Sunday, July 26, 2015

God is a Mathematician? Oy Vey!*

Fundamental Theorem of Calculus, from Math 121 Clark Univ.

[Feynman] "Do you know calculus?"
[Wouk] "I admitted that I didn't"
[Feynman] "You had better learn it...It's the language God talks."
Herman Wouk, converstion with Richard Feynman in The Language God Talks, p.5

"What is your number?" My grandson, Gabriel (age 2), on meeting someone.
"If you ask how such things can occur, seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine; in the longing of the will, not in the understanding; in the sighs of prayer, not in research; seek the bridegroom not the teacher; God and not man " St. Bonaventure, The Journey of the Mind to God.


In his very fine book, Is God a Mathematician?, Mario Livio gives a good history of mathematics and its foundational applications to science.   He also discusses whether mathematics  is a Platonic ideal or is a construction of the human mind--i.e. is mathematics "discovered" or "invented"?  But he does not address the question posed in his title, which I propose to do in this post.   I'll also discuss some related arguments by physicists and philosophers that reality is mathematics (see references).

Now it goes without saying (although I will say it), that if God is omniscient, he knows everything and therefore, perforce, must know all mathematics.  These propositions do not, however, require that reality is altogether mathematical, as suggested by Max Tegmark in his book, Our Mathematical Universe.    If reality is altogether mathematical, then everything can be quantified, represented by numbers or properties that can put into correspondence with numbers.   Is this so?

I invite the reader to suggest things that cannot be quantified by numbers.   Here's my list of a few such:

  • self-awareness, consciousness ("Cogito, ergo sum")
  • moments of communion with God, The Holy Spirit, Jesus
  • love of another
  • shame
  • anger
  • pain
  • happiness
  • joy
  • feelings aroused by nature
  • feelings aroused by music
  • feelings aroused by intellectual discovery
  • the literary excellence of a poem, a short story, a novel
  • boredom on reading blog posts dealing with the reality of mathematics
  • etc...

Now psychologists might say that most, if not all of the above can be quantified: just use the simple 1-5 scale as, in satisfaction response surveys. I claim that, unlike measuring the mass of a steel ball or its radius, such a procedure would not yield a  universal measurement--one person's "2" might well be another person's "4".    The qualia referred to in the above items are non-quantifiable, in the sense that a universally applicable measurement cannot be applied.

Let's explore just one of the above in more detail--feelings aroused by music.   In another post, God's Gift to Man--the Transforming Power of Music, I've discussed the emotional and spiritual impact music has had on me, an effect which cannot be explained by mathematical relationships.  The Pythagorean harmonies have no place in the dissonances of Bartok, Berlioz or even Mozart (Symphony #40, the Great G-Minor) .    

The inability of computation--mathematics--to emulate musical creativity is illustrated in a science-fiction story by James Blish, "A Work of Art".   In this tale "mind sculptors" of the future install a recreation of Richard Strauss in a non-musical volunteer.     The volunteer thinks of himself as a resurrected Strauss, composes an opera, and then realizes it uses old musical devices and is not creative.    At the concert in which the work is premiered, the volunteer knows that the resounding applause is for the mind sculptors, not for his musical work.

I AM NOT A NUMBER!" (Number 6, in "The Prisoner")

Let's turn to consciousness/self-awareness as an attribute of mathematical reality.  Is the brain a "meat computer"--can consciousness/self-awareness be programmed? In other words, does the self-aware brain operate by algorithms?    

 The eminent mathematical physicist, Roger Penrose, has said no to this proposition in three books:  "The Emperor's New Mind", "Shadows of the Mind", and "The Large, the Small, and Human Consciousness".   Penrose demonstrates, using Godel's Incompleteness Theorem and Turing's Halting Theorem, that the human can know the truth of a mathematical theorem even when a computer can not.

In "Shadows of the Mind" he gives four types of belief or non-belief in the possibility of Artificial Intelligence (AI), that self-aware intelligence can be programmed by some set of algorithms:
  1. Consciousness is reducible to computation (the view of strong-AI proponents);
  2. Consciousness can be simulated by a computer, but the simulation couldn't produce "real understanding" (John Searle's view);
  3. Consciousness can't even be simulated by computer, but nevertheless has a scientific explanation (Penrose's own view)
  4. Consciousness doesn't have a scientific explanation at all (the view of Thomas Nagel--see Mind and Cosmos)

Penrose is looking to a theory of quantum gravity to explain consciousness,  The philosopher John Searle posits, as does Penrose, that consciousness has a scientific explanation , but that it will be an explanation in which consciousness is an "emergent" property of the brain's biochemistry and biophysics, much as wetness can be explained by theories of surface tension for water.   I have discussed Nagel's views (with links to other discussions) in the post which is linked to above.

A quantum computer (i.e. a scientist engaged in quantum computation), Scott Aaronson, has given an amusing and almost-convincing critique of Penrose's thesis in one of his Physics Lectures.    Some of his criticisms can be answered, particularly the one dealing with the Libet experiment, but I don't propose to engage that discussion here.   The critique relies primarily on two features:  the activities of the mind are finite, not infinite;  a computer which would be allowed to make mistakes would not be bound by Goedel's Theorem.

Finally, note that Max Tegmark does not show in "Our Mathematical Universe" how consciousness can be explained as a mathematical phenomenon.    He claims that this will be done in the future, but that seems to me very much like a scientism of the gaps.


If mathematics (maybe I should upper-case that?) is to be the end-all and be-all of what is, then it seems reasonable to suppose that mathematics is complete in itself--there are no loose ends.   A primitive view of Goedel's and Turing's theorems suggest that this is not so.    The computer philosopher Gregory Chaitin reinforces this opinion in his books "The Limits of Mathematics"  and "The Unknowable":
"What I think it all means is that mathematic is different from physics, but it's not that different.  I think that math is quasi-empirical.   It's different from physics, but it's more a matter of degree than an all or nothing difference.  I don't think mathematicians have a direct pipeline to God's thoughts, to absolute truth, while physics must always remain tentative and subject to revision [emphasis added].  Yes math is less tentative than physics, but they're both in the same boat, because they're both human activities, and to err is human."  Gregory Chaitin, The Unknowable, pp 26-27


I view mathematics, logic, reason as the foundations and the framework of the building in which we live.   There are essential additions--faith, religion, beauty, love, ...--which are non-mathematical and above the bounds of logic.    As Pope St. John Paul II, said.  
 "Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves"  Pope St. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio.
So my answer to the question in the title is,  God is much more than a mathematician.

*I've gone back to my Jewish roots, inverted the title of a very good book, "Is God a Mathematician?" by Mario Livio, to make it a declarative sentence in form, but still a question (imagine a rising inflection at the end, as with a Yiddish or Pennsylvania Dutch accent);  I've put one of the few Yiddish phrases I remember at the end.    If you don't know what "oy vey" means, I'll have to ask "what planet are you from?"


Herman Wouk, The Language God Talks.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

God's Gift to Man--The Transforming Power of Music, Redux.

Sometimes, when the daily news seems to be overwhelmingly gloomy, we need something to cheer us up. So, here is a repost that will, I hope, give you joy, if you click on the links at the end of the post, particularly the last, The Days of Elijah sung a group of US Marines.
"Music has power to soothe the savage breast." William Congreve, The Mourning Bride
 "This so-called ‘music,’ they would have to concede, is in some way efficacious to humans. Yet it has no concepts, and makes no propositions; it lacks images, symbols, the stuff of language. It has no power of representation. It has no relation to the world."  Oliver Sacks, The Power of Music *
"Sing unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm.  With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the LORD, the King." Psalm 98:5,6 (KJV)
"Did you write the book of love,And do you have faith in God above,If the Bible tells you so?Do you believe in rock n'roll,Can music save your mortal soul?Don McLean, American Pie 
This post is a reflection on how music has shaped my devotion to the Church.     There will be links to my favorite music:  liturgical, hymns and other.   I'd be grateful if readers would note in comments their favorite music.   I won't say much about the psychology of music or how music affects the brain.   A lot of work has been done in functional imaging, but I'm not sure we know much more now than when Pythagoras noted the beautiful mathematical relations between harmonious intervals.    However, for those interested in pursuing the subject, I will give references**.

My first encounter with the power of music in liturgy came at a 40 Hours devotional service. (See Top Down to Jesus) .     I had been preparing for entry into the Church and although on rational grounds I had come to believe in the Resurrection and its implications, there were matters of dogma I found  difficult to understand, particularly that important one, transubstantiation, the change of the substance of the host into the body of Christ.   As the monstrance was carried in during the procession of the 40 Hours service,  Tantum Ergo was played, and I read in the missal
"Præstet fides supplementum, Sensuum defectui."
enough of my high school Latin came back, "faith will supplement the deficiency of the senses", and I realized in my heart, that the wafer, the host, was the body of Christ, that it was mystery beyond science and philosophy, and my eyes filled with tears.

Other liturgical music has struck to my heart in ways no homily or theological text seems to do.    During my first Easter Vigil Mass  The Litany of the Saints was played, and an overwhelming  vision of the history of the Church and all its holy people came to me.    During  Vespers at St. Vincent Archabbey (attended during retreat as Benedictine Oblate) or Evensong services at  the St. Thomas More Anglican Usage Parish,  a great peace and understanding  comes over me as I listen to the strong voices chanting the psalms. 

Other music, not  liturgical--Bach (the B minor Mass,  Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring), Mozart's Requiem, Ralph Vaughan William's Dona Nobis Pacem,  will bring me to thoughts of God.  Hymns  that I want to be played at my funeral have made their mark:  Amazing Grace, Shall We Gather by the River,  Jerusalem my Happy Home, The Lord of the Dance (old and corny pieces from evangelical churches, for the most part).   And there are those I play with the instrumental group at Church, It is Well with my Soul, Panis Angelicus, Mozart's Ave VerumThe King of Love My Shepherd Is. Old 100th and so many others.  (I play the alto clarinet, not well, but enough to provide harmony--a bass voice, since I can't sing on key.***)

One thing should be clear: it isn't the music by itself that is moving, but the total situation:  liturgy, congregation, and the words.   I could read
"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,That saved a wretch like me.I once was lost but now am found,Was blind, but now I see.T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear.And Grace, my fears relieved.How precious did that Grace appearThe hour I first believed." Liberty Lyrics John Newton 
It would be moving, but it is the combination of the words that reflect my own experience AND the music that brings me to tears of joy.  I could read the verses of Tantum Ergo and Pange Lingua, but it would not be meaningful without the presence of Christ's body, the procession, the Benediction,  and the congregation sharing this experience.

Am I only being sentimental and not truly devoted to the austere beauty of liturgy in my reaction to this music--too catholic (with a lower-case c)?   Some Church liturgists might think so.
"It is not surprising that Church leaders have doubted whether the feelings which music arouses are truly religious.  Music's power to fan the flames of piety may be more apparent than real..."Anthony Storr, Music and the Mind     
The Hebrews did not worry about music being a distraction from devotion to the Lord.    David danced in the procession to the altar and the psalms say "Sing to the Lord a new song,  play the lute, the lyre and the harp, sound the trumpets".    St. Augustine, entranced by music, was concerned that this power might enable the senses to overcome the intellect in worship:
"So I waver between the danger that lies in gratifying the senses and the benefits which, as I know, can accrue from singing....I am inclined to approve of the custom of singing in church, in order that by indulging the ears weaker spirits may be inspired  with feelings of devotion.  Yet when I find the singing itself more moving than the truth  which it conveys, I confess it is a grievous sin, and at those times I would prefer not to hear the singer. (emphasis added)" St. Augustine, Confessions
The last sentence in the quote is the foundation for the expulsion of music from the Church in Calvinist sects (read "The Warden" by Anthony Trollope).   I cannot subscribe to that view.  I am one of St. Augustine's weaker spirits.   I believe God gave many many gifts to man in giving him intelligence:  language, mathematics, music, art.   Music has the power to heal the soul (as Oliver Sacks shows in Musicophilia) and to bring one closer to God.   We give joy to God  when we rejoice in music, not only to praise Him, but to rejoice in life (l'Chaim)

*This quote, to show what a strange gift  music is, comes from Arthur C. Clarke's classic "Childhood's End", in which an alien species comes to guide mankind from childhood to maturity.   The very intelligent aliens do not understand the power of music.    They go to a concert,  listen politely and come away wondering.


Robert Jourdain, Music, the Brain and Ecstasy: How Music Captures Our Imagination. 
Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia, Tales of Music and the Brain
Anthony Storr, Music and the Mind


I am musical but untalented (unlike my younger and older brothers).   At the age of 8, I didn't pass an audition at our Temple Youth Choir because I couldn't carry a tune.  So, I took up the clarinet as a biddable instrument-- if you put your fingers on the right keys, the right note comes out (given a certain amount of play in lipping the reed).     However, the biddability of the clarinet and my own talent weren't sufficient to let me do well in junior high school band, so that clarinet was put away until after my retirement, when I took up playing again: bass clarinet, then alto clarinet and the bowed psaltery.  Throughout my life from a teenager on, I have enjoyed classical music, folk music and some of the Golden Oldies--no rap, no hard rock, none of the stuff that's played on most radio stations.

My musical tastes are catholic (lower-case c).   On my Pandora web site are listed stations including Callas, Pavarotti, Fleming,  St. Martin's in the Fields, Gilbert & Sullivan, Bach, Mozart, klezmer, Sephardic, Ashokan Farewell, bluegrass.   Such music is moving in different ways--Ravel's  Bolero, the Wedding Scene from Fiddler on the Roof, The Beatles' "Let it Be", the final scene from Der Rosenkavalier, American Pie...(added later) Ode to Joy (Beethoven's 9th), (added later) The Days of Elijah (The Day of Jubilee)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

More Good Advice from St. Augustine--Admitting One's Weakness

St. Augustine in his study, Botticelli
As I said in a previous post, it has been my habit to read every night before going to bed, and before the Night Prayer, a daily reading from the works of St. Augustine, Augustine Day by Day, compiled by John Rotelle, O.S.A.

The reading for July 14th, Admitting One's Weakness,  is particularly apt for me, and I thought it might also be for others, so here it is:
"Remember, you will be faulted not because you are ignorant against your will, but because you neglect to seek out that which makes you ignorant.No one has ever been deprived of the ability to know the importance of what it is damaging to be ignorant of.   Neither have any been deprived of the ability to confess their weakness." Free Will 3,19
That's it folks....

There's more to there than physics:
a review of Thomas Nagel's "Mind and Cosmos"*

"The aim of this book is to argue that the mind-body problem is not just a local problem...but that it invades our understanding of the entire cosmos...I believe a true appreciation of the difficulty of the problem must eventually change our conception of the place of the physical sciences in describing the natural order." Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos:  Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception
of Nature is Almost Certainly False
What?  An eminent philosopher of the mind, Thomas Nagel, a professed atheist,  taking up the theistic argument that  "the materialist, neo-darwinian conception of nature is almost certainly false"--who wood-a thunk it?

In a nutshell, Nagel argues that current belief that there is a physical theory of everything--a theory that includes human mentality and values--is unbelievable:
I find  this view [reductive materialism and neo-Darwinism] antecedently unbelievable--a heroic triumph of ideological theory over common sense. Thomas Nagel, "Mind and Cosmos", p. 136
This disbelief is founded on the following propositions:

  • physical science cannot account for the incredibly unlikely beginning of life;
  • physical science and the neo-Darwinian model cannot account for the development of consciousness;
  • physical science and the neo-Darwinian model cannot account for the development of cognition from consciousness;
  • physical science and the neo-Darwinian model cannot account for the role of value in human activity.  
The fundamental difficulty with the currently accepted physical picture, according to Nagel, is that the ways in which materialism and neo-Darwinism try to account for mentality are inadequate.
 The first way is to deny that the mental is an irreducible aspect of reality, either (a) by holding that the mental can be identified with some aspect of the physical, such as patterns of behavior or patterns of neural activity, or (b) by denying that the mental is part of reality at all, being some kind of illusion (but then, illusion to whom?). The second way is to deny that the mental requires a scientific explanation through some new conception of the natural order, because either (c) we can regard it as a mere fluke or accident, an unexplained extra property of certain physical organisms – or else (d) we can believe that it has an explanation, but one that belongs not to science but to theology, in other words that mind has been added to the physical world in the course of evolution by divine intervention. [emphasis added] Thomas Nagel. The Core of Mind and Cosmos (NY Times Opinionator)
Nagel rejects divine intervention, both for the presence of mind and for the beginning of life.   Instead he  proposes a teleological principle that operates to achieve values (undefined) that include consciousness and cognition;   mutations that work to such an end are preferred, that is have a higher probability.    Nagel terms the failure of materialism and neo-Darwinism to account for the above "a materialism of the gaps".     The arguments Nagel gives  to support the above propositions are  involved.   Were I not already convinced of his propositions, I would find his arguments unconvincing.    Since a detailed examination of these arguments would require an article almost as long as the book, I'll not do that.*   Instead, I invite the reader to go to the book, or if you don't want to spend the bucks, look at Chapter 4 of the book, on Cognition (it's available online for free--use the link).

Finally, I wonder why the addition of a "teleological principle" is not more ad hoc than that of a creating God.    It does seem to be the case that for many atheists, their faith  (or non-faith?)  cannot be shaken.

*Note added 20 July.   William (Matt) Briggs has pointed out that the eminent philosopher, Edward Feser has, in fact, given such an extensive review in his blog.   See Mind and Cosmos Roundup.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Good Advice from St. Augustine

St. Augustine in His Study, Botticelli
It has been my habit to read every night before going to bed, and before the Night Prayer, a daily reading from the works of St. Augustine, Augustine Day by Day, compiled by John Rotelle, O.S.A.

The reading for July 4th, Let Our Lives Be Good,  is particularly apt for our times, so I thought I should pass it on.
"Bad Times!  Troublesome Times!  This is what people are saying.   Let our lives be good and the times will be good.  For we make our own times.  Such as we are, such are the times.
What can we do?  Maybe we cannot convert masses of people to a good life.  But let the few who do hear live well.  Let the few who live well endure the many who live badly."
 Sermon 30,8
That's it folks....

Laudato Si, "The Curate's Egg" II. The political/economic parts I find difficult to swallow.

fBishop: "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr Jones";  Curate: "Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!"
"True Humility" by George du Maurier, originally published in Punch, 9 November 1895

"(1) He [the Pope] cannot speak as a private theologian but in his official capacity as Vicar of Christ and head of the Church; (2) He must officially define a doctrine relating to faith or morals (unfortunately, the pope[sic] is not infallible when it comes to science, politics, weather, and the outcome of sporting events); and (3) The pronouncement must not be directed only to a single individual or particular group of people, but it must be promulgated for the benefit of the entire Church" Patrick Madrid, The Papacy and Galileo
"Every judgment of conscience, be it right or wrong, be it about things evil in themselves or morally indifferent, is obligatory, in such wise that he who acts against his conscience always sins." St. Thomas Aquinas. III Quodlibet 27.*
In this post I will discuss the positions Pope Francis takes which have political / economic consequences.   These discussions are difficult for me, because I respect Pope Francis, not only because of his office, but because of his stated goal, to benefit the "not-haves" of our earth.  Nevertheless,  I am obliged, following St. Thomas's admonition in the quote above, to follow my conscience.


Everyone has a political bias, on the basis of which he or she evaluates propositions.   Mine is best illustrated by the story below:
Wife (answering daughter's call for a donation to her radical Community Organization)--
     "No, no donation for such an organization"
     "Let me ask Dad"
     "When I married your father, he was a Jew, a liberal and a Democrat;  he is now a Catholic, a conservative and a Republican;   you'll not get a donation from him either."
So, to be up front:  I am wary of "I'm here from the Government and I'm here to help you."  Government bureaucracies, whatever may be their nominally altruistic purpose, suffer from the lack of competition, are beset by red tape,  and are motivated primarily to increase their next appropriation.  They are, in effect, dinosaurs that have not been eliminated by evolution.   I'm wary of rules that might be set by international bureaucrats, who have no experience of the democratic way of life or what the free market can accomplish.


In the quotation at the head of this post, Patrick Madrid says "the pope [sic] is not infallible when it comes to science, politics...".     Accordingly, as faithful Catholics we are enjoined to consider prayerfully and carefully pronouncements of our Holy Father which are directed to political and economic policies, but we are not obliged to follow them, if they do not directly involve matters of morals or faith or if we honestly believe they will  not effect a moral good.

Disentangling moral and faith issues from political and economic policies is not an easy task. I discussed this matter with our priest, and he brought up the question of abortion--certainly government policies on abortion should not violate Catholic moral precepts.  Nevertheless, many eminent Catholics (for example the famed Catholic legal scholar, Douglas Kmiec, and the Jesuit Editor of "America") supported pro-abortion candidates for president.  Can their example be followed, so that one selects which Catholic precepts enter into one's policy choices,  presumably justifying choices by some sort of  "Double Effect Doctrine"?   I think not.

Well, let's see what Pope Francis has to say about desired political and economic means, either national or supra-national, to bring about the goals of the Encyclical*.
  Inequity affects not only individuals but entire countries; it compels us to consider an ethics of international relations. A true “ecological debt” exists, particularly between the global north and south, connected to commercial imbalance....The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming. [emphasis added]  #51.
Is the emphasized statement verified or verifiable in any sense, either premise or conclusion?
The developed countries ought to help pay this debt by significantly limiting their consumption of non-renewable energy and by assisting poorer countries to support policies and programmes of sustainable development. #52
And which supranational agency is to decide on the amount of the debt, the amount of energy limitation and the amount of support?
The establishment of a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems has become indispensable, otherwise the new power structures based on the techno-economic paradigm may overwhelm not only our politics but also freedom and justice.  #53
Is this legal framework to be an international code, superseding national laws? 
The principle of the subordination of private property to the universal destination of goods, and thus the right of everyone to their use, is a golden rule of social conduct and “the first principle of the whole ethical and social order”.  #93
What does "universal" mean?   In the Acts of the Apostles, private property was subordinated to the community.   In monastic orders, private property is subordinated to the monastic community.
Finally, the common good calls for social peace, the stability and security provided by a certain order which cannot be achieved without particular concern for distributive justice; #157
What might be "distributive justice"?
Interdependence obliges us to think of one world with a common plan  #164
And who is to make that plan and enforce it?
A global consensus is essential for confronting the deeper problems, which cannot be resolved by unilateral actions on the part of individual countries. #164
Again, what if a consensus cannot be reached? 
As the bishops of Bolivia have stated, “the countries which have benefited from a high degree of industrialization, at the cost of enormous emissions of greenhouse gases, have a greater responsibility for providing a solution to the problems they have caused”.#170  quoting from the Bolivian Bishops' Conference, 2012.
Where is it proven that greenhouse gases have caused a problem?
Enforceable international agreements are urgently needed, since local authorities are not always capable of effective intervention. #173
Ipse dixit.
 because the economic and financial sectors, being transnational, tends [sic] to prevail over the political. Given this situation, it is essential to devise stronger and more efficiently organized international institutions, with functionaries who are appointed fairly by agreement among national governments, and empowered to impose sanctions. [emphasis added] #175
And again, ipse dixit.
 At the same time, on the national and local levels, much still needs to be done, such as promoting ways of conserving energy...  [and] removing from the market products which are less energy efficient or more polluting  #180
Such as replacing incandescent light bulbs by fluorescent, which are hard on the eyes and hazardous when broken?
In the face of possible risks to the environment which may affect the common good now and in the future, decisions must be made “based on a comparison of the risks and benefits foreseen for the various possible alternatives”.#184   quoting from Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
Who is to establish these risks and benefits--the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the UN or???
The Rio Declaration of 1992 states that “where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a pretext for postponing cost-effective measures” which prevent environmental degradation..Here the burden of proof is effectively reversed, since in such cases objective and conclusive demonstrations will have to be brought forward to demonstrate that the proposed activity will not cause serious harm to the environment or to those who inhabit it.   #186
The bold-face statement is that which I find most disturbing.
There are certain environmental issues where it is not easy to achieve a broad consensus. Here I would state once more that the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics.  #188
In the face of all else that is said in the Encyclical, this statement seems to be no more than a token, an ambiguous admission that some parts of the Encyclical may be based on false scientific premises.
Here too, it should always be kept in mind that “environmental protection cannot be assured solely on the basis of financial calculations of costs and benefits. The environment is one of those goods that cannot be adequately safeguarded or promoted by market forces”. Once more, we need to reject a magical conception of the market    #190  Quote from Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
Does this not show a bias against capitalism and the free market?
For new models of progress to arise, there is a need to change “models of global development”;this will entail a responsible reflection on “the meaning of the economy and its goals with an eye to correcting its malfunctions and misapplications”.  #194  quotes from Message for 2010 World Day of Peace.


The quotes and other parts of the Encyclical not quoted show a bias against capitalism and a bias for international government control.  This bias for state control is, in my opinion, naive.   It ignores the fact  that the worst pollution and scarring of the earth has occurred in governments which are most authoritarian--the USSR and Russia, China, Zimbabwe--rather than in the free, capitalist nations. Whether Pope Francis's apparent bias for state and international control is part of the general culture of the South American hierarchy and the Argentinean Jesuit Order, or engendered by Pope Francis's Argentinean background, is a question I'm not equipped to answer, but it's clear that it is there.   Pope Francis also seems disposed to accept as fact the false assertions of radical environmental organizations.


I find the assertions about global warming are not founded on good science;  the oceans have not risen significantly, the glacial and polar ice has not decreased, the temperatures in the southern hemisphere have not shown a warming trend.    However this aspect of the Encyclical has been well covered by Matt Briggs in his post, Laudato Si: On the Science of GlobalWarming, so I won't beat a dead horse.


As I stated in the first post on the Encyclical, I applaud the goals of the Encyclical:  to reduce consumerism, to reduce pollution and generally to overcome the Culture of Death and immediate gratification.    Since Pope Francis is the Vicar of Christ, the head of The Church Militant, why should he not call upon the faithful to try to fulfill his goals, rather than  atheistic environmentalists (Naomi Klein, Prof. Dr. Hans Joachim Schnellhuber), who oppose all the doctrines of the Church?   Why not have local parishes set up groups to work for the goals he sets forth?  Governments do not change the hearts of their citizens.   In order to accomplish Pope Francis's Goals, he should start from the bottom, working through the faithful, rather than from the top, through a state and international bureaucracy.   Work through us, not against us.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Laudato Si, "The Curate's Egg" I. The Excellent Parts

fBishop: "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr Jones"; Curate: "Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!"
"True Humility" by George du Maurier, originally published inPunch, 9 November 1895.
"(1) He [the Pope] cannot speak as a private theologian but in his official capacity as vicar of Christ and head of the Church; (2) He must officially define a doctrine relating to faith or morals (unfortunately, the pope is not infallible when it comes to science, politics, weather, and the outcome of sporting events); and (3) The pronouncement must not be directed only to a single individual or particular group of people, but it must be promulgated for the benefit of the entire Church" Patrick Madrid, The Papacy and Galileo
"Every judgment of conscience, be it right or wrong, be it about things evil in themselves or morally indifferent, is obligatory, in such wise that he who acts against his conscience always sins." St. Thomas Aquinas. III Quodlibet 27.
There has been much heat and just a little light engendered by Pope Francis's recent Encyclical, Laudato Si. Unlike many who have either praised or condemned Laudato Si, I have read the whole work, not once but three times. What I propose to do in this post is to list, with minimal comment, the sections that I find laudatory (that's a pun, son) and then in a second post, the parts that I find questionable or objectionable. The Encyclical is 184 pages, so it will be necessary to focus selectively on the material.


Pope Francis enjoins against abortion and the culture of death, and promotes the value of the family, as has been done in previous encyclicals  by other Popes.
When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected.  Item 117.
The sheer novelty involved in the emergence of a personal being within a material universe presupposes a direct action of God and a particular call to life and to relationship on the part of a “Thou” who addresses himself to another “thou" Item 81.
Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is un comfortable and creates difficulties?  “If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away."  Item 120, quote from Caritates in Vertate, 2009.
I would stress the great importance of the family, which is “the place in which life – the gift of God – can be properly welcomed and protected against the many attacks to which it is exposed, and can develop in accordance with what constitutes authentic human growth. In the face of the so-called culture of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life”.   Item 213

Pope Francis calls us on us to reject consumerism, not to rely solely on technology, and to focus on that which has human values.
 Furthermore, when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload. Item 47
 “while it is true that an unequal distribution of the population and of available resources creates obstacles to development and a sustainable use of the environment, it must nonetheless be recognized that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development” Quoting the Pontifical Council for Justice Peace(483). Item 50
 Each of us has his or her own personal identity and is capable of entering into dialogue with others and with God himself. Our capacity to reason, to develop arguments, to be inventive, to interpret reality and to create art, along with other not yet discovered capacities, are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology. Item 81
The basic problem goes even deeper: it is the way that humanity has taken up technology and its development according to an undifferentiated and one-dimensional paradigm. This paradigm exalts the concept of a subject who, using logical and rational procedures, progressively approaches and gains control over an external object. This subject makes every effort to establish the scientific and experimental method, which in itself is already a technique of possession, mastery and transformation. It is as if the subject were to find itself in the presence of something formless, completely open to manipulation  Item 106
 It cannot be maintained that empirical science provides a complete explanation of life, the interplay of all creatures and the whole of reality. This would be to breach the limits imposed by its own methodology. If we reason only within the confines of the latter, little room would be left for aesthetic sensibility, poetry, or even reason’s ability to grasp the ultimate meaning and purpose of things. Item 199
Pope Francis calls on us to enter into a relationship with Christ in the Eucharist.
It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation. Grace, which tends to manifest itself tangibly, found unsurpassable expression when God himself became man and gave himself as food for his creatures. The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter. He comes not from above, but from within, he comes that we might find him in this world of ours. In the Eucharist, fullness is already achieved; it is the living centre of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life. Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love. Item 236


In the first sections of Laudato Si Pope Francis exhorts us to be one with nature and to realize God in  His creation, emulating Saint Francis in his paean to Brother Sun and Sister Moon.     There is much beautiful in these sections, and I emphasize with them.   I recall the times more than 70 years ago when I lay underneath the big trees in Yosemite (as a summer Forest Service worker), or sat in the Griffith Planetarium marveling at the night sky  in other times and other places.

He cites the works of past Popes who have been concerned about the environment,  Paul VI, Saint John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and quotes at length the remarks of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew:
At the same time, Bartholomew has drawn attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which require that we look for solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms. He asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which “entails learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs..."   Item 9, Quoting from Lecture at the Monastery of Ulstein
I can't quarrel with any of those statements.   What concerns me, however, is that they are adopted and corrupted by those who do not believe in a Creating God, but instead worship the creation--Gaia, Mother Earth.*    We see the farmers in San Joaquin Valley in California struggling to produce food--their water supply has been diverted to the San Francisco Bay to preserve (presumably) a small fish, the snail darter.    One extreme faction of the Green worshipers of Mother Earth would have human reproduction minimized or eliminated.   Thank God, Pope Francis spoke against that.


In the post to follow, I will present what Pope Francis has to say on the relation of politics and economics to the environment and climate science.   And  I'll explain why I disagree with many of these positions.

*A comment on this post published in another blog (William Briggs, Statistician to the Stars) remarked that I had the order of support mixed up--Pope Francis is following the Greens and Gaia worshippers, rather than the converse.     Indeed, he had Naomi Klein, invited to Rome, to help support his campaign against global warming.    Naomi Klein holds all the popular, extreme left/radical views. She is anti-capitalist (nationalize the industries), anti-Israel, pro AGW, and very probably a pro-abortion advocate. Here’s a quote–population control relevant-from an interview:
Well, to be honest, for a long time, I just couldn’t see a future for a child that wasn’t some, like, Mad Max climate warrior thing. And, you know, I’d joke about it with my husband, like, you want to have a little climate warrior? [laughter] And it seems like that was the best thing I could imagine for a child. I couldn’t see a future that wasn’t just incredibly grim — maybe I’d seen too much sci-fi and read too much climate science. But I just couldn’t see it. ”
So I wonder what sort of conversations Pope Francis and Naomi Klein will have about “be fruitful and multiply”…there are some inconsistencies with what is good in the Encyclical, arguing against population control, and inviting Naomi Klein to Rome.

About Me

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Retired, cranky, old physicist.   Convert to Catholicism in 1995.   Trying to show that there is no contradiction between what science tells us about the world and our Catholic faith.   Intermittent blogs and adult education classes to achieve this end (see   and

Extraordinary Minister of Communion volunteer to federal prison and hospital; lector, EOMC.
Sometime player of bass clarinet, alto clarinet, clarinet, bass, tenor bowed psaltery for parish instrumental group and local folk group.

And, finally, my motivation:
“It is also necessary—may God grant it!—that in providing others with books to read I myself should make progress, and that in trying to answer their questions I myself should find what I am seeking.
Therefore at the command of God our Lord and with his help, I have undertaken not so much to discourse with authority on matters known to me as to know them better by discoursing devoutly of them.”
St. Augustine of Hippo, The Trinity I,8.