Category: Politics

Lewis, MacDonald, Krauthammer & the Soul

You’ve probably come across this quote before:

You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.

I am glad to discover that the source of this quote is not, as is commonly claimed, C. S. Lewis, but rather his literary hero, George MacDonald. I am glad to know that Lewis would not make such a mistake, but surprised that MacDonald would. This post at First Things has more. In response to the reduction of materialism, and given the unconscious, dominant Cartesianism of our society, the quote strikes many Christian ears as right and as a fitting statement of the Christian position, over against materialism. In fact, though, the quote is wrong, and does not accurately convey the classical Christian teaching. A more accurate statement would be: You do not have a soul or have a body, you are a soul and a body. A soul is, by definition, the form of the body. You cannot have one without the other. To separate them is incoherent.

To the materialist claim that the soul is some sort of ghostly woo, unsupported by any empirical evidence, then, the proper response is: the evidence is right before your eyes. The evidence for the soul is just as present as the evidence for the body, which no one denies. The argument that the soul exists is not an argument that there is something over and above the body, or some ethereal thing in addition to the body, for which evidence must be produced. The evidence for the existence of the soul arises from rightly considering the evidence of the body.


Which leads us to our second point, also discussed further in a post atKrauthammer_Final2 First Things. As a Christmas gift, I received a copy of Charles Krauthammer’s recent book of collected columns, Things That Matter, and though I do not agree with all he writes, he is a superb columnist with a great talent for addressing topics thoughtfully and distilling his thoughts concisely with great clarity and force. Nevertheless, in his essay on stem cells contained in that book, he makes a fundamental mistake right out of the gate, declaring that the question of the personhood of the unborn child, or what he calls “ensoulment”, is a “metaphysical” question, a “question of faith”, and such questions are beyond secular consensus. He repeats these claims in a recent National Review column that is discussed at the First Things link.

There are two problems with this. The first is this: it is impossible to stake a neutral claim on this question; or, at least, the supposedly “neutral” postion in this case clearly favors one judgment over the other. We simply cannot avoid taking some metaphysical position on this question. If we say that since we are not sure whether the unborn is a person, we will not restrict the taking of the unborn’s life, we simply to choose to treat it as if it is not a person. It is not a neutral position; it is, practically, a metaphysical decision against personhood.

But the error in fact lies deeper than this. Dr. Krauthammer’s concerns about “ensoulment” are irrelevant. Let us set aside all theological concerns; let us simply stick to the biology. To identify a human being we need do no more than identify a living human body, and the unborn child is just a living human body. On this question it is the Catholic pro-life position that is one of hard-nosed materialism. The soul is the form of the body; find the living body, there is the soul. Reason needs no more than this. It is the other side, with its hand-wringing over defining the beginning of some vague notion of ghost-in-the-machine “personhood”, that invokes the mystical, unscientific woo.


Some follow-up on Stephen Hawking’s black hole comments: New Scientist presents a basic overview of the questions involved; and, from what I can tell, this view seems to be the most sensible.


christ-in-the-garden-of-gethsemane-1584Suppose you asked, about a mass shooting, “How could this happen?” In response, someone offers you a straightforward, scientific, factual forensic report on the various angles and types of weapons used. Although it does, strictly speaking, answer your question, it isn’t quite the answer you were looking for. Philosophy and theology offer answers to the problem of evil, but as skeptics like to note, they’re never quite satisfactory. That is, while they do offer logical and reasonable answers, they don’t really get to the point. Evil and suffering is not a logic problem. Though a logical answer is necessary and a helpful part of understanding the problem, just as a physical answer is a part of understanding something like a mass shooting, it doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. But the heart of the matter is not a question of science, or logic, or reason. Thus I recommend this excellent essay from Martin Cothran, “How Literature Solves the Problem of Evil”:

The problem of evil is, to steal a phrase from The Hobbit, a “riddle in the dark.” And philosophers do not do well in the dark. They fly by day. When darkness comes, pure intelligence is of little avail. Darkness requires wisdom, and wisdom is of the poets. I don’t think Hegel meant it this way, but it is perhaps why the Owl of Minerva, the symbol of wisdom, flies only at dusk.

When people look for a solution to the problem of evil in its rational or logical form, they are looking for a resolution to a technical problem. But this question—the rational question of evil—is not the real problem of evil. At least it is not the question with which people who experience suffering actually struggle. In fact, the vast majority of those who actually struggle with evil couldn’t even tell you what the logical question was. And even if they were aware of the problem—and even if they knew the answer to it—they would not be satisfied.

How would the answer to a logical question assuage their grief? Their grief is not a logical problem. The logical dilemma of evil would not be satisfying to anyone but a logician—and it would only satisfy him as a logician; it would not satisfy him as a human being.

Read here.


And finally, China’s rover trip to the Moon is proving to be short-lived, as Yutu seems to have suffered from a failure that looks increasingly fatal.


Images: Washington Post; Paolo Veronsese, “Christ in the Garden of Gethsamane”, 1584.

MAVEN Rescued

Spaceflight Now reports:

“Engineers returned to work on NASA’s next Mars mission at the Kennedy Space Center on Thursday after receiving an emergency exception under federal law to continue launch preparations for a $671 million orbiter to probe the red planet’s atmosphere. MAVEN (NASA)

The decision keeps the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, mission on schedule for liftoff Nov. 18 at the opening of a 20-day primary launch window.”

Read here.

And in other NASA shutdown news, some folks are still trying to figure out the rhyme and reason behind the scattered website shutdowns.


Image: NASA


Today in Washington

March for Life (NCR)From the March for Life website:


Pro-life: the Human Rights Issue of Today

The 40th March for Life

Jeanne Monahan and Patrick Kelly

January 22nd marks the 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and on the 25th we will commemorate that solemn occasion with the 40th anniversary of the largest human rights demonstration in the world, the MARCH FOR LIFE.  With the passing of the pro-life leader and visionary Nellie Gray, a change in leadership has occurred, and with this new leadership comes big plans for the March as we go forward.

This year in particular we aim to raise awareness in the minds of all Americans of the 40th Anniversary and the toll this has taken on these United States. Our theme includes an equation–40=55M, to signify that in the forty years since Roe v. Wade, 55 million of our fellow human beings have lost their lives to abortion. Fifty-five million is nearly the population of California and New York combined.  Clearly, abortion truly is the human rights abuse of today and our theme this year reflects this reality.

Read here.


Image: National Catholic Register

Maureen Condic Says: Let Science Shape Politics

At Public Discourse:

“Egginton dismisses what he sees as a disingenuous attempt to use neurobiological data to extend legal personhood to a fetus, because “science does not and should not have the power to absolve individuals and communities of the responsibility to choose.” Yet this argument clashes with historical fact. In the two landmark cases that have determined current abortion policy, Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the courts used scientific knowledge to help determine the state’s interests in protecting the fetus after “viability.” If this knowledge has informed current policy, how can it legitimately be excluded as a basis for revising this policy in light of new scientific evidence?”

Read here.



Senators and Science…

… asked a scientifically-based question, Senator Marco Rubio’s hedged answer drew criticism that he was rejecting clear science for political purposes. “I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that,” the Senator said, and added, “I think that whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with any specificity is above my pay grade.”

Or maybe I’m mistaking him with another United States Senator…



Stem Cell Debates

What Can We Learn from the Stem Cell Debates?” asks Brendan Foht at Public Discourse, writing about a new report from The Witherspoon Council which argues that “that even the noblest aspirations of the scientific enterprise must be guided by ethics and governed under political authority.”

Shake Down the Thunder…

A couple of months ago, I participated with others in an alumni-led effort to call out our alma mater for its lack of a strong stance in the midst of recent efforts by the government to compel Catholic institutions to participate in actions which contradict moral law. Given that my exhortation to Fr. Jenkins was public, I want to take this opportunity to equally publicly express my gratitude to Fr. Jenkins and the University of Notre Dame for uniting with other Catholic institutions in an effort to protect the vibrant exercise of Catholic religion and social action in the nation. I continue to pray that the University will strengthen her stance and adopt a position of principled and charitable leadership in the American Catholic community, especially in a time when the free practice of Catholic moral life, principled education, and charitable enterprise is under threat from the secularist ideology of the temporal powers that be.

Roe v. Wade and Biotechnology

“Thirty-nine years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Roe v. Wade, that the laws outlawing abortion in Texas were unconstitutional because a woman had a right to privacy, guaranteed by the Constitution.  Suddenly, the unborn had no legal protection in the United States.  But Roe v. Wade did not just deny legal protection to the unborn, it catapulted the United States toward all manner of unethical biotechnology.”

Read at Mary Meets Dolly.

Bishops Respond to HHS Mandate Decision

First, Pope Benedict warned US Catholics and their bishops that our country was facing a “grave threat” to religious liberty:

Pope Benedict said that over the past few days many of the bishops have expressed concern over attempts in the U.S. to “deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices.”

Meanwhile, other bishops raised the “worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship” without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience.

At present, the Obama administration is considering imposing a contraception and sterilization mandate that would require all insurance companies to provide those services free of charge. The regulation has a religious-exemption clause, but it provides very few exceptions for Church organizations.

The next day, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius (a Catholic herself) proved him right. The HHS has announced today that, despite considering vociferous objections from religious groups, new rules which will require religious organizations to provide funding for contraceptive services, in violation of their consciences, will remain in place. The bishops respond:

The Catholic bishops of the United States called “literally unconscionable” a decision by the Obama Administration to continue to demand that sterilization, abortifacients and contraception be included in virtually all health plans. Today’s announcement means that this mandate and its very narrow exemption will not change at all; instead there will only be a delay in enforcement against some employers.

“In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” said Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The cardinal-designate continued, “To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable.It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom. Historically this represents a challenge and a compromise of our religious liberty.”

The HHS rule requires that sterilization and contraception – including controversial abortifacients – be included among “preventive services” coverage in almost every healthcare plan available to Americans. “The government should not force Americans to act as if pregnancy is a disease to be prevented at all costs,” added Cardinal-designate Dolan.

At issue, the U.S. bishops and other religious leaders insist, is the survival of a cornerstone constitutionally protected freedom that ensures respect for the conscience of Catholics and all other Americans.

The USCCB report is here.

More Notre Dame News

More news from Notre Dame … Fr. Jenkins, president of the university, has written an open letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius decrying the anti-Catholic regulations set to be enacted for insurance providers:

“Surely you know that we welcome the Administration’s decision to require health plans to cover women’s preventive services, such as critical screenings that will make preventive care more widely available and affordable. However, I’m sure you also understand that the inclusion in that mandate of contraceptive services that the Catholic Church finds morally objectionable makes it imperative that the Final Rule include broader conscience protections. In their current form, these regulations would require us to offer our students sterilization procedures and prescription contraceptives, including pills that act after fertilization to induce abortions, and to offer such services in our employee health plans. This would compel Notre Dame to either pay for contraception and sterilization in violation of the Church’s moral teaching, or to discontinue our employee and student health care plans in violation of the Church’s social teaching. It is an impossible position.”

The Notre Dame Center for Ethics & Culture has more.

To read what the USCCB has to say about these threats to Catholic conscience and to find ways to voice your own concerns, visit here.