Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter!

On this greatest of holidays, Nathaniel Peters has an essay on Pope Francis' beautiful reflection on grace and pelagianism.


One of the greatest theological diseases we find in contemporary Catholicism is pelagianism, the notion that we’re all basically good people whose moral improvement and salvation is the result of our good actions. In this mindset, God’s grace becomes less consequential because it’s less necessary. At its heart, Christianity is about doing good things.

Throughout history, great theologians have combated pelagianism: Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and, in our own time, Hans Urs von Balthasar and Benedict XVI. They have reminded us that, at its heart, Christianity is a love story in which God seeks us out and draws us closer to himself. The first move belongs to God, and any real good we do is a gift from him, enshrouded with his own love. In this understanding, God’s grace has the primacy and priority. 
In his homily for the Chrism Mass yesterday, Pope Francis underscored this, calling out implicit pelagianism by name: 
It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord: self-help courses can be useful in life, but to live by going from one course to another, from one method to another, leads us to become pelagians and to minimize the power of grace, which comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all.
As we hear God’s call to evangelize and serve, we do so mindful that we are responding to a gift received. We are no longer our own, and we no longer operate by our own powers. But the more we respond, by grace, to the grace that we have been given, the more grace grows in us, making us more and more alive.

As we seek the Lord and His grace, Francis reminds us that our encounter with Him is a gift, freely given to us and unearned by us. Our good works are not what earn us grace. They are grace, working in us.

His gift to us was earned, but not by us.

Happy Easter to all. 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Top Ten Reasons Hillary Must Be the Next President

From Jazz Shaw:

The Top Ten Reasons Hillary Must Be the Next President 
10.) Worked herself to exhaustion at State Department and clearly deserves a job where she can do nothing. 
9.) Will play golf from the red tees, so Boehner won’t even have to pretend to talk to her. 
8.) Not only shoots skeet, but according to Bill, has multiple recipes for cooking them. 
7.) Chelsea not yet old enough to run. 
6.) Guaranteed to double current office holder’s bowling score. 
5.) Will reduce annual budget by never ordering pizza deliveries to West Wing. 
4.) Proven tarmac dodging skills. ‘Nuff said. 
3.) Will pick Biden for running mate again, just to see the look on his face. 
2.) Nobody thought she’d reach the 500,000 frequent flyer miles threshold on the State Dept. rewards plan, but we’re locked in now. 
1.) A quick survey has revealed that Hillary Clinton is actually the last woman left in the country. If we don’t do it now…

Friday, March 29, 2013

Isaiah 53:5

But he was wounded for our transgressions; 
he was crushed for our iniquities; 
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, 
and with his stripes we are healed.

Jerry Coyne and a really stupid pro-abortion argument

Hey, "really stupid pro-abortion arguments" is a big topic, but Jerry Coyne helps us focus and get down to business.

Is abortion immoral? Try deciding that one objectively! But if we first construct the subjective dictum that “It is all right to abort a fetus before birth if that is the mother’s preference” (my own view of the situation), then we can say that abortion is moral. My view rests on the fact that fetuses are not sentient, and therefore have fewer “rights” (indeed, if they have any) than does the mother.

So non-sentience nullifies the right to life?


Imaginary discussion between Jerry and me:

Me: Sleeping people are non-sentient. It is ok to kill them, while they are sleeping?

Jerry: Of course not. That's horrible. It's not ok to kill a sleeping person, because he will become sentient, when he wakes up.

Me: A fetus will become sentient, when he grows up.

Jerry: But a sleeping person was sentient before they were asleep, unlike a fetus. 

Me: A corpse was sentient before it became non-sentient. Are you arguing that killing a sleeping person is morally like killing a corpse?

Jerry: No. A sleeping person is not like a corpse. A sleeping person is only transiently non-sentient. He was sentient before and will be sentient after he went to sleep. That's why you can't kill him.

Me: So you are arguing that only past and future sentience, but not sentience now, confers the right to life. So sentience at the time of decision to kill is the only sentience that is irrelevant to the decision?

Sentience is such an odd criterion for the right to life.

Jerry: Egnor you are a scumbag-Christo-fascist-fundie-IDiot-woman-hating-*^##***!!!...


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Happy Holy Thursday!

The sexual revolution, in a graph

We've recently had a little tussle on this blog about PZ Myers' dishonest use of a graph of teen births in order to misrepresent the catastrophic consequences of the sexual revolution in America.

Here's a graph that the sexual revolutionaries don't show, and it tells the truth about the revolution:

Please read the article at the link. It's a superb detailed discussion of the enormous benefits that marriage confers to children, and the social and personal catastrophe of unwed childbearing.

Of course, not all of the horrendous rise in unwed childbirth is the consequence of the sexual revolution of the 60's and 70's, but much obviously is. Other factors include the explosion of welfare, "no fault" divorce, the growing ability of women to support themselves in the workforce, and the cultural devaluation of marriage.

Christian teaching has remained the same for 2000 years: sex only in marriage. It remains the best advice on the topic, and if followed, it would alleviate a massive amount of suffering.

The sexual revolution, and many societal changes that accompanied it, was an astonishing catastrophe.

Mary Eberstady observes:
The Sexual Revolution’s Predictable Results
 [There is a] unique intellectual denial that surrounds the sexual revolution. Everyone can now agree, thanks to many years of research, that smoking is bad for people; that too much food is bad for people; that alcohol in excess is bad for people; and that other behaviors need to be disciplined because science has convinced us they cause harm.
Yet the harms of the sexual revolution are also measurable — and prodigious. Fatherless homes, for example, are expensive; government often ends up picking up the pieces of the absent parent via welfare, subsidized day care, food stamps and other substitutes. 
This increases the tax burden on everyone, as well as increasing the numbers of people who need charity. Broken homes are also expensive in an even more important sense. They raise the risks for kids of emotional trouble, behavioral trouble, truancy, criminality and other outcomes that are statistically better avoided by the two-parent biological home. All this is well established by many years of sociological research. 
Those are just two examples of the downside of the revolution — and everyone could agree that these and other kinds of fallout were unfortunate, if the cause were anything other than something involving sex. 
But because so many people are so invested in the dominant laissez-faire view, which is that the revolution is off-limits for criticism, there is a fierce desire to avoid connecting those dots.

 Humanae Vitae was right. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Atheist theology, 101.

How to Measure the Power of Alien Civilizations Using the Kardashev Scale

I must admit that I enjoy reading this stuff-- SETI and all that. I love science fiction.

But it's fiction, not science. There is no evidence whatsoever for the existence of alien life. We have no reason whatsoever to suppose that it exists-- we haven't detected it, we don't know how life arose on earth, we have no idea what form life would take elsewhere, etc.

What's amazing is the patina of science that "astrobiologists" and SETI researchers have painted over this storytelling.

Speculation about alien civilizations is atheist eschatology-- salvation, heaven and hell. We will be saved or destroyed by advanced civilizations from other galaxies. We already have the atheist creation myth-- Darwinism-- as well as a theology of original sin and atonement-- environmentalism.

Speculation about alien civilizations is a religion. It differs from other religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) in that there is abundant evidence for the truth of various aspects of the monotheistic religions.

There isn't a shred of evidence for alien civilizations. Nothing. Speculation about it is fiction at best, paganism in the scientific age.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Happy Passover!

Today begins the seven days of Passover. Happy Passover to all of our Jewish friends and family!

Another socialist laboratory bursts into flames

Armed robbery in Cyprus:

The Demon Behind the Benevolent Mask of the Welfare State II: Property Rights Edition 
Are We All Just Cypriots Now? 
[The Cypriot bank deposit seizure] reminds me of a criticism that Margaret Thatcher once lobbed at the socialists. Their problem, you see, is that they always run out of other people’s money. Well, relax Lady Thatcher. They now have at app for that. Saul Goode, Baby! I wonder if anyone in the United States is studiously taking notes...

Not to worry Komerade Amerikan. There are apps for [the Fourth Amendment] as well. Kelo v. New London is a landmark case that helps put the subjects in their proper place. As long as your bank account can be construed as conferring a public benefit through public use, this lovely piece of jurisprudence would justify its seizure down to the last penny. 
Bottom line: The state can steal your property, your wealth and your sustinence at any time they get pissed off enough or desperate enough to do so. You have no recourse to the law against this. The law is pathetically bastardized. Remember how that Arch-Conservative Supreme Court was poised to heroically strike down The AACA? Forget it Jake, we are all Cypriots now.

We keep voting for these bastards because free stuff tastes good, and we hope we'll be eaten last. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

A burning question about the Big Bang

Commentor bachfiend:
Egnor uses the 'Big Bang' as evidence of God. He would have been excommunicated and burned at the stake if he'd posited the Big Bang in 1600s Italy.

I must have missed the reason why invocation of the Big Bang Theory in the 1600's would have led to excommunication and immolation. The Catholic Church was the primary scientific institution in the world during the centuries of the scientific revolution. It did not burn scientists at the stake. Virtually all scientists of the era were Catholics. Thirty five craters on the moon are named for Jesuit scientists.

And bachfiend implies bizarrely that the Catholic Church opposed the Big Bang Theory. Actually, the Big Bang Theory is closely tied to the Church, and denial of the Big Bang Theory was championed by an atheist.

The Big Bang theory was first proposed in 1931 by Fr. Georges Lemaitre, a Catholic priest, at the Catholic University of Louvain. Lemaitre was honored extensively for his development of the Big Bang Theory, both in the scientific world and by the Catholic Church. He was elected to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and became the president of the Pontifical Academy in 1960. His fellow members of the Pontifical Academy have included Ernest Rutherford, Max Planck, Otto Hahn, and Niels Bohr. Lemaitre was elevated to Prelate Monsignor in 1960 by Pope John XXIII, and he was invited to Vatican II by the Pope.

Lemaitre died of a heart attack in 1964, having successfully escaped immolation.

Lemaitre's scientific nemesis was Fred Hoyle, an atheist, who for decades propounded the Steady State model of the universe. Hoyle denied the Big Bang explicitly because of his atheist belief that the universe was not created-- until Lemaitre's Big Bang Model was definitively confirmed by Penzias and Wilson in 1966.

"Junk DNA" was not the first theory born of atheist metaphysics that has massively impeded science.

Lemaitre joins Copernicus, Newton, Kepler, Faraday, Maxwell, Mendel and countless other Catholic and Protestant clergy and laity who created the scientific revolution.

What about atheism's contributions to science?

As noted, atheist presumptions (Steady State cosmology and Junk DNA) have held cosmology and molecular genetics back for decades. And despite rule of a third of humanity by State Atheism in the 20th century, atheism's positive contributions to natural science have been virtually nil.

Atheist innovations have primarily been in architectural science.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Happy Palm Sunday!

Many blessings to all as we enter Holy Week!

Mainline Protestantism is winning

Mainline Protestant Churches are bleeding membership, while more conservative orthodox churches have shown a lot of vitality and growth over the past few decades. It would seem that mainline Protestantism has lost the struggle with more orthodox Christian denominations.

But that may be a misunderstanding.

John Turner at Patheos makes an interesting observation:

The Rise of Liberal Religion
...observers of American religion have been too obsessed with institutional strength at the cost of ignoring culture... Liberal Protestants may have ultimately lost the battle for membership, but they won the larger cultural struggle. A trenchant quote from the sociologist Christian Smith: “Liberal Protestantism’s organizational decline has been accompanied by and is in part arguably the consequence of the fact that liberal Protestantism has won a decisive, larger cultural victory.”
Indeed, culture is where the war for souls is mainly fought today. And in the culture, the mainline Protestant presumptions-- that the Gospel is primarily a social and self-affirming doctrine, rather than the radical proclamation of Christ's redemption of creation and call to holiness-- has become the implicit cultural stance.

I saw this when I converted to Christianity almost a decade ago. I went to a couple of mainline churches, and I left thinking that I could get the same pabulum in any sociology department seminar or Liberal Party conclave. Christ wasn't there.

Mainline Protestant churches are floundering, but mainline Protestantism has merged with the culture, each shaping the other.

Many aspects of our hedonist consumerist culture are toxic, and one doubts that the our enabling Laodicean Churches are capable of providing the antidote.  

Saturday, March 23, 2013

'So Mike', you ask, 'what are you doing for Lent?'

Of course, you don't really ask, but I'll tell you anyway.

Prayer, fasting, and penance. I'm seriously trying to get better with my praying. I've long prayed spontaneously, many times each day, as I think of the Lord and as I face the daily joys and tribulations. Sometimes I feel as if my life is a running conversation with Him.

It's formal prayer that I have a problem with. I'm trying to pray more consistently in a formal way in the morning and evening. Parts of the Rosary especially. I've never been good at formal prayer-- I think that I have adult ADD, and I find it hard to stay focused. But I am trying.

I am seriously working on the fasting thing. I've tried juice fasts, which are quite effective and not as difficult as going cold turkey, and I've eliminated eating alone. I eat with family and friends. It works.

Penance I'm reasonably good at, because I'm neurotic by nature and punish myself a lot anyway. I'm going to confession regularly, and I count the fasting as part of my penance.

I'm also reading a couple of spiritual books. Each day I'm reading a chapter (they're short) of Kempis' Imitation of Christ. I read it several years ago, and found it profound. I'm a little further along the Christian road now, and I'm finding much deeper and richer meaning in it. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 25 of Book One:

One day when a certain man who wavered often and anxiously between hope and fear was struck with sadness, he knelt in humble prayer before the altar of a church. While meditating on these things, he said: "Oh if I but knew whether I should persevere to the end!" Instantly he heard within the divine answer: "If you knew this, what would you do? Do now what you would do then and you will be quite secure." Immediately consoled and comforted, he resigned himself to the divine will and the anxious uncertainty ceased. His curiosity no longer sought to know what the future held for him, and he tried instead to find the perfect, the acceptable will of God in the beginning and end of every good work.

Kempis' 15th century masterpiece is perhaps the most profound devotional book of the Christian faith, after the Bible. I love it, and plan to keep reading a chapter a day even after Lent.

Since the election of Pope Francis, I've begun re-reading Chesterton's biography of St. Francis. An extraordinary commentary through spiritual glasses on the Saint's life and impact on the Church and on all of humanity.

I'm usually pretty bad at Lent-- I'm nearly always disappointed at the end, because I felt I didn't do enough. This year I'm doing a little better.


or should I say


because it's Lent.

How are you celebrating (if that's the word) Lent?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Rabbi ridiculed by adorable meat puppet

Larry Moran at Sandwalk touts the effectiveness of ridicule and mockery in atheist evangelism:

"From time to time we hear from religious people who are upset about the way we treat their faith. They claim that by making fun of their logic and their defense of god we are only making religious people more convinced that they are right. According to them, we'll never convince any religious person to abandon god(s) by using ridicule and mockery.

Perhaps that's right but I very much doubt it. Here's Sam Harris illustrating the power of ridicule to make a point."

Pretty funny.

Rabbi David Wolpe makes a series of eloquent intelligent observations about God and man, and Harris responds by comparing belief in God to belief that Elvis is still alive.

Harris believes that everything came from nothing, life crawled spontaneously out of the mud, 'stuff happens and survivors survive' explains life, biological structures like DNA and internal organs have no purpose, objective moral law doesn't exist, and human beings like himself are just meat puppets dancing to the vagaries of chemistry.

Let's parley in ridicule, meat puppets. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

"... then the world wouldn’t [still] be here."

Pope Francis delivered his first Sunday Angelus and blessing to the crowd in St. Peter's Square.

From Vatican Radio:

After returning into the church to take off his liturgical vestments, Pope Francis again greeted the faithful outside, before making his way to his study and the window overlooking St Peter’s Square, below which was gathered a crowd to rival the more than 100 thousand-strong who braved cold, rain and dark to meet the Pope on Wednesday – the night of his election – and receive his blessing for the first time. Dozens of national flags were visible in the packed Square, and a deafening cheer went up when, at last, Pope Francis appeared. Mercy was once again the cornerstone of his reflections ahead of the traditional prayer of Marian devotion. 
He told a story, of an elderly widow he encountered during a Mass for the sick celebrated in connection with a visit of the image of Our Lady of Fatima. “I went to confession during the Mass,” he said, “and near the end – I had to go to do confirmations afterward, and an elderly lady approached me – humble [she was] so very humble, more than eighty years old. I looked at her, and said, ‘Grandmother,’ – where I come from, we call elderly people grandmother and grandfather – ‘would you like to make your confession?’ ‘Yes,’ she said – and I said, ‘but, if you have not sinned…’ and she said, ‘we all have sinned.’ [I replied], ‘if perhaps He should not forgive [you]?’ and, sure, she replied, ‘The Lord forgives everything.’ I asked, ‘How do you know this for sure, madam?’ and she replied, ‘If the Lord hadn’t forgiven all, then the world wouldn’t [still] be here.’ And, I wanted to ask her, ‘Madam, did you study at the Gregorian (the Pontifical Gregorian University, founded in 1551 by St Ignatius Loyola, the oldest Jesuit university in the world)?’ – because that is wisdom, which the Holy Spirit gives – interior wisdom regarding the mercy of God. Let us not forget this word: God never tires of forgiving us,” he repeated, “but we sometimes tire of asking Him to forgive us.” Pope Francis went on to say, “Let us never tire of asking God’s forgiveness.”

We're going to love this Pope.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

PZ Myers on teenage births

For a refreshing reminder of the mendacity of the cultural left, look no further than PZ Myers' recent post on the consequences of the sexual revolution.

Myers takes umbrage at a "militant Catholic" (Patrick Fagan of the Family Research Council), who observes:

Having set chaos in motion... , the Supreme Court quickly built the garbage bin for dumping sexual debris in Roe v. Wade, which gave a green light to the killing of 55 million unborn children, the overwhelming majority of whom were conceived by those unmarried singles with new access to contraceptives.

Myers demurs. He insists:
It didn’t happen. 
Also, I’ve got to wonder if the author thought his thesis through. New access to contraception led to a surge in unwanted pregnancies? Only if they weren’t doing it right. 
Maybe we should have coupled contraception access to better sex education. 
Or just maybe the chaos was all in the author’s head.

Hmmm. Why did Myers pick teenage births, rather than, say, teenage pregnancies?

Something's odd. So how to explain Myers' graph?

First of all, marriage rates were higher pre-1960, and people married considerably younger than they do today. The spike from 1945 to 1960 is the Baby Boom. A 19 year old married woman having a child by her husband (not an uncommon event in 1955) would show up on the graph. That is not the same kind of "teenage birth" one commonly encounters in 2013, which is nearly always an unmarried teen girl who commonly doesn't even know which of her 'hook-ups' is the father.

Second, no one in their right mind thinks that teenage pregnancies declined in frequency with the sexual revolution.

Here's the graph that Myers didn't show:

Rates per 1000 women aged 15-19.

The dark blue line corresponds roughly to Myers' graph. The yellow and magenta lines correspond to the pregnancy rate and the abortion rate, respectively. The reason that the teen birth rate dropped wasn't that the teen pregnancy rate dropped; in fact, the teen pregnancy rate skyrocketed. The teen birth rate dropped because following the sexual revolution the teen abortion rate skyrocketed even more than the teen pregnancy rate.


So how could we summarize the data presented in the graph of teen birth, abortion, and pregnancy rates?

"[A] garbage bin for dumping sexual debris in Roe v. Wade, which gave a green light to the killing of 55 million unborn children"

nails it.

These militant Catholics always get it right.

PZ Myers selected the one graph out of three that didn't directly contradict his point. He chose not to post the other two graphs explaining the drop in teen births-- the graphs that showed the explosion in teen pregnancy rates and the even larger explosion in teen abortion rates that accounted for the drop in birth rates.

Myers lies like he breathes. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"What do you think of Obama pardoning the sequester and sending it to Portugal?"

Jimmy Kimmel asks passersby on Hollywood Boulevard what they think of President Obama's "decision to pardon the sequester and send it to Portugal."

At least the last lady was honest. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

330,000,000 abortions

Putting a number on China's holocaust:

Data reveal scale of China abortions 
By Simon Rabinovitch in Beijing

Chinese doctors have performed more than 330m abortions since the government implemented a controversial family planning policy 40 years ago, according to official data from the health ministry. 
China’s one-child policy has been the subject of a heated debate about its economic consequences as the population ages. Forced abortions and sterilisations have also been criticised by human rights campaigners such as Chen Guangcheng, the blind legal activist who sought refuge at the US embassy in Beijing last year. 
China first introduced measures to limit the size of the population in 1971, encouraging couples to have fewer children. The one-child rule, with exceptions for ethnic minorities and some rural families, was implemented at the end of the decade.

Since 1971, doctors have performed 336m abortions and 196m sterilisations, the data reveal. They have also inserted 403m intrauterine devices, a normal birth control procedure in the west but one that local officials often force on women in China.

Please read the whole thing.

Please note that very few of these hundreds of millions of abortions and sterilizations should be considered voluntary in any sense. The legal pressures to comply with the law are immense. And, of course, none are voluntary from the perspective of the child.

Note as well that 100 million of these abortions (and infanticides)  are selectively against girls, creating the worst femicide in human history.

Abortion-mongers tout abortion as a matter of "women's rights". Yet abortion is the most prolific killer of girls in the world today-- 200 million girls slaughtered in China alone, along with 100 million little boys.

China's One-Child Policy, and other population control policies, is our modern holocaust, like the one in Europe in the 1940's, only much much larger.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Philip Jenkins has a great post on the real St. Patrick, and the evil that he confronted in his mission.

Among the many millions who celebrate Irishness every March 17, scarcely any wonder for a second whether there is any historical substance to the figure of St. Patrick, any more than to a host of other medieval wonderworkers. Treating such a tale as serious history, they assume, makes about as much sense as writing a critical biography of the Easter Bunny. 
Sadly, such indifference means that moderns are missing a story that is not just rock-solid history, but is one of the most moving in early Christianity...

Please read the whole thing. It's fascinating history.

Happy St. Patrick's Day! 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

"What if the Pope was one of us..."

This photo of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio-- Pope Francis-- riding the subway to work in Buenos Aires in 2008 reminds me of Joan Osborne's song "One of Us".

"... just a stranger on a bus trying to make his way home..."

Friday, March 15, 2013

"Rise up and walk"

Walter Russel Mead has a deep insight into the election of Pope Francis to the throne of St. Peter:

G.K. Chesterton tells the story of the time that St. Francis of Assisi visited Rome and the pope of the day proudly showed him all the wondrous treasures of the Vatican. Referring to a story in the Biblical Book of Acts in which St. Peter spoke with a beggar in Jerusalem and told him he had no money, the pope pointed to the treasures around him and said, “Peter can no longer say ‘Silver and gold have I none.’” 
St. Francis’ response: “Neither can he say, ‘Rise up and walk.’” 
... St. Francis’ point was that the triumphal, institutional church of his day was prestigious and wealthy, but it had lost the inner fire and dedication that made Christianity a world-transforming faith. 
So now we have a Pope Francis, and we are about to see what he can make of the papacy, and whether the Catholic Church in his day will be able to rise up like the beggar and walk. In some ways, Francis was a typically canny choice by the oldest electoral college in the world.

The Church is a worldly institution, as well as a Spiritual Body, and it needs silver and gold to carry out its ordained mission. But perhaps we need a bit more of St. Francis-- a bit more radical sacrifice and love for the poor, a bit more self-abnegation, a bit more humility. The Church already has these charisms in spades-- more than any human organization. But perhaps we need to do even more, in the footsteps of St. Francis.

[W]hat we know of [Pope] Francis’s ministry in Argentina suggests that he knows that in Christianity doctrine, important as it may be, is not the heart of the matter. Christianity at the end of the day is about God’s all-forgiving, all-embracing, illimitable love. Love is the chocolate, doctrine is the box and the point of the doctrine is to protect the chocolate and keep it fresh for use, not to separate people from the feast God wants us to share. 
[Pope] Francis famously attacked, for example, the practice of some Argentinian priests who put obstacles in the path of single mothers seeking to baptize their kids. The then Cardinal Bergoglio’s response was pretty much what one suspects Jesus himself would say. As the Telegraph reports:

“In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who don’t baptise the children of single mothers because they weren’t conceived in the sanctity of marriage,” Cardinal Bergoglio told worshippers last year. 
“These are today’s hypocrites. Those who clericalize the Church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it’s baptised!” 
Recognizing a young unwed mother as a moral hero because she doesn’t get an abortion won’t win Francis many points with those who think there can’t be too many abortions (especially among the poor) in this wonderful world of ours, but this is the kind of perspective the Catholic Church, and indeed any human community, badly needs. And if one consequence is that more pregnant young women find networks of support and solidarity as they choose to bring new life into the world, [this blogger] for one will think an important corner has been turned.

A Pope who will turn the Church even more to the ways of St. Francis may well be the blessing for which we have prayed.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Consciousness unexplained

I find it difficult to write about Daniel Dennett.

Dennett, in case you have not had the opportunity to get to know his work, is a philosopher from Tufts University. Dennett is an atheist, and is one of the Four Horsemen of New Atheism-- along with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens.

Dennett's primary interest in philosophy is philosophy of the mind. He has written several books on the mind, including Consciousness Explained and The Intentional Stance.

So why do I find it so hard to write about Dennett? He is perhaps the most evasive and incoherent philosopher I have read. He rambles endlessly, and just as endlessly delights in bizarre conceptual constructs that serve only to obscure the topics he feigns to investigate. He is perhaps the most shameless sophist I have encountered, although Hume would give him a run.

Dennett, as you might imagine, is enamored of Darwin (he famously described Darwinism as "the best idea anybody ever had"), and his philosophy of mind is strictly materialist, to the extent that it is strictly coherent, which I will allow only for the purpose of discussing it.

He utterly denies the reality of qualia, which is the subjective experience of a sensation-- the "what it is like" to experience something. The feel of pain, the smell of coffee, the sight of red are each a quale. Qualia are notoriously difficult to explain materialistically. How can meat (the brain) "feel" anything. We can explain input, output, processing, behavior using material concepts of synapses and neurons, but how can we explain how it is that we feel something. No part of materialist science is subjective. Materialist science is objective, and seems incapable of explaining subjective experience. Dennett dismisses qualia rather abruptly as incoherent concepts, not really amenable or even worth philosophical investigation. This of course is convenient for a materialist, because it removes a huge philosophical obstacle to the materialist explanation for the mind. If qualia aren't real, that makes a materialist philosopher's job a lot easier.
Yet Dennett's dismissal of qualia, like Dennett, can't be taken too seriously.

Dennett still asks for novocain at the dentist, presumably.

Dennett takes the second bugbear of materialist philosophy of the mind just a little more seriously. Intentionality is the property of the mind that refers to the "aboutness" of a thought. Material things are, of course, themselves (philosophers love to say things like that), but they are not inherently "about" anything. Imagine an uninhabited world, with a seashore. Imagine that the waves arranged a few of the pebbles on the seashore in the shape of the word "Hi". If there were no minds in this uninhabited world, the rocks arranged as "Hi" wouldn't be "about" anything. They wouldn't mean anything. They would have no intentionality.

But in an inhabited world, rocks arranged as words might mean something, depending on the agent that arranged them. Perhaps it was a greeting made by a child playing on the beach before you arrived. Perhaps the arrangement was made by a mind.

In traditional terminology, intentionality is the mark of the mental. I've discussed intentionality in much more detail here.

Dennett's materialistic explanation for intentionality is, like his oeuvre, muddled, and he managed to get an entire book out of the muddle.

Succinctly, Dennett believes (of course) that intentionality can be explained in entirely materialist terms. He proposes that we assess things in our experience in terms of "stances", which are assumptions we make about them based on our experiences with them and on our survival needs vis a vi them. We assess inanimate objects via a physical stance, we assess designed objects via a designed stance, and we assess living things via an intentional stance, in which we attribute meaning and predictability to its behavior.

Although Dennett seems to believe that he has gone a long way to explain intentionality using materialist presuppositions, it should be fairly obvious that such hand-waving does nothing to explain how it is that a physical system-- a brain for instance-- could generate the "aboutness" that is the hallmark of the mind.

Dennett explains his agenda surprisingly candidly in Consciousness Explained:

"My fundamental strategy has always been the same: first, to develop an account of content that is independent of and more fundamental than consciousness-- an account of content that treats equally of all unconscious content-fixation (in brains, in computers, in evolution's recognition of properties of selected designs)-- ad second, to build an account of consciousness on that foundations.  First content, then consciousness. "(1)
Dennett evades the fundamental problem with the materialist explanation for intentionality by conjuring analogies between the mind and computers and natural selection. Yet he evades the obvious: materialism shipwrecks on intentionality. Matter provides no meaning without mind. So how can mind be mere matter?

The intentionality conundrum is solved, in my view, only by hylemorphism, which is the traditional Aristotelian view of nature as comprised of substances, which are themselves composites of matter and form. Form is the intelligible principle of a thing, and the "aboutness" of a thought is the consequence of the incorporation of the form of the thing into the mind, which is itself a form.

Hylemorphism avoids the banality of materialism and its intrinsic inability to explain the fundamental properties of the mind. It provides a natural explanation for intentionality. A concept related to hylemorphism, essentialism, provides a natural explanation for qualia as well.

I'll try to post more about Dennett when I can. Perhaps for Lent, as part of my penance.

I met Dennett at a seminar a few years ago, a story worth telling, soon.

(1) 1991, Back Bay Books, Little Brown p457

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pope Francis I

Habemus Papam!

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina has been elected the 266th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. He has chosen the name Francis I, in clear reference to St. Francis of Assisi.

The Holy Father has a reputation for deep humility and holiness, and he has been a tireless advocate for the poor. He is also the first Jesuit pope.

May the Lord strengthen him for the work he faces, as He has blessed us with the election of this holy man. 

"What do you think about the new Pope?"

Jimmy Kimmel asks folks what they think of the new pope.

These informed Hollywood Boulevard citizens love the new Jewish teen-aged pope from New York, and his ex-wife.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Our new Pope...

The Convocation to elect the new Pope begins today.

Six essayists at the Wall Street Journal contemplate the election of the Church's new shepherd. I agree with Noonan, Weigel, and Eberstadt (most particularly). Winters and Baumann have some good things to say, but I disagree with parts. James Carroll's invocation of a "Catholic Gorbachev" is deeply misguided and offensive.

Please pray for the Cardinal electors, and for our Church. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

The war on DDT has faces

Faces you won't see on a Sierra Club calendar.

Paul Driessen and Robert Novack, M.D.:
Fina’s little body shook for hours with teeth-chattering chills. The next day her torment worsened, as nausea and vomiting continued even after there was nothing left in her stomach. Finally, her vomiting ebbed and chills turned to fever, drenching her body in sweat. Then more chills, fevers, nausea, convulsions, and constant, unbearable pain in every muscle, bone and joint.
She cried out, and tears mixed with sweat. But no one could help her. She had no money for doctors, medicines or a hospital room. She didn’t even have a mother or father to comfort her. All the orphanage school staff could do was caress her, pray and hope she’d get better – and wait for her to die.
And in agony that never stopped from the time the malaria first struck her down, Fina Nantume did die. So did 49 of her classmates, out of 500 students in the APEA Primary School for orphans in Kampala, Uganda, in 2005. Most of the survivors were also afflicted with malaria at least once that year. Some became permanently brain damaged. Others died in subsequent years.
Fina didn’t have to die. None of these spirited, beautiful young students had to die. None of them had to get malaria. The disease is preventable, treatable and curable.
Then why did they? Why does half the world’s population remain at risk of getting malaria? Why are some 250 million people infected annually – with 90% of the agonizing chills, fevers, nausea, brain damage and death occurring in sub-Saharan Africa?
It’s said malaria is a disease of poverty, and poor countries don’t have enough funds,doctors or medicines to treat the disease – or prevent it in the first place. True enough. But malaria is also, and much more so, a disease of callous, intransigent environmental extremism and wanton disregard for human life. A disease whose prevention is hampered, and actively thwarted, by pervasive opposition to mosquito-killing insecticides, and mosquito-repelling DDT...
The “net” effect of these bald-faced lies is that anti-pesticide zealots are perpetuating poverty, misery, disease and death in malaria-endemic regions all over the world. Safe in offices made malaria-free by the very chemicals, technologies and prosperity they deny to others, these baby killers and their financial benefactors are violating the most basic human rights of people in poor nations: the right of access to technologies that enhance and safeguard life.
Paul Driessen is a policy advisor for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and for the Congress of Racial Equality. He is author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power- Black death. 
Dr. Robert Novak is a professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who has devoted much of his life to combating malaria.

Fina Nantume was an orphan at the APEA Primary School in Kampala, Uganda. Here is a collage of the 50 children-- Fina's classmates-- who died from malaria at the APEA school in 2005.

Environmentalism has consequences.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

"The Pope We Need"

Russell Shaw expresses my sentiments about the Conclave to elect our next Holy Father, which will begin on Tuesday March 12th.

 He concludes:
... by all means let the next pope be nice--and a great deal more. Let him have the charm of John XXIII, the earnestness of Paul VI, the charisma of John Paul II, the intellectual brilliance of Benedict XVI. But above all let him be a brave teacher of Catholic truth in the face of all the demands that he be something less.

The secular world is raging at the Church. Vatican II was a sublime reconfiguration of the face of the Church to the world. It was an engagement of Catholic truth to the world in terms the world could better understand. 

Indeed the world does now better understand the Church and Her Message-- Christ is the last best hope-- the only hope-- of man. The world's response to this plain truth in the past half-century has been slander and unfettered fury.   

We need a wise and stalwart pilot at the helm of our beloved Bark. 

Please pray that the grace of the Holy Spirit will guide the Cardinal electors in their sacred duty.  

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Frank J. was right

From the Telegraph:

US 'planned to blow up a nuclear bomb on the Moon' 
The US planned to explode a nuclear bomb on the Moon during the Cold War as a show of strength, according to reports.

American military chiefs allegedly devised the secret project, named 'A Study of Lunar Research Flights' – or 'Project A119' – in the hope that the Soviet Union would be intimidated by viewing the nuclear flash from Earth.

It would give the US a much needed morale boost after the Russians successfully launched Sputnik in 1957, according to physicist Leonard Reiffel, who was involved in the project.

According to the report in The Sun, the US would have used an atom bomb, because a hydrogen bomb would have been too heavy. The planning reportedly included calculations by astronomer Carl Sagan, who was then a young graduate.

Military officials however reportedly abandoned the idea, which would have taken place in 1959, because of fears that it would have an adverse effect on Earth should the explosion fail.

The project documents were kept secret for nearly 45 years, and the US government has never formally confirmed its involvement in the study.
Frank J. from IMAO must have had an inside line, in his legendary post on IMAO.

Friday, March 8, 2013

"Well, um, the God of the Koran I don't know so much about."

From The Jewish Chronicle Online:

In a recent Al-Jazeerah interview, Richard Dawkins was asked his views on God. He argued that the god of "the Old Testament" is "hideous" and "a monster", and reiterated his claim from The God Delusion that the God of the Torah is the most unpleasant character "in fiction".

As you can see, Dawkins has no trouble attacking the Hebrew God in a most direct and uncompromising manner. No atheist wallflower he.

Asked if he thought the same of the God of the Koran, Dawkins ducked the question, saying: "Well, um, the God of the Koran I don't know so much about." 
How can it be that the world's most fearless atheist, celebrated for his strident opinions on the Christian and Jewish Gods, could profess to know so little about the God of the Koran? Has he not had the time? Or is Professor Dawkins simply demonstrating that most crucial trait of his species: survival instinct.

Dawkins is a sniveling coward.  

Thursday, March 7, 2013

"It was a sad day for the moonbat community"

Howie Carr sums up my feelings on the passing of the Venezuelan Dear Leader:

Moonbats mourn another Red thug

Say it ain’t so, Joe, or should I say Jose? 
Poor Joe Kennedy, mourning the loss of his grand amigo, “El Comandante,” the tinpot Latin American thug who put the “profit” back in “non-profit” for the Kennedy kleptocracy. 
How can Hugo be dead, Joe? He went to Cuba for medical treatment. They took him straight to the hospital from the airport in a DeSoto ambulance.

Let’s go right to the Joe K press release: 
“President Chavez cared deeply about the poor … while some of the wealthiest people on our planet have more money than they can ever reasonably expect to spend.” 
Damn right, comrade! Es verdad. For the 
record, according to 2011 tax filings, Comrade Joe made $901,236 from Citizens Energy and related corporations. His lovely bride, Beth, grabbed another $346,764. 
Total: $1,248,000. 
Now the jockeying begins. Who will lead the Massachusetts delegation to the funeral in Caracas? Who will get top billing, the congressional delegation or the Kennedys, or do I repeat myself? 
For some reason the sleazy Democrat pols around here have always had the hots for these Latin American Reds. Like his late boss Joe Moakley, Jim McGovern’s always had a crush on Fidel Castro. Maybe he’s jealous of all the hair. Joe K was always Chavez’s kept Kennedy, although Bill Delahunt gushed over him like a teenage girl infatuated with a mutant, pineapple-faced Justin Bieber. 
The local solons are all going to have to find some new rear ends to kiss.
It was a sad day for the moonbat community.
The People’s Republics of Cambridge and Amherst rushed to lower their flags to half staff first. A spontaneous candlelight vigil erupted in Muddy River. Funeral dirges played endlessly on the NPR stations, like Radio Moscow when Uncle Joe passed. Someone dimmed the lights at the Globe, causing an immediate panic in the newsroom, where the fops 
assumed the newspaper was finally being shut down. 
Yes, the media fell all over itself 
lionizing the Mussolini 

of South America. The AP hagiography was slightly longer than “War and Peace.” Talk about gushing: 
“Fiery populist ... 
socialist ideals … outsmarted his rivals … electrified … folksy … larger-than-life … master communicator and savvy political strategist … championing his country’s poor.” 
The only thing the AP forgot to say about El Comandante was that he kept the drugs out of Southie. 
Hey Joe Kennedy, when’s the next plane out to Tehran? I hear the mullahs are looking for a new shill.

What Chavez did to Venezuela is what the Left wants to do to us. They want power, and will step on anyone they have to to get it.

One of their hero thugs bit the dust, and they mourn.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A.C. Grayling: 'Atheism is like not-stamp-collecting'

Atheist A.C. Grayling, in his book The God Argument, makes this argument:

“Atheism is to theism as not stamp-collecting is to stamp-collecting.”

 According to Grayling, 'not being a stamp-collector' merely
“denotes only the open-ended and negative state of not collecting stamps”. [By analogy, not being a theist] “does not even begin to enter the domain of discourse in which these beliefs have their life and content”.
Grayling recaps a perennial modern atheist argument: atheism entails no positive beliefs. It is merely the denial of the existence of gods.


Atheism in the West (I will ignore atheist beliefs in the East) entails a very specific body of positive atheist doctrine.

All atheists believe:

1) Philosophical naturalism.

2) Darwinism (some variant of it).

3) Human beings are qualitatively no different from animals.

4) There is no transcendent purpose to life.

5) Human existence ends at death.

6) There is no individual personal accountability after death for evil committed in life.

7) There is no objective moral law (i.e. moral law that transcends human opinion).

The list can go on and on-- feel free to add to the atheist Nicene Creed. 

Atheists deny the obvious positive nature of their beliefs for rhetorical reasons: they wish to disparage religious belief as practiced in the world without having to explain atheist belief as practiced in the world. Tarring the Catholic Church with the Spanish Inquisition loses some of it's punch when the tar is applied by Pol Pot's bed-mates. 

It's fair to say that atheists probably share more positive beliefs in common than Christians do. A liberal atheist in Washington D.C. would ascribe to basically the same metaphysical nostrums listed above as a Marxist atheist in Moscow or a libertarian atheist in Silicon Valley. Atheists differ politically, but they march in metaphysical goose-step.

In contrast, a conservative Southern Baptist minister probably holds metaphysical views that are quite different from a liberal Anglican priest, including major differences on Christ's divinity, virgin birth, resurrection as well as on Darwinism and the nature of moral law and accountability after death. 

Atheism entails a remarkably consistent metaphysical cannon, shared without variation by Ayn Rand and Lucretius and Madelyn Murray O'Hare and Karl Marx and Martin Bormann and Richard Dawkins and the herd of 'freethinkers' of every epoch and at every point of the political and cultural spectrum.

The lock-step consistency of atheist metaphysical dogma is without parallel in any religion.

Atheism is most emphatically not merely the absence of belief in gods. Atheism is a very specific positive ideology-- a rigid dogma. No gods. No transcendence. No transcendent purpose. No life after death. No accountability after death. No objective moral law. No other religion manifests such consistency of dogma across cultures, nations and generations.

Atheist ideology has been of momentous consequence since it first gained control of a nation-state in 1792. The 20th century was the century of State Atheism.

Atheism is a much more tenacious system of dogma than Christianity. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"Why we fight"

James Delingpole has a great essay explaining why he fights enviro-nazis with such vigor.

Am I angry with these scumbags? You bet I am. Do I think they deserve the unpleasant epithets I cast at them? Absolutely not – they deserve insults far nastier and more graphic than I could ever get away with delivering in a family newspaper. 
Yes, I know there are those who think I sometimes go over the top in the way I sledge the opposition. But this is not a criticism I'm going to buy – or ever will buy. Did Churchill ever issue a wartime directive that, following complaints submitted by the German embassy in Dublin, soldiers should refrain from singing hurtful songs about Herr Hitler's monotesticular status? Not as far as I can recall. In war, all is fair game. When the other side behaves badly, it deserves to be called on it – in the most explicit terms possible – not excused on the dubious grounds that if we're a bit nicer to the Imperial Japanese Army and don't draw any nasty cartoons depicting them with buck teeth and thick spectacles maybe next time they'll desist from tying wounded prisoners to trees and using them for bayonet practice. 
As I argue at the end of Watermelons, there's only one side in this debate which considers it acceptable or desirable to:

Rig public enquiries, hound blameless people out of their jobs, breach Freedom of Information laws, abuse the scientific method, lie, threaten, bribe, cheat, adopt nakedly political positions in taxpayer-funded academic and advisory posts that ought to be strictly neutral, trample on property rights, destroy rainforests, drive up food prices (causing unrest in the Middle East and starvation in the Third World), raise taxes, remove personal freedoms, artificially raise energy prices, featherbed rent-seekers, blight landscapes, deceive voters, twist evidence, force everyone to use expensive, dim light bulbs, frighten schoolchildren, bully adults, increase unemployment, destroy democratic accountability, take control of global governance and impose a New World Order. 
And it most definitely ain't the people on my side of the argument.
Delingpole has done a great job telling the truth about the global warming scam and about the deeply anti-human agenda of the green fanatics. His term "watermelons" is apt-- environmental crazies are green on the outside and red on the inside. Environmentalism is a veneer covering a quite classical far-left agenda of control over every intimate aspect of your life, including the air you exhale.

This fight really matters. There people are dead serious, and they want power. They are willing to sacrifice millions of lives-- they already have sacrificed scores of millions of lives-- to gain control over governments and economies.

Delingpole has been fighting the good fight for a while now. I wholeheartedly recommend his book Watermelons. It's a great expose of the green totalitarians, and it's available on Kindle!  

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Papables

Who will be the next Pope? It's a question of enormous importance, and Business Insider gives us a list of likely candidates, with odds!

One Of These Men Will Be The Next Pope

My guess would be Cardinal Turkson. He is a brilliant, energetic and holy man and he would strengthen the Church in Africa, where Christ is sorely needed among the strife and suffering.

Cardinal Turkson is charismatic and his communication skills are excellent, which is becoming very important for a media-age papacy.

Of course I thought Romney was a shoo-in, so...

Sunday, March 3, 2013

"You don't need a cardinal to answer that."

Cardinal Arinze on "personally opposed but pro-choice" abortion politics:

Cardinal Arinze is considered highly papable-- he is certainly near the top of the list of candidates to succeed Pope Benedict in the Conclave in March.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The media on Benedict's last day

The Media Research Center has a great post on Pope Benedict's last day at the Vatican.

A frail, ailing 85-year-old man announces he doesn’t have the strength to continue as the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion people. With the humility of one whose entire life has been in service to God and his Church, he says he will retire to quietly live out his remaining years. 
ABC, CBS and NBC have never been fans of Pope Benedict XVI. They saw the former Cardinal Ratzinger as a “hard-liner” for “strenuously condemning divorce, homosexuality, and abortion,” as ABC’s Dan Harris put it in 2008. But the broadcast networks’ coverage of Benedict and the Catholic Church in the weeks since he announced his retirement has been bizarre – relentless negativity punctuated by often inappropriate humor and personal attacks. 
From Benedict’s Feb. 11 resignation through the evening of Feb. 27, the day before it took effect, the networks referred to the Catholic Church as a troubled institution 122 times and aired the word “scandal” 87 times in 112 reports. Anchors and reporters suggested that the Church must modernize (32 times) and pressed for change in issues regarding women (7 times) and gays (13 times). At times, they trivialized the first resignation of a Pope since the 1500s as “worthy of a Dan Brown novel.”(ABC’s Harris again.) and sensationalized it by entertaining theories about other reasons Benedict might be stepping down. 
The night before the Pope’s resignation took effect, ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos said he was “known as God’s Rottweiler.”

For Catholics and all Christians, the understandable reaction to the media's reprehensible bias and obvious hated of the Church is deep outrage. It's my reaction.

But we have so much to celebrate here. Not only should we celebrate the Pope and his magnificent Pontificate, and the grace-filled Church-- institutional and mystical-- for which he provided such superb human guidance.

We should also celebrate our enemies.

The world hates us. The Church has no armies, and no tangible secular power. The Vatican is a nation of 110 acres surrounded by a world with powers that could crush it physically with only a wisp of effort.

But the Church obsesses them. They fight us continuously, in every venue, using every tactic. The purveyors of secular power and sin know that their only implacable enemy on earth is an elderly bishop and an institutional and mystical Church of a billion and a half Christians who love God and who strive, however imperfectly, to live in union with His Spirit.

The world hates us with such passionate intensity because we-- in service to the Lord we love-- are the only real limit on its power.