Darwin, God, Iraq & more

LETTING GOD OFF THE HOOK?

In his unfavorable review of my book The Edge of Evolution (“Faulty Design,” October 12), the Darwinian biologist Kenneth Miller worries about the kind of God implied by intelligent design. If God designed the germs and parasites that plague humans, how can he be good? In contrast, if God set up an independent process, such as natural selection, to give us “a fruitful and creative natural world,” Miller seems to think, then surely we can’t blame him for the nasty “byproducts” of that process, such as malaria.

I don’t see how Miller’s reasoning lets God off the hook. If God designed a slipshod process that results in natural evil-in fact, one that depends on natural evil-why couldn’t a mother who lost a child to malaria justifiably complain that God should have set up a better process?

Miller is caught in a category mistake. The moral problem of evil is a deep theological question, which no amoral scientific theory can address. Matters become more confused when theological reasons are offered in support of a scientific theory.

MICHAEL J. BEHE

Bethlehem, Pa.

THE REVIEWER REPLIES

Michael Behe’s letter suggests that my criticisms of his book focus on a desire to “let God off the hook.” He’s wrong. I have no such desire, and evolution (as Behe notes) wouldn’t do that anyway. Life and death are both part of the creator’s work, and evolution is as responsible for disease as it is for the beauty of springtime. But Behe goes a step further, implicating God as the agent responsible for the design of our most vicious pathogens. I find this theologically unnecessary and scientifically incorrect. My substantive criticisms, however, which he does not challenge, center on the scientific errors and misstatements in his book. These mistakes would render the work hopeless even if it had theological merit (which it does not). I hope that readers did not miss the stunning irony of his letter’s final sentence. It is the “design” movement-not evolution-that routinely offers “theological reasons” in support of its claims. Just ask Behe’s colleague, William Dembski, who says that “intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory.”

KENNETH R. MILLER

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

In the October 12 issue, Matthew Shadle argues that the United States has a moral obligation to continue fighting to restore order in Iraq (“No Exit from Iraq?”). Although I agree that there is some merit in this notion, I wonder at what point the burden of obligation will fall on the people of Iraq.

It is undeniable that the disorder and killing that goes on in Iraq today is mainly the result of Sunnis attacking Shiites, and vice versa. And even though the number of deaths has diminished since the surge began, newspapers report that forced displacement of Sunni families as a result of death threats is on the rise. More than 2.3 million Iraqi families have been pushed out of their homes and neighborhoods and deprived of all their property.

The U.S. military has been stretched to the breaking point because of the protracted struggle in Iraq. More than twenty-five thousand U.S. troops have come home missing an arm or leg or eye or suffering from some other serious medical injury. Almost four thousand of our troops have died in this senseless war. It has been estimated that over the next several years, the war will cost the United States $2 trillion. Can our economy withstand such a drain on our resources?

As for the declared goal of installing democracy in Iraq, at this point that is an illusion. So long as the Sunni and Shiite factions remain bitterly hostile to one another, democracy has as much chance of emerging in Iraq as a rose garden does in the Sahara desert.

WILLIAM COONEY

Philadelphia, Pa.

A THIRD CHOICE

Missing from your recent articles on Iraq (“No Exit from Iraq?” October 12) was any discussion of alternatives to the false dichotomy of “stay the course” and “cut and run.” There is a third choice: substitute a multinational stability force for our troops. Admittedly, it would take some work to assemble such a force, but it is the answer. Our troops are currently viewed as hostile occupiers by over 80 percent of the Iraqi population. If the key problem is political, no government that would be viewed as legitimate by Iraqis can be formed so long as we are occupiers. A UN-brokered force and a UN-brokered peace conference would get us where we need to be.

JAMES T. RANNEY

Philadelphia, Pa.

WHY I RESIGNED

Paul Lauritzen’s article on the role of ROTC at Catholic universities (“Student Soldiers,” September 28) accurately describes the central moral dilemma of my thirteen-year Army career. I finally resigned my commission because I was increasingly uncomfortable with the conflict between my Christian vocation and the obedience required of a soldier. Over time, it became more and more difficult to love my neighbor while perfecting my ability to kill as many enemies as possible on the orders of politicians pursuing decidedly un-Christian goals.

JAMES NOHELTY

Lansing, N.Y.

MILITANT VEGANISM

After reading Dulcie Ward’s reply (“Veganism Is Healthy,” October 12) to my letter to the editor (“A Biological Approach,” September 14), I thought it important to call attention to the organization with which she is associated.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) is the quasi-professional arm of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Despite the group’s name, only a small minority of its members come from the medical profession. In fact, several years ago the American Medical Association (AMA) issued a press release decrying PCRM’s tactics. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a militant vegan organization opposed to the use of all animal products for any purpose.

With respect to my letter, Ward solved the B12 problem by dependence on human alteration of the food supply. The fact remains that a vegan diet is not natural for humans. Without supplements or engineered foods, such a diet will not meet human nutritional needs.

I am not opposed to people who choose lifestyles like veganism, and I am happy to help those who have made such a choice find a way to optimize their nutrient intakes. But I remain opposed to militant veganism, which seeks to impose its agenda on the American public by a campaign of half-truths and distortions. Dulcie Ward’s letter is, unfortunately, in that vein.

ROBERT P. HEANEY, MD

Omaha, Neb.

A PLACE AT THE TABLE

As noted in Bill Casey and David O’Brien’s “Shared Burden: A Manifesto for the Laity” (October 12), Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) recently marked its fifth anniversary. The lay group was formed in response to the burgeoning scandal occasioned as much by the cover-up and protection of sexual abusers by church authorities as by the abuse itself.

When VOTF came into existence, some bishops quickly went into defensive mode. Those of us who joined have been viewed with mistrust, if not outright disdain, for our support of victims of sexual abuse.

What united us is our dedication-not only in demanding accountability and transparency, but also in requesting a place at the table. It is one ascribed to us in canon law, which is clear about the laity’s right to organize in the church.

MAUREEN PAUL TURLISH, SNDDEN

New Castle, Del.

GENUINE PENITANCE

Fr. Thomas P. Doyle’s letter to the editor (“It’s More than Money,” September 28), argued that your August 17 editorial (“$660 Million”) “unduly focused on money.” The editors replied, “While every instance of sexual abuse calls for justice, not every law-suit settlement guarantees that outcome.” As your editorial stated, for healing to begin, church leaders must show penitence. Several bishops have said they are responsible, but not one has explained the moral reasoning behind his mistakes. It’s crucial that they all do so. Bishops are supposed to teach on matters of faith and morals so that the faithful can make informed choices. Culpable bishops may have been following their consciences in good faith. They may not believe they were morally wrong, but many ignored canon laws that forbid one to use an ecclesiastical office to condone, formally or tacitly, the commission of a crime. Genuine penitence and healing cannot begin until the bishops involved in sexual-abuse cover-ups explain their reasoning publicly. Until they do, their competence and credibility as moral teachers will remain in doubt.

D. W. ODELL

Altamont, N.Y.

ANOTHER SIDE OF L’ENGLE

Thank you for Tanya Avakian’s thought-provoking piece on Madeleine L’Engle (“The Wildness of Christianity,” October 26). It affirmed the breadth of L’Engle’s understanding and her gift of reaching people in different ways. But I was disappointed to find her unfavorably compared to Flannery O’Connor for having a less radical vision. The Madeleine L’Engle who touched me-the one who wrote A Circle of Quiet, A Stone for a Pillow, Two-Part Invention, Walking on Water, and A Cry Like a Bell-was concerned with common things. Her understandings of relationships, time, creativity, responsibility, birth and death, and spirituality were grounded in the very mundane details of living-and therefore accessible to us all.

GABRIELLE SHUFELDT

Springfield, Ill.

Published in the 2007-11-23 issue: 
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