Thursday, September 29, 2011

In defense of capital punishment

I have a new piece up over at Public Discourse responding to a recent critique of capital punishment by Christopher Tollefsen.  (In earlier posts I have defended the legitimacy in principle of capital punishment from the point of view of traditional natural law theory and Catholic moral theology.  In this post I criticize the failure of some churchmen to present the entirety of Catholic teaching on this subject, and to convey thereby the false impression that the Church’s attitude toward capital punishment is “liberal.”  In this post, I criticize an earlier piece by Tollefsen.)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Modern biology and original sin, Part II

In part I of this series (and in a response to critics of part I) I addressed the question of whether monogenism of the sort entailed by the doctrine of original sin is compatible with modern biology.  I have argued that it is.  In this post I want to address the question of whether modern biology is consistent with the claim that the ancestors of all human beings transmitted the stain of original sin to their descendents via propagation rather than mere imitation.  The correct answer to this question, I maintain, is also in the affirmative.  Critics of the doctrine of original sin often suppose that it claims that there is something like an “original sin gene” passed down from parents to offspring.  And this, of course, seems highly dubious from a biological point of view.  They also suppose that to say that Adam’s descendents inherited from him the stain of original sin is like saying that Al Capone’s descendents somehow inherited from him his guilt for the crimes he committed, and deserve to be punished for those crimes.  And this too seems absurd and unjust.  But both of these objections rest on egregious misunderstandings of the doctrine.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pop culture roundup

Two or three of my readers have expressed interest in my posts on movies, popular music, and pop culture in general.  And I’ll bet at least twice that many are interested.  So, for you fans of pretentious pop culture analysis, here’s a roundup of relevant posts and articles.  For the most part I’ve included only those that are fairly substantive.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Some varieties of atheism

A religion typically has both practical and theoretical aspects.  The former concern its moral teachings and rituals, the latter its metaphysical commitments and the way in which its practical teachings are systematically articulated.  An atheist will naturally reject not only the theoretical aspects, but also the practical ones, at least to the extent that they presuppose the theoretical aspects.  But different atheists will take different attitudes to each of the two aspects, ranging from respectful or even regretful disagreement to extreme hostility.  And distinguishing these various possible attitudes can help us to understand how the New Atheism differs from earlier varieties.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Monkey in your soul?

Before we get to part II of my series on modern biology and original sin, I want briefly to reply to some of the responses made to part I.  Recall that my remarks overlapped with points recently made by Mike Flynn and by Kenneth Kemp in his American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly article “Science, Theology, and Monogenesis” (which, I have since discovered, is available online).  If you haven’t yet read Flynn and Kemp, you should do so before reading anything else on this subject.  As they argue, there is no conflict between the genetic evidence that modern humans descended from a population of at least several thousand individuals, and the theological claim that modern humans share a common pair of ancestors.  For suppose we regard the pair in question as two members of this larger group who, though genetically related to the others, are distinct from them in having immaterial souls, which (from the point of view of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy and Catholic theology) are a necessary condition for the possession of genuine intellectual powers and can be only be imparted directly by God.  Only this pair and their descendents, to whom God also imparts souls and thus intellects, would count as human in the metaphysical and theologically relevant sense, even if the other members of the original larger group are human in the purely biological sense.  As Kemp writes:

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten years on

I had been out of grad school for a couple of years, but I was still keeping grad school hours.  Having stayed up very late the night before and not having to teach that day, I was exhausted and intent on sleeping in.  So when my wife tried to wake me before leaving for work, I barely registered what she was telling me.  World Trade Center?  Airplanes?  What the hell is she talking about?  Doesn’t she know I’m not going to get anything done today if I don’t get some rest?  I rolled over, weariness, irritation, and confusion drowning curiosity, and fell back asleep.

Some time later I woke up again.  The edge had been taken off exhaustion and curiosity took control.  As I lay there rubbing the sleep from my eyes I tried to remember.  What was it that she had said?  Something weird.  I got up and turned on the TV. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Modern biology and original sin, Part I

Our friend John Farrell has caused a bit of a stir in the blogosphere with his recent Forbes piece on modern biology and the doctrine of original sin.  Citing some remarks by Jerry Coyne, John tells us that he agrees with Coyne’s view that the doctrine is “easily falsified by modern genetics,” according to which “modern humans descended from a group of no fewer than 10,000 individuals” rather than just two individuals.  Those who have responded to John’s piece include Michael Liccione, Bill Vallicella (here and here), James Chastek, and Mike Flynn

Several things puzzle me about John’s article.  The first, of course, is why he would take seriously anything Jerry Coyne has to say about theology.  (We’ve seen ample evidence that Coyne is an ignoramus on the subject -- some of the relevant links are gathered here.)  The second is why John seems to think that the falsification of the doctrine of original sin is something the Catholic Church could “adapt” to.  (John’s article focuses on Catholicism.)  After all, the doctrine is hardly incidental.  It is de fide -- presented as infallible teaching -- and it is absolutely integral to the structure of Catholic theology.  If it were wrong, then Catholic theology would be incoherent and the Church’s teaching authority would be undermined.  Hence, to give it up would implicitly be to give up Catholicism, not merely “adapt” it to modern science.