Saturday, July 23, 2016

Third eBook published:
"Science versus the Church--'Truth Cannot Contradict Truth' "
(third ebook in "Top Down to Jesus" series)

To the right is the cover of my third ebook, "Science versus the Church".
It's available for a measly $1.99 on Amazon.com as a kpf file (i.e. like a pdf, but readable on a Kindle reader).



The book was given a trial run in an adult education course for the Diocese of Harrisburg.    I plan to jazz it up a bit as an iBook, with image galleries, interactive images and videos.

Here's the Preface and the Table of Contents:


Preface
The subtitle of this book, “Truth cannot contradict truth”, is taken from an address by Pope St. John Paul II to the Pontifical Academy of Science in 1996.    His talk was on evolution, and how the theory of evolution, as supported by empirical data, did not contradict Catholic teaching.

That is the theme of this book: nothing that we know about the world from empirically verified scientific theories conflicts with Catholic teaching.    Where there does appear to be a conflict, it arises from theories that are not verified by observation and that, in most cases, can never be so tested.   As in many cosmology theories, theories about how (and whether) the universe came to be, are untestable and lie in the domain of what might be best termed “mathematical metaphysics”.  In short, there is no war between science and the Church.

How am I going to show this?  In the first chapter, I’ll discuss how we know things either by logic, by empirical test, or by Revelation.   In the second, I’ll explore the limits of science, limits that I’ve encountered in my  scientific career and limits set by philosophy.   Since the Catholic Church was the midwife for the scientific enterprise, as I’ll demonstrate in Chapter 3 (and as has been shown by Pierre Duhem and Stacy Trasancos),  there should be no reason for the two to be at war.   History confirms this, as does the rapprochement of Pope St. John Paul with science.

In Chapter 4. several views on Creation are discussed:  that of the Catholic Church  (Creatio ex Nihilo—Creation from Nothing), and the various cosmology theories (some highly speculative) of both Beginning (or non-Beginning).  Catholic teaching can be reconciled with all of these, but the one that lends itself most easily to empirical evidence and Creation dogma is the Big Bang theory.

The Anthropic Principle—the idea that the physical laws and constants of the universe are finely tuned to enable carbon-based life—is discussed in Chapter 5.   Some of the current theories for evolution, models for how the descent of species might occur, are examined in Chapter 6.   Contrary to some opinions, the Church is not “against” evolution; it denies only those theories of evolution that hold man to be entirely material, without a soul.

Several concepts of  “soul”, “consciousness”, “mind” are set forth in Chapter 7—who (or what) might have a soul or be conscious, and  what science and the Church have to say about this.  There is no uniform opinion amongst scientists and philosophers, but the teaching of the Church is well defined.

In Chapter 8 I talk about miracles, what constitutes a miracle, give examples of miracles in the Old and New Testaments and in more recent times, and show how the Church has a rigorous standard of evidence for miracles.   Finally, on a very personal note, I argue that a  scientist can believe in miracles, even though some non-believers would deny this.

At the end of each chapter there are questions meant to stir the reader to deeper reflection about the chapter material.    There is not a right or wrong answer to any of these, but I hope they help to make the content clearer and more meaningful.

I’d like to thank all those who have helped me in the formation of this talk, priests, family, students.   And, finally, here is a phrase from the heading of my blog: “You don’t have to apologize for being Catholic if you’re a scientist.”

 Chapter 1--Ways of Knowing

  • SECTION 1.1  INTRODUCTION
  • SECTION 1.2—FAITH AND REVELATION
  • SECTION 1.3—RATIONAL INQUIRY
  • SECTION 1.4—QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

Chapter 2--Limits of Scientific Knowledge

  • SECTION 2.1—INTRODUCTION
  • SECTION 2.2—PHILOSOPHICAL BACKGROUND
  • SECTION 2.3—HOW DOES SCIENCE WORK?
  • SECTION 2.4—WHAT SCIENCE CAN’T DO
  • SECTION 2.5—QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

Chapter 3--Science and the Church: a Short History

  • SECTION 3.1—INTRODUCTION
  • SECTION 3.2—PROLOGUE: THE GREEK WORLD
  • SECTION 3.3—ST. AUGUSTINE: A THEOLOGIAN FOR OUR TIMES.
  • SECTION 3.4—THE CHURCH, MIDWIFE TO SCIENCE
  • SECTION 3.5—SCIENCE VS. CHURCH—A COLD WAR?
  • SECTION 3.6—QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

Chapter 4: Science Intersects Catholic Teaching: 
Cosmology vs Creatio ex Nihilo

  • SECTION 4.1—INTRODUCTION
  • SECTION 4.2—CREATIO EX NIHILO: THEOLOGY
  • SECTION 4.3—IN THE BEGINNING: COSMOLOGY
  • SECTION 4.4—THEOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS
  • SECTION 4.5—QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

Chapter 5--Are We Special?  

  • SECTION 5.1—INTRODUCTION
  • SECTION 5.2—ARE WE  SPECIAL:  THE ANTHROPIC PRINCIPLE
  • SECTION 5.3—QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

Chapter 6--Evolution  

  • SECTION 6.1—INTRODUCTION
  • SECTION 6.2—THE POSITION OF THE CHURCH ON EVOLUTION
  • SECTION 6.3—THE ORIGIN OF LIFE
  • SECTION 6.4—EVOLUTION:  THE SCIENCE
  • SECTION 6.5—QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

Chapter 7--Who Has a Soul?

  • SECTION 7.1—INTRODUCTION
  • SECTION 7.2—CATHOLIC TEACHING ABOUT THE SOUL
  • SECTION 7.3—WHAT SCIENCE TELLS US ABOUT THE SOUL
  • SECTION 7.4—FINAL THOUGHTS
  • SECTION 7.5—QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

Chapter 8--Miracles

  • SECTION 8.1—INTRODUCTION
  • SECTION 8.2—WHAT IS A MIRACLE?
  • SECTION 8.3—SOME EXAMPLES OF MIRACLES
  • SECTION 8.4—HOW THE CHURCH JUDGES MIRACLES
  • SECTION 8.5—CAN A SCIENTIST BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?
  • SECTION 8.6—QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

References

  • BOOKS
  • WEB-BASED (just a sampling—general sites)

Afterword

Thanks for looking--better yet, thanks for buying!

Friday, July 22, 2016

How did life begin?

“An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.” 
― Francis Crick, Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature

INTRODUCTION

Three Mechanisms to form life molecules
A: volcano's and lightning
B: hydrothermal vents
          C: clay/silicate templates
Here's a question preliminary to what evolution is all about:
"How did life on earth begin some 3.6 billion years  or more ago?"   
And the answer would be
“We don’t really know.”    
There are a variety of theories—one might better call them speculations—but until a model is produced that can be empirically verified, it will remain a mystery.   I won’t explore this topic fully here—it would take a book—but links are given to articles that develop the various models.

The problem in establishing a theory of how life began is that the constituents of life are are large, complicated molecules:  DNA, RNA (nucleic acid chains), proteins (amino acid chains), membranes (phospholipid chains).    So one not only has to wonder how the constituent  molecules—nucleic acids, amino acids, phospholipids—were obtained from primitive chemicals in the early earth, but how these molecules were assembled into the complicated large, macromolecules that are the building blocks of cellular life.

There are various speculations—theories, if you will—about the origin of life on earth that are chemically based.    I’ll summarize some of them below very briefly.   For a more extended discussion, the Wikipedia article on abiogenesis is a good starting point.   

CHEMICAL MODELS FOR ABIOGENESIS

In taking stock of these these theories, one should note that the atmosphere of the very early earth lacked oxygen (so organic molecules would not then react and decompose) and was probably rich in nitrogen containing molecules, HCN (cyanic acid) and NH3(ammonia),  as building blocks for amino acids.
  • Primordial Soup:  the early oceans were warm and full of chemicals; these reacted after sufficient time to form the building blocks and then the long chains (improbable reactions, but remember there was a long time for the pot to cook);
  • Electrical Synthesis:  the building block molecules were formed by electrical discharge—lightning—acting on simple nitrogen containing molecules;
  • Clay Template: the building block molecules and long chain molecules were formed by surface reactions on clay, which set structures and catalyzed the reaction;
  • Undersea Hot Mineral Vents: hot undersea volcanic vents provided high temperatures to accelerate reactions, minerals to act as catalysts, and lots of inorganic and organic compounds as building blocks
  • Panspermia:  the building block molecules came from outer space, either planted deliberately by aliens, or by chance from meteors, comets or cosmic dust;  the question is, from where did these chemicals or aliens originate?


SPONTANEOUS SELF-ORGANIZATION

There are other models, which are based on spontaneous self-organization, derived either from a theory of autocatalytic sets (Stuart Kauffman) or from principles of irreversible thermodynamics (Jeremy England, Ilya Prigogine ).    
Example of spontaneous self-organization:
milk rings formed in coffee mug left in refrigerator

One primitive example of spontaneous self-organization is shown in the image at the left.  It is an example of smoke rings or, more technically, "vortex rings".

The origin-of-life theories referred to above are interesting, albeit speculative since they have not yet been subjected to detailed analysis and empirical proof. 

Nevertheless, it is hard to disagree with the generalization of the Noble Prize winner, Ilya Prigogine:
“We know today that both the biosphere as a whole as well as its components, living or dead, exist in far-from-equilibrium conditions.  In this context, life, far from being outside the natural order, appears as the supreme expression of the self-organizing processes that occur.” 
Ilya Prigogine, Order out of Chaos, p. 175

FINAL THOUGHTS 

It appears, as the opening quote suggests, that the origin of life is clouded in several mysteries:   
  • First, how were the building blocks of life--amino acids, nucleic acids, phospholipid chains--formed?
  • Second, how did these building blocks assemble into the biological polymers--proteins, DNA, RNA, membranes?
  • Third, how did these assembled polymers come together to form primitive cells?
The likelihood of these events having occurred randomly seems very small, but there was indeed a very long time, over a billion years, over which they could occur. 

I believe a more likely explanation is that a teleological principle--purpose--is at work, as proposed by the philosopher Thomas Nagel  in his book Mind and Cosmos.   Unlike Nagel (a confirmed atheist), I believe this purpose is achieved by God, using either little nudges at appropriate instances, or by some general mechanism He installs at the beginning, unknown to us now. and possibly forever.  Perhaps Scripture is a better guide than science here.
"I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded."  Isaiah 45:12 (KJV)

Saturday, July 16, 2016

I shouldn't worship a God I can understand.

Groucho Marx (Wikimedia Commons)
"I sent the club a wire stating, 'PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION. I DON'T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT PEOPLE LIKE ME AS A MEMBER'." --Groucho Marx, as quoted in Groucho and Me

INTRODUCTION 

Today I came across two articles from widely different sources that made the same point, albeit in different ways.
The first, "Marx and the Almighty", by Rabbi Beril Wein, was about the Red Cow decree, "Parah Adumah" given in the Torah reading of the week.   The second was a selection in The Office of Readings  from The Journey of the Mind to God, by St. Bonaventure (whose feast day was today, July 15th).    Since I am a Catholic and this is a Catholic blog, I'll save the best for last.

"JUST DO IT!",  SAYS GOD 

Here is Rabbi Wein's connection to the mystery of God, and Groucho Marx's Jewish humor.   First,  the Parah Adumah Torah reading about the sacrifice of a cow that has to be totally red and without blemish,  is one that has given rise to many different interpretations and Talmudic comments.  That of Rabbi Wein should be, I believe, the final word:
"The Torah reading of Chukas emphasizes to us the inscrutable nature of our relationship to the Creator. The Divine is not human in any form or understandable manner. Therefore G0d always remains beyond our reach and logic. This is emphasized to us in the commandment that appears at the beginning of this week's selection concerning the parah adumah — the red cow .. this is the ultimate "choik" — the law of the Almighty that is beyond all human comprehension. It is the ultimate "just do it" area of Jewish life and ritual..
"...Groucho Marx once said only semi-facetiously that "any club that would have me as a member is a club that I do not wish to belong to." Well, in a much more exalted fashion, Judaism states that any G0d who is completely understandable to me — a human being with all of the limitations inherent in so being — cannot really be my G0d."                 --Rabbi Berel Wein, Jewish World Review, 15th July, 2016

ST. BONAVENTURE ON THE MYSTERY OF GOD 

St. Bonaventure (Wikimedia Commons)
It is remarkable that very much the same notions about the ineffable nature of God were set forth by St. Bonaventure, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, in his book "The Journey of the Mind to God".

I came across this parallel yesterday, July 15th, while doing the Office of Readings.   The second reading was taken from St. Bonaventure's book, the day being his feast day.   He speaks of the mystical union with Christ in prayer, and that it can only be achieved by surrendering our will and intellect.

"For this passover to be perfect, we must suspend all the operations of the mind and we must transform the peak of our affections, directing them to God alone. This is a sacred mystical experience. It cannot be comprehended by anyone unless he surrenders himself to it; nor can he surrender himself to it unless he longs for it; nor can he long for it unless the Holy Spirit, whom Christ sent into the world, should come and inflame his innermost sout....
If you ask how such things can occur, seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine; in the longing of the will, not in the understanding; in the sighs of prayer, not in research; seek the bridegroom not the teacher; God and not man; darkness not daylight; and look not to the light but rather to the raging fire that carries the soul to God with intense fervor and glowing love."  St. Bonaventure, "The Journey of the Mind into God"

FINAL THOUGHTS

So, from both sources we must conclude that to worship a God we can totally understand is to worship a being like us, an imperfect being, who therefore could not be truly God.   As I've written in another context,  St. Augustine understood this also:  God surpasses the infinite and therefore could not be totally comprehended.   And what else would be worthy of worship but an entity so grand, beyond our understanding, that He condescended to send His Son down to us in human form, so that He could become more real to us.

  

 

About Me

My photo

Retired, cranky, old physicist.   Convert to Catholicism in 1995.   Trying to show that there is no contradiction between what science tells us about the world and our Catholic faith.   Intermittent blogs and adult education classes to achieve this end (see http://rationalcatholic.blogspot.com/   and http://home.ptd.net/~rkurland)

Extraordinary Minister of Communion volunteer to federal prison and hospital; lector, EOMC.
Sometime player of bass clarinet, alto clarinet, clarinet, bass, tenor bowed psaltery for parish instrumental group and local folk group.

And, finally, my motivation:
“It is also necessary—may God grant it!—that in providing others with books to read I myself should make progress, and that in trying to answer their questions I myself should find what I am seeking.
Therefore at the command of God our Lord and with his help, I have undertaken not so much to discourse with authority on matters known to me as to know them better by discoursing devoutly of them.”
St. Augustine of Hippo, The Trinity I,8.