Thursday, January 15, 2009

More on RJN

The other day I posted notice of the passing of one of the nation's most prolific and profound writers on culture and religion, Richard John Neuhaus. I admired him very much and his death is a great loss. So that you might understand a little more of the man than what was included in my previous post I invite you to read this column by David Brooks that my friend Stephen forwarded to me. All of it is worth reading, but this passage, where Brooks quotes Neuhaus describing an experience he had in the hospital while recovering from his first bout with cancer, was particularly interesting:

Much later, Neuhaus endured his own near-death experience. An undiagnosed tumor led to a ruptured intestine and a series of operations. He recovered slowly, first in intensive care, and then in a regular hospital room, where something strange happened.

"I was sitting up staring intently into the darkness, although in fact I knew my body was lying flat," he later wrote in an essay called "Born Toward Dying" in his magazine, First Things. "What I was staring at was a color like blue and purple, and vaguely in the form of hanging drapery. By the drapery were two 'presences.' I saw them and yet did not see them, and I cannot explain that ... .

"And then the presences - one or both of them, I do not know - spoke. This I heard clearly. Not in an ordinary way, for I cannot remember anything about the voice. But the message was beyond mistaking: 'Everything is ready now.' "

That was the end of Neuhaus's vision, but not his experience. "I pinched myself hard, and ran through the multiplication tables, and recalled the birth dates of my seven brothers and sisters, and my wits were vibrantly about me. The whole thing had lasted three or four minutes, maybe less. I resolved at that moment that I would never, never let anything dissuade me from the reality of what had happened. Knowing myself, I expected I would later be inclined to doubt it. It was an experience as real, as powerfully confirmed by the senses, as anything I have ever known."

I encourage you to read the whole piece.


Cellular Machines

I suppose the systems and machines that you see in these animations could be the result of blind chance acting over a billion years of time, like the fabled monkey at the keyboard typing out a Shakespearean sonnet. On the other hand, I think it takes quite a lot of faith in the power of chance, time and natural selection to believe that such tiny marvels could have been constructed that way. It's the equivalent of believing that a series of hurricanes, stretched over a billion years, could assemble an automobile factory out of the wreckage in a junkyard.

This animation depicts DNA translation and protein synthesis:

This computer simulation describes the complexity of the bacterial flagellum - a molecular motor:

We know that purposeful, intelligent minds can produce wonders like these. We see it happen every day. What we never see happen is the construction of such marvels by blind physical forces. Yet we're asked to accept, actually we're told to accept, that it's much more reasonable to believe what we've never seen happen - the construction of tiny factories by chance and impersonal forces - than to believe what we always see happen - the construction of complex machinery by an intelligent engineer.

It's actually pretty bizarre when you think about it.


Culture of Death

A fascination with death is typical of morally exhausted, effete societies. The difference between radical Islamists and those elements of Western civilization still under Christian influence that the Islamists wish to destroy is that Islamists value death the way most Westerners, particularly Christians, value life. Listen, for instance, to the words of this Palestinian (courtesy of Hot Air):

I can't imagine a cultural divide greater than this. One culture considers murdering school children to be perhaps the worst possible crime, the other treats the killers as heroes. One culture treats death as a great evil, the other as a great good. One culture teaches that we should love our enemies while the other teaches that we should hate them with an all-consuming hatred. One culture wants to convert the world to Christianity through the persuasion of reason and the heart, the other is determined to convert the world to its belief through fear, intimidation and murder.

This is the existential challenge we and our children face in the 21st century. The great question of the next couple of decades will be whether we will have the will to resist a militant Islam that believes it has a divine mandate to spread its culture across the globe and kill all who refuse to submit.