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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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ATHEIST COMMANDMENT 4

“Every person has the right to control over their body.”

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This modern commandment is directly connected to the issue of legalized abortion. Atheists deny the existence of a soul. Thus it is easy for many of them to discount the embryonic as human with rights. Despite a human developmental trajectory, the unborn (at least at early stages) is judged as no more than tissue or at most, only a human being “in potency.” This commandment would have more credibility if there were respect for the body and/or the separate but dependent integrity of the unborn child. Frequently language games will be employed to avoid the truth about the child’s humanity in the womb. When it comes to issues like partial birth infanticide an irrationality takes hold. It is argued that it would be cruel to adopt a child out to strangers; and yet, with adoption they would become a loving family. The blindness of selfishness is heinous. If there be a physical defect, a strained comeback might point to a dubious or difficult quality of life. Frequently there is an appeal to overall viability although medical science is saving the lives of increasing premature babies. Certain ethicists have noted that young children (up to maybe three years of age) are not really viable without constant adult intervention. They just do not know how to care for themselves. That is why a few rogues are proposing “post-birth abortion.” Beyond the logical inconsistencies, the pro-abortion position gives rights to some and strips them entirely from other persons. The definition of a baby becomes shallow: “it is only a baby if you want it.”

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Life issues are often interconnected. A consequence of this maxim would also be assisted suicide. If the person has absolute dominion over the body then he or she can terminate the life of that body whenever he or she deems to do so. With God extracted from the equation, he no longer has sovereignty and out goes the fifth commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” Turning to lesser matters, it would also permit all sorts of bizarre tattoos and piercings. Indeed, one could turn his or her body into a for-profit advertising banner if so desired. This is really a monstrous commandment and points out that separated from God; we really do not know how to be good. Since we are our bodies, this permissive commandment would also open the door to all sorts of distortions in sexual behavior, way beyond the evils of artificial contraception and fornication. The Christian would argue that personal control of the body is not absolute. We must respect that all life belongs to God and the plan of nature by which we are made. We must also respect others, including the little people who start out in the womb.

ATHEIST COMMANDMENT 3

“The scientific method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world.”

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I have a profound respect for the utility of the scientific method; however, it would be the height of hubris for one to place it alone on the dais of truth. It has very significant limitations. I am not surprised that this “new” commandment is proposed by one of the renowned television Mythbusters. One of my favorite shows, the premise is that a “myth” or hypothesis must be testable through experiments or observations that are repeatable. The program gives one of three answers: Confirmed, Plausible or Busted. Despite a desire from certain cast members to tackle “religious myths,” the Discovery Channel has said no, if not to avoid the mockery of faith at least to preserve a large faith-based audience.

Such an approach to the natural world is often best with particularized or tightly delineated questions. The topics that concern philosophers and theologians are generally beyond the parameters of the scientific method. For instance, string theory might make good math but how would one go about proving experimentally a theory “about everything”? When researchers try, the experiments, by necessity become increasingly expansive. Astronomers and astrophysicists want telescopes that see further into the universe and into bands of light or energy that we could not normally perceive. We now think we have detected the cosmic radiation present after the Big Bang. Physicists peer in the opposite direction, looking for the God particle or the infinitesimally small, as with the massive (17 miles long) Hadron Collider. However, after all the number crunching and investigation, there is still no good science that demonstrates either a doomed or self-perpetuating cosmos without a Creator. This should force even the most hardened cynic to agnosticism, not to an atheist’s absolute denial of a deity. They will argue that the burden of proof is upon the believer. And yet, the believer looks around and sees proof everywhere; he is shocked that the atheist cannot see it. Nothing comes from nothing. If there is no Creator, then nothing should exist— not a butterfly or a smiling child— not a tick of the clock or the movement of an electron and proton— nothing, no time, no space, no matter, and definitely nothing that should be asking these questions or reflecting upon existence. But here we are. Are we just a cheap accident? That is no answer. If being and non-being is a flip of the coin, then I want to know who is supplying the change!

While the Catholic already accepts the existence of God and even says that he has intervened in human history as a caring God; nevertheless, he wants to make sense of the natural world. God can use miracles and suspend his laws but usually he does not. Otherwise, creation would be capricious and God would seemingly curse the very order he put into place. The Catholic notion of intelligent design looks at the patterns in the natural order and philosophically deduces a knowing agent. Schools often refuse to admit the view, even though it respects the scientific data associated with theories of creation and evolution. There is no empirical test to prove or disprove the existence of a divine being. Public schools, in particular, will make room for experiential science, but increasing reject not only religion but the benefits of natural reason and philosophy. This throws out the best of Western civilization and represents a type of intellectual reductionism. The same philosophy that would allow for intelligent design would also promote logical reasoning and a study of the virtues. It is no wonder, that vice and actions are increasingly separated from the concern of culpability or objective morality. Schools become hell holes because we have subtracted everything of heaven out of them.

The scientific method is a useful tool, but it is only that.  It has led to discoveries that have both improved and endangered the world.  Knowledge is gained but often without the wisdom as to how to use it properly.  Understanding the atom has made possible new sources of energy and medical treatment; it has also made possible the Bomb and the prospect of nuclear holocaust.  It is truly a two-edged sword.

It falls short in teaching us values and in answering the question about the origin of the natural order. Even if there were an infinite sequence, and eternal regression and progression, (which Thomists regard as an absurdity), the question could be raised as to whom or what put it into place. Similarly, if creation has a beginning and an end then questions emerge that beg for an answer. When the last of the energy evaporates from the one remaining black hole, what happens next? Or looking to the very beginning, where did the point or singularity come from? Compared to the claims of science, those of religion are looking more credible, even if still inscrutable. God lives outside of time and space. Even though he is the source for the natural world, there is a wall between experiential knowledge and a dimension without matter or temporal and spacial extension. He is existence or the source of all being. He creates everything from nothing. While no one is compelled to believe in a deity, similarly the notion should not be ridiculed or banned. As a believer, I contend he shares with creation the perfections that he has in infinite measure as their source. God by definition would defy being placed under the microscope or being reduced to mathematical formulae. He has called us to know him, but only the surface of this “knowing” can be scratched. The mystery remains and the response of believers is gratitude and praise. I suppose the lack of thankfulness is what most infuriates believers about atheists.

The Threat of Artificial Intelligence

See the article in The Guardian entitled: Elon Musk: artificial intelligence is our biggest existential threat.

Samuel Gibbs writes: “Elon Musk has spoken out against artificial intelligence (AI), the second time in a month, declaring it the most serious threat to the survival of the human race.”

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I am of the opinion that there will always be a serious chasm between human and mechanical intelligence, one of metaphysical dimensions. However, even a soulless intelligence could be both sophisticated and dangerous. Look at the complexity of ant and bee communities. It would also raise questions for humanity in regards to our mutable, vulnerable and finite existence in this world. A machine mind, like a sophisticated clock, might be maintained for centuries. By contrast, we are here today and gone tomorrow. Unbelievers will most probably suffer the worse existential angst of all. Instead of Pinocchio wanting to be a real boy, real boys might want to be Pinocchio… or at least his Terminator counterpart.

What Does a Priest Think About Space Aliens?

my-alien-hiAnthony came to me with questions for a school project.  They have to do with the possible existence of “outer space” aliens.

1. Do you believe that life exists on other planets in the universe?  Why or why not?

This question requires certain specificity in both the asking and in responding.  First, what do you mean by life?  Catholicism has always taught that there is extraterrestrial life and that it is sentient.  However, this is in reference to angelic beings:  both the good angels and the demons.  They are spiritual creatures, not a composite of soul and meat like us.  (Please note that atheistic authorities would object that we are only “thinking meat” and that there is no spiritual component.  It is somewhat ironic that these same “experts” would insist that there must be life elsewhere in the universe, although there is no proof at present.  Further, they suffer from a type of terrestrial racism because they suppose that all alien life must be akin to us, either biological or by extension, mechanical.)

Second, if you mean to exclude angelic creatures, then as a reasonable man I am well aware of both the Drake Equation and the Fermi Paradox.  Half of all stars in the universe may have earth-like planets, but this in itself only gives us a probability, not a certainty.  We suppose an understanding of the conditions for life, like water, but what if we are too restrictive?  Might there be a world where the climate is hellish and the denizens breathe sulfur?  We know that there are micro-organisms on our planet that are dependent upon methane.

Third, even if 100,000 planets in our own galaxy might sustain life as we know it, would such life exist by necessity and/or would it be sentient?  While I think it likely that there is something “out there” even if microbial, there is no corresponding guarantee that it would be sentient.  Catholicism associates consciousness with self-reflective thinking.  The scholastics viewed this as not merely a property of the brain but of the soul.  We might live in a universe of plants, bugs and cattle.  The reason no one answers our calls into space might be because of the distances, but such could also be due to the fact that no one is listening or that no one cares to respond.  Intelligence could be of two orders, if it exists:  one would be like the ant or bee.  They know a genuine sophistication and a civilization (of sorts) might develop.  But they would be largely robots.  Concepts like freedom or compassion might be meaningless to them.

The second scenario would allow for genuine sentience and such creatures, if they exist, would be ensouled.  Here I think of C.S. Lewis and his creatures of Mars who had not fallen from grace and the Venusians who were just now facing their moral test in the garden.  Would such creatures suffer from original sin?  If so, then how and would Christ’s redemptive work include them?  What this means is that they would be asked if they are redeemed or damned.

A recent suggestion for the celestial silence is the theory that instead of federations of planets, star faring societies tend to wipe out the competition before they can become a threat.  If true, then there might be an armada of asteroids being directed to us and our sun as I speak.  There is no guarantee that aliens will be benevolent.

To answer your question, personally, I do not know if there is alien life.  Mathematical probabilities might be wrong.  We could possibly be alone in the material universe.  I do not know God’s mind about this.  Of course, given the various string theories, might life still exist in another universe?  Hum, where is heaven and hell, precisely?  The speculation about other dimensions in science may bring us back to the truths in religion.

2. How would you react, if actual proof of alien life were discovered?

It represents no challenge to faith.  The Creator made it all.  I would probably respond by saying a loud and drawn out, Wooooow!

3. Should humans travel into space?

Certainly we should not neglect the issues of earth by doing so; but, yes, I think that missions into space are part of our developmental trajectory as a species.  It reflects an important element of man’s intelligent curiosity.  There are things to know and resources to exploit.  I think there should be a chaplain on the International Space Station.  Indeed, I would argue for permanent bases on the moon before we tackle the more difficult task of establishing settlements on Mars.  There is no world in our solar system apart from earth that is hospitable to human life.  Whether or not Mars or one of the moons of the gas giants can be terraformed is a topic for science fiction and the distant future.