Seven more science courses will be offered for credit at US-Roman Catholic seminaries starting January 2017. Course titles, instructors, and course descriptions follow and are arranged alphabetically according to name of principal instructor. A list of eight science courses that were offered for credit in Fall 2016 are listed here, or click here for a full list of courses.
The Emergence of the Image:
Human Evolution from Biological, Philosophical and Theological Perspectives
Notre Dame Seminary and Graduate School of Theology, New Orleans, Louisiana
Christopher T. Baglow, Ph.D. Theology (Duquesne University)
This course brings into dialogue four approaches to human origins to assist an understanding what it means to be human. Seminarians are introduced to a narrative of the history of life, with attention to Darwin’s theory of Evolution by Natural Selection and evidence from Mendelian genetics (Modern Synthesis, 1900-1935), to yield a testable and robust body of theory (Neo-Darwinism). Attention will be paid to recent developments that extend Darwin’s original hypotheses based in non-Mendelian modes of inheritance or mechanisms that augment natural selection (e.g. evolutionary development, epigenetic phenomena). The second part of the course begins with the earliest known hominins and examines the 7 million years of hominin evolution. Special attention is given to the genetic and morphological factors involved in increased complexity and sophistication that led to modern humans, and the corresponding artifact record. In the final part of the course, seminarians are engaged in theological reflection on the findings of the former approaches in the light of divine revelation in order to illuminate the doctrine of the human person as the embodied image of God. The harmony between modern science and the Church’s theology of the human person as the image of God is emphasized. Special topics considered are a proper understanding of divine providence in the light of evolution, human beings as the liturgical consummation of cosmic evolution and the Resurrection of Christ as “a radical ‘evolutionary leap’, in which a new dimension of [human] life emerges” (Benedict XVI).
Only Wonder Comprehends
Athenaeum of Ohio/Mount St. Mary’s Seminary of the West, Cincinnati, Ohio
Marco Caggioni, Ph.D. Physics (Harvard University)
Giorgio Ambrosio, Ph.D. Applied Science (at Fermilab, Chicago)
Deacon Tracy W. Jamison, Ph.D. Philosophy (University of Cincinnati)
This course will seek to overcome the presuppositions and ideological positions that generate conflict and tension between theological and scientific disciplines in contemporary culture. The existential experience of wonder in the encounter with mystery can serve as a starting point for dialogue between scientists and people of faith. This fundamental human experience is a natural cognitive and affective response to the splendor of reality and is common to the Christian faithful and scientific communities.
In order to become a virtue and an attitude, the human experience of wonder must be affirmed and cultivated in scientific and faith communities which provide the social conditions necessary to sustain the pursuit of truth and understanding. As the capacity for wonder is encouraged and exercised, it enlarges and becomes more receptive to the real presence of things as objects of knowledge and discovery and more attentive to the independent existence of things as unified intelligible substances and active causal agents. The human virtue of wonder which is fundamental to scientific research naturally moves toward recognition of the ultimate principles and causes of reality. An appreciation of the depth, order, regularity, and beauty of nature leads to a more comprehensive understanding of its origin and ontological foundations. The affective energy that is produced by amazement and awe at the transcendent grandeur and causal complexity of the world provides the basic motivation that people need in order to affirm the goodness of the world and to have greater respect and devotion to science and theology as complementary disciplines which are perfective of human understanding and flourishing.
The course will explore the intellectual virtues which are common and essential to the practice of science and theology but will also investigate the methodological differences that make science and theology distinct modes of understanding and explanation that can be employed by anyone who is attentive to the mystery of existence and open to the fullness of reality. We will consider some exemplars of the personal integration of faith and reason in the lives of scientists who make significant contributions to their respective fields of research as they also maintain a personal commitment to the active practice of their faith and avoid the pitfalls of scientism and other antagonistic ideologies. We will endeavor to appreciate that scientists are not neutral but active participants in the perennial intellectual adventure of discovering and understanding what is true, good, and beautiful and approaching the ultimate mystery of existence.The topics covered in the course will include the Big Bang, the origin of life, the evolution of life, and the uniqueness of planet Earth. Together with this discussion of the beginning and the end of the cosmos, there will be a corresponding discussion at the level of the human nature through an examination of 2 the anatomy of the human brain in order to understand its functions in facilitating consciousness and its processes and states at the beginning and end of human life. The mystery of human life will also be examined through the lens of theology reflecting on the Christian doctrine that in human death “life is changed but not ended.” The Christian faith tells us that human persons are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and “ordered by divine providence for their own sake,” which means that they must be approached not merely as specimens but as individuals who have an origin and a destiny which transcend the cosmos. A heart in which the virtue of wonder has been cultivated is able to recognize and attend to the mystery of the individual human person as well as human nature in general. Faith and science, far from being opposed, are complementary and mutually supporting perfections of the human intellect which transform our consciousness and enable us to comprehend things as they really are.
The topics covered in the course will include the Big Bang, the origin of life, the evolution of life, and the uniqueness of planet Earth. Together with this discussion of the beginning and the end of the cosmos, there will be a corresponding discussion at the level of the human nature through an examination of 2 the anatomy of the human brain in order to understand its functions in facilitating consciousness and its processes and states at the beginning and end of human life. The mystery of human life will also be examined through the lens of theology reflecting on the Christian doctrine that in human death “life is changed but not ended.” The Christian faith tells us that human persons are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and “ordered by divine providence for their own sake,” which means that they must be approached not merely as specimens but as individuals who have an origin and a destiny which transcend the cosmos. A heart in which the virtue of wonder has been cultivated is able to recognize and attend to the mystery of the individual human person as well as human nature in general. Faith and science, far from being opposed, are complementary and mutually supporting perfections of the human intellect which transform our consciousness and enable us to comprehend things as they really are.
Statistics and the New Evangelization
Mount St. Mary’s Seminary – Emmitsburg, Maryland
Layton Field (Ph.D., Sociology, Texas A&M)
John D. Love (Ph.D.,Theology, Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, Rome)
Today, we often find ourselves surrounded by valuable data. However, that data, often in the form of statistics, is all too often ignored or misused. Admittedly, data itself is hardly a substitute for compassionate pastoral ministry. Nonetheless, statistical information may certainly be employed as a powerful tool in that effort. As such, we are proposing a course in which we would aid seminarians in the development of skills in data resource literacy, evaluating statistical evidence and claims, as well as survey construction and critique. The fields of Sociology and Demography, in particular, have much to offer seminarians in this regard.
We envision this course as an applied statistics course with an emphasis on identifying good data resources, understanding statistical evidence so as to critique claims based on such evidence, and a basic ability to generate and process survey data. Organizations within the Church including the USCCB and CARA already carry out much of these processes on a larger scale. However, we believe that future pastors and associate pastors will greatly benefit from these basic skills by applying some simple techniques on a more local level. In short, current practice often includes the administration of limited surveys, aimed at obtaining basic demographic and financial information from those attending Sunday Mass at a given point in the year. These surveys are constructed and administered with rudimentary and/or faulty methodology. They can be constructed and administered more effectively. The analysis of the data gleaned from these instruments should also follow sound statistical methodology
In addition, further surveys would be pastorally useful, for example the list provided below. As a concrete practical example of this potential, we know of one priest who currently uses data about marital success as a central component of his pre-Cana marriage preparation program, with apparently positive results (too early to tell definitively). Some possibilities for the pastoral use of the surveys are indicated below. That way the topics covered in the course could attract broader interest ranging from economics (i.e. poverty and inequality) to marriage and family and other demographic issues like fertility and immigration.
Finally, the course is designed around three goals of improving statistical literacy, identifying sound statistical resources, and constructing or critiquing basic surveys. Moreover, we have developed course materials including assignments, group projects, and in-class exercises that will firmly connect these skills with pastoral experiences these seminarians are likely to face. Thus, we hope to use the valuable skills of applied statistics in the social sciences to further these seminarians ability to live out their pastoral ministry.
Fundamentals of Science at the Foundations of Faith
University of Saint Mary of the Lake/ Mundelein Seminary, Mundelein, Illinois
Rev. John Kartje, Ph.D. Astronomy and Astrophysics (University of Chicago), S.T.D. (Catholic University of America)
One of the most powerful applications of the faith/science dialogue is to explore how the epistemology of scientific research (and the insights it yields about the nature of reality) can help to focus and structure the fundamental questions that theology poses about the doctrines of faith. Insofar as theology is a study of the creator God who is responsible for everything in the universe, it follows that scientific research is necessarily a component of theological study—not simply a “companion” or “sister” discipline, but an integral part of the theological endeavor. A theologian who fails to integrate science into her thinking is as neglectful of her vocation as one who chooses to ignore Christian anthropology or soteriology.
This course is built upon the premise that Catholic priests need to acquire a basic literacy in the fundamental questions about physical reality which contemporary scientists are engaging, and the answers they are uncovering. Most seminarians are largely unaware of the marked difference that exists between the way they see the world and the way that physical scientists and biologists comprehend it. Among scientific “laymen,” even those who are otherwise well-educated often rely upon a picture of the physical universe and the human species that has been little updated since their high school or college introductory science classes.
This course will familiarize pre-theologians with several important foci of contemporary research, preparing them to understand and articulate the significance of such knowledge for their theological studies, spiritual formation, and pastoral ministry. In order to form a bridge between the languages of science and theology, we will begin by exploring the concept of a “Catholic worldview.” Within such a worldview, one perceives the universe to be the product of an intelligent creator, and thus to be intelligible itself, with all natural phenomena and persons bearing the imprint of the sacramental nature of reality, which is transformed by God’s grace. If such theological language accurately describes the real world, then the theologian must be able to draw parallels between the fundamental doctrines of the Catholic faith and the fundamental principles of nature that scientists presume to be true.
Two foundational pillars of modern science will be studied: fields and genetics. The concept of the physical “field” (both classical and quantum) plays a pivotal role for our understanding of all matter and forces in nature, while the study of genetics reveals the underlying structure for all observable life forms. Additionally, the relatively new discipline of Complexity Theory will be introduced as a means for investigating the inherently relational dynamics that seem to govern the large scale structure of both inanimate matter and living organisms.
Throughout the course, students will be challenged to draw out the theological implications of the scientific methodologies and discoveries they encounter. They will also be taught methods for applying scientific epistemology to enrich the experience of Catholic spirituality (e.g., celebrating the Seven Sacraments or practicing the discernments of spirits).
Liturgical Piety: Anthropological Foundations of Catholic Worship
Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology, Berkeley, California
Rev. Christopher J. Renz , O.P., M.A. Theology (Graduate Theological Union , Berkeley, CA),
Ph.D. Microbiology-Immunology (Northwestern University)
Perhaps one of the more familiar and oft-quoted phrases from the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum concilium) is the explicit and earnest desire of the Church “that the faithful be led to that fully conscious and active participation in the liturgical celebration.” In the fifty years since, much discussion has ensued as to the proper meaning and implementation of this heart-felt plea by the Council. This intermediate-level graduate elective course will explore the historical, philosophical and biological aspects of the meaning of “conscious and active participation” by the laity. The first part introduces students to key concepts discussed by theologians of the so-called liturgical movement, namely “active and intelligent participation” as guided by a “liturgical piety” cultivated in the lay faithful. A survey of primary sources reveals that the term has little to do with physical posture or dress at Mass and everything to do with the cultivation of an interior disposition that is attentive to mystery, especially to the Paschal Mystery. The second part introduces students to the philosophical anthropology of St. Thomas Aquinas and Jacques Maritain, so as to develop practical insights for the cultivation of a legitimate “liturgical piety.” Students will gain insights into natural ability of the human person to grasp and comprehend experiences of mystery, especially as manifest in natural beauty and the fine arts. In the third part, student will be introduced to basic principles from the field of “aesthetic science” (also known as neuroaesthetics) to understand how contemporary science explores these same topics. Because of its central role in Catholic liturgy, music and its impact on cognitive function and pro-social behavior will receive particular attention. Students will demonstrate their mastery of this material by creating and presenting a preliminary design concept for a catechetical program instructing either artists or parish-based groups on the meaning and development of a legitimate liturgical piety. Those enrolled in this course will also be required to participate in one or two co-curricular events that will further explore these ideas.
Science in the Light of Faith
Holy Apostles College and Seminary, Cromwell, Connecticut
Stacy Trasancos, Ph.D. Chemistry (Pennsylvania State University), M.A. Theology (Holy Apostles College and Seminary)
Pope Francis wrote in Lumen Fidei that “faith broadens the horizons of reason to shed greater light on the world which discloses itself to scientific investigation.” To see science in the light of faith, however, one must be able to see the science. Non-scientists often do not know where to start. This course offers a start and guidance for self-directed learning. The course provides students with basic facts of challenging scientific issues posed to theology and shows the student how to read current scientific literature in the light of faith. The focus is on Definition and History of Science, Cosmology and Quantum Mechanics, Evolution and Genetics, and Neuroscience and Psychology, each pair in 5-week segments. The course will teach 1) how scientific work is generally done per the scientific method in laboratories, 2) how scientific papers are organized once a set of experiments yields data that can be analyzed into proposed conclusions to share with the scientific community, 3) how to read and summarize a published scientific paper in a refereed journal, and 4) how to dig into the scientific record to gain historical context about the development of a specific area of research.
Human Genetics and Biotechnologies: Challenges for Science and Religion
Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
Rev. Andrea Vicini, S.J., M.D. (University of Bologna), Ph.D. Theological Ethics (Boston College)
In dialogue with scientists, philosophers, and theologians, the course examines current developments in developing scientific disciplines; studies the challenges and implications for medicine, society, and religion that concern these developments; and explores ways to address these challenges and implications that are scientifically relevant and religiously inspired in the context of the new evangelization. In its three parts, the course examines, first, human genetics by focusing on: genetic information, testing, screening, therapy, pharmacogenomics, and enhancement. Second, the course studies new biotechnologies that rely on genetics (i.e., synthetic biology and regenerative medicine). Third, the course discusses current biotechnological developments in neurosciences, oncofertility, nanotechnology, cyber-technologies, robotics, artificial intelligence, and astrobiology.