Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Dark Side of Dolphins

Atheistic environmentalism seems to perpetuate the view that nature is perfect just the way it is. It 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. Therefore, defending anything in nature against man is intrinsically “good” and promoting man’s industrialization and expansion is intrinsically “evil”.

From a Catholic perspective, we live in a fallen world. The harmony and order of creation has become disordered because of Original Sin. I have always felt that evils like natural disasters, disease and even some of the brutality of animals are the result of Original Sin. Paragraph 400 in the Catechism says “Harmony with creation is broken: visible creation has become alien and hostile to man. Because of man, creation is now subject ‘to its bondage to decay’” Scripture also gives us a hint, “…that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;” (Rom 8:21-22). In the Catholic view, the evil found in nature mirrors the evil in the human heart.1

Another atheistic, and perhaps environmentalist “dogma” is that people are merely smart animals. Observed differences between people and animals are only a matter of “spectrum”, meaning that any human behavior can be found in the animal kingdom, albeit from a lower end of the evolutionary scale. I have yet to hear a good Darwinistic reason as to why humans wear cloths (even in the hottest climates), appreciate the arts, and have a longing to worship something greater than themselves, but I digress.

With humans fundamentally the same as animals as a base premise, we can see the logic that concludes the following…any basic right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness granted to people should apply to animals too (intelligent animals at the very least). Also, if we truly want to learn more about ourselves and understand what it means to be fully human, why bother studying philosophy, theology or Church teaching? We must study animals; especially intelligent animals that have never been corrupted by things like "religion".

Consider dolphins. We all know how cute, smart and playful dolphins are. Maybe we’ve seen or heard of shows like “Flipper” and movies like “Dolphin Tale” or the kind of endearing antics dolphins do at SeaWorld and other marine animal shows. Dolphins are undeniably and absolutely wonderful, are they not? I thought this too until I saw a documentary about the dark side of dolphins. Aside from some violent attacks on humans, I was quite surprised to learn that male dolphins have a kind of “rape culture”.

Here is a clip (consider it PG-13):

These highly evolved and intelligent mammals will sexually assault not only adult females, but under aged males and females as well. There also seems to be a lot of kidnapping going on. Groups of males will work together to keep a harem of females captive. The video called them “sex pirates”!! They also showed a team of two males trapping one female for themselves. They take turns guarding and raping the female while the other hunts for food.

What does this have to do with us? Thinking means connecting things and what we think leads to what we do. If nature is perfect just as it is, and animals are part of nature, and humans are merely smart animals, how can we present ethics in any coherent way? Can dolphins be immoral? Do dolphins have rights? If yes, could we not argue for a moral obligation to protect the innocent animals and punish or rehabilitate the guilty ones? If intelligent animals have no moral culpability, how do we separate the dark side of dolphins from the dark side of humans…and what makes it “dark” to begin with? After all, boys will be boys.

Remember that defining our idea of “right” vs. “wrong” depends on the beliefs we hold, and since we all believe things we can’t prove, it’s essential to drill down to the base premises for those beliefs to clarify exactly what they mean and where they come from. We seem to be forgetting that ideas have consequences.

1. Fr. Greg Shaffer, CW Catholic Q&A [Website], “Natural disasters - from God or because of us?” (15 October 2010), Site address:

Monday, August 15, 2016

4 Big Bangs?

I’m currently reading a series of e-books by Robert Kurland, physicist and blogger at Reflections of a Catholic Scientist. The latest installment, Science Verses the Church, starts with “ways of knowing” and the limits of science, and continues on with a brief history of the Church and science and then into topics of cosmology, anthropology, evolution and much more. Each topic is presented with a plethora of perspectives from differing scientist, including the author himself, and it’s all related back to the perspective of the Church.

As is often the case, reading good books can trigger insights and connections to other related items I’ve come across in the past. Case in point is this video about 4 Big Bangs and the existence God.

Bang 1:  The Cosmological Big Bang:
This is the one you might be most familiar with. Both believers and non-believers might gladly agree that the universe began some 13.7 billion years ago and that every effect must have a cause, so if there was a Big-Bang there must also have been some sort of “Big-Banger.” In other words, something outside of the known universe that was a necessary condition for the existence of the known universe. It might even be called a “creation event”. Does this prove the existence of God? I think not, but I do think it is relevant data to include in any discussion about a reality that is unconditioned by time, space, matter and energy…and what a curious thing that would be.

In his book, Robert cautions that even if the physical universe is infinite, it does not contradict Catholic teaching. “If we believe God is the author of all, a First Cause, then He can create an infinity of universes, as in the bubble universe hypothesis of Linde or in the parallel worlds given by some interpretations of quantum theory. Economy of effort is not required of God.”1

Bang 2:  The Abiogenesis Big Bang:
How did dead stuff become living stuff? No one really knows. Robert was clear about this in his book. “There are a variety of theories—one might better call them speculation—but until a model is produced that can be empirically verified, it will remain a mystery.”2

An evolutionary process of natural selection and/or survival of the fittest cannot be used to explain how the first living thing came to be. The very first cell (or proto 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 computer could come about through the random jostling of electricity and electronic parts. Whether a living cell or a computer, it’s not just a matter of the right parts being in the right physical location; the parts need to be both integrated and interdependent for anything meaningful to happen. There is no reason for a keyboard, a mouse and a screen to be carefully integrated together with software and electricity unless there was some intention behind it. Could we not say the same for the parts of a living cell?

Bang 3: The Biological Big Bang:
This is about the huge diversity of life on earth and why are there such big differences between bacteria, plants, animals and humans. An atheist might say “Evolution did it!” just as quickly and mindlessly as a Deist might say, “God did it!” Neither answer is intellectually satisfying by itself, but we can still draw some inferences from the facts.

For example, the human brain appeared on the scene in a geological instant and it seems to be evolutionary excess in terms of only needing to survive and reproduce. Bacteria, trees and chimps survive just fine on this planet. There is no need for a life form to be so much more intelligent than them, let alone a species capable of producing individuals like Newton, Einstein and Shakespeare. So what’s the real reason? Is it an intentional purpose or no purposeful reason at all?

Bang 4: The Anthropological Big Bang
Beyond being able to manipulate their environment better than any other living thing, humans are self-reflective, have free will and like to ask “why”. Besides the aforementioned, The Anthropological Big Bang is about man’s moral and aesthetic sense about the Good, the Beautiful and the True. Can all these traits be explained by merely seeking biological opportunities, or by avoiding biological dangers?

Chapter 7 of Science versus the Church is called “Who Has a Soul?” and covers the relation between soul, mind and consciousness. Perhaps one way to define having a soul might be the capacity to wonder where we came from, what will happen when we die, who or what made everything and why. Some philosophers take the materialist position that the soul is merely the brain, and the brain is just a “meat computer”.

The author takes the view of philosophers who believe that consciousness is a phenomenon that can never be fully understood scientifically because our understanding is limited by our own consciousness. There are things we cannot experience or “know” in terms of consciousness. If we cannot know it, how do we study it? If we’re born blind, we can never know what seeing color is really like, even if we know all there is to know about the physical aspects of light reflecting off matter and the physical process it would take to see it. An even better example is from an article by Thomas Nagel called “What’s it like to be a bat”. Unless you are actually a bat, you can never have the same experience as a bat using echolocation no matter how much you study sound waves as a human.3

According to the video linked above, none of these 4 Big Bangs show evidence of gradual development over time. That’s why they’re called “Big Bangs”. Since evolution does not explain them in terms of survival of the fittest with slow changes over time, what can we say about them with intellectual honesty? It doesn’t seem like a far stretch to say there must be something beyond "the physical" which caused "the physical" and that there is a purposeful design behind it. Even with no absolute empirical proof and no faith, this becomes a reasonable and responsible position to hold given all the data from all 4 Big Bangs.

Simply put, the end result is more than mindlessness can do for itself.

1. Robert J. Kurland, Top Down to Jesus Book 3, Science verses the Church (Robert J. Kurland, 2016), e-book, PDF pg. 61.
2. Kurland, Top Down to Jesus Book 3, Science verses the Church, PDF pg. 80.
3. Kurland, Top Down to Jesus Book 3, Science verses the Church, PDF pg. 105.