On Reconciling the Faith with Neo-Darwinism…

December 31, 2005 § 25 Comments

Good luck with that.

Barr’s essay addresses at some length the question of design in biology, but does not clearly affirm that reason can grasp the reality of design without the aid of faith. If my reading is correct (and I hope I am wrong), in that respect Barr has followed the overwhelming trend of Catholic commentators on the question of neo-Darwinian evolution, who gladly discuss its compatibility with the truths of faith but seldom bother to discuss whether and how it is compatible with the truths of reason.

Perhaps now that the role of fideism is in view, I can profitably return to the question of the essential meaning of the term “neo-Darwinism.” If, as many seem to think, neo-Darwinism serves as a valid “design-defeating hypothesis” at the level of human reason but is rescued from any ultimately improper conclusions only by the intervention of theology, then it seems that my expansive definition is fully vindicated. If reason is incapable of grasping real teleology in living things and their history, then neo-Darwinism—which obviously is incapable of taking into account theological truths—can truly be said to be a theory that asserts, in the words of my original essay, that evolution is “an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection.” What so many Catholics seem to be saying is that, so far as we can determine with our unaided human intellects, according to even the “metaphysically modest” version of neo-Darwinism, there is no real plan, purpose, or design in living things, and absolutely no directionality to evolution; yet we know those things to be true by faith. In other words, a “metaphysically modest” neo-Darwinism is not so modest after all. It means a Darwinism that does not conflict with knowledge about reality known through faith alone. In the debate about design in nature, sola fides takes on an entirely new meaning.

One of Shonborn’s key points here is that unaided human reason, properly exercised and distinct from the Faith, concludes that the world and the things in the world are the product of design. And it is (not without some irony) a doctrine of the Faith that this is the case.

A Null Annulment?

December 19, 2005 § 8 Comments

This post is a bit on the speculative side, because this is something that isn’t talked about much and I don’t claim to be expert, though I know a few things about the topic.

In a comment thread below I said:

Someone who causes a divorce utterly ruins at least one other person’s life. That person cannot ever validly remarry, cannot ever take holy orders, cannot ever go on with a valid vocation. In some ways murder is more merciful than divorce, because it doesn’t leave someone in a state of perpetual temptation to damnation. Divorce fractured the Church, destroyed the communion of Christian faithful. Divorce is among the most wicked and vile of crimes, not the least.

“So what about an annulment, smart guy?” is the natural question. I assumed in my comment that the marriage was valid; and a valid marriage does not end this side of death, no matter what the other person does and no matter who says otherwise.

An annulment is not a “Catholic divorce”. An annulment is an opinion on the part of a Church tribunal: specifically, an opinion that there was never a valid marriage in the first place. That opinion carries the force of canon law: it authorizes a priest to witness the marriage of that person to a new (or really the first valid) spouse. But it is still just an opinion, and it doesn’t change the underlying ontological reality. Either there was a valid marriage, or there was not. No opinion, not even an opinion from a tribunal, can turn what was a valid marriage into not a valid marriage. There is still no such thing as a Christian divorce.

So a good Catholic trying to understand what is objectively true and do the objectively right thing is left with a conundrum. The rate of annulment grants in the United States is about 97%. The rate of divorces among Catholics is about 50%, basically the same as everyone else. So that means that on average, in the tribunal’s opinion about half of Catholic marriages are invalid: that is, they are not objectively marriages at all. The number actually must be much greater than half, because presumably a significant percentage of those who don’t apply for annulments, those who stay “married”, are wrong about the objective status of their marriage. No doubt the conditions that give rise to invalid marriages also give rise to divorce, but the correspondence can’t be perfect. So probably about 70% of Catholic marriages are invalid, unless there is a credibility problem with the annulment process.

And there is the rub.

In either case – whether most marriages are invalid or most annulments are false positives – it seems to me that this rather devalues the credibility of the tribunal’s opinion in terms of understanding whether or not, objectively, a marriage was valid. The tribunal’s opinion still functions, as a matter of canon law, to give a priest permission to witness a “new” first marriage; but that is just a juridical matter, an administrative bit of trivia if the intent is to actually do the right thing. The priest may have legal permission to witness a new marriage, but that doesn’t in itself guarantee – or even indicate the likelihood of – the invalidity of the old marriage nor the validity of the new.

The result of the present state of affairs seems to me to be that when someone is granted an annulment, it is still virtually impossible to tell if the first marriage was or was not valid (except in very clear-cut cases of formal defect that amount to a very small percentage of annulments). Rather than being a mercy for the spiritually and emotionally wounded, the high rate of annulment grants leaves them – if they understand the process and are honest with themselves about it – in a terrible state of uncertainty. The annulment is a legal permission slip to the priest, but it doesn’t really help the spouse to better know the actual truth about the status of the first marriage.

Darwinism in Reverse: Man Becomes Ape

December 19, 2005 § 1 Comment

Quote of the day, by a commenter on Catholic and Enjoying It talking about the Peter Jackson movie Kong (which I have not yet seen):

“Perhaps it’s indicative of our effeminate age that a truly masculine character has to be portrayed by an ape.”

The character Faramir in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies is a perfect example of modern contempt for men. In the books he is the best man by far: humble, brave, unselfish, strong, loyal, mature, grown up enough not to lead himself into temptation. In the movies he was a contemptible whiner, a pathetic my-daddy-doesn’t-love-me Oprah guest in need of therapy and antidepressants. Fran Walsh (or maybe it was the other female screenwriter) explains the changes on the DVD extras by saying that she just didn’t understand Faramir; that his character made no sense to her (especially his refusal of the Ring when Frodo offered it to him), and she had to rewrite him to make him more credible.

I’ll bet.

UPDATE: Maybe I’ll wait for the Kong DVD.

Morally, Divorce is a Heinous, Evil, Wicked Crime

December 17, 2005 § 58 Comments

Divorce is categorically a moral crime every bit as much as murder and abortion. It is greater in its gravity than theft, embezzlement, assault and battery, fraud, or any number of other things that incur a criminal penalty of imprisonment in our present legal regime.

Not all moral crimes should be (or even can be, as a practical matter) punished by imprisonment, of course. But no-fault divorce laws are as fundamentally unjust as a legal right to abortion.

I expect that divorce would be far less common if it were a requirement that one or both spouses be found at fault in order for there to be a divorce, and a requirement that the at-fault party or parties do some jail time. Even if not a particularly practical notion at this particular place and time, our visceral reaction to the suggestion says a lot about how seriously we take the sanctity of marriage.

Divorce is like war. It is possible to engage in one justly, under certain excruciatingly limited circumstances. But there is no such thing as a “no fault” war.

A Midsummer’s Nightmare

December 3, 2005 § 46 Comments

Interesting reflections at Oz Conservative.

You’re a mean one …

December 3, 2005 § Leave a comment

Mr. Grinch

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