Monday, November 28, 2005

The Essential Father

In case you've missed it, the November Touchstone contains a number of good articles on marriage and family. One article in particular deserves to be highlighted:

W. Bradford Wilcox, "Reconcilable Differences: What Social Sciences Show About the Complementarity of the Sexes & Parenting," 32. (Sadly unavailable online.)

Wilcox sketches the respective indispensible contributions that father and mother contribute to the upbringing of children, but concentrates on the underappreciated role of fathers.

[T]here is considerable evidence that paternal involvement is associated with higher rates of educational and occupational attainment, self-confidence, and more pro-social behavior for boys and girls....

Because of the smaller role they play in procreation and because they do not have the same hormonal priming to engage in nurturing behavior as mothers do, fathers are—to some degree—more distant from their children and, more generally, from the daily emotional dynamics of family life than are mothers. Although this distance can be a liability if fathers are neglectful..., if can be an asset if fathers take advantage of this distance to engage their children in a distinctly fatherly way...

But this only makes sense. As Aristotle notes, we use "male" analogically to refer to that which brings forth life in another and "female" for that which brings forth life in itself (On the Generation of Animals I:2). So for example, we refer to Earth as mother and God as father. The emotional detachment of fathers from their children is closely related to the characteristic distance of the masculine consciousness from the senses, in contrast to the proximity of the female consciousness to the senses. (These relations find expression in characteristic length of hair.) As Wilcox notes, mothers are hormonally "primed" to be responsive; among these hormones, estrogen plays a central role in both responsiveness (along with oxytocin) and in strength of sense impression.

A passage from sociologist David Popenoe summarizes the complementary parenting styles of fathers and mothers:

The complimentarity of male and female parenting styles is striking and of enormous importance to a child's overall development.... [F]athers express more concern for the child's long-term development, while mother's focus on the child's immediate well-being (which, of course, in its own way has everything to do with a child's long-term well-being.)... [T]he disciplinary approach of fathers tends to be "firm" while that of mothers tends to be "responsive." While mothers provide an important flexibility and sympathy in their discipline, fathers provide ultimate predictability and consistency. Both dimensions are critical for an efficient, balanced, and humane childrearing regime.

The article's bibliography is itself a valuable contribution and summarizes some of the great resources of modern sociology at the disposal of anyone seeking to defend the traditional (and natural) structure of the family.

W. Bradford Wilcox, "Reconcilable Differences: What Social Sciences Show About the Complementarity of the Sexes & Parenting," Touchstone (November 2005), 32.

Along similar lines: Marriage Sprung from the Earth

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Gratitude and Hope

"Lack of gratitude is despair."

This message is from a marqee along my morning route, and despite its ringing true, it took me a while to figure out why.

No matter how much we have, without acknowledging its origin, without appreciating its gratuitousness, we cannot hope. Everyone knows deep down that we don't ultimately control our own lives. If what we have is not given by Someone and we can only depend on our own slender efforts, then ultimately there is no guarantee that future events will work to our good.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Creation, Atheism, and Darwinisms

Zenit reports that Pope Benedict spoke yesterday on the mercy of God and how it is evident in creation:

The first visible sign of this divine charity—says the Psalmist—is to be sought in creation. Then history enters. The gaze, full of admiration and wonder, pauses first of all on creation: the heavens, the earth, the waters, the sun, the moon and the stars.

Even before discovering the God who reveals himself in the history of a people, there is a cosmic revelation, open to all, offered to the whole of humanity by the only Creator, "God of gods" and "Lord of lords" (cf. verses 2-3).

He concluded his official remarks by referencing St. Basil's commentary on the opening of Genesis:

"'In the beginning God created heaven and earth.' My word yields, overcome by the wonder of this thought" [Ref].

In fact, although some, "deceived by the atheism they bear within them, imagined the universe deprived of a guide and order, at the mercy of chance," the sacred writer instead "has immediately enlightened our mind with the name of God at the beginning of the narrative, saying: 'In the beginning God created.' And what beauty this order has!" [Ref].

"Therefore, if the world had a beginning and was created, you have to seek the one who initiated it and who is its Creator ... Moses has prepared you with his teaching, imprinting on our souls as a seal or phylactery the most holy name of God, when he says: 'In the beginning God created.' The blessed nature, goodness free from envy, he who is the object of love on the part of all reasoning beings, the beauty greater than any that can be desired, the beginning of beings, the source of life, the light of understanding, the inaccessible wisdom, in a word, He 'in the beginning created heaven and earth'" [Ref].

At the end of the audience, the Holy Father added extemporaneously:

I believe the words of this fourth-century Father are of amazing timeliness, when he says some, "deceived by the atheism they bear within them, imagined the universe deprived of a guide and order, at the mercy of chance." How many are these "some" today?

Deceived by atheism, they believe and try to demonstrate that it is scientific to think that everything lacks a guide and order, as if they were at the mercy of chance. The Lord, with sacred Scripture, awakens the drowsy reason and says to us: In the beginning is the creative Word. In the beginning the creative Word—this Word that has created everything, which has created this intelligent plan, the cosmos—is also Love.

Let us allow ourselves to be awakened by this Word of God. Let us pray that he clear our minds so that we will be able to perceive the message of creation, inscribed also in our hearts: The beginning of everything is creative Wisdom and this Wisdom is love and goodness: "Eternal is his mercy."

The Popes remarks call for an underscoring of the point I've been making here recently: atheism derives no support from Darwinism, once one understands the scientific claims of Darwinism correctly. The Pope's remarks are not a rejection of science, but of the unwarranted extrapolation of science to say something beyond its authority.

Only by misconceiving evolutionary theory as a complete causal explanation of the origin of species can it be said to support atheism... or have anything at all to say on the subject. The theory's creative source of genetic novelty, "random mutations," makes no claim about the specific cause of those mutations (what precipitates the laws of physics to act just when and how they do) and, indeed, no one expects a scientific theory to specify causality so finely. This dearth of specificity leaves a wide berth for the workings of Providence or whatever sort of cause (space aliens?) one might want to insert into the gap. Moreover it is characteristic of science to mistake the workings of intelligence for chance.

So in summary, the belief that Darwinism has any implications one way or the other (for or against atheism) is a grievous (but all too common) misunderstanding of evolutionary theory and the role of chance in science.

The well intentioned folks who oppose the teaching of Darwin in schools have been deceived into thinking the theory atheistic. The irony is that in their efforts they have unwittingly imbibed the misconception from which so many atheists suffer. The miseducated "brights" who sport Darwin amphibians on their cars have successfully deceived them into drinking from the same punch bowl. Tragic.

" Commentary on Psalm 135(136):1-9: From Created Works One Ascends to the Greatness of God," Zenit (2005-11-09).

"Creation Reveals God and His Love, Says Benedict XVI: Comments on Psalm 135(136) at General Audience," Zenit (2005-11-09).