Catholic Scientists Converge in Chicago to Ponder Big Questions

The first conference of the Society of Catholic Scientists will be held April 21-23.

Article main image

CHICAGO — The first conference of the Society of Catholic Scientists will focus on beginnings: the origin of consciousness, the origin of human language, the origin of the cosmos, and the origin of living things.

“Might there be other planets that harbor life — perhaps one of the recently discovered earth-like ‘exoplanets’? Might there even be other universes?” reads an April 18 announcement of the event.

Almost 100 attendees are expected at the society’s inaugural conference, which will be held April 21-23 at Chicago’s Knickerbocker Hotel.

The society, founded in mid-2016, aims “to witness to the harmony between the vocation of the scientist and the life of faith.” It works to help foster fellowship among Catholic scientists and to provide a resource and discussion forum for those with questions about science and faith, while also adhering to Catholic teaching.

Marissa March, a physicist and researcher from the University of Pennsylvania, will speak to the conference attendees on the topic “The Catholic Scientist in the Secular World: What is the meaning of our vocation, and how does it distinguish us?”

For his part, Father Joachim Ostermann, a Canadian Franciscan who has served as a biochemistry professor, will speak about science in light of the Christian view of the human person.

Other conference speakers include Catholics like Vatican Observatory director Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno; Karin Öberg, an astronomy professor at Harvard University; and Kenneth R. Miller, a biology professor at Brown University.

Non-Catholic speakers include Robert C. Berwick, a computer science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and John D. Barrow, a theoretical physicist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

Barrow will discuss his views on the origin and evolution of universes, while Berwick will speak on the ideas he and professor Noam Chomsky have developed on the beginnings of human language and why they think no other animals have anything like human language.

Besides lectures, there will be meals, social occasions and a membership meeting at the conference.

The Society of Catholic Scientists has several hundred members. They include top researchers in such fields as astrobiology, evolutionary theory and superstring theory.

Members include American Catholic scientists as well as undergraduate, graduate or postdoctoral students pursuing research in a natural science. The society’s president is Stephen M. Barr, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Delaware. Its episcopal adviser is Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.

The society held its first-ever Gold Mass at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s chapel on Nov. 15. It chose the term “Gold Mass” because it is the color of the hoods worn by those graduating with a doctorate in science and because St. Albert the Great, a medieval philosopher with a strong interest in natural sciences, was an alchemist who worked to turn base metals into gold.

That Mass followed the tradition of Masses for other professions, such as “Red Masses” for lawyers, “White Masses” for medical professionals, and “Blue Masses” for police officers.

The Society of Catholic Scientists website is CatholicScientists.org.