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Friday, May 14

THE VATICAN'S ASTRONOMER:

Continuing with our science and religion theme, here is a link a friend sent me you may enjoy: Interview with Brother Guy Consolmagno from Astrobiology Magazine. Br. Consolmagno is the Vatican's astronomer. it includes:

AM: Isn't the belief that God created the universe a preconceived notion?

GC: It is. And it's a preconceived notion that in one form or another every scientist has to have. Because here's the other side: to be a scientist you have to have two fundamental assumptions, so fundamental you don't even think about it. You assume that the universe makes sense, that there really is an objective reality; there really is a logic to this; it's not just chaos; there really are laws to be found. We're so used to that assumption, you don't realize it. A lot of cultures don't have that.

And the other assumption you have to make is that it's worth doing. If your idea, if your religion is to meditate and rise above the physical universe, this corrupting physical universe, you might say, you're not going to be a scientist, you're not going to be interested in Mars. So it's a religious statement to say the physical universe is worth devoting my life to. Seeing how the universe works is worth spending a lifetime doing.

AM: Why is it a religious statement?

GC: By religious I mean that it is based on certain fundamental assumptions you have about how the universe works and what your place in the universe is. And ultimately, that's a religious assumption. Whether it's my religion or somebody else's religion, lots of people with lots of religions are looking at science. I'm not saying it's only one religion that has that assumption.

But I'm saying that there are religions that don't. There are brilliant cultures throughout history who have had fabulous mathematics and glorious ethical systems - and no science. It really is an important fundamental assumption that you have to have, especially day-to-day as a scientist. It's what gets you up in the morning.


11:10 PM


OUR DESIGN, NOT THEIRS:

Responding to The Evolutionists' False Hope, Chaplain James Danford writes:

In the blog "THE EVOLUTIONISTS' FALSE HOPE", you mention Shermer using the word "transcendence" but not using the right meaning. I have noticed this sloppy use of words. I recently watched an episode on the Animal Planet about what animals looked like when humans first arrived on the scene.

In this particular episode they speculated about what the first people thought about when they saw the Kangaroo. The show had been pushing the evolutionary theme pretty hard — but the narrator said the Kangaroo has a "flawless design". How can "chance" produce a "design"?
If you had the time, you could compile a small dictionary of words still used by the evolutionists' continued use of words to which they have no right (by "evolutionists" I mean those who believe the world appeared by chance and developed by chance). Like design, and purpose, and beauty, and right and wrong.

They may believe that the world is an accident, but they should not then speak as if accidents are beautiful or that an accident can make one action right (stealing the evolutionist's car, for example) and another wrong (teaching creationism in schools, for example).


3:27 PM


LEWiS WAS PROBABLY RIGHT:

Geoff Horton writes in response to the second entry in this morning's "The Evolutionist's Morality":

Your correspondents message contains a questionable: That one can legitimately dispute whether or not Machu Picchu is beautiful. One might recall the opening chapter of C. S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man, in which he argues strenuously that the statement "This waterfall is beautiful" is in fact a statement about the waterfall and not about our response to it. If Lewis is correct, then the second and third statements are of identical types, not different. "Spinach tastes good/spinach does not taste good" might have been a better example.

I confess that I never have fully agreed with that passage from Lewis, but I am coming around more and more to his stance.


3:23 PM


THE EVOLUTIONIST'S MORALITY:

Two responses to yesterday's The evolutionist's false hope. From Jack Guipre:

I enjoyed the points you scored against the "spiritual" evolutionist in today's blog. However, the better point would be to question how one could ever derive an ethic from the process of evolution. The very idea of a natural law for humans is that it is something that is, metaphorically speaking, above us; it judges our behaviour.

Even more promising is the problem of reason itself. Did the principle of non-contradiction evolve out of matter? If that is logically impossible (it is), and the principles of logic existed before humans became aware of them (as they must have in order for scientific theories like evolution and the big bang to even be proposed), where exactly are they? And, how did they come into existence? Is there a non-contradiction atomic particle somewhere? Was there a big bang of logic before the big bang of matter?

It always surprises me to see people who are obviously quite smart have absolutely no idea how ethics works. It's as if they are completely unselfconscious. One wonders how they make any decisions at all. But, of course, they don't, because the experience of making a decision is false. Unscientific people simply don't realize that all their decisions are materially or physically determined.

Silly rabbits. The more one comes in contact with the thinking of secular natural scientists the more one sees why they tend to be attracted to the swirling mysteries of the East with all it's talk of "impermanence", "nothingness",. and "no-self." If there are no true choices, then there must be no self to make them.
And from anoher regular reader:

Mr. Shermer misunderstands what is meant by the claim that morality is "transcendent." What is meant is not a "oh how that's like totally transcendent dude" sense of awe. What is meant is that moral claims can be true or false because of their grounding in facts external to our selves. Look at the following pairs of statements: 1. The earth is round. / The earth is flat. 2. Machu Picchu is beautiful. / Machu Picchu is not beautiful. 3. Abortion is wrong. Abortion is not wrong.

In case 1, the two statements cannot both be true. If you believe the first statement and I believe the second, then at least one of us must be wrong.

In case 2, there really is no question of truth. If you believe the first and I believe the second, there simply is no meaning to talking about who is right and who is wrong. One may speak of which belief is more common, or which is more normal or typical, but not about which one is correct.

In both cases it is possible (in principle) to talk of evolutionary and cultural reasons why someone might believe one thing or the other, but that is beside the point. In case 1, what makes the statements irreconcilable is the fact that the earth really exists indendently of what you or I think, and it really does have some shape or other whether we know it or not. The existence of the earth "transcends" our subjectivity, our consciousness, and our language.

Now there are probably some people who do not accept this, who think that whether the earth is round or flat is purely a matter of opinion, and that believing one is just as good as believing the other. For all practical purposes, these people don't believe the material world really exists. If they really acted as though the material world didn't exist, they would be insane. But most people who profess absurd beliefs like this haven't really thought through the implications, and are just inconsistent, not entirely crazy.

Now look at case 3. Are the two statements there more like the first pair of statements or like the second? In other words, are differences of opinions about morals differences about something that transcends ourselves, and thus have a right or wrong? Or are they purely subjective statements about our feelings, and thus not subject to right and wrong?

Theists hold that moral judgments can be right or wrong, because they are ultimately about something that transcends ourselves. Specifically they are about God's will.

Materialists like Shermer cannot with logical consistency claim that moral judgments can be true or false. They may act as if they were, but they are being inconsistent — which is a good thing, because if they acted consistently with their beliefs they would be sociopaths. Evolution can help explain why in various cultures some people have believed that slavery was right or wrong, that child sacrifice was right or wrong, that abortion was right or wrong. But it cannot explain the fact the some of these judgments were actually correct judgments and some incorrect.


11:00 AM


THEY DON'T GET IT:

I wrote back to thank the two correspondents whose messages I quoted in "Evolutionists false hope" (below), and mentioned that there is a bit of a shooting fish in a barrel quality to taking on evolutionist claims. The second responded:

It sometimes seems so to those of us who have overcome those arguments, but
it really is a very tough argument to overcome with those who haven't yet "gotten it." Those few paragraphs that I tossed off are the fruit of many years of studying and digesting Kant and others philosophers.

The basic arguments have been around for centuries, but the general impression that Christianity is intellectually bankrupt endures. It has to refuted again, and again, and again. That is one reason why I appreciate Touchstone.
I think this is right. The Christian arguments are good, at least, but many people will not give them a hearing because they're . . . the Christian arguments, and everyone knows they're wrong.

But the anti-Christian writers aren't content with this advantage. They try to increase it by associating Christianity with fanaticism and stupidity. I don't know how many times a newspaper or a television or radio show — the electronic media seem to be the worst for this — has had an eloquent, educated, and urbane secularist speak on one side and had a tub-thumping wild-eyed howling fundamentalist give "the Christian response." They may have equal time, as measured by the clock, but the discussion is hardly equal.

Or, a little more subtly, the writers will quote eloquent, educated, and urbane secularists with great social status on the secular or anti-Christian side and someone they seem to have found on the street on the Christian side. The New York Times is good at this. So you have an article quoting the Professor of All Knowledge at Harvard University, which then quotes Mrs. Elma May Wombat of Holyoke, Massachusetts, and Mr. Herman Hermann of East Cow Pie, Iowa.

Mrs. Wombat and Mr. Hermann may be saints and they may be absolutely right, but they will tend to say "It ain't in the Bible," or "Everyone knows that's wrong," which response will not bear comparison with the professor's eloquent, nuanced, and apparently subtle arguments.


10:41 AM


Thursday, May 13

EGALITARIAN MISBEHAVIOR:

A friend responds to yesterday's A memorable woman:

I've also seen the bumper sticker "Well behaved women never make history." Wondering: are they suggesting that men should behave badly, too?
I think they'd say men are already behaving badly, and they would have a point. Not a good answer, but a point.

This slogan suffers from the same problem as the one I described in the blog: it isn't true. Was Marie Curie badly behaved? Was Jane Austen? Was Mother Theresa?


12:38 PM


AN ID JULY

As I think I've mentioned before, the July/August issue will be a theme issue on the Intelligent Design movement, particularly the Darwinist or evolutionist mind. It will include:

— Jonathan Witt examining Darwinism as an aesthetic mistake;
— Edward Sisson on Darwinism as a form of litigation;
— William Dembski on the “Darwinist backlash”;
— a portion from Richard Weikart’s book From Darwin to Hitler, which I'm reworking for our purposes;
— a forum in which the authors and others answer questions like "What differences do the ID and evolutionist philosophies make morally?" and "What would happen if evolutionary theory disappeared overnight?";
— Phillip Johnson’s column;
— a survey review of the many recent books on the subject by Jim Kushiner;
— a page of ID resources;
— a survey of the progress of the ID movement (this one is hoped for but not certain); and
— shorter articles on the subject in the View section.

Those of you who don't subscribe but won't to make sure you get this issue, click here.


12:29 PM


LEWIS ON MEANING:

Just after posting the following, I go this from a friend:

If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning — just as, if there were no light in the universe, and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know that it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.

— C. S. Lewis


12:27 PM


THE EVOLUTIONISTS’ FALSE HOPE:

An interesting interview from the Rocky Mountain News, with the evolutionist philosopher Michael Shermer: Morality seen as a byproduct of evolution. It includes this exchange:

Seebach [the interviewer]: At one point you talk about morality as being a property of the species.
Shermer: The reason I wrote that chapter was to answer the believers’ claim that without God, without an outside source, there’s no transcendence to morality. They ask, are you saying that it’s just purely a cultural thing? And my answer is no. There is a source of transcendence and it’s evolution; these deep-seated moral sentiments were given to us as members of the species by evolution. As a member of the species you get that, it comes with the territory. And so it’s not just a function of our immediate culture.

I consider myself a spiritual person, and I have an awe of nature, a sense of transcendence when I see an eclipse or a Hubble space telescope photograph. These things all generate a sense of transcendence, spirituality, every bit as warm and fuzzy and religious as when I was a religious person. You know I was an evangelical Christian for years and to me Chartres Cathedral is wonderful but so is Machu Picchu or going up to Mount Wilson Observatory and sitting in the chair where Edwin Hubble himself sat and discovered that our galaxy is not the only galaxy.
So: a blind, literally pointless string of complete accidents of which man is a product is “a source of transcendence,” which produces a “spirituality” which is “warm and fuzzy and religious.”

To have any use at all, the word “transcendence” must mean an authoritative word from outside, something greater than you by which you are transcended. I’m afraid I don’t see how the process of evolution can be said to transcend us who are one of its products, any more than the factory assembly line can be said to transcend the car made on it. A process does not in any useful sense transcend its product — unless, that is, the process itself is the creation of an external personal intelligence and can be treated as representing him.

Why, to make the question practical, should Shermer feel a “sense of transcendence” when he sees an eclipse? All that is happening is that an accidental moon of an accidental planet accidentally orbiting round an accidental sun, accidentally passes in front of the sun and blocks out its light for a few minutes. How is his emotional response justified by the accident? What of transcendence does he think is being displayed here?

Does he feel warm and fuzzy and religious when he sees two cars collide on the highway? Of course not, he would say, but why, if accidents give him a sense of transcendence?

* * * * * * * * * * *
My thanks to Phillip Johnson for the link.


12:26 PM


Wednesday, May 12

MEMORABLE WOMEN:

The writer of the letter quoted in the next blog ends his or her letter (her, is my bet) with the line:

Obedient women are never remembered in history.
I first saw this slogan on a t-shirt worn by a woman on a plane a couple of weeks ago. She was a bit too stereotypal: short, stocky, dressed in jeans and the message t-shirt, with one of those short, unstyled, messy haircuts that aren't quite masculine but certainly aren't feminine.

Anyway, I see the point of the slogan from the sloganeers point of view, but would just note that as a matter of historical fact it happens to be untrue. We think of Mary, the Mother of God, for one. And we think of St. Mary Magdalene, who is so well remembered that various new age cranks and feminist ideologues are trying to use her memory for their own ends.

I'm not sure why being remembered is thought to be a worthy goal, but I'll let that pass for the moment. I'd question that "in history" first. How are most of us, men and women, remembered in history? Through our children and their children and their children's children. That is the way historical memory works for 99.9% of the human race: through bodies, through men and women whose genes contain some of yours and whose lives were formed in some way by yours, and by those you formed, and by those they formed, on and on till the end of the line or of time (whichever comes first).

If this is the way almost all of us will be remembered, we kow that obedient women are remembered in history, and if they are obedient to God they will be remembered with honor and praise, in the virtue they passed on — even if those who descend from them do not know their names.

Speaking of t-shirts, my daughter reports that a local store is selling one that says "I hear voices in my head and they don't like you." Well, I thought it was funny.


4:06 PM


A PAGAN'S TRUE HISTORY:

A friend who wrote a review of The DaVinci Code for a small magazine forwarded this response:

You silly person !

You sound like a frightened little christian. Afraid of the truth? Afraid the world will find out that the only abomination is christianity? Afraid to find out that the Goddess is the true God of the this world, and your god is just a fable made up to keep the stupid in line? Paganism is back ! And there is NOTHING you can do about it. The reason why the Da Vinci Code was such a Bestseller and sold millions of copies is because people want to hear the truth. They do not want to hear the lies of the christian church anymore. We want our TRUE history told. Not the lies we have been brainwashed to believe under the threat of isolation, branding, or death. Its over. The New Age is upon us. The Age of Pisces has passed. The Age of Aquarius is here ! There is nothing you can do, but fade into history. The Goddess shall rule for another 40,000 years.

I must admire your fight against the inevitable though. Everyone has a right to fight for their survival. Too bad your fight is against Goddess. You can never win.

May you see the light,
T.Collins (Blessed by the Goddess)

Obedient women are never remembered in history.
Reading this sort of thing is a bit like finding someone wearing a Nehru Jacket or spats or a hoop skirt walking down the street, apparently unselfconsciously. It's hard to believe that they're entirely sincere. I suppose this T. Collins is sincere, and thus a subject for prayer. Reason and evidence would almost certainly be useless.


4:00 PM


KASS ON THE HUMANLY FINE:

Eric Ohlman of Life International, a regular correspondent, writes:

I just started reading Leon Kass' Life, Liberty and the Defense of DIgnity. It's looking well worth the read, if you haven't yet. It looks like a more personal angle (polemic-seeming according to Kass) on some of the material from the President's Council report recently released. From the introduction:

"Nothing humanly fine, let along great, will come out of a society that has crushed the source of human aspiration, the germ of which is to be found in the meaning of the sexually complementary 'two' that seek unity and wholeness, and willingly devote themselves to the well-being of their offspring. Nothing humanly fine, let alone great, will come out of a society that is willing to sacrifice all other goods to keep the present generation alive and intact. Nothing humanly fine, let alone great, will come from the desire to pursue bodily immortality for ourselves."

Kass' book, so far, reminds me of Bill McKibben's Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age. Both will be accused, as both recognize, of writing a "Luddite tract" in Kass's words, but these things need to be said. I wonder, though, who will be persuaded if not already in agreement, and I wonder if the converted will have the power to effect any sort of change in slowing the inexorable (is it?) advancement of the juggernaut of medical and biological "progress."


3:53 PM


BOYS IN THE LOOP:

Kevin Killion writes in response to last Friday's Sommers on Boys:

I'm the father of a boy who has attended a boy-hostile school (as are almost all schools today), and I'm also the director of a local Chicago-area group for education reform. I thought you might be interested in some of the entries in this recap on issues of boys and schools on our group's website: Illinois Loop: Gender Bias

Here are the topical sections on that page:

21 School Practices That May Harm Boys
Progressivist Ed and Boys
Portrayals of Boys and Men
Boys Are Falling Behind
Fewer Boys On Campus
Medicalizing Normal Boy Behavior?
Girls and School
Quotes


3:49 PM


Monday, May 10

LOOKING IN THE MIRROR:

I had been thinking about the subject of today's Breakpoint column, Fallenness on Display, the famous psychological experiment in which students are divided into jailers and prisoners to find out how they respond to power and powerlessness. Predictably enough, to a Christian anyway, those who assigned to be jailers often become as brutal and sadistic as the experiment allows them to be.

One of my high school social studies classes did this. I don't remember which job I was assigned, but I do remember everyone being shocked at what happened to the jailers. The teachers let the experiment go on too far, and some students were emotionally taken apart rather badly -- where sticks and clubs are not allowed, the tongue can still be an effective weapon, especially when used by clever students who know each other's weaknesses. I dimly remember one usually pacific student decking another in frustration because the other wouldn't play by the rules, but I also remember that even the prisoners approved his being decked, such was his personality.

I don't mean to suggest that many of us would have descended to the depths the criminal soldiers did, though as pride goes before a fall, no Christian should be entirely confident in his abilities to resist evil, however repellent is that evil. The pornographic element in the abuse is foreign to most educated, middle class Christians. It isn't, if you will, our style of depravity.

But except for the occasional saint, most educated, middle class Christians might in the same circumstances become abusers anyway. We'd begin by being nice and kind, but we'd also be thinking: the prisoners are the enemy, the bad guys, and besides, they might know something that would save the life of your comrades, only they won't tell us. We'd feel that they should be a little more grateful to us for liberating their country, even if they happened to work for the former dictator. And we'd feel that they really ought to behave in prison.

Add to that kind of mind the corrupting effects of being in power, and Miss Stephanie Goldman-Sachs of suburban Potsofmoney, honor student, devout Christian, animal lover, and American Red Cross volunteer, can after being on prison duty for a little while start slapping prisoners around. Especially when they don't behave. This is the way sin works.

* * * * * * *
The Breakpoint includes links to several useful articles, including one from a recent issue of the New York Times on the experiments.


11:39 AM


BUCHANAN ON HUTCHENS:

Here is an item from our senior editor Thomas Buchanan, responding to an article in the May issue.

Christian Music and Christian Truth

I have heard several comments regarding S. M. Hutchens' latest article in
Touchstone entitled Please Me, O Lord". While most of the comments I have heard have been positive, my hunch is that that says more about my circle of friends than the state of the church.

Steve's article bemoans the sexually charged lyrics used in some churches. Of course, such lyrics are a reflection of our culture. This has long been a powerful tool for twisting the Christian message. In the early fourth century, there was a Christian clergyman famous for his singing. In fact, at the Council of Nicea when asked to explain his theological position, he belted out a pop tune instead. His songs were sung in the popular style of the culture using not traditional church music, but the music used in (very) off-Broadway plays, taverns and by sailors. His biggest hit was "There was a time when the Son was not." If it were not for that curmudgeon Athanasius, we would probably still be singing Arius' songs today.

Athanasius believed that Jesus was not like God in essence (homoiousius), but he was God in essence (homoousius). Arius brought Jesus down to earth, making him more popular. Jesus became our friend, our mediator, our redeemer. Arius saw Jesus as the suffering servant and the Prince of Peace but not Almighty God in the same sense that the Father is. To Arius, Jesus was more God-like than we are, for he is God's Son. But he believed Jesus is less than the Father.

To say (or sing) there was a time when the Word of God was not is to say there was a time when there was no Truth. Unfortunately, the power of music washes over a multitude of theology. Arius and his followers are still with us.


10:48 AM




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