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”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.