people fail to make a distinction between the actions and the basic characteristics of a person. Paul mentions The Betrothed, a novel which talks about circumstances where different sorts of reactions to evil actions were possible, for good or ill. The film Rudy includes a conversation where one hears the aphorism, “I’ve learned there is a God, and I’m not Him,” Bill mentions. The twelve-step programs have recognized that it is an awful prospect to have to play the role of God without having the abilities of that Higher Power, as Paul points out. Subsidiarity as a centerpiece of Catholic Social Thought makes sense not only as an aid to effectiveness of solutions, but also an aid to greater peace of mind about one’s agency and responsibility in addressing problems, your co-hosts agreed.
35 min 27 sec
Aida Ramos, Ph.D., is an associate professor of economics at the University of Dallas. She returns to TSSM, in this episode recorded early in the week of January 4, 2021, to discuss Catholic perspectives on United States policy efforts to stimulate the economy. During the discussion, Bill recalled a class he took at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs that outlined a rigorous process of federal budget management. It included multiple annual authorization and appropriations bills covering various agencies and governmental functions. He could not remember immediately the name or previous budget-leadership role of his professor from those years as a student, but he commented in general that, over time, the discipline planned for maintaining quality control over program specifics via this legislative routine gave way to habits of less regular and detailed Congressional oversight on specifics of spending. Ramos noted that the Citizens United case decided by the US Supreme Court in 2010 had a major effect on campaign finance which in turn greatly increased the influence of corporate lobbyists over Congressional decision-making and thereby contributed to changes in legislative practices regarding federal budget management. The multi-trillion-dollar spending bill passed by Congress in late 2020 offers examples of how management rigors, at least as they maintain a focus on common-good and fiscal-responsibility duties, changed in ways that lessened Congressional and White House priorities integrating social justice into year-end spending plans; concerns about the primacy of addressing broad, basic needs of the population, as described by goals of solidarity and subsidiarity in Catholic social thought, have not been served by enactment of policies like tax deductions for the so-called “three-martini lunch.” That policy, which economists judged to be primarily a benefit for the wealthy, favors spending practices seen in corporate and lobbying circles, Ramos said. The need for responsible approaches to economic management within government is an area of profound moral concern that has arisen consistently present and past policy-making. Different policy actions, including the Covid-19 relief legislation, which is separate from the aforementioned multi-agency spending bill, represent differing approaches to deficit spending in the federal budget. Deficit spending can be justified during an economic crisis if it is limited and focused fairly on necessary remedies and investments. But the US has run up deficits in various years when they were not necessary, and the national debt has exploded. The need to pay interest on the national debt to investors squeezes out spending that could go toward meeting urgent needs such as food and poverty relief in the general population. This again raises concerns through the lens of Catholic values about human dignity and the preferential option for the poor. The major tax cut passed during the Trump administration had components that added hugely, unnecessarily, and unfairly to the deficit, Prof. Ramos said. A morally informed discussion about taxation has to be conducted among Americans to help influence government decision-making in legislation like this. An absence of responsive and responsible fiscal policy, legislated by Congress, has required more action by the Federal Reserve in recent years, taking the form of quantitative easing. This is monetary policy, whose technicalities can stir misguided fears among people. One bottom line in the different forms of policy-making is the need to serve the common good and human dignity; actions which support the economic stability and participation of families and households at the local level are an example of the Catholic call to respect subsidiarity as a means toward solidarity, Prof. Ramos said. Pope Francis has been outspoken about the need for populations to respect Catholic social values like these in policies and relationships widely and consistently. Certain budgetary responses to Covid-19 relief for people are in keeping with the Pope’s call. The application of a moral lens to budget management that meets public needs is nothing new; indeed, the field of political economy arose out of moral philosophy, a connection personified by Adam Smith, according to Prof. Ramos.
42 min 45 sec
In this last episode of 2020, Bill and I discuss how attention, focus, and distraction are shaping us and being engineered in our media-saturated culture. We can't pay attention to everything, and in this environment, it seems that censorship is becoming a politically acceptable option for tech companies, as the Trump election corruption allegations became forbidden topics on many platforms. Co-hosts Paul and Bill agreed that the film—and Broadway play—called “Network” shows foresight in its reflections about human dignity and corporate values in competition on an individual and global scale. Pope Damasus changed the dominant language of the (Roman) Catholic Church from Greek to Latin (what would have been called the vernacular language in that time and place). John Stuart Mill wrote On Liberty and helped to advance the authentically liberal project of freeing up human creativity and truth-seeking in the marketplace of ideas. Many U.S. citizens (and people in general) are reverting to tendencies toward self-centeredness in human communication and civil society—tendencies against which common-good principles of the United States have served as societal guard-rails with remarkable success during much of our history. The self-centeredness runs counter, too, to the zeal for connection-making which drives many messages from Pope Francis. By the way, that drive is a factor leading to the long length of the Pope’s encyclical, like his most recent document, Fratelli Tutti. Communication (and communities like those in social media) tend toward exclusion of unwanted information, rather than a greater spirit of inclusion. The Distracted Mind, recommended by Paul, is an academic book that is timely reading in what Bill calls this media world of “information inflation.” That inflation leads toward a purposeful or kneejerk limitation on attention—one cannot consume everything from today’s firehose of data!—and even what Paul described as weaponization of attentiveness. To the degree that a sense of exceptionalism guides us, history may justify some adoption of that in our thinking about the principles and aspirations of the United States. But it can be risky if it shuts off our thinking about, or respect for, the uniqueness and dignity that individuals around the world bring to the idea marketplace. We can’t reduce our thinking to dismissive judgments against them as merely packages of entirely good or bad ideas. Pope Francis writes for a present moment that needs a strong sense of right and wrong but also a realistic, holistic, transparent vision of the earthbound state of human thinking around the world. Paul notes that this can lead toward a sense of hopelessness, but both Paul and Bill say the papal messages—and the faith behind them—can offer a hope based on reliance on God’s operation in daily life. The messages include his annual teachings for World Communications Day. That’s a better approach than a video-game philosophy favoring destruction—and deconstruction—before a rebuilding in line with modern principles and atomistic priorities, as Paul points out. The better approach allows for fuller embrace of complex, reflective thinking, of “adulting” with a sense of moderation and responsibility to individuals and the common good, to the past as well as the future. Bill points out that the U.S. Constitution is one earthly source of insight from the past There are other such sources, too, Paul notes. GK Chesterton spoke of a population’s respect for the wisdom of its predecessors as a “democracy of the dead.”
Our guest, economics professor Dr. Aida Ramos, returned for further conversation after Episode 114. She pointed to wisdom in papal encyclicals from the past that we still need to tap into today—for the sake of just and reasonable arrangements in society and the economy. The granddaddy of these encyclicals is Rerum Novarum, from Pope Leo XIII in 1891. Forty years later, Pope Pius XI issued Quadragesimo Anno. Words are important, we noted in our discussion. The root for the word subsidiarity, which is a key concept in Catholic Social Thought, comes from the Latin for assistance or help. The origins of the word economics trace back to the management of a household, which incorporated a sense of stewardship, seeking the good for all persons connected with a household. Ramos pointed out that the appeal of Catholic Social Thought is by no means limited to Catholics or the Church. This wisdom is compatible with a broader legacy of insights deep in the Western intellectual tradition. She discussed economic insights embodied in the Acts of Union of 1707 in Great Britain, as described in her book, Shifting Capital. Historical figures who helped to shape ideas of economic justice through their expertise and their advocacy regarding the Acts of Union included Sir James Stewart. Dr. Ramos also mentioned Adam Smith, the 18th century economist and moral philosopher whose book The Wealth of Nations argues for the wisdom of free market capitalism. Henry George, a 19th century economist, also contributed to the secular intellectual trends which ran counter to the individual-utility principles of today’s neoclassical economics. Echoes of the notions more inclined toward common-good thinking are expected to receive attention in a new introductory economics textbook now being written by development economist Jeffrey Sachs. This will integrate concepts of subsidiarity and common-good motivation, which have a long history in secular discussion and are outlined cogently in Catholic Social Thought.
40 min 23 sec
Paul and Bill spoke with Aida Ramos, Ph.D., an associate professor of economics at the University of Dallas. Prof. Ramos’ research and teaching at that private Catholic university include topics in economic development and Catholic Social Thought and their implications for public policy. She is the author of a book (Shifting Capital: Mercantilism and the Economics of the Act of Union of 1707 ) in the “Palgrave Studies in the History of Economic Thought” series. The Vatican’s first direct foray into issues of justice in economics and the relationship of capital and labor came from Pope Leo XIII in 1891 in his encyclical Rerum Novarum. Pope Pius XI added to the Church’s economic analysis 40 years later in the encyclical Quadragesima Anno; it focuses on the different systems of economic organization. The Vatican has spoken out about economic organization and justice in various additional ways over the years, including such encyclicals as Saint Pope John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus. In general, both capitalism and socialism have received mixed reviews in terms of their virtues and problems. At the core of economic decision-making—discernment about the systems from which we choose and how we implement them—is the balancing of rights and responsibilities. The Church strongly proclaims a variety of economic rights held by human persons. It also insists that humans and corporations go beyond a limited notion of responsibility focused only on maximization of income and wealth. The Church asks, what is the economy for? What is my duty to God and other human beings as it is to be exercised through human economic behavior? The universal destination of goods is a Catholic principle that the reason the economy exists is for the good of all human persons. The preferential option for the poor is a principle which states: If any action makes the poor worse off, do not pursue it. The Church also teaches that we all have a responsibility to uphold the common good. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, the totality of social and economic conditions is intended for human beings to achieve fulfillment and authentic happiness. Pope Franics’ new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, reminds the faithful to pursue fraternal relationships of compassion and love with people all over the world, which helps the human ecology to reflect and build the common good. This taps into principles of Catholic Social Teaching including solidarity and respect for the dignity of each unique individual created by God. This global consciousness coexists with a local consciousness guided by the principle of subsidiarity—which instructs that people at the level of smaller communities should have responsibility and authority to address all issues they can address, free of intervention by higher authorities unless those greater resources must be called upon. Catholic Social Thought, or Catholic Social Teaching, has been called the Church’s best-kept secret, partly because its principles are prospective meeting grounds for broader public consensus; they are drawn from the Gospel and Church wisdom through the ages, but they have rarely been proclaimed as a package to be consistently understood, discussed and applied in unison.
30 min 56 sec
Your TSSM coverage of the 2020 US election with the unique perspective Bill and Paul provide. Be sure to let us know your ideas for the presidential hopeful cage match reality show that we clearly need to augment or replace the primary election system here in the 21st century... hit us up with your proposed names and formats using the links to the right. As always, God bless America (all of it, not just the US...).
56 min 39 sec
Paul and Bill focused on the 2020 elections as a point of tragically little focus in discourse or reasoning—but a good starting point for wide-ranging conversation about humanity’s desperate search for balance, hope, and sustainability in our hearts and minds. The desire for a higher wisdom—a happy medium, a golden mean—has always been complicated by our focus on ourselves and our temptation to believe that we know best, the co-hosts pointed out. Bill pointed out that “fake news” was said to have made its first appearance in the Garden of Eden, courtesy of the serpent; that comment was made by Pope Francis in his 2018 reflections for World Communications Day. Society is operating in a state of radical uncertainty and unsustainable indebtedness among persons, but we forget the stabilizing recognition that we share an indebtedness to God—a responsibility to Him as our source and our only reliable resource. We have forgotten a lot about this, leaving us not only lost, but facing a steep price to pay as God’s children, Paul said. He referred to the story of King Josiah’ realization that he and his people had strayed from the laws of the Torah. People seeking personal goodness and the common good know we have made serious mistakes on our journeys and have perpetuated ignorance and poor judgment. Each successive generation has been left unprepared and unable to make difficult decisions that would point toward healing. Bill recalled G. K. Chesterton’s call for a nation’s responsibility to wisdom that whatever wisdom was being handed down via what he called “the democracy of the dead.” But such respect for tradition is not one of humanity’s strong points. Paul pointed out that our podcast’s name points to a second millennium whose second half was marked by major departures from tradition for the sake of greater human creativity. The co-hosts discussed how any attainment of a golden mean has been lost in the pursuit of collaborative innovation—even though we fail to hone our ideas as humble learners and listeners. Meanwhile, any instinct to hold fast to the tried and true only traps us in cocoons of misguided, comfortable assumptions. The artificial “communities” we belong to through our digital culture are places not of roots which allow us to grow, but of simplified labels which mimic understanding, Bill said. He was drawing upon concerns about internet trends voiced by Pope Francis in his 2019 message for World Communications Day. Our political system does not encourage any sustained, constructive dialogue between the old and the new or between fresh, authentic perspectives. Paul pointed out that we are not presented with real choices despite the fact that parties and partisans paint themselves as sharply different. And Bill pointed out that one are of common ground so many leaders share is the use of pessimism and fear. He recalled the presidential campaigns where candidate Biden spoke of a dark winter ahead and candidate Trump portrayed himself as the alternative to anarchy and economic despair. When an incomplete knowledge of history leads to despair about the past and present of a society, it can seem like the structures undergirding that society are held up more by mass psychology than real accomplishments or aspirations, the co-hosts said. Our culture likes to exalt creativity in principle, but have we made it easier to see connectivity and possibilities, Paul asks. Bill, proving his fascination with papal teachings for World Communications Day, would point out that the 2020 message of Pope Francis highlights our need to pass along hopeful stories from generation to generation that begin with our dynamic, hopeful relationships with God. Paul reflected on how our childhoods do not always prepare us for the kinds of pursuits entailed in the career pursuits and panoramic interests of adulthood. In a world of limited, utilitarian perspectives, it is hard to find happy wanderers with big ideas looking for life’s happy mediums.
43 min 54 sec
Brad Stalcup joins Paul and Bill in this episode to talk about his recent entry into the world of Catholic education. He began teaching religion to high school freshmen and sophomores in this fall semester of 2020—a time that Paul describes as a “baptism of fire” because of Covid-19 and today’s unusual circumstances overall. The vast majority of the approximately 120 students in Brad’s various classes is learning in-person, but there are several who are “live-streamers,” participating in the courses through distance-learning. The school is located in the region around Cleveland, OH. It’s a labor of love, not overwhelming, and “I’ve got great students,” Brad says He has not surveyed the classes to find out which ones identify themselves as Catholic, but the vast majority are Catholic and probably 50 percent are practicing Catholics in the sense of weekly Mass attendance. There is definitely a Catholic identity in this high-powered school, “which I’m grateful for,” Brad says. There is an eagerness to learn, especially among the freshmen, he says. He recalls that his own freshman year was a bit of an iffy time, and he wanted to help young people not fall into the trap of a slow start in high school, perhaps accompanied by theological doubt. The bottom line for sophomores is that they try to predict and give the teacher the “right answer.” Two key messages to Brad’s approach to the freshmen: God does stuff. And your life matters. Because of scientific materialism, there’s a temptation to think life doesn’t matter because humans are actually reduced to a tiny bit of matter drifting through space. For the sophomores: God desires your happiness. And He invites you into relationship. Church only makes sense in the context of relationship, Brad points out. His principal goal is to rid them of “moralistic, therapeutic deism,” which already shows up in students’ papers—when they say, “God is there for you,” for example Brad says he likes using poetry, particularly “The Hound of Heaven.” It makes both of the two points he wants to focus on with freshmen. He adds that it’s important to present certain things as true while also leaving room for questions. Or else they will build a wall around their heart. Thomas Aquinas himself asked the question, “Does God exist?” so it’s a worthy question to think about. Ceasing to believe in God drives a wedge between science and God. Today’s focus on science is for things that happen on earth and God is for my spiritual fulfillment. When they start conflicting, our culture encourages scientistic This involves incorporating faith and reason together in a healthy way—leaving room for questions, having them think about life in non-scientific ways. Learning science involves asking questions just like learning religion. The tendency in students is to think they can memorize answers, in both, but there are more constructive ways to teach both.
In this episode, Paul and Bill are back together for a conversation that catches up on past episodes which pondered big problems in science, government, the economy, personal well-being, and more. The pondering focused on solutions as matters of step-by-step processes, but as our conversation starts, we’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by the enormity of the problems, their quantity and complexity. Society relies more and more on government, which has proven it does not perform long-term planning very well. And it doesn’t really have the needed resources and insights it claims to have. Ultimately, the solutions are at the individual level and in communities and communion. Paul recommends Chesterton’s biography of St. Thomas Aquinas. The Church does have amazing resources for building up faith and hope in ourselves and others—with insights at the local and global level. Of course, the Church too is in a vulnerable and broken position in its circumstances as a human institution. Paul and Bill wonder how the Church can exercise influence in the nature of evangelization and civic duty at a time when the world needs better problem-solving that respects but transcends our various individual differences and weaknesses. Collectively, intellectuals are a tiny minority, and God must love rednecks (literally with red necks) because these are the working people. Here’s an inspiring story about rednecks. We must aim to do much of our work, with God’s help, in small steps and initiatives that growing corporations and growing empires of power will consider small and off-the-radar. The reference to “Let’s Get Small” looks to Steve Martin and an old “Saturday Night Live” performance in which he left a message that stuck with Bill. A big part of the answer is Catholic Social Teaching. These principles can give us approaches and motivation and starting points for conversations about a sense of purpose to unite us. Again, it entails humility, not pontification, because at the individual level we need to act in our families and communities to get involved in bringing these principles to life—perhaps by going into politics, or getting involved in a civic organization, or simply accepting responsibility to assist some kind of repair work on one of society’s obvious wounds. This may involve joining groups, like the Knights of Columbus, to fight for many causes including racial justice. If we join the Democratic Party, our role would be to push for reform and renewal—but then again, the Lord would require us to do the same thing in the Republican Party. Hilaire Belloc said the defining feature of the self-proclaimed “practical man” is his inability to reason back to first principles or forward to final consequences. Our politics are likewise defined by politicians thrashing about myopically trying to win individual elections. We need to provide our own grass-roots strength for each other, through solidarity, that gives us confidence to approach the public square with the particular abilities we may have to help. Often, this participation is best done at the local level, through family and community and small groups where we can make a distance and experience people’s needs, strengths, and dignity. This is the principle of subsidiarity. Overall, the solutions and principles point us toward small, not huge solutions. Paul and Bill have talked in the past about how the fields of science and government, for instance, are hobbled in handing us solutions because there is little capacity for long-term planning or even long-term thinking at those grander scales. Many gaps appear in such an entrepreneurial macro-setting: Why did we fail to plan for this or that? Why did we not see this coming? We must be thinking small but thinking big. This is the economy of God and a strength of the Catholic Church, whose purview is local and global, individualistic and cosmic.
50 min 1 sec
A solo episode from Paul. These are the notes I used... the audio is balanced differently. Insight by Bernard Lonergan and 20/20 hindsight. What else (besides the coronavirus and similar epidemics) are we not preparing for? Can we? We can't know all the unknowns, and it is somewhere between difficult and impossible to quantify the risks even for the things we can anticipate. Yet quantification is reasonable and laudable because individual lives do matter... the 1,000,001st victim of a tragedy just as much as the first. Problem areas: Education and the bureaucratic / engineering mentality "we already know everything we need to make a decision" and "let's do something to make it look like we're doing something." Finance and the herd mentality. Bullwhip chains of overreaction in the face of unknown risks. A reacts semi-rationally to the situation, B overreacts to A's reaction, C overreacts to B, etc. Federal forgiveness, however good in itself, has the side effect of blinding banks to their own internal information channels regarding default rates, etc. Banks are looking around at employment figures and other data, guessing what to do, overreacting, looking at their peers and emulating the most extreme. There are a lot of really tired people working in logistics right now. Job seekers giving up due to pessimism and the difficulty in thinking statistically. It's hard for me to go ahead and spend the effort to do something when I know its individual success rate is well under 50%. Now things are worse. All that means is that more repetitions will be needed to achieve success. However, it is easy to fall into the fallacy of "it was hard before but worth trying; now it's harder and therefore not worth trying," making an all-or-nothing qualitative proposition out of something that in its nature is gradational and quantitative. Hope really is a virtue. Audio editing by Morgan Burkart.
32 min 39 sec
or Paving Paradise and the Parking Lots Bill and Paul discuss attitudes toward masks, and then consider why the science wasn't more settled on the subject long before Covid-19. We discuss the obsession of modern society with all things novel and consider how this plays out in science, politics, and our individual lives and families. 1. A discussion of masks as defenses against the pandemic led Paul and Bill to ponder how scientific knowledge about the functionality of these masks for the common good is not always viewed as a fundamental, enduring value. In our media, the mask discussion gets wrapped up in political and symbolic and power-struggle considerations. The methodical pursuit of knowledge based on shared values and needs has been partly replaced by a marketplace of ideas that gets bored with what we know. Support for ideas gets hijacked by pursuits of vaguely defined notions of progress which are relativistic and individualistic and not systematically carried out through time. 2. Paul pointed out that he sees in the world of science that there are some surprising gaps in knowledge about certain things that resulted partly from people seeing no particular motivation—or research grant money—to drive knowledge forward. With some important exceptions, knowledge in some fields grows more randomly than through a coordinated sense of purpose. Paul recalled an earlier discussion about “p values” that can fail to give researchers the persistence born of confidence that next stages of knowledge will give us what we need to solve problems in a meaningful way. 3. As Paul put it, a “p value” may tell you the likelihood of your data given your hypothesis, but what we’d really like is to know the likelihood of our hypothesis given our data. 4. Bill pointed out that traditional notions of the university seemed to have a more obvious commitment to nurturing, collecting, and spreading knowledge so that it could become the reliable framework for incrementally building new knowledge that brings us closer to solving problems. But there is a notion in the present-day university—and in the marketplace, as Paul agreed—that progress is gained through disruption—dismissing or dismantling or deconstructing current knowledge because it isn’t as exciting or satisfying as a march toward future knowledge can be. That knowledge is seen as inherently better, Bill said, but our eager disregard of today’s knowledge suggests we will treat tomorrow’s knowledge in the same dismissive way. So we’re moving but not really expecting to get anywhere better as a society. 5. We’re caught up in the search for novelty. We’re looking for the next revolutionary thing that makes old learning moot. Shouldn’t we be trying to build and improve upon the good parts of the status quo. Can we find a golden mean between a love for innovation and a desire for preservation (a conformism?) that values the knowledge already acquired. In some sectors, has innovation been redefined at its very roots? Are we disinterested in the long-term trajectories of our human engagements and projects? Are we only focused on doing what’s new, bigger, and better in the current moment, leaving little interest in yesterday or tomorrow? 6. We’re describing a disposable mindframe. Today’s sense of urgency amid impending crises can make us so focused on new action for its own sake that we are willing to disrupt or tear down much of our current life and the history that brought us here. There seems to be too little argument in favor of recognizing the good things we have achieved and our responsibility to conserve/preserve these things. We have so much social capital built up over time, we feel less responsibility to preserve current sources of stability and sustainability. It seems okay to tear these things down. In periods of human history where survival has been more at stake, where there has been less of a cushion of social capital, the marketplaces of ideas and capital have more doggedly pursued incremental change which values and builds upon what has come before. On a grand scale, we don’t expect to feel a pain of loss, but at the personal and spiritual level, people are feeling the pain of loss, fear for the future, dislocation and disconnection, all the time. Indeed, our overall happiness as a society has eroded. 7. People have come to see the future as so urgently problematic that they’re more willing to quickly and readily dispose of stuff from the past without allowing any grounded time or space for wise transitions. No one is coaching us to press pause. Audio editing by Morgan Burkart.
27 min 32 sec
This is part 2 of our interview with Richard Garrett, author of The Kids Are Smart Enough, So What’s the Problem? Find an overview of his distinguished career in this story about Dick’s zeal for researching and promoting education reform. (The story was written for Purdue’s College of Engineering by Bill last year.) Dick’s book traces his growing concerns about problems in public elementary education. Those concerns led to extensive research from a business executive’s perspective, applying systems analysis skills from his background in engineering. Our interview probed not only the findings from that research, but even more current knowledge of education reform efforts which Dick continues to harvest and share. He has created an online gallery of videos for the general public, explicating what he has learned about educational-outcome statistics and various efforts to improve the outcomes. The videos are part of his “Elevate Teachers” website, which champions robust investments to help both teachers and students succeed.
27 min 42 sec
...or as Paul wanted to put it, "Lies, D--d lies, and p-values." This episode contains a conversation between Paul and Bill in which you’ll learn new things about their experience in particular fields—geology and journalism, respectively—and where their zeal to harvest and connect information bumps up against troublesome uncertainty. You’re accustomed to hearing us as podcast co-hosts, sharing our opinions and our interviews with experts to explore insights at the intersection of science, everyday human experience, and the values of theology and philosophy. We welcome an audience that, like us, hungers to understand the details that well-informed research provides—in light of the wonder, mystery, and uncertainty that we complex human creatures provide. We embrace deeper and broader consideration and communication, and these values feed into our “day jobs,” which involve writing, teaching, consulting, and more. Paul’s efforts to dig more deeply into the methods of purposeful scientific learning recently prompted him to enroll in a data-science “boot camp”—an intense, 12-week course offered by an organization called Metis. He wants to extract every bit of value from the oceans of data generated in this world. Or at least he wants the value that will serve his own colleagues and clients as he tackles projects and secondarily adds content to “Dr. G’s Blog,” named for him—Dr. Giesting. One of his guiding maxims is mentioned here: “No Data Left Behind.” (Testifying to the diversity of the “That’s So Second Millennium” duo, Bill likes to focus on story-telling for clients to describe various accomplishments of science and values, sometimes faith and reason. And he’s writing in his OnWord.net blog these days about crucial times in our world today that will require rich knowledge and deliberation alongside problem-solving strategies marked by prudent, civil, inclusive dialogues and inquiries. This is an example of the approach he’s formulating. But today’s podcast draws its energy mostly from the Paul’s recent ruminations.) Those thoughts include a look back at something called the “p-value.” Their discussion of p-values in the world of scientific statistics led Paul and Bill into consideration of the co-existence of intellectual rigors necessary to the practice of research and unavoidable uncertainties inherent in the real-world application of data-driven knowledge. That co-existence of firm principles and subjective interpretation turns out to be a phenomenon that both co-hosts have experienced in their respective fields. They agreed that the pursuit of more and more data, nurtured by practicality and idealistic values, is a beautiful thing, but it’s not always possible. In many cases where a specific project is choosing and using a finite set of data, the consumers of scientific or journalistic information have reason to quote the skeptic’s famous aphorism that “there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Bill cited examples from the past reporting of political polls, which too easily can neglect important nuances that should influence an audience’s interpretation. Both Bill and Paul noted that, during the Covid-19 crisis, the public is seeing science and its generation of statistics play out in real time, with massive policy implications, and the practice of “objective” science now seems to many people as iffy and subjective as theology-based interpretations of the world. That’s ironic since observers have said the availability of scientific certainty and experiential knowledge has driven them away from religion as a poor, mythological substitute for reality. Neither co-host called for a dismissal of the knowledge gained through religion, philosophy, or statistics; after all, in many policy matters surrounded by uncertainty, statistics are a huge part of the guidance empowering human reason. But there is much going on behind the scenes at every point in a statistics-driven exercise, with some of that context warranting caution in our binary decisions about importance and implementation. Paul acknowledged that he encountered this in preparing his capstone report for the Metis data-science program. Scientists have grappled with ways to assess the validity of some data, the replicability of some experiments, and the dominance of some assumptions about statistical analysis. Indeed, the “p-value” suggests good examples of doubts that have arisen. This podcast discussion did not unearth any solutions for doubts about statistical findings, but it did prompt a meeting of the minds. Both the scientist and the journalist determined that all of us seeking to optimize understanding for reasonable policies and practices must continue our zealous pursuit and values-informed stewardship of data. Image by Oberholster Venita from Pixabay
42 min 7 sec
Paul and Bill welcomed Dick Garrett to our podcast. Find an overview of his distinguished career in this story about Dick’s zeal for researching and promoting education reform. (The story was written for Purdue’s College of Engineering by Bill last year.) Dick’s book, The Kids Are Smart Enough, So What’s the Problem?, traces his growing concerns about problems in public elementary education. Those concerns led to extensive research from a business executive’s perspective, applying systems analysis skills from his background in engineering. Our interview probed not only the findings from that research, but even more current knowledge of education reform efforts which Dick continues to harvest and share. He has created an online gallery of videos for the general public, explicating what he has learned about educational-outcome statistics and various efforts to improve the outcomes. The videos are part of his “Elevate Teachers” website, which champions robust investments to help both teachers and students succeed. . Observed as systems established to give students the knowledge and skills they need, elementary schools face a number of challenges, Dick said. They include segments of young people whose daily classroom behavior is a major burden, requiring teachers to pull away from educating in order to focus on discipline during sizable portions of the school day. He says the lack of self-discipline stems from parenting experiences and other factors tied to low-income community conditions. Students exhibit the combination of discipline problems and poor academic achievement not because of low intelligence—there is no doubt that they are smart enough to perform well—but because educational systems don’t appropriately respond to gaps in their non-cognitive abilities, according to Dick. He says schools must get better at forming general traits he summarizes as character and grit. His book presents examples of educational approaches that have aimed to enhance those traits, making classroom success more likely for all students and teachers. Where that success is lacking, schools fall behind in graduating students with key competitive metrics—especially a grasp of reading and math skills. This shows up in poor rankings for United States schools in statistics tallied by the Program for International Student Assessment, the US Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, and other oversight mechanisms. A 2004 Public Agenda survey found that 85 percent of teachers felt new teachers were particularly unprepared to deal with disciplinary problems in their classrooms. A recent study by the Kirwan Commission yielded a comprehensive report on problems and prospective solutions in elementary education, and this became the basis of a legislative action plan for Maryland schools. The state government acted in early 2020 to approve funding for preliminary implementation of a major initiative based on Kirwan Report recommendations. Dick said one part of the plan envisions hiring 15,000 teachers. A major thrust of the plan is improved education of low-income children, including a cadre of teachers for smaller class sizes. One of Dick’s aspirations is to help in spreading the word about the Kirwan recommendations so that educational and governmental leaders elsewhere, such as his home states of Wisconsin and Indiana, will consider and implement similar proposals. Episode 107 of “That’s So Second Millennium” next month will include part two of the interview with Dick Garrett. If you find the audio quality for this episode a little lacking, don't blame Morgan... she's on vacation this week. It's all Paul's fault (as usual).
25 min 5 sec
At the time of this taping, Paul was in the middle of the Metis “bootcamp” program learning the capabilities, tools, and insights of data science. This conversation ranged widely in the realm of data analysis and management, examining its relevance to Paul’s field of geology but also exploring the world’s immersion in what Bill would call a data ecology: It seems every datum is connected, or connectable, to every other datum That word is the original singular form of the plural word “data.” The growing plethora of data has to be tracked and organized, even though today’s computer hardware doesn’t allow all the world’s data—or even relatively large slices of that data—to be stored and analyzed in one place at one time. Realizing that words are data, too, Paul pointed out that geology encountered a data explosion crisis a few decades ago as science developed enough new names for various rocks to make the new information less useful. That was until geologists produced a plan for sorting out and categorizing rock names according to rocks’ bulk chemistry instead of their constituent minerals (example here). Paul came to see the value of advanced organization in obtaining, thinking, and acting upon geological data—hence, his pursuit of this certificate in data science. Discussion of this specific field of science led to the use of various other terms, with various meanings, none of them fully understood by Bill. The terms included informatics, data scraping, the analysis of data clustering, “big data,” and “machine-learning algorithms.” These terms can be anticipated to be influential in nearly all fields, so it behooves the layperson to develop some familiarity with them. It is quite possible to become skeptical of such a body of knowledge and skills that can be used for benevolent or malevolent purposes, like everything. But Paul said the hopeful side of his personality recognizes what data scientists already recognize—namely, that this amazingly powerful field also has its limitation. He recalled there is an author who currently is writing books with a robust skepticism about machine-learning. Separately, one can get a laugh from the current results seen in the hybrid field of machine-learning poetry. Bill guessed the author was Julia Evans, but it was likely Janelle Shane, the author of You Look Like a Thing and I Love You. The bottom line is that, as with all science, its tools and results cannot provide their own guidance on how to use wisely the fruits they bear. The guidance must come from external forces driven by human virtue and values. Liner notes by Bill. Audio editing by Morgan. Cover art for this epsiode was produced by Paul... in conjunction with the Landsat 8 mission, the scikit-learn and seaborn libraries, and Mauna Loa and Kilauea volcanoes. (See his final project slides here.)
32 min 58 sec
Bill interviewed a leading Catholic voice in public affairs, especially in bioethics and the culture of life: Richard Doerflinger. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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)
35 min 15 sec
Paul and Bill discussed autism—a subject that arose in Paul’s discussion with Pat Flynn in his own podcast. John Ratey, popular psychologist, talks about how our sensory apparatus affects how we function in everyday life. Paul’s comments on the subject of autism connect candidly with recollections from his early life. Hilaire Belloc, a legendary British author of the early 20th century who wrote on many topics, famously was a friend and Catholic “fellow traveler” with G.K. Chesterton. “Never waste a good crisis.” Bill says crises in our polity and society are often weaponized rather than used as a learning, community-building experience. This maxim, worded in different ways, has been attributed to various persons, from Rahm Emmanuel to Winston Churchill to Saul Alinsky. Image by Sukinah Hussain from Pixabay
24 min 55 sec
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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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
In this episode we begin with an unscheduled excursion into the realm of the neurobiology of the two hemispheres of the brain and the psychology of reparenting (with nods to our past conversations with Darcia Narvaez, and about codependency and Twelve Step work). We discussed the questions related to whether psychology based on a right-brain/left-brain dichotomy provides meaningful tools to increase self-understanding. Paul described his experience with opposite-hand-writing for self-discovery. One interpretation of this kind of experience—a reference for which this writer can provide no validated recommendation or criticism—was found here as an example of the approach, thanks solely to Google. We discussed whether the correct half of our brains is really in charge. This is just one of the many online articles you could read to learn more about the left brain-right brain relationships explored in various mentoring programs. Bill managed to segue into a different kind of dichotomy—the existential anxiety of the modern secularist, trying to be both relativist and moralist, and assuming impossible responsibilities; we believe God is not there, and we try to do God's job. The discussion included mentions of a book called The Master and His Emissary and NPR podcasts respectively called “Hidden Brain” and “” The Society of Catholic Scientists 2018 conference generated the artwork that serves as the illustration for these show notes. Audio editing by Morgan Burkart, bumper music by Vin Marquardt.
20 min 59 sec
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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
17 min 9 sec
In this episode, Bill and Paul discuss the coronavirus, economics and risk, and the L'Aquila earthquake trial. Paul and Bill continued a discussion that began in the previous episode. They allowed the sense of gravitas they felt in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic to push them along a path through many uncertainties—where it’s tempting to rely on one’s GPS guidance system and, if possible, an autonomous (self-driving) vehicle. But should human beings relieve themselves of all responsibilities for self-guidance, and if not, how should they accept and address those responsibilities? Underlying this discussion was the perception that society has chosen to confront the pandemic through the wisdom of science, which boils down to a healthy use of reason, which of course is a God-given gift. But we are also blessed (and cursed?) with the gift of sensing that reason is not enough. Can we put ourselves on automatic pilot by trusting completely in calculations of risk and probability and a in human understanding that can’t take all possible values and outcomes into consideration? Paul cited observations by Hilaire Belloc, a great British writer and Catholic commentator from the early 1900s. Belloc argued that being “practical” and “realistic” is not enough, especially if a human being seeks to make decisions with Godlike precision, effectiveness, and comprehensiveness. For example, Paul pointed out that “social distancing” and related policy weapons being utilized against the spread of the Coronavirus are not enough to say that we are systematically reducing the risk of death or harm in an easily calculable way. For example, forbidding public gatherings of any significant size can be seen as a wise precaution against certain people becoming infected, but little thought is given to the fact that all the cancelled meetings of twelve-step programs means people who were being helped to address their own particular issues and risks might suffer tangibly from losing their support network. At some point, there is a need to acknowledge that some risks, like human death, cannot be eliminated, and a perfect society cannot be achieved. This meshed with Bill’s concern about whether “social distancing” might push man people further toward the phenomenon of social polarization, characterized by isolation, indifference and marginalization in many instances. Or will the experience of being distanced wake us up to the unhealthy results of these characteristics and rein us back from the precipice of thinking we can define and enforce the right answers that will yield the best outcomes? Ultimately, Bill and Paul agreed that humans seeking to provide humane, prudent leadership in a crisis must be “all in” as participants in a robust civic life in a well-ordered civil society that respects the many sides of individual experience. Can we put all our faith in the decision-making of a political system, especially if we have not made an equivalent commitment to enrich the body politic—and indeed to contribute in ways that go beyond mere gestures of political participation, such as voting? We must take into account a larger part of the story of human challenges, not risk management alone. At the time of this writing, for example, Bill learned that the Governor of Pennsylvania, after having ordered the shutdown of all liquor stores in order to slow the spread of the virus, was reconsidering his decision. According to news reports, experts had told him that a sizable portion of the alcohol-dependent population could suffer severe consequences from suddenly withdrawn access to hard liquor, meaning harm would be done by other means. Image by Angelo Giordano from Pixabay.
34 min 28 sec
Bill and Paul discuss the topic on everyone's mind, the coronavirus and social distancing, through the lens of social polarization and isolation that already so characterized American, Western, and modern society in general. One should not assume that “social distancing” breaks connections. Paul and Bill got together to talk about the subject and found that it connects to many other things, at least as an intellectual exercise. But also with many emotional, spiritual and sociological implications. Bill said that, upon first hearing about “social distancing,” he instinctively connected it to a phenomenon he ponders and writes about a lot—the phenomenon of social polarization. (He writes about it in his OnWord blog, and in 2018 he wrote a book (When Headlines Hurt: Do We Have a Prayer?) reflecting on Pope Francis’ concerns about the polarizing effects of contemporary news and digital information flows. Social distancing, apart from the validity of scientific claims that it is needed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, looked to Bill like a physical, societal manifestation of the polarization trend which leads to the isolation, exclusion and defamation of people. It encourages them toward confirmation bias because they choose to hear only the opinions that back up their pre-conceived notions. Paul said social distancing also seems to tie into America’s infatuation with the “loner.” He recalled the self-imposed isolation discussed in Robert D. Putnam’s 2000 book, Bowling Alone. Both participants in the conversation connected the concept of loner with many ideas: the modern assumption that being a loner need not carry high risks, like it once did, because of the protection offered by government; the omnipresent promise among colleges that they will prepare their students to become “leaders” as opposed to followers; the observation by Alexis de Tocqueville (in Democracy in America) that Americans of the 1800s were instinctively individualists; and the more recent observation that we live in an age of celebrity when everybody wants to famous, even in relatively impotent, purposeless ways. This latter notion was discussed by Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft in an episode of EWTN’s “The Philosopher’s Bench.” It is especially sad that, at a time when Pope Francis points out that the Church has many valuable responses to the tendency toward social polarization and isolation, “social distancing” has prompted an end to Mass attendance. As remarked in a blog post by David Seitz, OFS, one of Bill’s favorite Franciscan commentators, the loss of civic solidarity and civil conversation is a profound kind of penance. Image by Austin Monroe from Pixabay.
32 min 35 sec
We welcome Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D., to the microphone. She is a professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame, specializing in developmental cognition, the human brain, and behavior. She has authored or edited numerous books, including Indigenous Sustainable Wisdom: First Nation Know-how for Global Flourishing (2019); Basic needs, wellbeing and morality: Fulfilling human potential (2018); and Developing the virtues: Integrating perspectives (2016). A cornerstone of her research, Neurobiology and the development of human morality: Evolution, culture and wisdom (2014), received the Expanded Reason Award from University Francisco de Vitoria and the Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation. The award recognizes innovation in scientific research and academic programs based on Pope Emeritus Benedict’s proposal to broaden the horizons of reason. This expansion questions and incorporates reflections on the anthropology, epistemology, ethics, and meaning that exist within a specific science. The foundation selected her book from among more than 360 entries from 30 countries. Prof. Narvaez discusses here the concepts she groups together as “Evolved Nest” perspectives on child development and human flourishing. They serve as a lens for understanding the current state of our society and culture—our “downward cycle” in the collective pursuit of wisdom, morality, and community interaction. You can explore the concepts and their relevance for children, adults, and human ecology at evolvednest.org. She writes about an array of topics connected to this in a widely popular Psychology Today blog called “Moral Landscapes.” Based on her research and informed by her diverse experiences (spanning seven careers, as she puts it), she suggests several ideas for recapturing a sense of wholeness amid the woundedness in human nature. Several characteristics of modern society have arisen over the past few centuries to cause the wounds seen today in civic life, communities, families, and individuals, she says. Drawing upon lessons from cultures that existed a long time ago, her suggestions to restore wholeness include such often-forgotten basics as more frequent engagement with nature, thinking new thoughts, journaling, and free-spirited play. “People don’t know themselves,” she comments. “You can get a lot of work done if you take a break.” Morgan Burkart is the audio engineer for this third season of “That’s So Second Millennium.” Our original theme music, “Igneous Grok,” is by Vin Marquardt. Paul Giesting, Ph.D., is a geologist, consultant, and public intellectual with a passion for philosophical and theological insights into the world that complement scientific knowledge. Bill Schmitt, MPA, is an independent journalist, consultant, musician, and multimedia content producer in the fields of higher education, engineering, religion, and public affairs.
38 min 49 sec
Where can the search for connections between faith and science (that is, between the deeper sense of meaning in life we all crave and the tangible experiences that our five senses tell us are “real”) take us? Our podcast series today receives inspirational guidance from community-builder and up-and-coming recording artist Micki Miller. She helped us explore one universe of answers where no TSSM episode has gone before. That’s the realm of music. Micki Miller, born to pastors in South Bend, Indiana, writes, sings, and produces R&B and soul music that touches people’s hearts. You might say her work, which you can find on Amazon, You Tube, and Bandcamp, is instrumental in the even bigger picture of her life, grounded in a natural passion to bring people together around the words and sounds of authentic love songs. Micki and Bill serve on the board of directors of The Music Village, a community musical arts center and school in South Bend. This growing non-profit organization, known for innovative outreach, celebrates music and cultural expressions rooted in the diverse local and global traditions found in the “Michiana” region—sections of Indiana and Michigan neighboring Chicagoland. In this episode, Bill interviews Micki about her experience of connecting faith to minds and hearts with a tool kit that has grown along with her dedication to the power of music. The tools include the talent of a singer-songwriter and keyboardist to share sounds of the past and present, the technological skills supporting her local recording studio at the service of her own band and others, and an embrace of synergies among a wide array of people and imaginations. Micki talked with TSSM about the ability of music to keep injecting wonder and fresh thinking that can transcend a silo approach to science, religion, and other topics. She discussed this in the context of a retreat-and-recording session series she attends under the direction of DJ Jazzy Jeff, a producer who collaborates with actor Will Smith. News stories have mentioned Questlove (of The Roots seen on “The Tonight Show”) as an enthusiastic fan of Micki. Micki performs internationally, but her ties to family and friends keep her grounded in her hometown and in her efforts as a South Bend region community-builder. Paul mentioned that Bill’s favorite among Micki’s You Tube videos is her original song, “You,” performed at the ChiBrations studio in Chicago. (Paul may possibly mix that name up with the name of a musical group in the introduction.) Addendum: Paul pointed out the official podcast series of Purdue University’s College of Engineering, “Sounds Like the Future.” Bill says it has been one of the great privileges of his journalism and media-consulting career to collaborate with the College in launching the podcast, and he notes it could not have taken shape without the production skills, academic insights, valued friendship, and “great radio voice” contributed by Paul. New episodes will be posted monthly. Audio production for this episode by Morgan Burkart.
14 min 39 sec
This week, events have forced another "greatest hits" episode, and so we bring you for your convenience the entire Maureen Condic interview from the June 2019 Society of Catholic Scientists meeting in a one hour and forty-five minute extravaganza. The following are Bill's liner notes from the first run episodes. 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.” Our discussion of totipotent, pluripotent, and plenipotent stem cells helped to clarify a complex subject of great importance to many people, such as those who suffer from diseases awaiting therapies capturing the power of these cells. Dr. Maureen Condic, as a pioneer in this field, contributed insights in 2013 by developing the concept of plenipotent cells. See her journal article. Our discussion also led to a sense of wonderment about the ability of cells to follow such complex paths of development, starting with the organism created when sperm and egg combine. The product and the process can easily be dismissed as a simple mass of cells, or one can recall Psalm 139:14, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” In this episode, we discussed how it seems viscerally sad that the amazement, which is itself so full of potential, can be lost in everyday discussions of human life. Related to this, Dr. Condic pointed out that there is an unfortunate lack of philosophical education among many scientists. Here is a blog post from Scientific American discussing synergies between science and philosophy—synergies which are at the core of this podcast’s mission. We discussed the relevance of the philosophical concepts of form and substance. Here’s a web page explaining those concepts. This book, written by Dr. Condic and her brother sounds like it is a rare and valuable synthesis of philosophical and biological insights about life: Human Embryos, Human Beings. She noted in our episode that such an extended, on-point synthesis is rare for various reasons, including the need to clarify vocabulary used on both sides of the dialogue, avoiding the risk that we will talk past each other. She has written another book, this one examining the biological and philosophical issues around human twinning, Untangling Twinning. It is scheduled for publication in the summer of 2019. For now, a computer search using this title yielded, as one of the first finds, a copy of a news release written by TSSM podcast co-host Bill Schmitt and posted at classicaltheism.com. 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.
1 hr 47 min
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.
36 min 48 sec
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. 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. 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. Ryba is among those planning an academic conference which this year will explore links between articificial intelligence and human consciousness, including ethics for robots. 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. 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.
33 min 5 sec
Bill and I continue our discussion about parish life and communication. We discuss using the tools of sociology (and just awareness of the broader culture) to understand what is going on in parishes without getting carried away and forgetting that Christianity was always meant to change us (avoiding the Andrew Greeley mistake). We talk a bit about where podcasters like us fit into the ecosystem, or the Kingdom of God for that matter, and in that context I mention the great Catholic Feminist podcast. In the end we return to the question of what we should do as parishoners at the bottom of the ladder of subsidiarity...the only spot where we can truly make a difference.
29 min 3 sec
In this episode, Bill and Paul discuss the role of deacons and others filling the role of "elder" in the Catholic Church, and the need for parishes to work hard at learning how to communicate with each other in this new technologically mediated cultural world. Bill mentions new work by the McGrath Institute to help parishes with this task. Photo: a deacon wearing a dalmatic, from Test Everything.
12 min 54 sec
Paul, still missing his Watson Bill, opens up a discussion about questions of economics and political science, ranging from rural U.S. parishes to the geopolitics of an ideal future. This podcast's title and logo were inspired by the "What Should I Do?" discernment retreat put on by the Indy Catholic young adult ministry this past weekend.
19 min 33 sec
For my money, it's harder to believe in the Christian Last Things of life after death, judgment, and the end of the world than it is to believe in the "First Things" of creation and providence. The prophetic and apocalyptic literature of the Bible predict, or seem to predict amid very strange language, some very difficult things to square with our expectations both for the physical universe and for human technology: - What could this "new heavens and a new earth" possibly be? - How could Jesus appear in the heavens at the end of time if the human race has colonized multiple planets, or multiple solar systems, or multiple galaxies? On the other hand, some of the predictions seem very possible, like the world being destroyed by fire (e.g., 2 Peter), which could take the form of several astronomical phenomena or our own nuclear holocaust. In this episode, Paul sashays a bit into this even less frequented frontier region between science and Catholic doctrine.
17 min 1 sec