The Ecological Conversion

“Without the light of faith, the entire universe finishes shut within a tomb devoid of any future, any hope.”

These are words in this years Message for Lent by Pope Benedict XVI. The term ‘ecological conversion’ has been widely used in Catholic environmental discourse, hinted at in Pope John Paul II’s 1990 World Day of Peace Address on the Environment, and then definitively coined in 2001 in a General Audience. That has been echoed later in other world international events, here and here.

But an ecological conversion presupposes a conversion to the source of ecology (the maker of the oikos, house); the conversion that a human ecology demands: the conversion to God. Lent is a special time for this, and Pope Benedict XVI drives the point home:

“In synthesis, the Lenten journey, in which we are invited to contemplate the Mystery of the Cross, is meant to reproduce within us “the pattern of his death” (Ph 3: 10), so as to effect a deep conversion in our lives;

…By immersing ourselves into the death and resurrection of Christ through the Sacrament of Baptism, we are moved to free our hearts every day from the burden of material things, from a self-centered relationship with the “world” that impoverishes us and prevents us from being available and open to God and our neighbor. In Christ, God revealed himself as Love (cf. 1Jn 4: 7-10). The Cross of Christ, the “word of the Cross”, manifests God’s saving power (cf. 1Cor 1: 18), that is given to raise men and women anew and bring them salvation: it is love in its most extreme form (cf. Encyclical Deus caritas est, n. 12).”

Conversion starts, and conversion ends, with Christ. God alone can deliver us from all of the worlds problems.

John Paul II and Skiing

Here’s a video that shows why Pope John Paul II is considered by some as a ‘patron’ of environmental issues and the outdoors. It is well known that the Pope loved to be outdoors, and did some  of his early apostolate canoeing and hiking as a young priest. I also heard from Vatican insiders that  he occasionally ‘escaped’  and went skiing, as Pope, in the Italian Alps.

The End of the IPCC?

Judy Curry has an interesting post on a a proposed bill to kill US funding for the IPCC, which amounts to $12.5 million a year. Curry’s analysis is interesting, and she suggests that if the US bail, then other countries may follow suit and the IPCC may lose its status on the world climate change scene. This has been advocated before, and many claims of fraud, incompetence and conflict of interests weigh in on the debate.

If this happens, another question would be posed for the USCCB, which relies quite heavily on the IPCC for its science, as to which scientific institution or consensus group, they should rely on. Any ideas?

Climate Change misrepresentation

Roger Pielke Jr. has 2 very good posts on recent mis-attributions of weather phenomena to climate change. The first one questions John Holdren’s, Obama’s science advisor, attribution of climate change to increase in floods and powerful storms. Roger’s answer: No way. Read it here.

The other is a piece on 2 articles published in Nature, where Roger critically tackles them and shows why attributions of flood damage in England to climate change are incorrect. A good example of critical thinking and carefull analysis. See it here.



Ratzinger and Habermas… again

In the most recent publication by Pope Benedict XVI, which is actually a collection of interviews by Peter Seewald called Light of the World, German philosopher Jurgen Habermas is mentioned once again. The context is the question about the relevance of faith to modern life, an issue which both Ratzinger and Habermas have been and are engaging carefully. Below the quote:

“Often this One [Christ] who is coming has been presented in formulas that, while true, are nevertheless at the same time outmoded. They no longer speak to our living situation and are often no longer comprehensible to us… We must therefore try in fact to express the substance as such– but to say it in a new way. Jurgen Habermas has remarked that it is important that there be theologians who are able to translate the treasure that is preserved in their faith in such a way that it the secular world it is a world for this world… he is right that the intrinsic translation process of the great words into the speech and thinking of our time is under way but has really not yet succeeded. It can be only succesful only if people live Christianity in terms of the One who is coming. ONly then can they also declare it. The declaration, the intellectual translation, presupposes the existential translation…”

This is probably a reference to the dialgue on the Dialectics of Secularization, though it could also be a allusion to Habermas’ more recent work on Between Naturalism and Religion and Religion and Rationality. The Pope embraces Habermas’ critique and his intuition on the need for faith to become evermore reasonable and more relevant for modern culture. What is interesting is how the Pope continually seems to refer to Habermas to discuss philosophical and political issues. He also mentioned him in the Address at La Sapienza here. Below an exerpt of the La Sapienza address:

“Jürgen Habermas expresses, in my view, a vast consensus of current thought when he says that the legitimacy of a constitutional charter, as a presupposition of legality, would be derived from two sources: from the egalitarian political participation of all citizens and from the reasonable form in which political conflicts get resolved. In regard to this “reasonable form” he notes that it cannot only be a struggle for arithmetic majorities, but it must be characterized by a “process of argumentation that is sensitive to the truth” (“wahrheitssensibles Argumentationsverfahren”)…. I find it significant that Habermas speaks about the sensitivity to the truth as a necessary element of the process of political argumentation, reinserting thus the concept of truth into the philosophical debate and into the political debate.”

I have talked about the two intellectual giants on a previous post. Fundamentally I think Ratzinger is embracing Habermas to a certain extent because both of them advocate for the power of reason and rational communication to deliver humanity from the evils and problems the world faces. Certainly Ratzinger also (and above all) has hope in faith and revelation, which Habermas doesn’t seem to share in the same sense… but who knows? I would not be surprised (this is a provocative leap I know) if perhaps Habermas dies Catholic. Habermas, so intent on the question of truth and as far as I can tell, true to his own criterion of sincerity in reasonable discourse, may come to embrace the synthesis between reason and faith which Ratzinger so insistently and reasonably advocates for. On the issue of Hebrmas’ beliefs and possible conversion see my post here.

Accident on Meeker

Becca Stubbs, a CU Boulder student, suffered a serious accident climbing Mt. Meeker. I have been waiting to post this becasue she sent an incredible and detailed description in first person. I have not received a response from her if i could make it public, so I will not post that piece. You’ll have to settle for the Daily Camera, which is always a challenge. See the article here. Becca is fortunately well and recovering. But it shows that nature can be cruel some times…

Bias in Academia

As I navigate through the maze of Academia, anecdotally I find mysefl in some very curious situations. Last week for example, I taught a course on Catholicism and Climate Change and felt mysefl against the wall as students (young and old) were demanding that the Pope be clearer if he wanted Catholics to support climate change or abortion, and how to negotiate the American political divide. I had to tell them the Pope would not tell people which candidates to choose, nor would he dedicate word addresses to specific issues and problems of one country or another. Certainly the Pope was clear on the inviolable sanctity of life but he was also greatly promoting the care and protection of the environment and climate. If the American political system placed citizens in a difficult position, that was not his fault, but rather the moralism that underlies politics and religion. I am not sure if I was understood.

But the piece Anecdotes aside, there are recent studies that show an incredible political bias in academia, especially the humanities.  A thorough study, with hard data, shows the phenomenon here. The sociology ratio for example, for Democrat: Republican is 44:1 .  But the piece that has been getting more attention is Dr. Haidt’s talk. Here is an article in the NYT, showing bias in social psychology specifically. Roger Pielke Jr. has also jumped on the debate here.


Reason, Freedom and God: What is happening in Egypt?

Right now, in Egypt, these are all words that emerge in the debate. Freedom and democracy, God and his will, reason to navigate the situation. The world watches the perceived (I do not know enough Middle Eastern politics to know this is true) linchpin of stability between the West and radical Islam, Egypt, as the history of humanity unfolds. And already the results are pretty: violence, massive unrest, deaths. Since God and religion are at the core of Egypt’s future debate, a possible question, while looking at the mess unfold is: Is God good? Here is a short video, which will save many words.

Reason is connected to God, and explains freedom. In the same way as God cannot make a square circle, or prevent people from doing evil, he cannot do evil himself. Reason, and the reasonability of God, was at the core of the Pope’s most famous address, at Regensberg in 2006. The result was a stiring up in the Muslim world, opportunities of dialogue in the positive and violent backlashes in the negative. If God is reason, and violence is contrary to reason especially in the name of God, then no religion and justify violence. Picking up on this theme, an Egyptian Jesuit priest has an interesting piece on the new movement in Islam, consequence of the last events, bringing reason into the debate. Read the whole article by Sandro Magister here. He concludes, quoting Pope Benedict XVI on the challenge of Islam, which describes one important dimension of what is happening in Egypt now:

Benedict XVI said to the Roman curia on December 22, 2006:

“The Muslim world today finds itself facing an extremely urgent task that is very similar to the one that was imposed upon Christians beginning in the age of the Enlightenment, and that Vatican Council II, through long and painstaking effort, resolved concretely for the Catholic Church. […]
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The Call to Technology Applied

Here’s a cool little article of an example of how technology and communications can be a positive force and contribute to the apostolic mission.The Pope called for this in a recent message on communications.  There is a new iPhone app for confession, that has received an imprimatur. You can read it here. The creator of the app was very conscious of the Pope’s call:

“Patrick Leinen, developer and cofounder of Little iApps, the company that released the application, told ZENIT that “in order to respond to Benedict XVI’s message from last year’s World Communications Day address, our goal with this project was to offer a digital application that is truly ‘new media at the service of the Word.'”

For all the technophobes out there, this is a call to action. After all, I started a blog…

Guest Post: Taking Man as He Is

This is a guest post by Adam Ureneck. Please feel free to write comments and he will respond on the blog.

In his recent book, Stephen Hawking, pronounced philosophy to be dead. Here is a quote from his book , Grand Design.

We each exist for but a short time, and in that time explore but a small part of the whole universe. But humans are a curious species. We wonder, we seek answers. Living in this vast world that is by turns kind and cruel, and gazing at the immense heavens above, people have always asked a multitude of questions: How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves? How does the universe behave? What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a creator? Most of us do not spend most of our time worrying about these questions, but almost all of us worry about them some of the time. Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead.”

Without a doubt, I find this bold pronouncement to be disconcerting, especially when I recently heard it echoed and even cited in the affirmative when speaking recently with a respected college professor. It´s not disconcerting because I find it challenging, or because I think it has any rightful place in the intellectual dialogue about the ultimate questions about the universe and about the human person. What worries me is that people believe it, and if not outright, indirectly through an ashamed acknowledgment that they have no solid reply to such a pronouncement. People are accepting it, not because they have stopped asking these essential questions, but because they think themselves incapable of responding to these natural inquiries since they are not “scientists,” or not as brilliant physicists such as Stephen Hawking.

Romano Guardini outlines part of the challenges associated to a culture that is no longer philosophical.

“No man truly aware of his own human nature will admit that he can discover himself in the theories of modern anthropology – be they biological, psychological, sociological or any other. Only the accidents of man – his attributes, his relations, his forms – make up these theories; they never take man simply as he is. They speak about man, but they never really see man. They approach him, but they never truly find him. They handle him, but they never grip him as he actually is. They take hold of him by statistics; they integrate him into organizations; they put him into use. Forever they play out the same grotesque and fearful comedy, but its incidents strike always upon a phantom. Even when man is subjected to forces which misuse him or mutilate or destroy him, he is not the creature at all which those forces aim to subject.” (Romano Guardini, from The End of the Modern World)

Physics, biology, chemistry, anthropology, sociology, statistics, economics, and so many other sciences cannot simply take “man as he is.” There subject matter simply won´t permit it. Indeed, “they speak about man, but they never really see him.” This does not mean that these secondary sciences are illegitimate, unnecessary, and unimportant in service of humanity, but rather, that they “underqualified” when they step outside the boundaries of their discipline. Otherwise, as Guardini writes, though armed with endless empirical data, they are simply chasing a “phantom.”

I came across another interesting article in the New York Times. ( ). In it, the author proposes that human beings are in fact programmed to fear new, external data, and so often consequently doubt even true science. This may indeed be true, and again, I think it is important not to fall into an anti-science position. But, the underlying theme is again a similar one; one that resonates with Hawking´s daring scientism. The underlying assumption is: Most people cannot understand the truth of things, and in fact fear it, so scientists are best suited to tell us what to believe and to what extent accept reality in its entirety. That seems to be, IN PART, the story with climate change. So, what´s my point? Science has its limits, and can help us understand those “aspects” of the universe and of man which only philosophy is suited to answer so fully as to explain “man as he is.” Taken in its rightful place, science will truly be a great servant to humanity, and the universe as a result.