Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Liberal Education

Brit blogging I'm still off as I don't feel much like writing at the moment. I do still have the energy to pass along good reads, as I did with von Balthasar the other day. Via Blimpish, here are two left leaning Englishmen making me wish activity of this sort was occurring on this side of the Atlantic as well. I'm still Tory and it is hard to imagine any circumstance that could lead me to vote left, but - stepping back just a moment - as Joe Citizen I would like to see Canadians offered strong platforms from all of the parties. I hate the way this country seems to be locked into the Liberal party and want to see that bug squashed. I'd prefer a Blue squashing to an Orange one, but hey! If the Orange party can do the squashing (rampant speculation on my part, I know) without trashing the place, it would be better than than the current 'kick us again, we're Canadian' voting pattern we've seen since... Well, it seems like it's been since forever. Here is Shuggy's wisdom on the subject of education:
There are really not enough words to describe the absurdity of so-called "liberal" educational theories that this blogger came across during his teacher training: false dichotomies between different forms of learning that I would expect one of my brighter senior pupils to spot within about four minutes; the ludicrous notion that telling a pupil they're wrong represents an "authoritarian theory of knowledge" - are just a couple of the symptoms of the other-worldly disconnection with reality that so disfigures our educational system. For the best take on a true liberal education, more people should turn to the liberal, but self described conservative, Michael Oakeshott. He argued that a truly liberal education had nothing to do with allowing pupils to "do their own thing" or being "contemporary". Rather, the liberty of the pupil is ensured by two things: a) the narrowness of the focus - the teacher is concerned with the delivery of a subject, not some aimless character-building exercise (most teachers, including myself, are not competent to do the latter) b) that what is really liberating about education is that it delivers the pupil from the "tyranny from the here and now". It does this by teaching subjects that represent great investments in human thought, not ones that are fashionable or entertaining. This version of a liberal education is surely preferable to the present situation where at least twenty years of the culture of compulsory euphemism has produced an enormous number of bureaucrat-educationalist whose sole professional function appears to be to receive inflated salaries for their skill in rationalizing failure?
More Leftward reflection offered by James Hamilton:
It's not a good idea to be reading Stephen Pinker's "The Blank Slate" [been meaning to read this book for a very long time now - ed.] whilst pondering the future of the left in Britain. It really isn't. The effective trashing of the idea that nurture has a prevailing imperative over nature; the trashing of the idea that humans in an ideal environment live in harmony with nature and each other; the trashing of the idea that we are more than just biological machines and our faults aren't permanently built in - all answer the question "What's Left" with a sullen "Not much". ... I'm in my local public library, a place that like so many others under the Blair government has refurbished itself from top to bottom. In front of me is the section on American history. It consists entirely of... well, the titles will be familiar to you; suffice it to say that it's just that collection of hucksters, profiteers and rabble rousers who have used the crisis to sell books. The Left is meant to be the intellectual counterweight in politics, but of late we've been breeding monsters. Certain of our more prominent figures have perfected the art of making a fortune from the art of indoctrination. For intellect read conspiracy; for analysis read hysteria. I suppose that's what happens when we assume that we're clever but neglect the life of the mind. There has always been this air of wishful thinking about left wing intellectual activity; one long late evening of Finals revision was enlivened for me by a book with the absurd title Late Capitalism; you can find humour anywhere at three in the morning. Then you might refer to the Webbs turning their faces from murder in Stalin's USSR, or reflect upon the sinking feeling as reopened archives confirmed that McCarthy victim after McCarthy victim were as guilty as charged. We are steadily losing our martyrs, from the Rosenbergs to James Hanratty. Society as a whole is following us into irrational thinking - weren't you shocked to learn that 86% of doctors in Scotland were happy to refer patients to homeopaths? And we think we can laugh at American Intelligent Design...
All I can add is that my own experience backs up Hamilton's assertion. Lefties seem to think that they don't have to argue their case, that it must be assumed and the onus is on anyone who challenges it. Why that should be is likewise unexplained. I don't travel or read in those circles much - not anymore - but my hunch is that Canada's left has a long way to go to catch up to Blair's Labour. In the U.S., the Democrats seem to be involved in some heavy petting with the kind of Left that we have in our Orange party (that's the socialist NDP for American readers) and which is also well represented by the sweaty red boob currently leading the governing Liberal Party. I'm not trying to paint Blair as a saint, but he's had considerably more electoral success than anything on offer on this side of the pond (speaking of the the NDP and the Democrats). I just don't think the Micheal Moore constituency is all that large (loud, yes) and there is therefore a lot more to be gained by pealing off disaffected conservative voters with a moderate message. Here's a negative example from the "centrist" Liberals. I doubt Canada's Left will make any attempt to portray itself as more moderate and more reasonable. Instead, they'll claim that they have the same message, with the added benefit of greater sincerity. The message itself will go unexamined. I suppose such foibles are an occupational hazard when you place yourself at the pinnacle of progress.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

A Résumé of My Thought

Hans Urs von Balthasar I thought this short essay was marvelous (although I'm sure more than a few will find it a bit dense); a nice starting point for contemplation. I have not read Von Balthasar before and this was an intriguing first encounter. A biography of the man is here. Note that I'm not presenting a complete copy of the essay, although I've copied most of it.
We start with a reflection on the situation of man. He exists as a limited being in a limited world, but his reason is open to the unlimited, to all of being. The proof consists in the recognition of his finitude, of his contingence: I am, but I could not-be. Many things which do not exist could exist. Essences are limited, but being (l'être) is not. That division, the "real distinction" of St. Thomas, is the source of all the religious and philosophical thought of humanity. It is not necessary to recall that all human philosophy (if we abstract the biblical domain and its influence) is essentially religious and theological at once, because it poses the problem of the Absolute Being, whether one attributes to it a personal character or not. What are the major solutions to this enigma attempted by humanity? One can try to leave behind the division between being (Être) and essence, between the infinite and the finite; one will then say that all being is infinite and immutable (Parmenides) or that all is movement, rhythm between contraries, becoming (Heraclitus). In the first case, the finite and limited will be non-being as such, thus an illusion that one must detect: this is the solution of Buddhist mysticism with its thousand nuances in the Far East. It is also the Plotinian solution: the truth is only attained in ecstasy where one touches the One, which is at the same time All and Nothing (relative to all the rest which only seems to exist). The second case contradicts itself: pure becoming in pure finitude can only conceive of itself in identifying the contraries: life and death, good fortune and adversity, wisdom and folly (Heraclitus did this). Thus it is necessary to commence from an inescapable duality: the finite is not the infinite. In Plato the sensible, terrestrial world is not the ideal, divine world. The question is then inevitable: Whence comes the division? Why are we not God? The first attempt at a response: there must have been a fall, a decline, and the road to salvation can only be the return of the sensible finite into the intelligible infinite. That is the way of all non-biblical mystics. The second attempt at a response: the infinite God had need of a finite world. Why? To perfect himself, to actualize all of his possibilities? Or even to have an object to love? The two solutions lead to pantheism. In both cases, the Absolute, God in himself, has again become indigent, thus finite. But if God has no need of the world-yet again: Why does the world exist? No philosophy could give a satisfactory response to that question. St. Paul would say to the philosophers that God created man so that he would seek the Divine, try to attain the Divine. That is why all pre-Christian philosophy is theological at its summit. But, in fact, the true response to philosophy could only be given by Being himself, revealing himself from himself. Will man be capable of understanding this revelation? The affirmative response will be given only by the God of the Bible. On the one hand, this God, Creator of the world and of man, knows his creature. "I who have created the eye, do I not see? I who have created the ear, do I not hear?" And we add "I who have created language, could I not speak and make myself heard?" And this posits a counterpart: to be able to hear and understand the auto-revelation of God man must in himself be a search for God, a question posed to him. Thus there is no biblical theology without a religious philosophy. Human reason must be open to the infinite. It is here that the substance of my thought inserts itself. Let us say above all that the traditional term "metaphysical" signified the act of transcending physics, which for the Greeks signified the totality of the cosmos, of which man was a part. For us physics is something else: the science of the material world. For us the cosmos perfects itself in man, who at the same time sums up the world and surpasses it. Thus our philosophy will be essentially a meta-anthropology, presupposing not only the cosmological sciences, but also the anthropological sciences, and surpassing them towards the question of the being and essence of man. Now man exists only in dialogue with his neighbor. The infant is brought to consciousness of himself only by love, by the smile of his mother. In that encounter the horizon of all unlimited being opens itself for him, revealing four things to him: (i) that he is one in love with the mother, even in being other than his mother, therefore all being is one; (2) that that love is good, therefore all being is good; (3) that that love is true, therefore all being is true; and (4) that that love evokes joy, therefore all being is beautiful. We add here that the epiphany of being has sense only if in the appearance (Erscheinung) we grasp the essence which manifests itself (Ding an sich). The infant comes to the knowledge not of a pure appearance, but of his mother in herself. That does not exclude our grasping the essence only through the manifestation and not in itself (St. Thomas). The One, the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, these are what we call the transcendental attributes of Being, because they surpass all the limits of essences and are coextensive with Being. If there is an insurmountable distance between God and his creature, but if there is also an analogy between them which cannot be resolved in any form of identity, there must also exist an analogy between the transcendentals– between those of the creature and those in God. There are two conclusions to draw from this: one positive, the other negative. The positive: man exists only by interpersonal dialogue: therefore by language, speech (in gestures, in mimic, or in words). Why then deny speech to Being himself? "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (Jn 1:1). The negative: supposing that God is truly God (that is to say that he is the totality of Being who has need of no creature), then God will be the plenitude of the One, the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, and by consequence the limited creature participates in the transcendentals only in a partial, fragmentary fashion. Let us take an example: What is unity in a finite world? Is it the species (each man is totally man, that is his unity), or is it the individual (each man is indivisibly himself)? Unity is thus polarized in the domain of finitude. One can demonstrate the same polarity for the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. I have thus tried to construct a philosophy and a theology starting from an analogy not of an abstract Being, but of Being as it is encountered concretely in its attributes (not categorical, but transcendental). And as the transcendentals run through all Being, they must be interior to each other: that which is truly true is also truly good and beautiful and one. A being appears, it has an epiphany: in that it is beautiful and makes us marvel. In appearing it gives itself, it delivers itself to us: it is good. And in giving itself up, it speaks itself, it unveils itself: it is true (in itself, but in the other to which it reveals itself).

Thursday, August 25, 2005

One year

Blog anniversary Today is North Western Winds' one year anniversary. It's been a lot of work and a lot of fun. I've exchanged ideas with some interesting people and learned a lot about both blogging and philosophy. A look back in stats:
  • Depending on which counter service I check with, my unique visitors number about 28,000 or a lot more.
  • Daily visits are close to 150 a day.
  • 677 posts
  • The TTLB has NWW at 381 unique links, and #249 overall. A "Large Mammal."
  • The Blogging Tories TTLB puts NWW at number 11, by links within the community.
  • Canada wide TTLB puts NWW at 14, by links within the community.
I think the blog is working out pretty well. I'm learning, I'm sharing, and it's fun. That said, I feel a need for another break. I took a two week break once before - I think it was in the spring. In any case, I think it did me some good because I came back and did what I think are some good posts. They got some links and sparked some debate. Maybe I'll use some of the down time to look over the past year (I said what??!) and compile a 'top ten' list of posts I'm still pleased with. Speaking of happy posts, do any other bloggers out there spike their own posts? I do from time to time, when I just can't bring it around so that I'm happy with it. I don't do it a lot, but once and a while I feel like I'm not meeting my own standards. Just wondering... Finally, I before I head to the back yard and prop myself up with a cold one, I have one dangling intention that I have not kept (yet). Ashton - I still have your emails and intend to take up your thoughtful commentary.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The parasite in Darwinism

Michael Ruse, Taking Darwin Seriously I've have been debating over at Andrew's Bound by Gravity, on the subject of how evolution and religion are to be reconciled, if they are indeed reconcilable. Andrew's an agnostic and he found a passage from a New Republic article that moved him to say he thought the subject of intelligent design had to be in a complete tatters. My response - and we've had this debate before, he and I, was that I do not see how we on earth, living a mere seventy years or so and seeing nothing more than a tiny fraction of this one planet, could be in a position to extrapolate from that and say with certainty that there is not a hidden order to the universe that is beyond our understanding. I added that a randomly evolved mind would be in an even worse position to judge, as it was not made with any goal in mind (like having a real and significant compass towards finding ontologic truths about the universe). Finally, I tried to show that in our everyday activity we are always invoking metaphysical ideas and methodological heuristics that are not scientifically proven (and cannot be), and this is true even in the field of science itself. That last point had me under fire from a lot of folks (not Andrew, who is always gracious), some of them obviously very smart and knowledgeable - in their field. That field just happens not to be philosophy. If there had been a greater awareness of issues in the philosophy of science in that comment thread, the suggestion that there is no double blind stat sheet proving Occam's Razor would not have been as contentious as it was. I also suspect that since I let it be known from the beginning that I am a Christian theist, I was always under a cloud of doubt, expected to invoke a passage of scripture to make a point, or to personally testify to having seen Angels, or what have you. That is not going to happen - to make points in a conversation you have to use things that are mutually accessible or you're not going to get very far. I even admitted I do think a good case can be made for evolution and that I don't hold to a literal reading of Genesis. Still, reminding the Nominalists that (by their own criteria!) we do not know for certain that genetic mutations are random did not get a warm reception. Hmmm. What could it be under that particular rock?
So - just to prove some of my points are not due to my "muddle headed" theism, I am going to post a passage from a Micheal Ruse, who is a both a philosopher and a former professor of zoology at the University of Guelph. Ruse is not an ID advocate; quite the opposite. He's an agnostic with heavy naturalistic leanings, and a scholar of all things Darwinian. From the final chapter of Taking Darwin Seriously, which is a chapter devoted to Darwin's New Critics:
Here I believe the critics - including new Creationists like Phillip Johnson - may indeed have a point. The fact of the matter is that right from the beginning back in the middle of the eighteenth century, evolutionary ideas have frequently (most of the time, to be honest) been used as a vehicle for ideologies, philosophies, religious hopes and thinking. Most particularly, as you must have gleaned from the main chapters of the book, evolution has been the child of the belief in the possibility and desirability of progress: upward change in human knowledge, society, industry and more, through unaided human effort (Ruse, 1996). It was the urge to find a physical counterpart to this ideology that drove the early evolutionists like Erasmus Darwin and Jean Baptise de Lamark, it was the belief in progress that made Herbert Spencer the leading evolutionist of the nineteenth century, and it has been something which motivates evolutionists even today. Wilson, as we have seen, is open and ardent in his enthusiasm. I think I underestimated the extent to which the belief in progress did permeate evolutionary thinking. I stressed then, and I would stress now, that I am not claiming that evolutionary theory has to be interpreted in a progressivist fashion. One can focus on the non-directional, and this is something which can come readily if one makes much of natural selection through random mutation. I surmise that many (probably most) of today's professional evolutionists have little or no interest in progress. But the fact is that it has been the prominent motive and ideology in the history of evolutionary theorizing: furthermore, although Darwin's natural selection may lend itself to a non progressivist treatment, many prominent Darwinians have been progressionists (Ruse 1993, 1996). Charles Darwin himself was one such person. Sir Ronald Fisher was another. And there are Darwinians today of a progressionist ilk: other than Wilson, Richard Dawkins' name comes at once to mind. In a tradition started by Darwin himself, it is argued that selection can lead to a kind of comparative progress, through a sort of 'arms race' competition between lines: the prey gets faster, the predator gets faster. Overall, this leads to a kind of progress - brains and so forth - as organisms strive to stay on top. Progress was traditionally a philosophy or a world system to rival Christian thinking - the former stresses the capability of human beings to raise themselves up, the latter stresses that only through God's Providential intervention have we hope of future happiness. People like Fisher show that the division was hardly clear cut, but the fact is that evolution with this secular ideology behind it, with (as Johnson notes) its own creation story, has functioned as a kind of religion substitute. More: as a kind of religion. Not for nothing did Julian Huxley, one of the architects of twentieth century evolutionary thought, label one of his books Religion without Revelation (1927). And as in all good religious systems, one finds moral directives. Or, rather, as with all major religious systems, one finds a moral framework which gets different interpretations by different people and at different times. Promulgation of progess is taken as the highest good, which translates as the nurturing and betterment of humankind; but how one sets about this is another matter. Spencer was laissez faire and free trade; Fisher was an ardent eugenicist; and Wilson - believing humans have evolved in symbiotic relationship with nature - feels that our highest obligations are to biodiversity and the preservation of natural resources like the Brazilian rainforests (see Spencer 1851; MacKenzie 1981; E.O. Wilson 1984, 1994). The new Creationists are right in seeing evolutionary ideas as a threat - as a rival religion - although they are hardly right in laying at the evolutionists' door all of the moral moves of modern society. I suspect that, like all of us, evolutionists reflect their place in society as much as they create it. But the new Creationists are even more correct than I have thus far allowed. Even though one certainly can interpret Darwinism in a Christian fashion, the fact is that many Darwinians - many Darwinians today - have no wish to do this. Rather, they flaunt what they take to be the atheistic implications of their theory. Take Richard Dawkins (1995, 1996). He thinks that Darwinism, explaining adaptation as it does, makes unnecessary the appeal to the Christian God of Design. He thinks also that selection, stressing that life is a struggle for existence, intensifies the problem of evil to such an extent that the appeal to the Christian God is untenable. [Ruse quotes Dawkins here, the details of which are not important; the point has been summed up above] I will say two things to this argument. First, the fact that natural selection does not make necessary an appeal to a creator obviously does not make such an appeal impossible. Many have thought - including Darwin himself at the time when he wrote the Origin - that the Creator designs at a distance through unbroken law, but that he designs nonetheless (Ruse, 1999). Second, while it is indeed true that natural selection can focus our attention on the problem of evil, it does not create it. It was a problem for Christian belief for centuries before Darwin. This means that, if you have found some way to reconcile evil with your religious belief, there is no reason why Darwinism should disturb it... The conclusion I am drawing is that you can and should step between the Charybidis of Johnson and the Scylla of Dawkins.
Ruse is a biologist who will admit that it is indeed a struggle to keep scientific study of Darwin squeaky clean of any bit of metaphysics or politcal yearnings. Other fields of scientific study do not seem to have the problem to the same a degree - and I suspect this is so because math and physics do not deal with the problem of pain and death. In this day of the privately funded lab, one really has to keep one's head about what assumptions one is going to make - and there are going to be assumptions no matter how sparkly your lab coat is. Labs and scientists cost big money, and that money comes, more and more, from private capital. Government funding has its own problems, of course, but private capital is probably even more structurally motivated to Utilitarianism, which gives it the largest scope for both the type of testing that can be done and also gives it the broadest umbrella under which it can raise money. The issue is a bit like that of the family doctor being paid a stipend for promoting one pill over another. Is his advice now tainted, or not? It's hard to say, but the odds have no doubt gone up. If we want to keep science all about a noble quest for truth, it will require careful thought and two open eyes. The truth, nobility, and neutrality of a specific scientific endeavor cannot simply be assumed. And, more, guardianship will require a rigorous assessment of metaphysics lest we carry parasitical assumptions unawares, as when Dawkins links natural selection to atheism. When he does that, he is no longer acting as a dispassionate scientist. If he is not rebuked, the only way to avoid a double standard is to allow others the same freedom, even if their conclusions differ from his. Alternately, we can simply say that we do not know what drives mutation, just as in physics it is generally acknowledged that causation is not at all well understood.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

A vow of silence

A guy joins a monastery and takes a vow of silence: he’s allowed to say two words every seven years. After the first seven years, the elders bring him in and ask for his two words. "Cold floors," he says. They nod and send him away. Seven more years pass. They bring him back in and ask for his two words. He clears his throats and says, "Bad food." They nod and send him away. Seven more years pass. They bring him in for his two words. "I quit," he says. "That’s not surprising," the elders say. "You’ve done nothing but complain since you got here."
Tip: Catholic Fire.

Monica's Dream

Still reading Augustine. This passage describes his mother's patience and worry over him; as a young man he fell away from the faith she had tried to share with him and instead he fell in with a religious group called the Manichees. Monica is to this day held up by Catholics as an example of steadfastness and perseverence. From the Confessions, Chapter 11:
And now thou didst "stretch forth thy hand from above" and didst draw up my soul out of that profound darkness [of Manicheism] because my mother, thy faithful one, wept to thee on my behalf more than mothers are accustomed to weep for the bodily deaths of their children. For by the light of the faith and spirit which she received from thee, she saw that I was dead. And thou didst hear her, O Lord, thou didst hear her and despised not her tears when, pouring down, they watered the earth under her eyes in every place where she prayed. Thou didst truly hear her. For what other source was there for that dream by which thou didst console her, so that she permitted me to live with her, to have my meals in the same house at the table which she had begun to avoid, even while she hated and detested the blasphemies of my error? In her dream she saw herself standing on a sort of wooden rule, and saw a bright youth approaching her, joyous and smiling at her, while she was grieving and bowed down with sorrow. But when he inquired of her the cause of her sorrow and daily weeping (not to learn from her, but to teach her, as is customary in visions), and when she answered that it was my soul's doom she was lamenting, he bade her rest content and told her to look and see that where she was there I was also. And when she looked she saw me standing near her on the same rule. Whence came this vision unless it was that thy ears were inclined toward her heart? O thou Omnipotent Good, thou carest for every one of us as if thou didst care for him only, and so for all as if they were but one! And what was the reason for this also, that, when she told me of this vision, and I tried to put this construction on it: "that she should not despair of being someday what I was," she replied immediately, without hesitation, "No; for it was not told me that `where he is, there you shall be' but `where you are, there he will be.'" I confess my remembrance of this to thee, O Lord, as far as I can recall it--and I have often mentioned it. Thy answer, given through my watchful mother, in the fact that she was not disturbed by the plausibility of my false interpretation but saw immediately what should have been seen--and which I certainly had not seen until she spoke--this answer moved me more deeply than the dream itself. Still, by that dream, the joy that was to come to that pious woman so long after was predicted long before, as a consolation for her present anguish. Nearly nine years passed in which I wallowed in the mud of that deep pit and in the darkness of falsehood, striving often to rise, but being all the more heavily dashed down. But all that time this chaste, pious, and sober widow--such as thou dost love--was now more buoyed up with hope, though no less zealous in her weeping and mourning; and she did not cease to bewail my case before thee, in all the hours of her supplication. Her prayers entered thy presence, and yet thou didst allow me still to tumble and toss around in that darkness.
Quoted text copied from CCEL.

Eye of the beholder

I've had this thought myself, but Steyn says it best:
Ever since America’s all-adult, all-volunteer army went into Iraq, the anti-war crowd have made a sustained effort to characterise them as ‘children’. If a 13-year-old wants to have an abortion, that’s her decision and her parents shouldn’t get a look-in. If a 21-year-old wants to drop to the Oval Office shagpile and chow down on Bill Clinton, she’s a grown woman and free to do what she wants. But, if a 22- or 25- or 37-year old is serving his country overseas, he’s a wee ‘child’ who isn’t really old enough to know what he’s doing.
Via Damian Penny.

Augustine the undergrad

It is interesting to see a figure like St. Augustine, who some would characterize as a negative and puritanical figure, describe his early life in a manner that is probably familiar to almost any undergrad student today. From Book Three of The Confessions:
To Carthage I came, where a cauldron of unholy loves bubbled up all around me. I searched about for something to love, in love with loving, and hating security, and a way not free of snares... I remained without desire for incorruptible food, not because I was already filled thereby, but because the more empty I was the more I loathed it. My soul was far from well, and, full of ulcers, it miserably cast itself forth, craving to be excited by contact with objects of sense. Yet these had these no soul, and would not inspire love. To love and to be loved was sweet to me, and all the more when I succeeded in enjoying the person I loved. I befouled, therefore, the spring of friendship with the filth of concupiscence, and I dimmed its lustre with the hell of lustfulness; and yet, foul and dishonourable as I was, I craved, through an excess of vanity, to be thought elegant and urbane. I fell precipitately, then, into the love in which I longed to be ensnared. My God, my mercy, with how much bitterness didst Thou, out of Thy infinite goodness, besprinkle for me that sweetness! ... I loved to grieve, and sought out what to grieve at [ie. theatre]. When another man's misery, though feigned and counterfeited, that delivery of the actor best pleased me, and attracted me the most powerfully, which moved me to tears. What marvel was it that an unhappy sheep, straying from Thy flock, and impatient of Thy care, I became infected with a foul disease? And hence came my love of griefs. Not such griefs as should probe me too deeply, for I loved not to suffer such things as I loved to look upon, but such as, when hearing their fictions, that should lightly scratch the surface. These scratches became infected. Such was my life! But was it life, O my God?
He's basically unable to see love as anything more than sensual, and in love with art for art's sake - hardly an uncommon condition. He continues:
My studies, which were accounted honourable, were directed towards the courts of law; to excel in which, the more crafty I was, the more I should be praised. Such is the blindness of men, that they even glory in their blindness. And now I was one of the best in the School of Rhetoric, so I rejoiced proudly, and became inflated with arrogance...
Yup, sounds like second year to me. Text taken from New Advent and edited for readability.

Studies I like

In an amusing aside, David Warren notes that:
On the subject of drinking, yet another long-term, in-depth study, this one of 7,000 persons by Australian National University’s Centre for Mental Health Research, has shown that people who drink (specifically, alcohol) are smarter and healthier than people who don't. Also, I should think: wiser, kinder, prettier, happier, and better. But the study was restricted to drivelling tests of verbal reasoning, short-term memory, and the like. Unsurprisingly, teetotallers appeared to be more likely than certified alcoholics to achieve the lowest scores.
I don't think they had this kind of beer in mind. Well, if I can't have that, I will certainly be happy with a McAuslan's St-Ambrose Oatmeal Stout. I note that the loneliest liberal in the Red Ensign group likes it too, so I guess he can't be all bad then. I also like studies that showing that chocolate is good for you.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

On the GG

Andrew Coyne:
[Michaelle Jean] has no record of service to the country, no outstanding accomplishments to her name, no specialized knowledge of law, politics or the constitution. In a crisis, what credibility would she have? If the minority government were to attempt to rule without the confidence of the House -- again -- would anyone listen to her opinion on the matter? If the country were to be plunged into the constitutional void of a unilateral secession bid, would Canadians rally to her side -- whichever side that was? This isn't a sales clerk we're hiring. This is supposed to be the position of supreme honour and prestige in the country, one with important symbolic and substantive roles. It should be filled by titans, revered national icons, whose love of country is reflected in the love their country has for them.
So Paul Martin pooched the appoinment of the Governor General to be. *blink* This is a surprise? He chose her with little to no screening, from accounts I've read, and there is little doubt that it was her skin colour and gender that cinched the appointment. There is obviously nothing wrong with either of those things, provided there is something more underneath. That Martin overlooked the more important part of the equation is entirely in the frappe sucking limosine lib character of the man.

A Peaceful tyranny

I have been debating with Francis Poretto over this post, in which I thought he was advocating too indiscriminate a response to nuclear terrorism. Lest I be thought some sort of pacifist, I will point to this, by Fr. James V. Schall, and say that I my views are very much in line:
Never to fight a war means never to take the trouble to stop unjust aggression when it happens. This is not a virtue. The history of our kind, to be sure, is filled with wars that should not have been fought. It is also – and this we forget – filled with wars that should have been fought and were not. Much evil has followed from unjust wars. Much evil has also flowed from wars that should have been fought and were not, or were, as in the case of World War II, not fought soon enough. Never to defend one’s nation or culture against any attack from whatever source implicitly is to admit that what one stands for is not worthy of any sacrifice, especially the sacrifice of death in defending it. Socrates, who fought in the Athenian army, was also the one who first said that "it is never right to do wrong." Given a choice between performing an unjust deed, even when it is requested or required by the state, or death, death is preferable. It at least upholds what is right. To change our principles on any challenge or threat of death against us, logically, is not to have any principles. If our enemy knows that a threat of death will induce us to change our principles, he will certainly threaten war, knowing that we will not fight to uphold what is right. A war is a drawing of a line beyond which, in refusing to defend ourselves, we cannot be anything but cowardly or capitulating before evils that are known, dangerous, and politically organized. It is a noble thing to resist tyrants and terrorists, in whatever form, even when they appear in the democratic or non-governmental forms, in which we sometimes see them today. It is more noble still to be able to define precisely what tyranny is. It is all right to praise "peace" over war, provided that we remember that peace is the end of war, not its mode of operation... If we mean by "peace," however, simply the lack of fighting, then concentration camps, gulags, and tyrannies of iron control are "peaceful" cities. When we praise "peace" for its own sake, we have to take care not to be praising injustice at the same time. This latter is a temptation, especially among the pious.
Well, I don't want to overwrought in my piety either. But Socrates' advice in Schall's passage also works against unjust orders given in support of war. To use Francis' Nazi example, a soldier under Nazi command would be justified in refusing orders to liquify a people. One of the issues in this discussion might have to do with how we define 'Muslim'. Francis seems to have in mind that 'Muslim' and 'enemy combatant' are synonymous in terms of war guilt. I too have read of passages from the Koran that appear to back up that view, passages that argue a Muslim only makes peace with an infidel in order to re-arm and resume combat on better terms. This is probably what compels Francis to feel a passage like this one, from a follow up post, are justifiable:
The question isn't what's licit in the protection of innocents; it's rather simpler than that. It's determining who the guilty are and putting a stop to their slaughters. A terrorist nuclear attack on these shores would be sufficient evidence to conclude that non-Muslims cannot share this world with Muslims under conditions of reasonable safety. At that point, a pogrom to eliminate Islam from the world would be justified. It would be the only way to protect innocent lives from those who would harm them, including the co-religionists who make their infamies possible by concealing and succoring them.
What's missing in this line of reasoning is that not every person who claims to be Muslim embraces all of it. Catholics like to carp about people being 'cafeteria Catholics' and picking and choosing which doctrines they will support. It should come as no surprise when people of other faiths act in the same way. What is more, someone who is extreme today may not be extreme tomorrow. Obviously, knowing who is who in either scenario is beyond human capability. To my mind, then, this behooves us to advocate only the amount of violence necessary to achieve our end, which should be nothing more than ending the threat here and now. We simply cannot realistically aim to end the threat forever. That is a form of utopianism, the kind of thing I had thought Francis rightly criticized in another post. It turns out that I was wrong, the writing in question was from the journal First Things. The highest justice is not for man to mete out, but for Providence. Failure to recognize this is give in to what Erich Voegelein termed a desire to "Immanentize the Eschaton." I note that the Wikkipedia entry for Voegelein recognizes a tie into the Catechsim, #676:
The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the "intrinsically perverse" political form of a secular messianism.
It should be noted too that the Koran is a set of ideas and that killing people who hold them will not - cannot - stop the ideas from re-asserting themselves. Daniel Dennet's book, Darwin's Dangerous Design, contains many interesting ideas, including this theoretical question, posed by Nicholas Humphrey. If you were forced to consign one of the following masterpieces to oblivion, which one should you choose? Newton's Principia, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Mozart's Don Giovanni, or Eiffel's Tower? Humphrey's answer is that the obvious choice is Newton's Principia. Why?
Because of all those works, Newton's is the only one that is replaceable. Quite simply, if Newton had not written it, then someone else would have.
I think the study of heresy would suggest that it is a negative counterexample to the Principia. They just keep re-asserting themselves, no matter how many times you shoot the messenger.

John the Mad

Readers from John the Mad's blog are hereby issued a big fat Welcome!, and directed to this particular post, which I am still seeking comments on.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Conservatives down the road

Austin Bramswell has an interesting read in the latest issue of The American Conservative, in which he warns about conservative triumphalism and identifies three areas where high quality conservative debate is still taking place.
Conservatism has reached an unacknowledged consensus about the outcome of the theoretical debates of the ‘50s and ‘60s. The consensus holds, first, that someone has discovered the Holy Grail that will vindicate conservatism once and for all, otherwise why be a conservative in the first place? Second, it holds that, whatever the Grail actually is, it does not do any good to describe it with too much specificity. These beliefs contradict each other, yet the conservative consensus has proved remarkably stable. Take, as a case study, libertarianism. Unlike most other right-wingers, libertarians have a distinct idea of what they stand for: less government. They also have, in free-market economics, the Right’s most fruitful research program and, in F.A. Hayek, the only recent right-wing theorist to command serious attention from the Left. What libertarians do not have, however, is a comprehensive argument for their ideology. Their failure to uncover this argument stems from no lack of trying. Even more than other right-wingers, libertarians love abstract debates over why their views are correct. Richard Epstein, for example, the brilliant libertarian law professor at the University of Chicago, subtitled his latest book, “A Modern Case for Classical Liberalism.” It is his third contribution to the literature of libertarian apologetics, a somewhat occult genre dating back to the 1920s. To put it bluntly, the genre is a failure. No economic model can prove that government interference in the economy by nature tends to do harm. While economics can show that some government programs will fail—rent control, say, or confiscatory tax rates—it cannot show that all government programs will fail [that would be an inductive conclusion, which libertarians will often refuse to admit as a valid form of reasoning - ed.]. As for the various moral arguments for libertarianism, they are even weaker. Liberal theorists such as Ronald Dworkin and Amartya Sen have long since shown that libertarians simply fail to grasp the full dimensions of equal liberty, which does not demand, as libertarians would have it, that everyone should be equally free to starve, but that everyone should have a fair chance to pursue his goals freely. This principle may require a more active government than libertarians would allow.
Libertarianism failed with me because it is simply unable to deal adequately with the real world and real people, people who are not interchangeable, autonomous parts. Dependency and struggle simply cannot be reduced to the failure to summon the Neitzschian will. Libertarians can't deal with things like children, to name one really obvious example, and do little better when dealing with the aged and the mentally ill. We live in a web of human interaction and at different times in our lives we fill different roles. Sometimes, through no fault, we cannot compete and under no circumstances should that mean we are forfeit. There's probably a reason libertarians are so often young men with no significant attachments. Liberals tend to make the same mistake in the social sphere, where freedom and autonomy are also not without reasonable limits.
Some may read this description of the American Right with bemused impatience. Conservatism doesn’t need a master-philosopher; to the lofty theoretical disputes of the 1950s and ’60s, they say good riddance. Perhaps they are correct: American conservatism doesn’t need a Holy Grail. Nonetheless, conservatives should not let the intellectual restlessness of their early years give way to decadent complacency. It has happened before in American political life—to American liberalism—with unhappy consequences both for liberalism and the nation.
I identify as one of the ones Bramswell speaks of here. I am not convinced that conservatives need the 'holy grail' he writes about, and that without it, we risk succumbing to the sort of triumphalism that American Liberals have struggled with. In fact, the idea seems to me to be pretty much the sort of thing Burke warned against. We work on the small parts, trusting they will come together and be greater than anything we could have planned. Branswell suggests that the conservative cannon consists of "the canon of conservative thought: The Road to Serfdom, Ideas Have Consequences, Capitalism and Freedom, The Conservative Mind, Witness, Atlas Shrugged, In Defense of Freedom, The Closing of the American Mind, and others." These are all works that were written in the period 1940 to 1960, and he wonders where the new conservative classics are. One of the areas he identifies as fertile ground for the conservative imagination is the fascination with technology, particularly the field of biotech. In that, he is almost certainly right. There is a pile-up coming and advising people on how best to avoid it is not only the right thing to do, but it could pay substantial dividends to conservatism's stature in the future.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

It won't fit

Parable Man takes aim at the word "neo Catholic":
Traditionalist Catholics apply the label because they are irritated at the inability of many "neo-Catholics" to appreciate what are claimed as serious errors of the post-Vatican II Church in the area of morals, culture, and Church discipline. "Neo-Catholics" are supposedly unable to take a broader view that understands Catholicity as the task of ensuring that no significant changes occur to the doctrine, practice, and teachings of Catholicism as they existed when Christ gave them to the Apostles in 1940. ... Liberal Catholics apply the label for the same reason, except the "serious error" they identify in the post-Vatican II era is the failure to rewrite the Church's moral teachings on sexuality and family. "Neo-Catholics" are supposedly unable to take a broader view that understands Catholicity as an evolutionary process by which the Church jettisons inauthentic cultural holdovers and embraces a brighter, more loving vision in which married women priests using contraception perform homosexual marriages. ... As usually happens, Left and Right are better at mirroring than fighting each other. The essence of Traditionalist and Liberal dislike of Neo-Catholicism is that Neo-Catholics try very hard to believe what's in the Catechism and to follow the Pope.
I am using the Neo Cath button to the right in an ironic sense; I do not feel the name truly designates anything. The word points to little but the frustration of the one who uses it as a weapon against those standing in his way, the Orthodox. Orthodoxy, however, is a big tent that recognizes a diversity of talents, methods, and the human struggles with issues of faith. It does not embrace everything, as it does hold in things like Truth and Sin, but it is nowhere near narrow enough to be compared with the term 'neocon,' and that school's embrace of a very narrow definition of right, ie. one size anglo capitalism for all. Orthodoxy tends to be patient and tolerant; it waits for the Truth to present itself, knowing that suffering in this world is not the worst thing that could possibly happen. This makes it quite different from either side in what is best understood as a Liberal / Progressive schism. The 'neo' prefix attemtps to draw us into - and define us through - the prism of this divide in progressive utopian materialism. The shoe, however, simply will not fit. Orthodoxy is not utopian, and it is not progressive (not in a linear way). It is idealistic (in the philosophic, not political sense of the word) and it looks for joy in reconciliation with the Truth, rather than any earthly conquest.

Literal Sense

Vomit the Lukewarm manages to say in a few words what took me... well, a lot more.
Thomas Aquinas' major rivals were the followers of Averrhoes at the University of Paris. Their first principle of philosophy was the infallibility of Aristotle, who they claimed was a dispensation of divine providence, revealed to man to teach all natural truth. Aquinas' criticism of these men shows that while they claimed to only follow the littera [letter] of Aristotle, they in fact divinized their own interpretation of the literal sense. This is typical of what happens when one tries to make a book the sole rule of right doctrine.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Which Country are you?

This is a better result than "the U.N."...

You're Vatican City!
You're pretty sure that you're infallible in all that you do or say, and it's hard to say whether you're right.  You have a lot of followers, most of whom will do whatever you say without question, or line up to see you ride around in your spiffy car.  Religious and reserved, you have some wisdom, but also a bit much contempt for everyone around you.  You're also fabulously wealthy, no matter what you say to the contrary.
Take the Country Quiz at the Blue Pyramid

White Squall

St Paul's Rocks Picture source. A passage from Patrick O'Brian's HMS Surprise, the third novel in the Aubrey-Maturin series. It takes place during a long passage from England to India, circa 1800, with the ship resting at a lonely rock outcropping 950 km. off Brazil, known as St. Paul's. Two of the men decide to spend the afternoon exploring. After confessing of his estrangement from his wife, despairing of getting any more letters or packages from her, and admitting to the ship's doctor, Stephen Maturin, that he cannot bear any longer "this long, slow death," crewman Nicholls offers to build an impromptu shelter from the searing sun. Dr. Maturin passes on the offer, as he is an inveterate naturalist, obsessed with observing and capturing samples of the natural life on the desolate site. What happens next is quite unexpected.
'I should not have thought I had any drops of sweat left,' Maturin reflected, thumping on. Then he realized that drops were also falling on his back, huge drops of warm rain, quite unlike the dung countless birds had gratified him with. He stood up, looked around, and there barring the western sky was darkness, and on the sea beneath it a white line, approaching with inconceivable rapidity. No birds in the air, even on the crowded west side. And the middle distance was blurred by flying rain. The whole of the darkness was lit from within by red lightning, plain even in this glare. A moment later the sun was swallowed up and in the hot gloom water hurled down on him. Not drops, but jets, as warm as the air and driving flatways with enormous force; and between close packed jets a spray of shattered water, infinitely divided, so thick he could hardly draw in the air. He sheltered his mouth with his hands, breathed easier, let water gush through his fingers and drank it up, pint after pint. Although he was on the dome of the rock the deluge covered his ankles, and there were his boxes blowing, floating away. Staggering and crouching in the wind he recovered two and squatted over them; and all the time the rain raced through the air, filling his ears with a roar that almost drowned the prodigious thunder. Now the squall was right overhead; the turning wind knocked him down, and what he had thought the ultimate degree of cataclysm increased tenfold. He wedged the boxes between his knees and crouched on all fours. Time took on another aspect; it was marked only by the successive lightning strokes that hissed through the air, darting from the cloud above, striking the rock and leaping back into darkness. A few weak, stunned thoughts moved through his mind - 'What of the ship? Can any bird survive this? Is Nicholls safe?' It was over. The rain stopped instantly and the wind swept the air clear; a few minutes later the cloud passed from the lowering sun and it rode there, blazing from a perfect, even bluer sky. To westward the world was unchanged, just as it always had been apart from the white caps on the sea; to the east the squall still covered the place he had last seen the ship; and in the widening stretch between the rock and the darkness a current bore a stream of fledgling birds, hundreds of them. All along the stream he saw sharks, some large, some small, rising to the bodies. The whole rock was still streaming - the sound of running water everywhere - He splashed down the slope calling 'Nicholls, Nicholls!' Some of the birds - he had to avoid them as he stepped - were still crouching flat over their eggs or nestlings; some where preening themselves. In three places there were jagged rows of dead terns and gannets, charred though damp, and smelling of fire. He reached the spot where the shelter had been: no shelter, no fallen oars: and where they had hauled up there was no boat. He made his way clean round the rock, leaning on the wind and calling in the emptiness. And when for a second time he came to the eastern side and looked out to the sea the squall had vanished. There was no ship to be seen. Climbing to the top he caught sight of her, hull down and scudding before the wind under her foretopsail, her mizzen and maintopmast gone. He watched until even the flicker of of white disappeared. The sun dipped below the horizon when he turned and walked down. The boobies had already set to their fishing again, and the higher birds were still in the sun, flashing pink as they dived through the firey light.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Blown Fuse

During a Eucharistic Congress, a number of priests from different orders are gathered in a church for Vespers. While they are praying, a fuse blows and all the lights go out. The Benedictines continue praying from memory, without missing a beat. The Jesuits begin to discuss whether the blown fuse means they are dispensed from the obligation to pray Vespers. The Franciscans compose a song of praise for God's gift of darkness. The Dominicans revisit their ongoing debate on light as a signification of the transmission of divine knowledge. The Carmelites fall into silence and slow, steady breathing. The parish priest, who is hosting the others, goes to the basement and replaces the fuse.
Well, I thought that was hilarious. Tip: Catholic Fire.


My friend Ben likes to say that he is a candidate for an Asperger diagnosis and my wife jokingly tells me the same. Your were joking, weren't you, dear? WIRED magazine now has an on line test you can take. The magazine tells us that "the average score in the control group was 16.4. Eighty percent of those diagnosed with autism or a related disorder scored 32 or higher." Yours truly came in over the average and under the diagnosis, with a respectable 21. Note that the server seems to be having trouble right this moment and I had to tally my score by hand. The test is part of a fascinating look at WIRED claims is an upsurge in Aspergers and Autism diagnoses in Silicon Valley:
Rates of both classic autism and Asperger's syndrome are going up all over the world, which is certainly cause for alarm and for the urgent mobilization of research. Autism was once considered a very rare disorder, occurring in one out of every 10,000 births. Now it's understood to be much more common - perhaps 20 times more. But according to local authorities, the picture in California is particularly bleak in Santa Clara County... Though no one has tried to convince the Valley's best and brightest to sign up for batteries of tests, the culture of the area has subtly evolved to meet the social needs of adults in high-functioning regions of the spectrum. In the geek warrens of engineering and R&D, social graces are beside the point. You can be as off-the-wall as you want to be, but if your code is bulletproof, no one's going to point out that you've been wearing the same shirt for two weeks. Autistic people have a hard time multitasking - particularly when one of the channels is face-to-face communication. Replacing the hubbub of the traditional office with a screen and an email address inserts a controllable interface between a programmer and the chaos of everyday life. Flattened workplace hierarchies are more comfortable for those who find it hard to read social cues. A WYSIWYG world, where respect and rewards are based strictly on merit, is an Asperger's dream. Obviously, this kind of accommodation is not unique to the Valley. The halls of academe have long been a forgiving environment for absentminded professors. Temple Grandin - the inspiring and accomplished autistic woman profiled in Oliver Sacks' An Anthropologist on Mars - calls NASA the largest sheltered workshop in the world. ... The chilling possibility is that what's happening now is the first proof that the genes responsible for bestowing certain special gifts on slightly autistic adults - the very abilities that have made them dreamers and architects of our technological future - are capable of bringing a plague down on the best minds of the next generation.
That's a creepy prognosis, so here's hoping that all these brilliant minds can find a way out of it that avoids the pit of eugenic culling, focusing instead on treatment.

Monday, August 15, 2005

World Youth Day

World Youth Day opens in Cologne, Germany tomorrow. Here are some links for those who want to know more.

Here a skeptic, there a skeptic

Faith and Salvation There is a famous example of a syllogism, given by Aristotle, that goes like this:
All Men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
I'm coming to the end of Copelston's first volume on the history of philosophy, and he is covering a number of schools that were big names in the later Roman Empire, such as the Cynics and the Skeptics. In reading over what some of these schools taught, I am struck from time to time on the similarities to some so called modern schools. It goes to prove, I think, that there really is nothing new under the sun. Here, Copelston is describing and critiquing one of the Skeptics:
Sextus Empiricus (c. A.D. 250), who is our main source for details of Skeptic doctrine, argued against the possibility of proving any conclusion syllogistically. The major premise - for instance, "All men are mortal" - can be proved only by a complete induction. But the complete induction involves a knowledge of the conclusion - "Socrates is mortal." For we cannot say, that all men are mortal unless we already know that Socrates is mortal. The Syllogism is, therefore, an instance of a vicious circle. We may note that this objection against the syllogism, revived in the nineteenth century by John Stuart Mill, would only be valid if the Aristotelian doctrine of the specific instance essence were rejected in favour of Nominalism. It is in virtue of our perception of the essence or universal nature of man that are entitled to assert that all men are mortal and not because we lay claim to any perfect and complete enumeration of particulars through actual observation, which in the case in point would be out of the question. The major premise is founded, therefore, on the nature of man, and does not require explicit knowledge of the conclusion of the syllogism. The conclusion is contained implicitly in the major premise, and the syllogistic process renders this implicit knowledge clear and explicit. The nominalist standpoint demands, of course, a new logic, and this Mill attempted to supply...
My annoyance with attacks like the one discussed here is that I do not see how it can be used to build anything positive; it is, if it is anything at all, a kind of universal acid of the mind and the heart, nullifying even itself. In modern garb this is the 'critical' school beloved of left leaning academics and politicians. Vatican documents often refer to it as Nominalism. Secondly, it relies on an dogmatic and unprovable axiom - there are no universals - and its adherents too often refuse to acknowledge this. Instead they like to exalt themselves as 'the true, the brave, the elite, the vanguard, etc. etc. etc.' over the 'superstitious rabble' who do hold that universals exist and are worth discussing.
You might be quick to think that there is a hard line between those who hold that there are universals - call them the religious - and those who do not. You would be wrong to do so, however, because there are large numbers of people who mix the two axioms together in various ways. It is my opinion that when this mixing takes place, Christian religion becomes weakened, even corrupted. This will take some explaining, so please bear with me. I was doing some reading on the subject of soteriology on the weekend. It's a big word but it simply means 'theory of salvation.' There has been a long debate in Christianity over how it is that man is to be saved, and if it can be done through faith or works. Various answers have been offered and Protestants of all stripes like to say that Catholics think they are saved by works. It's an odd accusation for a Catholic to hear but it has in it some nubs of truth that can be said to give rise to the confusion. The first is that in the medieval period there were indeed corrupt religious officials who would claim to be able to forgive sins for a large enough 'donation' to the church. This was completely wrong and deserving of all the censure the Reformers brought to bear on it. A religious official does not have the power to contradict the faith since doing so nullifies his very claim to power. The second bit of truth giving rise to the accusation is that Catholics have a different understanding of the word Faith than Protestants do; we are less willing to accept someone's claim to have faith if that person shows no outward signs of it. That does not mean that we think outward signs alone will save one single soul; it does mean we think a growing faith will reform a person in ways that are too large to miss. This is one of the ways the Catholic avoids collapsing religion into an experience that is only interior, only private. The presence of Faith can be likened to yeast that leavens the community. There is nothing in this both / and view that contradicts the Pauline theology that man is saved by faith. Paul says, rightly, that if man can be saved by works, then Christ died for nothing. If we can save ourselves by our own action, then we do not need Grace. The "good news" of Christianity is that saving grace is freely available, because man has never been able to live up to Mosaic Laws. In fact, the Catholic Church spent a lot of time and effort fighting the Pelagian heresy that held that man's will is not so corrupt that he cannot save himself. I suppose there are some Protestants who, when they read the word "works" in Paul's letters, think of Catholic devotions instead of the ancient Jewish Law, or who hold that devotions are analogous to it. One gets the feeling that they think Catholics save themselves by taking the Eucharist, by saying the rosary, or by scrupulously following as much of the Tradition of the church as they can. These ideas are mistaken. There is even a term for the idea that a strict following of Tradition can save a soul. It is called 'scrupulosity' and it is NOT a good thing. The online Catholic Encyclopedia describes it as "a bad habit doing harm, sometimes grievously, to body and soul." Why, then, do these accusations about Catholics and being saved through works persist?
Could it be because Martin Luther suffered from scrupulosity? Is there something about Sola Scriptura that is analogous to the skepticism that I mentioned at the beginning of this too long post? Writing on Galatians, Peter Kreeft offers up a very interesting link between the two ideas. Luther, he writes, stumbled over the faith and works issue because he did not believe there was a thing like human nature for faith to lift up. Thus, he called James - which deals with the issue specifically - an 'epistle of straw' and tried to have it dropped from the canon. Kreeft writes:
Bad philosophy can produce bad theology. Luther was an Okhamist, that is, a Nominalist, who did not believe there were any such things as real species or universal essences like human nature. If there is no universal human nature, there can be no transformed nature. Luther thus reduced salvation to a mental attitude on God's part, and to a legal transaction. God looks at us as if we were his children because he looks at us covered by Christ's blood, which hides our sins, and God declares us righteous even though we really aren't. This merely transfers the legalism from the human to the divine.
One could go on and view Sola Fide as an attempt at over zealous Pauline scrupulosity that does violence to the integrity of the Bible as a whole, as the issue of James' epistle points out. Sola Scriptura itself plays games with the Bible, making it to be something it was never intended to be - THE criterion of truth on earth. The very attempt to make it so demonstrates a lack of faith in God's Providence. The Bible is not the unmoved mover, the source of meaning, or the one who says "I AM." It is not a divine incarnation or an example of divine dictation. It is done by human hands inspired by God; and contained in that word is the crucial notion of the divine working though human agents. Sola Scriptura pits one aspect - albeit an important one - of God's unfolding Providential creation against the rest.
This view of the Bible - taken to extreme- has similarities with the Islamic view of the Koran, which Muslims claim is word for word God's text, flawlessly transcribed by one man, and which cannot even be truly understood in any language but Arabic. The Bible, in contrast, was written by many authors, in many languages, over a huge number of years. Which books were in and which ones were out has always been a matter of contention. The decisions about what books to include could not be based on the Bible itself, and had to be accomplished by inspired human agents - guided by God's Providence. How do we come to accept Sola Scriptura and reject the process that created scripture? I suspect the answer is human nervousness about Providence, which appears slow and sloppy by human reason and human timelines. Holding fast to the Bible only seems like a safe shortcut. The Bible begs to be respectfully poured over, with attention to sources, the type of document (history, legal document), time of origin, and so on. This is not a bug, I think; it is a feature. Our Bible is a book that grows with us. We can find in its pages ethical rules to aid us as new situations unfold, situations that the human agents doing the writing and compiling could not have imagined - such as writing this text on a lit screen and sending it out to be scrutinized with the click of a button. All of this interpretation cannot, however, be allowed to give rise to the idea that Scripture is play dough we can mold at will (remember, our will is nothing to brag about!). The Church is the guardian of Scriptural integrity, in the same way that it guards the integrity of the Eucharist itself. Both elements are aids in the reformation of each person's essence, such that they will be acceptable for being incorporated into the divine. Both are instances of the divine co-mingling and transforming of the merely human.
It may appear that I've left myself open to what Father O'Leary called 'Magesterial Fundamentalism'. I counter that the very idea that a living, breathing tradition can be covered by the term 'fundamentalism' is quite a stretch. Can it reasonably be said that the law of non contradicton can fall under that term? No? Then how can it be that I have put the Magesterium on the highest possible plane?
I've bitten off a large subject here and - as always - I'm open to feedback from all sides.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Island

My wife has beaten me to the punch in posting about it, but we saw the sci fi flick The Island last night. We didn't see it just because Scarlett Johansson was in the film, although that might be a fine reason. We've been seeing a lot of films in the theatres this summer, something we have not done much of for some time. I think we've hit most of the blockbusters and The Island, while not as good as could have been, is not a shabby flick at all. The film is also surprisingly friendly to pro life concerns - Ewan MacGregor and Johansson play a pair of runaway clones, fleeing the facility that created them merely to be an insurance plan for its wealthy clients - one of whom is the president of the United States. The film is beautifully shot, with some terrific lighting that reminded me of Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down. Scott had nothing to do with this one, however. Micheal Bay directed and he does a pretty fair job. For Bay that means he actually let the story build once and a while, in between long scenes of carnage and mayhem. The carnage and mayhem are well done and there is a highway chase that is almost as good as the one in the second Matrix film. My bones took a beating in that sequence. Still, I wish the story could have been given just a little more depth. It's missing a soliloquy on the sancticy of life. It offers instead Steve Buschemi explaining to MacGregor and Johansson that since they were created by men, they have no souls. The clones look on blankly, and from this I suspect we are to surmise that Buschemi is wrong on both counts. Look, I plant a seed in my back yard, but I can't take the credit for "creating" the plant. All I've done is supply conditions conducive to its growth. The film could milk the wrongness of its premise just a bit better than it does. The gunplay under a broken angel statue is a step in the right direction. The negatives include large, blatant product placement scenes for MSN and Cadillac, a somewhat too low key role for Johansson, and one gaping plot flaw. The plot flaw is that somehow we are to believe that MacGregor's character is the first of a whole batch of clones who has somehow inherited the memories and skills of his original. I'm at a loss as to how that is possible. A clone is built off of the genetic code of the original and that code does not include memories. There is even a name for this discredited theory, Lamarckism. This idea is utterly uncessesary to the film and it actually undermines the premise in some ways, ie. perhaps the cloning would be ok if the memories were not there? Better to just leave it out. If it really was possible to transfer the full identity of an original into a clone, you would have a very different film, one that raises very different questions. It would be less of a film about the sanctity of life and more of a film about the question of identity. If you're intrigued by the questions raised by the idea of 'cut and paste' identities Greg Egan wrote a good novel on the subject called Permutation City. See the Wikkipedia entry here. Egan writes really terrific hard sci fi. The biggest plus remains The Island's premise, which serves to show how a western free market countries can (and do!) engage in Lysenkoism, or the subordination of science to ideology - in this case the ideology of "choice" over all other considerations. Finally, I should mention that the movie is also very violent and not suited to young kids but could be an excellent starting point for discussion with teens. For more on The Island see here. A summer movie re-cap... Worth Seeing - The Island, Batman Begins, The Dukes of Hazzard, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Biggest Disappointment: Revenge of the Sith.

Friday, August 12, 2005


I rather suspect that these creeps would not behave this way in the home country, where there are few Christians to harass and the law will be swift to act on the crime and on contempt for the proceedings. The story? Four brothers from Pakistan visit Australia and go on a years long rape spree:
Some victims were repeatedly raped at knifepoint and told they would be killed if they went to police. The brothers videotaped their rapes, and the tapes show another dozen possible victims. The police have not been able to find them all and some did not want to come forward. The victims who did make complaints breathed a sigh of relief on Monday, when the oldest brother, MSK, pleaded guilty to the aggravated sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl in July 2002. That spared the victim from having to give evidence and brought the series of trials to an end. The brutality of the crime, the last to go to trial, was typical. Before raping the girl, MSK told her he had strangled a girlfriend and hung her from a balcony in Iraq - though he was from Pakistan. In June this year MSK was found guilty of four counts of aggravated sexual assault against a 14-year-old. MAK pleaded guilty to one count of the same charge after the trial was aborted due to outbursts by MSK, who shouted details of their previous convictions at the jury. He also jumped the dock and threw broken glass at the victims' mothers.
I don't support the use of 'hate crimes' designations in the law because it is not possible to know what motivates other people and because it seems that only elite favoured groups can actually use the charge. Contempt, on the other hand, is clear. Throw them in jail until they behave - forever if need be.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


It was my fate today to have a busy day and have not been able to blog anything, or give much thought to a question that occurred to me this morning. In Copelston's history of philosophy I came across a quote from Seneca, a stoic philosopher:
Ducunt volentem fata, nolentem trahunt.
Translated from the Latin, it means "the willing are led by fate, the unwilling dragged along by it." How does that compare with this quote from Aquinas:
Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace.
(It's the same one put up here yesterday). At first glace mostly what I see is that Seneca is much more fatalistic, and his notion of God is more removed, impersonal and indifferent. Anyone want to add to that? There's probably more to be said.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this I believe--that unless I believe, I should not understand.
That is quote number #41 in the list of 100 Catholic quotes at Sancta Sanctis. Bonus marks if you were able to guess it is from St. Anselm. I also like this one, number #57, from St. Aquinas:
Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace.
There are many more... the list was seven hours in the making.

Old school soul vs. new

From The New Atlantis:
It is something of a modern habit of thought (strange to say) to conceive of the soul—whether we believe in the soul or not—as a kind of magical essence or ethereal intelligence indwelling a body like a ghost in a machine. That is to say, we tend to imagine the relation between the soul and the body as an utter discontinuity somehow subsumed within a miraculous unity: a view capable of yielding such absurdities as the Cartesian postulate that the soul resides in the pituitary gland or the utterly superstitious speculation advanced by some religious ethicists that the soul may “enter” the fetus some time in the second trimester. But the “living soul” of whom scripture speaks, as John Paul makes clear in his treatment of the creation account in Genesis, is a single corporeal and spiritual whole, a person whom the breath of God has awakened from nothingness. The soul is life itself, of the flesh and of the mind; it is what Thomas Aquinas called the “form of the body”: a vital power that animates, pervades, and shapes each of us from the moment of conception, holding all our native energies in a living unity, gathering all the multiplicity of our experience into a single, continuous, developing identity. It encompasses every dimension of human existence, from animal instinct to abstract reason: sensation and intellect, passion and reflection, imagination and curiosity, sorrow and delight, natural aptitude and supernatural longing, flesh and spirit. John Paul is quite insistent that the body must be regarded not as the vessel or vehicle of the soul, but simply as its material manifestation, expression, and occasion. This means that even if one should trace the life of the body back to its most primordial principles, one would still never arrive at that point where the properly human vanishes and leaves a “mere” physical organism or aggregation of inchoate tissues or ferment of spontaneous chemical reactions behind. All of man’s bodily life is also the life of the soul, possessed of a supernatural dignity and a vocation to union with God.
That's the 'old school'; the bulk of the link is about a theory that looks at humanity rather differently: Transhumanism.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

More on Evolution

The National Review cribs from a post a I did a few days ago (well, almost):
The randomness of the mutation cannot be demonstrated or proved; it is simply an article of belief, no different in character from a belief that an intelligent Creator nudged the adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine bases of that DNA strand into the right order. Or that he took the clay of archaic homo sapiens and molded Adam in His own image. At bottom the dispute between Evolutionists and Creationists always comes down to the question, "What is random?" This is the cage that Cardinal Christoph Schonborn rattled in his op-ed in the New York Times, July 7, where he wrote, "Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense — an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection — is not." Now the director of the Vatican Observatory, Father George Coyne, has published a rebuttal in British Catholic weekly, The Tablet, neatly asserting the opposite, and accusing the cardinal of having "darkened the waters" between the Church and science. Whether the universe is truly random or whether apparent randomness is order-not-yet-apprehended seems pretty clearly a philosophical or theological debate. It will not be settled by the editors of the Boston Globe ("Unintelligent," editorial August 4), the vaporings of Rev. Barry Lynn from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, or the numerous respectable scientists who have stepped forward to say, "Sure enough, the universe is random." How exactly would they know? It is not hard to suspect that beneath this ardent insistence on an unproven proposition lies simple irritation at having to share public space, including schools, with people who inexplicably continue to think that they live in a universe governed by an active God.

The road to serfdom

Demographics leading to a 33% GST? Niall Ferguson and Laurence J. Kotlikoff, in The New Republic, are offering up solutions for reforming American social security programs, programs that are predicted to come under serious strain in the future due to changes in demographics. We can learn a lot about the kind of suggestions Ferguson is going to advance by perusing the kind of books he writes. Are you ready? Ferguson and Kotlikoff are proposing a national sales tax, something along the lines of the Goods and Services Tax that we have been paying in Canada for years now. Our GST is set at 7% and is much reviled. Here is a look at the proposed Federal Retail Sales Tax (FRST):
The sales tax would be levied on all final-consumption goods and services. Its tax rate would be set at 33 percent--high enough to cover the costs of the new New Deal's Social Security and health care reforms as well as meet the government's other spending needs. This rate sounds high compared with an income tax in part because of the way sales taxes are levied. Earning a dollar and having to pay 33 cents in taxes when you spend it leaves you with only 75 cents of consumption, because 75 cents multiplied by 1.33 equals $1. The effect is the same as if you earn a dollar and pay a 25 percent income tax, which also leaves you with 75 cents of consumption. So a 33 percent sales tax is actually equivalent to a 25 percent income tax. Put in these terms, a 33 percent sales tax is actually not very high. Indeed, if you add up the personal income, corporate income, and fica taxes that households pay, either directly or indirectly, you find out that the vast majority face combined average and marginal direct tax rates above 25 percent. Will taxing consumption rather than income reduce spending and put the economy in recession? No, it will shift spending away from consumption goods and services to investment goods, which will help the economy grow through time. As today's China and yesterday's Japan show, economies that shift from consuming to saving and investment can achieve tremendous performance.
I'm no economist but my good heavens is there a bunch of crud jammed into this proposal, starting with this bogus distinction between "consumption goods" and "investment goods." It should be noted that the article does not define either term. People who produce so called consumption goods earn - and spend - real wages, just like other producers. The article also completely overlooks the amount of work that goes into taxing billions of transactions, as opposed to taxing income once a year. Then there is the possibility of all the money "generated" being abused, Enron style, by the government. Taxes, at also has to be pointed out, "generate" diddly squat. They re-direct the flow of money, assuming that the people who created it, can't possibly know how to spend it better than some guy armed with a degree in one hand and a study in the other. Simply put, you will never, never increase wealth by making production more difficult, or less rewarding, or by adding unnecessary oversight. You need workers who work, hopefully work smartly and efficiently. Not everyone needs to be an efficiency genius, however. How do you cut hair more efficiently? The most important factor is having healthy bodies on hand. In addition, distributed decision making is smarter than any expert, no matter how smart or how well educated. I'll take a hundred random IQ's over one 140 IQ any day of the week, especially if they are dealing with a area they are familiar with (don't believe me? Check out the returns on Index Funds vs. actively managed funds). That kind of decision making is what democratic free markets are supposed to tap into. Then one has to ask, who is going to hold up China as a better model, with low wages, crummy working conditions and little regard for the environment?
What is giving rise to such radical proposals? It's the demographics that will shape the future. Very simply put, the ratio of dependents to wealth creators is out of whack:
In 25 years, when almost all 77 million members of the baby-boomer cohort have retired, we'll have twice the number of elderly, but only 18 percent more workers to pay their benefits. The entire country will look, feel, and be a lot older than present-day Florida. By 2050, we will have as many old old (85 and over) people as the current populations of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, and as many centenarians as there are people in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, the United Nations also projects that the total fertility rate (births per woman) may fall below two in the next decade, and it could be as low as 1.85 in 20 years. Immigration will only partially compensate for these trends. Taken together, they mean that the elderly dependency ratio (the ratio of the population 65 years or older to the population 15 to 64) could very nearly double over the next 45 years, from 0.18 to 0.33.
You don't think abortion or family planning has anything to do with this, do you? You don't think simple reforms based at supporting young families could fix this problem for considerably less than a 33% shuffling of the chairs on the intergenerational Titanic Roe has created, do you? When this plan fails you just know they'll propose offing the old people... if they don't die from neglect first. People working two jobs to put a roof over their heads don't have a lot of time to check on how Mom and Dad are doing.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Cottage life

Girl on the Right is right. It is hard to blog when the office you blog from has turned into an oven. With that admission, I will take my leave tonight and turn you over to James Lileks' Interior Desecrations. If you've already been, you know how good it is. If not, what are you waiting for? (I will admit that my early years did involve growing up in rooms like these. It probably contributed to my love for things like the Lileks site and my young fogey-ness.)

The test of all happiness

Long time readers know how fond of GK Chesterton I am. Here, James V. Schall, S.J. shares in the delight:
If our lives are disordered, however, it is likely that we do not experience any delight in truth because we actively prevent ourselves from seeing the splendor that is there. We can seek, like the young Augustine, all those beautiful things, without letting ourselves aver to why they might be beautiful in the first place. We want things before we appreciate what they are in their fullness – the exact opposite of the right order of things. We oftentimes suspect where truth might lead us, so we cleverly refuse to go there without ever honestly spelling out to ourselves what we are doing. We choose to deceive ourselves. We build an apparently plausible "counter-truth" to justify how we choose to live. We quietly put aside in our hearts any comparison between what we do and what we ought to do. The good, the true, and the beautiful, however, are interrelated in ways that can hide their inner-connections from those who do not want to see what is there. "The test of all happiness is gratitude; and I felt grateful, though I hardly knew to whom" is Chesterton’s way of expressing his realization of the truth that the good is really good even though he did not himself create it, perhaps primarily because he did not create it. He is grateful that he did not hide from the truth that he saw. He wants to know, in fact, who "caused" it since he knows he didn’t, yet it is there. ... When he realized that the world need not exist (the doctrine of Creation) and that God did not need to create it (the doctrine of the Trinity), Chesterton knew that he was free of all the depressing philosophies of necessity that implied that he had no other purpose of existing but necessity itself, that reality was merely an unraveling of what had to be. If the world was the result of choice, however, so much the more so was he. Yet, if a man did not need to exist, what was the "golden key," as Chesterton called it, that could account for the wondrous fact that he did exist without his having anything to do with it? At a minimum, every person, who might not have been at all, is at least vaguely aware that his own particular existence rose out of nothingness through no input of his own.