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Vatican advisers meet to consider future of limbo

This was mentioned on Gerry Ryan yesterday morning, where he asked the obvious question – what on earth happens all those people in limbo? Where do they go now. Sinead has also brought the subject up.

Yes the Catholic Church is an easy thing to take the piss out of on occassions such as this. I like the history of the idea though:

…in 1905, pope and now St Pius X made a definitive declaration confirming the existence of limbo. “Children who die without baptism go into limbo, where they do not enjoy God, but they do not suffer either, because having original sin, and only that, they do not deserve paradise, but neither hell nor purgatory.”

However the statement was not made infallibly.

Imagine if it was made infallibly, oh the horror! The Church wouldn’t be able to back track once an idea became untenable.

Kansas school board redefines science

More on science and religion, the Kansas Board of Education has approved new public school science standards yesterday that cast doubt on the theory of evolution. Notes CNN:

The challenged concepts cited include the basic Darwinian theory that all life had a common origin and the theory that natural chemical processes created the building blocks of life.

In addition, the board rewrote the definition of science, so that it is no longer limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena.

I just feel sorry for the students.

The BBC report on it here:

The new standards include several specific challenges, including statements that there is a lack of evidence or natural explanation for the genetic code, and charges that fossil records are inconsistent with evolutionary theory.

It also states that says certain evolutionary explanations “are not based on direct observations… and often reflect… inferences from indirect or circumstantial evidence”.

“This is a great day for education,” board chairman Steve Abrams told the Reuters news agency.

Evolution in the bible, says Vatican

I think the phrase here is ‘flip-flop‘:

Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said the Genesis description of how God created the universe and Darwin’s theory of evolution were “perfectly compatible” if the Bible were read correctly.

His statement was a clear attack on creationist campaigners in the US, who see evolution and the Genesis account as mutually exclusive.

“The fundamentalists want to give a scientific meaning to words that had no scientific aim,” he said at a Vatican press conference. He said the real message in Genesis was that “the universe didn’t make itself and had a creator”.

The Mater Hospital and cancer drugs

Twenty Major highlighted something I have been meaning to write about. That is the rather odd (crazy?) decision of the Mater Hospital. I will try and tell the story in brief for those of you who have not read about it.

Brian Conlan, Chief Executive of the Mater hospital, along with the clinical trials advisory group, decided that it was against the hospital’s Catholic ethos to allow a clinical trial of Tarceva, a drug which is said to prolong life in patients with lung cancer. This was because women in the trial would be required to use contraceptives, as the drug could have catastrophic effects on an unborn baby. The trial was therefore deferred.

The Irish Times recently reported:

In June Mr Conlan wrote to the hospital board saying his group was receiving clinical trial applications which contravened the hospital’s ethos.

The Mater said the advisory group deferred its decision on the Tarceva trial because it knew another committee in the hospital, with three members, was drafting the wording of an extra information leaflet which would be given to trial participants and would reflect the hospital’s ethos.

Fr Kevin Doran, Mater chairman John Morgan, and a nurse tutor, Sr Eugene Nolan, are on this group which will report on its leaflet to a full meeting of the hospital board on October 18th.

A hospital spokesman said that if the board adopted the wording at that stage, the advisory group could give the trial the go-ahead.

I side with Twenty on this one:

The irony of a nun and a priest making a decision about contraception is hardly worth noting but this is the kind of shite we had to put up with for years in Ireland. We had a government but the church ran everything really. I really did think their influence had waned to a point where they were as insignificant as they deserved to be but there’s still a bit of life left in the rancid old dragon yet.

Life is a cup of tea

I have been vaguely following the Intelligent Design court case in the US. It should be noted that in 1987 the Supreme Court ruled that teaching creationism in public-school science classes was an unconstitutional blurring of church and state. But the current issue centers on this:

Last year, the school board in Dover, a small rural school district near Harrisburg, mandated a brief disclaimer before pupils are taught about evolution. They are to be told that “The theory [of evolution] is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence.â€? And that if they wish to investigate the alternative theory of “intelligent designâ€?, they should consult a book called “Of Pandas and Peopleâ€? in the school library.

Eleven parents, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, two lobby groups, are suing to have the disclaimer dropped. Intelligent design, they say, is merely a clever repackaging of creationism, and as such belongs in a sermon, not a science class.

In my view that is exactly what intelligent design is – cleverly repackaged creationism.

Kenneth Miller, the author of a popular biology textbook and the plaintiffs’ first witness, said that, to his knowledge, every major American scientific organisation with a view on the subject supported the theory of evolution and dismissed the notion of intelligent design. As for “Of Pandas and Peopleâ€?, he pronounced that the book was “inaccurate and downright false in every sectionâ€?.

And on the subject of tea:

To illustrate the difference between scientific and religious “levels of understandingâ€?, Mr Haught asked a simple question. What causes a kettle to boil? One could answer, he said, that it is the rapid vibration of water molecules. Or that it is because one has asked one’s spouse to switch on the stove. Or that it is “because I want a cup of tea.â€? None of these explanations conflicts with the others. In the same way, belief in evolution is compatible with religious faith: an omnipotent God could have created a universe in which life subsequently evolved.

It makes no sense, argued the professor, to confuse the study of molecular movements by bringing in the “I want teaâ€? explanation. That, he argued, is what the proponents of intelligent design are trying to do when they seek to air their theory—which he called “appalling theologyâ€?—in science classes.

George Bush: God Made Me Do It. . .

I know that some people on the right in America forget that Bush is a fundamentalist Christian, and some even argue that having a devout Christian in the White House is a good thing. I have my doubts. Especially when you are waste high in Islamic countries. But the White House has denied he ever said anything of the sort. I doubt that too. Of course it is based on the accounts of Palestinian politicians so the whole story is not exactly on solid ground.

Church attendance

Here’s an interesting graph from this month’s Foreign Policy. It show church attendance as a percentage of the population attending church at least once a week. As you can see Ireland is way out in front.


Do that many Irish people still go to Mass? I really didn’t think the figures were still that high. FP reads into the figures as following (Ireland was ranked third last in the CDI)

The CDI (Commitment to Development Index) measures whether rich states fulfill this commandment. Interesting enough, countries where fewer people go to church score higher in the index. Or, in other words, where there is more preaching, there is less practicing. Just 3 percent of Danes, who rank at the top of the CDI, attend church at least once a week, according to the World Values Survey, which tracks social and cultural changes worldwide. In second-place Netherlands, church attendance stands at 14 percent, while in third-ranked Sweden, a mere 7 percent of the population goes to church once a week. At the opposite extreme is Ireland, which ranks 18th out of 21 CDI countries, but where church attendance stands at 65 percent.

The source of this pattern may be where people put their faith—whether in government bodies or religious institutions. The Netherlands and Nordic nations are small and homogeneous, and they maintain small gaps between rich and poor domestically. As a result, citizens seem to place more trust in elected officials to represent their interests, and, in turn, have a more activist development agenda. They rank highly thanks in no small part to generous foreign aid programs—and an apparent faith in their government’s ability to do good.

Bush and Evolution

Kevin Drum is reminding some of those on the right about Bush’s views on evolution and creationism – apparently some of them forgot.

Actually, what bugged me most about this whole affair was reading the faux outrage from Bush’s conservative supporters in the blogosphere, as if they had no idea he felt this way before this week. Give it a rest, guys. Bush thinks creationism sounds great, Tom DeLay thinks the teaching of evolution was responsible for the Columbine shootings, and Bill Frist — a medical doctor! — is so scared of the Christian right that last December on “This Week” he hemmed and hawed and fidgeted like a naughty schoolchild while repeatedly declining to say whether he thought HIV-AIDS could be transmitted through tears or sweat.

The venerable Dan Drezner also weighs in, I agree with him.

Ronan Mullen on Islam

I really don’t know what to make of Ronan Mullen’s remarks today. Has anyone any thoughts on this?

We have grounds for humility. It took Western Christianity centuries to arrive at the insight that human dignity called for freedom of religion, equal opportunities between the sexes and so on. But Islam’s problem is that it’s not there yet. It does not have the centralisation of religious authority which can both unify people around a coherent set of values and prevent the emergence of extremes. That is a real problem which cannot be explained by American preoccupation with oil, Israeli oppression of the Palestinians or the invasion of Iraq.

I really am stumped. Where do I start?

It sounds like what he is really getting at is Islam – not to mention fundamentalist Islam – is an inferior religion to Christianity. He also seems to suggest there there are not as many extremes in Christianity. Does this strike anyone as just a little ethnocentric?

To follow logically what he is saying –

Christianity (the West) is centuries ahead of Islam (Near East, Middle East) on the human rights front. Islam needs to be more like Christianity, because Christianity is centuries ahead of it. The centralisation of power in Christianity unifies people (surely he means Catholicism, unless he means the Great Schism, Reformation, Counter-Reformation), and prevents the emergence of extremism (can you count the number of extreme Christian movements?).

What this does reek of is cultural and religious superiority. And given Mullen’s track record it is not Christianity he refers to, it is that special flavour (or extreme, depending on your view) called ‘Catholicism’.

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