Science, Science Fiction, and God: A Winter Conference for High School Students

January 21, 2023

Cosponsored by the University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein; the Vocation Office of the Archdiocese of Chicago; the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame; and the Society of Catholic Scientists.

Where: The University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein Seminary

When: 10 am-2:45 pm

In a world of artificial intelligence and genetic engineering, what does it mean to be human? Are some scientific projects better left unexplored? Can fiction help us think through questions of science, beauty, and faith?

On January 21st, the Newman Forum’s “Science, Science Fiction, and God” conference will gather hundreds of teens from all over Chicagoland to explore how the fields of Science, Art, and Faith each contribute to a full understanding of the world. Meeting with experts in their fields, we will discuss cutting-edge scientific knowledge, great works of sci-fi literature, and how the faith of the church enhances our pursuit of both!

If you are interested in science, technology, or sci-fi, join the Newman Forum at the University of St. Mary of the Lake to explore how faith relates to discovery, innovation, and the scientific imagination. We’ll have a plenary lecture on whether some science should not be done, i.e, “the Frankenstein Problem”; multiple “lightning round” talks; “office hours” where participants can talk to the speakers; and a closing discussion of “the science of prayer.”

You won’t want to miss it!

Tentative Schedule:

9:00 am – 10:00 am: Registration
10 am – 10:45 am: Opening Prayer, Welcome, and Plenary Lecture
“The Frankenstein Problem: Should Some Science Not Be Done?” (Prof. James Nolan, Williams College)
10:45am – 11:00 am: Break
11:00 am-11:30 am: Lightning Round Talks #1
11:30 am-12:30 pm: Lunch 
12:45 pm – 1:15 pm: Lightning Round Talks #2 
1:15 pm – 1:30 pm: Break
1:30 pm – 2:15 pm: Office Hours
2:15 pm – 2:45 pm: Adoration
“The Science of Prayer” (Fr. John Kartje, University of St. Mary of the Lake)
2:45 pm: Closing Remarks and Prayer

Lightning Round Topics*:

Students will have the opportunity to choose from a number of mini-lectures each round, whichever sparks their interest most. Topics include:

What Would We Do If We Discovered Aliens? (Timothy Dolch, Associate Professor of Physics, Hillsdale College)

Mass Extinction (Peter Tierney, Ph.D., Lumen Christi Institute)

The Physics of Time Travel: Is It Possible? (Stephen Barr, Professor Emeritus of Physics and Astronomy, University of Delaware)

A Catholic Approach to Evolution (Christopher Baglow, Ph.D., McGrath Institute for Church Life)

Frankenstein’s Monster and the Problem of Reanimation (Michael Murphy, Ph.D., Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage)

C.S. Lewis on the Opportunities and Dangers of Modern Science (Jason Baxter, Associate Professor of Fine Arts and Humanities, Wyoming Catholic University)

*Topics subject to change

Office Hours:

Normally, only college students get to engage directly with leading researchers, but we bring this unique opportunity to high school students! Attendees will have an opportunity to meet Catholic scientists and scholars one-on-one and ask them about their fields of study, career paths, the big unsolved questions in science and ethics, being a Catholic researcher, and anything else they are curious about. Those present will be a varied group: young and old; male and female; experimenters and theorists; and in many areas of research. Students interested in STEM subjects or the arts and teachers interested in renewing their own understanding can discuss high-impact topics including: genetics, physics, biology, ethics, literature, and much more.


James Nolan is the Washington Gladden 1859 Professor of Sociology at Williams College. His areas of study include law and society, culture, and technology and social change. His latest book, Atomic Doctors: Conscience and Complicity at the Dawn of the Nuclear Age, examines the experiences of medical professionals involved in the Manhattan Project.

Fr. John Kartje is the Rector/President of the University of St. Mary of the Lake. Prior to this appointment, Fr. Kartje received PhDs from both the University of Chicago’s Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and the Catholic University of America’s Department of Biblical Studies.

Timothy Dolch has been teaching at Hillsdale College since 2015. His research interests include radio astronomy, pulsars, and galaxy evolution.

Peter Tierney received a Ph.D. in Geophysical Sciences from the University of Chicago in 2018. His research interests include Paleoecology and how reef systems affect evolutionary trends.

Stephen Barr has been teaching at the University of Delaware since 1987. His research interests include Particle Theory and Cosmology. In addition, he is the President of the Society of Catholic Scientists.

Christopher Baglow received a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Duquesne University in 2000. He is currently the Director of the Science & Religion Initiative at the McGrath Institute.

Michael Murphy received a Ph.D. in Theology, Philosophy, and Literature from the Graduate Theological Union in 2005. He is currently the Director of the Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage and a Senior Lecturer at Loyola University Chicago.

Jason Baxter received his Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of numerous books, including The Medieval Mind of C.S. Lewis and An Introduction to Christian Mysticism.

Conference is FREE for high school students to attend. Adults accompanied by students will have their fee waived.

*The Newman Forum will be responsible for abiding the COVID-19 precautions set in place by Mundelein Seminary, in order to utilize their space. If these requirements change, we will notify all registrants as the event approaches.

Questions, comments, or concerns can be directed to Austin Walker, Director of the Newman Forum (

And if you liked this event, and want to know more about how to answer questions about faith and science when your classmates ask, check out…

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