Saturday, 1/3/15

  1. Snappy Breeder Comebacks
  2. The Fool’s Errand of SETI
  3. Mike Pence’s Excellent Israel “Trade Trip” Adventure
  4. Draft? Meh!
  5. Mario Cuomo: Rest in … whatever

1

“When we decide to stop having hot sex,” one of Pia de Solenni’s multi-childrened friends answers when someone asks them when they’re going to stop having children. Another friend would say, “I don’t know. How much is in your bank account?”

Pia herself borrows this line when people ask her when she’s going to have a baby. One man, having asked for her and her husband’s procreative plans and in return been asked how much money he had, complained that hers was a personal question. She explained to him that his was also a personal question.

(David Mills, When Men Speak of All That Is Evil Against You …) What I didn’t realize is that most of the assailants who ask such snarky questions are “almost always later-middle-aged women and they almost always struck in the grocery or in a department store.”

Mills goes on to give good advice for response to such self-appointed agents of the Nanny State.

2

I heard All Things Considered Tuesday evening interviewing about how iron (and, likely, other elements) behave differently than predicted in the heat and pressure of the sun’s center. The implications spun outward until the NPR Reporter chirpily noted that this could help us decide where to aim spacecraft looking for life elsewhere in the universe.

My thoughts turned immediately to Eric Metaxas recent article on how strong the anthropic principle seems to be. “How foolish to throw more money down the SETI-hole,” I thought, “when it’s vanishingly unlikely that we’ll find anything.” And I still do think that.

I think that even though I don’t see that extraterrestrial intelligence would intrinsically undermine Christianity. But as long as religious folks exult in the kind of data that “ineluctably point … to something—or Someone—beyond itself,” I guess I can’t blame those who desperately want there to be nothing beyond to look for ETI to “prove” their case.

But I still kind of resent it when they throw tax dollars at their Quixotic quest. Let the quest go private since, to the best of our collective knowledge, it’s a fool’s errand.

Not surprisingly, though, philosopher Francis Beckwith is unimpressed by the Metaxas article, as I’m sure David Bentley Hart would be as well. Beckwith:

God – as understood by the Catholic Church and by most other theistic traditions – is not a being in the universe, a superior agent whose existence we postulate in order to explain some natural phenomenon, but rather, Being Itself, that which all contingent reality depends for its existence.

In order to appreciate how this understanding differs from Metaxas’ Watchmaker God, suppose in a few years scientists tell us, after further research, new discoveries, and confirmed theories, that the arising of life in the universe is not that improbable after all. What then happens to Metaxas’ God? He is now superfluous, and Metaxas would have to concede that theists are once again irrational, as they apparently were when the (temporarily obsolete) God hypothesis was down for the count the last time science threw its best punch.

Given the arguments Metaxas summarizes in his essay, it is tempting for the theist to confidently tout such evidence. When faced with a cadre of globally accessible, and endlessly annoying, village atheists who posit the findings of science as defeaters to belief in God, there is nothing quite like the Schadenfreude of pointing out to the self-appointed guardians of reason that they have been hoisted upon their own petard. But you should not acquiesce to this temptation. For in doing so, you concede to the atheist his mistaken assumption that the rationality of belief in God depends on the absence of a scientific account of whatever phenomenon is in question.

(H/T Rod Dreher)

3

Mike Pence’s Excellent Israel “Trade Trip” Adventure is striking others in the moment as it struck me in anticipation.

The ritual visits to Israel for our would-be presidential candidates are becoming tiresome and embarrassing. There are many dozens of other countries with which the U.S. has more important relationships, and there are scores of countries with which the U.S. is formally allied, but likely candidates almost never visit any of these places. On the other hand, every cycle like clockwork our presidential aspirants make their pilgrimages to pay homage to a minor client state that is notable mostly for causing Washington unnecessary headaches. This recurring parade of likely candidates through Israel sums up very well how screwed up America’s foreign policy priorities are, and it reminds us just how tightly most elected Republicans cling to their party’s hard-line foreign policy views.

Larison also follows up based on a Jerusalem Post quotation where Pence denies that we should try to be an “honest broker” in the Middle East.

For my money, Mike Pence should not be allowed anywhere near U.S. foreign policy, which means no return to Congress and certainly not POTUS.

4

Daniel Larison does not share my guilty nostalgia for the draft.

5

Mario Cuomo has died. By many accounts, with which I cannot disagree, he is best remembered for his apologia at Notre Dame University 30 years ago.

For my money then and now, his speech was important because it gave Catholics who in fact were complicit in or indifferent to abortion a vocabulary for denying it:

It has been argued that the failure to endorse a legal ban on abortions is equivalent to refusing to support the cause of abolition before the Civil War. This analogy has been advanced by the bishops of my own state.

But the truth of the matter is, few if any Catholic bishops spoke for abolition in the years before the Civil War. It wasn’t, I believe that the bishops endorsed the idea of some humans owning and exploiting other humans; Pope Gregory XVI, in 1840, had condemned the slave trade. Instead it was a practical political judgment that the bishops made. They weren’t hypocrites; they were realists. At the time, Catholics were a small minority, mostly immigrants, despised by much of the population, often vilified and the object of sporadic violence. In the face of a public controversy that aroused tremendous passions and threatened to break the country apart, the bishops made a pragmatic decision. They believed their opinion would not change people’s minds. Moreover they knew that there were southern Catholics, even some priests, who owned slaves. They concluded that under the circumstances arguing for a constitutional amendment against slavery would do more harm than good, so they were silent. As they have been, generally, in recent years, on the question of birth control. And as the Church has been on even more controversial issues in the past, even ones that dealt with life and death.

What is relevant to this discussion is that the bishops were making judgments about translating Catholic teachings into public policy, not about the moral validity of the teachings. In so doing they grappled with the unique political complexities of their time. The decision they made to remain silent on a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery or on the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law wasn’t a mark of their moral indifference: it was a measured attempt to balance moral truths against political realities. Their decision reflected their sense of complexity, not their diffidence.

Ah, yes! “Personally opposed,” but this is just soooo complex!

I would find that distinction more persuasive if the people who draw if were more diligent in trying at least to persuade others that abortion is evil. You’ll never get to abolition of abortion until a critical mass of people believe that.

But even a Mario Cuomo, despite being confronted with the bafflingly complex question of “should the law ban feticide?”, could have asked another qustion: “Should the American people govern themselves through their legislative branches when there’s no real constitutional bar to the laws they enact?”

I’ve always been about as offended by Roe v. Wade‘s negation of the democratic process under bogus constitutional pretexts as I’ve been of it’s lethal substance. (Call it “the curse of caring about the Constitution.”)

* * * * *

“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.