Nerd and geek

Originally posted on There Will Be Bread:

BigBang copyA couple of weeks ago the Albany Times Union, (note: the paper hosts a mirror of this blog on their website)  ran a reprint of an editorial from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. To say that it ticked me off would be a significant understatement. Yes – that is an excerpt from it. Which part of not true would you like me to begin with? *exasperated sigh*

When my church nerd and my science geek get going, trust me they get going. Talk about science, I really get worked up when people think that the Roman Catholic Church is anti-science. Without said church there would not be science as we know it… but that’s another story for another day.

consolmagnoon-colbert-reportWhat started out as a letter to the editor quickly morphed into a column that should run in this coming Saturday’s Albany Times Union. Late on Wednesday…

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The Evolution of the Term “Big Bang


Reader Jonathan Lace sent an excellent article on the history of the term Big Bang used by the New York Times. The history is interesting not only for its own sake but also for the example that a revolutionary idea that was originally derided has become a foundational theory is less than 100 years. You can read the entire article here but set forth below is an excerpt:

In 1927, Georges Lemaître, a Roman Catholic priest and astronomer from Belgium, first proposed the theory that the universe was born in a giant primeval explosion. Four years later, on May 19, 1931, The New York Times mentioned his new idea under a Page 3 headline: “Le Maître Suggests One, Single, Great Atom, Embracing All Energy, Started the Universe.” And with that, the Big Bang theory entered the pages of The Times.

Over the years, The Times mentioned the theory often, and used a variety of terms to denote it — the explosive concept, the explosion hypothesis, the explosion theory, the evolutionary theory, the Lemaître theory, the Initial Explosion (dignified with capital letters). Occasionally, descriptions approached the poetic: On Dec. 11, 1932, an article about Lemaître’s visit to the United States referred to “that theoretical bursting start of the expanding universe 10,000,000,000 years ago.”

The term “big bang” was coined in 1947 by the British astronomer Fred Hoyle, one of the theory’s most determined detractors. Hoyle preferred the steady-state theory, which held that the expansion of the universe was caused not by an initial explosion at a single moment but by the eternal creation of new matter as the universe expands, with no end or beginning in time. Almost everyone assumed that he used “big bang” to mock the idea, although Hoyle himself denied it.

It was not until Dec. 31, 1956, that The Times used Hoyle’s term and then only derisively: “this ‘big bang’ concept,” the anonymous reporter called it in an article discussing discoveries that “further weakened the ‘big bang’ theory of the creation of the universe.”

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The Teilhard de Chardin Project Play in Toronto Starting November 20


The following is courtesy of reader Mary Beaty of Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto. Ms. Beaty posted it in the comment section to a post and am copying it here as it deserves its own mention. This looks like a great production and I wish I were traveling to Toronto in the next month.

Passe Muraille’s production of the De Chardin Project opens (previews) this Thursday, November 20 and runs until Dec 15.

“The De Chardin Project is about Jesuit priest, scientist and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955). De Chardin, suffering a cerebral hemorrhage finds himself beyond the phenomenal world in an encounter with an enigmatic guide who leads him on the ultimate adventure: the excavation of himself.

A paleontologist, geologist, teacher, philosopher, mystic, theologian, and Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a man of many talents and interests. Born in the Auvergne region of central France, Teilhard worked and studied in Egypt, England, and France, served as a stretcher-bearer in World War I, earned his doctorate from the Sorbonne, and became well-known for his views on the compatibility of evolution and theology. His writings on this issue challenged the historicity of Adam and Eve as well as the traditional understanding of Original Sin and were censored by the Roman Catholic Church, which exiled him to China in 1923. Condemned and exiled, Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin crossed continents searching for the missing link. His groundbreaking discoveries in human evolution transcended barriers between Faith and Science.

Winner of the DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD for OUTSTANDING NEW PLAY (Independent Division), this play by Adam Seybold features Stratford star Maev Beaty and award-winning actor Cyrus Lane. It is directed by Alan Dilworth, winner of the prestigious Christopher Plummer Award.

There are more details about the piece on the theatre website.


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Teilhard de Chardin Quote of the Week (November 17, 2014): The Power of Love


“Love isn’t something we invented. It’s observable, powerful, it has to mean something… Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space.”

This quote is not from Teilhard de Chardin, but it could have been. It was by Anne Hathaway as Dr. Amelia Brand in the movie Interstellar. I saw the movie this weekend and it was amazing. Time permitting, I hope to do a blogpost on its theological themes and the (implicit) influence of Teilhard de Chardin:



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Sunday Reflection 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 16, 2014): Taking Risks for God

parable-of-the-talents (1)

This weekend is the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings can be found here. The Gospel is about the parable of the talents. When I was younger, I was this parable strange on a couple of levels. First, I was confused why the third steward was admonished so severely. No, he did not increase his wealth but at the same time he did not squander it. He kept it safe and returned it in full to the master. This struck me as a stark contrast to the parable of the Prodigal Sons. (No doubt part of the confusion comes from grandparents who lived through the Great Depression and parents who remember World War II rationing and who distinctly remember deep poverty). Second, why was the third steward’s wealth given to the first. The first was already wealthy while the third was the poorest. Taking from the poor and giving to the wealthy could not be more contrary to the overall Gospel message. Needless to say, the childhood me was very confused on how this parable fits in the message of Christ.

Now that I am mid-career and a least a small ways down the path of my spiritual reconversion, I completely get this parable. It is about sharing your gifts and more importantly, taking calculated risks to share the Gospel message. For my job, I work with entrepreneurial organizations and individuals who want to create and commercialize technology. This week I attended a statewide entrepreneurial conference that discusses the trials and tribulations of entrepreneurs. It was a great event and the passion and energy of the entrepreneurs were compelling. It was enjoyable being around people who love what they do, who want to make a difference in the world and are not afraid of failing. Indeed, failure (as long as the idea is well thought out in advance) is often celebrated as a great way to learn so one will not make the same mistakes next time.

As I was driving home from the conference last night I was thinking, this is the message that Pope Francis is trying to get send. In Western culture, the message of Christ is being swallowed up in a culture of extreme individualism and relativism. Like his predecessors, Pope Francis is asking us to first fall in love with the living Christ (not our projection of who we want Him to be) and then be bold in sharing this message of joy, love and mercy. Do not be afraid to “make a mess”.

But in order to do that, we need to understand and relate to our “customers” both inside in the Church and outside the Church. We need to understand their needs so that we can communicate Christ’s message in a manner they can understand. The great missionaries understood the local needs and cultures so they can present the Gospel in a compelling way. Do not be afraid to take risks in doing so.

This week’s reflection comes from Episcopal Rev. Charles Hoffacker.  You can find the full reflection here but set forth below is an excerpt:

“What if the true, living, and only God has no interest in keeping score? What if God’s concern is simply that we all get up and take a turn at bat?

The Good News of Jesus gives new meaning to success and security. Success is found, not in accumulating more than we can ever use, but in our willingness to risk in response to God’s invitation. Security is found, not in keeping pace with our rising paranoia, but in the utterly reliable God who trusts us before we trust ourselves, who risks, and asks that we risk also.

To sum up, let me share with you words from the French scientist and theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. In his best-known book, The Divine Milieu, he writes:

“God obviously has no need of the products of your busy activity since he could give himself everything without you. The only thing that concerns him, the only thing that he desires intensely, is your faithful use of your freedom and the preference you accord him over the things around you. Try to grasp this: the things that are given to you on earth are given to you purely as an exercise, a bank sheet on which you make your own mind and heart. You are on a testing ground where God can judge whether you are capable of being translated to heaven and into his presence. You are on trial so that it matters very little what becomes of the fruits of the earth, or what they are worth. The whole question is whether you have learned how to obey and how to love.”

The Parable of the Talents is not really about money or abilities. It’s a story about trust, a story about risk. Life’s the same way. What’s important is not money or abilities in themselves, but our decision to use them in ways that show our willingness to risk and to trust. The central question about life is not “What did we accomplish?” but whether we learned to obey, whether we learned to love.”

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Feast of St. Albert the Great (November 15): Patron Saint of Scientists

William Ockham:

Tomorrow is the Feast of St. Albert the Great, one of the patron saints of scientists. I am reblogging this from last year.

Originally posted on Teilhard de Chardin:

St. Albert the Great, Patron Saint of Scientists

St. Albert the Great, Patron Saint of Scientists

Today is the Feast of St. Albert the Great who, along with St. Dominic, are the patron Saints of scientists.  In honor of this Feast Day, I am going to restate much of what I wrote on August on the Feast Day of St. Dominic. Specifically, it is a perfect opportunity to correct the false but unfortunately common perception that there is a conflict between science and religion.  Part of the reason for that is the poor state of knowledge of both science and theology in the modern world.  One of the purposes of this blog is to promote the mutually reinforcing methods of finding ultimate Truths through faith and science.

Religion in general and Christianity in particular has long been supportive of science, from the beginnings of the modern scientific method in the Middle Ages to the scientific advancements of the…

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The Role of Religion in a Scientific Age

Richard W. Kropf

Richard W. Kropf

I came across an excellent article by Richard Kropf, a retired priest, author, theologian and Teilhard de Chardin scholar.  Fr. Kropf is also a writer for the Huffington Post and had a thought-provoking article last week.  He talked about how theology and religion are important in providing ultimate meaning of what it means to be human. This message is especially important as Western culture becomes more materialistic and human beings are viewed as economic units rather than images of God.  You can read the entire article here, but set forth below is an excerpt:

This question about the meaning or purpose of it all is where religion, and its cousin, philosophy, still play a vital role. And while we should welcome scientists, like Wilson, who may venture into the realm of philosophy, they should remember they can enjoy the authority they have as scientists only if they stick to the questions of how things are or how they came to be. Otherwise, as Einstein warned, they are straying out of their field of competence. This is especially true when the price of academic excellence, as it has often been noted, is too often knowing more and more about less and less. (Wilson first achieved academic fame by his study of insect behavior, especially among ants!)

* * *

As a result, we should not at all be surprised that most people turn to religion in one form or another in hope that in the end that both the world and our life in it will have made sense. But as we all know, religion has had just as long and much bloodier history of disagreement than has philosophy, especially when it comes trying to define the nature of that ultimate reality that believers call “God”.

This is the reason why, as a theologian, I have been continually been drawn back to the views of not just another theologian, but instead to those of the psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl. It was Frankl who wrote that “Religion is the search for ultimate meaning” and that “Faith is trust in ultimate meaning” — this in the face of what was one of the greatest horrors of human insanity in modern times.

If Frankl was correct, and I believe he was, then it seems to me that while we should depend on science to tell us how we came to be, and maybe look to philosophy to ask who or even what we are, that in the end, it is only religion or faith that can give us a sense of trust or assurance that there is a final or ultimate meaning or purpose — even if theologians still disagree on how to best describe what this ultimate reality really is.

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