Useful Resources on COVID-19 (I)

Standard

The new Corona crisis is the first pandemic that we experience everywhere, in every continent, in every community. Much has been said and shared already on fb and twitter, but here will be all in one place.

Frodo: “I wish it need not have happened in my time.”

Gandalf: “So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Fellowship of the Ring”

The coronavirus nCoV-2:

Viruses are in itself pretty helpless. Every bacterium, every single-cell organism is much better off, they can actively find their sources of energy (being it light or food), and move into better environments. Viruses lack this faculty of sensing, and they lack metabolism – therefore the question whether viruses are alive can be answered with yes or no, depending on what we consider essential for “living beings”. Nonetheless, viruses can do big harm to us, if they find ways to get into the cells of our body where they take over the control over the control of the cells that start producing new viruses en masse. 

Coronaviruses have RNA as genomic information. The name “coronavirus” is derived from Latin corona, meaning “crown” or “wreath”, itself a borrowing from Greek κορώνη korṓnē, “garland, wreath”. The name refers to the characteristic appearance of virions (the infective form of the virus) by electron microscopy, which have a fringe of large, bulbous surface projections creating an image reminiscent of a crown or of a solar corona.

For a good general introduction, read this article on Wikipedia .

The most important measures to combat the spread of this epidemic:

  • Wash your hands frequently because soap disrupts the lipid envelope of the virus
  • Maintain Social Distancing – Dr. Sy Garte, biologist and believer in Christ, explains in eight minutes why social distancing is so important. He says: “With school and church closures, cancellations of so many public events, working from home, some people are asking if this is a panic reaction. No, it isn’t. I have just uploaded a video showing why it’s necessary to practice social distancing NOW, even if not a single case of Covid 19 has appeared in your community. Please watch and spread the word.”
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth
  • Practice respiratory hygiene: Droplets spread virus. By following good respiratory hygiene – covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze -, you protect the people around you from viruses such as cold, flu and COVID-19.
  • If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early
  • Follow all instructions from your national and local Authorities

These instruction were taken from the WHO website.

We need to flatten the curve

This article in the NYT explains why slowing the spread of the infection is nearly as important as stopping it:

NIH Director Francis Collins

“There are estimates that if nothing goes right and if we fail to flatten the curve and if health systems are overwhelmed, we might see the deaths of as many as a million and a half people in the United States”, says Dr. Francis Collins, director of the NIH and founder of Biologos, in an interview in which he not only takes a thorough review into the Covid-19 pandemic, but also delves into his deep faith, and his friendship with Christopher Hitchens. On his Blog, he has a post explaining that a recent genomic studies points to a natural origin of COVID-19: Do not listen to rumors, is an important advice.

Interactive Graphics:

Development of cases, worldwide and per country, from the John Hopkins University

In response to this ongoing public health emergency, we developed an interactive web-based dashboard hosted by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University, to visualize and track reported cases in real-time. The dashboard, first shared publicly on January 22, illustrates the location and number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, deaths and recoveries for all affected countries.

Mapping 2019-nCOV

nCoV-2, Mutational Changes over time

This phylogeny shows evolutionary relationships of hCoV-19 (or SARS-CoV-2) viruses from the ongoing novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. This phylogeny shows an initial emergence in Wuhan, China, in Nov-Dec 2019 followed by sustained human-to-human transmission leading to sampled infections. Although the genetic relationships among sampled viruses are quite clear, there is considerable uncertainty surrounding estimates of transmission dates and in reconstruction of geographic spread. Please be aware that specific inferred transmission patterns are only a hypothesis.

Nextstrain.org/ncov

Also these 10 women scientists didn’t see a conflict between science and faith

Standard

Today is Women’s day – time to remember the contribution of Christian female scientists and time to post the 2nd installment (first one here), bringing the number of women scientists portrayed on our blog to 30. We cover women from 4 centuries, contributing to mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, geology and scientific illustration.

Elena Cornaro Piscopia (1646-1684) was the first woman to receive a ‘Doctor of Philosophy’, a ‘Ph.D.’ degree in 1678. Although she was learned in mathematics and other science fields, her real focus was in theology and philosophy. The Roman Catholic Church, though, did not think at that time it was proper for a woman to earn a degree in theology. The University of Padua allowed Piscopia to graduate with her Ph.D. in Philosophy instead.  Ceremonies of the sort were usually held in one of the University’s buildings, but there were so many people who wanted to come watch the proceedings that they could not all fit into University Hall, and thus they chose a larger place to hold the ceremony. It was especially remarkable when we consider that the University of Padua did not award another Ph.D. to a woman for over 300 years. Elena was a member of various academies and was esteemed highly throughout Europe. In 1665, she took the habit of a Benedictine Oblate and devoted the last seven years of her life to charity and working with the poor. She died at the age of 38 of tuberculosis.

Marie-Anne Lavoisier (1758-1836) was a French chemist and noble. Madame Lavoisier was the wife of the chemist and nobleman Antoine Lavoisier and acted as his laboratory companion and contributed to his work. Her husband, Antoinette Lavoisier, was sentenced to death in the aftermath of the French Revolution, after having found again his faith in God. She herself was a faithful Catholic and was theologically well versed. She was instrumental in the 1789 publication of her husband’s Elementary Treatise on Chemistry, which presented a unified view of chemistry as a field. She contributed thirteen drawings that showed all the laboratory instrumentation and equipment used by the Lavoisiers in their experiments. She also kept strict records of the procedures followed, lending validity to the findings Lavoisier published.

Continue reading

Georg Cantor and infinity

Standard

On 03 March 1845, the German mathematician Georg Cantor was born in St. Petersburg. In 1862, he entered the Federal Polytechnic Institute in Zurich, eventually becoming a member of the mathematics department. At the death of his father, he left Zurich for Berlin where, in addition to his mathematical interests, he began to study philosophy and theology, two disciplines he would pursue for the rest of his life. He is considered one of the founders of set theory.

He is also credited with systemizing various notions of infinity, differentiated as:
a) that which is potentially infinite, undetermined, and capable of incremental increase;
b) transfinite or relative actual infinity, determined, and capable of incremental increase; and
c) absolute actual infinity, determined, and incapable of incremental increase.

He noted that this last notion of infinity does not belong to mathematics but rather can only be predicated of a notion of God within the metaphysical realm.

source: inters.org

Elena Ivanovna Kasimirchak-Polonskaya: studying God’s planets

Standard

Elena Polonskaya (1902-1992) is a fascinating woman: she was a renowned astronomer who lost her job in the Communist regime, was accused of espionage due to her missionary activities, put into prison for several months, but later re-instated as university professor. And finally, she became a nun in the Russian-Orthodox Church and taught bible studies and other theological topics. She has an asteroid named after her, but she does not yet have a Wikipedia article in English. Here is her biography.

Elena Ivanovna Polonskaya was born on 21 November 1902 in Selets, in the Volyn province in today’s Ukraine to parents from the Russian nobility. She studied astronomy at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at the Lviv University. In 1923, she participated in the first meeting of the Russian Christian Student Movement in Czechia. From 1926 to 1928 she was an active member of this movement and its leader for Poland and Belarus. She acted as editor of the religious political journal “At the Borderline”. She participated in apologetic summer courses in Paris founded by Archpriest Sergei Bulgakov, her spiritual father.

In 1932, she became assistant at the Astronomical Observatory in Warsaw. In 1934, she defended her Ph.D. thesis „On the planetocentric motion of comets“ in Warsaw. In 1936, she married Leon Kazimierczak, an ichtyologist at Warsaw University, and in May 1937, their son Sergei (named after Sergei Bulgakov) was born. During World War II, she worked as Senior Scientist at the Department of Astronomy in Lviv and moved to Warsaw in 1944. During the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, she became separated from her husband who was brought to a camp near Vienna as war prisoner. In 1945, she made a very bold and crucial decision for her later life: As an Orthodox, she decided to return to Russia, although totalitarian Soviet Union at that time. She first lived in Cherson (in today’s Ukraine) where her son died of meningitis in July 1948. She never saw her husband again, since he was not allowed to enter the USSR.

Continue reading

Christopher Clavius SJ: astronomer, mathematician and educator

Standard

Christopher Clavius, S.J.  (25 March 1538 – 06 Feb 1612) was a German Jesuit known for his reform of the calendar, and a mathematician and gifted educator. He joined the recently founded Jesuit order in 1555 and was sent to Coimbra, Portugal, to pursue his studies. On 21 August 1560, he observed a sun eclipse, an event which convinced him to devote his life to mathematical and astronomical study. Following this eclipse observation, he went to Italy later in 1560 and studied theology at the Jesuit Collegio Romano in Rome. He was ordained in 1564. He remained at the Collegio Romano were he began teaching mathematics in the year of his ordination. In fact, except for a period in Naples around 1596 and a visit to Spain in 1597, Clavius was to remain Professor of Mathematics at the Collegio Romano for the rest of his life. He continued with his studies in Theology and became a full member of the Jesuit Order in 1575.

in 1579, he was elected as member by Pope Gregory XIII to the commission to oversee the reform of the calendar. The old Julian Calendar had been established by an edict of Julius Caesar in 45 BC.  Because the system of Julian years and leap years did not correspond exactly to the length of the astronomical year, dates of important Christian feasts had gotten out of alignment with the seasons. This commission adopted the ideas for calendar reform of Aloysius Lillius, with some modifications, and in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII promulgated the new calendar. Catholic countries quickly adopted the “Gregorian calendar,” but Protestant and Eastern Orthodox countries only slowly followed. In 1588, it became his role to explain and defend the calendar reform, and he did so in Novi calendarii romani apologia and subsequent works to counter arguments coming from Protestants, but also from astronomers and mathematicians.

Galileo Galilei was familiar with Clavius’s books, and he visited Clavius during his first trip to Rome in 1587. After that they corresponded from time to time about mathematical problems, and Clavius sent Galileo copies of his books as they appeared. Clavius was and remained a defender of the geocentric system although he was impressed by Galilei’s telescopic discoveries as he wrote in 1611, a year prior to his death.

His true and lasting influence was the adoption of rigorous mathematical curricula in Jesuit colleges, at a time when the importance of mathematics in natural science (then called “natural philosophy”) was widely underappreciated. He wrote widely used textbooks and influenced future generations of astronomers and mathematicians.

Image: Christopher Clavius. Line engraving by E. de Boulonois., Wikimedia

Sources:

Thony Christie, A loser who was really a winner.

Christopher Clavius (1537-1612), The Galileo Project

J J O’Connor and E F Robertson, Christopher Clavius

Stephen M. Barr and Andrew Kassebaum, Important Catholic Scientists of the Past, Christopher Clavius (new on the website of the Society of Catholic Scientists)

Thony Christie, Christopher and the calendar

Thomas Aquinas: God, Chance and Necessity

Standard

“The effect of divine providence is not only that things should happen somehow, but that they should happen either by necessity or by contingency. Therefore, whatsoever divine providence ordains to happen infallibly and of necessity, happens infallibly and of necessity; and that happens from contingency, which the divine providence conceives to happen from contingency”

Thomas Aquinas:, Summa theologiae, I, 22, 4 ad 1.

I found these words some years ago in ‘Communion and Stewardship’ (Vatican Theological Commission, 2004, par. 69) and it was a game changer in how I reflect on God’s action in creation via evolution [1].

Continue reading

John C. Eccles – In Evolution, Humans Remain Mysterious

Standard

On 27 January 1903, John C. Eccles (1903–1997) was born in Melbourne, Australia.

He was one of the most preeminent neurophysiologists of the 20th century, and he won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1963. His numerous popular works elucidate his vision of the human mind in which he supersedes materialist monism by the conception of the mind transcending matter. He wrote “The Human Mystery” (1979) and “The Wonder of Being Human” (1985).

Source: http://www.inters.org

“The amazing success of the theory of evolution has protected it from significant critical evaluation in recent times. However, it fails in a most important respect. It cannot account for the existence of each one of us as unique, self-conscious beings.”
(The Human Mystery, 1979)