April 2012By Arthur C. Sippo
Arthur C. Sippo, a Contributing Editor of the NOR, is a physician and specialist in aerospace medicine who has written and lectured as a Catholic apologist for over thirty years. He writes from southern Illinois.
Anthology of Papers of the Catholic Academy of Sciences in the United States of America. Edited by Lee T. Grady. CreateSpace. 286 pages. $17.99.
The essays in this eclectic collection address a variety of topics; some are primarily about science but most contain at least some reflection on how the Catholic faith interfaces with modern scientific and technological developments. Not all the essays are strictly orthodox in the theological sense, and some that are orthodox argue toward controversial conclusions. Nevertheless, this Anthology of Papers contains some excellent essays by Catholic scientists that are well worth reading. These essays were originally read at a conference held at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in the summer of 2010.
The Catholic Academy of Sciences in the United States of America, an autonomous organization not affiliated with Catholic University or with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), sponsored the conference. The Academys founding covenant explains that its purpose is to become an intellectual laboratory for the theoscientific recognition of natural morality, bioethical standardization, and to be a proponent of future scientific advancements that are consonant with our reasoned understanding of Roman Catholic teachings.
The editor of this volume, Dr. Lee T. Grady, holds a Ph.D. in chemistry with minors in pharmacology and anthropology from the University of Illinois. He is a retired Chemical, Biological, and Radiological (CBR) Warfare Analyst for the CIA. His area of expertise seems to have influenced some of the topics covered in this volume. The essays are divided into several topical headings: bioethics, bioterroism, ecclesialia, ethics and politics, evolution, and medicine. Although a few of them are highly technical, the majority are accessible to the concerned layman.
This reviewer formerly taught chemical and biological warfare defense courses at the U.S. Army School of Aerospace Medicine and is somewhat familiar with the topics of bioterrorism and CBR. The essays on these topics are timely and up to date. These topics are highly relevant in our post-cold war world, in which terrorism and weapons of mass destruction are a constant concern. The essays on bioethics are likewise contemporary and reflect strong Catholic concerns. They delve into such topics as psychiatry, medical regulations, in vitro fertilization, and abortion. These essays review case histories and subject some of the more progressive rationales for morally dubious medical procedures to technical and well-delineated criticism.
The essays on ecclesialia deal with formal theological questions such as ecumenism, liturgy, psychiatry, Catholic education, papal teaching, Islam, and the authorship of St. Johns Gospel. Peter A. Redpaths brief essay, An Academic Reply to Pope Benedict XVIs Regensburg and Catholic University of America Addresses, is particularly noteworthy. Dr. Redpath notes that Benedict has recently pointed to the dehellenization the rejection of Greek philosophy and its categories of thinking that stemmed from the Protestant Reformation as the root cause of creeping secularism and the demythologizing of Christianity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Redpath takes exception to the Popes thesis that the Reformers were concerned that classical philosophy had become the dominant paradigm in the Catholic Church to the detriment of the clearly revealed truths of the Gospel. Redpath sees the Reformation as very selective when it came to classical learning. While the Protestants initially rejected the ontological categories in Hellenistic thought, they strongly embraced the poetic i.e., literary and hermeneutic elements and rhetorical skills that were at the center of Renaissance humanism. As such, the Reformation program was one of philosophical deconstruction, not of dehellenization. In short, it was not a theological but a philosophical reform, in which human understanding and comprehension became the primary goals in religion instead of the discernment of truth. Redpath explains at length the implications of this perspective. His essay is highly recommended to those who want to understand the distinction between the Catholic worldview and its various counterparts in Protestant pandemonium.
Unfortunately, the essays on ethics and politics have decidedly liberal leanings. The lead article in this section, The Criminality of Nuclear Deterrence by Francis Boyle, telegraphs its conclusions in its title. This is a retread topic, one we went through back in 1984 when the USCCB wrote its controversial Pastoral Letter on War and Peace. (The Vatican intervened and insisted that the letter reflect magisterial teaching.) There is no question that the indiscriminate use of nuclear weapons and, indeed, all weapons of mass destruction is morally illicit. Nevertheless, deterrence and the surgical use of nuclear devices for limited aims remain morally viable in appropriate circumstances. In the post-cold war world, carping about nuclear deterrence is akin to beating a dead horse. The primary concern in the twenty-first century is the potential for terrorism or nuclear blackmail by rogue states or radical groups.
Other notable entries in this section include essays on the complementarity of politics, ethics, and morality; a tribute to Abraham Lincoln and his moral commitment to preserving the Union and ending slavery; and a criticism of Amnesty Internationals policy on global abortion rights.
The essays on evolution are a bit of a disappointment. The first, by Vytatutus J. Bieliauskas on St. Augustine and the rationes seminales, is well done and demonstrates that the literalistic Protestant view of human origins was not prevalent in the patristic era. The next three essays in this section are expositions of the problematic views of the Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
Teilhard, as he is known, came on the scene at a controversial time with odd views that gained far more notoriety than they deserved. He was educated as an anthropologist but had the requisite Jesuit training in philosophy and theology. However, he was unable to find a niche in his chosen discipline. He developed theories about evolution that were decidedly pantheistic and naturalistic and which were never accepted in either scientific or ecclesiastical circles. Instead, they became causes célèbres of students and dissident theologians of a decidedly modernist bent. The quality of his work or lack thereof can be demonstrated thus: When scientists spoke of Teilhard, they would say, He was not much of a scientist but he was a great philosopher and theologian. When philosophers and theologians spoke of him, they would say, He was not much of a philosopher or theologian but he was a great scientist.
Teilhard voiced his opinions openly in the 1940s and 1950s but was later silenced by his Jesuit superiors. Many of his works were published after his death. This alarmed Pope John XXIII, and in 1962 the following monitum against his works was issued by the Holy See: Several works of Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, some of which were posthumously published, are being edited and are gaining a good deal of success. Prescinding from a judgment about those points that concern the positive sciences, it is sufficiently clear that the above-mentioned works abound in such ambiguities and indeed even serious errors, as to offend Catholic doctrine.
In 1981 there was movement among Catholic scholars to celebrate the centenary of Fr. Teilhards birth. A letter about this was sent to Vatican Secretary of State Agostino Cardinal Casaroli. His response was cordial but carefully worded. Unfortunately, it was misinterpreted in the press as a softening of the Vaticans previous condemnation of Teilhards work. The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at that time was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, and the pope was John Paul II. Based on this we can safely say, Roma locuta est; causa finite est. Teilhards views need to remain in the dustbin of history where they belong.
The books final section contains a few technical essays in the field of medicine that will likely only be of interest to clinicians. The essays on medical education, healthcare reform, and health status in the U.S. are more to the interest of a general audience.
The essays in this Anthology are serious attempts by scholars who identify with the Catholic faith and its ethos to confront modern questions and offer insights from a Catholic perspective. The sciences that are covered include not only natural science and medicine but also theology, philosophy, ethics, and social science. This broad understanding of science reflects the traditional Catholic understanding of the unity of truth and the interrelationship of various intellectual disciplines that developed with the rise of the universities in Catholic Europe during the Middle Ages. In the twenty-first century, science usually refers to the hard sciences, such as physics, chemistry, and biology, or the applied sciences, such as engineering and medicine. The soft sciences, such as theology, philosophy, social science, and ethics, are often ignored or dismissed. The breadth of this collection demonstrates the unity between all learning that has always been an important part of Catholic intellectual life.
While there are several missteps in some of the essays with regard to Catholic orthodoxy, the overall collection is worth perusing by any Catholic who wants to read intellectually challenging material that relates science and the Catholic faith.