Thursday, November 22, 2012

Recovering from a Hurricane; Defending Freedom; Studying the Cosmos

The Archdiocese of Miami, Florida; and Santiago, Cuba, say that this outfit is helping folks rebuild after Hurricane Sandy roared through:
Our Lady of Charity Cobre Foundation
P.O. Box 40368
Glen Oaks, New York 11004-0386
That's from the first set of news items I picked this week:
  1. Hurricane Sandy, a Shrine, and Rebuilding Neighborhoods
  2. Religious Liberty, the Constitution, and a Step in the Right Direction
  3. 'Super-Jupiter' Photographed: Kappa Andromedae b
  4. Of Points and People

Science? In a 'Religious' Blog?!

The last two articles are 'science news.' They're no more 'religious' than news about recovering from a hurricane, or bringing a case to court: but no less.

Since about the middle of the 19th century, some folks have expected Christians to have conniptions at the mention of anything 'scientific.'

I don't see a point in cultivating ignorance of God's creation, much less deciding what God can and can't do:
We live in a world filled with wonders: many of which were unknown until very recently. I'm okay with living in a world that's vast in both space and time. (March 21, 2012)
"...The beauty of creation reflects the infinite beauty of the Creator and ought to inspire the respect and submission of man's intellect and will."
(Catechism, 341)
I agree with Benedict XVI:
"Nature is a book whose history, whose evolution, whose 'writing' and meaning we 'read' according to the different approaches of the sciences, while all the time presupposing the foundational presence of the author who has wished to reveal himself within."
(October 31-November 4, 2008, plenary session on "Scientific Insights Into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life" at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences)


1. Hurricane Sandy, a Shrine, and Rebuilding Neighborhoods

"Cuban Church urges continued aid for Hurricane Sandy victims"
CNA/EWTN News (November 20)

"The Archdiocese of Santiago in Cuba is calling on the international community to continue helping the thousands of victims of Hurricane Sandy, and has set up two bank accounts to receive donations.

" 'The city is recovering, but the spiritual and material reconstruction will take a long time,' Archbishop Dionosio Garcia said in a Nov. 11 message.

" 'God speaks to us even in suffering, and we are capable of hearing his words in the most bitter of times. But we must be attentive and strive for interior silence in order to hear them.'

"On its Facebook page, the archdiocese requested that donations be sent to its accounts at the Vatican's Institute for Religious Works and the U.S.-based Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre Foundation. Donations should be specified as to assist the victims of Hurricane Sandy...."
The Archdiocese of Miami posted a similar request for help:
"'A peso from each Cuban'"
Archdiocese of Miami (November 10, 2010)

"Brooklyn's Cuban-born auxiliary bishop announces drive to restore El Cobre shrine...

"...Contributions to the reconstruction of the basilica in El Cobre should be sent to: Our Lady of Charity of Cobre Foundation, P.O. Box 40368, Glen Oaks, N.Y. 11004-0368."

"...In the Civil Order...."

Back to Archbishop Dionosio Garcia, of the Archdiocese of Santiago, Cuba:
"...'In the civil order the effects have been devastating, the data indicates 150,000 homes were damaged and thousands were totally destroyed,' the archbishop said...."
(CNA/EWTN News)
No pressure, but helping rebuild the El Cobre shrine sounds like a good idea. So does helping folks rebuild their homes and communities.

The Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre Foundation doesn't seem to have a website. Their mailing address, as shown on the Archdiocese of Miami website, is:
Our Lady of Charity Cobre Foundation
P.O. Box 40368
Glen Oaks, New York 11004-0386
Again, if you're interested in helping with home and neighborhood reconstruction, the Archbishop of Santiago says that contributions should be marked "to assist the victims of Hurricane Sandy." But like I said: no pressure.

I've posted about Sandy before:

2. Religious Liberty, the Constitution, and a Step in the Right Direction

"Judge grants HHS mandate injunction to Bible publisher"
CNA/EWTN News (November 20)

"A federal court has granted an injunction protecting Protestant Christian Bible publisher Tyndale House Publishers from the Department of Health and Human Services mandate that requires it to provide insurance coverage for abortion-causing contraceptives.

"U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said Nov. 16 that the mandate 'affirmatively compels the plaintiffs to violate their religious beliefs in order to comply with the law and avoid the sanctions that would be imposed for their noncompliance.'

"The judge, an appointee of George W. Bush for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, said the government has not proven that mandating Tyndale provide the coverage furthers the government’s compelling interests in promoting public health.

" 'First Amendment rights are among the most precious rights guaranteed under the Constitution,' his decision said...."
I would have preferred that America's executive branch stop trying to tell the rest of us what is, and what is not, practicing our beliefs.

Bad News, Good News, and the Rest of the News

We're stuck with at least another four years of the status quo.

That's the bad news.

The good news is that efforts to force folks who prefer to avoid killing innocent people aren't going smoothly.

A remarkable number of judges have apparently heard of the First Amendment to the Constitution: and understand what the words mean. Many businesses and other organizations are not cooperating with America's secular leader, sometimes successfully:
Religious leaders, Catholic and otherwise, are still actively opposing the national government's efforts:
Maybe you haven't seen headlines like that in America's old-school news outlets. I've posted about news, assumptions, and information gatekeepers, before:

Getting a Grip About Government

I checked: government really is necessary. (March 12, 2011)

But "I was only following orders" isn't a good excuse. (July 2, 2012)
  • We need some sort of government
    (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1898-1899)
  • We're supposed to follow the government's rules
    (Catechism, 2239)
    • Usually
      (Catechism, 2242)
  • The government isn't always right
    (Catechism, 1902)
  • Religious freedom is vital
    (Catechism, 2104-2109)
    • That's religious liberty for everybody
      (Catechism, 2106)
We're supposed to not follow the government's rules, when "when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order." (Catechism, 2242)

I'll put links to my take on government, ethics, freedom, and other bothersome ideas, near the end of this post.

3. 'Super-Jupiter' Photographed: Kappa Andromedae b

" 'Super-Jupiter' Discovery Dwarfs Solar System's Largest Planet"
Space.com (November 19, 2012)

"In a rare direct photo of a world beyond Earth, astronomers have spotted a planet 13 times more massive than Jupiter, the largest planet in our own solar system.

"The planet orbits a star called Kappa Andromedae that is 2.5 times the mass of the sun and is located 170 light-years away from Earth. As a gas giant larger than Jupiter, it's classified as a 'super-Jupiter.'

"Astronomers say the object's immense size places it right on the edge of the classifications for giant planets and a type of failed star known as a brown dwarf. Its official name is Kappa Andromedae b, or Kappa And b for short, and it likely has a reddish glow, researchers said......."

(NAOJ / Subaru / J. Carson (College of Charleston) / T. Currie (University Toronto))
"False color, near infrared image of the Kappa Andromedae star system as seen by the Subaru Telescope in Hawai'i. Almost all of the light of the host star, on which the image is centered, has been removed through image processing. A Super-Jupiter planet is clearly visible to the upper left."
(Space.com)
What scientists learn about Kappa Andromedae b almost certainly won't make your teeth whiter and brighter, reduce your credit card debt, or make Captain Planet and the Planeteers a prime-time show.

On the other hand, it's giving us more pieces for the puzzle of how planets form:
"...The object is an interesting test case for theories of planet formation ... Based on observations of this system, the super Jupiter appears to have formed in the same way ordinary, lower-mass exoplanets do, by coalescing from a 'protoplanetary disk' of material orbiting a nascent star....

"...Previously, some scientists had doubted that such large stars could give birth to planets in protoplanetary disks. The new finding indicates that this star probably did just that...."
(Space.com)
I'm fascinated by this sort of thing.

In 'practical' terms, I'd be astonished if what's learned about the Kappa Andromedae planetary system changes the way most of us live. Not in the short term, anyway.

On the other hand, I think there is value in looking beyond what will provide our next meal, or shelter for the night:
"The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give him thanks for all his works and for the understanding and wisdom he gives to scholars and researchers. With Solomon they can say: 'It is he who gave me unerring knowledge of what exists, to know the structure of the world and the activity of the elements. . . for wisdom, the fashioner of all things, taught me.'121"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 283)
That "...the structure of the world..." quote is from Wisdom:7:17-22.

I see no problem with learning about God's creation: even if in the process we discover that folks who lived about 22 centuries ago hadn't learned quite as much as we have.

Moving along.

4. Of Points and People


(J. Wilkins, via ScienceNews.org, used w/o permission)
"Half-million-year-old spear tips recovered from the Kathu Pan 1 site in South Africa, including the one shown from different angles, suggest that an ancestor of humans and Neandertals used weapons for hunting...."
"Oldest examples of hunting weapon uncovered in South Africa"
Bruce Bower, ScienceNews (November 15, 2012)
"Common ancestor of people and Neandertals may have flung stone-tipped shafts at animal prey

"Scientists working in South Africa have unearthed the oldest-known spear tips, apparently made by a common ancestor of people and Neandertals around 500,000 years ago.

"More than 200 stone points found at a site called Kathu Pan 1 display modifications and damage consistent with having been attached to spear handles and hurled at animal prey such as springbok, say Jayne Wilkins, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and her colleagues....

"...Human ancestors were regularly killing game by 780,000 years ago in the Middle East, as evidenced by remains of butchered deer carcasses. Until now, the earliest stone spear tips came from a Neandertal site in France dating to between 300,000 and 200,000 years ago. Wooden spears from 400,000 years ago have been found among the remains of butchered horses in Germany (SN: 3/1/97, p. 134)...."
"Common ancestor of people and Neandertals...." I'm not entirely comfortable with that phrase, although I think the author intended to distinguish between folks who look like us, and the folks whose burial sites, tools, and - maybe - paintings, were first found near Neandertal.


(Pedro Saura, via Science/AAAS, via National Geographic, used w/o permission)
"In El Castillo cave, hand stencils join a red disk (not pictured) that may be Earth's oldest cave art."
(National Geographic News)

People, Propriety, and Paleontology

Facial forensic reconstruction by artist CĂ­cero MoraesI'll grant that Homo sapiens neanderthalensis/Homo neanderthalensis obviously aren't the pointy-chinned Homo sapiens sapiens we're used to seeing.

But paleontologists eventually realized that Neanderthal skeletons didn't 'just happen' to show up near tools, cooking fires, and what was left of homes.

As far as I'm concerned, folks who acted as Neanderthals did were people: even if they don't look like the better sort in today's northwestern Europe. I'll admit to a bias, since my ancestry isn't entirely 'proper' by some standards:
...One of my ancestors, asked about the family of a young man who had been nosing around her daughter, explained: 'he doesn't have family: he's Irish.' The two got married, anyway....
(November 13, 2008)
There's even good reason to suppose that there's a little Neanderthal in most folks who came from the far end of Europe. That didn't shock or surprise me, since I don't look quite like my Campbell ancestors, either. (May 15, 2012) That's almost another topic:

"How Vast the Sum of Them!"

As I've said before, I'm willing to take God's creation 'as is,' including aspects we didn't know about until recently:
"...I'm Catholic, so I believe Genesis 3:1-6. But that doesn't mean that I believe Earth is flat, or that the universe is about 6,000 years old.

What we're learning about how "deep is the well of the past" (Thomas Mann) doesn't bother me. I might as well let my faith be shaken by the knowledge that "noon" in Minneapolis doesn't happen at the same time as "noon" in London or Bangkok.

The awesome scale of God's creation, as discovered in the last century or so, can be breathtaking. It also seems quite consistent with believing that God is all-powerful...."
(June 13, 2012)
"How precious to me are your designs, O God; how vast the sum of them!"
(Psalms 139:17)
I could be a Catholic, and remain ignorant of everything people have discovered about the universe. But that seems like an odd way of showing respect for the Creator. The Church is okay with us studying the visible world, because:
"...the things of the world

and the things of faith

derive from the same God...
"

(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 159)
Finally, those half-million-year-old spear tips are far from the oldest example of folks acting like people:
And that's - what else? - another topic.

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I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

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Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

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