Wednesday, April 19, 2017

on Climate Change

I thought I’d look at the topic of Climate Change through the lens of the problem solving methodology we use where I work.  Whatever you think about Climate Change, you might agree that people tend to first form a conclusion and then look for data to support it…and, of course, explain away or ignore any data that doesn’t support it. Why is that? Politically speaking, if we can definitively tie Climate Change to human activity (CO2 emissions), it’s a perfect opportunity for a power grab—to control a whole lot of human activity. On the other hand, refuting the aforementioned has the opposite effect if one wants to limit government involvement in human activity.

Before a conclusion can be reached for a problem, a hypothesis must be reasoned. Before a hypothesis can be reasoned, relevant data must be gathered & sorted. Before relevant data is sorted, irrelevant data must be weeded out. Before any data is gathered, sorted or weeded, we must know if there is really any problem to begin with. Before we can decide if there is really any problem to begin with, the situation must be made clear. Before a situation can be made clear any ambiguities and over-generalizations must be dealt with.

Beginning at the beginning, we can see that the term “Climate Change” is ambiguous because “change” can mean too many different things to too many different people. I went to a NASA website for clarification on what is changing. I found these:

  • See levels are rising
  • Ice sheets are shrinking
  • Arctic sea ice is declining
  • Glaciers are retreating
  • Snow cover is decreasing
  • Oceans are acidifying
  • Extreme weather events are increasing
  • The Earth and oceans are warming (Global Warming)

Whatta mess! Looking at one thing at a time, we should look at the most serious concern first, which would be the concern with the biggest current and future impact.  I’ll go forward with the premise that Global Warming is the highest priority concern on the list above because it could conceivably be causing most of the other things on the list.

If my superiors at work were to ask our group to look into the Global Warming situation, we would first look at something called “The Should” and also something called “The Actual”. For this case, “The Actual” would be the current average global temperature assuming we can get a reliable measurement. “The Should” would be the Earth’s “normal” average temperature range…the way it should be. What would be the upper limit of that range and what would be the lower limit? I can tell you that a huge difficulty we’d run into right away is defining “The Should”.

But why not just look at the rise in CO2 since that is the presumed main cause of the warming? We could, but we’d invariably be back to the same questions about the Earth’s temperature. What “Should” is good? I work for a large manufacturer of imaging products and we’ll define “The Should” for a product or system based on historical manufacturing records and control limits and/or established industry standards among other things. There are no such standards for the Earth’s average temperature range that I know of, but we can look at history.

Let’s suppose we have about 200 years of accurate global temperature data. My guess is that it is much less than 200 years because of the many years with no satellite temperature data from space, but we’ll go with it. The Earth is about 4.5 billion years old, but I’d say the climate 4.5 billion years ago is irrelevant data for humans living today. Let’s go back an amount of time in which the first mammals were happily living on Earth, breathing clean air and drinking clean water. Mammals go back about 200 million years. Keep in mind that 200 million years is only 4% of the Earth’s lifetime, so it’s a relatively short period of time to look at, but we’ll go with it. 200 years of temperature data in 200 million years would represent .0001% of the time.

To put this in context, the Dow Jones Industrial average (DJIA) has been around for about 120 years. .0001% of 120 years is about 63 minutes. Suppose that something very bad were to happen in the world on the next trading day causing the DJIA to dive 1000 points from 1:00PM to 2:03PM. At 2:04PM, should we conclude a long term financial disaster and an urgent need for more industry regulation? I’d say no.

For even more context, consider that 0001% of ten years is about 5.3 minutes. Suppose you walk into a ten year old home for the very first time with a family inside going about their business and you begin measuring the temperature. You note a warming trend of about 1°C after about 5.3 minutes and announce a domestic warming crisis and begin to regulate the families’ activity. Seems like hysteria to me without more data.

In either the case of the family home or the DJIA, if you were to declare a crisis and an urgent need for regulation you’d likely be on the receiving end of some blank stares.

This does not mean there should be no concern for Global Warming. In my profession I would need to report that there is not enough information to define “The Should”, so we would likely move this issue away from a problem analysis and into a decision analysis. Problem analysis focuses on the question “Why did it happen?” while decision analysis focuses on the question “What should we do?”

A good decision in this arena is above my pay grade. But… before a decision can be reached, options must be reasoned. Before options are reasoned, relevant data must be gathered & sorted for each option. Before relevant data is gathered & sorted for each option, the decision objectives must be clear.  Before objectives can be made clear, we need to clarify the purpose. Before we can clarify the purpose, we need to know what we are trying to do.

Whatever the decision, let’s be aware of two opposing extremes…

#1 Nature Worship
The view that nature is “perfect” just the way it is acts as a kind of secular “dogma”. With this as a base premise, we can see the logic that concludes the following…any unnatural interference or manipulation of nature for the benefit of man is a deprivation of nature’s perfection, and a good definition of evil is just that—a deprivation of perfection.1 Therefore, defending anything in nature against man is intrinsically “good” and promoting man’s industrialization and expansion is intrinsically “evil”.

#2 Nature’s Neglect
Beware of any ideology that says man can and should interfere and manipulate nature anyway we see fit. God wants us to take care of the temporary dwelling place he gave us. “The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the Garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.” (Gen 2:15) So if we are to be good stewards of all the gifts God gives us, including the Earth, should we not be trustworthy stewards?  Of course we should! “Now it is of course required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” (1 Cor 4:2)

  1. St. Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas’s Shorter Summa (Manchester: Sophia Institute Press, 2002), p. 125.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

I Think...Therefore I Do

I’ve been speaking at a few parishes within my home diocese of Joliet, IL about my new book, Faith with Good Reason. During the talks, a general theme has come up which is quite simple in concept, but perhaps sometimes forgotten; it’s the fact that what we think ultimately directs what we do.

Many might be familiar with the tragic philosophy that says, “I think, therefore I am”. This makes the reality of our being dependent upon our thinking; it also bodes very well for a narcissistic society. With this as a base premise, one could see how believing in “yourself” is the most important thing in the universe to believe in. It also explains how bad things can happen in democracies in which the souls of the citizens are ruled by their own desires.

St. Augustine said something that sounds similar, but might as well come from the other side of the universe; “I believe, therefore I speak.”1 Perhaps St. Augustine got this from St. Paul who wrote, “Since, then, we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed, therefore I spoke,’ we too believe and therefore speak” (2 Cor 4:13). Both saints would acknowledge that their ability to proclaim Truth ultimately comes from something outside of themselves…and that something is what we call “God”.

If God is Truth itself, then “I think, therefore I do” may be more accurate words to live by if put in the context of the human soul. Our intellect thinks and our will does. Our will reaches for what our intellect has understood.
Consider the importance of “thinking & doing” in the following non-theological example: 2

  • A World Series bat and ball signed by some famous Chicago Cubs costs $1500.
  • The bat costs $1000 more than the ball.
  • How much does the ball cost?
Let’s go forward with the thinking that says the ball must be $500. Now suppose an individual offers you the same ball for $400 and you think, “Good deal! I can save a hundred bucks!” If you were to pay the $400 you would actually be losing $150 because the ball is only $250!

Breaking the problem down step-by-step, we can see the reality:
                    The bat and ball cost $1500:      Bat + Ball = $1500
  The bat costs $1000 more than the ball:      Bat = Ball + $1000
     We now express the problem like this:      (Ball + $1000) + Ball = $1500
                How much does the ball cost?:      ($250 + $1000) + $250 = $1500

So the ball is $250 and the bat is $1250 for a grand total of $1500. Why is this important? Because what we think directs what we do. If we are thinking wrongly (like thinking the ball is $500), then we will be doing wrongly (like taking a bad deal).
Some of this logic can spill over into the notion of “Love the sinner, but hate the sin”. This is an important idea because we know we can separate an inclination we have from what we do about it. I am a sinner, but it is not necessary that I sin. To internalize this and make it real I need to understand what sin is and why it’s bad for me. If I were an alcoholic it would not be necessary that I drink, but again, to internalize this and make it real I would need to understand what alcohol is and why it’s bad for me. Loving the sinner, but hating the sin also frees us to love our enemies, since we are able to separate the two.

But what if we go forward with the thinking that says…
  1. Who we are is what we do
  2. Our inclinations define who we are
If this is true, then our actions are as integral to who we are as our skin color or our gender. With this mentality it’s easy to see why those who dissent from Catholic teaching in areas of human sexually (the topic of almost all dissent) might hate the phrase “Love the sinner, but hate the sin”.

For example, if some are inclined toward same-sex attraction, that’s who they are—and who they are and what they do cannot be separated, right? In other words, if you are gay, you should be gay. It’s an immutable fact. Go out and start dating; try different things with different partners. See what you like and what you don’t. Be who you are! Furthermore, if anyone hates what you are doing, they must also hate you personally since the two naturally go together. By the way, the exact same thinking can apply to opposite-sex attraction in the context of fornication. Go out and start dating; try different things with different partners. See what you like and what you don’t. Be who you are.

If we are thinking wrongly, then we will be doing wrongly! If God is Truth, then objective Truth should be the object of our intellect, which will in turn direct the will. If love is an act of the will, then to love or discern something we need to know it. The primacy of the intellect is important in order to act and love properly.

“The origin of all deviant practice is deviant thought. The knowing why it is deviant is a function of mind based on a standard of reason. It is the steady ‘knowing why’ that, before anything else, we are missing.” 3

  1. Saint Augustine, Confessions (New York: Barns & Noble Books, 2007), p. 5.
  2. Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011), p. 44.
  3. James V. Schall, S.J., Catholic World Report [Website], “Catholics and the Present Confusion”, (9 January 2017), Site address:

Friday, February 24, 2017

Quote of the Day

What should have primacy in our lives?
  • Secular knowledge or spiritual knowledge?
  • Science or Faith?
  • A magnetic compass or the Moral Compass?
  • Philosophy or Theology?

All are important to be sure, but consider this…
. . . one could live very well without philosophy or without knowing that the earth revolves around the sun. Man cannot live, however, without moral certainties, without being able to form sure judgments about the behavior of others toward him.1

  1. Luigi Giussani, The Religious Sense (London: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997) p. 19.

Monday, February 13, 2017

What's More Romantic Than Geometry?

My high school freshmen son had to write something for Valentine's Day as an assignment for Geometry class. Deserves an "A"...Don't ya think?!?

A Geometric Love Poem...

Without you my life would be like a circle, pointless. My love for you is like the length of a line, endless. Describing my love for you is like when one tries to draw a point in real life, it's impossible. This love has no need to be proven like a theorem; it's like a postulate, with no dispute.

It is as if we are made for each other because we’re congruent in every way. We must have two congruent angles because I see how similar we are everyday.

You and I must have two supplementary angles because when I see you I do a one eighty and head straight for you. Were you fifty degrees today? I thought that you were acute-y as my heart flew.

And so I’m afraid I must interject; how I wish we weren't so parallel and could instead intersect.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Passion, Politics and the Existence of God

Could the current political climate in this country be used as evidence for the existence of God? Could we take the recent Women’s March and the Right to life March, which both happened within a week of each other, and point to something transcendent? How about President Trump’s executive order on immigration and all the subsequent protests happening right now? Is there a path to God in such a mess? I think there is and I’m reminded of portions of a book called Jacobs Ladder: 10 Steps to Truth by Dr. Peter Kreeft and excerpts from my own book called Faith with Good Reason. Whether talking politics or religion it all starts with “passion”.

Of Passion...
There is no doubt that one side of the political aisle can see the passion of the other side. What the opposition is passionate about may be called wrong, misguided or even evil, but the observable effects of their passion remains factual nonetheless. Humans get passionate about things and I think we all know the difference between true passion and just a passing interest. Many are passionate about proper ethics, morals or justice (the Good). Others have their passion in art, literature, music, dance, theater, athleticism or nature (the Beautiful). Still others have a passion for technology, science, math or discovery (the True). Many are willing to commit their entire lives to these kinds of things, even unto death. This is also how we know we are different than animals. Not even our closest animal relatives show evidence for having a true passion for “the Good”, “the Beautiful” and “the True”. But passion alone can ignite anything it touches. It’s like blind power. I’m sure Osama bin Laden had passion for his cause.

Of Truth...
If you are truly passionate about a cause, it’s not a big step to accepting objective truth as something that is real. Holding truths to be self-evident, as the founders of this nation wrote, is different than a personal belief or opinion. If you are truly passionate about a woman’s universal right to choose or a baby’s universal right to live, you will not accept relativistic terms like “it’s just true for me” or “it’s only opinion”. If you are passionate about how much you love or hate President Trump's executive order on immigration, you will not think of it the way you might think of loving or hating chocolate ice cream.

Of Meaning...
Meaning is next. Once we consent to the existence of at least some objective truth, the acceptance of some real meaning or purpose behind it all is not a far leap either. All people desire lasting happiness and the truths that we hold are meant to lead us to happiness. We use our heads and our hearts in the pursuit of that happiness.

Of Love...
So what is the meaning of life, which will bring us lasting happiness? If we are only physical beings, then only physical things are needed to keep us happy. Outward abundance and physical pleasure should satisfy us fully and bring lasting happiness, but they don’t. We seek more; we seek love; and love is not the same as “good feelings”. If it were, we could say that taking drugs, which result in good feelings, is what true love is all about. So what kind of love are we looking for? It’s unconditional, unselfish and sacrificial love. This kind of love involves more than feelings. It requires willing the good of others, so it requires an act of the will or a choice. So love is an act of the will and can bring lasting happiness to everyone and is thus the meaning of life.

Of Laws...
Humans live in organized societies, which are guided according to certain principles, and those principles are reflected in the laws.Good laws would support and be consistent with what is good for human beings and the "Natural Law" of love. Bad laws would undermine love and thus be unnatural. Of course, without God’s Grace and with our own fallen nature the meaning of "love" and “good” are too easily confused. What some call good is actually bad and what some call bad is actually good; up becomes down and down is up.

"The peril is that the human intellect is free to destroy itself"
– G.K. Chesterton

But even with the chaos and muddled-thinking it all points to something…

Of God...
If there is sunlight, there must be a sun. If there is electricity, there must be a generator. If love is from the will and is the meaning of life, there must be a first “willer”. If one has accepted even some objective truth or morals, then there must be a source for it. If there is a natural or moral law that transcends human opinion, there must be a “first cause” for it or a moral law-giver. A loving moral law-giver reasonably implies something with intelligence and “intent” and one would do well to ponder what a curious thing that would be. Nothing in this post definitively proves what Catholic theology would say about God, but to say that the truths we hold as self-evident are only a delusion is wishful thinking for those who wish to avoid the reality of the human condition and its passion.

“Man does not explain himself to himself without the odd suspicion that he is missing something.”

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Proof of the Human Soul?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that the human soul is the innermost aspect of man and the spiritual principle that separates from the body after death. The body then decays and the soul goes to meet God (CCC #363, #997). But is it possible to prove that the human soul exists?

Whenever someone asks for proof of something, especially something immaterial, I sometimes ask if it is possible to prove anything at all. This is not to be flippant; it’s a serious question.

Suppose you were told that last night while you slept your brain was taken by aliens and installed into an alien supercomputer. This supercomputer is now inputting all the correct electrochemical impulses into your brain to precisely simulate the world you are familiar with. You think you are reading a blog post right now, but it is actually the alien computer inputting the data directly into your brain—similar to the concept in the 1999 movie “The Matrix”. This might sound absurd, but you would simply have no way of proving that this artificial reality is false. If all the data you have is only virtual data being continuously streamed into your brain, you would have no outside system to use as a relevant basis of comparison.

For a less fantastic example involving “proof”, consider our criminal justice system. Have you ever been a juror in a criminal trial? I have; it was quite a rigorous exercise in reason with a bunch of perfect strangers—and it went on for two days. Proving someone guilty beyond a reasonable doubt gets rather contentious when all twelve jurors cannot agree on when the threshold for a “reasonable doubt” has been achieved. It seems to me that when people try hard enough, they can always find a doubt that is reasonable…at least to them.

Here’s another case in point; suppose you and I see a cat running across the street. We agree that it was indeed a cat and we go forward with that premise. There is no doubt that we saw a cat; it is an unquestioned fact. We later receive more data that informs us that it was actually a funny looking raccoon. This is not so different from observations used in science. Once something is “proven” is the science settled forever? No; not if more data is found to question the previous thinking. Consider that Isaac Newton and centuries of Aristotelian logic held to the assertion that our universe and past time were infinite. Today many accept the premise that time/space had a starting point or Big Bang.1

There are many such examples about “proof” and I was reminded of these when discussing near-death experiences (NDEs) with someone as evidence for the human soul. Of all the unanswered questions in science, one of the biggest is “What is the biological basis of consciousness?” The hidden assumption in the question is (of course) that there must be a biological basis.

Consciousness can only be a product of a working brain; which is essentially a “meat computer” ultimately controlled by the universal and unchangeable laws of physics and chemistry. Therefore, NDEs must be manufactured in the brain. They are delusions produced by the brain under extreme duress, such as a lack of oxygen or being under the influence of powerful drugs administered during a medical emergency. Agreed?

For the strict materialist the paragraph above might be a satisfying answer, but like the example of the cat vs. raccoon, could there be more data to question the thinking behind NDEs and human consciousness? I believe I found such data in an article written by Fr. Robert Spitzer when I searched the Magis Center for Faith & Reason for NDEs.

Now, it is understandable to think that a priest writing something about NDEs could have a non-scientific and manipulative agenda about the afterlife, but the very opening paragraph shows the concern for scientific objectivity, “I cite the evidence of near-death experiences with some trepidation, because there are many books written on this subject which are not scientific…these nonscientific books have rather manipulative agendas, and some are quite cultic in character.”

The article goes on to summarizes three separate scientific studies on NDEs: The van Lommel et al Study, The Melvin Morse Study of Near-Death Experiences of Children and The Kenneth Ring, et al Study of Near-Death Experiences of the Blind. For me, the most interesting data that challenge the premise about consciousness being only a product of the brain are as follows:

Flat EEGs: People reported clear and lucid consciousness during the time in which there was no electrical activity in the brain cortex and no brain stem function either, evidenced by fixed dilated pupils and absence of the gag reflex. How can lucid conciseness continue when the brain is clinically dead?

Out of Body: People experienced an out-of-body state with sensorial capabilities. Out of body could even mean out of the room where they laid unconscious, going through walls, seeing things and hearing conversations which were later verified to be accurate. How does one experience this without a body, unless their consciousness is somehow “non-physical”?

Blind from Birth: Those blind from birth reported that they could see. If all our memories and knowledge are stored in our brain and our brain never received any visual inputs from our eyes, how does a blind person see during an NDE?

NDEs and Children: Wouldn’t it be foolish to believe a child? Maybe sometimes, but if you’ve spent time with children you know they can be very unbiased and matter-of-fact. Small children do not know what an NDE is and are not motivated by cultural or religious agendas, so how likely are they to purposely report data to help these agendas?

Low Percentage: Not everyone reports an NDE. In the van Lommel study only 18% reported an NDE, but 100% of them suffered a shortage of oxygen, were given morphine-like medications and were victims of severe stress. If an NDE is just a biological reflex of a dying brain, shouldn’t it be closer to 100%? If endorphins were suddenly and unexpectedly released into the brains of 100 people, wouldn’t about 100 of them report “good feelings”?

Do these objective aspects of subjective near-death experiences prove the existence of the human soul and the afterlife? Perhaps not, but beware of willful ignorance and having qualms with an agenda. As in the criminal trail example above, people are good at raising “reasonable doubts” for just about anything. Should consciousness without a physical brain be considered a real possibility? As with the most basic principles of reason, when many clues point in a certain direction, we do well to explore that direction seriously. In the grand scheme of reality these studies are additional data points (and there are many) that concur with the Catholic worldview.

1. Thomas E. Woods, How Catholic Church Built Western Civilization (Washington D.C: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2005), p. 91

Monday, December 19, 2016

Curious & Uplifiting

Perhaps many of us are pleased to hear religious Christmas music in all kinds of public areas and venues this time of year. Many are praising the Lord publicly, but perhaps we see it as a kind of empty praise with multitudes of earthly sinners crying out “Lord, Lord”, so to speak, deserving the response “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I command?” (Luke 6:46)

Hypocrisy notwithstanding, prayerful music accepted in public areas gives me hope for a future Christendom. My oldest son is now a freshman at a rather large public high school where he joined the choir; they had a concert a few months ago and the grand finally was the song "Praise His Holy Name". You should see the lyrics. Here is a sample...

“holy Jesus praise his name
oh hallejuah praise his holy name” (x4)
Read more:  Whispers - Praise His Holy Name Lyrics | MetroLyrics 

No one seemed offended and there was thunderous applause at the end. Remember this is a public school (nowhere near the Bible Belt)! I found it both curious and uplifting to see a secular musical ensemble shamelessly and loudly singing praises to Jesus, and all of it happening in a secular environment. To my knowledge, no one called the ACLU in protest.

Along the same vein, a few years ago that same son of mine was fortunate enough to have participated in the children’s choir for a presentation of the St. Nicholas Cantata written by Benjamin Britten (text by Eric Crozier).

Cantata means "sung" and is derived from the Italian word "cantare”; it’s a vocal composition with an instrumental accompaniment, typically in several movements, often involving a choir. This particular performance involved a full orchestra, adult choir, children’s choir and a tenor. This was not billed as a Christmas or Holiday concert and it was not sponsored by any church or other religious organization. It came from a state college/community music organization preforming in the theater of a private secular liberal arts college.

Here are some of the insightful music lyrics from the part of St. Nicholas; they read like biblical psalms. I don’t know if these are actual quotes from the saint, but I thought I’d share them nonetheless, since they seem as true today as they must have been in his time.

“Poor man! I found him solitary, racked
By doubt: born, bred, doomed to die
In everlasting fear of everlasting death:
The foolish toy of time, the darling of decay—
Hopeless, faithless, defying God.”

“O God! We are all weak sinful, foolish men.
We pray from fear and from necessity at death, in sickness or
private loss. Without the prick of fear our conscience sleeps,
forgetful of Thy Grace.
Help us, O God! to see more clearly.
Tame our stubborn hearts.
Teach us to ask for less and offer more in gratitude to Thee.
Pity our simplicity, for we are truly pitiable in Thy sight.”

If all this wasn’t remarkable enough for a secular event, the audience was encouraged to sing along with the following hymn…and they did so gladly!

“All people that on earth do dwell
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice!
Him serve with fear
His praise forth tell,
come ye before Him and rejoice.

O enter then His gates with praise
Approach with joy His courts unto,
Praise, laud and bless His name always,
For it is seemly so to do.

For why? The Lord our God is good:
His mercy is for ever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood,
And shall from age to age endure. Amen.”

Enjoy the holiday music while it lasts and wherever it comes from; try not to dwell on any hypocrisy you come across along the way...and Merry Christmas from “all of us” at Two Catholic Men and a Blog!
Wise bloggers still seek Him!