Return to site

A Meeting of the Minds

Talking to many in the Society of Catholic Scientists

· Random Thoughts

I spent the last 2 days with fellow members of the Society of Catholic Scientists at our annual national conference. I had the best time! At a later date I will have some sort of reflection once I’ve had some time to think about it, but for now I have something pretty great too.

In order to be a member of SCS you have to be a “practicing Catholic in full communion with the Catholic Church” and must either have a PhD in a natural science or currently pursuing a degree in natural science. (Because of this I won’t use their titles of “Dr.”) So I spent a whole weekend with a couple hundred people who are passionate about their Catholic faith and also love the natural world and the study of it…. THAT’S A FEW HUNDRED PEOPLE WHO LOVE THE SAME THING AS ME!
Since they had these two passions, I was curious what their thoughts on educating others about the two should look like. The rest of this blog summarizes the thoughts and quotes from some of my fellow SCS members on why they chose to attend the conference, why the connection between faith/science, and their views of how these two subjects should be taught, specifically to young people. They gave me so many great ideas and I hope their thoughts inspire you like they inspired me!

Thomas Marin - Prof. at Benedictine University in Illinois

Thomas was interesting because he teaches a class on Modern Physics to ~15 students of many different faith traditions. At the end of the semester he gave them an assignment to write a research paper on what their specific religion says about science fitting into it. After the assignment, 100% of them “strongly agreed” that the two go together, no matter which religion they were a part of. WOW! When I asked him about teaching people younger than university students, he said it was extremely important to emphasize the Catholic Intellectual tradition. Many of the universities of Europe started from monasteries creating libraries and being a center of learning, etc. Then he thought it was important to educate the students on how the media works. He expressed the need to tell them that often when media bring “religious people” onto their programs they cherry pick those that will be the most extreme and get the best ratings. Many of these extremists feel Christianity and science don’t go together. Thomas was very frank in saying that this was “dumb” and the definition of “fake news”. But youth (and the general public) need to know that these people DO NOT accurately represent our amazing faith tradition.

Benjamin and Erin Rybicki – Detroit, MI

Both have histories in epidemiology though Erin has left the field for other pursuits.

Benjamin heard Dr. Barr (SCS president) talking about the conference on the podcast “Pints of Aquinas” and knew he had to be a part of it! The reason was because he is always going to scientific conferences, many over weekends, where he would go to Sunday mass nearby and see ZERO others from the conference at these masses. This was extremely isolating and depressing, so a whole society of Catholic scientists sounded AMAZING! As for educating the youth, he thinks that science needs to be presented to them in a way that invokes AWE and WONDER! When taught anywhere other than public schools it should be taught as awe and wonder of the creator who made it all. Erin agreed with all of these sentiments but added that SCS is such a wonderful and uniting thing that there should be something like SCS for high schoolers. We should be encouraging them to learn as much as they can and be open to what you can learn about God through the sciences.

Richard Bastien – Ontario, Canada

Richard was an interesting attendee because he is not a member of the society. He spent his career in finance, but is fascinated by Catholicism and science. Since retiring he has read a TON on the two and was frustrated to discover that USA has an amazing “Catholic Inteligencia”, but Canada and the rest of the world has nothing like that. What he meant is that other countries may have 1 or 2 genius theologians who write about the faith, a single sharp shooter, but America has a whole dang ARMY! The wealth of knowledge we have at our disposal, written in English is amazing! So he is choosing to write similar books, but in French. He is a member of the Opus Dei and thinks that young people who are trying to understand the relationship between faith/science should follow the Opus Dei model. To sum: 1) build their prayer life, 2) constantly be reading/listening/learning, 3) grow in virtue through practice, 4) Start with, but see that a faith life is so much more than going to mass and reciting prayers

Pedro Amorim – PhD Student at Notre Dame in Chemical Engineering

When talking with Pedro he first mentioned that even though he goes to a Catholic University, only 10% of his department is Catholic. He talked about how in science, as well as with other fields, it’s important to have role models that you aspire to be like. If you are studying in a certain field, you know who the top of your field is and want to be just like them. So young people need to know that there are CURRENT Catholic scientists who are at the tops of their fields so that they can have them to aspire to be like, both professionally and in their faith lives.

The 2 Jennifers!

Jennifer O’Connor – Prof. in Indiana (I’m pretty sure my new biggest fan! haha)

Jennifer Taylor – Grad student from Seattle

Their first point, said in frustration, is how irritating it is that young people are taught that they can only have one or the other. They lament that it is rarely discussed in church settings that we live in a PHYSICAL world so it is okay to talk about the physical things AT CHURCH. Another point was that when we hear the creation story it is important to not just see it as history, but to put ourselves into these stories. We often might think of them as dumb and superstitious, but in 100 years we will look like the uneducated ones and we need to remain humble and look at the universal truths that are still there. One of the problems that we humans face is our incapability to tackle these HUGE problems. We have such a hard time wrapping our minds around concepts like evolution because we can’t fathom what millions of years is like. These two ladies echoed 2 previously mentioned ideas: that Catholic scientists need to be discussed and that we shouldn’t have a “reductionist” view of the world but that we should be in wonder and awe of our world and creator.

These were just some of the amazing and fantastic conversations I had this weekend with some of the leading Catholic scientists in our wonderful country! I can’t wait to share more with you as my brain comes down from this euphemistic sugar high!