Friday, March 23, 2012

What Science Can and Can Not Do

You'll find here at the Ink Desk Sophia Mason's interesting summary of "philosophy versus science", a debate which has been raging at the Ink Desk since Joseph Pearce had the audacity to criticize a joke, something I would never do ("speaking as a comic in all seriousness," as Bobby Bitman used to say).

What I find interesting about this debate is that the defenders of science have the notion that the defenders of philosophy are somehow knocking science.

But science can not be defended without philosophy - for the purpose of science is something only a philosophical activity of the mind can define. "Purpose" is a metaphysical concept. And whether we call "purpose" "teleology" or "final cause", it is a thing beyond the purview of science.

Why this would be is best explained by Fr. Stanley Jaki, PhD Theology and PhD Physics, who points out over and over again in his hundred or more books on the subject that modern science grew and flourished and was empowered when it shed the teleology that Aristotle had burdened it with and confined itself to examining the quantitative aspects of reality - those things that can be counted, measured, demonstrated, and thereby predicted. This great limitation was a great blessing and made science what it is today.

Fr. Jaki writes ...

"That exact science stands or falls with quantitative operations has been noted countless times. After Heinrich Hertz discovered electromagnetic waves he had to admit that he had failed in his real pursuit, namely to find out what electromagnetism really was. ...

"What is true of electromagnetism applies to any other branch of physical theory. Newton's theory of gravitation does not reveal what gravitation is. It merely states that what is called gravitation operates along strictly specifiable quantitative lines, summed up in the idea of a central field of force. One of its implications is the inverse square law of gravitation, another is the times-squared law of the free fall of bodies. They are exact mathematically and therefore provide for exact predictions. ...

"Exact science [is] the study of the quantitative aspects of things in motion. Nothing more and nothing less. This notion of exact science gives competence to scientists whenever they deal with matter, but it does not enlighten them as to what matter is, let alone what scientific study is as an exercise of the intellect. Much less does that notion of science enlighten them about their purpose for doing science, and even less about the fact that they presumably do freely what they do."

This is why Jaki was quick to point out in the Evolution Debate that, "Darwinian theory gives the sole known hope for a scientific account of the great chain of living forms. All other accounts, from vitalism to Intelligent Design, are operating with factors that cannot be measured."

That is why, "those who try to save purpose through science - Newtonian, Einsteinian, Darwinian or non-Darwinian - are barking up the wrong tree ...

"The handling of quantitative relations and features, which is the chief power of exact science, limits it to the quantitative properties of things. Those properties may be likened to a CD disk which is practically infinite in its diameter, because it extends everywhere matter is, but at the same time is enormously thin. Quantitative properties are on the surface of things and of all their constituents, be they atoms or subnuclear particles. ... Anything beneath that surface is profoundly philosophical, where one has to work with analogous concepts that belong to any of the nine categories other than the categories of quantities as listed by Aristotle in his Categories. There he also noted the all important thing that it is through their quantitative magnitudes that things are recognized to exist. Still a set of quantities does not mean existence as such, nor can it mean purpose, not even design taken for a synonym of purpose, let alone free will and moral responsibility.

"Quantitative properties have no role in man's grasping of the fact that he acts for a purpose and that he is craving a lasting purpose. Quantitative properties cannot cope with one's self-awareness, with one's having free will and moral responsibility."

What the study of the quantitative aspects of things has done for us is given us modern technology and the ability to manipulate matter in unimagined ways, and it has given us a system for understanding crucial aspects of reality. The good of science is a great good, but exact science is a tool that does a very specific thing - and because of that, it does it very well.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

On the Road Again (and Again)

Here's just a peek into the blessed life we lead while on the road for the Theater of the Word Incorporated.

February saw us in the wilds of South Dakota, with very appreciative audiences for The Valentine Dialogues and The Call. The ever hospitable Doom family hosted us in Wagner, and Fr. Ranek, the best priest in Alexandria and Emery, hosted us there. Emery is the town where we once almost got in a bar fight - but that's another story, and another tour. We have since avoided the only bar in town and gotten our meals at the Emery Senior Center.

St. Martin's, Emery, South Dakota

March saw us heading East, for a rousing performance of Socrates Meets Jesus in Buffalo, where we met an orthodox Jesuit priest, Father Martin Moleski - one of the six or seven orthodox Jesuits over the age of fifty in America. Fr. Moleski has become the model for our new internet television series, Father Dangerous, featuring a priest who drives fast, solves crimes, punches people, and has a sidekick - Deacon Witless - and a dispatcher - Sr. Bad Habit - who smokes and drinks.

(Above: Fr. Moleski, Actor Gary Wells, Actor Dave Treadway, Actress Maria Romine, Me as Socrates, and our friend and sponsor Paul Friedman.)

Getting to Buffalo was a challenge. To begin with, I had the worst flu I've had in twelve years, we had a flat tire at midnight on the interstate near Mansfield, Ohio, the winds were at 60 mph on our way up, and we had to cancel our first performance because of a blizzard in the Berkshires.

But we made it, the weather broke, and the next night saw us in Rochester, where the local Chestertonians managed to get the word out well, drawing a large and very enthusiastic crowd for Socrates Meets Jesus. Great kindness was shown us by the Horvath family, the Griffens, our friend David Higbee at St. Irenaeus Ministries , and Fr. Mike Mayer, a fellow thespian who worked his way into our hearts by taking us out to eat.

Jeanne Horvath did her best to cure Gary and Maria, my fellow performers, who caught a touch of whatever it was I had. Here they are either participating in Jeanne's vapor treatment or meditating on the principles of Eastern mysticism.

A quick stop to perform Adam and Eve Goes to Marriage Counseling for our friends at St. Eugene's in Yonkers was fun. But by far the highlight of the tour was spending a week in the Diocese of Norwich with Fr. Greg Galvin, vocations director. Fr. Galvin showed us (just by being himself) what a Good Priest can accomplish. Take a normal guy who loves the priesthood and who is eager to bring souls to Jesus and the grace of God shines through him in ways you can't imagine.

(L-R: Maria, Gary, Dave, Me, and Father Greg Galvin at Luigi's, our new favorite restaurant, in Old Saybrook, Connecticut.)

For example, although the Jesuits (the more common heterodox ones) would not allow Holy Hours or talks about Vocations on the campus of the University of Connecticut, where they ran the Catholic Center for 25 years, once they left the campus, Fr. Galvin took over, and now the weekly and very reverent Holy Hours he leads are attended (on Thursday nights no less) by forty to fifty students, who also stay for Mass and fellowship - at a secular public university! Indeed, Fr. Galvin tells me a surprising number of vocations to the priesthood seem to be brewing among the UConn students.

Fr. Galvin worked us hard, with seven shows scheduled in four days. But we loved every minute of it - since this is why God made us.

Another highlight was staying with the Lithuanian Sisters in Putnam, CT. These gals are great. One of them, Sr. Margaret, told us of how she smuggled Catholic literature and Bibles into Lithuania during the Soviet occupation, spied upon and followed by communist agents the whole time. Had she been caught in the act, she would have suffered the fate of many in Lithuania, including Adele Dirsyte, who was imprisoned in Siberia and tortured to the point of madness for daring to encourage others in their faith. Sr. Margaret's cohort, Sr. Mary Paul, told us of her escape from Lithuania under the Nazis and her escape years later from East Germany, barefoot, from the communists.

Compared with that, the flu and a flat tire are nothing. May we continue to evangelize through drama for the sake of and by the help of such wonderful people - and with your prayers and support.

(The cast of Socrates Meets Jesus at our performance in Old Saybrook, CT.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Witty Atheist and his Lessons on Idolatry

The great lyricist of Tin Pan Alley, Yip Harburg , was that odd thing - a witty atheist.

Take, for instance, this little ditty ...

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree;

And only God who makes the tree
Also makes the fools like me.

But only fools like me, you see,
Can make a God, who makes a tree.

More to the point of my recent posts is this one ...

"Speaking of the Common Man," said Lincoln, "God must love him."
And the Common Man, he must love God -- He made so many of Him.

Here the Atheist has more of an insight into the First and Second Commandments than do most believers. For the first two Commandments forbid having "other gods" before the true God and worshipping false gods of our own making - which is called idolatry, and which Scripture calls the source and summit of all evil (Wisdom 14:27).

This relates to a quote from the most recent post on my blog, from the book The Marketing of Evil by David Kupelian ...

No matter what kind of person you are, a form of Christianity has evolved just for you. There’s a politically liberal Christianity and a politically conservative Christianity. There’s an acutely activist Christianity and an utterly apolitical Christianity, a Christianity that holds up a high standard of ethical behavior and service, and a Christianity for which both personal ethics and good works are irrelevant. There’s a raucous, intensely emotional Christianity drenched in high-voltage music, and there’s a quiet, contemplative Christianity. There’s a loving Christianity and a hateful, racist Christianity, a Christianity that honors Jews as God’s chosen people and a Christianity that maligns Jews as Satan’s children.

... which is to say, in Yip Harburg's words, we fools have made "so many of Him", so many gods in our own sick image.

St. Paul tells us (Romans 12:2), "Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind ..."

The problem with the fragmentation of the Church, the splitting apart of the Faith, and the sectarianism of followers who rally around men instead of God, is that this is all an example of conforming to this world rather than being transformed by the renewing of our minds.

More accurately, this is all an example of idolatry.

For once a man breaks away from the Deposit of Faith, as taught and interpreted by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, which is protected from error by the Holy Spirit when teaching formally on matters of Faith and Morals, then, literally all hell breaks loose and the most obvious sign of that is rampant idolatry, man remaking God into man's own selfish and twisted image.

If you want a god who condones torture, you can ignore Catholic moral teaching and make Him.

If you want a god who shuns the poor and degrades the dignity of man, you can ignore Catholic social teaching and make Him.

And apparently, whether you're Catholic or Protestant, if you want a god who is obsessed about sex and who encourages you to "follow your bliss" by following your gonads, you can make Him as well.

St. Paul said it best. "My dear friends, flee from idolatry." (1 Cor. 10:14)

For if Harburg is right and if God is merely a fiction made in the image of man, then I'll join forces with the atheists and burn all the churches. If God is merely our own selfish sinfulness projected onto the heavens, then may God save the heavens! If God is merely our own lusts writ large, then hope is a sick joke and faith a hollow scam, and the last thing I want to do is read these lusts, however large we have written them.

That is why Paul implores us to "be not conformed to this world".

We don't want a god of this world, but a god beyond this world. We don't want a god of this age, but a god of the ages. To paraphrase Chesterton, we don't want a god that is right where we are right, but a god that is right where we are wrong. We don't want to trade the glory of the true God for images of "corruptible man", worshipping "birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things" - which are really images of our beastly selves. (Romans 1:23)

Harburg the Atheist and I, the former atheist, are in agreement: if we are worshipping gods of our own design, we are simply damned fools.

For we are worshipping but ourselves.

As Harburg says ...

No matter how high or great the throne,
What sits on it is the same as your own

The Christopher West of the Protestants

The Christopher West of Protestants appears to be Mark Driscoll, who likewise is obsessed with sex and who likewise sees the beautiful Song of Songs as the sex-drenched "centerfold" of the Bible. See a disturbing article on Driscoll here, entitled The Church of Sex. Be advised: Driscoll is not as coy as West, and uses language and examples that are more graphic and "adult" in content.

A friend emails that it appears "the errors of West have spilled all over Protestant-land". I would say rather that this is a symptom of a broader problem in contemporary culture, described by David Kupelian in the linked article:

No matter what kind of person you are, a form of Christianity has evolved just for you. There’s a politically liberal Christianity and a politically conservative Christianity. There’s an acutely activist Christianity and an utterly apolitical Christianity, a Christianity that holds up a high standard of ethical behavior and service, and a Christianity for which both personal ethics and good works are irrelevant. There’s a raucous, intensely emotional Christianity drenched in high-voltage music, and there’s a quiet, contemplative Christianity. There’s a loving Christianity and a hateful, racist Christianity, a Christianity that honors Jews as God’s chosen people and a Christianity that maligns Jews as Satan’s children.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Tolkien's Catholic Worldview

This is a scene from Tolkien's Catholic Worldview, hosted by Joseph Pearce and featuring Yours Truly as J.R.R. Tolkien and Theater of the Word Actor Al Marsh as C.S. Lewis.

The program was quite well received when it originally aired last spring. I am told it will air again on EWTN Friday, May 4 at 1:00 pm Eastern and Saturday, May 5 at 5:00 am Eastern.

Be sure to watch!

The Catholic Ghetto Explained

Here's a link to an article my friend Kevin Fraser sent me. I have been on the road and have just gotten around to reading it. It's about the media and the Catholic Ghetto. It's quite good. Some highlights ...


The results of such efforts are, in Nicolosi’s words, “predictably amateur,” lacking either professional polish or, as in case of There Be Dragons, the basics of good storytelling. Much the same thing can be [said] of television, where there is little to no Catholic presence in prime time, and where cable television networks, such as EWTN, enjoy minimal viewership among both young Catholics and non-Catholics.


"They want every film to be The Passion [of the Christ] and expect people to walk out of the theater converted,” Iocco told OSV. “But we’ve already had The Passion and the whole world hasn’t converted. Nor are they going to because of a film. That’s not what films do. A film is successful if it gets people to ask a question they might not have asked before.”


To make the budget work, [Nicolosi] went on to explain, they hire people without the experience or the training to do the job — a move that Nicolosi characterizes as “simply crazy. You would never attempt to build a $20 million building and hire an architect who had never built a building. You would never go in for brain surgery and let someone operate on you who’d never performed surgery. But people think they can do that with movies,” she said.


It was for that the reason that John Paul the Great Catholic University opened its doors in 2006. Focusing almost exclusively on communication arts and offering concentrations in fields such as screenwriting, producing, social media evangelization, animation, and gaming, the school is the first of its kind in the world of Catholic higher education.


[My comment: in my opinion, the video projects that John Paul the Great University brags about and puts up on the internet illustrate the point of this article, but not in the way they intend to. They are a good first step, but they are a further example of what this article is about, and what I call the "Catholic Ghetto Mentality".]

Anyway, it's good to see Our Sunday Visitor do an article on this and focus attention on something we need to take seriously.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Unity of Love

It has long been a teaching in the Catholic Faith, as well as something recognizable in natural philosophy, that there is only one Truth. There is not a truth for you and a truth for me; a truth for science and a truth for religion, a truth for Monday and a truth for Tuesday.

But the Church now teaches, with the authority of the Magisterium, according to D. C. Schindler in a brilliant essay on Pope Benedict's papal encyclical Deus Caritas Est, that there is only one love - that eros (passionate and affective love) and agape (disinterested love of neighbor) are really two aspects of the same thing - or really, two faces of the same God.

This cuts right to the heart of our troubled world today.

Schindler notes:

Allan Bloom describes the boredom, the self-protectiveness, the banality, the absence of a sense of mystery and adventure, and the general disenchantment, that characterize a “de-eroticized” world such as that of contemporary America.

Now hold on a minute, I can hear you saying. America is many things but it's certainly not "de-eroticized"! If anything, the erotic runs through every pore of our popular culture and tends to poison marriage and the family.

But this is a mistaken understanding of what eros is.

Eros is not "the erotic" in modern parlance. Eros in the tradition of Plato and others is a love that desires, and anyone who's been in love with anything - either a person or a thing or a vocation - knows that the desire of eros is a desire to possess the good and is at best marginally sexual. Indeed, lust, which is abandonment to sexual desire, is but an itch and the more you habitually scratch it, the more it itches. An itch you scratch has nothing really to do with a person you desire with love.

But the Puritans get this all wrong. Notice how this particular sedevacantist rad-trad condemns our Holy Father for daring to say that eros has value in our lives. He reads "eros" and thinks sex. He thinks Benedict is saying, "Sex and love of neighbor are the same thing!"

And while this misreading of Deus Caritas Est is laughable, it is the same kind of misreading Christopher West, anti-Puritan extraordinaire, falls into. As Paul Stilwell points out, West picks up a sermon by Fr. Cantalamessa on the unity of eros and agape and runs it into the ground. West, who opposes nothing more than Puritanism, like the Puritans, sees sex where he should be seeing love.

(Parenthetically, for those of you new to this, Christopher West and his defenders say that the Easter Candle is a phallic symbol which performs coitus with the baptismal waters at the Easter Vigil Mass - an interpretation that is supported by no theologian or Church Father in history; he claims that we should meditate on the Virgin Mother's voluptuous breasts; and he claims quite bluntly that the "spiritually mature" need not practice custody of the eyes, but may stare at naked ladies at will.)

But back to eros.

Schindler argues that the Holy Father makes a case for the unity of love in that "desire is not truly desire unless it is also generous, and generosity is not truly generous unless it is also filled with desire."

For more on this, see my post on the odd squeamishness about love and about approaching God in prayer that many devout Catholics have, entitled Love and Sex and Keeping your Mouth Shut. There has developed in this world a divorce between eros and agape, making eros into lust and making agape into something shifting and coy that is a condescending philanthropy on the one hand and Marty Haugen / David Haas gay guitar tunes played to distract us from the Eucharist on the other.

But when united, the two aspects of love bear fruit, with the union of this apparent paradox of love held together by the wisdom of the Church and by God's grace. For the Church teaches us that if we have lost our eros, we are not to find it in adultery or fornication or pornography - for these can not really fulfill the fullness of our eros. Likewise, she teaches that if we have lost our agape, we can not find it in empty "service projects" that teens use to mark time in order to get Confirmed (see also Schindler on how "selfless" love is really a very self-centered thing, once it is emasculated of its regard for the other).

This is why it's so important that West and his followers start getting things right - not only to correct the bizarre fruits his teaching is bearing, but also because West is engaging us on a crucially important subject.

Our problem is how to love - and how to love as God does. West seems to have set off on this course, he seems to have begun with the intention of addressing this central problem of our day, but he gets off track when he lets "the body" dominate his "Theology of the Body" or his gonads dominate his approach to eros. As St. Paul says, for some men their gods are their bellies; for others (I would add) their gods are a few inches lower.

For look at how God loves, look at what we are to imitate. Before you ever get to the New Testament, you learn that the God of the Jews LOVED, loved with a love of eros, a love of desire, a jealous love, a love that brooks no nonsense, a love of passion - a Passion that is only fully revealed at Calvary.

As Schindler points out, we can only speak of the desire of God for us by way of analogy, since strictly speaking God is ultimately sufficient in and of Himself and has no need to desire anything. But He shows us throughout Scripture, and throughout out daily lives if we let Him, the most powerful burning love, a love that wants us for Himself and wants us for our own sakes, a love that is everything St. Paul tells us love is in 1 Cor. 13 - and more, for it is indeed (as Christopher West says) the desire of the bridegroom for His beloved in Song of Songs and the desire of the bridegroom for His beloved at the End of Time, as articulated most clearly in the book of Revelations.

It is a love of agape and eros - for love is one; and our nature is to love both for the unselfconscious sake of the other and out of a desire for the other - a desire which is something far more profound than sex could ever be.