On battling the errors of modernity

From Fr. John Augustine Zahm, c.s.c’s 1896 Evolution and Dogma, a passage that gave pause to me:

To attempt to cope with the modern spirit of error by means of antiquated and discarded weapons of offense and defense, were as foolish as to pit a Roman trireme or a medieval galley against a modern steel cruiser or the latest type of battleship. -page xx

Nigh two months ago, in the first week of July, Will Wilson posted a couple of wondrous comments, to which my mind drifted, upon my reading the aforementioned passage, on the Right and science:

The solution of course is that rather than attacking the data, attack the willful misuse of the myths about the data. Thus, rather than denying the realities of evolution and anthropogenic global warming, conservatives ought to refute the arguments which suggest that evolution necessarily implies atheistic materialism and that mitigation of global warming necessarily requires some form of socialist planning. Currently, we are ceding nearly all of the contested ground to the other side, and in the process living up to Mill’s description of us as “the stupid party.”

and the apologist’s battle against the modern-day atheists, who, by-and-large, in my humblest of opinions, impressively armed as they be, nonetheless, are hacks:

Modern-day apologists, if they wish to be convincing, are advised to bone up on their philosophy of mind, their quantum mechanics, and their Derrida. The rules of the game have changed.

What troubles me most about Will’s thoughts, notwithstanding my complete ignorance of the works of Derrida and my non-existent understanding of the philosophy of the mind and quantum mechanics (Seriously, if you’ve good primers to suggest, please do, and I shall add them to the reading list!), is that, more than a century ago, risking ecclesiastical trouble (Oh, he encountered it!), a Catholic scientist-priest, who served as President of what is now (and, mayhap, was, then) the foremost Catholic university in the nation, if not the world (as one Vatican official, unofficially, commented to a priest-friend of mine), offered essentially the same advice, and yet we, collectively, have not heeded. I know Catholics who fail to realize that the Church recognizes the validity of evolutionary theory (at least in some form); get me not started on young-earth creationists, please! Heaven forfend I should admit, to some, often intelligent, compeers, that I think that, just maybe, man has had some effect on climate change.

Doubtless, one, easily, can attribute this sort of ignorance primarily to “fundamentalist” Christians (“Christianists”, to quote the self-disgracing Sullivan?), for whom science, all too often, is anathema (recent progress, worthy of applause, from some evangelists vis-à-vis global warming notwithstanding). (Sad enough, some Catholics fall into this pit, too.) Ezra Klein, commenting on one of the more lamentable aspects of Sarah Palin, has something to say about this here. He’s, perhaps, a bit over the top, but some of the respondents in the comment box bring dialogue back to a more open-minded realm.

Those of us — particularly, I suppose, Catholics — who recognize the important role the Church has played in fostering scientific progress over the centuries, regardless of what those who employ the Galileo canard would have us believe, need, I believe, to take a stand. We must embrace the judicious words of Fr. Zahm; we must employ the perspicacious attitude suggested by Will. We must do this, even if it requires that we, to the greatest extent possible without rejecting the Christian charity and goodwill of ecumenical dialogue, break those alliances, specifically political, that bind us to those whose willful ignorance denigrates both science and religion. We must escape this cave if we wish to educate those from whom we unbind ourselves: We cannot, knowledgeable as we be, educate them, or even hope to, unless we draw them, too, out from the cavernous depths and into the light. Would they refuse, we should, then, let them perish, for, as Catholics — as Christians, as theists of any stripe — we owe it to ourselves, to others, and to our God not to permit His revealed Truth to be besmirched by rejection of scientific truths (No truth can not be part of Truth.) evinced through rational inquiry. We must fight the errors of (post-)modernity by employing those truths espoused by it against it; C.S. Lewis, as great as he is, only takes us so far; likewise, many early scientists, even with their flaws, serve us well, but only to a point, and not accepting what, inter alios, Darwin has to offer only hurts us and compels us to paint ourselves as fools — apes, un-evolved into men, even.


Thank you, Andrew Sullivan

I don’t read Sullivan often (enough); I should. I don’t always agree with the man, but I certainly respect him, if not all of the choices that he’s made in his personal life. Some of his actions not-with-standing (We all sin, of course; I, for sure, am no exception to this.), he, I believe, truly loves and respects the Holy Mother Church. His response to PZ Myers very much exemplifies this, as well as a broader understanding and respect for a modicum of civility. Thank you, Andrew, and thanks to John Schwenkler for linking to the post and drawing my attention there-to.

It is one thing to engage in free, if disrespectful, debate. It is another to repeatedly assault and ridicule and abuse something that is deeply sacred to a great many people. Calling the Holy Eucharist a “goddamned cracker” isn’t about free speech; it’s really about some baseline civility. Myers’ rant is the rant of an anti-Catholic bigot. And atheists and agnostics can be bigots too.

A read worth the while

Salon.com’s Charly Wilder has an exceptional interview with former New York Times foreign correspondent Chris Hedges about the latter’s book I Don’t Believe in Atheists here. My and X-Cathedra’s debate with Samuel Skinner over the Church, history, science, and atheism continuing here, I believe my discovering this interview to be undeniably apropos.