Friday, April 30, 2010

St. Thomas Aquinas on what grace does

Tonight I was up reading the portion of the Summa Theologica in which St. Thomas explains the five things grace does. It is so beautiful and clear. Writes St. Thomas:
God's grace is the outcome of His mercy. Now both are said in Psalm 58:11: "His mercy shall prevent me," and again, Psalm 22:6: "Thy mercy will follow me." Therefore grace is fittingly divided into prevenient and subsequent.
....As grace is divided into operating and cooperating, with regard to its diverse effects, so also is it divided into prevenient and subsequent, howsoever we consider grace. Now there are five effects of grace in us: of these, the first is, to heal the soul; the second, to desire good; the third, to carry into effect the good proposed; the fourth, to persevere in good; the fifth, to reach glory. And hence grace, inasmuch as it causes the first effect in us, is called prevenient with respect to the second, and inasmuch as it causes the second, it is called subsequent with respect to the first effect. And as one effect is posterior to this effect, and prior to that, so may grace be called prevenient and subsequent on account of the same effect viewed relatively to divers others. And this is what Augustine says (De Natura et Gratia xxxi): "It is prevenient, inasmuch as it heals, and subsequent, inasmuch as, being healed, we are strengthened; it is prevenient, inasmuch as we are called, and subsequent, inasmuch as we are glorified."

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Public Discourse editorial challenges Commonweal editorial.

I think the Public Discourse editors get the better of the Commonweal editors on the question of whether Obamacare contains provisions that allow taxpayer funded abortions. Commonweal says "no."  Public Discourse says "yes."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

April 28, 2007: the day I returned to the Catholic Church

Three years ago today, I went to confession for the first time in over 30 years and returned to the Catholic Church. As I write in Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic (Brazos Press, 2009):
It was a spring Texas afternoon, a little hot, not too humid. I had arrived at St. Jerome’s Catholic Church. St. Jerome’s is located in Waco, Texas, the home of my employer, Baylor University— sometimes called “Jerusalem on the Brazos.” Although the church is only about three miles from my home in the adjacent town of Woodway, my arrival on that April 28, 2007 afternoon marked a turning point in a long spiritual pilgrimage that began in 1973 in Las Vegas, Nevada. I had come to church that Saturday to receive the sacrament of reconciliation, which to many is known as confession. This ordinarily would not be such a big deal, except that it was my first confession in more than 30 years. And at the completion of the sacrament I would be in full communion with the Catholic Church. My younger brother, James, emailed me earlier in the week and had jokingly asked if I needed help in recalling my sins. Of course, people become Catholic every day. But in my case, I knew that there would be ramifications: I was the president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), an academic society with nearly 4500 members. I was also a fairly well known public intellectual who had gone through a very public tenure battle at Baylor University that had, fortunately, ended in my favor only six months earlier.

Upon entering the confessional, I sat face-to-face with the priest. I said, “Father, forgive me, for I have sinned. It has been over 30 years since my last confession.” Then I said, “I’m not sure I can remember all of my sins.” In his thick East Indian accent, he replied, “That is alright. God knows them all.” I responded, “I was afraid of that.” The priest then heard my confession and granted me absolution. I found my way to the main sanctuary, where I did my penance, which, consisted of one “Our Father” and one “Hail Mary.” When I told this to my wife, Frankie, she thought the priest was far too lenient. She has a thorough recollection of my sins.
Soon after that confession, all heaven broke loose, with rumors and speculations going viral all over cyberspace.  So, I wrote the following (on 5 May 2007) on the now defunct blog, Right Reason

During the last week of March 2007, after much prayer, counsel and consideration, my wife and I decided to seek full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. My wife, a baptized Presbyterian, is going through the process of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA).  This will culminate with her receiving the sacraments of Holy Communion and Confirmation.  For me, because I had received the sacraments of Baptism, Communion, and Confirmation all before the age of 14, I need only go to confession, request forgiveness for my sins, ask to be received back into the Church, and receive absolution. 
Given my status as president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), I decided several weeks ago--after consultation with trusted friends--to not seek absolution until my term as ETS president ended in November and then to request that the ETS nominations committee not place my name on the executive committee ballot as an at-large member.  I wanted to make sure that my return to the Church brought as little attention to ETS as possible.  To complicate matters, I received conflicting advice from wise friends on when and how to address the ETS executive committee on this delicate matter. Some suggested that the ETS executive committee would rather not know about my reception into the Church until after the national meeting in November. These friends recommended I lay low, give a presidential address that is irenic and does not address Protestant-Catholic issues (which I had planned on doing all along), and then quietly ask not to be nominated to the executive committee for the four-year at-large term. Other friends, equally as wise, gave conflicting advice. They opined that my withholding from the executive committee my plans to return to the Church would play to prejudices that some Protestants have about “secretive Jesuit conspiracies” and the like. They were concerned that my planned move would be inadvertently disclosed by friends before the November meeting and that the news that I had withheld information concerning my return to the Church could be perceived by many as a bad witness for the Gospel. 
I did not know exactly what to do. So, I prayed and asked the Lord to provide to me clear direction.  I believe I received this direction on April 20.  On that Friday morning, my 16-year-old nephew, Dean Beckwith, called me and asked if I would be his sponsor when he receives the sacrament of Confirmation on May 13.  I could not say “no” to my dear nephew, who has credited his renewal of his faith in Christ to our conversations and correspondence. But in order for me to do this I would have to be in full communion with the Church.  So, on Saturday, April 28, 2007, I received the sacrament of Confession.  The next day I was publicly received back into the Catholic Church at 11 am Mass at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Waco, Texas.  My wife, standing beside me, was accepted as a catechumen.  (A Baylor student, who I do not know, was present at the Mass and provides an account of it on her blog). 
Because I can in good conscience, as a Catholic, affirm the ETS doctrinal statement, I do not intend to resign as a member of ETS. However, because I am sensitive to the fact that my status as ETS president changes the dynamic of my return to the Church, I had originally thought that it was wise for me not to step down as ETS president before my term expires in November. For, I thought that my resignation would draw needless attention to ETS.  On the other hand, because I had no doubt that word of my return to the Church would disseminate quickly through private conversation and correspondence over the next six months, I suggested to the ETS executive committee that it appoint someone else on the committee to preside over the remaining meetings in both August and November.  I offered to attend those meetings and contribute to them in ways to advance the good of ETS.  But I also told the committee that if it did not think it was appropriate for me to attend, I would not. On the other hand, if it thought I should conduct the meetings, I would do so. Regardless, I deferred to their collective judgment on this matter. However, I also told them that I intended to remain as ETS president until my term expires in November, but not to accept a nomination for a four-year at-large appointment to the executive committee after the end of my term.  
But, as many of you now realize, word of my reception into the Church was delivered, without my knowledge, to several bloggers.  A tiny percentage of these bloggers have engaged in much speculation about my motives, the timing of my move, as well as my status as ETS president. Unfortunately, some of these speculations had pockets of uncharity, for they were not advanced under the assumption that I have a true love for my Evangelical brothers and that I may have had undisclosed reasons, perhaps personal and theologically delicate ones, that time and circumstance prevented me from fully conveying in one full swoop.  Fortunately, the uncharitable aspects of these postings have had no impact on people of good will and devout faith, both Protestant and Catholic, who have offered their prayers, advice, and even critical comments to me in the form of private messages adorned by a love of Christ and a sincere desire to honor and respect both me and my wife. Many of these messages, especially the critical ones, have been extremely important in helping me to reassess my decision to remain as ETS president.  As I have already stated, my decision was based on a cluster of goods that I thought would be best protected by my completing my tenure and then permanently moving off the executive committee. However, given the immense public attention and commentary that my reception into the Church has provoked, I no longer think that it is possible for ETS to conduct its business and its meetings in a fashion that advances the Gospel of Christ as long as I remain as its president.  I now believe that my continued presence as president of ETS will serve the very harms that I had originally thought that my retention would avoid.  For this reason, effective May 5, 2007, I resign as both President of the Evangelical Theological Society and a member of its executive committee. 
In order to dispel any other rumors, I want to make it clear that no one on the ETS executive committee asked for me to resign.  They received my letter concerning this matter during the week of April 30, and I have no doubt that they have since then discussed that epistle among themselves. As stewards of this important academic society, these men not only have the right to do this, they have the obligation. And I would have willingly and graciously resigned if they had asked me to, even if I thought that I could serve out my term with little controversy. But knowing these wonderful gentlemen, and the measured and serious way they take their responsibility, I knew they did not want to be rushed into assessing such a delicate matter. I have no doubt they have been thinking, deliberating, and praying about what to do.  But given the fact that it is unlikely that I would have been elevated to the presidency of ETS by its membership if my reception into the Catholic Church had occurred prior to the time of my candidacy, I think it would have been more than reasonable for these gentlemen to ask me to step down.  But they had not done so yet.  Nevertheless, I am stepping down, in order to relieve them of the burden of that judgment as well as to avoid bringing scandal to either ETS or the Church.  
There is a conversation in ETS that must take place, a conversation about the relationship between Evangelicalism and what is called the “Great Tradition,” a tradition from which all Christians can trace their spiritual and ecclesiastical paternity.  It is a conversation that I welcome, and it is one in which I hope to be a participant. But my presence as ETS president, I have concluded, diminishes the chances of this conversation occurring.  It would merely exacerbate the disunity among Christians that needs to be remedied.  
The past four months have moved quickly for me and my wife. As you probably know, my work in philosophy, ethics, and theology has always been Catholic friendly, but I would have never predicted that I would return to the Church, for there seemed to me too many theological and ecclesiastical issues that appeared insurmountable. However, in January, at the suggestion of a dear friend, I began reading the Early Church Fathers as well as some of the more sophisticated works on justification by Catholic authors.  I became convinced that the Early Church is more Catholic than Protestant and that the Catholic view of justification, correctly understood, is biblically and historically defensible. Even though I also believe that the Reformed view is biblically and historically defensible, I think the Catholic view has more explanatory power to account for both all the biblical texts on justification as well as the church’s historical understanding of salvation prior to the Reformation all the way back to the ancient church of the first few centuries. Moreover, much of what I have taken for granted as a Protestant—e.g., the catholic creeds, the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation, the Christian understanding of man, and the canon of Scripture—is the result of a Church that made judgments about these matters and on which non-Catholics, including Evangelicals, have declared and grounded their Christian orthodoxy in a world hostile to it.  Given these considerations, I thought it wise for me to err on the side of the Church with historical and theological continuity with the first generations of Christians that followed Christ’s Apostles. 
I have tremendous respect for both what ETS stands for as well as for each and every one of the members of the ETS executive committee. If not for them, their predecessors, and so many of their (and our) mentors and teachers in the Protestant Evangelical movement, my present faith would be diminished. ETS’s tenacious defense and practice of Christian orthodoxy is what has sustained and nourished so many of us who have found our way back to the Church of our youth.
I eventually resigned my ETS membership as well (7 May 2007).

In these three short years I have learned so much more about Catholicism, and continue to grow in my faith.  On the other hand, my relationships with my Protestant friends have not waned. If anything, they have grown stronger.  

Why We Should Prefer Natural Law to Utilitarianism

Robert P. George just published an essay on Public Discourse entitled, "Morality, Rationality and Natural Law. " It begins thusly:
If moral norms, including those prohibiting such evils as murder, rape, torture, enslavement, and genocide, are what they purport to be—namely, principles for guiding human choices and actions—then there must be a point to abiding by them; they must have some rational basis. Do they? What could provide such a point and basis?
At the foundation of our moral thinking is our understanding that some things are worth doing or pursuing for their own sake. It can make sense to act to promote or realize them even when we expect no further benefit from doing so. In other words, they give us more than merely instrumental reasons for acting. When wesee the point of performing a friendly act, for example, not for any ulterior reason, but just for the sake of friendship itself—or when we see the point of studying abstract mathematics, the plays and sonnets of Shakespeare, or the structure of distant galaxies just for the sake of knowledge—we understand the intrinsic valueof such activities. We grasp the worth of friendship and knowledge (to take just two of many possible examples) not merely as means to other ends, but as ends in themselves. Unlike money or insurance coverage, these goods are not valuable only because they facilitate or protect other goods. Rather, they are themselves constitutive aspects of our own and others’ fulfillment as human persons.
>>>Continue Reading

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hadley Arkes tells his story on coming into the Catholic Church

Over at The Catholic Thing, Hadley Arkes writes of his conversion to Catholicism:
It was last October, the Red Mass, said on that first Sunday in October just before the opening of the Supreme Court on the first Monday. My wife Judy and I were at the service at St. Matthew’s in Washington, and we were on the way to the Hilton on Sixteenth Street for the lunch following the Mass. Suddenly, and happily, we were joined on the walk by Fr. Arne Panula, whom I’d met years ago at the Opus Dei house in New York. He had moved over to direct the chapel and programs at the Catholic Information Center at Fifteenth and K. In a bantering way, Fr. Arne confronted me: “You, the most notable figure at the threshold, never quite crossing it.” (Never actually coming into the Church.) “What’s holding you back?” I dipped into the repertoire of Bert Lahr from theWizard of Oz: “C-c-c courage! It’s what puts the ‘ape’ in ‘apricot’; it’s what I haven’t got.”
That move deftly got me out of challenge posed here in an affectionate way. But only for a moment. One month later I dropped in to a noon Mass at the CIC and Fr. Arne, in the homily, remarked that “the one thread that connected these two readings today is c-c-c-c courage.” That was the hook that finally worked. We had lunch, we mapped out a series of five or six sessions of instruction, for the decision was finally made. And just yesterday (as I write this), on April 24, I came into the Church in Fr. Arne’s chapel, with Michael Novak as my sponsor.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Arminius Answers Beckwith: Who Knew?

Read it here.

Hadley Arkes, welcome home

My wife, Frankie, and I were humbled to be among those who were present at the Mass in which our dear friend Hadley Arkes was received into the Catholic Church. It took place on the afternoon of Saturday, April 24, in the chapel of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C.  His sponsor was Michael Novak, a dear man who truly lives the Gospel of Our Lord.  (The photo, taken by Frankie, is of Hadley and Michael prior to the Mass. Click it to enlarge).

Hadley, a frequent contributor to First Things and a member of its editorial board, is one of the most courageous and thoughtful defenders of the sanctity of human life. The Edward N. Professor of Jurisprudence and American Institutions at Amherst College, Hadley is the author of eight books including Natural Rights and the Right to Choose (Cambridge University Press, 2002), First Things: An Inquiry into the First Principles of Morals and Justice (Princeton University Press, 1986), and the forthcoming Constitutional Illusions and Anchoring Truths The Touchstone of the Natural Law (Cambridge University Press, 2010). At the upcoming meeting of the American Political Science Association in Washington D.C. (2-5 September 2010), I will be chairing a session on the book.

My recent book, Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft (InterVarsity Press, 2010) is dedicated to Hadley, who, ironically, played a part in my own journey back to the Catholic Church while we were both visiting fellows in 2002-2003 at Princeton University in the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. I share this encounter in Return to Rome: Confessions of An Evangelical Catholic (Brazos Press, 2009):
After law school, I returned to Trinity and taught there for one year, until another opportunity came my way. I had applied for, and was offered, a visiting full-time faculty appointment at Princeton University for the 2002–2003 school year. Among the other visiting fellows at Princeton that year was Hadley Arkes, a legal philosopher from Amherst College. I had known Hadley for eight years, having met him in 1994 at Fordham University when he gave the keynote address at the annual meeting of the University Faculty for Life. Hadley’s works on jurisprudence and politics, as well as his writing style, which is an unusual though magnetic combination of philosophical rigor, literary flair, and mischievous genius, shaped the trajectory of my own professional aspirations. It helped expand my interests, which had been mostly in philosophy of religion and applied ethics, to include law and politics.

One night soon after we arrived at Princeton, Hadley called me at home to discuss several matters. In the midst of our conversation he asked, “Why are you a Protestant rather than a Catholic? Didn’t you grow up Catholic?” This line of questioning took me by surprise, since Hadley was Jewish and we had never discussed our faiths with one another, even though we had known each other for nearly a decade. I gave him the standard Protestant theological responses, ones that I firmly believed were adequate for the task at hand. He paused for a moment and said, “That’s all? That’s it? You were brought up Catholic. Your parents are Catholic. I don’t see why you don’t return to the Church.” I replied, “Hadley, you’re Jewish, and for you once you get past the ‘Jesus thing’ it’s just down hill from there. But for Protestants and Catholics these are big issues.” He chuckled and then asked if I would be interested in engaging in a private discussion with him and Robert P. George (a Catholic and Princeton Professor) on the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism. Although that discussion never took place, Hadley’s inquiry about my transition from Catholicism to Protestantism was the first time someone outside my immediate family had asked me such a question.
As providence would have it, I found out about a year ago from my brother, Patrick, a devout Catholic, that he had contacted Hadley and Robert ("Robby") George prior to our arrival at Princeton. He asked them to gently prod me about my Catholic roots and my Protestant faith. Until he had read the above passage from my book early last year, Patrick had not known that Hadley had done what he had requested. And because Patrick had asked Hadley and Robby to keep his communication with them in the strictest confidence, I did not know of my brother's request until he told me last year.

So, for Frankie and me, last Saturday seemed like we had caught a partial glimpse of what the author of Hebrews meant when he called Jesus “the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2 KJV)

(Update: Robby George shares his thoughts on Hadley's conversion on the Mirror of Justice blog. The photo directly above, taken by Frankie, is of the chapel in which Hadley received the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and holy communion. Click it to enlarge.)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Anti-Catholicism, Again

That's the title of Joseph Bottum's Weekly Standard article, which you can find here. Here is how it begins:
The day the Antichrist is ripped from his papal throne, true religion will guide the world. Or perhaps it’s the day the last priest is gutted, and his entrails used to strangle the last king, as Voltaire demanded. Yes, that’s when we will see at last the reign of bright, clean, enlightened reason—the release of mankind from the shadows of medieval superstition. War will end. The proletariat will awaken from its opiate dream. The oppression of women will stop. And science at last will be free from the shackles of Rome. 
For almost 500 years now, Catholicism has been an available answer, a mystical key, to that deep, childish, and existentially compelling question: Why aren’t we there yet? Why is progress still unfinished? Why is promise still unfulfilled? Why aren’t we perfect? Why aren’t we changed? 
Despite our rejection of the past, the future still hasn’t arrived. Despite our advances, corruption continues. It needs an explanation. It requires a response. And in every modernizing movement—from Protestant Reformers to French Revolutionaries, Communists to Freudians, Temperance Leaguers and suffragettes to biotechnologists and science-fiction futurists—someone in despair eventually stumbles on the answer: We have been thwarted by the Catholic Church.

Continue reading >>>

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Atheists call for "National Day of Reason."

In response to the recent federal court decision that ruled that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional, a atheist group is calling for a "National Day of Reason." But why? According to a story on
“The National Day of Reason includes all Americans and calls attention to a value that’s essential to effective democracy,” said David Niose, president of the American Humanist Association. 
Also scheduled to be held on the first Thursday in May, the National Day of Reason is a day in which events are held across the United States in order to commemorate reason.
But what precisely is "reason"? It seems to at least be a norm that we ought to follow when exercising our mental powers. As Mr. Niose writes, it is "essential to effective democracy." Thus, it is not a physical law, like gravity, since following norms requires judgment, and judgment is a power that the will may or may not exercise. Gravity just happens; it is not "right" or "wrong" or "irrational." Such a judgment relies on laws of logic and inference, which are not material things, like stones, buildings, and squirrels. So, when I say that my reasons for believing X are A, B & C, the relationship between my reasons and my beliefs are not like the relationship between the stone and the squirrel, e.g., the stone is to the right of the squirrel. Thus, the relationship between my reasons and my beliefs, the "aboutness" of the first to the second, is not a matter of physical things being next to each other. The relationship is logical and not spatial. But these atheists are materialists who believe that there are no immaterial realities. Although some of them believe that our thoughts may be immaterial properties, these thoughts depend on physical states, and thus are subject to physical and chemical laws that lack the mental power of judgment.

But it gets worse. For example, materialist Steven
 Pinker writes that all our faculties, including the cognitive faculties by which we reason, arrived in their present state as a result of blind non-rational forces combined with natural selection and/or perhaps other material causes.[1] In that case, what grounds would provide warrant for Pinker to claim that his exercise of his cognitive faculties including his reason is functioning properly? Alvin Plantinga has raised a similar question in what he calls an evolutionary argument against naturalism.[2] I will briefly summarize Platinga’s argument while applying it to Pinker’s case.

Here’s the problem for Pinker: If he provides reasons for his belief that his cognitive faculties are functioning properly he must rely on those very
cognitive faculties in order to arrive at those reasons. However, Pinker tells us that all our cognitive faculties, including his, arrived in their present state as a result of blind non-rational forces combined with natural selection and/or perhaps other material causes. But, as Plantinga points out, “[e]volution is interested, not in true belief, but in survival or fitness.” Thus, “[i]t is. . . unlikely that our cognitive faculties have the production of true belief as a proximate or any other function, and the probability of our faculties’ being reliable (given naturalistic evolution) would be fairly low.”[3] Thus, “any argument” Pinker “offers” for the reliability of his cognitive faculties “is in this context delicately circular or question-begging.”[4] Although it is not formally circular in the sense that the conclusion appears in the argument’s premises, it is, writes Plantinga, “pragmatically circular in that it purports to give a reason for trusting our cognitive faculties, but is itself trustworthy only if those faculties (at least the ones involved in its production) are indeed trustworthy.” Thus, Pinker or your garden-variety evolutionary naturalist [5] “subtly assumes the very proposition” he “proposes to argue for.” In other words, “[o]nce I come to doubt the reliability of my cognitive faculties, I can’t properly try to allay that doubt by producing an argument; for in doing so I rely on the very faculties I am doubting.”[6]

Conclusion: it seems as though the atheists advancing a "National Day of Reason" can not account for reason. Not very reasonable, is it?

[1] Writes Pinker: 
Our organs of computation are a product of natural selection. The biologist Richard Dawkins called natural selection the Blind Watchmaker; in the case of the mind, we can call it the Blind Programmer. Our mental programs work as well as they do because they were shaped by selection to allow our ancestors to master rocks, tools, plants, animals, and each other, ultimate in the service of survival and reproduction.
Natural selection is not the cause of evolutionary change. Organisms also change over the eons because of statistical accidents in who lives and who dies, environmental catastrophes that wipe out whole familes of creatures, and the unavoidable by-products of changes that are the product of selection. But natural selection is the only evolutionary force that acts like an engineer, “designing” organs that accomplish improbable adaptive outcomes (a point that has been made forcefully by the biologist George Williams and by Dawkins) (Steven Pinker, How The Mind Works [New York: W. W Norton 1997], 36)

[2]Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 216-237.

[3]Ibid., 219. Philosopher Anthony O’Hear makes a similar observation:
In the Darwinian view, even our reason is simply an instrument of survival. It was not given to us to unearth the ultimate truth about things but simply to find our way around the savannah well enough to survive and reproduce. That we have a disinterested power to seek and the ability to find the truth for its own sake is as much of an illusion as our faith that our moral sense is truly altruistic and other-regarding. It may, be like our moral faith, a useful illusion, for purposes of survival and reproduction, in that having the illusion may encourage us to uncover facts that aid survival. But it is an illusion none the less, foisted on us by our genes, that we are really engineered by nature to discover ultimate, universally valid truth. Neither our sense nor evolution in general provides any guarantee that what our investigations reveal is the real truth, as opposed to a set of notions useful for a time in the struggle for existence, which of course, leaves a question over the Darwinian notion itself that we are basically survival machines. Is that real truth or merely a notion useful in the struggle for survival? The Darwinian account, seeing our knowledge, as everything else about us, in terms simply of selective advantage, gives us no hope for deciding.  (Anthony O’Hare, After Progress: Finding the Old Way Forward [London: Bloomsbury, 1999], 68)

[4]Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function, 234.

[5] I say “evolutionary naturalism” to distinguish it from theistic evolution or other understandings of evolution that are non-naturalist.  Because it is often mistakenly assumed that evolution is in-principle inconsistent with final or formal causes, many people, including some Christians, have come to believe that evolution per se is a defeater to the belief that the universe is designed.  I address this error in Francis J. Beckwith, “How to Be An Intelligent Design Advocate,” University of St. Thomas Journal of Law & Public Policy 4.1 (2010). See also Etienne Gilson, From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again: A Journey in Final Causality, Species, and Evolution, trans. John Lyon (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984) and Francis S. Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (New York: The Free Press, 2006)

[6]Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function, 234.. Plantinga suggests that the idea of properly functioning cognitive faculties makes the most sense if they were designed by a being for that purpose. That is, “naturalistic epistemology flourishes best in the garden of supernaturalistic metaphysics. Naturalistic epistemology conjoined with naturalistic metaphysics leads via evolution to skepticism or to violation of canons of rationality; conjoined with theism it does not. The naturalistic epistemologist should therefore prefer theism to metaphysical naturalism.” (Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function, 237). For a response to Plantinga’s case, see Branden Fitelson and Elliot Sober, “Plantinga’s Probability Arguments Against Evolutionary Naturalism,” in Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives, ed. Robert T. Pennock (Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press, 2001). 
     In addition to Plantinga’s work, see William Hasker, The Emergent Self (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999); Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro, Naturalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), 25-96; Richard Swinburne, The Evolution of the Soul, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Moreland, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei, especially 41-103; J. P. Moreland, Consciousness and the Existence of God: A Theistic Argument (New York: Routledge, 2009); J. P. Moreland, “The Argument from Consciousness,” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, eds. William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland (Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 282-343; Victor Reppert, “The Argument from Reason,” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, 344-390; Keith Yandell, “A Defense of Dualism,” Faith and Philosophy 12 (October 1995):  548-66; Charles Taliaferro, “Animals, Brains, and Spirits,” Faith and Philosophy 12 (October 1995):  567-81; Ric Machuga, In Defense of the Soul: What It Means to Be Human (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2002)

David Mills: Anatomy of a Conversion

Over at The New Oxford Review, my friend David Mills has published an essay on his conversion to Catholicism. Here are some excerpts:

When I moved from debate to discovery, I would sometimes ask Catholic friends about the Church and Catholic life, wanting them to explain what it felt like from the inside. They would almost always give me an answer from the apologetic books, which I had already learned. I wanted something like "In confession, I've really had to face…" or "Let me tell you about the time I turned to the Blessed Mother…" or "I love to pray before the Blessed Sacrament because…." I tried to ask more penetrating questions, and was usually answered with a quizzical look and a repetition of the apologetic answer.
I did not find the directly argumentative works very helpful, except at two stages. When I first found myself attracted to the Catholic Church — and "found" is exactly the right word — they helped explain some Catholic beliefs that baffled or bothered me, and helped me justify pursuing the attraction. When I began to turn to the Church, and my affections were changing faster than my convictions, they provided the kind of point-scoring I found reassuring and confirming. "Point-scoring" is not meant dismissively, because there were points to be scored, and value to me in seeing them scored.
As I grew closer to the Church, I began to lose interest in having my questions answered in that way, and, I think, looking back after nine years as a Catholic, that this movement in my thinking was right. Judging the Church by her score would have been like listing my girlfriend's virtues and vices (as I saw them then) and deciding whether to call her again based on the final score. I would have missed the deeper realities, the ones apologetics doesn't touch....

My own experience of conversion was partly intellectual, but partly and probably mostly affective, in the sense that I came to feel the attraction and beauty of the whole, and that here was a body and a life into which I wanted to — had to — enter. The "converging probabilities" that drew me in, to use John Henry Newman's term, came from all sides, from observation and prolife activism and participation in the liturgy and growing Marian devotion and visiting churches as much as from reading and reflection. This was my own experience, but I'm fairly sure it is also true for all but the most intellectual of converts I've known, and perhaps true of them as well in ways others can't see.
Even the intellectuals appealed to me for reasons other than their arguments. As I continued to read, pray, and reflect, and, to the extent an outsider could, to experience bits and pieces of the Catholic life, I began to feel of several writers that I wanted to be in that body in which this mind could be what it was. I felt this first of Newman and G.K. Chesterton, but then of Ronald Knox and Flan nery O'Connor and Sigrid Undset and Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene (in his Catholic period) and a whole host of others, and even people like Albert Camus, who reflected the Church even in his atheism. But I was entranced not just by their arguments, or even primarily by their arguments, but by the shape of their minds, their grasp of the world and the life of faith.

You may read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My review of Scott Klusendorf's The Case for Life

This was just published in the most recent issue of First Things  (May 2010). Here is the review in its entirety:
The author has been in the trenches of the pro-life movement for nearly two decades. Not only has he equipped tens of thousands of pro-life citizens in hundreds of seminars and workshops, he has also participated in scores of debates with abortion-choice advocates. These experiences have clearly helped hone Klusendorf’s talent to communicate the pro-life view clearly, without sacrificing logical rigor.  
I was surprised to learn from this book that there are still fundamentalist separatists within the evangelical world (Steve Camp, for example) who believe it compromises the gospel for evangelicals to join with Catholics and non-Christians in supporting a culture of life. Klusendorf carefully demolishes this view while not acquiescing to a theological relativism.  
This is a rare tome: an accessible defense of the culture of life that offers practical advice and insights while not shying away from some of the more sophisticated challenges found in the academy, on the Internet, and in the news media. Consequently, this is the sort of book that should be in the hands of pro-life citizens who want to enter the public conversation but find it difficult to explain to their critics why they believe what they believe.

Thursday and Friday at Samford University

For those in the Birmingham, Alabama area, I will be speaking at Samford University on April 22 and 23. On the 22nd I will be participating in two public dialogues with my friend, Timothy George, Dean of Samford's Beeson Divinity School. Taking place at 10 am (in Reid Chapel) and 3 pm (in Hodges Chapel), you can find out more information here.

On the 23rd, at 10 am, I will be giving a lecture in Hodges Chapel on "The Sanctity of Life." It will be followed by two commentators, David Smolin (Professor, Samford's Cumberland School of Law) and Jacquie Stalnaker (Executive Director, Ignatius Publications). For more information, go here.

Here is Dean George's YouTube invitation:

Hope to see you there!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Physician aborts wrong twin, and loses license

This, from Americans United for Life:
The Florida Board of Medicine revoked a Sarasota OB-GYN’s medical license last Friday for aborting the wrong baby of a mother pregnant with twins.  Dr. Matthew Kachinas mistakenly killed a healthy baby girl instead of her twin brother who had Down syndrome and possible congenital defects.   State records showed that Kachinas made a $250,000 liability settlement with K.M. for “an incident” on the day of her selective termination.
Dr. Matthew Kachinas performed abortions regularly, but never before had attempted this particular type of procedure, known as a “selective termination.”  This procedure targets a specific unborn baby, usually when one of the babies is diagnosed with an abnormality, often in the second trimester.  In such cases, the unborn baby is killed with a chemical injection that stops his heart.  He shrivels up and dies in utero, while the other baby is left to develop.
Dr. Kachinas agreed to treat a woman, identified as K.M. in the records, who was 16 weeks pregnant with twins, a boy and a girl.  Doctors counseled K.M. that “selective termination” was an option after learning that the male baby had health problems, including a possible heart defect and Down syndrome.  The female baby appeared normal.
A week and a half later, K.M. returned to the doctors at Florida Perinatal Associates, who were monitoring her high-risk pregnancy.  An ultrasound revealed that the healthy baby girl had been killed and that the baby still alive was the boy with Down syndrome.   The mother returned to Kachinas several days later to abort him as well.
This heartbreaking story reveals how determined some people are to avoid having a disabled child.  This mother chose to have an abortion not once, but twice.  When the first abortion mistakenly killed her healthy baby, she returned to have another abortion to ensure that she did not deliver her baby with Down syndrome and other health problems.  Sadly, her actions reflect a mindset many people have toward individuals with disabilities—that somehow their lives are valueless and not deserving of being lived.
Over the past twenty years, the increase in children aborted upon the diagnosis of Down syndrome has drastically increased.  In the United States, the percentage of Down syndrome babies carried to term is less than 10%.  In Ireland, up to 50% of children diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted.  This number is shocking, but is relatively low when compared to the neighboring United Kingdom, where the number is around 90%.
Such high percentages of abortions after a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome are appalling.  What kind of discriminatory society do we live in where we kill babies because they have some sort of disability?  Do we see these children as unfit to live or too great a burden on our lives?  How much longer until it becomes acceptable to kill children if they become permanently disabled or paralyzed?
When prenatal testing identifies a condition, such as Down syndrome, the only form of care offered should be to provide families with true support– medical, spiritual, and psychological.   Children with Down syndrome bring much joy and love to their families.  These individuals should never be treated as useless or inconvenient members of the human family.
We must work to ensure that the lives of all unborn children—regardless of disability or illness—are protected, cared for, and welcomed into life by their families and physicians.

Jay Richards, Thomism, and Intelligent Design

My friend, Jay Richards, just posted on the Evolution News blog some comments about the recent dust-up on the internet--and in a few publications--on the relationship between Catholicism, Thomism, and intelligent design.  He mentions that he is working on a project about that very topic. I look forward to reading it.

Jay, a fellow Catholic, is a sharp philosophical theologian who is a strong defender of classical theism.  So, you should expect from him something on this topic that is thoughtful and penetrating.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The love that dares not speak its name

Over at Mirror of Justice, the Catholic legal theory blog, my friend Robert P. George posted the following this morning. It is authored by Ryan T. Anderson, a Ph.D. student in the political science department at the University of Notre Dame.
"Is there any student more alienated and marginalized on campus . . . ?"
Struggling Alone
by Ryan T. Anderson
He came out to me in an email. I've known him for years, long enough that I can't remember when we first met, and we were recently emailing back and forth about our lives, our futures-the kind of stuff separated friends discuss. Along the way he mentioned, in an aside, that he had some - lingering troubles he had to work his way through. My reply asked for an explanation-and that's when he told me.
Over the past three years, "Chris" (let's call him) has experienced a pronounced attraction to other males-for one old friend from high school in particular. A crush, maybe, or an infatuation. Whatever it was, he knew it wasn't healthy. And though he had never acted on the attraction, he explained, it led to fantasies and lusts he didn't want. So he made a resolution never to embrace them as essential to his identity or accept them as permanent or untreatable-a resolution he has kept practically alone, without the support of community, family, or friends.
Over the course of many phone calls and emails, he shared with me his reflections on what he thought had created his problem of same-sex attractions. He described an "exceedingly close, best-friendly relationship" to his mother, often serving the role of her sole confidant, and a subsequent alienation from his father. Relationships with his friends, he thought, also contributed, as he suffered through "deeply hurtful rejection" by male peers, along with "oscillations between reverence for and fear of typically masculine" classmates. Once puberty hit, this took on sexual connotations, as Chris began experiencing "eroticized desire" for traits he found in other males that he himself lacked.
All this resulted in his dividing males into those he found "superior and feared (because of their strongly masculine features)," and those he found "inferior and disdained (because of their lack thereof)." But it affected his overall personality, too. He developed, he wrote, a "passive-aggressive, detachedly defensive and otherwise manipulative behavior toward males" and a "woeful inability" to assert himself as others do. The overarching weakness, he thought, was "a deep need to fulfill the emasculating and benign-to-a-fault role of the good little boy who pleases Mom by following all rules (the civil law, school rules, conventional morality, politeness, etc.) [while] remaining unthreatening and unphysical."
What he described seemed an accurate summary of the person I have known for years. So when he pointed to the likely causes and said he was seeking help in addressing them, I was supportive. "I would be untrue to myself if I simply accepted this condition right now," he wrote. "I would be denying what I've come to believe-what I believe I know-to be the causes and potential cures of this condition in my case." Some people say that change isn't possible, but he thinks that with God all things are, and he at least wants to try to do his part.
Chris' situation is sad, but it seems to be moving somewhere. He told me how he had cried daily for the first two years of his same-sex attractions, knowing that he was becoming someone he didn't want to be. But during the third year he found a good therapist and began making progress. He set out to find "healthy male affirmation through deep, non-erotic same-sex friendships"-along with a "purification of memory regarding the hurts of the past" and a more masculine view of himself. Without any reason to exaggerate his progress, he assured me he is "100 times happier and healthier than before-though not yet whole." Even friends and relatives who do not know about his struggles have remarked on his increased serenity and joy.
Other than his confessor and therapist, I'm the only person who knows. His parents would be devastated-his mother wondering whether she had caused it, his father fearing he had failed his son. His roommates and friends wouldn't know how to take it. Others on campus would encourage him to embrace his true self: They'd label him a homosexual and call him gay. But he's not-and neither does he want to be: Sexual attraction, he thinks, doesn't define a person.
Indeed, he particularly fears coming out about his attractions while struggling against them, which would get him labeled a repressed homosexual, the gay-basher who himself is queer, the gay kid who thinks it's just some disorder. All he wants is to live chastely and try to make progress in addressing the causes of his same-sex attractions. But at the modern American university, this is anathema. For all their celebrations of diversity and pledges of tolerance, this choice is not to be - celebrated or even tolerated.
Like many schools, Chris' university has an LGBTQA center (an official office supporting "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, and allied" students). Had he been seeking advice on how to embrace his same-sex attractions, perform sexually as a gay man, or develop a romantic homosexual relationship, he would have been welcomed. Wanting instead help to live chastely, he found nothing. Worse than nothing, he found rejection. Such centers routinely sponsor public lectures attacking Christian responses to same-sex attractions, calls to chastity, and attempts to seek therapy.
You might think Chris could find help at the university's religious-life center. But with pink pride triangles on every interior door, that office, too, has embraced the gay-pride movement. The college hosts an annual Pride Sunday Liturgy in lieu of regular chapel worship-for pride, apparently, is the proper liturgical response to homosexuality-and sponsors public lectures with titles such as "Overcoming Christian Fear of Homosexuality."
Fortunately, the Catholic chaplaincy on campus is vibrant and orthodox. The chaplain gave Chris solid if general spiritual advice-regular prayer, reception of the sacraments, and a life of charity-but he wasn't sure how to tailor it to a young Christian experiencing same-sex attractions. So he suggested Chris work with a therapist to address the psychological causes of his attractions.
And Chris tried. He went to his school's health center to see a psychologist, but she was hostile. When he asked for a referral to see a Catholic therapist, she all but called him crazy for refusing to give in to his nature as homosexual. In the end, his university health insurance wouldn't cover all the cost of an outside therapist, and he obviously couldn't turn to his parents.
Sexual confusion can be found anywhere, but it is particularly pronounced on college campuses, where to the general human confusion is added approved promiscuity and an institutional rejection of anything traditionally Christian or conservative. Is there any student more alienated or marginalized on campus than one who experiences same-sex attractions but who doesn't embrace them? Silence is forced upon him, and his entire life experience is discounted: He suffers same-sex attractions, he doesn't want to, and he seeks to be made whole again. This doesn't seem so extreme a narrative, and yet there are very few, if any, campus groups devoted to supporting these students. 
While listening to Chris, I grew angrier and angrier about our troubled culture, the sexual chaos our parents' generation bequeathed us, the lack of support the Church provides, and the hostile environment the university maintains. Gradually, however, my anger gave way to sadness. A sadness that Chris struggles almost alone. A sadness that others like him have no one to turn to. A sadness that universities deliberately reject chaste students with same-sex attractions.
In the end, though, I found myself feeling grateful. Grateful for knowing Chris. Grateful for the chance to see him carry a cross he did not choose. Offering up his daily struggles, he strives for holiness, refuses surrender, and resists temptations. He labors to remedy the unwanted causes and side effects of attractions he never desired, aware all the while that a cure isn't certain, that in this fallen world some disorders may always be with us.
I am witnessing my friend's unique path to holiness: a remarkable instance of grace working through a broken earthly vessel, making all things new, and leading to fullness of life. I think how blessed I am that I've been fortunate enough to witness it and find inspiration for my life in his struggles.
How sad, though, that the rest of the world will never know.