Thursday, February 25, 2016

Reading Around: “Pro-Life”, Education, and Scientific Proofs of God

Part of the culture of blogging is writing about other people’s writing, sometimes even copying posts and essays whole (because it’s much easier than coming up with something original!). What the heck … doesn’t hurt to say, “Hey, guys, this is what I’ve been reading recently! Take a look!”

So there are three essays I want to commend to your attention: one on the pro-life movement’s “devil’s bargain” with the Republican Party, one on American educators’ theft from students of their cultural heritage, and one on the problematic nature of proving God from science.

Distributist Review: “Pro-Life or Anti-Abortion?” by John Médaille

This article came just before I read that a Google extension is soon to be released which would change all instances of “pro-life” to “anti-choice” for those who want it. Frankly, I believe the extension would likely infringe on copyrighted material (“If I’d meant ‘anti-choice’, I’d have written ‘anti-choice’!”); right now I have neither the funds nor the interest to pursue the matter further. If pro-aborts are that desperate to maintain the illusion that they control the terms of the debate, I suppose that’s their problem.

However, as John Médaille reminds us, so long as “pro-life” only means you’re against abortion, then “pro-life” is merely a rhetorical grab for the moral high ground just as is “pro-choice”. “One can be anti-abortion on narrow moral grounds, on political grounds, or just out of [a] certain fastidiousness. But families do a lot more than just give birth, and life is more than just its beginning. A true pro-life movement could be — and should have been — the foundation of a new Catholic politics.”

For reasons not germane to this post, I disagree with Médaille’s contention that the Republicans, having appointed “70% or more of all the judges in this country,” could have shut down Roe v. Wade whenever they wanted; suffice it to say, different games run by different rules. However, the really valuable aspect of the essay is his snapshot of what a truly pro-life, pro-family centrist party would have looked like … and still could look like, if ever we could find the right people to found such a party. And I do agree with his broader conclusion that the GOP is merely “anti-abortion”, and only to the extent that the party’s promises to reverse Roe are the drug which keeps the movement dependent on them.

Front Porch Republic: “Res Idiotica”, by Patrick J. Deneen

There are any number of theories as to why, how, even whether our education system is broken. Just before I read “Res Idiotica”, I’d read another piece in which another teacher complained that, as a result of No Child Left Behind, a half-generation of students “taught to the test” were functionally incapable of reading and appreciating great literature. (Unfortunately, I can’t find the link again.)

Deneen, who teaches political theory at Notre Dame, disagrees: such students are precisely the outcomes several generations of educational theorists were aiming for. “The pervasive ignorance of our students is not a mere accident or unfortunate but correctible outcome, if only we hire better teachers or tweak the reading lists in high school. It is the consequence of a civilizational commitment to civilizational suicide. The end of history for our students signals the End of History for the West.”

Deneen always writes clearly and with a certain elegance. In this post, though, his anger and sorrow fill every line, making his essay a cri de coeur for a generation of young people intentionally, systematically robbed of their cultural inheritance, turned into the “mere trousered apes” of which C. S. Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man, unable “to conceive the Atlantic as anything more than so many million tons of cold salt water”. “Res Idiotica” is not an argument — it’s a lament and an epitaph.

One Faith Online: “Does Science Prove God Exists?”, by Stacy A. Trasancos

Someone once asked why religion doesn’t use the same standards that science does. I wish I’d responded with my own question: “Why doesn’t hockey use the same rules as does football?” The answer should be obvious — if hockey used the same rules, it would no longer be hockey; it would be football. Religion can learn different things from science; the reverse may also be true, even if one is loath to admit it. In the end, though, religion and science are separate disciplines with separate uses and goals.

Stacy Trasancos, a former research chemist for DuPont, is now a chemistry and physics instructor for Kolbe Academy and a professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary. [Full disclosure: She’s also a friend and one of the founders of Catholic Stand.] Her piece concerns the difference between deductive reasoning, commonly used in theology, and inductive reasoning, heavily relied on in science … though both disciplines can use either. As such, it’s not an overly complex piece; in fact, it’s simple enough for a young person to understand. However, a person going into it convinced (for whatever reason) that Dr. Trasancos would answer with an enthusiastic “yes” might be surprised.

I don’t want to get too much into Dr. Trasancos’ argument, because I think you should read it for yourself. It’s pitched to believers; with only a slight twist of thought, though, it could equally apply to non-believers. I’d simply ask you to remember that religion was never supposed to function as a kind of proto-science or ur-physics: God never lived in the gaps, so we shouldn’t expect to find Him there. At the same time, science is a methodology, not an oracle, and scientists aren’t prophets; if you make a god of science, it’ll be of the “golden calf” variety.

Tolle, lege!