Friday, October 21, 2016

Abbott and Constello meet Bishop Barron

A friend pointed me to Bishop Robert Barron's "Word of Fire" podcast entitled "Why Young People are Leaving the Church." I enjoy listening to Bishop Barron. He is an extremely intelligent man, who is well educated and a great speaker. However, I think he encounters a more erudite group of lapsed Catholics than I do.

In his podcast he says that one of the reasons people give for leaving the church is that science had proved God doesn't exist. He says that when he asks them for an example, they have none to give. That may be true for him, but when I ask the same questions I get answers. Wrong answers, but answers.

Here are some ways people have claimed to me that science has disproved the existence of God.

1) Evolution is true. Most people today, thanks to popular science explanations, have no idea that there is a difference between evolution (the notion that species change over time) and Darwinism (the unprovable claim that the reason behind the change is "random"). This is coupled with the false notion that belief in God depends on the Bible being interpreted as literalistically as possible, so that if there is evidence of the Earth being more than 5,000 years old, God's existence has been "proven." That has never been the position of the Catholic church.

Evidence does point to the Earth being several billion years old, and species changing over time. However, the mechanism for evolution is unknown, and even if it were known, science cannot address the question of "intent" as that is not a scientific question. Darwin's claim was that there was no intent behind the rules and mechanisms governing evolution (in other words, everything is "random"). That is not a claim science can prove or disprove by any means at its disposal.

However, even if Darwinism were true, it would not prove that God does not exist. It would merely mean that the mechanism for evolution was not being actively directed by God. And even if the only possible reading of the Bible were literalistic, an old Earth would not prove that God didn't exist, but merely that the Bible was wrong. Which brings me to point 2.

2) The Bible is wrong. Genesis is the book most often pointed too, but there are other books that have historical or scientific inaccuracies, either real or apparent. I find it ironic that the same people who argue that archaeology disproves the Bible because "X" does not fit current archaeological theories ignore the hundreds of times archaeology winds up confirming a Biblical account.

But even if we take these archaeological discrepancies as gospel (pun intended) the Catholic church doesn't claim that the Bible a science text or a history book. it is a book about the relationship between God and man. Everything else is merely an affirmation that it is not a mere myth, but describes events that actually happened. And even if the Bible were false, it says nothing about whether God exists. There are plenty of people who believe in God but not the Bible. Which brings me to point 3.

3) There are other religions, that make different claims. This is true, but it says nothing about whether the Catholic church's claims are true, or whether God exists. There was a time when light was "proven" to be a wave, and by some big names and very careful experiments. Other, equally careful experiments, by equally big names "proved" light was a particle. Nobody made the claim that because different people claimed different things about light that therefore light did not exist. The existence of light was taken as a given, and it was understood that any discrepancy between experiments meant one or both theories of light were false. Today we have a dualistic theory of light, which may still be wrong, but that doesn't shake our belief in light itself.

Likewise, if different religions make different claims about God it could be that one or both of them are wrong, or that God fulfills even seemingly contradictory claims (as was the case with light).

4) The church is full of sinners. This is also true, but says nothing about whether it's claims are true or whether you should belong to it, or whether God exists. The Catholic church has never claimed that all of its members are sinless (not even the Pope is sinless). In fact, the reason for being in the church and for having a relationship with God is, in part, forgiveness of sins. Would you really want to join a church where you were the only sinner? That would be incredibly awkward. Or, as the old joke goes:
Man: "The reason I don't go to church is that it's full of hypocrites!"
Priest: "Don't let that keep you away, we have room for one more."
The church is full of sinners, as Alcoholics Anonymous is full of alcoholics. But that's not a reason to not join AA, and it's not a reason to not join the church.

But ultimately I think that all these things are an excuse for the real reason most people leave the church, and the reason why none of these reasonable arguments convince them. Sin. If they put in the effort to follow the arguments and research the question, they would have to address the problem of sin in their lives. It is way easier to remain in ignorance and enjoy the way they live now.

It reminds me of an old Abbott and Costello routine about paying the rent. If you can stick with your mathematical ignorance and pay $28 in rent, why would you spend time learning how you were wrong about math just so next time you would have to pay $91?

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Count Down

I am blessed with three healthy children, but one of them was (incorrectly) diagnosed with down syndrome. We declined to abort him (of course) and are so glad he is part of our life. In our case it was both a blood test and an ultrasound that "confirmed" the blood test. We did not go for the more accurate (and more expensive, and invasive, and dangerous to the baby) amniocentesis test, mostly because we would not have changed our decision to keep our baby no matter what the results were. And while I have your attention, please check out Reese's Rainbow.

Today I was reading this article that mentioned that 92% of all babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted. I know, it's horrible, but I want to talk about something a bit different.

I wondered how many mothers went through all the extra tests, and the accompanying cost and pain and worry and stress of not knowing, and how many said "blood and ultrasound are good enough" and aborted right then. Which got me thinking about false positives.

It's hard to find numbers on false positives (unless maybe you have access to medical documents I don't have). But I did find this article in the Seattle Times which talks about how much more accurate the more extensive, late trimester tests are as compared to the standard first trimester tests (like we had).
cfDNA, tests have a detection rate of 99 percent for Down syndrome, with a false-positive rate of as low as 0.1 percent...That compares with a detection rate of about 79 percent through standard first-trimester screening, and a false-positive rate of 5.4 percent, the study found.
According to the CDC, one in 700 babies is born with Down Syndrome. Taking into account that 92% are aborted that means the rate of Down Syndrome is about 12/700 or 1.7%. That means if you are pregnant and the test comes back positive for Down Syndrome, the chance of the baby actually having Down Syndrome is 20%.**

Here's the math. There are 2 cases where the test will result in a positive:

1. The baby has DS (1.7%) and the test detected it (79%) = 1.7 x 79% = 1.35%

2. The baby does not have DS (98.7%) and the test had a false positive (5.4%) = 5.31%

So a positive will occur 1.35 + 5.31 = 6.66% of the time (I know, right?) but the baby will only actually have DS 1.35% of the time. 1.35 / 6.66 = 20% That means 80% of the time the baby is perfectly healthy and it's the test that's wrong.

This is reassuring if you are a mathematician, but if you are an expectant mother... I wonder how many mothers are frightened or bullied into aborting their "normal" children because of these tests? I would hope that every doctor would counsel a mother to wait for further testing, and even then help her to accept that all babies are imperfect and hers is just as worthy of love as any other baby, regardless of her baby's health or abilities. Sadly, I doubt many doctors do. Ours did not.

But let's say a mother rides out the fear and has the cfDNA test done. Things must be pretty definite then, right? Let's make sure:

1. The baby has DS (1.7%) and the test detects it (99%) = 1.7 x 99% = 1.68%

2. The baby does not have DS (98.7%) and the test has a false positive (0.1%) = 98.7 x 0.1% = 0.1%

A positive will occur 1.69% but the baby will have DS 1.68% of the time. The chance of the baby actually having DS is 99%. Pretty accurate.

Prenatal testing is one of those morally questionable technologies. On the one hand, it's good to allow parents to be prepared for health issues they may have to deal with down the line, and in some cases prenatal testing detects problems which can be treated. However, it tempts parents to treat the problem by eliminating the child rather than the disease.

[** Note to mathematicians out there. I realize that if you take into account the false positives then that 12/700 number is more like 2.4/700, which also affects the final probability, etc. Since I don't have any information on how many mothers abort after the first test and how many have a more accurate test down before aborting, I stuck with the most conservative numbers I could.]

Friday, September 30, 2016

Resurrection in the Old Testament

Jesus (and St. Paul) both speak of the Jews' belief in the Resurrection of the body, but when was that revealed to the Jews? I read an article which claimed that the Resurrection was a relatively "new" concept at the time of Jesus, probably "stolen" from the Babylonians during the captivity. Does the Bible have any references to resurrection from before the captivity?

I though I'd take a look at the Old Testament. Armed with nothing but a search engine and a love of Scripture I found the following:

Of course the most obvious example in 2 Maccabees 7 [emphasis mine]:

The Martyrdom of Seven Brothers

It happened also that seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and cords, to partake of unlawful swine’s flesh. One of them, acting as their spokesman, said, “What do you intend to ask and learn from us? For we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our fathers.”
The king fell into a rage, and gave orders that pans and caldrons be heated. These were heated immediately, and he commanded that the tongue of their spokesman be cut out and that they scalp him and cut off his hands and feet, while the rest of the brothers and the mother looked on. When he was utterly helpless, the king ordered them to take him to the fire, still breathing, and to fry him in a pan. The smoke from the pan spread widely, but the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die nobly, saying,  “The Lord God is watching over us and in truth has compassion on us, as Moses declared in his song which bore witness against the people to their faces, when he said, ‘And he will have compassion on his servants.’”
After the first brother had died in this way, they brought forward the second for their sport. They tore off the skin of his head with the hair, and asked him, “Will you eat rather than have your body punished limb by limb?”  He replied in the language of his fathers, and said to them, “No.” Therefore he in turn underwent tortures as the first brother had done.  And when he was at his last breath, he said, “You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws.”
After him, the third was the victim of their sport. When it was demanded, he quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands, and said nobly, “I got these from Heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again.As a result the king himself and those with him were astonished at the young man’s spirit, for he regarded his sufferings as nothing.
When he too had died, they maltreated and tortured the fourth in the same way. And when he was near death, he said, “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of men and to cherish the hope that God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life!
Next they brought forward the fifth and maltreated him. But he looked at the king, and said, “Because you have authority among men, mortal though you are, you do what you please. But do not think that God has forsaken our people.  Keep on, and see how his mighty power will torture you and your descendants!”
After him they brought forward the sixth. And when he was about to die, he said, “Do not deceive yourself in vain. For we are suffering these things on our own account, because of our sins against our own God. Therefore astounding things have happened.  But do not think that you will go unpunished for having tried to fight against God!”
The mother was especially admirable and worthy of honorable memory. Though she saw her seven sons perish within a single day, she bore it with good courage because of her hope in the Lord. She encouraged each of them in the language of their fathers. Filled with a noble spirit, she fired her woman’s reasoning with a man’s courage, and said to them, “I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws.”
More on the Moses reference highlighted above as we go backwards in time.

There's the story of Elijah, who was assumed bodily into heaven (2 Kings 2:11-12), but that doesn't quite count as a resurrection. There is also the story of Elisha's bones bringing a man back to life (2 Kings 13:20-21) but although the man is raised from the dead it is an "exceptional" case, not indicative that all will be resurrected. But several of the prophets speak of the resurrection.

Daniel 12:2
Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
and Daniel 12:13
But you, go your way, and rest; you shall rise for your reward at the end of the days.”
Isaiah 26:19 announces of the resurrection of the Jews:
Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise.
    O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a radiant dew,
    and the earth will give birth to those long dead.
Hosea 6:1-2 speaks of resurrection as well.
Come, let us return to the Lord;
    for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us;
    he has struck down, and he will bind us up. 
After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will raise us up,
    that we may live before him.
The Psalms deal with at least implied resurrection, such as Psalm 16:9-10:
Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
    my body also dwells secure. 
For thou dost not give me up to Sheol,
    or let thy godly one see the Pit.
That's a little obscure to me, as it's not clear if it means David (the author) will not die, or will die but be resurrected. However, St. Peter (to whom Jesus explained all of Scripture) clearly saw it as referring to the Resurrection and says so at Pentecost in Acts 2:25-32:
For David says concerning him,
‘I saw the Lord always before me,
    for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
    moreover my flesh will live in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
    or let your Holy One experience corruption.
You have made known to me the ways of life;
    you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
“Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.
Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
‘He was not abandoned to Hades,
    nor did his flesh experience corruption.’
This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.
So I have to agree on that one.  This one is much clearer - in 1 Samuel 2:6 Hannah prays:
The Lord kills and brings to life;
    he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
Job clearly believes that at least he can be resurrected:
O that you would hide me in Sheol,
    that you would conceal me until your wrath is past,
    that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me! 
If mortals die, will they live again?
    All the days of my service I would wait
    until my release should come.
Then there is Jonah. Yes, good old Jonah. I remember that story from my childhood, but as far as I knew, and as all the kids' stories (like VeggieTales) Jonah just spent 3 days living in the belly of the whale. Sure, when Jesus says (Matthew 16:1-4)
And the Pharisees and Sad′ducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them,  “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather; for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.
He was referring to His death and Resurrection, but Jonah was just a symbol of that, right? I mean three days in the tomb was like Jonah spending three days in the belly of the whale? Well kids, the actual story is darker. Jonah was dead, and was resurrected. (Jonah 1:17-2:9):
And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying,
“I called to the Lord, out of my distress,
    and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
    and thou didst hear my voice.
For thou didst cast me into the deep,
    into the heart of the seas,
    and the flood was round about me;
all thy waves and thy billows
    passed over me. 
Then I said, ‘I am cast out
    from thy presence;
how shall I again look
    upon thy holy temple?’ 
The waters closed in over me,
    the deep was round about me;
weeds were wrapped about my head 
    at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
    whose bars closed upon me for ever;
yet thou didst bring up my life from the Pit,
    O Lord my God. 
When my soul fainted within me,
    I remembered the Lord;
and my prayer came to thee,
    into thy holy temple. 
Those who pay regard to vain idols
    forsake their true loyalty. 
But I with the voice of thanksgiving
    will sacrifice to thee;
what I have vowed I will pay.
    Deliverance belongs to the Lord!”
The Maccabees passage at the beginning references Moses. The reference is to Deuteronomy 32:36, which says:
Indeed the Lord will vindicate his people,
    have compassion on his servants,

when he sees that their power is gone,
    neither bond nor free remaining.
Not a very obvious reference to resurrection, but it gets better. If we continue another few verses we see that God is referring to resurrection (Deuteronomy 32:39):
See now that I, even I, am he;
    there is no god besides me.
I kill and I make alive;
    I wound and I heal;
    and no one can deliver from my hand.
And finally, there is Abraham, all the way back in Genesis 22:9-10:
When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.
"But Mike," you say, "that doesn't say anything about resurrection." I know, but remember Abraham had been promised descendants through Isaac explicitly. So if Isaac is to die, the only way he could expect God to fulfill God's covenant would be through the resurrection of Isaac. It may not seem obvious to you, but it was to the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 11:17-19):
By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom he had been told, “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.” He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead—and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
When I started this  post I really only knew about two references to resurrection in the Old Testament. It took me quite a while, but I was surprised (and pleased) to find as many as I did (eleven). Do you ever wonder about things in the Bible? It may be time to dust off the old search engine and go digging.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Words Made Flesh

I wish I could read ancient Greek and Hebrew. It's not a skill I think I will ever possess, but it would be nice. In just the minuscule amount of Scripture I have studied, it seems almost every verse has some nuance that is lost in translation.

For instance, I was listening to a talk by Tim Staples about the Blessed Virgin Mary.  He pointed out that in Luke's narrative of the Annunciation there in an interesting word play going on. Mary asks "How can this be, since I do not know man?" Every translation I am aware of (including "literal" translations) has the angel's reply in Luke 1:37 as:
37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”
or very similar wording. But according to Tim, and I looked it up in a Greek interlinear Bible, the actual words written were
37   ὅτι οὐκ ἀδυνατήσει παρὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ πᾶν εἶπεν
37   for not will be impossible with God every word said.
37  for every word of God's is possible.
Similar meaning, but it gives quite a different emphasis to Mary's reply "Let it be done to me according to your word."

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Death and Taxes

There is a saying "Nothing is certain except death and taxes." But what about the "death tax" (aka estate tax)? That seems to be a perfect storm. I saw some posts yesterday about the candidates' positions on estate taxes. As expected, Clinton wants to increase the estate tax and Trump wants to repeal it. As you know, I loathe both of these candidates, so I am not taking sides based on loyalty to one vs. the other.

So let's consider the estate tax objectively. The USA was founded on the principles of life, liberty and property. Respect for private property, therefore, should be a cornerstone of American politics. And yet the estate tax effectively destroys the notion of private property. Let me explain.

For the purpose of this discussion let's assume an estate tax of 50%. Whether it's higher or lower doesn't change the principle, it only makes the math different. Now, let's say I own a house worth $100,000. It is mine. Period. I have no mortgage, but own it outright. I want my child to have this house when I die.

However, when I die, my child has to pay the government $50,000 for this house. So effectively the house was only half mine, and half the government's. Now my child wants to give it to his child when he dies. That child (my grandchild) will have to pay the government $50,000 for this house (for the purpose of discussion I am ignoring any increase or decrease in the value of the house - it doesn't change the principle).

Over time my family never owns the house free and clear - they always will have to pay the government in order to keep living in it. That is called "renting." The government owns the house de facto and charge my family $50,000 for a lifetime lease. I know on paper it say we own the house, but if we really did we could do with it what we pleased without having to pay the government for permission to continue to live there.

You could say the same thing about property tax, but at least in the case of property tax your property is receiving services (water, sewer, garbage pick up, snow removal, etc.) in exchange for the tax. In this case the government is just taking the money with no guarantee of any services provided in exchange.

So that covers the principles of why estate taxes are wrong, but what about the economic value? Isn't it good to make people pay "their fair share?" Clinton points out that the 1% don't pay "their fair share" in inome tax, and so we have to take their property to make up for it. Isn't that how we can make the rich give back and get money to the poor? Back to our example.

I die and leave my $100,000 house to my child. He has to pay $50,000 in taxes to keep living in it. But, like most people, he doesn't have $50,000 in cash. What can he do? He can sell the house. Of course, he has to sell it pretty quick, and so can't wait for the housing market to recover, or even for a good buyer to come along. So some rich guy buys it just to flip it and the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Alternatively, if he has the credit rating, and the house is worth it, he can get a mortgage. That means for the next 30 years he pays a bank to live in his own house, and the rich bank gets richer and the poor get poorer.

Worse, say this is a family owned business rather than a house. No business has 50% of it's value in cash assets (except maybe Apple). So again we have to either take a loan, and the bank gets richer, or sell the business (at a loss) to a big company with lots of cash on hand (and the rich get richer). Seeing the pattern yet?

So, no, we haven't taken money from the rich with our estate tax, we've taken money from the average person and given it to the rich.

But surely when the very rich die they will be hit by this tax and billions will go to the government (yay). Um, no. Have you ever noticed that all these billionaires and millionaires are Democratic supporters? They know that these kinds of taxes will put money in their pockets and will never affect them directly.

Consider the Clintons. They can effectively avoid this tax by donating as much as they want to the Clinton Foundation (tax exempt), where it will be paid as a salary to their daughter for her "work" running this "charity" (which spends less than 6% of its donations on actual charitable work and the rest on salaries and fundraising).

Likewise, other rich fat cats can set up corporations and trusts where they can play games with ownership to avoid having to pay the estate tax. Again, it's the little guy who gets hit and the rich gt richer.

I haven't even included the way the tax affects people's economic behavior - for instance the elderly shedding their property in order to avoid the tax, and subsequently becoming dependent on government assistance. This is similar to what Jesus talks about in Matthew 15 - people ridding themselves of wealth to avoid having to support their families.

So the estate tax is bad bot in principle and in practice.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

And I will ask the Father and He will send you another parasite...

One of the most misunderstood aspects of Catholicism, even for (maybe especially for) Catholics is veneration of and devotion to Mary. I know for much of my life I have had an aversion to Marian devotion that I am still overcoming.

Many people see honoring Mary as taking glory and honor away from Jesus, but it is a false dichotomy to say that a mother and child are in opposition to one another.

Then again, we live in a society where we put mothers and their children in opposition to one another, and the result is abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. Pro "choice" advocates claim that a child is at best a burden to a mother, one whose interests are contrary to those of the mother, and therefore she has no compelling reason in protecting its life. Some even claim that the child is a "parasite" which should rightfully be destroyed. Likewise, our parents should be killed lest they become a burden to us.

This is a false dichotomy and a gross distortion, used to justify abortion and infanticide, just as it was in pagan Rome and Greece. The Judeo-Christian view of motherhood is that there is a sacred bond between parents and children. "The two become one" is not only a metaphor for sexual union, it is a scientific description of conception.

In the Davidic kingdom of Israel the second highest position was that of "Giberah," or "Queen Mother." This underscores the understanding that the king's mother had his best interest at heart, and vice versa. In the Ten Commandments, we are told "honor your father and your mother" and the word used for "honor" (כַּבֵּ֥ד) can be interpreted to mean "give glory to" as well.

As the mother of Jesus, Mary is not opposed to Jesus or taking away from Jesus in any way. Conversely Jesus, as a good child who follows the commandments perfectly, gives honor and glory to his mother. As imitators of Christ should we not do the same? It has always been understood that on the cross Jesus entrusted his mother not only to St. John but by extension to all Christians. And so we should rightfully honor our mother, Mary.

This is not the blog post I set out to write, but the Spirit moved me and this is it. I will hopefully blog soon on the original topic...

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Never Forget