In his essay “Physics and the Mind of God” (August/September), Paul Davies demonstrates the insular, almost solipsistic, nature of modern theoretical physics. Because theoretical physics is the modernist discipline par excellence, such a demonstration must have radical implications. But already, even by reaching this far beyond the essay, I violate its spirit. For this essay, in a sense to be made clear, exemplifies the modernist destruction of perspective.
The author is a specialist in the arcane physics that has brought us the concept of black holes, pointlike singularities of matter and space-time. His essay provides a prescription, as it were, “from within,” for the constitution of modernism as just such a black hole. Following its strictures, we define into irrelevance three basic dimensions of human culture. . . .
First, we must forsake the dimension of community. The cultural and historical context of a scientific theory can be stripped away in stages, reducing the theory first to a set of equations, and then to pure Number. The process of historical development of that theory is thus reduced to a process of successive (numerical) approximation. . . .
Second, we discard the dimension of immanence and realism. Science as framed in the essay is an amalgam of Judaic and Greek idealism, not a compound of classical idealism with Renaissance (i.e., Christian) empiricism. We cannot touch or contact reality, for what the senses offer is a naive illusion. . . .
Finally, we abandon all transcendence. Clearly, any semblance of a Judeo-Christian God both powerful and personal must be forsaken. The author's essentially negative prescriptions for God reminds one of a Hindu text on the Self, stripping away one layer after another of false ego. . . .
What then remains? A solitary individual, gazing upon the night sky, striving to reduce its myriad sources of light to one unitary mathematical origin. Within the terms of this nightmare, one can only invert physicist Steven Weinberg's claim that “The more comprehensible the universe becomes, the more it also seems pointless.” Rather, the more incomprehensible we make the universe, the more we must reduce it to a Point.
—James A. Given
It is a mystery to me why you published Paul Davies' essay, inasmuch as the same theology of physics can be found in more detail in his books. (Perhaps the reason was simply that it was a Templeton Prize Address.) Davies believes that the new physics offers a surer path to God than religion. His cosmology is itself a religion. . . . It has become profitable for physicists, cosmologists, and astron-omers to include some aspect of God in the title of their books, even if there is very little present inside the covers that has to do with the God of Christianity.
—Major M. Ash, Jr.
Ann Arbor, MI
While Paul Davies' Templeton Prize Address is, overall, a welcome expression from a physicist of openness to the ideas of divine authorship and purpose for the world, there are a couple of points worth taking issue with.
The first is a relative guardedness with which he offers the terms “purpose” and “design.” “These loaded words,” says Davies, “which derive from human categories, capture only imperfectly what it is that the universe is about.” It seems that, in truth, where human speculation towards the transcendent is concerned, human categories or anthropomorphisms are all we have to work with. Surely any ideas we have as to what might constitute “fitful” or “profligate” (terms used elsewhere in the address) action on the part of the Creator derive just as much from human categories as do “purpose” and “design.”
Which leads to the second point. It is troubling to find the attempt to conceive of God's action(s) as if there are only two choices, one of which is a pejorative straw man option of “fitful” or “capricious” miracles working against the stream of nature, and the other of which is a seamless outworking of the divinely authored laws of nature. This false dichotomy too conveniently dismisses any serious attempt to consider that nature and circumstance might actually be saturated with the actions of a living God who hides (see Ecclesiastes 8:16-17). Although it may be difficult for those of a positivist bent to consider such an idea worthy of serious consideration, it is nevertheless acquiring credibility as the current revolution in the sciences proceeds. Chaos/Complexity theory (particularly when combined with quantum theory) has greatly damaged the more classical picture of nature with its assumption of reductionism. It has at once rendered greater the conceivability of divine freedom to act while also recognizing that His action (within this emerging paradigm) will be harder to detect. . . .
Paul Davies leaps from physics to metaphysics without seeming to realize it.
For example, he rejects what he terms the “profligate over-provision” of a cosmos in which only one puny planet (our Earth) bears life. True or false, this assertion is not science. It is simply the materialist proposition that physical smallness somehow implies metaphysical insignificance-or that moral weight is somehow based on material tonnage.
Again, Davies asserts that “the origin of . . . consciousness by natural physical processes” is a science basic. Does he mean empirical science? The last I heard, every attempt to confirm this hypothesis through empirical experiment or observation has come a cropper. We've spent the money and expended the effort, but to date there is absolutely no confirming observation or blip of data in support of any such science-fiction notions as computer intelligence, linguistic apes or dolphins, alien radio messages, etc. Nothing.
Davies appeals to the authority of James Hartle and Stephen Hawking to assert that the laws of physics “permit a universe to originate spontaneously.” If he means by this that the creation of something from nothing has been explained by empirical science, he has probably misconstrued the concept of creation as just another form of corporeal becoming or change. Is such an elementary blunder possible for a learned Templeton Prize recipient, or am I missing something obvious here?
Last, the statement that “science reveals just what a marvel the universe is,” while unarguable, seems to carry the implication that science is somehow unique in this ability. I am content that science has inspired Professor Davies in this way, but I also know that others have found this sense of wonder in art, others in religion, others in their neighbors, and still others in contemplating the mystery of an existing mote of dust.
At first blush, “Physics and the Mind of God” struck me as a sensible approach to religion: one should not need miracles to explain things because God's laws of nature are so well designed that their normal operation is sufficient to account for God's relationship with the universe, including its creation. This idea of adherence to law appealed to me perhaps because I am also a scientist and tend to squirm a bit when a fellow Christian expounds views of religion that emphasize miracles.
However, on second thought, Davies' approach seems to stumble over the ideas of prayer and the person of God. In both Old and New Testaments we encounter a personal God who repeatedly and with emphasis encourages us to pray, and who assures us of His response to our prayers. Now, it would seem that any action by the person of God in reaction to our prayers must involve some temporary suspension of the laws of nature. Therefore, the idea that God's laws by their normal operation are sufficient explanation for the universe would seem bad theology.
Winter Haven, FL
I found “Physics and the Mind of God” extremely thought-provoking. I especially appreciated the author's collegial openness to theological questions and his invitation for dialogue between scientists and theologians. Regretfully, my own failure to keep up in things scientific makes me a wholly inadequate interlocutor with Mr. Davies. However, I do have one question for which I would appreciate an answer.
Mr. Davies rejects a purely mechanistic understanding of the universe. Life and consciousness, as he puts it, are “written into the laws of the universe in a very basic way.” The result is that life and consciousness were neither miracles nor accidents but “the natural outworking of the laws of nature.” On a number of occasions Mr. Davies speaks of mind as “emerging” from matter. Despite Mr. Davies' desire to perceive mind as inherent in nature (at least as a natural outworking), it is clear that nature is “preeminent” to mind, life, and consciousness as that which produces mind, life, and consciousness. The classic theistic notion of creation (ex nihilo) understood things the other way round: mind, life, consciousness produce nature and nature's laws. Or, if you will, God created (and still creates) the world. Now my question: Is Mr. Davies' view simply due to the fact that nature alone is directly accessible to the scientist and therefore by a sort of default receives the logical priority, or is there a deeper reason (scientific or theological) why he places nature ahead of mind and consciousness?
—William C. Weinrich
Fort Wayne, IN
Paul Davies' Templeton Prize Address really got me excited-for the first three and a half pages. What begins as an incisive and persuasive defense of theism suddenly degenerates into another helping of warmed-over atheism.
In his conclusion, he reveals his true sentiments, dismissing a personal God as a “cosmic magician” and a “capricious deity.” The Templeton Prize Committee has committed a serious blunder by giving their coveted reward to this dangerous man: he now promotes his shadowy atheism as a religious authority, giving him immense credibility in the eyes of gullible dilettantes and the half-educated. Nonetheless, I'm glad you ran the piece, as it clearly demonstrates the inadequacy and despair of the cold, meaningless worldview that scientific atheism is.
Not being familiar with Paul Davies, I approached his Templeton Prize Address with eagerness and curiosity. I hoped that the thoughts of this presumably esteemed scientist would reveal humility and perhaps respect for the God of “ordinary people.” At least I expected to read something novel. Instead, I read, inter alia, that “nature is ordered in a mathematical way” and the laws of physics “encourage [the universe] to organize and complexify itself to the point where conscious beings emerge who can look back on the great cosmic drama and reflect on what it all means.” I read that Mr. Davies finds “profoundly uninspiring” the idea of a God who takes an ongoing interest in His creation. I read that Mr. Davies believes that there is a “deeper underlying meaning to existence” because “the contrived nature of physical existence is just too fantastic for [him] to take on board as simply ‘given.'“ I read that “we are truly meant to be here.” None of the foregoing seems novel.
I was somewhat surprised to read the arrogant and illogical statement: “If we are alone in the universe, if the Earth is the only life-bearing planet among countlesss trillions, then the choice is stark. Either we are the product of a unique supernatural event in a universe of profligate over-provision, or else an accident of mind-numbing improbability and irrelevance. On the other hand, if life and mind are universal phenomena, if they are written into nature at its deepest level, then the case for an ultimate purpose to existence would be compelling.” In other words, Mr. Davies' concept of God is limited by what Mr. Davies would have done if he were God.
The statement by Mr. Davies that I find most astounding is that “the position I have presented to you today is radically different.” Mr. Davies' position does not differ radically from the position that views God as a watchmaker who made the watch and left it to run on its own. For us ordinary people, the implications are the same whether (a) there is no God, or (b) there is a God who wrote the laws of the universe so that life and consciousness emerge, but cares not what happens thereafter. If Mr. Davies' vision of “God” is correct, I suggest that he not waste too much of his time searching for “a framework of ideas that provides ordinary people with some broader context to their lives” and “yields a common set of principles around which people of all cultures can make ethical decisions.” With due respect to Mr. Davies, I do not understand how his ideas, at least as outlined in his Templeton Prize Address, contribute in any meaningful way to progress in religion.
—John W. Chambers, Jr.
Paul Davies' essay offers particularly watery gruel for the modern soul. Behold the wonder of mathematical physics, he writes, surely there must be Meaning in the universe. The clincher: the slightest change in certain mathematical equations, and sentient life would not have arisen.
To begin with, there is not much difference in this account from ancient wonder and the rise of religion. But credit the founders of religion with greater wisdom. They knew better than to equate Meaning or God with a mathematical formula. There is little nourishment in the thought that certain quantum equations ultimately result in the painful death of a loved one, or war, pestilence, and the usual evils of humankind. For all Professor Davies' philosophy knows, some nasty super-intelligent alien could have constructed a fancy quantum logo set, with us as the featured players.
Paul Davies complains that “many religious people still cling to . . . a cosmic magician.” But Mr. Davies isn't far removed from that caricature. He has simply replaced the word magician with the term mathematician. This has a certain advantage for physicists and mathematicians. The nonmathematical rest of us must get our spiritual sustenance from the popular science books the new mandarins write.
—Nicholas Wolfson Hartford, CT
Two of Paul Davies' assertions in the conclusion of his article are questionable.
How can science ever “reject the notion of miracles” other than by arbitrary fiat? Science is limited to studying the naturalistic by naturalistic means and the truly miraculous is supernatural. If science cannot explain the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, does that mean it can disprove it as not possible? It seems there are epistemological limits involved here as there were architectural limits to the Tower of Babel.
It may be that “the origin of life and consciousness by natural physical processes and Darwinian evolution” are “basic notions,” but they are unproven. In fact, the creation of life by natural processes has never been duplicated despite strenuous efforts, and some researchers have concluded that the odds against it are astronomical. And Darwinian evolution is not only unproven, it has been discredited in major respects (see Phillip Johnson, Darwin on Trial). . . .
The hope of modernism was that science would completely replace religion. Postmodernism was not concerned about the resulting moral disaster, but the debacle in Darwinism is one reason why it has nihilistically concluded that nothing is true, except the assertion that nothing is true. Naturalistic monotheism apparently seeks to upgrade modernism by explaining God scientifically as it applies a big bang expansion of knowledge to the borders of epistemology. . . .
It is a fascinating quest, and one stays tuned in with the question, “Can a species, apparently limited to an IQ of 300, understand what may require omniscience?” If so, then the Omniscient must have intended to structure the method of His creation of the Universe as discoverable by His creatures. That could still leave an infinity of unsolved problems.
Paul Davies replies:
I appreciate the many helpful comments in response to my Templeton Prize Address.
Many of the correspondents seem to be under the misconception that the Templeton Prize is awarded for being a good Christian. In fact, the Prize is not tied to any religion. It is awarded specifically for “progress in religion,” that is, for new ideas that stimulate theological and religious debate. It has been awarded to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and those, like myself, of no formal religious affiliation. Because science is such a rich source of new facts and concepts, it is no surprise that the Templeton Prize is often awarded to a scientist. Indeed, the motif for the Prize is a galaxy.
Obviously one can't have progress without change. This may mean giving up some cherished notions about God, hopefully to be replaced by stimulating new ones. My own contributions to progress in religion have largely centered on an attempt to revive the ancient and honorable tradition of natural theology-deducing God's nature and purposes from the properties of the physical universe. I make this attempt in the spirit of Sir John Templeton's own vision, which he calls Humility Theology. It means forsaking dogma and certainty, and being prepared to examine new ideas-particularly scientific ideas-without prejudice, from a position of open and honest inquiry.
If I were to characterize my message in a single word, it would be “hope.” I believe the popular conception that science reveals a bleak and pointless universe in which mankind is an incidental and purposeless freak is wrong. I am persuaded that, through scientific inquiry, we can glimpse a deeper meaning to physical existence.
I recognize that by challenging other people's sincerely held beliefs I will be seen as provocative (dangerous according to one correspondent). However, I must emphasize that, as a scientist, I regard all theories about the world, and God, as tentative, and always subject to revision as our understanding grows. I hope that, in a modest way, I have drawn attention to some important scientific advances that are increasingly having an influence on theological debate.
More specifically to James A. Given: You seem to have drawn some unwarranted conclusions from the text. For example, in seeking a lawlike mathematical underpinning of the order in nature, I am postulating a radical transcendence: the laws, I submit, have an existence independent of the actual physical universe. I also find it ironic that you accuse me of modernism, when my name has increasingly become associated with postmodernism (perhaps that is worse!).
To Major M. Ash, Jr.: You seem to assume that Christians have a monopoly on the word God. But why should I adhere to a Christian concept of God? I am a scientist with no religious affiliation, trying to bring some fresh ideas into theology and related “meaning of life” topics.
The Templeton Prize is awarded for “progress in religion.” We can achieve progress only if we are prepared to forsake some cherished theological notions. Abandoning the “cosmic magician,” as many contemporary Christian and non-Christian theologians urge, is a first step.
Personally, I am somewhat reluctant to use the word “god” at all because it means so many different things to different people. I might add that Sir John Templeton shares this reluctance, and tells me that he is trying to find an alternative term. My own thoughts, for what they are worth, are offered in a spirit of modest inquiry. I am not presenting them as The Truth.
To Daniel Rice: I should just like to comment briefly that I agree entirely that modern physics may permit a mixture of law and divine action, and indeed, I have written extensively about “downward causation” in this regard in my books. I simply want to guard against notions of “fitful action” (actually, a term I have borrowed from John Polkinghorne), which is a vestige of an old-fashioned idea of a God who acts arbitrarily as a cosmic Mr. Fixit-a naive image that many people still cling to.
To John Peterson: My remark about “overprovision” is simply that if you believe, as do most Christians, Muslims, and Jews, (i) that God created the universe, and if you also believe (ii) that Earth is the only planet with life, and (iii) that life on Earth in general and mankind in particular are key aspects of God's purposes, then the trillions of other stars and planets fulfill no obvious purpose. They are, quite simply, a waste. I agree this is not a scientific argument, because (i) and (iii) are not part of science. It is, however, a straightforward logical argument. My own ideas on this topic are contained in my book Are We Alone?, which you may find worthwhile to read.
Regarding the origin of consciousness, I do not wish to give the impression that in the present state of our knowledge we understand that process scientifically. What I am urging is that we face up to the fact that one day we probably will understand it scientifically, so we had better not base our theology on a desperate hope for continued ignorance on the matter. History has taught that adherents of such a God-of-the-gaps philosophy are on the high road to nowhere.
Regarding the quantum origin of the universe, this happens to be my professional research specialty, too, so I hope I may write about it with some authority. You ask if you are missing something, and the answer is yes, which is not surprising given that you are basing your comments on a single paragraph. It is impossible to do justice to the subtle ideas involved in a few sentences. I have written several popular books on the subject, including Superforce and The Mind of God, and I would urge you to read those for a fuller account.
In answer to your specific question, empirical science certainly establishes that, in the quantum realm, events can occur spontaneously, i.e., without well-defined prior causes, in accordance with the laws of physics. If you believe such laws apply, a la Hartle and Hawking, to the universe as a whole (itself an act of faith), then the origin of the universe from nothing is indeed given a possible explanation. Thus, even if the theory is speculative and incomplete, we can see the basis of what a scientific theory of cosmogenesis might be. We need no longer be mystified as to how a universe may originate from nothing in a lawlike manner. Consequently the causal chain version of the old cosmological argument for the existence of God collapses.
To Robert Hagenmaier: May I offer a brief response concerning your conclusion about prayer? On the face of it, if God can influence your thoughts which in turn change your actions, then God can, in effect, move atoms vicariously. Does this violate God's own laws?
This is a fascinating conundrum that I have thought a lot about. Two comments: (i) we don't know how thoughts produce actions anyway (i.e., the mind-body problem remains unsolved), (ii) the laws of physics may permit “top-down” causation.
To William C. Weinrich: Regarding the priority of mind or nature, may I first say that one must carefully distinguish between logical and temporal priority. In my books, such as The Mind of God, I have been at pains to point out that time is part of the physical universe, and that the big bang was the origin of time. Accordingly, we should abandon the longstanding habit of dwelling on what came before, and seek instead that which is deeper or more fundamental in a logical and scientific sense.
When we have done this, we can feel comfortable with the notion that mind emerged from unconscious matter at a later stage in the temporal sequence, without compromising the central astonishing fact that mind perceives in nature something intellectual. In other words, our science mirrors, albeit imperfectly, a really existing lawlike order of a rational, intelligible, and intelligent form. Thus we may assert that mind underpins reality-i.e., is logically prior-without having to accept the rather dangerous position that somehow a supermind existed, within time, for an infinite duration, and then created a universe at some arbitrary instant. For more on this topic, see my book About Time.
To Mark Albrecht: You label my ideas dangerous, but knowledge of the way in which nature works is not dangerous except to those who prefer to remain ignorant of the facts of the world. It is religious dogma that is dangerous.
To John W. Chambers, Jr.: Your first paragraph makes the point that many of the opinions I expressed have been made before. I agree entirely. I am articulating a theological position that goes back at least to Augustine and possibly Plato. What has changed is that many of the ideas are no longer merely philosophical musings but are now part of mainstream science. Many scientists and theologians have been over this ground, but much of the general public is unaware of that. My Templeton Prize Address was to a public audience, not a professional gathering.
Your second paragraph criticizes my conclusions about the nature of God should it transpire that we are alone in the universe. Curiously, my arguments about extraterrestrial life have been the ones that have found most favor among professional theologians. You seem to be missing the central message of my address, which is an attempt to revive the ancient tradition of natural theology in a modern scientific context.
I can understand that some people find natural theology arrogant and audacious-even repugnant-but then let them not wax lyrical about the wonders of nature in an attempt to argue against atheism. You can either read God's work in nature or you can't. If you can, then you may be led to make conclusions about God's nature and purposes, hopefully advanced in a tentative and not a dogmatic spirit. Those who marvel at the beauty of a sunset and proclaim “God is good” could also be accused of arrogantly making assumptions about God's nature from observations of the world.
To Nicholas Wolfson: I appreciate that the mathematical ingenuity of nature may offer scant comfort to the dying, but let's be honest: traditional Christianity has always had two distinct concepts of God (or three, depending on your point of view). There is the notion of a personal God who intervenes in the world, working miracles, answering prayers, etc.-the comforting “guardian angel” God. Then there is “God the Great Architect of the universe.” Being a physicist, I am, not surprisingly, primarily concerned with the latter. I make no apology for this: that is simply my area of expertise.
To George R. Weber: I am not claiming that miracles are impossible, only that it is no part of science to assume them. Once you accept the idea of miracles, you might as well give up trying to explain the world rationally: you could attribute every phenomenon to a miracle.
Regarding the origin and evolution of life, one can of course cling to a God-of-the-gaps notion, but this is dangerous. Such a God could be swept away at any time by the next scientific discovery. I am urging people to abandon once and for all the unworthy notion of God as a cosmic magician-as he will always be in retreat as science advances-and embrace a deeper, more subtle notion of a God of timeless design.
In their article, “Abandoning Children to Their Rights” (August/ September), Bruce C. Hafen and Jonathan O. Hafen do an impressive job of ferreting out the disturbing legal implications of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). I would quibble, however, with their assertion that American ratification of the treaty has been held up principally because the “American legal mainstream never embraced the notion of legal autonomy for children.” Rather, I think what has held American politicians back from ratifying the treaty has more to do with the CRC's behests to signatory governments to make substantial material commitments to children in the form of housing and health services.
Indeed, the authors' claim that the CRC's ambition to protect children from their parents represents both a “conceptual” and “technical departure from current American law” is, I think, too optimistic about American law. Rather I get the impression that the CRC may have been inspired by the example of contemporary American law. By now, the American legal system has strayed hopelessly from any previous presumption that parents are or should be the rightful locus of authority in children's lives. With shocking regularity the courts intervene in the parent/child relationship-often imposing cruel judgments on parents who do not meet legal notions of children's “best interests.”
The most noxious incursions the courts have made on parental authority have been made via the child-welfare system. Tens of thousands of poor children have been removed from loving homes into foster care; judges have even convicted parents of child abuse or neglect for such mild transgressions as restricting their children's television viewing, taking a child out of school for a few days, or leaving a child they have judged responsible home alone in the afternoons while they work.
American courts have gone quite far not only in pushing the state as the ultimate protector of children, but as the grantor of “choice” rights to children. The concept of childhood legal autonomy is by now ripe enough that courts recognize the “right” of a child to obtain legal counsel and even to sue his parents. The most famous examples of choice rights granted children, of course, involve the so-called “reproductive rights” of teenagers-specifically the ostensible rights of minors to sexual self-determination and to obtain abortions without parental consent.
While working on a book about raising children in America, I have talked to hundreds of parents whose hatred and contempt of the legal system can be summed up in their oft repeated, tongue-in-cheek injunction, “Kill the lawyers and judges!” What accounts for parents' hostility to the legal system?
Parents know that the legal enfranchisement of children in this country has not meant their liberation, but rather their increasing subjection to the impositions of clumsy and impersonal government bureaucracies, bureaucracies far less equipped to meet their needs than are the parents who know and love them.
To talk to parents about the problem of disciplining children, for example, is to come to the conclusion that the time has already come when “parents believe they have no right to give direction to their children . . . because they fear that in giving them direction they might meet state-supported resistance.” Indeed, parents point to the ruthless, arbitrary, culturally insensitive, and, in their eyes, often immoral incursions of the courts on parental authority and family integrity; and they protest vehemently that the legal system is preventing them from raising their children right.
Nowhere in American life, I am convinced, is the spectre of government tyranny more clearly visible than in our legal system's current approach to children's rights. Congressional ratification of the CRC would hardly present the first significant legal threat to parental rights and child well-being we face as a nation. It would merely intensify an already raging battle between families and government bureaucracies over who ultimately should raise our children.
Institute for American Values
New York, NY
The Hafens do well to recognize and highlight the pernicious nature of the UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child. But the threat they observe is not limited to the United States' potential ratification of the Convention. A UN-style power shift from parent to state is already occurring in America. Increasingly, parents' rights are usurped by government entities in the name of “the best interests of the child.” That is why efforts are underway to enact federal legislation to restore to parents the right to direct the upbringing of their children without undue state interference.
Is statutory recognition of parental rights really necessary? Consider the following: This summer, Mr. and Mrs. Earls of Georgia were shocked to find a bag of condoms in their thirteen-and fifteen-year-old daughters' room. The girls confessed that the counselor of their middle school had helped them get the condoms. After repeatedly being told that it was none of their business, the Earls wrested from the reluctant school superintendent that the counselor had driven the girls during school hours to a health clinic where they were tested for AIDS and cervical cancer, and given condoms and prescriptions for birth control pills. The school has, to date, refused to give the Earls the results of the tests. “We're simply trying to do what's best for the students,” said the superintendent.
Education bureaucrats are not the only culprits. A steady drumbeat of Child Protective Services tragedies reveals an increasing nonchalance about the sanctity of the family unit on the part of government social workers who take children from their homes on little more than rumor. This “loot first and ask questions later” approach reflects the height of arrogance and does untold damage to the very souls CPS was designed to protect. . . .
The UN's “new concept” of government “protecting the child from the power of parents” is a concept with which the vast majority of Americans disagree. In February of this year, Luntz Research asked registered voters nationwide: “Who do you feel should be primarily responsible for the upbringing and education of children-parents or the government?” Voters favored parents by a 94 percent landslide.
The Hafens are right-paternal deconstruction proponents responsible for the CRC have done through the UN what they could not do through the legislative process. Ratification by the Clinton Administration of the Convention would mark a radical departure from American law and policy and a patent disregard for the convictions of the American people.
—Gary L. Bauer
Family Research Center
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child strikes me as already out of date. The CRC, according to the Hafens, evolved during the last decade of the Cold War. It seems to have in mind primarily children in totalitarian states or children from poor or politically disrupted countries. With regard to the former, it wants children to have access to information of all kinds, the right to choose their own religion, the right to express their opinions, and the right to privacy. With regard to the latter, it wants better health care, a guaranteed public education, and protection when deprived of a family environment due to war or famine.
CRC is strangely at odds with our situation in the United States. Here parents feel that they have lost control of their children to the socializing power of market appeals, television, a hostile popular culture, and tyrannous peer groups. Yes, some parents are concerned about state-sanctioned “secularism” in our schools. But they would be less concerned about this if they were not desperate to find leverage to resist these other incursions into family responsibilities and prerogatives.
CRC is blind to what Alan Wolfe calls the emerging “market family” or what I call the “market child.” This is the child increasingly under the control of rational-choice individualism that makes the market go. As the market family and child spread to the rest of the world, the CRC may appear to be “abandoning children” not just to their “rights,” as the Hafens contend, but to the seductions of these increasingly pervasive market forces.
The best resistance to these forces are families themselves and a critical appropriation of the religious and cultural traditions that sustain them. Although CRC states that families have the primary responsibility for raising and educating children, its language of rights provides no theory for why this is true. The best theory was stated first in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and Politics. It had to do with his prescientific theory of what evolutionary psychologists today call “kin altruism.” Because parents sense that their children are partially them-something like “copies” of themselves-they are concerned to take care of them as a matter of self-concern.
Aristotle's theory was enriched by Aquinas. He taught that families invest in their children for two reasons. First, parents have a natural affection for the little beings that are, as Aristotle suggested, part of themselves. But second, parents should love and protect their children because they, as all children, reflect the goodness of God. Children are, for this reason, especially deserving of love. Hence, according to Aquinas, the family and religion are the first guarantors of child well-being. Although there is clearly a role for the state in protecting children and enhancing their well-being, it is the custodian of neither of these basic motivations for child care.
The CRC is a serious document. But it needs revision to balance its excessive language of rights with a language of responsibility. It should acknowledge, much more strongly than it does, the importance of families and a critically appropriated religion for child well-being. Finally, it needs to assert that the role of government is to support families, make space for religion, protect children in those cases when families do positive harm, and, indeed, defend both families and religion from the ravages of the market.
The Divinity School University of Chicago
“Abandoning Children to Their Rights” is an important contribution that should help those already engaged in protecting parents' rights and working for the defeat of the ratification of the CRC: Eagle Forum, Family Research Council, Christian Coalition, et al.
This is especially so when one learns of Vatican support for the CRC. . . . Pope John Paul II has been one of the Convention's strongest advocates. Archbishop Renato R. Martino, Vatican nuncio to the United Nations, sent a letter to the International Catholic Child Bureau encouraging efforts to have the United States ratify the convention. . . .
What courses of action on this issue are open to individuals and groups who want to operate in concert with the Vatican and whose spiritual/temporal hero is John Paul?
—Leon J. Robey
Paul H. Libens's report, “Murder in the Sudan” (August/September), is an important contribution to raising awareness of the disastrous effects of the civil war in that country.
There are diplomatic realities, deeply rooted in Africa's international relations, that make resolution of this conflict difficult. At independence Sudan was not alone in having territorial boundaries that did not reflect the distribution of ethnic groups. Nearly every African country had inherited colonial boundaries that were “artificial.” In the early 1960s the newly created Organization for African Unity (OAU) decided it would open a Pandora's Box of ethnic and national conflict to rearrange boundaries. Therefore, all colonial boundaries were “Africanized,” and became internationally accepted boundaries. With this new international norm in mind subsequent attempts at subnational secession, such as the Biafran secession from Nigeria, were not supported by the OAU.
There were always exceptions to the rule. A secession could occur if the subnational territory had been under a separate colonial jurisdiction and the secession was approved by referendum. Thus, Eritrea's independence was accepted diplomatically because it had been an Italian colony and held a referendum. Southern Sudan does not meet these two conditions. Southern Sudan can lay claim to a large measure of colonial autonomy, which might sway international opinion as to a strict application of this norm. But even having jumped this hurdle, Southern Sudan has not had a referendum, nor is it conceivable that such a referendum would be allowed by the current government of Sudan. Therefore, as in Eritrea, the only real possibility of independence would be by a military victory by the South, followed by an internationally accepted referendum. . . .
Finally, these African norms influence and limit both UN and U.S. policy. The UN will be reluctant to address the Sudan issue without clear guidance from the numerous African members. American sympathy will likely lie with Southern Sudan due to common ties of religion and language, reinforced by a dislike of the flagrant disregard for human rights by the Sudanese government and its close ties with pariah Iran. However, at this time, it is hard to imagine the conditions under which this American concern would be transformed into actual military or diplomatic assistance to the South.
—Robert B. Lloyd
In The Public Square (August/ September), Father Neuhaus states, on the basis of information supplied by William Lazareth, that the phrase articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae (“the article by which the church stands or falls”), in reference to the doctrine of justification by faith, originated with a certain Valentin E. Loscher in 1718. However, we can trace this phrase much farther back than that. The Lutheran theologian Balthasar Meisner used it in 1613, referrring to it as a “proverb of Luther.” Perhaps he was referring to the statement of Luther in his 1540 exposition of Psalm 130:4, in reference to the doctrine of justification by faith, that, quia isto articulo stante state Ecclesia, ruente ruit Ecclesia. Not exactly the wording that later became axiomatic, but pretty close. Perhaps it is enough to justify Meisner's conclusion that the phrase originated with Luther. Certainly it is enough to justify the claim of later Lutherans that Luther pointed the way towards the conclusion that the doctrine of justification is the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae.
St. Louis, MO
Evangelical theologian Alistair McGrath makes a similar point in his book Iustitia Dei (p. 239), except he traces the phrase to a Reformed theologian, Johann Heinrich Alsted, who wrote in 1618: articulus iustificationis dicitur articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae. McGrath notes that “precursors of the phrase” are found in the writings of Luther.
From time to time, Father Neuhaus has suggested that the Jesuit Order is not at all what it used to be. Very few have been as closely associated with the Jesuits as I have, and from all I can observe first hand, the statement of that great historian, Will Durant, is still true: “It is the greatest organization the world has ever known.” “They were great teachers, those Jesuits,” said Durant, a former student at St. Peter's College in Jersey City. They still are. Just check at Georgetown, Boston College, Fordham, Holy Cross, St. Louis, Loyola, Santa Clara, Gonzaga, and the other twenty Jesuit colleges in the U.S., plus the forty-eight excellent Jesuit high schools in this country. . . .
If you apply Christ's words, “By their fruits you shall know them,” the Jesuit Order-abroad as well as in the U.S.-is alive and well, looking forward to its fifth century of unparalleled service to the Church and the world.