Sunday, December 30, 2007

Retractiones, II

Cicero taught that the public speaker should know a little bit about as many subjects as possible. Unfortunately, already by about 1760, Rousseau was lamenting the impossibility of any kind of comprehensive knowledge of contemporary learning. How much more difficult is it today to stay abreast of current knowledge! Well, this has been brought home to me by a few wrong facts I've allowed into my recent blog posts on good books. Since I suspect that many people do not read the comments in which these mistakes have been addressed, and since facts are important to get right, I will offer corrections here. I will also address two concerns about 'tone', as in two posts, commenters seemed to miss the affective thrust of what I intended.

1) Anselm Grun: Someone once referred to Grun in my presence as 'ubiquitous'. Knowing this, I should have checked more search engines for his titles in English, which are apparently numerous, though possibly out of print. Needless to say, I am quite pleased to be wrong about the availability of his writing in my mother tongue.

2) Chromosomes and complexity: I erred in my description of the number of pairs of chromosomes in various organisms. I will quote from someone who obviously knows more than I do:
'Amoebas, ferns etc. can have hundreds of pairs of chromosomes. There is no real correlation with complexity. Chromosomes can be all different sizes and contain vastly different amounts of DNA. ("Amount of DNA" in the genome doesn't correlate with complexity either, google "c-value paradox" and "onion test"). "So how does one go from being a chimpanzee (22 pairs) to being a human (23)? [quote from my original]" Actually chimps have 24 pairs. So do the other great apes, except humans which have 23.'

As I pointed out in my response, my argument does not essentially depend on a correlation between chromosome pairs and complexity. The basic premises are that chromosomes are discreet packages of DNA and the number of discreet packages affects whether or not two organisms can produce offspring together. If this is incorrect, I am happy to withdraw the argument.

In my own defense, I want to mention again that I have explained my quandary to several doctors and a couple of professional biochemists, and none have corrected me on this point. So I assumed that I had it right. Goes to show how complicated biology is, I suppose.

In any case, I apologize for the wrong facts.

3) If one carefully reads my original post on Michael Behe's books (right below this post), one should note that nowhere do I dismiss 'evolutionary biologists' or consider their entire field 'dubious', as the anonymous commenter claimed. My dispute is with Darwinistic evolution: the idea that random mutation and natural selection is responsible, specifically, for the 'origin of species'. I do not dispute that life evolves, and I don't disparage what comparative study of organisms from an evolutionary standpoint can accomplish. On the contrary, I fear that such good work is compromised by the hardened positions of evolutionary evangelists such as Dawkins and Dennett who seem to consider any criticism of Darwin to be totally out of bounds and deserving of ridicule. But scientists should want their hypotheses challenged--this gives the opportunity of checking whether they are valid or if they need reworking.

4) One reader has expressed concern that I was whining when I wrote that the authors of Liturgiam Authenticam may not have shined their brightest in that document. In fact, I was in the midst of defending them from what I felt were unfair and unrealistic criticisms from a liturgical scholar. Looking back at that post, if I had to describe the tone I was intending, it would have been irony, not complaint. We can't all shine all the time, and I was merely hypothesizing that even were curial officials to write something of less-than-academic quality, this would not remove the fact that those in authority must pronounce on contemporary concerns and can't wait until scholars are 100% sure what to say. I also take it for granted that the Holy Spirit acts through Church authority, so I also would disagree with a certain tone of alarm throughout Peter Jeffery's book, especially present in the conclusion. However, just as I think that Darwin, Dawkins and Dennett should receive criticism gracefully and gratefully, I don't suppose that the Cardinals and scholars who are trying to serve the Church in positions of authority would mind some help from someone of Jeffery's stature.

For my part, I am grateful for all the corrections and comments! I hope that you enjoy the rest of the book reviews, which are more up my own alley, being in the areas of theology and monasticism...

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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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