Monday, December 12, 2005

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Blogimus Reports Again

Okay, yesterday I hauled myself out of bed at the requisite time and made it to the Tridentine Mass, finally with my 1962 Missal in hand. I still couldn't understand quite all of it, because I was confused at times as to just where we were, but I followed most of it and will no doubt become quite familiar with it soon enough.

Just why did this have to go? There is such a sense of solidity and reality to it; the prayers are all very appropriate, nothing is out of place. As I understand it, the justification for removing such an enormous number of prayers in the new Mass, was that these were "accretions" and "useless repetitions". I remember that recently, a few Catholics - I think they were traditionalists themselves - wrote a manifesto for the "Society for St. Pius I", repudiating the modernist innovation of a Latin Mass; it was filled with phrases like "according to neo-trad 'Saint' Jerome...." The point was obvious, and they captured the manner of certain trad polemicists very well. Yet it seems to me only a stone's throw away from this parody, to dismiss about half of the Tridentine Mass as "accretion", and harken back to a rite from 1500 years ago, or more...in which "On Eagle's Wings" was a prominent feature, I suppose.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

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The Fuss About Evolution

This isn't a new topic for me, and my answer to most of the important questions involved is usually along the lines of "I don't know; I'm not a biologist. I don't think the biologists know either...." But still, it's interesting to revisit every now and then.

One interesting fact is that one of the great pillars of Darwinism, is not the adaptation of creatures to the environment, but the lack thereof. Darwin once wrote, rather gloatingly, about all the useless, perverse works of Nature that he could list; since his day, the Darwinists have been torn between a love for preposterous just-so stories as to how this or that trait arose, and an arrogant presumption that whatever they do not understand is quite pointless. I wonder if any of Darwin's examples of "pointless" works of Nature would withstand scrutiny today...in any case, the follies of this latter presumption are now becoming evident. We have known for some time, for instance, that most of our genes do not encode proteins; the scientific consensus, then, was that the vast portion of our genome was "junk DNA". Of course, it is nothing of the kind. Likewise, this paper, which the Intelligent Design theorists are fond of citing, may not provide a ringing endorsement of their claims but it certainly gives another black eye to the old "oh, that? We can't figure out any point in it, so it's just garbage" mentality. Despite my still-lingering memories of college biology classes and the accessible character of the paper, parts of it were still a bit beyond me; however the idea is this: two organisms often have similar proteins that perform identical functions. The differences in sequence between two such proteins ("homologues" is the classy term for such sets of related proteins...scientific Greek starts to sound pretty weird the more you learn about actual Greek, but never mind...) were apparently regarded as insignificant products of genetic drift. But according to Dr. Axe here, the differences between two homologous proteins do not indicate a simple interchangeability of the amino acid residues which differ from protein to protein (at least on the exterior). Rather they indicate two different "designs" that perform the same function.

Darwinists have been, since Darwin himself, ideologically motivated to find randomness and simplicity in all of the processes they study. They often find it when it's not there. I am unconvinced by the arguments of Intelligent Design theorists that Darwinism is demonstrably incapable of explaining evolution - but it is interesting to consider, that Darwinists have often been led astray by the implications of their theory. This is rather the opposite of what one expects from a true scientific theory. It is further remarkable that in refuting the I.D. theorists they must invariably - I have yet to find an exception - have recourse to sophistry, particularly the hilarious idea that to hypothesize design is "not science"...the I.D. theorist Dembski brushed that aside by asking substantially, "what if every cell came with the inscription 'made by Yahweh'? Wouldn't you have to consider design then? And if you allow 'science' to hypothesize design in that case, why is this the only sort of demonstration of design you will accept?" and considered the point sufficiently clear. Yet one hears this patent idiocy almost every time a Darwinist bravely sallies forth against the creationist hordes! They can't seem to help saying it. A theory that is primarily espoused my men who cannot think, arouses somewhat of suspicion on my part.

But let's ignore all that, and look at some ancient history. Specifically, Belloc's "A Companion to Mr. Wells's 'Outline of History'". The first thing he attacks in Wells's book is the beginning, which treats of the origin of life. Belloc describes Natural Selection, the theory to which Wells held, as "dead."

The "well-educated" modern reader will smile at this out-of-touch crank...but I wonder what this reader would think if he ever got to the appendix, where Belloc quotes several eminent scientific contemporaries, saying quite clearly that Natural Selection was an inadequate explanation for evolution. Belloc may have been wrong, but it was not a matter of "him and William Jennings Bryan" vs. "Science". There seemed to be a great deal of "science" on his end of things; just what on earth was happening back then, anyway? We can be sure that if there ever was some academic reaction against Darwinism during which it became unfashionable, the Darwinian propagandists have smoothed over this little bump in Progress. Or did it never happen? Was every one of those professors Belloc quoted simply a crank? I have my doubts.

But there are other, very interesting things in there. Consider this passage from Belloc's "wrong-headed" attack on Natural Selection:

"Organic Genetic Evolution, i.e. the theory that one kind of living being arises from another kind, is as old as human observation and human thought. Common experience suggests it to everyone, because we know of no way in which living beings can appear upon earth save as the product of other living beings.
"When, therefore, men first took notice of, say, donkeys and horses, or tigers and cats, they naturally said to themselves, "These things look as though they had a common ancestor." The next step is to suppose that there would be a common ancestor to more widely different types. It is even admissible, though not probable, that all life on this earth sprang from one very simple origin. Our old Pagan forefather - those of them who were civilized - discussed all this centuries ago, and the Fathers of the Christian Church spoke in the same terms."

There is some other very interesting stuff in this "outdated" chapter....

But to consider that passage for a moment: unless you have been wise enough to study the Classics, these two paragraphs were perhaps a bit contrary to what you had previously thought about the past? Well, in my case I knew that a few of the Greeks had held to an evolution-like theory, and that Aristotle had said something-or-other about it, but I was shocked to hear Belloc discuss it as a mere commonplace of ancient thought.

It is an interesting thing about modern education, that it tends to exaggerate the glories of the present by demeaning the past. All the fallacious notions we have of ancient thought - that nobody knew the world was round until Columbus (all educated Westerners had known it for over a thousand years), that the idea of natural explanations for...natural events...came only gradually as science progressed, fought by religion every step of the way (the so-called "God of the gaps" rubbish...in fact, as soon as the Greeks began to think, their philosophers put forth natural explanations for everything...nobody significant ever resisted the idea. St. Thomas discusses right in the beginning of the Summa the claim that "nature is sufficient to explain everything" and refutes it by demanding a need to explain nature, not by denying that natural process explain the world), all of these just happen to paint our ancestors as much stupider, much more superstitious and backwards than they actually were. Coincidence, perhaps?
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Wednesday

Well, around here at Blogimus Maximus we don't get "tagged" with "memes" very often. But Boeciana has decided to wring a confession out of us.

So:

- I often don't actually like reading some of the stuff our Saints have written. All too often they seem to be talking about me, and quite frankly their remarks are not very complimentary. I'm more comfortable reading Belloc, or Chesterton or some jolly fellow like that. Which is why

- I'm a bit skeptical when people say Chesterton should be a saint - no doubt he is in heaven, but he almost never offends me, which just seems disqualifying somehow. But if you can point me to something offensive in Chesterton's works then I would be happy to change my mind.

- I would probably listen to classical music 24/7 if it were possible. I know, it's an addiction.

- Actually, I've always aspired to be a composer. But I'm not, um, any good.

- Poetry is beyond me. Sad, but true. Wouldn't know a good poem if it beat me up and stole my wallet.

- I refuse to drink anything stronger than beer or wine, because I tend to toss it back like water & the results are unpleasant. Hard liquor is deceitful stuff anyway; such a small bit of liquid has no right to such a disproportionate effect.

- I hardly ever read books all the way through. And I almost never read a non-Wodehouse novel nowadays. And my supply even of these is running low. Even Wodehouse can only be re-read so many times within a certain period.

How's that?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

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Tuesday

Sorry for my truancy in posting; I've been distracted for the last few days.

No reports on Tridentine front; when the alarm woke me at 7:15 that morning and I heard it was 4 degrees (-15 heathen system) outside, I might have had the manly fortitude to make my bus connections anyway, if I had slept decently the night before. But thanks to an evil burrito, that had not happened...so to make a short story appropriately short, I caved and went to the 11:00 Mass at my "ordinary" parish. I know, reprehensible weakness on my part.

Good news: I've wanted to write a novel since the beginning of time (more or less; I've never had a head for dates), but in the last few years my plots have fallen apart as soon as I started to make them. Now, however, I'm cooking up a nice one which I expect to survive scrutiny. The secret of most novelists, I think, is that they are not very logical people, so they have no trouble cooking up a nice story. Especially true of science fiction/fantasy type novelists (and I could never be anything else - early breeding); even in my callow teens, perhaps before that even, I kept finding insuperable objections to the speculative schemes of such novels. Especially when they wrote time-travel stories! Nobody ever wrote a single one of those that made sense, except H.G. Wells, who sensibly mentioned all the possibilities of paradox and then sidestepped it all. Though I can't recall any major problems with Fritz Leiber's Change War stories either...I've never read R.A. Lafferty's time-travel stuff, and since he was said to be A. a conservative Catholic and B. one of the best writers in the history of the genre, I'd rather like to. Hard to get hold of, unfortunately.

Anyway, this one should be fun, except for the actual writing part. Writing is a miserable exercise. But in this case I have a motivation which should suffice to keep me hacking away.

Now for a random interlude: this post by the Secret Agent Man provides an amusing quote from an actual novel by someone named Ken Follett. Apparently he is a writer of historical novels who is not very good at it. In something called "Eye of the Needle" he delivers this gem:

"The building in which he lived . . . was a Victorian brick house at one end of a terrace of six. The houses were high, narrow, and dark, like the minds of the men for whom they had been built."

The Secret Agent Man sees in this an encapsulation of Follett's dismissive attitude towards the past. I see in this hilarity! Never mind the arrogance of it, the sheer ham-handedness of the prose is delightful! "The houses were high, narrow, and dark," now wait, wait for that simile..."like the minds of the men for whom they had been built[!!!]" That's the real stuff! Even something like "the minds of their former inhabitants" would have been funny, but with that stilted clause "for whom they had been built" it becomes Art. It really savours of those collections of laughably bad prose you see passed around by email - google "two hummingbirds who had also never met" and you will find examples of what I mean.

Interlude the second: apparently the sole version of Dvorak's Jakobin (my King Charles's Head, to steal a phrase from Belloc's great polemic against Wells' Outline of History...I wonder, was that Copperfield reference a common idiom, or Belloc's idea? Beautiful either way) on Amazon.com is the very one that I have (once again) borrowed from the library. The case is labeled "hidden treasures from Prague" and apparently this is not a misnomer - but for this recording, Jakobin would be even harder to come by than it is. Listening to it again, I realize that in addition to the excellence of the opera, the performance is also superb. The two baritones (Vaclav Zitek as Bohus and Rene Tucek as Adolf - sorry, funny Czech markings are beyond my capacity) are respectively the hero and villian, and their voices suit the roles quite excellently. Karel Berman as Filip the Burgrave (bass) is a wonderful comic under-villian - it's hard not to laugh just hearing him. However Daniela Sounova (soprano, playing Terinka) is just a shameless scene-stealer. She doesn't have one of those quirky, recognizable voices like Callas or whoever...but there's just a wonderful liveliness and clarity in her voice; it's exquisite, and without singing more loudly or anything crude like that, she still puts the other soloists in the shade when they're unlucky enough to share the stage with her. Why if she were forty years younger...ah, well. 'Tis not to be.

Well, I probably wanted to say something serious at some point or another, but it's getting late so it will have to wait til tomorrow.