Friday, July 25, 2008

My response to Prof. Paul Z. Myers hateful acts against Catholics and Muslims

You may or may not have heard of atheist biology professor Paul Myers of the University of MN, Morris in recent weeks. He made headlines after requesting on his personal blog for stolen consecrated hosts to be sent to him so that he could desecrate them. Of course, many Catholics were outraged and Dr. Myers has gotten an earful, ranging from prayers for his soul to violent threats. Mark Shea offers a good discussion of the situation here.

Well, yesterday the man followed through on his twisted exercise in kindly showing the intolerant masses of superstitious idiots (a.k.a. anybody who believes in God) who's king of the universe. He desecrated a sacred host, defaced the Koran and tossed them in the garbage taking a picture to share on his blog. Somehow we're supposed to see now that that this little "cracker" has no power. Thanks man! Like I thought it would melt your eyeballs like the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark or something!

Anyways, as a Catholic and a graduate of the University of Minnesota, I don't think this guy should go on lecturing and doing research. What PZ Myers has done is analogous to calling for people to disrupt services at a synagogue to steal the Torah and send it to him so that he could spray paint swastikas all over it. To Catholics, it's that bad of a sacrilege. Surely if a professor were to publicly call for such an anti-Semitic act he would be justly fired. The same should go for a hateful act done against Catholics.

Here is my letter I sent last night to all those people in the U of MN chain above Prof. Myers. If you feel so inclined, please write your own version and send it via the email addresses provided at the bottom (no threats, though!):

To President Robert Bruininks, Chancellor Jacqueline Johnson, Dr. Roland Guyotte and Dr. Michael Korth of the University of Minnesota and U of MN, Morris:

I am writing in regard to the recent actions taken by Prof. Paul Myers of the U of MN, Morris. As reported on his blog on July 24, 2008, he has taken pages from the Koran and consecrated hosts (presumably stolen from a Catholic Church), deliberately defaced them and publicly ridiculed in the most hateful manner those who hold these objects to be sacred symbols of their faith.

I am an alumnus of the University of MN Institute of Technology and currently teach high school physics in Plymouth, MN. I am also a Catholic who is deeply insulted and pained by these hateful acts of bigotry accomplished by Dr. Myers. I am ashamed that such a man is tarnishing the name of my alma mater. I will not donate to your esteemed institution unless and until Dr. Meyers is disciplined. I am also disinclined to recommend the science programs at UMN, Morris to our seniors. It seems to me that a man so filled with distain toward people of faith would be incapable of treating my students with respect.

To clarify, I do not think that Dr. Myers should be punished for his atheistic beliefs, but rather for his public incitement of theft and hatred toward people who believe in God. This despicable conduct reveals a man unworthy of our public trust to educate young minds who are interested in the pursuit of scientific knowledge.

Mr. Dan Fisher
B.S. Physics, 2002
Univ. of MN, Institute of Technology

President Robert H. Bruininks,
Chancellor Jacqueline Johnson,
Dr. Roland Guyotte, Interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean,
Dr. Michael Korth, Chair of the Division of Science & Mathematics,
Professor Paul Zachary Myers,

Thursday, July 24, 2008

NASA Satellites Discover What Powers Northern Lights

This press release from NASA touches upon a topic of personal interest.

Researchers using a fleet of five NASA satellites have discovered that explosions of magnetic energy a third of the way to the moon power substorms that cause sudden brightenings and rapid movements of the aurora borealis, called the Northern Lights.

The culprit turns out to be magnetic reconnection, a common process that occurs throughout the universe when stressed magnetic field lines suddenly snap to a new shape, like a rubber band that's been stretched too far.

"We discovered what makes the Northern Lights dance," said Dr. Vassilis Angelopoulos of the University of California, Los Angeles. Angelopoulos is the principal investigator for the Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms mission, or THEMIS.

Substorms produce dynamic changes in the auroral displays seen near Earth's northern and southern magnetic poles, causing a burst of light and movement in the Northern and Southern Lights.

One of my two brief stints in research as an undergrad was in the space physics department at the U of MN looking at auroral substorms. This was back in 2000 before the launch of the THEMIS satellites. I was looking for a good conjunction of the FAST and POLAR satellites at the outset of a substorm over the north polar region. I was unsuccessful, but it was interesting looking at lots of substorm images. These storms engulf a ring surrounding the entire polar region. A lot of energy being released and now we know how!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Front row seats

Today seemed like a good day. I didn't have work to do, so both this morning and afternoon I was with the boys while Amy worked. "All day with boys" does not always equal "a good day" but things went smoothly.

This morning we had extended playtime in our basement family room which included the usual trucks, trains, and LEGOs. Lunch fell together as spaghetti with a tasty mixture of leftover homemade pizza sauce and toppings (getting to leftover scraps before they rot is always good). But the REAL fun came during lunch when the CONCRETE MIXING TRUCK pulled up in front of our next-door neighbors. This is a big deal in our house of boys! Our neighbor have been removing their front sidewalk for three days and we were expecting concrete. It seemed like too much to mix one wheelbarrow full at a time so truck seemed likely. We ditched the remainder of lunch to go sit in the shade about 10 meters from the chute as concrete was poured. We've read at least TWO books lately describing the process, including Tonka's "Working Hard with the Mighty Cement Mixer."

The truck's concrete drum was slowly spinning clockwise as the truck pulled up. We watched the truck operator assemble the chute by unfolding one section and hooking on another by hand. He then sped up the drum to mix the concrete really well (~.5 rot/sec, which is fast for a big heavy drum). Then he stopped the drum an spun it slowly counterclockwise until the concrete oozed out and slid down the chute. We've recently learned how spiral paddles mix the concrete when the drum spins one way and pushes it out when spinning the other. The concrete was unloaded one wheelbarrow at a time near the street and walked all the way to the top of the sidewalk to be dumped, about 5 or 6 meters. Every so often to operator took about 30 seconds to switch the direction of spin and mix the concrete some more to prevent it from setting up. It took much longer than expected and we were outside for over an hour. Finally the truck driver thoroughly washed down the chute and drum with a sprayer and drove off.

It was great fun! The man who was working with the concrete spent another 3-4 hours finishing the sidewalk. I was surprised that you could work with concrete for this long. I suspect it's like plaster, with different mixtures and working times, and the finishing pass needing to occur at just the right time. Tomorrow, a new sidewalk!

Every baby a woman gives birth to is dying

Mark Shea writing for Catholic Exchange has an article about how to respond to a Catholic couple who aborted a baby with spina bifida and anencephaly (no brain):

And I think the best thing we can do with this situation is not adjudicate the souls of people we don’t know anything about concerning a choice they have already made (since that is way too much of a temptation to judge them, especially in cyberspace where judgment and condemnation flow like wine), but to first ask ourselves how we might respond rightly in a similar situation.

In talking to my wife Janet, (the actual baby carrier in this family), she points out the following:

First, ultrasounds have been wrong.

Second, miracles happen sometimes.

Third, and most salient here: every baby she has had is dying. The question is simply, when? Most of them, God willing, will die in 50 to 70 years. But they could die in five minutes.

When we put it that way, we suddenly realize: Knowing that the baby is going to die sooner rather than later is no reason to kill the baby. It is, says Janet, a reason to love the baby for as long as you can while it’s here. That’s very painful, but that is the risk we take every time we choose to love because everything we love in this world is mortal. It may be objected that an anencephalic baby cannot appreciate our love. I would reply that a healthy baby does not appreciate our love either, because a healthy baby has no more mind than a baby born without a brain. The whole point of parenthood, especially in its earliest stages, is radical self-giving (like Christ) to a being who is wholly incapable of giving anything back besides a sucking reflex. It’s an analogy of the grace of God, the great wake-up call, enfleshed, that It’s Not about Me and What I Get from It. A short course in the life of the Blessed Trinity.

In contrast, the unspoken contract, it seems to me, of much of our culture is that the baby is there for the sake of the parents and if the baby is not Perfect, then the parents have the right to break the deal.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

God is Patient and Merciful, but He Wants Change

An article by Fr. Jack Peterson at Catholic Exchange:

“God bears with imperfect beings even when they resist His goodness. We ought to imitate this merciful patience and endurance. It is only imperfection that complains of what is imperfect. The more perfect we are, the more gentle and quiet we become toward the defects of other people.” Bishop Francois de Fenelon, the archbishop of Camray, penned these words in the 18th century, but they speak just as loudly to us today.

If God’s approach to us, His children, was determined simply by His justice, we would be in a hopeless situation. When I think of the number of times that I have gone to confession, stated my sins and sincerely pledged to never commit them again, I am brought to my knees as I ponder God’s patience with me. God has every right to be perfectly upset with me, to treat me as an ungrateful, hard-hearted, spoiled brat. He has blessed me in countless ways, and I have rebelled in so many ways. In God’s justice, I should be nothing but dried up bones, but in His love, I am the recipient of abundant patience and mercy.


Our response to God’s amazing patience and mercy should be a heightened desire to change our lives and live completely for Christ. ...

It is true that God must satisfy the demands of justice. That is why He sent his only-begotten Son who died and rose for us. Christ became our justice. Now, God, in His great mercy, constantly invites us back to Him after we wander. He is remarkably patient.

A good reminder that God's loving patience is for our repentance and conversion, not to remain as we are, ambivalent and mediocre.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Zip it, you!

Well, it seems I've been at least temporarily silenced on Michael Bayly's blog. I won't whine, since it is his own blog and I've got mine. The last two comments I've submitted weren't approved by Mr. Bayly.

Now, I often disagree with what he writes, but hardly ever comment (once a month at most), albeit critically. As the poster liam notes in the same conversation, people usually just talk past each other. I'm well aware that Michael Bayly has lived many years as a "progressive, gay Catholic" and that no little post of mine is going to change his mind. But what provokes me every once in a while is when he tries to use the teaching of the Catholic Church to support his argument. It is often done without direct quotation or reference, and when the reference is given it is always yanked away from the immediate and contradictory context.

I think it's one thing to argue that the Catholic Church is simply bunk and that it should change. Many people do. But when a man tries to convince me that people who believe in the traditional teachings of the Church are simply misunderstanding what Jesus/Paul/Peter/early Church Father X/Vatican II REALLY MEANT it seems to me that he is either purposely misleading or blindly ignorant. In such a circumstance I thinks it's useful to point out where he is contradicted by the very document he cites. It may not change his mind, but it will hopefully render his rhetoric less effective on other readers.

So, here are Mr. Bayly's words...

We concluded our letter [to the MN deacons] by noting that:

It is our understanding that the diaconate ministry was developed, in large part, to provide pastoral outreach to persons on the margins of both the Church and society, and that this outreach places great emphasis on listening to where people are at on their journey rather than on preaching of doctrine. There is a place for, and value in, helping people discern where and how God is present and active in their lives – including LGBT lives. The Church itself can and has benefited from such discernment. The Vatican II document “Dei Verbum” says that the Catholic tradition develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit, and that this development of tradition occurs “through the intimate understanding of spiritual things [that believers] experience.” In this way, “Dei Verbum” states, the Church “constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth.”

This foundational teaching of Vatican II clearly teaches that the Church is still developing and growing. It’s a teaching that also refutes the idea that to be a good Catholic means, first of all, unquestioning obedience to those who have placed themselves over us and who declare that they possess truths that others do not.

Yet sadly, such an absolutist approach is exactly what the Courage apostolate advocates. From our perspective, and perhaps yours too, such an approach fails to embody those diaconate traditions and charisms of listening and openness to God in the lives and relationships of all.

...and my (unapproved) response:

Mr. Bayly,

That you choose to quote to documents of Vatican II would seem at first to be an improvement. However, I find your selective quotation of Dei Verbum to be rather disingenuous. Am I to understand that in quoting DV in support of the "foundational teaching" of the development of doctrine that you accept the authority of this document? If so, then you are misunderstanding the council fathers if you think that the bishops are "those who have placed themselves over us and who declare that they possess truths that others do not." Dei Verbum also has this to say:

The Christian dispensation, therefore, as the new and definitive covenant, will never pass away and we now await no further new public revelation before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Tim. 6:14 and Tit. 2:13).


As a sacred synod has affirmed, God, the beginning and end of all things, can be known with certainty from created reality by the light of human reason (see Rom. 1:20); but teaches that it is through His revelation that those religious truths which are by their nature accessible to human reason can be known by all men with ease, with solid certitude and with no trace of error, even in this present state of the human race. (7)

7. In His gracious goodness, God has seen to it that what He had revealed for the salvation of all nations would abide perpetually in its full integrity and be handed on to all generations. Therefore Christ the Lord in whom the full revelation of the supreme God is brought to completion (see Cor. 1:20; 3:13; 4:6), commissioned the Apostles to preach to all men that Gospel which is the source of all saving truth and moral teaching, (1) and to impart to them heavenly gifts. ...

But in order to keep the Gospel forever whole and alive within the Church, the Apostles left bishops as their successors, "handing over" to them "the authority to teach in their own place."(3)
(DV 4-7, emphasis added)

Is it is this context that the snippet you quote occurs, in section 8. The bishops are established by God with the authority to teach the truth; they did not place themselves over us. It is the Holy Spirit who revealed his truth to the Church that can be found nowhere else; revelation that was completed through the Apostles and can be known with certainty. That same Spirit of God confirms the truth within each believer. He does not contradict what he has said, but rather we come to a fuller understanding of what was revealed.

How can we know with certainty now the truth which may be contradicted tomorrow by people such as yourself who would overthrow tradtional Christian moral teachings?

Do you really think that Dei Verbum supports your notion that the entire hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church is false and that what the magisterium teaches regarding sexual morality is oppressive toward LGBT people? It seem to me that you are merely using whatever phrases you can cobble together to try and effect the change you want.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Dick Dawkins rap: He's smarter than you he's got a science degree!

Hilarious! This one goes out to all y'all brights out there.

Apparently it took Richard Dawkins three days to understand that he was being dissed. You must watch. As the YouTube info says, "OH MY DOG, it is funny.":

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fr. Neuhaus: We shall not weary, we shall not rest

Go read the entirety of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus' closing address at the annual convention of the National Right to Life Committee:

We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until all the elderly who have run life’s course are protected against despair and abandonment, protected by the rule of law and the bonds of love. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every young woman is given the help she needs to recognize the problem of pregnancy as the gift of life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, as we stand guard at the entrance gates and the exit gates of life, and at every step along way of life, bearing witness in word and deed to the dignity of the human person—of every human person.


The culture of death is an idea before it is a deed. I expect many of us here, perhaps most of us here, can remember when we were first encountered by the idea. For me, it was in the 1960s when I was pastor of a very poor, very black, inner city parish in Brooklyn, New York. I had read that week an article by Ashley Montagu of Princeton University on what he called “A Life Worth Living.” He listed the qualifications for a life worth living: good health, a stable family, economic security, educational opportunity, the prospect of a satisfying career to realize the fullness of one’s potential. These were among the measures of what was called “a life worth living.”

And I remember vividly, as though it were yesterday, looking out the next Sunday morning at the congregation of St. John the Evangelist and seeing all those older faces creased by hardship endured and injustice afflicted, and yet radiating hope undimmed and love unconquered. And I saw that day the younger faces of children deprived of most, if not all, of those qualifications on Prof. Montagu’s list. And it struck me then, like a bolt of lightning, a bolt of lightning that illuminated our moral and cultural moment, that Prof. Montagu and those of like mind believed that the people of St. John the Evangelist—people whom I knew and had come to love as people of faith and kindness and endurance and, by the grace of God, hope unvanquished—it struck me then that, by the criteria of the privileged and enlightened, none of these my people had a life worth living. In that moment, I knew that a great evil was afoot. The culture of death is an idea before it is a deed.

In that moment, I knew that I had been recruited to the cause of the culture of life. To be recruited to the cause of the culture of life is to be recruited for the duration; and there is no end in sight, except to the eyes of faith.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Do you know what Humanae Vitae actually says?

Uncle Di comments at CWN's Off The Record about an article in today's Boston Globe, Debate over 1968 encyclical rages on. He notes sourly that the "debate" is never really engaged because the reason's behind Pope Paul VI's affirmation of the Church's teaching against contraception are never really given:

Funny: I thought this debate was about contraception. The "inseparability" that Pope Paul highlighted in Humanae Vitae was the natural link between the act of marital love and the process of human procreation. Break that link, the Pope warned, and all hell will break loose in human relationships, as reverence for human life declines. But after that one memorable line about the "disposable soda bottle," we've heard nothing more along those lines.

It's not just that fashionable liberals can't come to terms with the argument of Humanae Vitae. It's that they can't even state the terms of the debate accurately. It would be too embarrassing to revive the old-fashioned idea that the use of the human reproductive system might have something to do with human reproduction. So instead of summarizing Pope Paul's thesis, the squeamish journalist substitutes an inane formula: "the inseparability of marriage and love." Globe readers unfamiliar with the argument of Humanae Vitae-- and that will describe all Globe readers, if the editors have their way-- will nod in agreement that love and marriage go together (I feel a song coming on..), and never learn what the Pope said and why he said it.

Too late now. The debate is over. The defense has rested. Or rather I should say the defense is rested-- which is understandable, since the defense never got out of its chair.

I often find dissident Catholics disparaging the "authoritarian and oppressive declarations" of popes without ever engaging the arguments made. This seems to crop up in outcries against the Church's moral teachings on contraception, marriage and homosexuality that make arguments using the natural law. I found the reasons given by the Church quite, well, REASONABLE even before I was considering becoming Catholic. It resonated true that sex was designed for the procreation of a new person. If one has some notion that God does things for a purpose and that it's bad to do things some other way, then clearly a deliberate frusteration of that purpose (like contraception) is to be avoided.

Here's Paul VI (emphasis added):

Observing the Natural Law

11. The sexual activity, in which husband and wife are intimately and chastely united with one another, through which human life is transmitted, is, as the recent Council recalled, "noble and worthy.'' (11) It does not, moreover, cease to be legitimate even when, for reasons independent of their will, it is foreseen to be infertile. For its natural adaptation to the expression and strengthening of the union of husband and wife is not thereby suppressed. The fact is, as experience shows, that new life is not the result of each and every act of sexual intercourse. God has wisely ordered laws of nature and the incidence of fertility in such a way that successive births are already naturally spaced through the inherent operation of these laws. The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life. (12)

Union and Procreation

12. This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.

The reason is that the fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman. And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called. We believe that our contemporaries are particularly capable of seeing that this teaching is in harmony with human reason.

If you've never read this brief encyclical, you can find the full text of Humanae Vitae here.