Wednesday, April 12, 2017

More St. Augustine: Bearing Our Cross

St. Augustine and the Fires of Wisdom
from Wikimedia Commons
"Christ, Son of God, if You had not wished to suffer, You would not have suffered.   Show us the fruit of Your Passion." --St. Augustine, Commentary on Psalm 21
The quote above also bears on my preceding post, "Why did Christ not come down from the Cross?" 

Here's the April 11th reading from "Augustine Day by Day".   I find it particularly relevant.

"Let them deny themselves, that is not put their trust in themselves.  Let them take up their cross, that is, put up with all the affronts of the world for the love of Christ.  Persist, persevere, endure,  bear up under the delay.  In this way you will bear up your cross."  Sermon 96.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Why Didn't Jesus Come Down from the Cross?,
The Final Test of Faith

Hypercube** Crucifixion, Salvador Dali
Fair Use, Wikipedia
 Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe.[emphasis added]--Matt 27:40-42 (KJV).
"Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed."--1 Peter 2:24
 "Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe."--St. Augustine

"Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen." --St. Paul


It is late Palm Sunday, and I have listened to-- meditated on--the Passion according to St. Matthew, as I heard it in two Masses, a Vigil Mass and the 10:30 am Mass;  in the latter I participated with our Church instrumental group (alto clarinet*).    Both times the passage in the first quote struck me, and I wondered, what would have happened if, in fact,  Jesus had come down from the Cross?   I'll discuss below why Jesus didn't come down--there are two answers, one with which we Catholics are familiar and the other, perhaps not so much.


In an early post, The Theology of Science Fiction I--Some SF Gospels,  I argued that two science fiction stories in which Jesus was not crucified missed the point of His sacrifice and the theological implications.   In one of these, Jesus argues with God in the Garden of Gethesmane that the Crucifixion is really not a rational way to show that God exists, so God lets Him be (or perhaps in this instance I should write "him").   In the other, Pilate heeds the advice of his wife who had a bad dream about Jesus and releases him (Him?);  Jesus retires to Nazareth as an honored (but ignored) prophet, the Roman Emperor takes Judaism as the state religion and moves the Temple to Rome.   

And so we are not saved, we live without the prospect of eternal life, because Jesus has not sacrificed Himself as satisfaction for our sins.


The Eucharistic Liturgy of the Mass is a Sacrifice, continued since the original sacrifice on the Cross.   It is not a symbolic sacrifice, as some Christian sects would maintain.   The Crucifixion is   the sacrifice  Jesus offered to save us from our sins, and is so indicated in many places in the New Testament and even in the Old.

Origen (184-253), in his "Ransom Theory", argued that Jesus gave his life as ransom to Satan to save us and those previously condemned to the nether world.   This theory was disputed by St. Anselm, who proposed in his book Cur Deus Homo ("Why God Became Man") a "Satisfaction Theory".  The quote below from the linked article ("Satisfaction Theory of the Atonement") gives the essence of that theory:
"Anslem believed that humans could not render to God more than what was due to him. The satisfaction due to God was greater than what all created beings are capable of doing, since they can only do what is already required of them. Therefore, God had to make satisfaction for himself. Yet if this satisfaction was going to avail for humans, it had to be made by a human. Therefore only a being that was both God and man could satisfy God and give him the honor that is due him." --Theopedia
So, Jesus could not come down from the Cross, because if he did, there would not be a sacrifice sufficient to atone for the sins of men.


After some reflection, I have come up with another reason that Jesus did not come down from the Cross.   And that is the road to Faith should not be a super-highway, but a path that takes effort and will to travel--it should not be an easy journey.   God could have put signs, "This rock was made by God", but doing that essentially denies our free will to make conscience based choices.  The Priests and Sanhedrin indeed would have believed had He come down from the Cross, but then what?   Would others not believe this was a mass hallucination and ignored it, as they did reports of His appearance after the Resurrection.?

My own journey to faith was a rationally based, top-down experience (see Top Down to Jesus);  no visions, no voices.    It was based on a rational reading of historical accounts (the New Testament) and the insight that these accounts were true, so true that a group of unschooled fishermen and tax collectors gave their lives to spread the faith, and so true that their mission succeeded.   Since the beginning of that journey it has deepened;  I still have not heard a Voice or seen a Vision, but there have been times when I have known that God, Our Lord was present.


*Whenever I play with the instrumental group I try to attend two Masses, since my attention sometimes focuses on the music rather than on the liturgy.

**A hypercube, a net of a tesseract, is a three-dimensional perspective of a four-dimensional cube.   The painting represents, therefore, a two-dimensional perspective of a three-dimensional perspective....   See, for example, Robert Heinlein's famous sf story, "And He Built a Crooked House".  I use this illustration, rather than the more well-known Medieval and Renaissance paintings of the Crucifixion, because it illustrates so well that the Crucifixion is a unique event, of this world and not of the world.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

God's Periodic Table...And Evolution

The  Crab Nebula and the Periodic Table
from   NASA/ESA Wikimedia Commons
"Those distinct substances, which concretes generally either afford, or are made up of, may, without very much inconvenience, be called the elements or principles of them.” 
― Robert Boyle, The Sceptical Chymist
"A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question."  
--Fred Hoyle (who predicted the triple-alpha process), The Universe: Past and Present Reflections. Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics: 20:16
"Through his Word and wisdom he created the universe, for by his Word the heavens were established, and by his Spirit all their array. His wisdom is supreme. God by wisdom founded the earth, by understanding he arranged the heavens, by his knowledge the depths broke forth and the clouds poured out the dew."
--St. Theophilus of Antioch, Letter to Autoylcus
Evolution:   "The process by which different kinds of living organism are believed to have developed from earlier forms during the history of the earth." --Oxford English Dictionary (OED)
Evolution: "The gradual development of something."--OED


Evolution--is it true?   A few weeks ago an email was forwarded to me by Father Robert Spitzer's Magis Institute (I'm on the Academic Advisory Board) for comment    The correspondent--let's call him "John Doe"--insisted that evolution violated Catholic Teaching, was in fact heretical, and cited the following pronouncements of  the Ecumenical Councils--Lateran IV,  Vatican I--and of Pope Pius XII's encyclical, Humani Generis, to support his claim.
"God…creator of all visible and invisible things, of the spiritual and of the corporal; who by His own omnipotent power at once from the beginning of time created each creature from nothing, spiritual and corporal, namely, angelic and mundane, and finally the human, constituted as it were, alike of the spirit and the body." [emphasis added by John Doe]--Lateran IV (D.428).  
"If anyone does not confess that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, were produced, according to their whole substance, out of nothing by God; or holds that God did not create by his will free from all necessity, but as necessarily as he necessarily loves himself; or denies that the world was created for the glory of God: let him be anathema." [emphasis added by John Doe]--Vatican I (Article 5).
"Some however, rashly transgress this liberty of discussion, when they act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts which have been discovered up to now and by reasoning on those facts, and as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question." [emphasis added, RJK]--Pope Pius XII, Humani Generis
John Doe agreed that "microevolution" could occur by mutation (slight changes of phenotype and genotype within a species due to mutation of genes}, but disagreed with the central tenet of evolution that all living things today descended from one primal original living thing.

Here are general arguments that will be given in more detail below.

Evolution--the gradual change into different kinds from a single kind as per the second OED definition--is not limited to biological things, but to matter in general, so if evolution is forbidden for biology by John Doe's interpretation of the Council pronouncements, it is forbidden also for matter in general, and thereby is forbidden all of physics and chemistry.

The evidence for evolution of living organisms is impressive.  Without going into detail, I'll cite the convincing features and also note that evolution--in the sense given by the first Oxford English Dictionary definition--is NOT the same as the proposed neo-Darwinian mechanism for evolution, which is a theory.

The Council pronouncements and the quote from Humani Generis have to be parsed very carefully to understand the full scope of the meanings of "at once" and "out of nothing";  moreover, the quote from Humani Generis must be put in context and related to other statements in that encyclical.

The position of the Catholic Church on evolution has been well stated by Pope St. John Paul II (see also "On Pope St. John Paul II's Feast Day") that evolution is a fact, for which various theories have been proposed to explain how it is achieved.  Neo-Darwinism is one such theory, and one not universally accepted even by some atheistic scientists and philosophers.    


Cosmic History for the Universe--not to scale
from Wikimedia Commons
In trying to reconstruct how the universe has evolved (pardon that word!), we have to keep in mind that before a time of about 380,000 years after the Big Bang (the presumed origin of the universe from a singularity, i.e. "Ex Nihilo"), the history has to be reconstructed--speculatively--from what we know about the physics of elementary particles--the so-called "Standard Model" (see God, Symmetry and Beauty I and Philosophic Issues in Cosmology 1).   The reason we have to infer what happened before this 380,000 year benchmark is the opacity of the early Universe to radiation--it consisted of a high energy plasma of quarks, gluons, photons and, in the later stages, elementary particles such as protons, electrons, neutrons.  (See Luke Mastin's Timeline of the Big Bang for a complete, if perhaps somewhat speculative account  of the early stages of the evolution.)

For purposes of this discussion, I'll accept (as do most physicists) that "In the Beginning" there was a super-hot tiny ball of energy, "one thing", that changed to quarks, anti-quarks, gluons and then yielded elementary particles--protons, neutrons, electrons.   Subsequently gravitation induced star formation with protons and alpha particles (helium-4 nuclei) present in early stars.   There would have been a serious obstacle to further formation of the elements because a three-body collision of three alpha particles would be required for the formation of carbon-12 (the next step in formation of the elements) and as those of you who have shot pool know, the probability of a triple collision from random motion of particles is small.

Fred Hoyle (who had derisively labelled creation from a singularity as "The Big Bang"--the name stuck) saw a problem in the abundance of carbon-12 and other elements in the universe and the lack of a mechanism for their creation.  He predicted an excited, higher energy state of carbon-12 nuclei that would enhance the formation of carbon-12 by the so-called "triple alpha process" (see the diagram below).  His prediction was verified experimentally.
Triple Alpha Process
from Wikimedia Commons

In this process, two alpha particles (helium-4 nuclei) collide to form a beryllium-8 nucleus, which is unstable.   However, the likelihood of forming carbon-12 from a collision with an alpha particle is enhanced by a "resonance effect".  This effect comes about because an excited, high energy level of the carbon-12 nucleus has almost the same value as the nuclear energy levels of beryllium-8 and helium-4.

Carbon-12 formation would be the bottleneck;  if carbon-12 could not be formed, then no oxygen, nitrogen, or heavier elements.   All these reactions take place at a very high temperature in the interior of giant stars.    When these stars implode, go nova (as with the Crab nebula picture above), all the heavy elements formed in the interior are scattered through the universe for the formation of planets and living organisms.

Here's the important point to be emphasized in this: it is fundamental physics that enables the formation of the elements, the evolution of the Periodic Table, if you will.   It is NOT a simultaneous creation of each element.   It is a much more wonderful thing to have this occur as a consequence of "natural law", rather than an ad individuum, separate and simultaneous creation of each element.   It is evolution, not creation all at once.  And it is God who created the rules of physics that enables this evolution.


That evolution of biological organisms, gradual changes in species and groups, occurs, is based on two types of evidence:  fossil evidence of transitions between different types of organisms (see here)  and similarities in DNA and protein composition.   Perhaps the most illustrative of the transitional record is that of dinosaurs to birds.   

Nevertheless, there are large gaps between groups in the fossil record, such that the paleontologists Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldridge proposed a modification of the Neo-Darwinian theory, Punctuated Equilibrium.   Their theory posited large, discontinuous changes in species, rather than the gradual changes given by Darwinism.

Here's a question for those who propose an instantaneous creation of all species: why does the fossil record of more than a billion years ago contain indicators of only microbial species, and why do the fossil records of different geologic eras contains a progression of types, with no recent phyla (e.g. mammalia) in older records?

The table below gives example of changes in the composition of DNA coding for proteins and random DNA for different species.
Fruit Fly
About 0
Round Worm
About 0
From Francis Collins, "The Language of God", pp.127,128.
Note the similarities between mammalian species, and the differences between different groups (e.g. round worm vs chicken).   Also note that the differences are much greater for "random (non-functional?) DNA" since mutations here won't affect survivability as much.   
I want to emphasize again: evolution is the change of species one into another, along with the supposition of common descent from some single celled organism in the distant past.   Many people--including scientists--confuse evolution with the neo-Darwinian proposed mechanism for evolution, mutation leading to small changes that enhance survivability and thus gradually yield different species.   Many scientists and philosophers do not think the neo-Darwinian model is sufficient to explain evolution.  Some of these critics are atheists or agnostics, so it isn't a question of neo-Darwinism violating their religious beliefs.   (See, for example, Thomas Nagel's book, Mind and Cosmos.)


"John Doe" emphasized the phrases "at once" and "each creature from nothing" in citing the dicta of Lateran IV against evolution.   Now there are two ways of getting at the meaning, parsing, "at once."   First, if we believe the universe evolved from an instant of creation, The Big Bang, Creatio ex Nihilo, as described in the section above, then we can believe, along with St. Thomas Aquinas and the Catholic Catechism (CC 308),  that God is a First Cause, and that He can operate through both primary and secondary causes.   As St. Augustine posited 
"...each one [type of creature] fulfills its proper function, comes to creatures from those causal reasons implanted in them, which God scattered as seeds at the moment of creation  [emphasis added] ... Time brings about the development of these creatures according to the laws of their numbers, but there was no passage of time when they received these laws at creation.[emphasis added] --St. Augustine of Hippo, de Genesi ad Litteram (the Literal Meaning of Genesis.)
Second, God is eternal, timeless--like a photon of light, time does not exist for God.   He sees our future and our past and our present simultaneously, so the term "at once" to imply a single moment in past time is a limitation on this Godly timelessness.

With respect to the phrase "out of nothing," I can't believe that God, like a magician conjuring a rabbit out of a hat, made each individual species out of nothing.   Certainly God created the whole universe out of nothing; I firmly believe in the dogma of Creatio ex Nihilo, but again--we have to consider not only primary but secondary causation.


The Dogma of Original Sin and the Dogma/Doctrine of monogenesis  are crucial in determining the present position of the Church on evolution, I'll use quotations from Pope Pius XII  and Pope St. John Paul II to illustrate this.   (Unfortunately John Doe's quote from Humani Generis was out of context and thus did not reveal the full import of what Pope Pius XII was trying to impart.)
“...with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter [but] the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God.” [emphasis added]--Pope Pius XII, Humani Generis
"Pius XII underlined the essential point: if the origin of the human body comes through living matter which existed previously, the spiritual soul is created directly by God..." Pope St. John Paul II, Address to Pontifical Academy of Sciences:"On Evolution". 
“And to tell the truth, rather than speaking about the theory of evolution, it is more accurate to speak of the theories of evolution. [emphasis added] The use of the plural is required here—in part because of the diversity of explanations regarding the mechanism of evolution, and in part because of the diversity of philosophies involved.
"As a result, the theories of evolution which, because of the philosophies which inspire them, regard the spirit either as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a simple epiphenomenon of that matter, are incompatible with the truth about man..."  ibid.
I've given a more detailed account of this in a post, Do Neanderthals have a soul?


Pope St. John Paul II in his Encyclical, Fides et Ratio, 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."  
Because we do not understand at present how evolution works are we to reject it as a magnificent work by God and rely on a literal interpretation of Scripture and Medieval Councils (which required Jews to dress differently from Christians)?   We don't do this for the creation of matter and the universe, for which physics gives a clearer explanation than molecular biology does for evolution.   The Church today does not require that we do so;  the Church requires only that we do not fall into the trap of believing materialistic theories that attempt to explain evolution.

I'll close with a quote from my favorite saint, St. Augustine of Hippo, that says it all for living with science and faith:
"Often a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other parts of the world, about the motions and orbits of the stars and even their sizes and distances,... and this knowledge he holds with certainty from reason and experience. It is thus offensive and disgraceful for an unbeliever to hear a Christian talk nonsense about such things, claiming that what he is saying is based in Scripture. We should do all that we can to avoid such an embarrassing situation, lest the unbeliever see only ignorance in the Christian and laugh to scorn." --De Genesi ad litteram; the Literal Meaning of Genesis.


*This topic and the position of the Church on evolution is explored in greater detail in Chapter 6 of my ebook, "Science and the Church--'Truth Cannot Contradict Truth'".  (Please pardon the shameless self-promotion.)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

More St. Augustine: "Lent is the Epitome of our Whole Life"

St. Augustine and the Fires of Wisdom
from Wikimedia Commons
  “Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, kindles the true light of chastity."        ----St. Augustine, "On Fasting and Prayer
"The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent.  Since few, however, have the strength for this, we urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life most pure and to wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times." --The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 49.
Here's some more from St. Augustine, appropriate for Lent:
"Christians must always live this way, without any wish to come down from their Cross--otherwise they will sink beneath the world's mire.  But if we have to do so all our lives, we must make even a greater effort during the days of Lent.   It is not a simple matter of living through forty days.  Lent is the epitome of our whole life."
--St. Augustine, Sermon 205, I.  As quoted in Augustine Day by Day, March 14th
I can't add to that.

Intersections--Chapter 2 Complete.

Hello faithful readers  ( : > ) ).   Finally Chapter 2 on Intersections of Quantum Mechanics with Catholic Teaching is finished.   I've added material to the primer on quantum mechanics--angular momentum, the uncertainty principle, Bell's Theorem--and the topic of how (or how not) quantum might intersect with various pieces of Catholic teaching.

Again, please comment and ask questions.  I rely on your feedback to make this as good as possible.

Ora et Labora
bob k

PS--the usual password applies.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Imtersections--Chapter 1 complete

Hello faithful followers:  Chapter 1 in its entirety is up for review here.    The usual password applies.  Thanks for looking.

Friday, March 3, 2017

God doesn't accept bribes!
On Giving up for Lent

High Priest Offering Sacrifice of a Goat at the Temple
from Wikimedia Commons
For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
--Psalm 51 (KJV)

"Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, and I will testify against thee: I am God, even thy God.
I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt offerings, to have been continually before me.
I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he goats out of thy folds.
For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.
I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine.
If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof.
Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?
Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High."  --
Psalm 50 (KJV)


Lent is upon us, and I thought it meet to write about my Lenten penance, and how my goals in this have changed since my conversion.    

Let me preface these remarks with an account of my bartering with God before my conversion, because this connects with the title.    At that time (and to a degree, after my conversion) I was a worrier--the future I foresaw was always gloomy, with the worst possible scenario coming to pass.  For example, if my wife (or wife and children) were off somewhere and past the expected time of return by a half-hour or more, I would envisage car wrecks, abductions, .... And so I would say to God, "Please let them come home OK, and I'll give up chocolate" (or stop biting my finger-nails, or _____ fill in the blanks.)   

Even though I was not altogether sure then that there was a God,  I usually made good on these bribes, at least for an extended period of time, or until the next occasion of potential disaster arose.   But it never occurred to me, as my wife pointed out later after my conversion, that this was a very pagan practice and totally against Catholic notions of what God demands of us.   And so to Lent.    


One of the things one is supposed to do at Lent is fast.   This was not a new thing for me.  As an ethnic (non-religious) Jew I would observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, by fasting (only water and coffee, a fast which at 87, I try to observe) and by reflecting on the past year and what I had done wrong.  You should note that the Catholic fasting regimen is more lenient than the Jewish.   Even by drinking coffee I was not holding strictly to a Jewish fasting regime.   More interesting are speculations as to why fasting arose with the Jews;  according to the Jewish Encyclopedia
"others, again (e.g., Smend), attribute the custom to a desire on the part of the worshipers to humble themselves before their God, so as to arouse His sympathy."
As the linked article notes, there were a host of holidays and occasions on which ancient Jews would fast, particularly if they sought mercy from the Lord:
"And Nathan departed unto his house. And the Lord struck the child that Uriah's wife bare unto David, and it was very sick. David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth.    And the elders of his house arose, and went to him, to raise him up from the earth: but he would not, neither did he eat bread with them."   --2 Samuel 12:15,16 (KJV)
So, again, bartering with God.


My first Lent after my conversion to the Church in 1995  pretty much followed my Jewish ideas.   I fasted in the Jewish mode on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and I gave up things and practices--candy, biting my fingernails, watching some favorite TV shows (Frasier, Seinfeld)--in other words sacrificing, not a goat but stuff I enjoyed,  hoping that this would please God.    There was no thought of doing that which would make me grow in faith.

As the years passed, and I listened to more homilies on Lent and I read more about the Church and Lent, it struck me that God didn't need this--He wasn't going to eat the candy or ice cream I gave up (His was the "Big Rock Candy Mountain").     What He wanted was that I grow closer to him,  that I share--in a very little way--the sufferings of Christ and thereby appreciate more fully what Christ had undergone and what He has gained for us.

So, what I did over the years was to modify my Lenten resolutions, year by year.

  • To cultivate the virtue of patience, I resolved not to pass cars going the posted speed limit (I learned to drive in Southern California, where the race is to the swift); this was the resolution broken most often, but these last few years I've learned to adhere to it (or maybe that's just the consequence of growing older).
  • To lessen my concern with things of this world, I resolved not to visit eBay or buy things online;
  • And again, to lessen my concern with the material world, I resolved to not watch those cooking show competitions to which I had become addicted;
  • I resolved not to eat between meals and eat only one helping of any food that I liked; this was also a difficult resolution to keep, and I've modified it. I don't want this to be a diet, but something to moderate concupiscence. There's a quote from St. Augustine that's pertinent:
"I struggle each day against concupiscence in eating and drinking.  It is not something that I can cut off once and for all and touch no more, as I would with concubinage.  The bridle put on the throat must be held with moderate looseness and moderate firmness.  Is there anyone, Lord, who is not carried a little beyond the limits of personal need?"--St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions 10, 31
And on a positive note, I've resolved to attend Mass every day, to spend time with the Liturgy of the Hours, to do more volunteer work, and to be more liberal in alms giving.    And most important,  not to pray for things or actions, but rather to pray to accept the will of God, to put my trust in Him, and to know His love.   I still pray for healing for others and for the Holy Spirit to send grace to family and friends, but this is for others, not myself.

To some degree these resolutions have been carried through outside of Lent, particularly the positive ones.  I don't claim to live a perpetual Lent, but there have been changes effected by the forty days.    In the main, I try to remember that God cannot be bribed;  that Lent is not for Him, but for me.

Have a good, a fruitful and a holy Lent.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Friday, February 17, 2017

More Work in Progress: Preface, Table of Contents
Intersections: Catholic Teaching | Modern Science

3 March--there's been some minor editing, if you want to reread.
Go to here and here;  use the usual password;   Preface and Table of Contents will be shown.    Again, comments invited.

More Work in Progress: Cover for New Book
Intersections: Catholic Teaching | Modern Science

Superposed images of CRISPR-Cas9, the tool for Genetic Modification (from Wikimedia Commons) and a Cross and Christian Symbol, done with Sketchbook.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

On Euthanasia and Going Gentle into that Good Night

Toby,  Age 2
We took our Shih-Tzu, Toby, to the vet's today, to be euthanized.   It was a hard thing to do, and my wife remarked afterwards, "if it's this hard for us to put a pet down, what must those wives/husbands/children feel when their spouse or parent is euthanized?"

And our answer was, probably nothing, or they couldn't do it.

Toby went peacefully.   He was 17 years old (dog years=119 human?) and had been undergoing progressive deteroriation.   He was scrawny, resembling those emaciated prisoners in the concentration camps, ribs, back vertebrae outstanding.   The last few weeks he had trouble standing, and he had been incontinent for about six weeks--we had used baby diapers (#1) and a wrap to minimize cleaning up.    One of our other dogs, a very sensitive and intelligent terrier mix (he looks like a teacup Scottish deerhound) was very upset by all this.   He would avoid going into the room where Toby slept, and when in the room would go over to Toby, smell and nuzzle him.

The last several days had been particularly bad;  there were periods when he would be continually uttering a high, piercing cry, unlike any bark or whimper he had voiced before.    We would rearrange him on his bed, help him to stand, offer him water or food, which would seem to give him a little peace.   Finally, the last few days he was eating very little, not able to stand or walk at all, so we decided it was time.

The question I have, why is it permissible to euthanize a pet, but not a human being?   And the answer is:  humans have a special soul, an intellective soul, to use a scholastic term.   We can know of our own death; we can know of a God. .We are created special.   C.S. Lewis has written a last chapter in his book "On the Problem of Pain" that deals with this question.   His answer, which I like very much, is that, as in the Garden of Eden, man is meant to be head of the kingdom and as such, in heaven, will be with the animals who have been his companions in life.

Finally, I'd like to link to an earlier post: Memento Mori--Thoughts on Growing Old,  in which I wrote about growing old with my Shih-Tzu.

Goodbye, Toby;  may we be with you in heaven.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Work in Progress:
Intersections--Catholic Teaching and Modern Science.

Hello followers and occasional viewers of this blog.

I want to preview a forthcoming web-book entitled

"Intersections--Catholic Teaching and Modern Science"

It will cover lessons (no math, "for Dummies") in quantum mechanics, cosmology and relativity,  molecular biology, thermodynamics and information theory to give faithful Catholics a basis to understand how modern science, non-speculative, intersects with Catholic teaching.

The first chapter is a brief account of quantum mechanics, based primarily on the historical development.
The post is titled   "Quantum Mechanics--What It's All About"

The second chapter discusses "Quantum Mysteries", the Double-Slit Experiment and Entanglement.

I've been told that book publishers will not accept material that's been previously published (even as Web blog posts), so I'm making the preliminary viewing (that sound like a funeral!) private, i.e. password protected.    Please email me at to request the password.

Comments, including criticisms, solicited and welcomed.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Does a Pig-Man Have the Right to Life?
On the Genetic Modification of Human and Animal Embryos

Purported Human-Pig Chimera
(Andrew Taylor, Wikimedia Commons)
  “We all know interspecies romance is weird.”
Tim Burton

"I did not know yet how far they were from the human heritage I ascribed to them."  
H.G. Welles, The Island of Dr. Moreau

"Man," I cried, "how ignorant art thou in thy pride of wisdom!"
Mary W. Shelley, Frankenstein, the Modern Prometheus.


Last Friday I read in my favorite source of science news, the Drudge Report, this headline from the Sunday Express:
"Human-pig HYBRID? Scientists hoping to create part man, part pig organs"
What a host of ethical questions this raises!  I won't attempt to answer them in this short post.

The Church has set its position on therapeutic genetic modification very clearly.  See a previous post, Designer Babies via CRISPR / Cas9.   Genetic modification is permissible if it is done to cure a specific malfunction or disease.    The quote below from the Charter for Health Care Workers, Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance says it all:
"No social or scientific usefulness and no ideological purpose could ever justify an intervention on the human genome unless it be therapeutic, that is its finality must be the natural development of the human being."
And what should a faithful Catholic say about intervention on an animal genome?   Where to draw the line?   Is growing a human organ in an animal, by whatever means, ethically permissible?  Or the converse, putting an animal organ into a human?


Hybrids between different animal species are termed "chimeras", from the ancient Greek legend of Bellerophon and the Chimera, a fire-breathing three-headed monster.    Reading a less sensational account
Chimera, Palac Czapskich, Krakow
in the National Geographic of the hybridization attempt of the Salk Institute scientists, I found that they were not attempting to make a "pig-man" or "man-pig", but to grow human organs for transplantation in the host pig.   The results were not entirely successful, since the embryos into which the human stem cells were injected did not survive to adulthood.   It seems likely that pigs and humans are not sufficiently similar genetically for such efforts to be successful.  Similar experiments transplanting rat organs into mice have worked, however.   It should also be noted that this type of experiment, growing a chimera, is ineligible for public funding, so the government has taken an implicit ethical stance on such research.


Is research into making chimeras, even for benefits such as growing transplantable human organs, the first step on a slippery slope?    I'm not sure.  On the one hand, I recall St. Thomas Aquinas definition of the human soul as the form of the body.    Certainly you couldn't say that a human liver, by itself, or a human pancreas, (or a human brain?)  would have a soul, if you agreed to that definition.   And the Church does allow genetic modification for purely therapeutic purposes.

On the other hand, once you start to make a hybrid will you end up, like Dr. Moreau (see the quote above), creating animals that are attempting to be human?

I'm still thinking about these questions.   What's your answer?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Right to Life: Fuel for My March to Catholic Faith

The 2009 Right-to-Life March, Washington, D.C.
From Wikimedia Commons


The photo above, taken at the head of the 2009 Right-to-Life March, is that of the last March in which I participated.   At the age of 79, it was pretty much all I could do to keep up, even at the sauntering pace of our group, and so I've decided since then to march in spirit and to pray through the day for this nation to come to its senses.  I thought it appropriate to go back in time, to recollect how my pro-life sensibilities led me (and others) to the Church, and to recall some snapshots in my memory from the Marches in which I participated.   This journey into the past will be essentially a stream of consciousness (I've been reading Finnegan's Wake lately).


A brief account of my journey to faith is given in another post, "Top Down to Jesus."   Although it wasn't mentioned in that article, some fuel for that trip was my belief that all human life is sacred.    Now in the early part of the trip my belief in God was vague and uncertain, so "sacred" meant something different than it does now.   Perhaps the closest equivalence is "inviolable."   As a physicist who knew something of biology (many of my nmr research projects involved collaboration with biologists),  it made no sense to me to draw a timeline separating the living from the non-living embryo, or to neglect the potentiality of the full human in the zygote.

My wife is Catholic and strongly pro-life.  Indirectly from her (she wasn't proselytizing), when she answered questions about Church doctrine, I learned that the Church held life to be sacred from the moment of conception to that of natural death.   This made sense to me, in terms of the continuity of biological development.    It also made sense that the Church approved only of  natural death, not euthanasia or enforced journey into that "good night".   I had seen the movie "Logan's Run" and read the book, and being older than 30, the year in which life was snuffed out in this dystopia to make room for younger folk, I was not willing to go gently and unselfishly.

Let's skip some 15 years and see how a little learning (not a dangerous thing!) has informed my pro-life stance.   In the adult catechesis classes in which I have participated as a student and as a teacher, a most important teaching was that the soul is conveyed to the human embryo at the moment of conception, even if it be only a blob of tissue, as pro-abortionists might argue.

Pro-abortion fans argue that since the embryo or the foetus is not conscious, self-aware, it is not a human being.  This argument is, I contend, unsound.   If it is required that self-awareness be required for human status, then we could revert to the practices of the early Greeks and Romans and "expose" (a nice euphemism for "kill") unwanted babies.   Studies have shown that self-awareness  in the infant develops in five stages,  and is not fully present at birth.   So the pro-abortion fans should be logically consistent, and advocate the right to kill infants up to the age of five, and they might along the way include those they classify as mentally unsound or unfit.   Now where have I seen that argument before?

Let's turn to the end of life issues, to euthanasia. In a post  "The Fifth Commandment--The Slippery Slope of Euthanasia", I've discussed how "mercy killing" has transmogrified to killing the old for convenience in the Netherlands and Belgium, so I'll not repeat these arguments here  However, with the passage of laws allowing euthanasia in several states in the U.S., I begin to feel the chill of the ice-man's axe (or is it needle?) approaching this old guy, and, accordingly, I am ever so grateful for the Church's firm stance for natural death and against euthanasia.


This will be a change of pace, a recollection of events from Marches in the past.
We live in north-central Pennsylvania, about a six hour drive to Washington.  The practice has been for the parish (or several parishes) to hire a bus for the trip down, beginning at about 5:30 am (for the early morning Mass) and returning about 10 pm.   In Washington the buses would park at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and we would take the subway down to to a point close to the Mall, where the March was to begin.   We would meet at Union Station after proceeding to the Capitol, go back to the Shrine and thence home,  stopping for a gourmand's buffet dinner--the preference of our parish priest--at a tourist stop near Thurmond, Md.  There were young people, old people and those in between.  Some of the older people would stay at the Shrine and pray instead of marching (as I did in my last March, several years ago).

In the 80's (before my conversion) my  wife and youngest son went down and encountered one of the rare, but disabling snowstorms that occur in D.C.    They got there too late to march, and returned home around midnight, tired but still invigorated by having made the journey.   I had thought to myself waiting for their return, what the H--- are they doing this for.   I found out later.

Here are some memories that stand out.   On my first trip, walking from the subway to the Mall where the March was to begin, I saw walking about 50 feet in front of me a middle-aged man with sidelocks, a kippah (the skull-cap worn by Orthodox Jews), with two young boys.   They were dressed formally, and I thought to myself--isn't that great;  you don't have to be Catholic to be pro-life.   And this was reinforced later, seeing people from other denominations in the March.  

In 2005, the first year of George W. Bush's second term, there was  a congratulatory message delivered from the White House to those assembled on the Mall.   How different from 2009, the first year of Obama's term--no message--although the lack of message did itself show how  Obama regarded those of us demonstrating for life  .    I recall the old people, older than I, the young people waving banners from all over the country, the priests in clerical garb, the monks and nuns in habits and more modern dress, the one very old monk in a wheel-chair being pushed by a younger.  I recall the songs, the hymns.   I recall the people standing at the side, cheering us on (with some exceptions).    I recall looking back at the huge mass of people and thinking if so many people are marching for what is right, we must prevail.   And so we shall.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Music, God's Gift to Man--and to Robots?

Music and the Brain
from Wikimedia Commons
"If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph: ‘The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music.'”
Kurt Vonnegut (")

"I play the notes as they are written, but it is God who makes the music.”
J.S. Bach?  

"Of course God exists. One way I know he exists is that he put a song in my heart and gave me ears to hear his glory" Msgr. Charles Pope, Music, the "6th Proof" for God.


A few days ago my wife pointed out to me a web news item announcing a robot that (or who?) can compose a symphony, tailored to uplift the listener's mood.  Whoaa!!   A robot!  Artificial Intelligence whatever, it takes soul (both of the vernacular and theological variety) to write music.  (See the quote above, purportedly from J.S. Bach.)

I have written elsewhere about music as God's gift to man (see here and  here), and I'll try not to repeat myself in this post.  I want to examine whether art, as we like to understand the term, can be forthcoming from artificial intelligence in the following general context:  can computers (robots/androids) be made to self-aware, to have consciousness, to go beyond what is programmed into them.   Whether a robot can compose music is a piece of that puzzle.  Most importantly,  can that artificial intelligence derive emotional satisfaction from the creative process? 

We should ask, then:  is music God's gift to man, and, if it is such a gift, can we say that God wishes to extend it to "beings" with artificial intelligence,  intelligence created by man, not God?


As in much else involving the intersection of science and religious belief, science fiction (more properly, "speculative fiction") occasionally yields more insight than either philosophy or theology.   One  story, "A Work of Art" by James Blish, (WARNING: SPOILER!) examines  whether a transitional sort of artificial intelligence, "mind sculpting", can produce the same sort of music as the live composer.   Here's the story.

A man wakes up, recalling his last moment of darkness.  Informed that he is Richard Strauss, resurrected, he is asked to compose a work in his own style.  He does so, basing it on a Greek myth.  The work is performed to thunderous applause, which he realizes is not for the music, but for the mind sculptors who have changed him from one totally unversed in music to a composer.   But, here's the kicker:  there's enough of Richard Strauss in him to realize that the music he has composed is only a pastiche, a musical collage of Strauss's known works.   There is nothing original, nothing of the artist in it.

So, the "Work of Art" is not the music--it is the mind sculpture.   God inspires man to create music, as the quote above from J.S. Bach would have it.    The computer can only imitate what man has already created.


"Can one similarly find an “equation” to describe a piece of music? Or better yet, can one find an “equation” to predict the outcome of a piece of music? We can model sound by equations, so can we also model works of music with equations?  Music is after all just many individual sounds, right? Should we invest time and money to find these equations so that all of humankind can enjoy predictable, easily described music?  The answer to all of these questions is predictable and easily described: a series of emphatic 'NO’s'! There is not an equation that will model all works of music and we should not spend time looking for it."  Thomas Fiore, Music and Mathematics
The relation between number and music was discovered in the 6th Century BC by Pythagoras (yes, he of the "Pythagorean Theorem").   He found that if the string lengths on a Greek lyre were in the ratio 2:1, they sounded harmonious--this interval between the notes sounded by the two strings is an octave; if the lengths were in the ratio 3/2, a different harmonious interval, "a perfect fifth" sounded; if the lengths were in the ratio 4/3, yet another harmonious interval, "a perfect fourth",  sounded.    

Let's skip 2500 years and proceed to contemporary times.   I'll be summarizing the material given in the linked article by Thomas Fiore.  As a player of an instrument keyed to Eflat (the alto clarinet) I am familiar with the mathematical operation of transposition. adding intervals to go from my key to concert (in this case, adding -3 modulo 12).   I did not know about inversion, the operation of going from a major key to a minor: if x is the note number on the chromatic scale (0:C/ 1:C#/ 2:D.., / 11:B--white keys and black keys on a piano), then inversion is the operation -x, or equivalently in modulo 12 arithmetic, 12-x.   So, Tn(x) is the transposition operation on the note x to give x+n,  and In(x) is the inversion operation on the note x to give  -x+n  (note: 0=12 in modulo 12 arithmetic).   For example, upon the operation I0(x), the C major chord (0, 4, 7 or C, E, G)   goes to the f minor chord (0, 8, 5 or C, F, G#);  and T2(x)*I0(x) operating on the C major chord gives (2, 10, 7 or D, A, #,G), a g minor chord.

The 24 operations, Tn(x), In(x) are elements that satisfy  the properties of a mathematical entity called a "group": there is an identity, an inverse for each element, and closure--any combination of operations yield another operation of the group.   The group designation for the Tn/In group is D24, the dihedral group of 24 elements.   Now group theory is related to descriptions of symmetry, and in particular symmetry of geometrical objects.    A geometrical object having the symmetry belonging to the D24 group is the icositetrahedron,  pictured below.
Icositetrahedron, with group symmetry D24
from Wikimedia Commons

In his article Fiore applies this mathematical analysis to several musical works:  Bach's Fugue #6 in D minor, Wagner's Prelude to Tristan and Isolde, Hindemith's Fugue, Beethoven's Symphony #9 (2nd movement), the "Elvis Progression", the Beatles "Oh Darling".   The analysis adds a great deal to one's appreciation of these works (I can't, in truth, say this about Elvis's stuff or the Beatles' song, since I'm not familiar with those);  however, I ask the question (answered in part below), is this all there is to music?


If a mathematical analysis of a musical piece could tell us all there is to know (and feel) about the piece, it would seem reasonable that computers could then compose music--any sort of music.   However, I claim that this complete analysis is not possible.    Even in that most ordered and mathematical of music, the Bach Fugues, there are occasional deviations and lapses from the mathematical operations, as discussed by Fiore.

If one thinks about the works of Mozart, what might come to mind is music that like Bach's, is orderly (see this YouTube video of the Divertimento in D Major),   However, in one of his most important works, the Great G Minor Symphony (#40), the fourth movement contains powerful dissonance and tonal progressions anticipating those centuries later.

I can cite works that are moving, not because they follow orderly intelligible lines, but precisely because they do not:  the eerie soprano clarinet solo in the Witches' Sabbath movement of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique; Stravinsky's Rite of Spring;  Thelonius Monk's "Round Midnight", and many more in classical and jazz--in music.

Symmetry and order is beautiful, but the human mind wants more than that.  Symmetry in physics is beautiful (see God, Symmetry and Beauty I: The Standard Model and the Higgs Boson), but nature ultimately is more than an ordered model fit to equations.   Can a computer see the beauty in the disordered pattern of a meadow, or the night sky?   I don't think so.

I'll wind up with a final anecdote.  Many, many years ago on my first academic assignment the head of the department involved with the newly burgeoning discipline of computer science (it was a management / business administration group) gave a lecture on artificial intelligence.   After the lecture, as legend has it (I wasn't there), a humanities professor asked him  "Would you want your daughter to marry one (a computer, that is)?"  His answer was "Yes, if she loved him."   Another version has it that some shouted from the audience "Why not, his wife did."    

I defy anyone to produce a computer analysis of that humor.

Finally, I haven't said anything about God and music, or God and mathematics.  My point in this post is that music is a gift, not to be explained as an evolutionary spandrel, and if it is a gift, it can be presumed to come from God.


*"Who has a soul?" is a question explored in my ebook, "Science versus the Church--'Truth Cannot Contradict Truth'",    In that chapter I talk about the position of the Church on what is a soul, and who has it  and review (very briefly) what some cognitive scientists, philosophers and sci-fi authors have to say about whether computers can be conscious / self-aware.

**There's a great deal of history of music and religion that I'm not going to cover, Greeks, ancient Babylonians, Jews (read the psalms, particularly 33, 98, 147--"Sing unto the LORD with thanksgiving; sing praise upon the harp unto our God")--St. Augustine, the Church, early, medieval, renaissance and modern), but I want to focus on the intersection of music and mathematics in this short piece. 

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   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.