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

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

An Interrogator on Torture

Mark Shea (under the guidance of the sagacious David Curp) links to a letter posted on The Corner:

I am opposed to torture under all circumstances, and there should be laws against it. Those who break them, should be punished. As a former Army Counterintelligence Agent, I conducted battlefield interrogations of enemy prisoners of war as well as strategic debriefings of higher value targets, and I've served in bad places where bad things will happen if you don't get the information.

On more than one occasion, I had discussions with some of our operators regarding the obtaining of information in the ticking bomb scenario. Our discussion ran along the lines of "It's against the law. It's against the UCMJ. We'd go to jail. But if we knew the bomb was ticking, and this guy had the information that could save dozens or hundreds or more people, or if the team (the operators and the unit) were going to be wiped out if we didn't get it, I'd whip out a hatchet and an entrenching tool and go to work on him." We were comfortable with this fairly horrible ambiguity and the bad consequences that would accompany it only because the military ethos was to sacrifice ourselves for others, and the notion of incurring legal jeopardy to save others struck us as a righteous cause, but it had to be predicated on the necessity of the ticking bomb. We did not want torture legalized. We did not want a guide book. We were fine with the notion we'd be punished had we ever used it - we never got into the neighborhood, much less seriously considering using it on anybody, BTW, we were just prepared to do what we had to do because it occurred to use that we could be in that position. There are some things that are too horrible to give a moral and legal imprimatur to, and torture is one of them, just as the law doesn't permit cannibalism but won't convict shipwrecked sailors and air crashed rugby players for engaging in it. We know these taboo and downright wrong practices sometimes rear their heads for good reason, but they are animalistic behaviors that come from a bestial place in the human soul, and no civilized society can long withstand a handshake deal with such beasts. Better to keep them caged.

Well said, indeed, I think. And as I mentioned before, I think this well displays the inherent "two masters" danger of being a secular authority. In strictly worldly terms, it is indeed your job to do what is necessary to protect those under your charge. In terms of the salvation of your eternal soul, it is necessary that you avoid sin, no matter what the consequences.

Galileo's Letter to the Grand Duchess

This has been one of those days, and it's sure not slowing down yet, but since I'm not looking like writing anything insightful today, here's someone who wrote a few insightful things four hundred years ago.

These are some extracts from Galileo's Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina, in which he sought to explain what he believed was the proper relationship of science and scripture. Note that Galileo works from good sources, letting St. Augustine do most of his theological heavy lifting for him.

The reason produced for condemning the opinion that the earth moves and the sun stands still in many places in the Bible one may read that the sun moves and the earth stands still. Since the Bible cannot err; it follows as a necessary consequence that anyone takes a erroneous and heretical position who maintains that the sun is inherently motionless and the earth movable.

With regard to this argument, I think in the first place that it is very pious to say and prudent to affirm that the holy Bible can never speak untruth-whenever its true meaning is understood. But I believe nobody will deny that it is often very abstruse, and may say things which are quite different from what its bare words signify. Hence in expounding the Bible if one were always to confine oneself to the unadorned grammatical meaning, one might fall into error. Not only contradictions and propositions far from true might thus be made to appear in the Bible, but even grave heresies and follies. Thus it would be necessary to assign to God feet, hands and eyes, as well as corporeal and human affections, such as anger, repentance, hatred, and sometimes even the forgetting of things past and ignorance of those to come. These propositions uttered by the Holy Ghost were set down in that manner by the sacred scribes in order to accommodate them to the capacities, Of the common people, who are rude and unlearned. For the sake of those who deserve to be separated from the herd, it is necessary that wise expositors should produce the true senses of such passages, together with the special reasons for which they were set down in these words. This doctrine is so widespread and so definite with all theologians that it would be superfluous to adduce evidence for it.

Hence I think that I may reasonably conclude that whenever the Bible has occasion to speak of any physical conclusion (especially those which are very abstruse and hard to understand), the rule has been observed of avoiding confusion in the minds of the common people which would render them contumacious toward the higher mysteries. Now the Bible, merely to condescend to popular capacity, has not hesitated to obscure some very important pronouncements, attributing to God himself some qualities extremely remote from (and even contrary to) His essence. Who, then, would positively declare that this principle has been set aside, and the Bible has confined itself rigorously to the bare and restricted sense of its words, when speaking but casually of the earth, of water, of the sun, or of any other created thing? Especially in view of the fact that these things in no way concern the primary purpose of the sacred writings, which is the service of God and the salvation of souls - matters infinitely beyond the comprehension of the common people.

This being granted, I think that in discussions of physical problems we ought to begin not from the authority of scriptural passages but from sense­experiences and necessary demonstrations; for the holy Bible and the phenomena of nature proceed alike from the divine Word the former as the dictate of the Holy Ghost and the latter as the observant executrix of God's commands. It is necessary for the Bible, in order to be accommodated to the understanding of every man, to speak many things which appear to differ from the absolute truth so far as the bare meaning of the words is concerned. But Nature, on the other hand, is inexorable and immutable; she never transgresses the laws imposed upon her, or cares a whit whether her abstruse reasons and methods of operation are understandable to men. For that reason it appears that nothing physical which sense­experience sets before our eyes, or which necessary demonstrations prove to us, ought to be called in question (much less condemned) upon the testimony of biblical passages which may have some different meaning beneath their words. For the Bible is not chained in every expression to conditions as strict as those which govern all physical effects; nor is God any less excellently revealed in Nature's actions than in the sacred statements of the Bible. Perhaps this is what Tertullian meant by these words:

We conclude that God is known first through Nature, and then again, more particularly, by doctrine, by Nature in His works, and by doctrine in His revealed word.
From this I do not mean to infer that we need not have an extraordinary esteem for the passages of holy Scripture. On the contrary, having arrived at any certainties in physics, we ought to utilize these as the most appropriate aids in the true exposition of the Bible and in the investigation of those meanings which are necessarily contained therein, for these must be concordant with demonstrated truths. I should judge that the authority of the Bible was designed to persuade men of those articles and propositions which, surpassing all human reasoning could not be made credible by science, or by any other means than through the very mouth of the Holy Spirit.

Yet even in those propositions which are not matters of faith, this authority ought to be preferred over that of all human writings which are supported only by bare assertions or probable arguments, and not set forth in a demonstrative way. This I hold to be necessary and proper to the same extent that divine wisdom surpasses all human judgment and conjecture.

But I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them. He would not require us to deny sense and reason in physical matters which are set before our eyes and minds by direct experience or necessary demonstrations. This must be especially true in those sciences of which but the faintest trace (and that consisting of conclusions) is to be found in the Bible. Of astronomy; for instance, so little is found that none of the planets except Venus are so much as mentioned, and this only once or twice under the name of "Lucifer." If the sacred scribes had had any intention of teaching people certain arrangements and motions of the heavenly bodies, or had they wished us to derive such knowledge from the Bible, then in my opinion they would not have spoken of these matters so sparingly in comparison with the infinite number of admirable conclusions which are demonstrated in that science. Far from pretending to teach us the constitution and motions of the heavens and other stars, with their shapes, magnitudes, and distances, the authors of the Bible intentionally forbore to speak of these things, though all were quite well known to them. Such is the opinion of the holiest and most learned Fathers, and in St. Augustine we find the following words:

It is likewise commonly asked what we may believe about the form and shape of the heavens according to the Scriptures, for many contend much about these matters. But with superior prudence our authors have forborne to speak of this, as in no way furthering the student with respect to a blessed life-and, more important still, as taking up much of that time which should be spent in holy exercises. What is it to me whether heaven, like a sphere surrounds the earth on all sides as a mass balanced in the center of the universe, or whether like a dish it merely covers and overcasts the earth? Belief in Scripture is urged rather for the reason we have often mentioned; that is, in order that no one, through ignorance of divine passages, finding anything in our Bibles or hearing anything cited from them of such a nature as may seem to oppose manifest conclusions, should be induced to suspect their truth when they teach, relate, and deliver more profitable matters. Hence let it be said briefly, touching the form of heaven, that our authors knew the truth but the Holy Spirit did not desire that men should learn things that are useful to no one for salvation.
The same disregard of these sacred authors toward beliefs about the phenomena of the celestial bodies is repeated to us by St. Augustine in his next chapter. On the question whether we are to believe that the heaven moves or stands still, he writes thus:

Some of the brethren raise a question concerning the motion of heaven, whether it is fixed or moved. If it is moved, they say, how is it a firmament? If it stands still, how do these stars which are held fixed in it go round from east to west, the more northerly performing shorter circuits near the pole, so that the heaven (if there is another pole unknown to us) may seem to revolve upon some axis, or (if there is no other pole) may be thought to move as a discus? To these men I reply that it would require many subtle and profound reasonings to find out which of these things is actually so; but to undertake this and discuss it is consistent neither with my leisure nor with the duty of those whom I desire to instruct in essential matters more directly conducing to their salvation and to the benefit of the holy Church.
From these things it follows as a necessary consequence that, since the Holy Ghost did not intend to teach us whether heaven moves or stands still, whether its shape is spherical or like a discus or extended in a plane, nor whether the earth is located at its center or off to one side, then so much the less was it intended to settle for us any other conclusion of the same kind. And the motion or rest of the earth and the sun is so closely linked with the things just named, that without a determination of the one, neither side can be taken in the other matters. Now if the Holy Spirit has purposely neglected to teach us propositions of this sort as irrelevant to the highest goal (that is, to our salvation), how can anyone affirm that it is obligatory to take sides on them, that one belief is required by faith, while the other side is erroneous? Can an opinion be heretical and yet have no concern with the salvation of souls? Can the Holy Ghost be asserted not to have intended teaching us something that does concern our salvation? I would say here something that was heard from an ecclesiastic of the most eminent degree: "That the intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven. not how heaven goes."

But let us again consider the degree to which necessary demonstrations and sense experiences ought to be respected in physical conclusions, and the authority they have enjoyed at the hands of holy and learned theologians. From among a hundred attestations I have selected the following:

We must also take heed, in handling the doctrine of Moses. that we altogether avoid saying positively and confidently anything which contradicts manifest experiences and the reasoning of philosophy or the other sciences. For since every truth is in agreement with all other truth, the truth of Holy Writ cannot be contrary to the solid reasons and experiences of human knowledge.
And in St. Augustine we read:

If anyone shall set the authority of Holy Writ against clear and manifest reason, he who does this knows not what he has undertaken; for he opposes to the truth not the meaning of the Bible, which is beyond his comprehension, but rather his own interpretation, not what is in the Bible, but what he has found in himself and imagines to be there.
This granted, and it being true that two truths cannot contradict one another, it is the function of expositors to seek out the true senses of scriptural texts. These will unquestionably accord with the physical conclusions which manifest sense and necessary demonstrations have previously made certain to us. Now the Bible, as has been remarked, admits in many places expositions that are remote from the signification of the words for reasons we have already given. Moreover, we are unable to affirm that all interpreters of the Bible speak by Divine inspiration for if that were so there would exist no differences among them about the sense of a given passage. Hence I should think it would be the part of prudence not to permit anyone to usurp scriptural texts and force them in some way to maintain any physical conclusion to be true, when at some future time the senses and demonstrative or necessary reasons may show the contrary. Who indeed will set bounds to human ingenuity? Who will assert that everything in the universe capable of being perceived is already discovered and known? Let us rather confess quite truly that "Those truths which we know are very few in comparison with those which we do not know."

Kids and cold

"I'm cold. You go put on a sweater."

That's how it is here. I have a low tolerance for being chilly, and it even makes me cold to see dolls laying around with no clothes on. Why, then, is it that my daughters find it perfectly comfortable to run around in ballet leotards or sundresses or nothing but their skivvies? I'm flipping through the Lands' End catalogue dreaming of fleece slippers, and they're dancing around with bare arms and legs and toes. It makes me shiver just looking at them.

Part of the problem is that they're both such clothes horses. I dress them warmly, and half an hour later they've changed into dresses. Babs is a great believer in dressing for the occasion: she changes for lunch, for dinner, for bed, and once or twice in the afternoon just for kicks. She doesn't always pick appropriate outfits, but she has her own sense of style, and if I choose an outfit that offends, I hear all about it.

At least I haven't seen the girls in white shoes after Labor Day.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

It's Worth Living

An Examined Life is back and active after lying quiet for a couple weeks.

Keeping the Little House

Noogs and I have have finished our read-aloud of Little House in the Big Woods. Of the many things that struck me while reading it, one was the sheer efficiency of Ma and the pioneer housekeepers. Under primitive conditions Ma instilled manners and a respect for authority in her children, tended the garden, fed the livestock, kept her house clean, washed her laundry by hand, sewed their clothes (again, by hand), and coped with the loneliness of the solitary life of a pioneer woman. I was left to meditate on my own shortcomings as a housekeeper (brought on mostly by my own poor management of time and lack of absolute necessity) and I pondered whether or not I should succumb to a thoroughly 21st century inferiority complex.

On further consideration, I decided against the complex. (I don't manage my time well enough to waste it on being depressed.) How, I wondered, did Ma get everything done without going insane? Well, let's start with the housecleaning. Our house is small to moderate by modern standards -- 1800 sq. ft. We've accumulated stuff over the years, and the process has been accelerated by having children who receive toys for their birthdays and Christmas. Well, the little house was just that -- one bedroom, one living room, a pantry, a storage attic. That's not a lot of space to clean. The advent of modern plastics has allowed for a glut of basically useless toys -- I mean, Little People are cute and occupy the kids for a while, but do they really serve any purpose?

So, if my house were reduced to about the size of my living room and dining room and all the useless knick-knacks and toys and stuff were removed, I'd have a lot less cleaning to do. We'd have to reduce our book stash, of course.

Now, for laundry -- I spend most of my time either doing it or avoiding it. Little socks, underwear, all the t-shirts and leggings and dresses and sweaters -- and that's just the girls' clothes. Let's take it back to the 1870s: two or three day-to-day dresses for the girls, plus one for dressing up. Same for me. A few shirts and trousers for Darwin, along with a few vests. A couple pairs of drawers for everyone. I may have to wash it by hand, but the volume has decreased drastically. Plus, the girls and I wear aprons and pinafores so we don't wear out our clothes any faster than necessary, and this cuts down on stains as well. We may only take a bath once a week (though sometimes that's not much different than life with small children now :)) but we would be used to that.

These differences don't trump everything, of course. But how much more time would I have to spend on gardening, sewing, cheese-making, hat-making, and baking if I weren't distracted by technology? No wasting time on the computer, no distracting telephone calls, no t.v. at nights. I could have washed all my dishes by hand in the time it's taken me to write this so far. On the other hand, the girls have just fallen asleep in front of the t.v. (while watching a DVD of the moon landing, no less!) so I'm going to use this precious quiet time to -- knit.

Torture, Sin and The Law

Fr. Neuhaus of First Things has an interesting take (second item down) on Charles Krauthammer's much debated article on torture in the Weekly Standard, in which Krauthammer asserts that in certain extreme circumstances the use of torture might be not only morally acceptable, but necessary.

It strikes me that one of the things that is often lost of us in our modern age, even on many good Catholics, is the dichotomy between being "of this world" and being "of the next". In Dante's Purgatorio, he encounters in ante-purgatory the valley of the pre-occupied, many of them political and military leaders.

The souls in ante-purgatory are those who, while in the end choosing God, not only need to purge away their sins from this world, but before they can even begin the process of purification must reorient themselves toward God -- something which, whether through sloth, late repentance or distraction they failed to do in this life. (Those who died under excommunication occupy a lower level of ante-purgatory, and must wait a period of time determined by their period of unrepentant excommunication before they can be admitted to the higher levels.)

It was commonly agreed upon in Dante's time that devoting one's energy to being a good ruler might well detract from one's ability to be a good person. With the advent of a great emphasis on Church social teaching and improving the lot of the residents of this world, this view seems to have lost emphasis, if not been totally discarded.

On the one had, people assert that as a Christian a ruler should in all cases do that which is morally right -- even if the results for his secular charge (the state) are negative. On the other hand, others assert that whatever doing whatever is best for one's country must in and of itself be moral.

According to Neuhaus, McCain seems to have avoided both of these approaches and hearkened back to a more medieval approach. In interviews, McCain has said that although he believes that interrogation tactics that fall under or close to the definition of torture should be illegal, he nonetheless expects that should the oft-suggested "ticking bomb" circumstance come about, that government officials would in fact authorize tactics in violation of his proposed law. The point, he feels, is that in such a circumstance the officials in question should have to weigh the likelihood of gaining truly essential information that might save millions of lives against the possible repercussions of breaking the law.

I agree with Neuhaus that McCain is probably on the right track here. (I'm not speaking necessarily about the details of his proposed amendment, on which I'm not an expert, but rather on the general principle that torture should be universally illegal.) Torturing a suspect, even someone you're sure is guilty and has information that could save countless lives is nonetheless morally wrong. To the extent that it is a moral good for the laws of our country to reflect the moral law, we should therefore outlaw the use of torture in such a situation.

And yet, it is unquestionably true that someone who is entirely devoted to the good of the state (even to the possible exclusion of the good of his soul) would ignore this law under truly extreme circumstances. Depending on what this person did and whether he was right, it may well be that the country and God would choose to forgive that person for his crime rather than punishing him. Although a wrong done for a good cause is no less wrong, it is more readily forgivable than a wrong done for the sake of doing wrong.

This is the dichotomy that Dante deals with in describing the valley of the pre-occupied. These are the people who devoted themselves primarily to preserving mortal lives and mortal institutions, even when the means necessary to do so were contrary to God's laws. They set their sights on worldly goods rather than eternal goods. They sacrificed their time, their energy and even in many cases their lives for goods that were not the highest good, using means that were not the highest means.

The sacrifices such people make "to protect and to serve" worldy institutions should not be underestimated. And they deserve respect for what they do. But it is at the same time essential to remember that just because an action is the best or only possible way to preserve a country or a life does not necessarily mean that it is the right thing to do. Sometimes we are placed in situations where following God's law means giving up one's land, power, or life. This is when we are faces with the difficult truth of Christ's statement that a man cannot serve two masters.

Dante's solution to is to affirm that serving the good of the state can mean neglecting God's law, yet at the same time seeing that true faithfulness even to a worldly master is still pleasing to God, though imperfect and in need of purification.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Hef's World

James Pinkerton of TCS (who has written before about the demographics of the abortion debate) offers an interesting analysis of why Maureen Dowd is unhappy, and Hugh Hefner is not.

Essentially, women like Down have accepted the operating principles of "Hef's World". The catch is, although acting like the baser sort of men was supposed to be liberating, Dowd finds herself unhappy with the results, while Hefner, one assumes, does not.


The UK Daily Mail reports that about fifty babies are born in the UK each year after surviving botched abortions at 22 weeks or later. (Abortion is available on demand in the UK up to 24 weeks.)

The debate over abortion was reignited last night after it emerged that 50 babies survive botched terminations in Britain every year.

The figures are the first to show the true scale of a problem thought to have been confined to just a handful of babies.

Now some of the country's leading doctors will investigate how so many survived to be born after just 22 weeks of pregnancy. Shockingly, some of the babies may have gone through more than one abortion....

Doctors in Norwich are treating a toddler born at 24 weeks after three botched terminations.

The boy, now aged two, has a range of medical problems. Cemach's report to the Department of Health could see Britain's abortion procedures being overhauled.
Currently, abortions at 22 weeks of pregnancy and above involve the fatal injection of a chemical into the baby's heart while it is still in the womb.

Any babies that survive the procedure, and are born alive, are entitled to medical care. However, anti-abortion campaigners claim that some are so unwanted that they are simply left to die.

Last night, one of Britain's leading obstetricians accused the doctors who carried out botched abortions of 'sub-standard' medicine.

Yes, well. Many of us would indeed consider killing the patient to be "sub-standard" medicine. I wonder how much this happens in the US? (We have more people and more abortions, so I assume it happens more -- though I don't know if we're as merciful with those who survive their attempted executions.)

What happens to these poor children, I wonder? Are they usually put up for adoption or do they remain with their reluctant parents? What does it do to a person to know that your parents tried to kill you before they even knew you?

UPDATE: Amy Welborn links to a more detailed article about this in The Times.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Top Ten Influences Meme

This actually took me quite a bit of thinking, which I imagine means that it was good for me. I'm a rather bookish person, and so most of my biggest influences are authors or books. For good or ill, most of the greatest influences in my life (beyond my wife and immediate family) are books, not people.

The Top Ten Influences (excluding God and family) Meme (inflicted by Pro Ecclesia and Fr. Martin Fox)

These start out in chronological order and then are just in any old order at all.

1. I'm going to break the family rule right off, because this does deserve a place. Arguably the single greatest influence on my life was my youngest brother, Jonathon, who died of SIDS on the morning of Epiphany when I was seven. It is fairly rare these days for a child of seven to experience the reality that death can come at any time to any person -- even someone younger than himself. Some people don't seem to hit that realization till they're in their forties... I think it also probably pushed me hard in the direction of self sufficiency from a young age. In a family tragedy like that, your parents certainly provide lots of support and comfort, but at the same time you can sense that they have their own sorrow to deal with.

2. Greek & Norse Mythology -- I still have on the shelf the copy of Gods & Heroes from Viking Mythology by Brian Branston which I was given for my fifth birthday. This and a similar large illustrated book of Greek mythology were standard read-alouds in my family as far back as I can remember. Looking back, I think one of the things I got from hearing so much pagan mythology at a young age was that often fate deals you lousy cards, and heroism consists of dealing well with a bad situation. I don't "believe in fate" the way people do when they say that something is "meant to happen", but I certainly believe that there is no guarantee that you will be as happy as you want to be in life. Sometimes we're placed in situations (see above) where the best you can do is suffer well.

3. The NRA -- For my tenth birthday, I desperately wanted an air rifle. The ruling was that if I checked out enough books from the library to fully understand gun function and safety that I could have one -- with the understanding that if I ever violated these safety rules I would lose the air rifle. By age ten, I was already a voracious reader, so once I got started reading about guns, I didn't really stop. Before long I got into reading American Rifleman (the NRA's magazine) every month at the library. The NRA's second amendment advocacy and somewhat libertarian approach to conservatism was in many way the first introduction to American politics. The NRA certainly didn't remain my primary interest in politics (In fact, although I now own several guns I've never become a member.) and I quickly got into listening to conservative talk radio and such instead, but it was the beginning.

4. Plato -- I first encountered Plato in the Great Books based high school curriculum my parents put me through, and read him again in my college honors program and in various classics and philosophy classes. Certain of Plato's arguments, like the argument in Euthyphro for the existence of the ideal "good" and "justice" (which, as Aquinas would point out, is what we mean by "God") have become central to my faith. The dialogue form also made a great impression on me. And some of Plato's images (such as the cave in Republic) are hauntingly memorable and seem to sum up much of out intellectual predicament on this earth.

5. Tolkien -- I've read all of Tolkien's major works numerous times, and his imagery is very much part of my intellectual and artistic vocabulary. However The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are probably not the biggest influences on me, though I love both and have read them a number of times. The Silmarillion is a truly brilliant synthesis of Christian imagery expressed through the medium of pagan myth. My father must have read the creation story from the Silmarillion to me at a very young age, because for years I actually thought it was part of the Bible. My other favorite Tolkien work is The Smith of Wooten Major, a story which I have (I can't say why) always associated with death and the afterlife.

6. Waugh -- Brideshead Revisited is easily one of the single most influential books in my life. I've read it numerous times, and many of its themes have molded my relationship with and understanding of Catholicism.

7. Stephen Jay Gould -- In case no on has noticed, evolution evolution is one of my interests... Gould is not a brilliant writer by any stretch, though his popular books and collections of essays are well worth reading a show a wide ranging set of intellectual interests. One particular essay of his, however, have very much stayed with me: his piece on Nonoverlapping Magisteria, which he later expanded into the book Rocks of Ages. Gould doesn't fully understand the concept of a world with multiple levels of meaning, but for an atheist he does a good and very honest job of trying to give both religion and science their own separate and important spheres, and explain the differences between these two types knowledge. It's far from perfect, but it's noble and under-appreciated effort.

8. John Paul II -- I was born during the first year of John Paul II's pontificate, so it goes without saying that he in many ways defines the modern papacy for me. While the importance of the papacy is the protection from error which Christ promised Peter and his successors, at the human level it must have been very different to experience Paul VI's reign during one's formative years rather than John Paul II's. However, it's not the World Youth Day "rock star" side of John Paul II's papacy that strongly affected me, but rather his personalist philosophy as applied to the question of human sexuality. Love and Responsibility (which I've read twice) and Theology of the Body (which I keep trying to read but stalling out on) lay out an understanding of sexuality that takes the Church's historical understanding of the human person and runs with it to produce a much more sophisticated set of sexual ethics than found in Aquinas or Augustine.

9. Dante -- I've read the Divine Comedy three times now, though I know I would benefit from doing so again. There is no greater work of Catholic literature. To follow it, a decent set of commentary is needed, especially the first time through. My own favorite by a long way is Dorothy Sayers' translation and commentary. Don't just stop with the Inferno either. The Purgatorio is arguably the best volume, and the Paradiso is also well worth reading. Nor should Dante be seen as the nasty old medieval condemning people to hell. The thing people forget is that the Divine Comedy is first and foremost an account of Dante's own conversion from sin to repentance and thence to grace.

10. Origen -- I read Origen in Stuebenville's great books based Honors Program. Nearly everyone else in the class hated him -- writing him off as a heretic. For me, he was possibly the most interesting of the early fathers. I read his Commentary on the Song of Songs and On First Principles. On First Principles is interesting, but it was the Commentary that really fascinated me. This was my first encounter with biblical criticism that went beyond what the author meant, indeed to meanings which the author could most certainly not have meant. Here, within two hundred years of the time of Christ and long before Constantine or the Council of nice, we find a well formed understanding of the multiple sense of scripture and a very sophisticated melding of ancient pagan thought with Christian theology -- though given the early date of origin's work, some of his conclusions (especially in On First Principles) would later be deemed article. Reading Aquinas and Augustine during high school, I hadn't seen theology and biblical criticism in particular as being as imaginative as Origen made it. Certainly, Aquinas states (more clearly than Origen) the four senses of scripture. Reading Origen, however, made me understand what interpreting scripture at different levels actually looked like.

And there it is.

I hesitate to "tag" anyone, being a self professed non-lover of memes, but I'd be really curious to see Erin of Bearing Blog, Bernard of A Little Light from the East, and Michael of Sacramentum Vitae list their top ten influences.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Vinegar Pie -- Update

For them as wants to know:

The vinegar pie was quite interesting. It did cook up nicely, and my meringue browned prettily and puffed up, though after two days in the fridge it beaded and fell. As MrsDrP remarked, it was somewhat like a lemon pie, without the lemon. (Mine held together very nicely and sliced well -- maybe it was the extra refrigeration?) It did have a pronounced vinegar tang that turned off many of my tasters, though Darwin was actually a big fan of it. (He's not really into sweetness, flavorwise.) But the meringue was popular, if not aesthetically perfect.

I can't say that I'd necessarily make it again, though I'm glad I tried it once. I think I'd rather have a lemon pie -- I think the flavors balance out much better there. But if you were living in the woods of Wisconsin 130 years ago and didn't have lemons available, this is a fairly close facsimile. Try it once, just to say you've had vinegar pie like Ma Ingalls made in the Big Woods. Then be glad you live in 2005.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving to our Loyal Readership

May you all have a blessed Thanksgiving and avoid the sin of gluttony...

Things I'm thankful for at this moment: that Darwin is getting to sleep in without little girls rousting on his head; for Noogs singing in the bathroom (she's enacting scenes from Wallace and Gromit with toothbrushes); that even though I left my pumpkin pie sitting on top of the stove all night it didn't go bad because I left the window open as well (brr!); that I have a comfortable house, even if right now it's an unholy mess.

In the spirit of sharing, here is the recipe for my mother's cornbread stuffing. It's not Thanksgiving dinner for me without it.

  • 2 boxes Jiffy cornbread mix, enough to make a 9x13 pan of cornbread (you can make your own, but the sweetness of the Jiffy works well with the stuffing; I prefer it.)
  • 2 c. celery, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 c. onions or scallions (I often use green onions)
  • giblets from turkey to make broth (or 1 can, about 2 c., chicken broth)
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 Tbs. parsley
  • 1/2 tsp. basil
  • 1/4 tsp. sage
  • 1/4 tsp. thyme
  • 1/4 tsp oregano
  1. Bake cornbread and put it into a large bowl. Don't crumble it too much yet.
  2. Boil giblets and neck to make turkey broth (my mom says just cover them with water, but it works out to be about 2 cups.) Alternatively, boil chicken broth.
  3. Add celery, bell pepper, onions, and butter to broth; boil until tender.
  4. If using giblets and if desired, chop up giblets and neck meat and add to corn bread.
  5. Add all seasonings to cornbread along with salt and pepper to taste, mix.
  6. Pour broth with vegetables over cornbread mixture and stir just until everything is moistened. This can be refrigerated for several days (makes great leftovers!) or you can put it in a pan, dot the top with butter, and heat through. Serves lots.
Bon appetit!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Reckless Driving Comments Prove the Vatican Just Doesn't Care

You may think that the flap over the document about homosexuality and the priesthood was much ado about not that much, but Speculative Catholic has the scoop on an even less significant brouhaha:
Responding to Pope Benedict XVI's comments that reckless driving was a "social evil", reckless driving advocates declared that it was the beginning of a witch hunt against reckless drivers, that recklessness was a gift from God, and that it would make reckless drivers in the priesthood feel unwelcome.The Pope's comments made it clear that while he had the utmost respect for the reckless, they should not act upon their reckless instinct, but instead live lives of sensibility.Reckless spokesperson Evil Knievel said that the idea that recklessness could be a transitory adolescent phenomenon was outdated. Debate continues to rage over whether recklessness is genetic or acquired trait.

Given that most Americans have latent tendencies to reckless driving and that many choose to act on them, I wonder what effect this will have on the American Church? Will the USCCB issue a statement? Will the pundits froth?

All the Meme that's fit to print

More meme madness from Rick: I've been tagged with the Birthday Meme. You find your birthday verse in each gospel. I've used the New Jerusalem Bible.

Matthew 12:5
Or again, have you not read in the Law that on the sabbath day the Temple priests break the sabbath without being blamed for it?

Mark 12:5
And he sent another and him they killed; then a number of others, and they thrashed some and killed the rest.

Luke 12:5
"Master," Simon replied, "we worked hard all night long and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will pay out the nets."

John 12:5
"Why wasn't this ointment sold for three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor?"

I haven't analysed these verses for a theme, but I do hope you all will note that my birthday is fast approaching and will make arrangements for the festivities.

Are you done yet?

One of my violin students was picked up yesterday afternoon by her father's fiancee, with whom I only have a nodding acquaintance at church. She congratulated me on my pregnancy and asked, "Is this it for you?" When I replied, "No, I hope not," she was genuinely surprised.

"Oh, so you want one more?"

Well, I said, I hoped to have several more. I explained that I had five siblings myself, and so it was hard to imagine having less. She laughed and said that she was an only child. When I told her that I was having a girl, it all made sense.

"Then you're going to try for a boy?"

I'd like a boy one day, but it wouldn't matter to me if the next baby was a boy or a girl. After all, my girls are very excited about having a sister with whom to play tea party and princesses.

These are socially awkward question -- not because I have a hard time answering, "No, I hope not,", but because they're not polite things to ask. I've heard them enough that I have a ready answer (see above), but they still jar each time.

The personal question is ubiquitous these days, and more often than not is asked by relative strangers. I'm not sure why reproductive questions should considered within the bounds of tasteful conversation. After all, medical questions about appearances are generally taboo.

"So, do you plan on having your stomach stapled?"

"You know, you should consider having your face waxed."

"Let me recommend my dentist. He can do wonders, even with teeth like yours."

Perhaps the reproductive question is a sign that reproduction and family still have some significance, culturally and ideologically. If you see a family with more than four children, you'd be pretty safe in betting the farm that they follow some strain of conservative religion. It's one of the most obvious ways to announce your personal beliefs without saying a word.

That's why the I found the idea of the remake of "Cheaper by the Dozen" so jarring. (No, I didn't see it; it sounded like a pale comparison to the original.) Nobody just HAS twelve children anymore. Outside of a religious lifestyle, nobody CHOOSES to have twelve children. It simply isn't done in Western culture these days. Perhaps someone can point me to an islolated example, but for one secular family with six kids, I can point you to ten or more Catholic families with seven. And it's a pretty safe assumption that those Catholic mothers were asked each time, "Are you done yet?"

Library Overlap

It is, it seems, a small world. I spent a bunch of time adding books to LibraryThing this evening, and with 111 volumes cataloged so far, I am informed that Flos Carmeli's collection has the most overlap with ours out of all LibraryThing users -- and I haven't even hit our main religion section yet.

Authors held in common include Robertson Davies, Camus, Dickens, John Paul II, James Blaylock and Chesterton. I'm curious to see how this trend continues...

(Hope this doesn't seem too spooky of me Mr. Riddle.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Living the Consequences

The folks on Amy Welborn's blog are discussing a situation where a 26-year-old single Pre-K teacher at a Catholic school was fired after she revealed to the principle that she was pregnant out of wedlock and had no intentions of marrying.

The NY Daily News covers the facts in a bit more detail here.

The debate, as usual in these situations, is over whether the need to present proper moral role models to elementary school children (and enforce a certain base level of Catholic morality among employees of Church institutions) outweights the desire not to create an environment in which it is more advantageous to a woman to have an abortion than to carry her child to term.

Commentor Neil quotes a study of the reasons women have abortions:

"The decision to have an abortion is typically motivated by diverse interrelated reasons. Nearly three-quarters of respondents indicated that they could not afford to have a child now, and large proportions mentioned responsibilities to children, partner issues and unreadiness to parent. The in-depth interviews revealed that these reasons are multiple dimensions of complicated life situations. For example, financial difficulties are often the result of lack of support from one's partner, or lack of a partner altogether; and the financial and emotional responsibility to provide for existing children without adequate resources makes it too hard for some women to care for another child."
The study thus concludes that most abortions occur because of financial necessity, not "convenience" as critics often accuse. I suspect this is mainly a matter of personal interpretation. I'm sure there are couple who, if in the financial position of the Darwin family and already possessed of two toddlers, would believe that it would be financially impossible for them to have another child.

However, the larger question is: How do you discourage pre-marital sex and any resulting out of wedlock pregnancies without encouraging abortion?

Historically, societies that have sought to discourage pre-marital sex have done so through some combination of punishing men who either take the virginity of women they are not married to or get pregnant women they are not married to and punishing women who either lose their virginity prior to marriage or get pregnant prior to marriage. The two approaches tend to go hand in hand to some extent, since if a woman is severely punished for violating her society's sexual mores, it is more likely that her friends or family will in turn punish the man responsible for putting her in the position to receive that punishment.

Of course, sometimes things break down, and a society chooses to punish almost exclusively one gender and not the other. This usually means punishing the woman for not "maintaining her virtue" and letting the man off with no more than the reputation of being a rake. This is clearly an injustice and should be avoided.

At the same time, if we assume that any single, pregnant woman who is placed in an uncomfortable situation by being pregnant will have an abortion, and that it is thus the duty of pro-life institutions to make sure she is not placed in an uncomfortable situation, we place ourselves an almost impossible task, in that the task of raising a child as a single parent is by definition a very difficult one. Further, human beings being the fallen creatures that we are, people tend to assume that if a particular action carries no visible penalty, that it can't be very wrong. In this sense, by creating an environment in which it a woman who gets pregnant out of wedlock suffers no obvious penalty, we would in essence send the message that acting in that way is basically "okay".

I suspect that in a fallen world achieving the right balance between enforcing rules that make moral lessons clear while treating individual sinners with love and compassion is impossible to get right all of the time. It's not the sort of thing that can be achieved by a blanket administrative policy. Real justice and mercy are necessarily individual.

Our current society tends very much towards the mercy side of the spectrum, especially in cases of sexual sin where (everyone hastens to point out) no crime has been committed. This is partly due to our horror at the incredible levels of suffering sometimes heaped upon unwed mothers and their children a hundred years or more ago -- the sort of thing that made led people describe loss of virginity before marriage to the "the fate worse than death" for a woman. Nonetheless, our efforts as a society to be more supportive of unwed mothers has (in combination with a number of other factors) led to unwed motherhood being very nearly the norm. Now around 40% of children born in the US each year are born to unwed mothers. And since there is a clear, inherent degree of suffering associated with having a child out of wedlock and growing up in a single parent family -- we have got rid of one type of suffering and replaced it with an even more widespread (though lower intensity) variety.

It bears thinking on.

The meme to end all memes

I'm just not into memes. In fact, I don't necessarily like them. (In that Far Side where the scientists are testing what will roll off a duck's back, Larson could have added, "Meme off a Darwin's back.") But a number of people that I do like have tagged me with them lately, so I'm going to hit them all in one post and be done with it.

The Confiteor Meme (inflicted by SpeculativeCatholic and The City of God)

I confess that I'm a snob about many things including but not limited to education, literature, movies, TV, cheese, beer, scotch, vodka, wine, shoes, shaving and the MacOS.

I confess that I don't have enough money to indulge all my snobbery, and so am often condemning things I am not above doing myself.

I confess that I am a classic over-committer, agreeing to do nearly anything that seems important and then struggling to get everything done.

I confess that I sometimes find the monkeys very trying, though they are also very dear girls.

I confess that I am not a morning person -- at all.

I confess that on the really rough days I drink coffee all day to keep up to speed and then need to have at least one alcoholic drink at night to slow down. (Otherwise I don't have the sense to feel tired and blog all night.)

I confess that within a month of FideiDefensor putting the topic into my head I requested the forms to get a Curio and Relics Federal Firearms License from the ATF.

I confess that I should probably be working on something or other right now, but I'm not.

I confess that, despite my pretensions to education, I've forgotten most of my math beyond Algebra II (despite working in a math intensive field -- I just never use calculus in my database work).

I confess I really enjoy some music I know is not in any objective sense "good". Metallica comes to mind.

I confess that my confessions are so boring and repetitious that I once had my pastor ask me "Again?" (Though it does change with time. "I kicked my brother and hit my sister" eventually gets swapped out for "I was spoke uncharitably about some people at work.")

I confess that MrsDarwin was the first woman I ever kissed, but I made up for it by doing so for nearly twenty minutes.

I confess that it was after 2am at the time.

I confess that neither of us thought till afterwards about the fact she was currently dating someone else -- though that was easily remedied.

I confess the penance for our haste in getting together was knowing that as college freshman we had a lot of waiting to do.

I confess this makes me very, very unsympathetic to young people who tell me they "can't wait" and that older people "don't understand".

I confess that people in college increasingly are seeming like "young people" from my vantage point.

I confess that liturgically I often feel like a man without a country: not being modern enough to enjoy the all too common guitar mass, not being Eastern enough to feel I can commit to the Byzantine rite, and not liking the lengthy silences of the Tridentine mass. I prefer a "high" Novus Ordo (whether in Latin or English) but they are harder to come by than one might wish.

I confess to pronouncing the double-L in Amarillo like a Y, and not intending to stop.

I confess I once laughed outloud at MrsDarwin when she pronounced La Jolla the way it's spelled.

I confess I sometimes have the urge to do housecleaning at strange times (often when angry) but can't seem to get into a routine of being helpful around the house.

I confess I like pants.

I confess this has gone on long enough.

The Meme of Three (inflicted by FideiDefensor/College Catholic)

This coming Sunday, the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of Christ the King. The Church will begin a new Liturgical year, beginning with the joyous season of Advent in anticipation of Christmas. This is a wonderful opportunity for Catholics to reflect on how they've lived their Faith this past year, and how they'd like to live it in the coming Liturgical year. So, Here's the meme. In honor of the Blessed Trinity, we:

1. Write three things for which you're grateful to God in this past liturgical year.
I. New life.
II. Benedict XVI.
III. That my oldest daughter had just enough attention span now to say one Our Father, one Hail Mary and one Glory Be quietly with me after communion. (It keeps her from scrambling about for a few minutes and hopefully will help her understand this is when we pray quietly.)

2. Write three ways in which you hope to improve you're relationship with God in this coming liturgical year.
I. Manage to pay attention through one full mass -- monkeys permitting.
II. Finally manage to finish reading Theology of the Body.
III. Start saying at least one hour of the Divine Office each day -- a habit which monkeys and laziness have pushed out of our lives over the last few years.

3. Pass this on to three other bloggers.
Sorry. Shan't.

Okay, it's gotten far too late, so I'm going to tackle the Top Ten Influences meme tomorrow...

Monday, November 21, 2005

New Orleans

My mother, intrepid traveler, has ventured down to New Orleans for the second time in several weeks to aid the relief effort. She's a trained massage therapist, so her work there is to give massages to the workers who are worn out with pulling twelve-hour shifts in hot, smelly, toxic areas. She was telling me that coming to New Orleans from the east on I-10, many areas still look as if they were just hit by the hurricane. On her last visit, she went down into the Ninth Ward, the low-rent neighborhood that was the hardest-hit area of New Orleans. It looks almost unsalvageable, she said, especially since the flood walls burst again during the rains and wiped out all the previous clean-up.

The crews down there aren't necessarily concerned with the rebuilding efforts. There are many areas of Louisiana that will never have same population density they once did, and many areas that will remain uninhabitable. The priority right now is getting enough cleaning done so that even if an area will simply return to a wild state, it won't be littered with overturned cars or loads of hurricane debris. Mom says that as far as she knows, most areas of New Orleans still don't have running water. The reality is that it will take a very long time for New Orleans to even reach the point where rebuilding is feasible. Things will be permanently changed in the upper Gulf region. Despite popular committment to restoring New Orleans to its former glory (or what have you), industry and technology aren't going to stand still and wait for the years it will take to reconstruct a working metropolis.

Finding God

The indispensable Speculative Catholic points out this TechCentralStation article about Natural Theology, Intelligent Design and Teilhard de Chardin.

Honestly, I don't know as much about de Chardin as I ought to, but the article is worth a quick read. One of the points worth making that the article touches on is that ID (as in the semi-scientific body of thought pushed by the Discovery Institute) differs from many of the great non-naturalistic cosmologies in history in that it doesn't find the creator in the order and nature of the universe but in certain little details.

Given the scope of modern science, I don't think you can prove God's existence using science itself. But if you want to derive evidence for God's creative hand from the physical universe, I think there's more to be found in the fact that the universe has order and operates according to laws than in the bacterial flagellum. This is additionally useful in that a being capable of creating the universe with stable, constant physical laws must of necessity be something like what we call God, while (as the Discovery Institute is eager to point out when trying to get into secular public schools) the designer of the flagellum could just as well have been your average alien playing around with a flagellum-making machine.

Really, though, if you want to find God, I think you need to hearken back to Aquinas and Plato who found God in the existence of ideals. For there to be such a thing as objective good (rather than personal advantage or preference) there must be an ultimate Good, and that Good we refer to as God. Ditto for justice, love, etc. Qualities such as good, justice and love are totally beyond the powers of such fields as modern science to investigate, and so there's no turf war to be fought over whether theology and philosophy are acting in their right place.

Further, it is easily discernible to any person in any place and time that good, justice and love are qualities which exist and have degrees that relate to some absolute. This formula has been persuading people since Plato's time, if not before. The bacterial flagellum is observable only to modern man with modern tools, and by playing in science's sandbox, the ID movement leaves itself open to the possibility that there in fact is a clear evolutionary pathway to the flagellum that evolutionary biologists will one day demonstrate. At that point, any faith built upon the foundation of ID will wash away.

Vinegar Pie

As we were reading Little House in the Big Woods, I was struck by Ma's Christmas baking. Rye 'n Injun bread, dried berry pies, and... vinegar pie? Intrigued, I looked up the recipe, and here it is. The recipe site avers that the pie is unusual but tasty. I plan to spring it on unsuspecting friends for Thanksgiving. If it's good it will be a hit, and if it's just too odd it will simply be a historical curiosity on the dessert table. Try it yourself and let me know what you think.

1 c. sugar
3 heaping tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 c. cold water
3 egg yolks
1 whole egg
2 tbsp. butter
6 tbsp. vinegar
1 (9 inch) pie crust, baked

Mix sugar and flour in saucepan.
Add water, egg yolks (reserve egg whites), whole egg, butter and vinegar.
Cook until thick.
Pour into baked 9 inch pie shell.

For Meringue:
Beat reserved egg whites until stiff.
Add 4 tablespoons sugar, spread over pie.
Brown meringue lightly.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

A Brewing We Shall Go

The Darwin family with assorted monkeys and stuffed animals in tow is off to Houston for the day to brew beer and mead.

Desperate Times

Reading the Little House in the Big Woods to the girls, one of the things that struck us is how obedient the children usually are, and how severe the punishments are when they are not. Our monkeys sometimes require an open handed swat to the bottom to bring them back under control, but I could never imagine taking a five or eight-year-old out to the woodshed for a beating with a switch. It just seems cruel and unnecessary.

Talking about this the other day, however, we were realizing how severe a set of dangers the parents of the families in the Ingles' social group faced if children didn't obey immediately and without hesitation. When bears, wolves and panthers routinely come into the yard, and household dangers include loaded guns, wood burning stoves, molten lead and such (without the backup of modern emergency rooms) your child's life might well rely on him or her obeying the rules every time without question.

Perhaps the relative lenience of modern child discipline (and from what I gather we're on the stricter end of the spectrum these days, as I often see other parents trying to reason with their children in a situation where it seems to me a spanking and/or time out is required) results from the relative safety of modern life.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Originalism and Positivism

Much ink has been spilled by left and right over supreme court nominee Alito's 1985 job application to work in the Reagan administration, on which he wrote that he found no right to abortion in the constitution. And he's right, of course. It's patently obvious that the framers of the constitution did not intend to enshrine a right to abortion on our founding document.

Originalism is a two-edged sword for the pro-life cause. On the one hand, insisting on following the text and original intent of the constitution prevents justices from reading things into it which clearly aren't there: right to abortion, right to euthanasia, right to sterilize the 'unfit', etc. On the other hand, the constitution does not explicitly forbid abortion. If originalists like Scalia and Alito win out on the court, it will eventually rule that the constitution neither forbids nor allows abortion, allowing abortion regulation to return to the states.

For many pro-lifers, allowing the abortion issue to be decided by the people (despite the fact this would not go all their way) is considered a worthy goal on its own. But other pro-life advocates endorse a natural law approach to the judiciary, saying that in cases where positive law is silent, judges should rule according to natural law, and that in cases where positive law violates the natural law, that judges should over turn the positive law as invalid.

In an ideal world, I would without question side with the natural law side of the dispute. However, in the world that we currently inhabit, the application of this principle becomes more problematic. After all, it was judges trying to apply natural law (while being dangerously wrong in what it said) that has got us into so many of these problems in the first place. By encouraging judges who do seem to have a good understanding of natural law principles to run with them, we to an extent open the gate to justices with vastly wrong conceptions of natural law.

Yet those who insist that we should be strict legal positivists are endorsing something that is clearly impossible. One can argue that the pre-born are not specifically protected by the constitution. But then, are red-heads specifically protected by the constitution? Are those of Korean ancestry? Are people over six feet tall?

The framers of the constitution did not attempt to write a treatise or laundry list of precisely who was and was not a human, what was and was not commerce, what did and did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, and what did or did not constitute property. They assumed that the meanings of these concepts were clear -- via natural law and cultural commonplace. Nothing can be understood by positive law alone. Even the most strict originalist or constructionist must by necessity allow assumptions about basic concepts such as "person" and "property" to creep into his thought.

At that point, the question is not "can a judge ever rule based on natural law" but "on what issues may a judge decide based on natural law". There is, perhaps, a case to be made that in particularly controversial issues, the choice should be left up to the people, in order that having more people involved in the decision may prevent the moral blindness of five out of nine justices from being made the law of the land. But this would be more a concession to the fact that many people are wrong in their assessment of the natural law than an admission that natural law does not in fact hold sway over us all.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Selling Amway in the forest

As an observer of "mom culture", I've seen and heard a lot of silliness, from disgusting conversations about sex (carefully disguised as chats about NFP) to cloth diapering madness. (I myself used a diaper service until we moved to Texas, but I never felt inclined to put the girls in embroidered diapers. I bet that embroidery doesn't look so cute when you're rinsing the crap out of the stitches.) But here's the latest thing on the mom scene here: multi-level marketing.

Feverish activity in a closed economic system is a phenomenon that Darwin's father terms "selling Amway to each other in the forest". If you sell tupperware to a friend but turn around and order makeup from her, have either of you made money? If you invite the same people to all your shows won't your customer base dry up? I'll buy something the first time to support a friend, if there's something I need. But I can't be dropping Darwin's hard-earned money on items I neither want nor need. Heck, I don't even buy things I do want most of the time -- it just doesn't make good financial sense to be constantly spending. We don't live at the poverty level here. However, we can only keep from carrying ugly credit card balances by carefully reviewing expenses and curtailing impulse purchases. I may be part of the circle of friends, but I really don't want to be included in the tree-side Amway festivities.

Technology Advances

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have stepped forward into the future. The future is now.

Once again this week, though another in our series of run-ins with the VCR we failed to tape Lost. Or to be precise, we only got the first ten minutes of it. We gnashed our teeth and watch the Sherlock Holmes with Rupert Everett that we'd taped some weeks ago. (It wasn't very good.)

But today, I took action. I moved into the future. I went to iTunes and downloaded the missed episode for $1.99. (To be watched on my laptop as soon as monkey the greater is sound asleep.) It's surprisingly easy and painless. And now that I've done it once, I have to ask myself: Why does anyone do TV any other way? If all TV was purchased on a per show basis, I'd save a good deal of money over what I pay for cable -- and it would be wonderfully fun into the bargain. Of course, I suppose that's why you have to pay for TV in general and not buy one show at a time. But seriously, I could like this business model...

School These Days

MrsDarwin is on the phone with her 15-year-old sister. There was some general grumbling, I gather, at the morals of her high school's drama product this semester: Grease. Well, the drama teacher just announced that next semester's production will be Lysistrata.

Now, I'm classical enough to think that you should definitely read Aristophanes in high school. But I really question the wisdom of having a play that involves all the male characters running around with giant erections throughout the second half as the main stage production for a Catholic girls high school.

Call me puritanical and all... MrsDarwin's sister is quite peeved at the selection as well, since it puts a great crimp in her plans to star in all the major productions at school.

Goldberg goes Chestertonian

I took the day off from work -- having had a particularly busy couple weeks -- and as I was making "pancake men" for the monkeys and reading the print edition of National Review (any reading time in this household is much treasured, as the monkeys don't necessarily believe in it unless you're reading to them) I came across this little gem from Jonah Goldberg, clearly channeling Chesterton: "The thing is that conservatives believe that the constitution actually means something. Which, in turn, means that it cannot mean everything."

It's An Honor

John Cleese has been honored for his support of Lemurs and his stint as the Minister of Silly Walks by having a species of lemur named after him, avahi cleesei. They don't provide a picture of the creature, but these intepid photoshoppers think it might look something like this. Of course, not all is truth in advertising. The discoverer concedes that the lemurs don't exactly walk -- silly or otherwise -- they tend to leap. But then, the Ministry of Silly Leaps would sound... silly.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Please Quit Your Day Job

John J. Miller of National Review brings us some of the worst bits of Sen. Barbara Boxer's terrible new novel. Nonetheless, I believe that for the good of the people of California, we must hope that she does indeed quit her day job and devote herself full time to writing about "meshing" and such full time.

Mercy Killing

A number of people have noted this piece in yesterday's Washington Post by a woman writing about her decision to abort after her son was pre-natally diagnosed with Down syndrome.

A few months ago I dug into that stats about this a bit and found that those who do bring children diagnosed with Down syndrome to term are overwhelmingly religious, with most of them being Catholics.

Back when we were expecting our first child, my boss (two companies back) and his wife were expecting their first as well. They were 18 years older than us, with a total household income 10x ours. (So of course they were convinced they couldn't afford for the wife to be stay at home mom.)

Being secular "plan it all" types they had an amnio, and the news they had was that their daughter would probably have a spinal deformity which might leave her handicapped for life, or even cause her to die shortly after birth. So of course the aborted.

I remember my boss telling me, "We're just not set up to handle the stress of dealing with raising a disabled child." And I thought: You make over 200k and your wife is a clinical psychiatrist. If you're not able to find a way to deal, who the hell is?

My wife and I, on the other hand, were newly weds straight out of college making less than 40k off our single income and living in a one bedroom apartment (which Los Angeles being what it is cost well over 1000 a month). Yet we wouldn't have hesitated for a moment to accept a severely disable child.

Goodness knows, I'm glad my eldest daughter is the beautiful, healthy small monkey that she is. But as the day that I knew was their daughter's appointment with the surgical executioners approached, I couldn't help wishing there was some way to trade, or adopt this poor unwanted little girl whose only fault was that she was not as "perfect" as her parents wished.

Catholic School Insanity

Katelyn Sills (the student expelled from Loretto Catholic Girls School after her family was partially responsible for lodging a complaint with the diocese which resulted in a drama teacher being let go because of her volunteer work as a Planned Parenthood "deathscort") has posted all the primary source documents associated with her expulsion on her site.

Honestly, I'm even more appalled than I expected to be. I'd assumed (based on my own experiences, especially when younger, of being less than fully measured in parish/school debates) that at the least the email exchange between Mrs. Sills and the school administration had become heated -- that there had at least been something real that the sisters had overreacted to.

Well, here's the text of the "threatening" email which got Mrs. Sills banned from campus and was cited as one of the reasons for Katelyn's eventual expulsion:

From: Edward&Wynette Sills
To: Sr. Helen Timothy ; Domenic Puglisi
Sent: Tuesday, October 04, 2005 10:30 PM
Subject: Abortion escort teacher at Loretto High School is totally unacceptable
Dear Sister Helen and Mr. Puglisi,

It has been over two weeks since I first brought this matter of abortion escort, Marie Bain, teaching at Loretto High School to the school's attention. I have patiently waited for some response to the extensive evidence I presented. Yet, she continues to have full daily access to the young women of Loretto CATHOLIC High School, including my own daughter's homeroom class. Employing such a strongly pro-abortion individual is a scandalous, hypocritical mockery of our Catholic faith. Many are praying for the conversion of all abortion employees and perhaps Ms. Bain has experienced such a dramatic change of heart. However, Ms. Bain so aggressively encouraged the mothers in to kill their babies at Planned Parenthood, that unless a dramatic conversion has taken place, her staunch pro-abortion position would be in direct conflict with Catholic Church teachings and certainly grounds for immediate dismissal.

However, I have received no response, no evidence of action, not even an indication that Loretto High School or the Diocese even shares my concern. Respectfully, I ask for a brief update of this situation, which will only get worse as more people find out that you continue to put our daughters at serious risk each day. Our family takes our Catholic faith very seriously and this is a very distressing, sad experience for all involved.

October 16th is Open House, where Loretto will enticingly showcase all of its many attributes, including the Theater Department, to the families aspiring to join the 2006 Frosh class, which will hopefully include our second daughter. I sincerely pray for a resolution to this matter before that Sunday, twelve days from now. For if Loretto and the Diocese deem it acceptable to employ an aggressive, openly, pro-abortion teacher, all families, including ours, deserve to know of your decision before subjecting our daughters to such an unsafe environment.

Please contact me as soon as possible.

Prayerfully and respectfully,

Wynette Sills
Now, you can certainly tell from the email that Wynette feels strongly about her position. However, as someone who spent nearly a year on a customer support auditing team a while back, I have to say this is well on the tamer side of complaint emails. Way on the tamer side. Back when I was on the audit team I saw complain emails constantly that threatened legal action, said they would never buy again, said they would file complaints with the BBB or state attorney general, used constant profanity and other offensive language, etc. Not only did the company I worked for not tell these customers never to contact them again, but it was our job to apologize to these customers for their problems (which usually were not our company's fault) and try to win them back.

Honestly, for the sisters to get this worked up over an email like this (and this is the specific email which the principle declared was "threatening") they must either never have encountered the slightest disagreement in the past or else find Mrs. Sill's pro-life activism personally offensive. Either way, I certainly can't see why a Catholic mother would want to blow $10k a year on sending her daughter to a school like this.

Of course, I suppose I'm a biased source. Honestly (despite having experience a number of frustrations with being homeschooled myself through junior high and high school) I don't see much of any schools out there that do what I consider a very good job of education, so I won't be in the market for a school (Catholic or otherwise) for the monkeys.

Blood for Oil

Fr. Martin Fox makes what I think is an interesting point about the "No blood for oil" cliche. He points out that to the extent that oil is a geographically limited commodity which is vital to the world economy, that if a country or countries did in fact attempt to cut off the world oil supply this would probably be just grounds for war. Sure, it's an economic commodity, but it's arguably essential enough to our modern world economy that cutting it off would be on the level of refusing a region water.

Before anyone gets the wrong idea, Fr. Fox isn't saying that any specific recent situation would have justified a war for oil, nor that waging a war in order to assure lower prices through direct control of oil reserves would be morally justified, but rather that the concept of fighting for oil as a thing necessary for life is not necessarily immoral.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Am I un-American?

I've always had this creeping feeling that there is buried deep within me a traitor to this great land. It comes out in little ways like my total non-interest in baseball, football or basketball.

A couple years ago I found yet more evidence in a NPR piece about national senses of humor. The Monty Python fans out there know that the world's funniest joke is serious business. Indeed, in the wrong hands, it can be a weapon of mass destruction. However, a crack team of sociologists had braved the dangers of dying laughing to find out what kind of jokes seemed funniest to different nationalities. With careful narrowing of the field, they arrived as a funniest joke for various countries -- one which exemplified their preferences in humor.

Here were some of the winners:

United States
A Texan walks up to a Harvard grad and asks, "Hey there, stranger. Where're you from?"

The Harvard grad response, "I'm from a place where people do not end their sentences with prepositions."

The Texan responds, "All right. Where're you from, asshole?"

Two ferrets at sitting at the bar in a pub. After a few drinks, one of them begins to shout at the other, "I slept with your mother!"

The patrons all stare, waiting to see if a fight will break out, but the second ferret remains calm.

After another drink, the first ferret starts shouting again. "I slept with your mother!"

Again patrons stare, but the second ferret remains calm.

Finally the first ferret knocks back his stool and shouts right in the face of the second ferret, "I slept with you mother! Do you hear me? I slept with your mother!"

The second ferrets pats him on the shoulder and says, "Go home, Dad. You're drunk."

"The other day, when having dinner with my mother in law, I had the most terrible Freudian slip. I meant to say, 'Would you please pass the butter' but instead I said, 'You've ruined my life you silly old cow!'"


Now, I have to confess, I find the French and British jokes way funnier than the American one.

Saudi Man Sentenced

Mohammad al-Harbi has been sentenced to jail and flogging, apparently for being too ecumenical towards Jews.

RIYADH (Reuters) - A court in Saudi Arabia sentenced a teacher to 40 months in jail and 750 lashes for "mocking religion" after he discussed the Bible and praised Jews, a Saudi newspaper said on Sunday.
Al-Madina newspaper said secondary school teacher Mohammad al-Harbi will be flogged in public after he was taken to court by his colleagues and students.
He was charged with promoting a "dubious ideology, mocking religion, saying the Jews were right, discussing the gospel and preventing students from leaving class to wash for prayer", the newspaper said. It gave no more details.
Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, strictly upholds the austere Wahhabi school of Islam and bases its constitution on the Koran and the sayings of Prophet Mohammad. Public practice of any other religion is banned.
A U.S. State Department report criticised Saudi Arabia last week, saying religious freedoms "are denied to all but those who adhere to the state-sanctioned version of Sunni Islam".
The newspaper said Harbi will appeal against the verdict.

Amazon Outrage

I'm never sure how angry to get about these kind of things, because on the one hand I'm pretty sure that Amazon sells a lot of stuff that they themselves consider offensive, at least to an extent. Nonetheless, I think this crosses the line into the territory of stuff they just shouldn't be selling: Bumper stickers that say "My Catholic Priest is Dating Your Son". (Do a search for "Catholic" under the automotive catagory and it's the top thing you get.)

Now, to be fair, Amazon is not the actual seller for these items, it's one of their vendors BumperArt. So it's possible that Amazon doesn't actually know BumperArt put these up. If that's the case, it would seem that it's time for them to find out and do something about it.

More on Faith and Science

I feel like I've been doing the evolution/ID thing too much lately, so I'm going to move on and leave that one alone for at least a week or so, but before leaving I really should link to a couple really good posts I read today.

Bearing Blog writes about how science, revelation, philosophy and technology fit together.

John Farrell has an open letter to Mark Shea up on his blog on science, reason and the problems with intelligent design as science.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Finding the Designer

An anonymous commenter asked the following in the comments about evolution at the polls below:

But I do have a question for any critic of ID: do you believe that is even possible that any kind of evidence could exist that would prove ID? If so, what sort of evidence would that be? If not, then it is irrelevant to the question of whether ID should be taught, if there is no scientific evidence to support it; for if science is incapable of proving ID even if it is true, then we should not be interested in limiting ourselves to science. What matters is the truth about the world, not just a limited portion of truth selected by some arbitrary principle.
I think this highlights one of the important reasons why ID has such a popular following among those interested in Catholic apologetics, and I think it deserves an good answer.

The first issue in dealing with his question is to figure out what exactly he means by "ID". There are two things which people often mean by the term, and they are frequently switched back and forth, adding confusing to an already difficult debate.

First, "Intelligent Design" refers to the body of theories supported primarily by fellows of the Discovery Institute. These theories generally center around the theory of Irreducible complexity first described by Behe and the theory of Specified Complexity described by Dembski. While these theories suggest that some sort of intelligent being or force was involved in creation/manufacturing certain biological systems, these theories do not attempt to say who this designer might have been. Indeed, in the attempt to make ID "science not religion" its proponents have insisted that although their theories show that someone designed certain elements of life, it could have been aliens, angels, demons, God, gods, or some other thing which we cannot imagine.

Second, "Intelligent Design" is used to refer to the idea that the world and/or life specifically was created by God. When Mark Shea says, as he does every couple of weeks, something along the lines of:

It *does* sound rather like Benedict is re-iterating the old apostolic teaching that "Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made."

And that, in turn, sounds rather suspiciously like a precise for Intelligent Design.

This is why I just don't get the problem. I'm beginning to suspect I never will.

Shea clearly isn't talking about something that could have been created by any old intelligent creature sitting around with a flagella-making machine of an evening. He's talking about clear evidence of the existence and nature of God of the sort St. Paul said the pagans would be held eternally accountable for ignoring.

Now, to get back to the question that Anonymous asked: I think that you might possibly be able to prove that the first definition of ID was true scientifically, but you could not prove that the second is. To prove ID in the sense that Behe, Dembski and co. talk about it, they would first need to make a prediction that both they and their opponents were willing to agree followed from their proposal (that some intelligent being was responsible for making certain biological systems "by design") and then that prediction would have to be shown to be true. The problem is that right now there isn't agreement that their predictions (only objects of design will ever display specified complexity or irreducible complexity) follow. I tried to cover a bit of that here and here.

However, the latter definition of ID (which I think is the one that most Christians are actually interested in) is not something that science can address. Modern science is not capable of proving that God exists, or even that God did something in particular. (When scientists are brought in to verify a miracle, they verify that they cannot explain how it happened, not that God did it or that it was in fact a miracle.)

Anon says "for if science is incapable of proving ID even if it is true, then we should not be interested in limiting ourselves to science." To which I can only say a big "Amen!" Science is a useful discipline for telling us lots of useful and interesting things. But in the truly important things in life, science is totally useless.

Which of the following can be answered by science:
  1. Is this the person I should marry?
  2. What happens to us after death?
  3. Is there such a thing as 'good' or only that which someone prefers?
  4. If you drop a six pound weight from a 200ft building, with what force will it hit the ground?
  5. Does God love us?
  6. Is it wrong to wage nuclear war?
Science can only address question number four. And while that's interesting to know, it's certainly not the most important question in the list. The theology and philosophy can answer questions 2, 3, 5, and 6. For number one, you're on your own.

So in answer to Anon's question, of course we shouldn't limit ourselves to science. Limiting our knowledge to what we can know from science is one of the greatest heresies of our age. I'm dead against it. Indeed, one of my problems with Intelligent Design is that it seems to grant science too much power -- giving the impression that science could prove or disprove the existence of God. Science can do some amazing things, but it just can't answer questions like "Is there a God?" or "Did God make this?"

Why? If God made the world, doesn't it make sense that we could find something that we could prove God made? The thing is, science isn't strictly speaking in the "truth" business. Science is in the business of making descriptive observations and verifiable predictions. Science can't speak to God's involvement in things because science can't observe how God does things or predict what He will do. Without knowing how God does things or what causes Him to do things, science could not look at a biological structure and say, "Ah, God must have created this, because God always does things this way" or "God always creates new things under the following conditions, therefore God was probably responsible for that piece of creation which took place under similar conditions."

Even if it were the case that God specifically created an adam and eve creature to start every single species in the history of the earth, and all of these species had unique, totally unrelated DNA (no signs of common descent) science still wouldn't be able to say "God created each species" is a positive fashion. The best science could say is "We are absolutely unable to find any kind of physical process that could produce the species we see."

Instead of putting all this effort into intelligent design, let's get Plato put into every high school curriculum. Then students will have real tools to tackle the question of who they are and where they came from.

France Burns: The Musical!

An excerpt from Iowahawk's failed musical, Les Risables. This selection is in honor of my sister, who is performing in Grease this weekend.

Streets of Paris. The toughs strut along the streets of the banlieu coming their hair, carrying bottles of gasoline.

How about this one guys?
That rusty hunk of junk? It’ll never make the TV news!
HASSAN (excitedly)
Why… this car is automatic! It's systematic! It’s flambee-matic! Why… it's a greased Peugeot!

We'll get some Molotov cocktails and some 2 euro Bics oh yeah
(Keep talking whoa keep talking)
Start a fire burnin’ like a pair of cheater slicks oh yeah!
(I'll get the petrol I'll kill to get the petro)
With a thunderous sound it’s gonna burn to the ground!
It’s gonna explode by the side of the road, a greased Peugeot!
Go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go!

Look for parodies of The Music Man, Les Miz, Oklahoma, West Side Story, and more.

The More You Know...

MrsDarwin has been reading the elder monkey Little House in the Big Woods. After the monkeys were down last night MrsDarwin started doing some research on the Ingles Wilder family, trying to straighten out the timeline, which Laura adapted a bit in writing the books. In the process we ran across an interesting fact: Laura's daughter Rose Wilder Lane (who was actually a more famous writer back in the 30s than her mother) turns out to have been a vocal early luminary in the libertarian movement in the 40s.

Now I think about it, I could see how that might be reflected a bit in the Little House books. Interesting stuff.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Vocational Exhaustion

One of the things that the 1969 vintage priests of Married to the Church talk about a lot in their interviews is that people "only see the priest, not the person" and that they "never have any time off". (This morning I made it through about eight more pages between when we finished serving the girls breakfast and when they managed to reduce each other to tears over some tussle or other and were dragged off for their morning bath before church.)

I think one of the key problems here is that they're thinking of the priesthood as a profession rather than a vocation. My profession is being a database programmer and marketing analyst. I do that anywhere from eight to twelve hours a day. It pays the bills and is fairly intellectually stimulating. And given that I've built a few web applications that people seem to like and my weekly reporting deliverables track sales compensation programs that pay two thousand sales reps each month, I guess it's fairly useful work as well. But when the work gets to heavy, I can take a vacation (unless that would mean people not getting their payouts, in which case it's no so much of an option) and when I'm sick I can take the day off. When the hours get too long I can tell my supervisor that I'm fed up and need someone else to take the load off me. Since "work/life balance" is a corporate value (or so we're told) it's part of his job to make sure that I get home to see my family and have time to keep up with my hobbies.

However, my vocation is being a husband and father. I do not get time off when I'm sick, or when I'm tired of children bouncing on my head at 6:30am (as they did this morning). I do not get to take a vacation away from the kids for a week when I'm burnt out -- because there's no one else whose responsibility it is to be a father to our two little monkeys (and one seamonkey on the way). My only backup, as a parent, is MrsDarwin -- and I can hardly ask her to take over for a few days while I chill out, because she already holds down the fort much more of the time than I do.

I think the analogy to being "married to the Church" is probably accurate in that the priesthood seems to be the same kind of 24-7 job that being a parent is. A number of the priests interviewed in Married to the Church complain that "not everyone's cut out to be a priest forever" and wish that you could be a priest for a limited term instead. I'm not sure that makes any more sense than being a limited contract parent, though.

Certainly, like parents priests need time to themselves once in a while and hobbies and such. But like a parent, these are conditional on keeping essential responsibilities covered. MrsDarwin or I can't schedule "time off" without making sure the monkeys will be in good hands first, and if they come down sick or are having a really bad day, it still may not work out. Nor can we head off for a weeklong vacation with the kids -- at least not till they're a lot older. With three monkeys under four, we'll have pretty much committed to not having weeklong vacations for a minimum of three to four more years -- and that's assuming we have family available to take the kids for that long and no more monkeys in the meantime. It's an insanely exhausting job. It's not always fun. Sometimes is aggravating as hell. But that doesn't make it any less our responsibility. We can't go to our manager and say, "Hey, the kids have been an awful lot of work lately. The house is a mess. I think you need to assign someone else to the team or else redefine the responsibility set a bit."

Certainly, the types of pressures and commitments on priests are different than on parents, but I think they're similar in a number of ways in their strength and all-consuming nature. Indeed, it seems to me that's probably the best reason for not having a married priesthood -- because you can't do two 24-7 jobs at once and be fair to both.

Perhaps the breakdown in understanding of the priesthood for these priests goes hand-in-hand with the breakdown in American marriage over the last fifty years. In the section I was reading this morning, one of the priests was complaining that the Church was unwilling to adapt it's understanding of marriage to fit 'the reality' that many American Catholics no longer see marriage as an all or nothing package encompassing things like fidelity, procreation, permanence, etc. Some people just want one or two of these, but not all three, he explained, and the Church needed to adapt to modern understandings. Perhaps for a person with that kind of approach to the vocation of marriage, the priesthood really does seem like it should be a profession rather than a vocation.