Sunday, January 21, 2018

Mystery of science in the sacred

In my last post I noted there are two Catholic scientists who are honored in virtually every Catholic church in the United States.  And for that matter, many other worship spaces across the world.

Who are they?  Not Galileo.  Or Luke, the physician.  You aren't likely to find them in the stained glass windows, and you might have to open a cupboard or a drawer to find them.

One French, one Italian. Both men. Working at the turn of the 18th century to the 19th.  A mathematician turned physicist and a chemist.

Ready for the answer?

Andre-Marie Ampère and Alessandro Volta.  Both have units named after them, to honor their work, the ampere (amp) and the volt respectively.  Both these memorials are in evidence on the power supply shown in the first photo, e.g. 12V, 12 volts; 2.5A, 2.5 amperes.  Photo taken in the sacristy at my parish!

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.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Living water, live water

How do you like your water?  How about live? A California company is marketing incredibly expensive "live water."  This $70 per gallon water comes from a spring and hasn't been 'killed' by removing the minerals or bacteria in it, one must trust that there are only beneficial bacteria in it.  The science on the site makes my eyes cross, and the Washington Post's Lindsey Bever does a excellent job of sorting through some of the issues. (Full disclosure, I'm quoted in the article.)

But what I found truly stunning was the comment at the end by a high profile Silicon Valley guy about drinking this kind of water, “The pundits will say water is H2O, but I think as you break it down, there's a lot more to it. And I feel very vibrant on its consumption.”

In his encyclical Laudato Si', Pope Francis devotes an entire section to water, noting how the lack of clean drinking water particularly affects the poor, resulting every day in many deaths and about the commodification of this precious liquid.[29-30]  WHO data shows more than a thousand children under the age of 5 die each day from illness caused by drinking water contaminated with microorganisms. Every day, a thousand little ones, a half million children a year. I doubt their parents are feeling "very vibrant" on the consumption of water that hasn't been treated.  Or that the people still lacking water in Puerto Rico are very happy either.

You want to buy incredibly expensive water, 7000 times as expensive as water from the tap, with a wacky pseudoscientific backstory, fine. But to somehow imply that clean water isn't desirable seems to disparage the very real needs of millions of people in the world for water they can drink, for living water.