Archive for February, 2012

Part I here.

After this post, we’ll gather on Wednesday’s and Saturdays for new posts in this series.

Charles Darwin never knew about DNA, or genes, or genetics. DNA and protein, as well as the debate about which was the genetic material came after Darwin. The definitive experiment showing DNA as the genetic material was performed in 1952 by Hershey and Chase, a mere eight years before I was born. No, Darwin didn’t have any of the knowledge that contaminates our perspective on him. We can be so smug and self-assured when we look back on Darwin and his contemporaries.

To do this conversation justice, we must enter into Darwin’s world as it was, and see that world through his eyes.

Young Darwin was actually a medical student who became taken with the field of natural history. It was a dynamic age in naturalism and, contrary to popular belief, Darwin was NOT the first to propose that life evolved. There were actually many before him, many who backed down under threats of excommunication from civil society and some from their churches. The most prominent proponent who advanced a scientific hypothesis of evolution was Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de la Marck. We know him today simply as, Lamarck.

Lamarck lived from 1744-1729, dying two years before twenty-two year-old Charles Darwin would set sail on his famous five-year voyage aboard the HMS Beagle. Lamarck proposed that life evolved by organisms developing adaptations to their environment and then passing them on to their offspring. Today he is remembered in most biology classes as the fool who got it wrong. In reality, Lamarck was a brilliant invertebrate biologist who coined both the terms invertebrate and biology. Lamarck established most of the taxonomic trees for invertebrates, and is widely regarded in the field as one of the fathers of the field. Back to Darwin.

As a young and budding naturalist, Darwin was afforded the opportunity to sail aboard the HMS Beagle in 1831 (Recall that Darwin would not publish Origin of the Species until 1859). It was a time of great exploration and scientific documentation of the flora and fauna of distant lands, of geology and anthropology. The discovery of fossils and the observations of sedimentary rock containing those fossils was a hot topic. It was observed that sediments form at certain rates, and that sedimentary layers of rock could not have formed in the time since Sunday, 23 October 4004 BC, which was Bishop Usher’s biblical calculation of when the world was created.

The concept of geologic time outside of Bishop Usher’s frame was pointing toward a planet that was hundreds of millions of years old, at the least. Fossil evidence, it was further noted, indicated that the deepest sedimentary layers had the most primitive looking organisms, while organisms generally increased in size and complexity in the newer, more surface sedimentary layers.

Darwin carried with him on the Beagle Volume 1 of Principles of Geology, by the foremost geologist of the day, Charles Lyell. Darwin received Volume 2 when he reached South America. Lyell had Darwin do investigations for him, and it is fair to say that Darwin came away much more convinced of evolution based on the geology than did Lyell. In fact, Lyell disagreed with Darwin, and only gave grudging and tepid acceptance of modification by natural selection after Origin of the Species was published. Lyell would write in his 1863 book, Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man that it remained a profound mystery how man bridged the evolutionary divide between himself and the beasts. So not all scientists were of one accord in Darwin’s day, not even his great friend Lyell.

Regarding Darwin’s famous voyage on HMS Beagle, I’m rereading it for the first time in years. However, there is an excellent site with an interactive map of Darwin’s voyage that nicely summarizes each phase of the journey.

Get it here.

It’s worth doing a little reading at that site, as we’ll begin to systematize Darwin’s findings in our next post.

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WARNING!!! This is graphic stuff and NOT meant for children’s eyes.

Planned Parenthood, contrary to their claims, does all they can to break down children’s natural modesty in order to get them addicted to sex. American Life League has done a masterful job at putting it all together.

H/T Jill Stanek

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Rethinking Ash Wednesday

Some of the loudest lamentations of this penitential season come not from the laity, but from the clergy. Specifically, the churches packed on Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday when people who don’t darken a church door all year arrive, “to get something for free.”

I understand their frustration and also see within it a missed opportunity, especially on Ash Wednesday. More on that in a moment. Here are some happenings from a friend’s parish yesterday.

One of my friends who is a pastor has decided to tie the distribution of ashes to the mass. When one of the priests distributed ashes after the homily, more than 60% of the Church cleared out before the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

At another mass, when ashes were to be distributed after mass had ended, a man came up the communion line and when the host was extended to him replied, “I don’t want that. I’m here for ashes.” (At that mass, everyone stayed for the entire mass in order to receive ashes at the end.)

What was missing there, and at a great many churches yesterday, was the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I’ve often heard it said that it would be too much all in one day. I disagree.

Perhaps tying the reception of ashes to the Sacrament of Reconciliation wouldn’t be a bad idea. Perhaps through a penance service. Yesterday, I saw a church packed to the rafters (literally) sit through an entire noon mass in order to receive their ashes.

What is needed is a stemwinder of a homily on the Last Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven, Hell. Tying that in with the opportunity in the present moment to receive another free gift, God’s forgiveness and mercy, might not be a bad way to go. Having several priests on hand to hear confessions (doable in most areas with a little creativity) might well yield surprising results.

It might also be beneficial to offer Reconciliation at times that dovetail more with contemporary schedules than the 1930’s Saturday afternoon-only.

There is something that draws such crowds on Ash Wednesday, a spark that needs to be gently nurtured into something a bit brighter and more intense. It’s easy to become discouraged and even cynical. However, many of these people will not be seen for another year, and what holds them back is the power of guilt and sin.

We must encounter them not on the terms of our predilections, but where they are at in their journey. If Ash Wednesday is the only day of the year they can be expected to be in Church, then we should be waiting with what they need most:


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Contemplating Lent and Imperfection

One of my favorite actors, for a host of reasons, is Peter O’Toole. I recently viewed a video of him being interviewed by David Letterman in 2007. At one point in the interview Letterman asks O’Toole if he ever thought of an epitaph to leave the world when he’s gone.

O’Toole, who has led a rather colorful life of alcohol-related antics, replied that the epitaph came to him in a note from a dry cleaner in the 1960’s. He recounted the story of a favorite leather jacket that had seen all of his antics and was covered in “Guinness, blood, and vomit. The ususl.” O’Toole sent the Jacket to the cleaners and it came back with a note pinned on it, which read:

“It distresses us to return work which is not perfect.”

I love it!

It is the plaintive cry of the struggling sinner. O’Toole is a brilliant Shakespearean actor who has struggled mightily for decades with alcohol. In 1987 I saw him on Broadway in a production of Pygmalian. It was a graduation gift from my brother, and I sat in the third row, center Orchestra. O’Toole was wrecked, and I winced as I saw him struggling to carry on. If I was disappointed at first, I found myself silently praying and pulling for him. He didn’t quit.

He never has.

That’s what makes him so lovable and endearing to so many, I think. His struggles, because of his work, are out there for all the world to see. His response to Letterman was the perfect deflection of harsh judgement, if any were to come his way. The man knows his imperfections better than anyone.

On the night before Lent, it is a time for me to contemplate my own imperfections. As I contemplate them I think of how often my imperfections, my own shortcomings as a human being have enfolded me in paralyzing fear and guilt and have prevented me from becoming all I can be, all that God has called me to be.

I admire O’Toole. He has failed repeatedly, yet he keeps coming on. It’s a lesson that I have been slow to learn. The turning point for me was when my best friend, Father Steven Clark said to me that Confession isn’t all about my sins. It’s about God’s Love and Mercy.

It’s about the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son who is waiting on the road for his son to return, waiting with a heart that is at once broken, yet filled with hope.

It’s about that heart bursting with joy at the sight of his broken son returning.

It’s about the father calling for a feast and begging for reconciliation within the family, a father wild with joy.

Yes, Lent is a time to focus on that which keeps me from drawing closer to God, and to work toward eradicating it. But the focus can’t be all about my sin to the exclusion of the sight of a Father wild with joy at the sight of me returning with my rehearsed script of unworthiness, and not even hearing what I’m saying as He calls for a feast in celebration.

I’ve learned that, too, by my own experience as a father. I know of my own wild and passionate love for my children, and know that God is not less loving, less forgiving than I am. My fatherly love is a mere shadow of the Father’s Love.

So, while I share the sentiment’s in O’Toole’s epitaph, my distress at one day returning work which is not perfect is tempered by the realization that a Father wild with joy awaits me on the road.

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It’s time that this blog tackle the issue of Charles Darwin, evolution, and the Culture of Death as they relate to one another. I’ll probably succeed in pleasing nobody on any side of this debate, but it’s a discussion that needs to be had by pro-lifers. The issue of Darwinian evolution evokes rather strong sentiments, and I welcome them all. In the words of Churchill, “We can disagree without being disagreeable.”

So, where do we begin? I’d like to begin with the science and then proceed to the philosophical and anthropological consequences.

First, I am a molecular biologist, and I thank God every day for the window into His creative mind that science has given me. If there is one thing that I can say with absolute certitude it is this:

Life Evolves!

That is a wholly separate issue from the question of how life began, and we’ll tackle those issues as well in later posts. However, for now it suffices to say that Darwin and I both happened on the scene quite some time after the appearance of life on this planet and that we both see the evidence for change over time.

It’s hard to see the evidence for change in humans over time, if only because we don’t live long enough to witness it first-hand. That’s why biologists who study evolution like to use organisms with short generation times. Fruit flys have generation times that are mere weeks, and bacteria such as E. coli reproduce every 20 minutes in liquid growth medium when grown at human body temperature.

It’s much easier to see genetic changes over the generations in an organism that reproduces every 20 minutes than in organisms that reproduce every 20 years.

At the cellular and molecular level, we see that DNA recombines in sexually reproducing organisms to create a riot of uniquely different members of the species. This enables the species to survive if some lethal threat arises that some members happen to be resistant to. We see this with antibiotic resistance in bacteria (which do not reproduce sexually).

Perhaps one in a billion bacterial cells might have acquired a mutation, or a gene from another species, that makes the cell resistant to a certain antibiotic (which are made by other organisms). When we take antibiotics, the drug kills the cells that are susceptible and leaves behind the ones that have developed resistance. These cells grow back in the presence of the drug. Over time, with excessive use of that antibiotic in a community, we see that almost all people coming to the hospital with an infection to be afflicted with antibiotic resistant strains.

The resistant strain has become the new norm.

That’s evolution, the endless cycle of mutation, adaptation, reproduction.

The evidence for evolution is so abundant that evolution has become biology’s prism through which all else is filtered. And that leads to evolution rising to the level of a Theory.

In everyday language, the words opinion, theory, idea, belief, hypothesis, conjecture, all tend to be used interchangeably to denote the cognitions of a single individual. In science, the same words have vastly different meaning.

A well-informed idea is called a Hypothesis. We design experiments to test the hypothesis, and the experiments must be designed in such a way that the hypothesis is open to being disproved.

When the same hypothesis is proven repeatedly and universally, it rises to the level of scientific Theory. There are only a handful of ideas that have risen to that level. Einstein’s Relativity is one.

When Theory has all of the wrinkles ironed out, it rises to the level of a scientific Law, and there are only a handful of those: The laws of Thermodynamics and Gravity being examples.

So when we say that Darwinian evolution is a scientific theory, we mean that there is a mountain of evidence to support that idea.

Was Darwin a racist or eugenist? We’ll consider that separately as we tease apart the science of evolution from the philosophical and political consequences that flow from the misapplication of the scientific reality. Today’s blog was just the opening round.

Next time: The core biological ideas surrounding evolution by means of natural selection. It would help if people posted comments here, and not just on FB, as not everyone reading the blog comes through FB. Thanks.

Also, Darwin is getting his own Category in the box on the right.

{Serendipity moment. After publishing this post, WordPress tells me it was the 666th post published on my blog. That ought to mean something to Darwin’s detractors 😉 }

Part II here.

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In my youth, the differences between the Soviet Union and the United States were made abundantly clear to us. We had the freedoms enumerated in the Bill of Rights, and they didn’t. Teens at drive-thru fast food restaurants were iconic of American freedom.

The freedom to recreate our culture through music, food, mobility.

Our fathers fought despotism in World War II and Korea and told us of the communist menace, always juxtaposed with the freedoms for which they fought. We could only imagine the deprivations endured by our peers who were trapped behind the iron curtain. We’d heard of the Soviet commissars with the red stars on their sleeves, whose job it was to enforce all of the myriad dictates of the state in what was a dreary existence. The human spirit withers in the absence of authentic freedom. I thanked God for being an American.

Now after the collapse of the Soviet Empire, the destruction of the Berlin Wall, the flowering of freedom in the former Soviet-bloc nations; we have decided that since we beat them, we should emulate their former system of government.

The America of my middle years increasingly resembles the former Soviet Union, especially as regards the all-out war on religion. More on religion in a moment.

Under our Dear Leader in the White House, we now have Soviet-style commissars who are paid agents of the state, enforcing Department of Health and Human Services food guidelines in preschool by inspecting lunchboxes from home, and seizing the offending food items, supplanting them with state-approved food and billing the family. The following story from Sara Burrows at Carolina Journal Online is chilling:

“A preschooler at West Hoke Elementary School ate three chicken nuggets for lunch Jan. 30 because the school told her the lunch her mother packed was not nutritious.

The girl’s turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice did not meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, according to the interpretation of the person who was inspecting all lunch boxes in the More at Four classroom that day.

“The Division of Child Development and Early Education at the Department of Health and Human Services requires all lunches served in pre-kindergarten programs – including in-home day care centers – to meet USDA guidelines. That means lunches must consist of one serving of meat, one serving of milk, one serving of grain, and two servings of fruit or vegetables, even if the lunches are brought from home.

“When home-packed lunches do not include all of the required items, child care providers must supplement them with the missing ones.

“The girl’s mother – who said she wishes to remain anonymous to protect her daughter from retaliation – said she received a note from the school stating that students who did not bring a ‘healthy lunch’ would be offered the missing portions, which could result in a fee from the cafeteria, in her case $1.25.”

Read the rest here.

That’s not an isolated incident. In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg has decided that trans fats should be outlawed, and so they were. Sales of trans fats in any food in New York is prohibited, even in Twinkies and Devil Dogs! Grannie Bloomberg has also decided that cigarettes are bad for one’s health and raised the price of a pack to $14.50 with new taxes. He has also decreed that all eating establishments, from the finest restaurants to Dunkin’ Donuts, must list the caloric content of each menu item right next to the item on the menu. Soda (pop) machines have been taken from schools, and increased punitive taxation (similar to cigarettes) was proposed for all soda (pop) in New York City. Bloomberg might have gotten away with it, but for the hordes of New Yorkers ready to tar and feather him.

At least soda is safe, for now.

Another New York Moment occurred a few years back when some City employee decided that New Yorkers seeking to escape our 8 1/4% sales tax by shopping in New Jersey (no sales tax on clothes) should have our license plates photographed at New Jersey malls by government commissars, and then some sort of fine be mailed to the offending party. No word on the career of said bureaucrat after that lead balloon crashed.

Then, in California, there was this recent gem:

“One sun-drenched August morning, armed officers wearing sunglasses and bullet-proof vests descended on a market in Venice, Calif., searching for illegally sold goods. It marked the end of a year-long investigation where undercover agents posed as customers.

Their target: raw, unpasteurized milk.

Federal regulators say it’s a dangerous and unnecessary public threat, pointing to 143 cases of contamination linked to still births, miscarriages and kidney failure since 1987, the latest involving five California children. Grassroots, back-to-nature consumers say the product strengthens the immune system by keeping intact good bacteria that’s killed in pasteurized milk. The choice should be theirs, the activists say.“These guns are being drawn on basically aging hippies, all because of illegal milk,” said Ajna Sharma-Wilson, a Los Angeles lawyer for the Venice market owner, in an interview. “This is a waste of taxpayer money.”

Get the rest here, from Bloomberg News!

Enter the HHS mandate and the Catholic Church.

There is actually no better metaphor for Obama’s brand of government in relationship to the Church than what happened to that little girl. The government seized a healthy turkey and cheese sandwich, potato chips, banana, and apple juice and handed the child a plate of chicken nuggets.

When government is permitted to legislate what we may or may not eat, tries to make it a crime to shop where we wish, demands that we be confronted with the caloric content of our food every time we eat out, the Catholic Bishops have an uphill battle on their hands. It isn’t only Obama whom they are fighting.

It is a nation that has quit on itself, a people who have grown weary of freedom and personal responsibility and who are increasingly trading freedom for the meager rations that come with enslavement. We’ve quit the game. The America of my middle years barely resembles the America of my youth. The Greatest Generation, tempered by war and the Great Depression spawned the Me Generation, softened by excess. With the Greatest Generation all but gone, the Me Generation is in charge. My grandmother used to say of the Boomers in our youth, “I’m glad I’ll be dead when they’re in charge.”

I’m beginning to understand why.

We’ve settled for the chicken nuggets.

Narcissism and hedonism breed their own enslavement, and there will never be a shortage of political opportunists who will seize on the desire for freedom without responsibility, ready to stand guard over the prison of our own making. Our clergy, silent for far too long, now fight a two-front war. On the one hand, they must resist the efforts of the government to dictate every facet of life, lest the people not have the requisite freedom to make moral decisions. On the other hand, they must somehow shake people from their narcissistic torpor and instill in them a renewed appreciation for evil and its effects.

Before the bishops can convince the enslaved of the evil of losing their freedom, they need to convince them of their beauty.

We deserve better than chicken nuggets.

When I was a seminarian, Msgr. William Smith would tell us in moral theology class that the freedom of choice would one day become a mandate. We’re seeing that now with the aggressive eugenics in maternal-fetal medicine with extreme pressure to abort being made on mothers of handicapped babies.

The freedom to use contraception will become a mandate once the government is picking up the tab. There is a hidden mandate within the HHS mandate. Our bodies, our families are increasingly becoming the property of the state.

This November we will either begin walking this abuse back, or a new iron curtain will descend.

How ironic that we, the victors of the Cold War, will have done this to ourselves.

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Click the image to enlarge.

The graph tells the story, and comes from Chris Kahlenborn, MD. Dr. Kahlenborn is the founder of the Polycarp Research Institute, which has some excellent materials on the link between oral contraceptives and breast cancer, as well as abortion and breast cancer. Dr. Kahlenborn’s excellent book, Breast Cancer : Its Link to Abortion and the Birth Control Pill was written ten years ago and is a perfect source book for non-scientists. It was Dr. Kahlenborn’s stellar book that drew my interest in this subject and took me from DEEP skeptic to a properly educated and enlightened scientist through his presentation of all the scientific literature. Order it here.

This contraceptive fight is going to be a definitive issue in this presidential election. Dr. Kahlenborn, Dr. Lanfranchi, Dr. Brind, Ms. Karen Malec and others have written extensively on these issues, and a thorough and sustained reading of their work is going to be necessary if we are not going to be written off as religious zealots by those in the middle. The place to begin is with Kahlenborn’s book and his website. It’s an easy read for the layperson.

The individuals just mentioned, and myself, are out here doing the education, but now we need voices. Many more voices.

Perhaps many here have used oral contraceptives in the past, or are using them now. It’s never too late to learn what science and medicine are telling us, and to change our lifestyles; if not by the light of faith, then by the light of empiric evidence.

Our women are being ravaged by breast cancer, and while OC use and abortion don’t account for it all, they account for plenty.

I’m here to educate and answer questions. Let’s get going.

See also, World Health Organization Data on Birth Control Pill and Estrogen Replacement Carcinogenicity

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