"Origins:" The Inaugural Conference of the Society of Catholic Scientists

Apr 2123, 2017
Millenium Knickerbocker Hotel
163 East Walton Place
Back to Events

Stephen M. BarrUniversity of Delaware

John BarrowCambridge University

Robert BerwickMIT

Erick ChastainUniversity of Tennessee

Chris ClemensUniversity of North Carolina

Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJVatican Observatory

Robert C. KoonsUniversity of Texas at Austin

Daniel KueblerFranciscan University of Steubenville

Marisa Cristina MarchUniversity of Pennsylvania

Kenneth R. MillerBrown University

Karin ÖbergHarvard University

Joachim Ostermann, OFMFranciscans of Canada

Robert ScherrerVanderbilt University


The first annual conference of the Society of Catholic Scientists cosponsored by the Lumen Christi Institute

The conference brought together researchers on all aspects of origins, from cosmos to consciousness.  Specific topics included current cosmological ideas on the beginning and fate of the universe, fine-tuning and multiverse ideas, habitable planets and astrobiology, the origin of life, the evolution of species, and the origin of intelligence and consciousness.


"The Origin and Evolution of Universes" - Prof. John D. Barrow (Univ. of  Cambridge)

"The Origin and Evolution of Habitable Worlds" - Prof. Karin I. Öberg (Harvard Univ.)

"Medieval Ideas of the Multiverse" - Prof. J. Christopher Clemens (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)

"The Origin of Evolution: The Interplay of Order and Contingency" - Prof. Daniel Kuebler (Franciscan University of Steubenville)

"Process Information: A Novel Communication Theory with Applications to Evolutionary Biology" - Dr. Erick Chastain (Rutgers University)

"Why Only Us: the origin of human language" -  Prof. Robert Berwick (MIT)

"Science in the Light of the Christian View of the Human Person" - Fr. Joachim Ostermann, O.F.M., Ph.D. (Franciscan Friars of Canada)

"The Catholic Scientist in the Secular World: What is the meaning of our vocation and how does it distinguish us?" - Dr. Marisa March (University of Pennsylvania)

St. Albert Award Lecture: "To Find God in All Things: Grandeur in an Evolutionary View of Life"  - Prof. Kenneth R. Miller (Brown University)

Banquet Address - Br. Guy Consolmagno (Director of the Vatican Observatory)

"Georges Lemaitre's Contributions to Cosmology" - Prof. Robert Scherrer (Vanderbilt University)

"Are Probabilities Essential to Inferring Design?" - Prof. Robert C. Koons (University of Texas at Austin)




Faith And Science Come Together At Conference For Society Of Catholic Scientists, Forbes

Catholic Scientists Converge in Chicago to Ask Big Questions, Catholic News Agency

Catholic Scientists Discuss Faith’s Role in Work, Our Sunday Visitor


Stephen M. Barr is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Delaware and Director of its Bartol Research Institute. He received his PhD from Princeton University and has held research positions at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Washington, and Brookhaven National Laboratory. Dr. Barr is a theoretical particle physicist whose research centers on “grand unified theories” and the cosmology of the early universe.  He has written over 150 research papers, as well as the article on “Grand Unification” for the Encyclopedia of Physics. He has lectured widely on the relation of science and religion and is the author of Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, A Student’s Guide to Natural Science, and Science and Religion: The Myth of Conflict. Dr. Barr is the founding and current President of the Society of Catholic Scientists.

John D. Barrow F.R.S. is Professor of Mathematical Sciences at Cambridge University and Director of the Millennium Mathematics Project, a program to improve the appreciation of mathematics. His research is in cosmology and astrophysics. He has received many awards, including the Templeton Prize, the Royal Society’s Faraday Prize, the Kelvin Medal, the Zeeman Medal, the Dirac Medal, and the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society. He has written 520 scientific papers, and 22 books. His play, Infinities, won the Premi Ubu for best play in the Italian theatre in 2002. He has given many lectures on the interfaces between cosmology and areas of philosophical and theological interest and also has the curious distinction of having delivered lectures on cosmology at the Venice Film Festival, 10 Downing Street, Windsor Castle and the Vatican Palace.

Robert C. Berwick is Professor of Computational Linguistics and Computer Science and Engineering, jointly with Brain and Cognitive Sciences, at MIT.  He and his research group investigate computation and cognition, including computational models of language acquisition, language processing, and language change, within the context of machine learning, modern grammatical theory, and mathematical models of dynamical systems. A second line of inquiry is probing the biological and evolutionary underpinnings of human language, including models of language change as well as its biologically-grounded evolutionary origins, in particular, in birdsong. Professor Berwick has been the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Award as well as the MIT Edgerton Faculty Achievement Award, MIT’s highest honor for junior faculty. He has also received an NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award. He helped found and run MIT’s Center for Biological and Computational Learning for more than 15 years.

Erick Chastain received his BSc in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University in 2006, his M.S. in Neurobiology and Behavior from University of Washington, Seattle, and his PhD in Computer Science from Rutgers University in 2017. He is currently working as a postdoc for Nina Fefferman at University of Tennessee, Knoxville. His current work focuses on the intersection between the theory of computer algorithms, evolution, and thomistic/scholastic philosophy of nature.

Chris Clemens is Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and Senior Associate Dean for Natural Sciences at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill). He received his PhD in astronomy from the University of Texas at Austin. Clemens studies white dwarf stars, and his recent projects include seismology of oscillating white dwarf stars and the study of exoplanetary rubble that forms around white dwarfs when asteroids, comets or planets are broken up by high gravity. He also builds spectrographs and their components for observatories around the world. He has authored over 100 research papers, holds four patents, and is PI of two major NSF grants. He is a faculty member of the Program in Medieval and Early Modern Studies, and designed and taught the course “Medieval Foundations of Modern Cosmology.” He has received the Hettleman Prize for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement and the Faculty Award for Excellence in Doctoral Mentoring. He has also co-founded two startup companies, MegaWatt Solar, Inc., and Syzygy Optics, LLC.

Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ, is Director of the Vatican Observatory and President of the Vatican Observatory Foundation. A native of Detroit, Michigan, he earned undergraduate and masters' degrees from MIT, and a PhD in Planetary Science from the University of Arizona. He was researcher at Harvard and MIT, served in the US Peace Corps (Kenya), and taught university physics, before entering the Jesuits in 1989. At the Vatican Observatory since 1993, his research explores connections between meteorites, asteroids, and the evolution of small solar system bodies, measuring meteorite physical properties in Castel Gandolfo and observing distant asteroids with the Vatican's telescope in Arizona. Along with more than 200 scientific publications, he is the author of six popular books including Turn Left at Orion (with Dan Davis), and Would You Baptize an Extraterrestial? (with Paul Mueller, SJ). Brother Guy Consolmagno is a member of the Society of Catholic Scientists.

Robert C. Koons is Professor in the Philosophy Department of the University of Texas at Austin. He is a metaphysician with interests in the philosophy of religion and science and has written on the cosmological argument, the relation between reason and faith, neo-Aristotelian accounts of modern science, and topics in logic and probability. Trained at Oxford and UCLA, he has authored fifty articles. His book Paradoxes of Belief and Strategic Rationality (Cambridge, 1992) received the Aarlt Prize from the Council of Graduate Schools in 1994. He is the author of Realism Regained (OUP, 2000) and the co-editor (with George Bealer) of The Waning of Materialism (OUP, 2010), and very recently co-authored The Atlas of Reality: A Comprehensive Guide to Metaphysics (with Tim Pickavance). He came into full communion with the Catholic Church 10 years ago from a Lutheran background. He is a Scholar Associate of the Society of Catholic Scientists.

Daniel Kuebler is Professor of Biology at Franciscan University of Steubenville and teaches courses in evolutionary biology, cell biology, and human physiology. His biological research involves two major projects, 1) understanding the relationship between metabolism and seizure disorders and 2) examining the effects that various biologics have on human mesenchymal stem cells. In addition to his lab research, he is the co-author of The Evolution Controversy: A Survey of Competing Theories (Baker Academic, 2007), a book which critically examines the controversies over evolution. He has also published a variety of popular articles on science, politics, culture and religion. He received a PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California, Berkeley and earned a M.A. in Cell and Molecular Biology as well as a B.A. in English from the Catholic University of America.

Marisa Cristina March is a cosmologist who specializes in research on dark energy. She received her doctorate from Imperial College London, was a Research Fellow at the University of Sussex, and is currently a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. She is a member of the ground-based Dark Energy Survey where she works on supernova cosmology and observes at CTIO’s Blanco Telescope.  Dr. March has worked on galaxy lensing for European Space Agency’s future Euclid space mission. She also holds a Bachelors degree in Catholic Theology from Heythrop College London.

Kenneth R. Miller is Professor of Biology at Brown University.  He is life sciences advisor to The News Hour on PBS and coauthor of the nation's leading high school biology textbook. In addition to his research work in cell biology, he has written extensively on evolution, and in 2005 he served as lead witness in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial on evolution and intelligent design.  He is the author of two popular books: Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution, and, Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul. His honors include the Public Understanding of Science Award from AAAS, the Stephen Jay Gould Prize from the Society for the Study of Evolution, the Gregor Mendel Medal from Villanova University, and the Laetare Medal from Notre Dame University.  In 2015 he received the Presidential Citation of the National Science Teachers Association.

Karin Öberg is the Thomas D. Cabot Associate Professor of Astronomy at Harvard. Her research focuses on how chemistry affects star and planet formation and the likelihood of forming habitable planets. Recent highlights include observations of snowlines and organic molecules in Solar Nebula analogs where exoplanets are currently assembling. Dr. Öberg obtained a B.Sc. in chemistry at Caltech in 2005, and a Ph.D. in astronomy at Leiden University in 2009. She received a Hubble Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2009, and joined the Harvard faculty in 2013. At Harvard, her research in astrochemistry has been recognized with a Sloan fellowship, a Packard fellowship and the Newton Lacy Pierce Award. Dr. Öberg is a Director and co-founder of the Society of Catholic Scientists.

Joachim Ostermann, OFM, before entering religious life, earned a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Munich in 1990 for his work on mitochondrial biogenesis. After postdoctoral work in Cell Biology at the Sloan Kettering Institute, he became an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at Vanderbilt University. In 2001, he moved to Canada to work in research management positions in the biotechnology industry. In 2008, he joined the Order of Friars Minor. He professed his solemn vows in 2013 and was ordained to the priesthood in 2014. Now his research interests are in philosophy of science and religion and the implication of the scientific worldview on the religious understanding of the human person.

Robert Scherrer is Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Vanderbilt University.  He received his PhD in physics from the University of Chicago. His research area is cosmology, encompassing work on dark energy, dark matter, big bang nucleosynthesis, and the large-scale structure of the universe.  He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society (2001), and among other awards is the recipient of the Klopsteg Memorial Award of the American Association of Physics Teachers (2011) and The Ohio State University Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching (1999). He is the author of Quantum Mechanics: An Accessible Introduction (Addison-Wesley, 2006). He has also published several popular science articles and science fiction short stories. Prof. Scherrer is a Director and co-founder of the Society of Catholic Scientists.