Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I'm done.

After two and a half years and 488 posts, I think it's time for me to admit that I really don't have a knack for blogging. Part of that lack is my own personal idiosyncrasy concerning writing—I have a love-hate relationship with the written word. I have other concerns, other interests, and other callings, and this just no longer seems like a good way to fulfill any of them.

So I'm packing it in. I may turn this blog into a fundraising site in the future, but for the time being, I'll just say that this is the end.

Please pray for me as I continue my theology studies, move forward with my application to the diaconate, and pursue my other outreach efforts.

Christ's peace be with you all.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Few Requests

First, I have some requests for others, not that they asked. And then I have a request and a thought of my own.

One of the parish associates at our parish has a torn meniscus in her knee and will require surgery. Please pray for a rapid recovery.

Second, our parochial vicar is being shipped off to a new assignment. I think it's back in the classroom, which is where he clearly loves to be, so pray for his success in that new position.

Third, I submitted my application today for the deacon formation program here in the Diocese of Boise. I have a long way to go in my faith journey and my vocation (if I have one), and I can use all the prayers you can spare.

Finally, I've been thinking for some time that this blog is yet another voice bleating out in the wilderness. While I don't think I'm a bad writer, I clearly don't have what makes for good blog style. I'm not the type who can dash off something that just works. I have to let ideas stew and simmer—not so good in this environ. Anyway, I think my daliance with blogging is coming to an end and that my time might be better spent studying those things I need to study and praying those prayers I should be praying and writing those papers I should be writing...

You get the picture.

UPDATE: One more request. Just a few minutes after posting, I read that Stephen Curtis Chapman's adopted daughter was struck and killed by an SUV driven by his son. Pray for God's grace and mercy to be with the Chapman family.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

How to Handle an Athiest?

So I've spent a good five posts talking about Dawkins and what are, for the most part, very common arguments by athiests against the existence of God. At some points, I was a little ascerbic, but I hope I didn't come off uncharitably. My point in reaidng The God Delusion was to prepare myself to provide a defense of both the philosophical support for the existence of God as well as support for theological propositions concerning the Catholic faith.

When it comes down to it, though, few people will come to the Catholic faith because of a well-formed argument concerning God's existence. They might accept it as true, but knowing the truth and embracing it are two different things. As a few other local theology nerds have reminded me in the past, converts are not won by reason but by love. And as Paul mentioned, without that, my rantings are simply a clanging gong.

I'm also reminded of a song from Camelot: "How to Handle a Woman." As Arthur dealt with Guenivere, we have to deal with those with whom we disagree. We can be disagreeable ourselves, or we can do what comes hardest but is ultimately the only answer. We just love them. We love them in the midst of conflict. We love them to the mat, if need be. But we love them nonetheless. Anything else is un-Christian.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Math for Liberal Arts Students

I mentioned in my response to Mark in the comments to the last post was that the one piece of useful information I learned in Math for Liberal Arts Students was how probability is calculated.

So you may ask, "Math for Liberal Arts Students? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?"

Yes, at BSU, there was actually a course titled Math for Liberal Arts Students. All students were required to take a math course, and I hate to admit that I didn't remember enough to get through a college level course on anything more than algebra or geometry—having punted math after Trigonometry for a creative writing class instead. Mrs. Mims (my junior English teacher) gave me you-know-what for that, and I have to admit that she was right. I tell that to my daughter now, and she is bound and determined to take calculus in her senior year.

Anyway, the class was an interesting combination of theory and history of mathematics. We played around with various numeric systems, goofed around with set teory a bit, and others had adventures in math. Many students thought it was a complete waste of time, but I rather enjoyed the diversion from my normal course of studies.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Problems with The God Delusion, part III

Okay, I have to admit that I've been remiss. I intended to get back to this sooner, but I've had other projects in which I'm more interested. In addition, I'm back in class this semester, and I'm running out of time on the second check-out of this text. I'm going to have to turn this book back in and let someone else have it for a while.

Not that I'm all that interested in keeping it around.

Part I
Part II

So I'm going to abbreviate this post to address just a few claims Dawkins makes and pose a question concerning the apparently irresistible impulse of evolution to higher, more developed forms of life.

First, in Chapter 3, Dawkins makes the claim that there is no good historical evidence that Jesus ever thought he was divine (p. 92). This claim is in response to C.S. Lewis's comment that Jesus could only be "liar, lunatic, or lord." What he means here, of course, is that there are no first-hand accounts that Jesus made this statement, and that much is true. However, there are four clear second-hand accounts that make this claim ludicrous, mostly because someone (Jesus) who allowed his disciples to misunderstand him so completely as to claim His divinity without rebutting their claims (as in Matt. 16:16-18 or John 20:28) would be no good man or good teacher. This leaves us with only the three options that C.S. Lewis mentioned: liar, lunatic, or Lord.

"Not so fast," says Dawkins. He brings up the fact that the apostles had their own agendas (p. 92). Certainly they did. But did it include going to their own violent deaths to defend something they knew to be false (the Resurrection)? We might have no first-hand historical accounts confirming a claim by Jesus, but we also have no first-hand historical accounts that any of the apostles ever denied that Jesus rose from the dead to avoid the end that most of them met: a martyr's death. So we're back to whether Jesus was liar, lunatic, or Lord.

Here's where Dawkins is audacious. He suggests that one possibility is completely overlooked: that Jesus was simply mistaken (p. 92).

Because people frequently mistake themselves for the creator of the universe and perform miracles that back up that claim (raising the dead, curing the blind, feeding multitudes with next to nothing, stilling a stormy sea).

Back to liar, lunatic, or Lord.

His claim for the staggering assuredness that there is almost certainly no God stems from his application of probability to the question of life on other planets. He claims that there's (say) a one in a billion chance that life can exist on a planet, and that there are billions of planets in a galaxy and some 100 billion galaxies, then that must mean that there are billions of planets that one can predict bear life (p. 140). Of course, he doesn't mention how he comes up with the possible one in a billion chance of life arising on a planet. This figure is a complete SWAG*. Yet he's confident that this proves his point that God almost certainly doesn't exist.

Of course, nothing in evolutionary theory yet explains the orgins of life (only of species), much less can science explain how inert matter eventually became amino acids, then proteins, then self-replicating single cells. Evolution only explains how life evolves, not how it begins. And it doesn't explain how matter arrives on the scene either or why anything at all exists. As I mention in part II, all there needs to be is one chance in infinite time and space of the simultaneous nonexistence of all matter for there to be nothing. Yet all of the chances Dawkins can conjure out of his speculation cannot explain the origin of life.

UPDATE: One Last Question

One of the points to which Dawkins' repeatedly comes back is the notion of chance or randomness. What surprised me was that Dawkins' says that evolution does not involve chance, or in Einstein's words, "God does not play dice." Dawkins' indicates that evolution leads inexorably toward improvement or advancement, that building a better meat machine (my words) is the physical law built into the evolutionary process. I actually find this take on evolution easier to accept than the notion that complete randomness leads to something as intricate as the mammalian brain.

However, this idea raises a question. If this inevitability is built right into evolution and we have multiple environments in which evolution takes place, leading to certain parallels in evolutionary development (say, fish and aquatic mammals in one environment, marsupials in another, and primates in another), why is it that a late comer to the evolutionary game, human beings, manage to develop such a wildly different type of intelligence than can be found anywhere else in the natural world, especially when one considers how much time humanity spends doing things that have little to no bearing on survival in a strictly biological sense? Dawkins suggests that many of these behaviors are "by-products" of other instincts that do aid us.

If you look at the sheer amount of time people spend doing things that are not directly related to procreating, feeding, and staying warm and safe, you have to admit that the majority of human activities are a waste. Yet most of those very activities are what distinguish us from other animals and demonstrate this uniquely human capacity for thought and creativity. No other animal demonstrates such preoccupation and variation in play and leisure. Some might consider this thought to be the height of human arrogance—specieism. Yet even that value judgement points to something else that is unique about us. We can hold values that countermand the evolutionary impulse to procreate and continue the human species. In some, this valuation comes out in absurd notions such as specieism. In others, it comes out in the heroic willingness of one person to step in the line of danger without regard for personal safety so that another no-more-deserving person can continue to live.

The nonrandomness of evolution, the inexplicably vast chasm between human and nonhuman animal intelligences, and the near ubiquitous notion that we refer to as "natural law" all suggest to me that there is purpose and meaning in human evolution—that there is a way in which we and how things should be, despite how things are. As Mark Shea is fond of saying, we cannot derive an ought from an is. If there is no purpose for our lives beyond mere existence, there can be no absolute basis for moral value judgements or behavior. To me, these three factors point overwhelmingly toward purpose, and purpose can only exist where there is intent. The material universe has no intent. It only follows physical laws that are inherent in it. So "intent," if it exists, must be extrinsic; it must be present because something outside provided it.

UPDATE 2: Interestingly, Dawkins is apparently more willing to assign intent to a higher intelligence in the form of aliens rather than a transcendent creator God. That suggests the some other evolved creature is for some reason wasting time raising time-wasting intelligence on other planets. If this last scenario is the case, maybe we should be referring to Dawkin's theory of inane origin.

*Stupid wild-a**ed guess. To be fair, it may not be a SWAG, but since Dawkins rarely cites any of his claims, it's difficult to tell. However, at least one commenter has suggested that Dawkins' grasp of probability and how it's calculated is flawed—that probability is multiplicative rather than additive. I think what he means is that if you have a one in a billion chance of something happening, it is not added to other chances but multiplied with them. So a one in a billion chance will multiply with another one in a billion chance to become... ?

Ekklesia and Christ's Church

This weekend was the final session of the Saturday adult catechesis sessions that my wife and I coordinated for our parish. For various reasons, we won't be doing this next fall. I suspect that I'll be busy with a couple of other projects I have going, and Gina always has enough to keep her busy.

Anyway, the speaker this week is one of our diocesan staff who works in social justice ministries and education. All in all, I thought it was a positive session, and I think the speaker puts her faith into practice in a postitive way. I disagreed with a couple of sweeping comments she made about the death penalty and war, but I sort of expect that some Catholics will feel strongly against both. Given that prudential judgement is involved in each case, I expect there would be some disagreement.

However, there was one comment that bothered me, and I brought it up during the session break. The speaker had claimed that Christ did not start a church but a mission. I pointed out to her that Christ indeed founded a church in Matthew 16, albeit perhaps not a full-blown hierarchy as later came into existence within 40 years of Christ's death. She acknowledged that point, but when I mentioned the word ekklesia being used twice in Matthew, she latched on and claimed that "most scholars agree" that Jesus probably never used the word "church." I responded that that probably depended on the scholars and that some would say their's no reason doubt that he did. She indicated that there was reason to doubt it because the word doesn't appear in the other gospels. The reasoning seemed peculiar to me.

So let me start my response by acknowledging that Jess probably didn't use the word ekklesia. It's more likely that he was speaking in Aramaic than Greek, so it would've been an odd word choice. However, it's clear that Jesus meant something akin to what the word ekklesia came to stand for. Lack of similar events in the other gospels is merely proof that the event comes from a different perspective than the others. If we dispute everything that only occurs in one of the three gospels, we have to dispense with a whole lot of the Word. In fact, some of the most memorable words of Christ would have to be dismissed as improbable (for example, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life"). We'd also have to dismiss such important scenes such as the wedding at Cana and the raising of Lazarus from the dead, not to mention a good portion of the infancy narrative.

In addition, while the word "church" only occurs three times in Matthew, it occurs many times in Acts, which was written by the author of Luke. So you have two different authors writing for two different audiences, both using a Greek word for "assembly," which is what we now call the church. In addition, the septuagint uses the same Greek term in no fewer than 30 places. So the claim that this term would somehow not be familiar to Jesus or wouldn't have been something he would say just falls flat.

So why would that claim be made, and what are the implications of accepting it? Well, there are two of which I can think. First, the same passage in Matthew (16:18) in which Jesus uses the word "church" or "assembly" (which is what the Greek term means literally) is also the point at which Jesus renames Peter and grants him the keys. This is the verse that is used most often as the basis for the primacy of Peter and the foundation of the Papacy (a term that appears no where in scripture but which, nonetheless, is a critical part of our faith). It is the most clear claim to both the establishment of the Church and the establishment of the See of Peter that the Church has (notwithstanding all of the practical examples of Peter exercising his role in Acts and beyond).

So if we dismiss the meaning of Jesus' words here (as opposed to the exact wording used), we undermine very important aspects of our faith. What's more, we undermine the authority that those words bestow upon the Church as the mystical body of Christ joined to its hierarchical, institutional form, as well as the authority bestowed upon the successors of Peter.

Now, this is not to say that I think the speaker's intention was to undermine the authority of the Church. However, I can't say the same for the scholars in whom she places her trust.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Looking for Guitarist

Okay, I think I've mentioned previously that I started playing with my parish's Lifeteen ministry. I was always quite conflicted with this ministry, primarily because of the style pop-style music used for the liturgy, but there were also other considerations as well that eventually revealed to me that this just wasn't going to work over the long term. However, the leader of the group and the drummer wanted to do something outside of the liturgy that was more performance oriented. We've started a group with a couple other members—one Catholic and one a more "nondenominational" Christian—for the purpose of playing for youth and young-adult groups. We've already had one gig (a Holy Grounds night, which is a Catholic coffee-house ministry for young adults), and we have our next two coming up this and next Friday.

We have some other dates in mind and also want to be available to warm up or play back up for other artists who come through the area. Right now, we really need another guitarist—someone who is versatile and who can cover anything from light jazz to acoustic and heavy rock styles. Since our focus will be Catholic ministries (although not liturgies), we would prefer a Catholic musician. Singing ability is desired but not required. We plan on ramping up pretty quickly and will practice at least once a week (with individual practice required until we learn the set list). We have a PA, but the individual will need equipment appropriate for multiple venues (coffee houses to auditoriums). A Marshall stack is great, if you have one, but you might not want to lug it into the local Moxie Java.

If you know anyone local to the Treasure Valley who might be interested, please drop me a line (or tell them to drop me one) at technicoid - at- cableone -dot- net.