Monday, May 25, 2009


Recently at mass, after the "Alleluia" a small child cried out "Yay!" in a loud voice. A couple of weeks later, the priest said "Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you" and a child (might have been the same one) called out "Yummy!" Now I'm all for reverence, but this kid had a point. Why is it so quiet at mass?

Ever go to a sporting event? Hockey, soccer, football, tennis? What would you think if the entire audience just stared blankly? Never cheered, chanted their team's chant, participated in any way? You'd think you were in the Twilight Zone. Everybody roots for their team. Why else would you even bother going?

Too often we sit in the pew and dully recite words without even thinking, or worse yet, not even respond at all. Why? What's going on on that altar is amazing. We're talking about life and death, and things which will affect our life forever. The most important thing in our lives, and we put more enthusiasm and energy into which team will get a ball somewhere than we do at mass. Why go to just sit in an uncomfortable seat if you don't want to be there. And if you DO want to be there, why not show it!

So, next Sunday, let's hear some responses. SAY the words, don't mumble. SING the songs - I don't care if you're off key - so am I half the time. Let's get enthusiastic!

Memorial Day Tribute

'nuff said.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

I <3 Camping

I just got back form a beginner backpacking trip with the Boy Scouts. It was fun. First off, we got to carry a heavy pack up a hill. There were many toads and millipedes. I think they liked it because they had many mosquitoes to eat. We didn't eat mosquitoes, though. We ate apples and crackers and cheese. Then we slept, amid the noises of the night (crickets, toads and scouts).

I slept like a baby (I woke up every two hours and cried). I woke up at 6 AM, dug the rocks out of my spine and got up. The boys were eagerly cooking breakfast on tiny camp stoves. These stoves put out an amazing amount of heat, but only heat a spot the size of a quarter, which makes cooking pancakes interesting.

After breakfast we started out on our trek. It was only 5 miles, but what they didn't tell us was that was the vertical distance we would travel. We saw mines, waterfalls, and hill tops. For wildlife we saw ticks, a large black snake, ticks, toads, ticks, hawks, ticks and ticks. There were many ticks. It was raining ticks. we had lunch on top of a hill then hiked more valleys and hills. Because of the ticks, I was wearing long pants, despite the 80 degree heat. I discovered new places to sweat from.

Finally we got back and started on the dinner planning. We had a delicious tomato and lentil stew, and built a roaring campfire around which to sit. There were no mosquitoes the second night. I think it was either because we stunk so much from the hike even they couldn't stand us or because they figured the ticks got all our blood already.

We did have a raccoon visitor we named "Chuck". Chuck the Raccoon says "Hey kids! Remember to leave food and dirty dishes out for me".

Sleep hit me like a ton of ticks - er, bricks. I woke at 6 AM again and climbed out of my tent to see a bear! Not in our campsite but at the one directly across the trail! We all talked about it as we made breakfast and ate. After a while he started coming to our site despite the fact that we were still there! I guess he wanted to see what food we were going to leave. We took the food, but left in a hurry. I guess he'll have to survive on ticks and mosquitoes.

After a million hour drive, we got home, where we got to set up the tent again to clean it out, unpack the backpacks, do laundry etc.

I love camping!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Money Can't Buy Me Love

I saw this article in Science Daily that makes some shocking claims
If you think having loads of money, fetching looks, or the admiration of many will improve your life — think again. A new study by three University of Rochester researchers demonstrates that progress on these fronts can actually make a person less happy.
This is "striking and paradoxical" (at least according to the article). It continues
The findings in this study support Self-Determination Theory... The theory holds that well-being depends in large part on meeting one's basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
Very nice and scientific, but although the authors cite how previous researchers overlooked things, it sounds like they do too, unless "relatedness" includes service to God and to others. According to this much less scientific survey clergy are the happiest people followed by firefighters (who are mostly Catholic, as we all know).

Which leads to an even less scientific theory I call "conservation of compensation". Ever wonder why lawyers get paid so much? Because (almost) everybody hates them! If it were a respectable job (like teacher or firefighter) they'd be happy to take the job even if it didn't pay well. I propose that this law is universal, except for doctors. I'm still trying to figure them out.

Monday, May 18, 2009

One More Into the Breach

Since everyone is analyzing the president's speech at ND, I figured I might as well. I have an advantage over other bloggers of having access to a symbolic logic analyzer.

It was developed over the past years, using an algorithm developed by Muller Holk of the Division of Logic of the Encyclopedia Foundation on Terminus. It is capable of digesting a speech and producing a summary of its actual symbolic content. I started with the original transcript of the speech given here, and after a few milliseconds of computing time I got the following (cross references to conflicting material are marked with [] by the parser):

I am smarter than you.

The most important issues are the economy, the ecology and harmony. Every other issue should take a back burner to these.

The following things are evil: prejudice, self-interest, materialism, taking advantage of the weak, power and privilege in the face of injustice, violence.

The following things are good: stem cell research and "choice" [so we can keep our prejudice against the weak, our self-interest in our bodies and convenience, our material goods (instead of spending them on children), and keep our power and privilege of life in the face of injustice, and our violence against the weak]

I once wrote what I believed on my web site and someone said they wouldn't vote for me because of my bigotry, so I held on to my bigotry, but changed my words to hide it so I would get his vote, because I am cleverer than you, and everyone knows getting votes is more important than being honest about intentions.

Let us work together to reduce the number of abortions, unintended pregnancies and increase adoptions, support mothers, support conscience, and make sure policies are grounded in ethics. Those are things we can do.

[For my part in this I will make abortions more available and less expensive, suppress religious efforts to reduce unintended pregnancies support adoptions and help mothers, remove conscience clauses and make sure we remove funding from ethical stem cell research and put those funds to work on ethically problematic research.]

The abortion debate is irreconcilable, so keep talking - but only talking - while I make policies Because talking but not doing is fair [to me].

When I was young I helped people in Chicago. I looked up the name of the archbishop so you would applaud because I am smarter than you.

I am an African American. 55 years ago people did a good thing to help stop discrimination against the disenfranchised who were denied basic human rights, and Notre Dame had a big part in it. Now look at Notre Dame.

Remember, faith is doubt, love is hate, war is peace.

Remember that each of us is endowed with the dignity possessed by all children of God [except the unborn].

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Notre Dame Debacle

As I write this, commencement is under way, and who knows what the fallout will be. I was thinking about this last night, however, because of a discussion by some friends on the arrests taking place. The debate was who was wronger; ND for arresting priests peacefully protesting on their property, or protesters protesting on ND property. I thought I would share my thoughts.

The protesters are engaging in acts of civil disobedience. Is civil disobedience justified? I think it is when we are being forced by an unjust law. Rosa Parks refusing to move was an act of civil disobedience. Does it apply in the ND protest case? I don't think so. The protesters were not forbidden to protest, they were just asked to stay off ND property.

One might argue that they were justified in using their civil disobedience in order to publicize their plight. I ask "publicize to whom?" Catholics and ND aficionados are all ready well acquainted with the situation. The media who are covering the arrests are making the protesters look like fools,a nd broadcasting to a public which is at best ambivalent about the situation.

That's not to say I am against the protesters, I just feel they are not handling themselves optimally. The same can be said of Fr. Jenkins. His "last letter" in the subject emphasized that this honorary degree is a formality and is not meant to endorse Obama or his policies. If this letter were his "first" letter on the subject instead of his last, perhaps a lot of this could have been avoided. However, Fr. Jenkins has already squandered all his credibility in previous volleys.

First there was the claim that this wasn't really a commencement speech, but an invitation to a "dialogue". When that became abundantly discredited the claim was that it was OK because Obama was not Catholic. There was his refusal to have a "dialogue" with his own students, in contrast with his desire to have one with the president.

Even in the face of almost 70 bishops, Fr. Jenkins insisted that his interpretation of the rules was correct. He even turned to out of context scriptural quotes to support his views against those of his superiors. Then there's the text of the honorary degree presentation itself.
"At the 164th Commencement The May Exercises The University of Notre Dame Confers the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, on the 44th president of the United States, whose historic election opened a new era of hope in a country long divided by its history of slavery and racism. A community organizer who honed his advocacy for the poor, the marginalized and the worker in the streets of Chicago, he now organizes a larger community, bringing to the world stage a renewed American dedication to diplomacy and dialogue with all nations and religions committed to human rights and the global common good. Through his willingness to engage with those who disagree with him and encourage people of faith to bring their beliefs to the public debate, he is inspiring this nation to heal its divisions of religion, culture, race and politics in the audacious hope for a brighter tomorrow."
This is sad. If I could turn back time and whisper in Fr. Jenkins' ear, I would have asked him to use that final letter as his first letter instead of going through the motions of lie after lie, to speak with students instead of turning them away, to ensure that the text of the degree did not appear to honor the president for things which are abhorrent to the Catholic view and to make this something less divisive.

Of course, in a better world we would have had the entire theology department, faculty, and many students demand that the invitation be rescinded, just as happened to Pope Benedict XVI at La Sapienza University (see my previous blog), but we don't live in that world.

Then again, perhaps Fr. Jenkins had no choice and was just a puppet of the board of directors?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Still Crazy After All These Years

In January of 1610 Galileo discovered his eponymous moons of Jupiter and confirmed empirically that Ptolemy was wrong. Nearly 400 years later I read an article by Dr. Stephen Hawking that caused me to complain so vociferously my friends urged me to start a blog (presumably so they could just ignore my RSS feed instead of me personally). I'd like to comment on the article, then the incident.

The Article

Dr. Hawking, for those of you who have been living in a black hole, is one of the worlds' most famous cosmologists. He is a theoretical physicist who holds the position of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University (but that's another blog post). His work on black holes (hence the earlier pun) is the work on black holes. In other words, smart guy.

However, smart does not (alas) make one right, and theoretical physics does not give one expertise in areas of history. Hawking misremembers, misinterprets, and misinforms. I can't repeat the entire article here, but the gist of it has been promulgated by him in various forms for years, as in this story from 2006.

The implication is that science and the Catholic Church are irreconcilably at odds today, and presumably the reader is supposed to come away thinking "well, I have to give up one or the other, and since science clearly works..." Since we're scientists, let's look at the "facts" Hawking uses to support his hypothesis.

Hawking claims that Pope John Paul II told scientists they should not study the beginning of the universe because it was the work of God. Just reading this red flags go up for me.
  1. But...all creation is the work of God, so why would the pope single out that one event as "unstudiable"?
  2. The Church (with a few exceptions) has always supported scientific inquiry, from Copernicus, who's theory it was that Galileo published to Monsignor George Lemaitre, who first proposed the Big Bang theory in 1927 (but that's another blog post).
  3. Why would the Vatican host a conference on cosmology for scientists if it didn't want scientists to study cosmology?
Apparently Dr. Hawking's memory is faulty, nor did he nor any of the publications in which this quote has been printed over the last 3 years think to use google. I did, and in minutes was reading the complete text of Pope John Paul II's address to the conference at which Hawking claims the statement was made. It can be found here. For those as lazy as I here is an excerpt:
Cosmogony and cosmology have always aroused great interest among peoples and religions. The Bible itself speaks to us of the origin of the universe and its make-up, not in order to provide us with a scientific treatise, but in order to state the correct relationships of man with God and with the universe. Sacred Scripture wishes simply to declare that the world was created by God, and in order to teach this truth it expresses itself in the terms of the cosmology in use at the time of the writer. The Sacred Book likewise wishes to tell men that the world was not created as the seat of the gods, as was taught by other cosmogonies and cosmologies, but was rather created for the service of man and the glory of God. Any other teaching about the origin and make-up of the universe is alien to the intentions of the Bible, which does not wish to teach how heaven was made but how one goes to heaven.

Any scientific hypothesis on the origin of the world, such as the hypothesis of a primitive atom from which derived the whole of the physical universe, leaves open the problem concerning the universe's beginning. Science cannot of itself solve this question: there is needed that human knowledge that rises above physics and astrophysics and which is called metaphysics; there is needed above all the knowledge that comes from God's revelation. Thirty years ago, on 22 November 1951, my predecessor Pope Pius XII, speaking about the problem of the origin of the universe at the Study Week on the subject of microseisms organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, expressed himself as follows: "In vain would one expect a reply from the sciences of nature, which on the contrary frankly declare that they find themselves faced by an insoluble enigma. It is equally certain that the human mind versed in philosophical meditation penetrates the problem more deeply. One cannot deny that a mind which is enlightened and enriched by modern scientific knowledge and which calmly considers this problem is led to break the circle of matter which is totally independent and autonomous - as being either uncreated or having created itself - and to rise to a creating Mind. With the same clear and critical gaze with which it examines and judges the facts, it discerns and recognizes there the work of creative Omnipotence, whose strength raised up by the powerful fiat uttered billions of years ago by the creating Mind, has spread through the universe, calling into existence, in a gesture of generous love, matter teeming with energy".
Reading the Pope's speech in its entirety it is clear that there is no such injunction against studying the origins of the universe. The Pope clearly states that science is involved in the physics of creation, while religion concerns itself with the metaphysics of creation. There is no conflict.

Hawking goes on to say that he feared he would be the subject of an inquisition like Galileo because of the paper he was working on. According to Hawking's recount of the events, Galileo was given papal permission to publish his book, but when the Church realized Galileo's ideas becoming popular they forced him to recant and suppressed his work. So let's look at the events of Galileo's "incident" through the eyes of history, not opinion.

The Incident

Now that I've built up your expectations, let me start by saying I'm not going to rehash the whole thing here. There are a number of sources who have done a much better job than I could of presenting the situation. I do insist that you read sources who have actually studied the documents involved rather than articles by people who have heard things third and fourth hand and are spouting their own opinions. My first introduction to the issue was from the book "Brother Astronomer: Adventures of a Vatican Scientist" by Guy Consolmagno, but there are other accounts that have been well researched.

It seems to me that while Galileo was put under house arrest, it was not because of his support for Copernicus but rather his mocking of the Pope. To quote Wikipedia (not that it is a definitive source, but it is one of the better on-line sources):
The book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, was published in 1632, with formal authorization from the Inquisition and papal permission. Pope Urban VIII personally asked Galileo to give arguments for and against heliocentrism in the book, and to be careful not to advocate heliocentrism. He made another request, that his own views on the matter be included in Galileo's book. Only the latter of those requests was fulfilled by Galileo. Whether unknowingly or deliberately, Simplicio, the defender of the Aristotelian Geocentric view in Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, was often caught in his own errors and sometimes came across as a fool. This fact made Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems appear as an advocacy book; an attack on Aristotelian geocentrism and defense of the Copernican theory. To add insult to injury, Galileo put the words of Pope Urban VIII into the mouth of Simplicio
So, Galileo was given papal permission to print his book provided he change it to include included the words of Pope Urban VIII, who had a contrary opinion to Galileo. He changed the book, but put the words of the pope in the mouth of the simpleton.

Now, Hawking says he fears for the inquisition because of his paper. But perhaps he should be more worried about putting his words into the mouth of Pope John Paul II.

The Truth

What else has the Pope said on the roles of religion and science, and about Galileo?

From "Address of Pope John Paul II to the Participants on the Vatican Conference on Cosmology" 6 July 1985 (4 years after the one Hawking complained about):
Please know that your diligent work, especially in the field of astrophysics, together with your ecclesial dedication, bears splendid witness to the Church’s profound interest in the world of science and particularly in the men and women engaged in scientific research.

I warmly greet the observational astronomers and the theorists in gravitational physics and cosmology who have accepted the invitation to take part in this important meeting. It is a joy to welcome you today, together with the members of your families.

Through the natural sciences, and cosmology in particular, we have become much more aware of our true physical position within the universe, within physical reality - in space and in time. We are struck very forcibly by our smallness and apparent insignificance, and even more by our vulnerability in such a vast and seemingly hostile environment. Yet this universe of ours, this galaxy in which our sun is situated and this planet on which we live, is our home. And all of it in some way or other serves to support us, nourish us, fascinate us, inspire us, taking us out of ourselves and forcing us to look far beyond the limits of our unaided vision. What we discover through our study of nature and of the universe in all its immensity and rich variety serves on the one hand to emphasize our fragile condition and our littleness, and on the other hand to manifest clearly our greatness and superiority in the midst of all creation - the profoundly exalted position we enjoy in being able to search, to imagine and to discover so much. We are made in the image and likeness of God. Thus, we are capable of knowing and understanding more and more about the universe and all that it contains. We can reach out and grasp its inner workings and designs, plumbing its depths with questioning reverence and with awestruck imagination.
There is, of course, more to the address. From "The Vatican's Turn to Recant":
In 1979, a year after he became Pope, John Paul II signaled that he wanted the Galileo case set right by giving a speech at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at which he declared in typically elliptical Vatican language that "theologians, scholars, and historians, animated by a spirit of sincere collaboration, will study the Galileo case more deeply." In case anyone missed the point about the Pope's desire for a reconciliation of science and religion, John Paul II choose as the date for this speech the centenary anniversary of Einstein's birth.

In October 1992, Cardinal Paul Poupard presented the Pope with the findings of the Galileo study commission, which declared, "From the Galileo case we can draw a lesson which is applicable today in analogous cases which arise in our times and which may arise in the future. It often happens that, beyond two partial points of view which are in contrast, there exists a wider view of things which embraces both and integrates them." By Vatican standards, this rotund language was an apology. The Pope responded by saying that Galileo's realizations about the sun and earth must have been divinely inspired: "Galileo sensed in his scientific research the presence of the Creator who, stirring in the depths of his spirit, stimulated him, anticipating and assisting his intuitions." Through its 1992 ceremony, the church finally lifted its edict of Inquisition against Galileo, who went to his grave a devout Catholic, despite the church's treatment of him.
In fact the Vatican is erecting a statue of Galileo.
So, where does that leave the Church's position on Science? In 2005 Pope Benedict XVI addressed yet another conference with the words
"There is no opposition between faith's understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences," he said, quoting from Popes Pius XII and John Paul II.
He also cited Galileo, whom, he said "saw nature as a book whose author is God in the same way that Scripture has God as its author."
Where does that leave scientists' position on the Church? In 2008 Pope Benedict XVI was "uninvited" to speak at La Sapienza at the request of its physics department, because he had quoted a document on the Galileo trial (with which he did not agree). See The Curt Jester's blog post on that subject for more details.

Who's running an Inquisition now?


This is the obligatory first blog post about blogging. Why blog? Because sometimes there is stuff in the head that's better when you get it out. No, not that stuff...thoughts. I hope I am able to put them on "paper" in a meaningful fashion.

As of this post I know nothing about blogging, other than having read a few over the last bit of my life. I suspect I will learn as I go.