Letters to the Editor
FAITH Magazine September-October 2006
Our July issue
Dear Father Editor,
I have just finished reading the July Faith magazine, cover to cover. WONDERFUL. Thank you.
Fr Augustine Hoey Ob. OSB
St Peters, Meadow Lane
Dear Father Editor,
I was interested to read the article on Intelligent Design (ID) in the ‘Cutting Edge’ column of the May/June edition. I believe that most people accept that ID is not incompatible with Catholic theology, and it is perhaps for this reason that the criticisms to which it has been subjected from the Catholic community have tended to focus on its alleged weaknesses on scientific and philosophical grounds. I am neither a scientist nor a philosopher but I am not convinced that those criticisms are justified.
The article suggests that the manifest mistake in the whole ID approach is that it is just another "god of the gaps" theory; in other words, it identifies aspects of nature that cannot be explained with our current understanding of the laws of science, and concludes from this that those aspects must therefore be the work of an intelligent agent or creator. However, there is a subtle but crucial difference between ID and "god of the gaps" theories. ID does not say that we cannot explain something; it says that we can explain it, and then proceeds to do so.The most famous example of this is the solution it presents to the previously inexplicable existence of specified complexity in natural organisms. We know that only an intelligent agent could be responsible for such structures becauseonly intelligence can beget specified information—or, to put it differently, it is statistically impossible for such information to have originated by chance. In exactly the same way, we know that only an intelligent agent can write a novel. This line of thinking is implicitly recognised in the mainstream scientific community. For example, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence project is predicated on the assumption that a message from deep space containing specified information would be incontrovertible evidence of an intelligent agent. It would be ludicrous to criticise this as an "extraterrestrials of the gaps" approach. There is only a problem with ID if you have made an a priori assumption that no intelligent designer or creator could exist, and I think this illustrates thedanger of allowing naturalism to set the parameters of scientific enquiry. As Catholics, if we concede this point - that no scientific theory that includes a non-naturalistic explanation can ever be countenanced, regardless of the evidence - we may as well concede that there can be no scientific basis for the existence of God. We will be giving up on natural theology and, to some extent, the very idea that God can be known through reason alone. Indeed, if we took this approach to its logical conclusion, one could equally well argue that the Faith Movement's Unity Law of Control and Direction is, ultimately, a "god of the gaps" explanation, in that it seeks to explain the apparent order and purpose of the universe by invoking God. The tragic irony of this approach is that we will be makingthis concession at precisely the time when science is providing overwhelming evidence for the existence of God in so many of its branches.
I turn now to the suggestion that ID implies a tinkering creator, in opposition to the Faith Movement's understanding of God controlling and directing the universe through his universal law. I think that this may be a false dichotomy. Firstly, ID theorists have gone to great lengths to stress that their work says nothing (and is not intended to say anything) about the nature of the designer, and it seems to me that they are right to leave this to the theologians. Secondly, if the Faith Movement rejects the random, undirected process of evolution through natural selection in favour of God controlling and directing the universe, perhaps the specified complexity identified by ID theorists is simply the clearest manifestation of that control and direction. ID is not a mistaken reaction torandomness - it is the most effective rebuttal to randomness that theists have so far devised. It complements and reinforces the claim that God can be detected in the apparent order and purpose of the universe. Perhaps this can form the basis of a new synthesis of the Faith Movement's Unity Law and the specified complexity of ID. Now that really would have Mr Dawkins quaking in his boots!
We are indeed grateful to the Intelligent Design movement for highlighting here and elsewhere the undoubted truth that “only intelligence can beget specified information”. This is surely at the heart of their success, and is part of the reason for the resultant disquiet of many materialists. Sadly we think they score a significant own goal— and unwittingly support the thrust of atheistic thought—by applying this crucial insight as a priority to “natural organisms” as opposed to the routine properties of matter. This implies that the general run of nature is understood by ID in a very similar way to the agnostics, in that it does not securely point to the existence of a Creator. This becomes even clearer when a distinction is made between some things "being part" of, and other things "notbeing part" of the normal web of natural causation; only the latter being emphasised as evidence of creation. It is this distinction that seems to come from a certain ‘god- of-the-gaps’ mentality. This would fit with Mr Copus’ talk of “previously inexplicable” factors, as if what has been explained scientifically is not such obvious evidence for God. It would also fit with his unqualified comparison of the ID argument for God to an argument (itself valid) for a tinkering extra-terrestial intelligence. A priori, we cannot rule out such a neo-Deistic God, but a posteriori we must conclude the existence of the Judaeo-Christian God upon whose simple Logos the whole of creation depends equally. As our current editorial argues, all matter exhibits specific complexity and therefore points toMind.
Dear Father Editor,
Your editorial in the July issue is a heartwarming and inspiring joy to read, entirely comprehensible and compelling, with the clear ring of truth in every phrase. It should be read from every pulpit in the land.
Dear Father Editor,
Your editorial on Infallibility fails to address the problem, not just that it can be difficult to ascertain whether or not a particular Church teaching is infallible, but that there have been teachings in the past which would have been generally regarded as "infallible" but which have since been changed or dropped. Two examples will suffice. For centuries "extra ecclesiam non salus est" was understood in its literal sense, namely that it was not possible to be saved if one was not a visible member of the Catholic Church. The formula remains, but has since been redefined to mean that salvation for man is impossible without the existence of the Catholic Church. If the doctrine is infallible, its previous interpretation was certainly not. My second example is the doctrine of Limbo, whoserejection by the Jansenists caused their condemnation by the Church, and which I clearly remember being carefully expounded to me when being instructed in the Faith many years ago. Yet it receives no mention in the current Catechism, and the Vatican has recently made it known that it is no longer valid. Previous generations would have regarded it as, in effect, infallible, yet we now know it not to be so. I conclude that we cannot necessarily assume that every teaching contained in the current Catechism is infallible, and that there could well be changes in future; one example is the legitimacy of capital punishment, which recent Popes have increasingly disapproved of. This suggests there is a place for what you refer to as "private judgment" on matters not already defined as infallible,and this does not imply that one is merely indulging in personal fancies or whims in so doing.
Dear Father Editor,
Your ‘Church teaching and parish life’ editorial in the July/August issue of FAITH goes some way to explaining why Catholics no longer go to confession (not that to discuss this was your intention). I should indeed welcome some words from you in a future issue on the question of why going to confession is in considerable decline.
Isle of Wight
Dear Father Editor,
No one can make me feel awkward about Humanae Vitae anymore (A Mother’s Diary and Letters, May/July). From our first years at medical school my husband and I experienced the bitterness of some of the generation who had wanted the Church's teaching to change, apparently feeling it was a uniquely burdensome imposition of the Church. Surely as life progressed some of these people must have realized that using NFP cannot be the greatest hardship a couple can face in their family lives. We trained as NFP teachers well before we were married and it has been a source of great wonder to us. We could cooperate with God to create a new life. It has proved effective in an array of situations. Medical colleagues and obstetricians sadly, on the whole, remained sceptical. Hopefully its efficacy for usmight have had some personal witness for medical staff as well as others we have known. It is indeed a common distress for Catholic couples announcing a pregnancy to have to face long faces and pained expressions even from within their extended family. Pregnant mothers need care and support. They should not have to face ambivalence or hostility from their families, their friends or from health workers. As our family grew we learnt to reply brightly to the question 'is another due?' (like the next bus), 'yes, we haven't had two the same yet!'. I know we have been very fortunate, I had good medical care and we managed to pay for some invaluable help. We have heard those of our age who were in the same position wishing they had had more children. I was 43, when, sadly, for complex reasonsour eighth child only lived a week. She was however a little sister for a week and no one can take her from them. We cannot have any regrets for taking every chance of having children. Friends that are closest to my heart are those who share the same reverence for having children. Some had been unable to have large families for various reasons but were always there for us and for the children.
Interestingly, those who found themselves unable to have children of their own (many of whom had faced the rigours of adoption) have often been particularly supportive and understanding. I would encourage couples to value the opportunities they are given to have children and not to delay, especially once 40 looms. (Fertility falls rapidly after that age though blessings do still happen—Pope Benedict was born when his mother was 43). NFP works and we have done what we can to promote it. There has been opposition, but it is only many years on that we have heard from some who were grateful for the message on Humanae Vitae. They say they would never have heard it from anywhere else. Just before sending I came across this sober comment; of all your earthly treasures you can only take yourchildren with you to heaven.
Dr. Josephine Treloar
Dear Father Editor,
Mgr. Barltrop makes out a good case for revitalising the Catholic imagination so as truly to engage with the “modern mind” (July issue), and so make converts. But surely the first essential task is to put our own house in order by making sure that what is being presented is the full undiluted Faith “Once delivered to the apostles” as set out in the Catechisms of the Council of Trent and of our own day. At the moment in our parishes and schools only about two thirds of the genuine Catholic Faith is being taught and practiced. All the unpleasant hard bits such as Hell, Purgatory, mortal sin and damnation, strict sexual ethics etc., to say nothing about the immortality of the soul, are being left out or understated out of existence. They are considered ‘too negative’ or off—putting, as ifpeople outside the Church were fickle consumers who need astute advertising before they will buy the product. I would feel it necessary first to give converts a spiritual health warning before surrendering them to modern catechetics with these diabolical omissions. I might even be tempted at times to steer them in the direction of certain evangelical ‘Bible only’ groups where the bare facts of salvation are unequivocally spelt out. These people are making converts! The spectacularly successful St. Francis Xavier warning his converts of Hell and baptising until his arm ached is presented in the article as passé (too “black and white”) to our modern society. Presumably Our Lord, who warns us of Hell no less than sixteen times in St. Matthew, St. Paul, and indeed the whole of the NewTestament are now deemed impossible to ‘sell’ these days. Oh for another exhausted Xavier preaching the whole Catholic truth and baptising tens of thousands in the Piazza in front of Westminster Cathedral! I detect a major inconsistency in Mgr. Barltrop’s position. On the one hand he rightly deplores modern ‘catechetical incoherence’, (which must be just about the worst impediment that an evangelical campaign could have), and then, as if there were no connection, expects success from an organization set up and shaped by the same establishment, I am sorry to say, responsible for that incoherence. Progress will be a massively uphill task without controlling and, where necessary, sacking those heterodox diocesan bureaucrats in sensitive positions, those ‘wolves in expert’s clothing,’ who areslowly bringing the Church to its knees. Will God, looking down on a Church that is failing effectively to teach coherently and integrally His revelation be willing and able to grant the graces needed for evangelization? A current national average of one and a half receptions per parish per annum (National Catholic Directory 2004) would seem to indicate not. Let us ponder Apocalypse 2:5: “To the Church at Ephesus…. Be mindful from where you are fallen and do the first works. Or else I will come to you and move your candle stick out of its place,
except you do penance.”
Dear Father Editor,
I have yet to read George Weigel's The Cube and The Cathedral, but the review of it in the May edition of FAITH does not bode well, since it suggests a heavy and uncritical dependence on the theory that America is more "Christian" than "secular" Europe.
While church attendance figures are much higher in the US than in Western Europe, what does that prove? In itself, nothing at all. What is being inculcated, celebrated and even worshipped is very often a collection of economic, social, cultural and political prejudices that the participants have simply declared to be Christianity (or any specific form of Christianity, including Catholicism), despite their fanatically and even hysterically anti-Christian (and especially anti- Catholic) origins and content, which former is very often denied outright. Churches complicit in all of this might pack them in, but they are ultimately not very different from, for example, the "Catholic" Patriotic Association in China. Lest this seem an overstatement, look at the level of American churchgoingsupport for the Iraq War. And why? To what end? The reversal of Roe v Wade? Believe in that when you see it, and not before.
In Western Europe, by contrast, no country has on paper, and few have in practice, the American
system of abortion on demand at every stage of pregnancy (for that, one has to look to America's new best friends in Eastern Europe).
There are 10 sacral monarchies (11 if one includes the Vatican), monarchy being an institution for which no purely secular argument can ever be constructed. National events are routinely conducted in the form and course of church services. Church schools, maintained at public expense, are normal in many European countries, while at least broadly Christian Religious Education and (although this law is widely flouted) a daily collective act of Chrsitian worship are compulsory in all British schools. In Germany, the churches are actually the largest employers after the several tiers of government, with hardly anyone opting out of the church tax system, with the churches routinely providing numerous services of the kind that provoke uproar when suggested in the US under the rubric of"compassionate conservatism", and with three tiers of government funding an annual Kirchentag (Catholic and Protestant in alternate years) from which no major political figure from Left to Right would dare be absent. Anglican bishops sit as of right in the British Parliament (where they recently played a key role in blocking physician-assisted suicide); and while the House of Lords might one day be abolished entirely, no one seriously suggests that it might ever remain with only the bishops removed. And since when was contraception any less available, or any less widely used, in the US than in Europe?
So one could go on. None of which is to suggest that there is not a great deal of re-evangelisation to be done in Western Europe. However, the last possible way of going about this would be to emulate a country in which the absolute exclusion of religion from public life is written into the founding documents as a first principle (however long it might have taken the courts to come round to enforcing this properly), with those documents then elevated to the status of Holy Writ, and their rationalist and Deist authors to that of Prophets and Apostles, in the national folk-religion.
Lanchester, County Durham
Double Effect and Artificial Contraception
Dear Father Editor,
Professor Gormally’s excellent article (Mar/Apr 2006) demonstrates convincingly that one cannot use a condom in the performance of the marriage act even when there is a good intention of not passing on HIV to one’s spouse.
It is sometimes argued that the principle of Double Effect may be invoked when considering the use of condoms in marriage. After all, it is argued, a wife may use a purely contraceptive pill in order to manage menstrual irregularities. She may further have intercourse with her husband as there is no intention of rendering the marriage act infertile. Surely, it is argued, the same applies in the case of using condoms when the intention is not to render the act infertile but to prevent the transmission of HIV.
However, for the principle of Double Effect to apply, the foreseen side-effect must be wholly unintended. The woman with menstrual irregularities does not effectively say “I must treat my condition and I must be rendered infertile.” In contrast, the husband using a condom effectively says, “I must prevent the transmission of HIV and I must be rendered infertile.” The second “must” in this sentence means that the principle of Double Effect does not apply. The teaching of the Church on contraception is intended for those who desire to flourish as human beings. What, then, of those who intend to do evil? It seems to me that the Church has little to offer in such cases. The adulterer who chooses to be open to the gift of life in his adulterous union does not in any way lessen theintrinsically evil nature of his act. The homosexual who wears a condom does not lessen the intrinsically evil nature of his act. It is hardly the business of the Church to issue guidelines to adulterers and homosexuals on minimising the harmful nature of their intrinsically evil acts.
Dr. Pravin Thevathasan
Dear Father Editor,
May I congratulate you on a truly outstanding edition of FAITH magazine (July/August). The editorial and other articles were first class. I noticed the theme of infallibility throughout—a vital one today. Usury is one issue addressed by the Magisterium. Fr Gary Coulter makes a valiant effort to show that the old teaching is unchanged but now obsolete. He suggests that there has been a “development of justice” so that extrinsic titles to payment on a loan for “loss” can be “assumed”. However, merely to say “society” or “financial institutions” have changed in general terms is, it seems to me, insufficient. The fact that transactions are now done faster, hi-tech, globally and by a bewildering array of financial instruments and ‘products’ does not represent a fundamental change in the natureof financial and commercial transactions. When Pope Benedict XIV concluded in Vix Pervenit that there were titles to payment on a loan extrinsic to the loan contract itself he did not merely mean that modern conditions had changed so as to allow interest where it was before forbidden. I cannot therefore see any justification for Fr Coulter’s assertion that “in the modern circumstances of a widespread free market, extrinsic titles could be presumed without proof”, still less that a “price” for money, the “market rate of interest”, makes interest now allowable. On the contrary, it is precisely the claim to a “price” for money that is condemned.
The claim to an extrinsic title to interest by virtue of loss flowing from the “opportunity cost” in lending is also advanced by Fr Coulter, as it has been by others. However, this title is nowhere mentioned in Vix Pervenit, which, instead, says this; “One cannot condone the sin of usury by arguing that the gain is not great or excessive, but rather moderate or small; neither can it be condoned by arguing that the borrower is rich; nor even by arguing that the money borrowed is not left idle, but is spent usefully, either to increase one's fortune, to purchase new estates, or to engage in business transactions. The law governing loans consists necessarily in the equality of what is given and returned”. (3.II) and this: “But you must diligently consider this, that some will falsely andrashly persuade themselves— and such people can be found anywhere—that together with loan contracts there are other legitimate titles or, excepting loan contracts, they might convince themselves that other just contracts exist, for which it is permissible to receive a moderate amount of interest.” (3.V) Fr Coulter prays in aid St Thomas to permit compensation for “lost profit”. But St Thomas seems expressly to exclude this: “But the lender cannot enter an agreement for compensation, through the fact that he makes no profit out of his money: because he must not sell that which he has not yet and may be prevented in many ways from having” (ST, II-II, q.78, a.2, resp ad obj.1). As St Thomas teaches, usury is so called because it is selling both an item and the use of the item when, unlikedurable products, its only use is consumption. The sale of the use is a fraud because the seller sells nothing. Usury also involves the sale of the time that the borrower is allowed to have the money before he must return it and time belongs to no man to sell. However, St Thomas permits what might be called the classic extrinsic title: “On the other hand he that entrusts his money to a merchant or craftsman so as to form a kind of society, does not transfer the ownership of his money to them, for it remains his, so that at his risk the merchant speculates with it, or the craftsman uses it for his craft, and consequently he may lawfully demand as something belonging to him, part of the profits derived from his money.” (ST, II-II, q.78, a.2, resp ad obj.5)
The foundation of the modern economy is simply the development of this medieval joint venture. The joint stock company (with unlimited liability) is the predecessor of the modern corporation (with unlimited liability). Investors are entitled to their profit having risked their money in such a venture. This is a title plainly extrinsic to any loan contract. It would be quite wrong, in my view, to imagine that usury is no longer a problem. Indeed, I tend to agree with the late Fr Holloway that “the burden of Western usury upon Latin America is threatening to bring down governments and also to destabilise the financial institutions of the West”. Many a modern banker will tell you the same.
The Inner Temple, London