Friday, July 10, 2009

Notes and Notable Links

* It's John Calvin's 500th birthday today. Joyeux anniversaire, Jean Cauvin!

* Mark Pallen discusses a common myth about Darwin.

* Three Wolf Moon T-Shirt. The customer reviews go on for pages and are utterly hilarious.

* Laura Miller, History Is Bunk After All, considers the way we rewrite our history in order to confirm our own ideas.

* The Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, recently got into trouble for (apparently) pocketing a communion wafer given at a funeral (see also here). Actually, he probably ate it, but it wasn't obvious what he did. Confusion reigns, since journalists know nothing about the subject, it seems. The Toronto Sun, as usual, allows itself a bit of sloppiness in its use of sources:

But another Roman Catholic priest, Rev. Arthur Bourgeois, who delivered the homily at the funeral, did not have a problem with the prime minister accepting the host.

"Usually, to partake in holy communion in the Catholic Church, you have to be a member of it. But if you’re not, exceptionally sometimes at major occasions (it is different)," Bourgeois told the newspaper.

There are indeed exceptional cases in which non-Catholics may partake of Catholic communion; but a 'major occasion' is not sufficient, because there are restrictions on it. This can be found out by simply looking at canon law.

As Ed Peters notes, the primary responsibility in such a matter is borne not by the Prime Minister but by the clergy.

* Setting aside purely theological points, old nineteenth-century anti-Catholic lines of attack tend to survive only among certain groups, but here and there you can see them trying to jump out into public consciousness. I recently came across the old mental reservation canard. Apparently Catholic priests still can't be candid, but will still, like the slippery Jesuits they are, dissimulate at the drop of a hat. One would almost think Charles Kingsley is still alive. I haven't seen any cases of the accusation that Catholicism is not 'manly' enough, that it is too feminine (all that imagery and sentiment and lying, you see); but at this point I would not really be surprised to come across it.

ADDED LATER: It's worth noting the Catholic Encyclopedia article on mental reservation, which points out the actual course of discussion about mental reservation in Catholic moral theology -- very different from the picture given in the calumny.

* At "Skeptic's Play" there have been a few worthwhile posts on Gödel's ontological argument:

Gödel's Modal Ontological Argument
Gödel's Ontological Argument, Step by Step

Actually, the whole weblog looks fairly interesting.

* President Obama recently nominated Francis Collins to be Director of the National Institutes of Health; Collins has a very good resume for it.

* Andrew Meyers gives a brief tour of some authors who make a tripartite division of the Law.

* Kevin Edgecomb recently had a post on 18th- and 19th-century Eastern Orthodox scholarship; St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain is the most obvious example, but there were several others.

* A book by Mary Boole on the work of her husband: The Mathematical Psychology of Gratry and Boole. I haven't had a chance to look at it in detail, but it could be interesting: Mary Boole was rather brilliant when it came to introducing mathematical concepts to younger students. It looks like there might be some odd sections, though.

* Other Google Book finds:

Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic, and Other Essays
Bertrand Russell, Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy (one of his better works, I think)
Henri Poincaré, The Foundations of Science (three of Poincaré's works on science; the first is one of those works that everyone should read even if only to disagree)

* The other day I came across Aquinas and Modernity, by Shadia Drury; unfortunately, I can't recommend it. Loose associations are taken as if they were rigorously established links, passages are ripped out of context, interpretations are given that are anachronistic and tendentious, and the whole thing quickly becomes a sort of Kevin Bacon game, trying to connect Thomas Aquinas to All Things Evil within six degrees. She says several things that are directly contrary to even the obvious evidence of the text. What is supposed to be the point of the book, a secular natural law theory, is often lost sight of, and is in fact only really given a very rushed and inadequate treatment at the end. Nor is it difficult to see why it deteriorates so badly: instead of making an effort to present the evidence and lay out the arguments, Drury is explicitly engaging in a polemic, and it is the polemic that drives the argument. Thus rhetorical association, not rational argument, is the order of the day, and over and over again Drury can't let evidence speak for itself but has to shout over it what she thinks your interpretation should be. Both the repetitive hyperbole and the failure to proportion the work to its supposed end should have set alarm bells ringing in the mind of anyone capable of basic critical thought; the book needed to be reworked to be more rigorous and careful before it was published. If you want criticism of Thomas Aquinas, there are some very good feminist criticisms around; if you want secular natural law theory, Larry Arnhart is certainly a more intelligent developer of the idea and would be a vastly more rewarding read; and, for that matter, if you want religion-bashing, I would actually recommend Dawkins as giving a more thoughtful discussion.

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