Sunday, April 28, 2013

Christian Apologetics Advice

I was on retreat this past weekend. Although I was not off the grid, I greatly curtailed my online access. I found a site with 12 quotes about Christian Apologetics in my twitter feed and thought it was worth sharing its wisdom. Here are my favorite three quotes:

1) If ours is an examined faith, we should be unafraid to doubt. There is no believing without some doubting, and believing is all the stronger for understanding and resolving doubt. - Os Guinness.

Sadly, so many Christians are so afraid of doubt that they become irrational in their attempts to defend the faith. They forget that God is the source of all truth and doubt is just God`s invitation to grow and to smooth the rough edges of our faith.

2) Belief is not what ultimately matters—truth is. In other words, people are entitled to their own beliefs, but they are not entitled to their own truth. Our believing something is true does not make it true. The Bible isn't true simply because I have faith. Truth is what corresponds to reality—telling it like it is. - Jonathan Morrow

I like the simple statement:" The Bible isn't true simply because I have faith". To which I would add "The Bible IS true because it was meant to tell a story that trully happened". A favorite tactic of those who argue against the Christian faith is to disregard the Bible as a reliable source of data. I have had people say to me "Prove to me that Jesus was a real person and that he resurrected from the dead, but you can not use the Bible". To which I respond:  A tribunal in which the defence lawyers are not allowed to present any evidence as well as the testimony of witnesses corroborating that evidence, is not only grossly unfair but irrational.

Apologetics is aimed at persuading doubters, not at refuting the defiant. He who demands a kind of proof that the nature of the case renders impossible, is determined that no possible evidence shall convince him.  - Edward John Carnell

This is one I need to learn. Sometimes I spend so much time trying to persuade those who are defiant that I forget I should be spending all of my energies helping those who are doubting.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Atheist Meme #3: The New Atheist World View

I found this meme in an article posted at the blog hosting site Worldpress. The blog is called "Why evolution is true. Its simplicity caught my eye.  It presents an empty list of “Religious Discoveries” (Whatever that means). In the article this meme is contrasted with a list published by the Wired Science web site: “10 Top Scientific Discoveries and Accomplishments of the year 2012"

  1. The Higgs Boson
  2. The Curiosity Rover lands on Mars
  3. Most human genetic variation is rare and the deleterious variants arose recently, during our expansion out of Africa
  4. The sequencing of fetal genomes using non-invasive procedures, from fetal DNA floating in the mother’s blood
  5. The teleportation of entangled quantum particles over a large distance: 50 miles
  6. The synthesis of XNA, a new polymer that can carry information and evolve via a form of selection
  7. A private company, SpaceX, launched and orbited its own spacecraft, and delivered it to the International Space Station
  8. Discovery of an Earth-size exo-planet orbiting a nearby star, Alpha Centauri B
  9. The reaching of Lake Vostok, an Antarctic lake, which required drilling through more than 2 miles of ice; this may lead to the discovery of unusual forms of life
  10. Government policy has started to end invasive research on chimpanzees in the U.S. (yay!)

The implication in the article is obvious: religion lacks the progressiveness of science. Science is always advancing by quantifiable, concrete discoveries. Science contributes to the progress of humanity where religion is devoid of anything useful.  This is a common theme of the new atheism: Pining the usefulness of science against religion apparent sterility.

I find articles like this one disturbing, not because they present a serious threat to religion, but because they reveal a disturbing worldview. To see what I'm talking about one just needs to take a closer look at the list of scientific discoveries from Wired Science. Of the "10 Top Scientific Discoveries" 2 are from quantum physics, 3 are from astronomy, 2 are from genetics, 1 is from material sciences, and the last 2 (9 and 10) are not discoveries at all but milestones of exploration and government policy. These last two could hardly be called science, and I suspect they were added just to make the list an even 10. This seemingly innocuous fact will become significant later.

Looking at the list of scientific disciplines it is obvious that for the author only a certain type of disciplines produce any discovery worth reporting. Physics, astronomy, genetics and material sciences are part of what is known as natural or “hard” sciences. These are disciplines which rely on quantifiable data, and mathematical models to generate understanding of natural processes. There is, however, another type of scientific disciplines which cannot be placed in this group because they do not rely in repeatable mathematical process but on observation, inference, conjecture and qualitative analysis of data. Examples of these are anthropology, sociology, paleontology and archeology. These disciplines are also known as soft sciences.

Apparently for Wired Science, soft sciences did not produce any significant discoveries last year; at least significant enough to make the Top 10 List. You might be thinking "well in a 10 items list it is impossible to report everything!" but we need to remember one important fact: items 9 and 10. The reality is that these can hardly be called discoveries. To be more blunt: Are we to believe that last year, the government, changing its policy on chimpanzee research, is more significant than all the research performed by archeology, sociology, paleontology, psychology and the rest of the soft sciences?

This is the crux of the matter. For the person compiling the Wired Science list and for the atheists using it to score cheap points against religion, the only science with any significant value is the type of science which only advances our knowledge of the physical world. Science which is quantifiable and can produce repeatable data. Disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, paleontology or archeology are not worth the ink in which their scientific papers are written.

You might be asking why this worldview is dangerous; what is the big deal? Well, soft sciences, when applied to the human race, provide a view of who we are as a species, where we come from, what motivates us, what gives meaning to our existence; the things which make us unique among all the other species in this planet. Denying the validity of these disciplines makes scientific advances to be guided exclusively by utilitarian goals. Science becomes the search of just the things can be replicated, reproduced and exploited. This worldview deprives science of its humanity; and when we allow this, science, to paraphrase the great Mahatma Gandhi becomes  evil.

The new atheists would like very much to convince us that religion has nothing to offer to the human race. The problem is that it does not matter how much they wish for it to be gone, religion IS part of the human experience; it is intertwined with everything the human person does; it is part of our collective culture and art.  It follows then, that any contributions of religion to the human race will occur in the fields of science which study the human person and its development. It is in these areas of scientific study that we will find the contribution religion has offered to mankind.

There is one last thing about the “Why Evolution is True” article. In their zeal to take jabs at religion and pin it against what they consider the only valid type of Science the writers of this article place themselves in an embarrassing position. Perhaps you already noticed: The soft sciences of anthropology, paleontology, sociology, etc. are the same disciplines which have provided most of the evidence for the Theory of Evolution. The same theory they named their  site after! The irony is exquisite; they have to go to that which they disdain the most to justify their own name.
I hope you chuckled as much as I did :-)
One last thing...

Here is some homework for you. Go to Discovery's "Top 10 Archeological Finds of the 21st Century", Take a look and tell me how many of these are religious in nature. Extra credit if you can see any references to Christianity. Enjoy!

 "Viva Cristo Rey!!"


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Book Review; "Ordained to Serve: Prayers and Blessings for Permanent Deacons"

 The Archdiocese of Baltimore Deacon's newsletter published one of my book reviews. Here it is for your reading pleasure :-) (Thanks to my bride and editor for making my musings readable)
   Last December as I was wandering the bowels of the internet in desperation, trying to find last minute presents ideas for my personal Christmas list, when I came across a very interesting little book. I always keep my eyes open for good reading bargains so at $29.99 (Amazon price), “Ordained to Serve: Prayers and Blessings for Permanent Deacons” (By Denis Robinson O.S.B) could hardly be considered in that category. However I was intrigued by the reviews I saw on-line and against my better judgment (I have been burnt before by buying books based on the sole recommendation of online reviewers later to be sorely disappointed) I decided to “bite the bullet” and make the investment. Imagine my surprise when I received it in the mail and discovered that I had been looking for this book since my ordination day! 
  You see one of my complaints about books geared specifically towards clergy is that although there is much out there for protestant pastors and Catholic priests, when it comes to the Latin rite diaconate your options are very limited; mostly books about the history of the deaconate or the theology behind this state of clerical life.  However when it comes to books about the spirituality of deacons the selections drop almost completely to zero. So I was pleasantly surprised about the amount of prayers and reflections geared at helping the deacon in their spiritual and prayer life.
   Now, do not misunderstand me; this book is NOT a 100% book about the spirituality of permanent deacons. In it you will find a variety of practical blessings for the deacon to use in their ministries.  For example you will find blessings for things like pixes, houses, furniture and kitchens; prayers for before cooking, cleaning, and before sitting down to study. It has blessings for before the pastoral council meetings, blessings for deaconate candidates, mother’s and father’s day blessings, blessings for expectant parents, and blessings for bringing home a new child. They are many more of these practical blessings in this book. I should also say that all these blessings follow the same pattern of: introductory greeting, scripture reading, prayer and benediction. So, each rite should take 5 to 10 minutes.
   In addition of the many blessings in this little book, and the reason why I think of it as a permanent deacons spirituality book also, you will also find deacon meditation aids, which will greatly enhance your prayers and spiritual life. In this book you will find a novena for deacon candidates and for those to be ordained, blessing for those leaving the formation program, Prayers to St Joseph for the sanctification of the deacon’s work, prayers for the preparation of homilies. It includes a large section with prayers to be used during personal holy hour. It also has the Deacon’s Stations of the Cross meditations, examination of conscience for deacons, deacon’s prayers and meditations for Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter,  and personal meditations for before mass and before baptism, and much, much more.
   In its 327 pages, there is a prayer or a meditation for almost every aspect of the diaconal ministry as well as enhancing the deacon’s prayer and spiritual life. To me the most moving and poignant prayers and blessings are in the section “The Death of a Deacon and General Prayers”, which includes prayers and blessings for a dying deacon, and rite for vesting a deacon after his death, a reminder that our ministry is not just something we do, but something we are for all eternity, and that the dignity of a deacon remains even after the Good Lord has called us into his presence.
   If I were to lay a criticism on this book it would be this: although it contains a great deal of prayers, blessings and meditations that would greatly enhance life of a deacon, the way these are organized is not the best. In fact the book has no index, it just presents a “Table of Contents”, which is only a list of the 13 sections into which the book is divided.  These will give you a general idea of where things are, although I have found myself looking for a specific prayer in the wrong section many times. Luckily the book comes with tree ribbons to mark pages, but these are not enough for the treasury of spiritual writings this little book possesses.
   In conclusion I would highly recommend this book for deacons that are looking to enhance their spiritual life as well as complementing their day to day ministry with ready-made prayers and blessings. I would place it in order of importance within my ministerial bookshelf, right next to my “Book of Blessings” and my “Pastoral care of the Sick”. I should add that after buying this book for myself and using it I liked it so much, I purchased another and gave it as a gift to a friend and I’m planning to give one to a soon to be ordained deacon. 

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"