The group provides fellowship, a forum for discussion of matters of faith and science
WASHINGTON, DC – Battered by both the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and high gas prices making travel expensive, this year’s Society of Catholic Scientists conference, held from June 3-5 at Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois was an intimate gathering with about 100 attendees.
That didn’t faze Stephen Barr, professor emeritus of physics at the University of Delaware, who helped found the group in 2016 and serves as its president.
The conference aims at fraternity between Catholic scientists, mostly academics. And he steers clear of American culture wars or anything even slightly political.
“If you’re a faithful believing Catholic, that’s all we care about,” Barr told Catholic News Service. “We don’t want to be involved in secular politics or church politics.”
With the theme of environmental stewardship tied to the papal encyclical ‘Laudato Si’, speakers discussed Catholic environmentalism dating back to the fourth century, and topics such as soil conservation, forest preservation tropical rainforests, the importance of bees and genetic advances used to maintain wild animal populations.
“I found that to be a great support actually,” said Sister Damien Savino, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, who teaches at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids Michigan and has an engineering background. She gave a keynote address on the theology behind “Laudato Si'”.
“The whole tenor of the group is more about the convergence of science and the Catholic faith,” she said. “There’s a tremendous harmony there.”
In her keynote, she hoped to get the conference “to think about the extinction of creation that is happening physically…but also the metaphysical cause over the past two centuries.”
“These are fun meetings, they really are,” she added. “There is this feeling of mentoring young scientists (to) help them feel safe. Scientists are looking for a way to integrate their faith and science without having a degree in theology.
With just six members when it was founded, Barr noted that the Society of Catholic Scientists now has more than 1,250 members in 55 countries.
But “that’s not how I thought I would spend my retirement,” he says. More accustomed to appearing in laboratories and lecture halls, leading the group involves administrative tasks “which I’m not particularly good at”.
The society’s growth plans include the establishment of university chapters and a larger annual conference.
The broader context of the organization, he said, “is the widely held perception that religious faith and science are incompatible and that very few scientists are religious. This misperception has largely contributed to the loss of confidence among young people. It has also led many religious scientists and science students to be silent about their faith, which reinforces the perception of some sort of vicious cycle.
A 2016 survey by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Apostolate Research indicated that young Catholics found the faith incompatible with the science they were learning in high school and college.
Other goals, Barr said, “are to be a forum for serious discussion of matters of science of faith from the perspective of people who have a high level of scientific knowledge as well as a commitment to their Catholic faith. and to help educate the general public about the relationship of science and faith.The Catholic faith tells us to love God and our neighbour.