Category Archives: Fides et Ratio

Obedience & Informed Conscience

petri sm

Rev. Thomas Petri, OP
Vice President and Academic Dean
Instructor of Moral Theology and Pastoral Studies
Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception
Dominican House of Studies, Wash, DC

from Interfaith Voices, 2/12/15

Listen here:

Moderator:   

“One of the oldest spiritual struggles experienced by serious Catholics is the struggle between following Church teaching and following one’s conscience when they’re in conflict. Earlier, we heard from Father Tony Flannery, an Irish priest who was recently silenced by the Vatican for openly questioning Church teachings on the origins of the priesthood, women’s ordination and homosexuality. The Irish hierarchy said he had broken his vow of obedience, but Father Flannery believed he had to follow a higher authority, his conscience.

For another view, we turned to another priest named Father Thomas Petri, OP. He’s an instructor in moral theology and pastoral studies at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. When we presented him with Father Flannery’s dilemma, he had a very different answer.”

Father Thomas Petri: 

“Well, to put it very succinctly, priests take a vow of obedience or make a promise of obedience because they’re public representatives of the Church. They’re public persons. So when a man is ordained, he can no longer claim to be a private person. He may still have elements of his life that the faithful don’t see, but he still is in some ways representing the Church publicly.

So the vow of obedience and the promise of obedience to say Church teachings or to what the Church believes and teaches, helps him to live that way and to authentically then witness to what the Church puts forth as the Gospel and teaching of Jesus Christ.”

Moderator: 

“So if you were Tony Flannery and you disagreed on some of the things that he does, what would you do?”

Father Thomas Petri: 

“Well, first of all, I wouldn’t broadcast it to begin with. I wouldn’t broadcast it. I would take it to prayer. I would take it to spiritual direction. I would take it to my superiors. I would want to study it. I know a very prominent, for example, sister who is now on the International Theological Commission who was once in favor of women’s ordination. She studied herself out of that position. She was, for the longest time, one of the few nuns in America who had a PhD in theology in the late 70s and early 80s, because her mind was open to looking this up and trying to figure out why the Church teaches what it does. That’s what I hope I would do if I ever were to come across this bridge.”

Moderator:

“And of course I don’t know who that nun is but I know an awful lot of people who work on that issue. I don’t know anybody that’s argued themselves out of it.”

Father Thomas Petri:

“Well, Sister Sarah Butler would be the one you’d want to look up.”

Moderator: 

“Yes, okay. That’s a name that I’ve heard, I must admit. Now, as we mentioned in the introduction, there are many Catholics over many centuries who have come into conflict between this idea of obedience and the idea of conscience. The conscience tells them something other than what the Church teaching is. So how do they relate to each other in Catholic teaching? What’s the official word on that?”

Father Thomas Petri: 

“Well, when we talk about conscience, so often it’s used as a substitute for personal opinion. It’s my personal opinion that this is true or that is true. So we have to mean something different about the word conscience than we do personal opinion, and the Church’s position, down through the century, has always been faithful living in conscience, that their conscience is formed by living the life of the faith, living life with Jesus Christ. Living life in worship of God day in and day out, Sunday after Sunday, going to Mass, preaching, studying the word, being docile to what the saints and the fathers have said, that this forms their conscience.

So that’s what we mean when we talk about conscience in a certain sense. When we talk about a priest’s obedience and his relationship to conscience, well, we’re talking about a priest who in good conscience made a public commitment to the Church and to be faithful to the Church. And certainly there can be times in a priest’s life when those do come into conflict in his own existential experience, his own living the life. Absolutely. But how do you handle that, that’s a different question.”

Moderator:

“And Father Tony Flannery did what – certainly he’s not the first, he went public –”

Father Thomas Petri:  “Sure.”

Moderator:                  “– with some of the struggles that he was having with various teachings of the Church, but a Catholic I believe is supposed to have something called an informed conscience, what does that mean?”

Father Thomas Petri: 

“Well, it means just those things I was talking about. To have an informed conscience is simply to not walk around blindly. Well, whatever I think is right that must be right. That’s not an informed conscience. It doesn’t mean not questioning, it doesn’t mean being a robot and just taking everything in blindly and without question, but it does mean giving the Church the benefit of the doubt and allowing it to sink in so that it informs my life.”

Moderator:                  “So Church teaching and someone’s conscience might not always coincide or else conscience would be totally redundant, wouldn’t it?”

Father Thomas Petri:  “Well, that’s right. Also, a person’s conscience cannot simply be the blind guide either because culture –”

Moderator:                  “No, no, I’m talking about an informed conscience, somebody who knows what the Church teaches, has reflected on it, maybe prayed about it, all that sort of stuff. I know plenty of people who have done that and still have conflicts.”

Father Thomas Petri:

“Well, still have conflicts. So the question would be when you have a conflict, how are you going about living your life within that conflict? Right. And the Church’s traditional teaching has always been that Catholics who have difficulty in conscience should be docile to the wisdom of the centuries and the wisdom of the Church, of the wisdom of the Church, and then to try to work through their difficulties with their pastors, with the Saints, with the (writings of the historical) Fathers of the Church.”

Moderator:      

“Let me quote you something from the official teaching of the Church. This is from the document on religious liberty at the Second Vatican Council and we all know that official councils of the Church are the highest teaching authority. It says, and I’m quoting, “The individual must not be forced to act against conscience nor be prevented from acting according to conscience, especially in religious matters.” And in another place, it says, “It is therefore fully in accordance with the nature of faith that in religious matters that every form of human coercion should be excluded.” So it seems to me that be excluded.”

Father Thomas Petri:  “Absolutely.”

Moderator:                  “So it seems to me that what I always learned as the primacy of conscience, is in fact primary if a person is informed and has reflected on it.”

Father Thomas Petri:

“Well, I guess it goes to what we mean by informed here but I would say that the document, the Vatican II document on religious liberty is primary concerned with forcing conversions which you know in the Catholic tradition, as in other traditions, that was a sad part of our history. What we’re talking about is Catholics who are baptized and baptized into the faith of the Catholic Church and presumably baptized and have at some point in their life accepted the Catholic Church as the granter of truth as revealed by Jesus Christ.

Then having a difficulty or some sort of conflict and then following that, publically dissenting from the Catholic Church and what the Catholic Church teaches as you say. That’s a completely different question than coercion. Because then the question is, is this baptized person, has this baptized person really embraced and fully lived the teaching of Jesus Christ as it is communicated to us by the Church?”

Moderator:   

“I’m thinking in terms of Father Tony Flannery’s case, and he’s not alone on this. There are certainly a number of people in recent Church history who when they have expressed a view that is not a 100 percent in accord with the Church’s teaching, get faced with sign this statement of orthodoxy which is a direct opposition to what they believe.”

Father Thomas Petri:  “In conscience.”

Moderator:                  “Right. Or keep quiet and don’t say anything more about it. And it would be against their conscience to sign a statement that they don’t agree with. They would be lying essentially.”

Father Thomas Petri:

“Right. So what I would want to go back to on that is my initial point that a priest is a public person. He is a public representative of the Church and I think any corporation. Even if we just take it away from the spiritual and bring it to the secular, any corporation, if you have a CEO of the corporation and saying no, you should be Microsoft and not Apple, can I say that on – we’re not getting paid for these endorsements, but you should buy Microsoft and not Apple, but I work for Apple. That’s a real problem for the corporation.

The same is true for the Church. If you have a priest who has been ordained to be faithful and has made a public commitment of fidelity, he’s given the oath of fidelity; he now then goes out as a priest that others can look at as a representative of the Church. He goes out and says things that are directly contrary because he’s having his own personal crisis or conflict. He in fact is leading people away from the Church.”

Moderator:

“But what would you say to a priest who makes a statement like that out of the deep concern for the Church because he’s out there with the faithful – this particular priest gave retreats and so forth all over the country of Ireland. So he knew a lot of people who were in conflict with the teaching of the Church. He was deeply concerned about the future of the Church and it’s direction. So he wasn’t trying to be obtuse. He was expressing this out of love for the Church. Most people that have been in this situation, that I know, did it for the same motive.”

Father Thomas Petri: 

“And I would not disagree with that. I think most people do this out of good intentions and good faith, but when a priest then sets himself up in opposition to the Church, he is claiming for himself a personal authority that he really doesn’t have. He has as an individual but he no longer speaks for the Church. You see? So when the Church says – when the congregation for the doctrine of faith says to Father Flannery, you cannot present yourself publicly as a priest, well, it’s because he really no longer has been. It’s an after the fact sort of thing.”

Moderator:

“Well, most of the priests that I’ve known that have expressed some dissenting view publicly have made it clear that the official teaching is this but these are the questions that I have and I’m concerned about the future of the Church whether it should let’s use some concrete examples. Whether ordained women or treat lesbian and gay people differently or whatever it is that they’re concerned about, it’s because they detect that there is a need for a more loving Church and they’re representing that Church. At least that’s how I’ve heard it.”

Father Thomas Petri:

“Sure. And I would want to dispute the idea that the Church is not loving because it holds to what it believes to be the revealed word of Jesus Christ. So I would want to dispute that. But I would say that there is one thing for a priest to say. ‘Well, here’s what the Church has traditionally taught. I don’t quite understand it. I’m not sure I agree with it.’ There is quite another thing for a priest to publicly say the Church is wrong.”

Moderator:

“How in the world then does change take place in the Church? If you can’t have open discussion, and may I say Pope Francis at the recent Synod on the Family, invited all those present to say what they think, even if they thought he didn’t agree with them.”

Father Thomas Petri:

“Right. That’s right. Look, there’s some things that simply cannot change. Some things that simply cannot change in the Church, and I realize that’s an unpopular position in today’s culture where we vote in and out politicians and people sometimes think well, the new pope is going to come in, he’s going to change this or – the pope does not have authority, nor do the bishops nor does the magisterium of the Church to change anything that has already been determined to have been revealed by Jesus Christ and his Apostles. Other areas, there can be development but nothing that contradicts what Christ Himself has done and said.”

Moderator:

“But you know and I know that there are Church teachings, and I suppose we could dispute about whether they go back to the apostles or not, but there are Church teachings on issues which were considered very sacred at one time which have changed. The position on usury. Charging interest on lending for example. Position on evolution. The ways in which it’s acceptable to interpret scripture; we used to do it literally. We no longer do it that way. Those are significant things which have changed over time.”

Father Thomas Petri:

“Yeah, I’m not sure – I mean, they might be perceived as significant, but we never declared those to be divinely revealed, any of those teachings. They would’ve been sort of lower level outgrowths of what we do know to be divinely revealed and what we believe to be divinely revealed. That’s really what I want to say to that. Not all teachings have the same weight. Not all the teachings have the same levels of fidelity and obedience that are required.”

Moderator:

“But where conscience comes up today as we all know has a lot to do with issues of sexuality, and one of the most common – and if you read the polls, widely common, has to do with married couples and contraception. I’m sure you’ve known, too, and I certainly have, plenty of married couples who are much aware that the official teaching of the Church is opposed to the use of artificial contraception.

So they know what the Church teaches, they’re informed, but they don’t believe for reasons of health or finances or whatever, that they can risk having more children. And natural family planning doesn’t work for them let’s say. It doesn’t work for a number of people. So they use it in good conscience. And if you read the polls, it’s about a vast majority.”

Father Thomas Petri:  “Oh, it’s pretty high. I can see that.”

Moderator:                  “It’s a vast majority of Catholics. And plenty of priests assure them, at least privately, that this is okay. So how does that fit?”

Father Thomas Petri:  Well, I would say a couple of things about that. First of all, it goes back to what we were talking about, what constitutes a formed conscience? For a person to simply know that the Church teaches that you shouldn’t do it, that’s not really a formed conscience. That’s just knowledge. That’s just information. To have a formed conscience is to live day in and day out the life of the faith, the life of the Church.”

Moderator:                  “And a number of these people do. They’re regular communicants.”

Father Thomas Petri:             “Well, certainly they do but have they ever been exposed to a real rationale, like the real reasons why the Church teaches this? And I think you would agree with me, how many priests talk about this? A few. Very few.”

Moderator:                  “Almost none.”

Father Thomas Petri: 

“Exactly. Have they ever been exposed to a dynamic priest who can explain why this is better than the other way? Have they been exposed to John Paul’s theology of the body for example which is what he was trying to do with that, trying to get people to see this is actually the more beautiful way to live. What you just said a minute ago. Just because they know the Church teaches against it, doesn’t seem to meet or constitute a formed conscience. How have they lived? Have they ever really studied it? Have they ever really tried to understand why the Church would say that? Most of them – they just know – well, I know the Church teaches against this but we do it anyway.”

Moderator:  

“Now, when I talked to Father Flannery, one of his main complaints was not that the Vatican said that his views were incorrect, but how they dealt with him. For example, his views had been public in Ireland for some time before they censured him. But they didn’t dialogue with him. They didn’t invite him to dialogue. They didn’t respond to him when he said he wanted to dialogue. They simply demanded that he sign this statement of orthodoxy and be silent. They never dealt with him face-to-face. So it raises the question, is this the way to deal with a man whose been a priest for 40 years?”

Father Thomas Petri: 

“Sure. We have one side of the story; I don’t know the other side of the story. Sometimes there is dialogue and I trust what Father Flannery has said, that that’s his experience, and all I can say is if true, that’s how he experienced it, I think anybody would say that that’s not the appropriate way to deal with a priest or to deal with these issues. Now, from my own perspective, I do know theologians and priests who have gotten into this sort of conundrum with the Holy See and that wasn’t their experience at all. It was completely different.”

Moderator:

“It seems to me that there is however a huge disconnect between what the Church teaches, particularly on issues of sexuality, and what the laity actually do. All you’ve got to do is look at the polls to see that in both North America and Western Europe. So are, “Disobedient” priest like Tony Flannery a symptom of that or is he some kind of a wakeup call that maybe the hierarchy should pay more attention?”

Father Thomas Petri:

“No, I don’t think he’s a wake-up call because you refer to the polls and polling Catholics, there are a number of Catholics who are nominal Catholics. They self-identify as a Catholic but they’re not necessarily living the life of the Church. They’re not going to Mass but maybe twice a year, they’re not soaking in the preaching, they may not even have good preaching depending on who their pastor or priest is. But they don’t necessarily typify what we would call a true, dedicated, faithful Catholic. They may be baptized, they may be struggling, they may trying to live the faith as best they can but if they’re not engaging these issues from the life of faith, they’re not engaging them at all as far as we’re concerned.”

Moderator:                  “Thank you so much for joining us today.”

Father Thomas Petri:  “Thank you, Maryanne.”

Moderator:                  “Father Thomas Petri is an instructor in moral theology and pastoral studies at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. where he also serves as an academic dean and vice president.”

“Truth is not determined by a majority.” – Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Love,
Matthew

Jan 10 – Fr Nicholas Callan, (1799-1864), Inventor of the Induction Coil

Callan

Not a beatus, but it may, I say, I think, just a suspicion, just may, come as little surprise I have a THING for clerical scientists & engineers.  Just may.  🙂  AND, he’s Irish, so part of the tribe, which doesn’t hurt either, now does it?  🙂

You say “Fides et Ratio“; I blithely, coyly put my face in my hands, drum my fingers on my temples, smile, and respond, “I LOVE IT when you talk NERDY to me! 🙂

The Induction Coil

Callan's_first_induction_coil

induction coil

maynooth58a

Influenced by William Sturgeon and Michael Faraday, Callan began work on the idea of the induction coil in 1834. He invented the first induction coil in 1836.

An induction coil produces an intermittent high-voltage alternating current from a low-voltage direct current supply. It has a primary coil consisting of a few turns of thick wire wound around an iron core and subjected to a low voltage (usually from a battery). Wound on top of this is a secondary coil made up of many turns of thin wire. An iron armature and make-and-break mechanism repeatedly interrupts the current to the primary coil, producing a high-voltage, rapidly alternating current in the secondary circuit.

Induction coils were used by Hertz to demonstrate the existence of electromagnetic waves, as predicted by James Maxwell and by Lodge and Marconi in the first research into radio waves. THANK FR CALLAN FOR YOUR CELL PHONE!!!! Their largest industrial use was probably in early wireless telegraphy spark-gap radio transmitters and to power early cold cathode x-ray tubes from the 1890s to the 1920s, after which they were supplanted in both these applications by AC transformers and vacuum tubes. THANK FR CALLAN FOR YOUR COMPUTER, GPS, & VIDEO GAMES!!! However their largest use was as the ignition coil or spark coil in the ignition system of internal combustion engines, where they are still used, although the interrupter contacts are now replaced by solid state switches.   THANK FR CALLAN YOU CAN DRIVE A CAR!!!!  A smaller version is used to trigger the flash tubes used in cameras and strobe lights.

Callan invented the induction coil because he needed to generate a higher level of electricity than currently available. He took a bar of soft iron, about 2 feet (0.61 m) long, and wrapped it around with two lengths of copper wire, each about 200 feet (61 m) long.

Callan connected the beginning of the first coil to the beginning of the second. Finally, he connected a battery, much smaller than the enormous contrivance just described, to the beginning and end of winding one. He found that when the battery contact was broken, a shock could be felt between the first terminal of the first coil and the second terminal of the second coil.

Further experimentation showed how the coil device could bring the shock from a small battery up the strength level of a big battery. So, Callan tried making a bigger coil. With a battery of only 14 seven-inch (178 mm) plates, the device produced power enough for an electric shock “so strong that a person who took it felt the effects of it for several days.” NEXT!!!  “For your penance…!!!”  Yikes!!!!  Callan thought of his creation as a kind of electromagnet; but what he actually made was a primitive induction transformer.

Callan’s induction coil also used an interrupter that consisted of a rocking wire that repeatedly dipped into a small cup of mercury (similar to the interrupters used by Charles Page). Because of the action of the interrupter, which could make and break the current going into the coil, he called his device the “repeater.” Actually, this device was the world’s first transformer. Callan had induced a high voltage in the second wire, starting with a low voltage in the adjacent first wire. And the faster he interrupted the current, the bigger the spark. In 1837 he produced his giant induction machine: using a mechanism from a clock to interrupt the current 20 times a second, it generated 15-inch (380 mm) sparks, an estimated 60,000 volts and the largest artificial bolt of electricity then seen.

The ‘Maynooth Battery’ and other inventions

Callan experimented with designing batteries after he found the models available to him at the time to be insufficient for research in electromagnetism. The Year-book of Facts in Science and Art, published in 1849, has an article titled “The Maynooth Battery” which begins “We noticed this new and cheap Voltaic Battery in the Year-book of Facts, 1848, p. 14,5. The inventor, the Rev. D. Callan, Professor of Natural Philosophy in Maynooth College, has communicated to the Philosophical Magazine, No. 219, some additional experiments, comparing the power of a cast-iron (or Maynooth) battery with that of a Grove’s of equal size.” Some previous batteries had used rare metals such as platinum or unresponsive materials like carbon and zinc.

Callan found that he could use inexpensive cast-iron instead of platinum or carbon. For his Maynooth battery he used iron casting for the outer casing and placed a zinc plate was immersed in a porous pot (pot that had an inside and outside chamber for holding two different types of acid) in the centre. In the single fluid cell he disposed of the porous pot and two different fluids. He was able to build a battery with just a single solution.

While experimenting with batteries, Callan also built the world’s largest battery at that time. To construct this battery, he joined together 577 individual batteries (“cells”), which used over 30 gallons of acid.  Since instruments for measuring current or voltages had not yet been invented, Callan measured the strength of a battery by measuring how much weight his electromagnet could lift when powered by the battery. Using his giant battery, Callan’s electromagnet lifted 2 tons.   The Maynooth battery went into commercial production in London. Callan also discovered an early form of galvanisation to protect iron from rusting when he was experimenting on battery design, and he patented the idea.[9]

He died in 1864 and is buried in the cemetery in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

Honors

The Callan Building on the north campus of NUI Maynooth, a university which was part of St Patrick’s College until 1997, was named in his honour. In addition, Callan Hall in the south campus, was used through the 1990s for first year science lectures including experimental & mathematical physics, chemistry and biology. The Nicholas Callan Memorial Prize is an annual prize awarded to the best final year student in Experimental Physics.

Publications

Electricity and Galvanism (introductory textbook), 1832

IEEE

ieee-callan

Scientifically yours,
Matthew

A Little History of Thought: What Science Doesn’t Know

On Sep 12, 2006 Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI addressed his old university in Regensburg, Germany.  He observed, truthfully, modern science presupposes the rational structure of nature.  True, and a glaring assumption for such a supposed rigorous discipline.  Glaring.  (Shhh…almost…(looking around)…like…faith?  Eeeegads!  IRRational, scientific heretics!  Hypocrites, we all!)  🙂  (Giggle!) 🙂  Stern looks of indignation, discomfortable fidgeting from the academy in the gallery!) 🙂  The Truth is almost always discomforting.  That is more about us,  dearest reader, than it ever was or will be about the Truth.

Science goes so far, based on its experience of discovering rational unity after rational unity in nature as to propose, yet only in theory, the existence, yet unproven, of what is know as The Grand Unifying Theory.  Simply put, that nature resolves itself, all of itself, into the simplest of mathematical expressions, such as E=mc^2, for the forces of Energy, Matter, and Light.  The recently released film “The Theory of Everything” is called that for a reason.

This is a profound statement, both in the minor and the major categories.  Energy and Matter are interchangeable, related, shockingly simply, stunningly, with the square of the speed limit of the universe, beyond which nothing, we currently know of, can exceed.  Not reams and reams of complex, inscrutable equations, no.  Three simple terms.  God is simple.

Science has no explanation for why the universe is so rational.  It knows not why the universe is so intelligible, so rational.  If you work mathematical problems some CAN really be complex.  What I have said is not to imply that all is child’s play in physics, hardly, but it does make the resolution into simplicity so shocking when it happens, it does take one’s nerdy breath away.

In fact, do enough math, and you begin to know, intuitively, when a problem explodes, based on the type of problem, that you’re wrong.  You have made a mistake, and must find it.  You just know, the solution must be simpler, regardless of how thorny the question.   Your current result is TOO complex!  You just know it.   Your experience tells you the solution must be simpler.  You just know it based on experience.  Find your error.

“Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that some spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe, one that is vastly superior to that of man. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is surely quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive.” – A. Einstein, 1/24/1936, to 6th grader Phyllis, of Miss Ellis’ class, Riverside Church, in response to Phyllis’ letter of inquiry as to whether scientists pray.

The Pope continued, “Yet this question, of why the universe is so rational, is a real question.  It must be addressed.

Science does not know why we sleep, let alone why we dream.  Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1.  We can get within fractions of a second of t=0, literally when time began, of the Big Bang, and our math breaks down.  We don’t understand.  We just don’t know.  Same with as when we theoretically enter a black hole, which even light cannot escape, the math we understand today breaks down.

          1. What is the universe made of?
            Astronomers face an embarrassing conundrum: they don’t know what 95% of the universe is made of. Atoms, which form everything we see around us, only account for a measly 5%. Over the past 80 years it has become clear that the substantial remainder is comprised of two shadowy entities – dark matter and dark energy. The former, first discovered in 1933, acts as an invisible glue, binding galaxies and galaxy clusters together. Unveiled in 1998, the latter is pushing the universe’s expansion to ever greater speeds. Astronomers are closing in on the true identities of these unseen interlopers.
          2. How did life begin?
            Four billion years ago, something started stirring in the primordial soup. A few simple chemicals got together and made biology – the first molecules capable of replicating themselves appeared. We humans are linked by evolution to those early biological molecules. But how did the basic chemicals present on early Earth spontaneously arrange themselves into something resembling life? How did we get DNA? What did the first cells look like? More than half a century after the chemist Stanley Miller proposed his “primordial soup” theory, we still can’t agree about what happened. Some say life began in hot pools near volcanoes, others that it was kick-started by meteorites hitting the sea.
          3. Are we alone in the universe?
            Perhaps not. Astronomers have been scouring the universe for places where water worlds might have given rise to life, from Europa and Mars in our solar system to planets many light years away. Radio telescopes have been eavesdropping on the heavens and in 1977 a signal bearing the potential hallmarks of an alien message was heard. Astronomers are now able to scan the atmospheres of alien worlds for oxygen and water. The next few decades will be an exciting time to be an alien hunter with up to 60bn potentially habitable planets in our Milky Way alone.
          4. What makes us human?
            Just looking at your DNA won’t tell you – the human genome is 99% identical to a chimpanzee’s and, for that matter, 50% to a banana’s. We do, however, have bigger brains than most animals – not the biggest, but packed with three times as many neurons as a gorilla (86bn to be exact). A lot of the things we once thought distinguishing about us – language, tool-use, recognising yourself in the mirror – are seen in other animals. Perhaps it’s our culture – and its subsequent effect on our genes (and vice versa) – that makes the difference. Scientists think that cooking and our mastery of fire may have helped us gain big brains. But it’s possible that our capacity for co-operation and skills trade is what really makes this a planet of humans and not apes.
          5. What is consciousness?
            We’re still not really sure. We do know that it’s to do with different brain regions networked together rather than a single part of the brain. The thinking goes that if we figure out which bits of the brain are involved and how the neural circuitry works, we’ll figure out how consciousness emerges, something that artificial intelligence and attempts to build a brain neuron by neuron may help with. The harder, more philosophical, question is why anything should be conscious in the first place. A good suggestion is that by integrating and processing lots of information, as well as focusing and blocking out rather than reacting to the sensory inputs bombarding us, we can distinguish between what’s real and what’s not and imagine multiple future scenarios that help us adapt and survive.
          6. Why do we dream?
            We spend around a third of our lives sleeping. Considering how much time we spend doing it, you might think we’d know everything about it. But scientists are still searching for a complete explanation of why we sleep and dream. Subscribers to Sigmund Freud’s views believed dreams were expressions of unfulfilled wishes – often sexual – while others wonder whether dreams are anything but the random firings of a sleeping brain. Animal studies and advances in brain imaging have led us to a more complex understanding that suggests dreaming could play a role in memory, learning and emotions. Rats, for example, have been shown to replay their waking experiences in dreams, apparently helping them to solve complex tasks such as navigating mazes.
          7. Why is there stuff?
            You really shouldn’t be here. The “stuff” you’re made of is matter, which has a counterpart called antimatter differing only in electrical charge. When they meet, both disappear in a flash of energy. Our best theories suggest that the big bang created equal amounts of the two, meaning all matter should have since encountered its antimatter counterpart, scuppering them both and leaving the universe awash with only energy. Clearly nature has a subtle bias for matter otherwise you wouldn’t exist. Researchers are sifting data from experiments like the Large Hadron Collider trying to understand why, with supersymmetry and neutrinos the two leading contenders.
          8. Are there other universes?
            Our universe is a very unlikely place. Alter some of its settings even slightly and life as we know it becomes impossible. In an attempt to unravel this “fine-tuning” problem, physicists are increasingly turning to the notion of other universes. If there is an infinite number of them in a “multiverse” then every combination of settings would be played out somewhere and, of course, you find yourself in the universe where you are able to exist. It may sound crazy, but evidence from cosmology and quantum physics is pointing in that direction.
          9. Where do we put all the carbon?
            For the past couple of hundred years, we’ve been filling the atmosphere with carbon dioxide – unleashing it by burning fossil fuels that once locked away carbon below the Earth’s surface. Now we have to put all that carbon back, or risk the consequences of a warming climate. But how do we do it? One idea is to bury it in old oil and gas fields. Another is to hide it away at the bottom of the sea. But we don’t know how long it will stay there, or what the risks might be. Meanwhile, we have to protect natural, long-lasting stores of carbon, such as forests and peat bogs, and start making energy in a way that doesn’t belch out even more.
          10. How do we get more energy from the sun?
            Dwindling supplies of fossil fuels mean we’re in need of a new way to power our planet. Our nearest star offers more than one possible solution. We’re already harnessing the sun’s energy to produce solar power. Another idea is to use the energy in sunlight to split water into its component parts: oxygen, and hydrogen, which could provide a clean fuel for cars of the future. Scientists are also working on an energy solution that depends on recreating the processes going on inside stars themselves – they’re building a nuclear fusion machine. The hope is that these solutions can meet our energy needs.
          11. What’s so weird about prime numbers?
            The fact you can shop safely on the internet is thanks to prime numbers – those digits that can only be divided by themselves and one. Public key encryption – the heartbeat of internet commerce – uses prime numbers to fashion keys capable of locking away your sensitive information from prying eyes. And yet, despite their fundamental importance to our everyday lives, the primes remain an enigma. An apparent pattern within them – the Riemann hypothesis – has tantalised some of the brightest minds in mathematics for centuries. However, as yet, no one has been able to tame their weirdness. Doing so might just break the internet.
          12. How do we beat bacteria?
            Antibiotics are one of the miracles of modern medicine. Sir Alexander Fleming’s Nobel prize-winning discovery led to medicines that fought some of the deadliest diseases and made surgery, transplants and chemotherapy possible. Yet this legacy is in danger – in Europe around 25,000 people die each year of multidrug-resistant bacteria. Our drug pipeline has been sputtering for decades and we’ve been making the problem worse through overprescription and misuse of antibiotics – an estimated 80% of US antibiotics goes to boosting farm animal growth. Thankfully, the advent of DNA sequencing is helping us discover antibiotics we never knew bacteria could produce. Alongside innovative, if gross-sounding, methods such as transplanting “good” bacteria from fecal matter, and the search for new bacteria deep in the oceans, we may yet keep abreast in this arms race with organisms 3bn years our senior.
          13. Can computers keep getting faster?
            Our tablets and smartphones are mini-computers that contain more computing power than astronauts took to the moon in 1969. But if we want to keep on increasing the amount of computing power we carry around in our pockets, how are we going to do it? There are only so many components you can cram on to a computer chip. Has the limit been reached, or is there another way to make a computer? Scientists are considering new materials, such as atomically thin carbon – graphene – as well as new systems, such as quantum computing.
          14. Will we ever cure cancer?
            The short answer is no. Not a single disease, but a loose group of many hundreds of diseases, cancer has been around since the dinosaurs and, being caused by haywire genes, the risk is hardwired into all of us. The longer we live, the more likely something might go wrong, in any number of ways. For cancer is a living thing – ever-evolving to survive. Yet though incredibly complicated, through genetics we’re learning more and more about what causes it, how it spreads and getting better at treating and preventing it. And know this: up to half of all cancers – 3.7m a year – are preventable; quit smoking, drink and eat moderately, stay active, and avoid prolonged exposure to the midday sun.
          15. When can I have a robot butler?
            Robots can already serve drinks and carry suitcases. Modern robotics can offer us a “staff” of individually specialized robots: they ready your Amazon orders for delivery, milk your cows, sort your email and ferry you between airport terminals. But a truly “intelligent” robot requires us to crack artificial intelligence. The real question is whether you’d leave a robotic butler alone in the house with your granny. And with Japan aiming to have robotic aides caring for its elderly by 2025, we’re thinking hard about it now.
          16. What’s at the bottom of the ocean?
            Ninety-five per cent of the ocean is unexplored. What’s down there? In 1960, Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard travelled seven miles down, to the deepest part of the ocean, in search of answers. Their voyage pushed the boundaries of human endeavor but gave them only a glimpse of life on the seafloor. It’s so difficult getting to the bottom of the ocean that for the most part we have to resort to sending unmanned vehicles as scouts. The discoveries we’ve made so far – from bizarre fish such as the barreleye, with its transparent head, to a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s made by crustaceans – are a tiny fraction of the strange world hidden below the waves.
          17. What’s at the bottom of a black hole?
            It’s a question we don’t yet have the tools to answer. Einstein’s general relativity says that when a black hole is created by a dying, collapsing massive star, it continues caving in until it forms an infinitely small, infinitely dense point called a singularity. But on such scales quantum physics probably has something to say too. Except that general relativity and quantum physics have never been the happiest of bedfellows – for decades they have withstood all attempts to unify them. However, a recent idea – called M-Theory – may one day explain the unseen centre of one of the universe’s most extreme creations.
          18. Can we live for ever?
            We live in an amazing time: we’re starting to think of “aging” not as a fact of life, but a disease that can be treated and possibly prevented, or at least put off for a very long time. Our knowledge of what causes us to age – and what allows some animals to live longer than others – is expanding rapidly. And though we haven’t quite worked out all the details, the clues we are gathering about DNA damage, the balance of aging, metabolism and reproductive fitness, plus the genes that regulate this, are filling out a bigger picture, potentially leading to drug treatments. But the real question is not how we’re going to live longer but how we are going to live well longer. And since many diseases, such as diabetes and cancer, are diseases of aging, treating aging itself could be the key.
          19. How do we solve the population problem?
            The number of people on our planet has doubled to more than 7 billion since the 1960s and it is expected that by 2050 there will be at least 9 billion of us. Where are we all going to live and how are we going to make enough food and fuel for our ever-growing population? Maybe we can ship everyone off to Mars or start building apartment blocks underground. We could even start feeding ourselves with lab-grown meat. These may sound like sci-fi solutions, but we might have to start taking them more seriously.
          20. Time travelers already walk among us.?
            Thanks to Einstein’s theory of special relativity, astronauts orbiting on the International Space Station experience time ticking more slowly. At that speed the effect is minuscule, but ramp up the velocity and the effect means that one day humans might travel thousands of years into the future. Nature seems to be less fond of people going the other way and returning to the past, however some physicists have concocted an elaborate blueprint for a way to do it using wormholes and spaceships. It could even be used to hand yourself a present on Christmas Day, or answer some of the many questions that surround the universe’s great unknowns.
          21. Why do men lose hair on their head and grow more of it elsewhere as they age? They think it has something to do with changing hormones.
          22. Why are some people ambidextrous?
          23. What makes a bicycle work?
          24. How do we solve the population problem?
          25. So, what happens when you ask scientists exactly what makes a bicycle stable? Or, what keeps it going? Or, how people ride them?
          26. How to beat solitaire?
          27. How many species of animal exist?
          28. The length of a coastline? Fractals.
          29. How does gravity work?
            We all know that gravity from the moon causes tides, Earth’s gravity holds us to the surface, and the sun’s gravity keeps our planet in orbit, but how much do we really understand it? This powerful force is generated from matter, and more massive objects therefore have a greater ability to attract other objects. While scientists do understand a great deal about how gravity acts, they aren’t really sure why it exists. Why are atoms mostly empty space? Why is the force that holds atoms together different from gravity? Is gravity actually a particle? These are answers that we really just can’t answer with our current understand of physics.
          30. How do cats purr?
          31. Why is there a placebo effect?
          32. How do birds migrate?
          33. Why do tomatoes have more genes than humans?
          34. Why do we have ear wax?

        Etc., etc.

        Ps 146:3-4

        Love,
        Matthew

A Little History of Thought: I am a Thomist. What is a Thomist?

Thomas_Aquinas_in_Stained_Glass

A Universal Church founded by the Creator of the Universe, must be just that, universal.  Even, at least, entertaining various systems of thought.  1Thess 5:21.

There were many practical questions to be answered after our Lord’s Ascension.  Anyone attending a Bible study for even just the first time, realizes quickly the same passage of scripture means varying things to different people.  And, what about the gaps, where scripture says nothing?  🙁  And, the canon wasn’t defined, completely, until at least the 4th century, the Gospel of John and Revelation, so beloved today, being some of the last included texts.

Even the determination of the canon was from a practical reason.  There were various and sordid apocryphal scrolls floating around the Mediterranean.   Which were the authentic ones?  Which were frauds?  Which heretical?  Which were to be believed?  To be adhered to?  Which should we read at Mass?  The Church had to define.

It is the Church, from the beginning, under the guidance of the Holy Spirt, which has authority over scripture, and not the reverse.  It has always been so.  Many of those apocryphal texts can still be sourced today.  There is no serious proposal to revise the traditional canon, that I have heard?  Holy Spirit must have gotten it right?

Truth is not determined by a majority.  Lack of gravity/weightlessness is not achieved by 51% consensus.  The apple still falls to the ground, even when floating is popular. “Truth cannot contradict truth.” -Pope Leo XIII.

In the encyclical Doctoris Angelici Pope Pius X cautioned that the teachings of the Church cannot be understood without the basic philosophical underpinnings of St Thomas Aquinas‘, the Angelic Doctor’s, major theses:

“The capital theses in the philosophy of St. Thomas are not to be placed in the category of opinions capable of being debated one way or another, but are to be considered as the foundations upon which the whole science of natural and divine things is based; if such principles are once removed or in any way impaired, it must necessarily follow that students of the sacred sciences will ultimately fail to perceive so much as the meaning of the words in which the dogmas of divine revelation are proposed by the magistracy of the Church.”

The Second Vatican Council described Thomas’s system as the “Perennial Philosophy”.

“The fact that Thomism is the philosophy of common sense is itself a matter of common sense.” – GK Chesterton, 1933.

Thomism is a philosophical school of thought following the teachings of Thomas Aquinas, especially as contained in his most famous summary work, Summa Theologica, the importance of which the Roman Catholic Church arguably regards as second only to the Bible.  Aquinas, arguably, moved the philosophy of the Church from Plato to Aristotle.  Thomas Aquinas’ brilliant mind coincided with Europe rediscovering Aristotle, not from Latin, but from Arabic.  The work of the philosopher had been lost to Europe in the “Dark Ages”, preserved in Middle Eastern civilization and then returned to Europe in the 13th century, on the doorstep of the Renaissance.

It was Aquinas’ burning desire to integrate Aristotelian philosophy into Christian Revelation.  If the Truth is the Truth, there should be no contradiction.  Truth cannot contradict truth.  We may misunderstand Revelation, we may need to deepen/refine our understanding, we may need to revisit our interpretation, in the light of truth, but it never contradicts.  Apparent inconsistencies are divine calls to go deeper.  Truth cannot contradict truth.  The Catholic imagination is not afraid of truth, whencever it proceeds, as Truth Incarnate came to Earth, to dwell with, and teach, and save us.

I think that’s all for now.  As principles become important, I’ll tease out some more Thomism, but for now, work with me.  You always do, faithful reader.  Have a little faith, no?  🙂  It’s heady, and complicated, and big words give me a headache!  🙂

Love,
Matthew

A Little History of Thought: Nominalism, “Ideas have consequences.” They do.

quote-occam-s-razor-no-more-things-should-be-presumed-to-exist-than-are-absolutely-necessary-i-e-the-william-of-occam-372636

We are creatures of conditioning and history.  All human beings are and ever were…with the exception of One, through His Divine nature.  This former part of this proposition is the antithesis of popular American thought.  American thought implies all ideas, let alone people, are equal.  It’s easier, much easier to think THAT.  🙁  We know the latter is factually untrue, other than politically, and it DOES make for delicious political philosophy.  Thank you, TJ!!!!  🙂  What of the former?

Americans, like the empires before them, in the vacuum of their success, all believed they were right; morally, especially, but in all other ways, too, due to their success; a circular, self-affirming logic.  For immediate relief, I propose a trip outside the country.  There is another world.  Really.  Trust me.  And, (gasp), they don’t think like us.   And, they don’t see the world the way we do.  Also, while abroad, catch some news on the BBC/Al Jazeera, and see what it is like to have a WORLD view.

If we dare to adjudicate the, as we perceive/see them, errors of our time, intellectual integrity requires we first critique our own biases and context for making such judgments.  Otherwise, our conclusions bear no merit whatsoever.

First, some terms, gentle reader, to whet the appetite and salt the fare:

Can you smell the skepticism?  The relativism?  Can you taste it?  It is in the wind, in the very air, that we breathe.  A little sulfurous, no?  Acrid?  🙂

“What is this thing?  Called Love?

Modernism is a philosophical movement that, along with cultural trends and changes, arose from wide-scale and far-reaching transformations in Western society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among the factors that shaped Modernism were the development of modern industrial societies and the rapid growth of cities, followed then by the horror of World War I. Modernism also rejected the certainty of Enlightenment thinking, and many modernists rejected religious belief.

Modernism, in general, includes the activities and creations of those who felt the traditional forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, philosophy, social organization, activities of daily life, and even the sciences, were becoming ill-fitted to their tasks and outdated in the new economic, social, and political environment of an emerging fully industrialized world. The poet Ezra Pound’s 1934 injunction to “Make it new!” was the touchstone of the movement’s approach towards what it saw as the now obsolete culture of the past. In this spirit, its innovations, like the stream-of-consciousness novel, atonal (or pantonal) and twelve-tone music, quantum physics, genetics, neuron networks, set theory, analytic philosophy, the moving-picture show, divisionist painting and abstract art, all had precursors in the 19th century.

A notable characteristic of Modernism is self-consciousness, which often led to experiments with form, along with the use of techniques that drew attention to the processes and materials used in creating a painting, poem, building, etc.  Modernism explicitly rejected the ideology of realism and makes use of the works of the past by the employment of reprise, incorporation, rewriting, recapitulation, revision and parody.

Some commentators define Modernism as a mode of thinking—one or more philosophically defined characteristics, like self-consciousness or self-reference, that run across all the novelties in the arts and the disciplines.  More common, especially in the West, are those who see it as a socially progressive trend of thought that affirms the power of human beings to create, improve and reshape their environment with the aid of practical experimentation, scientific knowledge, or technology. From this perspective, Modernism encouraged the re-examination of every aspect of existence, from commerce to philosophy, with the goal of finding that which was ‘holding back’ progress, and replacing it with new ways of reaching the same end. Others focus on Modernism as an aesthetic introspection. This facilitates consideration of specific reactions to the use of technology in the First World War, and anti-technological and nihilistic aspects of the works of diverse thinkers and artists spanning the period from Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) to Samuel Beckett (1906–1989).

Postmodernism is a late-20th-century movement in the arts, architecture, and criticism that was a departure from modernism.  Postmodernism includes skeptical interpretations of culture, religon, literature, art, philosophy, history, economics, architecture, fiction, and literary criticism.

from http://nominalismdenounced.blogspot.com/ (Disclaimer:  I DO NOT concur with the author’s overall positions, nor, hardly, conclusions, however, he makes SOME points well to support his arguments. Romans 5:20.  Which I, in turn, use to make my own.  I do accept responsibility, in general, for what I have quoted below from the author’s article.  God help me, always.)

-by Joseph Andrew Settanni

“The advance of postmodernity, into the 21st century, has seen the full fruits of the results of the rabid pursuit of what had been regarded as modernity, often called the modern project, which includes abortion, artificial contraception, infanticide, euthanasia, sexually transmitted diseases, homosexuality, pornography, etc., meaning the vindication of human hubris.

The postmodern thrust is most clearly seen, therefore, in the expanding and intensifying worship of death, usually called the culture of death; the human race, denying the rights and existence of God, actively seeks self-extermination with its normally decreasing birthrates and increased sterility observed around the world; it is, thus, a manifestly manmade demographic nightmare nihilistically engulfing a much too willing humanity.

Of course, the cancerous roots of this profoundly spiritual crisis, meaning the nihilistic choosing of a completely intramundane-immanentist eschatology, go deep. What started as an intellectual tendency much earlier in the history of Western thought became first “codified” in philosophical terms by an aberrant English Franciscan Scholastic, William of Ockham or Occam (c. 1287–1347), with his subjectivist and relativist advocacy of nominalism, which, later in time, was also fairly called (appropriately enough) Occamism. And, as Richard M. Weaver had noted long ago, ideas have consequences.  (Ed. Ask the victims of the Nazis, the Communists, the Khmer Rouge, if they do, fair reader?)

Admittedly, nominalism, which ultimately leads to nihilism, is very epistemologically seductive and even most of its adherents rarely, if ever, become conscious of its supremely thoroughgoing hold upon them.

For instance, the needed denunciation of the gigantic religious/theological heresy of Modernism, by Pope St. Pius X, would have been impossible to truly comprehend (as to the precise reason for the condemnation’s vital need) without the prior success of the development of the important intellectual error known as nominalism in cognition, for there is no greater deception than self-deception…(Ed. nor none more rampant, gentle reader.)

The Matter Itself Defined

But, what is nominalism? Simply put, it is the explicit denial of there being any universals; the doctrine that general ideas or abstract concepts, meaning as being mere necessities of thought or conveniences of language, are simply names without any true corresponding reality and that, in fact, only particular objects exist; there are, therefore, no universal essences whatsoever.

The nominalist contends, e. g., that one can see an individual man, a human being, but there can be no universal term that talks about man as an abstract category as if it possessed any reality. Thus, an individual person has a human nature qua real being; but, the universality of a human nature qua nature of humanity does not philosophically exist. There are, as other examples, individual dogs or cats; there is, however, no universal “thing” that can be specified as dog or cat. Words such as liberty, freedom, truth, beauty, justice, etc. are said to be mere abstractions qua semantic devices having no true substance whatsoever.

The inherent and integral and unavoidable contradictions and conundrums, involved in such a bold contention, get rudely pushed aside in the subjective-relativist rush toward upholding the nominalist asseveration, meaning totally regardless of the actuality of the matters discussed. Objectivity and subjectivity, among other basic noetic results, get necessarily reversed within the scope of human understanding and comprehension, not surprisingly. It is, in short, Occam’s Razor gone mad.

Thus, ultimately, it is the extremely anomalous positing that metaphysics can exist without any reference to a metaphysical order (as if a river could be composed without any water); a once truly radical or extremist point of view that, today, is held to be completely normal. It is, therefore, as to its logical consequences, a world seeking to be entirely bereft of God and, finally, of sanity itself in the cause of pursuing nominalism to its final epistemological conclusion.

One can see, as with, e. g., Communism, how an ersatz religion (or the oddity of a secularist religion) qua ideology can induce people to murder millions of their fellow human beings, though not ever thinking that such slaughter is clearly indicative of insanity. If this can be understood, however, then the true meaning, implications, and ramifications of modernity are then revealed.

Objective knowledge, unfortunately, becomes difficult to grasp whenever Occamism operates on the human brain. And, further, objectivity itself has its very existence questioned when this kind of “logic” gets worked upon over time; both philosophy and political philosophy, as consequences, have become progressively corrupted as the centuries have passed such that, for the vast majority of people, nominalism has simply become an unrecognized pandemic attitude and accepted orientation of thought within all of modern civilization.

But, there are continuing philosophical problems left unresolved. How can, in fact, the particularity of a particular being, said to be human, be then held to be possible or plausible without a prior paradigmatic conception of what it is that gets properly defined as human, especially a human nature? How could, by extension, someone be said to possess a human nature without there being the definition of a nature that is applicable, by definition, to a human being and, thus, to all human beings who have ever lived or, of course, are alive now?

The moderate realism approach of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, along with most of Platonic thought, gets weirdly turned upside down and inside out in the effort to create an Occamist worldview where there are no universals imaginable (read: permitted). There were, as to the reductionist mentality involved, many consequences, as could be guessed, in the field of intellectual or political-intellectual history.

For instance, the 18th century Enlightenment’s deification of Reason witnessed a modern form of (liberal) tyranny (or insanity) then known as enlightened despotism; this fitted in well, in turn, with Rousseau’s contention, e. g., that men had to be forced to be free, which logically originated, of course, the concept of democratic despotism as a means of (insane) progressive liberation, of creating the New Eden on earth, Utopianism. (The logical end results, in their turn, lead to both Nazi death camps and Communist gulags in the 20th century, for the road to Utopia always takes the path toward necessary dehumanization, due to the ideological rationalization of murder on a grand scale.)

By the early 19th century, Jeremy Bentham, the father of utilitarianism, could gratuitously, meaning just passingly, dismiss all of Natural Law as being only “Nonsense on Stilts” in his aggressive efforts at the totalist (insane) rationalization of human life, culture, law, civilization, and society. Modernity, thus, vigorously so spreads philosophical/metaphysical ignorance and, therefore, continuously incapacitates the human mind from reasoning correctly about fundamental matters concerning the human condition and the consequences of the thoughts and actions of fallen creatures living in a fallen world; sin itself gets ignored, of course; rationality qua right reason gets wrongly confused with Rationalism, a form of ideological insanity…

Thus, e. g., Martin Luther, educated primarily by nominalist-inspired teachers of theology, was then supplied with many currents of reasoning that conformed easily toward the creation of Protestantism, the truest theological expression of nominalism ever fashioned or conceived by mortal man: sola Scriptura and sola fide. Someone can actually think of himself as being a good Protestant who, in effect, constitutes his own church and acts as his own pope, in the spirit of individualism writ large.

The metaphysical order qua Supreme Being becomes flexible and adaptable to the variable and various (read: Protestant) belief needs or values of diverse kinds or types of Christians. From the Catholic point of view, however, it was obviously blasphemous to the nth degree for the so-called Reformers to, thus, reform God; Protestant converts to Catholicism get the point. But, one ought to be able to plainly see how Protestantism blends in quite well with the flow and logic of modernity.

The Protestant Revolt was and necessarily remains, therefore, the vainglorious and forever dubious theological effort at (supposedly) achieving the reformation of the Lord. This is easily proven empirically in how dozens of sects had expanded into, first, hundreds and now continuingly thousands upon thousands of sects that continue to multiply; the so-called Reformation is endless because God must be made to conform to the dictates of a multiplicity of divergent and disputational consciences, which process displays the forever inherent and integral irrationality of Protestantism, of course…

What is meant? All the ideologies of modernity, meaning inclusive of Conservatism, Communism, Nazism, Fascism, Liberalism, Anarchism, Libertarianism, Feminism, etc. can be then traced through many kinds of philosophical attitudes such as materialism, hedonism, secularism, humanism, subjectivism, pragmatism, positivism, nihilism, reductionism, etc. back to their root or fundamental cause: Nominalism.

Unsurprisingly, every heresy attacking Catholicism can be drawn, either directly or indirectly, to the same source or, rather, mental contagion; and, moreover, the desacralized and neopagan West, without a doubt, is now intellectually and morally disarmed in the face of an increasingly militant and aggressive Islam. In turn, postmodernism in thought (deconstructionism, etc.) would be inconceivable without a prior modernism in cognition; both modernism and postmodernism, as popularly understood, are ultimately traceable to the germinal nominalist point of view…

Br_Thomas_Davenport_OP
-by Br Thomas Davenport, OP

“At heart, Nominalism is an attempt to explain why we call a cat a cat. It’s not concerned with the etymology of the word “cat” but with why it is even possible to give a single name to all of these animals. The central claim of Nominalism is that only individual realities exist; there is only Fluffy and Garfield and Mittens, and each is completely singular and unique in its existence. Universals, like the word “cat,” are simply useful labels that we humans can apply to things that we perceive as being similar, but do not correspond to anything in reality. There is no such thing as cat nature that is really shared by each cat and gives a real basis for grouping them as a species. There is simply a name. Of course, this goes beyond felinology to all universals. Most troubling is that Nominalism claims there is no such thing as human nature, simply individual, unrelated human beings.

When considered from a theological perspective, Nominalism has a drastic effect on our relationship to God. Whatever order and structure we may observe in the world cannot be rooted in the real relationship between different types of things, because there are no types of things to relate.

Whatever order we find can only be rooted in God’s free choice. Thomists absolutely agree that God created and continues to maintain creation with absolute freedom, but they see the result of that freedom as an expression of God’s providential wisdom.

For the Nominalist, the majesty of the created order is not really a glimpse at God’s wisdom but simply of the way he wants things to be for the moment. In the moral order, if there is no such thing as human nature, there is no such thing as natural inclination towards happiness or natural law. There is no rational reason behind what makes a particular action good or bad; there is only God’s free choice.

William of Ockham, the founder of scholastic Nominalism, took this extreme Voluntarism, this overemphasis on God’s free will, so far as to claim, “God can command the created will to hate him,” and by that command, the hatred of God would be good. He saw this as possible not simply in this world. Rather, “just as hatred of God can be a good act in this world, so can it be in the next.”

Ockham never claimed that God had ever commanded this, and Ockham recognized a customary order in things. But he held on to the idea that there was no guarantee that this order would not completely change tomorrow.

As influential as Nominalism was in the 14th century and continues to be in various guises today, the phrase “anything can signify anything” isn’t really expressing medieval Nominalism. It is expressing a sort of New Nominalism* that we see in today’s culture, a sort of modern amalgamation of Nominalism and Voluntarism, but without even God as the ultimate arbiter.

There seems to be a growing trend that assumes not only that universals are merely names with no real significance, but even that the meaning of these names is entirely up to the free will of each individual. What it means to be a man or a woman is becoming something subjective and self-defined. Whether a slur is really a slur or a sign of affection is simply up to the one who uses it or who hears it.

Further, this personal Voluntarism ensures that no one need be bound by their past opinions on a word from one moment to the next. What was once, in the moment, a life-long vow “for better or for worse” might eventually become simply a nice turn of phrase, said on a day long ago but that never really meant anything…

While Nominalism tended to cut us off from God’s wisdom and the well-ordered plan of salvation, the New Nominalism introduces a sort of man-made Babel, cutting us off from one another and even from our very selves.

When words, including universals, lose their connection to an objective reality, we lose the ability to speak honestly about truth and goodness. While it may be true on some abstract level that “anything can signify anything,” only certain things actually signify the truth, only certain statements actually correspond to the reality they are conveying. Without trust in the reality underlying our words, the truth about ourselves and about God will always escape us, no matter how hard we will otherwise.”

Love,
Matthew

A Little History of Thought: What is Metaphysics?

Metaphysics

Metaphysics is a traditional branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world that encompasses it, although the term is not easily, precisely defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:

  • What is ultimately there?
  • What is it like?

The metaphysician attempts to clarify the fundamental notions by which people understand the world, e.g., existence, objects and their properties, space and time, cause and effect, and possibility.

The purpose of this blog has always been to make some of the most important concepts in Christian thought as accessible as possible to as many English speakers as possible.  Therefore, the parsing further of this subject will prematurely end there, as far as delving further specifically into how Metaphysics goes.  You may, of course, indulge yourself into all that your whim and fancy desires.  Have fun!  Seriously, have a little fun, would ya?  (“Lord, spare me from somber saints!”-St Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church; 1 Tim 5:23) That is not to say there isn’t more to glean, but the goal is to keep it as simple as possible, and not get lost in the weeds.  That is all which is necessary for now.

I am an applied scientist.  Prior to the modern history of science, scientific questions were addressed as a part of metaphysics known as “natural philosophy”. It was not until the very recent 19th century when this categorization really began to change and the term “natural philosophy” gave way to “science”.  Hence, also why PhDs are Doctors of Philosophy on their subject matters, even though their area of focus is not philosophy and they may never, ever have gone near a philosophy course.  Get it?

Originally, the term “science” (Latin scientia) simply meant “knowledge”. The scientific method, however, transformed natural philosophy into an empirical activity deriving from experiment unlike the rest of philosophy.  The inventor of the scientific method was a 13th century English Catholic bishop.  By the end of the 18th century, it had begun to be called “science” to distinguish it from philosophy.

Thereafter, metaphysics denoted philosophical enquiry of a non-empirical character into the nature of existence.

Warm & fuzzy, right?  🙂

Love,
Matthew

Fides et Ratio: Math & God, or The Axioms of Faith

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“Math is the poetry of God.  Everything in existence, everything, can be described by math.  We may not understand the mathematics to do so at this time, but we know it can be, must be so.” -MPM

-by Br Humbert Kilanowski, OP, (Br Humbert earned a PhD in Mathematics from Ohio State prior to entering the Order.)

“One of the greatest joys that I have found in my religious life as a Dominican friar has been the opportunity to use my previous studies in mathematics to talk about matters of the Catholic faith; grace does perfect nature, after all. So, when I was assigned to work at an all-girls’ high school for ministry this year (a task made less daunting by the Dominican Sisters who run the school), I jumped at the chance to give guest lectures in one of the math classes, among other pastoral activities. While explaining to the geometry class one day the differences and similarities between axioms and theorems, I found an opportunity to draw a parallel, as it were, to the logic of belief.

It is often the case that geometry is the first class in which students are introduced to the method of mathematical proof. Beginning from principles (axioms and postulates), the students devise logical arguments to demonstrate that the desired conclusions are true, and the same type of demonstration occurs in theology as well. While a theorem of geometry is proven in this way, an axiom (from the Greek axios, “worthy”) is proposed to us as worthy of belief, without having been proven.

While a high school textbook would include more axioms (also known as postulates), the first systematic textbook on geometry was built on only five axioms. This book is the Elements of Euclid, who lived in Alexandria in the third century before Christ. The first four axioms are facts that appear intuitively obvious, such as “Two points determine a line,” and they show how to use a straightedge and compass, the two tools used by ancient Greek geometers.

The fifth axiom, however, is not so obvious, and it is often expressed in geometry textbooks as the “Parallel Postulate”: Given a line and a point not on it, there exists a unique line through that point parallel to the given line. No one before Euclid had identified this principle, but his whole system of geometry would break down without it. Other famous results, such as the Pythagorean Theorem for right triangles, or the fact that the angles in any triangle add up to 180 degrees, depend on this non-intuitive axiom. For centuries, mathematicians have tried, and failed, to prove this axiom using the other four. Others have devised alternative systems of geometry that neglect or even deny Euclid’s fifth axiom, which lead to radically different results, such as spherical geometry (where even parallel lines could meet, like lines of longitude at the North Pole) or hyperbolic geometry (where lines in a plane that are not parallel could never meet).

A similar phenomenon occurs in the realm of faith. Just as the geometry book gives some statements as postulates when they can in fact be proven (though with difficulty), the Catholic faith proposes some ideas for belief, such as the existence and uniqueness of God, that can also be demonstrated. These proofs rest on principles that are as self-evident as Euclid’s first four axioms; for example, St. Thomas begins his first proof for the existence of God, “It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion.” Yet the proof itself requires some knowledge of metaphysics, and it is easy to make mistakes in the argument; therefore, the Church proposes that we take the existence of God on faith, so that anyone can come to believe in Him.

Yet there are many statements of faith that are neither obvious, nor can they be proven. Take, for example, the Trinity, that the one God is three Persons; or the Incarnation, that God took on human nature in the person of Jesus Christ; or that this same Jesus rose from the dead. These articles, or axioms, of faith, can only be believed as true, if one is to study Christian theology, or more generally, to live the Christian life.

Some theologians have tried to prove these articles (a truly good God should become man to show forth His goodness, right?), but like the attempts to prove the Parallel Postulate, they fall short, as they cannot argue with certainty. Countless other thinkers have denied articles of faith because they are not self-evident and not subject to the standards of rational proof– but in doing so, they end up in a world even stranger than that of non-Euclidean geometry. By believing something contrary to the articles of faith, one could end up walking around in circles (like the spherical case) or diverging along any path imaginable (like the hyperbolic case), rather than living in an intellectual relationship with the living God who leads us on the straight-line path towards the infinity of eternal life.

Furthermore, while the last postulate that holds plane geometry together may come from the mind of Euclid, the axioms of faith can only be revealed by the God who loves us to the point that He communicates His inner life to us and calls us into His company. Because they are revealed by the God who loves us into being, these axioms, like the Trinity, Incarnation, and Resurrection, are truly worthy of our belief, and with God’s grace, we can take them on faith as the basis for living each day of our lives.”

Love,
Matthew

Doubt

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I just today had a friend, a fervent Catholic, albeit a recent convert, three years old a Catholic, although a mature man, convey to me he is enduring a serious “dark night”.

While I applaud all new entrants to the faith, there is, imho, a benefit to a lifelong practice.  Irish Catholic is somehow different than generic or modern Catholicism.  Sixteen hundred years of tribal practice/environment must affect?  Genetically, even?

In his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Viktor Frankel noted of his fellow prisoners in Auschwitz, it was not those oldest, most sick, most wearied, most hungered, most overworked, most abused who died in the night. No. It was those who gave up hope.

I wrote the following letter to my friend.

“Great saints experience great doubt.

In “Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light,”…most of its pages reveal not the serene meditations of a Catholic sister confident in her belief, but the agonized words of a person confronting a terrifying period of darkness that lasted for decades.

“In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss,” she wrote in 1959, “of God not wanting me — of God not being God — of God not existing.” According to the book, this inner turmoil, known by only a handful of her closest colleagues, lasted until her death in 1997.

Faith is not a feeling. Love is more than a feeling.

St. John of the Cross, the Spanish mystic, labeled it the “dark night,” the time when a person feels completely abandoned by God, and which can lead even ardent believers to doubt God’s existence.

During her final illness, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the 19th-century French Carmelite nun who is now widely revered as “The Little Flower,” faced a similar trial, which seemed to center on doubts about whether anything awaited her after death. “If you only knew what darkness I am plunged into,” she said to the sisters in her convent.

In time, with the aid of the priest who acted as her spiritual director, Mother Teresa concluded that these painful experiences could help her identify not only with the abandonment that Jesus Christ felt during the crucifixion, but also with the abandonment that the poor faced daily. In this way she hoped to enter, in her words, the “dark holes” of the lives of the people with whom she worked. “If I ever become a saint,” she wrote, “I will surely be one of ‘darkness.’ ”

There is no sin in admitting doubt.  Quite the contrary.  To not have doubt is not to struggle, some kind of worthless ersatz humanity, ersatz cross.  Not a real cross. Not a real God.  Not a real Jesus, Who really suffered and really died and had real agony in the Garden, whose sweat really (medically possible) became blood.  And,…Who really, REALLY lives!  There is no Easter Sunday without Good Friday, or Happy Friday, as Mara likes to call it. 🙂

St Thomas the Apostle, pray for us!

Daily Offering (abbreviated): O my Jesus, through the immaculate heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day…

Love,
Matthew

Oct 9 – Robert Grosseteste, (1175-1273), Bishop of Lincoln, UK, Inventor of the Scientific Method

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-1896 stained glass

As an applied scientist, I have a passion for people of Faith & Science.  There is NO contradiction; quite to the contrary, I feel.  Those who believe there is are either intentionally confusing both, themselves, and others.  Or, they really demonstrate their ignorance of both subjects.

I have shared before Rev. Georges LeMaitre, Inventor of the Big Bang theory, (NOT the tv show), & St Albert the Great, OP.  Check out:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Catholic_scientists, &
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Roman_Catholic_cleric%E2%80%93scientists

While not a beatus, Robert Grosseteste was a scientist.  He is considered the first mathematician and physicist of his age.

From about 1220 to 1235 he wrote a host of scientific treatises including:
     De sphera. An introductory text on astronomy.
     De luce. On the “metaphysics of light.” (which is the most original work of cosmogony in the Latin West)
     De accessu et recessu maris. On tides and tidal movements. (although some scholars dispute his authorship)
     De lineis, angulis et figuris. Mathematical reasoning in the natural sciences.
     De iride. On the rainbow.

He also wrote a number of commentaries on Aristotle, including one on Aristotle’s Physics, which has survived as a loose collection of notes or glosses on the text.  It has been argued that Grosseteste played a key role in the development of scientific method.

Grosseteste did introduce to the Latin West the notion of controlled experiment and related it to demonstrative science, as one among many ways of arriving at such knowledge.  Grosseteste was the first of the Scholastics to fully understand Aristotle’s vision of the dual path of scientific reasoning: generalizing from particular observations into a universal law, and then back again from universal laws to prediction of particulars.

Ink drawing of bishop

-13th century manuscript

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-Grosseteste chapel

The Riverside Church
January 19, 1936

My dear Dr. Einstein,

We have brought up the question: Do scientists pray? in our Sunday school class. It began by asking whether we could believe in both science and religion. We are writing to scientists and other important men, to try and have our own question answered.

We will feel greatly honored if you will answer our question: Do scientists pray, and what do they pray for?

We are in the sixth grade, Miss Ellis’s class.

Respectfully yours,

Phyllis

January 24, 1936
Princeton, NJ

Dear Phyllis,

I will attempt to reply to your question as simply as I can. Here is my answer:

Scientists believe that every occurrence, including the affairs of human beings, is due to the laws of nature. Therefore a scientist cannot be inclined to believe that the course of events can be influenced by prayer, that is, by a supernaturally manifested wish.

However, we must concede that our actual knowledge of these forces is imperfect, so that in the end the belief in the existence of a final, ultimate spirit rests on a kind of faith. Such belief remains widespread even with the current achievements in science.

But also, everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that some spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe, one that is vastly superior to that of man. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is surely quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive.

With cordial greetings,

your A. Einstein

Prayerfully & Scientifically yours,
Matthew

Doubt

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-by Br. Innocent Smith, OP

“In life and the life of faith, often times, we think of doubt as something unhelpful or distracting, as an impediment to greater faith; whereas, in terms of faith, doubt may be the catalyst to deeper faith, yet still, asking more and more profound questions of our faithful and talented teachers. In the 2010 On Heaven and Earth, a book-length dialogue between then Cardinal Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) and Rabbi Skorka of Buenos Aires, our present Holy Father articulated a view of this matter:

“The great leaders of the people of God were men that left room for doubt. Going back to Moses, he is the most humble character that there was on Earth. Before God, no one else remained more humble, and he that wants to be a leader of the people of God has to give God His space; therefore to shrink, to recede into oneself with doubt, with the interior experiences of darkness, of not knowing what to do, all of that ultimately is very purifying.”

(Editor’s note:  this is NOT to be overwhelmed by fear and doubt; so many scripture passages, so little time; but rather to be honest regarding doubt’s existence in our lives of faith.  And, to admit, even, its helpful aspects towards holiness.  It wouldn’t be faith w/out doubt.  It would, rather, be certainty.  We are not called to certainty.  We are called to faith, a call involving greater humility than certainty.  As Christians, we are told over and over again to not fear.  We, therefore, do not fear doubt.  Our faith in Him allows us to look doubt “straight-in-the-eye”, and deal; entering more deeply into the great mystery of Redemption.  Recall, Catholicism has a very specific definition of the word “mystery”; when used in a Catholic sense, a mystery is not something which cannot be known, rather, it is a truth which can only be infinitely explored by human reason.)

In his recent biography of St. Francis of Assisi, for instance, Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P., devotes ample attention to the doubts and crises that plagued St. Francis throughout his life. Far from detracting from Francis’s sanctity, Thompson suggests that an accurate understanding of the difficulties that Francis went through in deciding how to act are of tremendous importance for appreciating his life and witness:

“It is, I think, misleading to assimilate him to some stereotyped image of “holiness,” especially one that suggests that a “saint” never has crises of faith, is never angry or depressed, never passes judgments, and never becomes frustrated with himself or others. Francis’s very humanity makes him, I think, more impressive and challenging than a saint who embodied that (impossible) kind of holiness.”

Doubt can be a source not only of indecision but more profoundly of purification, for it forces us to consider more deeply the motivations and circumstances of the exercise of our freedom. Doubt is not something to be sought for its own sake, but when it comes we can make the most of the experience by entrusting ourselves to the Lord Who is able to make all things work together for the good for those who love Him.”

Love,
Matthew