Friday, July 17, 2015

Analysis of Planned Parenthood baby body parts scandal

Recently, the Center for Medical Progress released an investigation into Planned Parenthood, provider of approximately one-third of abortions in the United States. Undercover video footage features correspondence between Dr. Deborah Nucatola, senior director of medical services for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Nucatola speaks with men posing as potential buyers of infant body parts for the purposes of medical research.

Excerpts from Nucatola garnering attention include:
Nucatola: I think every provider has had patients who want to donate their tissue, and they absolutely want to accommodate them. They just want to do it in a way that is not perceived as, ‘This clinic is selling tissue, this clinic is making money off of this.’ I know in the Planned Parenthood world they’re very very sensitive to that. And before an affiliate is gonna do that, they need to, obviously, they’re not—some might do it for free—but they want to come to a number that doesn’t look like they’re making money. They want to come to a number that looks like it is a reasonable number for the effort that is allotted on their part. I think with private providers, private clinics, they’ll have much less of a problem with that. 
Buyer: Okay, so, when you are, or the affiliate is determining what that monetary—so that it doesn’t create, raising a question of this is what it’s about, this is the main—what price range, would you—? 
Nucatola: You know, I would throw a number out, I would say it’s probably anywhere from $30 to $100 [per specimen], depending on the facility and what’s involved. It just has to do with space issues, are you sending someone there who’s going to be doing everything, is there shipping involved, is somebody gonna have to take it out. You know, I think everybody just wants, it’s really just about if anyone were ever to ask them, “What do you do for this $60? How can you justify that? Or are you basically just doing something completely egregious, that you should be doing for free.” So it just needs to be justifiable. 
And later, in the interview, Nucatola explains methods of abortion used to accommodate a body part buyer's request:
Buyer: We need liver and we prefer, you know, an actual liver, not a bunch of shredded up— 
Nucatola: Piece of liver. 
Buyer: Yeah. Or especially brain is where it’s actually a big issue, hemispheres need to be intact, it’s a big deal with neural tissue and the progenitors, because those are particularly fragile. If you’ve got that in the back of your mind, if you’re aware of that, technically, how much of a difference can that actually make if you know kind of what’s expected or what we need, versus— 
PP: It makes a huge difference. I’d say a lot of people want liver. And for that reason, most providers will do this case under ultrasound guidance, so they’ll know where they’re putting their forceps. The kind of rate-limiting step of the procedure is the calvarium, the head is basically the biggest part. Most of the other stuff can come out intact. It’s very rare to have a patient that doesn’t have enough dilation to evacuate all the other parts intact.
Buyer: To bring the body cavity out intact and all that? 
Nucatola: Exactly. So then you’re just kind of cognizant of where you put your graspers, you try to intentionally go above and below the thorax, so that, you know, we’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m going to basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact. And with the calvarium, in general, some people will actually try to change the presentation so that it’s not vertex, because when it’s vertex presentation, you never have enough dilation at the beginning of the case, unless you have real, huge amount of dilation to deliver an intact calvarium. So if you do it starting from the breech presentation, there’s dilation that happens as the case goes on, and often, the last, you can evacuate an intact calvarium at the end. So I mean there are certainly steps that can be taken to try to ensure— 
Buyer: So they can convert to breach, for example, at the start of the—” 
Nucatola: Exactly, exactly. Under ultrasound guidance, they can just change the presentation.
One of the first questions that comes to mind, what are the ramifications of this matter according to U.S. law? Peter Jesserer Smith, writing for the National Catholic Register, responds to Nucatola's descriptions as such: "much of it may actually be legal." The possibility of legally selling baby body parts concerns the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act of 1993 which states:
It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human fetal tissue for valuable consideration if the transfer affects interstate commerce. (498b)
The phrase "valuable consideration" is said to exclude compensation related to the "transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue.'." (498b)

In other words, it is lawful to accept money for donated "human fetal tissue" if that money is applied to the necessary handling and presevation of the "tissue." The question then seems to be whether or not Planned Parenthood, in selling baby body parts, exceeded compensation necessary to handle the body parts.

This very matter was considered in an interview conducted by Al Kresta of Kresta in the Afternoon radio show on July 14 with David Daleiden, project lead of the Center for Medical Progress' undercover investigation. Kresta asked Daleiden to address the matter of receiving costs associated with the handling of "human fetal tissue" and this is the reply:
Daleiden: The most important thing is that most of those ancillary costs that might come with trying to facilitate human organ donation or a tissue donation–– none of those costs are actually incurred by Planned Parenthood. Because in a situation that you have in Planned Parenthood and StemExpress, for example, StemExpress is an outside, middle-man, biotech company that comes into the Planned Parenthood clinic. They send their technicians into the clinic. The clinics consent the patients. The clinics identify the patients that they want to harvest from. The clinics receive the fetuses in the pathology lab after they've been aborted. The StemExpress technicians do the dissection. They package up the body parts. And they drive over to the FedEx and ship them off across the country at the end of the day. So literally, the only thing that Planned Parenthood is doing is they're opening the front door for them in the morning, or sometimes the back door. And they're carrying the fetus from the operating room to the pathology lab which is across the hallway which is in the back of the clinic. And that's something that they do every day anyway because that's their standard processing of specimens anyway when they're doing abortions. So the Planned Parenthood clinic doesn't have any cost with the tissue procuring. In fact, they're actually saving money already because it's less volume of medical waste that they have to dispose of. And on top of that, the procurement company is paying them 50, 75, 100 dollars per specimen extra. 
At one point in the undercover video, Nucatola communicated that she had "8 cases yesterday." Let's say that is a normative number, and if, as Daleiden asserts, PP incurs zero or negligible handling costs with regard to the fetuses, that would mean a PP clinic could make upwards of $800 per day, and that's if each fetus was only used for one body part. If such is the case, PP would be in violation of federal law. This amount is unnerving if one calculates the thousands of dollars that could be earned in a year, and the added incentive for clinics to steer clients toward abortion. The legality and dollar amounts could also depend on variations between PP affiliate to affiliate, as not all of them may necessarily be arranged in exactly the same way Daleiden describes.

It may also be legally suspect that the PP consent form, acquiring permission from a woman to use her aborted baby for medical research, does not disclose that the clinic receives money for the donated body parts. NIHRA, however, states a doctor must reveal any "physician's interest" in the research process, which may legally be considered to include financial compensation. As quoted above, Nucatola did suggest clinics attempted to "come to a number that doesn’t look like they’re making money." A lengthier quote from Daleiden in the next section expounds on this.

The NC Register article describes what may be a more definitive violation of federal law, which is the alteration of the abortion procedure for the purpose of harvesting body parts. NIHRA states:
[I]n the case of tissue obtained pursuant to an induced abortion-- ... no alteration of the timing, method, or procedures used to terminate the pregnancy was made solely for the purposes of obtaining the tissue. (498a)
This law appears to have been violated as we see in Nucatola's words such as:
I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m going to basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact. And with the calvarium, in general, some people will actually try to change the presentation so that it’s not vertex...
These are explicit deviations in the "method" of the procedure for the purpose of harvesting suitable organ specimens. Such deviations could well qualify as illegal "methods."

The NC Register article also identifies one point in Nucatola's statements that potentially describes a partial-birth abortion, which was declared illegal in 2003.

Upon revelation of this undercover video, PP soon released a statement denying any illegalities and that the Center for Medical Progress unethically edited the video. Responding to that during the Kresta interview, Daleiden states the following:
Daleiden: Basically to summarize what was interesting about Planned Parenthood's response through Planned Parenthood's statement is that they make two really key admissions and then they tell three lies afterward. And the two important admissions are that they admit that some of their clinics supply aborted fetal tissue and they admit that there is money involved with supplying aborted fetal tissue.  The three lies that they tell are: Number one, that their patients asked for it and consent for it; Number two, that there is no financial benefit to Planned Parenthood, and; Number three, that there's nothing illegal going on there. Number one, the patients are consenting to donate tissue like we discussed in the previous segment with the consent form. But it's not being disclosed to the patient that there's money involved and that Planned Parenthood receives remuneration for the fetal tissue. So patients are consenting to donate. They are not consenting to selling. Selling is what's actually going on.  Point number two. In the document vault section of our website at we have actually a flyer advertisement from one of the main, real-life purchasers of Planned Parenthood baby parts. They're a company called StemExpress. They're a private LLC, for profit company in northern California that partnered with very many Planned Parenthood clinics across the country. … That flyer advertises four different times to Planned Parenthood clinics the financial benefits that they can receive if they supply fetal tissue. It uses the phrases "financially profitable," "financial profits," "financial benefits to your clinic," and "fiscal growth of your own clinic." And that advertisement to Planned Parenthood clinics includes an endorsement printed on it from another Planned Parenthood medical director.  And so then the third lie that nothing illegal is going on about this. It all hinges on Planned Parenthood's claim that there's no money involved. But that's patently false, because every other source that you can go to, other than their communications director, will prove otherwise.
A female caller in the second hour of Kresta's July 14 show says, "I'm very happy my father's dead because he [did] not live to see this. He would have felt that the Nazis had won. ... Mengele must have taught that doctor [Nucatola]." And the caller's reaction is not unique.

During World War II, Nazi scientists conducted a number of horrific experiments on prisoners in the name of scientific and medical advancement. Victims of the Nazis were subjected to such experiments as high-altitude tests to determine viable altitudes at which pilots could parachute, freezing experiments to determine treatments for hypothermia, as well as subjugation to multiple diseases in the name of finding a cure.
Victims of Dr. Josef Mengele's medical
experiments at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Poland, 1944. (Image courtesy of
 US Holocaust Memorial Museum)

That these prisoners were subjected to such violations of humanity, against their will, is all but universally held as evil. The sober philosopher recognizes the tragic irony of cruelly destroying mass human life in the name of preserving it. How did these scientists justify these crimes?

In the book The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremburg Code, authors George Annas and Michael Grodin identify 12 arguments made by Nazi scientists in defense of their actions. Argument #10 reads as follows:
Sometimes it is necessary to tolerate a lesser evil, the killing of some, to achieve a greater good, the saving of many. That the experiments were useful, the defense claimed, was evident by the use of the data derived from Nazi human experimentation by the United States and Britain in the war against Japan. (p. 133)
This argumentation is similar to those who now appeal to the "research" benefits garnered from the harvested body parts of aborted babies, as trafficked by the likes of PP (although many defendants of abortion for research deny it as an evil of any kind). Even PP-friendly media headlines have played this angle. This past week, the Washington Post actually altered their headline. It originally read "Undercover video shows Planned Parenthood exec discussing organ harvesting" but was changed to the more benign: "Undercover video shows Planned Parenthood official discussing fetal organs used for research."

The question comes down to this: If that which is in the womb is a human life,* then abortion, as well as the harvesting of that life's body parts for human experimentation, is murderous and horrific. And if that which is in the womb is a human life, then we are indeed living amidst the echo of Nazi concentration camps and human experimentation against unwilling victims, even if that reality is more difficult to see.

Our moral sensibilities recognize the violation done to an unwilling victim in these tragic events. Again, if that which is in the womb is a human life, the "consent form" used by PP is tantamount to asking Person A for consent to harvest the organs of Person B. The victim in question has granted no consent. The victim has been declared expendable in the name of science by someone else. (And, it should not be ignored that cures and medical advancements have been and will continue to be made in great strides without the mutilation and destruction of human victims.)

Furthermore, if that which is in the womb is a human life, as the Church and many allied souls recognize, then the victims of abortion have exceeded 57,000,000 since Roe vs. Wade in 1973. How can even the Nazi scientist, who would argue that the killing of "some" is worthy to save the "many," justify veritable infanticide and subsequent organ harvesting for human experimentation.

Related to this, the Catechism, in the section on abortion, offers what I think is valuable insight:
2273 The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation: "The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights...belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being's right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death."  –– "The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined.
The tragedy of abortion and organ trafficking for research (or the Nazi human experiments) is at least twofold. First, the victim is violated in the most capital sense. Second, when these persons are classified as expendable subjects, the entire system of humanity incurs a seismic shift of injustice, effectively denying the equal dignity of all persons.

Staying abreast of the latest news on this issue may require active searching, as the media has not shown a historic propensity to expose that which validates Christian thought.From a legal perspective, time will tell whether or not PP and/or any of its affiliates will be found guilty of criminal wrongdoing. As the weeks pass, expect further details regarding PP nationally, as well as other individual PP clinics, which may be absolved or further incriminated in illegal organ trafficking or abortion violations. What will be PP's defense? Will they claim Nucatola exaggerated at times to land a sale? Will further incriminating facts surface?

Certainly, from a moral perspective, the spiritual crime of abortion has multiplied to an unnerving total. And the matter of dismembering aborted babies serves as a visible icon of the amputation of human consideration from the situation. Many prayers are warranted for this situation and all involved.

EDIT (7/21/15) TO ADD:
A second undercover video was released July 21, 2015 by the Center for Medical Progress. This video contains interview footage with Dr. Mary Gatter, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s for-profit Medical Directors’ Council.

The legal matters of altering the method, as well as profits, again, surface in this interview. At one point, Gatter begins a negotiation by tossing out the figure of "$75 a specimen." The buyer rejoins with, "That’s way too low." And Gatter admits:
I was going to say $50, because I know places that did $50, too. But see we don’t, we’re not in it for the money, and we don’t want to be in a position of being accused of selling tissue, and stuff like that.
Her claim about not being in it for the money could either be taken honestly or cynically. If honestly, PP should be able to substantiate the per-"specimen" dollar amount, that PP incurs that cost to handle the specimen. According to Daleiden's assertions above, PP incurs no such costs. If we are to take Gatter's words cynically, perhaps she is acting as a salesman, convincing the buyer that she is not out to overcharge them. As well, the cynical view would ask why there is a negotiation at all, if PP is not in it for the money. Later in the transcript, she also indicates she will increase the cost based on what her peers charge:
Well let me agree to find out what other affiliates in California are getting, and if they’re getting substantially more, then we can discuss it then.
And, as Nucatola states in the prior video, the goal is to make sure PP "doesn't look like they're making money."

As speculated above, a PP affiliate can collect tens of thousands of dollars per year from these sales. For their part, the Center for Medical Progress speculates a yield of over $86,000 for one affiliate. Whereas $30-$100 here or there may be easier to disguise than larger quantities, the sum total over time can prove lucrative. The accounting side of this matter appears quite pertinent to the investigation.

As for methodological red flags in this second video, Gatter candidly explains the legal concern of altering the procedure for the purpose of procuring intact body parts. The exchange goes as follows:

Buyer: The intact specimens, I wanted to touch on that. What I was trying to say is if the 10 to 12 week specimens, end of the 1st trimester, if those are pretty intact specimens, that’s something we can work with.
Gatter: So that’s an interesting concept. Let me explain to you a little bit of a problem, which may not be a big problem, if our usual technique is suction, at 10 to 12 weeks, and we switch to using an IPAS or something with less suction, and increase the odds that it will come out as an intact specimen, then we’re kind of violating the protocol that says to the patient,“We’re not doing anything different in our care of you.” Now to me, that’s kind of a specious little argument and I wouldn’t object to asking Ian, who’s our surgeon who does the cases, to use an IPAS at that gestational age in order to increase the odds that he’s going to get an intact specimen, but I do need to throw it out there as a concern. Because the patient is signing something and we’re signing something saying that we’re not changing anything with the way we’re managing you, just because we agree to give tissue. You’ve heard that before. 
Buyer: Yes. It’s touchy. How do you feel about that? 
Gatter: I think they’re both totally appropriate techniques, there’s no difference in pain involved, I don’t think the patients would care one iota. So yeah, I’m not making a fuss about that.

Later, Gatter admits:
[T]here are people who would argue that by using the IPAS instead of the machine, you’re slightly increasing the length of the procedure, you’re increasing the pain of the procedure...
You may notice that Gatter earlier said there is "no difference in pain involved" in the alternate procedure, yet here admits others say doctors using the alternate procedure are "increasing the pain." On this matter, Gatter ultimately implies she will defer to a doctor, Ian Tilley, on whether or not they will violate the patient agreement by changing the abortion method to which the client-mother agrees:
And then, if we want to pursue this, mutually, I talk to Ian and see how he feels about using a “less crunchy” technique to get more whole specimens.

*Just to clarify, I don't say "if that which is in the womb is a human life" to suggest the matter is unclear. I use this verbiage as a thought exercise, to invite even skeptics to confront the crux of the issue. I fully embrace the Church's and other philsophers', scientists', and religious persons' views that life begins––at the beginning. Thus, can a skeptic at least understand the perspective of a thoughtful pro-lifer, which reflects philosophical and quantifiable measures of the existence of life.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Why do Christians eat bacon?
A look at natural law.

In recent times, there have been multiple accusations by opponents of Christianity that Christians are hypocrites for doing such things as eating bacon when it is declared forbidden in the Old Testament (Lev. 11:7-8). Particularly, the accusation includes the notion that Christians inconsistently choose which OT precepts to follow. One flow chart circulating social media claims to "destroy" Christians for appealing to the Bible regarding homosexuality (Lev. 20:13) since they suspend other teachings of the Old Testament like the prohibition on eating pork. A blogger who professes to think "critically," writes about several forbidden OT precepts Christians practice today by tagging the post with "hypocrisy."

However, these accusations are faulty. Here's why. Old Testament precepts often varied with regard to the permanence of their character. As commonly classed, there are three different varieties of OT precepts. St. Thomas Aquinas, writing in the latter 13th century, expounded on these:
We must therefore distinguish three kinds of precept in the Old Law; viz. "moral" precepts, which are dictated by the natural law; "ceremonial" precepts, which are determinations of the Divine worship; and "judicial" precepts, which are determinations of the justice to be maintained among men. (Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2.a.99.4, ca 1270)
In short, the permanent precepts are the "moral," often compared to the "natural law." And, apart from containing overlap with moral precepts, the ceremonial and judicial precepts are not necessarily permanent.

Those familiar with Scripture can see these distinctions in some familiar stories. In fact, the accusations of "hypocrisy" made by today's skeptics are virtually identical to those made against Christ:
He answered, "The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, `Go to Silo'am and wash'; so I went and washed and received my sight." They said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I do not know." They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. The Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, "He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see." Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the sabbath." But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?" There was a division among them. (John 9:11-16)
You see how the Pharisees make the same argument as today's skeptics, not understanding why Jesus could morally "make clay" and perform a miracle on Sabbath, a day held for rest in the Ten Commandments, no less! (Ex. 20:8-11) The teaching of resting specifically on Saturday is not a teaching of the "natural law," it is, rather, a teaching of the ceremonial law, i.e. the day especially reserved in the OT for divine worship. Such a precept does not have the inherent permanent quality as would a moral teaching discernible from the natural law.

So, for instance, Jesus affirms other of the Ten Commandments explicitly:  
And Jesus said, "You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matt. 19:8-9)
These teachings are part of the natural law. They are discernible by the light of human reason. The late theologian Fr. John Hardon described this discernment thusly:
It is therefore called natural law because everyone is subject to it from birth (natio), because it contains only those duties which are derivable from human nature itself, and because, absolutely speaking, its essentials can be grasped by the unaided light of human reason. (Fr. John Hardon, Modern Catholic Dictionary, "Natural Law")
And, finally, the Catechism has a section on the natural law from CCC#1954-1960. Here is an excerpt:
The natural law, present in the heart of each man and established by reason, is universal in its precepts and its authority extends to all men. It expresses the dignity of the person and determines the basis for his fundamental rights and duties. ... The natural law is immutable and permanent throughout the variations of history. (CCC#1956, 1958)
Reason tells us a person is rightly due life. Through the human experience, we can therefore recognize that murder is an immoral violation. Man did not suddenly become accountable to the teaching of murder only when the Ten Commandments were issued. In the OT, even Cain was held accountable for murder long before the Ten Commandments (Gen. 4:8-14). Stealing likewise violates a person's right to due belongings. Adultery is also recognizable as an offense to the idea of the marriage bond. Jesus upheld such natural laws while not insisting upon the Sabbath ceremonial laws, even though all are included in the Ten Commandments. Shall today's skeptic encounter Jesus and accuse him of hypocrisy for upholding certain OT precepts while suspending others?

Elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul specifically distinguishes the reality of the natural law regardless of whether it appears in the OT:
When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Rom. 2:14-16)
This phrase "written on their hearts" is often cited as a description of the natural law Paul references here. With reason, we can recognize certain laws "by nature." (v.14)

Let's look at a modern analogy to help clarify.

Let's say there are parents who teach their children the following "precepts."
  • Don't steal
  • Be in bed by 8 pm
Both are precepts for the children, but only one of them is a life-long moral obligation. Not to steal is a principle of the natural law. It is a violation against human dignity recognizable in the very lining of human experience. Even the most skeptical, atheistic person will cry foul if you steal his wallet. In saying this, the skeptic is appealing to the natural law. He recognizes that a person is capable of claiming ownership to belongings, and that it is to violate a person to steal his belongings. The concept is reasonably derivable without a higher authority explicitly articulating it.

Being awake past 8pm is not in and of itself immoral. The rule is given to achieve other advantageous results for the children, such as obedience, self-discipline, good rest for taking on the next day, etc. There's nothing about being awake at 8:30 p.m. that inherently violates one's humanity.

Hence, we can better understand why all the precepts in the Old Testament are not mandatory to today's Christian. Something like the marital law is naturally evident in the complementarity of the genders. It's not revocable because it is written in the very fiber of humanity. Something like murder is a violation of the life proper to other persons. The Church could not declare void the immorality of murder by arguing that all OT precepts are void. Natural laws would still apply because they transcend OT law.

Perhaps another analogy can help with the term "natural law." Sometimes, when we hear the term "nature" in this context, we think "occurring in nature." That is not the case. By natural law is meant proper to the nature of the subject in question. A person is naturally due his belongings. Hence, stealing is a moral violation of that proper nature.

I like to compare the idea of moral "health" to physical "health." Scripture does this repeatedly. For example, when the Pharisees asked Jesus why he associated with sinners, Jesus replied, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick." (Luke 5:31) Spiritual health is comparable to physical health.

To recognize the sense in which the term "natural" is meant in the natural law, we can ask how do we determine that someone is sick or wounded? In order to do that, we necessarily must have an idea of what a properly healthy body is. We know that a healthy human arm is covered by intact skin. If that arm gets scraped by a sharp rock, that skin might incur a cut. We recognize that the bleeding should be stopped. A healthy arm does not bleed. Even after that, we recognize that it is healthy to treat the wound to prevent infection, which is also not ordered toward a healthy body. We might even apply ointment to prevent scarring. Such response is to restore the body to its proper order. If we do not know what the body's proper order is, we could not even identify what qualifies as a wound.

In the same way, we cannot call something immoral unless we have an idea of what a properly ordered person is. A properly ordered person is able to pursue life, is due his/her belongings, is defiled if sold against his/her will into slavery, etc. This is likewise where the Church would appeal to the proper use of the sexual faculties only within the context of a marriage because of the spousal, giving, fertile meaning of the body. Deviations from using the sexual faculties in this context are naturally identifiable as immoral. Like slavery, murder, or thievery, they violate human dignity.

Even a person who rejects the Church's view on any such issues must at least confront the discussion at this level of natural law. To make a case for spiritual health, one must successfully reason what is proper to a human being, just as one measures physical health by knowing what is proper to a human being. The dialogue must take place in this arena. Arguments otherwise often degenerate into basic fallacies of argument, such as appeals to emotion, appeals to modernism, or the like.

We have established here the varied types of "laws" in the Old Testament, which include permanent laws reflecting the "natural law," as well as ceremonial or judicial laws, which are not necessarily permanent to the human condition. The skeptic's next question undoubtedly asks what purpose a "ceremonial law," such as the prohibition on eating pork, would therefore serve in the OT, if it is not a law always applying to human beings. One could likely generate several good answers to this question, since Biblical truth is not always exhausted once one sound interpretation is attained. Nevertheless, here is one explanation.

It is critical to understand the principle of "divine accommodation" that permeates the condition of the ancient Jewish people. The theologian Dr. Scott Hahn expounds on this principle in this way:
[If] you’re inclined more towards earthly things than heavenly, God will use earthly things and invest them with heavenly symbolism, so that people will love these earthly things and discover in the objects they love a deeper heavenly meaning... (Dr. Scott Hahn, lecture for Theological Foundations course, 1999)
A PDF study guide from similarly says:
Divine accommodation refers to God’s fatherly condescension and how He first gives us what we want in order to then give us what we need. As loving Father, He stoops down to our level and speaks to us using natural earthly means (chiefly in the Old Testament), but then calls us to Himself and gives us through the sacraments the supernatural means to share in His divine nature through self-denial and sacrificial love.
In his famous work City of God, St. Augustine writes:
The education of the human race, represented by the people of God, has advanced, like that of an individual, through certain epochs, or, as it were, ages, so that it might gradually rise from earthly to heavenly things, and from the visible to the invisible. This object was kept so clearly in view, that, even in the period when temporal rewards were promised, the one God was presented as the object of worship, that men might not acknowledge any other than the true Creator and Lord of the spirit, even in connection with the earthly blessings of this transitory life. ...  It was best, therefore, that the soul of man, which was still weakly desiring earthly things, should be accustomed to seek from God alone even these petty temporal boons, and the earthly necessaries of this transitory life, which are contemptible in comparison with eternal blessings, in order that the desire even of these things might not draw it aside from the worship of Him, to whom we come by despising and forsaking such things. (St. Augustine, City of God, 10.14, ca 420)
You see the basic principle of divine accommodation at work here: God uses earthly things, graspable to humans, to lead them to Himself. So, for example, gold, recognized by the Jews as precious, came to help them recognize that which was holy. God instructed Moses to forge the Ark of the Covenant, the place of His presence, with a structure of gold (cf. Ex. 25). Getting back to our concept of natural law, there is nothing inherent to gold that makes it a "holy" metal. But through the command to use gold, that audience more fully understood something holy must go within the Ark. They understood gold as that which was precious and pure. Purified precious metals were even used often to denote holiness (cf. Job 23:10, Ps. 12:6, etc.)

Now, let's return to the concept of pork. Why does Leviticus declare a pig "unclean"? What about killing and eating a pig would have significance to an ancient Jew? For one, they recognized the pig as a worshiping instrument to false gods.
Sometimes the uncleanliness of an animal has to do with how neighbouring peoples regarded that animal (they may have made it an object of worship or reserved it as something untouchable in honour of a god: the pig, for example, was used for sacrifices to the Babylonian god Tammuz. (The Navarre Bible: Pentateuch, Scepter Publishers, Princeton, NJ, 1999, p. 454)
From the ancient Jewish perspective, the swine had significance as something contrary to the one and true God.

Perhaps another example could help the modern ear. Consider the swastika symbol, known to modern Westerners as the symbol for Nazism. For this reason, it is considered offensive and banned in many places, including Germany. However, prior to World War II, especially in the East, this symbol often represented well-being or good fortune, even used in advertising. Is there anything inherent to the symbol that makes it evil? No. There is no "natural law" appeal against such an arrangement of right angles. Nonetheless, to certain cultures, its banishment has more significance than others.

In the same way, the prohibition on swine to the Jews would turn their focus toward God, since, in that culture, they understood the animal as unclean, something pagans used for sacrifices to false idols. Likewise, the concept of "uncleanliness," leads toward the New Testament where uncleanliness is associated with sin. Jesus expounds on this concept with the Pharisees, who, again, clung to ceremonial law when they were prompted to recognize the natural law to which it pointed:
While he was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him; so he went in and sat at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, "Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of extortion and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you. But woe to you Pharisees! for you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others." (Luke 11:37-41)
You see, again, the Pharisees concern themselves with the OT ritual. Jesus explains to them the typological truth behind those precepts. For instance, ritual "cleanliness" corresponds to spiritual cleanliness. Note that he refers to almsgiving as something that truly makes one "clean." If we read the OT precepts in light of the principle of divine accommodation, we can recognize that OT  precepts about "cleanliness" were ordered to guide a certain "epoch" of mankind, as Augustine says. These precepts directed their focus to be clean as God would have them be clean. At that stage in history, they were able to digest a visible, ceremonial cleanliness, which prepared them to the invisible, spiritual cleanliness of which Christ spoke.

And so, today, in this different epoch of human history, standing on the shoulders of those ancient precepts, we can see that one of the reasons for the prohibition on pork was to order man toward God, and to strive for holy "cleanliness." In light of Christ's fulfillment of Old Testament law, we convert the principle behind the prohibition on pork to one that teaches us to avoid sin. There is nothing specific about eating a pig versus, say, a fish, that would violate the natural law.

Hence, there is no inconsistency in the modern Christian who both upholds the moral laws of the Old Testament while not necessarily upholding some of the ceremonial or juridical laws.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The 21st Century Secular Inquisition

Secularists often point to the medieval Inquisition as the icon of what they believe religion, particularly Catholicism, to be––an interrogatory trial to force individuals to adhere to doctrines. For example, appearing in the Huffington Post, author Cullen Murphy condemns the Inquistion thusly: "The Inquisition was based on intolerance and moral certainty. It tried to enforce a particular view..." Even the recent "Cosmos" 'documentary' claims a monk of the Middle Ages opposed to Church doctrine fell into "the clutches of the thought police."

Interestingly enough, even before the medieval Inquisition period, the Church made statements such as:
[A Christian evangelizing a brother] does not drag him and force him, but leaves him his own master. (St. John Chrysostom, Homily on Romans, ca 390 A.D.)

The Lord is a just judge and orders no one unwillingly, or under compulsion, to come under the yoke of the Catholic faith. (Albert of Aix, account of the 1st Crusade, ca 1120 A.D.)
And even in the modern period:
It would certainly be an error to impose something on the consciences of our brethren. But to propose to their consciences the truth of the Gospel and salvation in Jesus Christ, with complete clarity and with a total respect for the free options which it presents -- "without coercion, or dishonorable or unworthy pressure" -- far from being an attack on religious liberty is fully to respect that liberty, which is offered the choice of a way that even non-believers consider noble and uplifting. (Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 1975)

Any approach to dialogue such as coercion or improper enticement that fails to respect the dignity and religious freedom of the partners in that dialogue has no place in Christian evangelization. (Pope Benedict XVI, Doctrinal Note On Some Aspects Of Evangelization)
Pope John Paul II even apologized for improprieties during the Inquisition, insofar as they were historically accurate. He wrote:
The prayer I then addressed to God contains the reasons for the petition for forgiveness, which is valid both for the dramas linked to the Inquisition as well as for the wounds they have caused in the memory. (Pope John Paul II, John Paul II Letter on Inquisition Symposium, 2004)
Suffice it to say, in spite of any medieval improprieties, along with secular critics of the Inquisition, even the Church acknowledges the right of persons to be free of coercion.

Make no mistake, the Church communicates tangible, identifiable doctrines as organized, for example, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is not a secret that the Church teaches, for example, that God is Trinity (CCC#232ff), Mary is ever-virgin (CCC#510), or that the Eucharist is sacramentally and truly Christ's body (CCC#1374). It is also not a secret that the Church has clear positions on hot-button issues of the day, such as that fornication is sinful (CCC#2353) or that abortion is the taking of a human life (CCC#2271). Since these are all matters of "faith or morals," they are recognized by the Church as truths, which means they cannot change. Any penalty, such as automatic excommunication, incurred by a member of the faithful for rejecting one of these teachings, is rooted in the fact that the Church's teachings are identifiable, and that Catholic Christianity posits certain beliefs for the faithful to hold.

In other words, Catholicism is a religion with certain beliefs. One cannot be a Catholic while obstinately rejecting dogmatic beliefs. Today, and through most of history, the only penalty for rejecting Catholicism was to cease to be Catholic. Makes sense, no? Consider an analogy. If I insist society should have an organized government, I can't really call myself an anarchist.

Many critics of the Church have expressed disapproval that the Church will not reverse some of her teachings. That brings us to the crux of this essay. Secularists who decry the Church for adhering to religious beliefs are themselves rigidly adhered to beliefs that are, practically speaking, "religious." However, unlike with the Church, such believers do not admit to holding religious beliefs. And the punishments for not adhering to such beliefs have proven to be quite severe in this 21st Century Inquisition for secular doctrine.

As we examine several modern examples, we can see that those who profess to be religion-free are themselves no less religious in the sense that they hold certain moral or faithful viewpoints just as a person who admits to religious beliefs. As much as many secularists cry for freedom from religious views or moral impositions, there really is no "neutral" religious or moral viewpoint. Often, when the State rejects one of the Church's teachings, it is not endorsing some "neutral" view that is nondiscriminatory to all beliefs. It is positing a particular view just as "religious" as the one it opposes.

Let's examine some of the secular doctrines and penalties in question.

The issue of contraception was largely covered here on TCV in posts tagged with HHS Mandate. That mandate by the U.S. federal government is iconic of the 21st Century Inquisition with regard to contraception. In its earliest form, the fed threatened institutions that did not provide in their health care plans coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortifacient drugs with the penalty of $2,000 per employee. This demand for businesses to embrace the secular doctrine suffered a narrow loss in the Supreme Court during the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case in 2014. Despite this, the mandate retains potentiality in other legislative forms and religious entities continue to spar for their religious freedom. Other religious entities, such as Priests for Life and Little Sisters of the Poor, have since suffered legal battles as well. (It it also worth noting, Catholic theology recognizes that taking a contraceptive drug for actual medical purposes and not as a contraceptive can be licit––thus the matter is not medical, but related to persons who want to live a lifestyle that causes their otherwise healthy and fertile bodies to malfunction.)

Next case. In 2011, the U.S. federal government defunded the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Migration and Refugee Services, which provides refuge for victims of human trafficking. At that time, U.S. Archbishop Timothy Dolan revealed that the fed had insisted that they provide a "full range of reproductive services," meaning contraceptives or abortions. The Bishops did not comply with the Inquisition's demand. The charity was subsequently defunded.

Next case. This past February 2015 saw the California legislature initiate an "investigation," (i.e. an "Inquisition") against the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco. The diocese recently included a "morality clause" in hiring practices which seeks to hire staff that will support Church teaching. The State demands that the Archdiocese approve the hiring of educators who reject Church teaching and embrace the doctrines of the Inquisition instead, including abortion, contraception and gay "marriage." The lawmakers defended their imposition by declaring that the Archdiocese's desire to hire personnel that will not thwart Church teaching is "in stark contrast to the values that define the Bay Area and it’s history." Apparently, the Bay Area's "values" include having the Church submit to the doctrines of the State. The legislators also called the Church's attempt to hire personnel who will not thwart Church teaching as "divisive." Apparently, the legislators believe "unity" is best achieved when others submit to their Inquisition. Archbishop Cordileone responded to the State. His statement included the correction of erroneous propaganda, such as "the falsehood that the morality clauses apply to the teachers’ private life." Then, after providing hypothetical scenarios clarifying the Church's position, the Archbishop ironically concluded his response letter to the legislators with, "I respect your right to employ or not employ whomever you wish to advance your mission. I simply ask the same respect from you." One may be accurate to suppose that if the Church had told a politician that the politician must hire only staff that supports Church teaching, the Church would have been told some such or other about "separation of Church and State" or that the Church should not conduct an Inquisition demanding others embrace their doctrines. The penalties in this case, so far, have included political strong-arming and can be expected to include whatever demands are made by the State after the "investigtion," i.e. Inquisition.

Next case. In 2011, a British couple, Eunice and Owen Johns, were forbidden by a court from adopting children because they would not formally teach their children that homosexual behavior is good. The judges in question made no attempt to disguise their decision as anti-Christian. The judges stated:
It is important to realize that reliance upon religious belief, however conscientious the belief and however ancient and respectable the religion, can never of itself immunize the believer from the reach of the secular law.
Let us consider this statement from several angles. First of all, it is not only religious persons who do not condone homosexual behavior, thus the court's decision to reject the view simply because it is religious is faulty, not to mention bigoted. Second, the teaching not to kill is quite explicit in Christianity, Judaism, and other religions, yet the state does not reject this notion on the grounds that it is native to religion. Third, there is no "secular law" forbidding Christians to raise children. Fourth, the judge's opinion contradicts itself, because, as we are noting in this essay, a view such as endorsement of homosexual behavior, is itself equal to a religious view. They did not impose a neutral view. Their doctrine says that Eunice and Owen Johns would be harmful to children. For this, the judges were not able to substantiate cause. They gratuitously asserted that Christians are not suitable parents. The Inquisition merely lowered its gavel on the Christian and said, "Either endorse our doctrine, or pay the penalty of childlessness."

Next is a series of related cases. The United States recently has seen a barrage of Inquisition incidents against business owners. First, let's recall one of the sales pitches for gay "marriage." Last year, one of the gay "marriages" across the USA include Lake County, Indiana's Michelle Davies and her partner. Regarding her "marriage," Davies declared, "It doesn't affect anyone but us." In February, Nickson Chong, a writer for SMU's Daily Campus, chastised Judge Roy Moore for suspending gay "marriage" licenses prior to the Supreme Court's engagement of the subject. Chong declared: "Their love and marriage doesn’t affect you in the slightest way." He concluded with the universal order: "And if you still remain steadfast in your arrogant hate for same-sex marriage, then don’t get one."

Unfortunately, the idea that gay "marriage" affects no one but the couple in question is not true. First, the lexical definition of the term "marriage" has been amputated from any recognizable notion of sexual complementarity and fertility which is plainly native to the two genders. It requires no religious person to perceive this. Placing the onus of defining truth on the legal system is not a sound apologetic. This attitude toward malleability of truth is the same tradition in America that perceived blacks as 0/5 of a person on one day, 3/5 of a person on another, and 5/5 of a person on yet another. It attaches institutional definitions to cultural whims and fads. The movement is built on as shaky a ground as the emotional propaganda at its base. A reasoned apologetic related to nature, the human condition, and the concept of marriage is lacking.

Second, there are already multiple legal victims of the gay "marriage" movement, about which we were sold that no one would be affected beyond the couple. This is where the Secular Inquisition returns to impose its doctrines.

In 2014, Ireland's Ashers Baking Company, owned by a Christian couple, declined to bake a cake inscribed with "Support Gay Marriage." The "Equality Commission for Northern Ireland" then spearheaded the Inquisition against this couple and demanded they embrace the Inquisition's doctrine or face legal and financial consequences.

Going back to 2006, Christian photographer Elane Photographers in New Mexico declined to photograph a same-sex "wedding." New Mexico courts have since declared that the owners must subordinate their views to the State's doctrines. Hence, this Inquisition demands that the owners cooperate with a gay ceremony. Their failure to do so has earned them over $7,000 in fines from the State, as well as any legal costs and difficulties that continue to this day.

Stories like these two are common in recent years. The State and its accomplices attempt to treat this as an "equality" issue. You see the Orwellian term "equality" invoked in these Inquisitions regularly. And so, a person may ask him or herself, "Isn't this like not serving someone because of race? And thus a matter of equal treatment?"

The answer is no. Two other cases illustrate this clearer.

In February 2015, the owners of the 111 Cakery in Indiana closed shop. In 2014, they had declined to bake a cake for a gay "wedding." Subsequently, they endured a barrage of social media protests, as well as an in-person call for boycott, accusing them of "hate," "homophobia," and the like. However, the McGath's explained on their own social media page: "[T]his week we told a man that requested a cake for a same-sex ceremony that it was against our policy, but we would be happy to help him with anything else."

Keep that in mind as we look at our second case.

Recently, the State of Washington ruled against florist Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene's Flowers. In 2013, she declined to make floral arrangements for the gay "wedding" of Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed. In February 2015, the State of Washington declared her guilty of discrimination. As a courtesy, this Inquisition offered to drop the case against her if she paid $2,001 in fines and also embraced their doctrine by participating in gay "weddings." Stutzman responded, saying her morality was not for sale and compared the "deal" to Judas betraying Christ for 30 pieces of silver. But what is key in understanding this case, is that Stutzman knew Ingersoll was gay. And Stutzman had served Ingersoll for almost ten years prior to him asking for her to participate in his wedding.

You see in the previous two examples, there was no discrimination based on the sexual orientation of the customer. Both vendors willed to serve those customers, the latter having actually done so for almost a decade. This issue is not comparable to segregation, in which a business would simply not serve a person of color. No, customers like Ingersoll were served without incident for years. The trigger in these cases was asking a person who does not believe a gay "wedding" is moral to be a willing participant in that ceremony. If a heterosexual customer had entered their businesses and tried to hire them to serve the same gay "wedding," the results would have been the same. The business owners would have refused. The sexual orientation of the customer was not a determining factor in refusing the business.

The Inquisition has thus committed the fallacy of equivocation in their verdicts, confusing a characteristic of a person with a controversial activity. A comparable analogy would be if a klansman demanded a black baker make a cake for a Klan rally, or if an animal rights photographer was demanded to film a pig slaughter. The offending request is not rooted in some arbitrary characteristic of the customer, but in the nature of the activity the customer is attempting to have the business cooperate.

The bottom line in these "wedding" cases is that the powers-that-be exhibit all the qualities of an Inquisition. They force a religious doctrine on the victim, in these cases business owners. If the victim will not embrace the doctrine, the penalty is inflicted.

Next case. Let's look at this Inquisition from one last angle.

In March 2014, a number of pro-life students at the University of California-Santa Barbara held pro-life signage. In a stroke of irony, they were standing in the campus "free speech zone." UCSB Associate Professor of Feminist Studies Mireille Miller-Young took offense at one of the signs. She proceeded to accost the students and steal the sign. When the students followed her, she attacked a 16 year old female, drawing blood from the young lady. At one point, Miller-Young told her, "I may be a thief, but you're a terrorist." Miller-Young eventually plead no contest to assault and, by a court, was assigned probation, community service, and anger management. What was the University's response through all this? In response to the professor's attack, UCSB Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Michael D. Young circulated a letter to students. In the letter, he places full attention on the pro-life students, saying they are "evangelical types," "self-proclaimed prophets, and provocateurs," "anti-abortion crusaders,"  "proselytizers hawking intolerance in the name of religious belief," and "outsiders coming into our midst." There actually is no criticism of Miller-Young in the letter. In fact, she's not mentioned at all. To this day, there has apparently been no sanction on this professor who robbed a student, physically assaulted her, and destroyed the stolen goods to boot. But, as the dean's bombastic and doctrinal letter reveals, the pro-life student is the enemy at UCSB. The dean associates their views with "outsiders." In this case, the violent professor had embraced the Inquisition's doctrines. She fought heretics of the Inquisition. And so the Inquisition's penalty is avoided.

The crux of this essay is to point out the religious quality of the State's and its allies' culture views. These views are not neutral, but doctrinal and, practically speaking, religious. Just because the State has not publicly declared they are imposing a State religion does not mean it has not practiced as much in the form of imposing specific doctrines. And we are seeing before our very eyes the 21st Century Inquisition against anyone with a different belief.

More resources and information on contraception: "Birth Control"
EWTN "What the the Church teach about birth control?"
EWTN "Contraception: What's allowed?"
Jimmy Akin "NFP vs. Contraception"
Catholic Culture "The Contraception Misconception"
Catholics, Contraception, and Feminisms?
Humana Vitae
The Catholic Voyager: Myths about Church teaching on contraception and the religious liberty at stake
USCCB Natural Family Planning (NFP) resources 

More resources and information on abortion: "Abortion"
The Catholic Voyager: Notre Dame professor's flawed argument for abortion
Catholic News Agency Abortion Resources
Local resources for pregnant mothers include such organizations as Waterleaf Women's Center in Illinois or Elizabeth's New Life Center in Ohio. One can also do a web search for pro-life pregnancy centers in their local area. Such organizations can help with finances, adoption, and more.

More resources and information on Gay "Marriage": "How to Make the Case for Marriage (Using Non-religious Language)"
The Catholic Voyager: Replies to gay marriage arguments 1
The Catholic Voyager: Replies to gay marriage arguments 2
An atheist identifies "the central problem with the gay marriage agenda"
Christian Anthropology And Homosexuality
Unintended Consequences: The Flaws in “It Doesn’t Affect Anyone But Us” Argument in Favor of Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage by Marianne M. Jennings, J.D. 

More resources and information on myths of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages:
Inquisition by Dr. James Hitchcock "Inquisition" more articles
Timewatch - The Myth of the Spanish Inquisition (BBC 1994)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Is faith belief without evidence?

The book C.S. Lewis vs. the New Atheists cites several skeptics' understanding of faith:
Victor J. Stenger asserts: 'Faith is always foolish...Science is belief in the presence of supportive is belief in the absence of supportive evidence and even in light of contrary evidence.' Christopher Hitchens portrays all religion as 'a surrender of reason in favour of faith.' A.C. Grayling states: 'Faith is a stance or an attitude of belief independent of, and characteristically in the countervailing face of, evidence. It is non-rational at best, and is probably irrational given that it involves deliberate ignoring of evidence, or commitment despite lack of evidence.'
The examples continue, but you get the gist according to these opinions: Faith is a belief absent of evidence, often in the face of contrary evidence. So some say.

While it is true these authors' propensity for high-flown bombast may betray the assertion of rationality proposed by these same authors, perhaps a less-dramatic skeptic or other layperson may still wonder whether or not faith is something necessarily lacking "evidence."

As always, this blog focuses on explanations of Catholicism. It is worthwhile to demonstrate whether or not the Church, when referring to faith, is asking souls to believe in the absence of evidence or in the face of contrary evidence.
So "that the submission of our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason, God willed that external proofs of his Revelation should be joined to the internal helps of the Holy Spirit." Thus the miracles of Christ and the saints, prophecies, the Church's growth and holiness, and her fruitfulness and stability "are the most certain signs of divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all"; they are "motives of credibility" (motiva credibilitatis), which show that the assent of faith is "by no means a blind impulse of the mind". (CCC#156b)
You see here that the Church does not ask for belief in the "absence of supportive evidence" as one of the above-mentioned critics asserts. And the Church proceeds to cite examples of evidence such as miracles, prophecies, holiness, and fruitfulness.

Let's take a look at a few examples of just a few characteristics: miracles, holiness, and prophecies.

Certainly, the idea of Christ's resurrection from the dead is a foundation of Christianity. St. Paul went so far as to say, "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile..." (1 Cor. 15:17) Miracles in Scripture are manifold. And the account of believers described therein were often compelled by such evidences among others. But let's also take a look at a few modern examples, which occurred in an age where scientific advancements allow for empirical scrutiny.

St. Edith Stein
In 1987, two-year old Benedicta McCarthy "accidentally ingested 19 times the lethal dose of acetaminophen," or Tylenol. As Benedicta lay "near death from total kidney failure and a deteriorating liver," the family asked others to pray to a deceased nun and the child's namesake, Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who was born Edith Stein.

Recounting what happened as an adult, Benedicta explained her healing: "Like there was no gradual recovery. When they looked back at the doctors' notes, one of the doctors that had seen me that morning had wrote in the notes, this child has made a remarkable recovery."

The Church held tribunals to investigate the validity of this phenomenon as a potential miracle. Dr. Ronald Kleinman, the doctor who had tended to young Benedicta, explained, "I expected she would die..." and spoke of the human body's "hidden capacity to survive and when it comes it's for reasons we don't understand."

Additionally, Kleinman, said, "I don't believe in miracles in the Catholic sense. I don't believe in saints or intercession. I was blunt in saying that to the tribunals. But I said that I'm enough of a humanist and a scientist to feel that miraculous things happen beyond my understanding."

St. Marie-Marguerite d'Youville
Another modern case involves the intercession of Marie-Marguerite d'Youville, who would later be canonized a saint. A young woman was dying of acute myeloblastic leukemia. Her aunt had encouraged the girl to pray for the intercession of Marie-Marguerite. The girl was healed. This occurred in the 1970s.

In 1986, as part of the investigation as to whether or not this healing was miraculous, one of the scientists consulted was Dr. Jacalyn Duffin, a hematologist and atheist. Without being told details of the patient's record, Duffin was given laboratory slides from the 1970s and asked to report on what she saw.

Duffin explained, "I reasonably imagined that this woman was dead," and said that this type of cancer was "the most aggressive leukemia known." When she continued to review more slides of this patient over time, she was dumbfounded that the patient had gone into remission, relapsed, and gone into remission a second time, something Duffin perceived as most unexpected.

Dr. Jeanne Drouin, who had been treating the patient, told Dr. Duffin that the patient was still alive those many years later. Duffin recalled, "I was like thunderstruck that the woman was alive. But I was not going to say this was a miracle." Although skeptical of supernatural intervention, Duffin testified to a panel of investigating bishops and priests. Duffin described the inquiry:
"They never asked me to say this was a miracle. They wanted to know if I had a scientific explanation for why this patient was still alive. I realized they weren't asking me to endorse their beliefs. They didn't care if I was a believer or not, they cared about the science."
Of her life experiences in the face of what she had seen, Dr. Duffin said, "I'm an atheist, but one who believes in miracles."

Eucharist in Buenos Aires
Another inexplicable event in recent history occurred in Buenos Aires. On August 18, 1996 a consecrated Eucharistic host was found dirty on the floor after the liturgy. The priest placed it in water in the tabernacle and waited for it to dissolve to later water a plant with it. Instead, after several days, red stains formed on the host. Over time, it appears to have transformed into human tissue and blood.

At a 2008 faith and science conference, Dr. Ricardo Castañón Gómez explained his examination of this host, which remains without decomposition to this day. Gómez testifies that he had the tissue sample sent to a laboratory in California, asking them to examine it. He "did not tell them this came from a host." They told him that the tissue was "muscle from the heart; muscle from the myocardium of the left ventricle." He later took the sample to Dr. Frederick Zugibe, a forensic pathologist and medical examiner whose expertise includes determining cause of death based on forensics of the heart. Zugibe told him that the tissue indicates the person whose heart tissue this was had suffered many wounds. Catholics, of course, believe the Eucharist is truly the sacramentally veiled but true body of Christ, who underwent many wounds in his Passion. Gómez notes that Zugibe "didn't know this was a host" when he examined the tissue. Zugibe also asked Gómez how the latter was able to provide a tissue sample that was "alive."

Dr. Gómez describes the amazement of the moment, "Imagine me telling a person that a piece of wheat has turned into blood, coagulated, and become heart muscle!" In the above video, he describes other inexplicable characteristics surrounding the Buenos Aires Eucharist.

Gómez, once an atheist, since converted to the Church as a result of his studies. Also of note in this incident is that in 1996, when the miracle first occurred, it was Bishop Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, who helped initiate the investigation into the phenomenon.

Miracle investigations
A recent article at ScienceNordic examined the Church's propensity of applying scientific scrutiny to miraculous claims:
When a potential miracle is reported to the Vatican, the report includes testimonies from astounded doctors who cannot find a natural explanation for the phenomenon in question.
The cardinals then pass these testimonies on to the miracle commission, which then sends a delegation to the location where the unexplainable event took place. If the delegates fail to find a satisfactory scientific explanation for the strange phenomenon, they can call in external experts.
These inexplicable stories by no means come close to exhausting the hundreds of inexplicable testimonies throughout the centuries that have been understood as miracles, including those which have mystified science, even according to skeptical scientists. In light of the original critics' claim that "faith is belief in the absence of evidence," a number of questions arise in the face of these unexplained phenomena. Why, if faith is belief in the absence of evidence, does the Church bother to consult evidence? Why would the Church call on the scrutiny of skeptics? Why should these stories and testimonies not count as 'evidence'?

For the purposes of these examples, it is not critical to demonstrate that these inexplicable results were caused in some sense by a particular heavenly saint. Suffice it to say, it does not seem reasonable to dismiss such case studies as "non-evidence" with regard to the supernatural. The skeptic dismissing the evidence merely as something that has a natural explanation which has not yet been discovered must himself resort to a view that is itself speculative and absent of evidence.

St. Maximilian Kolbe
During World War II, the Franciscan Friar Maximilian Kolbe arranged for the shelter of some 3,000 war refugees, including 2,000 Jews, lamenting that they had been deprived of "even the most basic necessities." In early 1941, he was arrested by Nazi forces and was imprisoned at Pawiak prison in Warsaw. After enduring beatings for his faith, he was transferred to Auschwitz.

During his imprisonment at Auschwitz, three other prisoners escaped. To deter further escape attempts, 10 prisoners were chosen to starve to death. At hearing his name selected, one prisoner, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out for the wife and children he would never see again. Kolbe, who had not originally been selected for death, stepped forward and offered to take the man's place.

The guards accepted the exchange. Kolbe and the others spent their final days in a starvation bunker, known as the "death block." The priest led prayers and songs, emboldening the other prisoners. It signaled that his act of heroism was not merely a humanistic gesture, but rooted in the faith he lived. Kolbe was the last surviving selected prisoner. An interpreter and assistant janitor in the bunker, Bruno Borgowiec, described how Kolbe was given "an injection of carbolic acid in the vein of his left arm. Fr. Kolbe, with a prayer on his lips, himself gave his arm to the executioner."

Another prisoner, Jerzy Bielecki, testified that the aftermath of Fr. Kolbe's martyrdom was "a shock filled with hope, bringing new life and strength. ... It was like a powerful shaft of light in the darkness of the camp."

St. Thomas More
In the early 16th century, King Henry VIII sought a declaration from Pope Clement VII that his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was null, i.e. that it had never been a valid marriage. Henry and Catherine had no son and, according to the custom, could not maintain succession without a male heir. A 1530 letter from Henry's delegates to the Pope makes, not a theological appeal for an annulment, but a political one. It reads in part: "[Henry] will surely guarantee stability to the kingdom if he will be able to entrust its government to a male heir." At Catherine's request, the Pope authorized an investigation into the king's demand and did not grant the decree of nullity the king desired.

During this time, Sir Thomas More served as English chancellor and held much influence. Henry tried several times to obtain More's favor that the king's marriage to Catherine was null. More consistently refused. After much effort to acquire his decree of nullity from the Church, the king usurped for himself religious authority and also secretly "married" Anne Boleyn in 1533. In 1534, he issued an Act of Succession, which described valid succession of the throne through the king's "lawful wife Queen Anne." Soon after, the king issued the Oath of Supremacy, which declared the king "supreme head of the Church of England." All nobility and even clergy were called to take this oath. More was one whom refused to take the oath, insisting on a position of silence.

Eventually, More was imprisoned for over a year for treason. At the trial of Thomas More, the prosecuting attorney, referring to More's refusal to take the oath, said, "we have your silence, which is an evident sign of the malice of your heart: because no dutiful subject, being law­fully ask'd this question, will refuse to answer."

Aware of his fate if he refused to consent to the king's usurpation of religious authority over the Pope, More replied, "As to the principal crime objected against me, that I should say upon my examination in the Tower, that this law was like a two-edged sword; for in consenting to it, I should endanger my soul, and in rejecting it should lose my life."

It is this reckoning which More considers. He can preserve his life and gain high favor with the king if he simply complies with the king's decree. Yet More bears witness to a higher prize by accepting the ultimate temporal penalty when he could have easily obtained temporal glory. More was eventually found "guilty" and beheaded soon after the trial.

Another feature of the strength of Christian truth is the fulfillment of prophecy. Skeptics may insist that prophecies are too "vague" or some such, but this form of evidence does not stand alone, as we will review later. For now, let's look at a few examples:

The expected Messiah would come from Bethlehem.
But you, O Bethlehem Eph'rathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2)
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king... (Matt. 2:1a)
If the Jews recognized that Jesus was from Bethlehem, as the record states, his fulfillment of the Mican prophecy would be strengthened. To this day, it is almost poetic for someone from a "little" town to rise to some degree of fame. Of course, a number of persons came from Bethlehem, but Jewish and Gentile converts didn't just follow any of them. This was merely one characteristic they expected their leader to have. It is evidence.

The Crucufixion
The expected Messiah would die by crucifixion.
Yea, dogs are round about me; a company of evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hands and feet -- I can count all my bones -- they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots. (Psalm 22:16-18)
Here we see some specifics that Christ's followers considered compelling evidence. The Gospels' account of the crucifixion reflects all this. Christ, surrounded by murderers, was crucified (Matt. 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34-35), was mocked and put on display for staring (Matt. 27:37, 40ff; John 19:37), and had his clothing divided by casting lots (27:35). John also specifically describes the nails that pierced Christ's hands (20:25, 27), and in Luke, the resurrected Christ reveals his identity by showing his hands and feet to the disciples (24:39). What is worth noting is that there were prior attempts to murder Christ, such as by stoning him (John 10:31), but Christ escaped.

John, who was at the foot of the cross, also notes additional features of the crucifixion consistent with prophecies. Pilate had ordered that the legs of the crucified Christ and the two thieves be broken. But John recalls how the legs of the two thieves were broken, but they did not proceed to break Christ's (19:33). Why? Because Jesus already appeared dead and to test that diagnosis, one of the soldiers pierced him in the side with a spear (19:34) instead of breaking his legs as was originally ordered. In these two characteristics of the event, John recognizes two other prophecies of the crucifixion:
He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. (Psalm 34:20)
And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a first-born. (Zech. 12:10)
Incidentally, John also recognizes theological fulfillment in that Christ's bones were not broken, because he both recognized Christ as the fulfillment of the Passover lamb (John 1:29, 36) and that the Jewish custom of celebrating the Passover specifically called for a lamb with no broken bones (cf. Exod. 12:46; Num. 9:12).

The Gospel writer John asserts that he saw this incident with his own eyes (John 19:35). These features of the crucifixion prophecies constitute "evidence" that the Apostles and subsequent Christians have considered when measuring the identity of Jesus Christ.

Palm Sunday
Old Testament prophecy said the Messiah would ride into Jerusalem as a king, yet humbly on the back of a donkey (Zech. 9:9) which occurred (Matt. 21:1-11). The crowd reacted accordingly, crying out "Hosanna!" (i.e. "save us"). Matthew 21 also records the crowd shouting "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" This signals such Old Testament texts as Psalm 118 sung during the Feast of Tabernacles. This feast includes a procession of palms (also recorded by Matthew), which are offered for the saving Lord (cf. Lev. 23:40; 2 Macc. 10:6-8). Matthew records them laying branches on the road for this man on the donkey. In the context of these Old Testament texts, we can better see why the crowd reacted as they did for a humble man riding into town on a beast of burden. It was hardly the image of nobility, but they recognized what many of these details signaled.

Other prophecies
Many other articles about Biblical prophecy could be discussed here. Some include:
Fish Eaters: Palm Sunday
The Sacred Page: Jesus' Triumphal Entry, the Descent into Hell, and the Coming of the Messiah (Palm Sunday, Year A)
The Sacred Page: Luke 1-2: 490 Days and Daniel 9
Jimmy Akin: Who says Jesus couldn't predict the fall of Jerusalem
CatholicApologetics.Info: How Christ Fulfilled the Prophecies of Scripture
Dr. Brant Pitre: The "Ransom for Many," The New Exodus, and the End of the Exile (PDF)
Joe Heschmeyer: Three Prophecies About Christ That Could Not Have Been Made Up
Joe Heschmeyer: Daniel 2's Proof for Jesus Christ and His Church

Now, while many prophecies have the character in the form of a "prediction," that is not the only form. For example, taking a panoramic view of the Old Testament, we see the account of a certain rhythm of "two brothers," in which the firstborn or elder brother has high expectations. Examples include Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, or Esau and Jacob. In each example, the historical account of these firstborn sons describes how they ended up disinherited for one reason or other. This pattern, which finds its way into divine revelation signals the two covenants: The Old with Israel (the firstborn, cf. Ex. 4:22) and the New with Gentiles also (the younger son.) Christ is thus seen as the "firstborn" (Luke 2:7) son who finally succeeds and delivers the due inheritance of the Father. Parallels like these are manifold in Scripture and lend to the Christian faith a certain coherence and also prophetic magnanimity.

I will merely give one more example for the sake of brevity. The account of Matthew 12:40 records Jesus responding to a Pharisaical interrogation. He says, "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."     

Not only does Christ predict his burial for three days,1 but the reference reveals the mission of Christ. For he follows the statement with "they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here." (v. 41) The story of Jonah is thus not only historically prophetic in the story of "three days," but for identifying the importance of the coming prophet as one calling for repentance. As with stories of "two brothers," this is a theological prophecy which gives a certain credence, a certain coherence and consistent trajectory even from the Old Testament, and examples of evidence to the accounted record of Christian salvation history.

It is not uncommon to hear skeptics respond to any of the above arguments, or similar arguments from Christian apologists throughout history, by offering counter-explanations for each individual bit of "evidence" the Christian may posit.

For example, a skeptic arguing against martyrdom as evidence for the truth of a religion states:
The willingness of someone to die for a belief is not proof of its truth. For example, terrorists who blow themselves up or die in battle do not establish the truth of their beliefs. And believers of all religions have been martyred.
As it is stated, this conclusion is reasonable. However, I would submit at least the following two responses to this reaction.

First, this objection actually confirms that there is "evidence" to be assessed with regard to Christianity or even a different religion. The evidence is the reality of martyrs for a belief. But remember, our skeptics quoted at the beginning of the article insist there is "lack" of evidence or even contrary evidence. However, there is a difference between assessing the evidence in question and coming to a different conclusion than insisting there is no evidence to even examine with regard to this or that religion.

Second, the notion of trying to debunk a characteristic of Christianity or another religion by offering alternative explanations for the evidence is not compelling if one attempts to debunk each piece of evidence one at a time. In CCC#156 quoted above, the evidence for the faith includes the endurance of the Church, miracles, holiness in faithful members, signs in divine revelation, or other "external proofs," etc. The skeptic might react to this by arguing that there is also evidence of endurance in Religion A, evidence of miracles in Religion B, evidence of holiness in Religion C, and so on. Therefore, concludes the skeptic, the case for Christianity is equally convincing or unconvincing as any religion, and thus, none of them are compelling.

However, what is the problem if a skeptic rejected Christianity on the grounds that martyrdom is not unique to it? I submit the problem with this reaction can be seen in the notion of irreducible complexity. The term irreducible complexity has found its way into the vernacular with regard to evolution (see and In short, the idea says that an incremental notion of evolution, which says an organism naturally develops piece by piece over time, cannot explain the existence of an organism which ceases to function if any single piece is removed. In other words, a foot doesn't develop of its own accord, followed by a leg, and other parts later. These parts function as part of a complete system. This post is not to get into the details of that argument, but I bring up the term irreducible complexity because its principle relates to this subject of religion and evidence.

Permit me to offer an illustration of why it is specious to claim to debunk evidence for a religion by offering alternative explanations for each evidence one at a time.

Detective work
Let's say you are a detective investigating a crime. After interviewing the witnesses, you determine that the suspect is a male caucasian, six feet tall, with brown hair, and a tattoo on his left arm. Eventually, several candidates are brought in for a police lineup. Let's take a look.

As we examine our suspects here, we can see that suspect #2 has all 5 characteristics described. However, shall suspect #2 be dismissed on the grounds that #1 is six-feet tall and male? Shall suspect #2 be dismissed on the grounds that #3 is a caucasian male with brown hair. Suspect #4 is a male with brown hair with a tattoo, although on the right arm. Suspect #5 likewise has some of the characteristics of the description. She is caucasian and has a tattoo on her left arm. Shall suspect #2 be dismissed as the culprit on the grounds that all the other suspects have some characteristics that match his?

Of course, suspect #2 is the most likely culprit in this lineup because he has all the characteristics at once. The witnesses' description of the suspect is "irreducibly complex." Having only one or two of the characteristics falls short.

Now, let's return to the matter of faith. Should Christianity be rejected on the grounds that there are holy people in other religions? Should Christianity be rejected on the grounds that other religions also have martyrs? You see the parallel here. What is a compelling sign of the truth of Christianity is that it contains all the signal characteristics at once. Miracles. Prophecies. Holy followers. Martyrs. Historicity. Spiritual experience. Etc. The more characteristics a particular faith has that reasonably signal its truth and divine pedigree, the more compelling a case for that faith.

Thus, it is imprudent to reject Christianity, for instance, because other faiths have martyrs because to dismiss Christianity on these grounds is to dismiss suspect #2 in our above example on the grounds that he shares a characteristic with others.

Faith, even in the eyes of the Church, is not "blind," which is to say, something followed without seeing due cause. There are a number of evidences for the truth of Christianity. If someone were to reject the faith, or even embrace the faith, it would be prudent to do so in such a way as to confront these evidences as an irreducible total native to the Church. No doubt, the persistent quality of the Church throughout the centuries includes these compelling evidences among those who say with St. Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." (John 6:68)

1It is not uncommon to hear an objection that this prophecy did not come true in accord with the language of Matthew 12:40 on the grounds that Christ rose Sunday morning, and thus, three "nights" had not transpired. However, the phrase "day and night" is a Hebrew idiom in which part of a day encompasses all other parts of a day. The term is not necessarily understood in the same sense as a modern English speaker might insist. For an analysis, see Dave Armstrong's  Jesus' Three Days and Three Nights" in the Tomb: Is it a Biblical Contradiction?