The After Dinner Scholar
Wyoming is Our Classroom: Field Science with Dr. Paul Giesting

Wyoming is Our Classroom: Field Science with Dr. Paul Giesting

August 3, 2021

As the new Wyoming Catholic college freshmen—all 68 of them—left for their 21-day backpacking expedition, we reminded them that in freshman theology they’ll be studying God’s second book, The Bible. In the wilderness, they should read their Bibles, but they’re to concentrate on God’s first book, the created world. Mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, flowers, soil, birds, and animals.

That being said, however, in addition to studying the Bible freshman year, they’ll also be studying mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, flowers, soil, birds, and animals in a more systematic way in their freshman course on field science.

This week's guest, Dr. Paul Giesting has just joined the Wyoming Catholic College faculty to teach, among other things, field science.

Lifting Our Eyes to the Hills and Studying the Rocks with Prof. Lauren Heerschap

Lifting Our Eyes to the Hills and Studying the Rocks with Prof. Lauren Heerschap

January 5, 2021

If you come to Lander, Wyoming, it’s hard not to notice the landscape: cliffs, rises, canyons, and the high peaks of the Wind River Mountain Range.

College for Wyoming Catholic College freshmen begins by studying God’s first book: The Creation. During their three-week freshman expedition they drink in the beauty, majesty, and power..

When they return from the expedition, in theology they study God’s second book: the Holy Scriptures. But in field science, it’s back to the first book as they carefully examine the flora and fauna of our region along with the rocks.

Our guest this week, Prof. Lauren Heerschap has worked for the Colorado Geological Survey, and has taught geology in Zermatt, Switzerland, Durango, Colorado. Her enthusiasm about our rocks is contagious.

Time, Space, and Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity with Dr. Michael Bolin

Time, Space, and Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity with Dr. Michael Bolin

December 15, 2020

“I sometimes ask myself,” said Albert Einstein, “how it came about that I was the one to develop the theory of relativity. The reason, I think, is that a normal adult never stops to think about the problem of space and time. These are things which he has thought of as a child. But my intellectual development was retarded, as a result of which I began to wonder about space and time only when I had already grown up.”

About five weeks ago, Dr. Henry Zepeda was a guest on this podcast talking about Euclidian geometry:  points, lines, planes, angles, and solids. Euclid described the world as we see it today, the way we typically consider the true way of seeing it.

In 1905, however, a young man named Albert Einstein proposed something different. Euclid, he said, hadn’t taken into consideration motion and time. Once you do that, he reasoned, geometry needs to be taken as a branch of physics. 

Dr. Michael Bolin who teaches Einstein’s Special and General Theories of Relativity to Wyoming Catholic College seniors talks more about that.

Lecture: “Beauty is Truth: How Poetry Enriches Science” by Dr. Tiffany Schubert

Lecture: “Beauty is Truth: How Poetry Enriches Science” by Dr. Tiffany Schubert

September 8, 2020

The tendency of science to reduce all of the world and life in it to predictable laws of physics is not new. And poets since William Wordsworth two hundred years ago have insisted that life ought not to be reduced.

Since the theme of this year’s Wyoming School was “Beauty is Truth: Science and the Catholic Imagination,” we looked to poets to help us inform our imaginations as we look at world around us, the heavens, and our own human nature.

The poetry we read and discussed is all available online for free. 

  • Henry Vaughn, “Water-fall”
  • Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur,” “Pied Beauty,” “The Windhover”
  • William Wordsworth, “The World is Too Much With Us,” “The Tables Turned”
  • Robert Frost, “Never Again Would Bird’s Song Be the Same”
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare”
Lecture: “Beauty is Truth: Beauty and Science” by Dr. Jeremy Holmes

Lecture: “Beauty is Truth: Beauty and Science” by Dr. Jeremy Holmes

September 1, 2020

“Saint Thomas, who was as simple as he was wise,” wrote Jacques Maritain, “defined the beautiful as that which, being seen, pleases: id quod visum placet. These four words say all that is necessary: a vision, that is to say, an intuitive knowledge, and a delight.”

At this summer’s Wyoming School of Catholic Thought, we began by looking at the Medieval cosmos. It is a beautiful vision that, alas, turns out not to be true. Then we looked at the modern vision—the vision of scientism—in which the universe is nothing but a randomly constituted result of elementary particles bumping into each other. It is a universe without goodness, beauty, or truth—save the truth (maybe) of mathematics and physics.

Yet the topic of our week together was, “Beauty is Truth: Science and the Catholic Imagination.”

After we reduced the Medieval cosmos to “fermions and bosons,” Dr. Jeremy Holmes began putting the world back together arguing that beauty is a necessary part of the scientific endeavor. His lecture was over an hour long, but will, I think, be well worth your time and concentration. Hearing it again brought  great delight so, using Thomas' definition, it can be called a beautiful lecture.

Lecture: “Beauty is Truth: Shattering the Medieval Vision” by Dr. Jim Tonkowich

Lecture: “Beauty is Truth: Shattering the Medieval Vision” by Dr. Jim Tonkowich

August 25, 2020

Duke University professor and philosopher Alex Rosenberg began an essay on Scientism with a series of questions and his answers:

  • Is there a God? No.
  • What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is. 
  • What is the purpose of the universe? There is none. 
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • Why am I here? Just dumb luck. 
  • Does prayer work? Of course not. 
  • Is there a soul? Is it immortal? Are you kidding? 
  • Is there free will? Not a chance! 
  • What happens when we die? Everything pretty much goes on as before, except us.
  • What is the difference between right and wrong, good or Bad? There is no moral difference between them. 
  • Is abortion, euthanasia, suicide, paying taxes, foreign aid, or anything else you don’t like forbidden, permissible, or sometimes obligatory? Anything goes. 
  • Does history have any meaning or purpose? It’s full of sound and fury, but signifies nothing. 

At this year’s Wyoming School of Catholic Thought, Dr. Tiffany Shubert began by talking about the Medieval cosmos, a cosmos full of meaning, harmony, and truth. And last week’s After Dinner Scholar podcast was her lecture about the Medieval cosmos.

Next, we held a seminar discussing Alex Rosenberg’s essay “Scientism Versus the Theory of Mind” with its opening series of questions and answers. Before the seminar began, to avoid unnecessary intellectual whiplash, Dr. Jim Tonkowich spoke about how we got from a reality filled with the presence of God and with purpose to Rosenberg’s comment that, “Reality is the forsightless play of fermions and bosons producing the illusion of purpose.”

Lecture: “Beauty is Truth: C. S. Lewis and the Medieval Vision” by Dr. Tiffany Schubert

Lecture: “Beauty is Truth: C. S. Lewis and the Medieval Vision” by Dr. Tiffany Schubert

August 18, 2020

In the Epilogue to his book The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature, C. S. Lewis wrote, “I have made no serious effort to hide the fact that the old [Medieval] Model [of the universe] delights me as I believe it delighted our ancestors. Few constructions of the imagination seem to me to have combined splendour, sobriety, and coherence in the same degree. It is possible that some readers have long been itching to remind me that it had a serious defect; it was not true.”

Last week the annual Wyoming School of Catholic Thought was held here in Lander. The topic was “Beauty is Truth: Science and the Catholic Imagination.” Our readings in science and in literature considered this question of how we see the world, how we image it even before we think about it.

That began with a look at Medieval science and cosmology. The group read and discussed chapter 5 and the Epilogue from Lewis’ The Discarded Image guided by Dr. Tiffany Schubert who offered this introduction to the topic.

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.

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.

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