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

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

2006 Catholic Blog Awards

Hey, look everybody! It's time to place your nominations for the Catholic Blog Awards! Who wants to show some love to the Darwins? (hint, hint)

Personally, I had to nominate Happy Catholic because Julie D. is my favorite morning read. You all feel free to follow suit.

A sobering reminder

Via Cosmos-Liturgy-Sex, a link to a page about genocide under the Nazis. No explicit images, but absolutely horrifying nonetheless.

Wisdom from the Tribunal

Through a series of links, I came across this post by canon lawyer Ed Peters (a few years old, it seems) answering those who object to the high rate of annulments in America. He makes many good points, the chiefest being that if Catholics are serious about the serious spiritual and psychological damage of contraception and pre-marital sex, then we should not be suprised that those who already are cohabitating and contracepting before marriage do not have a strong grasp of the solemnity of the sacrament.

Amy Welborn makes this same point in a recent post and quotes canonist Pete Vere:

It was with some reluctance that I first got involved with Tribunal ministry, since as a Traditional Catholic I bemoan the annulment crisis in North America. The fact I was extremely also suspicious of canon 1095, the canon with lists the psychological grounds vitiating marital consent, and the canon under which most marriages before a tribunal are declared null, didn't help either.

However, my Tribunal experience has been a real eye-opener, especially in light of the contraceptive and divorce mentality I encounter in most people, including Catholics. In fact, these mentalities are so pervasive within North American society that after four days on the Tribunal I found myself declaring as many marriages invalid as the next judge, often on a canon 1095 basis, and wondering to myself whether any marriage attempted today in North America is valid. In short, as a Traditional Catholic canonist, I can safely say that since the sexual devolution of the sixties, the rise in marriage annulments has not been because of the Second Vatican Council and a more liberal application of canon law, but because of a selfish and unrealistic understanding of what marriage entails by your average person entering into it.

But then again, we're often looking at people who have grown up watching pornographic sitcoms, who have been subjected to sex-ed programs more graphic than a gynecologist textbook fifty years ago, engaged in pre-marital sex since their early teens, most often shacked up two or three times by the time they marry, see children as an inconvenience, and suddenly we expect them to enter into a sacramental Christian marriage?

Amy says, and I agree with her, that what is needed is not more criticism of the tribunal or the annullment process, but stronger marriage preparation.
...Stop witnessing the marriage of every baptized Catholic who walks into the rectory and asks for one. There is much discussion of the high number of annulment cases processed in the US, in particular, but I have just a couple of things to say. First, the majority of couples coming to the Catholic Church to be married are a)living together and b)contracepting and are c)rarely challenged on this by those preparing them for marriage. Many of them are barely catechized on anything, are not regular Mass-goers until Mama gets it into her head that they must be married in the Church and the pastor sternly berates them for not being registered and not having envelopes - a far greater sin that cohabitating, you know - and you're telling me that these marriages are not rife with potential problems with validity?

I can't say that I remember my own marriage prep classes that well. We did have to fill out one of those compatibility surveys: have you talked about this, what are your views on that, is anyone pressuring you into this marriage, do you feel impulses to irrational anger, have you discussed finances, etc. When it came time for the priest to go over our results with us, he glanced down at the scores and said, "I don't say that you cheated, but I've rarely seen such a high compatibility rate." Well, of course! We took marriage seriously! Why should we get engaged without knowing exactly where the other stood on the issues that make or break many marriages? (And we dated for a long time before getting engaged, seeing as we were in college, so we had plenty of time to talk things over.)

Full disclosure here: my own parents were divorced and annulled after more than twenty years of marriage, at about the same time that Darwin and I were getting engaged and taking marriage prep classes. Some of my friends asked me, "Doesn't that make you worry about getting married? Can any marriage last?" No, I replied, it only makes me value the graces of the sacrament more, because I've seen what happens when those graces aren't present.

Ready, Aim, Shoot Foot

My inner pessimist has been fearing lately that the conservatives have started to burn out, and that we're in danger of losing serious ground this year and in '08. Part of this is, of course, the difficulty of who the Republicans will put forward for the presidency in '08. (I've thought for a while Jeb Bush would be a great candidate, but he may well be permanently out of the running -- there's just a limit to how many president Bushes one can have.)

However, one should not overlook the ability of the Democrats to stand tall, take careful aim, and blow away their own feet. (And this from the party of gun control...) Case in point: Why exactly stage a filibuster vote that both fails and massively ticks off the radical fundraising and activist core of your own party at all the most vulnerable Democratic senators -- the more 'conservative' red state Democrats? And why did every single Democratic senator with presidential aspirations fall into this trap? "I am very moderate and stand with the American people on the issues, except that I'm to the left of half of my own party." Yeah...

It's true that this will help all the usual suspects raise money from the DailyKos and MoveOn wing of the party in the primaries. But the danger of raising money by pleasing those folks is that it just makes you look worse to the rest of the population.

Maybe the theory is that no one will remember or pay attention. It's true that this probably won't hurt them in the elections this year quite as much as impeaching Clinton (which was widely portrayed as an overreach) hurt the Republicans. However, the Republican party is fundamentally stronger than the Democratic party. It was in power and took a beating but was back up and back in power within four years. The Democrats are out of power and fighting against the tide.

The only explanation I can think of is that this is a very short term tactical move. There are congressional elections this year, and since it's not a presidential election, the assumption may well be that this is a year for energizing the base, not appealing to the wider population.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Well, I've been warned

I called the pediatrician's office this afternoon and left a message with the nurse, asking if the doctor would write a prescription for the antibiotic ointment that's put into baby's eyes right after birth. A few hours later the nurse called back to say that the doctor would send the prescription to the pharmacy this afternoon.

"But he said to advise you not to have a homebirth," she continued, "because of the risk. Even in a healthy pregnancy, things could go wrong at the last minute, or there could be an undetected condition that would need to be treated immediately."

A host of counter-arguments formed on my lips, but then a phrase from a manners column sprang to mind.

"Well, thank you," I said. "I'll take that into consideration."

The nurse laughed (she wasn't invested one way or the other) and we rang off pleasantly. But I rather wish that my pediatrician was a bit more supportive. The unexpected happens sometimes -- that's called "Life" -- but barring a major catastrophe, am I really worse off in the hands of my dedicated, twenty-years-experienced midwife than with the hassled, overworked nurses of the night shift? After two exceptionally uncomplicated births, shouldn't the medical profession be urging me to free up space in the maternity wards for the women who really need more intensive care?

Anyway, I'm just not that worried about it. If loving my homebirth is wrong, then I don't wanna be right!

In Praise of Homebrewing

On Saturday we packed the Darwin family into the car and drove down to Houston to bottle the latest batch of homebrew, which has (given all of the family events lately) been aging rather longer than necessary down at a friend's house. The latest production (which is tentatively called Smokestack Porter) is a stronger variation on an English mild dark style that we tried a while back. This incorporates peated malt to give it a distinctly smokey flavor. Have to wait a week or two for it to finish carbonating before I can test it, but the initial taste seemed promising.

For those of you out there who seriously care about good beer (especially if like me you have a tendency to want to dig in and do things from scratch) I strongly recommend homebrewing. The initial equipment is fairly cheap (probably around $100 to get you well and started) and the cost for producing the quite high quality beer is $30-60 per five gallon batch. (That's about 50 bottles.)

Here's the five minute rundown on brewing:

Beer has four basic ingredients: malt (a form of sugar extracted from grain, usually wheat or barley), hops (a herb which adds the characteristic, slightly bitter "beer" flavor), yeast (which turns the sugars into alcohol) and water.

(NB: You "malt" grain by soaking it in water and allowing it to germinate, then drying it. Drying it often involves roasting it, so the primary differences you'll get between malts result from the type of grain and degree of roasting. The enzymes active during germination break down the starches in the grain to sugars, which the yeast will later be able to process.)

Making a batch goes like this. You go down to your friendly homebrewing store and pick up 5-8lbs of malt syrup. You also get 0.5-3lbs of malted grain. There are various kinds of grain, each of which provides a different flavor, but some of the basics are:

Chocolate Malt -- makes your beer dark and provides a slightly burnt, cocoa-ish kind of flavor
Pale Row Malt -- your basic, not-too-roasted malt that goes into pale ales and pilsners
Crystal Malt -- has a sweeter "maltier" flavor profile, such as you'd find in a Scottish ale, Irish Red or Belgian ale
Roasted Barley -- provides a bitter, burnt taste such as in Guinness Stout
Peated Malt -- provides a smokey flavor (think Islay Scotch)

You also buy hops and a vial of activated yeast in liquid form.

Going home, you put 2-3 gallons of water on to heat. When it's up to around 160F, you put your grains in a mesh "grain bag" -- think of it as a giant tea bag. You let those soak for 30min or so, which gets the sugars (and color and body) out into the water. Then you drain it and bring the water up to a boil. You pour in the malt syrup. (This is basically a much concentrated version of what you just did with the "tea bag" -- but you'd have to pour your water through about 15lbs of grain to extract that many sugars, so you cheat.) You stir it up and bring it back to a boil. When it reaches a boil, you put in the hops (which usually come in little compressed pellets that looks like rabbit food). Now, you keep your water boiling for a hour. Near the end, you add some more hops. (While the hour-long hops will provide the bitterness, the ones added near the end provide aroma and flavor.)

At the one hour mark, you take your pot off the heat and let it cool. You can't pitch yeast till you get the wort down to 80F, but bacteria can get into it starting around 120F, so the trick is to cool the wort fast. Personally, I freeze spring water (or some other known clean source of water) and pour the near-boiling wort over that. The aim is to end up with 5gal of finished wort, and at this point you have about 2gal.

The key is cleanliness. You don't want nasty stuff to grow in your beer and turn it sour, so everything the beer goes into after the boiling (fermenting bucket with bubble lock, which allows air out but not in, syphons, etc.) needs to be sterilized.

Once your beer is down to 80F, you pour in the yeast, stir it up, put the lid on the fermenting bucket, and put it away for about a week. During that time, the yeastie beasties will turn most of the sugars into alcohol. Then they die and fall to the bottom of the fermentor in a thick sludge. So you siphon the beer off into a 5gal glass bottle (so the dead yeast won't make it sour) and let it ferment slowly for another 2-6 weeks until it stops putting out CO2. (You watch to see if bubbles are coming up through the fermentation lock.)

When it's done fermenting, you siphon it one more time -- back into the bucket where its started out. There you mix in some corn sugar. This will give the yeast some more food to produce Co2 for carbonation. You sterilize 50 bottles (this is one of the biggest pains in the whole process) and you siphon the beer into bottles and cap them.

Now you wait for 1-2 weeks, and if all goes well (and I haven't ever really had it go badly) you end up with a you end up with a great homebrew you can crack open when you get home from work.

Various companies sell "beer making in a can" or "beer making in a bag" kits. I haven't tried them, but from what I've heard these are usually not nearly as good as the product you can make from scratch as described above, and they're not really that much easier of cheaper.

Assuming the Supernatural

The comments thread down on the Searching For Humor post from a few days back took a rather interesting turn, with a commenter by the name of Plunge questioning whether the category "human organism" is arbitrary when applied to moral questions separately from a definition of moral dignity based on function. To quote directly:

The reality that the mere _category_ of a species designation is irrelevant to moral capacity is something we are going to have to confront sooner or later. Classifications are simplifications for ease of use: they are rarely either consistent across all usages and examples or reflective of detailed reality.

If you aren't prepared to consider that the other modern apes, our closest living relatives, who are separated from us only by generations and the death of the intermediates, might deserve some moral consideration, where are we? What is morality even good for other than making humans feel important?

You love your mother. Your mother presumably loved your grandmother just as well. And so on. Are you suggesting that somewhere along that chain of familial love, there is a break where killing one of our ancestors for convenience was acceptable? Where does the chain break (it has to at some point, I don't deny that). Ultimately, the only way one can rationalize the sort of break that must come is by discussing functional capacity. At which point we're forced to admit that a brine shrimp has more concern for its own existence than a blastocyst.
Now, I agree to an extent with the mutability of species categories over time. As I wrote about a while back under Speciation and Nominalism, our most basic definitions of what makes a species (the primary one being that members of the same species can reproduce and bear fertile offspring) get tricky when you go back through time. Since a species is a population rather than an individual, its existence gradually becomes apparent as population groups drift apart.

However, I'm hesitant to say that this means we can't draw specific moral conclusions about individual organisms simply because they are members of the human species. As I tried to think about why I felt this way (because, as is often the case, the conclusion came first and I found myself searching for the reason I believed that conclusion to be correct) two things came to me which may or may not seem as important to others as they did to me at the time, so I'll toss them out and try to keep this from becoming one of my marathon posts.

Firstly, it seems to me that a lot of the "culture of death" issues that we find ourselves facing result of people addressing moral issues by category rather than by individual. I recall some time back (I forget in reference to what) Mel Gibson was quoted as saying in regards to stem cell research, "I myself was once a zygote. You too were once a zygote. In fact, if you can find me one person who was never a zygote, I will give you a cigar." The philosophical point being reached at here is that to make any sense of the world one must establish moral norms based upon the individual, not the category the individual falls into at a given moment. It's certainly true that human zygote exhibits far less development of any sort than a brine shrimp, and yet one knows that a human zygote will (unless it dies) develop into a fully formed human being capable of drivelling on for hours on blogspot (ah, that's me!) -- the brine shrimp, on the other hand, will never undergo such a change. Although a zygote and an amoeba may temporarily share many of the same characteristics, it seems it would be a categorical mistake (pun intended) to say that the zygote and the amoeba are the same (or even similar) in essence. Rather, we must grant individuals the dignity appropriate to them according to their natures. Thus, a human needs to receive the dignity appropriate to a human, a dog the dignity due to a dog, a protist... Well, I'm not sure protists inherently deserve any dignity at all. On identifying the individual, one must then apply the same moral weight to the individual throughout its existence, not act as if there are a series of individuals with different natures: first an individual who is a single celled life form, then another individual appears who is a "blob of cells", then another individual who has a nervous system and increasing sensory perception, then an individual who has a Sony Playstation and lacks a nervous system or sensory perception in regards to anything other than that. Regardless of the sad devolution of the individual in the preceding example, he remains the same individual throughout, and may yet put away the Playstation and exhibit signs of sentience yet.

This brought me to my second point. I was thinking about certain base assumptions that I tend to make when tackling a moral or philosophical question: such as that human beings all possess a common "human nature" that both sets them apart from the rest of animal creation (in a way that supersedes our differences in function and ability) and that certain apparently inborn moral strictures such as "don't take innocent human life" represent an inborn moral norm rather than merely an evolutionarily useful urge not to kill too many of the same species. Perhaps because of the "scientific" mentality which holds so much sway in the modern mind, people often seem to think that philosophical statements should be based only on observable or revealed phenomenon. Either you can say "based the fact that humans exhibit cognitive thought, they should not be killed, and assuming this we can deduce..." or you can say "if we accept as true the revelation of the ten commandments, and thus 'thou shalt not kill' one can then deduce..." However, Plato is willing to do something much more ambitious when looking at these questions. When confronting the question of how much weight to give innate understanding of a quality such as "Justice" that we have, Plato accepts that understanding as touching upon some deeper reality, and speculates that before birth human soul experiences the world of the forms. Thus, in Plato's system, our varying understandings of "Justice" or "Good" represent imperfect memories of the form itself. Plato has no hesitation in positing a supernatural solution to the question.

All of which leads me back to a question I haven't totally satisfied myself on in the past: Is it possible to make any sense of concepts like "human nature" and "morality" without assuming a supernatural element that sets humanity apart from the rest of nature? I tend to lean towards thinking that unless you accept that humans have souls, and are in some sense supernatural as well as natural beings, that a lot of things which we innately feel ought to make sense (such as morality) start to fall apart. Nor does this necessarily seem to me to be something that only comes from revelation. Most of the schools of ancient (pre-Christian) philosophy also assumed the existence of a soul of some sort. I think that the existence of the human soul falls into that category of knowledge that Vatican I discussed as knowable by human reason acting upon the created world without reference to revelation.

Bleak House

We taped the first two-hour episode of Masterpiece Theatre's Bleak House last Sunday, and found ourselves watching it yesterday afternoon. The plot is intricate (as befits a Dickens adaptation) and fascinating -- it hinges around an old love affair, a girl with no history, and a court case involving a contested will that has stretched on for many years. The acting is superb of course, and hey! there's Gillian Anderson from the X-Files with a major role.

However, the cinematography and editing are just bizarre. In the director's attempts to create a bleak, Victorian-grunge style, he's chosen an abrupt, nightmarish manner of cutting from scene to scene that's going to look so dated in ten years. Darwin says it reminds him of some of the 60s BBC productions of Shakespeare where in the midst of monologues characters pop from room to room -- maybe it was "the stuff" at the time, but now we all shake our heads indulgently and say, "Ah, the 60s! So mod!"

I don't have any problem with incorporating the latest methods and technologies into filmmaking, but I do wish that a director chooses to remake a classic story, he'd retain enough of a traditional feel that the movie will stand up to the test of time.

Friday, January 27, 2006

What Is Science?

The other day in my Schonborn post (a thousand points to anyone who read the whole thing, I'm trying to kick the long post habit but it's not working) I linked to a piece on (a skeptics site, so far as I can tell) as an example of people trying to use quantum physics to explain away the need for God. Later, I browsed around the site some more. Certainly, the parts that deal with religion are pretty flawed. There's an article titled Do Religious Life and Critical Thought Need Each Other that tries hard to be fair, but doesn't really get it.

However, they do have some pretty decent (and more to the point "metaphysically modest") stuff about what science is. Here's their Test Your Scientic Literacy quiz:

The Internet Infidels Test of Scientific Literacy
Answer each question with 'true' if what the sentence most normally means is typically true and 'false' if it is typically false.

1. Scientists usually expect an experiment to turn out a certain way.
2. Science only produces tentative conclusions that can change.
3. Science has one uniform way of conducting research called “the scientific method.”
4. Scientific theories are explanations and not facts.
5. When being scientific one must have faith only in what is justified by empirical evidence.
6. Science is just about the facts, not human interpretations of them.
7. To be scientific one must conduct experiments.
8. Scientific theories only change when new information becomes available.
9. Scientists manipulate their experiments to produce particular results.
10. Science proves facts true in a way that is definitive and final.
11. An experiment can prove a theory true.
12. Science is partly based on beliefs, assumptions, and the nonobservable.
13. Imagination and creativity are used in all stages of scientific investigations.
14. Scientific theories are just ideas about how something works.
15. A scientific law is a theory that has been extensively and thoroughly confirmed.
16. Scientists’ education, background, opinions, disciplinary focus, and basic guiding assumptions and philosophies influence their perception and interpretation of the available data.
17. A scientific law will not change because it has been proven true.
18. An accepted scientific theory is an hypothesis that has been confirmed by considerable evidence and has endured all attempts to disprove it.
19. A scientific law describes relationships among observable phenomena but does not explain them.
20. Science relies on deduction (x entails y) more than induction (x implies y).
21. Scientists invent explanations, models or theoretical entities.
22. Scientists construct theories to guide further research.
23. Scientists accept the existence of theoretical entities that have never been directly observed.
24. Scientific laws are absolute or certain.

Answer Key:
After each correct answer [(T)rue or (F)alse] is a number in parentheses that identifies the point of discussion below that explains the answers.

1. T 9. T 17. F
2. T 10. F 18. T
3. F 11. F 19. T
4. T 12. T 20. F
5. T 13. T 21. T
6. F 14. F 22. T
7. F 15. F 23. T
8. F 16. T 24. F

There's some quite good and fair explanation of these anwers here.

A Problem of Definition

I long ago gave up reading comment threads regarding torture over on Mark Shea's blog, for the simple reason that there is one every day or two, it always exceeds 100 comments, and I'm expected to do things like working in between blogging... However, for some reason or other I broke my rule today and read the first couple dozen comments on this thread.

As per usual, the argument seemed to be falling out along the following lines:

Mark: There are some who label as America haters and traitors those of us who don't justify torture whenever King George wants it.

Opponents: We abhor what happened at Abu Graib (which wasn't government approved anyway), but we think there might be some legitimate uses of some high pressure interrogation tactics that some people might define as torture:

Mark Supporters: See, you're trying to justify torture right now. Don't say you don't know what torture it is. You can use any friggin' dictionary in the world.
After things took this usual direction, the redoubtable Zippy stepped in to say, "Yeah and we need an excruciatingly nuanced definition of pornography before we will have any idea that it is wrong too."

Now, this got me thinking. We all know what pornography is and we all know that it's wrong, right? Or do we? A priest whom I took several classes from in college (and with whom I agreed on nearly everything else) once attributed the Church's decline in the Renaissance to "a resurgence of indecent art reminiscent of the classical period". In other words, nude statues and paintings. Now, he didn't go so far as to label nude statues and paintings as pornography, but I have known less cultured people who do indeed go that distance. I would say that they are wrong, and are operating under a false definition of what pornography is.

But then, what is pornography? The trick is that pornography is both a physical thing and also an act of the will. If one looks at Botticelli's Venus on the half-shell and becomes deeply aroused, and if one then repeatedly views that painting in order to experience arousal, then one is committing the act of viewing pornography, despite the fact that one is viewing something I would say is not at all pornographic. And yet, there are some works (I shall not call them art) which would seem to be pornographic in substance in that they are so composed that the only possible appreciation one might have of them is lustful. The kind of crude, legs-spread-wide image one occasionally sees briefly on the internet when a search goes wrong (or you type in a wrong web address) can clearly have no attraction for anyone other than the viewing of those parts of a woman's anatomy.

Similarly, some films are clearly porn films, with no other purpose than to show sex and nudity. (I believe Umberto Eco once defined a porn film as any film one watches where one is impatient with any scenes that don't involve sex -- shut up and rut kind of stuff.) And yet there are other films that are made (to one extent or another) with the intent of portraying a dramatic story that at some point involves sex or nudity, and invariably people dispute whether these films are pornographic or not.

And again, the closer the film comes to being indisputably pornographic, the greater the percentage of viewers are likely to be committing the sin of lust while viewing it. It's not as if there's some giant switch that flips and suddenly the film is pornographic. When those of us more on the art-snob end of things defend a film or work of art as not being pornographic, we must at the same time admit that the great the resemblance to pornography, the larger the number of people who will be led into the sin, regardless of whether that is the purpose of the work itself.

There is an extent to which pornography is culturally dependent. If you put up a reproduction of Botticelli's Venus in Tehran, you would probably find a lot more men getting off on it than you would in New York. The question, of course, is whether this is because the men in Iran were overly open to seeing a nude in a pornographic light, or because the men in New York are desensitized. (Probably both are true.)

The problem when it comes to legislation is: although it's indisputably better for society not to be flooded with porn, passing a law that says "Production or possession of pornography is hereby made a felony" relies on a commonly understood definition of what pornography is. And yet, one could easily expect to see idiots springing up on both sides, one side claiming that classical and renaissance art is porn, and the other insisting that Hustler is art.

Aside from the people who really do want to get out the pliers and start ripping off finger nails should the need arise, I think one of the reasons that people who want to be careful and deliberative are wary of the "torture" debate is that it seems pretty clear that should someone write a law banning "torture" or even "cruel, humiliating or inhumane treatment" that an even larger can of worms would be opened by people's attempts to define (in one direction or the other) what these terms mean. To some advocates "humiliating or inhumane" can mean something as mild as allowing an Al Qaeda detainee to see women in uniform rather than full Hijab. To others on the opposite extreme, locking someone in a sweat box for 48 hours might not be "cruel" because our special forces servicemen have to go through similar experiences when training how to survive capture. Both of these positions are clearly wrong.

None of which answers the question of what new laws, if any, should be passed. But it does explain why people manage to argue about the topic so much. Lots of things that "everyone knows" are difficult to define in such a way that someone with the intent to weasel out of your definition can't do so.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Searching For Humor

This is way up on the tasteless scale, so feel free not to follow this link. (But you did, didn't you...)
Greg Gutfeld, the satirical Molotov Cocktail of the Huffington Post, decided that people needed to lighten up about the abortion issue and posted a couple pages worth of abortion jokes. However, the mostly pro-choice readership found them deeply offensive. Why? Well, because most of the jokes involved what abortion is -- and the pro-choice camp really doesn't tend to like to talk about that.

So for those of you who did decide to skip reading it (I told you it was tasteless, didn't I?) here's one of the more on target ones that stuck in my head:

A woman and a fetus walk into a clinic together. The fetus says, "I'm scared." The woman says, "You think you're scared? I'm the one who's going to have to walk out of here alone."

Now, why is this funny? It's based on the humor inherent in a character who doesn't realize how out of proportion her problems are to the other character's problems. When the woman complains that she'll have to walk out alone, it reminds the reader that the fetus has a much bigger problem, she's about to be killed. However, despite the fact that the woman is about to participate in killing the fetus, she wants the fetus to feel sorry for her because soon she'll be alone.

It's said that explaining a joke is a sure way of making it not funny, but the reason I went through the exercise is that in a way the joke gets to the core of the abortion issue. Pro-choice advocates often like to say that no one is in favor of abortion, it's a terrible decision that people only make when they have no other choice, it's private and painful and whatever other platitudes come to mind. Now, I don't question that it is a difficult decision for many women, and that they wish that didn't have to make it. However, one of the prime elements of the pro-life movement is to point out: Look, there's someone else here who has an even bigger problem. Having a baby will mess up your career and cost a lot of money and put a strain on your person relationships. But having an abortion kills the unborn baby. There's a sense in which all the fuss about how hard the decision is boils down to pretty much the same line of thinking that felt sorry for the Menendez brothers because they were orphans.

The other point behind the joke deals with the other half of the pro-life movement's message: that no matter what people may tell you, you will be alone after an abortion in a way that you weren't before. Despite the lack of proportionality between the woman's problem and the fetus', the pro-choice movement doesn't even want to deal with the fact that the woman has something to be scared about. She's going in with someone (in a very true and intimate sense) and coming out without. She's going in whole and coming out broken.

According to the narrative of the joke, both people are ending up for the worse in this situation. The baby is being killed, and the woman will be alone. That doesn't fit with the tidy narrative of "choice" and so the joke "isn't funny" over at the Huffington Post.

Deus Caritas Est

I haven't finished the new encyclical yet, but read the first half last night while the girls were romping around the living room.

We all know that it is better to give than to receive, and Deus Caritas Est doesn't deny this. But it does emphasize that the giving of love must not supersede the reception of love as well, since we all receive love from God without any hope of ever making adequate return.
8. ...Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf. Jn 7:37-38). Yet to become such a source one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from who pierced heart flows the love of God (cf. Jn 19:34).

This immediately put me in mind of two fictional characters: Mrs. Fidget from The Four Loves (fresh in my mind) and Lady Marchmain of Brideshead Revisisted. Both are emblematic of a suffocating kind of love which only wants to give and never receive. Mrs. Fidget is a bit of a caricature, of course, since Lewis created her to illustrate a point. But the caricature contains a great deal of truth. Mrs. Fidget is, in her own estimation, a long-suffering woman who gives and gives to her family and is never truly appreciated. The problem is that her giving is shallow and self-centered, since it doesn't have anything do with what her family actually needs. She constantly demands affection, yet rejects it when it is given her. To open herself enough to really receive love would demolish her fantasy world of resentment as well as her created identity as the one who gives but never receives (as if receiving love were a fatal weakness).

Lady Marchmain is a far more complex character. She truly believes that she is doing the best thing for her increasingly alcoholic son Sebastian, first by creating a bond of obligation through her financial assistance and influence on his behalf, and then, when he rejects these, by her constant suffocating vigilance. Her actions are externally correct, most of the time, and her intentions are good. But her attempts to shelter him from the consequences of his actions (or from committing actions that have consequences) backfires because they stem from a wrong conception of love as always giving and suffering. She would indeed be happy to receive love from Sebastian, but it must be love on her terms and under her conditions.

It is not that one must receive love when one gives; many saints labored unappreciated and unrewarded in their earthly lives. But the self-donation of giving love must also extend to being open to receiving love, even if it is not love as one expects it. Loving your neighbor as yourself means not only giving love to him as we do to ourselves, but being as willing to receive love from him as we are to receive it from God.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Culture of Life (and Beauty)

Since we don't have that great rock of the Catholic blogsphere, Rick Lugari, posting any more, I feel the need to link to something I'm sure he would approve of:

Jay Anderson links to a good way to determining who "won" the Walk For Life in San Francisco. Who had the most beautiful protestors? It seems to me like the answer is pretty clear. But then, beauty is truth, truth beauty, as the saying goes...

Shower and Homebirth Prep

Miss Manners reminds her gentle readers that it is beyond gauche to request gifts, and this is advice to which I have striven always to adhere. I have never been a fan of the ubiquitous "gift registry" and signed up for one before my wedding only with the greatest reluctance and at the repeated urging of my mother and relatives from out of state. And now, as baby shower time approaches, my friends who want to organize the party have been asking me what I want or need. Gentle readers, what do you think? Is it out of bounds to mention a few items when directly asked to do so? It seems that a gift should be just that, unsolicited, and not simply a response to a request. On the other hand, when does it become rude to keep putting off someone who truly wants to know what to buy one?

Next week is my home visit from the midwife at 36 weeks, so preparation for that continues anon. I've ordered my midwife's suggested birth kit and have moved all the baby apparatus into the master bedroom (which gives the big girls more space in their bedroom, so everyone's happy). I'm counting out towels and washcloths to pack away for the birth, looking for sheets, and making a shopping list of supplies to lay in. Now it's time to price out newborn diapers at Sam's and buy treats for Babs to encourage her to use the potty -- hey, she got it right the other night!

Smaskig is unfazed by all the hoopla surrounding her imminent arrival. She amuses herself by poking a foot up into my ribs -- how does she get up so far? When I ask her what she wants, she is coy and replies that she ought not to request presents. Little snark!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Thoughts on Schonborn and Design

I've been meaning for some time now to put down some organized thoughts on Cardinal Schonborn's recent First Things article about The Design of Science. Unfortunately between being gone and then trying to catch up on my return to the office, time has been at a premium. However, here it goes...

Schonborn's essay hit a lot of different topics, all of them interesting, so I've done my best to pull out the most interesting bits in an order that fits my purpose. The quotes are not, however, necessarily in order. I strongly encourage you to take the time to read his whole essay, if you haven't already.

The overarching theme of the piece, it seems to me, is the proper alignment of the different forms of knowledge which the human person may use in contemplating both the natural world and the supernatural, but most importantly the whole of the world, natural and supernatural, in its full and intermingled form.

Schonborn's fear seems to be that the concessions to "neo-Darwinism" made by Stephen M. Barr in his own First Things article (critiquing Schonborn's NY Times editorial on the topic) destroy the possibility of seeing the world in it's totality.

To quote Schonborn at length:

Barr's essay addresses at some length the question of design in biology, but does not clearly affirm that reason can grasp the reality of design without the aid of faith. If my reading is correct (and I hope I am wrong), in that respect Barr has followed the overwhelming trend of Catholic commentators on the question of neo-Darwinian evolution, who gladly discuss its compatibility with the truths of faith but seldom bother to discuss whether and how it is compatible with the truths of reason.

Perhaps now that the role of fideism is in view, I can profitably return to the question of the essential meaning of the term "neo-Darwinism." If, as many seem to think, neo-Darwinism serves as a valid "design-defeating hypothesis" at the level of human reason but is rescued from any ultimately improper conclusions only by the intervention of theology, then it seems that my expansive definition is fully vindicated. If reason is incapable of grasping real teleology in living things and their history, then neo-Darwinism -- which obviously is incapable of taking into account theological truths -- can truly be said to be a theory that asserts, in the words of my original essay, that evolution is "an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection." What so many Catholics seem to be saying is that, so far as we can determine with our unaided human intellects, according to even the "metaphysically modest" version of neo-Darwinism, there is no real plan, purpose, or design in living things, and absolutely no directionality to evolution; yet we know those things to be true by faith. In other words, a "metaphysically modest" neo-Darwinism is not so modest after all. It means a Darwinism that does not conflict with knowledge about reality known through faith alone. In the debate about design in nature, sola fides takes on an entirely new meaning.
There seems to me to be something very right about this line of thing, and also something somewhat wrong. The cardinal makes a very important point when he says that we do not know about God's creation of the universe only through faith. We can approach these truths by means of human reason unaided by divine revelation, as some of the ancient philosophers living centuries before Christ did indeed do with some success. This point is not made nearly often enough, and I think that it is very much a good thing that this area (including it's dogmatic statement in Vatican I) is getting so much attention these days, despite the fuzzy thinking that often follows on hard upon the introduction of the debate.

However, I think Schonborn also makes something of a mistake in assigning fideism to Barr. In his essay, Barr attempted to address the specific claim that "neo-Darwinism" is compatible with Christianity because it assigns the creation of life to a "totally random" process by asserting that processes that are "random" in the sense that science uses the term are by no means beyond the divine providence of God in theological terms. Thus, a physically "random" process does not exclude God's divine causation.

Now, it's certainly true that for the purposes of the question at hand Barr dealt only with whether a theological statement of God's providence was compatible with a scientific statement that evolution is driven by a filtering of random mutations. However, scientific statements in no was constitute the full set of possible statement which can be derived from human reason. (As is one of Schonborn's main points.) Certainly Barr didn't address the question of deriving evidence of God's design from human reason without turning to revelation, but I don't think we should take that to mean that Barr denies that such a thing is possible.

What I do think underlies Barr's failure to mention human reason's ability to find evidence apart from revelation for God's existence is that he is here speaking strictly about scientific knowledge according to the modern definition of science. Schonborn in principle has not problem with this, saying:
If the Darwinist, taking up Descartes' and Bacon's project of understanding nature according only to material and efficient causes, studies the history of living things and says that he can see no organizing, active principles of whole living substances (formal causes) and no real plan, purpose or design in living things (final causes), then I accept his report without surprise. It is obviously compatible with the full truth that the world of living beings is replete with formality and finality. It comes as no surprise that reductionist science cannot recognize those very aspects of reality that it excludes -- or at least, seeks to exclude -- by its choice of method.
As Schonborn seems to agree, there's nothing wrong with using a reductionist method to perform scientific inquiry, so long as one know that that is what one is doing. The problem comes in wheremarvelingmarvelling at how much modern science has achieved, makes the assumption that anything which modern science is incapable of examining (anything in the set of causes and subjects from which science intentionally excludes itself) either does not existstrictlyof stictly personal (or emotional) importance. Such idolatry of science is what Schonborn is getting at when he says:
Modern science first excludes a priori final and formal causes, then investigates nature under the reductive mode of mechanism (efficient and material causes), and then turns around to claim both final and formal causes are obviously unreal, and also that its mode of knowing the corporeal world takes priority over all other forms of human knowledge. Being mechanistic, modern science is also historicist: It argues that a complete description of the efficient and material causal history of an entity is a complete explanation of the entity itself -- in other words, that an understanding of how something came to be is the same as understanding what it is. But Catholic thinking rejects the genetic fallacy applied to the natural world and contains instead a holistic understanding of reality based on all the faculties of reason and all the causes evident in nature -- including the "vertical" causation of formality and finality.
Now, I don't deny for a moment that a number of scientists, science enthusiasts, skeptics and "brights" behave in exactly this manner. One runs into these people all the time, and they're tiresome as well as being dead wrong. I think what Schonborn has identified is an intellectual temptation to which many scientists and those who place too much faith in science's ability to explain the world fall prey. However science itself as a discipline, because of these very restrictions which it places upon itself (and which, I would argue, necessarily stem from its methods of investigation) cannot say that formal and final irrelevantare irrelevent or do not exist. How can one dismiss the existence of something one intentionally refrains from investigating in the first place? While not for a moment denying that many individual people fall into the trap of this very folly, I would maintain that those (both theist and atheist) who are serious about finding the proper boundaries between science and the wider sweep of human knowledge would never claim that the mere fact that science ignores final and formal causality means that such forms of causality do not exist. (Though the atheist or agnostic might maintain that such forms of causality are mental constructs or fundamentally unknowable, he could not validly assert that science proves this in any way.)

Although I have certain disagreements with Schonborn's description of the problem, I couldn't agree with more his recommended solution:
Modern science alone may well be incapable of grasping the key truths about nature that are woven into the fabric of Catholic theology and morality. And theology proper does not supply these key truths either. Prior to both science and theology is philosophy, the "science of common experience." Its role in these crucial matters is indispensable.
I think the cardinal in dead right in saying that we have incredible dearth of knowledge at this place and time regarding philosophy. And since one cannot form idea about many aspects of the world without resorting to philosophy, what results is that many people have very poorly formed philosophical ideas which they do not even realize fail to pass muster -- because they have never studied the basics of philosophy in the first place. Regardless of where the truth may lie in the debate over evolution (I happen to think that the field of evolutionary biology provides the best current explanation of the scientific evidence available) the errors that both sides make that are of significance specifically to Christians are philosophical. Indeed, many of the most egregious errors made by science enthusiasts boil down to what Schonborn terms the "genetic fallacy", that to explain a things physical precursors and history somehow explains its purpose and essence.

* * *

While I agree with Schonborn in much of what he has to say about the necessity of bringing proper philosophical thinking back into the public consciousness, there were two sections of his essay which struck me as such jarring off-notes that I almost think I may have mis-understood them. I shall quote both and present my objections, and perhaps one of you will understand what he is getting at better than I have.

Explaining why he sees no threat in the "randomness" of physics yet has metaphysical objections to the "randomness" of neo-Darwinian evolution he says:

...[W]e must observe that the role of randomness in Darwinian biology is quite different from its role in thermodynamics, quantum theory, and other natural sciences. In those sciences randomness captures our inability to predict or know the precise behavior of the parts of a system (or perhaps, in the case of the quantum world, some intrinsic properties of the system). But in all such cases the "random" behavior of parts is embedded in and constrained by a deeply mathematical and precise conceptual structure of the whole that makes the overall behavior of the system orderly and intelligible.

The randomness of neo-Darwinian biology is nothing like that. It is simply random. The variation through genetic mutation is random. And natural selection is also random: The properties of the ever-changing environment that drive evolution through natural selection are also not correlated to anything, according to the Darwinists.

I'm not entirely sure what to make of this. While some biologists (and perhaps more to the point some introductory textbooks and popular science articles) spend a lot of time on how the genetic input to natural selection is "totally random", genetic mutations of various sorts are in fact controlled by a number of chemical and molecular factors. Only certain kinds of mutations can take place, and some are more likely than others. When authors go on about the "randomness" of variation (assuming that they do indeed know what they're talking about) they mean that one cannot predict which of the possible sorts of mutation will take place at any given time, of if a mutation will take place at any given time. This is very much the same sort of randomness within certain restraints that one sees in physics. I'm even more confused as to what Schonborn means by the environment being "not correlated to anything". It's true that ssearche does not seach for an overarching "plan" in the environment, but at the same time there are numerous factors (as well as wild card variables such as natural disasters) which control what sorts of variation one will see in the environment. Contrary to the delusions of Day After Tomorrow, the weather doesn't suddenly change patterns out of the blue.

Perhaps Schonborn means that "Darwinists" are far more eager to run with what they believe are the metaphysical implications of randomness than physicists. However, I would argue that there are just as many skeptics out there excited about "random vacuum fluctuations" as a means of creating the universe ex nihilo with "no need for God" as there are biologists eager to assert that Darwin has killed God.

The second section that really bothered me was where Schonborn speaks about teleology in evolution:

But if [the Darwinian biologist] steps back and looks at the sweep of life, he sees an obvious, indeed an overwhelming pattern. The variation that actually occurred in the history of life was exactly the sort needed to bring about the complete set of plants and animals that exist today. In particular, it was exactly the variation needed to give rise to an upward sweep of evolution resulting in human beings. If that is not a powerful and relevant correlation, then I don't know what could count as evidence against actual randomness in the mind of an observer.

Some may object: This is a pure tautology, not scientific knowledge. I have assumed the conclusion, "rigged the game," and so forth. But that is not true. I have simply related two indisputable facts: Evolution happened (or so we will presume, for purposes of this analysis), and our present biosphere is the result. The two sets of facts correlate perfectly. Facts are not tautologies simply because they are indisputably true. If the modern biologist chooses to ignore this indubitable correlation, I have no objection. He is free to define his special science on terms as narrow as he finds useful for gaining a certain kind of knowledge. But he may not then turn around and demand that the rest of us, unrestricted by his methodological self-limitation, ignore obvious truths about reality, such as the clearly teleological nature of evolution.

I suppose the questions here are: What does Schonborn mean by "correlation" and what does he mean by "teleological"? As he says, it certainly seems to be true that evolution occurred (or at least that current evidence points toward occurredon having occured) and that our present world is the result. He also clearly concedes that this is not a "scientific" conclusion per se, so there's no question of arguing about whether this is the domain of science.

I guess what I'm not clear on is why he's assuming that result indicates teleology. Say I'm lucky enough to be playing poker with Schonborn and he deals me a royal flush. (I've never been dealt a royal flush, but then, I've never played poker with Schonborn either.) There is a sense in which you could accurately say that every handling of the cards since they were made contributed to the result of Schonborn dealing me that royal flush. Each earlier hand in the game had a part in setting up the precise configuration of the deck that would result in Schonborn's shuffle producing a royal flush for me. The chances of all this happening are moderately remote (which is to say, really darn unlikely occurrenceery day occurance, though peanuts to the kind of probabilities you get into when trying to predict whether a few trillion microbes will develop the ability to process cellulose over the next few million generations.) However, I don't think you could say there was a teleological nature to our playing, which resulted in this perfect hand.

Now, I'm not saying that there isn't a telos to the world. I think there is. But I'm not clear how Schonborn makes the jump from "it happened even though it was improbably" to "it was meant to happen." Sometimes you get a hole in one because you're a very good golfer. Sometimes you get a hole in one because each time you hit the ball it has to go somewhere.

Wedding bells are ringing

Michael Schiavo has married his mistress of 10 years, Jodi Centonze. There's no word on whether food and water were served at the reception. According to the article, " It's unknown if Jodi Centonze Schiavo has executed a living will."

(h/t Man with Black Hat)

Adventures in Reading: Lesson 19

Noogs is coming along with her reading, though we've hit a slight block: she wants to sound out her words as disjointed sounds, instead of connecting them. Thus, "ram" becomes "r-a-m". I don't think this is unusual in learning to read, but it's odd that at first she should have blended the sounds together and then now want to isolate them. But then -- brain flash! -- earlier I was reading the words slowly first and then having her sound them out, and now she sounds them out alone, so she doesn't have my example to copy. Okay, never mind about the above...

She really enjoys reading the little stories in the book, then answering questions about the accompanying picture. The stories aren't complicated: "See the ram sit." "The rat is sad." It gives her a great sense of accomplishment to read them herself, though. After we're done with a lesson, she'll flip through the rest of the book and have me say some of the sounds we haven't learned yet. "I'm teaching you, Mommy!" she says.

Here's a word of caution for those trying to teach small children to read. One of the words she was sounding out was "ma". After she read it, I said, "Do you know what a sheep says? Maaaa!" This so tickled her that now when she sees the combination of a and m (such as "am") she'll start maaa-ing like a sheep until I make her pay attention and say each sound individually. It's her little in-joke. So mothers, don't make animal noises while teaching your children to read, or else you'll never hear the end of it.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Walk For Life

Patrick of Orthonormal Basis offers some thoughts after having walked in San Francisco's Walk For Life yesterday. Definately worth reading.

The Four Loves: Eros

I can't help thinking that Lewis's analysis of Eros doesn't quite live up to the standard set by the previous chapters on Affection and Friendship. In particular, I'm not sure that I entirely agree with his assessment of the role of the body. Here's a snippet of his thought:
Ass (refering to St. Francis's title of "Brother Ass" for the body) is exquisitely right becasue no one in his senses can either revere or hate a donkey. It is a useful, sturdy, lazy, obstinate, patient, loveable and infuriating beast; deserving now the stick and now a carrot; both pathetically and absurdly beautiful. So the body. There's no living with it till we recognixe that one its functions in our lives is to play the part of buffoon....Lovers...feel an element not only of comedy, not only of play, but even of buffoonery, in the body's expressoin of Eros. And the body would frustrate us if this were not so. It would be too clumsy an instrument to render love's music unless its very clumsiness could be felt as adding to the total experience its own grotesque charm -- a sub-plot or antimasque miming with its own hearty rough-and-tumble what the soul enacts in statelier fashion.

I won't deny that the body sometimes has its own ideas about what's appropriate at what times, regardless of what one wishes it would do. Lewis is enjoyably apt when he speaks a few paragraphs earlier about bodily desire striking at the most inopportune times and then deserting one when external circumstances seem to be perfect. Still, I don't know that the fact that our bodies are not completely under the control of our wills means that their main role is to be the comic double to our souls in terms of sex.

After all, one can't have sex without the body, no matter how you slice it. And if sex is the earthly expression of the love of Christ for his bride, the Church, then there must be an inherent dignity in the act itself that is more than a matter of souls uniting. Lewis's attempts to give the physical act of sex a dignity of it's own lead him to pontificate on what he calls the "Pagan Sacrament" of sex: man as Sky-Father and woman as Earth-Mother, enacting an age-old ritual. Uh, sure, but I don't really know that one has to reach out quite that far to bring the bodily aspects of sex in line with the sublime symbolism of the act. After all, God made our bodies and proclaimed them good, so the reality that the most intimate expression of human love involves our bodies shouldn't be a surprise.

Lewis doesn't seem to think that the bodily aspects of sex are transcendent, but merely mirror on a human level what's taking place spiritually. In these enlightened "Theology of the Body" days I think that we (as Catholics anyway, and Lewis wasn't) have moved to a more integrated and complete view of all elements of human sexuality. Not that I'm pitting myself or my theological insights against Lewis, mind you.

Putting the Cat Back in the Bag

You can bet that some time around 290 AD, there was a stolid, old-style Roman writing that imagining that you could roll back the clock to the days of Augustus' public morality laws was as impossible as pouring wine back into the wineskin. And what the heck was it with these middle-eastern religions and their backwards beliefs infiltrating the empire? Don't they realize that a cosmopolitan attitude toward morality is the inevitable result of a sophisticated urban culture?

But, of course, the difficulty is knowing whether you are looking at a cat that really can't be put in the bag, or just the outside end of one swing of the pendulum of history. That question seems especially to come to mind today in conjunction with the March For Life, as some people ask whether it's possible for Roe to be rolled back after 33 years of abortion virtually available upon demand.

One thing that struck me in reading Derbyshire's article is that it's essentially based on the fact that most people don't like to think very much. Sadly, there may be something to this, though I disagree with Derbyshire's conclusion that Roe is toothpaste out of the tube. Part of his argument seems to be: "Most people aren't interested in the 'abstract' argument over when human life begins, so protecting life from conception will never win out." (One is saddened to see "abstract" used as a pejorative term.) Well, that's true. Most people don't think or if they do think they do it badly. I wish one could say it were otherwise, but sadly that's how humanity is.

That is why, in order for us to attain a culture of life, we will need not merely the intellectual understanding that once you reach a unique string of DNA at the moment of conception there's really no other good place to draw a dividing line of "personhood", but rather the widespread feeling held deep within the heart that abortion is fundamentally wrong -- that there really is a small person in there waiting for his or her chance to enter the world, and a person's a person no matter how small.

It's nice to know this, but it's probably more important to feel it. I think many of us do feel it quite strongly, and many of us who do are raising up the next generation (and lots of them) to feel it just as strongly.

And yet, there's a lot going against us in modern society. Because modern technology has made contraception so available (and in many circles so unquestioningly accepted) and because it also allows us to detect pregnancy early, when it's possible for the rationalizing part of the mind to overcome the rational with the insistence that "it's just a lump of cells", we have an uphill battle. Those who don't bother to teach their children clearly on such issues are much in danger of losing them to the prevailing tide of our times -- a tide that still very much flows in the direction of the culture of death.

People on the extreme pro-choice end of the spectrum aren't having children. They can't create the next generation of pro-choicers. However, they can influence the children of those who provide their children with no clear guidance.

To create a culture of life we must do two things "go forth a multiply" and remember that parents have the first and most important duty to educate their children.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Two Evils

As MrsDarwin mentioned, we went to the library Thursday to stock up on books, and given that this was one of those insanely overwhelming kind of weeks at work, I pretty much sat around reading all day (in between duties pushing girls on swings and reading them their books from the library).

I checked out Anthony Beevor's two histories dealing with the Eastern Front in WW2: Stalingrad and The Fall of Berlin 1945. And (for no particular reason) I'm working out of order and reading Berlin first.

Although technically about the fall of Berlin, Beevor's book actually covers the period from late fall 1944 (when the Soviets stood poised to push the Germans out of Poland, once enough of the Polish resistance had been wiped out for them) through the end of the way, so you learn a lot about the end of the war on the Eastern Front generally.

Having just recently read Citizen Soldiers and Band of Brothers, both dealing with the Western Front in Europe during '44 and '45, you really feel for how profoundly unlucky the people of Eastern Europe were, trapped between Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. You're hard put to find too worse governments in the history of the last century, and being "liberated" by either one was likely to mean having your village burned down, the men shot, the women raped, and half the people who hadn't already fled or been killed being led off to forced labor camps.

In Citizen Soldiers there were several stories of German units surrendering to the Americans and asking if instead of being sent off to POW camps they could join the American Army so that once the Nazis were defeated they could fight the Russians. It was something we had no intention of doing at the time, but you can see why that seemed like the best of all possible worlds to a German soldier in 1944.

Beevor makes the interesting point that the horrors of the Eastern Front were the result of two totaliterian regimes which both sought to dehumanize both their citizens (into total subservience to the state) and their enemies (into sub-humans) throwing everything they had at each other.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Books and laziness

Note to self: you're too old to stay up until 2 am reading mystery novels.

We went to the library yesterday evening with the monkeys. It's far easier to take the whole family than for one of us to go with both girls; they consider the library their own personal playground. We managed to impress upon them the importance of quiet in the library, but we still did lots of chasing down.

However, both Darwin and I had a chance to slip upstairs and get some things for ourselves. I relieved a shelf of all the Lord Peter novels that I either hadn't read or hadn't read in ages, and then checked out some Sayers essays for good measure. Hey, I'm supposed to be doing lots of resting, so there will be plenty of time to cover other authors later. Darwin has been interested in World War II history lately, so he picked up a few weighty tomes devoted to various aspects and events of that conflict. After lugging the haul out to the car, I felt I had gotten in my exercise for the day.

My concern for my health, however, didn't stretch as far as getting a good night's rest, since I laid awake until almost 2 am reading. Bad Mrs. Darwin! And what's more, that meant that I slept in this morning while Darwin rushed around feeding the girls and trying to get ready in time to make an early meeting. Then I was tired and had little patience for the small rivalries and little quarrels of tots. Perhaps I would have been better served to find some devotional works on the beauties of self-sacrifice...

Note to self: you're too old to stay up until 2 am reading mystery novels.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Quality of Christian Work

A longish quote from Sayers:
The Church's approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, an to come to church on Sundays. What the church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon his is that he should make good tables. church by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly -- but what use is all that if in the very centre of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? No crooked table-legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter's shop at Nazareth. Nor, if they did, could anyone believe that they were made by the same hand that made heaven and earth. No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie. Yet in her own buildings, in her own ecclesiastical art and music, in her hymns and prayers, in her sermons and in her little books of devotion, the Church will tolerate, or permit a pious intention to excuse, work so ugly, so pretentious, so tawdry and twaddling, so insincere insipid, so bad as to shock and horrify any decent craftsman. And why? Simply because she has lost all sense of the fact that the living and eternal truth is expressed in work only so far as that work is true in itself, to itself, to the standards of its own technique. She has forgotten that the secular vocation is sacred. Forgotten that a building must be good architecture before it can be a good church; that a painting must be well painted before it can be a good sacred picture; that work must be good work before it can call itself God's work.
--Creed or Chaos?

There's much to be said on this topic, but it's dinnertime here. More as time (and my work!) permits.

On Target

Interesting article in the Washington Times about a US Army sniper making the longest confirmed kill shot on record with a .30 cal rifle: 1,100 yards.

The Problem is Inklingism?

Mark Shea linked an editorial in the magazine Image which asserts that the problem with Christian literature "is not the Inklings, but Inklingism".

I love the line, but I think I disagree with the article.

I do think that there is far too much attempt to immitate the Inklings, which is odd, because they themselves were quite original. One should not imitate the original by being derivative. It seems often that some of the most interesting and charismatic Christian writers of our century have developed somewhat insular and annoying followers. Dawson, Chesterton, Lewis and Tolkien all seem to be troubled with there problem. There's nothing wrong with their writings, and a great deal that is very good. But (without devoting the time to do a great deal of thinking about what exactly it is) there is often something a little "off" about their too enthusiastic followers. Indeed, for the longest time I resisted reading any Dawson, because I found myself so put off my the self-proclaimed Dawsonists that I knew.

That said, Mr. Wolfe's editorial strikes me as very much off base. I do not see much basis for his contention that "realism" as a literary style stretches back to antiquity. Nor do I think he is well on the mark in asserting that Tolkien and Lewis sought to marry Romanticism and Christianity. Rather, I would say (and it seems to me that they themselves did say) that what they were trying to do was rescue to fantasy and mythic styles and story elements from the mess that the Romantic movement had made of them.

I certainly can't see his contention that the fantasy elements in the Inkling's writing represent an attemt to remain in personal or spiritual childhood. And his analysis of the character of Susan in the Narnia books strikes me as being wrongheaded, perhaps by being too clever. Why must one necessarily assume that Susan is condemned for "entering the adult world" rather than for being shallow. Is her condemnation really that much different than that laid upon the party attendees in Elliot's The Cocktail Party? Despite the semi-childish description of Susan's fall (it is, after all, a children's book) it seems clear to me that the problem with Susan is not that she has entered the social whirl of "adult society" but rather that in doing so she had denied that anything other than the social whirl exists. The same message is sent my more "realistic" writers such as Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell, but because in The Last Battle it appears in a children's fantasy novel, Wolfe seems to entirely miss the message.

Curios and Relics, Here I Come

Work has been pretty all-consuming this week (leaving me with several long posts that I've started but not had time to finish), however yesterday a government agency actualy warmed my heart a little. I received my C&R license from the ATF, meaning that I am now legally able to purchase "curio and relic" (read more than fifty years old -- a catagory that Rick Lugari has yet to enter) firearms across state lines via mail order.

Just in time for my birthday...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Readable Theologians

The convergence of a trip to the library, Christmas, and a birthday have left me revelling in a wealth of Sayers, Lewis, and Chesterton. This is a happy thing, especially as I'm supposed to be spending time resting and these books give me excellent excuse. I'm currently reading a selection of Sayer's writings on various Christian topics -- brief excerpts from her other works that make me long to find the originals. Here's a snippet on forgiveness, from Introductory Papers on Dante:
...the blessed "joyously forgive themselves" -- a thing, as we all know,extremely difficult in this life, because pride gets in the way. For instance -- that dreadfully silly and unkind thing you said to poor Miss Smith when you were quite a child. Even after all these years, it makes you turn hot and writhe on your pillow if you remember it suddenly in the middle of the night; and the fact that Miss Smith was so decent about it makes you feel all the worse. But in Heaven, when you have purged off the sin, you will rememer the wretched little episode only as a fact: you will be free for ever from the ugly shame that is the protest of your pride against being humiliated in your own eyes; and seeing Miss Smith as God sees her, you will rejoice in her beautifulo charity and though it had been something else. and not your unthinking cruelty, that called it forth.


A reviewer's comment on the back of Sayer's book states: "Dorothy L. Sayers stands in the great tradition of English writers -- Chesterton, Lewis, Charles Williams, and others -- who make Christian theology a joy to read." Sayers and Lewis were academics; Chesterton was a journalist; all published a diverse body of literature (fiction, philosophy, theology) that were popularly read and discussed. Re-reading these luminaries causes me to wonder: who are their equivalents today? Who is writing such well-reasoned and conversational yet deeply profound explications of Christian theology now?

I welcome all suggestions -- I need lots of reading material to see me through the next six weeks.

Lucky to be fat

I'm getting to that stage in pregnancy where one thinks, "Maybe the baby will be early -- really early -- say four weeks early..." Young Smaskig is scheduled to make her appearance in six weeks, and boy do I feel huge. I waddle when I walk; I have trouble getting off the couch and when I do, I have a twinge in my right hip; my center of gravity has shifted; baby is sitting on my friggin' veins! Get off! She's big and healthy and active and loves to kick me all around, especially when I'm trying to rest.

A dear friend of mine had her two girls at about the same time I had mine. She even had a miscarriage shortly after I did, though hers was harder and farther along than mine. So when she called me several weeks ago to tell me she was pregnant again, I could already tell her that she was going to have a girl, since that's what I'm having. She laughed and promised to let me know as soon as she found out.

Last night she wrote me to say that she just had her second miscarriage at 12 weeks. This is understandably devastating to her and to her family, coming within months of the first one. We had been so excited to find out that she was pregnant again, and I feel almost guilty that my baby is healthy and active and hers only lived a short time. Please remember her in your prayers.

It's hard now to complain about feeling uncomfortable.

Monday, January 16, 2006

As Seen On CatholicExchange

The family side business, PapalImages, has a piece up on CatholicExchange today featuring discounts and such. If you've been sitting around meaning to buy a picture of the pope (and I know you all have, right?) then this is the moment you might want to seize!

The Four Loves

If I had filled out the Top Ten Influences meme that was floating around St. Blog's a month or two ago, one of my influences would have been C.S. Lewis's The Four Loves. It's one of my favorite books and has shaped my thinking on love and friendship ever since I first read it at the impressionable age of 17. Lewis's clear prose and delightful style, along with his masterful analysis of both human and divine love, made a deep impression on me then. He so perfectly enunciated all my half-formed ideas about friendship that The Four Loves is doubtless a major reason why Darwin and I started dating a week and a half after we sat up until 3 am on the night we met (at a freshman mixer, believe it or not), talking about all our common interests.

As one of the great sorrows of my life is that Darwin had never read this book that was so pivotal in my intellectual formation, I recently began reading The Four Loves to him in the evenings. Lewis is eminently suited for reading aloud: he's witty, concise, and elegant. We just finished his chapter on Affection, which contains the marvelous example of the recently-deceased Mrs. Fidget as an example of natural Affection gone bad.

The Four Loves is about the four types of love as described by the Greek philosophers: affection (storge), friendship (philia), erotic love (eros), and charity (agape). In analyzing each type of love Lewis examines the purely human aspects of the loves, good and bad, and the various ways that merely human love can turn bad without the guiding influence of divine love (hence the bitter, manipulative Mrs. Fidget). I've always loved the parts where Lewis talks about the natural loves deteriorating because his examples are so recognizable. Who doesn't know a family where one or both of the parents have taken their affection for the children so far as to become controlling and over-protective? Or where one member's natural desire for affection becomes so demanding and overwhelming as to almost isolate them from the rest of the family? Or the sort of resentful character for whom any display of love is just not enough or too little too late?

As Lewis points out, he has to make up examples only because he and the reader don't move in the same circles; it's all too easy to find countless examples of such behavior from among one's own family and acquaintances.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Aquinas, Creation and Immortality

One of the great temptations of blogging is to make knowledgeable-sounding assertions based on something you're pretty sure you remember reading from a reputable source a while back. It's an informal medium, and so even when you're writing about a semi-academic topic, you feel like you can get away with things.

Of course, sometimes you get called on it, and sometimes that's probably a good thing because it leads you to find out something interesting, and thus blog more. The other day I said:

Aquinas questioned whether "and thus death came into the world" could be literally accurate, because according to the Aristotelian philosophy creatures do not change in kind, and a change from being mortal to immortal would be a change in kind. (Aquinas argued that the "death" that came into the world was "death" in the spiritual sense often used in scripture, rather than "death" in the biological sense. Thus, Aquinas actually addresses the question that some ask about Genesis and biological evolution: how could there have been evolution before the Fall if death only came into the world after Adam's sin?)
A commenter promptly called me on the assertion, and since I was working from a memory (which may have been second hand in the first place) I had to do a little homework before I came up with Summa, Part I, Question 97 where Aquinas deals with the question of man's immortality before the fall.
So here, more precisely, is what Aquinas has to say:
First, on the part of matter--that is to say, either because it possesses no matter, like an angel; or because it possesses matter that is in potentiality to one form only, like the heavenly bodies. Such things as these are incorruptible by their very nature.

Secondly, a thing is incorruptible in its form, inasmuch as being by nature corruptible, yet it has an inherent disposition which preserves it wholly from corruption; and this is called incorruptibility of glory; because as Augustine says (Ep. ad Dioscor.): "God made man's soul of such a powerful nature, that from its fulness of beatitude, there redounds to the body a fulness of health, with the vigor of incorruption."

Thirdly, a thing may be incorruptible on the part of its efficient cause; in this sense man was incorruptible and immortal in the state of innocence. For, as Augustine says (QQ. Vet. et Nov. Test. qu. 19 [Work of an anonymous author, among the supposititious works of St. Augustine): "God made man immortal as long as he did not sin; so that he might achieve for himself life or death." For man's body was indissoluble not by reason of any intrinsic vigor of immortality, but by reason of a supernatural force given by God to the soul, whereby it was enabled to preserve the body from all corruption so long as it remained itself subject to God. This entirely agrees with reason; for since the rational soul surpasses the capacity of corporeal matter, as above explained (76, 1), it was most properly endowed at the beginning with the power of preserving the body in a manner surpassing the capacity of corporeal matter.
This actually reminded me a little bit of Tolkien's description of the gift given to the men of Numenor, that so long as they remained virtuous and did not try to grasp immortality, they could choose the time of their own deaths, releasing themselves to God rather than being driven from their bodies by frailty or illness.

This is not the same thing that Aquinas is describing, but it is similar in interesting ways -- with Tolkien's ingrained Catholicity, I suppose it's hardly surprising. Aquinas believed because of Aristotelian natural phiosophy what I would tend to believe based on the evidence of modern science: that it is in the nature of biological creatures to be mortal, and that were an animal nor mortal, it would not be the same species with which we are familiar -- indeed, that an 'immortal horse' is not a horse at all, but a substantially different creature sharing the same appearance of a horse.

However, he needed to square this with the biblical description of Adam and Eve as being immortal until the Fall. His solution is elegant, and I agree with it, though perhaps with one opening for variation. Creatures were still mortal, he concludes, but man's pre-fallen soul was given by God a supernatural degree of control over the body, such that it could preserve the body from all corruption so long as the soul remained in perfect submission to God.

I would assume this left animals mortal, since animals do not possess a rational soul and will infused by God and thus nothing would have preserved them from death or disease. What strikes me as interesting is the question of whether man would have remained bodily immortal, or if eventually he would have voluntarily released soul from body in order to be united with God in heaven. Of course, the Church tells us that after the end of all things we will be reunited with our perfected bodies. Given that man is intended to be constituted of both body and soul, and that man in his unfallen state must have had a perfected body, perhaps there would be no call for an unfallen Adam and Eve to ever leave their bodies. And yet, would there be something lacking in our path to salvation if we never reached the beatific vision of heaven? Did Adam and Eve experience God in the form like the beatific vision, or is that one of the results of the fall, like Christ's saving mission. Is this another benefit of Adam's "felix culpa"?

In praise of the Single Mother

Darwin flies in this afternoon at 4:30, and the girls and I will be heartily glad to see him. Having no one here but us chickens has had some charms, but everyone prefers to have Daddy about, especially me. After having done stints as a single mother for three weeks out of the last five, I have to say that I have a heightened appreciation for the trials of mothers raising children on their own.

Let me say, of course, that in my opinion anyone who chooses outright to be a single mother a la Murphy Brown is simply off her rocker. To make a conscious choice to pursue motherhood without the support or someone who's legally bound to you and your baby seems foolish at the very basic, instinctual level of self-preservation. However that may be, there are many reasons women find themselves alone with children -- boyfriend backed out, husband left, or even, as in my case, husbands who must travel for various good reasons.

I've had it relatively easy. I don't live near my family, alas, but I have many friends locally who have been more than generous in offering to help while Darwin is away. I don't have to worry about picking up the kids from daycare after a long day at work. The girls and I have gone to church, to the park, done grocery shopping together, read many books, and have snuggled in bed at nights. But it's still not easy to be the parent on call 24/7, even for a short period of time. It must be very difficult for mothers (or come to that, fathers) who are raising children on their own, and I have a heightened respect for those who manage to keep it all together in those circumstances.

And while we're at it, let's have some words in praise of military wives, who deal not only with the stresses of caring for chilren on their own and maintaining a marital relationship long-distance, but who must also carry with them the terrible knowledge that their husbands could be killed at any time. As Americans we owe a debt of gratitude to the families and wives of the soldiers who protect us. Theirs is an incredible burden.

And now I must shake the two pounds of pasta out of my sheets and re-make the bed before we leave to get Darwin... I'm so glad he's coming home.

And for those of you who watch LOST...

Head over to Julie D.'s blog and join the conversation. Having just watched last night's episode (the timing is bad for catching it live) I have to say that I thought the Eko backstory combined with Eko and Charlie searching for the plane was the best episode so far. I don't think the writers of the show are religious, but they understand religious symbolism and definitely respect Catholicism. LOST is the best show on prime-time television, natch.

(Of course I don't catch any other shows on prime-time, but I'll stand up for LOST against anyone!)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

What We're Reading

After asking everyone's advice for read-alouds, we've been working our way through Charlotte's Web. I recall watching the movie when I wasn't much older than Noogs, and I've always had a fondness for the book. Noogs seems to enjoy it, and often requests another chapter. I suppose I ought to tell her to wait until tomorrow, but I like hearing the story as well, so I often oblige. It should be a great vocabulary builder -- Charlotte often has to explain her word choices to Wilbur the pig.

We'd started on Stuart Little, which is a work of delightful style and charm, but it didn't seem to hold Noogs' interest so much, so we left off and will try again when she's a bit older.

Mama said there'd be nights like this...

Last night was just one of those nights where I couldn't get to sleep at all. Darwin had called about 1:30 am to say hi from California, and after that I was up. I laid in bed, I stared at the ceiling, I rolled around trying to get comfortable. Noogs, who was laying at the end of the bed, and I kicked each other.

Eventually I got up and ate the rest of the ice cream and read Chesterton. While pleasant in itself, this didn't put me to sleep because shortly thereafter I had to get up and take antacid for heartburn (welcome to being seven months pregnant!) So, being up, I surfed the internet, checked my email, and played poker on the computer -- and won, too.

At last, around 5 am, I started feeling tired. I climbed into bed, snuggled under my warm covers, got my pillow plumped just so, and stretched out my leg toward where Noogs was snoozing -- and promptly withdrew my foot, as the bed was soaked.

"Honey, you wet the bed!" I said to her.
"I am sorry," she replied, and padded toward the bathroom to change out of her wet jammies.

So Noogs was cleaned and put in her own bed. When I stepped into the laundry room to get the cleaner to spray on the spot, I realized that I hadn't closed the washer when I'd loaded laundry in this afternoon, so the clothes had been sitting in a washer full of water ever since. Closed the washer, stripped the bed (she managed to get everything but the pillows -- feather comforter, blanket, both sheets, and the mattress pad), sprayed the bed and laid a towel down, and remade it. All the while I was recalling what my dad used to say when things weren't going so well. "It could be worse," he'd say. "At least I'm not sitting in cow pies up to my neck." So true!

So at 5:30 this morning I finally laid down and fell asleep. Half an hour later Noogs comes to stand beside my bed and asks, "Mommy, can I sleep with you?"

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Vigil

Of your kindness, please remember Darwin and his family in your prayers this evening, as tonight is the vigil for his father before the funeral. They'll be praying three decades of the rosary -- the Crucifixion, the Transfiguration, and the Resurrection -- and I'll be praying them here at home as well. If you should have some extra prayer time tonight, join us in offering these decades for the repose of the soul of Jon Hodge.

The Bomb Shelter and the Ostrich

About a month ago (it's been a busy month...) a frequent commenter asked my opinion of an article called "Bomb-Shelter Theology" by Fr. Brian Harrison that appeared in Living Tradition in 1994. I read it almost immediately, but I wanted to write a substantive response to the article and time has been lacking. Anyway, here it goes...

Let me go ahead and open by quoting the first few paragraphs of Fr. Harrison's article:

Those who anxiously whittle down and attenuate the traditional Catholic faith to the point where it includes no affirmations whatever about physical, material realities (such as conception, virginity, crucified corpses, the earth, sun, stars, etc.), on the grounds that such matters fall within the competence of "science," do a very good job of what they set out to do: their theological bomb-shelter is indeed impregnable against any possible bomb which might be launched by physicists, geologists, historians, etc. No such missile could ever damage that kind of "faith," any more than a cloud can be damaged by firing a shot-gun at it: there is nothing solid there with which the shot might possibly collide. Nevertheless, if the Catholic Church ever came to adopt, or even officially permit, this scientifically-ever-so-respectable theology, her rational credibility would suffer death by the "asphyxiation" of self-contradiction. Let us see why this is the case.

The Roman Catholic Church's basic stance toward religious truth is not that of a plodding investigator. Rather, it is that of a faithful witness. Unlike scientists who search for truth in nature, or Protestants who search for it in the Bible, the original Church dating back to Christ Himself claims to have possessed the truth already for two thousand years, handing it on faithfully and continuously from generation to generation.... This is why her theologians can never simply imitate the methodology of other disciplines, in which the mark of intellectual integrity is open-mindedness, and a modest willingness to acknowledge and correct past mistakes....

For the credibility of an investigator and that of a witness have to be judged according to very different criteria. An investigator only need avoid self-contradiction in what he says at any given time. Provided he does that, he may - and indeed, should - contradict what he said only yesterday, if he happens to have found new evidence overnight that his previous view was mistaken. But a witness in a court of law is subject to more exacting requirements. Unlike the investigator, he is asking us to believe certain things on the strength of his word, not on the basis of publicly available data which the rest of us can inspect and evaluate for ourselves. He is asking us to trust him as a reliable source of information which is otherwise inaccessible to the rest of us. This means that in order for him to be credible in the claims he makes, he must avoid not only contradicting himself while under cross-examination today; he must also avoid contradicting today what he said yesterday -or the day before. Once he gives his clear, emphatic, sworn testimony to something, he must forever stick by it, and be able to defend it, on pain of destroying his whole credibility. Now, things like creeds and dogmas and solemn papal or conciliar definitions are the emphatic "sworn testimony" of the Catholic Church in bearing witness to the truth of God as it is revealed in Jesus Christ and in the natural moral law. So are those doctrines which, even though not defined in such specific documents, have been taught by a solid consensus of Popes and Catholic Bishops round the world as being "definitively to be held."
Now, I suspect that all of us would agree that a theologian who suggested that the Church back off from the truth of the virgin birth or the resurrection because physical science could disprove such assertions would be a deeply misguided thinker. The Church clearly teaches and has always taught that these events happened and happened 'literally' not in some metaphorical or symbolic sense. Throughout Christian history people who have denied the virgin birth or the resurrection have been invariably labeled as teaching heresy.

As such, if someone went back in history and discovered that Christ's body was not in fact resurrected, but was actually eaten by wolves, it would not be because the Church was being 'too literal', it would be because the Church was flat wrong. Similarly, if someone could somehow go back in a time machine and prove that Christ was not conceived by the power of the holy spirit, but rather by the intervention of a Roman soldier (as I believe some blasphemous writer or other suggested) this would not be a matter of the Church speaking metaphorically when it spoke of the virgin birth, it would be a matter of Christianity being false, pure and simple.

Now, I confess, I have never encountered a writer who insisted that giving science due respect in its own domain meant that the Church could not assert itself clearly on physical matters such as the resurrection or the virgin birth. Indeed, if you think about it, science itself cannot speak to such questions -- unless one imagines the existence of tools such as time machines (which current science believes to be impossible). Science deals with questions of general rules of physical behavior. Thus, science can state that it is not usual for a woman to conceive a son without receiving sperm from a man. However, one must remember that science is not in the business of stating eternal truths. Science cannot say "no woman could ever conceive a child except through one of her eggs coming in contact with sperm from a male of the same species." Rather, science says "so far as we have ever observed, all children are conceived through the process of a woman's egg coming in contact with a sperm -- and we don't know of any other way that conception could take place." Miracles, and other events that are the first observed of their kind, cannot be predicted or disallowed by science, because by definition they fall outside the experience set by which science works. Indeed, when the Church calls in a doctor or scientist to help confirm a miracle, what the scientist does is not say "this was a miracle" but "I can find no physical explanation for thisoccurrencee." Thus, I think it's important to note that any theologians who do subscribe to the "bomb shelter theology" described by Fr. Harrison suffer not only from a deficiency in their theological understanding, but also a grave deficiency in their understanding of the methodology of science.

In the second section of the article, where Fr. Harrison gets down to business and asks how we are to deal with the initial chapters of Genesis.

If the Roman Catholic Church must forever persevere (under pain of a fatal self-contradiction) in affirming the dogmatic principle that there exists a category of "dual-citizenship" truths which are both revealed and physical/historical, one of the specific questions that arise when we apply this principle to the field of Scripture studies is whether the truth of the creation accounts (Genesis 1-3) falls into this category, or not. Few people professing to be Catholics will want to say that this opening section of the Bible is simply "false" or "untrue." The big question is, What sort of truth does the Holy Spirit want to communicate to us here?
Good question. However, I have some concerns about how Fr. Harrison drills down into this topic. Fr. Harrison references an article in Pastoral and Homilitic Review by Fr. Stanley Jaki which he says boils down to the following syllogism:

Major - All Scripture (including Genesis 1-3) is inspired by God, and is therefore without error in all that the writers intended to assert.

Minor - Science has demonstrated that Genesis 1-3, understood as a factual, historical account of how the world and man began, would be in error.

Concl. - Therefore the author(s) of Genesis 1-3 did not intend to assert in these chapters a factual, historical account of how the world and man began.
However, Fr. Harrison does not like this line of thinking:

Such is the facile solution offered by a "bomb-shelter" hermeneusis of Genesis. One just reduces the asserted content of the creation accounts to a few simple transcendental propositions (for instance, "God made everything good"; "God made man in his own image"; "God made everything there is with the greatest ease") so that their "true" meaning is safely secluded or cordoned off from any conceivable damage that could be occasioned by the bomb-blasts of empirical science....

Consider this little parable. In a certain far-off land the dominant religion includes the dogma that on the dark side of the moon there are large craters full of salt water. Comes the twentieth century and space-travel. Rocket-ships finally get to photograph all angles of the moon, including the dark side. The believers are cast into deep anguish and a crisis of faith by the terrible news that, while the new photographs indeed show plenty of craters, all of them are bone-dry! At first there is a reaction of rejection. The hierarchy assures the faithful that the photographs are all faked, as part of a Satanic plot. As time goes on, however, this becomes hard to sustain, since some astronauts of hitherto unquestioned orthodoxy themselves take part in a space-flight to the moon and see for themselves the faith-shattering emptiness of those great craters, reporting this sad news to their brethren on return. Many of the faithful leave the Church in disillusionment; but for others, faith does not remain shattered for very long. The more learned theologians soon come up with a "bomb-shelter" solution which satisfies well-educated, sophisticated believers. It can be set out in another syllogism.

Major - It is revealed truth that there are salt-water craters on the dark side of the moon.
Minor - Science has demonstrated that no water of any sort is observed in the craters on the dark side of the moon.
Concl. - Therefore there is invisible salt-water in the craters on the dark side of the moon.

This eminently reasonable solution comes to be accepted by the bulk of the faithful, because after all, it is logical (the conclusion follows ineluctably from the premises); it is orthodox (the traditional dogma is faithfully preserved); and by accepting the minor premise, this revised faith is perfectly in line with the latest developments in science. Armed (and comforted) by this modern development in doctrine, the guardians of the new orthodoxy can afford to shake their heads condescendingly at the tiny minority of fundamentalists, who, in their naive literalism, regard the new theology as nonsense and continue to insist on the hypothesis of hoax and fraud in all the photographs and testimonies regarding the craters. These theological illiterates, locked into their narrow, fortress mentality which leaves no room for growth or flexibility, keep on stubbornly maintaining that if the traditional interpretation of moon-water turns out to be indefensible, the whole religion will be indefensible. The only perplexing thing for the more enlightened believers is that the great bulk of their contemporaries seem to agree with the fundamentalists on this last point. The new theology, designed especially to make faith more credible for modern scientific man, seems to hold little attraction for him. The churches keep on emptying, as a greater consensus grows outside the Church that there is, quite simply, no water of any sort on the dark side of the moon.

Fr. Harrison believes that this "moonie" example is in fact a pretty good example of where Genesis biblical scholarship has taken itself in recent decades:

A century and a half after the existence of a "non-historical" literary genre for Genesis 1-3 was suddenly "deduced" from the studies (not in Hebrew literature, mind you, but in geology and biology) of scholars such as Lyell and Darwin, our exegetes are still looking for it.... And since our deduction about the existence of a "non-factual" literary genre in Genesis 1-3 was not based on methods even remotely connected with literary criticism, it is also unsurprising that we have not found what we are looking for, even after more than a century of searching.... Since all appropriate literary methods have so far failed to identify the creation accounts as belonging to any known "non-historical" genre (such as poetry, drama, apocalypse, fiction, midrash, allegory, parable, etc.), and since the field of literature (unlike that of nature) now contains very little unexplored territory, then it might be time to recognize honestly that this genre which just "has to" be there is one which is permanently undiscoverable by any method at all which human ingenuity can devise! In terms of the parable, our "water" has failed not only the visibility test, but also the tangibility test.
Now, I've quoted a lot of Fr. Harrison's article. I hope you will forgive me the length, but I thought his approach was sufficiently novel (I haven't read anyone taking this approach to the creationism debate before) that it was worth being very clear (for those not up to reading all fifteen pages of the original article) on what Fr. Harrison is saying.

I have three basic issues with Fr. Harrison's position:

First, I think he takes an overly simplistic approach to what elements of scriptureconstitutee the Church's "sworn testimony" about the world. Clearly, the resurrection is something that the Church does and always has asserted to be a historical event. There is no getting around it without falling into heresy. However, though certainly not an expert in patristics, I've read a decent number of sermons and commentaries by the Early Fathers and medieval Doctors of the Church, and nowhere did I get the impression that the Church'scredibilityy relied upon the scientific and historical accuracy of Genesis in the way that Fr. Harrison's "moonie" religion apparently relies on the existence of salt water on the moon.

Without making a particular study of the matter, two of the Church's greatest saints andtheologianss (Augustine and Aquinas) both spring to mind as suggesting that the plain "testimony" of the Genesis narrative might not be "accurate" in the most literal sense. Augustine rejected the literal accuracy of the six days of creation, pointing out that God's eternal and all powerful nature would suggest that the work of creation was performed in an instant. He held that the six days represented not the literal working and resting cycles of God's activity, but rather the temporal perception of the angels witnessing God'sinstantaneouss act of creation. Aquinas questioned whether "and thus death came into the world" could be literally accurate, because according to the Aristotelian philosophy creatures do not change in kind, and a change from being mortal to immortal would be a change in kind. (Aquinas argued that the "death" that came into the world was "death" in the spiritual sense often used in scripture, rather than "death" in the biological sense. Thus, Aquinas actually addresses the question that some ask about Genesis and biological evolution: how could there have been evolution before the Fall if death only came into the world after Adam's sin?)

One can hardly accuse Augustine or Aquinas of being a bomb shelter theologian, and between the two of them, they challenge both the six day structure and the literal coming of death into the world -- both major elements of the creation narrative if taken historically. In the "moonie" parable, Fr. Harrison presents it as a given that the existence of lunar salt water was a dogmatic article of faith for the "moonies". While the parable's narrative is fully under Fr. Harrison's control, I think it would be inaccurate to say that the Church has historically preached the historical accuracy of the seven days of creation as dogmatic. For all of Fr. Harrison's scorn, most (indeed all that I can remember) ancient and medieval texts that discuss the creation narrative do focus on the "few simple transcendental propositions" that he considers such a cop-out. When being chatechized, new Christians were told "God created the world out of nothing" and "Man was created in God's image" not "water was created 48 hours before fish".

This leads to my second major problem with Fr. Harrison's analysis: His "invisible" literary style doesn't seem to me to be terribly illusive but rather the product of an overly modern approach to literature. Genesis 1-3 are, I would say, myth. Fr. Harrison rejects this idea because he seems to have in his head a definition of myth something along the lines of "a false and silly belief that people used to have when they didn't know any better". Certainly, that is what all too many modern people mean by "myth". However, I would say that those people are quite wrong in their assessment.

Although he's talking about a slightly different genre, I would recommend Tolkein's "On Fairy Stories" as a good discussion of true mythology, but I will attempt to cover some of the same ground with fewer words.

When I say "myth" I do not mean a "just so" story like such as Kipling wrong. Nor do I mean a superstition or false belief. True mythology is un-authored, going back so far in a culture that it is well known and available in many versions, not the product of any one author. It deals with serious questions about the world and human nature in a form that is not necessarily literally, historically true, because it deals with questions too old and basic for anyone to know the truth of in a historical fashion. In his recent First Things essay, Cardinal Schonborn pointed out the philosophical dangers of accepting the idea that to know a thing's material/historical origin is to know its essence and meaning. (For example, the idea that if human beings evolved from lower life forms, that this tells us something deeper about human nature and humanity's place in the divine plan, or lack thereof.) Mythology contains an implicit understanding of this distinction, in that it accepts that it may not accurately describe a thing's historical or material origins while attempting to explain its essence.

So, for example, the Greek myth of Pandora's box was not (I would argue) thought to be literally or historically true by the ancient Greeks. Giving the question due thought, one would not imagine that war, pestilence, greed, hate, envy, etc. were physical creatures trapped in a box, that a specific woman named Pandora released upon the world. Rather, the myth of Pandora's Box attempted to address the origin of evil in the world (and man's culpability in that origin) at a level more essential than the historical.

The earliest chapters of Genesis, I would argue, are also mythology, but mythology which is wholly true and successful in its attempt to address the nature of things, while pagan mythologies expressed only partial truths, as recognized by man's inherent grasp of God and natural law. Perhaps the easiest way to see this is by contrasting the biblical story of the flood with the Sumerian flood myth found in the epic of Gilgamesh. Both stories contain certain basic elements (a flood sent to purge the world of humanity and a single family which survives by building an ark), however in reading the Sumerian version one sees immediately how the pagan version reflects a false understanding of the nature of man and the relationship between man and the divine. In seeing that which is false in the pagan myth, one realizes how the biblical myth correctly reflects God's revealed truth, in the way that the myth of mere human origin does not.

My third point of disagreement with Fr. Harrison is in some ways the most urgent, and the reason that I have written such a long commentary on his piece. In his "moonie" parable, Fr. Harrison suggests that there are two honest approaches to dealing with the discoveries of science in relation to Genesis: either insist that science is a fraud and that it is wrong to assert that the world is ancient or that humanity (in the biological sense) evolved from lower life forms, or reject the bible as false and Christianity as a fraud. The "bombshelterr" route that his intellectuals and theologians in the parable dream up (with the "invisible water") he sees as inherently dishonest and dangerous.

This is all very well for Fr. Harrison, who apparently is satisfied in his own mind that the findings of modern astronomy, geology and paleontology are indeed a fraud. However, he binds up a heavy and dangerous burden for others to carry. Either they must assert that much of modern science is a fraud (Fr. Harrison even holds out hope that the bible is right that the earth is stationary at the center of the universe while the sun and all the stars orbit it once each day, though he does not fully commit himself to that view) or one mustabandonn Christianity as false.

This is the biggest reason I find myself drawn back into the evolution debate again and again. It's not so much that I have a fanatical devotion to evolution or to the aspects of modern astronomy and geology that suggest and ancient universe (though I do consider these explanations provided by science to be the best theories to explain the evidence we have at this time) but rather that many who have an antipathy towards these areas of science (as Fr. Harrison clearly does) feel it necessary to build up the threat to Christianity and make the argument: Either evolution is false or Christianity is false. Now you believe that Christianity is true, so surely you must reject evolution, right?

Given that the Church has said repeatedly that there is no inherent contradiction between the findings of modern science and our beliefs, it seems wrong to me (indeed, wicked) to risk destroying the faith of others by insisting that one must reject either evolution or the Church. I do not say that given the choice Fr. Harrison proposes I would reject Christianity -- because I do not accept that this is a legitimate set of alternatives to propose. But I do consider the choice set up to be dangerous and unhelpful.