What the Blind Man Could See Even Without His Eyes

“And he who sees me sees him who sent me.” (John 12:45)

This past Sunday’s Gospel lesson was John 9:1-38  – Christ healing a man who had been born blind.   Several of the hymns from Matins today reviewed the events and point out that what was clear to the blind man was that the enemies of Christ were indeed “darkened in heart, mind and soul” and were willfully blind to the facts.  Christ’s opponents found the truth to be inconvenient for them and so they tried to change, distort or destroy the facts so they could hold to their own interpretation of events.

THE MAN ONCE BLIND SAW THAT THOSE WITH SIGHT WERE TRULY BLIND, DARKENED IN HEART, MIND AND SOUL, FOR WHEN THEY SAW THAT HE SUDDENLY WAS ABLE TO SEE, THEY QUESTIONED HIM WITH PERSISTENCE: HOW IS IT POSSIBLE FOR YOU NOW TO SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY?  YOU WERE BLIND FROM BIRTH.  YOU SAT ON THE ROADSIDES AND BEGGED!  HE TOLD THEM WHO HAD GIVEN HIM SIGHT, AND IN THE MIDST OF THEIR DARKENED ASSEMBLY HE CONFESSED YOU: THE SON, BEGOTTEN OF THE FATHER BEFORE THE AGES, WHO FASHIONED THE LIGHTS OF THE UNIVERSE, AND IN THESE LAST DAYS, IN YOUR COMPASSION, BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, FROM THE VIRGIN MARY, DAWNED UPON THE WORLD AS A MORTAL MAN!

Light was shining in the darkness but those opposed to Christ preferred the darkness so that they wouldn’t have to change their own beliefs or practices.

“And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”  (John 3:19-20)

 

The man born blind is given not only his physical sight, but true spiritual insight.  He sees for the first time, but what he sees came not from his physical eyes but from the eyes of his heart and soul.  For he sees light for the first time and immediately recognizes Christ, the light of the world.  He was blind from birth but he was not willfully blind – given the opportunity, he could immediately see what those who had never been physically blind could not.

THE BLIND MAN WALKED THE STREETS OF LIFE LIKE ONE CONDEMNED TO ENDLESS LABOR IN THE PITS OF THE EARTH.  HIS FEET WERE BRUISED; HE HAD A STAFF INSTEAD OF EYES, AND THUS HE FLED FOR REFUGE TO THE GIVER OF LIGHT.  HE RECEIVED HIS SIGHT, AND THE FIRST THING HE SAW WAS HIS CREATOR WHO FASHIONED THE HUMAN RACE ACCORDING TO HIS OWN IMAGE AND LIKENESS.  HE CREATED ALL THINGS FIRST FROM THE DUST OF THE EARTH, AND NOW HE GIVES LIGHT THROUGH DUST AND SPITTLE, OPENING BLIND EYES TO THE SUN, IN HIS LOVE FOR MANKIND.

Usually, if we get dust or dirt in  our eyes, we cannot see and our eyelids want to close.  But when Christ puts the clay made from dust and spittle on the man’s eyes, the blind suddenly can see for his eyes were opened.  Dirt and dust did not block his view but opened his eyes to the spiritual reality that Christ is Lord, God and Savior.

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Lies, Lies, Lies

nprI found pretty fascinating a show from the NPR program “On the Media“:  “Lies, Lies, Lies“.  I’m recommending it if you have about 50 minutes to ponder the truth about lies, and lying about the truth.

Inspired by this year’s presidential presidential campaign, it covers recent American history related to lies and truth, politicians and the press.  Though we hate when politicians lie to us (or maybe, more truthfully we just hate when those we oppose lie, we are more tolerant when the candidates we favor lie), the fact is politicians often say things they think that people want to hear.  As Psychologist Maria Hartwig comments:  “People want the truth if it fits with what they want to hear.”  So politicians are tempted by us and what we want to hear.  We like the truth if we agree with it, otherwise we are willing to dispense with it; so too, politicians.  Additionally, as the program points out, truth can become fashionable, or go out of fashion – I found that segment of the show to be fascinating – how the political process treats truthfulness and truthiness.   Politicians are willing to use truth when it is convenient and ignore it when it isn’t, and to twist it when that serves their purpose.  Politicians also know they can be punished for telling the truth as people don’t always appreciate the candor when they want to hear what agrees with their own preconceived ideas.

Is truth self-evident? Or, does the self not rely on the evidence when it comes to the truth?

One referenced quote in the program, I had to look up because it seemed such a classic political twisting of phrases.  The master communicator President Ronald Reagan speaking from the Oval Office:

“Let’s start with the part that is the most controversial. A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages. This runs counter to my own beliefs, to administration policy, and to the original strategy we had in mind. There are reasons why it happened, but no excuses. It was a mistake.”  (March 4, 1987)

reaganHis heart and best intentions told him it wasn’t true even though the facts and evidence told him it was true.   A classic case of “never let the facts get in the way of what you want to believe.”  or “Don’t believe everything you think.”   He so interestingly phrased it:  the facts and evidence aren’t giving him the truth, they are telling him what isn’t true.  Not a case that he couldn’t handle the truth, he handled it very well.   Douglas Adams described it well: “I don’t believe it. Prove it to me and I still won’t believe it.”

Reagan masterfully admits, “It was a mistake” which avoids any admission of intentional wrong behavior and also allows him to avoid having to admit he lied.

President Reagan was not the first president to handle truth, facts and evidence, as if it were modeling clay needing to be shaped by the artist.  This year’s presidential campaign shows he won’t be the last either.

“It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.”  (Mark Twain)

A Few Unique Traits of Humans

This is the 2nd blog in this series which began with “What Does It Mean to be Human?”   In this series I am looking at the recent book by evolutionary biologist Edward O. Wilson, The Social Conquest of Earth.  Wilson presents in well written manner a storyline with plot of how the anthropological and evolutionary evidence can be read to give us an idea of how possibly humanity emerged on earth.  Wilson dismisses religious interpretation of human being, which will be part of what I react to in this blog series.  Wilson offers his materialistic answer to the question, “What does it mean to be human?”:

“The biological human mind is our province. With all its quirks, irrationality, and risky productions, and all its conflict and inefficiency, the biological mind is the essence and the very meaning of the human.”  (Kindle Loc. 1706-8)

The “biological mind” is the interesting phrase.  As an atheist committed to materialism, there can be no mind beyond the biological, and yet the exact relationship of mind to brain is not perfectly clear.  Wilson will be in the camp of those who dismiss free will and for whom consciousness presents a particular challenge because there can for him be nothing that is not biologically based. We will come back to these issues in a future blog, for now we will continue to look at what Wilson sees as unique to the human species:

“Besides the bulging forehead, oversize brain, and long, tapering fingers, our species bears other striking biological features of the kind biological taxonomists call ‘diagnostic.’ This means that in combination, some of our traits are unique among all animals:

• A productive language based on infinite permutations of arbitrarily invented words and symbols.

• Music, comprising a wide array of sounds, also in infinite permutations and played in individually chosen mood-creating patterns; but, most definitively, with a beat.

• Prolonged childhood, allowing extended learning periods under the guidance of adults.

• Anatomical concealment of female genitalia and the abandonment of advertisement of ovulation, both combined with continuous sexual activity. The latter promotes female-male bonding and biparental care, which are needed through the long period of helplessness in early childhood.

• Uniquely fast and substantial growth in the brain size during early development, increasing 3.3 times from birth to maturity.

• Relatively slender body form, small teeth, and weakened jaw muscles, indicative of an omnivorous diet.

• A digestive system specialized to eat foods that have been tenderized by cooking.”  (Kindle Loc. 1404-21)

It is interesting that some of the very things Wilson sees as unique to humanity would also be noted by Theists who accept the claim of Genesis 1 that we humans are created in the image and likeness of God.  And it was vigorously discussed throughout Christian history what exactly about us is in God’s image?  Many Church Fathers agreed that it is not a physical trait and they like Wilson looked to such things as language, symbolic and abstract thinking, creativity – using things which exist in nature to further create such things as art and music AND inventing and manufacturing things which don’t exist in nature for art and science, modesty and virtue, controlling sexual activity and the formation of moral thinking, creativeness in using foods even in symb0lic and sacramental ways.

Though some evolutionary biologists downplay the difference between human intelligence and that of other species, many admit that human intelligence is so different from the intelligence of any other species that evolution cannot really account for this difference.

“Michael Tomasello and his co-workers in biological anthropology, developed during the past three decades. These researchers point out that the primary and crucial difference between human cognition and that of other animal species, including our closest genetic relatives, the chimpanzees, is the ability to collaborate for the purpose of achieving shared goals and intentions. The human specialty is intentionality, fashioned from an extremely large working memory. We have become the experts at mind reading, and the world champions at inventing culture. We not only interact intensely with one another, as do other animals with advanced social organizations, but to a unique degree we have added the urge to collaborate.”   (Kindle Loc. 3621-27)

Memory and culture and intentional collaboration would also be noted by theologians as ways in which humans are different from all the rest of creation.

“The creative arts became possible as an evolutionary advance when humans developed the capacity for abstract thought. The human mind could then form a template of a shape, or a kind of object, or an action, and pass a concrete representation of the conception to another mind. Thus was first born true, productive language, constructed from arbitrary words and symbols.”  (Kindle  Loc. 4486-88)

What was also born along with “true, productivity language” is the notion of truth.   There is no such thing as truth or fact or science without the conscious observer.   This is a new truth that has been revealed through quantum physics.  There is no truth without a conscious observer.  We humans in fact exist to discover truth.  We have a purpose in nature and Wilson though he doesn’t seem to recognize it, uses the gift of conscious observation to seek out truth.  Truth doesn’t just come to him, he has to consciously choose to seek it, to uncover it hidden in the natural world.  Evolution has in fact brought into existence the very beings needed to consciously observe the universe.

For theists at least, that humanity has a purpose comes as no surprise.  That evolutionary biologists don’t recognize conscious observation as a product of the evolutionary process speaks more about their ideological commitment to determinism then it does of their commitment to revealing truth.

Before getting to issues which atheists and theists disagree on, the next blog will take a very quick tour through 120 million years of history that were the needed prerequisite to our current situation on planet earth.

Next: A Very Quick Tour of Evolutionary History

Jesus and Halakah: Going His Way

Professor Gary Rendsburg in his lectures in The Great Courses on THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS mentions that the Hebrew word “Halakah” which is usually translated into English as “law”  (as in the 613 halakah/laws of the Torah) comes from a root verb whose meaning is “go”.  Rendsburg says, “as if to say every path that one follows in life is governed by Halakah.”

This brought to my mind John 14:1-7 (highlights in red are mine and not in the original text):

“Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?   And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.   If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him.”

It made me wonder whether in this passage, behind Jesus’s words about going and the way, is the idea of Halakah.   Jesus goes (halakah) to prepare a place for us; He fulfills the Torah.  We know where He is going because we know the Halakah which he fulfills.

But the disciple Thomas admits his uncertainty about Jesus’ relationship to Halakah.  “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”

Jesus then declares Himself to be the Way, the true Halakah.  He fulfills and thus replaces Torah, and thus our path to God’s Kingdom is through Christ rather than through Torah.

Christianity very early in its history came to see Jesus as fulfilling the Law, and thus bringing it to completion of its purpose.  Thus Christ becomes the Way now for all to come to God.

The Mystery which binds Science and Religion

Pure atheistic materialists would claim that nothing exists beyond the empirical reality we encounter through our senses.  They endeavor to explain everything in the universe by causal relations with the rest of the empirical universe.  It is a self-contained system.  Sometimes discoveries emerge which cause the materialists to admit that there may be more to the empirical universe than previously acknowledged.  So their sense of the material universe does grow to include dark matter, dark energy, parallel universes, bubble universes and the like.   Theory or experience may lead to the conjecture about these unobservable aspects of the universe which remain beyond our direct observation but are suggested because current theory and knowledge cannot fully account for the known universe (as it turns out 70% of the universe is dark energy and 25% is dark matter while the to us observable universe is only about 5% of all that exists).

For example, physicists puzzle over why gravity is such a feeble force.  As noted in the July 2012 issue of DISCOVER MAGAZINE, it is not easy to explain how a small “magnet can pick up a paper clip even though the gravitational force of the entire earth is pulling the clip down.”   This led to speculation that perhaps there are other spatial dimensions, so far unknown to us, that affect the force of gravity.  Dr. Eric Adelberger of the University of Washington and colleagues have invented a pendulum, a torsion balance, which would be able to detect whether on some micro scale gravity breaks down.  So far they have not detected any unusual results in how gravity works.

Another scientist who acknowledged that there are things science cannot explain is Sir Andrew Huxley   who died in May of this year.  Huxley was a   neurophysiologist who was responsible for discovering how a nerve impulses work which opened the door for much of modern neuroscience.  Sir Andrew considered himself an agnostic and admitted “that there is no scientific explanation for the fact that we are conscious.”   That fact plays a significant role in Raymond Tallis’  APING MANKIND:NEUROMANIA, DARWINITIS AND THE MISREPRESENTATION OF HUMANITY.  Tallis, though an atheist himself, is not shaken by the fact that there are some things in the universe which science cannot yet explain.  He is willing to acknowledge that there are some things we do not know, and may never know.  His book is  a rebuttal to the claims that some atheists make about neuroscience proving there is no free will.  His take on the world is that realism demands even materialists to acknowledge that currently our state of understanding certain realities is incomplete and we in fact cannot explain everything purely from materialism.  It is dishonest to contrive theories denying for example, free will, just to maintain an atheistic belief.

As I was thinking about the above two points, I read with great interest an article by Fr. John Breck in the Number 4, 2011 issue of ST. VLADIMIR’S THEOLOGICAL QUARTERLY, entitled “God in a Quantum World.”  Fr. Breck explores some of the new science that is emerging which challenges long held beliefs by scientists; some of these beliefs were thought to be certain and non-negotiable.  The marvel of science is of course that new evidence requires new theories, and so “scientific truth” is something that becomes modified over time as new evidence demands new theories.  Breck says that especially in France new questions are being asked by scientists which challenge the established order of things in physics, evolution and the neuroscience of consciousness.  He offers a list of ideas that are being challenged in science today, but I’ll jump to his concluding comments for the sake of brevity.

“If a person cannot accept an ‘apophatic” approach to reality, declaring what it is not before seeking to affirm what it is, then there is little way of dealing with the givens of quantum mechanics and general relativity.”

Some of what the new scientific discoveries are showing is that there is built in the physics of the universe some indeterminacy or uncertainty.  There actually are things we cannot know – not because we lack the instruments but because of the very way things are.

One of the mysteries at the quantum level of the universe is that the conscious observer is needed for certain events to take place – they remain in an indeterminate state until observed.  Breck writes:

“On the quantum level, consciousness is also required  to ‘bring into existence’ elementary particles and, variously, to determine their mass, location and velocity.  This is scientific fact, demonstrated experimentally and repeatedly over the course of the last century.”

Here we enter into a most marvelous mystery of the universe: if a conscious observer is needed for certain things to exist on the quantum level, then in fact we humans as observers also are creating or bringing into existence things which before were not.   This means two important things: 1) we actually are co-creators with God in the world, and  2) absolute determinacy, which so many atheists materialist rely on as the basis of their own epistemology, is simply false.  At the quantum level at least determinacy makes no sense.  There is mystery in the universe, and free will is quite possible.  Strangely, even before we understood the laws of quantum mechanics, we were observing the quantum universe and thus bringing things into existence, even though we were unaware that it was our conscious observation that was making certain things exist.

“If we have the capacity to bring elementary particles into physical existence by the sheer act of observation, then perhaps something analogous occurs in the realm of God’s own being and activity . . . God, who creates not by modeling clay from a riverbed or from some pre-existing, unformed matter, but rather by an act of conscious perception that looks upon the world and ‘sees that it is good’ (cf. Genesis 1).

It might well be, then, that God creates ex nihilo and sustains the creation by employing the very quantum laws that he himself devised.”

For believers all of this means that we do not have to choose between science and religion, or between faith and reason.  For what may be emerging is that science is recognizing that mystery is part of the universe, and that there may be more to the universe than we can measure or observe or test in experimentation.

The Relationship between Fact and Print

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!   (Isaiah 5:20)

A few weeks ago in February a case was brought before the Supreme Court concerning a man who publicly claimed to be US Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, when in fact he hadn’t received such an honor.  There is a law that says making such claims is a crime, and that law was challenged in court.  The case as discussed before the Supreme Court seemed to have the Justices leaning in the direction of upholding the law – if false claims are ignored, it devalues such medals and military heroism.   But in the discussion of the case it became clear that far less certain is whether the Court could tolerate laws that make it illegal for politicians to tell lies, say for example during a campaign.  Here the discussion seemed to lean in the direction of “buyer beware.”   The thought so it seems to me is that in the public market place politicians have complete free speech rights which includes certain forms of lying about themselves or about their opponents.  It is up to the populace or fact checking agencies to police the politician’s claims or comments and to verify or vilify them.  Congress, according to the 1st Amendment, shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.  Lying is a form of freedom of speech, and apparently is to be protected.  Freedom like free will has such alogical implications.

So the poor voters are left with coming up with their own remedies to protect themselves from cynicism when politicians speak especially during campaigns.  Ohio, my home state, was currently bombarded by campaign ads for the Republican candidates in the recent primary.  Apparently though complete disclosure about how much is spent on campaign ads does not have to be disclosed.  So it is estimated that Mitt Romney alone spent $12 million on campaign ads in Ohio.  Radio stations found this to be a very enriching time.   Freedom of speech is profitable for some.  I’m proud to note that I never heard even one of these ads – I don’t normally attune to commercial radio or television so I was spared this invasive, toxic species of advertising.  My attitude toward campaign advertising is the same as certain candidates  toward OPEC countries: let them drown in their oil.  I also have the same expectation regarding the actual effect of my boycotting commercial radio will have on campaign spending as the the notion that America can produce enough oil to cut off our dependency on foreign oil: virtually none.   Americans as insatiable consumers are as addicted to foreign oil as they are to negative campaign ads.  No president is going to be able to cause such a production in US oil as to eliminate the need for foreign oil.  Promising some low dollar-per-gallon gasoline price tag is  a guarantee no president has the power to fulfill, especially not one who believes in a free market.  But I digress.

What I really wanted to mention is a most fascinating  piece I heard on National Public Radio.  The piece by Travis Larchuk is called “‘Lifespan’: What are the Limits of Literary License?”     The story is about an article author John D’Agata wrote about a teen suicide in which he took an incredible number of “embellishments” to make a basically true story more dramatic.  He argued that he was not a journalist reporting a story and so could use literary license to alter the story.     D’Agata’s original manuscript was 15 pages, but fact checker Jim Fingal needed 100 pages to record the many factual inaccuracies in D’Agata’s  article.    The article was published and caused a literary stir due to its many inaccuracies.     D’Agata and Fingal then collaborated  to write a book, The Lifespan of a Fact, to describe the story of that original article and to talk about the nature of fact and truth.  I don’t want have to issue a spoiler alert, so I will encourage you to either read the piece or listen to it: “‘Lifespan’: What are the Limits of Literary License?” .   In the end as Larchuk discovers even a book written as a history investigating the literary license may not be what it appears.

And just for the sake of keeping the story straight, the printed version of the story doesn’t have all the details/facts that the audio version does.

This Square Peg Finds Its Place at Last

(I thought the end of the year an appropriate time to share this poem I penned.   It is all poetically true, and as we come to the last day of the year, it is apropos too.   Some think death too morbid a subject to ever be addressed, but as a priest I do funerals and so think about death.  Besides, as Jorge Luis Borges wrote, “All it takes to die is to be alive.”  Mercutio in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet after being stabbed by a sword is asked if the wound is serious, he replies, “No, ’tis not so deep as a well nor as wide as a church door; ‘ Tis enough,’ twill serve.  Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man.” I guess if the Bard can poetically spar and parry with death while having a bit of fun with it, I can as well.   I had to memorize that Shakespearean line in 9th grade – 43 years ago – and finally decided to put it to use.  Mrs. Russell should be proud that her efforts to force us to memorize things has not been forgotten.)

This Square Peg Finds Its Place at Last

Through time across earth’s face

I sojourned to find that place

In which I might fit, but no.

It’s the last place I want to go.

A place for rest, not recreation

My final worldly destination.

Though in life I found no place on earth

Where I fit in since my time of birth.

There is a place to call my own

Wherein I’ll rest my weary bone.

That place some time ago was booked

Reserved but the date was yet overlooked.

The fees for the lot were gravely paid

As were the wages by the one they slayed.

In life my soul found no rest or peace in sin,

The end is where the square peg at last fits in.

God’s Sapience and Science

Some believers in God, especially those who read Genesis 1-3 literally, find their faith threatened by the discoveries and theories of science (especially evolution and genetics). I continue to believe in the aphorism that “truth is truth” and so we have nothing to fear from the discoveries of science.   But then I’m also not a biblical literalist when it comes to Genesis 1-3.   I find God does provide us a way to understand scientific truth and in fact all knowledge in the book known as the  WISDOM OF SOLOMON.

The Wisdom of Solomon is found in those Christian Bibles based in the Septuagint (for example, THE ORTHODOX STUDY BIBLE).  The Septuagint is the Greek language version of the Jewish Scriptures (which the Jews themselves had translated into the Greek a couple hundred years before the birth of Jesus).

The Septuagint is the version of Jewish Scriptures most often quoted and read by the New Testament and Post-Apostolic writers, and is the official version of the Old Testament accepted by the Orthodox Church.   In this scripture,  we find the Wisdom of God which says scientific knowledge too is given to us by the Lord.   Truth and knowledge, especially that of creation are not opposed to the Truth of God’s revelation – they are the same Truth!

Ever since the creation of the world God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.  (Romans 1:20)

It is not only scientific knowledge which has been granted to us from God, even the skills, arts and craftsmanship which humans have perfected are seen in the Scriptures as coming from God as well!  Proverbs 6:6-10 tells us we can even learn wisdom from the tiny ant.

Wisdom of Solomon 7:15-21

May God grant me to speak according to His purpose,

and to have thoughts worthy of what I have received;

Christ the Wisdom of God

for he is the guide even of wisdom

and the corrector of the wise.

Wisdom and Lady Justice

For both we and our words are in his hand,

as are all understanding and skill in crafts.

Stone Carver Craftsman

For it is he who gave me unerring knowledge of what exists,

to know the structure of the world and the activity of the elements;

Stalactites and Stalagmites

the beginning and end and middle of times,

the alternations of the solstices and the changes of the seasons,

the cycles of the year and the constellations of the stars,

the natures of animals and the tempers of wild animals,

the force of the winds and the thoughts of human beings,

the varieties of plants and the virtues of roots;

And to know both what is hidden and what is manifest,

For Wisdom the artisan of all things taught me.

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