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Society of Catholic Scientists conference to focus on what it means to be human

The June 2019 event at the University of Notre Dame will feature talks on topics from Neanderthals to genetic engineering.

(Image: Štefan Štefančík |

There is a widespread impression that science and faith don’t go together. Recent studies, in fact, have shown that this is the most common reason given by young people who abandon their faith.

The idea, however, flies in the face of history. It is not widely realized that virtually all of the great figures of the Scientific Revolution were men of deep faith, such as Kepler, Boyle, Pascal, and Newton — and, yes, Galileo himself, who did not see his own troubles with the Church as a reason to lose faith.

An even better-kept secret is that entire branches of science were founded by Catholic priests. While many know that the science of genetics was founded by the Augustinian friar Gregor Mendel, how many realize that the Big Bang theory of cosmology was the brainchild of theoretical physicist and priest Georges Lemaître? Or that the founder of geology was Bl. Nicolaus Steno, a convert from Lutheranism who eventually became a Catholic bishop? Or that one of the founders of astrophysics was the Jesuit priest Angelo Secchi?

For centuries, scientists did not see their discoveries as leading away from God, but as leading to Him. Johannes Kepler, who discovered the laws of planetary motion, prayed, “I thank you, Lord God our Creator, that you have allowed me to see the beauty in your work of Creation.”

This spirit is still alive. In the summer of 2016, an organization was founded called The Society of Catholic Scientists, whose motto is “knowledge with devotion, research with wonder” (“speculatio cum devotione, investigatio cum admiratione”). Already the Society has grown to over 1,000 members in six continents. Many are leaders in their fields. The Vice President of SCS is Jonathan Lunine of Cornell University, who is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Another member of SCS and recipient of its 2018 St. Albert Award is Juan Martín Maldacena of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, who is considered the foremost theoretical physicist of his generation. SCS Board member Karin Öberg is a rising star in astrophysics at Harvard University. (Like Jonathan Lunine, she is a recent convert to the Faith.)

To be a member of SCS one must have a doctorate in a natural science, mathematics or computer science, or be a student in these fields. The Society of Catholic scientists sees itself as an answer to the call of Pope St. John Paul II, who wrote that “members of the Church who are active scientists” can be of service to those who are attempting to “integrate the worlds of science and religion in their own intellectual and spiritual lives.”

On June 7-9, the Society is holding its third annual conference at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. The theme of the conference is “What does it mean to be human?” It will feature a dozen talks on topics from Neanderthals to genetic engineering. Many today deny that there is any bright line between humans and lower animals, or humans and machines, or humans and their hominid forebears, or at the beginning of an individua human life. Some even hope to transcend the boundaries of the human through “transhumanism.” These are the kinds of issues that will be discussed at the Society’s upcoming conference.

At the conference, the Society will give its 2019 St. Albert Award to Prof. Maureen L. Condic, a neuroscientist and embryologist of the University of Utah, who is well-known for her courageous scientific and philosophical defense of the humanity of human embryos.

Aside from its conferences, the SCS has started the tradition of “Gold Masses” for scientists, and science educators and students. (In analogy with the annual “Red Masses” for those in the legal profession, which date back to the Middle Ages.) Almost twenty Gold Masses have been held in recent months, and the hope is that the idea will spread and lead to greater fellowship at the local level among Catholics in science. The Society is hoping, through its website, seminar-style courses for students, and other activities, to help dispel the poisonous myth of science-faith conflict that has led so many astray.

As its motto implies, both science and faith are born in wonder and in devotion to truth.

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About Stephen Barr 1 Article
Stephen M. Barr is President of the Society of Catholic Scientists. He is a professor of theoretical particle physics at the University of Delaware and the author of Modern Physics and Ancient Faith (Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2003) and The Believing Scientist: Essays on Science and Religion (Eerdmans, 2016).


  1. This from the father and converted Communist, Whittaker Chambers, on the immensity of the physical universe and the irreducible spirituality of the human soul:

    “What little I know of the stars I have passed on to my son over the years [….] Sometimes I draw my son’s eye to the constellation Hercules, especially to the great nebula dimly visible about the middle of the group. Now and again, I remind him that what we can just make out as a faint haze is another universe—the radiance of fifty thousand suns whose light had left its source thirty-four thousand years before it brushes the miracle of our straining sight.

    “Those are the only statistics that I shall ever trouble my son with.

    “I want him to have a standard as simple as stepping into the dark and raising his eyes whereby to measure what he is and what he is not against the order of reality. I want him to see for himself upon the scale of the universes that God, the soul, faith, are not simple matters . . . .I want him to remember that God Who is a God of Love is also the God of a world that includes the atom bomb and virus, the minds that contrived and use or those that suffer them, and that the problem of good and evil is not more simple than the immensity of worlds [….]

    “I want him to know that it is his soul, and his soul alone, that makes it possible for him to bear, without dying of his own mortality, the faint light of Hercules’ fifty thousand suns (Witness, 1952).

      By Samuel A. Nigro, MD December 2013

      The human being is a body-soul composite. A human is a matter-spirit unity. That it has spirit is incontrovertible—subhuman animals do not have spirit—they do not even celebrate birthdays much less anything else above living basic animal nature on the planet. Give an animal a mirror and one has to lie to oneself to claim any hint of self-awareness or conscious of consciousness demonstrated by the animal. Sub-human animals live by biochemical control. To claim that humans are likewise so limited is to deny rational thinking and free will. Humans can choose, even to thwart their own biological biochemical controls. The human soul allows that by soul spirituality which gives a freedom from matter, ranging from celebrations to basic mathematics to the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven.

      This super-nature component (soul-based spirit) means the human body is made for Transcendence—for Matter, Identity, Truth, Oneness, Good, Beauty, and Being itself. The body should be, thusly, used as best as one can for Love which is the projection of the Transcendentals for others. The body should be used spiritually if used consistent with its created and creative potential. That means in synchrony with proper function of all parts of the body as defined in Nature and psycho-socially in synchrony with Transcendence.

      The human being is from the Big Bang of creation; is able to choose ever since the Big Bust of Adam and Eve—to choose even wrongly, otherwise “freedom” is meaningless. And the human being is able to choose to follow the Big Bailout of Jesus by living His Mantra of Life, Sacrifice, Virtue, Love, Humanity, Peace, Freedom, and Death without Fear—most easily done by Sacramental Life and reliving the “Last Words of Jesus on the Cross”. For humans, Spirituality reigns and means that “There is more!” including that “the dead are not dead” because one will rejoin, when the Big End finally comes, what was before the Big Bang pre-Universe. There is a Statimuum (a scientifically based timeless immediate compression of all) pre-Big Bang pre-Universe which all will rejoin at the Big End. No doubt, if “justice” and spirit mean anything at all, each human will receive the Heavenly gifts of all Transcendence performed and/or the hell-fire torture of all evil performed. Humans will get back what they are…so, as the ancients said: “Do the Transcendent and avoid evil.”

      • I feel there’s still aa mystery at the core of the rest of the animal kingdom and can’t be reduced to mere ‘biochemical controls’. Animals are not self-conscious, of course, as we are — a dog cannot know it has a tail — and they don’t reflect on their environment in any human way. But there’s still a complexity about them that we’ll never understand. I see the dog as a perfect gift to mankind from God, just right in every respect — even when it bites!

  2. Stars. Forever the divinity’s purveyors of deeper spiritual Light. “As to biblical imagery in the Fatima apparitions, there is the star at the bottom of Our Lady’s robe, which has a double significance. ‘Star’ in Persian is ‘Esther,’ the Jewish Queen who saved her people from extermination on the 13th day of the Hebrew month of Adar. That signifies Mary’s mission as a modern Esther saving the Church in our time. St. Paul VI proclaimed Mary the Star of Evangelization” (Fr Stnley Smolenski NCR). Mary modal of purity and Theotokos whose birth of the Savior revealed by a mysterious star. Mary signifies Life and the sacred value of that Life in her Son and in her divine commission to uphold that sanctity in our day testified by Sr Lucia Dos Santos and former Prefect of the Family Cardinal Carlo Caffarra. The Final Battle will be centered on the Family. The great insidious assault against the purity of human sexual love and family is the Dark Storm of obsession with normalizing homosexuality. Does any of us know an overt homosexual man or woman that is not pro abortion? The two are morally related by evil choice since the one homosexuality entails denial of our inherent nature. In consequence denial of Life. My early life spent frequently at sea and devotion to Mary Star of the Sea. My ethic ancestors Sicilian fishermen created O Sanctissima sang when in peril in Storm.

  3. Order within Nature was long argued going back to The Apostle in Rm 1 of evidence of divine intelligence. Recent probes into the Universe identify the principle of unpredictability and the undetermined reaction of sub nuclear particles leading some to believe there is no order there is no God. Einstein was startled by the discovery of causal simultaneity, events millions of light years apart that occur simultaneously as mutually predictable causes. The great scientist thought that “spooky”. The reason is it suggests motion initiated by a transcendent Cause. Free will in Man is like that. Aristotle asks what causes one to move from one thought to another entirely different without predetermined mental suggestion? His answer was it must be God. Furthermore Man can act independently choosing between polar opposites. Galileo’s Daughter [author Dava Sobel] is a marvelous account of the correspondence during his ecclesial trial with his illegitimate daughter who become a nun. There are deep exclamations of mutual love and faith in letters made available by the Vatican to Sobel a Jew giving her free access to archives. The book is a love story between Galileo, his daughter, and author Dava Sobel.

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