Monday, December 15, 2014

J-O-Y to the World

The word “joy” is used often during the holidays. I’ve heard it said that the key to joy in life is to keep the following acronym in its proper order.

Joy  J-O-Y:
Jesus First
Others Second
You Last

It also helps at times to look at things in different ways, from different angles, completely upside-down or backwards.

Joy backwardsY-O-J:

Obedience has a negative connotation of blind submission that conflicts with our pride. We think of obedience as a kind of strangle hold on our freedom, but try thinking of a hug instead.

God’s laws are not meant to take the fun out of life; they are really laws of love and the boundaries are more like an embrace. The Good Shepherd tells us that if we live within these boundaries, He can protect us, guide us and love us; when we go outside of this embrace, He can't promise us these things. When we sin, we refuse God’s embrace in our life and then we wonder why we feel abandoned, depressed, prayers not being heard or answered, etc.....

“If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” (John 15:10-11)

This gives true meaning to Christmas Joy.

Wise men still seek him...and his embrace.
"...the law of the Lord is his joy;
and on his law he meditates day and night."
(Psalm 1:2)


Friday, December 5, 2014

For the Lonely

Some may feel more loneliness than joy during the Holiday Season. Thanksgiving to New Years can be just a series of obstacles to get through for a whole host of reasons. Perhaps the absence of something or someone haunts us like a ghost of Christmas past. The hustle & bustle of the season can also show us how a crowd can be the loneliest place.

For any believer who feels this way, this brief reflection might help…
“Any experience of being left alone, disregarded, forgotten – if it does not isolate the soul and make it retreat inwardly – invites a recognition. Our unimportance to others can combine with a fruitful realization. The more we disappear from the attention of others the more we are watched by God in a different manner.”

Our fallen nature tends to make us dissatisfied with God and what He gives us; always seeking something “other than God” when he has already given us himself. Emmanuel means "God is with us", so we are never truly alone. Theologically, we can say that God is so “with us” that he holds our being continually in existence. If God were to stop thinking about us or to stop loving us, we would lapse into nothingness, but how can one internalize that kind of closeness? Perhaps a mirror can help.

When you stand in front of a mirror, what do you see? You see your image & likeness. If you leave the mirror even for an instant, what happens to your image & likeness? It ceases to exist! You “being” in front of the mirror continually holds your image & likeness in existence. So God is right there, continually holding us and constantly sustaining us as we journey through the holidays or anytime.

“And behold, I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).
Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

DADT Faith

Here is a recent post from The Catholic Thing that fits rather well with the general theme of this blog since we have several posts tagged with both “Reality” and “Professor Ratzinger”.

Burden? Really?
The article is about Cardinal Ratzinger reflecting on some comments made by a nameless colleague of his. The remarks were about being grateful to God that He allows so many unbelievers in “good conscience”. Since many would not be capable of bearing the burden of faith and all its moral obligations, they can still reach salvation going another way, as long as they do it in good conscience.

The comments disturbed the Cardinal and he expressed his dismay in the context of reality. Is no truth better than truth? Should we be grateful for a kind of blindness sent by God for the salvation of souls? In this view, faith is only for the strong. Knowledge would make salvation harder, not easier. The Truth will put you into bondage. Why bother to evangelize? Should we pass this burden on to others? In thinking about WWSD (what would Satan do?), this seems like a very clever and effective strategy for a new anti-evangelization that appeals to human laziness.

I convey this kind of misconception to my Confirmation students by comparing spiritual laws with physical laws. I ask the students if any of them babysit small children. Many respond, “Yes”. I ask if they would let the children play on the roof. They giggle a bit and reply, “No”. I ask, “Why not? The roof is a large open space with many inclines and slants to run up and down on. It would be great fun!”

The students understand the law gravity and how to live in harmony with it; the small children they are responsible for do not. Although small children are perfectly innocent, playing on the roof (even in good conscience) is bad for them and will eventual hurt or even kill them. So, is it best NOT to teach children about the danger of falling? Is learning about gravity only for the “strong”? Does knowledge of physical laws make life harder, like a kind of bondage? Of course not, the more mankind understands physical laws the better our physical life can be.

The same goes for spiritual laws. We are fully alive and most fulfilled when we attune our life and safety around the realities of moral law, natural law and divine law and there is no way to do this if we don’t know what they are. Fornication is a good example to use since most everyone thinks it’s “okay” as long as you “love” each other or perhaps just “lust” each other a whole lot.

The Church teaches that a serious or mortal sin against God’s laws has three conditions (CCC 1857):
  • The object of the sin is of grave matter (sexual sins are always grave since they distort what it means to be made in the image of God).
  • It is committed with full knowledge.
  • It is committed with deliberate consent.
It seems the second point automatically excludes any unchurched non-believer from mortal sin, so shouldn’t we be happy for them? No, we should not. We should be disturbed, as if we saw small children playing on a roof.  The damage being done to their souls will need to be dealt with in this life or the next, just like damage to the body from falling needs to be dealt with, even if one is unaware of the law of gravity.

Is faith a gift from God or a burden? Do we believe it gives rise ultimately to joy, or do we believe what you don’t know won’t hurt you? Do we believe the Truth sets us free or are we living by the “DADT” faith policy? Don’t ask, don’t tell.

Which way?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Evolutionary Magic Wand Does Not Explain the First Cell

Continuing with one more reflection from a book called A Meaningful World; let us now turn our attention to “the cell”.

A few months ago the Two Catholic Men presented the following scenario that related intelligent design and physical size. Imagine you were walking in a forest with a friend when you both stumbled upon a log cabin. You would naturally assume that someone created it (a person or a group of people), even if there was no empirical evidence of a builder other than the cabin itself. Unless you had more evidence, you will NOT presume a specific builder by name, but the assumption of “intelligence” will become a base premise that is non-negotiable.
Now suppose your traveling companion said the cabin is just a result of the random forces of nature, matter and energy coming together over time to form the cabin. To accept your friend’s conclusion would be not only unreasonable, but also irresponsible.
  • Now, just begin to increase the physical size of the cabin. Suppose it was the size of an Egyptian pyramid. You will not presume the builder must specifically be King Tut, but the same impartial assumption about an intellect remains.
  • Now, increase the size of the cabin to the size of planet earth. Reason’s responsibility leads us to the same conclusion about intelligence, although you might drop the part about the source of it being human. Observing the planet earth itself and how it works points to the same assumption. Just because the earth is big and not made by us, why should we conclude it is a product of mindlessness?
This thinking & sizing process can also work in reverse.
  • Suppose you observe a cabin the size of a single cell under a powerful microscope. To your astonishment, you observe not only the ordered structure of the building frame, but also indoor plumbing, electricity, a security system and a fully functioning HVAC system. Any reasonable person might ask, “Who built this?!?”
  • Finally, consider a single living cell with a membrane, centrosome, cytoplasm, Golgi complex, lysosome, mitochondrion, nuclear membrane, nucleolus, nucleus, ribosome, rough ER, smooth ER and vacuole…all much more complex than any cabin. We reach the same conclusion. Intellectual honesty tells us that it’s all beyond what random mindlessness can do for itself.

“We know that even the simplest functioning cell is almost unfathomably complex, containing at least 250 genes and their corresponding proteins, each one extraordinarily difficult to produce randomly and none of which can function apart from the intricate structure of the cell.” (A Meaningful World, p. 201.)
The evolutionary magic wand of natural selection and/or survival of the fittest cannot be used to explain how the first living cell (or cells) came to be. The first cell had no parent(s), no genetic ancestors to evolve from; to say it came about through the random jostling of matter and energy might be a kin to saying a running car could come about through the random jostling of car parts. Whether a living cell or a running car, it’s not just a matter of the right parts being in the right physical location; the parts need to be integrated and interdependent for anything meaningful to happen. There is no reason for an alternator, an alternator belt and a battery to be carefully integrated together unless there was some intention behind it. It’s the same with the parts of a living cell.
The famous Miller-Urey experiment offered an explanation for the origins of life, but hardly a convincing one. The experiment involved passing an electrical current through gaseous methane, ammonia, hydrogen and water (all assumed to be in earth’s early atmosphere). The result was the formation of some carbon-based compounds. I can see at least three problems with this as an explanation.
  • Carbon-based compounds are not living cells.
  • The experiment was not “mindless”. The experiment demonstrates (rather ironically) how a precise set of intelligently designed conditions are necessary to from a “primordial soup”.
  • There is no evidence of a primordial soup and atmosphere ever existing on earth as it did in the Miller-Urey experiment. “For materialists, in order for God not to exist, it was necessary for them to invent the soup.” (A Meaningful World, p. 209.)
The authors of the book also offered an interesting allegory about an intellectual blindness that can be found in regard to the first cell. Imagine you are invited to a science laboratory for a special demonstration. When you arrive you see hundreds of small magnets strewn about the floor and strung together with some wire. A scientist then pulls an electrical switch. Suddenly, the magnets come together to form an elegant shape and the new creation begins to clean-up the laboratory. When the last beaker is cleaned, dried and put way, the host scientist turns off the switch and all the magnets fall lifelessly to the floor. You are absolutely astonished and shout, “That’s amazing!” The scientist replies, “Why? It’s just a bunch of magnets.” A similar attitude might be taken in regard to first cell or cells on earth, “It’s just a bunch of amino acids.”
Such blindness finds its root in the sin of pride and the danger arises when we become more attached to our assumptions and over-generalizations than we are to reality. Our theories then become our idols.
“Our bringing up idolatry here is not a mere metaphorical device; rather it strikes to the very heart of the problem. Idolatry at its deepest is the worship of something that is human-made. In demanding that the universe must conform to human reason, to our theory, to what is simplest and easiest for us to understand, we are refashioning the universe into an idol.” (A Meaningful World, p. 246.)

Shortly after reading A Meaningful World I took note of a popular song on the radio that my kids always want to hear called “A Sky Full of Stars” by Coldplay. I’m often appalled by popular music lyrics or just left unimpressed, but on some occasions I’m touched, and even reminded of “Omnipresence”.

…'cause in a sky full of stars
I think I see you…
Such a heavenly view
You're such a heavenly view

I mentioned to my 12 year old son that the song reminds me of God.
He promptly replied…“Of course.”


Monday, November 3, 2014

What is a Sacrifice?

At the beginning of each new month I review my notes from the previous month’s issue of Magnificat. Each day’s meditation, found after the daily Mass readings, offers some big-time wisdom from some big-time Catholic thinkers from every Christian century. I’m often astounded by how a seemingly difficult topic can be made simple. Here is a case in point about sacrifice triggered by the untainted mind of a child, but noticed and written about by Caryll Houselander.

“A girl of eleven, asked to teach a child of four to ‘make a sacrifice’, taught him to make the Sign of the Cross. Asked why this should be a sacrifice, she answered with supreme wisdom, ‘Because for a little minute he gives all of himself to God.’ For a little minute the child stops jumping and shouting, he stands still, puts his feet together, uses his mind and his hands and his voice for his Sign of the Cross. He is offering himself to give honor to God...”

The Sign of the Cross
  1. Motion to the head (motion to the intellect): Do we truly sacrifice our personal agenda for Truth? Do we sacrifice what we want to be true for what actually IS true? When alone, where do our idle thoughts go? This too reflects our state of mind.
  2. Motion to the heart (motion to the will): Since true love involves an act of the will, do we sacrifice our own will for the will of God? Do we sacrifice our own good for the good of the “other”?
  3. Motion to our left: In scripture, the “left” can symbolize what is undesirable or weak. How well do we offer up our challenges, difficulties and weaknesses to God and His mercy? How often do we frequent the sacrament of reconciliation?
  4. Motion to our right: In scripture the “right” can symbolize what is desirable or strong. Do we offer the gifts we have received back to God? Where and how do we spend our time and our money?
The sign of our faith is the Sign of the Cross and the sign of true sacrifice.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Liquid of Life

Continuing reflections from a brilliant read entitled A Meaningful World by Benjamin Wiker & Jonathan Witt; let’s focus some well-deserved attention onto something taken for granted every day. Many instances of the extraordinary fine-tuning of our universe are outlined in the book, all of which point to purposeful design as opposed to mindless chance, but none of which are more amazing than water.

Someone with an atheistic worldview once told me that the fine-tuning of the universe is no more remarkable than a puddle of water. We can observe that water will perfectly fit the shape of the puddle hole. No one ever asks, “What are the odds of that particular amount of water fitting that particular hole so perfectly?” I responded something to the effect that the puddle is a conditioned reality like any other physical reality. What are the physical conditions needed for the water to fit the hole and why does it need to be that way? Why does anything need to be anyway at all? It relates to the metaphysical question of “Why somethinginstead of nothing?”

Besides being able to fit a puddle hole, water has a litany of amazing properties that no one could ever guess given only water; they are only discovered in the context of water as the liquid of life.

Simplicity: Earth, wind, fire and water are not basic elements as once thought, but water is as simple and plentiful as a compound can be. This simplicity made it easy to recognize the two basic elements of hydrogen and oxygen in a simple 2:1 ratio (H2O), which was an enormous intellectual leap for mankind.
What if our plentiful liquid of life was glycerol (CH2OHCHOHCH2OH)? In terms of learning about the reality of elements which led to the discovery of atoms, water acts almost like a simple ubiquitous tutorial, like learning to read using Dick & Jane instead of Shakespeare.

Freezing and Expanding: Every kid in science class learns that things expand when they get hot and contract as they get cold. Water contracts as it gets colder too, but to a point, that point being about 4°C, then a sudden burst of expansion occurs around 0°C. This makes ice float.

Liquid water must be readily available on the surface of the earth for life to exist. Ice that sinks would not only hinder the biological processes at the bottom of a large body of water, but also accumulate as solid ice under the murky water far from the melting rays of the sun.

Specific Heat: It takes a lot of energy to heat water. Water has the highest specific heat of any liquid except ammonia. 70% of the planet’s surface is water which is a good thing for us since it helps regulate the earth’s temperature.  Think of the hot sand on the beach on a hot day as compared to the cool water. What if water heated just as fast as sand? What would that mean for not only the earth, but for our waterlogged bodies as we generate metabolic heat?!? We all know how it feels if our body temperature goes up just a few degrees.

Latent Heat of Evaporation: It takes a lot of heat to evaporate water and when it does finally does evaporate it takes a lot of heat with it. Water is not only a remarkable cooling liquid for our bodies as sweat, but evaporation in tropical areas carries latent heat to colder climates which is released as it condenses. No other substance could absorb, store, transport and release so much heat.

Latent Heat of Fusion: An unusually high latent heat of fusion means that as water freezes in winter it releases the heat it absorbed the previous spring when it melted. Remember that the next time you complain a lake is freezing over. It would be even colder if water did not have this additional temperature stabilizing property.

A Powerful Solvent: Water is a powerful solvent that is also not highly reactive like other solvents; it releases minerals from rocks without attacking biological entities and is also a great circulator of its precious cargo, being that it remains a flowing liquid at the just the right temperatures. The expanding trick of water as it freezes opens the cracks and crevasses of rocks, releasing even more life giving minerals.

High Surface Tension: Surpassed only by liquid mercury, the surface tension of water is curiously high. Water can rise to great heights and if trees and other large vegetation could be thankful, I’m sure they would be, since no extra effort is needed to pull the water up. There would be no large vegetation on earth if not for this property, and what would that do to the planet’s ecosystem?  Additionally, clingy water will not just soak through to deep soil and underground streams. It grips to particles near the surface long enough for roots to soak it up.

Another Convenient Coincidence: The liquid of life just happens to exits in all three phases (solid, liquid, gas) within the same biological temperature range that carbon based life can occur.

Water is remarkably fine-tuned for life. One must accept the premise that all its properties are either a mindless coincidence or designed for a purpose; the purpose of life. Impartial reasoning accepts the principle that things which appear intelligently designed…are in fact intelligently designed. Things do not magically design themselves no matter how much we would like them to. A quote in the book by agnostic physicist Fred Hoyle points to how some are rediscovering this intellectual honesty.

“A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super intellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as the chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.”
– Fred Hoyle



Thursday, October 9, 2014

Homosexuality, Evolution & Deviation

The last post on this blog mentioned an evolutionary “magic wand” used to explain just about anything humans do. Survival of the fittest can illuminate everything about the human condition if one tries hard enough.

An example of moral consciousness was used. Survival of the fittest seems to explain human selfishness well enough, but what about the sense of guilt we feel when we fail to help another. How can Darwinism explain a strong desire to help others or the feeling of guilt if we fail to be charitable? The answer I was given was that since humans live in communities, we evolved an instinct to take care of others in our tribe which increases the chance of our own survival. Seems natural selection conveniently explains both selfishness and self-giving in one fell swoop.
In yet another discussion on another not-so-catholic-friendly forum, the topic of homosexuality came up in terms of evolution. The conversation was sparked by me comparing homosexuality to a “deviation”. This was not a moral dialog about good vs. evil or right vs. wrong, but about facts vs. design. I work with teams of engineers and technicians and whenever a product/system concern comes up we ask a question; “Is there a deviation?” We understand the design and its natural process variation; therefore we understand when an observed variation is normal or abnormal to the design. If abnormal, we call it a deviation or non-conformance or just “a problem”.
If we observe the design of the human body in terms of sexuality and then we note the facts about homosexual sex (without going into too much detail), we can say that it is abnormal to the design or a “deviation”. It would not matter if one believes we were designed by almighty God or by almighty evolution. Homosexual sex is deviant to the design, just like any number of sexual acts that won’t be listed here (see CCC paragraph 2357). The same goes for infertility or impotency. They too can be called deviations or non-conformities without any discussion about morality or the intrinsic value of the person involved.

As you might imagine this was met with disdain. Suddenly people became “spiritual” about human sexuality, saying that we cannot reduce ourselves to a mere physical design like some kind of biological machine. We are sexual beings, and who is anybody to say what is “normal” or “abnormal”. There are only opinions; facts are unrelated or can be explained away, unless of course, the facts support a certain agenda.

Leaving observable facts & observable design aside, how can evolution explain homosexuality in terms of a species surviving and reproducing? I was given a clear answer. Having a certain homosexual percentage in the population prevents overbreeding, and thus helps the species as a whole. So there you have it and it’s certainly difficult to argue with such a firm wave of the evolutionary magic wand, not to mention the magic wand of sexual relativism.
All clear now?