September 30, 2009

First Amendment Issue

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 25, 2009 ( - The Obama administration has aroused a fierce First Amendment controversy after threatening companies selling private Medicare coverage not to tell their customers that current health care legislation would result in benefit cuts - or else face a lawsuit.

The administration and Senate Democrats justify the move by saying the claim, spread by at least one such company, is patently false.  Yet some say the administration is the one twisting the facts to help the unpopular legislation: critics note that even the head of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office agrees that the legislation would mean a loss of senior benefits.

The general warning came after the Department of Health and Human Services launched a probe against the insurance giant Humana earlier this month after it sent out a mailing warning of the possible cuts.
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September 1, 2009

Darwinism and Some Catholics

Those who despise men, and put them on a level with the brutes, yet wish to be admired and believed by men,...contradict themselves by their own feelings. ---Blaise Pascal, Pensees,

To paraphrase Pope Pius XI, “No one can be at the same time a sincere Catholic and a true Darwinian.” Yet, Catholics can, and I think should, accept a moderate version of biological evolution. Extreme Darwinism, on the other hand, with its philosophical materialism, conflicts with fundamental doctrines of the Church and truths of the philosophia perennis. Specific areas of irreducible conflict stemming from Darwinian materialism are its denial of metaphysical reality, including the spiritual soul, free will and causality, such as final causes in nature.

The International Theological Commission (2004) commenting on John Paul’s 1996 letter on evolution, warns “there is no blanket approbation of all theories of evolution, including those of a neo-Darwinian provenance which explicitly deny to divine providence any truly causal role in the development of life in the universe."

Oddly, despite the clear position of the Church, I continue to encounter Catholic scientists who accept Darwinism, lock stock and barrel. They adamantly defend false Darwinian views such as the human and animal mind differ only in degree, and that the human moral sense is a product of evolution. These scientists simultaneously assent to, at least verbally, the Catholic belief in the spiritual soul, with a few actaully claiming the soul probably evolved from nature. I do not profess to understand this kind of intellectual schizophrenia in which scientists want to be both Catholic and card-carrying Darwinians. Perhaps, they are ultimately clueless regarding the difference between physical and metaphysical reality, and such terms as “spiritual soul” do not signify anything they properly grasp, however vaguely.

Whatever the case, I will discuss here the Darwinian view of the human mind, which the aforementioned Catholic scientists fail to see as critically flawed. One principal objection to an extreme Darwinian version of evolution that I will discuss is its claim that the difference between the human and animal mind is one of degree.[1] Darwin advocates this view in The Descent of Man. Darwin constructed his hypothesis based on a philosophical assumption about the nature of the human mind. Darwin's assertions about the human mind exceed the proper scope and competence of the natural sciences, and remain to date, unproven by any factual data.

It was approximately thirty years before publication of The Descent of Man, that Darwin adopted a materialist ideology through which he interpreted all natural phenomena, including the human mind. In one of the transmutation Notebooks Darwin wrote, “Love of the deity of organization, oh you materialist!...Why is thought being a secretion of brain, more wonderful than gravity a property of matter? It is our arrogance, our admiration of ourselves.”

A crude materialism pre-determined Darwin’s later, apparent scientific conclusion about the human mind in his Descent. In other words, Darwin hardly based his conclusion on a strictly scientific and objective evaluation of factual data. Darwin's Notebook entries reveal his pre-investigative materialist assumptions about the human mind, which governed his post-investigative conclusions.
In Notebook M, Darwin says, “Thinking consists of sensation of images before your eyes, or ears,…or of memory of such sensation, & memory is repetition of whatever takes place in brain, when sensation is perceived.” Following the statement of thought as "secretion of brain", this perhaps, is the most thoughtless characterization of thought I have ever come across.

In Notebook B Darwin expresses his profound bias against the human mind: “People often talk of the wonderful event of intellectual man appearing.—the appearance of insects with other sense is more wonderful”[2]

In order to construct a theory in which humans and animals are all melted together in a strict phylogenetic continuum, (with no essential distinctions in regard to mind), Darwin had to reduce man to his biology and characterize thought in strictly physical terms. In addition, those characteristics generally considered unique or peculiar to man, such as reason and moral conscience, had to be asserted as existing in other animals at least in an incipient condition.

The following repesentative quote from The Descent of Man affords a sense of Darwin’s poorly reasoned argument for a mental continuum between man and the higher animals:

“Nevertheless the difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind. We have seen that the senses and intuition, the various emotions and faculties, such as love, memory, attention, curiosity, imitation, reason, etc., of which man boasts, may be found in an incipient, or even sometimes in a well-developed condition, in the lower animals…If it could be proved that certain high mental powers, such as the formation of general concepts, self-consciousness, etc., were absolutely peculiar to man, which seems extremely doubtful, it is not improbable that these qualities are merely the incidental of other highly advanced intellectual faculties; and these again mainly the result of the continued use of a perfect language.”

A close look at the text above may get a little tedious, but it is revealing nonetheless. Darwin asserts that a difference in degree between the mind of man and higher animals is certain. To whom is it certain? Darwin?

Darwin makes an admirable try at consistency by asserting that various human qualities exist, at least incipiently, in other animals. However, that every quality listed exists, at least incipiently in other animals, remains questionable and undemonstrated.

Oddly, Darwin is immediately less than certain about his position. That is, he next proposes the possibility that “certain high mental powers, such as the formation of general concepts, self-consciousness, etc., are absolutely peculiar to man.”

Consequently, the implication of Darwin's statement is the possibility remains that the human mind differs in kind rather than in degree from the higher animals. That is, to state “certain high mental powers” are possibly “absolutely peculiar to man” necessarily implies that these “high mental powers” cannot exist in any degree (incipient or well developed) in higher animals. Yet, this is the position Darwin is trying to refute.

Again, when Darwin states he is “extremely doubtful” anyone can prove that “certain high mental powers” are “absolutely peculiar to man” he qualifies his initial certainty. One cannot eliminate, at least as a possibility, that which is extremely doubtful. For example, there was a time when it was extremely doubtful the sun was at the “center” of the solar system.

In the final analysis, Darwin’s argument remains poorly stated, and fails to prove anything. This kind of situation is understandable whenever factual data do not fit well with the working hypothesis.

The statement that thought is a “secretion of brain” was too crude for T.H. Huxley. Huxley preferred a more refined expression of his equally materialist view: “Thought is as much a function of matter as motion is.”[3] Years later, Huxley also states, “There is every reason to believe that consciousness is a function of nervous matter, when that matter has attained a certain degree of organization, just as we know the other actions to which the nervous system ministers, such as reflex action, and the like, to be.”[4]

Huxley is more articulate than Darwin, but his term “function” is a generic and vacuous expression that says even less than does Darwin’s specific yet crude “secretions”. Nonetheless, the physical sciences reveal that the only functions of matter are movement or changes in matter. Huxley’s claim that consciousness is a function of matter represents no progress toward an exlanation of consciousness over that offered by ancient Greek Atomism.

If one anticipates better-reasoned arguments from contemporary Darwinians, reality will disappoint. Let us look at what Darwinian, Stephen J. Gould has to say about man’s difference in degree.

“By now, all readers of newspapers and watchers of television have learned of the striking initial successes of another way—communicating with chimps via sign language of the deaf and dumb. When Lana, star pupil of the Yerkes Laboratory, began to ask for the names of objects she had not previously seen, can we any longer deny to chimps the capacity to conceptualize and to abstract?”[5]

Gould merely assumes what the Yerkes experiment actually proves, which is to be expected since he apparently lacks the kind knowledge needed for correctly interpretating the cognitive abilities revealed by the study. That is, perceptual thinking and perceptual generalizations are sufficient to explain the chimp’s behavior. To presume the chimp manifested conceptual thinking and conceptual abstractions, as Gould does, is an unwarranted resort to cognitive principles of a higher order.

Gould, himself, does not demonstrate an adequate understanding of the genuine epistemological difference between sense knowledge and intellectual knowledge--knowledge of the particular versus knowledge of the universal. In sum, primitive and simplistic sign language communication based on sensual apprehension, sense memory, and perceptual generalizations, is a fundamentally different type of communication than propositional speech specific to man, which in turn is dependent on cognitive powers of a higher order.

Of the confirmed biological closeness of man and ape, Gould says, “A fine paradox, for although I have argued strongly that our distinctions are matters of degree only, we are still very different animals. If the overall genetic distance is so small, then what has caused such a divergence in form and behavior?” Gould speculates that, “The answer must be that certain kinds of genes have far reaching effects---they must influence the entire organism, not just single traits.”
Understanding of genetics progresses, but Gould implies an unwarranted assumption—that the natural sciences, at least in principle, can explain all the mysteries of human nature. In addition, the proselytizing Gould believes that if we give up our “antiquated concept of the soul”, we will “gain a more humble, even exalting vision of our oneness with nature.”[6] Is it not an inherently contradictory and perverse belief that reducing man to his biology results in an exalting vision?

The materialism that Darwin and his followers confuse with their science necessarily precludes them from correctly understanding the human mind and man’s true place in nature. Some Catholic scientists need to think critically about evolution theory, identify that which is of genuine scientific value, and decant the dregs of Darwinian pseudo-philosophical ideology. First, though, they should try to understand what it is that the Church teaches.

[1] Evolutionists such as Gaylord Simpson may appear to be an exception with their view that says man differs in kind from higher animals in mind, but differs in degree in body. While this represents an improvement over Darwin’s formulation, Simpson’s difference in kind is not a radical difference in kind (a difference that admits of no continuity between man and higher animals). His difference in kind is reducible to an underlying physiological difference in degree.
[2] Darwin’s Notebook statements are quoted in Angels, Apes, and Men by Stanley L. Jaki
[3] Macmillan’s Mag., May 1870
[4] Contemp. Rev., Nov. 1871
[5] Ever Since Darwin, Norton, 1979; p. 51
[6] Ibid. p. 54

Fundamentalism and Literal Interpretation

The fundamentalists are funny enough, and the funniest thing about them is their name. For, whatever else the fundamentalist is, he is not fundamental. He is content with the bare letter of scripture—the translation of a translation, coming down to him by the tradition of a tradition—without venturing to ask for its original authority.
--G.K. Chesterton: All is Grist

Christian fundamentalists discredit themselves and Christianity in the eyes of non-believers whenever they argue against science using their superficial interpretations of Genesis. The authority for fundamentalism’s biblical exegesis is as tenuous as is their interpretation of a direct creation of heaven and earth in six days.

Just as the fundamentalists are not fundamental, which Chesterton noted, neither are they, as I will argue here, biblical literalists. I will explain my contention in a series of steps.

It is commonplace, as everyone knows, to characterize fundamentalist or creationist interpretations of the Creation accounts in Genesis as a “literal” reading. However, while talking to a Protestant minister, a dyed-in-the-wool fundamentalist and former physician, it occurred to me that his “literal” interpretations of Genesis 1-2 were not at all literal. In addition, because his Biblical interpretation determined his “scientific” views about the world, neither does he take science literally. That is, according to the minister, the earth is rather young and any theory of macroevolution is strictly anathema.

Now, the minister holds to the typical creationist view of a “young earth”, a mere 3,000 years old or so, but that God created it to appear much older, 14 billion years or so. Of course, a literal interpretation of the scientific evidence says the universe is about 14 billion years old. However, the minister’s view implies that he does not accept a literal interpretation of the scientific facts because they represent appearances only, of a reality that is much younger.[1]

One must wonder why the Creator would create the universe in such a manner that it would necessarily deceive scientists about its age. The good minister’s God is a trickster of sorts. God is the author of both nature and Scripture, but the truths of science conflict with the truths of the Bible, as interpreted by the fundamentalist.

This creationist inanity follows from (1) not taking as the literal truth what science knows to be the case, and (2) not taking Scripture literally.

Before I explain what I mean by taking Scripture literally, I will note further a couple of reasons fundamentalists misinterpret the creation stories in Genesis. The first reason, which I cannot go into here, is they hold to inadequate and false notions about the nature of Revelation and divine inspiration of the Biblical authors. The second reason, and one that has an integral relation to the first, is fundamentalists do not consider the way in which literature teaches us, or the manner in which various literary genres work. If they happen to understand how various literary genres work, they assume they must apply a very different standard for interpreting the various genres of the Bible than they do with non-Biblical literature.

The fundamentalist presumption in this matter stems from his false understanding of divine inspiration of the sacred writers. Biblical literature is both human and divine and the fundamentalist does not properly grasp the dynamics of inspired composition. Divine inspiration does not eliminate the normal human activities of composition, but works through it.

In regard to the way literature works, both Biblical and non-biblical, not everything an author writes is co-extensive with what he intends to teach. A story has a setting with many details. The details may be factual or not, even so in Biblical literature, but they are not part of the author’s message. In addition, the meaning of a text is dependent on the author’s chosen method of communication. This is especially true with poetic expression.

We cannot ask what a poem means and expect a correct answer. That kind of the question limits the answer with wording alien to the poem itself. The constituents of a poem such as rhyme, rhythm and motion are all part of the various meanings. We cannot separate the poet’s choice words and their particular arrangements in the poem from the poem’s meaning. As one author remarked, it would be like trying to take the dancer out of the dance. We can only talk in a general way about a poem’s meaning. The proper question to ask is “How does a poem mean?"[2]

The Bible contains various types of poetry and many other literary genres. Genesis 1, for example, is a poetic arrangement of God’s creation in six days set in a pre-scientific cosmology. The author intends by it to teach Yahweh’s sanction of the Sabbath as day of rest. The sacred writer has no intention of teaching cosmology or anything scientific about the world. What he does teach is that everything including living creatures owes their existence in some way to the creative power of Yahweh. The sun and moon are not gods or objects of worship, as in other Mesopotamian cultures. Yahweh created the sun and moon, and they are lights to light the day and the night. God is one, there is no evil co-principle, and all that He created is good.

The sacred writer’s message represents a significant theological advance over the false beliefs found in cultures that surrounded and influenced the Hebrews.

Correctly recognizing the genus litterarium, its literary type, character and manner in which it communicates the author’s message, provides the clues for correctly interpreting Scripture and unlocking its deepest mysteries. Fundamentalists or creationists (and many exegetes of the past) are not interpreting the Creation stories literally. Rather, they are interpreting the texts wrongly by not recognizing the exegetical requirements of the genus litterarium. That is, a text is more literally and more precisely understood when the reader adequately recognizes its literary genre.

The Biblical accounts of Adam and Eve are historical aetiology expressed in a poetic form common to the cultural milieu. The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden is a look into the distant past to explain why certain current conditions exist with the human race and will continue. The inspired writer did not know all the details of Adam and Eve’s Creation and Fall. Therefore, he expressed his message in figurative terms. Yet these figurative expressions most likely explain more than anyone can teach using precise philosophical terms.

Again, the fundamentalist does not interpret the account of Adam and Eve “literally,” he just interprets it wrongly through his ignorance of the genus litterarium.[3]

A proper interpretation of the Creation stories, one that considers their literary character, poses no contradiction to a moderate theory of biological evolution. Man is a creature of the earth, one who has the capacity to know God. The Fall does explain certain facts about the human condition that we cannot correctly attribute to man’s environment, genetics, or his pre-human ancestry, as some evolutionists are accustomed to doing.

Fundamentalists discredit themselves and Christianity whenever they use their erring Biblical interpretations to challenge what science correctly knows to be the case. St. Augustine warned against the misuse of Scripture by those who lectured the naturalists on natural phenomena. His warning in the fourth century aptly applies to modern fundamentalists.

“It very often happens that there is some question as to the earth and the sky, or the other elements of this world—respecting which one who is not a Christian has knowledge derived from most certain reasoning or observation, and it is very disgraceful and mischievous and of all things to be carefully avoided, that a Christian speaking of such matters as being according to the Christian Scriptures, should be heard by an unbeliever talking such nonsense that the unbeliever perceiving him to be as wide from the mark as east is from west, can hardly restrain himself from laughing.

“And the real evil is not that a man is subjected to derision because of his error, but it is that to profane eyes, our authors (that is to say, the sacred authors) are regarded as having had such thoughts; and are also exposed to blame and scorn upon the score of ignorance, to the greatest possible misfortune of people whom we wish to save. For, in fine, these profane people happen upon a Christian busy making mistakes on the subject which they know perfectly; how, then, will they believe these holy books? How will they believe in the resurrection of the dead and in the hope of life eternal, and in the kingdom of heaven, when, according to an erroneous assumption, these books seem to them to have as their object those very things which they, the profane, know by direct experience or by calculation which admits of no doubt?

“It is impossible to say what vexation and sorrow prudent Christians meet with through these presumptuous and bold spirits who, taken to task one day for their silly and false opinion, and realizing themselves on the point of being convicted by men who are not obedient to the authority of our holy books, wish to defend their so thoughtless, so bold, and so manifestly false. For they then commence to bring forward as a proof precisely our holy books, or again they attribute to them from memory that which seems to support their opinion, and they quote numerous passages, understanding neither the texts they quote, nor the subject about which they are making statement.” [4]

Cardinal Bellarmine, during the Galileo controversy issued a similar warning in the year 1616:

“I say that if a real proof be found that the sun is fixed and does not revolve around the earth, but the earth round the sun, then it will be necessary, very carefully, to proceed to the explanation of the passages of Scripture which appear to be contrary, and we should rather say that we have misunderstood these than pronounce that to be false which is demonstrated.”

Unfortunately, for Charles Darwin Christianity was synonymous with the mistaken interpretation of Genesis 1 as affirming a direct creation in six days. Had Darwin any familiarity with the history of Biblical exegesis he may have realized the manner of interpreting the Creation accounts has significantly varied. For example, the interpretative tradition following St. Augustine and St. Gregory of Nyssa allows for the emergence of new life forms over time, as conditions permitted. I am referring, of course, to St. Augustine’s theological doctrine of the rationes seminales, a more enlightening read than Paley’s natural theology.

To presume that Genesis teaches scientific facts is a failure to read Genesis literally and correctly according to the sacred writer’s intent. The Biblical authors only teach that knowledge which is profitable toward salvation. God left the acquisition of a scientific knowledge of creation to our own initiative and investigation. Accordingly, Pope Leo XIII stated,

“It should be borne in mind, first that the sacred writers, or more truly the Holy Spirit who spoke through them, did not wish to teach men those things (namely, the inmost constitution of visible things) which would be in no wise profitable unto salvation.”

In light of the recent progress made regarding exegetical principles and their application to interpreting Genesis 1-2, there can be little justification at this point in history for fundamentalism’s wrong-headed interpretations of Creation.

[1] To believe or “know”, as the fundamentalist does, that reality (the age of the world) is very different from facts most evident to science, smacks of a gnostic mindset. In this case, it is the claim to possession of a privileged knowledge about God’s creative activity. The fundamentalist alone obtains this “knowledge” from his personal interpretation of Genesis.
[2] Cf. How Does a Poem Mean by John Ciardi
[3] Likewise, the fundamentalist misreads the device of religious/theological chronology in Genesis for an historical chronology in the modern sense. He has failed to recognize the genus litterarium and interpret Biblical chronology literally and correctly according to the chronology's type.
[4] De Genesi ad litteram, lib. I, cap. XIX

Why Darwin Does Not Matter

I previously posted a few of my disagreements with Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design, by Michael Shermer. In retrospect, the irony of the book’s title, Why Darwin Matters, is rather amusing. That is, there are no compelling reasons for the Darwinist to take his materialist version of evolution seriously, because, if Darwinism is true then nothing matters, not even Darwinism.

Since Darwinists purposely assert there is no purpose in nature, they should lighten up, have a beer, and not take ol’ Victorian Charlie’s glorified Ape or anything else so gravely.

A more suitable title for Shermer’s book is, Why Darwin Does Not Matter.

~The End

I am too fat to climb a tree,
There are no trees to climb;
Instead, the factory chimneys rise,
Unscalable, sublime

The past was bestial ignorance;
But I feel a little funky,
To think I’m further off from heaven
Than when I was a monkey.

G.K. Chesterton: Race-Memory (By a Dazed Darwinian)

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