It’s final. Britain is exiting the European Union. I am inclined to think that leaving the EU will one of the best decisions Britain could make—even while admitting that I could be wrong. But such is the way with politics and the prudential decisions it involves: there are so many contingencies in human political life that accurate predictions of success are usually made only in hindsight.
That’s why it is clarifying to shift our attention from trying to make accurate predictions about Britain’s future, to a consideration of principles that are more enduring than opinion polls and media pundits. In this instance, we should be looking at the most Catholic principle of subsidiarity, one which favors Brexit.
For the rest of this post, go to my blog at National Catholic Register
By now you have heard of the infamous directive, the “Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students,” issued jointly from Obama’s Department of Justice and Department of Education. The point of the pointed letter to public schools is to ensure that the Administration’s most radical wishes for acceptance of the LGBT agenda are understood to be commands.
What does the radical LGBT agenda have to do with the 17th century philosopher Rene Descartes?
Read the rest of this article on my blog at National Catholic Register
That is the lovely face of Olive, the three-and-a-half legged turtle. She is scouring the horizon looking for her next meal, which is normally delivered right in front of her beaked nose by her handmaids, my two youngest daughters--the youngest of whom is holding the camera, patiently attempting to get the most stunning shots for a photo contest. As you might have already suspected, I'm the one who took the picture, which explains why it is somewhat blurry around her fearsome jowls--excuse me, mandibles.
That is Natural History, a true science that is all too far on the road to extinction.
Natural History is a delightfully old-fashioned word that means something like this: "The deeply human activity of going out into the woods, fields, rivers, swamps, or even backyards, and actually looking for a long time at things that are alive, and doing it for no other reason than that natural things are peculiarly fascinating."
Note that this is a science for both the amateur, the expert, and everything in between. I'm a happy amateur--hence the somewhat blurry photo, and the fact that I had to look up the name of this type of turtle, the Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina). My children surpass me in knowing such things, which is why I'm an even happier amateur Natural Historian.
Natural History was the kind of thing the very best scientists, as well as the most enthusiastic amateurs, used to do. Trekking out into nature and spending long hours in observing, note-taking, sketching, and later, photographing was the province of both the acclaimed academic naturalist and the earnest novice. Such ventures were all the rage from about the mid-18th century, through the 19th, and up into the mid-20th. Real human beings enraptured by the study of actual living things in their 100% bona fide natural environment.
So, why talk about Natural History hovering near death? As Jenny Frazer has rightly noted in her "Natural History is Dying, and We are the Losers," the study of actual living things--birds, bats, bees, trees, fish--is no longer taken seriously by biologists. For quite some time ,since about the mid-20th century, biology has been all about DNA, swirling things around in test tubes, and as technology became even more overwhelming, manipulating models, data, and conjectures on computers.
Biologists no longer go out into nature as Natural Historians. As a lamentable and obvious consequence, they know very "little about life outside their labs." You can get a Ph.D. in biology without ever venturing outside, and in fact, most Ph.D.'s do just that because almost all graduate schools in biology have (brace thyself) dropped any Natural History course requirements wherein students would go out into nature and observe living things in their actual habitat.
Too messy, too many bugs, too many lawyers suing if something happens to students, too much time consumed in hours of observation, and what's the point anyway if every living thing can be reduced in all its wonderful wildness to particular strings of chemical combinations on the DNA. Hence biology has been reduced to chemistry, and chemistry can be done in the lab, thereby ensuring (in mammologist Michael Mares words) that trained, degree-certified biologists "are sublimely ignorant of the diversity and complexity of nature."
I discovered the effects of this type of education long before I fully understood the causes. We home schooled our children, and for most of the time, we lived out in the sticks. Our kids therefore got to know the varied intricacies of nature way deeper than I--a product of public school coupled with endless hours of stoopidifying TV--ever did or ever will. They spent their endless hours in the creek and the woods.
Well, when it came time to study biology more formally--i.e., getting an official biology textbook--I noticed a very strange fact. The first and biggest chunk of the book was about the chemistry of DNA and microbiology, with a quick sweep of the most general consideration of living creatures tacked on the back end. As far as "official biology" was concerned, there was nothing much of interest above the chemistry of the cell. A casual wave toward a smattering of animals at the end was sufficient.
Shouldn't it be the other way around? Shouldn't biology be about--first and foremost--the detailed observations of living things?
The answer is yes, and yes. But it will take a seismic upheaval and reconstruction of what we mean by "science." I will not drag the reader through the historical details in this post--although I'm tempted to do it in a future book--but our current reductionism in biology is the result of a long-standing reductionism in philosophy. If you want to find the culprits who have nearly killed Natural History, you'd have to go back to the 17th century and read the works of Rene Descartes and Thomas Hobbes, both of whom were convinced that what appears to be alive, what certainly seems to be a living, breathing creature moving marvelously under its own volition, can be reduced to a sub-visual, atomic reactions.
Real science, so these first materialists claimed, means ignoring the mere appearance of a living thing (which is ultimately unreal), and uncovering the atomic mechanical operations that are the true causes of its structures and diverse motions. In defining real science this way, Descartes and Hobbes, set in motion a revolution that, centuries later, ends with the removal of the study of living things from science. Thus, we ultimately have them to thank for what would seem to be a contradiction: biology, the science of not studying living things.
Scientists have discovered a wonder: at the moment of conception, a shower of sparks is emitted from the fertilized human egg. Light is the sign of a new life.
To be exact, the sparks recently discovered at the moment of human conception aren’t peculiar to human beings.
They were first seen in regard to mice, and presumably, occur in all mammalian conception. But the point is the same: a flash of light marks the creation of new life. And that is a real marvel, a wonder.
This light does have a chemical source, billions of zinc atoms released at the moment of conception. The ovum, the egg, has some 8000 pockets (or vesicles), each filled with about a million zinc atoms. The well-timed release of 4-5 waves of “zinc sparks” during the first two hours of life orchestrates the amazing development of a new living creature, from a single cell to a super-complex, multicellular boy or girl embryo developing in the womb. Each of our lives began with this spark of light, a metaphorically rich origin that suggests a kind of parallel to the beginning of creation as captured in Genesis.
It should fill us with awe, a kind of hushed respect for a miracle written into the chemistry of creation. What a genuine surprise, or more properly, a wonder.
And the scientists who discovered it are indeed filled with wonder, and rightly so. “We discovered the zinc spark just five years ago in the mouse, and to see the zinc radiate out in a burst from each human egg was breathtaking,” said Teresa Woodruff, one of the authors of the study. Co-author of the study, Thomas O’Halloran, was equally full of awe: “On cue, at the time of fertilization, we see the egg release thousands of packages, each dumping a million zinc atoms, and then it’s quiet. Then there is another burst of zinc release. Each egg has four or five of these periodic sparks. It is beautiful to see, orchestrated much like a symphony.”
But Woodruff’s very next words revealed a much more utilitarian urge, changing from wonderment into the desire for mastery and manipulation. “The amount of zinc released by an egg could be a great marker for identifying a high-quality fertilized egg, something we can’t do now. If we can identify the best eggs, fewer embryos would need to be transferred during fertility treatments. Our findings will help move us toward this goal.”
The upshot? “This means if you can look at the zinc spark at the time of fertilization, you will know immediately which eggs are the good ones to transfer in in vitro fertilization. It’s a way of sorting egg quality in a way we’ve never been able to assess before.”
In other words, human conception is no longer a holy act, a union of a man and a woman that creates a miraculous third life, another human being. Rather, conception is an occasion for manipulation in a laboratory, for sorting through several lives just begun, deciding on which have the most value, and discarding the rest.
We really need to think about this utilitarian turn. If human life does indeed begin at conception—at the recently discovered shower of sparks—then we are not talking about sorting through “high quality fertilized eggs,” as Woodruff puts it. We are sorting through human beings, keeping some, and discarding others.
This is a very worrisome turn, both in regard to the loss of natural wonder and the loss of our moral compass that goes with it. In the face of astonishing evidence of life—an observed qualitative change in the “materials” that occurs at the moment of conception—the “scientific” discussion immediately shifts to how we can exercise human mastery over the outcome, as if we were still dealing with mere lifeless matter. The initial natural awe evoked at how much we clearly haven’t known and still don’t know about the mystery of life is quickly extinguished so that we can play God, and with presumed greater wisdom and technical skill sort out which lives are worth living.
When we lose our wonder at the miracle of life and focus only on the material, then we soon enough start treating human life as material for manipulation, putting ourselves in the place of God, defining good and evil according to our desires and even whims.
While the technology that discovered the sparks at life’s origin is new, the utilitarian mindset that extinguished the natural wonder isn’t. Several centuries ago, there arose a new way to approach nature (and hence, human nature). On this new view, nature was not, as it had been considered with Christianity, a wisely made and beautiful interconnected order with its own integrity that stretched from non-living to living things culminating in human beings. Rather, all of nature, living and non-living, human and non-human, was reduced to mere lifeless matter. This lifeless matter could therefore to be treated as clay in the human potter’s hands, to be molded as we wished.
The goal of this new self-consciously materialistic philosophy was (if we might borrow one of its main architect’s words) to “make ourselves…masters and possessors of nature.” These are the words of the famous French philosopher, René Descartes (1596-1650). His intellectual mentor, Francis Bacon (1561-1626), initiated the project to master nature. For Bacon, the Promethean “goal of the sciences is none other than this: that human life be endowed with new discoveries and powers,” so that “man [may] endeavor to establish and extend the power and dominion of the human race itself over the universe” in an “empire of man over things.” And one of those things was…man himself. In Bacon’s words, when man finally masters himself, and his own nature is entirely under his technological control, “man is a god to man.”
That is precisely the utilitarian turn, and there is no turn more dangerous for man than when some men assume the mantle of gods.
Originally published at tothesource: http://tothesource.org/dignity-ethics/fireworks-at-conception/
Perhaps atheism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. A new book by Fixed Point Foundation’s Larry Taunton reveals a much different picture of the real Christopher Hitchens.Larry Taunton’s The Faith of Christopher Hitchens is an excellent book that needs to be read by every Christian worried about the ongoing attacks by atheists such as the late Hitchens himself, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Michael Shermer, Lawrence Krauss, et al.
First of all, Taunton’s book is not about deathbed conversions, but about friendship. I am ashamed that this aspect of the book caused me the most insight and the most grief. I have spent a fair amount of my time battling the New Atheism, treating the new atheists as enemies to be extinguished verbally. By contrast Taunton took the Christian approach: love your enemy, and the best way to do that is become his friend.
In short, after reading the book, I realized that my approach to the New Atheism did not include what should have been an obvious and defining ingredient, especially to a professed Christian: charity. When you read Taunton’s account of his debates with Hitchens (on and off stage), their road trips together, and the times Hitchens spent with the Taunton family, Hitchens is humanized. He becomes who he actually was: a real, lovable, cantankerous, flawed, hilarious, foolish, brilliant, sinful, and multi-faceted human being.
Taunton thereby teaches a most important lesson to Christians. The new atheists are human beings, created in the image of the God against whom they are rebelling, and they are therefore an object of God’s creating and redemptive love. It is clear that Taunton cared deeply for Hitchens’ soul and its salvation, and therefore was a real friend to Hitchens. By contrast I took my task to be the drubbing of atheists, rather than reaching out in Christian love as Taunton did. A painful insight into my own failings, and one that makes me rather humbled, to say the least. What atheist might I have won over had I not played the belligerent bulldog?
But that’s not the only lesson in The Faith of Christopher Hitchens. Of equal importance is the deep ambiguity of Hitchens as the preeminent intellectual atheist of our time. Hitchens railed against Christianity in the most virulent and distasteful terms, yes. But Hitchens publicly rejected abortion, an almost unheard of moral position among unbelievers, and one that took considerable courage, and privately found the notion of gay marriage unintelligible. He also, reports, Taunton, rejected atheist Peter Singer’s reduction of human beings to animals, and Singer’s consequent embrace of infanticide. Hitchens, the seemingly devout atheist, was no moral relativist. But how does that fit into a Godless universe?
And this one caused me to laugh out loud while reading: Hitchens also admitted to Taunton that he found fellow atheist Richard Dawkins’ bestselling The God Delusion to be so poorly written and reasoned that he couldn’t bring himself to finish it! And then there’s the strangest revelation of the book, that Hitchens and Taunton studied the Gospel of John together on very long road trip through the Shenandoah. I will not spoil the details of this fascinating chapter for the reader.
In addition to these gems (and some others I’ll leave for the reader), Taunton spends a fair amount of time digging deeply into Hitchens’ past in an attempt to give an account of his atheism—what Taunton calls giving an account of Hitchens’ soul. Why did Christopher Hitchens become an atheist? Was it his weak father? The intense admiration for his free-spirited mother, a woman who (as Christopher reports in his own memoir, Hitch 22) fawned over him, who abandoned Hitch’s father for an ex-Anglican cleric, who inexplicably (to her son, at least) committed suicide?
Or was it Hitchens’ hatred for authority? Or his homosexual experiences, enjoyable to him but forbidden by the Christian God whom he rejected? Or a combination of these? All fair questions, and all deftly treated by Taunton.
Not surprisingly, Taunton’s book has stirred up the atheists. The private Hitchens, the Hitchens befriended by Taunton the Evangelical Christian, was not the lockstep atheist one would infer from his carefully-crafted public image. He not only had serious disagreements with his famous fellow atheists, as I’ve already noted, but was curiously open to speaking with Taunton about Christianity—as if he was a seeker.
But those fellow atheists left behind by Hitchens’ death will hear none of it, and so they have been accusing Taunton of seeking to recast Hitchens as having a deathbed conversion—something that Taunton emphatically did not do in his book—and of making up their friendship in order to make a fast buck.
In short, the atheists don’t want to hear that Hitchens may not have been the unflappable, unambiguous atheist they thought him to be. They simply will not allow it. It cannot be! It must not be! So, they have taken to attacking Taunton personally, on television, in print, and on Amazon.com reviews (which, almost to the last one give no evidence of the attackers having read Taunton’s book).
All the more reason that Christians should read The Faith of Christopher Hitchens.
Originally published at tothesource: http://tothesource.org/reviews/the-faith-of-christopher-hitchens/