Real Science

In honor of the 733rd anniversary of the death of the great scientist, Bishop Albert, let’s recall paragraph 34 of Holy Father’s encyclical on our faith in divine love:

The light of love proper to faith can illumine the questions of our own time… One who believes may not be presumptuous; on the contrary, truth leads to humility, since believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth which embraces and possesses us. Far from making us inflexible, the security of faith sets us on a journey; it enables witness and dialogue with all.

…The light of faith is an incarnate light radiating from the luminous life of Jesus. It illumines the material world, trusts its inherent order and knows that it calls us to an ever widening path of harmony and understanding. The gaze of science thus benefits from faith: faith encourages the scientist to remain constantly open to reality in all its inexhaustible richness. Faith awakens the critical sense by preventing research from being satisfied with its own formulae and helps it to realize that nature is always greater. By stimulating wonder before the profound mystery of creation, faith broadens the horizons of reason to shed greater light on the world which discloses itself to scientific investigation.

One thought to take from this paragraph: When we believe in God, we recognize that the material world is something He made according to His infinitely intelligent plan. We, too, possess intelligence. So we can harmonize ourselves with the intelligent order of the material world.

Albert the Great Septicentennial StampThis is what science really is: Not controlling the world, but harmonizing ourselves with it, in a reasonable way. This is what medicine really is: Not controlling our bodies, but harmonizing our minds with them, in a reasonable way. We can read in nature and in our own bodies the plan of the higher intelligence that made all of it, provided we are humble enough to admit that we need to learn in this way.

As St. Albert knew and taught, true science flows from this first step: Our humble acknowledgement that our intelligence is not the highest. Science = seeking to learn something about the much-higher intelligence with which the Creator ordered His creation.

The Myth of Fingerprints?

fingerprintpaul simon

To you and me, it might seem like a legal footnote.

But the Supreme Court’s decision yesterday in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts will have a huge impact on some of the unsung heroes of criminal justice.

Of course no innocent person should ever be punished for a crime committed by someone else. On the other hand: Should criminals go free just because they have tricky lawyers who can out-talk hardworking crime-lab scientists?

Are there any latent examiners out there who would like to comment on this? Please chime in, and enlighten us ignorant laymen.

In the meantime, rock on out. Happy Friday!

fingerprints hand

Not Above My Pay Grade





In the U.S. Congress, the Speaker of the House must have a higher salary than a junior Senator.  The Speaker undertook to catechize the country ( ) on a question which the democratic nominee asked for more money before he would give an answer ( ).


Archbishop Wuerl has written to us priests, asking us to explain Church teaching on abortion at the Holy Mass this Sunday.  It is pretty unusual for him to tell us what to preach on.


I thought it might be illuminating to try to break the matter down into discrete kinds of questions, so that we can see what is certain and what is not certain.  There are two distinct kinds of questions involved.  The first kind aim at things that exist; the second kind aim at the right thing to do.


When precisely did each of our lives begin?  When did our souls come into existence?  When we were in our mothers’ wombs, what happened?  None of these are questions about what we ought to do or not to do.  Some people might say these questions are just idle curiosity, needless philosophizing.  They are speculative questions.  They are not for everybody; most people do not worry about trying to answer speculative questions of this kind.


One reason for the unpopularity of these questions is:  Getting an irrefutable answer to any profound speculative question is very difficult.  “Is my dog asleep right now or awake?” is a speculative question; it can be answered just by looking at the dog.  But “When does the human soul come into being?” is not so easy.


As Cardinal Egan and other Catholic leaders have pointed out since Speaker Pelosi’s confusing catechesis last Sunday, we have recently developed remarkable means by which to observe pregnancies.  We can now see pretty well what is going on, and we can analyze the biological processes with great precision.  All this gives us a clear answer to the following question (a question which perplexed people for many centuries):  Is there a stage in the process of development when the guest of the womb changes from one kind of thing into another kind of thing, from an inanimate type of thing to an animate type of thing?  Or:  Is there a moment we can pinpoint when what does not appear to have been human now becomes human?  The clear answer to these questions is:  No.  No such moment has ever been discovered.  It would seem highly unlikely that it ever will be.


Still we have not touched the question of the soul, nor have we considered what ought to be done or not done.


Souls are invisible.  Sonograms and other studies show us that what began as one cell eventually grows into a recognizable baby.  Something makes this happen, some organizing power that keeps all the molecules from separating from each other into some kind of soup.


Speculative questions like this are endlessly interesting, so it is rather presumptuous for anyone to claim that he or she has the final answer.  The Church does not settle speculative questions.  When needed, She settles questions regarding what we believe and what we are to do or not do.


Sacred Scripture teaches us to believe that God has a plan for everyone to get to heaven, and that plan begins in the womb.  God loves the occupant of the womb, and He will always provide for him or her.  We believe this with certain faith.  There is no doubt about it.


Now let us get to the practical questions.  Should any pregnant woman ever have an abortion?  Should anyone ever perform an abortion, or co-operate with an abortion in any way?  When Rick Warren asked about when an unborn child acquires human rights, this was a somewhat convoluted way of leaving the speculative realm behind and transferring the debate to the moral realm.  Someone who has rights cannot be killed.  So Rick Warren’s Saddleback Forum debate question really was:  Must the law prohibit abortion?


Moral questions have to do with what you or I do or don’t do.  Unborn children die in their mothers’ wombs all the time in miscarriages, but a miscarriage is not a moral matter; it didn’t result from what someone did or didn’t do.  Moral questions are confined to you and me and what we choose.


Answering moral questions is generally easier than answering speculative questions, especially when the speculative questions involve invisible realities.  Moral questions require moral certitude, because we either act or we don’t; we either do something or we don’t do it.  For me to do something, I have to be sure that it is not gravely evil for me to do it.  For the law to permit something, the legislator must be sure that it is not the slaughter of innocents.  There is no doubt that it is morally wrong to take risks when it comes to the life or death of innocent people.


Moral questions are not beyond us, like some speculative questions are.  We can always know what to do or not to do, either by reasoning things out carefully from basic principles like the Ten Commandments, or by submitting to the authority of the Church.  We do not have to know everything about the situation; we only have to know what to do or avoid.


In the case of the moral questions here, there is no doubt whatsoever.  It is never okay to have an abortion.  It is never okay to co-operate in an abortion.  It is never okay for the law to permit abortion.

Logic and Voting Pro-life

When it comes to abortion, some people have the idea that the Church tries to tell Catholics how to vote.  The truth is, though, that voting pro-life is not a matter of submitting to Church authority.  It is not a matter of “balancing theological and scientific perspectives.”  It is a matter of simple logic.  The moral logic involved is basic and clear, with no sophistries and no unsupported claims.  Each step of the argument is absolutely airtight.


All reasonable people agree that killing innocent human beings must be illegal.  Only a very confused person (or a wicked person) could question this.


Some people think that abortion does not always involve killing, because perhaps the resident of the womb is not yet human when an abortion takes place.  Again, everyone can agree that pregnancy is shrouded in great mystery, even though science has learned a lot about it in the past few decades.  With all these advances, no one has found a moment in the process when the unborn child “becomes human”—other than at the very beginning, at conception itself.  Obviously, scientists should continue to investigate the process of pregnancy, so long as nothing immoral is done in the course of research.


So, while there are many unanswered questions about human development in the womb, there is no question whatsoever about this:  Lacking a definitive proof one way or the other about when human life begins, a just society must prohibit abortion.  Why?  Because we must always come down on the side of caution when it comes to innocent human life.  If a gunner in a military training exercise is not sure whether the plane in his gunsights is a drone sent up for the exercise or a manned aircraft that has inadvertently entered his airspace, he will not shoot.  He has to be certain that he is shooting what he is supposed to shoot.  Even if there is only a 1% chance that he might accidentally kill an innocent bystander, he will not shoot.


When it comes to unborn life, there would seem to be more than a 1% chance that the casualty of abortion is an innocent human being.  Birth always produces a baby—never a blender or a Volkswagen or even a cat.  Therefore, the benefit of the doubt must go to the baby.  Under the law, the pre-born must be considered fully human.  If they are not, our society runs the risk of allowing innocent people to be killed.  No self-respecting citizen could accept such a risk.  The first duty of the rule of law is to protect the innocent from being killed.


In the rare instances when a pregnancy endangers a mother’s life, it cannot be right to sacrifice one life for another arbitrarily.  Rather, everything medically possible must be done to save one, if not both, lives.  If it is not possible to save both, we know at least that it would be wrong to kill one intentionally.  If saving the mother means that the baby dies, so be it.  But intentionally killing the baby is wrong.  This might sound like sophistry, but in the nitty-gritty of medical decision-making, it is a crucial distinction.


We see, then, that simple logic confronts us with this fact:  We live in a country in which something that certainly must be illegal actually is allowed, and it happens all the time, thousands of times every day.  A reasonable person can have only one response:  “I love my country, and I want it to be a land of justice.  When it comes to abortion, I am living under an unjust regime.  I cannot just stand by, as if there were nothing wrong.”


Let’s note that we reach this conclusion without referring even once to religion, God, or the Church.  It is the conclusion that any reasonable person comes to when thinking the matter through.  In other words, it is NOT a “religious issue”; it is a matter of logic and justice.  One more conclusion of course follows:  “As a decent human being, I must do something about this.  I must do something to change the abortion regime of the United States.  As an upstanding citizen committed to human rights, I cannot in good conscience consider this to be merely one political issue among many.  This is a matter of life or death for thousands of innocent unborn children every day.”


This is where airtight logic takes us.  All people of truth and good will reach the same conclusion if they take the trouble to think the whole thing through.  There is no logic on the other side; the ‘pro-choice’ position is simply a matter of might makes right, without any reference to truth.  “Minimizing the number of abortions” is not a satisfactory goal for anyone who cares about justice.


Now, the next step of the argument is the point at which good people can and do disagree with each other.  What is the best political strategy for bringing the Roe v. Wade abortion regime to an end?  What should we do as good, law-abiding American citizens to protect the innocent and defenseless unborn?  There is no one clear, logical answer to these questions.  We need to discuss them calmly and carefully.


Perhaps someone detects a flaw in the logic outlined here.  If you do, please respond.  It would be good to have a clear-headed debate about the logic of the pro-life position.  On the other hand, if you don’t see a flaw in the reasoning, then why aren’t you taking a clear and public stand against legal abortion?  What excuse could there possibly be?