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Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The Wonders of Science

A few weeks ago, I attended a philosophical debate on the merits of abortion. Shortly after the discussion began, I pointed out that this act destroyed a human person.

"Do you have proof of that?" asked several members of the panel simultaneously.
"Of course," I replied, "proof that cannot be controverted."
"What proof would that be?"
"The declaration of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception," I replied.
"That's not proof!" they shouted.
"Oh, but it is," said I, and proceeded to demonstrate how.

In 1931, a Czech mathematician named Kurt Godel demonstrated that any logical system as advanced as arithmetic is built on foundational premises which can neither be proved true nor false within the system. That is, every logical system as advanced as addition and subtraction is a faith-based system. The impact of Godel's observations have yet to be felt in blue-state America. It is rarely put this way, but the physical laws of the universe are testable only in the sense that a tautology is testable, for all of physics, chemistry, indeed any science, is but an exercise in tautology. Any good physicist can demonstrate how the chain on one side of the equation makes that quantity identical to what lies on the other, but that's all he can do. "Testability" means only the ability to observe that black crows are black.

Remember this the next time someone with a blue-state mindset tosses aside a statement of religious faith with a sneer and the exclamation, "That's not science!". Religion is exactly as much a science as particle physics or chemistry in terms of the ability of each to logically demonstrate the truth of the propositions contained within the respective disciplines. Every one of these disciplines is faith-based.

What is Faith?
But what is faith? Faith is not a blind leap. Faith is based in facts. For instance, if I enter a McDonald's and order a hamburger, I have made an act of faith. I do not know that they have hamburger (they may just have run out). I do not know that their hamburgers are edible (perhaps they were yesterday, but the cook is drunk or sick or gone today). However, I have lots of evidence that they can give me a hamburger. There is a sign out front saying they serve hamburgers, a menu instead that lists hamburgers, tables for dining on hamburgers, accoutrements for eating hamburgers (napkins, ketchup, etc.), and people behind a counter who look for all the world as if they wanted to serve me hamburgers and profess that they do when I ask them. Faith is not a blind leap. It is always fact-based. In that sense, it is testable.

Blind faith, on the other hand, is a contradiction in terms. A man who operates on blind faith would enter a hardware store, see the bins of nuts, bolts and various tools, hear the man behind the counter explain how to install a kitchen sink, and then ask that clerk to supply a hamburger. That's blind faith.

If he gets the hamburger, that's a miracle. Religious faith is based in facts. Just as particle physics is based in the historical events of superconducters and the overwhelming witness of people to the events these superconductors produced, so religion is based in the historical events of miracles and the overwhelming historical testimony to the existence of these miraculous events.

Science IS Religion
This has no small bearing on our lives today. Those who would manipulate human life at the most basic level, at the embryonic level, argue that humans now have the information and most probably the technology to 'create life'. This is hardly news. We have possessed the technology for millenia. The necessary tools are called are called "the penis" and "the womb." This is the delivery system designed to unite two gametes together so that a new human person might be formed.

Unfortunately, the blue state mindset that insists on teaching every child the mechanics of using those tools does not understand their purpose. Blue staters are mere technicians. You see, God will create and infuse a human soul no matter how we decide to go about uniting the gametes. We can use the original method (which I find delightful), we can use IVF or similar present-day technologies, or we can do the futuristic things the starry-eyed priests of science dream of. It doesn't matter. From the perspective of life creation, the mechanics won't stop the process. God will infuse a human soul whether we unite gametes using the original method or some new method we thought up ourselves.

The capability to do a thing one way rather than another is really a trivial mechanical question. The only difference reason one might use one method instead of another is the morality involved, a question upon which science is silent. For instance, science gives me a wide range of things to do with a piece of lead: I can make a tin soldier, a pipe or a bullet. Similarly, science allows me to place that lead wherever I want: on a table, in a sink, or force it at high velocity through someone's skull. However, science is unable to comment on the morality of the different actions. Religion, on the other hand, was designed to comment on the morality of these actions. It lays out a perfectly obvious rule: just because we can do something doesn't mean we ought to.

An Attack of Hubris
"But human beings are on the verge of being able to create life, something the morbidly religious assert is reserved to God!" cry the blue-states. Well, it is true that some say this. But those who do betray an extremely basic misunderstanding of how reality works.

Start with the basic fact: God created everything good and He holds all things in existence from moment to moment. Thus, if I were to pick up a chair and beat you to death with it, God would be holding that chair in existence during my entire violent interaction with you. If He - at any point - decided to allow that chair to drop out of existence, I would have no tool with which to beat you. But He doesn't do that. He respects my decision to kill you violently with that chair, even though that decision is completely at odds with what He desires for both of us. Now change the chair to an embryo and watch: the argument doesn't change.

Anyone who says only God can create life makes a true statement, but tells only half the story. We are co-creators with God. That is how reality is supposed to work - that is why reality doesn't warp in and out of existence as we attempt to abuse it. He holds it in existence for us, no matter how bad our temper when we arose this morning. He desires us to act as He does - in perfect love. But we can act in a perfectly beastly manner if we wish. He gave us the honor of being co-creators and He isn't going to withdraw the gift.

So, sure, only God can make a human life, but He will do this only through our agency. We must first do something, we must first choose to participate in the creation of an immortal human being. We do our part by providing the body - the union of gametes. When we do that, no matter how we choose to do that, He will infuse a human soul. In the same way, He will allow me to die if you expressed a very strong desire that I do by firing a bullet through my skull. But firing that bullet with scientific skill does not make it moral. Whether we are manipulating very small children or very small pieces of lead, we will create unhappy and unforeseen consequences that will tear at our society, both the smaller and the larger society, of which we are a part.

Back to the Beginning
This brings us back to the problem of the human person and the human embryo. It is important to remember that the word "person" is a religious term. It was taken over from the Greek word for the mask worn by a stage actor during the Greek plays. Tertullian used it first in a religious sense in the late 2nd century in order to describe how God exists in himself. Boethius defined it in the sixth century and Aquinas explained the ramifications of the definition in the twelfth century.

If modern society is serious about separating church from state, then the state must surrender its use of the word "person." It has no more or less a place in the secular vocabulary than does the God whom it is meant to describe. But all of this does not answer the first question. How do we know a person exists at conception?

Simple. We know that human persons begin at the moment of conception because Mary has always been understood to have been immaculately conceived. Now, the Immaculate Conception means only that she had no stain of original sin upon her at the moment she came into existence. Only persons can sin. Chairs, stones, trees, dogs none of these can sin because none of them are persons. So, if we say Mary was free from sin at the moment of conception, we are simultaneously saying Mary was a person at the moment of conception. Since she is only a human person and no different from the rest of us (apart from this lack of original sin), whatever we can say about her we can say about us.

If she is a person at the moment of conception, so is each one of us. Contrary to popular Massachusetts opinion, we know for a fact that the human person begins at conception because the science of theology tells us so, and we have two millenia of witnesses to back it up.

Isn't science wonderful?

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