Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Bill 60 - Post mortem

The aftermath of Quebec's April 7 election has included all manner of strange and quixotic excuses by the PQ as to the reasons for their resounding loss. Among the items of which we have seen the last is their Charter of Values law, which would have imposed an unconstitutional and illiberal combination of measures that would have been among one of the most extreme regimes of official 'laicite'. Peter Berger has written that this indicates the death of secularism here in Quebec. While I think that is an oversimplification, I agree with his assessment that secularism thrives on an anti-democratic impulse in culture and society. 

I will be discussing this and related matters on Monday in St. John's Newfoundland at St. Bonaventure College's annual Arrupe lecture.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Fr. William Stoeger, SJ 1943-2014

Bill Stoeger has passed away. His obituary is here.

Jesuit Father William R. Stoeger, 70, an astronomer at the Vatican Observatory in Arizona, died March 24 at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos, Calif., following a struggle with cancer. A funeral Mass for the priest was scheduled for March 28 in Los Gatos. He had been a Jesuit for 52 years. (CNS photo courtesy of the Vatican Observatory Foundation)I first met Bill via my doctoral thesis supervisor (James Pambrun, St. Paul / Ottawa) and Bill served as the external examiner for my thesis. Bill was an extraordinary man, combining the pastoral gifts he developed as a Jesuit with spectacular talent as an astrophysicist. His scientific training was conducted - in part - at Cambridge, where he worked with Stephen Hawking, among others.

Over the years, Bill and I exchanged a number of emails and met at several conferences, among which included a Catholic Theological Society of America meeting in 2003 and a Vatican Observatory / CTNS conference in 2003 at Castel Gandolfo. Bill was encouraging me to lead a project of contributions on Catholic interpretations of scientific anthropology (evolutionary psychology and so forth) despite the obstacles that lay in my path.

Bill was a generous scholar and priest. He was not given to any of the pretense that marks so many academics. He was enormously well respected by the scholars with whom he worked in the science-faith dialogue, being one of the first to call for a greater philosophical depth to the exchanges. He was also well known as one of the first to call for greater Catholic participation in the science-theology dialogue. Bill was a remarkable person. May he now enjoy the fullness of God's grace. R.I.P. Bill.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

on Ayaan Hirsi Ali

I don't like much of what she has to say about religion, but I do like what Rex Murphy has to say about universities in the context of Brandeis University's rescinding its invitation to award her an honorary degree. And Ross Douthat puts this issue into a wider context here.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Just ordered Nagel's book (finally)

This book by Thomas Nagel, titled Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. I will read this when spring officially makes its mark locally... which is set to happen after spring makes its mark calendrically  - sadly.

The reviews of it have been everywhere for quite some time. Love this review from Michael Chorost in the Chronicle in which he reports on the snarky comments of the strangely ideological Jerry Coyne and others before summing up the difficulties Nagel has uncovered c/o Joan Roughgarden, which seem to me spot on:

"I mean, these guys are impervious to contrary evidence and alternative formulations," she says. "What we see in evolution is stasis—conceptual stasis, in my view—where people are ardently defending their formulations from the early 70s."
And here is the ever great H. Allen Orr, in the NYRB on Nagel's book. Can't wait to read it myself.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Douthat on Gopnik on Hart

in today's NYT. Douthat is, as usual, on the mark... but it does make me want to read Hart's book!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pope Francis and unfettered capitalism

Sigh. Saw this one coming. Pope Francis has been excoriated for taking on 'unfettered capitalism' - by Rush Limbaugh, the US Republican party pundits and various others who think they detect in Francis a simple-minded Marxist.

Sigh. Haven't we seen this movie before? Why, yes we have, and Francis is only extending the analysis of previous pontiffs, whom certain defenders of capitalism are pretty fond of.

And if you think contemporary capitalism is just fine thank you, take it from a Canadian business journalist: it's not - in a Very Important Way.

P.S. Breaking news (ahem): Pope Francis is Time's person of the year. Now, assuming people still read Time, I guess this is meaningful. Good analysis here at CMT: NOT the people's Pope, something more... 

P.P.S.: More unfetteredness here, of which more examples ad nauseam could be retrieved off the internet.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Beep beep: from theology to cars

Ben Myers pulls a slam dunk, in his own diminutive style.

The Humanities

Pity the humanities. Enrollment in post-secondary humanities programmes is down to around 7% of the total student population in the U.S. (in Canada, it's only slightly higher if memory serves) and here is a nice NYT article (if one can use the word 'nice' in this context) that details some of the current discussion on the state of the humanities. Of which there is much discussion... From the end of the article comes this analysis which I wish had received more attention throughout:

But for students worrying about their own future, Shakespeare can seem an obstacle to getting on with their lives.
“Students who are anxious about finishing their degree, and avoiding debt, sometimes see the breadth requirements as getting in their way,” said Nicholas Dirks, chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley.
Many do not understand that the study of humanities offers skills that will help them sort out values, conflicting issues and fundamental philosophical questions, said Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College.
“We have failed to make the case that those skills are as essential to engineers and scientists and businessmen as to philosophy professors,” he said.
 This coheres with an observation that was made by Stefan Collini in his book, What are Universities for? a year or two ago and which I quoted in a recent paper on the relationship between Christian faith and the university:
“it is not the subject-matter itself that determines whether something is, at a particular moment, classed as ‘useful’ or ‘useless’. Almost any subject can fall under either description.”  (Collini, 55)
In other words: Theology, English, Philosophy and Linguistics can launch a career in any number of fields, because the skills acquired in these disciplines has to do with deepening the general knowledge, perception and honing of insights that will benefit the individual generally speaking. It is for this reason why we must push back against over-specialization, especially in the humanities, because it is that circumstance that the humanities would loses their collective humanity, and therefore their timeless relevance.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Quebec's descent into madness

Here's where we're going here in Quebec. Loony tunes time folks - the government is trying to overthrow constitutional law and human rights...