Thursday, February 28, 2002
Friday, February 22, 2002
On the Occasion Today of His Birthday
In March of 1783, as the peace negotiations dragged on, a leaflet circulated throughout the camp. The soldiers had not been paid for a very long time; Congress had, throughout the War, been begrudging in its allocation of money. The leaflet's anonymous author, joining in the mutinous spirit of the army, said: "If this, then, be your treatment while the swords you wear are necessary for the defense of America, what have you to expect from peace, when your voice shall shrink and your strength dissipate by division?" If Congress continued to disrespect them, the soldiers had no choice but to "invite the direction of your illustrious leader" and "retire to some unsettled country."
Another leaflet called for a meeting; which the General forbade. But he allowed an official meeting of the officers, to have the grievances aired.
At this meeting, the General agreed with the complaints of the soldiers. He said, however, that the author of the leaflet was "taking advantage of the passions." Then he said:
"As I was among the first who embarked in the cause of our common Country; as I have never left your side one moment, but when called from you on public duty; as I have been the constant companion and witness of your distresses, and not among the last to feel and acknowledge your merits; as I have ever considered my own military reputation as inseparably connected with that of the Army; as my heart has ever expanded with joy, when I have heard its praises, and my indignation has arisen, when the mouth of detraction has opened against it, it can scarcely be supposed, at this late stage of the War, that I am indifferent to its interests."
He said further that the plan to retire to the wilderness was unrealistic; and Congress was not the enemy. "In the name of our common Country, as you value your own sacred honor, as you respect the rights of humanity, and as you regard the military and national character of America, [do not] open the flood gates of civil discord, and deluge our rising Empire in blood."
Do nothing, he said, “that would tarnish the reputation of an Army which is celebrated throughout Europe for its fortitude and patriotism.”
Before he finished his speech, he said that "in the attainment of complete justice for all your toils and dangers... you may freely command my services to the utmost of my abilities." And after his speech, to convey the good intentions of Congress, he brought out a letter. He fussed with the letter as he tried to read it aloud. At last, he had to put on a pair of glasses. Forty-three when the War had started, he was now fifty-one; and he said: "Gentleman, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my Country."
His speech; his manner; his appeals; and, finally, his admission of having been made old... The effect upon the officers was profound. They could no longer rebel. After the General had left the hall, his officers voted unanimously to do their duty by their Commander, and not rise in mutiny against their Country.
Thursday, February 21, 2002
Imagine you are reading a book set in the year 2002. You come to this passage:
She needed to go to the grocery store. There, she would purchase food (some of which came in containers), using the small, round coins and green, rectangular papers known as bills. She left her house through the door -- which was made of wood and closed behind her on hinges -- and got into her car. This car was a vehicle with four wheels, two of which were turned by a drivetrain. The power for the drivetrain came from a series of coordinated explosions of a liquid fuel known as gasoline...You get the picture. Imagine having to write a story and, knowing your readers are ignorant, having to describe the most commonplace things. That's what it's like writing SF -- because, of course, the commonplace things in 2134 or on Arrakis are utterly unknown to your readers.
Now, I've always hated this part of writing SF. I love concocting the weirdness of imaginary ages and places; but trying to describe things without falling into some sort of Tolkienesque excess is a real chore.* I've never admired SF that exists for the speculative constructions; I confess I can like reading it, but I don't admire it. My feeling about SF is that, at its best, it should be no different than straight literature. And this means skillfully weaving the weirdness into the human tale, so that the reader is never tripped up by any talk of "coordinated explosions of liquid fuel."
One of the things I loved about cyberpunk was that it just went forward. Man, it could be so filled with technojunk but the best authors just said it, as if they were talking about spatulas or garden hoses. That has always been my standard. I don't know that I have always met it; but I try to avoid explaining anything that, really, is just a spatula in the story.
And the things that are rather more important than kitchen utensils? Well, in the case of The Spare Midge, the lace between Midge and her sister is pivotal; the reader really does have to undertand how it works. At the same time, though, I try to be, oh, untechnical about it, even while employing technical language. Notice how I mention "folded quanta" -- what the hell are those? How should I know? I'm being suggestive. I'm not writing a treatise on aether-mediated dual-mind integration, which would be BORING. What matters is the effect of the lace, on the characters and the plot; as long as I make the lace's nature and effect acceptable to the mind of the reader, the speculative construction can be mostly unspoken.
The line of mourners took me closer. The lace was stuttering. I had felt it stuttering back in the train, back in the hotel, even during the infall to Rock. I had felt this kind of stutter, now and then. The minions of the lace, which burst out of Midge and, across the aether, relentlessly sought my brain, sometimes got confused. They had no real sentience in their folded quanta. They were only data with an appetite for me. If they caught a whiff of something almost-me, off they went, and only the inadequate taste of the almost-me, whatever it was, prodded them to continue seeking.
By the time a confused minion had finally found me, it could be subtly corrupted, like a flat piece of foil pressed against a stone. The data from Midge would be, in part, also the data from something else.
If that something else was sufficiently almost-me, a lot of minions would be misled and more than Midge would be in me.
It wasn't Ursula that confused so many of the minions that day. Ursula was dead. It was the combat co-Am inside her. The co-Am was only a few dozen beads. It was skewed to high-mammalian belligerence, stocked with tactical neuralities, and capable of driving the systems that augmented Ursula's body; but by the lace I could tell it wasn't very smart. Ursula, of course, hadn't needed it smart — she had been smart enough on her own and needed only the assistance of a tool. The co-Am was alive, though, and however limited its sentience, it knew it did not want to be left in Ursula's body. A combat co-Am had no use for eternal rest.
For a long time I listened to the co-Am wail.
Then the train took me back.
Ó 2002 Louder Fenn
Things I Learned While Blogging
1. Never lead with the Molotov cocktails.
2. Know that if you have any intelligent (and passionate) readers at all, they will respond to you that day; so never release a polemic in bite-sized, unpremised installments.
With this new knowledge in hand, I go forward.
Theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the spirit as emerging from the forces of living matter or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man.You don't have to accept that because it's from the Pope; but you can see that he has not, as some reports would have suggested, conceded the game to Darwin; and this quote nicely concurs with my rantings.
What I was trying to do, though, was deal with materialism as a fundamental philosophy. Of course the world is material. It is open to material investigation and material manipulation. A scientist by practice is necessarily a materialist. His purpose is to discern the workings of the material world. A man, even a thoroughgoing Christian, should pretty much set aside supernatural concerns in studying the world. The problem comes when one, as a scientist, denies the supernatural. When one, that is, becomes a Materialist.
And my idea is that one can embrace Evolutionism -- the belief in Man's spontaneously arising from not-Man -- only after one has, implicitly at least, become a Materialist. A man can accept the findings of engineering, mathematics, biology, astrophysics -- any of the sciences -- wholly in a materialistic frame of mind, without abandoning his supernatural faith. Such faith does not address the value of Planck's constant or the workings of the large intestine. Such faith does, however, address the nature of Man. And when you say that God did not make Man directly, you are retreating from the supernatural; and when you are actually persuaded by the meager "evidence" for evolution of species, you are exposing your fundamental Materialism.
Science is wonderful. I mean that. I have said a couple of times here that my quarrel is not with science. How could it be? God made the world and the world was good; we are material; and science is for studying material things. But one who says that Man came from muck is not, in that assertion, being a scientist; he is being a Materialist. That is my point.
John Cleese, in an interview on one of the Fawlty Towers DVDs, starts talking about political correctness and has an interesting psychological take on PC types:
If you're in a group of people and you find that one person is particularly touchy -- they have difficulty controlling their emotions; greater difficulty than the other people in the group -- then you can't have so much fun because they're touchy and they're likely to explode... Now if you find that society is being run by the touchiest members, then in a sense that's a bit sick -- because you're trying to take, as the general standard, the standard of the people who have the greatest problem controlling their emotions...There really is something emotionally whack about political correctness, isn't there?
I'm going to lay off this evolution stuff for a while. I think I got carried away. I think I will retreat to the drive-bys about this and that -- and to the continuing installments of The Spare Midge. Thank you for still reading this.
Wednesday, February 20, 2002
Part III: I Am Not the Walrus
So a God-fearing man cannot believe in evolution? Yes: but to be precise: He cannot believe in an evolution that says: Man arose spontaneously from something not-Man. One must distinguish between adaptive evolution and evolution of species. Man may become taller on the savannah or more portly on the floes of ice; but he'll never become a gazelle or a walrus.
Man cannot become a walrus.
Yeah, yeah: Smirk all you want. "This Fenn is so dim. He has no understanding of the subtleties of evolution. Son-of-a-gun, no one says that a four-limbed land mammal could become a seagoing... Oh, wait. They are saying that."
Of course my remark about walruses is silly. So let me say this: Lemur-like primates cannot, by any path, become humans; chemical soups cannot become life. Yes, that is my assertion. It is my philosophy. I don't deny that I have accepted certain ideas that presented themselves to my Reason and which, by my Reason, I have acknowledged and which, having been acknowledged, prevent acceptance of certain other ideas. That is in the nature of belief. If you believe anything, you must disbelieve the contrary.
Why else do you suppose the most ardent Evolutionist is always an atheist?
Part IV: Dem Bones, Dem Bones
You cry: "But what about the fossils!" What about them? I know that the interpretation of the fossil evidence is false, because I have knowledge of other things. You retort: "Well, your 'other' knowledge is false." Perhaps it is. But the argument is about our a priori knowledge, not the fossils as such.
And I say again: What about them? Even among the Evolutionists of this world, the meaning of the fossils is a matter of conflicting interpretations and dissent -- and every interpretation is only a struggle to reconcile the meager facts to the Evolutionary faith.
Never forget: When a scientist asserts something, years later another scientist may assert the opposite. Newton was wrong about the absolute nature of space. Even when a hard scientist like a particle physicist has a table of figures and can, step by step, seemingly prove it all to you: Well, that doesn't mean he's right. Don't be cowed. Study his premises. Always look to what he believes.
Part V: A Bump in the Road?
Do I mean to say, then, that because Evolutionists operate from a faith, we should reject their interpretation of the facts? No, no, and no. My point -- which I hope I am not belaboring -- is that Evolutionism is not science. Science can serve Evolutionism -- it might even succor the Evolutionist in his faith; but Science can just as well serve Catholicism and succor the Catholic in his faith. Science, properly considered, is not an end in itself: It is meant to serve the Truth, whatever that Truth may be; and in no way can it encompass all Truth.
But -- says the Devil's Advocate -- consider this: St. Augustine himself says that if the facts and our interpretation of Scripture conflict, we must heed the facts and change our interpretation. Is not a Doctor of the Church therefore saying that if science tells us so, we must abandon Scripture?
No. He is saying only that if newly established facts are indeed true and seem to deny Scripture, our understanding of Scripture must have been imperfect.
Well, then: Let us say the facts someday do prove evolution of species. Wouldn't that belie the Catholic interpretation of Genesis? Would the Church not be obliged, per Augustine's counsel, to rethink its interpretation of the creation verses? No; for if it suddenly seemed that Adam and Eve were an utter myth after all, I would know that the factual proof is somehow wrong. The privileges of facts go only so far: Our interpretation of them must be wrong, if they seem to deny fundamental, unequivocal Teaching.
Notice well: Augustine does not anticipate the abandonment of Scripture. He knows that Scripture is Holy; that it was inspired by God. You could never convince Augustine of the falsity of Genesis by seeming to prove some Ape became Man. Similarly, you could never convince an Evolutionist of the truth of Genesis by seeming to prove that Apes have always been Apes and only Apes. I wouldn't try to use the fossil facts or microbiological facts -- whatever they may currently be -- against the beliefs of the Evolutionist. It would make no difference anyhow. He would persist in his materialism. Even if he accepted the newly found facts, he would simply rethink the mechanics of evolution.
His faith -- like mine -- would be undeterred.
Part VI: Proof of the Creator?
The strength of Intelligent Design (ID) comes in its criticism of the theories of evolution. Its weakness comes in its attempt to prove a Creator.
Say the IDers: No current theory of evolution could possibly account for the complexity -- the irreducible complexity -- of, for example, a cell. Anyone with a clear mind can recognize the just-so nature of all evolutionary tall tales. Natural selection -- the pre-eminent theory of evolution -- simply cannot handle the microbiological facts.
And so on.
But because, as I have said, Evolutionism does not proceed from the facts, ID theorists are misapplying themselves. The Evolutionist simply will not listen to you. And, in fact, I hope I have made it clear that I wouldn't ask him to. He has his faith. You want to disabuse him of it, you have to engage him philosophically. You're not going to convince the Evolutionist that he's wrong until you convince him that God exists -- and no presentation of cellular black boxes will prove the existence of God.
As a matter of fact it's actually a mistake to equate IDers and Creationists. Creationists assert that God and only God created us. Some IDers, however, think the "intelligent designer" in question could just as well be a race of aliens from Alpha Centauri.
At best the IDer can show that the Evolutionist is gravely ignoring or misinterpreting the facts. That, to be sure, is no small achievement. To destroy the self-satisfied superiority of a whole class of pseudo-scientists would be a boon to mankind. But the IDer has not yet shown that no spontaneous mechanism could give rise to complex cells. I understand that certain mathematical proofs are being made, that purport to show that irreducible complexity is a fact, evolution an impossibility, and a Creator unavoidable. But I am not going to rely on even these, true or not. While I trust mathematics far more than I trust paleomicrobiology, a mathematical proof of a Creator is as quixotic as any "scientific" proof.
As a matter of fact, I might as well post all that I have so far...
P.S. Kevin also wonders why I would feel "free to doubt others faith on the basis of disagreements about scientific evidence and their correlating theories." Yikes. Actually, I wasn't doubting anyone's faith. My words were poorly chosen and I apologize if anyone thinks that. What I meant was: I think that one can intellectually do a disservice to one's faith by accepting wrong ideas about God or the world; and in that respect, one's faith is weakened. I don't want to imply that somehow God also withdraws, even partly, from the heart. Again, I apologize to anyone I may have offended or hurt.
Part II: Pick a Team
I'll say it starkly: No one who truly believes in God can be an Evolutionist; no one who truly disbelieves in God can be anything but an Evolutionist.
Now, obviously there is such a thing as weak belief in God: Among those, for example, who imagine He just got the ball rolling and stepped aside -- thus making evolution possible, if not necessary. But such a God is no God. He's just a Cause, Who has His one Effect and becomes irrelevant. Oh, maybe -- once in a while -- He tweaks things. But even a tweaking God would be pointless. Such a disengaged God would explain nothing else -- not Love; not Evil; not a thing that matters. No: If you believe in God, believe in God. Yes, He is first cause; but His effects are countless and renewed. Acknowledge His utter immanence -- and realize that there is no place in His Universe for any material independent of the supernatural.
I'll say it starkly, another way: Supernaturalism and Evolutionism are immiscible because they are competing faiths.
When I confessed to one of my brothers that I had returned to the True Faith, one of his first, flabbergasted responses was: "You mean you don't believe in evolution anymore?" This brother of mine remains non-Catholic; but at least he instinctively knew that God and Darwin coach different teams, and choosing one team takes you off the other.
Chesterton online! I'm dizzy...
Okay, maybe I'm a terrible newbie or something. I knew there were books online (http://www.newadvent.org/ has a tremendous selection of Catholic documents, even the Summa); but man oh man... I've got to get out more (out into cyberspace, that is).
In noting my new series Intelligent Design Is Better Than Porn (a.k.a. ID is BTP), Bryan does make a quick remark about the Pope and evolution. Ya got me, Bryan. Regarding the Pope's pronouncements seeming to support the Evolutionists: That is relevant but also another front in my war that I'd rather not open right now. Someday; someday.
And thanks, Bryan, for putting me in your permalinks!
P.S. Much as, on a larger level, I do not want Islam to proliferate, I would welcome the outcome that Donnelly hopes for: It would be good if an Islamic rationalization for religious coexistence were embraced by the Muslims. Once we're all happily living together, then we can let loose on our respective theologies (in blogs, perhaps, rather than in the streets and mountains).
Tuesday, February 19, 2002
Part I: The Premise That Dare Not Speak Its Name
It is very important that something is understood: Evolutionism does not come from any factual evidence. You don't look at a bunch of fossils -- or even a bunch of finches -- and say: "Holy smoke! Man evolved from lower life-forms!" No. Those who reject creation by God do so because they have philosophically rejected creation by God. Evolutionism is not the consequence of empirical observation; it is the consequence of a philosophy.
That philosophy, of course, is materialism. And materialism, in essence, says: Nothing exists that I cannot touch. If I can't measure it, it's unreal. If it can't be empirically quantified, it's delusion. If it has anything to do with the supernatural, it's false. At best, materialism utterly ignores the non-material. And for the materialist, all of this precedes the issue at hand. That is, Evolutionists do not say: How did we get here? Rather they say: Only the material exists. So how did we get here?
Do not accept it when an Evolutionist says: "I am only being scientific." He says this, of course, to shut you up. One, after all, cannot argue with science. And in a sense, one cannot. True facts are true facts; and it is the job of science to establish the true facts of the material world. But the Evolutionist is not first a scientist. He is first a philosopher. The "facts" he gathers are to support his philosophy. Yes, we can all be said to begin with a philosophy and then gather the facts to support it; but have you never noticed that Evolutionists seem to forget this when they browbeat the yokels into teaching the "facts" -- and never the underlying philosophy -- of evolution?
Monday, February 18, 2002
There is no disparity.
Christ gave seven sensible signs to the Church that are meant to convey grace to men, in different ways and to different ends. These signs are known as Sacraments. Sacraments are divine, in that they were instituted by God Himself (Christ = God).
What is important to note is that the Sacraments are all very simple. You could say that God is economical; He is surely wise. One can confer the grace very simply, provided you use the proper matter and words. For example, I could baptize you by pouring water over your head and saying: "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." And that's it: The grace would be truly conferred and your stain of Original Sin removed.
All the elaborate ceremony surrounding a baptism is there for the same reason there is elaborate ceremony surrounding all the Sacraments: To indicate more fully the graces conferred and especially to increase the devotion of those who dispense and those who receive the Sacrament. While God was very practical in making the Sacraments concise and brief, it behooves us to be as far from cavalier as we can be, and to carry out the Sacraments with a due and substantial reverence.
The same applies to the Sacramentals -- of which exorcism is one. The Sacramentals were not instituted as such by Christ; they are rituals instituted by the Church to make use of powers granted by Christ. (As Stryker suspects, the Bible does say, in Matthew 10:1, that Christ granted the apostles -- and hence the Church -- the power to exorcise.) I actually don't know the sufficient matter and words of an exorcism; but I imagine that, in a pinch, an exorcism could be as brief as a baptism and still get the job done.
Think of it this way: You can eat a burger straight from the wrapper as you're driving down the road; or you can sit at a table, put the burger on a plate, say grace, take a bite, take a sip of Coke, have some fries, and generally take your time and enjoy the meal. Either way your hunger ends; but one way certainly allows you to appreciate what you are doing and even, perhaps, be even more grateful for that burger.
When we got to Rock, Midge didn't hurry through the Wall. She planned to go on to Shento and complete Scott's errand, since there was no reason not to; but for Midge there was always time for diversion. She put the bags and me in a hotel. She got herself fresh and, within the hour, had left. I didn't follow. I didn't want to. I didn't need to. And she knew I would only slow her down. Midge went alone and found her streets to burn; and I stayed alone, her streets burning inside me.
Some hours passed.
Our bags were unpacked, our clothes in the drawers. The small mess in the bathroom — from Midge's freshening up — was gone. Several times, the aetherweb tap had cycled past channel 3096^3.
Finally, I was outside.
A vendor sold me a small sack of food. He took my money.
A commercial took my arm, wrapped it in neon, and told me that I could be better than I was. It touched my palm where the vendor had and suddenly pricked into my money (without my consent, because its Am could tell I wasn't the screaming sort); but my bits were too few for its taste. We were far from the gestalt of our family's bank on Takla Makan, and Midge, who knew I had little use for money, had given me little of hers. The commercial was peeved and sank back into the sidewalk.
A train crossed in front of me. It took me to the body of Ursula Kato.
I had known Ursula was on Rock.
She was lying in state. Her death's convulsion had toggled her armorskin, and her flesh, normally a kind of newly fallen snow (despite her scars), was now forever an oily chitin; and her blue and silver eyes were shut behind the black of the EM filters. She had been left in her armorskin — which was impermeable even to hostile molecules — so that no worms would ever foul her. Across her belly, under her crossed hands, lay her sword. In its hilt was a fragment of Rigel, which she herself had collapsed during the Many Minute War. She wore an amice with her Army's colors. There were no flowers, not for her; but candles covered her wide bier like huts on an evening hillside.
Ó 2002 Louder Fenn
# I'm not so sure that the purpose of a fine is deterrence (anymore, that is, than the purpose of any punishment is deterrence). I should think, rather, that a fine is to punish -- that is, to proclaim the badness of an act: It should be commensurate with the crime, not the criminal.
# While I would never call Andy Griffith a Godless Commie, I daresay he was a Democrat; and that sort (however otherwise virtuous) do tend to undermine something very American: Equal protection of the laws. When, as a matter of course, a punishment is changed due to your income -- due to your status; due to your class; due, say, to your race -- the laws become unequal. In practice, yes, the law always seems to be unequal; but at least our principles should not embrace this.
Sunday, February 17, 2002
Kevin Holtsberry, in his most recent BlogWatch, distills a comment of mine into: "intelligent design better than porn." As I discussed in an earlier post, unusual phrases are seeds; and Kevin has provided me with a wonderful seed.
Intelligent design, of course, is most immediately relevant to evolution; but the evolution of species being dependent upon genetic propagation -- upon reproduction, that is; upon, in our case, sex -- I think I can, without too much straining, begin with evolution and end with porn.
Before I begin, I should offer a familiar disclaimer: This is only a blog. I am not a scholar. I will not pretend I am about to make an absolutely unassailable case. My humility is informed by the immortal words of Jello Biafra:
You're a well-paid scientist
You only talk in facts
You know you're always right
'Cause you know how to prove it
Step by step
Jello, that well-known admirer of religion, would no doubt blanch at my quoting him; I am sure that far worthier sorts -- such as the Saint who gave my Confirmation name, St. Augustine -- are rolling their eyes; but doggerel (even of the Dead Kennedys sort) does tend to stick in the mind, and whenever I am daunted by a need to prove anything, step by step, I think of Jello's disdain and proceed as I will.
For Part I, see Tuesday, above.
This obscenity should be vetoed. It should be burned and its sponsors and supporters denounced as the anti-democrats that they are. How anyone, in his right mind, can think it is good to ban political advertising 60 days before an election; how anyone can think it is good to prevent citizens -- whether organized or not -- from coordinating with politicians; how anyone can vote for this out of anything other than sheer stupidity or cupidity (or cowardice)... It boggles the mind.
And will the President veto it? I have my doubts. I really like Bush -- like Peggy Noonan, I sometimes get misty-eyed at the possibilities of Dubya's greatness -- but I am not convinced yet. Of course his conduct of the war has been exemplary; and I believe his moment at Ground Zero revealed his essential soundness of soul; but sometimes, when it comes to domestic affairs, Bush gets wishy-washy. There is, after all, Bush's flabbergasting collusion with that festering beached-whale, Ted "Mary Jo Who?" Kennedy. Will Bush have the courage to veto what should be vetoed with extremest prejudice? I don't know.
There are flashes of hope. When I read, online, while at work, that Bush had made recess appointments of Scalia and Reich (bypassing the obstructionism of the despicable Daschle and Dodd), I actually exclaimed my happiness aloud (which turned some curious heads). That was an assertion of Presidential power against the mini-mindedness of Congress. So, maybe, in the end, Bush will do the right thing.
We can only hope.