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EF vs. OF: Love Them Both

EF vs. OF: Love Them Both

After reading the article “Extraordinary Form 101” in your November 2008 issue, I recalled my own experience of the Latin Mass all through my youth and seminary training.

I do not think either the Traditional Latin Mass or the Vatican II Mass will ever solve all the problems associated with the practical, everyday celebration of the liturgy.

I have had the experience both in my youth and old age of hearing Mass (either in English or Latin) said at breakneck speed and with little reverence. I’ve heard the comments, such as, “Oh, we like Fr. So and So’s Mass. He’s really quick.” Twelve-minute English or Latin Masses are hardly the contemplative experience that you so well point out should be the focus of our participation in Mass.

I agree with your assertion that silence is such an important experience at Mass. And I believe that the common experience of the vernacular Mass is that there is the minimum of silence. The celebrant, I think, is afraid the people will get “antsy.” We need considerably more silence in the vernacular Mass, especially at Communion (only a pittance of people sing at Communion), and I can’t blame them.

I question whether what happened in the 60s is now being reversed. You are right in declaring that many looked down upon the old Latin Mass. But now there seems to be a movement that also looks down on the vernacular Mass. Perhaps they are reacting to the uncalled for and illicit experimentation with the new liturgy. But I don’t think we should throw out the baby with the bathwater.

I believe that hearing Mass in your own language has a great immediacy when celebrated with devotion and reverence. For instance: I love the Latin hymn Tantum Ergo, but I really had no inkling of the beauty of the thought contained therein until I sang it in translation in English.

Just as the new liturgy did not prove to be the end-all and be-all of drawing people to church, I don’t think the old Latin liturgy can be promoted that way either. Each has its beauty. Why can’t we love them both?

—Rev. James Hutchins
Broomall, Pennsylvania


Design Debate Not Over Yet

In his article titled “Aquinas vs. Intelligent Design,” (November 2008) Professor Tkacz claims that ID depends on a “god of the gaps” view of divine agency. This is not true. I recommend that Professor Tkacz read William A. Dembski’s book, The Design Revolution, where this accusation is put to rest.

Dembski, the leading ID advocate, doesn’t make any assumptions about how divine agency operates. ID does not require interventionism, breaks in the chain of causation or miracles. Dembski’s claim is simply that some natural phenomena cannot be explained only in terms of chance, necessity or the combination thereof. A third category must be invoked, namely intelligence. ID theory does not attempt to answer how intelligence is introduced into nature. It merely claims to have a reliable method for detecting intelligent design in nature.

Dembski does claim that chance, necessity, or their combination can be eliminated as explanations for some phenomena, but this is an empirical claim, not a philosophical one. Dembski asserts that “specified complexity” is a reliable criterion for detecting design in nature, and where specified complexity truly exists, purely natural explanations are ruled out because they are so improbable. Dembski’s approach to ID is probabilistic and is based on mathematics, information theory, and statistics.

[Michael] Behe’s concept of irreducible complexity is, according to Dembski, a special case of specified complexity. In essence, Behe argues that, given what we know about biochemistry, it is biologically unreasonable to assert that Darwinian evolution explains everything.

—David Crane
Mott, North Dakota

Michael Tkacz replies: It is quite true that neither Dr. Dembski nor Dr. Behe makes any direct claims about God’s agency. Yet it seems clear that they are attempting to provide a variation of William Paley’s famous argument from design. If I am right about this, then they are attempting a sort of teleological account rather different from that of St. Thomas. Insofar as ID theorists are arguing for a non-reductionist, anti-materialist account of organisms, then they are on the same page with Thomists. To the extent, however, that ID theorists are claiming that a consciously intelligent non-natural designer operating within nature is necessary to explain organisms, then they part ways with Thomists.

For St. Thomas, the intelligibility of nature is the manifestation of intrinsic principles of natural order that provide the scientific explanation of natural substances, such as organisms. The existence of such order, a cosmic system of ordered causes, does indeed require God as its source. What God is the source for here is not what nature cannot produce on her own, but natural productivity itself. Thus, if Dr. Behe claims that there are organic complexities that natural selection operating on random variations cannot explain, that is one thing. If, however, he claims that the irreducible complexities cannot in principle be explained by the intelligible natural order that is quite another. From the Thomistic point of view, the first claim may or may not be true, but the second claim cannot be. God has, in a single eternal act, endowed nature with the autonomous intelligible order that explains her operations. To claim that her operations cannot account for what is produced within her is to appeal to a god of the gaps.

Because God exists independently from us creatures and needs nothing from us, the efficacy of prayer is for us, not God. God is always bestowing his goodness upon us in an eternal act of benevolence and prayer opens us to receive what God already provides. Miracles are God’s revelation to us and, as such, are beyond human understanding. Yet, however God brings about what he does in his creation, it cannot be in a way that violates his uniquely divine way of acting.

Evolution’s Gaps

Michael Tkacz presents Michael Behe’s idea of irreducible complexity in his article in the November issue. Behe does not say that irreducible complexity means he judges something as unanswerable. He is using the concept to show that natural selection can not account for such things as the eye. Like all creation, irreducible complexity shows evidence for a Creator. It also means that something other than natural selection is needed to explain the development of the eye and some other structures. Evolution, as now presented, is really a philosophy used to beat down the belief in creation and so needs to be addressed by Thomists who should not simply think, as some do, that evolution is a fact and not a theory. Where does Behe say that “no such explanation can ever be given in terms of the operation of nature?” Thomists should support the idea that evolutionists are going beyond the facts.

—Alan Walker
Royal Oak, Michigan

Michael Tkacz replies: Mr. Walker is certainly correct that Dr. Behe does not say that irreducibly complex organisms are inexplicable. Indeed, Behe does offer an explanation: an intelligent designer. Thus, his claim goes further than simply saying that natural selection is insufficient. The problem is that his intelligent designer is not the Creator of theistic tradition. In particular, this designer is not the Divine Designer of St. Thomas’ argument from design, according to which natural things possess an intrinsic intelligibility and directedness in their operation that require God as their source. God, however, is the source of this purposefulness, not as an external force, but by being that upon which natural purpose depends for its reality. Thus, it is not the complexity of the organism that is irreducible, it is the purposefulness of the whole natural system which contains that complexity that is irreducible. The complexity remains a result of that natural system, it is still naturally caused. Whether or not that cause is natural selection is a biological question and one quite different from the question of why there exists a natural system, no matter how it works. The answer to the biological question must articulate those natural causes that produce the complexity. The answer to the question of why there are natural causes at all is the Divine Designer.

God Is Not a Stoic

The article by Michael Tkacz is a downer. It portrays a God who, since his act of Creation, does not intervene in nature. But is this credible?

What about Adam and Eve and the Incarnation? What about miracles in the Old Testament and Jesus’ miracles? What about visions and bi-locations of saints? Did this all happen without divine intervention? What about prayers for rain and prayers for the sick? How does a non-intervening God respond? How can an all-powerful God show his mercy or his wrath if he is handcuffed in heaven?

The God that Tkacz envisions resembles a stoic God. In contrast, Catholics believe in a personal and merciful God who does in fact intervene in nature and who is alive and active in their daily lives.

—George Koenig
St. Francis, Wisconsin

What About the Flood?

I find the statement “God does not intervene into nature nor does he adjust or ‘fix up’ natural things” perplexing (“Aquinas vs. Intelligent Design”). Some might argue that statement reinforces the false idea that there may have been a God of Creation, but he then “moved on” and is no longed actively involved making the question of his existence a non-issue. Did not God send or allow the Flood? Is John’s book of Revelation a fable?

Will the angel not cast the censer upon the earth? Will the “flaming mountain” not be cast into the sea? I realize that what Mr. Tkacz said was in regards to an error of the ID theory, but I just want to be sure that it is correct to believe that God can cause, allow, and mitigate natural disasters. (Yet not a single sparrow falls to the ground . . . )

—Jeremy Delvaille
Via e-mail

Michael Tkacz replies: St. Thomas would certainly agree with Mr. Delvaille that the notion that God created and programmed nature to run by herself—that he wound up the cosmic clock, as the old image has it—is false. Thomas is no deist. Rather, his concern is to distinguish natural causes operating within nature from God as the ultimate cause of nature. To hold that God operates within nature as a substitute for the usual natural causes is inconsistent with God’s transcendence. At the same time, Thomas would insist that God is immanent to the whole of nature and to each and every natural thing and process through his power and goodness. This is what is indicated by the scriptural analogies that Mr. Delvaille mentions. At the same time, we must avoid being misled by our analogies for God’s agency. Human knowers are unable to understand how God does what he does, and the best we can do is to talk about God as though he were a natural thing, while admitting he is not. Yet, Thomas would remind us that this is indeed analogy and, like all analogies, it limps. When the psalmist sings of God’s care for his creation as a mother hen cares for her chicks, we are not to conclude that God is the Great Cosmic Chicken. Clearly, the psalmist’s analogy is intended to capture some truth about God’s benevolent relationship with his creation that cannot be expressed in a direct scientific account. The same can be said for the scriptural analogies to which Mr. Delvaille draws our attention. No doubt. Thomas would agree that they are all true analogies, but he would remind us that the way in which we must understand their truth cannot violate God’s unique, transcendent, and eternal mode of agency. God is utterly remote and different. Yet, he is intimately close and shares his reality with us. We know both are true even if how they can both be true is beyond human understanding.

Ray of Truth

As a student attending a liberal state college, I want to thank you for your refreshing magazine. It is truly a ray of Catholic truth amidst the many falsehoods and heresies that I encounter nearly every day. I especially enjoy Robert Lockwood’s Truth be Told column because it gives me ammo when I need to have answers about particular episodes in Church history.

Keep up your excellent work!

—Deanna Koepl
Nezperce, Idaho


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