The Problem with the World…

…is Guilt.

There’s not nearly enough of it.

Continue reading “The Problem with the World…”

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Contemplating Our Mortality at a Young Age…

Ah, yes – it is with grim satisfaction that I note that it is never too young to start pondering our ultimate fate. I was a bit surprised to find this stern warning in the school kitchen – don’t know that I’d advise trying to jump start this sort of grave meditation amidst so many sharp objects.

Science!

Science was my first love. Was fortunate enough to go to school in a time and place where, as long as you were keeping up and weren’t distracting other students, the teachers were willing to leave you alone. Got to spend grades 5 – 8 basically reading stuff while making a very occasional and token contribution in class.We had a pretty decent little library for a small working-class Catholic school – at least, it kept me happy for a couple years. The public library was only a couple blocks from school, so, when I was ready, I ‘graduated’ to it.

Worked my way through the Time-Life science series first. In the one on electromagnetism, there were instructions on how to make a working electric motor out of paperclips, tacks and wire. I made one for the science fair – it worked great, but was very fragile. I failed to make sure that the teachers saw that it worked when I dropped it off, because, by the time the show came around, it didn’t – don’t know why, something was out of alignment or the batteries died, who knows. It didn’t do well, which irritated me, because *I* thought it was cool, and way fancier than most of the stuff the other 10 year olds were making, but to the judges it must have looked like a pile of wires.

I relate this story only to give some idea of why, despite my great interest in science, I never studied it formally outside of a few classes in high school and college – I lack something, call it the experimental knack. In college, I once caused the evacuation of the science lab by failing to consider that, once I’d reduced a liquid to powder in a crucible over a Bunsen burner, it would be a good idea to let it cool before titrating some nasty chemicals into it. Sigh.

But the theory – man, I was all over it. Unlike many famous scientists today, I understood instinctively and from a very young age that there were things science could tell you and things science could not (which, I think, is why I ended up studying philosophy).

So, for the last 35+ years, I’ve been very suspicious of anybody who figuratively (and sometimes literally) stands up at the podium, looks down his nose, and pronounces that science has shown this or that. Similarly, the phrase ‘scientific consensus’ sets off all kinds of alarms – I’d like someone to point out to me some great scientist, someone whose contributions reverberate around the world and fundamentally affect what people do and think – Newton, Einstein, Planck, that level of scientist – saying ‘the scientific consensus’ somehow settled something. I’d think, rather, that claim would merit a sneer or a laugh, for one very good reason – these are the very guys who made their marks by *upsetting* the consensus of their day.That’s often how science works.

Experiment, data, falsifiable theory – that’s science. Browbeating questioners with claims that the *real* scientists all agree is not, especially when the argument is fundamentally circular: real scientists are the ones who agree.

The point isn’t that claims of ‘consensus’ prove any wrong, but rather that they prove nothing at all. There’s a scientific consensus, for example, that water boils at 100c at sea level and under normal pressure. It’s a consensus *because* anybody so inclined can check it out for themselves. The experimental data backs it up.

In an earlier post, I discussed how people with an agenda, if they are at all smart, are always on the lookout for their Guy Fawkes – that guy on the other side who behaves so egregiously that he creates sympathy. “See! See!”, you can claim, “our opponents are dangerous lunatics!” In Guy Fawkes’s case, he stands in for all the perfectly sane and reasonable people willing to die for the belief that the Crown of England was not and could not truly be the head of the Church in England. When admired judges, bishops and young mothers are willing to die for this belief, it makes the other side look bad – and so, in the nick of time, mad bomber Fawkes appears, to supply the kind of opponent the Crown needed.

In the same way, Andrew Wakefield is useful – see, he’s a fraud! See the kind of people who oppose the scientific consensus! And look at all the gullible people who follow him!  And, it’s all true – Wakefield is a fraud, and millions of gullible people still follow him. And Fawkes really did want to blow up Parliament. But what none of this proves is that those who oppose a scientific consensus are, by that fact alone, shown to be frauds or nuts. Only the data can do that.

What pains me is not when some nut or suffering parent is wrong, but when scientists who should know better start playing the ‘we know better’ card. So often, it’s a guy like Wakefield, who’s in it for the money, or Sagan, who was in it for the fame, who use science as a club to beat us lesser mortals into submission.

And, here’s the kicker: it has always been thus. The history of science is full of grandstanding self-promoters (Galileo, for on  prominent example), petty back-stabers (Newton) and frauds (too many to list – how about Freud and Kellogg?).

The data is sacred. Bad data yields bad science. Theories only mean anything when based on good data. Problems with the data result in problems with the theory. And the frequency of saints among scientists is no greater than among financial advisers.

Unconditional Love and Responsibility

It seems sometimes that people,  typically of a conservative-ish bent, believe that unconditional love is the same thing as permissiveness. If parents focus on making sure their children know that they are loved unconditionally, so the thinking seems to go, they’ll spoil them rotten, the kids won’t be motivated, and will expect everything to be handed to them.

On the contrary, there’s no conflict between having a solid conviction that you are loved and embracing the sacrifices and suffering of life. In fact, the lives of the saints and of Jesus show that those two things – a profound sense of being loved and embrace of a self-giving life – are inseparable.  True, a person can sacrifice out of a sense of unworthiness – but then, the question is: what kind of sacrifice is it if you judge yourself worthless? It is to true sacrifice as orange is to gold.

Instead, we parents should strive to integrate our love of our children with the sacrifices we make both for them and for others, so that our children will learn that the source of our love for them and the source of our willingness to sacrifice are One. And that that one is also the source of our joy.

Yet More on Science

Science has shown that the most misused phrase in the English language is:  Science has shown.

– if the proposition has ‘ought’ in it, science remains silent. All arguments about how morality evolved and can therefore be explained mechanistically are malicious word games. At best, evolutionary biology explains what has happened, not what you or anyone else ought to do.

– if the proposition has metaphysics in it, science is silent. Metaphysics is not a bad word, despite the best efforts of number of scientists to prove, metaphysically, that metaphysics doesn’t exist, or, if it does exist, isn’t needed. Metaphysics is just that class of things that are required for *anything* to be true.  To even state that no metaphysics are required is to – ready? – make a metaphysical statement.

Just using these two handy rules alone, you can properly dismiss as hokum any assertion that ‘science has shown’:

– that people are altruistic because evolution made them that way;

– that God doesn’t exist;

– that people are animals, and nothing more. (people are mammals = scientific observation; that people are no different than cows or slugs = huge metaphysical leap, plus abuse of logic and observation)

– that consciousness is an emergent property of matter. Really? How would one observe or measure that?

– that there is no free will, since everything can be explained mechanistically.

for starters.

Honor Thy Father and Mother

“I know they did the best they could.”

Really? I tend to grit my teeth whenever I hear someone – often a Catholic or Christian – say words to this effect. It’s very unlikely our parents did the best they could, just as it is very unlikely *we* are doing the best we can. Isn’t that what sin is all about?

What I’m hearing is a child making excuses. Often, it seems to us that the only way we can live with what our parents did to us is to ‘honor’ them by excusing them. Note that I’m not suggesting that we err in the opposite direction of blaming everything on our parent’s failures, but that it is also wrong to simply dismiss everything by saying it was the best they could do.

The most honorable attitude towards parents is one of generous honesty: assume good intentions wherever possible, but don’t pretend that bad things were good or acceptable.

One must first honor Our Father by honoring the truth.