The After Dinner Scholar
Ptolemy and the Shape of the Universe with Dr. Henry Zepeda

Ptolemy and the Shape of the Universe with Dr. Henry Zepeda

July 21, 2020
“The heavens call to you and wheel about you,
revealing their eternal splendors,” Virgil told Dante at the end of Purgatorio 14 (148-151),
“but your eyes are fixed upon the earth.
For that, He, seeing all, does smite you.”

While we could blame light pollution or television or lack of interest or any number of other modern maladies, but it’s clear that, just as in Dante’s time, the heavens call and wheel about and us most of us never notice. If, for example, you know the phase of the moon today, you’re part of a tiny, tiny minority of modern people. Virgil accuses us as well, “your eyes are fixed upon the earth.”

Dante lived at the turn of the 14th century and in his writing used a model of the universe conceived in the second century by astronomer and mathematician Claudius Ptolemy. Born in AD 100 in Alexandria, Egypt, Ptolemy argued from observation of the heavens that the earth (a sphere) was at the center and around it the moon, sun, planets, and stars rotated.

Clearly we no longer believe that, but Ptolemy still has a great deal to teach us about observing the sky and marking it’s beauty and regularity. Dr. Henry Zepeda taught Ptolemy, Copernicus, and Galileo with high school students who have been here at Wyoming Catholic College for our PEAK Program.

Through the Gate of Lodore with COR Missionary Bob Milligan

Through the Gate of Lodore with COR Missionary Bob Milligan

July 14, 2020

“The canyon of Lodore is twenty and three-quarter miles in length,” wrote Major John Wesley Powell who was the first to descended the Green River through the canyon in June 1869. “It starts abruptly at what we have called the Gate of Lodore, with walls nearly two thousand feet high, and they are never lower than this until we reach Alcove Brook, about three miles above the foot. They are very irregular, standing in vertical or overhanging cliffs in places, terraced in others, or receding in steep slopes, and are broken by many side gulches and canyons.”

Powell and his men found the river from the Gate of Lodore very tough going with multiple long portages around rapids and the loss of one of four boats along with a great deal of supplies and scientific instruments in what he named “Disaster Falls.”

Of course those were the days before nylon, gor tex, polyester fleece, and good strong river rafts, the kind used by the recent COR Expeditions rafting trip down the Green River. Bob Milligan, a 2018 graduate of Wyoming Catholic College now on COR staff led the trip.

For more information about COR Expeditions visit the COR website.

Believing in Beauty by Dr. James Tonkowich

Believing in Beauty by Dr. James Tonkowich

June 30, 2020

The well-laid plan was to fly to Maine for vacation, but it became clear that the travel restrictions there would make for a terrible vacation. So instead, Jim and Dottie Tonkowich drove north.

Their vacation trip of about 1,675 miles went from Lander to Cody, Yellowstone National Park, Three Rivers, Montana, Whitefish Lake, Montana, Glacier National Park, and back home via Butte, Montana, Yellowstone and the Tetons. If you’re thinking to yourself, “That must have been beautiful,” you’re on track with the topic of this podcast.

Beauty just may be the way to save our troubled world.

Michael Behe and Irreducible Complexity with Dr. Scott Olsson and Dr. Jeremy Holmes

Michael Behe and Irreducible Complexity with Dr. Scott Olsson and Dr. Jeremy Holmes

March 31, 2020

“The conclusion of intelligent design flows naturally from the data itself—not from sacred books or sectarian beliefs,” writes biochemist Michael Behe in his book Darwin’s Black Box. “Inferring that biochemical systems were designed by an intelligent agent is a humdrum process that requires no new principles of logic or science. It comes simply from the hard work that biochemistry has done over the past forty years, combined with consideration of the way in which we reach conclusions of design every day.”

The science curriculum at Wyoming Catholic College pays close attention to the interaction between science, philosophy, and theology with the ultimate goal of achieving a coherent synthesis of faith and reason.

That includes looking long and hard at evolution and the various alternatives to time-plus-chance.

In Science 402, our seniors have just read Darwin’s Black Box and while they’ve been studying at home, they listened to this conversation between their professors, Dr. Scott Olsson and Dr. Jeremy Holmes about Behe’s argument.

The Simplicity of the Universe with Dr. Scott Olsson

The Simplicity of the Universe with Dr. Scott Olsson

January 28, 2020

TV producer Stephen Moffatt who among other things produced the sci-fi hit “Dr. Who” commented, “The universe is big, it’s vast and complicated, and ridiculous.” Well, the universe certainly is big and vast, but it is most certainly not ridiculous. As to complicated? It turns out that in a certain sense, the universe is not complicated. It is simple.

Scientists have put forth all kinds of complex ideas about the universe. Chaos theory, string theory are two examples. They are very complicated and, in the end, not terribly helpful. Instead scientists are looking the other direction: away from complexity to simplicity.

Dr. Scott Olsson is this weeks guest telling us what scientists mean by simplicity.

Field Science in the Wide Wyoming Wilderness with Dr. Sam Shepherd

Field Science in the Wide Wyoming Wilderness with Dr. Sam Shepherd

October 15, 2019

While walking our dog, Maggie, near the Popo Agie River on a frigid day last winter, I noticed a tiny, slate-grey bird standing on the ice next to open water. As I watched, the bird, an American dipper, dove into the water and disappeared. A little while later, it popped out of the river and back to its spot on the ice. I was transfixed with wonder.

Maggie and I have also seen kingfishers, American kestrels, lots of mule deer, various kinds of snakes, ruffed grouse, and, to my shock, a badger in our backyard. Add to the animals, all the plants and flowers, the geology, the weather, the night sky and we can’t help say with Psalm 104, “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.”

Wyoming Catholic College students study God’s Creation as part of our math and science curriculum under the watchful eye of Dr. Sam Shepherd. Dr. Shepherd and his family moved from Ireland this summer to join our faculty. He is our guest this week on The After Dinner Scholar.

Medieval Manuscripts and the Movement of the Heavens with Dr. Henry Zapeda

Medieval Manuscripts and the Movement of the Heavens with Dr. Henry Zapeda

September 24, 2019

“Everybody knows,” said the US senator at a Senate hearing I attended, “that before Columbus everybody was sure that the world was flat.” 

Regardless of what the senator believes, you’d have to go back a long, long, long time before Columbus to find people who believed the world was flat. In fact, back in about 240 BC not only was it well known that the earth was a ball, but they had managed to calculate its circumference.

And by AD 150, Claudius Ptolemy created his geocentric model of the universe, a model that held sway for 1,500 years until Nicolaus Copernicus and others placed the sun rather than the earth at the center of things.

In that 1,200 years Ptolemy’s treatise, Almagest, was copied over and over. In addition, scholars wrote numerous commentaries on the work.

All of which fascinates Wyoming Catholic College’s Dr. Henry Zepeda who has a particular interested in the way medieval scholars understood the mathematical sciences that they inherited from the Greeks and Arabs. He has spent much of his adult life reading medieval manuscripts in libraries across the United States and Europe and spent this past summer in Kansas City immersed in medieval manuscripts.

How High the Moon, How Far the Stars? with Dr. Scott Olsson

How High the Moon, How Far the Stars? with Dr. Scott Olsson

March 26, 2019

A recent news article announced the discovery of 300,000 new galaxies bringing the number to somewhere around 100 billion some 12 to 18 billion light years away. Such numbers boggle the mind as does the notion that we can actually calculate such distances. Yet starting back in about 240 BC in Alexandria, Egypt Eratosthenes managed to calculate with amazing accuracy the circumference of the earth. Once that was done, it was only a matter of time before people calculated the distance to the Moon, to the Sun, and finally to the stars.

How did they do it? Dr. Scott Olsson  has been discussing these matters with our Wyoming Catholic College sophomores. Dr. Olsson is our guest on this edition of The After Dinner Scholar.

Science in a Cup of Tea with Dr. Scott Olsson

Science in a Cup of Tea with Dr. Scott Olsson

November 6, 2018

“This cup of tea,” the lady claimed, “was made wrong. You put the tea in first and then the milk rather than putting the milk in before the tea. I could taste the difference immediately.”

Could she really and, if so, how would we know? How do we use experimentation to test her claim that she tastes the difference between a cup where milk was added to tea and one where tea was added to milk? The story is all about the scientific method.

While the answer may seem straightforward enough, it turns out that any scientific experiment is fraught with complications and difficulties. Dr. Scott Olsson’s students have been struggling with some of those complications and difficulties in this the first semester of their junior year. This week on the After Dinner Scholar, Dr. Olsson gives us a glimpse in the questions.

“Back in the Saddle Again”: Horsemanship and the Liberal Arts with Lorine Sheehan

“Back in the Saddle Again”: Horsemanship and the Liberal Arts with Lorine Sheehan

June 12, 2018

Winston Churchill once remarked, "No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle."

Occasionally we find people who think of Wyoming Catholic College “that school with the backpacks and horses.” And we are very careful to remind such people that we are also the school where students speak Latin, read Plato, Aristotle, and St. Thomas Aquinas, and work through the mathematics of Euclid, Isaac Newton, and Einstein. Our academic program is challenging and our standards are high.

That being said, we do, in fact, have horses and every student learns to care for and ride a horse.

At the center of our equestrian program is Lorine Sheehan, a member of the Wyoming Catholic College class of 2014 and an accomplished horsewoman. Mrs. Sheehan is our guest on The After Dinner Scholar.