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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Can Truth Evolve?




A leftist friend writes that he is not a relativist, but he does hold that truth keeps evolving: “Every truth we assert today will someday be supplanted by a more comprehensive truth.”

But this is not possible. A truth that becomes untrue with time or greater knowledge was never a truth. It was always an error.

If everything we knew before, and everything we know now, is in error, we know nothing about anything. And, logically, we never will. There will always be a more comprehensive truth to come along, or, even if not, we still cannot know there will not be.

This leaves truth as, if not relative, worse than relative, irrelevant. Because of the insurmountable epistemological problem, you might just as well pick your beliefs at random. Just as likely to be true.

No: for truth to have any meaning, we must indeed always perceive some truths, which we can contrast with opinions, beliefs, and errors; and we must always have been able to perceive some truths. Two and two equal four. A thing cannot be true and false simultaneously. There are no square circles.

Further, if one posits the existence of a God—that is, if one does not accept that the existence of God is itself a self-evident truth--it follows that we are and were always able to perceive at least all the essential truths at all times. A benevolent Deity would necessarily have made it so.

Accordingly, religious truth does not evolve and change. It is only clarified over time.

Too many are misled by the example of science, and the fact that scientific understanding does indeed evolve and change. This is an important criticism of science—that it never arrives at truth, only at useful models of truth. But one must not reify this to philosophy or to human thought in general.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Easter Wars

News is that a school in Alabama has banned the word "Easter" from their "bunny hunt," due to it's Christian significance.

The irony is that the word "Easter" is no more Christian than the bunny. Easter was apparently a pagan goddess of the dawn.

But then, why should pagan images like bunnies and Easter be promoted ahead of Christian ones? This is not religious equality, but brazenly favouring some religious positions over others.


Robots will replace professionals?

http://www.infowars.com/robo-reporters-to-replace-mainstream-journalists/


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

On Sin




Oxford defines sin as “an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law.” There are two concepts here: that of immorality, and that of breaking God's law. Merriam-Webster gives these as two separate meanings: “1. an offense against religious or moral law,” and “2. transgression of the law of God.”

Both concepts, it seems to me, are necessary for a full appreciation of the nature of sin. “Transgression of the law of God” or “transgression against divine law,” on its own, leaves the impression that God's law might be capricious or arbitrary. If God declared murder a good thing, and charity a bad thing, would they become so? They would not. Morality exists as an absolute apart from God's willing it. God cannot will evil to be good.

Were this not so, it would be meaningless to say that “God is good.” not that God is subject to the good, but rather that he is morally good in his essential nature. “He cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). Therefore, to sin is not only to offend against God, but to offend against morality as an objective quality, against objective right and wrong. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love....” (CCC 1849).

However, true morality also necessarily involves an obligation to love and obey God, to keep God's laws. When Jesus summarizes morality in two commandments, “Love God,” and “love your neighbour as yourself,” he gives the former the priority. Similarly, the first three (or four, depending on your numbering system) of the Ten Commandments presume a moral obligation to honour God.

If one accepts the definition of God as absolute being, and absolute perfection, it follows that he is also absolute goodness. Aquinas states this as a matter of definition: “the word 'God' means that He is infinite goodness” (Summa 1:25). Or, in the words of the Gospel, “None is good but God alone” (Luke 18:19) – to say “good” is to say “God.” If one does not believe in, and revere, absolute goodness, this in itself is a turning away from the good. If an atheist genuinely holds that there is no such thing as moral good, he is not in the end a moral being. If he holds that there is such a thing as moral good, he is not really an atheist. He is simply not calling God by the word “God.”

Given that we truly believe in the absolute moral good, why do we ever do evil? Why does sin enter our lives? Why are we tempted?

The classic explanation, of course, is the story of the Fall of Man. According to Genesis 3:6, Eve faced three temptations leading her to commit the original sin: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food [1], and that it was a delight to the eyes [2], and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise [3]...” (RSV).

The first temptation seems clear enough: our sensual appetites, though in themselves good, may conflict with a higher good.

The second temptation is less clear. Firstly, if it is simply a matter of the apple being pleasant to look at, this is not a separate temptation from the first. Moreover, if this sensual pleasure of seeing the apple is what is desired, eating the apple is not the way to acheive it: this removes the apple from sight, and therefore ends this sensual pleasure. Conversely, leaving the apple on the tree in obedience to divine command is the best way to satisfy this desire.

Accordingly, the second temptation must be something else: a desire to show the apple to Adam. She would have something that Adam did not. The second temptation is the temptation to “look good” to others; to win their esteem. While good in itself, this too can conflict with the ultimate good, as appearance can conflict with reality.

The desire for wisdom is explained further in the passage: knowledge of good and evil is promised to make Eve “like God.” This is the sin of egotism or spiritual pride.

There also seem to be three temptations, and three stages of the Fall, in Genesis. Eve’s temptation is only the first: on the literal, most basis level, to eat the fruit—temptation of the senses or the flesh. Then Adam too is tempted, and eats—tempted by his wife, the first historic instance of peer pressure. He must keep up with the Joneses. With this, significantly, comes shame, social guilt. Then comes the next temptation: Cain’s murder of Abel. He does this out of spiritual pride: resentment that God seems to favour Abel.

Temptations, it seems, always come in threes; and, I submit, this same set of three. Both Luke and Matthew, for example, tell of Jesus facing three temptations in the wilderness: turn stones to bread, rule the world, jump from the temple roof. These are Eve's three temptations, again, in order; which Jesus, however, resists. The Book of Common Prayer, following Peter Abelard, cites “the world, the flesh, and the devil” (Abelard, Exposition of the Lord's Prayer): the same three, but in a different order, 2, 1, 3. 1 John 2:16 also seems to have our list of three: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.” Lust of the flesh, lust of the eye, and pride: 1, 2, 3.

I order the three temptations in the way suggested by the historical sequence in the Bible. The same sequence is also given by Luke and John—by a majority of our sources. Matthew and the Book of Common Prayer have different sequences, but also do not agree between themselves: 1, 3, 2 and 2, 1, 3, respectively.

Why are the temptations of the flesh the first temptations? Probably, because the pleasures of the flesh are the lowest common denominator, something even young children or animals feel strongly. Our instinctive, animal desire is for material or physical comfort and the absence of pain; things like wanting to eat, seeking warmth, getting a good sleep. The complete surrender to this temptation is the comprehensive sin of materialism, of living “by bread alone.” Wealth too is, at base, a desire of the flesh, because the essence of wealth is material possession. Hence the proverb “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10).

The second temptation, for social appearances or social standing, is referred to by the Book of Common Prayer as “the world”-- as in Merriam-Webster’s second definition: “All of the people, societies, and institutions on the earth.” “Peer pressure,” we would say, with teenagers; as the French would say, “tout le monde.” Similarly, “lust of the eye” in 1 John does not mean a desire to own things you see—that again would be only a duplicate of lust of the flesh, less clearly described. It refers to a desire to be looked at, or “looked up to.”

Finally, the sin of pride—the devil’s sin, hence by synecdoche referred to in the Book of Common Prayer as “the devil.” This is “putting God to the test,” putting oneself above God in some sense. This was the last temptation of Job, the righteous man, a conviction of his own righteousness and that God owed him something in terms of treatment. “Shall he that contends with the Almighty instruct him?” (Job 40:2).

It would seem that each temptation in turn leads to a deeper level of evil. A simple lust for the flesh, as of a Falstaff, is in the end rather forgivable. There is relatively little of malice in it. People who avoid the allure of materialism, then succumb to the allure of social pomp or worldly power, seem more purely evil: Hitler or Park Chung Hee were both seemingly personally incorruptible. No doubt it is for this reason that Jesus and the Gospel save their greater wrath not for women taken in adultery, but for the scribes and Pharisees.

And the sin of spiritual pride, finally, is, as noted, the sin of the Devil himself.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Aquinas's Second Proof that God's Existence Is Self-Evident




the existence of truth is self-evident. For whoever denies the existence of truth grants that truth does not exist: and, if truth does not exist, then the proposition “Truth does not exist” is true: and if there is anything true, there must be truth. But God is truth itself: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) Therefore “God exists” is self-evident.

Aquinas's Second Argument for the Existence of God Being Self-Evident

... the existence of truth is self-evident. For whoever denies the existence of truth grants that truth does not exist: and, if truth does not exist, then the proposition “Truth does not exist” is true: and if there is anything true, there must be truth. But God is truth itself: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6)

Therefore “God exists” is self-evident.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Popular Science Archives

I may actually have posted this link before. If not, it needs to be known, by any true geeks out there.

The entire archives of Popular Science online.

Is Obama the Anti-Christ? Or Does He Only Play Him on TV?

Suddenly a big fuss over the current TV series "The Bible." Seems a lot of viewers think Satan in the series looks a lot like Barack Obama.

The producers insist this is pure coincidence, that the same actor has played Satan before in other productions without anyone making the connection.

You can see the actor for yourself at the link. Seems to me he really does look like Barack Obama.

For my part, I'm inclined to see the hand of God in this.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Pope Francis: A Nightmare?






Slate Magazine has run a piece titled “Why Pope Francis may be the Catholic Church’s worst nightmare.” I think it is worth commenting on, because, frankly, it echoes some of my own initial fears. It seems to be written, too, not from the familiar leftist standpoint, but from the less-often heard traditionalist side. The author appears to be a Catholic himself, and a fan of Pope Benedict.

First complaint:

it is one more in the pile of recent Catholic novelties and mediocrities. He is the first Latin American pope, the first Jesuit to be pope, and the first to take the name Francis. And so he falls in line with the larger era of the church in the past 50 years which has been defined by ill-considered experimentation.
Don't Cry over Me, Argentina.

SR:

I would have been concerned about empty novelty myself had the cardinals chosen a pope from Africa, as the media had been urging. It would smack of a cheap gimmick. But the church in Latin America is well-established, as are the Jesuits, and it does not seem as though the college is really rushing into anything after 500 years. And, after the papacies of John Paul II, commonly now referred to as “the Great,” and Benedict, probably the finest mind alive, I am not left with the impression that the Catholic Church has recently descended to mediocrity. Or novelties. Rather, it is the one human institution that has not.

No question, the choice of the name “Francis” signals change, at least in the sense of renewal. But it seems to me uncontroversial that the Church is in need of renewal, just as it was in St. Francis’s time. That is the premise of the “New Evangelism,” the Church’s major current initiative. Europe and America, the traditional seats of Christendom, have fallen into secularism.





Second complaint:

He is not known as a champion of any theological vision, traditional or modern.

SR:

I think this is a good thing. We have had two great theologians in a row, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. We have that area covered for the foreseeable future, and I wouldn’t particularly want someone else coming in and tinkering with it. What we have is fine, and better than fine, exceptional. What is needed now is an administrator and pastoralist to disseminate it and to implement it. It seems as though that is exactly what the cardinals have gone for.

Third complaint:

A contentious reading of Pope Francis’ rise is that Benedict’s enemies have triumphed completely. It is unusual for a one-time rival in a previous election to triumph in a future one.

SR:

Yes, that is surprising; but it seems unlikely that this represents any repudiation of Benedict. In the first place, most of the current cardinal electors were appointed by Benedict himself. Of the rest, a supermajority necessarily voted for Benedict in the last conclave. These are Benedict’s men. They would presumably not have intended any repudiation of Benedict. The more so as he is still alive, and perhaps still writing.

I think it is also worth pointing out that we do not actually know whether Bergoglio was really the runner up to Benedict in the last conclave. We only have the word of an anonymous source that this is so. If that source genuinely is in a position to know this, then he is a perjurer. Not a very reliable source in either case. There have also been claims that the runner up to Benedict was Martini. Who knows?

Not that it matters. Factions are a big deal in electoral politics, but they may not be a significant factor in a conclave. I do not find it difficult to imagine that most cardinals sincerely vote for the person they believe would make the best pope.

Fourth complaint:

He has deep connections to Italy, but little experience with the workings of the Vatican offices. … An older pope who does not know which curial offices and officers need the ax, will be even easier to ignore than Benedict.

SR:

This is a no-win situation. The alternative would have been to appoint someone from within the curia. Would that really have augured better?

No—in business, when you have a mess at the top, the last thing you do is choose the new boss from within the organization. Instead, you look well outside, to someone who will have no ties and no dogs in the internecine squabbles, but who has a reputation for administrative ability and personal incorruptibility. Which is a pretty precise description of Pope Francis.

As to his age lessening his authority—that is a perversity of the modern secular world, but not of the Catholic Church. Age brings wisdom.

Fifth Complaint:

Besides his lack of knowledge of the ins and outs of the Vatican, there is almost no evidence of him taking a tough line with anyone in his own diocese.

SR:

This seems simply not to be true. Reportedly, he took a firm stance against liberation theology as a Jesuit superior, and paid for it. He has also apparently grappled publicly with the Argentine government on several occasions.

Sixth Complaint:

Are we to believe that Buenos Aires has been spared the moral rot and corruption found almost everywhere else in the Catholic clergy? …Presumption and detraction are sins, but Catholics should gird themselves; the sudden spotlight on his reign may reveal scandal and negligence.

SR:

Sure, it may, but this risk would exist about equally with any candidate for the office. You have to trust the Holy Spirit.

Seventh Complaint:

Benedict’s liberation of the traditional Latin Mass and revisions to the new vernacular Mass have not been implemented at all in Cardinal Bergoglio’s own diocese. Already some of the small breaks with liturgical tradition at the announcement of his election are being interpreted as a move toward the grand, unruly, and improvisational style of John Paul II; an implicit rebuke of Benedict.

SR:

This sets up a false opposition between John Paul II and Benedict, who were close collaborators.

The fact that Benedict’s new vernacular mass has not been implemented in Buenos Aires is meaningless, because was only a rewrite of the English mass, and Bergoglio/Francis’s diocese was Spanish-speaking.

Nor does it signify if Benedict’s liberation of the Latin Mass has not caught on in his diocese. Benedict’s innovation was to allow the Latin Mass to be celebrated without special consent from the bishop. If nobody in Buenos Aires chooses to celebrate it, that is obviously no longer a reflection on the bishop.

There are early indications that Francis is less formal about the liturgy than Benedict was, as Benedict was more formal than JPII. These are aesthetic issues. There is no disputing taste.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Bullying the English Language







A recent op-ed piece in the New York Times laments a growing tendency to “define bullying down.” Now that the bureaucrats and ideologists have twigged to the emotional force of the word “bully,” they are overusing and effectively redefining it out of all meaning. Just as they did before with terms like “abuse,” or “peace,” or “rape.” For rape, they got to the point of claiming that all heterosexual sex was and is rape; similarly, anything a woman does not like is now “abuse.” This rhetorical lying has two unfortunate effects: first, it promotes an extreme form of discrimination, in which innocents can be tagged with words like “bully” or “abuser” or “rapist,” and thereby stripped of all humanity. Second, in the longer term, it obscures and trivializes the original offense, ultimately enabling and promoting rape, bullying, and abuse. While the innocent are punished, the guilty are exonerated.

Helpfully, the article offers a proper definition for “bullying”: “physical or verbal abuse, repeated over time, and involving a power imbalance.” Now let’s take out the already corrupted term “abuse,” and make that “intentional cruelty, repeated over time, and involving a power imbalance.” We should keep that definition always in memory as a touchstone.




Yeah. That ought to do it.

Now, given that definition, where do we need to look to reduce or eliminate bullying in the contemporary public school? Obviously, wherever there is the greatest power imbalance. Not, then, among students of the same age group. Quite possibly older students with younger students. But more obviously, among teachers. The entire school is organized to ensure the power of adult teachers over children. That’s fine, but there is an obvious opportunity, as a result, for bullying.

Worse, the obvious opportunity for bullying that is present at any school will necessarily attract bullies to the profession. And we have developed no formal mechanism to keep them out. Born bullies, once in the schools, are likely in turn to migrate into administration, where bullying chances are even greater, so school and school board administrations cannot be trusted to monitor and battle the problem. Quite the reverse; they can be counted on to support and promote it. There is a reason why office politics in the education field seem worse than anywhere else.

Of course, the prevalence of bullying among teachers and administrators, in turn, rubs off on the kids. If there is one clear lesson taught by the educational system, it is how to bully.

It is unsettling, then, that all the attention, in the current anti-bullying frenzy, has been on giving teachers greater power in order to stop the bullying of kids by kids. This is more likely to increase than to decrease bullying in the schools, since it increases the power imbalance and gives potential bullies access to a new and powerful form of cruelty: branding young children as “bullies.”

They are sure to grab for it, just as teachers have recently embraced opportunities to stigmatize young children as violent for such grave offenses as pointing fingers and saying “bang,” or blowing bubble with something shaped like a gun, or biting their sandwich into the shape of a gun, and so on.

It’s going to get ugly.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

More Media Malpractice

From an NBC story on the conclave:

"But such a selection might disappoint Catholics who are hoping for a reformer after a papacy marked by a sexual abuse scandal, other missteps and shrinking membership in the United States and Europe."

Awkwardly, the Catholic Church's membership is actually growing in both the US (1.5% per annum) and Europe (1% per annum).

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Scientific Fraud Grows



According to the US National Academy of Sciences, the rate of retraction of published scientific papers has increased tenfold since 1975.

Seems to me this is a good measure of the growing corruption of the professional, which is to say ruling, class. Not a good sign for the nation or the culture.

How did it happen? What happened in 1975?

The maturity of scientists born in 1945. The beginning of the baby boom.

Not that it is entirely the baby boomers’ fault. It is at least as much the fault of their parents, the “Greatest Generation.” It was the sexual revolution, and the fashionable dismissal by those who considered themselves well-educated of “conventional morality,” which inevitably meant morality straight up, as there is no separating the two. Sexual promiscuity soon necessitated abortion, and there was no way to square that with morality. Morality had to go. Too many people of prominence were in too far.

But the sexual revolution was a creature of the Greatest Generation, not the Baby Boomers; the Boomers just accepted what they were taught. The Playboy Philosophy, James Bond, with his independence from any moral restraints, and the randiness of a Jack Kennedy, were things of the Fifties, of men who had been of age in the Second World War. So was the beat movement, which included everything we later identified with “hippies.”

Is there hope? Yes. Cultures and civilizations have gone through other such phases of moral depravity, and recovered.

But it’s going to require another big shock of some kind.