In the context of the Expanded Reason Conference “The human being in contemporary science” that took place last May, we interviewed the winners of the IV and V edition who attended the round tables and the awards ceremony.
“Renewing the university experience is about
proposing a higher meaning”
Paul Vitz is Senior Scholar, professor at Divine Mercy University’s Institute of Psychological Sciences and winner, along with Craig S. Titus and William J. Nordling, of the 4th Edition Expanded Reason Awards with the book Catholic Christian Meta-Model of the Person: Integration of Psychology and Mental Health Practice.
In his interview, Paul Vitz gives us a first fundamental idea: the University needs a unified vision that allows us to see the ultimate meaning of what is taught. This could be materialized in a mandatory course for graduation that focuses on a higher meaning and that provides the student’s life with a thought, criteria to integrate his personal experience with the particular learning of his discipline.
Vitz understands that any college student needs to be able to think about the future and, since knowledge today is too specialized, the Christian position and other positions serve to show big questions to people looking for big answers as they age.
Likewise, in order not to dehumanize the figure of the psychologist and the patient, it invites to understand the whole person. For this reason, the Metamodel, with which he won the Expanded Reason Award, is a framework that conceptualizes the person in this way: it not only integrates the person into a whole, but the parts and the whole are so interpenetrated that the authentic meaning of the person is better understood.
“We must open the narrow windows of research
with wisdom and virtue”
Maureen Condic is Assistant Professor of Neurobiology at the University of Utah School of Medicine, with an adjunct appointment in the Department of Pediatrics and winner, along with Samuel Condic, of the 4th Edition of the Expanded Reason Awards with the book Human Embryos. Human Beings. A Scientific and Philosophical Approach.
Maureen Condic explains the essence of the University starting with a critique of the current university experience: when science is not integrated into broader issues or areas and scientists adopt “narrow research windows” for the sole purpose of obtaining financial income, they become more and more specialized without the ability to talk to other researchers.
Maureen focuses on three basic aspects: faculty need to be encouraged to search for truth, not just information; students should have technical training, but with greater emphasis on responsibility, seeking to form “three-dimensional people”; communication between disciplines should be promoted to talk to everyone, not just academic staff.
Renewing the university experience involves experience and beauty. On the one hand, providing practical experiences outside the curriculum, engaging to ask a question about the world and answer it, being amazed by an experimental result to see if it is right or wrong. On the other hand, it is not about learning how to disassemble a machine and know how its parts go, but to discover the complexity and elegance of the real world, since through images one can see the relationship that exists between every structure and function.
“If we want to expand reason, one of the things we have to change is how we teach.”
Therese Lysaught is Professor of Moral Theology and Healthcare at the Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics and Healthcare Leadership at Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine and winner, along with Jeffrey Bishop and Andrew Michel, of the 5th edition of the Expanded Reason Awards with the book Biopolitics after neuroscience: morality and the economy of virtue.
Therese Lysaught points out that in order to encourage dialogue between science, philosophy and theology, it is necessary to broaden the view of the different areas of knowledge. She reflects on the danger of an educational model that starts from the teacher in front of dozens of passive students taking notes, as it can encourage a disjointed specialization. To change this, she proposes that we must change to a model of active students, with teaching that starts from their questions and challenges them to take the subject matter from the classroom to life, as well as proposing models of philosophers and scientific societies that talk to each other and teach a class together. For her, it is absolutely necessary to keep the interaction with the world alive, with real people who embody the hypothetical topics of the class.
“True values are not in the air but grounded in reality”
Michael Taylor is a founding member of the Laudato Si’ International Institute of Granada and former adjunct professor at the Edith Stein Institute of Philosophy (Archdiocese of Granada, Spain). Dean of Students and Teaching Fellow at the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, NH. Taylor holds degrees in Philosophy, Bioethics, Biology and Environmental Studies. Winner of the 5th edition of the Expanded Reason Awards with the book, The foundations of nature: metaphysics of gift for an integral ecological ethic.
Michael Taylor explains that the name “university” already speaks of a unity, however, it can get lost if everyone goes their own way, looking for the technique to make money or be first, leading to frustration and confusion. Understanding the university as it was originally conceived means that each discipline can see its subjects connected with those of the others, feeling that the central point of the wheel is reality (in philosophical terms, being). He considers it a gift that each partial contribution can be renewed every day in the University to illuminate the whole. And so, when mathematicians do not go one way and the literati go the other, the same thing is sought, which is to go deeper into reality, into the quantitative and the creative, to discover together how they illuminate each other.
Another aspect to which he attaches great importance is that the university professor seeks a community during his professional performance with whom he shares values and a certain understanding of reality, where he feels called to carry out a vocation and a mission that excites and excites him so that he maintains the desire to continue and does not become enslaved by other secondary things. This requires meditation and concern for what he has to give to others and to confirm values that are not “in the air”, but grounded in reality: “It is the way to be clear about who we are and what we seek, the good, the truth and beauty”.
“At the university, we have to teach where the human being fits into a larger cosmos”
Jennifer J. Wiseman is the former Director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) program Dialogue of Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER). She is also an astrophysicist, studying the formation of stars and planetary systems using radio, optical, and infrared telescopes. Dr. Wiseman studied physics for her bachelor’s degree at MIT, discovering comet Wiseman-Skiff in 1987. She has worked with several major observatories and is currently a senior astrophysicist at the Goddard Space Flight Center (NASA). She won, along with Katherine Hinman, John Slattery and Curtix Baxter, the 5th edition of the Expanded Reason Awards with the course, Science for Seminaries.
Jennifer Wiseman is aware that the University is the place where you learn many fundamental things about different fields of study, but also where you need to investigate how that fits with life. In this sense, particularities must fit into broader values such as service or curiosity and it is necessary to ask where human beings fit into a larger cosmos if they want to make this world a better place. The university, he argues, is the place where people come together to learn from each other and ask big questions.
The science-philosophy dialogue can be difficult in the face of exciting life-changing advances in technology, but he warns that these can be good or become problematic ethical challenges. Wiseman insists that it is necessary to take more time to think about how to use science and to develop long university conversations between different fields of knowledge such as philosophy, theology and ethics.
“Opening up reason is about engaging with fundamental questions, with one’s own humanity”
John P. Slattery was a Senior Program of the Associate American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) program Dialogue of Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER) and co-managed the Science for Seminaries project. Recently he has been named director of Duquesne University’s Grefenstette Center. He earned a B.S. in computer science from Georgetown University, a master’s degree in religious studies from Saint Paul School of Theology, and an interdisciplinary PhD in the history and philosophy of science and systematic theology from the University of Notre Dame. He is a winner, along with Jennifer Wiseman, Curtis Baxter and Katherine Hinman, of the 5th edition of the Expanded Reason Awards with the course, Science for Seminaries.
John Slattery specifies that the dialogue with new scientists involves engaging with who they are as people and asking real questions, those that make them human, imminent questions that do not depend on age or time, and accepting other points of view in an atmosphere of openness.
He considers that the experience of the community is important here, since teaching someone to be open-minded is difficult, it is teaching them little by little to be human, it is showing the door and asking together what reality is.
He explains that the scientist has taught the humanist a lot throughout history and many theologians have supported science, but when St. Augustine was writing, there was no modern physics. It is a matter of using current knowledge to participate in understanding with all its richness the way in which God created the world and to humanize science.
In his view, for someone to be more human means that he learns how to ask himself questions and inquire within himself, that he asks himself why he exists and sits down with that struggle, being honest. This is how humanity emerges and this is precisely what they do in great novels, because it is not only asking how a machine works, but why.
“Open dialogue generates cutting-edge
research and vital impact”
Curtis L. Baxter is a Senior Program Associate with AAAS DoSER, and co-manages the Science for Seminaries project. After finishing his BA in religious studies and a minor in biochemistry, Curtis earned a Master of Theological Studies degree from Wesley Theological Seminary. During his time at the seminary he focused on ethics and historical and public theology. He is a winner, along with Jennifer Wiseman, John Slattery and Katherine Hinman, of the 5th Edition of the Expanded Reason Awards with the course Science for Seminaries.
Curtis L. Baxter believes that people are always interested in cutting-edge science and especially how it affects their own lives. The important thing is to open the dialogue and create spaces to have conversations. The question that makes everything possible is the question of the meaning of reality but for this, you have to know the science and how concrete reality is shaped.
Encourage teachers to join communities where they discuss topics that interest them. Let them not focus too much on their research but share it with others so that others can understand that which you research. Sharing allows for discussion.