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Thursday, January 27, 2011

MARK ARMSTRONG: ON ATHEISTS, FAITH, SCIENCE, SUFFERING AND REDEMPTION

One of the most recognizable names in the battle against the New Atheism is Father Robert Spitzer, former President of Gonzaga University. Type his name into a search engine sometime and the list of degrees, awards, books and papers associated with him is impressive.


Here’s a partial list: After graduating from high school, he received his B.B.A. in Public Accounting and Finance from Gonzaga University in 1974 (Magna Cum Laude). He then received his Masters degree in Philosophy from St. Louis University (Magna Cum Laude) in 1978, his Masters of Divinity degree (M.Div.) from the Gregorian University in Rome (Summa Cum Laude) in 1983, his Masters of Theology degree (Th.M.) in scripture from the Weston School in Cambridge (Summa Cum Laude) in 1984, and his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the Catholic University of America (Summa Cum Laude) in 1988. His dissertation, under Paul Weiss, is entitled, “A Study of Objectively Real Time.”

I recently had a chance to talk to the brilliant Father Spitzer, who last summer debated Dr. Stephen Hawking on CNN’s “Larry King Live” about whether God created the universe or not.  Father Spitzer scoffed at the notion that anyone could actually believe there is no evidence for God, “In fact we have the greatest amount of evidence today that God created the world we live in.”

“The evidence points to a beginning of the universe.  If you have a beginning, it did not come out of pure chance.  You can’t have something created out of nothing.  A beginning of the universe means the beginning of space/time,” said Father Spitzer.

“Something” had to create the “something” out of the “nothing”.  Father Spitzer said, “There was nothing before the beginning, and at that point you need some powerful transcendent cause outside of space/time to cause it.  All the evidence points to a transcendent creator which we call ‘God’.”

When Professor Stephen Hawking debated Father Spitzer on the Larry King Live program, Hawking tried to suggest that a multi-dimensional, quantum field could “pop” into existence.  The “something” out of “nothing.”

“Even if that is possible,” said Father Spitzer, “That quantum field is still “something”, the field itself is not a “nothing.”

Faith and Science are not Irreconcilable

Thomas E. Woods is the bestselling author of ten books including How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization.  Woods is a senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and a convert to the Catholic faith.

“We are all taught in school that there is irreconcilable division between faith and science,” said Woods.  “We are taught that religion involves accepting things without evidence.  And yet throughout our western history, up until the present day, some of our greatest scientific, economic and medical minds have been Catholics.  People of great faith whose science was never compromised and often was sponsored by the Church.”

And yet it seems that we live in a world where society doesn’t deeply look at these ethical, cultural or spiritual questions.  Many atheistic viewpoints are presented without a deep evaluation of the evidence.  “There is this attitude among a lot of young people that religion is stupid and a waste of time,” said Woods.  “Even though these people are not in a position to evaluate the claims.  They don’t have the knowledge, they don’t have the critical thinking skills and yet they look down on classic medieval philosophers.  Most of these guys from the 14th and 15h centuries could run rings around (modern atheistic) arguments.”

Woods believes the way to reach the smug young non-believers is to appeal to their natural rebellious natures.  “Really do you want to be some robot that repeats everything that Katie Couric says on television? Or do you want to think, I mean really think for yourself?”

So Woods throws out this challenge to those struggling in the culture war and invites them to re-engage and open their eyes.  “Look, here is your choice in life, you can be some nobody who goes to the mall, watches TV, gets drunk and then repeats it the next day OR you could be part of a 2,000 year rich tradition of heroism and holiness that is much greater than anything this culture can give you?”


How can you be a scientist and still be a person of faith?

Stratford Caldecott is the chief editor of the Second Spring Journal and Sophia Institute Press for the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, and directs the College’s Center for Faith and Culture in Oxford, England.

I talked to Dr. Caldecott about the medical implications for Catholic physicians of protecting human dignity from the moment of conception until natural death in light of Fides et Ratio, the papal document Faith and Reason.  Pope John Paul II promulgated this encyclical in 1998.  For Catholic physicians, Faith and Reason remains the Pope’s “prescription” for understanding our human existence.

 “Faith opens reason and liberates it, without faith, reason would stop short,” said Caldecott  “Those who pursue a technocratic logic look at man as only a biological machine where the sum on his parts are to be used, developed and marketed,” said Caldecott.

TREASURE ISLAND - COINS AND PRECIOUS METALS

 

 

Caldecott said as the search for cures in modern medicine looks simply as a person to be “patched up” with parts from other people or machines, we become less and less human.  “We already have a society that spends so much money patching people during the middle of their lives while slaughtering them in the womb, killing them at the embryonic stage and then euthanizing them at the end of their lives when they are no longer useful,” said Caldecott.

“What a dark world that is the result of the technological mindset,” he added.  “We have lost our human soul because we don’t believe we have one.”
Caldecott said CS Lewis foretold this in his small book, The Abolition of Man.  Caldecott quoted a small paragraph:

“It is in Man’s power to treat himself as a mere `natural object’ and his own judgements of value as raw material for scientific manipulation to alter at will. The objection to his doing so does not lie in the fact that this point of view (like one’s first day in a dissecting room) is painful and shocking till we grow used to it. The pain and the shock are at most a warning and a symptom. The real objection is that if man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated, as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere appetite, that is, mere Nature, in the person of his de-humanized Conditioners.”

Caldecott challenges all of us to not fall into this darkness that is all around us.  He reminded us that Jesus Christ on the cross reveals something to us that transcends suffering with redemption.  While the goal of medicine is to restore the normal function of the body; it should not be done by stealing our souls. To put medicine back on a proper course we must bring faith and reason back together again, otherwise we will lack a basic understanding why we suffer in the first place.

Why is there Suffering in the World?

Why do we suffer?  Can’t we just take a pill, or have a procedure, or, if we, or one of our loved ones, are in terrible pain with no hope of recovering, just “compassionately” end life?

And do we really define the moment of death?  What does it mean to be “brain dead”?  Can it even be really defined?  And if it cannot be definitively determined when you are physically dead medically, what do people do to ensure that they are not hastening death?

Dr. Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College and King’s College in New York City and author of nearly 60 books has written about the need for physicians to not rely simply on science for answers to questions that have deeper meaning for their patients.

“Science tries to be value neutral,” said Kreeft.  “It tells us how to clone a human being, it cannot tell us whether you should.  Philosophy cannot really either.  Religion is the only discipline that asks the question, ‘What is Man?’”

Part of the human condition is one of suffering.  In fact in Jesus Christ we have God becoming man, suffering and dying for the sins of mankind.  So for us, while we seek to live healthy, happy lives, there is a different understanding of the role of suffering in our lives.

“We have the big picture, so we know where the road leads in the end.  So if the present step involves suffering for us, it is like childbirth,” said Kreeft.  “It is something that is going to produce life, beauty and joy.  We can embrace it, not for its own sake, but for what it produces.”

Unfortunately some drug manufacturers are producing, and doctors are prescribing, vaccines, drugs, and other treatments that companies have procured using research methods that require fetal tissues from elective abortions.  The need for fresh transplant organ donations can also put pressure on medical facilities to hasten death.  In these cases the effort to end suffering has crossed a moral boundary. And because there are no federal labeling requirements for the drugs, unsuspecting patients have no way of knowing which therapies are tainted. Similarly a patient receiving a transplant has no way to know if something was done to hasten the death of the donor.

Dr. Kreeft said taking life to end suffering can never be justified. “If God uses suffering to make human beings more spiritually perfect then it is counterproductive to end suffering by sacrificing the spiritual perfection of other human beings.  You must see both pictures together,” said Kreeft.

So How Do We Define Death?

UCLA Medical Center Clinical Professor Dr. Alan Shewmon is a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Life. Dr.  Shewmon thought he knew what the definition of death was 20 years ago.  Now Dr. Shewmon asks the question, “When you are brain dead are you really dead?”

His answers now indicate that being “brain dead” is based on a theory (not a fact) that the brain is the central integrating organ of the body.  When the brain dies, the body literally stops functioning because it needs to receive signals from the brain to live.

“The only problem with that theory is there are examples of people without brains, who are clinically brain dead, who continue to live.  We also have examples of people without brains who are alive.  Their hearts beat without a brain function and their other organs work too.  These patients do require care, often intensive care, and are deeply comatose, but they are still living human beings.”

The Catholic Church has attempted several times to issue statements from both the Pontifical Academy of Science and the Pontifical Academy of Life defining when a person is considered dead.  None of them can be definitive by the very nature of the subjective nature of death.  And there are people alive who by definition should be clinically dead. “These are examples of exceptional human beings alive without brains or brain function,” said Dr. Shewmon.

There is often pressure on medical providers interested in organ donation to hasten a person’s death. As a result we are ending the lives of people prematurely to get their organs for transplantation. Families interested in “doing the right thing” will often rely on their doctor’s advice for when to end care.  If they are also seeking advice from their priest or their Catholic physician on what they need to do to follow the Church teachings, it is impossible to find a clear, consistent statement that is dogmatic.

Which brings us back to the question of suffering and from the philosopher Dr. Kreeft comes these final thoughts, “What then is suffering to the Christian? It is Christ’s invitation to us to follow Him. Christ goes to the Cross, and we are invited to follow to the same Cross. Not because it is the Cross, but because it is His. Suffering is blessed not because it is suffering but because it is His. Suffering is not the context that explains the Cross; the Cross is the context that explains suffering. The Cross gives this new meaning to suffering; it is now not only between God and me but also between Father and Son. The first between is taken up into the Trinitarian exchanges of the second. Christ allows us to participate in His Cross because that is His means of allowing us to participate in the exchanges of the Trinity, to share in the very inner life of God.”

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