The Mystery of Ourselves

This is the 3rd Blog in this series which began with Science and the Church:  Are the Facts In?  In the previous blog, Christianity and Science, we looked at some of the comments of Dr. Gayle Woloschak in her article “The Compatability of the Principles of Biological Evolution with Orthodoxy” in the ST. VLADIMIR’S THEOLOGICAL QUARTERLY, Vol 55, No. 2, 2011.   With this blog we begin our look at some of the claims of James Le Fanu in  his book,  Why Us?: How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves.   Part of Le Fanu’s criticism of science is that it is so focused on materialism that it misses the greater mysteries which are visible in the science itself.

“We have lost that sense of living in an enchanted world. We might now, thanks to science, comprehend the universe of which we are a part, only to discover that its properties, as evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins puts it, ‘are precisely those we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good – nothing but blind, pitiless indifference’. We have lost, too, sight of the most significant factor of all – the exceptionality of the human mind.”   (Kindle Highlight Loc. 4195-98)

Some scientists who reject the idea of a Creator are hostile to Le Fanu’s thoughts as they are to theists who embrace many of the claims of science.   I, however, do not think that believers should feel so threatened by atheistic science.  According to modern physics, a little less than 5% of the universe is made up of matter,  about 25% is dark matter, and about 70% is dark energy.  So when we are looking at biology, we are to begin with looking only at that 5% of the universe which constitutes matter that we can study through the biological sciences.  And then we realize that the total percent of the matter in the universe which is properly the realm of biology and evolution is a much smaller portion of the total matter in the universe.  On the grand scale of things any theory of evolution is talking about a disproportionately tiny part of the known universe.   So for all the bluster evolutionary theorists like to muster against theists, they are talking about a small fraction of the universe anyway.  Theists are holding to ideas that take the entire universe into consideration not just that that miniscule portion of our planet that is the limit of evolutionary science.  Evolution at best describes a small fraction of the entire matter of the universe.  Of course it is the matter that is important to us, because it is our story and our history which is being discussed.  But for those who embrace scientific theism, there is a whole lot more to the universe than is being described or accounted for by evolution.  As Harvard science professor Lisa Randall says in her article on dark energy and matter, “If the history of science has taught us anything, it should be the shortsightedness of believing that what we see is all there is.”  (DISCOVER, November 2011, p 59)

Nevertheless, the fight between faith and reason, science and religion is mostly led on the religious side by fundamentalists and biblical literalists  as is obvious in such articles as the 17 October 2011 NY Times  The Evangelical Rejection of Reason by Christian authors and college professors Karl W. Giberson and Randall J. Stephens.  They belong to an evangelical tradition but distance themselves from those fundamentalists who reject science and reason.

“Americans have always trusted in God, and even today atheism is little more than a quiet voice on the margins. Faith, working calmly in the lives of Americans from George Washington to Barack Obama, has motivated some of America’s finest moments. But when the faith of so many Americans becomes an occasion to embrace discredited, ridiculous and even dangerous ideas, we must not be afraid to speak out, even if it means criticizing fellow Christians.”

So while the anti-scientific and anti-reason rhetoric belongs mostly to fundamentalists and literalists, the rest of Christianity cannot just look askance and avoid the discussion.   We have a responsibility to make the effort to bridge the gap between those who claim to embrace Christianity but who fear and oppose the claims of science.  It is the same science which made computing possible which measures the age of the universe.  While some people’s faith rests on the claim that Genesis is literally true, Genesis itself was not written to be a modern scientific study.   Namely, it doesn’t present claims that can be verified by tests of falsification.   It is a document that rests on faith, and doesn’t itself require that it be read literally.

James Le Fanu takes on the atheistic claims of some scientists and basically charges that some scientists have lost sight of their objectivity and the limits of science.  These scientists make atheistic assumptions about the universe and then try to conform the facts and reality to their assumptions, which is the opposite of the intellectual rigor which the falsification process in science demands.  Rather scientists should follow the facts to whatever truths can be derived from them.

“But that Fall of Man, toppled at last from his pedestal to confront the meaninglessness of his existence, has resulted, as we have seen, first in the most grievous social policies and, second, in his being deprived of his freedom, to become no more than a plaything of his genes. The source of all this mischief lies in the necessity to portray man not as he is, but as he has to be in order to incorporate him into an evolutionary theory that requires him to be different ‘only in degree but not in kind’ from his primate cousins.”  (Kindle Highlight Loc. 2947-50)

So Le Fanu claims to set out what man is, not what evolutionary theory needs him to be, and thus he reads the scientific evidence in a way different from the atheist.

Next:  The Genetic Side of Being Human

Holding Bishops Accountable for Clergy Misconduct

This is the 2nd blog in this series dealing with the effort of the state to hold a Roman Catholic bishop legally accountable for failing to follow church procedure in dealing with the sexual misconduct of a clergyman as reported in the NY TIMES on 14 October 2011, Bishop is Indicted; Charge is Failing to Report Abuse.  The previous blog is State Wants to Hold Bishop Accountable for Priest’s Misdeeds.

Many church denominations already have acknowledged that sexually misbehaving clergy often have troubles in many areas of their lives – their marriages, their credit, frequent moves, relational troubles with parishioners, bad driving records, etc.    There are warning signs which the courts are going to start demanding churches pay attention to in the lives of their clergy.   [Some denominational officials say they have in fact come to recognize that sexually misbehaving clergy frequently have credit problems – they run up huge porn bills on their computers, they have expensive sexual dalliances with prostitutes or have to pay off people to keep them silent or are being black mailed.   If the state comes to recognize these as legitimate warning signs of future sexual misconduct, the church is going to have to pay attention to these things in its clergy.]

There is a certain level at which the church might want to pay attention to these things anyhow – does the church not have an interest in its clergy behaving morally, above reproach and scandal, in a holy manner?   Should the church passively ignore these areas of behavior even if the state doesn’t demand it of us?

For bishops there is another issue – not only can the bishops be held responsible for the misdeeds of their clergy whom they supervise, but also these clergy are ordained by the bishops, so the bishops share some responsibility for putting these men into pastoral office in the first place.  So not only must the bishops practice vigilance regarding following Policy Standard and Procedures (PSP) regarding the behavior of clergy, but more diligence is needed by the bishops in knowing the men they choose to ordain.  If there are warning signs of problems, these should not be ignored by the bishops or they will have to give account for whom they ordained.

Going back to the NY Times article.  Three things really stuck out in my mind:

1)   “Bishop Finn acknowledged that he knew of the photographs last December but did not turn them over to the police until May. During that time, the priest, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, is said to have continued to attend church events with children, and took lewd photographs of another young girl.”

Though the bishop did turn over the photos to the police, the bishop waited 5 months to do so.   Not only following the law, but doing so ASAP is critical.  Church officials are often slow to react to allegations, sometimes because the accused is a friend or well known and they find it hard to believe that their acquaintance could do such a thing.  This is where having a clear PSP demanding the investigation of all allegations, regardless of who the accuser or the alleged perpetrator is, is so essential.

2)  “But until May the priest attended children’s parties, spent weekends in the homes of parish families, hosted an Easter egg hunt and presided, with the bishop’s permission, at a girl’s First Communion, according to interviews with parishioners and a civil lawsuit filed by a victim’s family.”

When the church hierarchy tries to suppress knowledge of the allegations, it puts other people at risk for being hurt.  Of course the church has to have clear PSPs in how to deal publicly with those accused of misconduct, but it also must be willing to follow and enforce those PSPs and not allow exceptions no matter who the accused is or what his rank is.

3)   That report found that the diocese did not follow its own procedures. It also found that Bishop Finn was “too willing to trust” Father Ratigan.”

Exactly what I mentioned in point 1) above.  Hierarchy tends to trust its clergy against their parishioners.   Many clergy rely on this for helping them deal with parish problems.  Some clergy do foolish and damaging things and then expect the bishop to cover their backs.   But clear PSPs can help the bishops make better pastoral decisions, if they themselves are enforcing the PSPs and ensuring compliance with the rules by their clergy, by diocesan staff, and by themselves.

Next:  In the Church, Not of the Church?