St. Albert Initiative

Big Questions at the Intersection of Science and Faith
Saturday, November 13, 2021, Catholic University of America, Washington D.C.

Want to learn from accomplished Catholic scientists about the harmony of faith and science? Interested in the Big Questions on the frontiers of scientific discovery? Then come to the St. Albert Initiative on November 13 at the Catholic University of America.

This half-day event is for Catholic high school teachers, students, and parents, as well as the general public (high school age and above).  It is co-sponsored by the Society of Catholic Scientists, the Science & Religion Initiative of the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame, and the Lumen Christi Institute. 

Attendees of the St. Albert Initiative will get to learn from distinguished scientists who embrace both the Catholic faith and modern science, following the example of St. Albert the Great, patron saint of science.

If you have any questions about this initiative, please contact Heather.

Conference Highlights Include:

  • Two 25-minute Opening Talks on Science and Faith, and Cosmology and Extraterrestrial Life.
  • A choice of two ‘Lightning Round’ Talks on crucial topics: Is the Universe Made for Life?; God and the Dinosaurs; Earthquakes, their consequences, and Jesuit Seismology; What is Human Life and When does it Begin?; Evolution and Creation: A Catholic Perspective; and Modern Science, the Church and Galileo. 
  • Big Questions/Ask-a-Scientist Poster Session where attendees will have an opportunity to meet Catholic scientists one-on-one and ask them about their fields of science, career paths, the big unsolved questions in their areas of science, being a Catholic in science, and anything that they are curious about.  The scientists they will meet will be a varied group: young and old; male and female; experimenters and theorists; and in many areas of research. Students interested in STEM subjects and teachers interested in renewing their own understanding will dialogue about high-impact topics, including: genetics, mathematics, materials science, evolutionary biology, superstring theory, cosmology, environmental science, neuroscience and brain research, and much more.  

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Plenary Topics Covered

Title: Modern Science and the Catholic Faith

Sbarr

Speaker: Prof. Stephen M. Barr

Abstract: Prof. Barr’s talk will look at the widespread assertion that science and traditional Christian belief are incompatible.  He will show that this perception arises to a large extent from misconceptions about what the Church has traditionally taught, what modern science has actually discovered, and what the history of the Church’s relationship with science was really like.  

Steve Barr is Professor Emeritus of theoretical particle physics at the Bartol Research Institute and the University of Delaware.  He has published over 150 research articles on such topics as the origin of ordinary  matter and dark matter in the early universe, unified theories of the fundamental forces, and the  properties of electrons, neutrinos and other basic particles.  He has written frequently on science and religion for the journal First Things and other national publications and is the author of Modern Physics and Ancient Faith (University of Notre Dame Press, 2003) and The Believing Scientist: Essays on Science and Religion (Eerdmans, 2016).  He is a co-founder and the first president of the Society of Catholic Scientists.

Title:  “Habitable Planets and Extraterrestrial Life”

Karen

Speaker: Prof. Karin Öberg

Abstract: In Prof. Öberg’s talk she will explain what drew her to become a Catholic and what drew her to become a scientist.  She will tell about some of her work in astrochemistry, where she studies the chemistry involved in how planets form, and how this affects whether planets are habitable. She will then discuss the possibility of extraterrestrial life from both the scientific and theological points of view. 

Karin Öberg  is a Professor in the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University (Ph.D. Astrophysics 2009, Univ. of Leiden). Prof. Öberg does research in astrophysics/astrochemistry, especially the impact of chemistry on planet formation, and the link between planet formation and planet habitability. Among other awards she is the recipient of a Simons Fellowship (2020), the AAS Newton Lacy Pierce Prize (2016), the Packard Fellowship (2014), and the Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship (2014). She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Society of Catholic Scientists, and is a speaker for the Thomistic Institute.

Lightning Round Talks

Title:  Is the Universe Made for Life?  

Speaker: Prof. Stephen M. Barr

Abstract: In recent decades physicists have discovered that many features of the fundamental laws of physics  are “just right” to make life (including complex living things such as ourselves) possible.  These are sometimes called “anthropic coincidences.”  Do these show that the universe was made with us in mind?  Or does the “multiverse” idea explain them? Or possibly both?  

Title:  God and the Dinosaurs

Speaker: Prof. Peter Dodson

Dodson

Abstract: Prof. Dodson will talk about the adventure of being a paleontologist making discoveries about dinosaurs and how these strange and wonderful creatures fit into our understanding of God and the world He created.

Peter Dodson holds a Ph.D. in geology and geophysics from Yale University (1974). He also holds a B.Sc. (geology) from the University of Ottawa and an M.Sc. from the University of Alberta.  He is professor of veterinary gross anatomy and dinosaur paleontology at the University of Pennsylvania. He has taught for 47 years at UPenn. Besides Canada and the U.S.  he has participated in field projects in Madagascar, Egypt, Argentina, India and China. With his students he has named seven genera (kinds) of dinosaurs, three from the United States, three from China and one from Egypt. He is the author of more than 100 scientific papers, co-editor of The Dinosauria, (1990; 2004); author of The Horned Dinosaurs (1996); and of several children’s books, including An Alphabet of Dinosaurs (1996). 

Title: Earthquakes, their Consequences, and the Jesuit Pioneers of Seismology

Natasha

Speaker: Natasha Toghramadjian

Abstract: The great earthquake of 1755 obliterated the Catholic city of Lisbon and caused many to question their faith.  It also spurred the creation of the science of seismology, often called “the Jesuit Science” because of the pioneering work of Jesuit missionaries who set up the first seismic stations in many areas of the globe. This talk will tell about the remarkable history of earthquakes and their consequences and the speaker’s own field work on three continents.

Natasha Toghramadjian is a third-year PhD student at Harvard University studying geophysics, with a focus on earthquakes and strong ground motion predictions. Funded by a U.S. Fulbright Research Grant, she spent 10 months in Armenia as a geophysical researcher on the NSF-funded, Caucasus-wide “Transect Project,” designing a collaborative statistical seismology study on reservoir-triggered earthquakes and aiding in the deployment of 100+ new seismic stations and analysis of incoming seismic data for tomographic modeling of the Caucasus’ crustal and mantle structure. She has done several field studies in the Seattle area. Her research is supported by the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and Harvard Ashford Fellowship. She is a Student Member of the Society of Catholic Scientists.

Title: What is a human being and when does life begin?

Condic

Speaker: Prof. Maureen Condic

Abstract: The questions of who is a human person with rights and when does a person arise during the process of human development  have profound implications for society, for medicine and for the law. Dr. Condic will discuss the scientific evidence for when human life begins, and how human beings are different from mere human cells. 

Maureen Condic is an Associate Professor of Neurobiology at the University of Utah.Her research focuses on the role of stem cells in development and regeneration, and has been recognized by both the Basil O'Connor and the McKnight awards.  She is currently a member of Pontifical Academy for Life, and in 2018, was appointed by the President of the United States to the National Science Board.  Dr. Condic’s works include Human Embryos, Human Beings, (recipient of the  2020 International Expanded Reason Award), and Untangling Twinning, as well as numerous basic scientific articles. Dr. Condic participates in both graduate and medical education, having taught Human Embryology in the Medical School for 20 years. She has a strong commitment to public education, and has presented over 250 seminars and interviews, both nationally and internationally, on science policy, bioethics and her own research. 
 

Title: The Galileo Affair: Conflict or Confusion?

Hayes

Speaker: Cory Hayes

Abstract: The so-called “Galileo Affair” (1516-1533) is often cited as evidence of the Roman Catholic Church’s antagonism towards science.  In this talk Dr. Hayes explores the history, characters, and issues surrounding the trial and condemnation of Galileo Galilei in order to show that the affair was far more complex than modern pundits make it out to be.

Cory Hayes is a professor of Philosophy and Theology at St. Joseph Seminary College in Covington, LA.  He holds a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA.   His research and teaching interests include: Byzantine and Eastern Christian theology, Philosophy of Nature, and the relation between Catholic theology, philosophy, and empirical science.  He and his wife Jennifer reside in Covington and they have 8 children.

Title: Evolution and Creation: A Catholic Perspective

Ippolito

Speaker: Prof. Daniel Ippolito

Abstract: For some, the scientific theory of evolution is seen as incompatible with a God who has knowingly and purposely fashioned us. But, as Pope Benedict XVI stated, creation and evolution represent “two complementary — rather than mutually exclusive — realities.” Prof. Ippolito will guide participants to see the harmony between evolutionary biology and the Catholic faith.

Dan Ippolito is Professor of Biology at Anderson University in Indiana. He received his Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Texas at Austin in 1985. His doctoral research focused on competition between an invasive species and native bass. Dr. Ippolito has taught courses in general biology, fish biology, aquatic ecology as well as an upper-level seminar course on faith and science. In addition to his teaching at Anderson University, Dr. Ippolito is on the summer faculty of the Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies in Mancelona, Michigan, and has taught stream ecology for the Creation Care Study Program (CCSP) at both their Belize and New Zealand campuses. He has spoken and written for both academic and church audiences on science-faith questions and the philosophy of science. 

Details

Registration

Through the generous support of the John Templeton Foundation, this Institute Day is $25 per person. This fee will be refunded to any adult who brings a student. Registration is open through November 6, 2021. This is event is possible because of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

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Schedule

Saturday, November 13, 2021

9:00 - 9:45 a.m.  Breakfast (optional) and Sign-In
9:45 - 10:00 a.m.

Welcoming Remarks and Opening Prayer

10:00 -10:45 a.m.

“Science and the Catholic Faith” (Stephen Barr, President, Society of Catholic Scientists, Emeritus Professor of Physics, University of Delaware)

Many have claimed that modern science and Christian faith have been opposed historically, and completely disagree in what they say about the physical world. Prof. Barr will show how embracing modern science not only does not contradict Catholic theology, but offers new horizons for faith. 

10:45 - 11:00 a.m.

Break

11:00 - 11:45 a.m.

“Cosmology, Extraterrestrial Life and Creation” (tentative) (Karin Öberg, Professor of Astronomy, Harvard University)

An astrochemist and Catholic convert, Prof. Öberg will discuss the latest advances and pressing questions in the study of exoplanets and the search for life beyond our planet. She will relate her exciting work to her faith in the Christian doctrine of creation. (for a sneak preview, see “The Galactic Recipe for a Living Planet).

11:45 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.

Lunch

1:00 - 1:30 p.m.

Lightning Round Talks #1 

  • These short sessions allow participants to choose presentations on major topics facing Catholic scientists and science students:
    • Is the Universe Made for Life? (Stephen Barr, President, Society of Catholic Scientists, Emeritus Professor of Physics, University of Delaware)  In recent decades physicists have discovered that many features of the fundamental laws of physics  are “just right” to make life (including complex living things such as ourselves) possible.  These are sometimes called “anthropic coincidences.”  Do these show that the universe was made with us in mind?  Or does the “multiverse” idea explain them? Or possibly both?  
       
    • “God and the Dinosaurs” (Peter Dodson, Professor of Dinosaur Paleontology, University of Pennsylvania) Prof. Dodson will talk about the adventure of being a paleontologist making discoveries about dinosaurs and how these strange and wonderful creatures fit into our understanding of God and the world He created.
       
    • “Earthquakes, their Consequences, and the Jesuit Pioneers of Seismology” (Natasha Toghramadjian, 4th year graduate student, Harvard University) The great earthquake of 1755 obliterated the Catholic city of Lisbon and caused many to question their faith.  It also spurred the creation of the science of seismology, often called “the Jesuit Science” because of the pioneering work of Jesuit missionaries who set up the first seismic stations in many areas of the globe.  This talk will tell about the remarkable history of earthquakes and their consequences and the speaker’s own field work on three continents.
1:30 - 1:40 p.m.

Break

1:40 - 2:10 p.m.

Lightning Round Talks #2

  • What is a human being and when does life begin? (Maureen Condic, Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy, University of Utah School of Medicine) The questions of who is a human being and when does a human being arise during the process of human development have profound implications for society, for medicine and for the law.
     
  • “Evolution and Creation: A Catholic Perspective” (Daniel Ippolito, Professor of Biology, Anderson University) For some, the scientific theory of evolution is seen as incompatible with a God who has knowingly and purposely fashioned us. But, as Pope Benedict XVI stated, creation and evolution represent “two complementary — rather than mutually exclusive — realities.” Prof. Ippolito will guide participants to see the harmony between evolutionary biology and the Catholic faith.
     
  • “Modern Science, the Catholic Church, and the Galileo Affair” (Cory Hayes, Senior Professor, Department of Philosophy and Theological Studies, St. Joseph Seminary College) Beginning with Copernicus and ending with St. John Paul II, Dr. Cory Hayes will examine the trials of Galileo, the major players involved and the issues that were at play in his 1633 condemnation by the Inquisition, overcoming misconceptions and deepening our understanding of the lessons it has for us today.
2:10 - 3:30 p.m.

“Big Questions/Ask-a-Scientist” Poster Session

  • In this session, attendees will be able to meet and ask questions of fifteen Catholic scientists representing a wide variety of branches of science (including math). Each scientist will be standing at a poster that says what some of the biggest unanswered questions are in his or her field of research.  Attendees will get to ask them questions about their science, their faith, how they integrate the two in their lives, what they work on, what the most exciting questions in their fields are, what it is like to go into science, or … anything else they want to know about!  This is an opportunity to interact individually or in small groups with Catholic research scientists.
3:30 p.m.

Closing Prayer

Location - Directions

Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center, 620 Michigan Ave NE, Washington, DC 20064

Click here for directions.

 

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is the St. Albert Initiative for High School Teachers and Students?

  • The St. Albert Initiative is an outreach effort to high school students and teachers from the Society of Catholic Scientists, the Science and Religion Initiative of the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame, and the Lumen Christi Institute. This half-day event is an opportunity to meet with, talk to, and learn from Catholic scientists in many fields.  Participants will learn from eminent Catholic scientists about their research and the harmony between faith and science. 

Who is St. Albert?

  • Saint Albert the Great (a.k.a. Albertus Magnus) was a German Dominican bishop, theologian, philosopher, scientist, and the teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas. He was integral in introducing the science of the ancient Greeks and Arabs into the curriculum of medieval universities. Saint Albert the Great emphasized the importance of an experimental approach to science and made significant contributions to diverse fields including botany, zoology, animal reproduction and embryology. Saint Albert the great is the patron saint of scientists and was recognized as a doctor of the Church by Pope Pius IX.
    • Adapted from information posted by the Society of Catholic Scientists, which can be found here.
    • Podcast about St. Albert the Great can be found here.

Who is organizing the conference?

When and where is the conference?

  • The conference is scheduled for Friday November 13, 2021, from 9:00am - 3:30pm.  A catered lunch is included.  
  • The conference location will be Pryzbyla Hall on the campus of the Catholic University of America.

Is there a cost to register for the conference?

  • For high school students (including home schoolers), the event is free
  • For adults, there is a registration fee of $25, which will be refunded to those who bring one or more students. 
  • In addition to the refund, adults who bring a student(s) are eligible to receive a stipend.  ($50 for bringing one student; $100 for bringing two or more). 
  • High school teachers will receive a certificate acknowledging 8 hours of professional development (certificate to be awarded by the Science and Religion Initiative, University of Notre Dame).
  • Members of the general public are encouraged to register to attend the event.

What are the introductory talks? All parents will attend two morning talks on the following topics: (a) Science and Faith, and  (b) Cosmology and Extraterrestrial Life. These talks are 25 minutes in length with an additional 20 minutes for ‘Question and Answer’.

What are the ‘lightning round’ talks? Participants will have the opportunity to select from a series of shorter talks in the afternoon (20 minutes with 10 minutes for Q&A). They will choose one of the following for the first afternoon session: Is the Universe Made for Life?; God and the Dinosaurs; Earthquakes, their Consequences, and the Jesuit Pioneers of Seismology. For the second afternoon session, participants will be able to choose from: What is Human Life and When does it Begin?; Evolution and Creation: A Catholic Perspective; and Modern Science, the Church and Galileo.

What is the Big Questions/Meet the Scientists Poster Session? There will be fifteen scientists, each with a poster display, distributed throughout a large room, each representing a field of research.  The poster's displays will highlight the “Big Questions” (i.e. exciting unanswered questions) in that field, as well as something about the scientist’s own work.  The scientists will be a varied group --- from scientists just starting out (including college and grad students) to senior scientists; male and female; experimental, observational, theoretical, computational; and from many STEM fields. Attendees can go up to poster displays about the fields that interest them and ask the scientist anything they want --- for example, about science, career paths, what it is like to be at various stages as a science student or scientist, what it is like to be a Catholic in science.

Keynote and Lightning Round speakers will also be present to field questions and engage in discussion.

How do I register?

  • Please complete the registration form here
    The registration fee of $25 for adults will be refunded to any adult who brings a student