Salt and Light



I was deeply moved by Sally Thomas’ article about her experience as a homeschooling mother (“Schooling at Home,” April). Her description of the order of her children’s days was inspiring; she seems to have constructed a truly Christ-centered learning environment—no mean feat!

I feel compelled to offer some thoughts that are aimed not at undermining Thomas’ efforts and intentions but rather at understanding the implications of homeschooling as an American “movement.” As the mother of five children, I wrestle most days with how to help them sort out and make sense of the contradictory messages they receive in their public school classrooms—messages in the form of curriculum but also in the form of the personal sidenotes and opinions of teachers who are, in general, dedicated, self-sacrificing, and wholly surrendered to secular humanism. I cringe at the sex education inflicted on my eighth-grader. I rankle at the revisionist history fed to my fifth-grader. I groan at the endless, tedious homework over which my third-grader toils—preparation for a standardized state test that I believe to be intellectually pointless.

But, tempting as it is some days, I cannot in good conscience pull the children out of their schools. Why? Because their schools need them. Their teachers need them. Their friends need them. Christ calls us to be “salt and light” and admonishes us not to hide our light under bushel baskets. How can I keep these young Christians from shining and being salty? Indeed, it takes more moral effort for me to send them out—to encourage their being “in the world but not of the world”—when, like any mother, I’d much rather protect them! I suppose it is accurate to say that I see this as a case of my Christian responsibility taking authority over my maternal instincts.

For committed Christians to cede the public schools and the next generation (even in the cause of sheltering our own children) is, to me, a betrayal of those to whom we are most emphatically called to serve: the lost. It compromises our witness to the very children we are seeking to form for Christ. And it leaves both our own children and those left within the system we abandon progressively more vulnerable to the forces and voices that replace us in that system.

 

 

Shannon Vowell
Dallas, Texas


I thank Sally Thomas for presenting homeschooling in a way that would be enlightening to those who are unfamiliar with the concept, without presenting such an idealized vision that it sends the more perfectionistic of us into paroxysms of self-reproach. Most important, she shows the reader what is to be gained when the line of demarcation “between learning and everything else” is eliminated in establishment of the homeschool. This blending of home and school is something that is, regardless of disparity in individual family situations, worthy not only of admiration but also of imitation.



Ellyn Smith von Huben
Lake Bluff, Illinois


In “Schooling at Home,” Sally Thomas makes use of the language of monasticism to describe her homeschooling experience. I found this language particularly striking, having just read Fr. Neuhaus’ powerful critique of Christian subculture in the Public Square section of the same issue. I wonder to what extent the general inability of Christians to interact with and influence the culture around us for Christ is a result of the fact that, from their earliest years, our children have been separated to a large degree from the very culture we hope they will one day understand and influence. Could it be that, despite some of the real advantages of homeschools and private Christian schools, they have in some respects become the nurseries of the very Christian subculture that is now proving to be so impotent as a force for cultural change?

In withdrawing our children from schools in our communities, are we as parents missing one of the most natural opportunities God has given us to know and love our neighbors, and to be part of the local community where God has placed us in order to influence that community for Christ?

Adam L. Brice
Conshohocken, Pennsylvania


Sally Thomas replies:


I sympathize with Shannon Vowell’s conflicted loyalty to her children’s schools. Our oldest daughter spent four years in an English working-class neighborhood school where she was conspicuous not only for being American but also for having parents who were actually married to each other. The education on offer wasn’t brilliant—“random topics” seemed to be the general theme of the National Curriculum—but, as we told ourselves, it was OK. We could supplement at home. And meanwhile, our daughter was receiving a valuable cultural education, right?

This is what we told ourselves even in the face of, for instance, the sex-education program we encountered in Year Four, the English equivalent of third grade. When we discovered, among other things, that it included an animated video sequence of teddy bears having fairly graphic sex, we exercised our right to opt out and took the children to the British Museum that day instead.

Certainly Jesus tells us all to be salt and light. In the Christian tradition, however, we also use expressions like “reaching the age of reason” for a reason: recognition of the fundamental difference between an adult’s understanding and a child’s. The idea of sending a child daily into a hostile environment—if not actively hostile, as in bullying, then certainly philosophically hostile, as Vowell aptly describes—expecting him to transform the entire system by his presence seems sadly misguided to me.

If, as Adam Brice suggests, Christians are truly impotent in engaging secular culture, perhaps the problem is not that too many of us have withdrawn from it but that too many of us have surrendered our cultural distinctiveness. If we urge our children to integrate into the secular mainstream, and it turns out instead that the secular mainstream is integrated into them, then what we will end up with is, well, what we largely have: a generation that believes Christianity is only about not being judgmental.

Is homeschooling, ultimately, selfish? That seems to be the real charge here. Vowell speaks of our Christian responsibility to “the lost,” while Brice laments that homeschoolers miss out “on one of the most natural opportunities God has given us to know and love our neighbors.” In response (aside from wondering where it’s written that we’re called to serve everyone else in the world but say to our children, “Deal with it, honey”), I suppose I mainly wonder at what point the local public school became the sum total of the community. If our children aren’t in public school, does it follow that they aren’t anywhere at all? I wonder why the public school should be a more natural environment for loving our neighbors than anywhere else.

Some people worry about the state of our schools; I worry about the American neighborhood. In our modest little 1950s subdivision, many of our neighbors who bought their houses new fifty years ago now find themselves old, homebound, and vulnerable, and more and more the street is becoming populated by younger strangers who aren’t here most of the time. One of the distinct advantages afforded by homeschooling is that we are here a lot.

Finally, thanks to Ellyn Smith von Huben for her kind remarks. I sometimes wish I had a more idealized reality to represent: the family string quartet, the children who spontaneously perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream when the grandparents come for dinner, that kind of thing. On the other hand, the rather more chaotic reality we do have is lots of fun. I can imagine things I might regret at the end of this life, but having spent too much time with my children won’t be one of them.Just Wars and Rumors of Wars


Once we have taken a position on a moral issue, we are inclined to defend it to the last. Such is one way of looking at George Weigel’s “Just War and Iraq Wars” (April). In his 2003 “Moral Clarity in a Time of War,” he based his defense of the war on the position that a country’s right to defend itself against attack extends to preemptive measures. That position has been characterized as “opening a Pandora’s box” of just-war issues. “There might be a point here,” as Peter Sills notes in Your Kingdom Come, “if the evidence of imminent attack was clear and undisputed, but that was not the case at the time, and Weigel’s argument sounds like an attempt to give moral justification to a decision already taken on other grounds.”

In this latest article, Weigel continues to defend the justness of the war by a series of “What if . . .” scenarios had we not gone to war in 2003. As they say in Vegas, “You always win in retrospect.” Like all arguments from silence, we will never know. My own opinion at the time was that, though our invasion would certainly be successful militarily, our actions would involve us in a much more difficult situation—creating a new government in Iraq—and would create more terrorists than it would eliminate.

There was a distinct lack of imagination and creative thinking in how to deal with the problem of Saddam and Iraq; I do not believe that the war was the course of last resort or that all other alternatives had been exhausted. Driven by post-September 11 anxieties, our government was committed to war in Iraq at least a year in advance, unable to see issues or solutions in any other terms than black-and-white, either/or thinking.

I am not of the cut-and-run crowd. Weigel is surely right: We cannot simply pull out. That would create a new Cambodia, a bloodbath that would throw the region into chaos. And so we are stuck in the most unenviable of situations—refereeing an Iraqi civil war we helped create.

I came of age at a time when a president from Texas arrogantly and on a pretext took us into a costly foreign war that was badly managed, drained our resources, put our military into a terrible situation, divided the nation, and then left the White House and retired to his ranch in Texas in despair. Now, as I enter my later years, another president from Texas has followed the same course. I regret that I ever trusted the man. Our prayer must be that somehow our nation can persevere to a solution that will create a future of hope for the long-suffering people of Iraq and secure a durable peace in the region.

Pastor Dan Biles
St. Paul Lutheran Church
Spring Grove, Pennsylvania


Much as I admire George Weigel, I found his “Just War and the Iraq Wars” a tad implausible. I suspect that the Iraq War is best understood as an outcome of an intuition: If we can only change some of the players in the region, then democracy and peace might have a chance—an intuition, perhaps even a hope, which I shared. It is difficult, however, to justify this war using any robust ethical criteria.

To his credit, Weigel has made his task harder. By endorsing a ius post bellum third leg, Weigel does concede that the allies are responsible for subsequent events since the invasion. Although the allies are not directly responsible for the sectarian violence, we are responsible for the context that allowed such violence to flourish.

Given all this, I am puzzled how the criteria can be used to justify the war in Iraq as opposed to other potential conflicts. If we toppled the Baathist regime because it was deeply unpleasant, then there are plenty of other unpleasant regimes that we ought to topple. If we toppled the regime because of its potential to acquire nuclear weapons, then the other members of the axis of evil—North Korea and Iran—need attention. If, as Weigel focuses on, we toppled the regime because the allies were enforcing the resolutions of the United Nations, then what about other nations in the world who are in violation of such resolutions? Consistency is the problem. Taken in isolation, one can perhaps find just cause in any particular war.

In addition, given the obligation for a just peace to be realized, the subsequent deterioration—a result, as Weigel admits, of mistakes by the allies—has implications for the ethics of the action. It was the Dominican Eberhard Welty who stressed “the prospect of success” as a criterion for a just war. If we accept that
the “prospect of success” includes the creation of a just peace, then we are failing to meet this criterion.

There is a tacit recognition that continued efforts to succeed in the face of overwhelming death and mayhem would be inappropriate. Weigel concedes this when he admits that the allies might move from central Iraq to defend the Kurds (which itself has complex geopolitical implications). Is this really so different from those who argue that, given that we are not succeeding, we should then withdraw? Surely a relocation is to all intents and purposes a withdrawal?

Ian S. Markham
Hartford Seminary
Hartford, Connecticut


George Weigel presumes too much. Beginning with the basics, he dismisses the argument that America’s first strike against Iraq was a “war of choice.” He repeatedly justifies the war as one “of necessity” to stabilize world order, democracy, and liberty. But from whence derives the authority that designates the United States as supreme arbiter of global order (and “order” by whose definition)? It would seem that the United States has mantled itself with the unabridged right to decide which national governments deserve to exist and which must fall; Weigel and those who agree with him don’t acknowledge how and why this assumption of imperial power is dubious if not indefensible.

The sole world superpower that mounts war against another nation halfway around the world on the basis of thin “evidence” (later proved false) diminishes rather than enhances its ability to influence world affairs toward the goal Weigel champions—“to create peace.” Iraq was not a colluding partner in the September 11 attacks, although American officials implied a connection. Saddam Hussein did not have WMDs. He said so, but the United States called him a liar. The fact is, the ruthless dictator spoke truth and the superpower didn’t. Doesn’t that matter?

The United States was determined to conquer and occupy a country not an immediate or predominant threat. President Bush and his advisers rushed to invade a second country in the volatile Middle East, even though significant troop strength had already been deployed to occupy Afghanistan. Secretary Rumsfeld may have correctly assessed that a smaller troop contingent than the military recommended could depose Saddam, but, beyond that short-term goal, he and the administration and their supporters did not plan adequately; occupation, especially longer term, requires different strategy and tactics. This lack of full-picture planning allowed, as Weigel relates, three other “wars” to inflict death and destruction on Iraq, not to mention on the American servicemen and women stationed there. These layerings of violence certainly are the responsibilities of all parties to them—including Baathists, Jihadists, Sunnis, and Shias. But America, as the occupying force, cannot escape blame for the turmoil its occupation injected.

Weigel pleads that, had “we” understood “that the ‘links’ between Iraq and jihadist terrorism were of a different sort than the conspiracies for which Western intelligence agencies were searching,” America might have better planned for and dealt with those threats. But this also begs the question, because the extent of those threats are, at least partially, a function of U.S. military presence. Had U.S. military forces not occupied Iraq, forces of violence arguably would have clashed anyway—whether Saddam or some other Iraqi ruled. Every sovereign nation can be subject to devastating internal struggles, and, as long as these struggles do not “explode” into other countries, they are not a matter for military action (especially preemptive) by us.

Weigel also laments the lack of American foresight regarding the cost of infrastructure replacement. He quotes Max Boot, who says that just $2 billion has been spent on reconstruction in Iraq as of December 2004. There is no doubt that U.S. officials were unprepared to assume the complex burden of administering Iraq before an Iraqi government could be formed, and that included rebuilding projects. As is so often the case with government “oversight,” funds were and are being squandered and misused in both military and civilian endeavors.

Weigel asserts that “state-building was in fact the responsibility we had taken on by determining that regime change in Iraq was a necessity.” Again, the premises for determining such a “necessity” are faulty. Osama bin Laden is the accused and apparently confessed mastermind behind September 11. Yet he roams free somewhere, and we don’t hear administration officials pounding the table about him as they did about Iraq before the invasion—and as they do now about Iran and North Korea. Iraq, that oil country, unlike bin Laden, was not our immediate enemy in the aftermath of 2001 and was “contained.” Now that the occupation of Iraq has lost the support of the majority of the American people, Weigel readily admits that mistakes were made but still insists that “the war against terror will suffer commensurately if the Iraqi phase of the quest for freedom and a new politics in the Arab world is frustrated.” Well, war in that region may just inflate to unacceptable levels largely because we Americans arrogantly imposed ourselves without fully comprehending the geopolitical stresses that characterize Iraq as a nation and the Middle East as a region.

Too many U.S. politicians make the error of converting every striving and struggle in foreign countries into American terms and value systems. But the world contains many more nuances than the American banner words—liberty, democracy, free trade, equal rights, world order—embody. The United States cannot realistically view the world only through these lenses if it is to live in a peaceable world. Certainly we Americans can be justifiably proud of our values, and we can hope that other nations will see our successes and adopt them. But trying to export them by military force is a major contradiction. “Liberty” by superpower imposition isn’t true liberty, and democracy is not a political state that can be quickly superimposed on a nation unprepared.

And, as a coda, the United States should absolutely not commit our military to a third war (the second preemptive one) in the Middle East, against Iran. Certainly not at this time or under the current circumstances. But that is another discussion.

Kirstin Merrihew
Santa Rosa, California


George Weigel attributes to Michael Walzer the argument for a ius post bellum, or “right after the war.” He goes on to follow James Turner Johnson in pointing out the goal of peace is already encompassed by the traditional ad bellum criterion of “right intention,” which means it doesn’t have also to be in a new, separate set of criteria. While I agree that peace, as the “final cause” of the just act of war, is the object of the right intention to go to war, I also would like to point out, with Canadian just-war theorist Brian Orend, that the ius post bellum category is certainly not new, and that its origin goes back to Immanuel Kant. Indeed, in his Doctrine of the Right (1797), Kant breaks the “right of war” into three categories: the right to go to war, the right during the war, and the right after the war, echoing for the first two the traditional categories of ius ad bellum and ius in bello, and putting emphasis with the last on “the right of states to compel each other to abandon their war-like condition and to create a constitution which will establish an enduring peace.”

The ius post bellum category gets its validity from the fact that the goal of peace can only be said to be part of the right-intention criteria, formally speaking—meaning that commitment to a lasting peace must be intentionally present in the agent (the proper authority) before the declaration of war if it is to be considered just; whereas the actual duty of negotiating a peace treaty or getting involved in reconstruction happens “after the fact” and is per se the object of a different cluster of rules than that of the ius ad bellum.

As of this matter, Orend further credits Kant with the idea that sustainable peace not only has to be the general goal of war (Augustine, for instance, said that long before) but that this goal has to link all three categories so that they can’t really be separated (although conceptually distinct), an argument Orend is himself pushing on his own. The argument seeks, inter alia, to commit the state to at least a general but still realistic post bellum strategy in advance of the war, something observers suggest was lacking in the conduct of the war by the Bush administration.

Mathieu Scraire
Montreal, Canada


There is no democratic impulse in Islamic culture or tradition. There is no democratic lacuna to be found anywhere in its past, which means it’s reasonable to question whether Iraq is capable of democracy. No one in the administration wants to consider this question publicly for obvious reasons, not the least of which is that it should have been considered long before. In what even Weigel now calls a grievous lack of foresight, the administration considered this campaign only in terms of politics and military strategy. That Weigel continues to hold up policy wonks—whom he indicts in his essay—as the sage leaders who will now analyze our way out is frustrating, and his essays are beginning to sound recycled.

Tom Jay
Tempe, Arizona


The jus post bellum discussion begun by George Weigel comes not a moment too soon. Iraq is in a sorry state, and we—that is, the people of the United States—need to figure out exactly what kind of people we are and how we are to behave.

Since the opening days of the Iraq War, there have been those who claimed that we were heading into a quagmire, that we would be stuck in Iraq. Of course, we are not stuck; we can pack up and leave any time we want. What, however, is the nature of the commitment we have made to the people of Iraq in committing ourselves to their liberation from Saddam Hussein and his Baathist regime? There are some who said, even before combat operations began, that this was not a commitment the United States should be willing to make. Some thought the whole operation immoral from the start. Some thought the plan a bad idea on practical grounds.

Nonetheless, our nation chose a different path and reaffirmed that path in the 2004 elections. We have made an important commitment, knowing full well that we quite honestly did not know with any certainty what was going to happen once we got there—and it would be dishonest history to claim that anyone said they knew. The administration told the citizenry repeatedly that they expected some sort of resistance or insurgency, but no one knew how large or powerful or ruthless it would be. Weigel lays out the multiple mistakes this administration has made in the prosecution of its commitment to the people of Iraq; some necessary changes were slow in coming. At each step, though, this administration has acted in a spirit of creative fidelity to the commitment we as a country have made to the people of Iraq.

Still, since the commitment to armed intervention is not a marriage, there are circumstances under which it would be legitimate to withdraw. For what it is worth, here are my suggestions for when withdrawal is legitimate: (1) Our presence is causing more harm than good, either to those we are trying to help or to ourselves as a nation. This, I believe, is already covered under traditional jus ad bellum thought and accommodated under jus post bellum language. That 49 percent of Iraqis prefer the present situation to that under Saddam, while only 26 percent preferred the situation ante, indicates that the “more harm than good” threshold has not been reached. (2) The Iraqi nation asks us to leave. So far, the call has been precisely the opposite.

Stephen J. Heaney
University of St. Thomas
St. Paul, Minnesota


In reading George Weigel’s latest exercise in moral clarity on the war(s) in Iraq, one can’t help thinking of the advice usually given people who have dug themselves into a hole. But in this case it is difficult to advise him to stop digging, because he digs with such skill and gusto. As someone on the surface, I can’t help but admire his chutzpah in continuing to blame the hole on those of us who won’t jump in and help him dig. So I have to say that I look forward to more diligent shoveling in future issues.

David Carroll Cochran
Dubuque, Iowa


First, one looks in vain for an acknowledgement that both Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor condemned the U.S. invasion of Iraq. John Paul II worked tirelessly to convince leaders on the U.N. Security Council to oppose the war resolution on Iraq—earning worldwide admiration. But, in Weigel’s piece, the Catholic dissent is merely glossed in a reference to the “Society of Christian Ethics and the Catholic Theological Society of America.”

Second, Weigel blurs the intellectual rigor of Catholic just-war teachings in his long preamble about James Turner Johnson’s “right intention.” Besides paving the road to hell, “right intention” undermines the entire purpose of just-war theory. It removes the focus from submission to objective criteria to subjective wishes.

Weigel continues this declension from rationality to rationalization. His paragraphs are loaded with slogans—democracy, freedom, and prosperity (our side), or wrath, victimization, and false pretenders (their side). After pausing to acknowledge the strategic, military, and bureaucratic blunders of the United States, he launches into the heart of his piece: Blame Iraq and the Middle East. Thus he condemns the region for its unstable, corrupt, and unresponsive governments, while comparing it to the “ideological enemy with global ambitions” of the 1940s. It’s called having it both ways. Weigel’s toadying to Caesar is a reminder of why the gospel is important and why just-war teaching is necessary.

Caryl Johnston
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania


Thank you for publishing George Weigel’s excellent article. It was reassuring to see him reference Robert Kaplan and Max Boot. Too few who write about just-war theory make use of what the best commentators on military affairs have to say.

Despite its overly provocative title, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas Ricks is a very well-written book that has been well received by many within the military. One of Ricks’ main points is that, during the 2002-2003 build-up to war, Gen. Eric Shinseki, the former Army chief of staff who retired shortly after the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom, forcefully stated that, based on the army’s experience in Bosnia, a force of about 300,000 would be needed to stabilize Iraq after Saddam’s fall. A responsible debate over Iraq would have considered two options: a continued policy of containment or sending a force large enough to do the job. Unfortunately, civilian officials in the Department of Defense who were in favor of sending a smaller force carried the day. The result was, as one State Department official quoted in Ricks’ book said, the United States sent “just enough forces to elicit a strong response from Iraqi nationalists but inadequate forces to make the transition work.”

I believe the likelihood of failure as a result of sending an inadequate force was great enough to weaken Weigel’s argument that the invasion of Iraq was necessary. I believe, and certainly my expertise is limited at best, that the best option would have been to follow General Shinseki’s advice. If it proved politically impossible to convince the American people to support this, then it would in all likelihood have been a wiser course of action to continue a policy of containment. Neither of these options was chosen. As a result, there is now the potential that threats could emerge from Iraq that will prove to be greater than any danger Saddam Hussein was ever likely to pose. Also, the fact that Saddam Hussein was not in possession of WMDs shows that massive mistakes were made in evaluating the degree of the threat posed by Iraq. This also argues against the necessity of the invasion of Iraq; but, to be fair, decisions made in 2003 should be evaluated in light of the information that was available then.

Ryan Larson
Joliet, Illinois



George Weigel’s “Just War and Iraq Wars” is as lucid and engaging as I have come to expect from his pen. I hesitate to criticize one whose integrity, decency, and patriotism I have no cause to doubt, and who argues so articulately besides. In our common desire, we are certainly brothers. Nevertheless, I believe Weigel draws an erroneous conclusion precisely because he argues from a flawed premise, which is that we somehow owe the Iraqis a stable government. Surely that cannot be the case. Attaching any other criteria to the term victory other than “vanquishing the foe” is a prescription for interminable war, no matter how desirable or noble the goals may be—and that leads to lesser, not greater, justice.

His premise is too nuanced and multifaceted to give it proper due in a sentence. If I may crudely summarize, however, he says that, whatever mistakes we may have made in entering the war (which, for what it is worth, I believe was justified) or in managing it afterward, we cannot in good faith abandon the effort now; we must persevere to build a viable government there. At least this is the point from which flows the moral anguish over what to do next. This is where honest men may differ and where I protest he does not give adequate, or even equal, consideration to the ill effects of “staying the course,” to use an oft-repeated mantra.

Could the region implode upon our withdrawal? Certainly, and it may anyway, despite our heroic efforts. Raising the specter, as Weigel does, of two large groups of anti-U.S. Muslims decimating each other will garner little sympathy in America, though. Arming the Kurds and beginning a principled withdrawal is neither cut-and-run nor stay-and-bleed, just a logical outworking of a sane foreign policy. Perhaps we will have to go back into the region and clean house again, but would that not be better and cheaper than what we now face? So long as our forces can identify an army and titular head of state, we can engage them at a time and place of our choosing.

But the fact that there is even a dilemma results from our forgetting the military’s core purpose. It is not to liberate or democratize or even civilize other nations but to protect ours against aggression. As long as we’re discussing just war, what is more unjust than using the nation’s resources and sending our young men to die for anything other than defending their homeland? This is not a “grand strategic idea,” to use Weigel’s term; I contend that such is not the proper domain of our military. If exceptions are to be made in cases of, say, preventing genocide, that decision must be a conscious one worked out in the public square. As it stands, our justification for this war has evolved through WMD through liberation through democracy for all comers to stable Arab governments. We do have a few examples where nation-building has worked but only where stable societies existed and the rule of law prevailed within living memory, prior to the usurpation of power by fascists or Communists. In Mesopotamia’s four-thousand-year history, though, this cannot be said. The same is true of Afghanistan (remember Afghanistan?), notwithstanding a recent election. Indeed, we are beginning to realize democracy may not be such a good thing when the people being elected are terrorists. Such a dream as universal democracy is laudable but increasingly laughable. So, no, a principled withdrawal is neither contemptible nor any more dangerous than what we have now. This hard-nosed position was the norm until fairly recently.

Fr. Neuhaus quipped in another part of the same issue that “War is hell” has become a cliché. Perhaps. But General Sherman, whom I suspect was not given to Latinate phrases, nevertheless nailed the matter in his pithy observation and doggedly pursued a total-war policy that soon ended the entire hellish enterprise. Can we doubt he would have taken out Al Jazeera’s towers, even as he put Fallujah to the torch? It is because war is hell that we should hate it—hate it enough to prosecute it fully with the goal of ending it. Our message should be “Attack us and we will come for you. And the mess will be yours, for we will not spend billions to rebuild what we spent billions to destroy.” That, as I see it, in the absence of omniscience, is the only realistic policy and, not coincidentally, the most moral one.

Vincent Owens
Canton, Ohio


In the capable hands of George Weigel, Catholic just-war doctrine in contemporary context receives a finely reasoned, richly textured treatment appropriate to its nature. The doctrine is precisely what the term denotes—a body of thought developed over time and drawn from sources prominent in the Church’s intellectual history. As a doctrine, it is reducible neither to a slogan nor a sentiment. “No more war” suggests a slogan; “a presumption against war” bespeaks a sentiment. Catholic just-war doctrine constitutes collective accumulated moral reasoning in tutelage to political prudential judgment. In turn, the objective obligation of this political prudential judgment becomes the securing of “a tranquillitas ordinis, the peace of a just public order.” Catholic just-war doctrine represents a prudential alternative to both pacifism and militarism.

Edward J. McBride 
Halifax, Nova Scotia


George Weigel replies:


Let me begin by thanking my correspondents for taking the time and trouble to write. Save for a few stray comments (about my intentions, stubbornness, friends, and alleged toadying to Caesar) to which I do not propose to respond, these letters raise significant questions about the just-war criteria and the just-war way of thinking. Let me see if I can advance the discussion a bit by responding to at least some of those questions.

One crucial issue raised by the Iraq Wars (and my correspondents) is the question of the nature of realism. I would argue that, while the kind of Augustinian realism involved in the just-war way of thinking tries to read the world “as it is,” it’s not content to simply leave the world as it is—particularly when the status quo is one of an inherent instability that produces real and present dangers. That is the situation that the custodians of American power faced by 10:30 a.m. EDT on September 11, 2001. The decades-long attempt to “manage” the volatilities of the Middle East through authoritarian regimes had proved to be terribly unrealistic and terribly dangerous. To accelerate the transition to more responsive and responsible governments throughout the Levant was the more realistic course, and it was the course chosen by the United States government, with the support of numerous allies. Perhaps the description of this project as one of expanding the zone of democracy (at least as we understand that term) was a stretch; the more modest goal of “responsive and responsible government,” in a part of the world where the cultural foundations for the kind of democracy we know are quite weak, might have been more appropriate to the circumstances. But whatever the nomenclature, the morally and strategically realistic judgment must remain that the maintenance of the Middle Eastern status quo (including such wishful thinking as “keeping Saddam in the box”) was no option.

This takes us to the question of whether the deposition of the Saddam Hussein regime—the first of the four Iraq Wars in which we have been engaged since March 2003 and the only one that has been concluded to date—was a “war of choice” or a “war of necessity.” These are journalistic tropes, sound bites masquerading as analysis, but they’re not without a certain crude utility. Accepting them for what they are, the answer must be that the first of the Iraq Wars was a war of necessity, in which the only “choice” was the choice of timing. Does anyone seriously propose that the fragile chances for either peace in the Middle East or the maintenance of a minimum of world order would have been better today were Saddam Hussein still in power, having slipped once and for all out of Madeleine Albright’s beloved “box,” ramping up his WMD programs, terrorizing his own country, providing havens for terrorist networks, and breathing threats of revenge against regional and international foes who had once again demonstrated their fecklessness? That seems to me a very difficult case to make. The realities of the situation in 2002-2003 argue, not against taking the Saddam regime down, but for having prepared far more intelligently and soberly for what post-Saddam Iraq might be like.

Is this inconsistent, given the Kim Jong-ils and Mahmoud Ahmadinejads of this world? Of course it is. So what? Consistency of purpose does not require mechanistic consistency of means. By 2002 the nonmilitary tools available had proved useless in coping with the threat posed by the Saddam Hussein regime; they have not been so proved—yet—in the case of either North Korea or Iran. We were at a moment of “last resort” (properly understood) with Iraq; we are not yet there with either North Korea or Iran.

John Paul II and Benedict XVI both understood that this question of means was a question of prudential judgment on which reasonable men of moral seriousness could differ. It is true that the Holy See bent its entire diplomatic effort—as John Paul II bent his personal efforts—to achieving a nonmilitary resolution of the grave problem posed by Saddam Hussein’s defiance of a string of U.N. Security Council resolutions. It is also true that neither pope has used the word unjust to describe the first of the four Iraq Wars. There are reasons for this. Some have to do with the nature of the just-war way of thinking and the clear teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the primary locus of responsibility for determining when the ad bellum (war-decision) criteria have been met. Other reasons had to do with both men’s understanding of the nature of the papal office (one of the ironies of both the pre- and post-invasion Catholic debate has been to watch at least some on the Catholic left urge the popes of today to act as if they were Innocent III reincarnate). Still other reasons touch on the serious pastoral question as to what burden of conscience the Successor of Peter ought to lay on Catholics in the armed forces of the United States. As of the early summer of 2007, the Vatican’s view is quite clear to those who are in actual conversation with the appropriate officials of the Holy See: A precipitous U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would be the worst option, from both a moral and strategic point of view. At the same time, and quite rightly, senior officials of the Holy See are pressing the U.S. government to do all that it can to get the Maliki government in Baghdad to address (and redress) the increasingly difficult situation of Chaldean and other Christian communities in Iraq.

If there could be broad agreement on this point—that the Murtha/ Pelosi strategy of “just get out” is morally unacceptable because of the carnage to which it would inevitably lead, in Iraq and around the world (as a crumbling Iraq becomes a safe haven for jihadist networks)—then perhaps we can make some progress toward the restoration of bipartisan consensus in the United States on what our responsibilities now are, given decisions taken in early 2003. Whoever he or she is, and whatever his or her judgment on the prudential wisdom of those 2003 decisions, the next president of the United States is going to find Iraq on the Oval Office desk on the morning of January 21, 2009. And, one way or another, that issue, and related questions of the war against Jihadism, will remain right there, stark and unavoidable, for years, and probably decades, to come.

The sooner all of us recognize this, the better for the fulfillment of our moral obligations to our own defense and to world order.
Intelligence and Design


Christoph Cardinal Schönborn (“Reasonable Science, Reasonable Faith,” April) recounts Aquinas’ analogy for the superiority of the craft of nature over that of an ordinary artisan: “This is as though the builder of a ship could impart the capacity to the wood pieces of being moved from within themselves to bring forth the structure of the ship.” On that score at least, the Angelic Doctor didn’t know the half of it. A 2005 feature in the journal Nature, on the topic of the self-assembly of molecular machinery within cells, marvels: “The cell’s macromolecular machines contain dozens or even hundreds of components. But unlike man-made machines, which are built on assembly lines, these cellular machines assemble spontaneously from their protein and nucleic-acid components. It is as though cars could be manufactured by merely tumbling their parts onto the factory floor.” Everything in biology must self-assemble, and, since science has discovered that life is based on intricate molecular machinery, so must that. To update Aquinas, in the case of a cell it is as though a car assembled itself, next to a washing machine that did likewise, next to a furnace—and computer, lights, plumbing, electrical wiring—to yield an automated, self-sustaining modern house.

Nonetheless, out of concern for seeming dysteleology in the world, His Eminence counsels, “Let us not be excessively hasty in wanting to demonstrate ‘intelligent design’ everywhere as a matter of apologetics.” Well, I know no one who claims that intelligent design is apparent “everywhere.”

Yet if prudence really did dictate that those who are active in apologetics should ignore manifest intelligent design in biology (whether “everywhere” or not), then they would be well-advised to avoid reading science journals. I am very pleased that, through natural philosophy, Cardinal Schönborn readily sees design in the results of biological science. I would simply point out that, in this matter, there is no necessary contradiction between the conclusions of natural philosophy and those of modern science, and that, properly understood, intelligence extends very deeply into the design of life.

Michael J. Behe
Lehigh University
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania


At the risk of distorting an interesting article by focusing on one sentence, I would suggest that it is crucial to amplify Christoph Cardinal Schönborn’s statement: “We must first and foremost recover an understanding of what the modern scientific method is able to explain and what it is intrinsically unable to explain.” I fear adverse repercussions for science, my profession, and for society if we do not correct abuses of the scientific method, because conclusions, true or false, can have profound effects.

The scientific method, as practiced in the hard sciences, is useful for the rational investigation of repeatable observations or repeatable phenomena, such as the gravitational attraction of two objects. To extend it to cover unrepeatable phenomena, the scientific method has to be weakened, because experimental testing of unrepeatable phenomena is ill conceived. Members of the hard sciences need a method that is strong, and it is imperative that scientists not weaken it. We cannot have it both ways. We either restrict application of the scientific method to appropriate phenomena or it loses its validity.

Our origination is not repeatable or even observable. Our existence and that of the fossil record are all that we can observe. Being unrepeatable, the scientific method is ill-suited for investigating the origin of man. Instead, the most scientific way to proceed is to require each aspect of such a theory to be based on repeatable, established phenomena—for example, the principles of biochemistry and molecular biology. A scientific theory for unrepeatable events should be consistent with prior observations and with proven principles; yet such theories are hardly proved, or even provable, with the scientific method.

Even for repeatable phenomena, modern science demands much humility. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle establishes that we can be certain only of uncertainty in every measurement. Moreover, uncertainty does not necessarily mean randomness; it means unknowable by experimental inquiries. If God is relegated to the gaps of our knowledge, then it follows forthwith from the uncertainty principle that he is everywhere.

We cannot be certain of the present—so how can scientists be certain of the past or future? Models of the past (evolution) or models of the future (global warming) are far more uncertain than is our understanding of the present because of the propagation of error that is inherent in extrapolation. Adherents of such theories often appeal to consensus; yet they cannot simultaneously say they are following the scientific method, because consensus is not part of the method. It is my professional opinion that scientists should accept the limits of a potent scientific method rather than dilute it in order to cover the universe as it is now, as it was in the beginning, and as it ever shall be.

John C. Criscione
College Station, Texas


Cardinal Schönborn wishes to maintain, first, that science is not merely consistent with or suggestive of God’s existence but provides the material for a proof of it; and, second, the reality and explanatory importance of certain staples of Aristotelian metaphysics, in particular final and formal causes. But he confronts a scientific establishment, particularly in the biological sciences, that has no use for a creator God or for final or formal causation. Against this modern consensus, therefore, he levels a number of philosophical arguments. I have some sympathy with the conclusions he reaches, but I cannot really endorse his logic.

Cardinal Schönborn is correct that many contemporary scientists conclude, on the basis of their scientific studies, that there is no God. It would be nice if they confined themselves to the weaker thesis that, so far as science shows, there is no God. But their argument is simply an exercise of Ockham’s razor—since we can explain everything we need to without appeal to God, there is no further work for God to do. One’s opinion of the validity of such an argument depends, of course, on one’s view of what needs explaining, and the cardinal is right that the intelligibility of nature, its apparent order and beauty, go unexplained in this view. But, from the contemporary scientific point of view, these facts have no explanation; they are coincidences, or perhaps starting points. Has science made a methodological choice here? Of course. But so has anyone who takes intelligibility as a datum to be explained. It remains to be shown that one of these stances is more rational than the other.

Modern science has discarded many of the categories the cardinal regards as fundamental, and doing so is widely regarded as an intellectual advance, not a handicap. This leads him to ask a number of rhetorical questions to which the contemporary scientific answer is the opposite of what he anticipates. “Does nature only act as though it had goals?” he asks. Yes, answers modern biology—and Darwin’s signal intellectual achievement lies in making this answer possible. Do species actually exist? No, not in the Aristotelian sense. We can mark out groups of animals that can interbreed or are descended from a common ancestor, and we can call them species. But this is not the same concept that Aristotle and Aquinas used. Is it not the task of science to read the traces of God? Again, says the contemporary scientific mind—no.

One form of argument that gets trotted out repeatedly, and that calls for special comment, goes like this: Human activity, including especially scientific activities, cannot be explained without appeal to purposes or goals; since a materialistic science has no room for purposes or goals, it follows that science cannot explain itself or the rest of human action. But many philosophers would explain final causes (that is, guidance by purpose or goal) in terms of desires, and they would identify desires with states of the brain. It follows that purposeful activity is simply activity caused by certain kinds of brain states; it also follows that, where there are no conscious agents at work, as in nonhuman nature, there is no genuinely purposeful activity. There are problems with both halves of this reduction of purposes to causes, but the problems are subtle, and the position is intellectually respectable.

I do not know what intent Cardinal Schönborn had in publishing his article. If the intent was to advance the debate over religion’s relationship to science, however, he ought to have considered the steps already taken.

Heath White
Wilmington, North Carolina

Cardinal Schönborn argues that Christians should not allow indications of God’s role as creator to be excluded from scientific explanations. But, he says, this is exactly what modern scientific methods often seem committed to doing. Because they “cannot deal directly with top-down causation or with the natures or essences of things,” strictly “mathematical and mechanical explanations” are “intrinsically unable to explain” certain crucial aspects of nature—most important, it seems, those pertaining to human freedom and rationality. “A materialistically constricted science,” he writes, “studies the letters but cannot read the text.”

One natural response to these criticisms, a response the cardinal seems at times to suggest, would be the development of novel forms of scientific inquiry free from such shackles. Science of this sort would, it is hoped, be able to answer questions that cannot be given a purely mechanistic treatment: to treat talk of “formal” and “final” causality as more than a merely heuristic device; to give an account of “spiritual” processes such as the development of scientific theories; to uncover the real sources of the “marks of intelligence” in our universe, and so forth.

Consider, for example, Schönborn’s remarks on the nature of human persons. On its own, he says, neurobiology can only “uncover with exquisite detail the physical substrate of mental processes.” This leaves untouched, however, such activities as the making and keeping of promises, which “cannot be the effect of forces of a purely material sort.” What might seem to be needed, then, is a new way of studying human beings, one capable of “grappling directly with immaterial realities.”

Such an insistence on the need for a new sort of science would overlook the fact that there are many other branches of the present-day human sciences—the fields of psychology and sociology, for instance—that do have activities such as promise-keeping (or, indeed, scientific inquiry itself, as in the history and sociology of science) as their proper objects of study. To be sure, such disciplines do not usually fashion themselves as investigating the spiritual or immaterial, but it seems that this is quite as it should be: For human beings are, after all, rational animals, and even if our rationality is indeed the product of an immaterial soul, it can still only be understood by way of its place in a distinctively human life. (Whether this counts as “direct” grappling with the immaterial is a question I feel unqualified to answer.)

A similar point holds, I think, for the other life sciences. Schönborn argues that a mere “exploration of biochemical details can methodologically prescind from the question regarding form, but, in the long run, if it does not wish to devolve into blind science, it cannot neglect inquiry into what makes plants, dogs, etc., into that which they themselves are.”

Again, this seems to be just what is done by botanists, zoologists, animal behaviorists, and the rest. Indeed, within such fields one will often encounter theorists arguing for neo-Aristotelian claims much like some of those Schönborn puts forward in his essay—for instance, that “the patterned structure of a natural thing [is] an irreducible cause of its activities.”

It is not at all clear to me whether the doctrinal content of Christianity requires that it stand or fall with something like this “dynamic systems” approach to the study of life, but once again it is worth recognizing that such higher-order, nonmechanistic approaches to studying nature are already present within the modern scientific landscape.

In sum, even if Cardinal Schönborn is right that Christianity demands the possibility of giving genuinely scientific and yet nonmechanistic and intrinsically teleological accounts of the origins and structure of living beings (and I must admit that I have my doubts about this), it would be a mistake to think that there is anything in the real content or methodological presuppositions of science that excludes such accounts, or even that such accounts are not genuine players in the scientific state of the art. Schönborn’s real disagreement is with certain (mistaken) philosophical glosses on the structure of modern scientific explanation, not with anything inherent in modern science itself.

John L. Schwenkler
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, California


Cardinal Schönborn replies:


I begin with heartfelt thanks to the authors of these interesting letters for their thoughtful responses, and the opportunity they provide to explain and clarify my perspective. Naturally, these brief responses cannot do justice to the breadth and depth of the issues that they raise, but a good beginning is always worthwhile.

Professor Schwenkler’s intervention is most welcome because it allows me to make clear an important distinction. In my writings about modern science, I have tended, for the sake of clarity and simplicity, to treat all modern scientific investigation and resulting conclusions as inherently reductionistic, at least in methods if not in conclusions. I believe that reductionism is a tremendous problem within the modern scientific establishment and the intellectual culture that it generates, and so I do not regret my tendency to equate “scientific” intellectual culture with reductionism. But it is a simplification, and thus in many specific situations it is not true. Good scientists study real things, and, depending on their subject matter and mode of study, as well as their openness to the evidence presented to them, fair-minded students of real things will sometimes recognize their ontological richness, their “thickness,” and thus explain them without resorting to reductionism.

There are two general ways in which modern scientists avoid reductionism. One way is by their choice of subject matter and method of study. Some scientific fields by their nature tend to treat wholes as wholes, and also to treat the patterned interrelation of whole things—the “for the sake of which” extending beyond individual substances—as a first-class aspect of their field of investigation. They then tailor their methods accordingly. So, for example, Professor Schwenkler mentions in his list “botanists, zoologists, animal behaviorists,” and I might add ecologists, physiologists, and (sometimes) medical researchers.

The other way that reductionism can be avoided is simply by fair-minded openness to the evidence, even in fields of study in which reductionism is methodologically useful, and reductionistic conclusions encouraged and rampant.

Mr. White raises some interesting points, but I believe his provisional defense of the typical scientific view perfectly illustrates the kind of problems I have tried to address. Scientists are most welcome to “explain everything they need to without appeal to God;” indeed, I hope all the readers of First Things would join me in strenuously objecting if God is ever invoked in the course of normal scientific explanation! But, as I have said repeatedly, the key questions we face have nothing (directly) to do with theology. The key questions rather have to do with scientism and reductionism. Can modern scientists “explain everything they need to” without reference to the irreducible hierarchy and patterned structure actualizing natural things (what the old philosophers called formal causes)? Can they “explain everything they need to” without reference to the regularities and lawlike tendencies of natural beings (in the old terminology, final causes)?

It is true that modern scientists have typically rejected these notions, but they haven’t eliminated them, only ignored them. More precisely, they have presupposed and relied upon them while simultaneously claiming their nonexistence. Yet the very best scientists do not limit themselves to purely reductionistic, “bottom-up” explanations. They know that things are not exhaustively explained by explanations of their parts. They may not use the old terminology, but by their exploration of hierarchy and form such scientists are returning to the tradition of natural philosophy. And natural philosophy leads to metaphysics, to the understanding of being as such.

Despite Mr. White’s claim, there is no equivalence between the “scientific” (reductionist) point of view and the philosophical point of view that considers the totality of things. As Mr. White says, the reductionist takes order, beauty, and intelligibility as a “coincidence” or “starting point” and proceeds to explain nature without reference to such concepts. The philosopher, on the other hand, does not arbitrarily limit what must be explained, nor the possible modes of explanation. Without doubt the philosopher’s stance is more rational, because he seeks to understand and explain all reality, not an arbitrary subset. The philosopher can explain whatever the “scientist” can explain (sometime by simply repeating the scientific explanation) and more, but the “scientist” cannot explain his own starting point. This “self-limitation of reason,” in the Holy Father’s pregnant phrase from Regensburg, is truly one of the great pathologies of the modern West.

As for the purported reduction of finality to desire, and desire to brain states, and thus everything down to the allegedly deterministic laws of physics, I must say that there is simply no real basis for the “intellectual respectability” of the position. It is certainly true that neurobiological reductionists hold endowed chairs, give serious lectures to hushed audiences, and publish books both learned and popular proclaiming that mankind is nothing but the apotheosis of “selfish genes” in their struggle to propagate themselves. (Of course, teleology can’t quite be eliminated from such an account—why do genes struggle?) But the response to someone making learned arguments to convince you that you are nothing but deterministic brain states, and that free will is an illusion, is simply to dismiss such arguments as nonsense.

Dr. Criscione raises an interesting and important point regarding the methodology of science and what it can reasonably expect to achieve. Of course, modern science is a much larger edifice than experimental science, but experimentation on repeatable phenomena has certainly been one of the hallmarks of the scientific revolution, and arguably its single most important feature, providing us with a plethora of knowledge about the natural world unavailable to the philosopher and his method based on common experience alone. So I think Dr. Criscione’s point is very well taken and a key element of any reevaluation of the nature and limits of modern science.

Finally, I very much appreciate the wonderful examples of self-organization (to use the modern term) reported by Dr. Behe.

Despite our ever-increasing analytic knowledge of the pathways and details, or better yet because of it, the actual functioning of a living system (or a uranium atom for that matter) seems to be little short of a miracle. It can truly be said of nature, as revealed in its details by modern science, that it is mostly made up of totally unintelligent things all behaving in incredibly intelligent ways.

That most basic and universal characteristic of the constituents of nature—their internal purposiveness, their striving for beneficial states, their motion and transformation by “least action” principles, and so forth—is, in my view, the ultimate “intelligent design” argument.

The lawfulness and intelligence with which nature is replete and its extraordinary intelligibility to us humans are either brute facts incapable of explanation or signs of a greater Intelligence in and behind all that we can see.

One can simply choose sides here, but the choices are not equally rational. To reject even the possibility of an explanation for such crucial facts is truly to choose “self-limitation,” to turn away from the fullness of reality and its possibilities.
Correcting Quantum


In “Faith and Quantum Theory” (March 2007), I mistakenly attributed to Peter Hodgson the view that Bohmian quantum theory is “the only metaphysically sound alternative.”

Hodgson belongs, rather, to the school that rejects both the many-worlds and the Copenhagen interpretations of quantum theory, seeking a third way. Members of this school generally regard the Copenhagen interpretation as an abandonment of scientific realism, disbelieve in the kind of wave-particle duality that would have, say, a single particle going through two windows at once, and see the probabilities of quantum theory as reflecting the operation of hidden causes, as they do in classical physics, rather than any true indeterminacy.

Many members of this school embrace Bohm’s approach but certainly not all of them, a point I did not make clear in my article.

Hodgson, for example, thinks that another set of ideas, called stochastic electrodynamics, may hold more promise than Bohm’s ideas. He makes a strong case against the traditional Copenhagen interpretation in his 2005 book Theology and Modern Physics.

Stephen M. Barr
Bartol Research Institute
University of Delaware
Wilmington, Delaware