Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Context for a Mystery

Last night and today MrsDarwin and I threw the two kids in the car and did the 18 hour drive from Austin to Cincinnatti pretty close to straight through, leaving at 8pm and arriving at 3:45pm the following day. It was actually a surprising good way to cover the territory. (We've come to hate flying, because the cost is so high and dealing with toddlers in airports and airplanes these days is a nightmare.)

To stay awake and pass the time, we picked up a couple of books on CD from the library, the first we listened to being a mystery novel: A Place of Hiding by Elizabeth George, author of the Inspector Lindley mysteries that we've watched occasionally on PBS's Mystery.

Now, George is not a bad writer as far as prose style and plot construction, but the problem for me with Place of Hiding was that all of the main characters seemed fundamentally un-likeble, as well as personally disfunctional. This had the peculiar effect of making the solution to the mystery totally unsatisfying. One didn't care that the killer was found, because one didn't like the victim a bit. There was little satisfaction in discovering the motives of the perpetrator because they were so venal and capricious as to be both unguessable and uninvolving. The detectives, the other suspects, the family of the victim, none of them were people one could like very much.

The result was that it seemed appropriate that a murder should take place in this setting, with these people, and there was no sense of satisfaction of the restoration of order in seeing the crime solved and things 'put back to right' as the saying goes. They had not been right in the first place, so why put the back?

It occurred to me that my favorite mysteries (Sayers tops the list, Agatha Christie also gets space plus Chesterton and Conan Doyle of course plus Chesterton as a not-quite-genre add on) all follow a basic theme or restoring order. Some, like Murder Must Advertise actually bring the murderer back to a moral understanding of the universe, others like Gaudy Night and Unnatural Death involve the uncovery and purging of a disordered element from what should be an ordered community.

However, if the moral and social realm presented is one in which it seems totally appropriate to murder one's fellow man, where is the interest in solving the crime? All that's left is a procedural, not a mystery.

Ratzinger on the End of Europe

Last year then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote an article called "If Europe Hates Itself" for Communion and Liberation. Here's a key quote:
There is a strange lack of desire for a future. Children, who are the future, are seen as a threat for the present; the idea is that they take something away from our life. They are not felt as a hope, but rather as a limitation of the present. We are forced to make comparisons with the Roman Empire at the time of its decline: it still worked as a great historical framework, but in practice it was already living off those who would dissolve it, since it had no more vital energy.

One of the subjects I've been wrestling with for a while is what the desire not to have children (on the part of individual couples and society as a whole) means in re why people think we are here on this earth. Biologically speaking, the only reason we exist is to have offspring which in turn survive long enough to produce offspring. Personally and spiritually, there is clearly much more to the human person than evolutionary reproductive success. There are circumstances when a person quite rightly chooses that marriage and childbearing are not his or he personal vocation. Nor is the personhood or worth of those unable to have children diminished.

Yet personally opting not to have children despite living in the married state simply because one does not want them seems to involve a redefinition of the human person, and not a good one. I'm not there yet, but Ratzinger's article is definitely good food for thought.

Monday, June 27, 2005

The Land of the Wolves

Stanley Kurtz over at The Corner points to this article about the return of wolves to vast regions of Europe. As the depopulation crisis deepens in Europe, tiny farms and villages have been deserted and the land is reverting to a natural state. Two new packs of wolves have formed in Germany, and a third is likely to split off and head toward Berlin.

--I had a great desire to write some scathingly brilliant commentary upon this subject; it should have been all too easy with such an evocative metaphor as wolves descending upon Berlin. But, gentle readers, we are leaving on vacation tomorrow (blogging will henceforth be "light", as they say, for the next week) and there are a million things to do. I did not want to deprive you of this insightful article, though, so please read it, even without the benefit of my scintillating intellect.

Your child's disabled?

You must be Christian...

Well, not yet, but with certain disabilities it's heading in that direction. Here are some interesting and disturbing stats.

A med student named Brian Skotka (whose sibling has Down syndrome) did an interesting study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology where he collected demographic information about women who had found out from pre-natal tests that their babies had Down syndrome and nonetheless carried their children to term. The methodology was to poll all the mothers in a number of DS support groups, and ask which ones had received a pre-natal diagnosis. Those who had received pre-natal diagnosis were asked further questions about their experience.

One of the interesting statistics in the study is that 42% of the women who found out their babies had DS and yet chose to bring them to term were Catholic. The religious breakdown of the rest was as follows: Protestant 35%, Mormon 4.4%, Jewish 3%, No Religion 2%, Other 12.7%.

Now, around 25% of the US population identifies as Catholic, so clearly Catholics are seriously over-represented in this group. One would assume from that that either Catholics are more likely to conceive children with DS, or Catholics are more likely to bring a child with DS to term. (Since the study only talked to women who had children with DS, women who aborted babies diagnosed with DS were automatically filtered out.)

Sure enough, the women Skotka polled reported "My 'inner voice'" and "My religion" as the two primary reasons for choosing to bring their babies to term.

This reminded me of a George Will column about aborting babies with Down syndrome which I read some time back. In it, he cites the statistic that more than 80% of the babies diagnosed pre-natally with Down syndrome in the US are aborted. So I did a little math:

From Skotka's study we have the figure that about 5000 children are born with Down syndrome in the US each year. Based on the percentage of mothers of children with DS who reported they had received a pre-natal diagnosis, Skotka estimates that 625 babies with pre-natally diagnosed DS are born each year.

Now take that figure that Will cites, that 80% of babies pre-natally diagnosed with DS are aborted. Bouncing that off Skotka's figures, that gives us 3125 babies pre-natally diagnosed with DS every year, out of 7500 conceived with DS. However, if all babies with DS were diagnosed pre-natally, and the current pattern held, only 1500 would be born a year, rather than 5000.

This may be something of an exaggeration, because it could be that a number of women refuse pre-natal testing for Down syndrome specifically because they have no intention of aborting. The thing we would need to know is if mothers of the 4375 babies not diagnosed pre-natally were offered testing and refused it, or simply were not asked.

Still. It seems pretty clear that as pre-natal diagnosis of DS becomes more common, fewer and fewer babies with DS will be allowed to be born, and of those who are born, a large percentage will be from actively religious families. There may very well come a time in the not too distant future when having a child with a pre-natally detectable genetic disability is seen as something only "Jesus freaks" and "fundamentalists" do. And it will be interesting to see if there is then a push to reduce public assistance for families with disabled children, on the theory that it's "optional" to have such a child.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

The new crucifix

Our parish just put a new crucifix behind the altar, replacing the Risen Christ on the Cross that had been there before, and today was the first time we saw it during Sunday Mass. I'd never given it much thought, but I was struck by what a difference it made to have a crucifix as a central focus point. Even with two rambunctious girls, a priest that barely spoke English, and a terrible case of stage jitters through most of Mass (even though my violin part wasn't until AFTER communion), every time I looked at Christ on the cross I was able to refocus my thoughts on what was happening up on the altar. It was the first mass in months in which I felt I was actually present, and not merely sitting in the pew trying to suppress the shrieks of Noogs and Babs.

And as we walked out of church, we saw the figure of the Risen Christ suspended above the baptismal font in the rear. Very apropos.

Ephesians 5

Kate over at Heart Speaks to Heart asked if I'd try my hand at tackling these questions based on Ephesians 5, so here goes...

Ephesians 5:21-33: 21Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30for we are members of his body. 31"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." 32This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Answer these questions:
1. Why do you think this passage is such a incendiary one for women and men?
I don't think I've ever heard a man refer to this passage as incendiary (!) but I think the reason that a woman might glance over it and get all hot under the collar is that so many people equate "submission" with "abdication of free will". More on that in the answer to question 2. After all, much of what Paul is saying here should be inoffensive and common sense: love one another; Christ loves the Church; no one hates his own body; the two become one. The big hang-up for most people is "submission", and certainly there's been enough misapplication of the phrase over the years to make folks leery.

1 1/2. Was it ever that way for you? If so, how was your heart changed?
I've never had a problem with this passage myself, but I've also never seen it misused, and as a Catholic I've had plenty of exegesis on the four senses of scripture! I think my understanding of how it concretely applies to married life has deepened since I've been married -- maybe it's just the wisdom of getting older.

2. What is God trying to tell us through St. Paul in this scripture reading?
The first thing that Paul says, and the key (I think) to understanding the rest of the passage, is verse 21: "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." Every time submission is mentioned (verses 21,22,24), it's in reference to an overall submission to Christ. A wife's submission to her husband is a reflection of her submission to Christ, and not an end in itself. JPII in his Theology of the Body speaks of giving oneself as a gift. A wife submits herself as a gift to her husband -- who doesn't cherish and guard a gift from a loved one?

Frankly, though, it seems to me that most of this passage is directed to husbands. They have the harder job: loving their wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Paul spends most of his time describing the husband's role: to give himself up for his wife, to treat her as he would treat himself, to leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, to become one flesh with her, to love her. Wives get only two instructions: to submit to and respect their husbands.

3. How does a misunderstanding or lack of understanding of God's plan for marriage as revealed through this scripture damage marriages?
The marriage described here is a selfless union built not upon pleasure, "compatibility", or lust, but a union based on a mutual submission to Christ. "If the Lord does not build a house, then in vain do the laborers labor" (Ps. ?). If submission is not understood in its proper context of being rooted in love of Christ and love of husband, then it becomes a bitter pill to swallow and eventually poisons a marriage. Or, taken to its literal extreme, it turns men and women away from from Christian marriage and the true understanding of gift of self.

4. How can men and women come to understand it better?
Well, a desire to understand might be the first step. If you start frothing at the mouth at the mere mention of the passage because “no damn man's gonna tell me what to do!” then you've missed Paul's whole point. If a wife sees Christ in her husband, then everything she does for him becomes an act of love (and vice versa). The husband is called to sacrifice his life for his wife, and the wife is called to accept his sacrifice – not always an easy thing! So what could bring men and women to a better understanding of this passage? Prayer, of course, but also seeing Christian spouses living out their submission to one another and to Christ in a cheerful fashion. (Quit complaining about yer spouse in public, friends! 'Cause I'm tired of hearing it, for one thing.) Then, try living it and see what happens.

There ya go, Kate! Hope this makes any sense.

Enjoying 72...what?

Allow me to be religiously insensitive for a moment...

Every so often we hear about a female suicide bomber heading off to "martyr" herself in Israel by blowing herself up. Now, I know that young men are promised seventy-two virgins, among other things, but what do the women get? Even in modern, liberated America I don't think you'd find many women whose idea of fun would be seventy-two willing young men crowding around them. (To get myself into the same hot water as Larry Summers, unlike men, there's not a biological advantage for women in having large numbers of partners. The desire just isn't built in.) Maybe years of repression makes the idea of turning the tables more interesting, but really, I can't imagine that what these women are after is eternal group sex.

Insert standard disclaimer about not wanting to mock a great religion and all, but it's so easy when the most frequently discussed version of paradise sounds like the 17-year-old's dream.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Marketing the Mass

In general, I'm of the opinion that those who seek to bring business insight to Christian liturgy should be put in a bag and sat upon like the hedgehog in Alice in Wonderland. However, at the risk of breaking my own rules, I'd like to bring some small business insight to the travesties of liturgical innovation.

Rule #1: Figure out what your product is, and sell that, not something else.

If you're Kia, you can't market your cars a luxury items. You can reassure people that they really are well made even though they're cheap, but the primary reason people are going to buy a Kia is that it is cheap. So they market their affordability. On the other hand, BMW is not going to sell cars because they're cheap, they're going to sell them because they're luxurious and powerful pieces of German engineering. Using the slogan "the ultimate driving machine"works for BMW whereas "only six thousand more than a loaded Honda" would not.

Of course the trick is, Catholics disagree on what the mass is. While the Church clearly teaches that the Mass is the unbloody sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ, those who enact the worst liturgical abuses often hold the idea that Christ is primarily made present in the mass because "where two or three are gathered" in His name, there Christ is too, and that the Eucharist is primarily a celebration of the unity of the congregation.

Still, leaving aside dissent over the nature of the mass, the following list of what the mass is not should be helpful:

- The mass is neither a classical music concert (where the "audience" simply sits, listens, then applauds) nor a folk music sing along.
- The mass is not children's theater.
- The mass is not a revival meeting.
- The mass is not performance art of any kind.
- The mass is not a lecture series.
- The mass is not group therapy.

On the positive side:
- During the mass we do hear the word of God proclaimed.
- The priest does take some time to explain the readings we have heard to us in more depth.
- We do offer praise to God through both hymns and spoken responses.
- The priest does stand in persona Christi in offering Christ's suffering and death to God in remission for our sins.
- We do receive the body and blood of Christ.

Implementation is always the tricky part, but clearly, liturgy should be planned to convey what is going on in the mass, not what isn't.

Rule #2: Sell to the people who want your product, not the people who don't.

At first, this might sound backwards. After all, if you want people to buy your product, then you need to find the people who don't yet think they want it and change their minds, right? Well, unless you already have a huge customer base, or you have a really big marketing budget, it's actually dead wrong. The secret to successful marketing for the vast majority of business situations is: Find the people who already want what you have, and let them know that you have it. If you're successful at that, you're successful in business. Few businesses have to go as far as trying to find people who don't want what they sell and changing their minds.

This may at first seem diametrically opposed to our religious obligation to "go out and make disciples of all nations" but let me throw in an anecdote to show what I mean: Some years ago, the priest at my folk's parish had this bad habit of changing the creed as he recited it from "he was born of the Virgin Mary and became man" to "he was born of the Virgin Mary and became flesh".

My mother, not being for any nonsense in the creedal department, asked him about this, and he said, "I don't want to offend any women who may think it's sexist to say that he became man."

Mom replied, "Well, I'm a woman, and I'm offended that you think I'd be offended to here 'became man'."

The priest replied, "Yes, but you're not the sort of woman I'm worried about offending."

Now, at first, this just sounds rude, but what I think he meant was essentially: "Look, you're a good Catholic and you'll go to mass somewhere no matter what, so what I'm trying to do is keep from offending some feminist who won't go to mass at all unless we don't say 'man'."

This, however, is a destructive approach to marketing. If you consistently annoy the people who should be your most loyal customers while winning only marginal toleration from people who don't like what you have to say in the first place, you end up with no loyal customers. Someone who's offended by "and became man" is quite simply not going to be a solid Catholic ever, unless her attitude changes. So embracing her desire to change "and became man" is counter-productive. It annoys your base, and doesn't win any real converts.

Arguably, we got where we are not (forty years into liturgical reform) by assuming that all the church going Catholics we had circa 1968 would keep going to church no matter what, and all we had to do was appeal to those who were are yet un-churched. Now, with the percentage of Catholics who attend mass every week severely reduced and widespread ignorance about what the mass is, sacramentally speaking, it is perhaps time to get back to basics. If we could get to where St. Average of Suburbia had a liturgical life that successfully conveyed what the mass is to those who are already eager for the mass, we would begin to build the evangelizing spirit among the Catholic laity to go out and start turning around the people who don't know what the mass is, or don't yet want it.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Lions watching over me

Via Dilys at Good and Happy, this story of a young Egyptian girl who was abducted and beaten in an attempt to force her into marriage with one of her captors. Three lions chased off the abductors and stood guard over the girl for half a day, until she was found.

It's speculated that her whimpering and crying after her beating sounded like the mewling of a young cub, arousing the protective parental instincts of the big cats.

Unfortunately, the striking image of the lions guarding a wounded girl is the only unusual aspect of this story. Abductions, beatings, and rape are quite common in Africa as a means of wielding power over women.

Preschool overload

Not too long ago, my 11-year-old brother asked me if I was going to put Noogs (3) in preschool. This seemed like an odd question coming from a boy who, until last year, was homeschooled all his life, and it made me think of the prevalence of the assumption that formal schooling must begin earlier and earlier. I'm certainly not in the "Reading by Nine!" category (I think the LA Times ran an ad campaign or a school-related initiative under that title a while back), but I don't think that preschool is the most effective educational strategy for the under-five set. I've been thinking a lot about this lately, as Noogs reaches the age where she's getting interested in writing and reading, and I'd appreciate any thoughts anyone might care to offer on the subject.

Full disclosure: A few months ago I told an editor at Heart and Mind magazine that I'd work on an article about preschooling, and for various reasons, most more trivial than some, I've not started. So I'm looking for ideas to jump-start the process, because as in college, I can't write if I'm staring a deadline in the face.

Going Postal

Mrs. Darwin here, with a post about neither religion nor demographics.

I went to the post office yesterday, with two bouncy little girls and a package that needed to be shipped priority. As luck would have it (for it certainly was not as a result of my good planning or even awareness of hours of operation) I was the last person to squeak in before 4:30. At the very stroke of 4:30, a large postal employee who bore a striking resemblance to Michael Moore in physical appearance, style, and personality lumbered out of the back office and hung a flimsy plastic chain to shut off access to one entrance to the line.

Two seconds later, a man walks in and gets into line behind me (I was about the only customer in the post office at this point in time). "Hey," snaps the Employee, "we're closed."

"What?" asked Customer. "What time do you close?"


"Wait -- what time is it now?"


The Customer starts to walk off, and murmurs, "Oh, that's just great." Moore-man hears this and demands to know what Customer just said. When the Customer repeats himself, the Employee tells him that look, they close at 4:30, and that's what time they close. The Customer explains that he just wants to pick up his mail after vacation because he knows that there are bills waiting for him. Employee obviously doesn't care. Customer asks if it can be delivered to his box. "Sure," says Employee, "but if there's too much the postman isn't going to shove it all in." Customer says he doesn't need all the junk mail. Employee snorts. "Junk mail is what pays for it all."

Nor did the Employee care that the Customer had to work during business hours, instead of dancing attendance on the post office's schedule. As the man walked off, maintaining the civility that had marked his end of the exchange, I thought to myself, "There's someone who will ship his packages with UPS from now on."

When did rudeness to the customer become the norm? Most of my career moves have involved customer service positions, and the sort of dismissive attitude displayed by this employee would have been cause for firing. Is this a Post Office thing? And what's with the 4:30 closing time? C'mon, is your boss going to let you off early because you have to get to the Post Office?

To be fair, I've never seen anything else like that while at the Post Office, but the fact that such behavior is tolerated there (for Darwin has also seen Moore-man in action on other occasions) certainly doesn't speak well of their customer-service ethic.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Send me your poor...

In many ways, I find that I wear the label "conservative" rather well, both by temperament and according to where the political and moral needs of our current time drive me. However one area in which I find myself at odds with much of the conservative movement is in immigration policy, though in this particular area I seem to be at odds with most people.

Being descended from Irish and Mexican immigrants who entered the country more than a hundred years ago, when there were no limits on immigration other than a basic health exam, I feel strongly that those trapped in socially, politically and economically backward countries should have the opportunity to come to the US and see if they can create a better life for themselves. So I have little to no sympathy with the "seal the borders and keep those damn foreigners out" approach. We were all foreigners once.

At the same time, I find myself profoundly out of sympathy with the de facto open boarders approach of many immigration advocates who, knowing that open boarders is a difficult political sell, instead demand that people who have entered the country illegally be given drivers licenses and even allowed to vote. This is a country of laws, and encouraging people enter the country illegally and then trying to get them the benefits of legal residency sends entirely the wrong message.

But here, really, is the elephant in the living room which no one really wants to deal with: In the peak days of immigration, when the phrase "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me..." meant something, we welcomed to our shore exactly that: the poor and huddled masses of the world.

Both my Irish and Mexican ancestor suffered, in different ways, the prejudice that often awaited immigrants when they reached our shores. Moreover, they suffered the grinding poverty and poor working conditions that were offered them. When immigrants arrive with nothing but their willingness to work, there are not as yet any economic resources for them. It is only with time (and a certain amount of luck) that they can create the economic resources that will lift them out of poverty.

Put very basically, work creates wealth, but the amount of wealth in the country at any given moment is the product of the current number of workers. When you bring in new workers, you bring in the capacity to create new wealth. But that takes time, in the meantime, the resources available to the new immigrant are scant.

However, for all it's self indulgence, our modern society hates to see poverty before its eyes. We don't want the immigrant slums that characterized the big cities circa 1900. We don't want to see people working the long hours for low wages that were decried even in the early 1900s as a disgusting result of capitalism run wild. (And it did run wild, employers have a human obligation not to expose their workers to unnecessary danger, nor to pay them less than they are able to.)

Instead, we hide the low wage slums that produce our affordable consumer products, importing them from China instead of making them ourselves. It is thus China that will succeed in lifting millions of low wage workers gradually out of poverty, while the US tries to stem the tide of immigration, keeping the poor out in order to keep poverty out.

I'm all for open boarders, but this country would need to understand that when you open the doors to the poor, poverty comes with them, at least initially. We simply would not have the resources to provide each immigrant family with a new condo, two cars, a game cube, cable television, a cell phone and Levis -- all the things that make life worth living in our consumerist worldview. Even if we were determined to engage in full scale wealth redistribution, we could not get enough resources to provide each immigrant (from the start) with an "American" lifestyle. Economic development takes time, and if we were to open our borders to tens of millions of immigrants from the third world, we would have to accept that (despite all efforts by those of good will to make sure they were not inordinately put at risk or taken advantage of) for a while we would have tens of millions of immigrants living in what would be very close to third world conditions. And yet, given time, opportunity and education, these immigrants, like our ancestors would pull themselves out of poverty, and add another few hundred billion to our country's GNP in the process.

However, in spite of this, those who advocate opening our boarders are almost invariably the same people who advocate raising the minimum wage, or mandating "living wage laws". Their slogan seems to be: "Send me your poor... but no poverty, please."

Monday, June 20, 2005

All for the children

James Taranto over at the Wall Street Journal's Best of the Web, who coined the phrase "The Roe Effect", points us to the Canadian corollary: the Morgentaler effect. Henry Morgentaler, a prominent abortionist, helped overturn Canada's abortion laws in 1988.

"Well-loved children grow into adults who do not build concentration camps, do not rape and do not murder," said Morgentaler, 82, who himself survived a Nazi death camp.
He claimed that violent crime has decreased since 1991, a trend he attributed to more abortion procedures being made available.
"The most important factor is that there are fewer unwanted children, fewer children likely to be abused, brutalized or neglected ... children so victimized they may grow up for a thirst for vengeance which seeks an outlet in violence," he said.

It seems almost self-explanatory that if you reduce the number of children overall, you will see a reduction in the number of children abused or neglected. Still, is it entirely accurate to equate "unwanted pregnancy" with "unwanted children"? Surely it's overstating the case to assume that every woman who finds herself faced with an unplanned pregnancy will necessarily resent the child she bears, if the child is allowed to be born. Babies have a way of forcing one to take responsibility....

But is it that now women realize that they are abusive and so abort their children? Or is it that otherwise normal people will turn into monsters if they should ever be threatened with the thought of an unplanned baby? And what does it say about society that it's acceptable to abort the child in that case, instead of urging the parent to overcome these shortcomings for the good of the family?

And it's not like Canada's overly populated right now....

What's the big deal?

Clearly, a religion gets its members from one of two places: they are born into it, or they convert from some other belief system.

One of the first reactions I got when I first floated my thesis that the religious landscape in the US was about to be reshaped by dramatic differences in fertility between conservative Christians, liberal Christians and strictly secular Americans was: "It's pretty pathetic to give up on converts and decide you're just going to get new members by having lots of children and indoctrinating them. Having more than two children violates our stewardship of the planet, and I believe liberalism will continue to win converts."

Well, first of all, I'm not necessarily suggesting anything. This whole line of thinking is much more along the lines of an observation than a suggested course of action. There are a few parts of the world where fertility is being used as a political pressure tactic (Palestinians in the the occupied territories give awards to women who have more than ten children) but in general the number of children people have simply reflects their values, hopes, beliefs and aspirations. Some people feel the call to have a large number of children. Others feel like children get in the way of a lifelong honeymoon. Most fall in the middle and want a child or two, but not enough to be totally overwhelming. (Heck some days I feel pretty overwhelmed by just two children.)

Here's why this is something that has been on my mind for the last several years, and why I finally made it the overall theme of this blog in order to try to sort all this thinking out, with the help of anyone who cares to comment.

For the one of the first times in recorded human history, we are at a point where birth rates are uniformly falling across the globe, not because we're out of land, not because we're out of food, not because we're out of resources, but rather because we have plenty of all of these. The countries with the lowest fertility are the richest countries, while poorer nations are gradually following their lead, as they get richer. In other words, the reason why population growth is slowing world wide and already negative in most developed nations is quite simply that most people don't want more children.

Now, why is that? And how, if at all, will this change the cultural and intellectual trends that we've seen play out over the last couple centuries?

One very obvious thing that a lot of people have commented on is that the US will be Hispanic and Europe will be Islamic. (Though note, US Hispanics and European Muslims are both experiencing falling fertility rates, they just haven't fallen as far as "white" fertility rates yet.)

Anecdotally (and in the few studies that are available, more on that in upcoming posts) one of the major factors in how many children someone has seems to be religiosity. Catholics in particular and those with more traditional religious beliefs in general have more children (on average) than less religious or overtly secular people.

This brings up two obvious questions:
1) What, if anything, does higher fertility among religious people tell us about their beliefs.
2) Will this higher fertility among religious people have the effect of making the population more conservative and more religious over time?

Key to that second question is the sub-question: How closely will the children of the religious population cleave to their parents beliefs?

More to come...

Condor Omelette

I've always expected to see a cartoon like this. Can't imagine why it took so long for someone to draw the obvious. Do click. (And browse around CatholicRagemonkey. It's a good blog.)

Now, the sad thing is, I have the feeling a lot of people would figure the rebuttal was simple: There aren't many condors and there are billions of humans, so it's more important to protect unborn condors than unborn humans.

A number of years back when I was living in SoCal, a woman was killed by a mountain lion while she was out jogging in the hills. The police proceeded to track down and shoot the mountian lion.

Now the jogger was a mother who left behind several kids, and the mountion lion was a female with several cubs. A local church started a fund to collect donations for the kids, and a local environmental concern started a collection for the cubs. The cubs got ten times as much money donated.

When a reporter interviewed someone at the cub fund and asked if she felt bad that people seemed to care so much more about the cubs than the kids, she replied: "Well, it's simple. There aren't that many mountain lions..."

Call me speciesist, but it seems to me like, all religious concerns aside, we could put a lot more value on members (or "potential members" if you insist) of our own species than of others. I'm not saying we should rape and destroy the rest of the planet. But we are humans, and all other things aside, that ought to mean something.

A Social Construction

I just consulted the blue jay in my backyard while watering the rose beds. He informs me that all rational birds know that lawn mowers do not exist, however belief in lawn mowers is socially useful because it gives otherwise shiftless birds a sense of morality and purpose in life. He encourages less enlightened birds to continue their belief in the lawn mower.

I told him to wait till next Saturday...

Sunday, June 19, 2005

A Reducibly Complex Mousetrap

If you're read much of the pro and con Intelligent Design writing, you know that in inordinate amount of time is spent discussing mouse traps. If so, you may enjoy this article describing the evolution of an reducibly complex mousetrap.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Population & Ideology

I originally wrote this article right after the imposition of same sex marriage and Massachusetts. The introduction is a bit dated, but the body of the argument remains a good jumping off point for a deeper discussion.

Ah, spring! when the judiciary’s thoughts turn to love. There must be something in the air this year. While mayors seemed to feel that the groundhog called it wrong this year and launched spring love in the rainy days of February, the old romantics on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court believe nothing could be more beautiful than a May wedding.

To the chagrin of politicians and the delight of partisans on both sides of the political spectrum, the next eight months look like being another drawn out battle in the Culture War that – depending on the length of your perspective – has been going on ever since the some australopithecine pulled himself to a semi-erect posture on the plains of the Serengeti and pronounced that things were going to the dogs with the younger generation.

With thirty years of experience in fighting politically imposed moral relativism in the form of Roe vs. Wade, the conservative movement is as ready as it can be to join battle, and I believe our chances for success are good. However, as editorial broadsides are exchanged, both sides have too often portrayed the current situation as a final crossroads at which either “progress” or “traditional values” will score a lasting victory.

While this may serve well as a rallying cry, it belies the historical record on family structure, in which the “traditional family” forms a steady baseline (even in pre- and non-Christian cultures) with the range of deviation weaving gently above and below like a sine curve, but not striking off suddenly in new directions. This is the point that liberals miss when they write off heterosexual marriage as a strictly “religious” definition. Certain elements of the traditional view of marriage in the United States are definitely drawn from Christian doctrine: no sex before marriage, no adultery, disapproval of divorce. These moral guidelines are not without analogues in other cultures, but in Western Culture they are primarily the result of Christianity and Judaism’s influence.

However, the more basic definition of marriage – a stable heterosexual social unit for the purpose of bearing and rearing children – can be found with startlingly little variation in the vast majority of world cultures. This is not to say that other forms of sexual activity did not exist. However, even in cultures such as Classical Greece (where some of Socrates’ associates in Symposium argue that true love can only be between two men – since women aren’t capable of such lofty emotions) the traditional married family was a major social institution, whatever else its practitioners may have done in their spare time. The reason is not hard to fathom. The heterosexual, monogamous family unit is simply the most stable (and thus the best) environment for rearing children, an activity which is essential to the species’ survival.

Cultural movements that reject or ignore the necessity of raising and educating children in their belief system at rates above the replacement level (2.1 children per woman) risk becoming increasingly marginalized within the population as a whole unless they possess a significant conversion rate. Throughout much of the 20th century liberal secular materialism had the conversion rate on its side. What was at the start of the century a small, though comparatively elite, group became by the seventies a seemingly unstoppable cultural force. While the growth of the middle class and of affordable luxuries served to bolster the appeal of focusing on temporal self-actualization rather than eternal justification, an unprecedented breakdown in religious and cultural education since the 1960s funneled an equally unprecedented number of children from religious families into the secular world. Parents who had grown up in the 30s, 40s and 50s all too often assumed that so long as they assured their children growing up in the 60s, 70s and 80s went to school and church they would be brought up with the same social and moral values as their parents. Many large, conservative Christian families of the period saw more than half their children leave behind the faith and values of their parents. This trend, coupled with the view that “progress” constituted a move from a religious to a secular worldview led many to conclude that religion would inevitably go the way of the dinosaurs and Victorians. Indeed, to this day I often hear people twice my age pontificate that we need only wait “a few more years” for the last of the conservatives to die out.

However, those moral and theological conservatives who did successfully weather the storm of the 60s and 70s learned the obvious lesson: if you value your belief system and wish to see your children share it, you must assure that it is actively lived and taught to them during their formative period. The 80s and 90s saw a renaissance among conservative Christians in the understanding that parents must be the primary educators of their children, especially in the area of religion and morality. This realization is in large part responsible for the burgeoning Christian homeschooling movement, which according to the Home School Legal Defense Alliance (HSLDA) now accounts for upwards of 2 million students in the US, as well as a new wave of independent Christian and Catholic private schools. Traditional Christians whose children attend public schools are also aware of the necessity of giving their children the education necessary to retain and defend their beliefs in an increasingly secular mainstream culture.

The results have been dramatic. When HSLDA sponsored a study of homeschooling graduates over 18 last year, 94% agreed with the statement, “My religious beliefs are basically the same as those of my parents.” And to magnify the effect further at the political level, respondents voted at twice the rate of the general population, and contributed money and time to political campaigns three times as often as other people their age. Clearly the children coming out of these younger traditionalist families do not have the nearly 50% conversion rate to secularism that their parents’ generation did.

Merely by stemming the tide of conversion from a religious to a secular worldview, moral traditionalists would be able to stabilize their current percentage share of the population, which is depending on how the group is defined is probably somewhere between 10 and 25% of the US population. However as Max Singer pointed out in an August 1999 article in The Atlantic, the current total fertility rate (TFR) of the US is below the replacement rate; the TFR of most other developed nations is far lower. Indeed, the world TFR as a whole has been falling rapidly and shows all signs of continuing to do so as the third world becomes more industrialized. The 2002 UN Population Division report suggests that the world population will stabilize and then begin to fall somewhere between 2040 and 2075 with a maximum world population of between 7.5 and 9 billion. Singer suggests that in a world of stable or falling population levels and ever increasing technology, ideology (rather than war, famine or disease) will play a key role in determining the size and composition of world and national populations.

The increasing demographic significance of the Hispanic population in the US is a case in point of how a birth rate significantly above the norm can impact a group’s representation in the total national population. The US TFR is 2.05 (just barely below replacement level); however; the white TFR is 1.9 and the Hispanic TFR is 3.2. In some states, more than half of the babies born each year are Hispanic. Although American Hispanics have yet to assert themselves as a cohesive political force, politicians in both parties have made increasing efforts to endear themselves to this rapidly growing population group.

An even more dramatic example from a cultural/religious point of view is the Muslim population in France. The overall French TFR is 1.85; however, the TFR of French Muslims is approximately 3 to 4 (the French government does not collect official statistics on religion) while the non-Muslim TFR is only 1.4. Thus, while Muslims make up only 7% of the French population, they constitute 25-30% of the population under 25. Clearly, unless major changes occur (if it is not already too late), France is facing major cultural changes in the next 50 years, especially because the mainstream French culture has generally left its Muslim immigrants underrepresented and unassimilated. (The above figures are drawn from the CIA 2003 World Fact Book and from this article originally printed in the New York Sun: )

I have yet to find any studies examining the TFR of Americans broken down by religious affiliation and degree of orthodoxy. However, experience suggests that traditional/orthodox Christian reproduce at significantly higher levels than the secular population. Among Christian homeschooling circles, families of three to seven children seem the norm, and those children in turn marry younger than their secular peers and will in all likelihood have more children.

It seems quite reasonable that the secular, white American TFR is the same as that of most Western European countries: 1.2 to 1.4 children per woman. In that case, the American population will increasingly be made up of two rapidly growing groups: recent immigrants (whose TFR is likely to drop after one or two generations unless they have further cultural/religious motivations to continue to reproduce at above average levels) and morally conservative Christians. Far from enjoying the undisputed cultural victory they have long predicted, liberal secularists will increasingly find themselves in the minority.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Blogsphere Dynamic

GalleySlaves has some intereting things to say about liberal blogger MyDD's article on conservative vs. liberal traffic stats.

Essentially, MyDD noticed that while there are still significantly more conservative blogs in the top 200 as regards visits, that the liberals are disproportionally represented in the top 40. These top blogs have been growing in visits much more rapidly than the top conservative blogs. What they have in common is that they all allow comments, while Instapundit, Powerline, NRO, etc. generally do not.

He also points out that a number of the mid-string liberal blogs got their starts as commentors or diarists on the big liberal blogs, thus getting a built in readership. Conservative bloggers on the other hand have to start their own blogs and then rely on links to major bloggers to get their traffic infusions.

Then he goes on to speculate that this is because liberals are generally egalitarian while conservatives are more hierarchical. (You would think that would mean there would just be a few large conservative blogs that all conservatives read in lock-step, with no new startups...)

Well, as far as it goes, a lot of this is non-surprising. People will visit a site with comments more often for the simple reason that there's more content there to read. And yeah, you can get readership if you post interesting comments and people then follow the link to your site.

However, I don't go to sites like NRO and PowerLine looking for community. I go there looking for good content with a strong editorial line.

And (avid comment boxer though I am at times) reading people get excited about every dang topic can get older after a while... (And can you imagine how many comments there would be on the Corner? I have trouble keeping up with it as it is.)

It's the Marginal Cases, Stupid

Several months ago Jane Galt wrote a very thoughtful piece on gay marriage. A libertarian, Jane looked at the standard arguments over whether or not introducing gay marriage would destabilize traditional marriage and have unforeseen and unwanted societal impacts.

Most interesting is the angle she takes in addressing the standard canard: "How would allowing gay people to get married ruin your marriage? Are you going to want to go out and fornicate or commit adultery or get divorced just because these two nice men are allowed to marry each other?"

Her answer is, of course it won't de-stabilize her marriage, nor probably yours either. But what it could very well do, is change the balance of forces acting on the marginal cases, people on the dividing line, unsure of whether to get married before having children, or unsure of whether to save sex for marriage, or what have you.

One of the examples that she uses runs as follows: Eighty years ago, society's treatment of single mothers was just terrible. Widows, sure Churches and city pensions helped them out. Women abandoned by their husbands also got a decent amount of help. But if you were unmarried and had a child, you could expect to have your life and your child's life made miserable for your sins. And certainly you couldn't expect any outside financial help unless you went to a home for wayward girls and put your child up for adoption.

Was that charitable? No, often not. And in the 50s and 60s progressives began to push to provide state benefits to impoverished unwed single mothers and their children, just like the state already did for widows and orphans. I mean, come on, what woman would set herself up for the life of hardship that is single motherhood for a poverty line state benefit?

Well, the answer, as a statistician or evolutionary biologist should have been able to tell them, is that it would be attractive to those women who were worse off than that to start with. (What good is half an eye? A bit more than one quarter of an eye...) In other words, if a woman's future is either a) likely to end in single motherhood anyway or b) likely to be at a lower income than welfare payments (or at least, not much more, and at the expense of much harder work) then the existence of welfare payments for single months will drive up out-of-wedlock births.

Sure, other things came into play as well, primarily the general social/moral meltdown of the sixties, but the existence of welfare for single mothers undoubtedly led to higher illegitimacy rates in the inner cities over the last forty years. And in that sense, perhaps the suffering and stigma inflicted on single mothers and their children 60+ years ago was actually less than the suffering that has result from removing the stigma.

There's no way to go back on this. Much as societal traditionalists might like to turn back the clock, you can't artificially produce a social stigma (except in a subset culture whose mores you control). But as we contemplate future social/moral developments, from same sex marriage to cloning as well as the continuing impact of past changes such as legal abortion and plentiful contraception, we need to put on our Darwin hats and ask: what selection factors are we creating, and what selection factors are we taking away.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Back to School

The Wall Street Journal had a really moving article on Monday by Roger Thurow about a Nigerian girl named Anafghat Ayouba. (The link is a Pittsburg Post-Gazette reprint which you can read without a subscription.)

As is not uncommon in Nigeria and other counties in central Africa, Anafghat was married at 11 to a man twice her age (the dowry was one camel). She lived with her family till she reached puberty, when she went to live with her husband. Soon she was pregnant, and her husband left to work in Libya.

Young and small for her age, she had trouble in delivering her baby. After three days of hard labor during which she was unable to deliver her baby, her father pulled together the money to drive her to a hospital, where her son was delivered, but stillborn. However, the long hard labor had torn a hole, called a fistula, between her bladder and her vagina, leaving her incontinent.

Now, after surgery from visiting American surgeons, she has gone back to school (she was a third grade drop-out) to persue her dream of getting a college education and making something of herself. And her father, a muslim cleric (and goat herder) is behind her:

Anafghat is back living in the small round hut with her family. She and her father say she has no plans to return to her husband and she will stay with her family until she advances to the higher school. And she wants to make sure her younger sisters follow her. Mr. Mahomed sat on one of the beds stirring a bowl of rice, surrounded by all of his daughters.

He says he will keep his promises to Anafghat. "Even if one of my daughters asks to get married while they are still in school," he says, "I will refuse."

Read the whole thing.

Interview in Iraq

Steven Vincent (currently living in and blogging from Iraq) has a great article in National Review Online today in which he interviews an Iraqi stringer about life in Iraq, Hussein, and the invasion.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Levada, Theology and Intellectual Freedom

An interview with the newly appointed head of the CDF, Archbisop Levada, has been causing some comment around the blogsphere.

Others have already speculated on what may discerned about Levada's MO based on his responses. I'll leave that to them, but this section really stuck me:
He said one of the "negative aspects" of the congregation's work is that it must occasionally intervene and ask theologians how they justify their positions or square them with the faith. That can be misunderstood as a form of repression, he said.

"I think people have sometimes gotten the idea that if you don't let every theologian say everything that he or she thinks, or if you challenge them in any way and say, 'That's not correct,' that somehow you are impeding freedom of conscience or freedom of inquiry," he said.

"But that's not the case. We have freedom to inquire. But a theologian himself or herself is called to discriminate between where that inquiry leads and how it corresponds to the faith that the church continues to receive and to live by. Otherwise they would not be doing true theology, it seems to me," he said.

"Theology itself is in dialogue with revelation, which has some things to say. And you can't just say that revelation says anything you want it to say," he said.

This tied in in with a subject that's been simmering on my mental back-burner since the whole stink about America's editor resigning hit the news: what exactly is "legitimate dissent" vs. "unacceptable dissent" in the theological world?

Really, though, perhaps "dissent" is the wrong word. After all, the Church is not a policy making body, it is the body of Christ, comissioned to spread His Word to all nations. The job of theologians is help the faithful by developing an ever clearer understanding of what scripture and tradition tell us about God, the faith, and ourselves.

The relationship of theologians and scripture/tradition should be much the same as that between scientists and the physical world. Scientists are often passionately attached to their favorite theories, but when the verdict increasingly comes in that their theories and physical reality don't match, they're expected to back down and come up with a new theory, not keep insisting that their theory was better than that reality is wrong.

The trick is, although as Catholics we believe that the Church has the ability to speak athoritatively on matters of faith and morals, it is through the human instruments of the Church (other theologians) that a given theologian might recieve words that his latest theories do not fit with scripture and tradition. (In science, it will be other scientists who point at the problems with a given scientist's theories, but at least there's an objectively verifiable physical process which he can fall back on and see for himself.) So all to often people seem to read the situation as: so-and-so doesn't like what I'm saying, so he's telling me to shut up.

People become attached to their ideas, and although we have the final authority of the the magisterium and the Holy Father theoretically doing gate-keeping duty, I think far too many Catholics probably convince themselves, "I'm not really outside the magisterium, it's just that venal [conservative, liberal, etc.] who doesn't like my work and is invoking Rome to back up his personal dislikes." It can't be easy to admit, "No, I'm wrong. My teaching contradicts the magisterium."

But as Catholics we believe that Christ didn't just turn us all loose with the Bible and the traditions (lower-case "t") of Christianity and tell us to find the truth as best we could. We believe that Christ gave the institutional Church the duty of presenting and protecting His teachings, and that he sent the Holy Spirit to guide the Church and prevent it from error. And so we have institutional gate keepers such as the CDF, whose duty it is to warn theologians if their teaching contradicts Scripture and Tradition.

This isn't the squelching of intellectual inquiry and more than physical reality "squelches" scientists whose theories prove wrong. Those organs of the Church who are responsible for preserving doctrinal integrity provide the experimental feedback (if you will) that separates truth from error. (And you generally have to stray pretty far into error before they get involved.)

Unless one is to abandon the idea the the institutional Church is the guardian of Christian Revelation and Tradition (which would mean ceasing to be Catholic) than one must accept the occasional doctrinal interventions by the Church's theological watchdogs with humility. The good theologian, like the good scientist, will take some time to figure out why that theory didn't work, and then formulate a new one.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Defying God

I was out mowing the lawn early this morning, and the blue jay that lives in our back tree objected. Any time I'd stop the mower he'd fly down and start doing little dominance displays in front of the mower, fluffing out his wings and making little charges at me, as if to say, "I don't fear you! Out of my yard. I don't want it mowed. See, see, I'm powerful!"

Then I'd start the mower again and he'd fly off.

Now the mowing is finished, the yard looks great, and the blue jay has forgotten that anything happened.

Friday, June 10, 2005

A Conservative Wakes Up

Though "conservative" is a label that is increasingly hard to define these days, one version that I wear fairly comfortably is, "One who seeks to retain all that was good from the past." I'm not speaking of mindless nostalgia for all things ancient, since in some fields (medicine, laundry, sewage processing) the past had little to recommend it. But while it shouldn't overpower, wistfulness is a good conservative emotion.

Several years ago, I found that my old fashioned instincts had gained control of my morning routine. It started when a European power converter fried my electric shaver, and I was forced to replace it with a package of disposable razors from a supermarket in Oxford. Finding the blades more comfortable than the shaver, I never went back to the shaver.

More recently, I began using Old Spice after shave, primarily because I recalled my grandfathers doing so.

Then one night, googling randomly, I thought of looking to see if anyone still sold straight razors. Indeed, they do. I found a great online store called Classic Shaving. Even better, I found a site called RazorCentral which even reprinted a shaving and razor care manual from the 1700s. I was impressed.

Still, one can't jump into things too quickly, especially when one has limited funds and a hurried morning routine.

So far I've gone from using canned shaving cream to using a cake of shaving soap and a badger hair shaving brush. (Courtesy of a Christmas gift from MrsDarwin.) And more recently I bought an old fashioned double edged safety razor. This is the simpler ancestor of your modern disposable safety razor. Rather than throwing away the whole thing, you remove the head of the razor, throw away the blade, and insert another.

One of these days, though, I'm determined to restore an antique straight razor off Ebay and do the thing properly, or buy one of the nice modern straight razors still produced by European manufacturers. In the mean time, I must satisfy myself with having turned back the clock a mere 90 years.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005


I've been threatening friends and family for some months with starting a blog, and since my personal and work commitments have reached the point where I really don't have time to add a single thing, this of course seemed like the ideal time.

Why "DarwinCatholic"?

For one thing, it's unexpected. If you're currently wondering what DarwinCatholic means, that's how I'm trying to help you remember it.

First, a little about me. (I've always been charmed by how Gregory of Tours began his History of the Franks with the creed, feeling that his readers should know what he believed before they heard what he had to say.)

I am first and foremost a Catholic.

Politically and culturally, I am a conservative.

My brief career as a published writer consisted of a couple SF/F stories and two book reviews in New Oxford Review in which I criticized creationism/intelligent design and defended the compatibility of Catholicism and evolution. Which I have the feeling is why I stopped being invited to write book reviews for NOR...

Professionally, I am a data analyst, web designer and all around entrepreneurial type.

I'm married to the beautiful MrsDarwin, and we have two little girls (monkeys?) aged 3yrs and one-and-a-half.

And I'm still under thirty.

Which brings me back to this blog's name: DarwinCatholic.

One of the things that really struck me was the cultural/demographic differences between my wife and me (and our friends from college) and most of the other people our age that we met through work.

My wife and I married a month and a half after graduating from Franciscan University of Steubenville. (We had been going out for three and a half years.) Many of our friends also married within a year of graduation. Most of us also had our first child within a year of getting married, and our second within two years after the first. We got office jobs and middle class incomes. Some of our friends had degrees in majors, such as Computer Science, designed to win jobs. Others, like me (I majored in Classics), learned on the job and caught up fast. We bought houses before we were thirty. Several of us started businesses, with varying degrees of success. We became, in the buzzwords of David Brooks, exurban natalists.

Meanwhile, my co-workers (mostly several years older than I) dated, partied, and assumed that I must be over thirty. The idea of "settling down" in your early twenties was totally inconceivable to them, and when I mentioned that my wife and I hoped to have 5-7 children, everyone thought I was joking.

After several years, we moved to Texas, where we had a number of friends. Texas, even in the liberal Austin area, is certainly more family friendly than Southern California. However even here, hearing that someone has more than three children is almost a dead give away that they are religious and at least moderately conservative in their practice thereof.

Certain (admittedly tiny) subgroups present event more extreme examples. In the homeschooling circles that I knew during high school, families of 8-12 were not unusual.

Looking at all this, I can't help wondering: at what point does all this start to become statistically significant? My wife and I both know a lot of other alumni of the Catholic, large family, homeschooling environment, and most of them, like us, as still strong Catholics and look forward to having at least moderate size families. If this holds true for a couple generations, how will the Catholic and indeed the general American demographic landscape shift over the next 60-80 years? If liberals average 1.6 children (and based on European demographics that's pretty likely) and conservatives average 2.6 children, how long will it take the country as a whole to lurch to the right? Or will it?

I continue to have vague ambitions of going to trying to find funding to do a serious demographic survey looking for correlations between religion, politics and reproduction. But more on that later...