RE: Carl Sagan and subsequent correspondence w/ UC Davis physics major David Stark:

"You really should date this corrospondence. The chronology is out of any context. This is especially important, since Sagan has since died.



Dear KNT,

Thanks for the note. I thought I had put a date at the bottom. True enough that it is an old article, but people seem to keep accessing it.

Where are you? God bless,

Fr. Phil


Rochester New York. I hope there is a God to bless me.

As for the argument, the Church must be very careful in making pronouncements where faith and science tend to collide. Evolution is a fine example. The Pope's recent commentary on natural selection suggests that, at the very least, John Paul II understands the lesson to be learned from the Galileo episode (or morality play as you prefer). Too bad so many other so-called Christians, protestants in particular, seem to have missed the point: the Bible is *not* a science book.

Last Sunday at Mass (Tridentine Rite), Fr. B. went on and on about the recent earthquake in Italy and how the near destruction of a revered church and its treasured frescos as a consequence of the quake was a *sign* from God that the world had better change. What rubbish. Fr. B. should come over to my house and Ill set up a seismograph in the backyard. We can count the dozens of magnitude 1 to 2 events each hour anywhere from a thousand feet to several hundred miles below my house (or his church if he prefers). What is God trying to tell us from these quakes? He is trying to help us understand plate tectonics, glacial rebound, subsidence and lithospheric subduction. Nothing more.

There is a very high statistical likelihood that someone, somewhere made the following statement..."If I am lying, may God strike me dead on this spot". And, naturally, he said it in the vicinity of a thunderstorm cell and a bolt of lightning struck and killed him (there is also a very high statistical likelihood that it was a man and not a woman... :) who said it). Ever since then, we have associated natural events with the will of God usually in the context of a tragedy or catastrophe.

By the way, Dave states that "I enjoy Hawking because his view of science is not like Sagan's.", yet fails to mention (subconsiously?) that Sagan wrote the forword for A Brief History of Time. He also seems not to understand the difference between science (lower case intended) and the scientific method. Two very different things. KNT


Dear KNT (George?)

Thanks for the note. Is it Ok to post it on my website? The question of religion and science is obviously important to a lot of folks. Might help us for you to explain about "science (lower case intended) and the scientific method." [A] Interesting about Fr. B & his interpretation of the Italian earthquake. Excuse my own ignorance about the Tridentine Mass--is it a break-away group? [B] Also I would like to know why you say the following:

"What is God trying to tell us from these quakes? He is trying to help us understand plate tectonics, glacial rebound, subsidence and lithospheric subduction. Nothing more."

Curious about why you add the "nothing more" part. [C]

Fr. Phil


You are welcome to post my mail. I only request that you do so in its entirety.

A. "science (lower case intended) and the scientific method."

I do not approve of using an upper case S in science unless it is necessary (as in a book title, at the beginnig of a sentence, or the name of a magazine. The word is, after all, a rather undistinguished common noun.

I make the case that science is a generally diverse *collection of activities* involving -- among other things -- observation, collecting, organization and classification, description, experimentation and theoretical explication all conducted in a generally organized and disciplined manner and adhering to certain generally accepted protocols.

The so-called scientific method is the *process* by which certain of the above are conducted. Science is not a tool. The scientific method is a tool. One of many exploited by science.

B. How soon we forget... Tridentine adj. 1. Of or relating to an ecumenical council held by the Roman Catholc Church in Trent, Italy, from 1545 to 1563. 2. Of or relating to the decrees, reforms, or results of that council: The Tridentine Catechism. n. A Roman Catholic who rigorously conforms to the Tridentine Creed formulated at that council. See also "Latin Mass".

C. Simply this: nature proceeds independently of man. Volcanos were erupting on this planet long before the appearance of homo sapiens sapiens. Yet it is obvious that nature is necessary for human experience - we are physical entities existing in a physical plane. But the products of the physical plane we call nature are very dynamic and often frightening, especially to those who do not comprehend them. Weather is, perhaps, the most familiar and often compelling example. God does not manipulate tornados for vidictive purposes or to explicitly teach lessons or cast warnings. Weather is one expression of God's creation that, not incidentally, wonderfully illustrates the harmony of form and funcion. Weather is good. Even bad weather is good. Hurricanes are quite necessary for the redistribution of heat from the tropics to the extreme northern and southern hemispheres. And while they can cause death and destruction, seen from various perspectives, hurricanes, tornadoes, and thunderstorms (aka: mesoscale convective clusters) are astonishingly beautiful.

Earthquakes are also a manifestation of a dynamic, evolving physical earth. That they happen is a function of that dynamic, evolving earth not as a function of God trying to convey a message. *If there is a message from God in an earthquake,* it is how breathtakingly remarkable the whole regenerative geological system is. That conclusion would tend to glorify any Creator.

I know this is sheer pedantry, but I'm sort of in that mood at the moment. Sorry.

Ill habits gather by unseen degrees -- As brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas.

-- John Dryden



Dear George,

Thanks for the response and permission to post it. Concerning part C: The fact that "nature proceeds independently of man" would not seem to preclude that God could use it to reveal something of himself, his plan for us. You briefly describe the wonderful way all this works together and how God might be using that to reveal something of his beauty, his glory. Could he not also use such phenomena to call us to repentance? I realize the language of God "punishing" has a negative ring, but it is biblical, including Jesus himself, ("Woe to you, Caphernaum...") C.S. Lewis has a beautiful section explaning how God's "punishment" is in reality part of his mercy. You seem also to allude to that in describing how an immediate harm might lead to a greater overall good.

God bless,

Fr. Phil

P.S. Am I right in concluding from part B that Fr. B. is in union with the Holy Father? (not a "break-away" priest)


"""You briefly describe the wonderful way all this works together and how God might be using that to reveal something of his beauty, his glory. Could he not also use such phenomena to call us to repentance?"""

I would say no. To do so would constitute a "misappropriation", if you will, of what is essentially good and I do not believe God would play around with His creation in such a manner. Nature is clearly benificent and evil cannot descend from it. Evil descends from consciousness (will, if you prefer) alone.

A tsunami (tidal wave) comes ashore and kills 500 people. That is not an evil. It is a tragedy, but not an evil. A man determines to kill his wife to obtain insurance money to satisfy his material requirements. In killing her, he acts in an evil manner. In a sense, both are natural acts, but only one of them is guided by intent (will).

I have always held that (on Earth) only humans are sentient and that only sentient creatures are capable of doing evil. I have also consistently held that we reap what we sow. Any repentance worth having would necessarily eminate from a passionate desire toward reconcilliation. Repentance based on fear (of phenomena or punishment) is simply disingenuous. Either you are sorry or you are not, punishment - or fear of it - notwithstanding.

A child who steals a cookie and is caught is less sorry for the deed if he is merely fearful of the probable spanking to come than a child who regrets his act primarily on the merits of his understanding of the nature and intrinsic evil of stealing. This last child comprehends evil and subsumes punishment because the consciousness of his (evil) act is ultimately all the punishment this child is likely to require.

This fear thing is a long established Catholic tradition and a sad commentary on how history can be revised to rationalize otherwise reprehensible acts. The only saving grace is that the perpetrators likely knew no better. What amazes me is that after 5000 years of Judeo-Christian tradition, it is still so common.

""...but it is biblical..""

Claiming that something is "biblical" is risky business. But that is another thread to follow later on. In the meantime, see E.P. Sanders, "The Historical Figure of Jesus" (just don't take it all too seriously . . . Sanders makes mistakes too.).

""Am I right in concluding from part B that Fr. B. is in union with the Holy Father?""

Yes. And the Magisterium as well. Do you not have a Latin Mass anywhere in your diocese?