July 10th, 2005


Personal: The Phantom of the Opera is there, inside my mind.

Half of my life, I guess, can be measured by my desire to see Webber's The Phantom of the Opera. I remember reading about the opening of the production in Newsweek, and wondering when I would have my chance. I had seen Cats and was delighted, and I was now equally thrilled at Webber's decision to bring the old Gothic horror piece back to life.

For years, I avoided hearing the soundtrack, wanting to experience it live and untasted. But you couldn't get away from it. I remember my brother Joe, in mask and cape, performing a medley of numbers from it in a high school show. I was overwhelmed when visiting a former college girlfriend – a soprano – a week before she married, while her hands brushed across her keyboard as she sang "Think of Me" as a sort of goodbye to our past. But never did I get the chance or have the money to see an actual performance. Finally, at Notre Dame, I gave in one night, borrowed the soundtrack from Kate Fagan, and sat on my floor letting all the themes rage through me. And yet, the years passed by and never an opportunity seemed to work out. Even among the Freeks, the music reared its head, with Doug singing a strange intro one night, channeling the Phantom's betrayal into the frantic obsession of "Bittersweet Highway."

When the movie adaptation came out last year, I rejoiced that some studio had finally done the obvious and taken advantage of the extra embellishment that film could give to a production already so purposefully overlush, and I thought I finally had my chance. But over my break, visiting Mom in Verona and thinking it would be great fun to treat her to the film, I had to suffer the fact that it didn't open in Madison. Finally, tonight, on a rented DVD, it happened.

Channel the above into the story and that will save me having to try to describe my pleasure.

Theological Notebook: Cardinal Schönborn on Evolution

I heard about this first from a long conversation already in progress in kesil's journal, where the med student was already in conversation with philosopher/theologian aristotle2002 and Orthodox bishop seraphimsigrist about the Cardinal's unclear Op-Ed piece in The New York Times. weaklingrecords, an administrator at Notre Dame, also expressed his dismay over in his journal, reprinting the piece and now a follow-up article that the paper printed. With that many people talking about it, I figured given my stated task in this journal, I ought to say something about it.

In short, Catholic theology has long since found evolutionary theory to be a very useful description of the world and quite fruitful when incorporated into theology.

The Cardinal in question, however, has opened himself up to being misunderstood and that could be embarrassing for the Church. Even the follow-up article, which does offer some useful clarifications of the context into which the Cardinal spoke, seems a bit sloppy on one point, causing further embarrassment. The Cardinal seems to have a single point: that it would be an unjustified philosophical interpretation to force onto evolutionary process such interpretive words as "unguided" and "unplanned." The addition of such words in neo-Darwin theory superimposes, according to the Cardinal, a dogmatic atheism onto the evidence of an evolutionary process. Such interpretations are an exercise in amateur philosophy or theology, not science itself. The Times' follow-up article, however, notes the Cardinal's point in opposition to such neo-Darwinian theory but then sloppily goes on to lump the Cardinal in with "opponents of Darwinian evolution," which implies an opposition to the entire theory of evolution as such, and not to one specific interpretation of evolutionary data.

The trickiest point here is whether "randomness" in evolution can be equated with "unguided" or "unplanned." As a principle of Creation, it seems clear to me that randomness could be "designed" as part of an evolutionary system by God. The Cardinal is unclear as to whether his critique includes randomness as such, or randomness with the secularist fundamentalist conclusions of atheism attached to the raw data. I would hope that the Cardinal realizes that an attack on the feature of "randomness" as a component of evolutionary processes is likely beyond his competence as well as beyond the point of interpretation of evolutionary data that he can rightly make in his column.

I'm glad the Times did a piece that followed up the Cardinal's piece and showed that there was a variety of positions--some of them very positive and useful--that stake out the interaction of the ideas of Creation (that God is responsible for the universe in its origins) and Evolution (that the universe, once established, changes). This is a lot better than the kind of sound bites you tend to get on TV journalism, which tend to reinforce that kind of extremist exclusionist position of "all-Creation" (meaning a fundamentalist Protestant scriptural reading that places the universe popping up as is instantly some 6000 years ago, contrary to oodles of evidence) or "all-Evolution" (which is supposed to show that because biology behaves a certain way, God therefore does not exist: another masterpiece of logic).

The Cardinal's piece, since given his status was bound to be taken as somewhat authoritative, is so sloppy in just jumping into the middle of a conversation that already qualifies as perhaps the most misunderstood and misconstrued in the public realm concerning religion. Given everyone's tendency to try to shove everything said on the subject into an either fundamentalist biblical reading or a fundamentalist secularist reading--which is neither good theology nor good science--you would have hoped that the Cardinal would have been much more careful and precise about where he was inserting himself into the conversation.

As a theologian and a theological educator, I've always felt that this was something I had to deal with with my students, given all the bad "either-or" thinking out there. Given that "Intelligent Design" is already a phrase that is seen by many scientific educators with some suspicion as just a way of slipping an anti-evolutionary agenda into scientific discussion under false pretenses, the Cardinal could have been much more careful about his terminology as well. He could have gotten across the idea much more clearly that the Church only has an argument with an ideology that superimposes an atheistic interpretation onto evolutionary theory without justification: an unscientific, philosophical slight-of-hand that has happened frequently in the past.

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Theological Notebook: Postmodernism, Science and Theology

The following was sent to me by aristotle in response to something posted over in kesil's journal on the matter in my previous entry:

It's actually a fairly popular Po-Mo move to say that either the world is totally determinate and free will is an absurdity or to say that the universe is random with patterns that aren't actually real (meaning, again, that free will isn't actually real--if it's definable, then it's a pattern, and therefore illusory). There is no room in between for such people.


I've noticed that Postmodern position or positions, myself. I'm actually suspecting, despite the Creation/Evolution tempest-in-a-teapot nonsense just given another stir by the Cardinal's column, that the future will see a notable alliance between orthodox Christian theology/philosophy and "traditional modern science," if you will, because these will be the two groups defending rationality as constitutive of the universe against the deconstructing crowd.

But then that shouldn't be a surprise, should it? Against the malarkey that most people believe about what I once heard CNN call "the eternal war between science and religion" (in reference to the Creation/Evolution bit, naturally), if you really know your History of Science, you know that Modern science is a philosophical outgrowth of the Christian theology of the Middle Ages. In other words, without Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas, you don't get Sir Isaac Newton and Fr? Nicolaus Copernicus.