Tuesday, November 11, 2008

An Apologetic For Life

I just got off of the radio where I was once more the guest on Relevant Radio's "Searching the Word" program.  This is their "apologetics & catechesis" program, and on it we discussed the nature of apologetics as simply illustrating the reasonableness of our faith.

"Reasonable" is a big word with me these days.  When something is reasonable, it simply means that it makes sense.  We can understand it to be true using our reason, our human intellect.  The Catholic faith (and indeed, religion in general) gets a bad rap these days with athiests and secularists claiming that to have faith you must "leave your brain at the door" and allow your beliefs to be dictated to you by other people.

Far from it, I say!  To really engage in the Catholic faith, one must use their mental faculties.  We believe our intellect to be God-given, after all.  Our reason is the mechanism God gave us by which we deduce the truth.  Our faith demands that we use our reason.

But I see some people these days advocating for some very unreasonable things in the name of reason and logic.

With the recent presidential election behind us, I've been seing a lot of things posted around Facebook dealing with abortion and the respect for human life.  A lot of the students involved in WCU's Catholic Campus Ministry have made pro-life statements on their pages.  It is interesting to see some of the reactions of their friends and fellow college students.

To give an example, one commentor made the statement that it is  "sensible and logical to understand that a fetus in the first trimester is super far from being a being. They don't have a heart or brain yet, they're like an ant. You squish ants all the time."

Well, let's just use a bit of reason to parse through that statement.  To say that something or someone is a "being" is simply to say that that this has existstance.  It is.  To say something is not a being means that it does not have existence.   So to suggest that a fetus in the first trimester does not have existance is absurd.  I know a lot of pregnant women that would beg to differ!  

Of course, what this young writer probably meant to say is that the fetus in the first trimester is not a "human being."  It exists, sure enough, but not as a human.  The question then becomes, what is it?  If it is not a human, it must be something else?  Is it a different kind of animal?  Is it a plant?  A mineral?  Biologically, what exactly is the fetus?  Scientists (using that God-given reason) understand the fetus to be a developing human being.  It is human alright, just a human in an early stage of development, just like a five-year old child is not as fully developed as the thirty-year old man.  Both are still humans; as is the fetus in the womb.

What of the assertion that the fetus has no heart or brain?  Is this true?  Well, let's use our reason and look to what modern science has been able to tell us.  The brain actually begins to develop around the twentieth day of pregnancy, and the heart starts to beat around day 21.  This is less than a third of the way through the mother's first trimester, and well before most women even realize they are pregnant.  Doctors can actually detect active brain waves from about day 40.  So to say that abortion is permissible because a fetus has no heart or brain means that abortion should be illegal after the first three weeks of pregnancy.  And, as an aside, "fetus" is the word generally used to describe the developing child after about the eighth week of pregnancy, when everything is present that would be found in a fully developed adult.  It comes from the Latin word for "offspring."  So it really doesn't make any sense at all to speak of a "fetus" with no heart or brain.  At those early stages, the developing person is called an "embryo."

In any case, whatever the unborn child is called, how would lack of a brain or heart make the embryo like an ant?  Last time I checked, ants have brains and hearts.  We squash ants not because they lack certain organs but because -- well, because they are ants.  We don't kill human beings, again not because they possess certain organs, but because they are human beings.  Killing another innocent human being is called murder.  And, in case anyone needs reminding, murder is wrong.

This same student also comments that, "If anything it's bad for the kid to have him when you can't take care of him, and it could also royally ruin your life. I say abort, if you're responsible."  Ah, here is the argument that abortion is the responsible thing to do if you really care about your child.  If you don't have the time, or the money, or the inclination to raise a child, it's far better for him or her to be killed than to have to live in a less-than-perfect family.  If you truly believe this, then God hep you, because there are not very many perfect families out there.  As a young father, I tell other young couples that if you wait until you feel you are "ready" to start a family, you may never start one.  Rarely do people feel they are "ready" on all fronts -- monetarily, emotionally, what have you -- to bring a child into this world.  But people do it very day.  Our species have been doing it for millennia.  And we manage to get by just fine, thank you.

But to suggest that it's better for the child that he be killed is the height of arrogance!  How dare we presume to be able to dictate the fate of an unborn child!  The fact of the matter is we have no idea who that child will grow up to be.  Some of our best minds, our noblest leaders, or most brilliant artists, statesmen and scientists have come from very humble and disadvantaged backgrounds.  And what if the child doesn't grow up to acheive greatness, but grows up to work as a grocery clerk, or a civil servant, or pizza delivery boy?  Does that mean he shouldn't have been allowed to live?  How dare we make that judgment?  For there is only one thing we can know for certain about that child's future -- if we kill him, he won't have one.

And the idea of advocating abortion as the "responsible" option is, to speak plainly, repugnant.  It calls to mind the famous quote from Blessed Theresa of Calcutta (aka Mother Theresa), "It is a trajedy to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you please."  And that is what this argument really boils down to.

I saw a comment made by a different student that was along the same lines as the "abortion as the responsible choice" argument.  This student wrote, "The resources of the world are stretched far enough without encouraging every person who puts two cells together in their uterus to call it a person and give it a name and put another human being on the already overpopulated planet."

Well, what does reason tell us about this line of thinking?  First of all, a person is not a person because we decide to call it such.  We could call a rock a "person" and give it a name and it is still a rock.  And a person is still a person even when not acknowledged as such by society.  In early nineteenth century America we had a whole class of people that society didn't consider persons.   But society was wrong, and we came to understand that slavery was a gross injustice.  In the early twentieth century, the Nazis in Germany decided a whole class of people were not real persons and could therefore be summarily rounded up and killed.  The resources of the world were stretched far enough -- why share them with inferior Jews?  

The same bad logic used to justify slavery and the holocaust is today being used to justify the holocaust of the unborn in America; a holocaust that to date has cost over 50,000,000 lives and counting.  

And what about our world's limited resources?  Since the days of Malthus people have been arguing that our growing population would soon outstrip the world's capacity to feed us.  However, while the world's population has increased from 1.6 billion to 6.2 billion over the past hundred years, the world's gross domestic product has actually increased twenty to fourty times, leading to much higher standards of living.   Food production is not really the problem.  People starve not because there is not enough food, but because they do not have access to food.  It's a problem of distribution, not production.  But despite the data, people continue to use the "population bomb" mantra as an excuse to advocate for the genocide of the unborn.  

In the end, we can boil this issue down to one central issue: is the embryo or fetus in the womb a person, or is it something else?  For if it is a person, then it is entitled to human rights, including the right to life.  If it is not a person, then one may legitimately make arguments that it can be killed, the way we euthanize a pet.

In my experience, arguments for the non-personhood of the unborn always fall short.  For example, the first comment I quoted mentioned lack of a functioning brain.  Well, if this is our defining factor, what do you do with a brain-dead adult.  Can you morally kill him?  The abortion supported may very well say, "Yes."  But the follow up question must be, if doctors told you that the brain-dead adult would regain all brain function in a matter of weeks, would it still be permissible to kill that person, simply because they are temporarily incapaciated?  I have a hard time imagining our young student saying "yes" to that question.

But if we apply that logic to the unborn, we can see how wrong abortion truly is.  Becuase even during that short time before the fetal brain is fully developed, there is potential.  If we simply wait a short while, the brain is there, fully functional.  It will be the same brain the child uses to learn about the world, to recognize his mother and father, to learn to walk, to talk, to play, to sing and dance.  The only thing we need to do is to allow nature to take its course and allow that child to live and develop.

If you style yourself as "pro-choice," remember the choice that you are advocating.  It is a decision that leaves the child in the womb with no choice, no voice; it leave him or her with no life.  Is that choice really ours to make?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Archbishop Charles Chaput teaches...

"Christians in general and Catholics in particular do not, and should not, seek to "force" their religious beliefs on society. But working to form the public conscience is not coercion any more than teaching the difference between poison and a steak is a form of bullying. Actively witnessing to and advancing what we believe to be true about key moral issues in public life is not "coercion." It's honesty. And it's also a duty -- not only of faith but of citizenship." - Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

The Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., has been the archbishop of Denver, Colorado since February 18, 1997. As member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe, Archbishop Chaput is the second Native American to be ordained bishop in the United States, and the first Native American archbishop.

Here are a couple of recommended articles by the above archbishop, which I strongly encourage you to read in this election season, as they touch upon the role of the faithful Catholic in political life.

"Why We're Here" is actually chapter three of Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life, recently published by Doubleday.

"Little Murders" is a talk he gave at an ENDOW (Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women) dinner on Oct. 17.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

NC Bishops survey political candidates

The Catholic Bishops of NC (Diocese of Raleigh and Charlotte) have invited all political candidates running for office this year to participate in a survey to find out where they stand on various moral issues of special importance to Catholic voters (and all of good will, really).

The results of that survey can be found on line, here:

You can enter in your address or zip code to see how the candidates running for office in your area responded. I did, and I noticed one fact that surprised me. Of all the candidates running in my region, every Libertarian candidate responded to the bishops' survery; all but one Republican candidate responded; and not a single Democratic candidate bothered to respond. I found that interesting.

Why not try your zip code to see how the candidates running in your area responded?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Pelosi & Augustine

Back on August 24, Democratic Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, of San Francisco, appeared on Meet the Press with Tom Brokaw. Brokaw asked her some very straightforward questions about abortion and the beginning of human life, and she attempted to cloak her answers in religious terms, which I am afraid may be very confusing to Catholics who are unfamiliar with the issues.

Alluding to Barak Obama's infamous remark that it was "above his pay grade" as to when a baby should receive basic human rights, Brokaw asked Pelosi, "If he [Obama] were to come to you and say, 'Help me out here, Madame Speaker. When does life begin?' -- what would you tell him?"

Pelosi responded: "I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the Church have not been able to make that definition. St. Augustine said at three months. We don't know. The point is, is that it shouldn't have an impact on the woman's right to choose."

Wow. So, according to Pelosi, the Church has no clue as to when life begins, and regardless that question shouldn't impact a "woman's right to choose" -- a sentiment that makes absolutely no sense when you think about what it is the so-called "right" is choosing. It is the "right" to choose to kill your own unborn child. One would think that the question of when life begins would have everything to do with this "right." Answer one way and the woman is having a simple medical procedure to remove a blob of tissue. Answer another way and we are talking about killing an innocent human life, aka murder. Big difference.

But that's not the main point I want to address in this post. I want to address what Pelosi said regarding St. Augustine. Did he really say that life begins at three months?

First off, when Pelosi referrs to "doctors of the Church," let's be clear about what she really means. She is not speaking of medical doctors, but of theological doctors. These men and women, recognized by the Church for their brilliance in theological matters, do not necessarily have any more medical knowledge of human biology than you or I. So these are not medical experts we are speaking of.

Considering St. Augustine in particular, let us recall the time during which he lived, 354-430 AD. 1500 years ago, there were no ultrasound machines, no x-rays, no OB-GYNs, etc. Pondering the question of when ensoulment occurs (when the soul is infused into the body, thus creating a human being), Augustine offered his opinion based on the best facts available to him at the time -- that opinion was that ensoulment occurred at "quickening," which is the moment that the mother first feels the baby move within her.

Does this mean that Augustine was in favor of abortion prior to quickening? Hardly. He wrote, "Their licentious cruelty, or their cruel licentiousness, sometimes goes to such lengths as to procure sterilizing poisons and if these are unavailing, in some way to stifle within the womb and eject the fetus that has been conceived. They want their offspring to die before it comes to life or, if it is already living in the womb, to perish before it is born. Surely, if they are both of such a mind, they do not deserve the name of husband and wife..."

Even though he was uncertain about exactly when human life began within the womb, he understood (rightly) that the womb was the place where human life begins, and regardless of the chronology, that entire process needs to be protected and revered.

If Augustine were alive today and had the benefit of ultrasound machines and modern medical textbooks, no doubt he would be a strong supporter of the right to life. Pelosi, on the other hand, shuts her eyes to these modern developments. Further in her interview with Tom Brokaw, she insists, "I don't think anybody can tell you when life begins..."

In fact, any honest doctor worth his salt (heck, even any high school biology student) can answer the question sufficiently. The question, Madame Speaker, is when is there not life? We all know the "birds and the bees." A male sperm cell (which is alive) meets up with a female egg cell (which is alive). When fertilizaton occurs, the two join together and form a human conceptus (which is alive). That conceptus grows and develops, and modern science has charted that growth day-by-day throughout the course of the pregnancy. And at no time during those nine months is there ever something that is not alive becoming something alive. It is all life. And the unique DNA for that individual person is there, whole and entire, from the moment of conception. Science tells us that.

But Pelosi is not really interested in finding out what science or her Church has to say on this matter. She just repeats the party line. For just as she could open any biology text and discover what I have just related above, so too could she crack open the Catechism of the Catholic Church and learn that the Church really does have a definite teaching on this issue. Are we to seriously believe she is that ignorant? I don't.

Further in the interview she repeats the tired line about wanting abortion to be "safe and rare" and then shifts gears by saying we should reduce the number of abortions by increasing access to contraception (something else the Church has a most definite teaching on). "If you want to reduce the number of abortions," she said, "and we all do, we must -- it would behoove you to support family planning and contraception..."

If has a certain logic on the face of it. If abortions are the result of unwanted pregnancies, and you can reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies by contraception, you'd expect there to be fewer abortions the more contraception is used. However, that is not the case. In fact, the exact opposite is true. The more widespread the use of contraception, the more abortions you have. Why is this?

On our "Day of Life" retreat coming up this next Saturday, Sept. 27, we will have as a speaker Dr. David Ramsey, Catholic physician, who will talk about the connection between contraception and abortion. Two different sins stemming from the same root.

WCU students, please contact me to reserve your space for this day of prayer and instruction. I hope you join us!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

St. Augustine on Science

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion

-- St. Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim (The Literal Meaning of Genesis).

Sunday, September 14, 2008

RCIA Classes to begin at St. Mary's

From the Sunday bulliten at St. Mary Mother of God parish in Sylva:

Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
Classes of enquiry and instruction for those adults who are interested in being baptized into or received into full communion with the Catholic Church will commence on Thursday, September 25, at 7pm at St. Mary's rectory. All those interested should contact Mike Ensley or Fr. Williams. This process is designed for those who, as unbaptized adults, would like to receive the Sacrament of Baptism into the Christian faith as a Catholic or for those who, already baptized, would like to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church as well as for those Catholics who would like to refresh their understanding of the faith of the Church. The first series of classes will be a time of enquiry, an occasion to ask questions about Catholicism so as to remove any unnecessary misunderstandings. The next stage will be to review what Catholics call "the preambles of the faith": those preparatory stages of serious thought about the existence of God, His full revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ (and Who Christ truly is), and the foundation of the Church. The remaining sessions will be devoted to an intense study of the Catholic Faith: its Creed, liturgical worship, morality and prayer life. Please spread the word and feel free to invite others to come and investigate the life and teachings of the Catholic Church and so to discover why this faith has not changed -- and will not change -- for over two thousand years!

If any WCU student is interested in participating in the upcoming RCIA program, please contact myself or Father Williams!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Cardinal Egan on the right to life

I wanted to share these elegant (and utterly common sensical) words of New York Archbishop Cardinal Egan, from a statement he issued this past Aug. 26. Those who claim that the morality of abortion is for "theologians" to debate, or that Christians are trying to "legistlate their faith" on the rest of society should pay heed.....



We are blessed in the 21st century with crystal-clear photographs andactionfilms of the living realities within their pregnant mothers. No one withtheslightest measure of integrity or honor could fail to know what thesemarvelous beings manifestly, clearly, and obviously are, as they smileandwave into the world outside the womb.

In simplest terms, they are human beings with an inalienable right tolive,a right that the Speaker of the House of Representatives is bound todefendat all costs for the most basic of ethical reasons. They are not partsoftheir mothers, and what they are depends not at all upon the opinions oftheologians of any faith. Anyone who dares to defend that they may belegitimately killed because another human being "chooses" to do so orforany other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadershipin acivilized democracy worthy of the name.

Edward Cardinal EganArchbishop of New York
August 26, 2008

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Where is the intelligent criticism of Intelligent Design?

In case you missed it, Intelligent Design was big in the news back in 2003 and 2004. I don't recall hearing too much about it in the media since then. It was being both hailed and criticized (depending upon your perspective) as some great new meshing of science and religion. The reality, however, is that it has actually been around as a theory since at least the late 1970s.

Stephen Meyer tells us it was developed

by a group of scientists — Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley, Roger Olson, and
Dean Kenyon — who were trying to account for an enduring mystery of modern
biology: the origin of the digital information encoded along the spine of the
DNA molecule.

He goes on to say:
Even as early the 1960s and 70s, physicists had begun to reconsider the design
hypothesis. Many were impressed by the discovery that the laws and constants of
physics are improbably "finely-tuned" to make life possible. As British
astrophysicist Fred Hoyle put it, the fine-tuning of numerous physical
parameters in the universe suggested that "a superintellect had monkeyed with
physics" for our benefit.

Those quotes are taken from a Dec. 2005 article in the National Post (Canada), called "What is Intelligent Design?" You can read the whole thing here.

So, what is Intelligent Design? In a nutshell, it is the idea that what science has uncovered about nature, on both large and small scales, in fields as diverse as biology and cosmology, suggests that things are the way they are not because of random chance, but because some operating intelligence purposefully designed them to be that way.

If you want to read more about it, the above linked article is a good place to start, as is this April 2003 article from Crisis by Benjamin Wiker entitled, "Does Science Point to God?"

But for those of you who might not have time to read the above, Intelligent Design is the scientific equivalent of walking onto a Chrysler auto lot, looking at all the vehicles, and concluding that one or more engineers designed them all -- as opposed to them all arising spontaneously out of their base elements from being randomly thrown together by the wind.

The Intelligent Design proponent would look at those crystal skulls from the latest Indiana Jones movie and assume someone purposefully made them that way -- be it an ancient civilization, a hoaxer, or space aliens. An Intelligent Design opponent would be just as willing to believe that those crystals were carved into perfect replicas of human skulls by erosion.

You get the basic idea. There is a certain quality to a purposefully designed object or system that suggests a rational mind was behind it. And that's all Intelligent Design is saying, really. Look at the evidence objectively and it would appear that an intelligence is behind the universe. It makes no greater theological claims than that -- in fact, it is not operating from a theological perspective, but a scientific one.

I was reminded of the whole controversy surrounding Intelligent Design recently when I was reading a book of essays by Neil DeGrasse Tyson entitled, Death by Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaries. I have enjoyed watching the History Channel series, The Universe, and Tyson is an astrophysicist featured regularly on that program.

I enjoy him because he has a way of talking about astronomy and cosmology in a way that is very accessible to the layman. You see, I've always loved astronomy -- as a kid I wanted to be an astronomer, but it just didn't happen. So I enjoy listening to him and I thought I might find his books enjoyable to read. And they are. I have enjoyed reading what Tyson has to say about the cosmos, and all the strange, weird and wonderful things in it.

But there is a section towards the end of the book where Tyson groups three essays under the heading "Science and God," and there we find out that Tyson knows far more about the former than the latter. And in an essay entitled "The Perimiter of Ignorance," we find out just what this astrophysicist's opinion of Intelligent Design is. I'll let Tyson speak for himself.

The present-day version of God of the gaps [a phrase used when people invoke God
to explain things they do not understand] goes by a fresh name: "intelligent
design." The term suggests that some entity, endowed with a mental
capacity far greater than the human mind can muster, created or enabled all the
things in the physical world that we cannot explain through scientific methods.

Tyson is of course, wrong. The Intelligent Design theory doesn't just claim that some higher mind created all the things we cannot explain. In fact, it starts by looking at things we do understand, and recognizing that an operating intelligence seems to be at work here. It proposes a God of all creation, not just a God of the gaps.

Nevertheless, Tyson goes on to recount a litany of why Intelligent Design does not make sense. He points out, for instance, all the ways that he would have made human beings better, if he were designing them. He wouldn't have us eat, drink, and breathe through the same hole in our heads, thus preventing choking. He wouldn't design us to be vulnerable to drowning when 3/4 of the earth is covered in water. He wouldn't give us pinkie toe nails. And oh yeah, human beings of his design wouldn't get high blood pressure, cancer, or diabetes.

In the end, he declares that to embrace Intelligent Design is to embrace ignorance.

I don't know what this is. I don't know how it works It's too
complicated for me to figure out. It's too complicated for any human being
to figure out. So it must be the product of a higher intelligence.

Tyson here only demonstrates his own lack of understanding of just what Intelligent Design is. It is not a "God of the gaps." Proponents of ID are not suggesting God is the answer to anything science cannot explain.

And guess what? That's not how science operates in a Christian framework, anyway. The God of the gaps is a very dangerous proposition, because those gaps keep getting narrower and narrower. What science cannot explain today is simply tomorrow's discovery. And if your God only exists in the realms that remain a mystery, your God is continually shrinking.

The Christian God is the God of all creation. He is the one who causes all to be, who gives everything -- including you and me -- existence. It doesn't matter if we can look at it under a microscope, or through a telescope, analyze it, record it, predict it. It doesn't matter whether we know how it happens, or if it is a mystery. God is the first agent of it all. Discovering a new type of quark or some new twist to a law of physics doesn't impact that at all -- except to maybe illustrate to us how grand God is.

The Christian scientist wants to learn about creation because he sees it all as a reflection of God. Someone once said that God has two holy books -- the Bible and the Universe. If we understand God to be the author of all that is, then of course we want to study it. We want to learn about it, to understand it, because to do so tells us something about the one who created it. And that is a very good pursuit, indeed.

I'm not sure what motivates the atheistic scientist to study creation, but I can guess what motivates him to attack anything that would challenge his secular atheism -- even something as benign as Intelligent Design theory. And it's not pretty.

So, despite Tyson's best effort, what he gives us is not really a criticism of Intelligent Design, but rather criticism of the straw man that he presents to us as Intelligent Design. What I want to know is, where is the honest, intelligent criticism of this idea? I'm still waiting...