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Would aliens have immortal souls?

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A wealth of new questions and speculations have occurred to me. Non-intelligent alien life would be theologically no more remarkable than life on earth. The really important question applies to another race or species of intelligent aliens.

Angels: Known aliens

Some theological background is called for here. In Catholicism, there is a difference between creatures with immortal spirits and creatures without. The two known "races" of creatures with spirits are angels, which are pure spirit with no body, and humans, which are both bodily and spiritual creatures. Each human's spirit is called a soul. All other known creatures are animals, and are entirely mortal.

Angels are intelligent, rational beings. In a sense, as a wholly separate race of thinking beings, they are aliens. When most people think of another intelligent race, they usually think of creatures with bodies, not pure spirits like angels. Nevertheless, angels can give us some insight into what God's relationship with a race of thinking, breathing aliens might be like.

Angels' and humans' relationships with God have a central theme in common: both have free will, so each individual can choose whether to serve God or to reject him. In fact, in all of known creation, free will, the ability to reason, and immortality are a package deal. Assuming God stayed with that pattern another intelligent race would have the same attributes, and thus aliens may have immortal souls.

The fall of man, the fall of angels, the fall of aliens?

Both humans and angels were subjected to a fall, an opportunity to decide whether to follow or to reject God. In angels, the fall was individual, while in humans it is collective. In both cases, however, it results the from the free will of the creatures in question, not from divine imposition. So it is possible that a theoretical race of aliens might not have fallen. They might, essentially, exist in their version of Eden.

But perhaps there is a race, or even many races, of fallen aliens. If their fall was collective like ours, it is a sure bet that God would redeem them, as he did for humans. This thought leads to some wild speculation and fanciful theology about whether God's Son could have been sent (and incarnated) separately for each race, or whether Jesus, the human incarnation, was meant to redeem aliens as well as humans. The potential for accidental heresy is high here, so I will desist from speculating at this point.

Rational but soulless beings?

Earlier I mentioned that free will, rationality, and immortality are always tied together in that part of creation known to humans. It may be, though, that God has created rational beings without immortal souls. They may be able to perform feats of logic, to speak and understand language, and to solve problems even better than humans can, yet may be entirely mortal. In that case, aliens would be nothing more than clever animals. Their ability to out-think humans would be analogous to a horses' ability to outrun us, or fishes' ability to outswim us.

A final note

All this speculation is nothing more than a mental exercise. While Catholics are certainly permitted to believe in intelligent aliens, they are not required to do so. In the case that aliens exist only in human imagination, it is an entirely moot point.

Read the whole Aliens and Origins series here. Make sure you don't miss upcoming posts by subscribing.


Trivia #2


More Friday Trivia!

  1. What is the name of the mental illness in which an individual has more than one "personality" and switches among them, often without knowing it?

  2. Say you had a hydrogen car. Would would come out of the tailpipe?

  3. What's the Catholic term for what Freud called the "id"? (Hint: It starts with a C.)

  4. Who is this guy?Mystery man with beard

  5. And who is this guy?Mystery man without beard

To make sure you get the answers, subscribe to this blog. Do you enjoy trivia posts? Leave a comment if you would like to see trivia become a regular feature here.


The science behind renewable petroleum

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How does a biotechnology company like the ones described here make petroleum from plants? And what effect will all this new petroleum have on global warming?

All fossil fuels contain energy stored in the form of hydrocarbons. Different hydrocarbons have different uses. Methane, the simplest hydrocarbon, is the main component of natural gas, while various complex hydrocarbons make up petroleum. Gas and petroleum refiners process these hydrocarbons into an array of fuels like gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel.

The hydrocarbon in fossil fuels began as a different type of molecule, carbohydrate. This carbohydrate was produced by plants, then converted by a geological process to hydrocarbon. So far, fossil fuels have been the only game in town for obtaining hydrocarbon. Renewable fuels currently in use, such as ethanol, belong to yet another chemical class and do not have the properties that make hydrocarbon so useful as a fuel source.

Producing renewable hydrocarbon begins with naturally occurring microbes called methanogens. (Technically, methanogens are not bacteria, although they are commonly described as such.) These microbes are found in many environments, including the guts of many animals, such as cattle and humans. Here they are notorious for the gas they produce as they feed on indigestible organic compounds.

These microbes convert one type of organic compound (carbohydrate) to another (hydrocarbon). The chemical pathways to do this are already in place, and through genetic engineering, biotechnologists aim to make organisms that produce different kinds of hydrocarbons which can be refined into fuel.

Plants are mostly made of a type of carbohydrate called cellulose, which is the favorite food of these microbes. This means that almost all plant products, including waste like straw, stover, and sawdust, can theoretically be converted into fuel.

Burning fossil fuels increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because the carbon was stored in the fuel, then released when the fuel is burned. Renewable hydrocarbons, on the other hand, have no net effect on atmospheric carbon dioxide. This is because the plants at the beginning of the cycle made their cellulose out of carbon they removed from the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide released when renewable hydrocarbons burn is equal to the amount that was previously removed by the plant sources. Therefore, these fuels not only have a practically limitless supply, they do not contribute directly to levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide thought to be involved in global warming. Their "carbon footprint" consists only of the carbon released by refining and transporting them. If these processes can be made to take their energy from renewables, the carbon footprint will theoretically be zero.


More bacteria making petroleum: LS9 and Amyris join Bell BioEnergy

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Bell BioEnergy was previously mentioned here as a start-up whose goal is to produce petroleum from agricultural waste using genetically engineered bacteria. This is a searingly hot technology field, and Bell BioEnergy has competitors: LS9, Inc. and Amyris Biotechnologies.

LS9 claims it will produce gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel from materials such as sugarcane and "cellulosic biomass" (such as sawdust and straw) by feeding them to a "proprietary microbe."1 A population of this microbe ferments these into oil that can be refined into various types of fuels. About a year ago, LS9 estimated the timeframe to bring these products to market at three to five years.2

Amyris Biotechnologies states that its gasoline and diesel substitutes "will be made from the same feedstocks and production plants that are used to make ethanol."3 In the U.S., that feedstock is corn, while sugar from sugarcane or beets is most prominent in the rest of the world.4 Corn and sugar are not nearly as compelling as fuel sources as agricultural waste; nevertheless, the Amyris product will be fully renewable like the others.

The UK's Times Online claims that LS9 is one of "several companies in or near Silicon Valley" to enter the renewable petroleum business;5 it may be referring to Amyris, in Emeryville. Silicon Valley seems to be a curious place to find either an agricultural concern or an energy company, although the high technology involved in creating the microbes suits it just fine.

These Silicon Valley companies boast founders with impeccable academic pedigrees and impressive venture capital funding. Contrast that with Bell BioEnergy's roots hawking powdered peanut butter from a Georgia farm. The race to produce the first renewable petroleum-based fuels on an industrial scale promises lots of drama.


  1. LS9, Inc. website.
  2. Neil Savage, Technology Review. "Making Gasoline from Bacteria" (August 1, 2007). Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  3. Amyris Biotechnologies website.
  4. James Jacobs, Ag Economist. "Ethanol from Sugar" (n.d.). United States Department of Agriculture.
  5. Times Online."Scientists find bugs that eat waste and excrete petrol" (June 14, 2008).


The origin of life and the first cell

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A modern cell, even of a simple organism like a bacterium, is intensely complicated. The cell membrane is studded with receptors like keyholes that allow sophisticated communication among cells. The cytoplasm, the fluid making up the interior of the cell, hosts elaborate biochemical pathways that process and propagate biological signals. Complex structures called ribosomes are like sliding clamps with integrated information readers; they produce new proteins in assembly-line fashion.

Proponents of the pseudo-scientific theory "Intelligent Design" (ID) use the above examples as evidence to suggest that no natural process could have resulted in a cell. In ID, cells are purported to be "irreducibly complex," meaning they cannot function in the simpler forms that would be expected according to the theory of evolution.

One cannot prove a negative; a single example to the contrary falsifies a negative statement. Inconveniently for ID proponents, recent research is working steadily to falsify this particular negative statement.

While modern cells possess the array of machinery described above and more, no researcher has ever shown that all of it is absolutely necessary for life to exist. According to one astrobiologist, Peter Ward, the bare minimum for a cell to live, metabolize, and reproduce may be no more than a membrane to separate cell contents from its surroundings and a bit of genetic material.* And Scientific American recently reported that Harvard Medical School researchers have caused this type of structure to arise spontaneously in a test tube. They mixed certain organic molecules (ones thought to have been around in earth's early pre-life days) in a test tube of water.

The result seems like wildly optimistic science fiction: some of the molecules (lipids, which are the building blocks of oil and fat and which don't mix with water) spontaneously formed a "pouch" with another molecule (DNA) inside, then more molecules (nucleic acids, building blocks of DNA) spontaneously crossed the barrier, and the DNA spontaneously replicated.

Did I mention that all this took place spontaneously, with no tinkering from an intelligence? Not only that, it required no more than 24 hours. Chalk up a blow to the argument that the cell is irreducibly complex.

*Actually, Ward suggests the minimum definition of life may be considerably less even than that. I am currently reading, and must recommend, his book Life As We Do Not Know It: The NASA Search for (and Synthesis of) Alien Life.
Read the whole Aliens and Origins series here. Make sure you don't miss upcoming posts by subscribing.


New blog! It's The Road to Black


If you sort through this blog's archives, you may notice a pattern in the subject matter: it starts out broad, then gradually narrows to the current focus, science and religion. I think the organic but long process of finding a niche has come to an end. Leave the lights on has found its place.

But there are still a lot of really great posts in the archives — or at least, posts I really like. And there are subjects not directly related to faith or science that I would like to write about from time to time. Meanwhile, I have been toying for a while with an idea for a new blog about my halting efforts to reach personal financial freedom.

So The Road to Black is born. The name comes from the path to having a balance sheet in the black rather than in the red. It is also the new home of all my other writing, from the several series I've written about reality TV to sharing (and seeking) household tips. Many old posts have been moved there. While all links still work and the text is still here, you can now only comment on these old posts on The Road to Black.

Subscribe to both blogs! Or pick the one you would rather read. Feedburner can accomodate you:


Can you believe in aliens if you are Catholic?

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To the typical Catholic, this question is not even very interesting, let alone important. But to a small group of Catholics — and not just the Roswell-following crowd — it deserves intense attention.

The short answer to the question is, "Yes." Belief in extraterrestrial life is not contrary to Catholicism. The corollary is that if extraterrestrial life were discovered, Catholicism would not be thus falsified.

Father Gabriel Funes, director of the Vatican Observatory, announced in the article "Aliens Are My Brother" that any alien life form would be just as much a part of creation as life on earth. The article itself is no longer available online, but according to the BBC, Fr. Funes even speculated that intelligent aliens may be free from the effects of original sin — that is, they may still live in their equivalent of the Garden of Eden.

Contrast that with the belief of certain Creationists. The staunch Creationist organization Answers in Genesis came to a far different conclusion about even non-intelligent extraterrestrial life:

However, the notion of alien life does not square well with Scripture. The earth is unique. God designed the earth for life (Isaiah 45:18). The other planets have an entirely different purpose than does the earth, and thus, they are designed differently.
(Hat-tip to the Blue Collar Scientist.)

The Bible verse refers to God "not creating it [the Earth] to be a waste, but designing it to be lived in." Based on this verse, a formal logical fallacy called "denying the antecedent" underlies this argument:
  • If God created a planet for the express purpose of being lived in, then it will have life.
  • God created other planets for another purpose.
  • Therefore, other planets do not have life.
I would like to point out that Isaiah 45:18 does not say that the earth is unique, nor that the other planets were created for another purpose.

You can believe in aliens and still be a good Catholic. Apparently, however, you cannot believe in aliens and still be a good Protestant Fundamentalist.

Read the whole Aliens and Origins series here. Make sure you don't miss upcoming posts by subscribing.


Aliens and Origins

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Aliens and Origins is a new occasional series on the origin of life, extraterrestrial life, and the creation of the universe.

Is there a topic you would like to see covered in this series? Would you like to write a guest post? If so, post a comment or send me an e-mail. (See my profile for my e-mail address.)

Posts in this series:

The graphic for this series was developed from a photograph of stromatolites published by the National Park Service of the United States Government. This pre-Cambrian formation is thought to be about 3.5 billion years old, which would mean life on Earth originated almost a billion years earlier than previously thought.


Arguments to avoid


Wikipedia has so many discussions among its editing community, with so many bad rhetorical strategies repeating themselves, that it has developed a number of pages on "arguments to avoid" in discussions. For instance, for deletion discussions, the participant is advised on such esoterical problems as "notability fallacies" and "meta-reasoning."

In Internet discussions relating to more philosophical matters, particularly religion and science (both of them subjects of this blog), there are a lot of tired and false arguments that seduce intelligent people. Here are a few:

Argument by sneer.

Discussions of religion touch very deep in the people's hearts and psyches, and it can be easy to fall into the trap of seeing one's perceived opponents, or their positions, as stupid, wrong, ridiculous. Thus is born the argument by sneer. Its hallmarks are sarcasm and a patronizing tone.

The fallacy: Insulting a position does not make it false.

The ad hominem attack.

In an ad hominem attack, the argument is directed against the character of a person holding a position, rather than against the position. In a milder version, it may be a form of the association fallacy: Would you want to share an opinion with so-and-so despicable person? A more virulent version is an assertion of "poisoned thinking": So-and-so is so despicable that everything he thinks of is tainted!

The fallacy: An argument is not falsified when it is promoted by an undesirable person.

The extrapolated ad hominem attack.

The expanded version of the ad hominem attack may apply to an entire organization. In the wake of the sex-abuse scandals, it was frequently applied to the Catholic Church; many people rejected its teachings and philosophies because of bad actors within the Church.

The fallacy: The value of an group's ideals is not nullified by those who do not act by those ideals.
Corrollary: Don't judge a book by its hypocrites.

The reductio ad Hitlerum.

This is a special case of the association fallacy. It goes as follows: "Hitler supported X, therefore X is evil." Its inverse is "Hitler opposed X, therefore X is good." A cynical way to refute the association fallacy is to observe, "Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while."

The fallacy: The value of an argument is not affected by the moral character of a person who espouses it.

The unintentional straw man.

A proponent of an argument may, due to ignorance, misrepresent the argument. Her opponent falsifies the misrepresentation, and on that basis declares the original argument false. Unlike the classic "straw man" attack, no mendacity is involved. The solution is to do your research when arguing against a position.

The fallacy: If Y is not equal to X, falsifying Y does not refute X.

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The nature of human suffering

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Jennifer F. of "Et tu?" has started a new series called "Half Baked Thought Thursday," which in effect consists of a weekly thought experiment for her readers. For the inaugural post of the series, she wrote:

What about fearing other people's suffering (or potential suffering) on their behalf -- how can we be deeply compassionate and helpful without falling into the dangerous "your life isn't worth living" territory?

I see two motives for the desire to prevent the suffering of others: the belief that suffering is an affront to the dignity of the human person, and the belief that suffering is evil. Superficially, they don't sound very different, but there is actually all the difference in the world.

If suffering is evil, then suffering should be avoided at all costs. If another person is suffering, then ending that suffering is the highest priority. Healing is the best option, but if that is not possible, other options should be considered -- drugging the sufferer into oblivion, drastic permanent treatments, even euthanasia. The trouble with this view is that it is unbalanced; if suffering is evil, then all other possibilities -- even killing! -- are on the table.

If suffering is an affront to human dignity, then it is only one entry on a list of affronts. The list includes mutilation, murder, and sedation. The list can be ranked in order of offensiveness, with murder at the top; the other items on the list can be balanced against each other for each individual case. For an epileptic not responding to medication, perhaps "mutilation" by brain surgery is less offensive to human dignity than the suffering caused by the seizures. For a person in chronic pain, perhaps drug sedation is less of an affront than the suffering caused by constant agony.

In either case, a spiritual view of suffering allows good to be drawn from the evil. A person may even volunteer to suffer or accept involuntary suffering heroically in order to accomplish that good. Christ certainly did. But it should not be forgotten that suffering is still an objectively bad thing.

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10 Myths of Mental Illness from World of Psychology


John Grohol, the primary author of Psych Central's blog World of Psychology, has an excellent post up listing ten myths of mental illness. Be sure to check it out!

For further reading:


Trivia answers


Last week's trivia questions were real stumpers! Anna got two 1/2 correct, which is very good. I wonder if I would have done as well. (Obviously, I picked questions I already knew the answer to.) Here are the answers.

But first, I want your trivia questions! Post them in a comment and see how many people can come up with the. (The more Google-proof the question, the better... in other words, try not to include hints that can be used as Google keywords.) Don't forget to come back later with the answers.

  1. Anna was correct with "hammer." These are the English names of the bones of the inner ear: malleus (hammer), incus (anvil), and stapes (stirrup).
  2. Anna was on the right track. These are quark flavor quanta. (It took me ten minutes of research to figure out what to call them.) Technically, "up" and "down" are both part of isospin. It would have been more correct to give a list of five, not six: isospin, top, bottom, charm, ___, where the blank is strange (or "strangeness"). You cannot possibly guess this. You just have to know it.
  3. Anna was correct with ciborium. A tabernacle is a box or cabinet, not a covered vessel.
  4. What? Nobody knows the infamous work of Jack Chick when they see it?

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If it prohibits free speech, is it an oppressive regime?

This post has been moved to my other blog, The Road to Black. To post a comment, visit the link.


  • A government concerned with promoting its ideology, but not with protecting free expression.
  • A minority religious group with radical views.

Minority religious group expresses its radical views. These views are in opposition to government's ideology. Government intervenes to curtail religious group's expression of said radical views.

Can you guess where this drama took place?
    1. China
    2. Iran
    3. North Korea
    4. Canada

If you said Canada, you are correct! Here are the ugly details:

The minority religious group is the Concerned Christian Coalition and its leader, Stephen Boissoin. The ideologues are the Human Rights Panel of Alberta. Please do not be misled by the name; the Human Rights Panel of Alberta is not particularly concerned with promoting human rights, at least not as they are defined in the United States. The Human Rights Panel of Alberta is in the business of making sure nobody's feelings get hurt.

Enter a third character: Dr. Darren E. Lund. Dr. Lund's feelings did get hurt, as a result of Mr. Boissoin free expression of his radical views. The Human Rights Panel of Alberta does not call Mr. Boissoin's speech "free expression" or even "radical"; it calls it hate propaganda. And certainly, it may very well be the worst kind of hate propaganda; the published decision does not discuss the content of Mr. Boissoin's speech, so the commentator cannot draw her own conclusions.

The Panel does express a radical view of its own in ordering as follows:

That Mr. Boissoin and The Concerned Christian Coalition Inc. shall cease publishing in newspapers, by email, on the radio, in public speeches, or on the internet, in future, disparaging remarks about gays and homosexuals.

Note that the defendants are not prohibited from publishing "hate propaganda" -- only from publicly making "disparaging remarks." The word disparaging means "insulting."

So our neighbor to the north has prohibited insults. Canada truly is a foreign country, since it holds to the concept, foreign to Americans, that protecting noxious speech is not a necessary part of protecting a free society.

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Toward establishing a baseline for universal health care

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Catholic Mom, who is also a physician, has a good perspective on the issue of universal access to health care. In a recent post, she wrote:

[T]here is no universal definition of health care. Everyone is shouting for universal health care but I haven’t heard anyone define what that means.…

I do believe that it is objectively possible but politically perilous to define what is basic health care.… I also know that if basic health care is accurately defined based on scientific evidence, there will be great wailing and gnashing of teeth as people find out their favorite medical option is not included in a taxpayer funded medical plan.
That is a harsh reality that any politician trying to institute a national health care system will have to face. How do you devise a plan that satisfies enough Americans to be politically viable, yet which is small enough to remain manageable?

In the United Kingdom, a national health care system was established early, as health care technology and cost first began to increase. The national health care provider network and the government system that paid for it grew together organically, and that is reflected in the way its citizens look at health care.

In the U.S., we look at health care a bit differently. There has never been a baseline standard, but rather a spectrum: at one end, no insurance, followed by sickness and accident plans, high deductible plans, and various PPOs and HMOs. At the far end of the spectrum lie comprehensive plans, some of which pay 100% of the cost of services.

If I put on my idealist's hat, I might say that a panel of experienced physicians and former hospital administrators with absolutely no conflicts of interest -- including no membership in professional organizations that have the ear of Congress -- would sit in a room, isolated from public opinion, and devise a baseline plan. Even a person wholly innocent of cynicism can see that this is not possible, in part because in a physician, "experienced" and "no membership in professional organizations" are mutually exclusive conditions.

We will not be able to ensure affordable yet universal access to minimum health care until we begin an honest national conversation on what it should cover. And with the number and power of lobbying groups that exist in the health care industry, I wonder whether such a conversation is even possible.

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Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

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Ben Stein has an impressive curriculum vitae: presidential speechwriter, actor, comedian, social commentator, game show host, attorney, author. Now he has added "filmmaker" to that list with his documentary film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Its central premise is that the theory of intelligent design (ID) is better than the theory of Darwinian evolution, but "Big Science" refuses acknowledge that fact. Like the medieval Church, it excommunicates any academic who questions Darwinian dogma or advocates for ID.

I have not had the opportunity to see the film (it isn't playing in my city), so I will base my commentary on reviews and materials from the Expelled website. I'll start with the two-minute "Super Trailer," which opens with this dialogue between a teacher and Stein, who is sitting in the back of the classroom:

Teacher: Moving through history in an unguided and undesigned way, the theory of evolution --
Stein: Excuse me!
Teacher: Yes, Ben.
Stein: How did life begin in the first place?
Teacher: Mr. Stein. You have the same question every time.
Stein: Well, you never answer it, sir.
Teacher: (sputtering) You know, we've been through this so many times, you have been so --
Stein: Could there have been an intelligent designer? (cue electric guitar solo)

The film has been accused of being propaganda rather than a documentary by the site "Expelled Exposed," and this conversation between a cool, collected Stein and a caricature of a hapless teacher certainly supports that assertion.

The trailer continues with interview snippets from what are presumably supposed to be academics disgraced by their belief in ID, and then a choppy bit of an interview about the origin of life that reeks of out-of-context editing. It ends with some indignant comments about those people, including (heaven forfend!) the National Academy of Sciences, who insist on the separation of religious and scientific thought. Stein complains, "There are people out there who want to keep science in a little box, where it can't possibly touch a higher power, cannot possibly touch God."

This trailer has two main themes -- that scientists can't answer questions about the origin of life, and that science and religion are improperly kept separate -- both of which I strenuously disagree with. (Lest I be accused of taking things out of context, feel free to peruse the official overview of the film.)

I'll start with the second theme about the separation of science and faith. Religion and science have both different methods and different ends. Since both seek truth, they can never contradict each other when conducted properly, but neither do they answer the same question. Religion is ordered to learning about God and his relationship with us, and about sanctification -- ultimately, about all things supernatural. Science is ordered to learning about Creation -- all things natural. The scope and methodology of science is such that it is impossible for it to make conclusions about religious topics. If science attempts to explain a miracle -- a supernatural suspension of natural law -- it cannot call that event a miracle, only declare it "unexplained so far."

So yes, science absolutely should be kept in a little box where it can't touch supernatural things. That is its proper place. And religion properly should touch on only those aspects of the natural world that affect our relationship with God, and leave the rest to science.

The exact historical process by which the first living DNA cells originated is one of those events that belong to science. Religion can tell us only that God was the ultimate cause; science alone can (possibly) discover the method. And in only the last few years, new discoveries have begun to shed light on this method. We may someday (soon, even) have a pretty good idea of the nitty-gritty chemistry that sparked the first DNA life.

But there is another issue that begs to be addressed. Regardless of how the first life came into being, whether a natural process or an ex nihilo fiat, the origin of life actually has no bearing at all on Darwinian evolution. Evolution is concerned with what happens to life that already exists. In other words, even if the origin of life can never be explained naturalistically, evolution by natural selection is not thereby invalidated.

The information available to me about this film does not make me hopeful that it contains much scientific investigation. I rather suspect it will follow the fallacy that if you say something loudly and often enough, it will come true.

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Trivia: Complete this trio


Instead of a "media" post as is usual for Friday, here are some trivia questions for your weekend! Leave a comment with your answers. No peeking!

  1. What is the third member of the group "anvil, stirrup, ____"?
  2. What is the sixth member of the group "up, down, top, bottom, charm, ____"?
  3. In Catholicism, what is the name of the covered vessel used to store consecrated hosts?
  4. Identify this:

Did you enjoy this trivia post? Would you like to see more posts like this? Leave a comment!

For more trivia stuff, click here.

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Right to health care: One working definition

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Ascension Healthcare is a non-profit, Catholic health insurer. Its definition of "Healthcare Ethics" succinctly states an answer to the question, "Is there a right to health care?"

From the perspective of Catholic moral teaching, the "right to health care" for all is not an optional stance. Rather, the right to health care is a human right founded on human dignity and the common good. Considered as such, health care is more than a commodity in so far as it is an essential safeguard of human life and dignity that ought to be provided for and to everyone. This absolute right to health care, however, should not be understood as an unlimited entitlement, but as a right that carries with it corresponding duties regarding justice, stewardship and the common good.

According to this stance, there is a right to health care that aims to preserve human life and dignity. I understand this statement as saying that there is also a duty of patients to cooperate with their health care, which answers Mile Hi Mama's concerns about noncompliance.

Years ago, I read a newspaper story about the undue feeling of entitlement shared by many Americans. The author wrote about a woman she had met who was being treated for infertility. She felt the health care establishment should do whatever it took for her to get pregnant, because that is what she needed to be happy, and the Declaration of Independence gives Americans the right to happiness.

Of course, there is no right to happiness in this world. The Declaration of Independence asserts a right to pursuit of happiness. And theologically, complete happiness is a privilege bought with Christ's blood and available only after death.

Similarly, a right to health care should not be confused with a right to health at all costs, as the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life pointed out three years ago. There cannot be a right to health at all costs because such a right would be at times contrary to the rights of others and to the common good. For example, a person needing a kidney transplant does not have a right to the kidney of a healthy person; it must be freely donated.

I am adopting Ascension Health's statement as my position on the right to health care. It is balanced by considerations of stewardship over available resources and the common good, and it makes good use of Catholic moral reasoning.

Do you agree with Ascension Health's statement? If not, what do you think is wrong with it?

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Baby Borrowers sponsors: One down

This post has been moved to my other blog, The Road to Black. To post a comment, visit the link.

An update on the countdown:

As of today, Realityworks, Inc. is no longer listed as a sponsor of "The Baby Borrowers" on NBC's website. There are 32 sponsors still on the list.

Creative Commons License

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Bacteria generated hydrocarbons: A possible energy crisis solution

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Bacteria can be useful things. Billions of years ago, they made the oxygen we breathe. They help us both produce and digest food. They even help clean up oil spills by eating the hydrocarbons.

If there are bacteria to eat hydrocarbons, why not bacteria to produce them? That's the question asked by J.C. Bell of Bell Plantation, an agricultural research group whose main product appears to be powdered peanut butter. (Huh?) Its original purpose is to follow in the footsteps of George Washington Carver by creating new uses for peanuts, and Bell seems to have come up with a whopper of a use for peanuts and other "recoverable biomass": give it to cloned bacteria that can convert it into hydrocarbons.

To this end, he has started a new company, Bell BioEnergy, to develop not only a process, but also significant production capacity. Columnist Dan Calabrese quoted an ambitious Bell in a piece last May as saying his company is poised within two years to produce as much as 500,000 barrels of hydrocarbon fuel -- per day.

If Bell achieves even a fraction of his goal, Bell BioEnergy could become the most influential new American company of the century. But there's no word on how abundant, cheap, domestically produced oil will affect polar bears.

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How do you help yourself if you rely on God?

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I was trying to explain to someone the other day how God wants us to rely on him for all our wants and needs. "But God helps those who help themselves," he pointed out.

"Well, it's about our attitude," I answered lamely.

But the truth is that I was at a bit of a loss. How does one reconcile the need to not only trust God, but to rely on him, with the need to be responsible and adult?

I was given the answer this morning: The solution is service. We rely on God, but in turn we are to serve him. This is how we take care of our duties while at the same time casting our needs on him.

A life of service is contrary to American values. This is the land of the self-made man, the home of the rags-to-riches story. Our culture tells us to do everything ultimately in service to ourselves -- an ideal that appeals very much to our fallen nature.

To let go of that message requires two simultaneous steps: abandon our cares to God, and commit ourselves to his service. This lifestyle is not reserved only to St. Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa; every Christian is called to it.

It's easier said than done. I'm still struggling against it in many ways — my own nature is no less fallen than anyone else's. But it's good to formulate and meditate on the ideal to help open our hearts to it.

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