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.