Friday, August 26, 2005
When Hitler’s Germany was reduced to ashes and its scientific Darwinian eugenics was fully exposed, the world recoiled in horror. Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke for many Americans when he opined that the Germans should be collectively sterilized. They had, after all, violated European harmony twice in thirty years. This modern, science-based Thirty Years’ War left the accusation of collective guilt on everyone’s lips. Every German, it was said, was guilty for everything that had been done under the command of the little Austrian.
Today, many lay the burden of collective guilt on America for having waged total war, targeting civilian populations and dropping bombs that wiped out entire cities during our more violent invocations of science.
Only one voice spoke in opposition to this idea: the Catholic Church.
The Church pointed out that collective guilt, whether for Nazi camps or American bombs, was a theological impossibility. There existed only one instance of collective guilt, original sin. The absence of grace that is original sin originates in the fact that Adam, the father of the human race, refused to accept the inheritance of grace that God offered him. Just as I am much more likely to be poor if my grandfather father decided to refuse a winning lotto ticket, so I am poor in grace because my great-great grandfather decided to reject God’s grace. Hitler was many things, but he was no one’s father.
It might have been the case in the Old Testament that when the fathers are sour grapes, the children’s teeth were set on edge, as the Scriptures say, but that changed with Christ. He won the grace necessary for each person to enter heaven. Now that we can be baptized into His Body, my parents’ sins can no longer be imputed to me. Collective guilt doesn’t exist. Each one of us is responsible for his own relationship with God, the Bridegroom.
Incidentally, this is why the annulment of a Catholic marriage does not imply bastardy for the children. Bastardy is solely a statement about inheritance: a bastard can never inherit his father’s property. From a spiritual point of view, my father’s property, that is, Adam's inheritance from God, was grace and he refused that inheritance. As a result, from the moment of my conception, I am already cut out of the inheritance of grace.
From a spiritual point of view, from the point of view of grace, I begin existence as a bastard, whether or not my parents were married when I was conceived. My inheritance of grace is not restored to me through my parents’ marriage. It is restored through my own adoption into God's family in baptism. It is restored by my subsequent marriage to Jesus Christ in baptism. He is the Bridegroom Who pays the dowry. My inheritance of grace from Him does not depend on whether my parents fornicated or engaged in sacramental marriage. My inheritance of grace does not depend on whether my parents got an annulment or a divorce or both. God cares only about whether I have married and stayed true to the Bridegroom. No matter what guilt or innocence existed in my parent's marriage, I am not responsible for that, nor does my state of grace depend on that, nor does an annulment make any reference at all to the state of the children. Annulment does not imply that children born from the marriage are bastards. Annulment is only a statement about the relationship between two adults who tried, and failed, to establish a specific kind of relationship between each other. A declaration of annulment does not, it cannot, imply that children from this attempted relationship are bastards.
The state may say this about the distribution of temporal goods, but temporal goods are the state's business. That has nothing to do with the Church. The state does not recognize the Catholic declaration of annulment, so there is no correspondence there. The Church's statement of nulllity is about the existence of grace in a relationship between two human adults. Being a parent is not a sacrament. Being a child is not a sacrament. The declaration about the state of grace between two adults cannot ever be considered part of the completely separate statement about how an adult and his/her own child interact. The spouses are not collectively guilty or innocent. Neither are the children. It doesn't make any sense to talk that way. Collective guilt does not exist.
Similarly, just as collective guilt does not exist, so incurable evil does not exist.
During the recent sex abuse scandals, many were amazed to discover that the bishops – advised by the science of professional psychology – believed predatory gay sex with teenagers was a curable disease. Today, we shake our heads and opine wisely, “That kind of activity is incurable, you know.”
Actually, we are wrong and the bishops were right. While it may well be true that modern science finds pedophiliacs and predatory gays incurable, it is not the case that pedophilia or homosexuality are incurable. They can be cured, they just can’t be cured with the tools of modern science. The bishops’ error lay not in thinking these conditions curable, but in thinking the cure lay in modern science. It didn’t.
According to Martin Luther, faith alone saves. In his sermons, he insisted that we can commit adultery one hundred times a day and still be saved, as long as we had faith. For Luther, someone like the BTK killer, a man who bound, tortured and killed his victims while living the rest of his life as a church-going Christian, had done nothing that might imperil his salvation, as long as his faith in Jesus was strong. But that’s just bad theology.
Faith doesn’t save, marriage saves. Faith is a product of marriage. Faith comes from trusting the Bridegroom and remaining faithful to Him. Faithful living is what you do after you take the vows.
Collective guilt does not exist. Incurable sin does not exist. We are each judged on what we have done, on our contrition for the evil we have committed, and on our resolve not to repeat that evil. What the BTK killer did to his victims, we do to ourselves every time we sin. We bind our conscience, torture it with evil, and kill the life of grace within us. We can be brought back to new life, but modern science isn’t able to do that work. Only the grace of God, and our cooperation with His grace, can resurrect us.
Monday, August 15, 2005
It’s eerie, really. Five centuries ago, lay university professors invoked Scripture and religion in order to attack and destroy an opponent whose views threatened to topple academia. Today, they are doing it again. The only difference is the targets – in the early 1600’s, the university professors were trying to destroy Galileo. Today, they’re trying to destroy the theory behind intelligent design, using very nearly the same techniques they used against Galileo.
The University versus Heliocentrism
Contrary to popular belief, neither Copernicus nor Galileo were initially attacked by the Catholic Church. Indeed, both received most of their initial support from Catholic priests, bishops and popes. No, when it came to these two mathematicians, it was the lay academic community, the university professors, who hated their guts.
Galileo, you see, had the unfortunate distinction of being a mathematician at a time when mathematicians were universally considered second-class citizens by the academic community. Mathematicians were good only for creating siege engines, building fortifications and casting horoscopes. Galileo was so well loved by his colleagues that he was run out of the University of Pisa, and as the chair of mathematics at the University of Padua, he earned less than one-tenth what the best-paid Aristotelian philosopher earned.
Aristotelian philosophers were at the top of the lay academic pecking order primarily because Aristotle’s physical theories were based not on mathematics but on philosophy. He assumed that every inanimate object had an innate purpose that determined its motion. Rocks fell down because they intended to reach the center of the earth. Hot air rose because it intended to reach the celestial sphere. Since intention determined the direction of motion, and since philosophy was the key to understanding purpose and intention, philosophy was considered the best way to understand the workings of the universe.
A mere mathematician could never hope to plumb the universe’s depths of mystery. Mathematicians played with mindless numbers. They cast horoscopes for superstitious people, and casting horoscopes was a mortal sin. Their number-play was only good for creating accurate calendars and calculating where a cannonball might land.
Heliocentrism was not a violation of Scripture so much as it was a violation of Aristotle. Any theory that seemed to contradict Aristotle also contradicted the authority of the university professors. In short, it directly attacked the prestige of most of the lay academic community.
Consequently, the most vociferous opponents to heliocentrism would be the members of the academic community. Copernicus knew this. As a Catholic priest whose mathematical expertise had been requested by the Fifth Lateran Council when it considered calendar reform, he was not concerned about the reaction of the Catholic Church to his new heliocentric theory, rather, he was concerned about the reaction of the lay academics. He dragged his feet on publishing his heliocentric theories because he was afraid the university professors would rip him to shreds.
Avoiding Peer Review
Thus, even though Pope Clement VII approved of his heliocentric work, Archbishop Schonburg of Capua offered him the money necessary to print it and Bishop Giese urged him to write the work, he demurred. In fact, when Copernicus tried to stall by claiming he needed an assistant, Bishop Giese even went so far as to secure for Copernicus the services of George Rheticus, a Protestant mathematician whose father had been beheaded by the Protestants for sorcery. Even as the Council of Trent was meeting to deal with the problem of Protestant heresy, Giese recognized that the Protestant son of a man executed for witchcraft was the best man for the job.
But Copernicus continued to stall. He knew the university professors would crucify him if he promoted a theory that undercut their authority. He was right. When Rheticus’ colleagues, the professors at the University of Wittenburg, heard that Rheticus was helping Copernicus develop heliocentric theory, they forced him out of his chair of mathematics. As Rheticus left town, he handed his job as Copernicus’ assistant over to a Lutheran minister, Osiander, who continued the editing work. Osiander would take advantage of Copernicus’ age and ill health by removing Copernicus’ dedicatory preface to Pope Paul III and replacing it with his own spurious preface which stated that heliocentric theory had no basis in fact.
Copernicus would never discover his new assistant’s duplicity. He was, instead, fortunate enough to die the same day his book was released from the printer. As a result, he did not face the abject hatred poured out on his head by the university community. Galileo saw the vitriol poured out by the professors upon Copernicus and hated them for it.
He ridiculed his fellow academics from the very first moment he began lecturing at Pisa, writing poetry that made the academic gowns the laughing-stock of the town. His short tenure in the mathematics chair at Padua was not much more successful. Few people remember that Galileo did not work for a university, but for the Count of Florence. He hated the university professors as much as they hated him.
Thus, when Galileo’s telescope brought supporting evidence for the Copernican theory, it was not the Church that attacked him – it was the academic community. Even as the Jesuits and Dominicans threw luxuriant parties for Galileo in Rome to celebrate his new discoveries, the lay academics schemed to destroy this disrespectful upstart, this mathematician. Indeed, while priests and bishops delighted in the new vistas the telescope opened up, most of the academic community refused to even look through the lens. They claimed the visions thus received were optical illusions. Maginini, the famous Ptolemaic astronomer, promised to wipe Galileo’s new planets from the sky.
The Two-Edged Sword
As Protestants vied with the consecrated Catholic men over the proper interpretation of Scripture, the academics saw their opening. It was the lay academics who first brought Scripture into the heliocentrism debate, accusing Galileo of heresy, of violating the God’s own divine word.
It was the lay academics who duped a foolish Dominican priest into attacking Galileo from the pulpit, much to the dismay of the Dominican astronomers who had just feted the astronomer from Florence. The Church was eventually drawn into the controversy not by Jesuit astronomers, but by lay academic advisors to the Church, men who insisted that Rome had a duty to stop Galileo, for he were left unchecked, he would destroy the entire university system.
They were half-right. He destroyed the Aristotelian philosophy professors. For the first time in history, Galileo had begun to use mathematics to systematically describe the way the objects in the world interacted with one another. He stripped away the false Aristotelian idea that we must first understand an object’s purpose before we can understand how inanimate objects interact. He showed that mathematical formulas alone were sufficient to describe movement. In short, he proved that inanimate objects were truly inanimate – they were not quasi-persons with intentions or purposes. Galileo drove the last nail into the coffin of Aristotelian paganism.
Galileo destroyed the chairs of philosophy. They have never regained their places of honor in the pantheon of human knowledge. But, since Galileo’s time, the scientific community has made an egregious error. As it gained ascendancy and public adulation, it has continued to attack and abjure the necessity of philosophy and theology.
Unfortunately for promoters of science, philosophy is unavoidable. The mathematical method of studying the world itself embodies a philosophy, and a remarkably incomplete philosophy at that. Numbers can only tell us what, they can never tell us why. Numbers describe but they do not ultimately explain. Science is about nothing but numbers – measurement is the foundation of everything it does. Because it focuses so doggedly on numbers, it has begun to insist that there is nothing beyond numbers – there is no purpose, no intentionality, nothing beyond measurement and description. This is the theory of evolution in a nutshell.
Any theory which attempts to provide a volitional explanation is derided as mere philosophy, or worse, religion. Thus, today, the same battle lines are being drawn: the academic community versus the philosophers and theologians. This time, however, the roles are reversed. Now the scientists possess the heights of adulation, while the philosophers are paid a pittance in both salary and respect.
In Galileo’s time, the philosophers hung grimly onto their posts by denying the use of mathematics and insisting that only purpose mattered. Today’s scientists hang grimly onto their posts by denying the importance of philosophy/theology and insisting that only measurement matters.
The Crux of the Matter
Today, both sides fail to realize the essential complementarity of science and theology. Science describes the relationship between objects. Theology describes the relationship between persons. Because persons possess bodies, that is, because persons can be treated as objects, science makes the fatal mistake of assuming persons are objects. Because they are so successful at describing the interaction between inanimate objects, scientists they think they can successfully describe the interaction between persons.
But the relationships between persons are not subject to what scientists do best: measure. How much do you love your wife? 4.2? 3.14159? Numbers cannot be assigned to relationships. Quantity is most certainly a quality, but quantity does not exhaust every quality a person may reveal. The qualities of inanimate objects can be revealed through external study, but the qualities of a person are revealed only through self-revelation. We can see what a person does, but we cannot know with certainty why the person does it unless that person reveals the why. What we cannot ask of objects – the why – we cannot refrain from asking of subjects, of each other.
Since objects are not known through self-revelation. But persons are known only through self-revelation, the inquiry into the origins of persons cannot be solved through external study alone, because the very definition of person assumes a presence that is beyond the reach of even the most delicate scientific measuring instruments. These points are too often lost on everyone in the debate.
Thus, just as the university professors of Galileo’s time used Scripture as a weapon to attack the scientist, so today’s scientists use Scripture to attack the philosopher/theologian, but in an oddly perverse way. The original attack was built on the immutable authority of Scripture. Today’s attack is built on the supposition that Scripture has no real authority, and anyone who adheres to it is, in fact, a fool and an ignoramus of the first order.
In modern times, Scripture lacks authority in part because Scripture does not measure. It is not scientific. Insofar as anyone adheres to a non-scientific worldview, that person is a backward savage whose opinion is not to be respected.
Now, it is manifestly true that one can adhere to the scientific worldview when it comes to the study of objects and adhere to the theological worldview when it comes to the encounter with persons. However, because so few people properly distinguish the proper spheres of science and theology, men and women on both sides of the debate constantly denigrate the intelligence and the intelligibility of own positions. Either Scripture or nature is not given its proper due.
While scientists too easily forget that Scripture is divine revelation, theologians too easily forget that nature is also part of divine revelation. The scientist and his measuring tools are exploring a sacred expression of God’s own self-revelation, even if it happens not to be Scripture. To the extent that theologians and philosophers do not acknowledge this, scientists will ignore their pleas for recognition.
Thus, scientists correctly note that intelligent design is not science, strictly speaking, because intelligent design deals in “why,” that is, while it recognizes the complexity of the reality being measured, it does not investigate the “how” but the “why” of that complexity. Unfortunately, these same scientists fail to note that evolution, at least insofar as it attempts to explain the reasons “why” human persons exist, is also not science. It measures the complexity of the fossil record but insists there is no “why” at all.
Now, real science does not pretend to answer “why” questions, it only answers “how” questions. By insisting there is no “why” – a proposition which real science is manifestly not equipped to discuss - evolution is shown to be nothing more than nihilistic philosophy dressed up as science.
Many scientists complain that the debate over evolution remains a debate only in America. They point out that the Communist Chinese and the Europeans do not engage in such absurd discussion. They are correct. The denial of evolution is precisely the denial of the nihilism the rest of the world already embraces. In other words, the complaint tells us only what we already know.
Galileowas the first scientist, the first to apply mathematics to everything he did. He lived and died a sound Catholic who never wavered in the Faith, regardless of what individual men were coerced into doing to him. Because he was a good scientist, he was able to distinguish between the men who attacked him and both the falsehoods and the truths they espoused. But while Galileo was a good Catholic, he was never a good university professor. He hadn't the stomach to live a lie.
Saturday, August 13, 2005
Here's but a few of the hundreds of URLs that can be brought forward:
Note in the MSNBC piece that estrogens are said to be a “natural” part of sewage, but no one talks about how it gets in there.
This is an extremely well-known problem among experts in waste management. Sadly, most of us prefer to concentrate on the evils of big manufacturing plants rather than our own contributions through the use of hormonal birth control drugs.
Friday, August 05, 2005
This essay is simply brilliant
Many of the themes it explores are discussed from a slightly different perspective in Deception: Catholic Education in America.
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme,” said Mark Twain, and that certainly seems true today. It has been noted in this column and elsewhere that the Enlightenment’s insistence on setting Reason up as a god was due in no small part to Luther’s insistence that Reason was the whore of the devil. Luther’s “faith alone” theology brought about the “reason alone” backlash that was the Enlightenment.
But, the two did agree on some things. For instance, while Luther and Voltaire fought each other bitterly, they did unite against their common enemy: the Catholic Church.
Today, we see a remarkably similar thing taking place. Where Luther insisted on faith alone, Islam insists on rote memorization and constant emulation of the Prophet Mohammed. Where Voltaire insisted on the pre-eminence of Reason, the secular humanists today insist on the pre-eminence of the self. The Marquis de Sade and his modern counterparts have been transformed from lunatics (which is how de Sade was viewed by his contemporaries) to heros. Libertinism is the order of the day.
So, where the first titanic struggle was between faith and reason, this second titanic struggle is between slavery and license. And, as in the first struggle, the common enemy is Christianity, especially Catholic Christianity.
Catholic Christianity has uniquely challenged all competing philosophies and theologies to an extent that few commentators seem willing to consider. Take, for example, the simple system of numbering the Ten Commandments. There are three ways to do it: the Hebrew method, the Protestant method and the Catholic method. Of the three, only the Catholics separate the coveting of a neighbor’s livestock from the coveting of his wife. That is, only the Catholic ordering recognizes that sins against objects differ fundamentally from sins against persons.
Similarly, Catholicism uniquely moderated other philosophies. Precisely because Judaism spent a millennium under Catholic influence, Jews no longer stone members of their community to death for fornication. Precisely because Islam lacked that Christian guidance, Muslims still do. The Christianity that wiped out Aztec human sacrifice, stopped Hindus from forcing their widows onto the funeral pyre, and destroyed the Thuggee cult of ritual murder found its moral force in a world-view that retained an understanding of the Catholic theology on personhood.
Unfortunately, as non-Catholic Christian theology loses its grip on these Catholic concepts, it has degenerated into secular licentiousness. Our culture has again begun to endorse wife-killing and ritual murder.
In this respect, Terri Schiavo is merely a prominent example of a larger trend in murder-suicides. It has already been noted that most such actions are literally triggered by men who murder their often unwilling wives before turning the gun on themselves. Similarly, embryonic stem cell research and abortion have become ritually endorsed by almost all who seek higher office, despite glaring medical evidence that both involve the murder of children.
And here is the most interesting thing about this 21st-century version of the Thirty Years’ War. The struggle between secular humanism and Islam does not just attack the Bride of Christ, it attacks women in general.
Islam views women as the source of most moral evil. According to Mohammed, hell is populated primarily by women. In the same way, secular humanism endorses a lifestyle of casual sex, casual contraception and casual abortion that disproportionately harms women.
And in that sense, it is hard to choose sides. After all, it doesn’t matter which side wins when both sides are wrong.