All posts tagged: science

Galileo in Reverse: America’s Abortion Dystopia

At the end of this week, the people of Ireland are set to vote in a national referendum on the 8th Amendment, which currently guarantees equal rights to the life of the mother and the life of her unborn child. A “yes” vote would repeal the 8th Amendment and allow elective abortion up to 12 weeks gestation; a “no” vote would continue Ireland’s 35 year Constitutional ban on abortion. The country’s restrictive abortion law means that only 1 in 18 pregnancies end in abortion, compared to 1 in 5 in both Great Britain and the United States and 1 in 4 in Sweden. As Ireland prepares for its historic vote, on this side of the Atlantic, we in the United States have the opportunity to critically examine our own abortion laws. Contrary to popular belief, America’s abortion laws are among the most permissive in the world. The United States is included among the 30% of countries that allow abortion for any reason, and while the vast majority of these countries have gestational limits for elective …

Technology Will Serve, but Whom?

This is an essay about technology, a subject that tends to polarize, with proponents too often dismissing the critics as “pessimistic” and the critics too often tending toward the apocalyptic. Part of the problem is that we need somehow to learn to speak about technology again. We need to do so in a nuanced manner which does justice to the complexity of our current situation. A part of the problem is that certain technologies are not devices we make use of on certain rare occasions but are, in some instances, something more akin to companions the loss of which would, for some, be quite literally catastrophic. The human species has always been homo faber but the integration of technology into our lives is such that it mediates almost every facet of our lives, and we can only expect this process to continue. What I want to do is suggest not simply that we have a technology “problem” on our hands (this is obvious) but that those who adhere to the Christian religion have particular problems …

How to Reclaim the Literal Interpretation of the Bible

The science and religion debate can become so convoluted and esoteric, and at times, even heated, that it is easy to forget what a clear and definitive answer the Church has to such questions. This is especially true when it comes to conversations about the supposed conflict between the first two chapters of Genesis and generally accepted scientific theories. On the one hand, is the claim that the biblical creation story is incompatible with the scientific dating of the universe and biological evolution, and thus that the science must be wrong. On the other hand, is the claim that because the biblical creation story and scientific accounts of the universe and humanity are fundamentally at odds, the Bible and Christianity must be wrong. The Catholic response to this question is that this disagreement has no grounds to stand on. Purely from the standpoint of biblical interpretation, the first two chapters of Genesis were never meant to be “scientific” in the modern sense of the term. The biblical creation account states profoundly that God created the …

Can You Square the Feeding of the 5,000 with Science?

We read the story of the feeding of the five thousand in all four Gospels. In John’s Gospel, it is immediately followed by the Bread of Life Discourse, in which Jesus lays out clearly the doctrine of the Eucharist. His teaching is quite clear: “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (John 6: 53-55). From the reaction of the disciples (“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” [6:60]) and Jesus’s response to them (“Does this offend you?” [6:61]), we know that Jesus means what he says—otherwise his teaching would not be so hard to accept. The placement of the feeding of the five thousand in all four Gospels, and directly before the Bread of Life Discourse in John’s Gospel, suggests that there …

I Used to Be a Creationist

I have a confession to make: I used to be a creationist. This probably sounds absurd, especially coming from a student at a university which prides itself on its commitment to faith and reason—a university which was even home to one of the first Catholic defenders of scientific evolution—Fr. John Zahm. It will most likely sound even more absurd when I tell you that I am now making faith and reason my life’s work by studying theology, philosophy, and physics. I have quite clearly come a long way from thinking that science and religion do not work together, and would consider myself the better for it. Nonetheless, I am incredibly grateful for the time that I spent holding the opinion that we have to take the book of Genesis to its literal extremes, and thus that evolution just had to be wrong. It helped me identify one of the central aspects of the science and religion debate: science and religion are not at odds with each other if you recognize that science does not have …

Contemplating the Cosmos: The Art of Science

I remember writing my first computer program. I was learning to code in Java (which is a terrible first language to learn, but that’s another story). All the program did was open an interface window and convert a temperature to Fahrenheit or Celsius when I clicked a button. Since I was a beginner, the process involved a lot of drag-and-drop abstraction, in the same way that paint-a-number abstracts the process of painting. My program was small, but it was mine. I created it, and that is what mattered. Four years later, I stand on the cusp of graduating with a degree in computer science from the University of Notre Dame. Furthermore, I have a supplementary major in Theology. This is usually the part where someone makes a puzzled face and says, “Wow. Those are so…. unrelated.” In fact, this is what most people say about any non-humanities major coupled with theology. While computer science and theology are different, they are still related. I think theology and computer science can find common ground in something unexpected: …

Contemplating the Cosmos: God is Good—at Physics

One of the first questions people ask me, upon learning I am a physics major, is what exactly I study. In an abstract sense, I study the universe—its fundamental particles, forces, and the mathematics used to describe their interactions. Since this is usually still too broad, I describe my particular field of research: nuclear astrophysics. My advisor and I write and run computer code to simulate supernovae, the collapse and subsequent detonation of massive stars. Supernovae, as it turns out, are element factories, taking light elements (hydrogen, helium, carbon, oxygen, etc.) and fusing them together to form heavier elements. In the words of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, “We are all connected, to each other biologically, to the Earth chemically, and to the rest of the universe atomically.” We owe our very existence—the elements in our bodies, in the air, and in the soil—to the stars, and to the nuclear physics governing them. But to what—or to Whom—do we owe physics? Any intellectual pursuit must begin with wonder. One of my most profound experiences of this …

Contemplating the Cosmos: An Introduction

I remember that when I was applying to Notre Dame, one of the questions I was asked on my application was this:  “Why should we care about the rings of Saturn?”  That question really intrigued me, and I believe I wrote something along these lines:  If there were no universe surrounding this planet Earth, then human beings would have very little reason to think about their existence and be drawn to contemplation of a reality outside of themselves.  We would be self-enclosed, turned inwards, and greatly lacking in creativity and imagination.  Instead, the existence of Saturn and its rings inspire us to contemplate our place in this vast universe and think about why we are here.  We are invited into a particularity other than our own.  On the other hand, compared with immensity of the ever-expanding cosmos, we feel so small.  We then have to ask ourselves this question:  Do our transient lives matter at all? I often feel overwhelmed by these questions on days when I sit alone on a bench outside and marvel …