Today in various spots around the country, folks are #MarchingForScience or something.


I’m not sure – they’re thinking that the Trump Era threatens Science in some way?

Renders people less scientific?

Threatens funding?

Don’t know.

But here’s something to consider #resisting – the temptation to idolize “science” and buy into the current secular, popular narrative about “science.”

First of all, scientific theories develop and are often shown, in time, to be spectacularly wrong.

Here’s a list of “superseded scientific theories.”
And here’s a list composed by scientists themselves, an answer to a question posed by a scientist. 

The lists range from very specific phenomenon – the persistent notion, for example, that a vacuum couldn’t exist  to bigger ideas like the notion of the Four Humours underlying all human physiology to the static universe to the biggest idea of all, really – the conviction that all reality was predictable and fated, upended by quantum mechanics.

What will be next?

Who knows?

And the sanctity of medical experimentation and government-supported scientific work?

Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment? The Guatemala STD study (US government-funded scientists deliberately infecting Guatemalans with STDs) Lobotomies? Eugenics? Atomic weapons? The ways in which scientists and medical professionals have historically cooperated with authoritarian governments?

No. There’s nothing sacrosanct or infallible about “science.”  It’s like any other field of knowledge: it changes and develops, it’s prone to error, it can be misused and exploited and used to oppress, its practitioners can become intolerant, narrow-minded and blinkered, and just as in every other area of human endeavor, in order to grow in truth and shed error, it must be open to criticism and correction.  

And it can be politicized, from any direction. “Science” – even, and perhaps especially government supported “science” – can be used to harm, objectify and exploit vulnerable human beings (and other forms of life).  Scientists can skew their work for all the reasons that other human beings in every field skew their work and bend their efforts: power, money, ego and pride.

I am very pro-science. I am just resistant to idealizing any field of endeavor or study and also very much for never, ever forgetting Original Sin. Seek Truth with Passion and Skepticism might be my motto.  Events like this tend to confirm participants’ conviction of their own righteousness and lead to more closed ranks than open minds.

So there are serious issues in many areas of scientific research these days, and they’re not all Trump’s fault, believe it or not. Concerns about method abound, concerns about politicization, about “ambulance chasing” of sexy theories and purported results. Judith Curry resigned from her position at Georgia Tech because of the politicization of her field, and she runs an interesting blog and here she quotes from an article in Nature by physicist Sabine Hossenfelder on this very issue:

But we have a crisis of an entirely different sort: we produce a huge amount of new theories and yet none of them is ever empirically confirmed. Let’s call it the overproduction crisis. We use the approved methods of our field, see they don’t work, but don’t draw consequences. Like a fly hitting the window pane, we repeat ourselves over and over again, expecting different results. But my issue isn’t the snail’s pace of progress per se, it’s that the current practices in theory development signal a failure of the scientific method.

In particle physics, jumping on a hot topic in the hope of collecting citations is so common it even has a name: ‘ambulance chasing’, referring to the practice of lawyers following ambulances in the hope of finding new clients. What worries me is that this flood of papers is a stunning demonstration for how useless the current quality criteria are. 

Current observational data can’t distinguish the different models. And even if new data comes in, there will still be infinitely many models left to write papers about. The likelihood that any of these models describes reality is vanishingly small — it’s roulette on an infinitely large table. But according to current quality criteria, that’s first-rate science.  The accepted practice is instead to adjust the model so that it continues to agree with the lack of empirical support.

But in the absence of good quality measures, the ideas that catch on are the most fruitful ones, even though there is no evidence that a theory’s fruitfulness correlates with its correctness.

The underlying problem is that science, like any other collective human activity, is subject to social dynamics. Unlike most other collective human activities, however, scientists should acknowledge threats to their objective judgment and find ways to avoid them. But this doesn’t happen.

If scientists are selectively exposed to information from likeminded peers, if they are punished for not attracting enough attention, if they face hurdles to leave a research area when its promise declines, they can’t be counted on to be objective. That’s the situation we’re in today — and we have accepted it.

To me, our inability — or maybe even unwillingness — to limit the influence of social and cognitive biases in scientific communities is a serious systemic failure.

WHICH brings me to…Roger Bacon. 

My favorite BBC radio program, In Our Time, ran a fantastic discussion this week about the 13th century polymath Roger Bacon. It was a model of such discussions – fair, thorough, open to differences.

Of course, many, if not most serious intellectuals of the medieval period were polymaths since knowledge was not quite as compartmentalized as it is today, and the bottom line was a foundational vision of life as a unified whole that could and should be studied in that way, so that “scientific” thinking was an extension of one’s philosophy which was, in turn, probably traditionally Christian, even as, particularly in this period, it might be flirting with that newfangled Aristotelianism.

So, as the program made clear, Roger Bacon was quite interested in what was called natural philosophy (and we would call “science”), but it was a reflection of his religious beliefs, made clear in a particularly interesting way by the scholar Amanda Power  , who is the author of a book called Roger Bacon and the Defense of Christendom.  From the book description:

The English Franciscan, Roger Bacon (ca.1214–92), holds a controversial but 51muebnc62bl-_sy344_bo1204203200_important position in the development of modern science. He has been portrayed as an isolated figure, at odds with his influential order and ultimately condemned by it. This major study, the first in English for nearly sixty years, offers a provocative new interpretation of both Bacon and his environment. Amanda Power argues that his famous writings for the papal curia were the product of his critical engagement with the objectives of the Franciscan order and the reform agenda of the thirteenth-century church. Fearing that the apocalypse was at hand and Christians unprepared, Bacon explored radical methods for defending, renewing and promulgating the faith within Christendom and beyond. Read in this light, his work indicates the breadth of imagination possible in a time of expanding geographical and intellectual horizons.

So very interesting.

Which brings me to my main point this morning. At the end of the discussion, the scholars on In Our Time looked at how Bacon has been viewed and positioned in the history of science. As the book description indicates, he has often been held up as a Brave Proto-Modern in the face of Medieval Darkness and Superstition. Not so, they said. First, to describe him in this way assumes a narrative about the history of science that is just that – a narrative, and as such, ideological. We really learn nothing about anyone or anything when we take them out of their own cultural and historical context and refashion them for our own purposes.

Roger Bacon was part of the history of scientific inquiry, a history that is complex, deep and not a simple trajectory from faith-bound darkness to secular, metaphysics-free enlightenment. He was passionate about understanding the natural world, because he was passionate about pursuing truth, which he believed was an attribute of the Divine. And, as Power intriguingly argues, he saw his scientific inquiries and efforts as part of a pastoral program and an expression of his Franciscan vocation.

As one of the presenters mentioned, one can understand the temptation of later generations of scientists and historians to appropriate him for anti-Catholic, pro-English-nationalist, secular-science narrative purposes, but it is certainly an affront to the truth of history to do so.

One of the presenters was an expert on a figure who was very influential on Bacon – Bishop of Lincoln Robert Grosseteste:

An Oxford-educated English clergyman who in 1235 became the bishop of Lincoln, Grosseteste believed deeply that faith could be reconciled with reason. So he sought rational explanations for the natural world. He advocated the use of observation and experiment. He even recognized the value of theory. In considering a possible explanation for a fact, he said, you could perform observations or check your explanation against a theory that had previously been confirmed by observations. It was advanced scientific philosophy for the early 13th century.

Grosseteste’s own theorizing encompassed most of the natural world. Besides his prodigious writings on theology, he wrote about sound and heat, comets and rainbows. He was an authority on optics and extended his interest in light to the study of cosmology. He proposed a scheme to explain the entire Aristotelian cosmos — the series of concentric spheres on which the planets and stars supposedly rotated around the Earth. Those spheres embodied perfection and harmony; their rotations generating the “music of the spheres” that nobody heard. Grosseteste attempted to describe how those spheres had been created.

Nowadays, that task would require physicists to compose equations full of Greek letters corresponding to various physical quantities obeying laws of motion and interaction. Grosseteste appreciated the need to apply math to nature, but today’s elaborate mathematics was not available to him. Nonetheless he described his idea precisely enough for modern physicists to express it mathematically. And in fact, an international, interdisciplinary team of medievalists, linguists and scientists has actually translated Grosseteste’s words into modern mathematics. It turns out that his theory really is amenable to mathematical rigor.

Life is complex. History is complex. Lazy, ideology-bound narratives, convenient dichotomies, labeling The Enemy and politicization are simple. And also boring.

You can listen to the program here, and perhaps in honor of Marching for Science and Earth Day and such, it might be a particularly appropriate way to spend an hour or so…


St. Anselm


Today is the feast of St. Anselm, medieval philosopher and theologian.

I will always, always remember St. Anselm because he was the first Christian philosopher/theologian I encountered in a serious way.

As a Catholic high school student in the 70’s, of course we met no such personages – only the likes of Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Man of La Mancha.

(That was a project senior year – do a visual project matching up the lyrics of “Impossible Dream” with the Beatitudes. JLS had been Sophomore year. It was a text in the class. It was  also the year my religion teacher remarked on my report card, “Amy is a good student, but she spends class time sitting in the back of the room reading novels.” )

Anyway, upon entering the University of Tennessee, I claimed a major of Honors History and a minor of religious studies. (Instapundit’s dad, Dr. Charles Reynolds, was one of my professors). One of the classes was in medieval church history, and yup, we plunged into Anselm, and I was introduced to thinking about the one of whom no greater can be thought, although more of the focus was on his atonement theory.

So Anselm and his tight logic always makes me sit up and take notice. From B16’s General Audience talk on him:

A monk with an intense spiritual life, an excellent teacher of the young, a theologian with an extraordinary capacity for speculation, a wise man of governance and an intransigent defender of libertas Ecclesiae, of the Church’s freedom, Anselm is one of the eminent figures of the Middle Ages who was able to harmonize all these qualities, thanks to the profound mystical experience that always guided his thought and his action.

St. Anselm Of Canterbury Painting; St. Anselm Of Canterbury Art Print for sale

St Anselm was born in 1033 (or at the beginning of 1034) in Aosta, the first child of a noble family. His father was a coarse man dedicated to the pleasures of life who squandered his possessions. On the other hand, Anselm’s mother was a profoundly religious woman of high moral standing (cf. Eadmer, Vita Sancti Anselmi, PL 159, col. 49). It was she, his mother, who saw to the first human and religious formation of her son whom she subsequently entrusted to the Benedictines at a priory in Aosta. Anselm, who since childhood as his biographer recounts imagined that the good Lord dwelled among the towering, snow-capped peaks of the Alps, dreamed one night that he had been invited to this splendid kingdom by God himself, who had a long and affable conversation with him and then gave him to eat “a very white bread roll” (ibid., col. 51). This dream left him with the conviction that he was called to carry out a lofty mission. At the age of 15, he asked to be admitted to the Benedictine Order but his father brought the full force of his authority to bear against him and did not even give way when his son, seriously ill and feeling close to death, begged for the religious habit as a supreme comfort. After his recovery and the premature death of his mother, Anselm went through a period of moral dissipation. He neglected his studies and, consumed by earthly passions, grew deaf to God’s call. He left home and began to wander through France in search of new experiences. Three years later, having arrived in Normandy, he went to the Benedictine Abbey of Bec, attracted by the fame of Lanfranc of Pavia, the Prior. For him this was a providential meeting, crucial to the rest of his life. Under Lanfranc’s guidance Anselm energetically resumed his studies and it was not long before he became not only the favourite pupil but also the teacher’s confidante. His monastic vocation was rekindled and, after an attentive evaluation, at the age of 27 he entered the monastic order and was ordained a priest. Ascesis and study unfolded new horizons before him, enabling him to rediscover at a far higher level the same familiarity with God which he had had as a child.

When Lanfranc became Abbot of Caen in 1063, Anselm, after barely three years of monastic life, was named Prior of the Monastery of Bec and teacher of the cloister school, showing his gifts as a refined educator. He was not keen on authoritarian methods; he compared young people to small plants that develop better if they are not enclosed in greenhouses and granted them a “healthy” freedom. He was very demanding with himself and with others in monastic observance, but rather than imposing his discipline he strove to have it followed by persuasion. Upon the death of Abbot Herluin, the founder of the Abbey of Bec, Anselm was unanimously elected to succeed him; it was February 1079. In the meantime numerous monks had been summoned to Canterbury to bring to their brethren on the other side of the Channel the renewal that was being brought about on the continent. Their work was so well received that Lanfranc of Pavia, Abbot of Caen, became the new Archbishop of Canterbury. He asked Anselm to spend a certain period with him in order to instruct the monks and to help him in the difficult plight in which his ecclesiastical community had been left after the Norman conquest. Anselm’s stay turned out to be very fruitful; he won such popularity and esteem that when Lanfranc died he was chosen to succeed him in the archiepiscopal See of Canterbury. He received his solemn episcopal consecration in December 1093.

Anselm immediately became involved in a strenuous struggle for the Church’s freedom, valiantly supporting the independence of the spiritual power from the temporal. Anselm defended the Church from undue interference by political authorities, especially King William Rufus and Henry I, finding encouragement and support in the Roman Pontiff to whom he always showed courageous and cordial adherence. In 1103, this fidelity even cost him the bitterness of exile from his See of Canterbury. Moreover, it was only in 1106, when King Henry I renounced his right to the conferral of ecclesiastical offices, as well as to the collection of taxes and the confiscation of Church properties, that Anselm could return to England, where he was festively welcomed by the clergy and the people. Thus the long battle he had fought with the weapons of perseverance, pride and goodness ended happily. This holy Archbishop, who roused such deep admiration around him wherever he went, dedicated the last years of his life to the moral formation of the clergy and to intellectual research into theological topics. He died on 21 April 1109, accompanied by the words of the Gospel proclaimed in Holy Mass on that day: “You are those who have continued with me in my trials; as my Father appointed a kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom…” (Lk 22: 28-30). So it was that the dream of the mysterious banquet he had had as a small boy, at the very beginning of his spiritual journey, found fulfilment. Jesus, who had invited him to sit at his table, welcomed Anselm upon his death into the eternal Kingdom of the Father.

“I pray, O God, to know you, to love you, that I may rejoice in you. And if I cannot attain to full joy in this life may I at least advance from day to day, until that joy shall come to the full” (Proslogion, chapter 14). This prayer enables us to understand the mystical soul of this great Saint of the Middle Ages, the founder of scholastic theology, to whom Christian tradition has given the title: “Magnificent Doctor”, because he fostered an intense desire to deepen his knowledge of the divine Mysteries but in the full awareness that the quest for God is never ending, at least on this earth. The clarity and logical rigour of his thought always aimed at “raising the mind to contemplation of God” (ibid., Proemium). He states clearly that whoever intends to study theology cannot rely on his intelligence alone but must cultivate at the same time a profound experience of faith. The theologian’s activity, according to St Anselm, thus develops in three stages: faith, a gift God freely offers, to be received with humility; experience,which consists in incarnating God’s word in one’s own daily life; and therefore true knowledge, which is never the fruit of ascetic reasoning but rather of contemplative intuition. In this regard his famous words remain more useful than ever, even today, for healthy theological research and for anyone who wishes to deepen his knowledge of the truths of faith: “I do not endeavour, O Lord, to penetrate your sublimity, for in no wise do I compare my understanding with that; but I long to understand in some degree your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, that unless I believed, I should not understand” (ibid., 1).

Dear brothers and sisters, may the love of the truth and the constant thirst for God that marked St Anselm’s entire existence be an incentive to every Christian to seek tirelessly an ever more intimate union with Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life. In addition, may the zeal full of courage that distinguished his pastoral action and occasionally brought him misunderstanding, sorrow and even exile be an encouragement for Pastors, for consecrated people and for all the faithful to love Christ’s Church, to pray, to work and to suffer for her, without ever abandoning or betraying her. May the Virgin Mother of God, for whom St Anselm had a tender, filial devotion, obtain this grace for us. “Mary, it is you whom my heart yearns to love”, St Anselm wrote, “it is you whom my tongue ardently desires to praise”.

And from a letter to the Church in Aosta, on the occasion of the 900th anniversary of his birth there:

To Anselm “a boy who grew up in the mountains” as his biographer Eadmer describes him (Eadmer, Vita Sancti Anselmi, I, 2) it seemed impossible to imagine anything greater than God: gazing since childhood at those inaccessible peaks may have had something to do with this intuition. Indeed, already as a child he considered that to meet God it was necessary “to climb to the top of the mountain” (ibid.). Indeed, he was to understand better and better that God is found at an inaccessible height, situated beyond the goals that man can reach since God is beyond the thinkable. For this reason the journey in quest of God, at least on this earth, will be never-ending but will always consist of thought and yearning, a rigorous process of the mind and the imploring plea of the heart.


7 Quick Takes

— 1 —

This year, we celebrated the Triduum at the Casa Maria Convent and Retreat House, the boys serving Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday – we chose Sunday rather than the Vigil this year, and it was good, I think, because they were the only servers. Father John Paul, MFVA celebrated all the liturgies, and it was as it always is: simplicity, depth, reverence. Music that was offered as praise, and since this was so, was beautiful but not ostentatious or self-referential.

As I was waiting for the boys after one of the liturgies, a young man was speaking to his friend nearby. He was explaining what he liked about the liturgies at the convent. “It’s not too much,” he was saying, “It just is.

It just is.


(For some audio clips of some of the liturgies, go to my Instagram profile/page.)

— 2 —

Next year, though, I am thinking that I want to take off for the Triduum. I see all these newsfeed and Instagram photos of processions and pictures on the ground fashioned out of flower petals, and I want to go to there.  I might try to go to a place where the culture is still all in on Holy Week. Suggestions? Somewhere in Mexico or Central America? Preferably no more than one time zone away from me?

— 3 —

We have a new driver in the house. As I said on Facebook, four down, one to go.  It really is, in my mind, the worst thing about parenting. I hate guiding a new driver through all this, and it causes me more stress than almost anything.  Yeah, potty-training is hassle, but wet diapers don’t risk anyone’s life or limbs. Usually.

We still only have one vehicle, though, so drive time is limited. As it happens, the day before his driving test, a car popped up on the local neighborhood discussion board – a fellow who seemed legit was selling a decent car for a very decent price – under 2K.  I almost jumped at it. I even emailed him about it, but after letting it swim in my brain overnight, I told him I’d pass.  For you see, I have been making regular speeches on the theme of We Are Not Getting Another Vehicle Until At Least Late Summer if Not Later  with clear (I hope) subtexts of how the new driver needed to probably kick in some funds to offset insurance costs, which was intended to incentivize job-seeking.  In a way, life would be a lot easier with another car right now, but upon reflection, I decided my original instincts were correct. We need a little bit of time to sit with the pain of being-able-to-but-not-having-the-means-to-do-what-we-want. Waking up with a set of wheels to drive, even if they’re old and not-shiny a couple of days after you turn sixteen doesn’t contribute to that cause and just encourages taking-for-granted, which no house which harbors adolescents, even good-hearted ones – needs more of than it already has.

— 4 —

Recent listens:

In Our Time program on Rosa Luxembourg, a Polish-born socialist revolutionary thinker murdered by her fellow-travelers in a divided movement in Germany. The whole discussion was interesting, since I had never heard of her, but what really caught my attention was the post-show discussion in which loose ends are tied up and missed points are made.

During the entire program, the scholar guests, particularly the two female academics had been working hard to make the case that Luxemburg was very important and had an enormous impact on German leftism in the early part of the 20th century, all of this despite being a woman, and thereby being prohibited from expressing her views and promoting her agenda through running for office herself or even voting.

Her contributions were outlined and emphasized, her major themes delineated including, it was said, her pacifism.

Well, hang on, said the third scholar at the end. In the post-Great War German revolution, leftist forces employed devastating destructive violent acts that we might even say verged on terrorism. Luxembourg, he said, said and did nothing to discourage this direction and even held positions that contributed to the climate in which such violence was acceptable and innocents were victimized.

Oh, no, no, no said the other two scholars – she really didn’t have that much influence – whatever she might have said along those lines or any perceived approval in silence had no impact on the events that were unfolding at the time.

It’s such a familiar pattern. My marginalized hero/heroine contributed so much when the cause is beneficial to my point of view, but when it gets uncomfortable…eh. She was really just a repressed marginalized voice, you know. Not her fault.

— 5 —

On Books and Authors, I heard a short interview with British Muslim writer Ayisha Malek, the author of a couple of so-called Brigid Jones with hijabs. I was intrigued, especially after being in London and being one of the 2% of non-Muslims in Harrod’s one evening.

What interested me was her statement that as a teenager, she couldn’t identify with contemporary young adult literature or chick-lit, but she could identify very closely with Austen and other writers because, as she said, as an observant Muslim, her social life had more in common with Elizabeth Bennett’s and Isabel Archer’s than it did with Brigid Jones’.

Well, that’s intriguing, and a good point, I thought – I’d like to peek into the lives of those women I saw in their hijabs and niqabs, toting Luis Vuitton and Chanel bags. So I downloaded the free sample of the first few chapters of her novel, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged..  Meh. The writing was pedestrian and the humor obvious and forced. Which was too bad, because I was up for it.

— 6 –

Start the Week had a program on the Reformation which initially prompted mild but decidedly ragey feelings as I stomped around the park and listened to a litany of caricatures of pre-Reformation England from people who really should – and probably do- know better. But the arrow swung back in the direction of “approve” as the topic of women came up and both women on the program, one of whom was novelist Sarah Dunant – began to rather forcefully make the point that perhaps the Lutheran and Calvinist movements were not great for women. One of the male scholars argued that the Reformation helped women because it emphasized their role as keepers of the faith flame in the home, but one of the women responded, quite correctly that well, yes, then according to most of the Reformers, that was it, then, wasn’t it? Hmmm…someone else has made that point recently, I do believe!

— 7 —

Are you in need of gifts for First Communion, Confirmation, graduation? Mother’s Day? End-of-the-year teacher gift? Perhaps I can help….

(For children, mom, sister, friend, new Catholic….)

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

Decent Company

"amy welborn"


It’s that time of year….First Communions…Confirmations…Mother’s Day…Graduation…

I can help. 

(I have most of these on hand, and you can purchase them through me. If it’s on the bookstore site, I have it. Or just go to your local Catholic bookstore or online portal).

First Communion:



The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints

The Loyola Kids’ Book of Heroes

Be Saints!

Friendship with Jesus (not available through my bookstore at the moment)

Adventures in Assisi


Any of the Prove It books.

The Prove It Catholic Teen Bible

The How to Book of the Mass

New Catholic? Inquirer?

"pivotal players"The How to Book of the Mass

The Words We Pray

Praying with the Pivotal Players

Mother’s Day

The Catholic Woman’s Book of Days

End of Year Teacher/Catechist Gifts

Any of the above…..




"amy welborn"



Dic Nobis, Maria



My favorite.  I just find the phrase and question,  Dic nobis, Maria, quid vidista in via? expressive of just about everything about the Christian life.  In those seven words, the seeker’s questions are posed and the witness’ responsibility implied.

The rest of the Triduum:  Good Friday liturgy at the convent, boys serving. Family, including grandson, in on Saturday.  Sunday morning at the convent, boys serving. Late lunch out, younger son and I walked home, while the older one drove – his first solo driving (got his licence a week ago).

For more of the music from Mass, go to my Instagram account – both the regular posts and the “Stories” (the latter only accessible on a phone).

My mother, although she was not much of a baker (by her own admission) occasionally made hot cross buns, but I would always forget until, well, Good Friday morning, when it was too late.

I remembered this year!

So after we returned from Holy Thursday at the convent where the boys served Mass, I got to work pulling together the shaggy, sticky dough. Formed them, let them rise a bit, then into the fridge. Pulled them out this morning, baked and….yes! Success. A couple that were in the middle were a bit underdone, but they were brown enough, so I had to take them out.

Good and “filling” was the verdict.


Recipe: King Arthur Flour.


Casa Maria Convent and Retreat House:

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