Thursday, January 18, 2018

Talking Catholic Scientists

What do Catholic scientists talk about?  Well, I spent the last several days in Washington DC at the studios of Now You Know Media, recording a dozen conversations about the lives and faith of Catholic Scientists with my boss at the Vatican Observatory, Br. Guy.  I’ve been working on material for this series on the lives of Catholic Scientists since September: “spend an hour working on the Catholic Scientists project” has been a regularly scheduled item on my to-do list, an often welcome respite from grading and administrative tasks.

Since there are literally hundreds of scientists who are Catholic and who made significant contributions to their fields (check out the @catholiclab Twitter stream with daily tweets about Catholic scientists), it was both easy and difficult to come up with a set of interesting people to talk about. And once you realize there is no way you can do justice to the history of science over the last 1000 years even if we spent all 12 episodes on it, you’re free to pick a thread for a setting.

We ended up talking about 40 some odd scientists, who lived over a thousand year period on 5 different continents, all Catholic:

11 women
2 saints (and a “Servant of God”)
2 doctors of the Church
2 popes
11 Jesuits
1 Augustinian
4 mathematicians
9 chemists
8 botanists

Fun question:  There are two Catholic scientists that are honored in virtually every church in the US.  Neither of them are saints. Who are they? [[Update:  Answer is here.]]

Our big point?  Catholics have been, are, and will continue to be scientists.  Not in spite of the Church, not separate from their faith, but because of their faith.  It’s a delightful and joyful way to seek the face of God, to play not just with creation, but with the Creator — to pray.  And all these scientists are people, just like the rest of us, with their faults and failings as well as their strengths.

The project has been a delight so far, from doing the research and writing the biographical sketches and brief settings we worked from to finding our rhythm during the recording sessions.  The give and take of a conversation takes a different type of preparation than a straight lecture.  And I suspect for both the scientists in this conversation, working without visuals was another sort of challenge.


  1. Looking forward to this series. I hope you (and Now You Know Media) will consider a video lecture series on this topic. Would love to use it in our programs.

    Also, I love "40 some odd scientists", read with different emphases!

  2. Galileo and LeMatier...

    1. Not that pair. There are *physical* memorials to the two scientists in virtually every church in the country.

  3. Hmmm... Honored? In virtually every church? Neither is recognized as a saint? I suspect there will either be a feeling of 'duh' when I find out, or a disagreement about the meaning of honor. Any other hints?

    1. Memorialized, and I would say it's an honor. Neither is a saint. And yes, the place where you would find their memorial are not where you'd be likely to look.

  4. The other thing I thought - actually, my wife thought, was that 'every church in the US' may include non-Catholic churches. That led both of us to think organ - clearly a scientific and engineering feat to me - and that might mean Ctesibius of Alexandria. Getting warmer?