Saturday, April 14, 2007

Long on Embryonic Rescue

From Steven Long, "An Argument for the Embryonic Intactness of Marriage," The Thomist 70 (April 2006), 267-88.

8. It is surely true that it is more natural for an embryonic child to be carried by a woman in her womb than by a machine such as an artificial womb, and also that it is more natural for the embryonic child to develop and live rather than to die. But the conclusions drawn from this are erroneous. For while it is generically speaking more natural for the child to be carried in a woman's womb than in a machine or artificial womb, the accruing of an additional form may make such carrying of the child to be unnatural. Similarly, it is generically better not to kill human beings than to kill them, but subsequent upon a certain form of justice, it may be better to kill--say, in just war, in defense, or in the case of the death penalty. Likewise, generically it is more natural for the embryonic child to be carried in the womb of a woman. But when one considers the added formality that the woman in question is not the mother of the child, so that such carrying constitutes either a sin against marital intimacy, against the chastity of the unwed, or against the vow of religious chastity, it is clear that by this form it is contrary to natural order for such a woman to carry the child of other parents. Indeed, it is the sin of surrogacy which the Church has proscribed. It is clear that it is then more natural for the child to be saved in an artificial womb than that anyone contrary to moral precept materially violate marital intimacy, or unwed chastity, or religious chastity. With respect to it being more natural for the child to live than to die, this is generically true; but, consequent upon the form that for the child to live someone must do moral evil, one sees that in this case, even were death the only remaining likelihood for the child, it would be better that no morally evil act be done. For one may not do evil that good may come.

With respect to the claim that it is simply natural for women to carry children (to gestate) and therefore it is natural for a woman to gestate another's child, one must say: this is overly generic, too general. Generically speaking, yes, it is natural for

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women to carry children, to gestate; and generically speaking, one might also say it is natural to human beings to gestate; or indeed, one might say it is natural for human beings to engage in sexual activity, or for human beings to marry. But what is generically true requires specification. It is natural to the mother to carry the child she conceives, but not for the woman to go to a clinic and carry a child she never conceived. It is natural to man and wife within the bounds of matrimony to procreate children, but it assuredly is not a perfection of normative natural teleology for all human persons of whatsoever age and sex, and apart from matrimony, to engage in sexual activity. It is natural to those fit for and desiring marriage to marry, but it is not natural to one who is called by God to religious life or the priesthood to deny the divine call, or alternatively and by way of defect for one who cannot engage in the procreative act to marry. It is natural for the prison guard to hold prisoners in jail, but it is not natural for the prison guard to hold someone in jail who is known by all to be innocent or if such holding is clearly contrary to law, justice, and charity. From such a generic proposition as "it is natural for women to carry children" one does not sufficiently fathom normative natural teleology, for the children carried do not naturally fall out of the air, but are conceived by man and wife. It is natural for a wife to conceive a child and then to carry the child in her womb, but the normative teleology is not for a woman to have an embryonic child whom she never conceived implanted in her womb by a clinic.

It remains true that one may not do evil that good may come--one may not violate marital intimacy, the chastity of the unwed, or religious chastity, for the end of saving the lives of embryonic children wrongfully alienated from their mothers' wombs and in danger of death. Yet there is in fact hope that these children may be rescued through the development of an artificial environment that can medicinally provide some minimal degree of what the mother should have provided her child in her womb.

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9. It is true that many acts that are not otherwise permissible may become permissible on the supposition of some prior evil, danger, or grave situation. Nonetheless no such act is permissible if it involves the objective transgression of negative precept, that is, if its moral species is one of wrongdoing. One may not do evil that good may come. Hence the reason why the apostate priest may not habitually dispense the sacrament is that his state of unbelief would render this sacrilegious given his public unbelief, and that he lacks the habitual grace minimally proportionate to such habitual sacaramental action, and that this might even in the external forum be an occasion for the ridiculing of the sacrament. But just as in the case of a penitent in extremis there is an extreme need, so the apostate priest may in such a state, mindful of that dignity to which he had been called, receive from God the graced motion of will whereby he wills in this extreme case to provide the sacrament. One notes that the giving of the sacrament is an end that is good in itself. Likewise, for the child's mother to bear her child is good in itself; but for one who is not the mother to carry the child is not good in itself because contrary, as has been said above, either to marital intimacy, the chastity of the unwed, or religious chastity. And so there is no moral parity here between an apostate priest hearing confession of a penitent in extremis and the case of the woman who chooses to carry a child she has not conceived with her husband in a specific act of conjugal unity: for the former is (or at least may be) good, while the latter is, simply speaking, not good, because it is surrogacy.

Yet the gravity of the case of the embryonic human persons needs to be addressed. How shall it be addressed? It has been seen above that whereas it is generically better for a woman to carry the child, consequent upon a certain form it is seen that to carry a child not her own is wrongful because materially violative of marital intimacy, the chastity of the unwed, or religious chastity. Likewise, as already seen it is generically inferior for an embryonic human being to be placed in a machine rather than in the womb of a woman. But given the realization that this child cannot be placed in the maternal womb as ought to be the case,

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and that this child can be placed in the womb only of a woman for whom this act will be violative of marital intimacy, unwed chastity, or religious chastity, clearly it is better for the child not to be placed in such a woman's womb, and to be placed in an artificial womb. For this offers both to supply medicinally at least some minimal degree of that of which the child has been deprived by its mother, and also it does this without any violation of the moral law. It is, accordingly, the only moral option for attempted rescue of frozen embryonic human beings. But if there is no such artificial womb that is workable, or if any attempt at thawing in the current state of technology should prove to be lethal, may these embryonic children be kept in their unnatural and frozen state in the hope that a technical means may be found to enable at least some of them to survive and live normal human lives?

Although this is not formally part of the question at hand, it seems fitting to conclude by noting that this is indeed one of the circumstances in which, supposing the prior evil, and supposing that there is real hope of normal life for these beings, we may do what elsewise we would not, namely, retain them in their frozen state. Although this is unnatural, and it was wrong initially for them to be alienated from their mothers, yet to unfreeze them is lethal and arguably thus to do them even worse injury; and by unfreezing them it seems that we deliberately choose to take responsibility for their deaths. Hence insofar as there is a realistic prospect of providing a means for at least some of these children to live, it seems not unreasonable to retain them in this unnatural condition in the hope, finally, of freeing them not merely from this affliction by thawing them unto their deaths, but of freeing them from this unnatural state for the sake of living a normal human existence.

In the absence of any such realistic prospect, however--if it is correctly judged that this is now, and for the foreseeable future will remain, impossible--then to unfreeze them, baptize them, and permit them to perish free of their unnatural and unnaturally imposed state, is permissible under the principle of double effect, inasmuch as the circumstances pertinent to their unnatural

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condition rather than the effort to free them therefrom exerts the decisively baneful influence. For to keep innocent human persons trapped in unnatural rigidity indefinitely, in quasiperpetuity and with no practical plan to free them, is unjust. Further, in such circumstances the caretaker's principal responsibility is to baptize them--which means also letting them thaw and die, since there is more probability that they will be alive to be baptized earlier rather than later. To insist upon keeping them in their frozen state without any practical hope of normal life is to perpetuate the wrongful act of those who initially separated them from their mothers and froze them. Only a reasonably practical hope of enabling normal life for these embryonic persons could justify failing to baptize them and keeping them for some slight increment longer in their present unnatural frozen state.

M is for Messy

M is for messy
By Martin Gardner

Lee Smolin
The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next.
Houghton Mifflin, 392 pages, $26

Peter Woit
Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law.
Basic Books, 291 pages, $26.95

For more than thirty years, string theory has been what Murray Gell-Mann called “the only game in town.” By this he meant that it was the only good candidate for a TOE, or Theory of Everything. Not only does it claim to unify relativity and quantum mechanics, it also explains the existence of all fundamental particles. Instead of being “pointlike,” they are modeled by filaments of energy so tiny that there is no known way to observe them or even to prove they are real.

A string can have two ends or be closed like a rubber band. Of great tensile strength, strings vibrate at different frequencies. They live in a space of ten or eleven dimensions, of which six or seven are “compacted” into inconceivably minute structures attached to every point in our four-dimensional spacetime. The simplest vibration of a closed string produces a graviton, the quantized particle of gravity. One of string theory’s earliest triumphs was forcing the reality of gravitons.

After an obscure, bumbling start, string theory slowly began to gain momentum until it became the hottest topic in physics. Thousands of papers were published and thick textbooks written. The fastest way to advance in departments of great universities was to work on strings. Richard Feynman and Sheldon Glashow were almost alone among famous physicists who were skeptical of the trend. Not until a few years ago did skepticism begin to surge. Simmering doubts reached a boiling point last September when two eminent physicists published slashing attacks on string theory. Their books may mark a dramatic turning point in the history of modern physics.

For years, Lee Smolin rode the string bandwagon. After teaching at Yale and Penn State, he became a researcher at the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada, a think tank he helped found. The Trouble with Physics, his third book, is a powerful indictment. He sees string theory as not a theory—only a set of curious conjectures in search of a theory. True, it has great explanatory power, but a viable theory must have more than that. It must make predictions which can be falsified or confirmed.

In addition to this whopping lack of evidence, string theory has suffered other setbacks. It has been absorbed into a richer set of conjectures called M-theory. The M stands mainly for membranes (branes for short), or for Magic, Mystery, Mother of all theories, or any other term you like that begins with M. In M-theory, strings are one-dimensional branes that can roam free or be attached to two-dimensional branes. Branes may be of any dimension from 1 through 9. One wild speculation is that our 3-brane universe floats within a monstrous higher-dimension brane. To a mere science journalist like myself, the great mathematical beauty of early string theory has degenerated into M for Messy. Its membranes, in Smolin’s opinion, are as ugly as the epicycles Ptolemy fabricated to describe the curious paths of planets as they seem to circle Earth.

The most troubling aspect of string/M-theory is that the compacted dimensions, known as Calabi-Yau manifolds, can take at least a hundred thousand different shapes. This has led to the mind-boggling concept of a vast “landscape” consisting of a multiverse containing a hundred thousand, perhaps an infinity, of universes, each with its own Calabi-Yau space! Every universe would have a random selection of physical constants, such as the velocity of light. By anthropic reasoning, we of course live in a universe with just the right set of constants that make possible galaxies, stars, planets, and, on one small planet, such improbable creatures as you and me.

Other string/M-theory embarrassments are carefully detailed by Smolin. Cosmologists have discovered that most of our universe consists of “dark matter,” so called because it is totally invisible. String theorists failed to predict it and have nothing useful to say about it. A more recent discovery is that the universe is expanding at a slightly increasing rate. Such acceleration can only be caused by the pressure of a mysterious “dark force.” Again, writes Smolin, dark force was not predicted by string theory, and the theory has no good explanation for it.

A chapter in Smolin’s persuasive book divides physicists into two classes: craftsmen who test theories; and seers, like Newton and Einstein, who create theories. What physics now desperately needs, Smolin is convinced, is a new Einstein who can replace M-theory with a TOE that can be confirmed by a workable experiment.

Another chapter is devoted to lonely seers, working patiently outside the establishment on conjectures as revolutionary as string theory. Roger Penrose, Oxford’s famous mathematical physicist, is the best known seer. His twistor theory, alas also untestable, is M-theory’s chief rival. Like many other seers, Penrose thinks Einstein was right to regard quantum mechanics as “incomplete.” Other intrepid seers are starting to question even special relativity. Because both relativity and quantum mechanics are essential to M-theory, finding either theory in need of revision would be, Smolin writes, another severe blow to string/M-theory.

In a chapter on sociology, Smolin introduces the concept of “groupthink”—the tendency of groups to share an ideology. This creates a cultlike atmosphere in which those who disagree with the ideology are considered ignoramuses or fools. Most physicists tied up in the string mania, Smolin believes, have become groupthinkers, blind to the possibility that they have squandered time and energy on bizarre speculations that are leading nowhere.

In spite of such criticisms Smolin, like Edward Witten, by far the most energetic and creative of the stringers, believes that even if string/M-theory is finally abandoned, portions of it will remain fruitful. Peter Woit, a mathematical physicist at Columbia University, is less optimistic. He sees little hope that any aspect of M-theory will survive. The harshness of his rhetoric is signaled by his book’s arresting title, Not Even Wrong. It’s a famous quote from the great Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli. A certain theory was so bad, he said, that “it was not even wrong.” By this he meant it was so flimsy it couldn’t be confirmed or falsified.

Most of Woit’s book is a moderately technical, equation-free survey of quantum mechanics, the standard model of particle theory, and the history of superstrings. The prefix “super” indicates the linkage of strings to an earlier theory called supersymmetry. Not until the last third of his book does Woit take up reasons for regarding string theory a failure, destined to give way to a testable TOE.

Although Woit sees Edward Witten as the guru of what resembles a religious cult, he has only the highest respect for Witten’s genius. Amazingly, Witten’s early training was in economics. He soon shifted to mathematics and physics at Princeton University. There, he obtained his doctorate and became a professor for several years before moving to New Jersey’s Institute for Advanced Study where he has remained ever since. He has been given a MacArthur award and a Fields medal, the mathematical equivalent of a Nobel prize.

When Woit was a graduate student at Princeton, he once followed Witten up a stairway from a library to a plaza. When he reached the plaza, Witten had mysteriously vanished. “It crossed my mind,” Woit writes, “that a consistent explanation … was that Witten was an extraterrestrial being from a superior race who, when he thought no one was looking, had teleported back to his office.”

Woit’s main objection to string theory, of course, is that it has not, in Glashow’s words, “made even one teeny-tiny experimental prediction.” Woit quotes Feynman: “String theorists do not make predictions, they make excuses.”

In his book Interactions, Glashow writes:

Until string people can interpret perceived properties of the real world they simply are not doing physics. Should they be paid by universities and be permitted to pervert impressionable students? Will young Ph.D’s, whose expertise is limited to superstring theory, be employable if, and when, the string snaps? Are string thoughts more appropriate to departments of mathematics, or even to schools of divinity, than to physics departments? How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? How many dimensions are there in a compacted manifold, 30 powers of ten smaller than a pinhead?
Woit quotes from another Nobel Prize winner, the Dutch physicist Gerard ’t Hooft:
Actually, I would not even be prepared to call string theory a “theory” rather a “model” or not even that: just a hunch. After all, a theory should come together with instructions on how to deal with it to identify the things one wishes to describe, in our case the elementary particles, and one should, at least in principle, be able to formulate the rules for calculating the properties of these particles, and how to make new predictions for them. Imagine that I give you a chair, while explaining that the legs are still missing, and that the seat, back and armrest will perhaps be delivered soon; whatever I did give you, can I still call it a chair?
Woit has only harsh things to say about the recent acceptance of an anthropic principle by several leading string theorists, notably Weinberg and David Susskind. Susskind has even written a popular book about it—The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design. The notion that there could be millions of other universes, each with its own Calabi-Yau structure—or what amount to the same thing, with its own basic state of what physicists like to call the “vacuum”—is not one that appeals to Witten. “I’d be happy if it is not right,” Woit quotes from a 2004 lecture, “but there are serious arguments for it, and I don’t have any serious argument against it.”
In the nineteenth century, a conjecture called the vortex theory of the atom became extremely popular in England and America. Proposed by the famous British physicist Lord Kelvin, it had an uncanny resemblance to string theory. It was widely believed at the time that space was permeated by an in- compressible frictionless fluid called the ether. Atoms, Kelvin suggested, are super-small whirlpools of ether, vaguely similar to smoke rings. They take the form of knots and links. Point particles can’t vibrate. Ether rings can. Their shapes and frequencies determine all the properties of the elements. Vortex theory isn’t mentioned by Woit, although Smolin considers it briefly.

Kelvin published two books defending his conjecture. It was strongly championed in England by J. J. Thomson in his 1907 book The Corpuscular Theory of Matter. Another booster of the theory was Peter Tait, an Irish mathematician. His work, like Witten’s, led to significant advances in knot theory. In the United States, Albert Michelson considered vortex theory so “grand” that “it ought to be true even if it is not.” Hundreds of papers elaborated the theory. Tait predicted it would take generations to develop its elegant mathematics. Alas, beautiful though vortex theory was, it proved to be a glorious road that led nowhere.

Will string theory soon meet a similar fate? Glashow wrote a clever poem that he recited at a Grand Unification Workshop in Japan. It ends with the following lines:

Please heed our advice that you too are not smitten—
The book is not finished, the last word is not Witten.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The prospect of all-female conception

The prospect of all-female conception
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Published: 13 April 2007

Women might soon be able to produce sperm in a development that could allow lesbian couples to have their own biological daughters, according to a pioneering study published today.

Scientists are seeking ethical permission to produce synthetic sperm cells from a woman's bone marrow tissue after showing that it possible to produce rudimentary sperm cells from male bone-marrow tissue.

The researchers said they had already produced early sperm cells from bone-marrow tissue taken from men. They believe the findings show that it may be possible to restore fertility to men who cannot naturally produce their own sperm.

But the results also raise the prospect of being able to take bone-marrow tissue from women and coaxing the stem cells within the female tissue to develop into sperm cells, said Professor Karim Nayernia of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Creating sperm from women would mean they would only be able to produce daughters because the Y chromosome of male sperm would still be needed to produce sons. The latest research brings the prospect of female-only conception a step closer.

"Theoretically is it possible," Professor Nayernia said. "The problem is whether the sperm cells are functional or not. I don't think there is an ethical barrier, so long as it's safe. We are in the process of applying for ethical approval. We are preparing now to apply to use the existing bone marrow stem cell bank here in Newcastle. We need permission from the patient who supplied the bone marrow, the ethics committee and the hospital itself."

If sperm cells can be developed from female bone-marrow tissue they will be matured in the laboratory and tested for their ability to penetrate the outer "shell" of a hamster's egg - a standard fertility test for sperm.

"We want to test the functionality of any male and female sperm that is made by this way," Professor Nayernia said. But he said there was no intention at this stage to produce female sperm that would be used to fertilise a human egg, a move that would require the approval of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

The immediate aim is to see if female bone marrow can be lured into developing into the stem cells that can make sperm cells. The ultimate aim is to discover if these secondary stem cells can then be made into other useful tissues of the body, he said.

The latest findings, published in the journal Reproduction: Gamete Biology, show that male bone marrow can be used to make the early "spermatagonial" stem cells that normally mature into fully developed sperm cells.

"Our next goal is to see if we can get the spermatagonial stem cells to progress to mature sperm in the laboratory and this should take around three to five years of experiments," Professor Nayernia said.

Last year, Professor Nayernia led scientists at the University of Gottingen in Germany who became the first to produce viable artificial sperm from mouse embryonic stem cells, which were used to produce seven live offspring.

His latest work on stem cells derived from human bone marrow suggests that it could be possible to develop the techniques to help men who cannot produce their own sperm naturally.

"We're very excited about this discovery, particularly as our earlier work in mice suggests that we could develop this work even further," Professor Nayernia said.

Whether the scientists will ever be able to develop the techniques to help real patients - male or female - will depend on future legislation that the Government is preparing as a replacement to the existing Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.

A White Paper on genetics suggested that artificial gametes produced from the ordinary "somatic" tissue of the body may be banned from being used to fertilise human eggs by in vitro fertilisation.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Pope says science too narrow to explain creation

Pope says science too narrow to explain creation
By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

PARIS (Reuters) - Pope Benedict, elaborating his views on evolution for the first time as Pontiff, says science has narrowed the way life's origins are understood and Christians should take a broader approach to the question.

The Pope also says the Darwinist theory of evolution is not completely provable because mutations over hundreds of thousands of years cannot be reproduced in a laboratory.

But Benedict, whose remarks were published on Wednesday in Germany in the book "Schoepfung und Evolution" (Creation and Evolution), praised scientific progress and did not endorse creationist or "intelligent design" views about life's origins.

Those arguments, proposed mostly by conservative Protestants and derided by scientists, have stoked recurring battles over the teaching of evolution in the United States. Some European Christians and Turkish Muslims have recently echoed these views.

"Science has opened up large dimensions of reason ... and thus brought us new insights," Benedict, a former theology professor, said at the closed-door seminar with his former doctoral students last September that the book documents.

"But in the joy at the extent of its discoveries, it tends to take away from us dimensions of reason that we still need. Its results lead to questions that go beyond its methodical canon and cannot be answered within it," he said.

"The issue is reclaiming a dimension of reason we have lost," he said, adding that the evolution debate was actually about "the great fundamental questions of philosophy - where man and the world came from and where they are going."


Speculation about Benedict's views on evolution have been rife ever since a former student and close advisor, Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, published an article in 2005 that seemed to align the Church with the "intelligent design" view.

"Intelligent design" (ID) argues that some forms of life are too complex to have evolved randomly, as Charles Darwin proposed in his 1859 book "The Origin of Species." It says a higher intelligence must have done this but does not name it as God.

Scientists denounce this as a disguised form of creationism, the view that God created the world just as the Bible says. U.S. courts have ruled both creationism and ID are religious views that cannot be taught in public school science classes there.

In the book, Benedict defended what is known as "theistic evolution," the view held by Roman Catholic, Orthodox and mainline Protestant churches that God created life through evolution and religion and science need not clash over this.

"I would not depend on faith alone to explain the whole picture," he remarked during the discussion held at the papal summer palace in Castel Gandolfo outside Rome.

He also denied using a "God-of-the-gaps" argument that sees divine intervention whenever science cannot explain something.

"It's not as if I wanted to stuff the dear God into these gaps - he is too great to fit into such gaps," he said in the book that publisher Sankt Ulrich Verlag in Augsburg said would later be translated into other languages.


Schoenborn, who published his own book on evolution last month, has said he and the German-born Pontiff addressed these issues now because many scientists use Darwin's theory to argue the random nature of evolution negated any role for God.

That is a philosophical or ideological conclusion not supported by facts, they say, because science cannot prove who or what originally created the universe and life in it.

"Both popular and scientific texts about evolution often say that 'nature' or 'evolution' has done this or that," Benedict said in the book which included lectures from theologian Schoenborn, two philosophers and a chemistry professor.

"Just who is this 'nature' or 'evolution' as (an active) subject? It doesn't exist at all!" the Pope said.

Benedict argued that evolution had a rationality that the theory of purely random selection could not explain.

"The process itself is rational despite the mistakes and confusion as it goes through a narrow corridor choosing a few positive mutations and using low probability," he said.

"This ... inevitably leads to a question that goes beyond science ... where did this rationality come from?" he asked. Answering his own question, he said it came from the "creative reason" of God.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

6 Principles of Political Realism acc. to Morgenthau

Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, Fifth Edition, Revised, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, pp. 4-15



1.Political realism believes that politics, like society in general, is governed by objective laws that have their roots in human nature. In order to improve society it is first necessary to understand the laws by which society lives. The operation of these laws being impervious to our preferences, men will challenge them only at the risk of failure.

Realism, believing as it does in the objectivity of the laws of politics, must also believe in the possibility of developing a rational theory that reflects, however imperfectly and one-sidedly, these objective laws. It believes also, then, in the possibility of distinguishing in politics between truth and opinion-between what is true objectively and rationally, supported by evidence and illuminated by reason, and what is only a subjective judgment, divorced from the facts as they are and informed by prejudice and wishful thinking.

Human nature, in which the laws of politics have their roots, has not changed since the classical philosophies of China, India, and Greece endeavored to discover these laws. Hence, novelty is not necessarily a virtue in political theory, nor is old age a defect. The fact that a theory of politics, if there be such a theory, has never been heard of before tends to create a presumption against, rather than in favor of, its soundness. Conversely, the fact that a theory of politics was developed hundreds or even thousands of years ag~as was the theory of the balance of power-does not create a presumption that it must be outmoded and obsolete. A theory of politics must be subjected to the dual test of reason and experience. To dismiss such a theory because it had its flowering in centuries past is to present not a rational argument but a modernistic prejudice that takes for granted the superiority of the present over the past. To dispose of the revival of such a theory as a "fashion" or "fad" is tantamount to assuming that in matters political we can have opinions but no truths.

For realism, theory consists in ascertaining facts and giving them meaning through reason. It assumes that the character of a foreign policy can be ascertained only through the examination of the political acts performed and of the foreseeable consequences of these acts. Thus we can find out what statesmen have actually done, and from the foreseeable consequences of their acts we can surmise what their objectives might have been.

Yet examination of the facts is not enough. To give meaning to the factual raw material of foreign policy, we must approach political reality with a kind of rational outline, a map that suggests to us the possible meanings of foreign policy. In other words, we put ourselves in the position of a statesman who must meet a certain problem of foreign policy under certain circumstances, and we ask ourselves what the rational alternatives are from which a statesman may choose who must meet this problem under these circumstances (presuming always that he acts in a rational manner), and which of these rational alternatives this particular statesman, acting under these circumstances, is likely to choose. It is the testing of this rational hypothesis against the actual facts and their consequences that gives theoretical meaning to the facts of international politics.

2. The main signpost that helps political realism to find its way through the landscape of international politics is the concept of interest defined in terms of power. This concept provides the link between reason trying to understand international politics and the facts to be understood. It sets politics as an autonomous sphere of action and understanding apart from other spheres, such as economics (understood in terms of interest defined as wealth), ethics, aesthetics, or religion. Without such a concept a theory of politics, international or domestic, would be altogether impossible, for without it we could not distinguish between political and nonpolitical facts, nor could we bring at least a measure of systematic order to the political sphere.

We assume that statesmen think and act in terms of interest defined as power, and the evidence of history bears that assumption out. That assumption allows us to retrace and anticipate, as it were, the steps a statesman--past, present, or future--has taken or will take on the political scene. We look over his shoulder when he writes his dispatches; we listen in on his conversation with other statesmen; we read and anticipate his very thoughts. Thinking in terms of interest defined as power, we think as he does, and as disinterested observers we understand his thoughts and actions perhaps better than he, the actor on the political scene, does himself.

The concept of interest defined as power imposes intellectual discipline upon the observer, infuses rational order into the subject matter of politics, and thus makes the theoretical understanding of politics possible. On the side of the actor, it provides for rational discipline in action and creates that astounding continuity in foreign policy which makes American, British, or Russian foreign policy appear as an intelligible, rational continuum, by and large consistent within itself, regardless of the different motives, preferences, and intellectual and moral qualities of successive statesmen. A realist theory of international politics, then, will guard against two popular fallacies: the concern with motives and the concern with ideological preferences.

To search for the clue to foreign policy exclusively in the motives of statesmen is both futile and deceptive. It is futile because motives are the most illusive of psychological data, distorted as they are, frequently beyond recognition, by the interests and emotions of actor and observer alike. Do we really know what our own motives are? And what do we know of the motives of others?

Yet even if we had access to the real motives of statesmen, that knowledge would help us little in understanding foreign policies, and might well lead us astray. It is true that the knowledge of the statesman's motives may give us one among many clues as to what the direction of his foreign policy might be. It cannot give us, however, the one clue by which to predict his foreign policies. History shows no exact and necessary correlation between the quality of motives and the quality of foreign policy. This is true in both moral and political terms.

We cannot conclude from the good intentions of a statesman that his foreign policies will be either morally praiseworthy or politically successful. Judging his motives, we can say that he will not intentionally pursue policies that are morally wrong, but we can say nothing about the probability of their success. If we want to know the moral and political qualities of his actions, we must know them, not his motives. How often have statesmen been motivated by the desire to improve the world, and ended by making it worse? And how often have they sought one goal, and ended by achieving something they neither expected nor desired?

Neville Chamberlain's politics of appeasement were, as far as we can judge, inspired by good motives; he was probably less motivated by considerations of personal power than were many other British prime ministers, and he sought to preserve peace and to assure the happiness of all concerned. Yet his policies helped to make the Second World War inevitable, and to bring untold miseries to millions of men. Sir Winston Churchill's motives, on the other hand, were much less universal in scope and much more narrowly directed toward personal and national power, yet the foreign policies that sprang from these inferior motives were certainly superior in moral and political quality to those pursued by his predecessor. Judged by his motives, Robespierre was one of the most virtuous men who ever lived. Yet it was the utopian radicalism of that very virtue that made him kill those less virtuous than himself, brought him to the scaffold, and destroyed the revolution of which he was a leader.

Good motives give assurance against deliberately bad policies; they do not guarantee the moral goodness and political success of the policies they inspire. What is important to know, if one wants to understand foreign policy, is not primarily the motives of a statesman, but his intellectual ability to comprehend the essentials of foreign policy, as well as his political ability to translate what he has comprehended into successful political action. It follows that while ethics in the abstract judges the moral qualities of motives, political theory must judge the political qualities of intellect, will, and action.

A realist theory of international politics will also avoid the other popular fallacy of equating the foreign policies of a statesman with his philosophic or political sympathies, and of deducing the former from the latter. Statesmen, especially under contemporary conditions, may well make a habit of presenting their foreign policies in terms of their philosophic and political sympathies in order to gain popular support for them. Yet they will distinguish with Lincoln between their "official duty," which is to think and act in terms of the national interest, and their "personal wish," which is to see their own moral values and political principles realized throughout the world. Political realism does not require, nor does it condone, indifference to political ideals and moral principles, but it requires indeed a sharp distinction between the desirable and the possible-between what is desirable everywhere and at all times and what is possible under the concrete circumstances of time and place.

It stands to reason that not all foreign policies have always followed so rational, objective, and unemotional a course. The contingent elements of personality, prejudice, and subjective preference, and of all the weaknesses of intellect and will which flesh is heir to, are bound to deflect foreign policies from their rational course. Especially where foreign policy is conducted under the conditions of democratic control, the need to marshal popular emotions to the support of foreign policy cannot fail to impair the rationality of foreign policy itself. Yet a theory of foreign policy which aims at rationality must for the time being, as it were, abstract from these irrational elements and seek to paint a picture of foreign policy which presents the rational essence to be found in experience, without the contingent deviations from rationality which are also found in experience.

Deviations from rationality which are not the result of the personal whim or the personal psychopathology of the policy maker may appear contingent only from the vantage point of rationality, but may themselves be elements in a coherent system of irrationality. The conduct of the Indochina War by the United States suggests that possibility. It is a question worth looking into whether modern psychology and psychiatry have provided us with the conceptual tools which would enable us to construct, as it were, a counter-theory of irrational politics, a kind of pathology of international politics.

The experience of the Indochina War suggests five factors such a theory might encompass: the imposition upon the empirical world of a simplistic and a priori picture of the world derived from folklore and ideological assumption, that is, the replacement of experience with superstition; the refusal to correct this picture of the world in the light of experience; the persistence in a foreign policy derived from the misperception of reality and the use of intelligence for the purpose not of adapting policy to reality but of reinterpreting reality to fit policy; the egotism of the policy makers widening the gap between perception and policy, on the one hand, and reality, on the other; finally, the urge to close the gap at least subjectively by action, any kind of action, that creates the illusion of mastery over a recalcitrant reality. According to the Wall Street Journal of April 3, 1970, "the desire to 'do something' pervades top levels of Government and may overpower other 'common sense' advice that insists the U.S. ability to shape events is negligible. The yen for action could lead to bold policy as therapy."

The difference between international politics as it actually is and a rational theory derived from it is like the difference between a photograph and a painted portrait. The photograph shows everything that can be seen by the naked eye; the painted portrait does not show everything that can be seen by the naked eye, but it shows, or at least seeks to show, one thing that the naked eye cannot see: the human essence of the person portrayed.

Political realism contains not only a theoretical but also a normative element. It knows that political reality is replete with contingencies and systemic irrationalities and points to the typical influences they exert upon foreign policy. Yet it shares with all social theory the need, for the sake of theoretical understanding, to stress the rational elements of political reality; for it is these rational elements that make reality intelligible for theory. Political realism presents the theoretical construct of a rational foreign policy which experience can never completely achieve.

At the same time political realism considers a rational foreign policy to be good foreign policy; for only a rational foreign policy minimizes risks and maximizes benefits and, hence, complies both with the moral precept of prudence and the political requirement of success. Political realism wants the photographic picture of the political world to resemble as much as possible its painted portrait. Aware of the inevitable gap between good—that is, rational—foreign policy and foreign policy as it actually is, political realism maintains not only that theory must focus upon the rational elements of political reality, but also that foreign policy ought to be rational in view of its own moral and practical purposes.

Hence, it is no argument against the theory here presented that actual foreign policy does not or cannot live up to it. That argument misunderstands the intention of this book, which is to present not an indiscriminate description of political reality, but a rational theory of international politics. Far from being invalidated by the fact that, for instance, a perfect balance of power policy will scarcely be found in reality, it assumes that reality, being deficient in this respect, must be understood and evaluated as an approximation to an ideal system of balance of power.

3. Realism assumes that its key concept of interest defined as power is an objective category which is universally valid, but it does not endow that concept with a meaning that is fixed once and for all. The idea of interest is indeed of the essence of politics and is unaffected by the circumstances of time and place. Thucydides' statement, born of the experiences of ancient Greece, that "identity of interests is the surest of bonds whether between states or individuals" was taken up in the nineteenth century by Lord Salisbury's remark that "the only bond of union that endures" among nations is "the absence of all clashing interests." It was erected into a general principle of government by George Washington:

A small knowledge of human nature will convince us, that, with far the greatest part of mankind, interest is the governing principle; and that almost every man is more or less, under its influence. Motives of public virtue may for a time, or in particular instances, actuate men to the observance of a conduct purely disinterested; but they are not of themselves sufficient to produce persevering conformity to the refined dictates and obligations of social duty. Few men are capable of making a continual sacrifice of all views of private interest, or advantage, to the common good. It is vain to exclaim against the depravity of human nature on this account; the fact is so, the experience of every age and nation has proved it and we must in a great measure, change the constitution of man, before we can make it otherwise. No institution, not built on the presumptive truth of these maxims can succeed.

It was echoed and enlarged upon in our century by Max Weber's observation:

Interests (material and ideal), not ideas, dominate directly the actions of men. Yet the "images of the world" created by these ideas have very often served as switches determining the tracks on which the dynamism of interests kept actions moving.

Yet the kind of interest determining political action in a particular period of history depends upon the political and cultural context within which foreign policy is formulated. The goals that might be pursued by nations in their foreign policy can run the whole gamut of objectives any nation has ever pursued or might possibly pursue.

The same observations apply to the concept of power. Its content and the manner of its use are determined by the political and cultural environment. Power may comprise anything that establishes and maintains the control of man over man. Thus power covers all social relationships which serve that end, from physical violence to the most subtle psychological ties by which one mind controls another. Power covers the domination of man by man, both when it is disciplined by moral ends and controlled by constitutional safeguards, as in Western democracies, and when it is that untamed and barbaric force which finds its laws in nothing but its own strength and its sole justification in its aggrandizement.

Political realism does not assume that the contemporary conditions under which foreign policy operates, with their extreme instability and the ever present threat of large-scale violence, cannot be changed. The balance of power, for instance, is indeed a perennial element of all pluralistic societies, as the authors of The Federalist papers well knew; yet it is capable of operating, as it does in the United States, under the conditions of relative stability and peaceful conflict. If the factors that have given rise to these conditions can be duplicated on the international scene, similar conditions of stability and peace will then prevail there, as they have over long stretches of history among certain nations.

What is true of the general character of international relations is also true of the nation state as the ultimate point of reference of contemporary foreign policy. While the realist indeed believes that interest is the perennial standard by which political action must be judged and directed, the contemporary connection between interest and the nation state is a product of history, and is therefore bound to disappear in the course of history. Nothing in the realist position militates against the assumption that the present division of the political world into nation states will be replaced by larger units of a quite different character, more in keeping with the technical potentialities and the moral requirements of the contemporary world.

The realist parts company with other schools of thought before the all-important question of how the contemporary world is to be transformed. The realist is persuaded that this transformation can be achieved only through the workmanlike manipulation of the perennial forces that have shaped the past as they will the future. The realist cannot be persuaded that we can bring about that transformation by confronting a political reality that has its own laws with an abstract ideal that refuses to take those laws into account.

4. Political realism is aware of the moral significance of political action. It is also aware of the ineluctable tension between the moral command and the requirements of successful political action. And it is unwilling to gloss over and obliterate that tension and thus to obfuscate both the moral and the political issue by making it appear as though the stark facts of politics were morally more satisfying than they actually are, and the moral law less exacting than it actually is.

Realism maintains that universal moral principles cannot be applied to the actions of states in their abstract universal formulation, but that they must be filtered through the concrete circumstances of time and place. The individual may say for himself: "Fiat justitia, pereat mundus (Let justice be done, even if the world perish)," but the state has no right to say so in the name of those who are in its care. Both individual and state must judge political action by universal moral principles, such as that of liberty. Yet while the individual has a moral right to sacrifice himself in defense of such a moral principle, the state has no right to let its moral disapprobation of the infringement of liberty get in the way of successful political action, itself inspired by the moral principle of national survival. There can be no political morality without prudence; that is, without consideration of the political consequences of seemingly moral action. Realism, then, considers prudence-the weighing of the consequences of alternative political actions-to be the supreme virtue in politics. Ethics in the abstract judges action by its conformity with the moral law; political ethics judges action by its political consequences. Classical and medieval philosophy knew this, and so did Lincoln when he said:

I do the very best I know how, the very best I can, and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won't amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.

5. Political realism refuses to identify the moral aspirations of a particular nation with the moral laws that govern the universe. As it distinguishes between truth and opinion, so it distinguishes between truth and idolatry. All nations are tempted-and few have been able to resist the temptation for long-to clothe their own particular aspirations and actions in the moral purposes of the universe. To know that nations are subject to the moral law is one thing, while to pretend to know with certainty what is good and evil in the relations among nations is quite another. There is a world of difference between the belief that all nations stand under the judgment of God, inscrutable to the human mind, and the blasphemous conviction that God is always on one's side and that what one wills oneself cannot fail to be willed by God also.

The lighthearted equation between a particular nationalism and the counsels of Providence is morally indefensible, for it is that very sin of pride against which the Greek tragedians and the Biblical prophets have warned rulers and ruled. That equation is also politically pernicious, for it is liable to engender the distortion in judgment which, in the blindness of crusading frenzy, destroys nations and civilizations-in the name of moral principle, ideal, or God himself.

On the other hand, it is exactly the concept of interest defined in terms of power that saves us from both that moral excess and that political folly. For if we look at all nations, our own included, as political entities pursuing their respective interests defined in terms of power, we are able to do justice to all of them. And we are able to do justice to all of them in a dual sense: We are able to judge other nations as we judge our own and, having judged them in this fashion, we are then capable of pursuing policies that respect the interests of other nations, while protecting and promoting those of our own. Moderation in policy cannot fail to reflect the moderation of moral judgment.

6. The difference, then, between political realism and other schools of thought is real, and it is profound. However much the theory of political realism may have been misunderstood and misinterpreted, there is no gainsaying its distinctive intellectual and moral attitude to matters political.

Intellectually, the political realist maintains the autonomy of the political sphere, as the economist, the lawyer, the moralist maintain theirs. He thinks in terms of interest defined as power, as the economist thinks in terms of interest defined as wealth; the lawyer, of the conformity of action with legal rules; the moralist, of the conformity of action with moral principles. The economist asks: "How does this policy affect the wealth of society, or a segment of it?" The lawyer asks: "Is this policy in accord with the rules of law?" The moralist asks: "Is this policy in accord with moral principles?" And the political realist asks: "How does this policy affect the power of the nation?" (Or of the federal government, of Congress, of the party, of agriculture, as the case may be.)

The political realist is not unaware of the existence and relevance of standards of thought other than political ones. As political realist, he cannot but subordinate these other standards to those of politics. And he parts company with other schools when they impose standards of thought appropriate to other spheres upon the political sphere. It is here that political realism takes issue with the "legalistic-moralistic approach" to international politics. That this issue is not, as has been contended, a mere figment of the imagination, but goes to the very core of the controversy, can be shown from many historical examples. Three will suffice to make the point.3

In 1939 the Soviet Union attacked Finland. This action confronted France and Great Britain with two issues, one legal, the other political. Did that action violate the Covenant of the League of Nations and, if it did, what countermeasures should France and Great Britain take? The legal question could easily be answered in the affirmative, for obviously the Soviet Union had done what was prohibited by the Covenant. The answer to the political question depends, first, upon the manner in which the Russian action affected the interests of France and Great Britain; second, upon the existing distribution of power between France and Great Britain, on the one hand, and the Soviet Union and other potentially hostile nations, especially Germany, on the other; and, third, upon the influence that the countermeasures were likely to have upon the interests of France and Great Britain and the future distribution of power. France and Great Britain, as the leading members of the League of Nations, saw to it that the Soviet Union was expelled from the League, and they were prevented from joining Finland in the war against the Soviet Union only by Sweden's refusal to allow their troops to pass through Swedish territory on their way to Finland. If this refusal by Sweden had not saved them, France and Great Britain would shortly have found themselves at war with the Soviet Union and Germany at the same time.

The policy of France and Great Britain was a classic example of legalism in that they allowed the answer to the legal question, legitimate within its sphere, to determine their political actions. Instead of asking both questions, that of law and that of power, they asked only the question of law; and the answer they received could have no bearing on the issue that their very existence might have depended upon.

The second example illustrates the "moralistic approach" to international politics. It concerns the international status of the Communist government of China. The rise of that government confronted the Western world with two issues, one moral, the other political. Were the nature and policies of that government in accord with the moral principles of the Western world? Should the Western world deal with such a government? The answer to the first question could not fail to be in the negative. Yet it did not follow with necessity that the answer to the second question should also be in the negative. The standard of thought applied to the first--the moral question—was simply to test the nature and the policies of the Communist government of China by the principles of Western morality. On the other hand, the second—the political question—had to be subjected to the complicated test of the interests involved and the power available on either side, and of the bearing of one or the other course of action upon these interests and power. The application of this test could well have led to the conclusion that it would be wiser not to deal with the Communist government of China. To arrive at this conclusion by neglecting this test altogether and answering the political question in terms of the moral issue was indeed a classic example of the "moralistic approach" to international politics.

The third case illustrates strikingly the contrast between realism and the legalistic-moralistic approach to foreign policy. Great Britain, as one of the guarantors of the neutrality of Belgium, went to war with Germany in August 1914 because Germany had violated the neutrality of Belgium. The British action could be justified either in realistic or legalistic-moralistic terms. That is to say, one could argue realistically that for centuries it had -been axiomatic for British foreign policy to prevent the control of the Low Countries by a hostile power. It was then not so much the violation of Belgium's neutrality per se as the hostile intentions of the violator which provided the rationale for British intervention. If the violator had been another nation but Germany, Great Britain might well have refrained from intervening. This is the position taken by Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary during that period. Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs Hardinge remarked to him in 1908: "If France violated Belgian neutrality in a war against Germany, it is doubtful whether England or Russia would move a finger to maintain Belgian neutrality, while if the neutrality of Belgium was violated by Germany, it is probable that the converse would be the case." Whereupon Sir Edward Grey replied: "This is to the point." Yet one could also take the legalistic and moralistic position that the violation of Belgium's neutrality per se, because of its legal and moral defects and regardless of the interests at stake and of the identity of the violator, justified British and, for that matter, American intervention. This was the position which Theodore Roosevelt took in his letter to Sir Edward Grey of January 22, 1915:

To me the crux of the situation has been Belgium. If England or France had acted toward Belgium as Germany has acted I should have opposed them, exactly as I now oppose Germany. I have emphatically approved your action as a model for what should be done by those who believe that treaties should be observed in good faith and that there is such a thing as international morality. I take this position as an American who is no more an Englishman than he is a German, who endeavors loyally to serve the interests of his own country, but who also endeavors to do what he can for justice and decency as regards mankind at large, and who therefore feels obliged to judge all other nations by their conduct on any given occasion.

This realist defense of the autonomy of the political sphere against its subversion by other modes of thought does not imply disregard for the existence and importance of these other modes of thought. It rather implies that each should be assigned its proper sphere and function. Political realism is based upon a pluralistic conception of human nature. Real man is a composite of "economic man," "political man," "moral man," "religious man," etc. A man who was nothing but "political man" would be a beast, for he would be completely lacking in moral restraints. A man who was nothing but "moral man" would be a fool, for he would be completely lacking in prudence. A man who was nothing but "religious man" would be a saint, for he would be completely lacking in worldly desires.

Recognizing that these different facets of human nature exist, political realism also recognizes that in order to understand one of them one has to deal with it on its own terms. That is to say, if I want to understand "religious man," I must for the time being abstract from the other aspects of human nature and deal with its religious aspect as if it were the only one. Furthermore, I must apply to the religious sphere the standards of thought appropriate to it, always remaining aware of the existence of other standards and their actual influence upon the religious qualities of man. What is true of this facet of human nature is true of all the others. No modern economist, for instance, would conceive of his science and its relations to other sciences of man in any other way. It is exactly through such a process of emancipation from other standards of thought, and the development of one appropriate to its subject matter, that economics has developed as an autonomous theory of the economic activities of man. To contribute to a similar development in the field of politics is indeed the purpose of political realism.

It is in the nature of things that a theory of politics which is based upon such principles will not meet with unanimous approval-nor does, for that matter, such a foreign policy. For theory and policy alike run counter to two trends in our culture which are not able to reconcile themselves to the assumptions and results of a rational, objective theory of politics. One of these trends disparages the role of power in society on grounds that stem from the experience and philosophy of the nineteenth century; we shall address ourselves to this tendency later in greater detail.4 The other trend, opposed to the realist theory and practice of politics, stems from the very relationship that exists, and must exist, between the human mind and the political sphere. For reasons that we shall discuss later5 the human mind in its day-by-day operations cannot bear to look the truth of politics straight in the face. It must disguise, distort, belittle, and embellish the truth-the more so, the more the individual is actively involved in the processes of politics, and particularly in those of international politics. For only by deceiving himself about the nature of politics and the role he plays on the political scene is man able to live contentedly as a political animal with himself and his fellow men.

Thus it is inevitable that a theory which tries to understand international politics as it actually is and as it ought to be in view of its intrinsic nature, rather than as people would like to see it, must overcome a psychological resistance that most other branches of learning need not face. A book devoted to the theoretical understanding of international politics therefore requires a special explanation and justification.

NOR article on Karl Rahner, S.J.

Karl Rahner's Baneful Impact on Theology

September 1995
By Charles W. James

Charles W. James is an Episcopal priest who has just finished his Licentiate in Sacred Theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley.

Karl Rahner is, without debate, the most influential Catholic theologian of the 20th century. During the course of his spectacular career he wrote or spoke on almost every subject of the Christian faith. When I studied theology at the Jesuit-run University of Santa Clara, Rahner was quoted with more authority than St. Thomas Aquinas. As an Anglican, that gave me pause, so I decided to dig deeper into Rahner's thought. What struck me immediately was Rahner's insistence on interacting with modern European philosophy, especially that of Immanuel Kant. Rahner was unwilling to carry out his theological task in the vacuum of a biblical positivism. He engaged modern philosophy in theological debate, forcing philosophy and theology to speak to each other. Some found this conversation threatening while others found it refreshing. This ambiguous response toward Rahner was reflected in the way he was treated during the Second Vatican Council. At the start of the Council, Rahner was not allowed to act as a peritus -- a theological expert who consults with the Council Fathers. But this semi-ban was lifted from Rahner when Pope John XXIII intervened and gave him the status of theological consultant.

But Rahner's influence has grown even further in the postconciliar period. First, most of his substantive theological works have been translated from the German so that the sheer weight of his theological system is felt by many. The second reason Rahner is so influential today is that he fits our postmortem mentality. Rahner would rather describe God as "holy mystery" than as absolute being. In the developed theology of Rahner, God is not so much the esse absolutum as the mysterium absolutum. This shift from metaphysics to mystery is Rahner's central contribution to the theology of God, but also his greatest liability. To be sure, we sense a subtle attraction to this theology of mystery because the Church has always acknowledged the incomprehensibility of God. We realize that our finite minds can only speak of God analogously. We know that we can have no direct, clear, or full idea of our Creator. "We see through a glass, darkly," as St. Paul said.

But Rahner's use of the notion of mystery goes further than merely a description of God. He wishes to use mystery as a criterion of theological truth. This mystery, which is God, becomes Rahner's theological touchstone. He sees mystery not only as a description of God, but as the nature of human consciousness as well. Following Martin Heidegger, Rahner says that the human being is the questioning being because the person himself is a question. And this questioning nature of the human person guarantees that mystery will remain an intrinsic part of human knowing. Rahner is thus able to argue that the mystery of God and the mystery of the human spirit are in continuity. Rahner says that the very way we come to verify and clarify our everyday knowledge is by illuminating our sensations with the mystery beyond us. We somehow already recognize this mystery, our minds move toward it by the universal grace of God, and we use it to give meaning to what confronts us in the world. Hence, for Rahner, mystery serves as a criterion of truth, a backdrop to all our finite thought. The mystery, which is God, answers the human quest for truth. Absolute mystery serves as a measure for the all-too-human striving of our intellect. In short, Rahner replaces the Thomistic analogy of being with an analogy of mystery (analogia mysterii).

This is all very postmodern because it agrees with the postmodern turn away from the metaphysical foundations of thought. The postmodern attitude eschews Plato's forms as well as Aristotle's teleology. It is even ill-at-ease with Darwin and Marx because both held to the 19th-century metaphysical idea of inevitable progress. Rahner fits well within this postmodern attitude because he does not attempt to ground his theology in a metaphysical constant, but rather in mystery. Mystery is his ground as well as his criterion of the validity of theological truth. One may wonder why any Christian would disagree with Rahner's description of God as "holy mystery," or with validating our thought by this mystery. At first look, it appears to provide the spiritual orientation that much of our contemporary theology needs.

But does Rahner's criterion of mystery serve to validate our beliefs or merely relativize them? Can mystery validate thought? Can it serve as a measure of clarity against which we may compare our very unclear ideas? By its very nature Rahner's notion of mystery cannot possibly serve this function. Permanent mystery can neither validate nor clarify our thought, it can only reveal its finitude. Granted, Rahner's stance has given us a needed pastoral warning against conceptual arrogance, but he has not given us a usable criterion of theological truth. What we need in order to validate our thought and our theological statements is not mystery, but a criterion that is substantial and specific enough to serve as a practical guide for our groping intellects. We need a portrait of truth and reality that shares in both the contingencies of history and the absoluteness of divinity. This criterion, marked by both radical contingency and radical divinity, is what the Church calls revelation. Should the Church attempt to go "behind" revelation -- try to validate her message by an appeal to mystery? The very opaqueness of mystery makes it difficult to see how we could ever connect revelation, much less our paltry thoughts, with the infinite otherness of this "holy mystery."

In fact, Rahner tells us that we cannot even conceive of this mystery; it must be experienced in its infinite silence. But if this is so, how can a nonconceptual (experiential) criterion serve to clarify, much less validate, our conceptual thought? It may be possible to find a home for our feelings in this "holy mystery," but what about our ideas? For all of Rahner's lip service to history and contingency, it seems that he has imprisoned truth in a heaven of mystery which can only be penetrated by the experiential and affective sides of human nature. But if we desire the clarification of our concepts or the validation of our theo-logy, we are left standing before the obscurity of this heaven, outside the gates.

We might ask Rahner just how he would go about clarifying or validating a theological statement with his criterion of mystery. In his essay "Reflections on Methodology in Theology," he argues that the propositions of theology must constantly be referred back to religious experience. The job of the theologian is reductio in mysterium -- i.e., a referring of the theological statement back to the theologian's (or the Church's) experience of absolute mystery. In his essay "What is a Dogmatic Statement?" Rahner says that a true theological statement "leads into the mysterium." Rahner makes our experience of mystery the criterion of theological truth. Only those theological statements which reflect this experienced mystery are valid statements. Hence, the experience of mystery is the measure of theology.

But notice what Rahner is really saying. It is not even the "holy mystery" itself that functions as a criterion of theological truth for Rahner, but rather our experience of this mystery. Rahner has ironically allowed his criterion of mystery to become no more than an experience emanating from the subjectivity of religious feeling. We can only "know" mystery by experiencing it and this experience becomes the criterion of theological truth. Rahner has not successfully surpassed Kant's subjectivity which led straight to the Romantic piety of Schleiermacher. Rather than helping us integrate our thought and our religious experience, Rahner hopelessly dichotomizes them, leaving thought to fend for itself without any theological rationale.

Robert Coles has recently stated that we live in an age of "applauded subjectivity." The postmodern age emphasizes subjectivity out of its fear of objectivity. The postmodernist, whether theological or not, lazily prefers the wide open spaces of obscurity to the hard, narrow road of clarity. Rahner's criterion fits well with this attitude since his principle of mystery precludes conceptual clarity. The central problem is: Given that people have wildly differing religious experiences, how will we adjudicate between one theology and another? Also: How will we ever be able to develop a criterion of theological truth that is more than the mirror-image of ourselves? Human beings need a criterion that will give them a worldview that acknowledges both the real contingencies of their existence and the objective grace that pervades that existence.

The Church finds her criterion of truth in revelation, which means that there is a source of knowledge outside human consciousness. For anyone with commitments to postmodern humanism, this is anathema. To claim that knowledge could come from any source apart from human creativity is to contradict flatly the postmodern mentality. But the Church's acknowledgment of divine revelation makes just that claim. The belief in divine revelation serves as a warning against our self-congratulatory intellectual subjectivity. The idea that the "Word of God" is disturbingly and freely present within the world of contingent history makes our privatization of religion in modern Western culture a rather absurd attempt at domesticating the giant. What disturbs many postmodernists about revelation is not its divine nature, but its historical presence. If revelation were confined to the heaven of pure spirit, all would be well. But the Church insists that revelation is, by its nature, historical. It participates in the radical contingency which is part of human experience. It is not a purely formal and limitless category, nor is it conveniently obscured by the mysteriousness of its absoluteness. Revelation is incarnational, sharing in both the contingency of our history and absoluteness of divinity. In order to verify her thought, the Church does hot look up to absolute mystery; rather, she looks out to history, to "deeds and words." As the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation states, "This economy of revelation is realized by deeds and words, which are intrinsically bound up with each other." This Vatican II document goes on to state that the deeds of God in history reveal the doctrine in the words. But also, the words "bring to light the mystery they [the deeds] contain." Note the restricted use of mystery here. The locus of mystery is history, not, as in Rahner, the limitless mysterium absolutum.

If the Church wants to validate or clarify her theology, she cannot do so by piercing through the appearance of revelation toward some formless mystery. She must patiently pay attention to the events of history and the words of Scripture and Tradition in order to relate her experience to her inherited concepts. In the ongoing work of the mutual interpretation of deeds and words, the Church faces the mystery of God. This mystery, however, is not her criterion of truth, but the inspiration to continue her journey. To use a nautical metaphor, mystery fills the sails of the Church, but something else must serve as her compass.

If we follow Rahner's use of mystery as a criterion of theological truth, we will be forcing the experiential and affective nature of our lives to play a conceptual role -- forcing our feelings to function as concepts. But even more confusing, if we appeal to absolute mystery as our theological criterion, we will be deliberately looking away from the place we are most likely to discover our proper criterion, revelatory history. Our compass cannot be found in the ahistorical realm of mystery, but in the contingency of existence into which God has chosen to enter. The incarnation of Christ proclaims that God has entered history and infused it with meaning. The Church is, then, well advised not to look away from this history, but to find the light of her guidance embedded within it. The Church finds this light in the reality of divine revelation. In revelation the Church sees the integration of historical contingency and conceptuality.

In revelation, we find the integration of experiential and conceptual knowledge, the two modes of human knowledge which Western philosophy has been trying to integrate since Plato. Modeled by this reality of revelation, the Church defines truth as both contingent and conceptual. Our understanding of truth is modeled after our understanding of revelation. The incarnation of Christ historicized God and impregnated our history with revelation. We must, therefore, look to this revelatory history if we are to find the recognizable face of holy mystery. We will find our criterion there, as Jesus did. But what kind of criterion may we hope to find?

First, it will not be a single criterion, but a multifaceted one. Second, our criterion will most likely not be apprehended in an instantaneous intuition. Rather, it will emerge as we patiently interpret event with word and word with event. It will be a criterion for pilgrims. But what we lack in singularity we will gain in well-roundedness. And what we lack in immediacy, we will gain in detailed familiarity.

Let us call our criterion the criterion of contingency, and let's replace Rahner's analogy of mystery with an analogy of history. Knowledge of God is made possible not by a continuity of mystery, but by the continuity of history that the incarnating God initiated between Himself and, His creation. Man can know God because both participate in history. But what are the specifics of our criterion? How can we use it, say, to validate a theological statement? Here are some guidelines.

(1) Does our theological statement adequately integrate the experience and the knowledge of the Church? If it is true that revelation is both historical (experiential) and conceptual (thought-like), then our theology ought to reflect this partnership and integrate the experience of grace and the conceptualization of grace. In brief, does our theology help to wed our experience with our doctrine, or divorce them? (It is not accidental that Rahner's experientialism has been deployed by certain Catholic leaders at the parish level to downplay or jettison Catholic doctrine.)

(2) Does our theological statement illuminate the revelatory truth found in the particularities of history? If history without revelation is dark, surely revelation without history is too bright for us to see.

(3) Does our theological statement encourage the growth of the Church's knowledge? By its nature, revelation allows history and word to interpret each other, thus providing for the possibility of understanding. Our theological statements, by reflecting this interaction, should themselves promote the growth of our understanding of that revelation. Theology is not merely the repetition of historical dogma, but the growing understanding of dogma through history.

Rahner's criterion of mystery lacks the specificity of history, and that is why it is not a usable criterion. Rahner consistently points us beyond history toward absolute mystery. In so doing, he doesn't even give us a meaningful criterion of mystery -- he just gives us obscurity.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Big Bang at the atomic lab after scientists get their maths wrong

via Lew Rockwell

April 8, 2007
Big Bang at the atomic lab after scientists get their maths wrong
Jonathan Leake, Science Editor

A £2 billion project to answer some of the biggest mysteries of the universe has been delayed by months after scientists building it made basic errors in their mathematical calculations.
The mistakes led to an explosion deep in the tunnel at the Cern particle accelerator complex near Geneva in Switzerland. It lifted a 20-ton magnet off its mountings, filling a tunnel with helium gas and forcing an evacuation.

It means that 24 magnets located all around the 17-mile circular accelerator must now be stripped down and repaired or upgraded. The failure is a huge embarrassment for Fermilab, the American national physics laboratory that built the magnets and the anchor system that secured them to the machine.

It appears Fermilab made elementary mistakes in the design of the magnets and their anchors that made them insecure once the system was operational.

Last week an apparently furious and embarrassed Pier Oddone, director of Fermilab, wrote to his staff saying they had caused “a pratfall on the world stage”. He said: “We are dumb-founded that we missed some very simple balance of forces. Not only was it missed in the engineering design but also in the four engineering reviews carried out between 1998 and 2002 before launching the construction of the magnets.”

The machine, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), aims to recreate the conditions of the Big Bang, when the universe is thought to have exploded into existence about 14 billion years ago. However, the November start-up may now have to be delayed until next spring.

Dr Lyn Evans, who leads the accelerator construction project at Cern, the European organisation for nuclear research, said the explosion had been potentially very dangerous.

“There was a hell of a bang, the tunnel housing the machine filled with helium and dust and we had to call in the fire brigade to evacuate the place,” he said. “The people working on the test were frightened to death but they were all in a safe place so no-one was hurt.” An investigation by Cern researchers found “fundamental” flaws that caused the explosion, close to the CMS detector, one of the LHC’s most important experiments.

The accelerator is designed to smash together protons, a kind of sub-atomic particle, at near light speed. The hope is that such collisions will generate exotic new particles — especially the so-called Higgs boson which, theorists predict, could help explain key properties of matter, such as how it acquires mass and, hence, weight.

The LHC itself comprises two pipes, each containing a beam of protons travelling at near-light speed that are steered around the circular tunnel by powerful magnets. Such magnets are “superconducting” meaning they and the whole LHC are cooled to below -268C, using pipes filled with liquid helium.

The two proton beams travel in opposite directions but, at various points around the ring, their pipes merge, allowing the protons in each beam to collide.

However, since the thickness of each beam is less than that of a human hair, they have to be focused. This is the task of a second set of magnets, and it is these that were under test at the time of the explosion.

Coincidentally, Fermilab stands to gain most from delays at Cern. Its researchers also operate a rival but less powerful particle accelerator, the Tevatron.

Fermilab staff are pushing the Tevatron to ever-higher energies hoping that they might find the Higgs boson before the LHC switches on. An LHC researcher said: “Ironically, this delay could be all they need.”

Can liberalism be salvaged?

Wolfe's "Natural Law Liberalism"

Ryan Anderson has a review (subscribers only) of Chris Wolfe's new book, Natural Law Liberalism, in National Review. Here is an excerpt from the review:

Central to Western political liberalism is the notion that disagreement can be resolved through common deliberation ­ and that representative constitutional democracy is the best institution for such deliberation. This makes us think that any kind of clash can be solved through rational discussion of the truths we share. At the same time, however, our modern system is founded on skepticism about the ability of people and their governments to define and enforce a universal vision of the good life. This makes us think that there aren’t any real truths to be shared.

It is in response to such worries that Christopher Wolfe has written his new book, Natural Law Liberalism. Wolfe is a Marquette University political scientist who focused his early work on constitutional interpretation and judicial activism. He founded the American Public Philosophy Institute to support the efforts of such thinkers as Robert P. George, Russell Hittinger, and Hadley Arkes, who have been working to rearticulate the natural-law foundations of political life. Natural Law Liberalism is Wolfe’s contribution to the effort.

By liberalism, Wolfe means the whole range of modern political thought, from the early Enlightenment through the American Founding ­ the philosophical theory of government that emphasizes human equality, personal liberty, individual rights, participatory government, and the rule of law. And natural law, as Wolfe conceives it, is the long Western tradition of reflection on the nature of human flourishing and the rational principles that can guide human action and choice. His thesis is simple: If political liberalism is to justify itself at home and abroad, it must return to the classical tradition of Western thought and embrace natural-law theory as the account of its foundations.

So a "liberal" community needs to follow natural law and natural justice? Or is Professor Wolfe trying to do more than this? I would be interested in reading his take on liberalism, and what he takes the first principles of liberalism to be--alas, it's $75! Perhaps something I can order from Barnes and Noble, with its 10% off coupon.

So governments and legislation need to be guided by a proper and full understanding of the human good. This is true for any government... but is it really liberalism if the Natural Law becomes the admitted foundation of government? Would the liberal theorists of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries recognize it as such? Some of the American founding fathers recognized that virtue was necessary for good government and for the citizens -- but how can one bring about virtue if liberalism does not accept the traditional (i.e. Aquinas's) understanding of the purposes of law, and the necessity of tradition, custom, and discipline/education to bring virtue about?

The greatest weakness of natural law theorists who try to reconcile NL with liberalism (most of whom are Catholic) is they fail to recognize that size is a problem. Liberalism is tied to the rist of the nation-state, and to the historical forces behind it. More once I am able to read the book...

the book (published by Cambridge University Press) -- the publisher's description:

Political philosophy and natural law theory are not contradictory, but - properly understood - mutually reinforcing. Contemporary liberalism (as represented by Rawls, Guttman and Thompson, Dworkin, Raz, and Macedo) rejects natural law and seeks to diminish its historical contribution to the liberal political tradition, but it is only one, defective variant of liberalism. A careful analysis of the history of liberalism, identifying its core principles, and a similar examination of classical natural law theory (as represented by Thomas Aquinas and his intellectual descendants), show that a natural law liberalism is possible and desirable. Natural law theory embraces the key principles of liberalism, and it also provides balance in resisting some of its problematic tendencies. Natural law liberalism is the soundest basis for American public philosophy, and it is a potentially more attractive and persuasive form of liberalism for nations that have tended to resist it.
• Unique in proposing a form of liberalism rooted in natural law theory
• Offers a relatively non-technical description of natural law theory intended to be compatible with contemporary forms of natural law theory
• Describes and defends a form of liberalism compatible with traditional morality and religion

Part I. Contemporary Liberalism: 1. Contemporary liberal exclusionism I: John Rawls’s antiperfectionist liberalism; 2. Contemporary liberal exclusionism II: Rawls, Macedo, and ‘neutral’ liberal public reason; 3. Contemporary liberal exclusionism III: Gutmann and Thompson on ‘reciprocity’; 4. Contemporary liberalism and autonomy I: Ronald Dworkin on paternalism; 5. Contemporary liberalism and autonomy II: Joseph Raz on trust and citizenship; 6. ‘Offensive liberalism’: Macedo and ‘liberal education’; Part II. Liberalism and Natural Law: 7. Understanding liberalism: a broader vision; 8. Understanding natural law; 9. Liberalism and natural law; 10. ‘Cashing out’ natural law liberalism: the case of religious liberty; 11. A natural law public philosophy.

Christopher Wolfe (Thomas International)
American Public Philosophy Institute (Marquette)
From Constitutional Interpretation to Judicial Activism: The ...


Missed this today! Only found out about it while going through Mirror of Justice.

On Monday, April 9th, Professor Robert P. George of Princeton University will be giving the 2007 John Dewey Lecture in Philosophy of Law at Harvard University. The lecture, entitled "Natural Law," will be held at 5:00 p.m. in Austin East Hall at Harvard Law School. A reception will follow. All are welcome.