Friday, December 24, 2010

Zenit: Doctrinal Congregation's Note on Light of the World


"The Thought of the Pope Has Been Repeatedly Manipulated"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 21, 2010 ( Here is the note released today by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith "On the Trivialization of Sexuality: Regarding Certain Interpretations of 'Light of the World.'"

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Following the publication of the interview-book Light of the World by Benedict XVI, a number of erroneous interpretations have emerged which have caused confusion concerning the position of the Catholic Church regarding certain questions of sexual morality. The thought of the Pope has been repeatedly manipulated for ends and interests which are entirely foreign to the meaning of his words -- a meaning which is evident to anyone who reads the entire chapters in which human sexuality is treated. The intention of the Holy Father is clear: To rediscover the beauty of the divine gift of human sexuality and, in this way, to avoid the cheapening of sexuality which is common today.

Some interpretations have presented the words of the Pope as a contradiction of the traditional moral teaching of the Church. This hypothesis has been welcomed by some as a positive change and lamented by others as a cause of concern – as if his statements represented a break with the doctrine concerning contraception and with the Church’s stance in the fight against AIDS. In reality, the words of the Pope -- which specifically concern a gravely disordered type of human behaviour, namely prostitution (cf. "Light of the World," pp. 117-119) -- do not signify a change in Catholic moral teaching or in the pastoral practice of the Church.

As is clear from an attentive reading of the pages in question, the Holy Father was talking neither about conjugal morality nor about the moral norm concerning contraception. This norm belongs to the tradition of the Church and was summarized succinctly by Pope Paul VI in paragraph 14 of his encyclical letter "Humanae Vitae," when he wrote that "also to be excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation -- whether as an end or as a means." The idea that anyone could deduce from the words of Benedict XVI that it is somehow legitimate, in certain situations, to use condoms to avoid an unwanted pregnancy is completely arbitrary and is in no way justified either by his words or in his thought. On this issue the Pope proposes instead – and also calls the pastors of the Church to propose more often and more effectively (cf. "Light of the World," p. 147) -- humanly and ethically acceptable ways of behaving which respect the inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative meaning of every conjugal act, through the possible use of natural family planning in view of responsible procreation.

On the pages in question, the Holy Father refers to the completely different case of prostitution, a type of behaviour which Christian morality has always considered gravely immoral (cf. Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution "Gaudium et spes," No. 27; Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2355). The response of the entire Christian tradition – and indeed not only of the Christian tradition – to the practice of prostitution can be summed up in the words of St. Paul: "Flee from fornication" (1 Cor 6:18). The practice of prostitution should be shunned, and it is the duty of the agencies of the Church, of civil society and of the State to do all they can to liberate those involved from this practice.

In this regard, it must be noted that the situation created by the spread of AIDS in many areas of the world has made the problem of prostitution even more serious. Those who know themselves to be infected with HIV and who therefore run the risk of infecting others, apart from committing a sin against the sixth commandment are also committing a sin against the fifth commandment – because they are consciously putting the lives of others at risk through behaviour which has repercussions on public health. In this situation, the Holy Father clearly affirms that the provision of condoms does not constitute "the real or moral solution" to the problem of AIDS and also that "the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality" in that it refuses to address the mistaken human behaviour which is the root cause of the spread of the virus. In this context, however, it cannot be denied that anyone who uses a condom in order to diminish the risk posed to another person is intending to reduce the evil connected with his or her immoral activity. In this sense the Holy Father points out that the use of a condom "with the intention of reducing the risk of infection, can be a first step in a movement towards a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality." This affirmation is clearly compatible with the Holy Father’s previous statement that this is "not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection."

Some commentators have interpreted the words of Benedict XVI according to the so-called theory of the "lesser evil." This theory is, however, susceptible to proportionalistic misinterpretation (cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter "Veritatis splendor," No. 75-77). An action which is objectively evil, even if a lesser evil, can never be licitly willed. The Holy Father did not say – as some people have claimed – that prostitution with the use of a condom can be chosen as a lesser evil. The Church teaches that prostitution is immoral and should be shunned. However, those involved in prostitution who are HIV positive and who seek to diminish the risk of contagion by the use of a condom may be taking the first step in respecting the life of another – even if the evil of prostitution remains in all its gravity. This understanding is in full conformity with the moral theological tradition of the Church.

In conclusion, in the battle against AIDS, the Catholic faithful and the agencies of the Catholic Church should be close to those affected, should care for the sick and should encourage all people to live abstinence before and fidelity within marriage. In this regard it is also important to condemn any behaviour which cheapens sexuality because, as the Pope says, such behaviour is the reason why so many people no longer see in sexuality an expression of their love: "This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being" ("Light of the World," p. 119).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Debate between Michael Behe and Stephen Barr

For ISI: Should Intelligent Design Be Taught as Science? mp3

Stephen M. Barr
Professor of Physics, University of Delaware

Michael Behe
Professor of Biochemistry, Lehigh University and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute

Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL
First Things: The Ruins of Discontinuity
Looking for answers to the fragmentation of Catholic theology in America.
Reinhard Hütter

Monday, December 20, 2010

Chiesa: Sexual Ethics. Six Professors Discuss the Ratzinger Case
Luke Gormally, of the Pontifical Academy for Life, replies to Martin Rhonheimer, of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. Then two Italian Catholic philosophers. And an Argentinian. And George Weigel... All started by something the pope said

Kreeft v. Spencer on Islam

Thomas More College
Lisa Graas
Patrick Madrid: Peter Kreeft and Robert Spencer Debate the merits and demerits of Islam

Stephen Barr on science and metaphysics

Stephen Barr, The Symbiosis of Science and Metaphysics (via Joe Carter).

The arrogance of scientists lecturing to philosophers on how they should do philosophy? That is what I thoght at first, especially when Naturally, John Farrell expressed his appreciation at First Things, especially of the closing:
In short, Aristotelian/Thomistic philosophy has paid a heavy price for the two and a half centuries in which it largely ignored what was going on in the natural sciences. A sustained re-engagement with science would enrich its conceptual and linguistic resources. This re-engagement cannot simply be an attempt to translate statements of modern science into existing Aristotelian terms. That cannot be done in many cases. Rather, many more Aristotelian/ Thomistic metaphysicians than currently do must learn to listen to and understand science in its own native tongue.
But then I went ahead and read the rest of the essay.
Beyond directly theological issues, does modern physics have anything to say to metaphysics, and therefore indirectly to theology? Some might argue not, on the grounds that metaphysics speaks about such general features of reality - of being as being - that it cannot be affected by discoveries of particular contingent facts about the world. And yet, Aristotelian metaphysics, which has such an important place in Catholic thought, was not conceived in isolation from scientific investigation. Aristotle was himself a great scientist and both his metaphysics and science make use of the same technical apparatus of form, matter, substance, accident, potency, act, and so on. Indeed, it was largely as a theory of nature that Aristotelianism first commended itself to medieval Christian thinkers.

It is a great problem that traditional Aristotelian/Thomistic metaphysics and modern science no longer speak the same language, as they did in the Middle Ages. Indeed, there are many terms and concepts in the language of each that are now almost untranslatable into the language of the other. Some argue that this is the fault of modern science, which restricted its attention to a limited range of questions having to do with the merely quantitative aspects of things and with efficient and material causes at the expense of formal and final causes. While there is some truth in this, it is only a part of the story. The language of Aristotelian/Thomistic metaphysics has changed very little since the advent of modern science and its vocabulary seems from a scientific perspective quite stilted and awkward for many purposes.

Physics has had enormous success in explaining why things happen as they do in the natural world, but its modes of explanation do not fit neatly into the four-fold classification of material, formal, efficient, and final causes. For example, when physicists explain the electrical conductivity of metals in terms of the "band structure" of the energy levels of the electrons in a crystal lattice of atoms, to which of the four causes does that correspond? As this example illustrates, explanation in modern physics is almost entirely in terms of mathematical structure and involves an enormously rich set of ideas about form. The fact that modern science is nonetheless typically accused by Aristotelian/Thomistic metaphysicians of neglecting "formal cause" shows that they are working with a different notion of form than are contemporary physicists and mathematicians. In Aristotelian/Thomistic philosophy, the ideas of formal causation and substantial form have a teleological thrust that is largely missing from the physicist's conception of form, which corresponds more to Lonergan's broader idea of form as "intelligible structure".

Another example of a linguistic/conceptual difference between Aristotelian thought and modern science is that the former usually envisions the action of one thing upon another (for example fire heating iron), whereas in modern physics the physical world is explained in terms of mutual "interactions". A third example is that the notions of "species" in Aristotelian philosophy and modern biology are not compatible. Aristotelian species are what mathematicians call "equivalence classes", so that if A is of the same species as B, and B is of the same species as C, then A must be of the same species as C. However, it does not appear possible in biology to define species in a way that always satisfies this condition. (The existence of "ring species", such as the Larus gulls, illustrates the problem, as indeed does "speciation" in evolution, whereby all animals are of the same species as their parents and offspring, but not as their remote ancestors or descendents.)

He makes some good point about Aristotle being a "scientist" and a "philosopher." But the rest...

Even if they are well-meaning, Catholic scientists who would seek to advance the credibility of the Church and the Catholic intellectual tradition should instead examine their starting points and assumptions, and check their reasoning. Those philosophers and theologians who would seek to have discussions with such scientists (as the River Forest School used to promote) should always check the logic (especially the definitions of terms).

Even now we still have some Dominicans of the River Forest School continuing the work of the school: Fr. William Wallace, especially. And then there is Anthony Rizzi, who was apparently influenced more by Maritain. Aristotelian-Thomists have no problems reviewing contemporary scientific literature -- what will irritate the Catholic scientists is when they do so critically. Philosophers and theologians of other schools may be more deficient in their training, so I would not suggest that they grapple with the literature right away--rather they should study logic, physics, and philosophy/history of science. Talking about the "mode of explanation" of Aristotelian physics shows that Barr has not gone far enough in a critical examination of what he believes. One does not evaluate what some philosophers have written with belief -- one must start off first by asking whether one has belief or true knowledge, and only then can one critique what others have said.

Aristotelian-Thomistic vocabulary begins with what we first know and it is used to understand what we come to know. We do not go in reverse, attempting to understand what is better-known through what is less-known, which is what contemporary scientists would have us do. If modern science is criticized as neglecting the formal cause, it is conjunction with critiques about its mathematical character and reductionism.

Barr concedes that physics almost entirely in terms of mathematical structure, and yet "involves an enormously rich set of ideas about form," using the example of electronic band structure, Claiming that is so does not make it so. What he neglects to examine is how one arrives at that mathematical structure in the first place -- quantity and measurement -- from what causal interactions are such measurements derived? Moreover, the avoidance of teleology does not make a causal (i.e. scientific) account of x wrong -- it merely makes it incomplete, and those who would maintain that this is a complete explanation (or the only one attainable) are therefore wrong.

As for species -- James Chastek has written something recently on this question, and I have yet to think about what he says. Is it necessary for an account using a more traditional notion of species ("kinds") to be reconciled with the modern biological notion? No. But that does not mean that it cannot be done, even if one can concede that species refer to populations of individuals that reproduce and are isolated from other populations (Ernst Mayr's definition). Talking about a group and its lineage of reproduction/descent does not exclude the possibility that there are natural limits to the variation of structure within that group/lineage.

Philosophy Lives
Why Stephen Hawking’s attempt to banish natural theology only shows why we need it.
John Haldane

Sunday, December 19, 2010