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

Friday, June 30, 2006

A Happy Return

Well, after a full week, that which was lost is now found. The girls discovered MrsDarwin's wedding ring in one of their little backpacks. How did it get there, I wonder...

Hard to say if this is indeed a matter of St. Anthony squeeking in by the anniversary deadline I gave him in order to score the promised win for Food For The Poor, but it doesn't do well to question his work in these things. You never know when you need to be on his good side.

On this day in 2001...

We got married!

When I first met Darwin, I thought he was perfect. It was a great mystery to me why women weren't falling over themselves to move in his orbit. Now that we've been married for five years, I still think he's perfect -- not generically perfect, as in the heady days of freshman year, but the perfect complement for me.

Here's to many more years as happy as the last five have been!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

You ain't from these here parts

Hello to all Curt Jester readers! Thanks for stopping by. And thanks to Jeff for nearly giving me a heart attack when I checked the site meter this morning...

Pro-Kid; Anti-Gay Marriage

Old friend and mentor Dr. Curp forwarded an interesting interview with Margaret Somerville, an ethicist who stirred up a hornet's nest by coming out publically against gay marriage for a straightforward reason that few outside of strongly religious circles accept: She believes that same sex marriages (specifically the likelihood that their approval would increase pressure to provide artificial reproductive services to same sex couples) would violate the right of every child to have and live with his or her own biological mother and father.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Prayers requested for Jack

Please keep Jack in your prayers:
We just received word that Jay and Suzy had to take Jack back to the hospital. He is running a fever of 105 degrees and his blood pressure is low. They put him in the Intensive Care Unit as a precaution. Any prayers you could send his way would be greatly appreciated!
Jack and all his family are truly encouraged by all the prayers offered for them. Feel free to leave comments and notes of support for them here, and Barb (our faithful correspondant) will pass them along to the family.
Venerable Louis and Zelie Martin, Servants of God,
You offered many prayers for your own sick children.
We unite our prayers with yours for Jack's healing.
May God look favorably on your intercession and, in His Mercy, grant us our request.
May His will be done in all things.

Venerable Louis and Zelie, pray for us!

Religion, Science & Humanity

Dr. PZ Myers is to science blogging what Michael Savage is to conservative talk radio. He runs a blog called Pharyngula: Evolution, development, and random biological ejaculations from a godless liberal and though his science is often sound, his thinking seldom is. Case in point, his recent manifesto titled I'm Proud to be non-human.

What worked Dr. Myers into a foaming lather was that science historian Dr. Ronald Numbers (who wrote a fascinating and fair history of creationism) had done an interview on PBS in which he suggested not merely that science and religion need not be enemies, but also that while science may gain us knowledge, religion is what makes us human. Numbers had quoted Einstein as saying "Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind." In response to which Myers shouts:
Albert Einstein could be such an asshole. Why should I, or anybody, accept such a silly assertion? Religion adds nothing to science, let alone sight....

Of course, Einstein's arrogance has nothing on the author's, who believes that religion is the source of our humanity, and that we need absolute certainty to find satisfaction in life. If that's the case, I gladly renounce humanity, if humanity means ignorance and the dumb acceptance of superstition. I'll happily embrace uncertainty, provisional truth, and a method that guarantees a lifelong search for new knowledge over the false certainty given by the liars for gods.
Queue the Alberich theme as background for this renunciation -- though I doubt Valhalla will burn because of Myers renouncing humanity.

Sadly, there are all too many people who follow Myer's credo, and believe that the only true knowledge is to be had through science. Though Einstein's own ideas on religion were hardly in the mainstream of Judeo-Christian thought, he understood that there was more to the world than can be found through the telescope and microscope. Myers (and many of his commenters) seem quite unaware of this, with many pointing out: "Yeah, and where did Einstein's beliefs get him? Late to the QM game, that's where."

Perhaps is the sheer breadth of knowledge out there in this day and age, but it seems that fewer and fewer people have anything like a wide ranging education. A great number of science writers (even those with greater mental and educational maturity than PZ Myers) have only the most basic notions about history and philosophy, much less religion. And few who have made it their lives work to study theology, philosophy or history have a clear understanding of modern science. I suppose one approach would simply be to throw up one's arms and say that the modern world does not admit to the renaissance man model. Or perhaps we just need to try harder. If people would just show a little basic interest we'd get farther.

Modern science is indeed a powerful and fascinating tool, and I think far to many people either don't understand it or simply have no interest in it. And yet the idea that the only things worth knowing about the world can be discerned by science is so misguided as to be scarcely comprehensible to me.

Check your Fictional Gullibility

Here's a neat quiz: How Gullible are you? What kind of anti-catholic novel would reel you in?

How gullible are you? What kind of anti-Catholic novel would be most likely to reel you in?

You are most gullible when it comes to GOTHIC NOVELS and anything else horrifying and sensational enough. The thought that the Catholic Church is hiding secrets sparks your imagination; and both fictional and real-life stories of scandals and intrigues only confirm your suspicions. In true Gothic style, all such pieces put forward a psychological explanation for Catholic corruption: during the Victorian era, they blamed the what they saw as superstition, while today they blame celibacy and the whole Catholic attitude towards sex. Yet the only real psychological insight they have is into the attraction sordid stories have for the best of us. Don't put up with these cheap shots any longer! In novels they mean flat characters and predictable plots; everywhere else, they are irrational, over-emotional smears.
Take this quiz!

Quizilla |

| Make A Quiz | More Quizzes | Grab Code

Created by Enbrethiliel, h/t Julie D.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Thinking Personhood Through

I found a very thoughtful post by Dru of Ep1staut0logy about the question of personhood and abortion. The comments are very worth reading as well -- some of the most thoughtful I've seen as far as wrestling with the basic ethical issues.

In difficult ethical waters, it's often best to go from what you are sure of to what you're not sure of. It seems pretty clear to most of us (with the exception of the most extreme euthanasia and eugenics advocates) that all people we see around us are worthy of equal care and dignity, despite any differences in degree of function or ability. A person with Down syndrome, or autism, or indeed a three week old baby all have levels of self awareness and cognition below the 'normal', and yet we rightly (at least so I believe) recoil from the idea that they are in some sense less human. Humanity thus seems to be a function of identity rather than degree. And if that's so, then how can abortion not be deeply, deeply problematic?

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Ring

The ring was lost, there was no question about it.

"I just don't know, hon," she said in the hall after the girls had finally lost their battle with bedtime. "I've been through the bathroom several times since last night."

"So have I," he said. "I can't find it anywhere."

"I took it off to wash the girls' hair, and I put it on the counter -- right here -- next to the sink. I'm sure I had it on while I washed baby," she said, shaking out a baby towel.

"And I took baby right from you, so we know that it didn't get caught up in her things."

"Then I trimmed Eleanor's hair (why do I do these things myself?) and while I was doing that Julia ran around and jumped off the stool in front of the sink But I didn't hear anything fall, and I don't even remember if it was there when I was brushing their teeth."

"Well," he said, "it's not on the floor, and I looked in all the cabinets and put away everything on the counter. Were the girls in the office?"

They surveyed the mountain of laundry on the futon in the office.

"It's not the loss of the ring itself that bothers me, though I'm fond of it," he said as he took a stack of small pastel shirts from her and placed them in the basket along with the pile of dresses. "It just seems to symbolize the lack of control we have over our daily life."

"Like we're still just treading water, even after five years," she agreed. "I don't want it to be lost -- we picked it out together, and it's a nice ring. But what's more frustrating than losing it is the chaos around here." She turned over the last few clothes, then sighed. "You know, I suppose it's possible that the girls were in here and brought the ring in with them, but it's unlikely with a capital UN. It's not like them to run off with my ring -- I'd expect them to bring it to me. They've done that before."

"I had been thinking about buying one of those anniversary bands," he remarked, "but I don't think the finances are going to allow for that before Friday."

"No, no, of course," she replied. "You know, it's silly -- I used to never take it off even when I if I had to get it wet, remember, and then the pearl started falling off. So I considered the risk of losing the pearl greater than the risk of losing the ring itself."

"That doesn't hold up financially," he murmured from under the sink, "if you think about the cost of the ring compared to the cost of replacing the pearl. Nothing in the trap here -- I don't think it could even fit down the drain anyway."

"And nothing in the other side, so it's definitely not in the bathroom."

"I don't even remember if I was wearing it when I put away the leftovers down here," she said, scanning the island again. "And I've already cleaned off the counter here,"

"Jeans pockets?"

"Already checked."

"Ring holder in our bathroom?

"Already checked. And I put away the clean clothes in the laundry basket -- one of them anyway -- and put all the dirty laundry on our bedroom floor in the basket one item at a time."

She shook the trashcan in the girls' bathroom, and something glinted and clanked. Underneath the empty toilet paper holder and the wet diaper and the various wads of tissue she found the metal flower broken from a zipper on Julia's shirt.

"Yeah, I found that earlier," he called from the bedroom.

"I'm so sorry," she said. "I just don't know what happened to it. I can't even promise that I'd never take if off again if we do find it."

"No, of course, I wouldn't expect you to do that," he said. "Actually, that's kind of disgusting, if you think about it. What about grease? What about dirt?"

"And the irritating thing is that it could be lost forever, or it could turn up tomorrow or the next day. I even checked the ring box in your drawer on the off-chance that it might have found its way home."

"Like the dog in the end." They smiled.

"Well, good night, hon. Love you."

"Love you. Good night."

Suggest Life Drawing -- Lose Your Job

Chad of On The Silent Planet recently recommended to me the Art Renewal Center website, which I've since added to the sidebar.

Another commenter pointed out an appauling case referred to on the ARC website, where a high school art teacher of 25 years has been suspended from his job and may be fired for the crime of recommending that some of his advanced students who intended to go on to art school take life drawing classes. Mr. Panse apparently suggested that the students could enroll in a class at a local art school or community college, and said he was considering trying to arrange a special topic class through the high school.

Apparently the school considers these "comments that students could construe as being of a sexual or personal nature...or using [his] position as a teacher to put students into any situation reasonably likely to make them feel uncomfortable because of the injection of sexuality into...the substance of [his] comments."

Modesty may be a virtue, but this sounds like straight idiocy.

More Global Warming

My last global warming post was so much fun, that I felt like I had to so a followup.

The National Academy of Sciences recently released a 150 page report on global temperature change over the last 2000 years. It's available free online here. This kind of reconstruction is, of course, tricky, in that we only have decent human temperature measurement records for the last 400 years or so, and near the beginning of that period the measurements weren't as accurate and weren't taken at widely dispersed enough locations. To fill the gap, scientists have tried to use data from tree rings, ice cores, coral, and so forth. Here's one of the resulting charts:

As you can see, the last hundred years are highlighted in red and show an upward trend, though not an unbroken one. However, there are a couple apparently problems. One, as noted by the blue "?LIA?" bar, is that this modeling fails to detect the 'little ice age' of the might nineteenth century, when for a while the Thames regularly froze over in London, and record cold winters were recorded world-wide. Also, they weren't able to project these method back far enough to compare the current warming trend with the one during the early middle ages (approx 800-1100) . Although that warming tend was clearly the result of natural processes while this one is at least in part the result of human greenhouse gas emissions, seeing the relative scale would be of immense use in getting a sense of perspective on current trends. Some hint is provided by this graph of Greenland's average temperature over the last 2500 years:

The vertical axis if a little confusing, since it shows the number of years ago. Thus, we are currently at 0. The height of the medieval warm period was around 900 AD, which ties well with Norse sagas, which describe Greenland as much more hospitable when it was first settled around that time. Current temperatures in Greenland aren't even half-way to the medieval high point yet, though the rate of ascent is steeper.

Back in March there was a lot of excitement about a study in Science which estimated that the sea level would rise 20ft by 2600 AD due to global warming:

Prof Bill McGuire, of the Benfield Hazard Research Centre, University College London, said: "Last year a six metre [20ft] rise was thought to be at least 1,000 years away. This year it is 500 as the Greenland ice sheet continues to fall apart at an accelerating rate."....

The studies show that greenhouse gas increases over the next century could warm the Arctic by between three and five degrees Celsius in summer. This would make the Arctic free of sea ice by 2100. The process will become irreversible some time in the second half of this century.

"We need to start serious measures to reduce greenhouse gases within the next decade," said Prof Overpeck. "If we don't do something soon, we're committed to four to six metres of sea level rise in the future."

I must admit I'm a little fuzzy on the claim that one hears quite a bit that at some specific point the "process will become irreversible". All climate trends in the Earth's past have reversed at one point or another. CO2 can be precipitated out as limestone in the ocean, and can also be consumed by plants. So it's not like once we get the stuff in the air we can never get it out again. I'll agree that having the sea level rise 20ft would pose problems, but if it happens over the course of 500 years, I think those problems would be pretty small. We'd have plenty of time to adjust, and our technology will be so different just 100 years from now, forget 500, that making straight-line judgments seems a little silly. Picture someone in 1500 trying to plan a strategy to deal with a crisis occurring by 2000, but assuming that technology and political trends would remain roughly the same.

What sort of things might we do about it? Firstly, using fossil fuels will become increasingly costly during the next few hundred years, so there will be additional (and unavoidable) pressure to move to alternate energy sources. But assuming that we get some critical level of CO2 into the atmosphere over the next 50 years, there are some pretty interesting things we could try to do to deal with that if it was clearly causing major problems. One would be oxygen farming on a massive scale. One of the obvious ways to get rid of CO2 is to have plants consume it and turn it into oxygen. Forestation is pretty, but about 50% of the CO2 consumption on Earth (and 45% of the oxygen production) is performed by algae. Massive algae farming could help reduce CO2, and some genetic modification might even help to produce specialized algae which would be even more efficient at it.

That said, there are a couple basic things that it's surprising environmental advocates aren't a lot more interested in. The number one thing is nuclear power. Currently only 20% of the US's electricity production comes from our 100 nuclear plants. And yet, nuclear power is by far the best solution to reducing the 40% of our annual CO2 productions which comes from fossil-fuel-burning power plants. Significantly reducing the regulatory and PR hurdles to building more nuclear plants could make a major difference in US greenhouse gas production. An additional 200-300 US nuclear plants would make a world of difference. We would want US and European nuclear power production to be as high as possible. The greatest per capita increases in CO2 production over the coming century will be in the developing world, where people are just getting electricity and transportation -- and many of those areas are unstable enough we don't necessarily want them running nuclear reactors yet.

The other place we could make a difference is in the 40% of US CO2 production which comes from transportation. Usually this leads people to start shouting about gas taxes and penalizing SUV buyers. However, there's something that would help at least as much (perhaps more) that no one seems to talk about: diesel. We think of diesel engines and nasty, smokey, low powered things from the 70s and 80s, but modern efficient diesel engines produced in Europe and Asia frequently offer significantly better mpg than US gasoline engines. Horse power is often slightly lower, but the torque is often higher. The VW Jetta TDI gets 44 miles per gallon, on a par with most hybrid cars, and built around a simpler, more powerful engine which can be expected to last waaaay longer than the complex systems that make a hybrid work. (The basic design of the diesel engine is simpler and less subject to mechanical failure than the gasoline engine design.) Yet the government puts major disincentives and restrictions on diesel cares in the US, keeping them to a tiny market share compared to the 30-40 percent of the road they own in Europe and Asia.

It's all very well to go around your house turning off extra lights as Roger Ebert said he did after watching Al Gore's movie (though if you make less than Roger Ebert you're probably already doing that to try to save money) but nuclear power and diesel vehicles (which would probably be a better sell to the tough-car-buying American public than hybrids) are far more likely to actually make a difference in the long run. And even if the pessimistic scenarios are correct, 500 years is a very, very long time to watch the tide come in. Pick up your copy of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and remember: Don't Panic!

Friday, June 23, 2006

No Strings

Apparently a number of scientists are beginning to feel it's well past time that String Theory passed on. Which is either awkward or convenient for me, as I haven't even got around to reading the intro book on it that I've had on my must-read-one-of-these-days list for a while now.

But just in case anyone was wondering, scientists can be very dismissive of and rude to each other on topics having nothing to do with ID and creationism.

Art in Austin

I had a business lunch in near UT yesterday, and since Thursday is the day admission to the new Blanton Museum of Art is free, we dropped in afterwards to look around. Austin has previously been without a good art museum, so it's good to see one open in town now.

The Blanton is kind of small, and is pretty much evenly split between 'contemporary art' and 'European art' -- or as tiresome people like me think of it: modern art and real art. I started out downstairs, which turned out to be all modern. It'd been quite a while since I'd wandered through a modern art gallery (our frequent stops back in Los Angeles were the Getty and the Huntington, neither of which had much modern stuff) and I'd forgot what bosh modern art is. Some of it very clever bosh, and some of it just foolish.

This one called Light Pink Octagon is one of your standard "I've managed to get them to pay me for not doing terribly much" kind of works. Or as the website describes it "challenges notions of what a work of art can be... [and] commands attention, embodying the artist's unique sense of possibility and play." Yeah. Whatever.

Another was rather clever, though I'm not sure I'd call it 'art'. (Unfortunately they don't have it on their website.) At first glance, it appeared to be a large pile of mulch on the floor, with a smaller pile of mulch on a shelf on the wall three feet above. As you looked closer, you realized that a tiny toy man with a shovel has been set up to look like he was shovelling mulch from the small pile and dropping it down to the pile on the floor. The title was "Forced Labor". Now, that's mildly clever, though I think the main way it was striking was in the defiance of expectation, where you first thought "this is just a stupid pile of mulch" and then you realized it was supposed to be an immense workload dwarfing the tiny toy worker. So someone put some thought into it. But it struck me as more parlor-game clever than having any artistic merit.

Up a striking set of wide, white stone steps, you are released into the upper floor. Here you find Western Art, some plaster casts of classical sculpture, some more modern art, and some real art.

Among the modern art, is a piece of conceptual art that rather annoyed me called How To Build Cathedrals. The museum site describes it this way:
In Missão/Missões he makes reference to the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Jesuit missions in southern Brazil, Paraguay, and northern Argentina. The missions were established as communities to convert the indigenous Tupi-Guaraní people to Catholicism, and many of the Jesuit and Franciscan churches remain among the jewels of Latin American Baroque architecture. Meireles's evocative contemporary "cathedral" exposes the hidden agenda behind these missions, highlighting in particular the relationship between wealth (600,000 coins on the ground), agricultural exploitation (200 suspended cattle bones), and religion (a column of communion wafers connecting the "land" and the "heavens"). The installation draws attention to the fact that the conquest of the Americas was as much about economics as it was about religion or saving souls.
Now some might say I'm just annoyed by the critique of the Church (which I am) but again it seems to me that this kind of thing may be too clever by half, but is not particularly artistic.

There is small collection of medieval liturgical art, though it seemed to me that the pieces were mostly not of equal quality to those at the Getty, which has a really wonderful collection of medieval religious art. There was a very good smatemperaora on panel of St. Bernard, which unfortunately isn't shown on the website.

The Blanton does have a pretty good collection of sketches and etchings, including one of the many Rembrandt self portraits.

There are also a number of interesting prints, including this Goya which quite caught my eye. The style is moving very much more into the modern, but there's still very much a continuity between this and the art that came before it, while works like the pink octagon strike me as coming from a totally separate and far inferior discipline.

Perhaps the trouble with 'contemporary art' is that it is so caught up in the its cleverness, enthralledled with the human capacity for cognition, that it doesn't feel the necessity to depict anything. Instead, we get these wordy little signs explaining to us why the piece is terribly clever. Yet cleverness is not the deepest of human qualities. We all think (at least occasionally) and much of what we think is original in some sense. Thoughts themselves are great things to the extent they help us to connect to reality, either the physical world around us, the emotional world of human relations, the spiritual world above, or the ideal world of forms and perfection.

I assume there must be out there still many artists who are more interested in, to use the loaded term, 'real art' than all this foolishness. Do they ever make it into museums?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Now I know

I'm gearing up to paint my living room, so I've been busy caulking, spackling, priming over crayon scribbles (this is a separate step from priming the whole room prior to putting on the top coat), sanding, and eyeing my two test patches of color to see if I like how they look on the room. And I do.

Here's some color advice I'll offer free of charge to anyone who's considering painting: if you're going to put up Tender Rose as your main color, Golden Glow is NOT the right yellow to go with it. Just want to be clear on that. Thank goodness that paint comes in quarts so you can experiment first!

When I'm finished with this project (don't hold your breath out there) I'll put up before and after pix.

A Novel Way To Publish

John Farrell has been podcasting his SF novel Doctor Janeway’s Plague and the Boston Herald describes the effort in an article today. The podcasts are available here.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

More about Jack

You'll recall that Jack is the eight-year-old nephew of BarbfromCincy, and that he's battling cancer. Barb sends an update:
Jack's chemo got delayed last week because his counts were too low. However, he had a great week being a somewhat normal kid. Monday he went back to the hospital to start chemo again...he had a terrible day with reactions to the medication and having his feeding tube put back in. Yesterday was a bit better.
He will have to be in the hospital at least a week. Thank you again for all of your prayers...our family greatly appreciates it!
Please keep praying for him.
Venerable Louis and Zelie Martin, Servants of God,
You offered many prayers for your own sick children.
We unite our prayers with yours for Jack's healing.
May God look favorably on your intercession and, in His Mercy, grant us our request.
May His will be done in all things.

Venerable Louis and Zelie, pray for us!

Are we just as bad?

The apparent torture and killing of two captured service men in Iraq has allowed the usual sort of people to write that we are in no position to be angry since we allegedly behave the same way.
This is so blatantly untrue (regardless of what one things of the administration's position on interrogation, it's demonstrably not the case that we routinely torture or behead POWs) that one is always tempted to simply ignor it all. However Belmont Club takes the occasion to provide a detailed looks at the problems that are going on in the field with coalition treatment of captured insurgents:

This unit is aimed at the hardest core of the enemy and it works together with non-Americans, particularly Iraqi and other Arab personnel. (It is interesting to note how deeply involved Jordan, Iraq, UAE and Bahrain are in these operations) CJSOTF-AP is charged with training Arab forces which have a long history of torture to demonstrate a better way of doing things. The multinational composition of this unit will explain why non-Americans often figure in the Formica narrative. It may also explain why whole parts of the Formica report are blacked out. (As we will see, the censor missed a few things.)

A close reading of the Formica report itself shows that detainees were interrogated in the field, sometimes in places where they couldn't be safely transported to a secure base. "CJSOTF-AP units operate in a dangerous environment often located in high-threat areas ... convoy movements to transport or to interrogate detainees held at other locations are high risk tactical operations" (page 6). "These were not internment facilities, i.e. facilities intended for long-term detention, but rather temporary facilities for tactical interrogation facilities." (page 7) In one case (page 32) interrogation was carried out at a "safehouse", which suggests some interrogations may have taken place an insurgent-controlled locality.

Formica report concluded that some Iraqi detainees were not being treated in accordance "with the spirit of the principles set forth in the Geneva Conventions." In other words, that the Geneva Convention was being violated.
The situation is further complicated by the fact that (according to the report) insurgent are apparently being instructing during training to complain of torture if captured. More specifically, to complain to Americans that Arabs among the coalition partners have tortured them. Given some of the countries whose special forces are apparently part of this unit, that claim certainly has an air of plausibility.

Flying Mutants

Bats have always been one of the 'missing links' that people point to in evolutionary theory. They appeared fairly suddenly around 50 million years ago, with very few transitional forms. It's one of those classic cases of: If evolution is true, why don't we find more half-bats in the fossil record.

One answer is simply that bats are hard little critters to fossilize. They've small, and they don't necessarily live in habitats where fossilization is easy. Good fossilization requires that your body be quickly covered with fine grade sediment, a shallow lagoon or a river is great for this. A cave or the underside of a bridge along I-35 is not.

However, it may be much simpler than that. Several recent studies suggest that the finger elongation that forms a bat's wings results from a single gene mutation: BMP2. Comparing the development of mice to that of bats, one team found that surpressing that gene resulted in the bat not growing the long fingers needed for wings, while another team introduced the gene into mice, which proceeded to grow bat-like fingers. (I wish they'd included pictures, but I wonder if the genetic manipulation produced dead long-fingered mice...)

So in this particular care, an absence of transitional forms may mean that there simply weren't many transitional forms.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

No strings attached

Several days ago Scott Carson posted a link to an article about Duke University, exploring sexual attitudes on campus in light of the rape allegations made by a stripper against several members of the lacrosse team. There's a blatant double standard, acknowledged by some of the young women interviewed, at play. On the one hand, the girls feel that they're entitled to total sexual equality with the men -- equality in this case meaning that both sexes are as promiscuous as they can possibly be. Traditional sexual mores are not simply ignored; these students don't seem to even know they exist.

Hiring strippers is also a ''joke,'' of sorts -- though there's been a lot of fuss made over the lacrosse team having done so, which most of the students I talked to found puzzling. ''I was like, wow -- I didn't realize that there was that stigma,'' says Naomi.

What people don't get, she says, is that none of this is shocking -- to her or to anyone she knows, really. Girls, like boys, tell gross jokes. They go to strip clubs -- there's one in downtown Durham that students frequent every so often as ''a joke.'' Girls also hire strippers to dance at their birthday parties or other events -- one sorority hires a stripper ''in a tie-dyed thong and a flabby stomach'' every year as part of its annual initiation rites.

''It's totally gross, and we're all like, blech,'' Naomi says.

And afterward, says Anna, ''You're like, 'That was fun. That was a fun activity.' ''

On the other hand, the girls know at some level that the guys are just using them by exploiting their willingness to give out sexual favors without doing any preliminary softening-up or post-coital follow-up , and they allow it because they're naive enough to hope that a relationship might develop out of a guy's respecting this modern behavior.

Among Naomi and her friends, a certain weariness creeps in when discussing the whole scene. ''Girls reduce themselves a lot here in order to be able to have the sexual freedom that I think they don't have by doing that,'' says Naomi. She sighs. ''There's a big difference between the global values and feminist ideals we think we should be subscribing to and the behavior a lot of us exhibit -- and I do it too,'' she admits. But maybe not as much as some of her friends, she adds. ''One of my friends thinks she's the biggest feminist, but to me she is one of the biggest anti-feminists, just because of her sexual behavior'' -- which is hooking up with several guys in the course of a weekend, including one, a ''regular'' who ''really treats her like shit.''

''But, you know, she's doing it out of fear,'' says Anna, smiling a bit. ''It's like, 'Oh, yes, consistent sex -- that's great. And maybe he'll invite me to this big frat formal that's coming up that everyone wants to go to.' '' She chuckles condescendingly.

These kids may attend a prestigious university, but they're lacking a certain level of basic common sense. Why should a guy commit to one of them if he can get the goods for free? But even if one popular girl decided that she wasn't going to put out without some sort of guarantee of exclusivity, she'd have to get the other girls to go along with her so that they'd have collective bargaining power over the men. And there'd have to be some sort of stigma attached to girls who slept around without a guarantee, because she'd weaken the position of every other girl by making no-strings-attached sex available. The women need to be the guardians of their own interests.

I've been reading a book about Iraqi village life: Guests of the Sheik, by Elizabeth Fernea. Mrs. Fernea spent the first two years of her married life in a small village with her anthropologist husband, and while he studied the men of the tribe, she became accquainted with the women. In a culture where a woman's virtue was often worth more than her life, and in which it was desperately difficult to raise children and run a household without the support of a man, the women understood the damage that even one or two promiscuous women could wreak and actively worked to keep even the taint of scandal away from any member of their set. Coming from a different religious, philosophical, and cultural background, many of their precautions felt draconian to me, but there's no question that these Iraqis had a grasp of basic human commerce and social reality that seems to have eluded their liberated, wealthy, Ivy Leagued sisters.

I told a friend at one point thatI would never have sex until I was married because I wasn't going to give anyone the goods until he was obligated to take care of me and provide for any children -- the reverse of the "why buy the cow" scenario. I wanted a signed contract stating that Joe Husband was legally bound to me and his offspring. That's just common sense.

"But that's so cold!" she said.

"Is it?" I asked.

"What about love?" she rejoined. "Does Darwin know this?"

"Of course he knows!" I exclaimed. "Do you think he would have it any other way? We're engaged, aren't we?"

Cold, hard realism about the social protections and restrictions of a contractual sexual relationship doesn't mean that there's no love involved. And thinking sex without commitment equals either sexual equality or happiness is not liberation. It's just stupidity.

High Art

Did you notice that this is art? Did you perhaps think that something is missing? In this case, you would be right:

In this year's summer show at London's Royal Academy of Arts, "Exhibit 1201" is a large rectangular tablet of slate with a tiny barbell-shaped bit of boxwood on top. Its creator, David Hensel, must be pleased to have been selected from among some 9,000 applicants for the world's largest open-submission exhibit of contemporary art. Nevertheless, he was bemused to discover that in transit his sculpture had gotten separated from its base. Judging the two components as different submissions, the Royal Academy had rejected his artwork proper--a finely wrought laughing head in jesmonite--and selected the plinth. "It says something about the state of visual arts today," said Mr. Hensel. He didn't say what. He didn't need to.

Moreover, the Royal Academy denies having made an error, for the plinth and hastily carved wooden support were, according to an official statement, "thought to have merit."

For those who despair that artists these days seem to have lost the skill of fashioning meticulously crafted objects, don't blame Mr. Hensel. While the slate base took only four hours to hack from a mortuary slab, and the little boxwood prop less than an hour, he had painstakingly carved and polished that laughing head for two months. But alas, the sculpture itself has--shudder--emotional content. It was originally christened "One Day Closer to Paradise," a far too expressive title; Mr. Hensel would have been better off with the portentously enigmatic "Exhibit 1201." His laughing head is not only fatally well rendered, but exudes a sense of joy and hilarity, and the overtly evocative is declassé. How much more sophisticated, a stoic square of slate that speaks of--well, ask the viewers.

And there's more...

Monday, June 19, 2006

Great Books for Homeschoolers

Apparently the group that Mortimer Adler founded to promote the original Great Books collection put out by Brittanica now has a pre-K through 12 homeschool curriculum.

I must say, I'm fairly impressed with their reading list. One of my concerns about some of the classical curriculum groups has been that they don't seem to be ambitious enough with what they have students read in the older grades. You can't fault this group for lack of ambition, though.

Though I think I'd go further into literature and not as far into philosophy. I think there's a gread deal of value in having a high schooler read books like Paradise Lost, Brothers Karamazov, Dante, and a number of other longer works of literature that this Great Books program skips than there is in having a high schooler tackle Hume, Kant and Locke. I suppose this violates the very spirit of the great books program, but it seems to me like those three especially (and modern philosophy in general) requires a more general education in philosophy before it's worthwhile reading. (I first read them in college, and felt like I didn't actually have enough background then, though perhaps now I'd do better.) Literature, however, speaks a more universal language -- and this particular reading list seems pretty thin on post-Classical literature, except for a raft-load of Shakespeare.

Classroom Lessons

The Opinionated Homeschooler has apparently spent the last year in the classroom, teaching CCD at her parish. Needless to say, I'd be a lot more sanguine about the idea of parish religious ed if I could count on someone like her being in charge of the class. (To which the answer is pretty clear: So why aren't you volunteering, Darwin? Well, give us a couple years till the monkeys are at the required attendance age and maybe I better...)

It's interesting to hear her lessons learned after a year of being a classroom teacher.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

10th Century Liturgical Abuse?

I checked out a copy of Kenneth Clark's Civilization from the library (that's a story for another time) and in it I found this picture of a carved ivory book from from the 10th century. The subject is clearly the mass being celebrated. Yet it looks very much as if the priest is facing the people rather than ad orientem. Was this sometimes done pre-Trent, or are we essentially seeing a God's-eye-view of the mass in this picture?

Gilgamesh Bleg

Does anyone out there know how wide a set of liberties Stephen Mitchell takes in his 'translation' (I gather he actually worked off extant English translations rather than preparing a new one) of Gilgamesh that came out a few years ago?

Does anyone have a suggested translation of Gilgamesh? I read it back in high school, but it's been a while and I was looking for a good version to read.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

More Panic Than Heat: Gore on Global Warming

It may be that individual members of the media have free will, but sometimes the sudden feeding frenzy over a topic has all the inevitability of a chemical reaction. Such has been happening recently with the topic of global warming. Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth provided the catalyst for a veritable firestorm of global warming hysteria. Not bad for what amounts to a filmed slide show.

Fawning reviewers like Roger Ebert are treating Inconvenient Truth like the newest revelation from on high. Indeed, the reception the 'religious right' gave to The Passion of the Christ is looking downright cool compared to the accolades being piled on Gore's work. Time Magazine, always a repository of deep thought about shallow subjects, intoned "Be worried. Be very worried" and provided a host of articles on impending sea level rises and storms. Even the usually skeptical seemed to provide only positive views and defenses of Inconvenient Truth.

Now, here's the thing: It's not that there's nothing to global warming. CO2 does indeed trap heat in our atmosphere. If you have any doubts that the greenhouse effect can make things unpleasant, read a little about today's weather on Venus. A toasty 900F degrees, anyone? And it makes sense that as the use of fossil fuels increases throughout the world, civilization will put more and more CO2 into the atmosphere. The 2+ billion people in China and India are still only starting to get close to an industrial par with the developed world -- and even with modern technology they will need to burn more fossil fuels before they move far enough forward to burn less. Global average temperatures have increased about one degree Celsius over the last century, and chances are good that human activity is at least one factor causing that.

However, the question that not enough people are asking is: How much of a problem is that in the grand scheme of things?

Supposedly science-educated people somehow seem to forget when they get started on the topic of global warming that the history of our planet goes back a whole lot more than a hundred years. There have been many times in our planet's history when, because there were no land masses near the poles, there were virtually no ice caps at all. Sea levels were higher. Roaches grew bigger. It was better weather for walking your sauropod. But the world didn't end. (Well, okay, so there was that thing about sudden global climate change after a giant rock fell out of the sky and blasted out a crater a hundred miles across -- but we'd be pretty hosed by a major asteroid strike now too.)

But you don't have to go back millions of years to see how much the climate can change without the planet going to pieces. A read of the Norse sagas clearly reveals that Iceland and Greenland had much milder climates around 900 to 1100 AD than they do now. So did Newfoundland, where the Norse briefly established a colony around 1000.

Indeed, people often forget that according to mainstream ice age theory, we are currently 10,000 years into an interglacial period in what is overall an ice age. Opinion varies widely as to how long interglacial periods typically last, and what exactly causes them to start and stop -- though the human production of greenhouse gasses might well artifically extend this one.

How bad all this is depends on your definition of what is an acceptable change in the status quo. It also depends a lot on more much linear change in the climate the release of greenhouse gasses will actually change. For instance, warming in the waters around Antarctica produces more precipitation over the ice sheet, which in turn means increased ice pack, not less. There are incredibly complex systems controling climate change on our planet, and it would be silly to imagine that we actually have them all figured out.

Many of the things that scare environmental advocates are also man-made problems. For instance, we're often warned that the sea level might rise 5, 10 or even 20 feet because of ice melt. So far, the verified sea level rise to due to ice melting is more in the range of a centimeter per decade, but leaving that aside: sea levels have changed radically over the history of the earth. Sea levels were much lower during the last glacial period. As sea levels rose again, whole areas (notably the Black Sea, which according to a fair amount of research only filled about 5000-7000 years ago) were flooded. Now, to the planet qua planet, that's not a problem at all. Sea levels change. It's supposed to be that way. But for our intrepid band of over-intellectual primates who have gone and built major cities in coastal regions subject to hurricanes on land at or below sea level -- it presents a problem.

Oddly enough, the environmentalist case against global warming is a case for the artificial lifestyle that we as a civilization have developed. The planet, and most of the species on it, are not going to be harmed by changes in the climate, even if those changes are partly caused by our industrial society. And so long as most of the effects are like those that have occured so far, or can be reasonably hypothesized, civilization as a whole is not going to be heavily impacted. We survived the black death and income tax, we can move to higher ground or cut our CO2 output, though the former might be more realistic than the latter -- and we won't need to move much higher unless changes of more than a few centimeters occur.

It seems ironic to me that while Ann Coulter's latest book claims that evolution is the religious myth of the liberal establishment, the liberal establishment is working itself into a lather over a set of climate changes which is neither big nor unprecedented when set against the wider scope of our planet's history. Perhaps young earth creationists should be freaking out about global warming, but people who allegedly understand that we live on a complex planet which has been changing in ways big and small for over four billion years don't need to be nearly as worried.

One of the few sane articles I've read lately on the topic asks the right set of questions: How do the costs of ending CO2 production compare with the costs of dealing with the effects of not doing so? Cost benefit analysis. What are they teaching them in schools these days?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Movin' up

Congratulations to my brother Will, who was accepted to Mount Saint Mary's of the West Seminary in Cincinnati. Way to go, bub!

Darwin vs. the Essentialists?

For those readers who share my undue interest in the intersection of evolution and philosophy, this post by John Wilkins from a few months back may be of interest. He surveys a number of other posts and tries to make the case that strict neo-scholastic essentialism was not in fact the prevailing view in biology prior to Darwin. Instead, he argues, it arose in response to Darwin's theory, and Ernst Mayr was primarily responsible for perpetuating the myth that essentialism had been the only real alternative and precursor to Darwinism.

Certainly, the 1840s-1860s were hardly a heyday of Aristotelian or Thomistic thought, and he's right that many 18th and 19th century philosophers and scientists subscribed to a loose typology in regards to species rather than a strict essentialism.

Still, I wonder if one of the reasons that essentialism has become one of the primary critiques of evolution (perhaps David or Shelray of Cosmos-Liturgy-Sex would know a bit more about this than I -- feel free to correct) is that essentialism touches on some very real truths that people intuitively recognize exist, and are not well explained by evolution or (more specifically) a basic materialist philosophical system ostensibly based upon it.

The evidence seems clear to me, though others differ, that the evolution of species does indeed take place. And yet, even if at a certain biological level a species is simply that population of creatures which currently possess a set of characteristics and can only breed successfully with one another, there's another sense in which the characteristics of those populations are significant -- at least if we are to make any sense of the world.

For instance, for the concept of medical science to make any sense, we must take it that certain things are 'healthy' and others 'unhealthy' -- and yet that suggests an inherent judgment as to how individuals within a given species ought to work.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

British Gun Control

It seems that on that side of the pond, it doesn't just mean using both hands...

BearingBlog links to a review at of a fascinating-sounding book: Guns and Violence: The English Experience. (Here's the review.)

As you may know, the Brits have pretty much banned all civilian gun possession. Plus they've passed regulations against self-defense -- sending a number of citizens who have used guns and other weapons to defend themselves to jail for lengthy sentences. However, far from producing a safer society, this has resulted in a marked increase in violent crime in Britain, for the simple reason that criminals can be far more confident that no law abiding citizens will resist them. London now ranks higher in violent crime than Chicago, apparently.

It's got to the point where the gun control movement is pretty much dead in the US. If only Britons could be so lucky...

Lord of History

I've found myself thinking lately about the question of how to deal with the life of Christ and the origins of Christianity in a history text book setting, specifically in a homeschooling context.

At the monkeys' current age, the only history they'll be getting for a while is in narrative form. Bible stories, stories of famous people, stories of ordinary people living in different times, etc. But at a certain point (perhaps around age 8-10) a child moves from simply reading stories to needing to learn about world, national and local history in a larger narrative framework. At this point, the student begins reading that most dangerous of academic creations: the survey text. The scylla and charybdis of the survey text genre are boredom and simplification to the point of falsehood. (Or perhaps the metaphor is inapt, since many survey texts are both boring and overly simplified.)

The danger, of course, is that a survey text seeks to smooth over the questions left open by lack of sources or contradictory sources by providing the student with a single narrative through which to understand the history of a period. An author with a bias may leave out or completely distort the meaning of a event or period. (I've seen survey texts which insist the primary motivation of the crusades was an economic need to set up client states for trade.) On the other hand, a survey text is sometimes so tentative that it doesn't provide any coherent narrative, or gets bogged down in facts that provide the student with trivia, but not a general understanding of the period.

The life of Christ and the origins of the Church are one period on which many have an opinion (and also cover an intersection of history and doctrine which many secular writers feel uncomfortable with and many religious writers have strong opinions about) and so it seems a particularly sticky problem. On the one extreme, there are books like Ann Carroll's Christ the King, Lord of History, which takes as its central premise that the incarnation is the central event against which all historical events should be contextualized. On the other extreme, many texts make it sound as if Christianity was invented by Constantine, or was indistinguishable from the various pagan mystery cults that abounded from the first century BC through the second century AD.

On a side note, I think people should be a little more ambitious about the age groups the recommend a book to. Christ the King, Lord of History is recommended for grades 11-12, but the bits I've read seem to me would be totally accessible at grades 6-8. Or better yet for the same age group, I'd recommend Builders of the Old World, the text I used in Calvert back in 6th grade -- a world history to 1500 and quite good from a Catholic perspective without the excesses of CKLH. For high schoolers, I'd recommend a good set of college textbooks. Spielvogel's Western Civilization is a good for a complete history from start to finish. But like most recent single volume world history textbooks, it devotes far too much time to the period post 1700. My recommended solution would be to use an ancient text (Chester Starr's A History of the Ancient World is very good) a medieval history text (none better than Warren Hollister's Medieval Europe: A Short History -- but get the 8th edition or earlier, more recent editions include a co-author who added a bunch of stuff on women's history and similar special interest topics) and then use the single volume history such as Spielvogel to fill in the rest.

While thinking about the question of how to deal with the Incarnation in the context of a history book, I went back and read Starr's chapter on the rise of Christianity. Starr does a number of things that I think are just right. He sets the stage with a discussion of Judaism in the first century BC both in Palestine and in the Hellenic world. He also contrasts the mystery cults with both Judaism and Christianity, mentioning their similarities, but also their important differences. However, although he tries very hard to be fair when dealing with the life of Christ, he runs into what I think are inherent difficulties when trying to bring a historian's tools to bear on the topic. On the one hand, he does not fall into denying that the miracles of Christ or the resurrection happened; on the other hand he hesitates to state them as fact since such things seem outside the historian's realm. And yet, as he points out, one of the things that distinguished Christianity from the surrounding pagan cults that focused on sacrificial meals and/or resurrection was that Christianity is founded upon a known historic revelation event, not some half-imagined happening in the mists of time. So he simply says he can't touch on the question of the miraculous, and tries to cover what he considers more historical in nature.

The result is unsatisfying, but I wonder if it is inevitable, since there is nothing a historian can add to the gospel accounts of Christ other than provide secular context for the surrounding events and conditions. No degree of historical analysis will allow us to know more certainly what Christ taught, or whether he was indeed the Son of God, or whether he rose from the dead. At best, a historian might be able to research the lineage of the documents that provide us with answers to these questions, but they could not tell us if the documents speak the truth.

In books written for children who are still at the storytelling stage, none of this really matters. As Christians, we should write books for this age (say, under 10 or 11) to reflect what we believe to be the truth. However, a textbook for older children is meant not merely to be a narrative of things past, but to reflect the process of historical analysis. In history texts of this type, I think the best approach available is to state that which can be said from external analysis while leaving the question of faith up to the reader. Thus, one should cite the only sources we have, explain their origins (and thus their point of view) and then summarize those elements of them which are relevant to the reader.

Thus, a junior high or high school text might say:
Jesus himself left no written documents or artifacts, so all that is known of him comes from accounts written by his followers in the first and second centuries AD, some of which are collected in the New Testament, and others of which were not included in the canon of scripture when it was determined by the 2nd and 3rd century Church. These documents take a number of forms. The Gospels are narrative accounts of the life, works and words of Jesus. Acts is a narrative about the early period of the Christian Church. The epistles were letters of instruction written by varius early authorities in the Church. Revelation is an extended account of a prophetic dream.

The Gospels describe Jesus as having been born of a virgin, who was told by an angel that she would...
And so on. It seems to be of historical importance to convey what Christians believe about the life of Christ, and yet ineffective to provide any kind of further historical analysis beyond a description of how these stories came to us through the books of the New Testament. And by taking the "according to these Gospel accounts" approach, the book no more endorses Christianity than it endorses Islam when it says, "According to Islam teaching, the Koran was reveal to Mohammad by the angel Gabriel..."

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Father Fox testifies

Fr. Fox testified yesterday at an Ohio committee meeting regarding a bill that would outlaw all abortions in the state.
We forget how fragile this idea of human dignity is—especially at the margins. We all operate on the assumption that the law will protect our basic dignity. But why assume this? What gives us this assurance?

Our Constitution? Most of the world does not have our constitution. But even if they did, recall what Chief Justice Charles Evan Hughes said:

You may think that the Constitution is your security—it is nothing but a piece of paper. You may think that the statutes are your security—they are nothing but words in a book. You may think that elaborate mechanism of government is your security—it is nothing at all, unless you have sound and uncorrupted public opinion to give life to your Constitution, to give vitality to your statutes, to make efficient your government machinery.

Bad law corrupts public opinion, and good law helps form sound public opinion. It is not enough to wait for public opinion; it must be aroused.

Father's blog, Bonfire of the Vanities, is some of my favorite morning reading. He offers political analysis, concise and inspired sermons, and enjoyable peeks into the day-to-day life of a parish priest. Check him out.

The passing of the old order

On Friday night, Noogs wandered off from the dinner table and sat on the couch. A moment later we heard a plaintive cry, "Mommy, I spit." And sure enough, the girl had hurled her bread salad and salsa (and a cup of milk and two pilfered bananas) all over the arm and right cushion of the couch. A clean-up effort ensued -- Darwin took Noogs; I handled the couch. His charge came cleaner than mine did.

And as I wiped layer after layer of dirt from the couch and liberally spritzed Fabreze, it came to me: it was really time for a new couch.

It's not just that we had to cut off the attached arm cushion because it couldn't be cleaned. It's not just that now there's a bright spot of washed upholstery that still smells faintly of vomit. It's that the cushions are ripping in ways that can't be repaired. It's that the couch is at least twenty years old and was second-hand when we got it. It's that it was originally part of a sectional and so has one arm higher than the other, making it unconducive to slipcovering. It's that there are cigarette burns on one cushion (we keep that side down) from the previous owner's chain-smoking brother. It's that the couch used to be red and is now a shade charitably described as "dirt".

So it's time to hit up the classifieds and Craig's List and Freecycle.

This is what I'd like.

This is what I'll probably get.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Trying Darwin On Trial

Commenter CMinor asks:

Do you know anything about the book Darwin on Trial? Somebody donated a copy to our parish library (which I am organizing.) I'm trying to decide what to do with it.

Well, it sells for about three bucks used on Amazon, so even if you sold it you'd need seven more dollars plus shipping to buy Cardinal Ratzinger's commentary on Genesis instead...

But if you wanted a snarky response, you would have asked for one. So I'll attempt to address the question in a more helpful vein.

Now, I haven't read Darwin On Trial, partly because I neither expected to be interested by it or to agree with it. (Which I realize is rather close-minded of me and all, but with limited time it happens a lot these days...) So given that I haven't read the book (though I've read a number of shorter articles by Johnson), I shan't make so bold as to speak directly to it's quality, but rather try to cover the topic (about which I do know a bit) and the way one would go about evaluating whether it should be in a parish library.

Darwin On Trail was written in the early 90s by UC Berkley law professor Phillip Johnson. Though without formal training in biology, Johnson turned his skill as a lawyer and debater against the work of prominent secularists and evolutionary biologists to make the case that the available scientific evidence does not in fact support evolutionary theory. Johnson's basic critique (appearing in all his books and articles) is that modern science has an inherent atheistic bias in that it only looks for material causes, not supernatural ones. Thus, he argues, scientists often adopt fanciful explanations which are material in nature (evolution being his primary example) rather than admit the possibility of divine causation.

Now, I think that Johnson is wrong in his assessment of the evidence for biological evolution, and some of his quote mining in articles I've read strikes me as being a sign of either not reading very carefully, or intentionally engaging in selective quoting -- but scientific inaccuracy and rhetorical sloppiness are not necessarily reasons why something should be excluded from a parish library. The more important question is, does the book in any way contradict or lead away from the Catholic faith?

I think there are two theological danger areas to watch out for in a book like this:

1) False Apposition -- As early as the 1860s John Henry Newsman stated that Darwin's theory was not inherently contradictory to the Catholic faith, a judgment supported by Pius XII in Humani Generis and John Paul II in his letter to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. However, opponents of evolution (perhaps because they subscribe to non-Catholic ideas of biblical interpretation, perhaps in an effort to bolster their arguments by exaggerating the evils of the alternative) sometimes state that if evolution is true, there is no room for God as the creator of the universe. Their intent in doing so is to emphasize to the reader of impossible it is to believe that evolution is correct, but considering that the Church has taught that evolution and God's creative agency are not contradictory, I think these kind of statements are a bit dangerous, in that according to Church teaching evolution may be true -- and it is never wise to set up unnecessary stumbling blocks for the believer.

2) Knowledge of God's creation -- Several books and articles I've read by members of the Discovery Institute (of which Phillip Johnson is one of the founding members) say that if God's 'thumbprint' is not clearly visible in the created world, then God is cruel and unjust -- since we are expected to believe in God to attain salvation, and if God "hid" his presence by working only through natural processes, then he would be holding people accountable for not knowing something which he had in turn made it impossible to discern.

This, I think, steps into two danger areas. First, it suggests that God could only have created the universe in a way that looks to us like design. Second, it implicitly limits the evidence for the creation of the universe to those physical aspects of creation which can be successfully studied by science. Both of these suggest significantly narrower criteria for discerning God's creative power than a traditional Catholic understanding.

Though this is at the other end of the educational spectrum, we've been tackling a similar issue lately in that we were thinking of putting in an order for a few kindergarten level books from Seton. They have a phonics book which MrsDarwin thinks Noogs would enjoy, and a bunch of the St. Josephs picture books about saints and sacraments and such. We've been trying to decide if we should also get their Science1 book, which mostly deals with how the human body works (Noogs loves her books on muscles and skeletons at the library) and is illustrated by Ben Hatke, who illustrated the charming Angel in the Waters. On the one hand, there's certainly nothing wrong with talking about how the ear works under the heading of "God's Gift of Hearing". However, since I don't plan on using later Seton science texts (which quickly dive down the creationist rabbit hole in the later grades) I'm a bit concerned that starting off in the younger grades about "God's gift of hearing" and then later talking about biology within an evolutionary framework will create in my daughter's mind the false dichotomy that either the ear was created by God or it is the result of evolution, with the former as the explanation for children and the latter for adults. (Like telling children than babies come from the stork, and adults that they come from sex.) It seems to me that it's always dangerous to create an apparent association between religious beliefs and an over-simplified view of the physical universe, since that runs the risk of the student discarding religion as his knowledge of the universe grows.

That's just wrong

Back in the 70s, before food became edible, some people went on diets. It was a hard time to be a dieter, in the 70s. Besides the fact that the food wasn't edible, the people who were supposed to making your diet easier were in actuality trying to sabotage it. For example, a jellied salad:

NO, you shriek, shielding your eyes from this nauseating vision! Surely it wasn't this bad! Oh yeah? Well, take this:

That's HOT DOGS wrapped around the pineapple. Moving on to dessert:

Wow. That's nasty.

All images from Candyboots, which provides many more recipe cards for your delectation, all with scintillating commentary.

H/T, oddly enough, to Susan.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Good News for Jack

More from Barb:
I wanted to update you on Jack....
Today, we found out that the CAT scan shows no signs of the cancer spots that were there last month. The doctors didn't expect this so this is wonderful news. However, they did see a shadow in the area where they did the biopsy last month. So today, they did a PET scan which should tell if the spot is a tumor or not. If it is a tumor, the results should be a positive number. If it isn't a tumor, the results should be a negative number. Unbelievably, the result was a 0. The doctors have never had that happen before, so they have no idea what to think.
So, since the chemo seems to have helped, they are going to start another round starting next Tuesday. After that, they will do another MRI to see if there is any change with the shadow.
This has given us a bit of hope...God is so good!!
We are so thankful for everyone's prayers!!
Once more, Jack's prayer:
Venerable Louis and Zelie Martin, Servants of God,
You offered many prayers for your own sick children.
We unite our prayers with yours for Jack's healing.
May God look favorably on your intercession and, in His Mercy, grant us our request.
May His will be done in all things.

Venerable Louis and Zelie, pray for us!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Why you should be reading us

Here's a birthday tribute to us from Scott Carson, the sage who writes Examined Life:
One of the great things about the Darwins, in my view, is the way in which they combine sound, orthodox Catholicism, clear and concise conservatism, and healthy, objective scientific skepticism. They illustrate quite nicely how one can be a successful Christian humanist without sacrificing the norms of truth in this time of fundamentalist dogmatic ideology.
Thanks, Scott! That's high praise coming from such an esteemed source. In return, we'll pay the highest compliment one blogger can give another -- we'll send some traffic your way. Check out Scott's posts on the fallacious reasoning of the lawyer who claims the Bush Administration forced her to have an abortion, on applying reason to the abortion debates, and on the hermeneutics of the laity who are reading and engaging Church documents. Essential reading, all.

Transmitting Religious Belief

Usceae comments on Saudi Arabian textbooks promoting contempt of religions other than Islam.
Hmm…I think that the idea that the overhaul of textbooks is still ‘ongoing’ after nearly 5 years is a red herring. I recall that my college professors used to be able to issue new editions of books every 2 years to prevent students from using cheaper 2nd hand ‘old edition’ books, for instance. I imagine that, with adequate political will, revised textbooks could have been out by now. I suspect that the real reason for the delay is that the Saudi government fears that acting will further reduce their support – a non-trivial issue given their lack of representative government. But, that’s well beyond the scope of this blog.

Rather, this report brought to mind how important education is as a transmitter of values, religious or otherwise, positive or otherwise. I remember stuff which a wonderful nun taught to me as a 7-year old boy, for instance. Things about Padre Pio, and Maximilian Kolbe (whose cell I eventually visited when I had the opportunity), and other figures – I suppose my Sunday school and Cathechism classes were a combination of lecture and case study (which, coincidentally, is apparently practiced by the best Universities). One thing I do not remember though, was any form of focus on the negative, except for known ‘hot war’ enemies, and even then within context (school textbooks in my country would also note that there were positive sides to the enemies we had faced).

I also remember being very offended the first (and only) time I as invited to pray, in a group, ‘against the power of Islam’ – I had difficulty understanding why the person leading the prayer seemed so offended by Islam (this was in the UK). Having a very large number of great muslim friends, and having taken the time to study Islamic courses (of my own volition), this seemed to me to be quite presumptuous. I would rather pray that there is greater understanding, on both sides, and that, over time, Muslims obtain political freedom and liberty, and can make free religious choices (many muslims do not have that option, for instance, in Saudi Arabia).
I'm trying to remember if I ever heard about other religions as a small child. I lived in the Bible Belt until I was 12, so I was aware of Protestantism, and had Protestant friends. I knew about Judaism from reading the Old Testament (and listening to our record of the soundtrack of Fiddler on the Roof). I can't remember where or when I first heard of Islam or Buddhism. My parents, while never speaking disrespectfully of any other religion, were always very thorough in instilling a love for Catholicism in myself and my siblings.

I had a friend whose parents were Unitarians but wanted their children to be able to "decide for themselves" on religious issues. This always struck me as odd. Parents make all sorts of decisions for their children -- what clothes to buy them, when to feed them, what kind of books or television shows to allow in the house. A child absorbs the religious attitudes of his parents as surely as he picks up on their preferences in food, reading material, and hygiene. In fact, the only way a child won't pick up his parents' religious beliefs is if they matter so little to the parents that they never speak of them, practice them, or celebrate them communally.

A Pattern Language: Indoor Sunlight

From A Pattern Language:
128 Indoor Sunlight
If the right rooms are facing south, a house is bright and sunny and cheerful; if the wrong rooms are facing south, the house is dark and gloomy.

Everyone know this. But people may forget about it, and get confused by other considerations. The fact is that very few things have so much effect on the feeling inside a room as the sun shining into it. If you want to be sure that your house, or building, and the rooms in it are wonderful, comfortable places, give this pattern its due. Treat it seriously; cling to it tenaciously; insist upon it. Think of the rooms you know which do have sunshine in them, and compare them with the many rooms you know that don't.
Place the most important rooms along the south edge of the building, and spread the building out along the east-west axis.
This pattern ties into 105 South Facing Outdoors
Always place buildings to the north of the outdoor spaces that go with them, and keep the outdoor spaces to the south.
.Our house runs on a north-south axis. We have only two windows on the south side, one of which is in a bathroom, and the other of which is in our bedroom (which, following the pattern, is one of the most pleasant rooms in the house). The kitchen faces full east and gets the brunt of the morning sun, while the long south-facing wall in the living room has NO windows at all. The office upstairs has a west-facing window and is almost uninhabitable in the afternoon when the sun is shining straight on it. And the girls' bedroom has one north-facing window and always seems dark and a little gloomy.

One of the reasons that we don't use the backyard much during the afternoon is that there's no transition from the back door to the little patio -- you have to step straight from the shade of the kitchen into the full sunlight.

I love natural light and prefer to keep the electric lights off as much as possible during the sunlight hours. But I wish this house had been designed to take advantage of the wealth of Texas sunlight a bit more.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Happy Blogoversary!

One year ago, Darwin finally started that blog he'd been talking about for ages. Take a stroll down memory lane with our first post.
Why "DarwinCatholic"?

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

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

I am first and foremost a Catholic.

Politically and culturally, I am a conservative.

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

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

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

And I'm still under thirty.
Here's to many more years and readers and comments!

More Quiz Fun

Here's the What Kind of Homeschooler are You? Quiz.

I took the test twice and got different answers each time. However, as my oldest is only four, I guess I still have time to settle into a style. I would like to note to one and all that I have successfully taught a child to read -- where's my medal? Where's the champagne and paparazzi?

Hat tip to the always fascinating Opinionated Homeschooler, who is currently offering tips on buying used history books online.

Just because you're paranoid...

...doesn't mean they aren't out to get you.

I added the group feed to my BlogLines a while back, since I'd seen a couple interesting articles there on the evolution debate. I enjoy seeing the weird science fact of the day kind of chatter and some of the interesting thinking that goes on there, but like St Blogs tends to run far, far to the right of Catholicism (even practicing, educated Catholicism) as a whole, so ScienceBlogs seems to run very much in a secular/leftist rut. There are a huge number of posts about gay rights (and the idiocy of anyone who disagrees with them) and a fair number of "and here's another proof God doesn't exist" posts.

In a sense, it's a familiar frustration. As I think evolution describes the history of biological life on this planet better than 'creation science' or the Discovery Institute flavor of 'intelligent design', I occasionally end up over at Talk.Origins or Talk.Science, where there is indeed a lot of good info about the evolution debate. However, one must be careful in pointing Christians who are unsure about evolution in that direction, as a number of the people there often fall prey to various philosophic errors and go on to say that science evolution is true, Christianity clearly isn't.

While I'd assert that there is no incompatibility between biological evolution and Catholic theology, there are an awful lot of evolution enthusiasts who are very anti-Christian in their thinking -- which leads a number of Christians to assume: If those guys represent what evolution is, we need to be against it.

Ann Coulter seems to have gone hook-line-and-sinker for this line of thinking about evolution with her latest book, as Examined Life observers in a recent post. Even if one is very much against evolution, I must imagine Ann Coulter is not the spokesman one would wish for. And, of course, the folks at ScienceBlogs (who labor under the delusion that Coulter represents mainstream conservative thought) have jumped upon it as another proof that conservatism and Christianity are inherently creationist, irrational, and so forth.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Beastly Stuff

Julie D. has up a post on the number of the beast, and her comments box is getting silly. Here's the lowdown on the number of the Beast, 666 -- and all its brothers and uncles and ugly stepchildren.
666 Biblical Number of the Beast
660 Approximate Number of the Beast
DCLXVI Roman Numeral of the Beast
665 Number of the Beast's Older Brother
667 Number of the Beast's Younger Sister
668 Number of the Beast's Neighbor
999 Number of the Australian Beast
333 Number of the Semi-Beast
66 Number of the Downsized Beast
6, uh... I forget Number of the Blond Beast
666.0000 Number of the High Precision Beast
665.9997856 Number of the Beast on a Pentium
00666 Zip Code of the Beast E-mail Address of the Beast Website of the Beast
1-666-666-6666 Phone & FAX Number of the Beast
1-888-666-6666 Toll Free Number of the Beast
1-900-666-6666 Live Beasts, available now! One-on-one pacts! Only
$6.66 per minute! [Must be over 18!]
666-66-6666 Social Security Number of the Beast
Form 10666 Special IRS Tax Forms for the Beast
IAM 666 License Plate Number of the Beast
Formula 666 All Purpose Cleaner of the Beast
66.6% Tax Rate of the Beast
6.66% 6-Year CD Interest Rate at First Beast Bank of Hell ($666
minimum deposit, $666 early withdrawal fee)
$666/hr Billing Rate of the Beast's Lawyer
$665.95 Retail Price of the Beast
$710.36 Price of the Beast plus 6.66% Sales Tax
$769.95 Price of the Beast with accessories and replacement soul
$656.66 Wal-Mart Price of the Beast (next week $646.66!)
$55.50 Monthly Payments for Beast, in 12 easy installments
And don't forget:
Speculation that the "mark of the Beast" will take the form of bar codes or computer chips is incorrect. The mark of the Beast is actually conferred by Livestrong bracelets.
I especially appreciate that, living near Austin...

He That Despises Reason

It is a standard claim of secular thinking that the problem with religious people is that they are all sentimental old sops who cling irrationally to ideas in direct contradiction to reason. Mark Twain, famously skeptical in his attitude towards religion, quipped that "Faith is believing what you know ain't so."

And yet when it comes to Ramesh Ponnuru's new book on the abortion debate in America, Party of Death, both Peter Berkowitz in the Wall Street Journal and John Derbishire in The New English Review take a reverse approach, feeling (and I use the word consciously in place of 'arguing') that the problem with the pro-life position is that it is too logically rigorous. Who cares if it is true that a unique human being (in the most objective, physically verifiable sense) exists from the moment of conception until natural death. Surely, if people do not naturally feel that humans at all stages of life deserve equal dignity, then it would be wrong to give it to them.

I wish I could say that this falling back on the forces of emotion and eschewing of reason suggested that the pro-choice movement is collapsing. But the sad fact is, most people are idiots most of the time. (Or in Scott Adams slightly more charitable phrase: everyone is an idiot about something.) Most positions are not taken for rational reasons. Most lives are unexamined -- though in the pro-life view (if not in the Derb's), such lives are nonetheless worth living.

Ramesh responded to his critics (mainly Derbishire) in National Review.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

God and Man in Asia Minor

Enbrethiliel of Sancta Sanctis has a post up about dying, the Iliad, and Christianity.

Now I understand more fully why Uncle Gilbert said that if the world were ever to return to paganism and perish, then the last man left alive would do well to quote the Iliad and die. The last words of everyone from Patroclos to Hector are fists shaken in defiance of the pagan gods . . . yet they somehow manage to be pious fists.

It is this ambivalence which marks the greatest theme of the Iliad, which is the relationship between man and the gods....

As ridiculous as all that finger-pointing is, both Trojans and Greeks have a point. The gods meddle so much in men's affairs, even stooping to cheating and lying, that men can no longer be wholly responsible for anything. To the gods go all the blame, but also all the glory. It is a delicious moment, therefore, when Diomedes is able to wound both Aphrodite and Ares. Even though his supernatural strength is just another gift from Athena, the whole episode is steeped with more pious defiance of the deities....

Two thousand years of Christianity have not diluted any of the this theme's power. The questions Homer asked in the Iliad, we are still asking today.

What is there to life besides enduring until death? Why do good men die and bad men live? Why does God show favour to some and not to others? How can we say we have free will when all the good we do is the work of grace acting within us? How can we still not blame God for all the evil in the world, when all He has to do to dispel it is to will it gone?

The only advantage we have over Homer and the ancients is that there is one answer which we at least know; there is one secret which has been revealed to us, even if we barely understand it. To us has been disclosed the mystery of the motivation of God....
It's a long post. There's much more and all worth reading. How could I not love a post which uses the Iliad to explore the relationship of man and God?

Her earlier post about the Iliad is here.