Cosmological Completeness

Cosmological Completeness

“Incomplete cosmology” is one of my favorite oblique philosophical terms to throw around in conversations with my wife. She’s usually the only person that immediately knows what on earth I’m talking about. So what is incomplete cosmology? That’s a wee bit of a longish explanation. It’s when a philosophical or theological opinion does not include an adequate cosmological explanation. In other words, it doesn’t answer the cosmological argument.

The cosmological argument, first advanced by Saint Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Contra Gentiles and Summa Theologiae, basically says that everything around us is dependent on some cause. Everything around us depends on something else to explain it. Everything is an effect that has a cause. In order to adequately explain all these causes, there must be something that does not depend on another cause to explain itself. There must be something that necessarily exists, that explains its own existence. This is the uncaused cause, which the Angelic Doctor identifies with God. He then employs many other arguments to describe the nature of God.

About a year ago, YouTube personality Hank Green posted a video for his “Philosophy CrashCourse” looking at Aquinas’s cosmological argument. It gives a very cursory explanation of what the argument is, then proceeds to “debunk” it. Hank Green does not have a formal philosophy background, and it really shows. He considers the Aquinas argument by taking it out of the context of the Summa Theologiae.. He also only considers Aquinas, ignoring the 800 years of philosophy since then that have thoroughly answered all of Green’s arguments. The details of the cosmological argument as discussed in the last century are often formulated quite differently than they were during the age of Medieval Scholasticism. Green is interesting in arguing with 13th century philosophy, rather than 21st century philosophy. Perhaps he realizes he would lose a fair fight.

This month, Matt Fradd posted a detailed explanation rebutting Green’s arguments. I encourage you to go listen to it. It’s the reason that I don’t feel obligated to answer all of Green’s bad rhetoric. I don’t 100% love Fradd’s explanation either, but I like about 95% of it, and my disagreements aren’t of paramount significance. So please go listen to him, and see why Hank Green’s video is silly.

I think Green’s poor arguments are indicative of a wider philosophical undertone that ignores one of the most important questions posed by man. I call it the cosmological question: Why is there something rather than nothing? It’s called cosmological because cosmological means something relating to the origin or the development of the universe. The question asks WHY is there anything at all rather than nothing ever existing.

Hank Green identifies as an atheist, and many atheists seem to ignore the cosmological question. Often atheists respond to the  question with a half-baked answer involving the multi-verse theory, saying that we live in only one of the infinity universes, containing every possibility. Thus, it is not that our universe is special, since every potential combination that could exist does. Putting aside the fact that this is a completely unprovable theory and also putting aside the seeming absurdity of infinite parallel universes, this still doesn’t answer the basis question. Instead, it multiplies the question. The question then becomes, why do infinite universes exist, rather than nothing existing? This theory explains nothing. Instead, it makes the question more pressing.

There are even theists who do not answer the cosmological questions. Mormons, for instance, have a very different view of God than Christianity does. Mormons do not make an ontological distinction between God and man. In other words, the Mormon “Heavenly Father” and human beings are essentially the same type of entity, just at different points of personal development. Mormons believe that earth is a planet created/populated by a god, and that human beings can develop into gods too and create/populate their own planets. Mormons posit an “Eternal Progression,” implying that the god they believe in was once merely a man like us, on a planet created by a different god. Mormonism has an “incomplete cosmology” because it does not explain why there are any human-to-god entities to begin with. Rather, each god in Mormonism is a dependent entity whose existence is explained by the planet or god that brought it into being, rather than explaining itself.

Hinduism also is an incomplete cosmology. The gods of Hinduism rise and fall in an infinite cycle of death and rebirth, just as Hindus believe that human beings are reincarnated on earth. Hinduism does not explain why there is any such cycle, or why any of the Hindu gods must exist. Hinduism does not explain why the world is, rather than there being no world at all.

So in considering any philosophical or theological system, ask yourself whether the system is cosmologically complete. It may not have the right answer to why there is something rather than nothing. But if it has no answer to the cosmological question, then it will necessarily leave unanswered many of the burning questions of the human heart.

Advertisements

Jesus, Mary, and the Eclipse

Jesus, Mary, and the Eclipse

So a big thing happened this week: the United States experienced its first total solar eclipse since 1979, and the first total eclipse to stretch from coast to coast in over a century. In ye olden days, eclipses were viewed with abject terror, as divine harbingers of death and destruction. This is understandable, given the scientific limitations of the time, and the potentially frightening experience of the sun disappearing midday. Today, eclipses are viewed as “cool” or as simply an accidental quirk of the rocks circling our sun. But I think there could be some truth to the “divine sign” idea, though not as a sign of devastation.

The sun has long been used as a symbol of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Of course, “son” and “sun” are similar words, but the symbolic connection predates the English language. Jesus is the “Light of the World.” As the sun rises over the horizon, overcoming the darkness, so Jesus rises from the dead, defeating death forever. The sun as a symbol figures prominently in the badge of the Society of Jesus, which is today seen as the major charge of the coat of arms of Pope Francis:

Francis Coat of Arms

The moon has equally long been used as a symbol of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is in large part because she is identified as the Woman in the Revelation of Saint John, who is “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (Revelation 12:1) The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe includes Mary standing on the crescent moon, and the moon is used as a heraldric device for Mary, such as in the coat of arms of my local church, the Archdiocese of Mobile:

 

Mary’s identification with the moon is particularly apt because of what the moon actually does. The moon has no light of its own. It merely reflects to us the light of the sun. Mary, too, is not noticeable on her own, but is radiant because she perfectly reflects to us the light and love and grace of her Son, Jesus Christ.

Just as the sun and moon reveal Jesus and Mary, I think that so too does an eclipse—a special confluence of the sun and the moon—reveal the relationship between Jesus and Mary and our experience of that relationship.

I firmly believe that “the heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1) I take this message seriously. Sacred Scripture itself shows that in many ways God has painted the Gospel message in the medium of His creation. The stars themselves are his paintbrush. The birth of Our Savior, of the Creator’s own Son, was announced by a “star at its rising.” (Matthew 2:1) In ancient Judea, this language could have had a number of meanings, but something in the sky caught the notice of the learned.

And this eclipse we have experienced should catch our notice. A total solar eclipse such as the one just seen in the United States occurs when the moon passes just perfectly between the earth and sun, completely blocking out the surface of the sun. With the surface blotted out, it is possible to see the sun’s corona with the naked eye. The corona is always there, an aura of plasma extending out from the sun in every direction, but is only visible during a solar eclipse, when the moon shields us from the full glare of the sun’s surface.

As the moon stands in the gap between the earth and the sun, so too does Mary stand in the gap between us and the Son. She has no desire to best Jesus, to block us from ever seeing His Light. But every once in a while, she stands between us and Him so that we can see Him better. She humanizes Jesus, lifting her veil so we are shielded momentarily from His shimmering glory, and can experience parts of Jesus that we would never be able to see otherwise. His corona, His humanity, is visible around her veil, and we see the deep love he has for us. And then, like the end of an eclipse, she drops her veil and again we are enveloped in his wondrous light.

Take notice of this sign in the sky, this sign of Our Savior and His Mother. Take advantage of the Veil of the Virgin to see her Son more fully.

If Chick-fil-A were Catholic . . .

If Chick-fil-A were Catholic . . .

I love eating at Chick-fil-A. If you don’t live near one of the 2,000 Chick-fil-A locations, I am really sorry. There’s nothing quite like the CFA sandwich, or their waffle fries, or their amazing cookies. I live in the South, where most CFA’s are, and I still don’t think I live close enough to one. It’s like ten whole minutes away.

But Chick-fil-A has one major fault: it’s closed on Sundays. This is a really, really dirty trick to play. It’s such a dirty trick that the Internet (a/k/a Tim Hawkins) made a remarkably funny satirical song about it. Why is it a dirty trick? Because 75% of the time that I crave Chick-fil-A is on a Sunday, when I can’t have it. When nobody can have it. Your wife asks “what can we get for dinner?” and you think “Chick-fil-A!” and then immediately say “but it’s Sunday . . . ” It’s really upsetting.

Chick-fil-A closes on Sunday because the restaurant recognizes that the day is special, belonging  to God, and so that their employees can spend time with their families. Other chains do this too, like Hobby Lobby and Dirt Cheap. But I don’t care about those. My wife wants her crafts at Hobby Lobby and her deals at Dirt Cheap, but I just want my hand-breaded deep-fried all-white-meat chicken sandwich.

But if Chick-fil-A were run by Catholics, it might be open on Sundays. That would be amazing. Paragraph 2187 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says “Sanctifying Sundays and holy days requires a common effort . . . Traditional activities (sport, restaurant, etc.) and social necessities (public services, etc.), require some people to work on Sundays, but everyone should still take care to set aside sufficient time for leisure.”

Restaurants stay open and athletes compete in order to enhance the enjoyment of the Lord’s Day, a day of rest, by others. And Chick-fil-A staying open on Sunday would seriously enhance my enjoyment of Sunday. I would never think “I want Chick-fil-A” on Sunday and then be without any hope of eating that wonderful fried goodness. And that’s a really good thing, because Sunday is not a day for being deprived. It’s a day for celebration.

Am I (bbbb <–that’s my 1-year-old’s contribution) kidding just a little bit? Am I twisting the Catechism out of context just this much to make my point? Is it really optional whether an establishment wants to be open Sunday and other Holy Days? Yes, Yes, and Yes.

If I’m being totally serious, I guess I’m glad that there’s a national chain willing to cut into their profits in order to point out to the wider culture that Sunday is special, Sunday is important, Sunday is for better things. But guys! Is it too much to ask for fried chicken? Doesn’t a feast of fried chicken signify that today is a Holy Day, a day set apart, the Eighth Day of Creation? Open on Sunday and feed my need, Chick-fil-A!

Say No To Satellites!

Say No To Satellites!

Recently, a friend of mine shared a satirical article about Steven Furtick, a pastor in Charlotte, North Carolina, signing a six-year $110 million contract to preach at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Texas. Of course, Furtick didn’t sign any such contract and isn’t going to Texas, but when my friend posted it, it caused a stir among his relatives who didn’t know that it was satire.

The story also caused me to remember my long-time ire of megachurches. Furtick founded “Elevation Church” in North Carolina, which hosts 20,000 people each weekend in 15 locations. The Church of the Highlands in my state of Alabama hosts 40,000 people in 16 locations.

I’ll admit off the bat that not everything about megachurches and their pastors is bad. Many, like Furtick’s church, are known for doing a ton of service work (but not Joel Osteen’s). Some of them have pastors with actual theological training (but not Joel Osteen). Some of them have pastors that live like normal people instead living in mega-mansions (but not Joel Osteen).

But megachurches also have a lot of big issues seriously affecting Christianity in America. Joel Osteen’s “prosperity gospel” is an unadulterated heresy that has taught millions of people that material wealth is a reward for spiritual greatness. The unbelievable personal wealth amassed by megachurch pastors is seriously disconcerting, and an abrogation of Christ’s “poor in spirit” message. But the big thing—the thing that always bewilders me—is the tendency of many megachurches to have a dozen or more satellite campuses.

The satellite campuses are strange for a specific reason. It’s not an attempt to make a new ecclesial community fifty miles away. The pastor uses video technology to livestream his sermon to the new campus, in an attempt to merely extend the existing church community. Thousands of people walk into an auditorium on Sunday morning to watch a preacher on big screen from a different city.

I feel like there’s a monumental hubris involved to feel that you have to be live-streamed to another auditorium and another group of people. Most people respond best a person in the room, but these churches and these pastors have decided that nobody else can preach as well as them. Nobody else can take the Gospel to the next town or the next neighborhood. They have to go themselves, despite the fact they can only go by video.

They send an assistant minister to tend to the needs of the flock, but don’t let that person preach, because the preaching comes from the TV. They are essentially saying that this assistant being sent is good enough to do the heavy lifting of helping you through difficulty in a marriage, or helping to form your children in the faith, but the pastor doesn’t trust them to preach. The pastor has to get the notoriety of preaching to huge crowds and won’t share it.

I spent a long time wondering why anybody would put up with a satellite church experience. The focus is apparently on a big television screen. This can’t possibly be nourishing anyone in the same way as a person-to-person experience.

Then I realized why these churches do this, instead of sending a real-life minister: that famous preacher is the glue holding that community together. Some will argue that it’s Holy Scripture that’s the lifeblood of the community, but that’s a bit of an overstatement. All of the Christianity shares the New Testament, along with Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Seventh Day Adventists, and we are all far from being one people. These megachurches also lack ingrained traditions—concrete actions divorced from particular individuals—by which to affirm their unity. They do not gather around an altar for the sacrificial offering of the Eucharist, as do Catholics and Orthodox. The substance of these ecclesial communities is the preacher and his preaching.

I don’t think poorly of anyone who is making a concerted effort to know the Lord Jesus Christ. But the Church founded by the Christ is real, and it’s more than a persona projected on a screen. The Church is the The Person of Jesus Christ, not a person on a stage. Demand more! Demand God at the center of your Sabbath experience, not a celebrity! At the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it is obvious who is most important. His Body and Blood are on the Altar. The Church needs Christ, and bringing Christ means coming in person. No satellites!

*I have real hang-ups about Joel Osteen on just about every level. He’s a poor representative of Christianity and probably will merit a post all his own in the future.

Incapable of Justice

Incapable of Justice

I’m an attorney. I have a law degree and I’m admitting to practice law in the State of Alabama. As an officer of the Court, the law imparts responsibilities on me. When representing my clients, I have to abide by the Court’s orders, enforce the Court’s orders, cooperate in the administration of justice as described by the law. My education, my bar admission, my entire career is precipitated on the assumption that the law actually is just.

The fact is that the law is not always just. The law is limited and often allows people to act with imminent injustice. Our very best friends have been going through something really difficult, really painful right now. We can’t help them. They can’t help themselves. It’s an awful situation. And it’s one that the law allows. The law in their situation—and in many situations—can never be perfect. But for them and their situation, the law as it is allows them to be hurt by a stranger. I’m undecided on the morality of the stranger’s choice, but it has nonetheless been harmful to these very dear friends of mine.

The law is orderly and meaningful and necessary. I’m a defense attorney. When I’m researching case precedent or statutes and find the perfect point of law, I feel like I’m putting up a shield in front of my clients, or drawing a line in the sand. I get to use the law to say “this far and no further.”

I spend a lot of time defending and promoting the law to the people around me. I tell a person “the law can protect you from that” and “the law doesn’t allow that” or “a lawyer can help you” or “You really need a lawyer for that.” But sometimes the law can’t protect a person, and then I feel truly limited. Because the law is indeed limited. It has only general rules and only general priorities. It cannot account for the intricacies and fallenness of the world we live in. It is so often not capable of justice.

This is why a man (or a woman) cannot live by the law alone. Every person, to be moral, must act justly. But the law is not always just. If you live only by the law, you never give to charity, or forgive transgressions, or protect the youngest of the young. To live morally, or justly, one must enforce on oneself a great number of prohibitions and responsibilities that the law does not.

Legality is not morality. Of course, this is not a new idea. Saint Thomas Aquinas recognized many centuries ago that “an unjust law is not a law,” arguing that any purported law which requires unjust actions has no imperative force. The Twentieth Century saw plenty of homicidal regimes who wrote their own laws and never broke them while they killed en masse. The world knew that these were immoral acts, regardless of the laws involved.

But our society, our culture does not seem recognize the same immorality involving only a single person. When the law has ever considered an act and not outlawed it (or removed a prohibition against it), society finds it acceptable. This is true of abortion; contraception; drinking yourself into oblivion in your own home regardless of the effect on your family. The law allows all kinds of terrible actions, and so often our culture does not grasp that morality goes beyond the scant prohibitions of the law.

In any case, I’m hurting for my friends right now, and they’re hurting a lot more than me. I feel helpless, which is not how I usually feel when the law is involved. This time the law is no help, and that’s unbelievably disappointing to me. I want the law to work for people, and not against them; to protect people, not leave them exposed. This time that wasn’t the case. Nothing about my friends caused them to earn the treatment they’ve received. There’s nothing they could have done differently or better to change the situation. The law just favored someone else, and favored them regardless of how it affected these friends. That’s not fair, or just. But the law is often incapable of justice. It’s incapable of righting all the wrongs in the world because we’re in it and we’re human, and humans make wrongs.

Only God can fix us or our broken world, and he is a perfect lawgiver, a perfect legislator for every perfectly human circumstance. His laws are difficult, but they are knowable and wise. They do not prioritize as the laws of this world do, but only prioritize for our good. Where my friends are concerned, I don’t think those laws were perfectly honored, and deep pain follows. Please say a prayer for them in a difficult time, that God may see them clear to healing.

The Final Frontier: Godlessness?

The Final Frontier: Godlessness?

My wife and I celebrated our sixth anniversary on Sunday. Happy Anniversary, Sweetie! I can’t believe it’s been six years since we got married (at age 21!). I wouldn’t trade a second of it for the world. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of any significant, groundbreaking statement to make on marriage, or our wonderful marriage specifically, so this post is about science fiction.

I am gigantic sci-fi nerd. YUUUGE. Recently, my three-year-old asked me what my favorite movie was, and I had a hard time deciding if it was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn or Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Apparently John Carter was a gigantic flop; I thought it was fantastic. And I almost always have a space-obsessed novel on my nightstand. Right now it’s a fantasy piece recommended by a friend, but that’s not the norm.

I love speculative fiction, but I’m struck that the future speculated is always so decidedly atheist. Futuristic fiction so often discounts religion as meaningless hocus-pocus or as a harmful set of superstitions. This pattern holds true across a huge spectrum of the genre. The “big three” authors of classical sci-fi all lean toward atheism. I love Robert Heinlein (Go read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress right now; it’s amazing), but he treats religion as essentially silly throughout Job: A Comedy of Justice. Arthur C. Clarke advances a fairly naturalistic viewpoint, and Isaac Asimov is so atheistic that a friend of mine who is also a big sci-fi reader has stopped reading his stories. That compelled me to not start reading them. More recent authors, such as Robert Charles Wilson, also often treat religion with a similar skepticism. The major contemporary exception is Orson Scott Card, a noted theist (who is Mormon and tries really hard, but gets Catholicism totally wrong in Speaker for the Dead).

One of the biggest culprits is also my favorite series: Star Trek is intentionally secular. Both Gene Roddenberry (series creator) and Brannon Braga (who wrote Star Trek for TV for almost 20 years) are on record as intentionally keeping human religion out of the series as much as possible. Alien religions are another issue. Those get a lot of screen time, but humans are “more enlightened.”

My question is why? The main thrust of these sci-fi stories is that technology will be more advanced in the future, and that humans will know more, meet lots of new types of people, and explore many new places. Why should those things cause humans to “lose” religion? Humans have been advancing in technology, and meeting new people, and finding new places, for thousands of years. But this hasn’t been the impetus for humans ditching religion. Admittedly, in many cases, it has been the cause of people taking up a new religion. But humans haven’t ditched spirituality.

So why has science fiction? What is that these authors are speculating about? Ultimately, I think it’s a rejection of the morality that religion stands for. Sci-fi authors seem to think that religion is little and includes only little concerns, such as sexual morality. Star Trek: The Next Generation is often labeled “The Sex Generation,” and with good reason. It has no reference to Christianity, but Commander Riker finds a new alien to bed in every other episode. There’s a certain crass dichotomy to it. The less we talk about religion, the more we’re going to focus on the types of things that a typical viewer’s religion frowns on. For predominately atheist sci-fi authors, a world without religion is one in which they don’t have to encounter the superstitions of believers, or be told that they should exercise restraint in personal decisions.

But if that is really the view of these authors, they are wrong for at least two reasons. One, a world essentially devoid of human religion is perhaps the least plausible facet of the future that these authors speculate to. Questions of a higher power have dominated human thought for thousands upon thousands of years. There is no reason to believe that humans will stop posing these questions in the few hundred years it takes for the Borg to reach earth. The human heart longs to know why there is something rather than nothing, and whether there is life after death. Science doesn’t answer these questions, but religion and philosophy can.

Secondly, this view is wrong because religion—specifically the True Religion of Jesus Christ—is anything but little. It is not concerned with the small things of this world, but with the grandeurs of eternity. Many sci-fi authors dream of a perfect world, and that’s a good thing. But they do not consider the human soul, the human need for the eternal. These authors look to technology to solve our problems, to make our temporal world a paradise. But the great promise that these authors are looking for isn’t speculation. It isn’t a dream. The wonderful future they yearn for is real, is guaranteed, in the Life Everlasting. But it is through religion, which they think will be eliminated from the future, that this perfection comes. These authors dream too small, when reality is already so big.

Nope, Nope, That’s Child Abuse

Nope, Nope, That’s Child Abuse

If you haven’t heard, there’s an absolutely crazy thing happening in British Columbia right now. You can read more here, but the long story short is this: Kori Doty had a baby “outside the medical system,” and named her baby “Searyl Atli Doty,” and she will not tell the government whether her baby is a boy or a girl. She wants to avoid assigning gender to her child, and won’t let anyone else acknowledge here child’s sex either. The Canadian government has so far not issued a birth certificate for this child without ascertaining what the child’s sex is. However, the British Columbia Ministry of Health recently mailed the child a health card with the designation “U” for sex, instead of the “M” or “F” on every other health card.

So far, the news item has been the health card arriving from the Ministry of Health. Of course, there are a number of groups who feel that this health card is some sort of government recognition of not assigning sex at birth. But that part of the story isn’t really newsworthy at all. Because of the parent’s decision, no one knows the sex of this child. But the child still needs healthcare. And a just government doesn’t deny an important healthcare tool to a baby because of a parent’s left-field decision.

The issue here is the mother’s decision and it is a HUGE issue. There A few disclaimers though:

  • I use the words “sex” and “gender” interchangeably. Because whether you are a man or a woman does not change depending on your opinion of that fact. We’ll talk about why down below.
  • Kori Doty identifies as “non-binary trans” and has a stated preference for the pronoun “they.” But she’s only one person, so “they” is factually incorrect. And of course there’s the fact that she’s a woman.
  • We don’t know the sex of Searyl Atli Doty. That’s the whole point. I’m calling him a him. But if that turns out to be incorrect, don’t read anything into my use of “he.”

Sex is not a construct. It is a metaphysical reality. “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27 and 5:2 and Matthew 19:4). It is not your body which is male or female. You are male or female. Human beings don’t spring out of the universe by on accident. God creates human beings. He doesn’t make mistakes. He doesn’t accidentally make “women” with male bodies. He makes women. He doesn’t make “men” with female bodies. He makes men. And he doesn’t make people who aren’t men or women. He makes that clear. You are male or female.

Sex though isn’t merely a religious belief. It is a scientific fact. It can be ascertained whether a person is a man or a woman, and that fact doesn’t change. There are primary and secondary sex characteristics that tell any competent medical professional whether a mammal is male or female. This is true even of medically “intersex” individuals, for whom one or more primary or secondary sex characteristics are ambiguous. The reality of sexual dimorphism is the consistent finding of medical and biological science and is the consistent teaching of the Church.

What is so striking, and so very sad, about the situation in Canada is that this fact is being hidden about a very little child. Who a child is should be celebrated. The first thing you know about a child is that he’s a human, made in the image and likeness of God. The very next thing you know about your child is whether you have a boy or a girl. The world wants to celebrate who this child is, but no one knows it.

But the arch-sadness here is what effect this decision will have on the child. This parent has essentially decided to ignore that her child has a sex. A child gets to see their mother or their father and realize “I look like him” or “I look like her.” When this child asks himself “who do I look like?” this parent wants to the answer to be “That doesn’t really matter.” But the answer so obviously does matter. This parent expects her child to divine an identity out of thin air, while he is still a child. But she won’t tell her child about the world he inhabits, or the body that’s his.

She expects him to author his own self. But that’s not what humans are. Humans are made. And even if you don’t believe in a Creator, you must acknowledge that humans are a part of the world we live in. The world we live in is factual. The person who doesn’t acknowledge those facts has a hard time living in our world. But this woman refuses to acknowledge the facts for her child, and thereby makes life extremely difficult for him. This is an abuse of one’s power as a parent, to harm a child unnecessarily simply by ignoring the obvious. Send up a prayer for the Doty family. They need all the prayers they can get.