Complete Podcast Interview Transcript:
Professor, Physics & Astronomy
NOTE: This is a rough transcript and may contain some transcription errors. Please let us know if you see any, thank you!
Welcome to the Purpose Nation Podcast. Inspiring conversations with Christians in science, technology and industries of the future. For more information or to make a tax-deductible contribution, visit PurposeNation.org.
Brad Cooper: 00:19
This is Brad Cooper with Purpose Nation. And today we have an awesome show for you. I'm really looking forward to it. We're speaking with an accomplished physicist, author and Catholic who's on the front lines his faith and science discussions. Professor Stephen Barr. Professor Barr, welcome to the Purpose Nation podcast!
Stephen Barr: 00:32
Well, thank you for having me on!
Brad Cooper: 00:34
Very good to have you on. It's also great timing having you on the show today. So today is November 15th and I believe this would be for Catholics the feast of St. Albert the Great who as I understand is the Catholic patron saint of Sciences?
Stephen Barr: 00:48
He is indeed. That's right. And in fact he lived in the 13th century and he was actually a scientist and a bishop and a theologian and a philosopher. So that's why he's the patron saint of scientists he actually did some significant scientific work.
Brad Cooper: 01:03
That's interesting, so great. You know it's a blessing to have you on the show today as I understand he was also a mentor for St. Thomas Aquinas?
Stephen Barr: 01:09
Yes, yes. Yeah. He was his teacher. Right.
Brad Cooper: 01:12
He also seemed to be very broad. And so he did all kinds, as you mentioned. It's kind of rare today, right, to have that sort of first interview where they cover philosophy and theology and Sciences and he sort of seemed a jack of all trades.
Stephen Barr: 01:23
That's one of the problems in the modern world. There's so much known and it's very hard to know everything. I mean there were people in the distant past who knew just about everything that was known in their time. That can't be so anymore, unfortunately.
Brad Cooper: 01:35
Yeah, I mean they don't even really have physics sort of specialize in particle physics or grand unified theory which we're going to talk about in a minute would be sort of unheard of. And then there's also something, I'm just curious too, something called a gold mass today as well.
Stephen Barr: 01:48
Oh yeah. Yeah that's a brainchild of me and some friends. The thing is we think that religious scientists in general and Catholic scientists in particular need to get to know each other and have some fellowship with each other. It was really a sort of isolation many people who work in the sciences or science education don't know about the other religious people in their field so that we had the idea of having a Gold Mass. It's based on the tradition. Every year in many places there's a Red Mass for lawyers that dates to the Middle Ages. And there's something called a White Mass for medical personnel and a Blue Mass the law enforcement people. So we thought why not a gold mask for scientists. And that way at the local level once a year they could worship together and meet each other and have fellowship that was the idea.
Brad Cooper: 02:32
That's great! That's amazing. And you just started that when was that this year last year?
Stephen Barr: 02:35
Well we did a couple of years ago the first one. This one was held last year and that was at MIT. This year there are seven I hope by next year it will be dozens. And we hope it takes off to form a community that really religious scientists need to be more of a community with each other, for mutual support.
Brad Cooper: 02:53
I really like that, that's fantastic. And so is that mainly at churches within universities or is that open do you think to all parishes?
Stephen Barr: 02:59
Well it actually seems to be starting, I think it's more likely to be able to get off the ground quickly in places that are university towns or big cities where you have large numbers relatively large numbers of scientists and science educators. It would be harder to do that in a small town.
Brad Cooper: 03:15
Well hopefully you know once you and us here at Purpose Nation and we kind of make some ground roads and hopefully there should be lots of communities out there doesn't have to be university communities who are fans of science and people out there. So let's have lots of Gold Masses around the country you know and around the world. I really like that so thank you.
Stephen Barr: 03:31
Well that's our goal. I hope this catches on.
Brad Cooper: 03:34
Well we'll do our part to help and we'll put some information on that on our on our podcast page. So before we get into too much further I did want to give a quick background for Professor Barr a very impressive background has been in fields of science and physics for many many years. He is a Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Delaware and is also the Director of the Bartol Research Institute. He has a Ph.D. in physics from Princeton. Great school for physics there. He does research in theoretical particle physics and things if you don't understand what some of these things mean that's ok. Grand Unified theories theories of CP violation,, neutrino oscillations, particle cosmology, some really fantastic stuff with big words. So hopefully he can help us understand a few of those words here in the conversation. He's also a Fellow of the American Physical Society and he also an I love to dive more into this later he's also a Co-Founder of the Society of Catholic Scientists which we'd love to hear more about his work and he's been appeared on many different programs and news outlets like first things National Review, Wall Street Journal, Weekly Standard, EWTN lots of different news outlets. He's also written he's author and written some great books and one of them talks pretty deeply about the intersection of science and religion called Modern Physics and Ancient Faith. And so we'll also have a link to that on the podcast. It's a great book, definitely recommend you go out and check that out. So actually driving ran right into that professor are if you could tell us a little bit about that book and sort of some of the origins behind it. What you know what were some of the reason that you decided to write that book and what were you hoping that people would come away with?
Stephen Barr: 05:05
Well I have always been annoyed or impatient or disappointed at so many people think that there's a conflict between science and faith. For many years I dreamed or toyed with the idea of writing such a book. Now the thesis of my book is that there were many developments in science up until say the year nineteen hundred that many intelligent people many reasonable people who are not hostile to religion thought somehow undercut a traditional Jewish Christian view of the world a Biblical view of the world. But in the 20th century many things have suddenly gone the other way. There have been I call them book twists in the plot. Science seem to be moving in a certain direction and then all of a sudden in the 20th century it started pointing in the other direction. And so that's what my book is it's about five major developments especially in physics which is my field that I say are more consonant with more consistent with a Biblical view of the world than with an atheist or materialist view. And that's that's in rough outline of what the book is about. And I talk about the big bang first. Just take one example the Big Bang. Before the 20th century it was becoming increasingly the belief of scientists that the universe had always existed for infinite time. But then in the early 20th century with Einstein's theory of gravity and some of the developments the Big Bang theory was formulated and evidence began to accumulate if the universe did have a beginning and so that with a major twist in the plot. And of course Christians and Jews have always believed that the universe had a beginning as the first words of the Bible say in the beginning. And so that's one of five topics I talked about including quantum mechanics and the other things that I claim throw a monkey wrench into the atheists story of scientific history.
Brad Cooper: 06:43
Sort of the origin of a book that you mentioned I'm with you there. I sort of want to one day turn on a news program or something like that. And they're interviewing somebody like Lawrence Krauss or Richard Dawkins and they say Now why don't you believe in God? There's all these other scientists out here who believe in God, why don't you? But normal is usually what I see is you or some other Christian believer who is a scientist you know getting asked Well what do you think of the conflict between faith and science? (laughing) Make the assumption, it sounds like that's what you're saying too.
Stephen Barr: 07:10
Yeah. And I should say this you know many scientists are religious and many scientists are atheists. I don't know which is a large number but in my experience scientists are atheists we're atheists before they went into science that it wasn't that they that they lost their faith or they discovered something in science that convinced them there is no God. Many of them were atheist to begin with. And so it's not the science that made them atheists. That should be understood by people.
Brad Cooper: 07:40
Right. But your point is well taken and then also the history too. And that's something totally agree it seems like people have lost sense of the history and the contribution that very faithful Christians have made to sciences throughout the centuries.
Stephen Barr: 07:51
Right. That's one of the major contributing factors in people thinking that there's a conflict between science and religion. They have a completely erroneous conception of how the history of science. There was not historically a battle between the religious people and the scientific people for the first several hundred years of modern science from the time of Copernicus up to maybe the late 19th century. Most of the science great scientists were religious. The religious people and the scientific people were the same people. It wasn't they weren't warring camps. And if you look at the great figures of the scientific revolution Isaac Newton, Boyle and Descartes and so on, Galileo, they were all religious. They actually saw their work as showing the beauty of God's creation, as showing forth God's glory in his creation. They did not think that somehow was opposed to religion. That's a complete myth. And that myth only arose maybe 100 a little over a hundred years ago.
Brad Cooper: 08:44
Right. And you definitely go through it in detail and some of that in the book definitely recommend people check that out to get a more background on that. Tell us about some of your current physics work. So what are some of the key questions are things that you're working on in physics?
Stephen Barr: 08:55
Some of the questions I'm working on I've been working on for many years because the big unsolved problems in my field of physics have been around for many decades and remain unsolved. So one of the things that I've worked on ever since my Ph.D. which is 40 years ago is a big puzzle having to do with the masses of the fundamental particles. So among the fundamental particles there are 12 particles that you might think of as the kind of particles that compose matter. For example electrons and quarks and so on and those 12 particles all have different masses and the masses are all over the place. They span a very big range but it's clear that there are patterns there. There are mysterious patterns in these 12 masses and it's not just patterns in the masses but these particles mix with each other in a certain way described by certain angles and there are patterns and they're there also. And nobody understands where these patterns come from. So they're not random. It's like trying to decipher some language you know that with the Rosetta Stone. So it is trying to be trying to unlock some or crack a code and no one has been able to do that. And I've written a lot of papers on this subject and I think I've had some good ideas on it. I also work on Grand Unified Theories. They've been around for quite a while. There are three forces besides gravity. Gravity is kind of off by itself, it's a very different kind of force but the three non gravitational forces can be unified. This can be a unified mathematical theory that embraces all three. And those are called Grand Unified Theories and that is a very big subject of research for over 40 years and that's one of my areas of expertise. I spent a lot of time studying Grand Unified Theories.
Brad Cooper: 10:32
That's great. Those are very exciting and I would like to hear a little more specifics about that in a moment. I do want to take a step back though and maybe have you tell us a little bit about how you got into all of this craziness so what point in your life did you say I really want to understand the Grand Unified, coming up with the Grand Unified Theory that unites all of these very interesting puzzle that you mentioned?
Stephen Barr: 10:52
I guess it all goes back when I was a little kid. Well I've been both religious and scientifically oriented since I was very small. What really attracted me as a kid and I'm talking about a very small kid is mathematics. I loved it. I used to spend a lot of time reading books on what is called recreational math, puzzles, brain teasers and so on. And so I fell in love with mathematics and I always somehow knew I was going to go into science. I don't remember a time when I said, "I want to go into science." It was sort of always there. I used to read a lot of books as a kid on science in astronomy me, you know, geology stuff and so that was sort of my path from the beginning and I never thought about it really. And I was attracted to physics specifically because it's the most mathematical branch of science. And it also deals well this may offend people in other branches of science but it's sort of most fundamental branch of science. And within physics, some people think that particle physics is the most fundamental branch of physics. Again I might offend my colleagues in other practices. But that's what we think is that we're the most fundamental branch of physics and so I was attracted to that the Grand Unification attracted me. That was what I really hope were probably a third of my work has been in that area. What struck me, one of the first technical physics paper research papers I ever read when I was a graduate student was the first paper on Grand Unification written in 1974 and it was so beautiful. I mean the way all of the forces fit together mathematically and the way that different kinds of particles fit together mathematically was so elegant. It was like a like a some sort of a very beautiful gem. You know it's just something so beautiful about the mathematics of everything that had to be right. That's the feeling of most because it's actually about this and that drew me in and that became a big area for my work and I would say it also attracted me because I like to see how things fit together. I see the world as a place that should make sense and things that fit together in some coherent way and that's not just the different forces of nature put together. But our scientific view of the world and our religious view of the world should fit together. It sort of appeals to my belief that there's a deep harmony to everything and that everything should have some coherent relationship everything else and that probably is also why I thought a lot about science and religion questions over the years.
Brad Cooper: 13:08
And did you have any family that were either professors or in the sciences or in kind of this kind of sense similar kinds of fields or math or were you sort of the black sheep of the family in terms of your love of math and science?
Stephen Barr: 13:20
I guess I'm alone. My father was more in the humanities. He is a highly educated person. He was an instructor at English a Columbia University. And then he became interestingly enough an assistant dean in the engineering school there. He was very interested in science and math and knew a lot about science and math and he was very talented he could have gone into those fields but he didn't go into science. But he's the closest I'd say to a person having scientific orientation my family one of my 5 kids have gone into science so they're all very smart when it comes to those kinds of things. But no I seem to be the only one. None of my three brothers none of and none of my three brothers went into math at science either. So yeah I'm kind of the odd man out here right now.
Brad Cooper: 14:03
No worries. I am with you I had three brothers that I was the nerdy guy of the family to the geeky nerdy science and math guy. And how about as far as the Catholic faith so it sounds like you had a Catholic upbringing right?
Stephen Barr: 14:14
Yes I was baptized as an infant and I was raised in a Catholic family. My father actually was not religious. He regarded called himself a skeptic and he was not from a Christian background but though he eventually after many my mother's many prayers over 50 years. My father was baptized when he was 79 years old. Thanks be to God. But when I was growing up he was not religious but he took very serious. He wanted us to be raised Catholic. My mother was of course Catholic and very devout but my father took it very seriously that we should be raised Catholic. But it was interesting growing up because I knew that he wasn't religious. And so that I think was one of the things that made me think in a critical way ask questions about my faith. You know because I hear I saw who was to me of course a tremendous person I revered above all others who I knew didn't share my faith and so I made gave me a more ability I think to critically analyze these issues.
Brad Cooper: 15:12
You know a lot of Christians after they go into college seem to either fall away or face challenges in their faith and you experience any of that. No scientific people challenging you or did you run into any of that as well?
Stephen Barr: 15:23
Well I didn't. I've never lost my faith. I like to say that I had when I was a child they had the faith of a child suffer the little children to come unto me. Right. I mean so I receive faith as an unmerited gift. Totally gratuitous thing as a child and I've never had any doubts in the sense of thinking that the whole thing was wrong. In particular I would say the existence of God always seemed to me luminously self-evident. I've never even for an instant been able to put myself into an atheist frame of mind. It just seems to make my mind self evident practically and also the divinity of Christ always struck me as something that I couldn't doubt. Here's the thing a lot of Christian beliefs teachings and doctrines and so on I had a struggle with a created intellectual difficulties for me not because of science because of other things actually philosophical or historical issues but that they had difficulties with some of them. Never the moral teachings of the faith but with other things and so I thought a lot more readily. I only went to Catholic school up till I was 10. I'm self-taught in these areas and I did a lot of reading up history theology and so on scriptural commentaries. So but I thought a lot over the years about these issues because these questions would bother me they'd nagging me as a scientific type. I asked a lot of questions and I want answers very badly so I was I was very much interested in working through these issues and that's what eventually led me to write a book because after you know 20, 30 years of thinking very hard about many issues I felt I had something to say might interest people.
Brad Cooper: 16:50
And so very ingrained in your faith and can imagine as you said being an atheist also is the same true of physics. Could you ever have imagined yourself doing some other career or was there a second choice for you or some other hobby or some other you know want to be a musician or of a sports athlete or any other?
Stephen Barr: 17:07
Not really. I mean in fact it's kind of a funny thing when I was applying to graduate school, I applied to Princeton which is you know as you said that's right. Ended up going getting my degree. But Princeton asked applicants to put a physics graduate program to write a thousand word essay saying first why they wanted to go into physics and second why they wanted to go to Princeton. So I sent my father who was an educator. I said I don't know I've never written one of these. What do I say about why you want to go into physics? And he said what you should write down is "To dig, I am unable. To beg, I am ashamed." Those who read the King James Bible will recognized from one of Jesus's parables. So basically I can't do anything. I can't I can't dig ditches and I'm too proud to beg. So what am I going to do except physics. This is kind of I can't see myself doing anything else. I'm not cut out for anything.
Brad Cooper: 17:07
I love that.
Stephen Barr: 17:59
I didn't put that down. But then many years later I asked my former thesis adviser I told him that and I said he said you should put that down people on the committee would have found that very funny. I was afraid to.
Brad Cooper: 18:11
Oh, like I said yeah maybe there is some people out there listening who are thinking about what to write on their applications right now, that's a good one, " I have no second choice."
Stephen Barr: 18:18
I have no second choice (laughing).
Brad Cooper: 18:22
What's your second choice? None. Good. Well done. That's excellent. And so that brought you into the fields that you're in today so going back to that again so you talked about a unified theories. And you mentioned that this has been decades now that you know as you said 1974 is from the first sort of learned of it and got into it. And many scientists have been chasing this, if you will, the holy grail of physics. Do you see some light on the horizon here? In terms of this issue and do you think we're on the cusp of making some discoveries that will get us any closer to some Grand Unified Theory?
Stephen Barr: 18:51
Well there are a lot of grand unified theories to take that example. The question is which one if any of them is right. One way to find out, the one most promising way to find out there is to find something called proton decay. So the protons are unstable particles and people have been doing more and more sensitive experiments since the late 1970s. And sadly there has so far no one has seen any evidence the protons are unstable and so we don't have the proof or they're going to be big breakthroughs in my field. A lot depends on what they will see in the LHC the Large Hadron Collider which is just very big I guess you'd call it atom smasher that was built at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. It's been running for a number of years and it discovered the Higgs boson that that was expected. The big question is will the LHC discover anything radically new, anything that's really not part of our current theory and so far it hasn't. I think we'll have more years to run. I think the chances are it's pretty iffy. The chances are probably 1 and 2 or 1 and 3. That's what I would guess that they'll see some radically new and they if they do of course that will lead to a huge breakthrough. If they don't then it's hard to know when a big breakthrough will come. It may not be for a long time.
Brad Cooper: 20:08
Are there other experiments out there? Yeah. I mean I think I've heard of something called Muon collider and there's other different you know dark matter experiments other other things that might lead us in some some new and interesting directions?
Stephen Barr: 20:21
Yes there are several things that could also lead to a breakthrough. One is what I said earlier looking for protons to decay. And people are still doing that. And I still have hopes that some day before I'm dead they'll see protons. That is quite lively hope at the moment. Another one is as you said looking for dark matter much of the mass of the universe is in the form of particles whose nature we don't know but we know they're out there. So people are doing experiments to detect dark matter. Either detect dark matter particles that are out there impinging on the earth or to detect dark matter by producing them in accelerators. Another one is close to my heart is and this sounds very technical is looking for electric dipole moments of certain fundamental particles of the electron in particular and the neutron. It's a certain property that particles can have but have never been observed to. There's reason to believe that particles should have these dipole moments and if they're measured to exist that would have very very big consequences that would be a very big breakthrough. And so that's another place where you know something important is exciting to happen.
Brad Cooper: 21:24
Is that difficult to try to measure?
Stephen Barr: 21:28
It's very difficult and it's very interesting lingo the LHC that these big accelerators or colliders, they cost many billions of dollars and are miles in size. Experiments at measure electric dipole moments are done on table tops and they cost in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars. They're the best. But these experiments which are very very difficult to do, these experiments if they find something that would have big implications. So there are a variety of things that could lead to a big breakthrough. But I have to say this what you need is the LHC or some comparably big machine to find something even if you don't have things discovered at accelerators then the field is starved for data. Those are the workhorses of the field. And if they're not producing breakthroughs then you're in trouble.
Brad Cooper: 22:13
Changing gears a little bit. But if you could ask God you know let's say you had him in front of me for five minutes you could ask him one science question but would that question be?
Stephen Barr: 22:21
And I thought about this and I think if God were in the presence of God I would be thinking about other thing like with like my like like my wretched spiritual (laughing). And I'd be afraid that he would say..
Brad Cooper: 22:21
After you got through all of that you know.
Stephen Barr: 22:41
Yeah. And I was ready to say you know I was hungry and you did not feed me and I was thirsty and you did not give me that drink in a way you know send me away with the goats. (laughing)
Brad Cooper: 22:41
So after all that's forgiven and now what is your question?
Stephen Barr: 22:53
So if I so actually after the important stuff is taken care of I guess that I would probably ask him Is the universe infinitely large or is it a finite size? And I think that's a very philosophical if there is a lot of interesting implications if it's infinitely large and it's also something we're probably never going to know. And it's hard to imagine how we'll ever know the answer to that by empirical investigation. So I'd also like to know, well there's other things.
Brad Cooper: 22:53
Oh oh, that's more than one question now.
Stephen Barr: 23:22
I'd like to know if any of my my theories or any of my theories right? (laughing) I have various things that are named after me and theories and models. So I would be sorta curious.
Brad Cooper: 23:39
Well yeah, I saw that. So you're going need to tell us what the Barr Zee diagram and the Nelsen Bar Mechanism are. I saw those but I know those are.
Stephen Barr: 23:40
Well they actually both relate to this violation you mentioned earlier. It's a little esoteric but it actually touches on things that are easy to explain. CP there's a certain symmetry that relates particles and anti-particles. And if CP were a symmetry of the world then the world would treat particles and antiparticles exactly the same. But we know that the world isn't doesn't treat them the same because almost everything in the universe is made of matter. There's very little anti-matter around that so CP as we know is violated. This symmetry is slightly broken and that's very good for us because if there was an equal amount of matter and anti-matter in rooms you know it all have annihilated. And if it had all annihilated there'd be nothing left to make people out kind of minutes. Yeah. And so it actually that with the belief is that in the early universe soon after the Big Bang there were equal amounts of matter and antimatter because of the C.P. symmetry basically. But there's a slight imbalance there's a slight fly in the ointment. There's a slight asymmetry just like someone's face could be more or less symmetrical but if you look really closely it's not quite so the laws of nature seem to be CP symmetric but we also know this slightly symmetries there and those are what somehow tilted the universe in favor of matter. And so we ended up with entirely matter. CP is also related to the question of whether the laws of physics work the same backwards and forwards and that is to the laws of physics that operate on on the microscopic scale. Do they know the difference between past and future and well that's a very profound question. And another question is are the quantities that appear in the laws of physics or some of these quantities real numbers just mathematicians call them or complex numbers. That's also true it ties into some very deep issues in physics. And so something called the Nelson bar mechanism the failure to find a violation of CP that people expected to find is called a strong CP problem. And there are a couple of popular ideas or promising theories to solve this problem to explain why we haven't seen these violations of CP And one of them is called the Nelson-Barr Mechanism which is named after me and a physicist named Ann Nelson. The Bar-Zee diagram actually has to do with something I refer to before. It's a called a Feynman diagram. It's a process that goes on at subatomic distances basically. A quantum mechanical process that should lead particles like electrons and neutrons to have electric dipole moment. And by the way those are also a consequence of what's called dilation violation implies that these particles would have these electric dipole moments in the Barr-Zee diagram as a mechanism by which that happens. A lot of these tie together.
Brad Cooper: 26:17
And it's great. I love how physicists and physics always has different things named after folks. So I'm glad you have some things named after you. I love to have you know Cooper Podcast Format. You know I'd love to have something and I don't think I have anything named after me anytime soon but it is awesome to see those things you have. And that's a great question to ask God. And yet I hope you're on the right track with some of these things and hopefully we can make some discoveries that will you know God will say well done. Good and faithful servant you're on the right track.
Stephen Barr: 26:43
I have a feeling that God is going to keep a lot of the answers to these questions hidden from us. Maybe that's nice and maybe it's not so nice. It's not so nice for the physicist. We're having a hard time answering some of these questions.
Brad Cooper: 26:56
Yeah, he might keep some of them a little close to the vest. What about right quick. Real quick on this one and I want to get to another topic here but the multiverse. I mean what is your thought on that because that is also something that it seems that atheists have in the back their back pocket to say well you know maybe all of these different constants and things that line up very well indicating that there could be a creator. Well we're out of that because we have the multiverse. I mean do you think that that is valid is as valid scientific theory?
Stephen Barr: 27:20
Well I take it very seriously. I think it sounds a little crazy or wild to the non scientists and on particle physicists but actually the multiverse idea which comes in different versions has different ways of having a mole. I think it actually is very plausible from the point of view of fundamental physics and I would not be at all surprised if we live in a multiverse as you say if it can be used to explain certain things in the laws of physics. There are certain things in the laws of physics that seem to be just right to make the universe able to have life in it if you will. If you take the laws take certain constants of nature for example, as we used to think of these things and you change their values by a little bit you find that suddenly the universe would change in a dramatic way that would make it impossible for life to appear. So it looks like the constants of nature with kind of selected deliberately fine tuned even to make the universe habitable and that could be an argument for the existence of God. The multiverse is a way to at least partially away escape hatch that an atheist could use he could say well actually these constants of nature are not constants. They take different values all over in this large thing called the multiverse. And only in those regions where they have the right values for life does life appear in other words it's like nature tried all the possibilities and there were bound to be places in the universe where things lined up as you said just right for lying here. This might be true except one that we'll never know. I think the multiverse idea is pretty much inherently untestable and two it doesn't really get you out of the arguments for the existence of God because the way I like to say it is. We now realized that the laws of physics have to be very special if you're going to have a universe that has life in it and multiverse is are themselves very special types of universes. So either way if you tell me these constants of nature were fine tuned and adjusted. Will you tell me that the laws of physics are such as to give you a multiverse. Either way the laws have to have something very special about them. If you're going to have a universe with living things and I think that suggests that whoever cooked up this universe wanted there to be living things and I still think you have that argument made.
Brad Cooper: 29:24
OK. So shifting gears a little bit more and so science has a sort of a calling a vocation. There are different studies that you've probably heard statistics on on the prevalence of believing church going Catholics in the fields of science. Physics to me seems like a field where actually fairly good representation and I think it probably has had a lot to do with what you were discussing earlier it's sort of the deep questions about the fundamental laws of nature and of God. And so it seems like there's there's a decent number of physicists but they're in other fields like biology and other in chemistry in other and ends and technology fields as well. It does seem like there is a lower percentage of Christians in these fields at least for your field or other science fields, why do you think that is and then are there things that you know we could do to maybe turn that around and change all that?
Stephen Barr: 30:06
Well I'm not sure it's true. I mean there have been studies and I've seen studies that suggest that you have similar percentages of Christians in different fields of science. So I'm not sure if physics has more than chemistry or biology or some of the others. So I'm not sure it is actually really a difference in the field.
Brad Cooper: 30:23
Now for you personally I think I may even saw or seen you in an interview where you said well there's actually some of my colleagues who actually were Christians but you didn't know it for years because they weren't out front. Maybe that's maybe that's a way to rephrase it let's rephrase it that way. I mean we get maybe Christians who are in the field of science to maybe be more out there in front with their faith because otherwise you know we do have the media latching on to the Lawrence Krauss and the Richard Dawkins and there was a study done to show how many people recognize the name Francis Collins and who he was and obviously a prominent [geneticist, scientist and medical doctor] and 4 percent of the population knew who he even was ... while five times as many knew who Richard Dawkins was. So are you seeing that in your field as well? There may be people there, but that just sort of hiding?
Stephen Barr: 31:04
Well I think the thing about Hawking for example he gets a lot of press. He is one of the greats physicists alive today and one of the greatest. And that's part of it but there's also a certain mystique about him. There are certain scientists who just catch the popular imagination you know Einstein and Hawking is one of them and everybody's heard of certain people Heisenberg's everyone not just because of this show Breaking Bad. A lot of people have heard of Eisenberg Isaac Newton. So it's hard to break into that class where everybody knows your name. So there are people in my field for example there's a person in my field who is as great. I think most people would agree as great a physicist as Hawking certainly in that league and he's a practicing Catholic but I suspect that not just 4 percent maybe a tiny fraction of 1 percent of people with never heard of him. But he is a giant in the field. And I guess we have to do a little better job of being vocal. I think part of the problem is that believers, not just in science but in the academic world tend to play their cards close to their vest. They're not very vocal and open and there's some survival reasons but that's because in the academic world there are a certain small but not zero percentage of people who are prejudiced against religion. And so a lot of young people especially in the sciences they don't want their careers snuff. They don't want some person who's looking at their job application for example to find out that they're religious and then they don't get the job and their careers cut short. A lot of religious people are sort of quiet about their faith. As you said there's a person in my department who I was a colleague of work for 20 years before I found out that he also was a practicing Catholic. That just shows you how how people keep it to themselves. And as a result, scientists who are religious often feel isolated because they don't know anyone else or they only know a few people in the sciences who are in their own field who are really also religious when there might in fact be large numbers of. But they don't know that. And I think this is one of the things also not just with professors but with grad students and undergrads. When I was an undergrad or grad school I didn't know the name of any big scientist who was religious or any of my professors. And very few of my fellow students. So I felt this terrible sense of isolation and being out of step which it could be very psychologically trying for people. And that's one of the reasons we started this Society of Catholic Scientists as we're coming out of the closet so to speak. Other people are coming out of the closet. Right now we've only started 16 months ago and we have about 600 members and that's all but with almost no publicity just by word of mouth basically. It's because a lot of religious scientists are hungry to connect with other religious scientists and to show the world. You know there are lots of us our name is legion and that's part of it. I think that's part of the solution to the problem. The strength in unity and in numbers. And when they start making their existence known to each other first and then to the world I think that will help overcome the impression that's in the scientific world is a hotbed of atheism.
Brad Cooper: 34:02
Yeah that's great I'm glad you mentioned the Society of Catholic scientists. And you have a conference. I believe it's a yearly conference so was last here the first year for the conference?
Stephen Barr: 34:11
That was the first year and that was the first and we only had 300 members in about 100 of them showed up at the conference. By the next conference in June we should probably have seven or eight hundred members so we're looking for an even bigger present. People can go to our Web site. If you just Google Catholic Scientists you'll find the Society of Catholic Scientists and all the talks from the first conference you can view them the videos on the Web site and get a sense of who we are.
Brad Cooper: 34:37
Great, we'll have a link as well to the Society of Catholic scientists website so please do check them out. They have an e-mail that you can sign up for and get more information. Now can anyone attend the conference?
Stephen Barr: 34:46
It's for members. And we do have pretty strict membership requirements. I have to say if you are a scientist in the natural sciences, physics, chemistry, biology, geology, earth sciences or math or computer science we count those two and you have a Ph.D. in one of those fields and you are a believing and practicing Catholic then you almost certainly qualify.
Brad Cooper: 34:46
Great, it would definitely have a link to that sounds like a great organization. Just glad to see that it's growing and getting out there and as you said sort of helping some practicing Catholics and other Christians in other organizations as other scientific organizations for Christians as well other Christians.
Stephen Barr: 35:21
By the way, our keynote speaker at our first conference was a devout Protestant and very eminent cosmologists from Cambridge. And so we were ecumenical which not just Catholic speaking at our conference.
Brad Cooper: 35:31
Sounds good. We are as well and so obviously we have Catholics and other Christians were on our show and we do hope that science somehow will unite Christian faiths together in a common cause and you know in the way that we use science to glorify God and to fulfill our command to love and serve each other as well. So we're very ecumenical and that's good to see. And yeah I definitely look forward to seeing the presentations that come out of that next year as well.
Stephen Barr: 35:54
They're all fighting the good fight against atheism and materialism on those issues. I think the doctrinal differences between Christians and religious Jews also are on the same side on these issues believing in God believing that we have souls that were made in the image of God in these very fundamental beliefs. One thing that brings us together.
Brad Cooper: 36:14
I agree. Amen! So we have Thanksgiving coming up. Looking back you know is there something that you can point to maybe back in your career that you're thankful to GOD for?
Stephen Barr: 36:21
I have to say fundamentally the thing I'm most grateful for is that I exist at all. I mean God is the source of being. He is the Creator of All Things. Everything we have, our very existence, our minds, our bodies, everything, our senses, our faculties of reason, our ability to see and smell and hear everything and our intelligence and skills everything is a gift from God. And so I'm grateful for everything. I really can't pick one thing out and say I'm grateful just for that because I'm grateful for the whole thing. I wouldn't exist at all unless it were God's creative power. And of course for the gift of faith I suppose if there's one other than the fact that I exist at all it's for the gift of faith.
Brad Cooper: 36:57
Amen! in man and more and more thankful that you are out there on the frontlines exhibiting your calling to use science to explore God and His Creation and His nature so we're thankful for that Professor Barr. We are thankful for having you on the show today so any gold masses that you're going to be able to run out to today?
Stephen Barr: 37:13
No, I dropped the ball on that. I should have organized one in my area Philadelphia but I didn't do it in time I think. But I'm hoping that next year and the years after it's going to keep growing and helping the scientists and science educators in high school science teachers get to know each other at the local level.
Brad Cooper: 37:29
Yeah well hopefully next year will be the next time we're talking you'll be able to have one in your area and we'll have one in ours or two and we can go check it out. Well thank you so much again Professor Barr has just been a pleasure to speak with you we're so thankful that you're out there you know leading the way in both physics and just so many of the things that you're involved with there as well as being on the forefront of bringing Catholics together to support each other. So thank you so much for joining the right there.
Stephen Barr: 37:52
And thank you for having this show and for all the things that you're doing in this area.
Brad Cooper: 37:58
Appreciate it. Professor Barr, thank you so much for joining us today. God bless and hope to talk to you soon.
Stephen Barr: 37:58
OK. Very good. Thank you!
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