Today we continue our conversation with Stephen Barr about this year’s Society of Catholic Scientists conference, which will feature great speakers discussing the nature of humanity and its bounds in terms of time and technology. You can see a full list of speakers here and the program for the conference here.
This ended up being an emergency episode Paul recorded solo, since Zencastr ate all but a few minutes at the beginning of each recording. There seem to be serious problems with Zencastr since Paul’s MacBook died and he had to resurrect his Windows laptop.
The Big Bang; cosmology seems to require a beginning, uncaused cause
Problems of mind; intellect / qualia, possibility of free will.
There is no materialist explanation of human intellect, only assertions of dogma and crude shufflings of the feet.
Ongoing occurrence of miracles, Lourdes medical board, Fatima, Shroud of Turin; Bob Schuchts
There are far too many miracles and supernatural phenomena that defy materialist explanation: Eucharistic miracles, healings at Lourdes and elsewhere, Fatima, demonic possession…
The testimony of the first Christian disciples requires absolutely crazy explanations that themselves defy our best science even if we reject the idea that Jesus rose from the dead.
The continuing existence and expansion of the Church in the face of persecution is likewise historically unparalleled, save only for the continued existence of Judaism.
Second of all, it provides perspective and healing for human problems that nothing else does.
John Warner Wallace from Breakpoint podcast; LAPD homicide officer
What has God done in my life... we GET to that, we don't start there like Mormons
Christianity provides a shockingly direct answer to the question of evil: the transcendent, all-good God is Himself willing to experience it.
The Christian faith continues to spread in Africa and Asia in the face of continued persecution, whether of the violent or of the brainwashing variety. Why is that?
The attempts of Western society to escape Christianity have made us amazingly miserable amid all our material possessions and security. Why do we so halfheartedly turn away from these distractions?
The most characteristic failing of our age, I would argue, is addiction, and addiction has evoked a powerful response in the form of the Twelve Steps. Although these Steps are deliberately offered to everyone with no attempt made to proselytize them to any specific religion—indeed many recovering addicts refuse to identify themselves as religious—nevertheless, the principles of the Steps are completely and suspiciously consistent with Catholic Christianity.
The Catholic intellectual tradition has a tremendously formidable intellectual structure, the most robust philosophical realism, an enormous storehouse of moral philosophy and psychological insight, and a wealth of stories of human drama in the lives of both saints and sinners.
Why do we slave along as intellectual second or third-class citizens in the modern world? I was just looking at the want ads of literary agents and realized that they are all blithely “progressive” members of the stumbling, bumbling cultural vanguard. Our culture is shaped by stories forged out of this nihilistic experience of forgetting an entire civilization’s worth of wisdom.
We are looking to help out at the Society of Catholic Scientists Conference this year, and are in talks about how we can do that. We’re really excited about working to create a greater sense of community among Catholic scientists!
Apologies for the sound quality today; Zencastr wasn’t working, so we recorded on Zoom, and even then there were problems with the audio especially in the latter half of the podcast.
The question we take up at the beginning of the Easter season is this: Why has Western society gone to such pains to throw away the best thing going, intellectually and otherwise?
In his ongoing podcast research, Paul has come across the Pat Flynn Show, and listened to some really good interviews with Fr. Robert Spitzer (a TSSM interviewee) and Ed Feser (whose talk at the 2018 Society of Catholic Scientists conference was the topic of one of our most popular episodes). Bob Spitzer’s interviews in particular were some of the most inspiring things I’ve encountered recently and really led me to propose this series of conversations with Bill about how Catholic Christianity is the best way of looking at the world.
Of course, Western society has drifted hard away from its roots in classical Greek and Jewish/Christian heritage. Ireland is the most recent example of a society, one of the last to retain a semi-traditional cozy relationship between the Church and the state, now deciding to punish the Church for the crimes of the hypocritical members of its clergy by trying to erase its very history. Progressivism in general replaces traditional dogmas with dogmas-of-the-day, and the record up to this point has been pretty dismal.
We spend some time discussing the roots of what the contemporary West seems to consider its greatest achievement, modern science, in the critical tradition of Scholasticism (knowledge of which was practically the first thing to go after the Reformation began the process of intellectually punishing the Church). We would do better to have a broader memory of the Scholastic tradition even among us Catholics...to recall that it was a movement in which Thomas Aquinas was embedded, rather than remembering only him. In our time as well we don’t need single hero figures, we need a community. The scientific community knows this very well.
We go on to consider what this fraught term “dogma” really means. The Christian dogmas are really testimony, and they can’t change without repudiating the unrepeatable testimony of the events of salvation history. This is the context of the warnings at the end of the Apocalypse of John, “cursed be he who adds or takes away from the words of this book.” As Chesterton and many others have pointed out, these dogmas are not a straightjacket but a foundation and structural members that allow us to build both intellectual structures and actual human lives that don’t sink into the morass of changing human inventions. Admittedly there are many Christians, Catholics included, who seem to take comfort in the false idea that the Bible, or Tradition, provides us all the answers we could possibly want to know and there is no need or use in further growth. That is not the teaching of Jesus when he commented that the Spirit would [future] lead us to all truth.
The high Middle Ages confronted the question of harmonizing Aristotle with Jesus Christ. This was both a creative and a logical process that led to great works of criticism and synthesis… excellent practice for the scientific process as we now know it.
A reminder that the Society of Catholic Scientists Conference is approaching June 7-9. Registration is open through May 15.
Two weeks ago I went with some friends to Kansas City. I drove through Kansas City once in I-70 in 2016, but I had never stopped before. Turns out it's a wonderful place, and I really want to haul my brother and his family there sometime to catch a game at Kauffman Stadium, with all the attractions directed toward children, and eat a lot of barbeque and drink some Boulevard beer.
We went to the jazz museum and the Negro Leagues museum, as well as the World War I museum. When we asked why it was in Kansas City of all places, the answer was that no one else had one, so they figured why not. Given Kansas City's location, an enormous number of soldiers passed through by rail on their way to and coming back from Europe, an enormous fraction of the total number from the West, so there's at least that much connection. In any case Kansas City dedicated a prominent hilltop to this museum. It has an enormous pillar that you can ride up to get the most elevated view of the city (aside from aircraft).
With Darcia Narvaez' words about egalitarianism in my mind, I reflected (as I have often done in the past) on the absolute madness of World War I. Understanding how it started seems easy to me, but I cannot imagine how the war continued through the end of 1915, let alone ground on for three additional years. The question of why the leaders of the countries involved kept ordering their men to fight I set aside for today; the question I am interested in is why the common soldiers and civilians did not revolt years earlier than they did. What gave them such durable loyalty to the aristocratic and oligarchic governments that sent them to such fruitless slaughter?
Based on what I know of ancient and medieval Europe, I find the men of World War I far more ready to acquiesce to authority than their forebears. Can you really read the history of the Hundred Years' War, the Wars of the Roses, or the whole sorry tale of the Holy Roman Empire and its "rights of private warfare" and imagine that those states could ever have forced their subjects to such extremes? How long would any army of Crusaders have stayed in those trenches, with nothing better than the War Ministry's authority to compel them?
There are far too many reasons to discuss in a blog post, but I want to bring up one axis before I close. The states of Europe of the early 20th century were fired by nationalism, tribalism writ large. I have heard that although many, many aspects of human culture are mutable, one unshakable aspect of sociology is our tendency to identify in-groups and out-groups, to designate some human beings as our enemies and in essence to deny them humanity. Europe of the Middle Ages had their national identifications, but their local identity was in many cases stronger and more important, and they also had the overarching sense of brotherhood in a common faith, family, and indeed in the most visceral Christian image, they had an awareness of themselves as one body in Jesus of Nazareth. They betrayed this understanding regularly, but they balked at the kind of slaughter that makes World War I stand out as a satanic spectacle in the history of our species.
Episode 056 - Darcia Narvaez on the (other) tragedy of the commons and moral/economic disengagement in civilized society
Today we present the second half of the interview with Darcia Narvaez, social scientist at Notre Dame and a specialist in childhood inculturation, attachment, and bonding issues.
We start out this half of the interview with a discussion of what Karl Polyani called the "great transformation" of European society, involving the breakdown of the pre-modern order and its safeguards for a stable population by means of understandings about community use of land, perhaps resulting in the popularity of emigration to the New World by dispirited, dispossessed, and to some extent dangerous people.
Several times Darcia disparages "hierarchy," understood in its general sense of social stratification, which she or other who have influenced her theorize to have caused huge social catastrophes, including the corruption of the Christian Church by its integration into the late Roman state and the collapse of populations and cultures in the New World on contact with the colonizers from Europe. Late in the podcast I ask her explicitly whether there is any benefit to civilization... let us know in the comments on Facebook or Podbean what you think about the answer!
Darcia's claim is that humans are by nature more egalitarian than other animals. This goes right down to childrearing, where human children, born so completely needy, have an innate expectation that their requests for assistance will be met. She comments that there is a Native American word, "wetiko," that was used to describe an attitude thought of as akin to a sickness that characterized those who acted in an aggressive and exploitative way toward others. Whether or not premodern peoples were all more free of this, it's certainly a common feature of civilized peoples. The Old and New Testaments certainly testify to this, and the need to confront it with compassion and an egalitarian attitude. We discussed the specific example of the disease of the large organization, society, business, or government, in which those at the top are simply disconnected, both intellectually and morally, from those at the bottom.
We mentioned subsidiarity, and might have mentioned clericalism... the social science of these concepts will hopefully be fodder for future podcasts.
Photo by LeLaisserPasserA38 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78064310
I was minding my own business, trying to do a little work on my aunt's laptop while mine is in the shop, when I noticed this Washington Post article about 1) massive donations to repair Notre Dame de Paris after its roof caught fire on Monday, taking the 19th century spire with it, and 2) criticisms of the hyper-wealthy people who will open their checkbooks to replace a European landmark but not whatever other social causes the critics think most important.
My first thought on seeing the fire was simply, "How does this still happen?" Fires have of course consumed any number of cathedrals, palaces, temples, city halls, fortresses, and other buildings of note over the centuries, but we have an awful lot of fire suppressant and monitoring technologies these days. Repair work of some kind was already going on as shown by the scaffolding over the roof prior to the fire.
The article drew out a second line of thought that had been lurking in the back of my mind. France is of course the birthplace of modern Western secularism, the country where the hypocrisy of the Catholic Christian establishment yielded directly to the raging adolescent fury of revolution. It is where the modern pattern of punishing Christianity for the sins of the hierarchy and political establishment by pretending it never had any intellectual foundation was first constructed.
It's a mercy, in that environment, that so much of France's medieval legacy survived in the form of art and architecture. In a way it's good that the French opinion of their own culture is so staggeringly high. Yet these churches are so empty. When I visited France in 1998, I was deeply saddened by this. I wandered through many of these churches in Paris, Saint-Malo, Tours, and Amboise. The churches whose names you might recognize are kept up as museums; there are many, less famous, that are falling into decay even within towns like Amboise. The sprinkling of priests and faithful is spread across the remaining churches exceedingly thinly.
It all makes me feel a little better about our situation here in the United States. Still, when my local parish was holding its campaigns to rebuild the 19th century church and 1920s school building, I kept thinking, "I am glad that we can be this generous to repair roofs and redo tuckpointing... how about we put out this effort to fill these buildings with new people hearing the Good News about how Jesus can actually be in their lives after we rebuild them?"
I listened to two podcasts by Bishop Robert Barron and John Stonestreet of the Colson Center about the fire and how it has been discussed in the media. They commented that today's secular culture wants to focus on Notre Dame de Paris as simply a landmark, an icon of French culture, a pretty building from a long time ago. The desire seems to be to strip this structure of its builders' purpose: to construct a memorial to the transcendent human being whose death we commemorate today, and all the truths that come to us after recognizing him. A memorial place in which the True God, the Being upon which all reality is constructed and the Creator that constructed it, could be worshipped in that man's name.
To be fair, I think the culture of modern media does this to almost everything. We live in such a shallow time. When we confront memorials of centuries past, whether buildings like Notre Dame or books or works of art, we would do better to consider for a while why their makers did what they did and whether human beings with a different outlook on life have something to teach us, or to remind us.
Find Darcia's writings and resources across the internet:
Topics we discussed in this podcast:
The human need for socialization from the very beginning, and ways that goes awry in contemporary society.
Things we can do to learn some of these lessons later in life:
- Self-calming via breathing, meditation, prayer. (Does our contemporary culture of outrage stem from a lack of the ability to calm ourselves that we are meant to learn starting in infancy?)
- Build a social network. We were meant to have interaction with an extended family that spans all age ranges for proper socialization. It's not too late to play with children, talk to the elderly, interact with people at other stages of life.
- Learn new languages and interact with people in different cultures. What are their reasons for doing the things that they do?
- Spend time with nature.
- Practice going outside yourself, defusing rigid thinking and attachment to "it has to be done this way." Intelligence is a measure of flexibility as much as anything.
Bill asked about social media and our tendency to seek out those who already agree with us. Darcia noted that we need guidance on how to socialize. Up through age 30 or so, it's natural for human beings to get that kind of guidance from others. Unfortunately we get that guidance through TV and video games now.
As usual, this was the first half of our interview. More discussion and more questions than we could possibly answer next time!
Picking up some loose ends from the CNAG post of the same title. I remember the sense of brimming over with things to say when time and a change of focus from the personal to the social and political brought that post to a close, but very little has come back to me in the weeks since.
The core, in any case, and the reason why it calls for a Post Christian post, is the point that the Christian Church risks its integrity by the very fact of being a social institution possessing property and money. Reality dictates that even the persecuted Church has a certain quantity of resources (one thinks of the treasure that his persecutors thought to extract from St. Lawrence) but the legal and above all the official Church tends to accrue tremendous wealth. This wealth contrasts sharply and painfully with the life and teaching of its Founder, who commented that in his wanderings he owned no home (one thinks of the tent that long housed the Ark of the Covenant) and that it was easier for a camel to pass a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter heaven.
This contrast has motivated Christians to take action to restore the integrity, at least in their own personal lives, since before the time of Constantine. Antony went out into the desert, surely not the first Christian hermit but a supremely influential one. Francis, the little poor man, attracted legions of followers seeking authentic discipleship to Jesus, and war was waged for decades and centuries between those who tried to live as other religious did and those who tried to get as close as they could to the theoretical ideal of complete lack of property. The Reformation and the anticlerical Revolutions of the latter half of the second millennium stripped the Catholic Church and its religious orders particularly of their influence, position in society, and much of their wealth.
It seems to me that we are living in the last, dying days of the institutional Church (and Pope Benedict has gone on record in some of his books as thinking much the same). I hope that's the case, because there is something better waiting for us if we get more serious about taking the pieces of the Church we have been given and assembling them, brick by brick at the local level, into something more nourishing and authentic, more concerned for the poor and the needy (which includes not being satisfied with simply handing them material goods to get them through in a state of dependency).
In this episode we roll out a new format for Season 2.
We recap Season 1 (April 2018 - March 2019) and the three focus areas of the podcast so far:
- Discussion of the fundamentals of the question whether it's reasonable to believe in both science and the Catholic Christian faith, and some exploration of particular topics, like the role of geology in the interpretation of the book of Genesis.
- Review and comments on the speakers at the Society of Catholic Scientists Conference 2018.
- Interviews with scientists and scholars living out their Christian faith, many of whom are actively trying to spread the truth that the presumed conflict between science and religion is false, born from shoddy understandings, strawman arguments, and reactions against hypocrisy. Three of these people (Patricia Bellm, Chris Baglow, and Jay Martin) do this work at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.
We then go on to discuss our plans for coming episodes, turning to topics of religion, spirituality, and psychology (including topics like child development and addiction) where the intersection of faith and science allows us to build new solutions or give tremendous new life to old solutions to the problems of human life.
0:00 - The question of relativism vs. hyperrationalism
1:00 - God's love is not a "fact" but, say, hominid ancestry is
1:30 - Tapping into the belief in the rationality of science to bring back belief in reality in faith
2:30 - "Kicking in the back door of relativism"
4:00 - Linkages between theology, philosophy, and science: e.g. logical consistency
5:30 - Effects on the rest of schools that participate in the Science & Religion Initiative
6:30 - Encouragment to integrate, say, history, economics with faith as well
7:00 - Congregation for Sacred Doctrine 1977 "The Catholic School"
8:00 - Faith & literature, arts
9:30 - The true limits of dogma; need to understand how limited Catholic dogma really is, and how non-restrictive
13:00 - Teachers woefully overworked and underpaid, not given the ability to succeed
14:30 - Blessed to have excellent but also humble panelists & experts intending to listen to one another
19:00 - Story of the second & first editions of Baglow's textbook