22 May 2009

Three new books on the Blessed Mother

If you have any interest in learning more about the Blessed Mother, I highly recommend the recently published triology written by Catholic blogger-extraordinaire, Mark Shea.

I've not read the books, but I've been reading Mark's blog for about five years now, and I've read his voluminous output at Inside Catholic. He is by far the most articulate and fair-minded Catholic apologist writing today. Like me, Mark is a convert, and this gives him a perspective on all things Catholics that cradle-Catholics cannot match.

Mark is particularly good when he is explaining and defending Catholic teachings against fundamentalist Protestant attacks on the Church's alleged "unscriptural" approach to the faith.

Check them out and let me know what you think! Oh, and let Mark know as well. . .he's a bit shy about praise, so let's give him some practice in humility. :-)

Science, theology: no competition for truth?

Here's a tiny bit of payoff for the Book Benefactors who have helped me purchase books necessary for my studies. . .

As part of my on-going education in the field of philosophy of science, I attended two lectures yesterday--one in Italian, one in English--that reinforced a basic point of the discussion between scientists and believers:

The Christian debate is not with science or reason but with materialism; that is, our philosophical struggle is with the notion that the universe is simply material and that there is nothing about this material world that needs divinity, transcendence, ethical imperatives, or spiritual understanding.

The Christian faith is perfectly happy in the scientific world and the world of enlightening reason. The attempt by materialists to co-op reason for their exclusive use is illegitimate. There is a legitimate debate between science and theology as academic disciplines, but both use reason as an investigative tool.

Proper to their role as researchers into the material workings of the universe, scientists limit themselves to making claims that are demonstrable in the lab or with mathematics. When scientists overstep their proper roles and use their unique methods to make claims about the divine and how the divine interacts with the universe, they engage in pseudo-theology.

Proper to their roles as researchers into the spiritual workings of creation and God's Self-revelation, Catholic theologians limit themselves to making claims that are consistent with God's Self-revelation as understood and developed by the living Body of Christ, the Church. When Catholic theologians overstep their proper roles and use their unique methods to make claims about the how the material universe works, they engage in pseudo-science.

With reason as the common method between the two fields and each limiting themselves to the methods and conclusions proper to their goals, there is no reason why scientists and theologians have to be in competition.

That's the most common way of dividing up the work of science and theology.

A problem arises, however, when we think for a moment about this arrangement of exclusive spheres of investigation. Though it is certainly the case that scientists deal almost exclusively with the material fact and theologians with spiritual implications of faith, both scientists and theologians legitimately work outside their well-founded fields. Scientists often find themselves working with concepts and theories that go well beyond factual description (multi-dimensional universes). Theologians must admit that the spiritual implications of God's Self-revelation demand an adherence to a certain set of established material facts (laws of physics). Neither group deals only with the raw materials proper to their field. Scientists do more than measure. Theologians do more than pray.

Is there a way to understand the fundamental human need to explain the material universe and to make spiritual sense of it? What's common to both scientists and theologians is the pursuit of the truth, a consistent description of reality that accounts for all known phenomena and matches the really Real. Basic to this pursuit is the idea that though all facts are true but not all truths are factual. From the Catholic perspective there is no contradiction between the truths of faith and the truths of science because truth has a single source: God. From the scientific perspective this is controversial precisely because the notion of a transcendent Being called God is not verifiable (or falsifiable) as a fact of the material universe. Believers cannot fault scientists for asserting the non-existence of God given the limits of scientific inquiry. They are simply being consistent and honest investigators.

And yet, scientists frequently find themselves speculating on the existence of unobservable objects in order to make their theories about the material universe work, for example, quarks. Are quarks real? That is, do quarks really exist as a part of the material universe? Or, are they simply "theoretical objects" necessary to the consistency and intelligibility of a particular theory about how the universe operates?

Can we ask a similar question of theologians? Is God real? Or, is God a "theoretical object" necessary to the consistency and intelligibility of a particular theory about how human beings achieve and maintain spiritual/ethical enlightenment? The idea that theoretical objects are really real is called "realism." The idea that theoretical objects are simply postulated necessities in a theory is called "anti-realism." The most basic way of understanding this difference is to ask this question: is "reality" mind-independent or mind-dependent? This is a question about the degree to which the human mind's investigation into the real impinges on the real. Are we describing the world as it really is, or are we describing theories about how we see the world?*

Does it matter to scientists and theologians whether or not the objects of their respective investigations are real, i.e. really existing separate from theories about them? I believe that the answer to this question is: Yes, it matters a great deal!

And to expand on this answer I would propose that both scientists and theologians would benefit from a epistemological approach to truth called "critical realism."

And the rest is my license thesis. . .

*I should note here that anti-realists do not deny the existence of the material world. They do not argue that we are living in an illusion. They simply deny that the unobservable objects of our theories really exist. There are several versions of both realism and anti-realism, but my claim about anti-realism generally is a fair description.

19 May 2009

Once again. . .Coffee Bowl Browsing!

Dan Brown's One World Religion agenda

The painter of Obama-as-Christ gets it wrong. . .again

Everything you always wanted to know about apokatastasis

I've outlived Gerard Manley Hopkins. . .and you?

Dorothy's house is assimilated by the Borg

Pope John XXIII being funny. . .and speaking the Truth

Yea, I need a new laptop, but I don't need this one!

Fill it with a good bourbon and you've got a deal

Lots of good anti-religious quotes. . .most of which are true

Multi-tasking in a non-insectoid world

Classic philosophy texts podcast for your mental exercise

A multimedia presentation of Dante's The Divine Comedy

The games played in Alice of Wonderful

Why are there no Obama jokes? "The distrust of wit is the beginning of tyranny." --E. Abbey
A free on-line library. . .a million links to just about everything
DON"T FORGET! Join my minions. . .errrmmm. . .I mean, Followers! (Right side bar)

Verdict: guilty!

6th Week of Easter (T): Acts 16.22-34; John 16.5-11
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

Christianity is the “one great curse, the one great inmost corruption...the one immortal blemish of mankind” (Hovey 3). Thus spake Friedrich Nietzsche, the prophet of the anti-Christ. The British theologian, Craig Hovey, notes that Nietzsche “loathed Christianity, especially Christian morality. He thought Christians were irrational, self-deceived, repressed, and arrogant; he took Christian morality to be pettily reactionary and positively fatal to life…”(3). Will the prosecutor of the Church in his closing argument before the judge of the world rest his case and demand a guilty verdict? Do we stand convicted by the evidence of human history—the thoughts, words, and deeds of our own hearts and minds? Are we guilty? We can point to the hospitals and orphanages we have built. Our prosecutor can point to the injuries we have caused and the orphans we have made. We can point to the spread of the Gospel in the New World, the souls we brought to Christ. Our prosecutor can show the jury our destruction of whole cultures in the pursuit of gold and slaves, all the souls we lost to our greed. We can point to our tireless efforts to relieve poverty, hunger, and suffering. Our prosecutor can bring evidence of the poverty, hunger, and suffering we have caused. Are we guilty? Before the judge of the world and a jury of our peers, how do we plea? What is our defense?

If Nietzsche were to serve as our defense attorney, he might argue that though we have certainly committed the crimes the prosecution charges us with, but that we should be found not-guilty by reason of insanity. If indeed the Church is cursed, if we are an “immortal blemish” as he claims, the slaves of a herd mentality, following our basest instincts and primitive impulses, then we are irrational, self-deceived, little more than animals doing what animals do. He could simply repeat our crimes and ask, “What sane Church would do these things?” Would the judge and jury buy this plea? Would they look at us with contempt but nonetheless find us not-guilty?

Before the bench of the judge of this world, we have an Advocate, an intercessor, one who pleas on our behalf. Nietzsche would argue our insanity and ask that we be found not guilty because of it; our true Advocate knows we are guilty and makes no excuses. Our true Advocate knows our crimes better than we do because he became those very crimes for us. He can do more than merely show evidence of our sins, he can give personal testimony to them. He became sin for us, so that sin might be put to death and we might have eternal life. He knows we are guilty and loves us anyway. He loves us all the way to his cross, and he is with us as we approach ours.

Is the Church “irrational, self-deceived, repressed, and arrogant”? Are we “pettily reactionary and positively fatal to life”? Yes, we can be. This is not who we are fundamentally. But we are certainly capable of truthfully pleading guilty to the charges. At our worst, we are worse than the unbelievers and those who would persecute us. At our best, we are Christ for the world. The Good News is that we never again have to be anything or anyone less than Christ. Never again are we compelled by irrational instinct or inordinate passion or selfish greed to commit a single sin, not one crime against God, our world, or one another. We are free. Free from all that would acquit us on the grounds of insanity; free from all that would excuse our crimes as animalistic and primitive. We are free to love, to show mercy, to build tighter and tighter bonds of friendship. We are free because we have been freed by the mercy of the One Who sits in judgment.

Hovey, Craig. Nietzsche and Theology. T&T Clark, 2008.

18 May 2009

VERY close call

I'm very clumsy.

Turning from the sink last night I rammed my hip into my desk, spilling a bottle of water onto my closed laptop.

Drained the water. Wiped the mess up. And tried to power up the 'puter.


Setting it on its edge to drain the water, I started praying that there would be no permanent damage.

Overnight, I directed my small desktop fan on the keyboard in the hope of drying any remaining water.

This morning. . .with a prayer. . .I pushed the power button. All the little green lights flashed and she booted up! So far, there's no evidence of damage.

Deo gratis! Let's pray, please, that it stays that way. . .

17 May 2009

Caricature of a U.S. President

B.O.'s Notre Dame speech was pretty boring. The best parts were quotes from far better orators/writers.

I thought there was one particularly hilarious paragraph:

"Understand - I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. No matter how much we may want to fudge it - indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory - the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature. Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words."

OK. . .this from a guy whose Department of Homeland Security issues a report labeling pro-life activists "domestic terrorists"! Here's a suggestion: show us how serious you are, B.O.: fire Napolitano. She should be fired for incompetence anyway, but now that you've decided that caricaturing pro-life supporters is something we should never do--fire her for violating policy. Let's watch to see if he tells the abortion-pushers to stop demonizing the pro-life movement in the future.

And, of course, the leftist appeal to be "open-minded" is really just a case of special pleading to agree with them. Since, by their own definition, they are paragons of open-mindedness, it's the rest of us rubes who must be closed-minded.

And I will never again open my heart or my mind to the idea that killing a child is a Good Thing.

P.S. Someone asked me recently if there is anything B.O. could say that I wouldn't find offensive. I said, "Sure! He could say, 'It is with great sadness that I resign the Office of the Presidency of the United States, effective immediately.'"