Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Dark Side of Dolphins

Atheistic environmentalism seems to perpetuate the view that nature is perfect just the way it is. It acts as a kind of secular “dogma”. With this as a base premise, we can see the logic that concludes the following…any unnatural interference or manipulation of nature for the benefit of man is a deprivation of nature’s perfection, and a good definition of evil is just that—a deprivation of perfection. Therefore, defending anything in nature against man is intrinsically “good” and promoting man’s industrialization and expansion is intrinsically “evil”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


1. Fr. Greg Shaffer, CW Catholic Q&A [Website], “Natural disasters - from God or because of us?” (15 October 2010), Site address: http://gwcatholicforum.blogspot.com/2010/10/natural-disasters-from-god-or-because.html

Monday, August 15, 2016

4 Big Bangs?

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Friday, July 29, 2016

Perhaps Pascal Was Right

I’m currently reading a series of e-books called Top Down to Jesus by Robert Kurland, a scientist and blogger at Reflections of a Catholic Scientist. Book 1 is called Pascal Was Right! This first installment contains Robert’s road to faith, his ties to Judaism as well as insights about his moral choices as a Catholic. He also explores Pascal’s Wager in terms of contemporary decision making involving the gains and losses for scenarios in which probabilities are known (like flipping a coin), or not known (like how much will I earn in the stock market today). I highly recommend the series; especially for analytical types who make a serious effort to be impartial. Please note that being analytical and being impartial don’t necessarily go together.

The discussion in the book on Pascal’s Wager reminded me why I’m not a big fan of it. In my own words, the wager basically goes like this: one should believe or behave as if God exists, since the reward if true is infinite (heaven) and the punishment of believing and acting otherwise is also infinite (hell). On the flip side, if it is not true, you can still have a good life and, of course, you will eventually die either way.

The wager seems to imply that we can “fake it until we make it”, but God knows our hearts. Also, by what authority does Pascal declare what will get us to heaven or not? Is intellectual belief enough? The demons do as much. Is it by our works alone? Not according to Catholic teaching (see CCC paras. 1996, 2005). Is it by faith alone? Not according to the Bible (see James 2:24). Do we simply declare Jesus our Lord and personal savior and ask Him to come into our hearts? Is that in the Bible? It’s not. I have not read Pascal’s original writings in detail, but I find it interesting that the wager does not mention Jesus in any of the iterations I’ve seen. All this gets into the big topic of Christian Justification, which I think is too broad a subject to be handled by a bet.


Although I’m not a big fan of Pascal’s Wager as an evangelization tool, I do wholeheartedly agree with Robert’s final assessment of it, provided one were to accept the wager and then sincerely, prayerfully and diligently deal with difficult questions like the ones above.

“One can start off along the road to faith and believe using reason as a road map; the deeper, in-the-heart faith which is the destination will come with God’s grace. And thus the subtitle of this book.”1

Perhaps Pascal was right after all!


1. Robert J. Kurland, Top Down to Jesus Book 1, Pascal Was Right! (Robert J. Kurland, 2016), e-book, Kindle location 400.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Habits of Faith and Problem Solving

The book I’ve written about faith, reason and problem solving will be available at all major online book outlets, hopefully by the end of the summer. It’s called Faith with Good Reason: Finding Truth Through an Analytical Lens and the foreword is written by Stacy Trasancos, PhD.

The book is a practical look at faith, reason and problem solving for dealing with the common realities we all face—for all things visible and invisible. When I was chosen to become the program leader and instructor for a specific kind of problem solving and decision making process for my job, I began to see commonalities between the rational processes I was learning and some of the reasoning of the various Catholic thinkers I was reading. If you think about analytical problem solving, it's about finding "truth" objectively, regardless of feelings, strong opinions, past experiences or intuition; finding truth even when empirical evidence is lacking or impossible to obtain.

Although the book is already written, I continue to come across aspects of problem solving that can relate to the spiritual life, such as this article about three habits of creative problem solvers.


HABIT #1: THEY'RE COMFORTABLE WITH UNCERTAINTY

You may think a method of analytical problem solving is only about observable evidence. It is not. Most often it is physically impossible for us to obtain all the data we need or want to answer all the questions we have. In fact, I don’t remember a single instance at work when we had all the evidence we wanted at our disposal, therefore we need to learn to be comfortable with uncertainty.

Uncertainty can help us see things from a new perspective, but without some comfort level with uncertainly, we can become fearful and revert to a “fight-or-flight” mentality, which is detrimental to any critical thinking process. For problem solving, the “fight” instinct might lead to irrational thinking, jumping to conclusions and being overwhelmed by the scope of the mess. The “flight” instinct might cause you to give up, pass the buck or waste mental energy blaming others.

It can be similar with the spiritual life. Uncertainty about the future, all the evil in the world, all the conflicting opinions, what we should do, or who to believe, can result in a “fight-or-flight” spirituality. Fighting for your faith, or just fighting to keep your faith, without a clear understanding of it can lead to irrational thinking, jumping to conclusions and being overwhelmed by the scope of the mess. Flight from faith can be just that…giving up with a bunch of poor excuses. If you take the time to seriously study your faith, you will become more comfortable with uncertainty.

Here’s a helpful tip from the article; create certainty in the rest of your life. The more habit and ritual you create in your day to day life, the more stamina you'll have when uncertainty shows up. Have a regular prayer time each day, receive the Sacraments often (weekday Masses/confession), read spiritual books grounded in Truth, and perform corporal/spiritual works of mercy regularly. These spiritual habits will give you strength when faced with uncertainty.

HABIT #2 THEY KNOW HOW AND WHEN TO RE-FRAME SETBACKS

Failure results in negative emotions like shame, fear and frustration. As a result many of us hide it. Hiding a problem, or a failed attempt to solve it, can delay the solution and potentially make things worse.

A good problem solver will not internalize setbacks; they will learn from them and perhaps use any new data from the failed attempt for the next attempt. He or she is also humble enough to get others involved. Instead of thinking, “I failed; better make sure nobody knows” they will think, "That attempt failed; let’s learn from it."—Big difference.

Catholicism and Christianity in general is a lot about forgiveness and second chances. We are to strive for holiness, but oftentimes we are more interested in what we want than what is right or what is true, living more for ourselves than for God. Sin is essentially a refusal to let God have His way in our life, so we have setbacks. Re-frame your spiritual setbacks and learn from them. Don’t think “I failed; better make sure nobody knows.” Re-frame it; only your attempt has failed. Ask for help. Involve others. Go to confession.

HABIT #3: THEY BELIEVE THEY CAN KEEP IMPROVING

The article refers to having a "growth mind-set" rather than a “fixed mind-set”. A growth mind-set basically believes that things can get better with effort, learning and help from others. A fixed mind-set sees no way to continue. Don’t think to yourself, “I’m not smart enough to solve this problem.” Instead think, “It is not solved yet, but it can be, perhaps with new skills, knowledge or help.” Add the word "yet" to your thinking. "There is no answer, yet." or "I’m not sure what to do, yet."

The virtue of hope is needed in the spiritual life to keep us moving. "I’m not as faithful as I should be, yet." or "I’m not sure how to grow spiritually, yet." We need a growth mind-set, but what effort are we putting forth for growth? What new knowledge or skills do we require to improve? How will we seek the help we need?

The Catechism says in paragraph 1821, “In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere to the end.” We should take comfort knowing that it is always possible to grow spiritually if we understand the mystery of God as an invitation. The negative view of the term “mystery” is that we can never hope to fully understand it or prove it and we will never be perfect (fixed mind-set). The positive view says there is an inexhaustible well of truth and love from which the soul can drink with the assurance that the well will never run dry (growth mind-set).


"We first make our habits, and then our habits make us."
John Dryden

Monday, July 18, 2016

Adopt a Terrorist Today

The recent atrocity in Nice France and the ambush killings of police officers here in the U.S. reminded me of this blog post by Fr. Burke Masters, Director of Vocations for the Diocese of Joliet, IL. It’s about a challenge to love as God loves and a call to holiness by praying for our enemies and those who persecute us. The post goes so far as to suggest that we spiritually adopt a terrorist. Perhaps it could be a terrorist currently planning another attack in the very near future? Perhaps we can even make it personal by giving him (or her) a name? During my morning prayer discipline, I pray the Lord somehow reach them with the Way and the Truth and the Life; to help them see how they are living out the precise opposite—being lost, with lies and death.


We may say this is all too hard. It’s not possible for a human to love exactly as God loves or be perfect as God is perfect. There is truth to that, but if we live by this negative attitude we forget that all things are possible with God and blow off the whole idea. We then reject the challenge. We also forget that being perfect as God is perfect is written as a command, not a suggestion (see Matthew 5:48).

Challenges are good; they help us to focus and grow. Athletes need to push themselves to improve and it’s painful and uncomfortable. Students need to be challenged by their schools and instructors in order to reach higher levels of learning. We are currently writing our goals for fiscal year 2016 where I work, and the challenges presented to us by our superiors are a bit intimidating. If we are not pushed and willing to accept at least some stress, we will not advance.


It’s the same in the spiritual life. We tend to pray for the things we want and the people we like because it’s easy and comfortable. While this is not objectivity wrong, we should challenge ourselves to remain vigilant in asking God’s will and consider who needs our prayers the most, regardless of our feelings. In this way we can ensure our prayer life is not linked to our own selfishness.

Consider it like “fasting” from our favorite and most comfortable prayers to try a narrower path. I’ve heard it said that it is impossible to truly hate someone if you pray regularly for that person. Try it sometime as an act of the will. Of course, we should pray for all the victims of terrorism also, but this is not very challenging to do. Prayer for the killers is uncomfortable, but being comfortable is not what Jesus promised us and is not the purpose of our life.

“Our salvation will come in the measure that we love our worst enemy.”
—unknown spiritual writer


Saturday, June 25, 2016

I Agree with Pope Francis

Pope Francis recently said the following, “a great majority of our sacramental marriages are null” (or “some of our sacramental marriages are null” according to later Vatican editing of the text) 1, and I agreein a certain sense.


Technically, for a marriage to be both valid and sacramental all the following criteria must be satisfied:

  • Both parties are baptized
  • The spouses are free to marry
  • They have the intention to marry for life
  • They have the intention to be faithful to one another
  • They are open to having biological children together
  • Consent is given in the presence of two witnesses and before a properly authorized Church minister.
But is it possible to have a valid marriage without a valid understanding of marriage? I think it is.

In the U.S. we become legal adults at age eighteen and are treated as such under the law (with some exceptions like purchasing alcohol). This is good since we need clear definitions to avoid endless debates about what being an adult really means. But do all “valid” eighteen year olds act in an adult manner? Does something instantly change about our mind, body or soul on our eighteenth birthday? Could we not find some seventeen year olds that understand what it means to be an adult more than any number of people over the age of eighteen?

Whether defining marriage or adulthood, I think it’s very common to meet a quantitative definition without a qualitative understanding, and I think this gap in understanding for marriage can be best expressed in terms of covenant vs. contract.

The story of God and man can be spoken of in terms of covenants. This is what many of the stories in the Bible are all about. In the Catholic view, the Bible is not a science book or a history book; it’s more of a story about a relationship between God and man. Simply put, covenants are about God reaching out to bond with man over and over again. For example, Moses was a covenant mediator for the nation of Israel that didn’t turn out as planned; King David was a covenant mediator for the Kingdom of Israel that also had its difficulties. In fact, every covenant of the Old Testament ended up less than stellar, but the convents were valid nonetheless.

For clarity, it should be emphasized that a covenant and a contract are two different things that are worlds apart. A contract is a promise you make binding your name, often via a signature. It involves the exchange of goods or services, like building a house for example. A covenant is swearing an oath invoking God’s name, and it involves an exchange of persons, like marriage. So a covenant carries much more weight in terms of blessings and curses. Hence the reason why people use terms like, “I swear to God”, or “I’ll be damned”, when they are very serious about something. 2

How many understand the bullet points above, and at the same time think of marriage as something that can be brought to an end and forgotten with some time, money and lawyers? So one could be in a valid marriage, but hold an invalid view of marriage as a social contract, and regrettably, I think this wrongheaded approach is indeed the case for “a great majority of our sacramental marriages”.

Look!
We are validly married!


  1. Benedict Nguyen, National Catholic Register [Website], “Are Many Marriages Today Invalid?” (20 June 2016), Site address:http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/are-many-marriages-today-invalid/#ixzz4CJfI6j9J
  2. Scott Hahn, A Father Who Keeps His Promises (Beacon Publishing, 1998) p. 24.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Same Sex Anniversary Cards Now Available!

I’m actually not sure this is new, but it’s new to me. I was looking for a wedding anniversary card at a popular card shop and I saw this:


I was surprised, but then again, not so surprised. Once passed my not-so-surprised-ness, I thought, “Why have a special section dedicated just for this?” There is no special “opposite sex” card section. Many of the anniversary cards are not specific about any kind of sexual preference. They say things like, “To the one I love”, “For my husband/wife” or “For my spouse”. The one I purchased in the “non-same sex” section said, “You’re the one for me!”

Why did I see this for the first time this June? Is it because of the SCOTUS ruling last June? Maybe so, but suppose it suddenly became legal in all 50 states for people over age 18 to marry people under age 18 without parental consent. Would we need a special under 18 anniversary card section with cards that say things like, “For the special minor in my life…”?

A same sex anniversary card section is not needed for someone to find an appropriate card, but it is certainly helpful in the ongoing effort to normalize homosexual behavior. It’s the same with marriage rights. A legally recognized civil union that grants the exact same rights as marriage laws is not good enough. It must be called marriage just like heterosexual marriage. The same word must be used, even though it is not the same thing. Using the term civil union in place of marriage is seen as “back of the bus” stuff. Don’t forget about our public schools in the normalization process. They need to teach our young and impressionable children about what is normal and what is not, right?


Is homosexual behavior really normal? Is heterosexual behavior really normal? What would make it normal? What’s the trigger or the mechanism that says it’s normal? What can we use to judge fairly and accurately? Consider “design”. If we observe the physical design of the human body in terms of sexuality and then we note the facts about certain sexual acts (without going into too much detail), we can say that some physical acts are deviant to the design. It really does not matter if one believes we were designed by almighty God or by almighty evolution. The same goes for things like infertility or impotency. They too can be called abnormalities without any discussion about morality or the intrinsic value of the person involved. To call these kinds of things normal is not only unreasonable, but also irresponsible. Remember that the first step in dealing with any problem is to admit there actually is a problem.

So what will be next—a same sex section in the family planning aisle of your local drug store? Probably not.