June 19, 2018

Hundreds of scientists from around the world gathered at Catholic University in June for a discussion about the intersection of science and faith.

The Society of Catholic Scientists’ 2018 Conference, which was co-sponsored by The Catholic University of America, brought together more than 100 professional and student scientists from around the world to discuss “The Human Mind and Physicalism.”

The three-day event, which took place June 8 through 10, included more than a dozen lectures and poster presentations from physicists, philosophers, environmental scientists, and engineers exploring topics like quantum mechanics, the mechanization of the mind, integral ecology, and “poetic naturalism versus non-physical reality.” Membership in the international society, founded in June 2016, grew to 500 in its first year.

Edward Feser, an associate professor of philosophy at Pasadena City College in California, gave the conference’s keynote address, “Arguments for the Immateriality of the Mind.” During his lecture, Feser examined the research of contemporary philosophers like James Ross, who theorized that because the human mind is capable of formal thought processes with either exact or unambiguous conceptual content, it cannot be only material.

Society president Stephen Barr, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Delaware, also presented during the conference, on the subject of “The Role of the Observer in Quantum Mechanics.”

Earlier, during his introductory remarks for the conference, Barr spoke about the common misconception that science and faith have nothing in common, with science addressing facts and faith addressing values.

“While such views are well-intended, they are also simplistic,” Barr said. “Reality cannot be neatly divided in that way and one reality that certainly cannot be divided up is the human person. Theology, philosophy, and science all have something to contribute to our understanding of human beings.”

This view was echoed by Arts and Sciences Dean Aaron Dominguez, who played an integral role in organizing the 2018 conference. To him, the idea of materialism — the philosophy that the world and everything in it is nothing more than a mass of atoms and molecules — is  disheartening.

“It’s an incomplete worldview and it leads to brokenness,” Dominguez said. “Here, we are a bunch of scientists who have been created by God to explore the natural world and ourselves and we are discussing how we can put these two ideas together.”

Dominguez said he has seen a hunger for discussions around faith and science among Catholic scientists, many of who feel uncomfortable or are discouraged from talking about religion in their workplaces.

“I think this is an example of what we should be doing here at Catholic University as a research university that is in accord with the magisterium and supporting the Church,” he said.

“These are some of the world’s smartest scientists and we can come together and discuss these things from a foundation of our own faith. To have this kind of fellowship and to get together with friends who have the same foundation, this shows the rest of the world that faith and reason are not only compatible, but that they are also both necessary for a complete understanding of the world.”

Aaron Dominguez, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, was interviewed on EWTN News Nightly about the conference.