Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christ, Be Our Light!:
Reflections on Christmas, Chanukkah, and Strange Physics

William Hunt (1827-1910)
The Light of the World
"This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all."  First Letter of John 1:5 (KJV)

"Christ, be our light! Shine in our hearts. Shine through the darkness. Christ, be our light!Shine in your church gathered today." Refrain, Christ Be Our Light, Bernadette Farrell

And they made new holy vessels, and brought in the candlestick, and the altar of incense, and the table into the temple.   And they put incense upon the altar, and lighted up the lamps that were upon the candlestick,  and they gave light in the temple."  1 Maccabees 4:48-50 (KJV)

"All these fifty years of conscious brooding have brought me no nearer to the answer to the question, 'What are light quanta?' Nowadays every Tom, Dick and Harry thinks he knows it, but he is mistaken." Albert Einstein, in 'The Born-Einstein Letters', by Max Born

ADDENDUM  (added 7th January, 2017, Epiphany)

Oh, star of wonder, star of might
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading
Still proceeding
Guide us to the perfect light
Refrain, "We Three Kings"

INTRODUCTION 

Some 80 years ago (more or less) when I was a child, I would pester my Jewish parents (secular, non-religious) for a Christmas Tree.   All around me would be the lights of Christmas--on houses, lawns, and downtown (there was a downtown in those days) in the glorious department store window displays--and I didn't understand why we couldn't take part in all that.  I listened to explanations that we weren't Christians, we had our own holiday, Chanukkah; but the eight lights of the Menorah didn't hold a candle (so to speak) to those on any modest Christmas tree, and even though there were eight days of gifts, they were all small potatoes compared to those my Christian friends received on the one day of Christmas.

It took  almost 10 years after my conversion to the faith to realize the full import of Christmas, and even that of Chanukkah, the Festival of Lights.  During the first few years after my conversion I still did not feel totally comfortable during the Christmas holidays--more like the hungry tramp peering into the restaurant window, an outsider.  It took a little while for me to go beyond the gift-giving and realize the miracle of the Incarnation.   And so my prayer before the third decade of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary was and is that Christmas be celebrated as the Incarnation, the birthday of Jesus.

I'd like to share my thoughts about these things--informed by my faith as a Catholic, my heritage as a Jew, and my vocation as a physicist.    They won't be given in the order of importance--saving the best for last.

ABOUT CHANUKKAH (HANUKKAH)*

Here's a brief account of the story behind the verse from First Maccabees quoted above.  (For more details, see here.)   The Maccabees had revolted against the Syrian ruler, Antiochus, who had tried to instill Greek values and religion on the Jews.  And as the Talmud recounts the tale, in their recapture of the Temple and its rededication to the one true God, they found there was oil for the lamps that would only last one day, they filled the lamps and lo and behold, the oil lasted eight days--a miracle!    

President George H.W. Bush celebrating Channukah
from Wikimedia Commons
The holiday is not one of the major Jewish holidays.   In my opinion, it has become more important in recent times as a counterweight to Christmas.  

Eight candles are lit in the Chanukkah menorah (one for each day the Temple lamps burnt).   And children receive a present each day, including "Chanukah gelt" (money).   Latkes (potato pancakes) are also a tradition**--

It is a joyous time, celebrating freedom to worship. and the songs are among the best in the Jewish and Yiddish folk tradition.   One of my favorites is that by the Klezmatic Conservatory Band, Oy Chanukkah; and here are the lyrics.  Note in the last verse, the element of light:  
 "Oh, Hanukkah, Oh, Hanukkah,
Come light the menorah
Let's have a party.
We'll all dance the hora 
To remind us of days long ago 
One for each night, they shed a sweet light, 
To remind us of days long ago." 

I will concede that there is no great theological significance here.

STRANGE PHYSICS***

There was a young lady named Bright,
Whose speed was far faster than light.
She set out one day
In a relative way,
And returned on the preceding night. 
--Edward Lear? A.H. Buller?

Classical physics treated light as an electromagnetic wave, a linked oscillation of electric and magnetic fields. In the early 20th century Einstein's explanation of the photo-electric effect gave light a second personality, that of a particle. This light particle, a photon, has no mass and travels at the speed of light (which is unremarkable, given that it is light).

Time-dilation enters here: special relativity says that time goes more slowly (stretches out, so-to-speak) as the speed of objects approach the speed of light. This is the basis of the so-called twin paradox: time will go more slowly for a twin traveling close to the speed of light than for his twin on stationary earth, so that when he return from his voyage, the paradox will have it that he has aged less than his twin, as illustrated below:





French translation: In the reference frame ("point of view") for the stationary (earth-bound) twin;
Time goes more slowly in the spaceship than on earth;
You are younger than I!
From Wikimedia Commons



Now there are objections to this simple minded picture. For example, suppose one regards the spaceship as stationary and the earth as moving away and returning--then the twin on earth would be younger when reunion occurs (see here for the analogous illustration.) There are number of other effects that complicate the analysis--time dilation on acceleration and de-acceleration (see here for a detailed account.) Time dilation is a real effect, manifested in longer decay times of energetic cosmic ray particles, in the very slight slowing down of atomic clocks in orbiting satellites (that has to be taken into account in GPS tracking).

From all the above the first thought might be that time does not pass for a photon. However, we can't say that time can be measured for a photon in a reference frame moving at the speed of light.  Why? A fundamental assumption of special relativity is that measurements are ultimately made by the agency of light signals:  light is the measuring agent and light can't measure itself. So it's more appropriate to think that a photon does not, in its own frame of reference, experience time. If a photon could be aware, its moment of creation (by emission of light--say an electron falling from a high energy level to a lower) to its annihilation (by absorption of light--say, an electron jumping from a low energy level to a higher) would be simultaneous.

Are there any theological implications in no-time for photons, for light? Well, here's an off-the-wall thought: we say that there is no time for God,
"But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." --2 Peter 3:8
So the idea that God is light implies also that all times co-exist for God.

THE THEOLOGY OF LIGHT?

"And God said, Let there be light: and there was light." Gen 1:3 (KJV)
"Thy word [is] a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." Psalm 119 Nun (KJV)
"Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." John 8:12 (KJV)
"The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when [thine eye] is evil, thy body also [is] full of darkness." Luke 11:34 (KJV)
And there are many more.

Now let's turn to John 1:1
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (KJV)
The Greek word in the New Testament that was translated as "Word" is "λόγος" ("logos"). In addition to the meaning "word", other general meanings are "principle", "reason", "logic."  Let's think about the relation between "light" and "logos".  What do we mean when we say "I see the light!"? We see the reason, the truth, the rationale, the principle  in what is said. So light, reason, the Word are connected. And when John wrote "in the beginning was the Word" and in Genesis we read "And God said 'let there be light' " we have an equivalence.

Your comments and criticisms are invited.  (By the way, Ahura Mazda, the God, was embodied in light in Zoroastrianism--so I hope in this reflection I haven't made a heretical comparison to that early religion.)

NOTES


*The two different spellings reflect the guttural Ch sound for Chanukkah in Yiddish, and the Anglicized H sound.

**This year the night before Chanukkah, my wife, a cradle Catholic and more versed in Jewish tradition and cooking than was my mother, made latkes that would be a prize winner on Chopped.

***For a more complete explanation of the dual nature of light, and the historical development of this physics that gave this picture, see The Quantum Catholic.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

St. Augustine: Thoughts on Advent

St. Augustine and The Fire of Wisdom
As I was doing my nightly reading of  Augustine Day by Day, it struck me how appropriate the readings were for Advent, so I'd like to share them.
(Presumably the editor for this book,
John Rotelle, chose them for this very reason.)

November 28th, "Time of Mercy:"*
"Now is the time of mercy, for us to correct ourselves. The time for judgment has not yet come. There is no need to despair.Because of our human, pardonable, and more trivial sins, God has established in the Church set times for requesting mercy. We have a daily medicine in our saying 'forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,' so that we may share in the Body and Blood of Christ. Sermon 17,5

November 29th, "Live for the Lord's Coming:"
"My brothers and sisters, believe firmly what you believe--that Christ will return.  What does it matter when?  Prepare yourself for his coming.Live as though He were coming today, and you will not fear His coming.  Sermon 265, 3-4 
December 3rd, "The Final Rest:" 
"Once we are in heaven, we shall be at rest and we shall see.   We shall see and we shall love.   We shall love and we shall praise.The end of our desires will be the One Who can be admired without end, can be loved without our being bored, can be praised without our becoming tired." City of God: 22, 30
December 4th, "The Right Choice:"
"Knowing that the last day is coming is useful to us, and not knowing when it is coming is just as useful.  Thus, we may have no fear of that day, but even love it.  for that day increases the tasks of unbelievers but ends the tasks of believers.It is now in your power to choose which of these possibilities you desire, before that day arrives.   But once it has arrived, this possibility will no longer exist.  [emphasis added]  So make your choice now, while you have time, because God mercifully delays what He conceals."   Commentary on Psalm 36, 1
December 10th, "The Coming of Christ:" 
"The only Son of God was to come to earth, to become a man, and in this nature to be born as man.  He was to die, to rise again, to ascend to heaven, to sit at the right hand of the Father, and to fulfill His promises among the nations.After that He was to come again to execute His threats against the wicked and to reward the just as He had promised."  Commentary on Psalm 110, 3

NOTE: 

*Remember, there will be a Penance Service during Advent.  Ours is December 12th.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Holy Ghost versus The Holy Spirit, Redux;
Thoughts on the Anglican Usage Liturgy

A Man Praying to the Holy Spirit 
Willem Vrelant (1454-1481)
…the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings”.  Gerard Manley Hopkins
Your soul is the ship, the Holy Spirit is the wind; he blows into your will and your soul goes forward…”  Fr. Francis Libermann, cofounder of the order C.S.Sp (Congregation of the Holy Spirit--Spiritans*).
 "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: " John 16:13 (KJV)
"Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me." Psalm 51 (KJV)
"Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual." John 14:26 (KJV)
 "And I believe in the Holy Ghost the Lord, and Giver of Life,.." Nicene Creed, Anglican Usage Liturgy.

INTRODUCTION

Two and a half years ago I posted an article "The Holy Ghost vs The Holy Spirit".   The post was prompted by a visit to Holy Ghost Preparatory School, on the occasion of my oldest grandson's graduation*.   I've had some further thoughts since then:  attendance at an Anglican Usage ("Ordinariate") parish in Scranton, Pennsylvania and the almost exclusive use of the term "Holy Ghost", rather than "Holy Spirit" by a priest (order of St. Francis de Sales), who has become Chaplain at a local Catholic Nursing Home and for the large hospital where I live.    I'll copy the pertinent parts of the original post and then focus on the Anglican Usage liturgy usage of "Holy Ghost".

HOLY GHOST / HOLY SPIRIT, OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS

Why "Holy Ghost" rather than "Holy Spirit"?   Does the answer lies in a shunning of the Old Testament (see my earlier post "Should we shun the God of the Old Testament? "and Paul Sumner's Hebrew Streams)?   Or do the two terms actually mean the same, if one does the etymology?   To answer these questions, let's do a dry, academic-type inquiry into Biblical language.

Going first to the original languages, Hebrew and New Testament Greek, we find the following.   The Hebrew word for "spirit" is ruach,  which also can mean breath or wind.    In the Hebrew Old Testament it occurs a number of times, for example in Genesis 1:2, "ruach Elohim (breath of the Lord or wind of the Lord) hovering over the waters", Isaiah 44:3, "I will pour out my ruach (spirit, wind, breath) on thy seed", or Psalm 104:30, "Thou sendest forth thy ruach, they are created and Thou renewest the face of the earth.     In conjunction with the modifier kodesh (holy, as from God) it occurs in Psalm 51:11, "take not thy ruach kodesh (Holy Spirit) from me."  and twice in Isaiah 63.   Note in the quotation  from the King James Version at the beginning, that "holy spirit" is not capitalized.    In the Septuagint, the demotic Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Hebrew ruach is universally translated as the Greek pneuma (breath, wind, spirit).

In the Greek New Testament, only the term "pneuma" (in its various grammatical forms) is used for "Spirit".    The King James Version uses "Holy Ghost" where it is clear that the Third Person of the Trinity is meant, e.g. Matthew 1:18, "ἔχουσα ἐκ πνεύματος ἁγίου" (found [with child] of the Holy Ghost--KJV).    In other contexts, pneuma is translated as Spirit: Matthew 10:20:  "ἀλλὰ τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ πατρὸς" ([For it is not you who speak] but the Spirit of your Father--KJV).    In some places where spirit, but not the spirit of God or the Holy Spirit is meant,  pneuma is translated as spirit (not capitalized) --see Thayer's Greek Lexicon.

In the Latin Vulgate  "Holy Spirit" is translated as "Spiritus Sanctus",  in French, "the Holy Spirit" is "le Saint-Esprit", and in German, "der Heilige Geist".    The last might be the clue  to the origins of "Holy Ghost".   The King James Version was not the first English Scripture translation to use the term "Holy Ghost" for the Third Person of the Trinity, although it was the first to distinguish various contexts of "spirit" by capitalization.   In the Wycliffe translation (1395) there is  "sche was founde hauynge of the holy goost in the wombe" (Matt 1:18, The Bible Corner).  (Note the lack of capitalization of "holy goost".)

Now certainly "ghost" in the scriptural context does not mean a phantasm, the spirit or appearance of a dead person.   My conjecture is that ghost (or "goost") came from an Anglo-Saxon form for "spirit", related to the German "Geist".   The translators were looking for a way to distinguish the Third Person of the Trinity, from the manifestation of God--his breath, his will--given in the Old Testament.  

I don't see a rejection of the Old Testament in the attempt to distinguish between the Holy Spirit and Holy Ghost.   We should note that it took some time for the Patristic Fathers to work out that the Trinity was three persons, but one God.  The Old Testament foretold the Messiah, but did not name him explicitly as Jesus.    The Old Testament saw the Holy Spirit as a manifestation of God, but did not see Him as a separate person of the one Godhead.    Should we then reject the Old Testament as incomplete?   Of course not.    As Pope Benedict XVI said:  "Christians do not read the Old Testament for its own sake but always with Christ and through Christ", as a voyage to Truth through continuing Revelation.

THE ANGLICAN USAGE LITURGY

My wife and I  occasionally attend Anglican Usage Mass and Evensong at St. Thomas More Parish in Scranton, Pennsylvania.    This Parish is part  of The Ordinariate**,  essentially a diocese (spread through the United States and Canada). established by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 to accommodate former Anglicans and Episcopalians who, as individuals, priests and congregations, have swum the Tiber and become Catholic 

The Anglican Usage liturgy is part of the Roman Rite, but has  important differences in language,  being based in part on the  "Book of Common Prayer", written by masters of the English Language from Elizabethan times and later.    I quote from the "Questions and Answers" Ordinariate site linked above
"The mission of the Ordinariate is particularly experienced in the reverence and beauty of our liturgy, [emphasis added] which features Anglican traditions of worship while conforming to Catholic doctrinal, sacramental and liturgical standards. [emphasis added]   Through Divine Worship: The Missal — the liturgy that unites the Ordinariates throughout the English-speaking world — we share our distinctive commitment to praising God in the eloquence of the Anglican liturgical patrimony and Prayer Book English. "



The language usage, which includes "thee's" and "thou's" .  is beautiful and a reminder of  our heritage.   (Unlike the prescriptions of some present day Catholic liturgists, there is no attempt to debase the English language by subscribing  to politically correct gender neutrality and inclusiveness.)   There is also frequent and appropriate use of Latin, again as a reminder of the Church's heritage as the Church of Rome.

Now, where does "Holy Ghost" fit here?   The term replaces "Holy Spirit"  in some places where it might occur in non-Ordinariate liturgy, as for example in the introductory "Collect for Purity": "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen".   However, it does not replace Holy Spirit in all uses.    For example, in the Anglican Usage  "Novena to  the Holy Ghost", Holy Spirit is used extensively and interchangeably.    And thus the beauty of the English language is displayed: its magnificent redundancy and subtlety, two ways of saying the same thing,  not altogether equivalent,


FINAL THOUGHTS

Finally, I go back to the catechesis given by a priest when I was learning about Catholicism:  "There is God the Father, God above us;  God the Son, God beside us; and God the Holy Spirit, God within us."   So, the Holy Spirit is at the same time clearly evident and a mystery--God within us.   And the Holy Ghost is part of our mind, which is also a mystery.


NOTES

*Side note:  he received lots of honors at that graduation and has gone on to college and done very well there--grandfathers are entitled to some bragging rights.
**More properly referred to as "The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter".

 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Reason versus Atheism:
A Review of "Faith with Good Reason..." (by Ben Butera)

"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."  Fides et Ratio, Pope St. John Paul II.

INTRODUCTION 

A very early post in this blog, "Top Down to Jesus", recounted my path to conversion, which, as the title suggested, was strictly top-down--no visions, no moments of spiritual enlightenment.   I bypassed the road to Damascus and relied solely on the evidence presented in "Who Moved the Stone," that wonderful book by Frank Morison that presented a reluctant convert's evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus.

Ben Butera has given a much more general account of the role of reason in buttressing faith in his book, Faith with Good Reason: Finding the Truth through an Analytical Lens.   I can't praise the work too highly--as proof, I purchased a copy even though I had been given a free pdf file for review.  To put it another way, this book should be in the library of every apologist.  However, this post will not be a detailed critique.    Rather I'll summarize Butera's main points, and use the review as spring-board  for a general inquiry:  why is it that rational argument  does not turn atheists into believers?

FAITH WITH GOOD REASON--THE MAIN POINTS.

In the first five chapters Butera draws from his experience in reversion to the faith and as a problem solver for a large corporation (and as a teacher of problem-solving techniques) to inquire into how we know (and don't know), how we determine what is real and true.  An important element in such a process is to ask the proper questions and to make the "possible answers visible."  The exposition is clear and the examples are to the point. I'd add one cautionary note here:  logic and rational argument have their limits, illustrated most strikingly in paradoxes such as that of the Cretan Liar.   William Poundstone has discussed these limits extensively in his fine book, Labryinths of Reason";   I'll have more to say below about when (and whether)  rational arguments might be an appropriate tool for conversion.

In subsequent chapters Butera applies these principles of rational inquiry to the following important articles of Catholic faith:
  • The problem of evil;
  • Creation; 
  • Life from conception to natural death as a right endowed by God;
  • Marriage as a sacred covenant, enabling the family to be an essential foundation for civilization.
I particularly like the clear exposition of Fr. Robert Spitzer's metaphysical proof for the existence of God, and of St. Thomas Aquinas's theological arguments.

REASON?  GRACE?   GRACE + REASON?

"But if this fails to persuade our opponents, let them tell us whether there is any wisdom in created things. If there is none, why does the apostle Paul allege as the cause of men’s sins [emphasis added]      :By God’s wisdom, the world failed to come to a knowledge of God through wisdom?"  St. Athanasius,  A Discourse Against the Arians, (from the Office of Readings, 27th October, 2016) 
From St. Augustine to Pope Benedict XVI  Catholic sages have emphasized the essential mix of faith and reason.   (See here and here for expositions better than I can do.)    In contemporary times we have G.K. Chesterton,  Peter Kreeft,  Edward Feser, to name just a few with whom I'm familiar.   Keith Ward, the English theologian / philosopher, has ably defended Christian faith against the evangelical atheist Richard Dawkins, and has shown that science does NOT disprove the existence  of God, as has Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., of the Magis Reason and Faith Institute.

Given that atheists are intelligent and not evil, why is it that they aren't convinced by rational argument that God exists?    Although many scientists believe in God (or an equivalent--see "Are All Great Scientists Atheists".) , I have to admit that most scientists are non-believers, some vehemently so, like the Nobel Prize physicist Steven Weinberg.    I know of only two atheists who came to believe because of rational argument, Anthony Flew (many atheists contend that he did this as a senile dotard), and C.S. Lewis, "the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England."

Here is some anecdotal evidence that reason is not always effective in leading atheists to belief.   I follow a blog by the statistician / philosopher William (Matt) Briggs, "Statistician to the Stars".    There are posts in which a theist / Catholic position is taken (for example, here.)    In the comments on these posts several erudite commentors (Ye Olde Statistician, G. Rodrigues, for example) give reasoned, detailed arguments supporting a theist position but they are not accepted by atheists who also comment on the post.   Either the atheist don't accept the premises of the theistic arguments, or they refuse to follow the reasoning (the latter is called "invincible ignorance).   I've had similar experiences while a moderator for the Magis Faith and Reason Facebook site.   The atheistic evangelist trolls who frequented the site refused to read anything or follow any argument that would challenge their position--their minds were frozen.

All this convinces me that grace is the starting point; once grace is given, free will takes over;  we can accept that push that God gives us or reject it.    As the Catechism says,
 "Believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit. But it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act. Trusting in God and cleaving to the truths he has revealed is contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason."— Catechism of the Catholic Church 154
It was grace that pushed me to read "Who moved the Stone."   It was grace that gave C.S. Lewis arguments that God did exist and that Jesus Christ was His only begotten son.    And if conversion of an non-believer is to be achieved, we must pray that grace is to be given to that end, just as St. Monica prayed for the conversion of her son St. Augustine.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Repost: Catholic Thoughts on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement: repentance, atonement and forgiveness

Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur
by Maurycy Gottlieb
“The purpose of Yom Kippur is to bring about reconciliation between people and between individuals and God. According to Jewish tradition, it is also the day when God decides the fate of each human being.” – Ariela Pelaia

“Yom Kippur is the supreme day of forgiveness.” – Jonathan Sacks

“On Yom Kippur, the ritual trial reaches its conclusion. The people finally drop all their defenses and excuses and throw themselves on the mercy of the court, yet the same people never lose the conviction that they will be pardoned. This atonement is by divine grace; it is above and beyond the individual effort or merit.” – Rabbi Irving Greenberg

INTRODUCTION

Beginning this evening at sundown (Tuesday, 11th October, 2016) will be the first day of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.  I thought it worthwhile to repost the article on this from last year.      

Before my conversion to Catholicism, I observed (as a secular Jew) only one religious holiday, Yom Kippur,    My observance was not orthodox, although I did and do now fast (note: Jewish fasts are more stringent than Catholic--no food or drink whatsoever).     My fast this year will be intermediate between the Jewish and the Catholic--I'll have coffee with milk (and maybe a piece of apple--after all, I am 86 years old!)  When I was younger, I'd go to some place far away from the city, think about the past year and ask God to forgive me for all the sins and wrongs I had committed and ask Him to make me better.

ATONEMENT IN THE JEWISH TRADITION

My observance of repentance (Hebrew: t'shuvah)--admitting wrongdoing and asking forgiveness from God--was only a part of the Yom Kippur atonement process.   I have found out since then that Orthodox Jews  hold that there are three ways we can sin: against God, against our fellows, and against ourselves.   

To atone for sins against God and ourselves, Jewish tradition requires that we have to sincerely resolve not to commit such sins in the future.    With respect to sins against myself, I am supposed first, to forgive myself (very hard to do in my case) and second, to set up a program whereby I will not commit that sin in the future.

To atone for sins against others, we have to apologize for hurts we have inflicted on them and ask for their forgiveness, and to make restitution when that is possible.  Interestingly, any Twelve Step Program (some years ago I was involved with several) requires atonement, specifying that we attempt to make amends for what we have done wrong:
Step 8:  “Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.”
Step 9:  “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” 
addictscience.com
One article (can't find the reference now) gives the following traditional Jewish practice: if the person you have asked for forgiveness doesn't do so after the first request, you can ask two more times; if the person still doesn't forgive you, you can write it off IF you have made a sincere and effective effort to right the wrong you have done.

CONCORDANCE WITH CATHOLIC TEACHING

So, how do all those Jewish observances square with Catholic teaching and dogma about repentance, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the sacrifice of Christ, as the lamb of God, to save us from sin?   As a Catholic, do I err or sin by fasting on Yom Kippur and making special prayers and acts of atonement?

There are several important differences.   First, as a Catholic, I acknowledge and glory in the fundamental dogma of the Church: Jesus Christ replaces the scapegoat that was offered by the high priest at the Holy of Holies in the Temple at Yom Kippur;  He is the sacrificial lamb, who gave Himself up for our eternal life.    He, who was without sin,  took on the sins of world by His Passion.

Second, as a Catholic, I should not offer my repentance directly to God.    My confession of sins and request for forgiveness is made to God through a priest,  in persona Christi, to Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God.  Much more can be said about the mental preparation for receiving absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the resolutions, the contrition, the restitution to those injured (as with Jewish teaching), but this is covered in the Catholic Catechism on this Sacrament.

Suppose a priest isn't available--as the example in my Sacramental Theology class put it, you're on a sinking ship and no priest is available.   What do you do then?    The Church takes all things into consideration and that situation also.  There is "an act of perfect contrition":
"Among the penitent’s acts contrition occupies first place. Contrition is ‘sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed together with the resolution not to sin again.’ When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called ‘perfect’ (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible" CCC 1451-52
So there are fundamental differences and there are similarities--similarities in being contrite and resolving to do better, in making atonement and restitution to those we have harmed,  but differences in the mediator through whom we offer repentance,  and in acknowledging a Savior who takes on our sins, including Original Sin.

And with this,  "G'mar Hatima Tova”--may you be sealed in the Book of Life.

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Theology of Science Fiction VI: Karina Fabian's "Discovery"



From karinafabian.com



WARNING:  Possible Spoiler 
"any race advanced enough to cross the stars to visit us must also be
 advanced enough to show us how to overcome all those human ills. They look to the aliens to be saviors of mankind." Vatican Astronomer Guy Consolmagno, as quoted by Catholic News Service, 19th September, 2014.

INTRODUCTION 

Karina Fabian asked me to be one of the reviewers of her new Catholic science fiction work, Discovery; I readily agreed.    It's a fine book, one that will probably be a classic in the genre, alongside Walter Miller's great work, "A Canticle for Liebowitz".   I started to read it thinking, "oh no--not another book about religious struggling with their vows,"  and then found I couldn't put it down--finished it in two days. 

This post will not so much be a review of the book (see the reviews at the linked title), but will be a springboard for discussing how the book illustrates very well the quote given above from the Vatican Astronomer Guy Consolmagno.    And necessarily it will be a spoiler.    So if you plan to buy the book, and I strongly urge you to do so, please don't read the rest of this post.   Wait until you finish the book, and then come back here. 

ETHICAL REQUIREMENTS FOR INTERSTELLAR TRAVEL?

In the magnificent Space Trilogy of C.S. Lewis, only man is vile;  the extra-terrestials are deeply religious and not fallen.   Is it a necessary condition that aliens who can cross interstellar space have achieved an ethical stature beyond ours?   Which picture is correct: the savage Borgs, Klingons and Romulans or the Overlords of Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End, who shepherded mankind to a new destiny?

The aliens of Discovery are all dead when found, but there is evidence that they are a people (I was tempted to use "species") who love and have visions of an afterlife.  They have an instrument that heals spiritual wounds--an electronic (or?) combination of peyote, magic mushrooms, LSD and.....???   That such an instrument is needed suggests that these aliens are not always well, but sometimes have to use artifice to achieve peace and well-being.

Why do I believe that a race engaged in interstellar travel must achieve a high ethical level?  
  • First,  cooperation and social order must be achieved, and this requires a moral society.   I don't think humans will achieve interstellar travel until resources are no longer devoted to conflict and defense against that, or until there are no longer large segments of society that have be sheltered from poverty, and that will require a greater level of ethical development than we have at present.   
  • Second,  there must be a yearning to explore the unknown. This desire is, I believe, implicitly connected to glorifying the universe God has made.   
  • Third, given that "warp drive"--travel faster than the speed of light--is a device of science fiction and physically unachievable,  a small group enclosed for many years (and possibly many generations) must be able to live together in harmony, and this requires a high level of ethical development.   Science fiction has dealt with this issue:  in Robert Heinlein's, Universe and Common Sense, and Brian Aldiss's Helliconia Trilogy, moral and social standards decline after contact is lost with the larger group of humanity.

ARE ETHICS BASED ON RELIGIOUS BELIEF?

That the aliens of Fabian's Discovery have a religious belief is implicit, although there are no indicators of what this belief might be.   If one googles "ethics requires religious beliefs", a host of sites will come up, each with a different point of view.

There is one classic science fiction story in which this question is crucial, "A Case of Conscience", written by James Blish almost 60 years ago.   In this story a race of intelligent amphibians inhabits a planet, Lithia, devoid of mineral resources.   The Lithians have an innate moral sense, but are devoid of any religious feeling.   I won't recount the plot, but only state the misgivings of the Jesuit missionary (part of a scientific team sent to the planet);  he reasons that the Lithians have been developed by Satan to rebut the Catholic doctrine that morality is given by God.  

Br. Guy Consolmagno, S.J.,  has criticized both the science and the theology of the novel (see the linked article).  However, he does not directly address this issue: is totally moral behavior possible without a religious foundation?   He does make this valid point:  creatures who cannot sin are not totally free;  freedom requires the ability to make a choice between doing right and doing wrong.   That the aliens of Discovery require a spiritual healing device, indicates that they are free in this sense, that is to say, free to make moral choices.

A FINAL THOUGHT

The title of Karina Fabian's novel, "Discovery", refers not only to the alien ship, but also, I believe, to the moral insight achieved by the characters who use the alien spiritual device--a cleansing of sins and a guide to living in the future. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

God's Gift to Molecular Biology: the Hydrogen Bond

 alpha-helix showing hydrogen bonds
It has been recognized that hydrogen bonds restrain protein molecules to their native configurations, and I believe that as the methods of structural chemistry are further applied to physiological problems it will be found that the significance of the hydrogen bond for physiology is greater than that of any other single structural feature. 
--Linus Pauling, The Nature of the Chemical Bond 

The image at the right is a stick model of an alpha-helix structure, like that of DNA; the spiral configuration is held together by hydrogen bonds (see below), shown as yellow sticks (from Wikimedia Commons).

INTRODUCTION

Much has been said of the Anthropic Coincidences, the special values of physical constants and force laws that enable a universe to support carbon-based life.   Even more remarkable, I believe, are the wonderful physical-chemical processes that sustain the life of living things, from the simplest one-celled organisms to us, all of which are made possible by hydrogen bonding.

In an early post, The Theology of Water, I discussed the marvelous and unusual properties of water, properties that stemmed from the nature of the hydrogen bond,  properties that enables an environment friendly to life as we know it on earth.    In this post I want to explore in more detail the nature of the hydrogen bond and its significance for molecular biology and physiology.   Hydrogen bonding plays a role in biochemical reactions, in anti-body mechanisms, and in all of molecular biology and, most importantly,  in how DNA acts as a blueprint for the synthesis of proteins.  A book would be needed to explore all this in detail, so I'll focus on the essentials--the basics of what a hydrogen bond is and its role in the structure of DNA.

WHAT ARE HYDROGEN BONDS? 

Let's imagine God thinking in his design of nature, now I want chemistry to have not only strong interactions between atoms, but also gentle ones:  so that complicated structures can unfold and rewind easily, and so that big and small molecules can come together and join for reactions and go apart readily--Velcro or a zipper, not glue or nails.   What should I use?  I have it--a hydrogen bond.
(Note:  please don't criticize me for heresy here--I'm using a semi-literary device to make a point.   I know God holds an infinite number of thoughts and   plans simultaneously in His infinite mind.)

Here's the basic idea:  H (hydrogen) bonded to O (oxygen) as in H-O-H (water) shows a slight positive electrical charge;  :O, oxygen with a pair of unbonded (lone) electrons, shows a slight negative charge.   Similarly, :N (nitrogen), with a pair of lone electrons shows a slight negative charge, and N-H, hydrogen bonded to nitrogen, show a slight positive charge.     There is an electrical attraction between these small positive and negative charges;  there is also, as nmr experiments have recently shown, a contribution from chemical bonding (sharing of electrons) to hydrogen bonding, so that it is more than simple electrostatic interaction.

In the figure below are shown the types of hydrogen bonds important in molecules of biological interest.

The single dashes represent single bonds;
The = signs, double bonds;
The - - -, hydrogen bonds;
The " : ", lone pair electrons;
Superscripts, delta plus and delta minus, small net positive and negative charges.


Hydrogen bonds energies are about 1/20 to 1/30 the value of ordinary covalent bonds, so the hydrogen bonds can be broken much more easily than covalent bonds; for example the O-H bond energy is about 430 kJoules/mole, whereas the O-H - - - :O   hydrogen bond energy is 21 kJoules / mole

HYDROGEN BONDING AND BASE PAIRING IN DNA

Watson (or was it Crick?) in a moment of insight noticed that the bases (nitrogen containing molecules bound to sugar pieces in nucleotides such as DNA, RNA) matched each other by hydrogen bonding like pieces in a jig-saw puzzle.   They could thus stabilize a helical structure, by links across the spiral, as shown below.
Diagram: double helix of Chromosome CRUK 065
from Wikimedia Commons
  The base pairs are shown below:


Adenine(A)-Thymine(T) Base Pair
from Wikimedia Commons









Guanine(G)-Cytosine(C) Base Pair
from Wikimedia Commons

Adenine(A)-Uracil(U) Base Pair
from Wikimedia Commons

These bases are attached to sugar-type pieces, which in turn have phosphate groups on them that form the links between base units.   The hydrogen bonds linking base pairs are strong enough to hold together the two DNA strands in the spiral helix, but weak enough that they can be "unzipped" by mild chemical action, an enzyme RNA polymerase, which yields messenger RNA.

ALPHABET BLOCKS FOR BUILDING PROTEINS

Before discussing the mechanism by which DNA enables protein synthesis, a few remarks are in order about the bases as letters in a word,  words which  encode which  amino acids are used as building blocks in the protein.   In this process a linear combination of three bases is used to encode which amino acid is put into a protein.   So we can regard the bases as letters and the combination of three bases as a three letter word; the three letter word is called a "codon".   There are four bases* so there are 4^3 = 64 possible codons.  There are 20 amino acids found in proteins, plus codons for beginning and ending protein synthesis, so that several codons may encode for incorporating the same amino acid, i.e. there is a redundancy.   See here and here for tables showing specific codon / amino acid relations.

GENE EXPRESSION--TRANSCRIPTION AND TRANSLATION

I'll give just a brief summary here of gene expression--transcription and translation.   More detailed accounts are given in the linked web sites and videos.

STEP 1: transcription--RNA polymerase unzips the double strand and attaches complementary bases to single strand RNA.   See  here and here**   Note that the RNA polymerase is a large protein, much bigger than the DNA strand.   Also note that one strand of the DNA serves as a "template"--bases complementary to bases in the template strand are linked, e.g. G to C,  C to G,  A to T,  U to A, and as they're linked they detach to yield mRNA (messenger RNA).   See the flash animation for a more detailed description of this process.  PLEASE SEE THE LINKED ANIMATIONS--They will be well worth your while.

STEP 2: translation--mRNA leaves the cell nucleus, goes into the cytoplasm
where it attaches to a ribosome, where protein synthesis occurs.   In the process transfer RNA molecules are sent by the ribosome to attach specific amino acids, coded by the m-RNA, to form a protein.

COMMENTARY

The description is extremely concise--a lot is left out and I urge the reader to look at the recommended links, animations and explanations and to explore this fascinating subject.   Summarizing gene expression in one paragraph is  much like trying to do that for the Bible, Old and New Testaments.

What amazes me is that molecular biologists and those who deal with gene expression, and all the other wonders of molecular biology don't paraphrase Psalm 19A:  "DNA declares the glory of God, and gene expression shows forth the work of His hands..".     Certainly the hydrogen bond, which is a crucial element in these processes, neither too weak nor too strong, is a marvel in itself.
God's providence in molecular biology is as marvelous as it is in physics.

ADDED 25 September, 2016

One of the hymns at Mass today was "O Beauty Ever Ancient" by Roc O'Connor, S.J.  The hymn is taken from St. Augustine's Confessions.  The third verse struck me as a particularly apt close for this post:
"The created world is glorious, yet I could not see within,
see your loveliness behind all,
find the Giver in the gift."

NOTES

ADDED 1 October, 2016:  There are a series of posts from Biologos that explain in clear detail the gene expression process.   The link above goes to the first in the series.

*Note: uracil replaces thymine in the RNA and is encoded by the complement of thymine, adenine--see the section on gene expression.   The presumed explanation for this replacement is greater chemical stability of uracil compared to thymine.

**Note: scroll down to get to the animation and click on the arrow to start it.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Internet Guidelines from The Rule of St Benedict

St.Benedict Writing his Rules
from Wikimedia Commons
“The prophet shows that, for the sake of silence, we are to abstain even from good talk. If this be so, how much more needful is it that we refrain from evil words, on account of the penalty of the sin..."

 "The fourth degree of humility is, that, if hard and distasteful things are commanded, nay, even though injuries are inflicted, he accept them with patience and even temper, and not grow weary or give up… ."

"The eleventh degree of humility is, that, when a monk speaketh, he speak gently and without laughter, humbly and with gravity, with few and sensible words, and that he be not loud of voice, as it is written: 'The wise man is known by the fewness of his words."

St. Benedict of Nursia,
The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapters 6 and 7.

INTRODUCTION

In 2005 I became an Oblate of the Order of St. Benedict.   This is a "third order" composed of lay people;  one of the requirements  to be an oblate is that one studies and follows The Rule of St. Benedict*, as it might apply to a non-monastic contemporary situation.   Other requirements are laid out in more detail elsewhere.   For this post, I'd like to focus on those aspects of The Rule that might apply to behavior on the internet.   

Before doing that, a bit of biography and a mea culpa (said in all seriousness) is in  order.    In my younger days I had a temper and an inability to take criticism.  Moreover, I did not suffer fools gladly, but used all  the resources of native wit to embarrass them and show them as foolish.   Along came the internet, and I served for a while as moderator for the Magis Faith and Reason Facebook webpage.    The snarky and vicious comments of evangelical atheists disturbed me greatly.  (I recall one comment made by a particularly vicious female on her web page, announcing the new Magis Facebook page: "fresh meat, guys.  Let's go kill them.")    My blood pressure and pulse rate would rise, my stomach would churn, when I read slanderous, nasty, irrational comments about the Church, the Magis Institute and my own articles.   So I  got out of that kitchen.  ("If you can't take the heat....")

This was a few years after I had become a Benedictine Oblate, but although I had studied the rules, I had not really taken them to heart.   It was only after mentoring prison inmates who were learning to be Benedictine Oblates and seeing how they used The Rule in reacting to unjust treatment, that I began to see that The Rule had to be a way of life, not just an object of study.   When the next occasion came to apply The Rule I was, if not altogether ready, more prepared.

A BENEDICTINE OBLATE ON THE INTERNET

Several weeks ago Ben Butera was kind enough to review my third ebook "Science versus the Church--'Truth Cannot Contradict Truth.' ", in a post, "Four Big Bangs?"   A commentator, "Anonymous",  really lambasted the book, or rather Chapter 4, in which I discussed the Church's dogma of Creatio ex Nihilo, creation of the universe by God from nothing, and several cosmological theories about the beginning (or non-beginning) of the universe.    In that chapter I tried to follow the proposition set forth in the preface of my book:
"That is the theme of this book: nothing that we know about the world from empirically verified scientific theories conflicts with Catholic teaching. Where there does appear to be a conflict, it arises from theories that are not verified by observation and that, in most cases, can never be so tested. As in many cosmology theories, theories about how (and whether) the universe came to be are untestable and lie in the domain of what might be best termed “mathematical metaphysics.” In short, there is no war between science and the Church." Robert Kurland, Science versus the Church--"Truth Cannot Contradict Truth."
However, according to "Anonymous", I failed miserably.  In attempting (not altogether successfully) to understand his/her criticisms, I tried to see whether I was misunderstood and how I could clarify misunderstandings.   When Anonymous insulted me by belittling my status as a Catholic physicist (I'm not sure whether as a physicist, or as  a Catholic or as the conjoined entity), I attempted to make a joke of it   This really infuriated Anonymous.  I guess that reaction validates the point made in the quote above about the 11th degree of humility--that the Benedictine should speak without laughter, something which is very difficult for me to do.  

At any rate, toward the end of this exchange it seemed, and I'll let the reader judge for himself / herself, that the tone of "Anonymous's" comments become less heated and more conciliatory, so perhaps acting by the Rules did have some effect.   There seemed to be more of a dialogue.

A BENEDICTINE RULE FOR THE INTERNET

To give a general discussion of The Rule of St. Benedict would require much more space than a single post.  Much of it pertains to how monks in a community might best behave to follow Christ and to maintain the well-being and order of the community, but even the directions on how the steward best maintains the pantry and how and what the monks should eat and drink  are relevant for our times.  Web references and books are given below for those who would like to learn more.

I'm going to focus on those parts of The Rule that seem to me to be most important in our relations with those with whom we interact by comments on posts, our own and those of others.

1. Be mindful of the wounds of others.   We should remember that even the most hateful and spiteful commentator has some reason to behave that way and we should be careful not to hurt them more.   We should not try to belittle them, to shame them, or make them seem less, just to win an argument or make ourselves feel superior.   To quote Fr. Donald Raila, Director of Oblates at St. Vincent Archabbey:
"The Rule of St. Benedict is written for a community of wounded persons.  At the end of a series of precepts for dealing with wounded brothers, the abbot is enjoined to 'realize that he has undertaken care of the sick, not tyranny of the healthy.'   Therefore, 'he is to imitate the example of The Good Shepherd.' "Fr. Donald Raila, OSB, Lessons from Saint Benedict--Finding Joy in Daily Life.
In my replies to "Anonymous" I did not follow this precept as I should have.  In explaining that the physics of the "raisin loaf analogy" for the expanding universe was correct, I made a comment that this explanation followed from first year physics.   That was snarky, meant (albeit subconsciously) to belittle "Anonymous" and should not have been made.   And, as the first quote says "we are to refrain from evil words."

2.  I interpret the second quotation "on the fourth degree of humility" as telling us to listen to criticisms even though they seem to be not justified or based on false premises.   We should learn from them, and if they seem unintelligible, ask the person making that criticism to explain what premises or line of reasoning he/she is following.

3.  We should reflect carefully on criticisms, even when they're worded in a belligerent or belittling way, to determine whether there's substance to them and, if so, how we can use that criticism to make our points more clearly and correctly.

4.  One of the comments made by St. Benedict in the chapter on obedience has to do with accepting orders, just or unjust, without grumbling.   And that means both external and internal grumbling.   This can be translated to accepting justified criticism without grumbling, either external or internal.

5.  Finally, the last of the quotations above, "that he speak gently ...with few and sensible words" applies to comments and rebuttals.  There's an implication here that what we say should be instructive, not just empty chatter.  I'm not sure about the injunction to abstain from laughter--perhaps St. Benedict meant laughing at someone, rather than with,  and I am very often tempted to use humor to defuse anger (not always successfully, as pointed out above).

The rules above are just a few general ones that can be drawn from The Rule.   There may well be others, and if the reader can supply others, I'd be most grateful.  Also, I must confess that I have just begun to follow these rules, even though I've been a Benedictine Oblate for more than 10 years.   It takes conscious effort; it's very tempting to react in kind when someone is particularly nasty.  But following these rules and The Rule is an aid, a prosthesis, to help us live as a Christian.
   

REFERENCES (OTHER THAN THOSE LINKED TO ABOVE).

*Added 6 October, 2016.   I showed a copy of this post to Fr. Donald Raila, Director of Oblates, St. Vincent Archabbey.   He was kind enough to praise the post, but made the following trenchant criticism (I quote):
"My only reservation is your use of the word 'rules as if the RULE were a book of rules.  (Some people say 'Rule 1', 'Rule 2', instead of 'Chapter 1', 'Chapter 2', and that can be very misleading.)   The RULE itself is a collection of Christian guidelines for a community of monks.   There are some actual rules, but that is not the point of the RULE.   Also, of course, many of the 'rules' no longer apply, but the underlying values do."   Fr. Donald Raila, letter 3 October, 2016
Point well taken, Fr. Donald.   I'll try to remember this in future posts about the RULE. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

iBook version of "Science versus the Church" now available.

Here's the video that opens the iBook version--NASA ESA montage of the Big Bang to Hubble.   It's also got other bells and whistles: scrolling sidebars, interactive image (neuron), image gallery (inventions and math of Hellenistic Greeks).

Here's the website for those of you with Macs and/or Ipads.

It took much more toil (some of it frustrating) to get this all working, but I think this is the future of eBooks.

Thanks for looking.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Where is the Catechism of Science?


Science is not a Religion! from Wikimedia Commons


"Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish."   Pope St. John Paul II, Letter to Rev. George Coyne, S.J., Director of the Vatican Observatory.
"Christianity possesses the source of its justification within itself  and does not expect science to constitute its primary apologetic." ibid.
 "It can be said, in fact, that research, by exploring the greatest and the smallest, contributes to the glory of God which is reflected in every part of the universe."   Pope St. John Paul II, Address on the Jubilee of Scientists, 2000

INTRODUCTION

My latest book (department of shameless self-promotion), "Science versus the Church--'Truth Cannot Contradict Truth,'" is available on Amazon.com and leanpub.com, the latter in a pdf format.  I've decided to add a final chapter, a summing up, and I thought the best way would be to compare our Catholic Catechism (in its old familiar form, the Baltimore Catechism), with what a similar catechism might be, formed from the opinions of non-believing scientists.    

I won't claim that the answers in the science Catechism are true--indeed, there are contradictory responses--and I don't know of any of the assertions have been empirically validated.    In short, the science catechism fails the ultimate test of any scientific project; it is not and cannot be shown to hold by replicable measurements.

THE BALTIMORE CATECHISM

1.  Who made us?   
God made us. 
 "In the beginning, God created heaven and earth." Genesis 1:1
2. Who is God?  
God is the Supreme Being, infinitely perfect, who made all things and keeps them in existence. 
"In him we live and move and have our being." Acts 17:28
3. Why did God make us?  
God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven.
"Eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love him." I Corinthians 2:9

4. What must we do to gain the happiness of heaven?
To gain the happiness of heaven we must know, love, and serve God in this world.

Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth; where the rust and moth consume and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven; where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. Matthew 6:19-20

THE CATECHISM ACCORDING TO SCIENCE: 

1. Who made us?
Life came about by chance and we evolved from that first life.
“An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.” Francis Crick, Life Itself: Its Origin and Its Nature

2.  What is the entity that made the universe from which this life came?
There are several answers:
"Evolutionary cosmology formulates theories in which a universe is capable of giving rise to and generating future universes out of itself, within black holes or whatever."  Robert Nozick
"As scientists, we track down all promising leads, and there's reason to suspect that our universe may be one of many - a single bubble in a huge bubble bath of other universes. Brian Greene
Thus, CCC [Cyclic Conformal Cosmology] proposes that what current cosmology refers to as “the entire history of the universe” (but without any early inflationary phase) is just one aeon of a succession of such aeons, that continues indefinitely in both temporal directions."  Roger Penrose.
"Because there is a law such a gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing."  Stephen Hawking.

3, Why did the entity that made the universe make us?
Why questions, that is questions involving purpose--teleology--are outside the domain of science.
"Teleology is a lady without whom no biologist can live. Yet he is ashamed to show himself with her in public."  H.A. Krebs (he of the Krebs Cycle)
 "It looks as if the offspring have eyes so that they can see well (bad, teleological, backward causation), but that's an illusion. The offspring have eyes because their parents' eyes did see well (good, ordinary, forward causation)." Steven Pinker
"The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” Richard Dawkins
'Why' implicitly suggests purpose, and when we try to understand the solar system in scientific terms, we do not generally ascribe purpose to it.” Lawrence Kraus

4. What must we do to get the happiness of heaven?
There is no heaven.
We should not despair, but should humbly rejoice in making the most of these gifts, and celebrate our brief moment in the sun.”  Lawrence Kraus
"I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."   Stephen Hawking

CONCLUSION

I won't bother to analyze each of the answers given for the science catechism.   They are discussed in previous chapters of my book, Science versus the Church, (for example, "the brain as a computer", and there is no universal agreement amongst scientists or philosophers.   If any of you readers would like to argue for them, I'd be glad to hear your arguments.

Added 20th August, 2016.   Several readers of this post have read the above post as my argument that this is what science is all about.   That's far from the case.   What I am trying to show, possibly ineptly, is by a literary device called "situational irony" that contrary to the claims of the scientists from whom the quotes are drawn, that science does not explain everything there is to be known about our world and life.   

In short, I have tried to expose "scientism" for the fraud it is, but my opinion of science as it should be conducted (which was not the topic for this post) is much different.    See, for example, my posts: "Peeling back the onion layers: gravitational waves detected", "Tipping the Sacred Cow of Science--Confessions of a Science Agnostic", "God, Symmetry and Beauty in Science: a Personal Perspective." to see what my idea of science is all about.

About Me

My photo

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 http://rationalcatholic.blogspot.com/   and http://home.ptd.net/~rkurland)

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.