Thursday, April 12, 2007

My Essay on the Pro-choice vs. Pro-life philosophies

Abortion's victims

By: Patrick Beeman

Posted: 4/12/07

Nothing is so tragic as abortion. The strident cries of pro-choice activists cannot silence the effete screams of the baby suffering at the hands of an abortionist. Abortion is a polite and civilized genocide. In the political and moral rhetoric, the pro-life cause has conceded much. Talk to anyone, and you will hear the debate framed in terms of "pro-choice" versus "pro-life." But the innocuous term "choice" does no justice to the grim reality of elective abortion. For this reason, I sympathize with those who insist on calling the pro-choice cause "anti-life" or "pro-death." However, the rules of intellectual debate demand we call our opponents by what they want to be called. Persuading them to believe their self-claimed appellation is wrongheaded is another matter and more important is persuading them that their cause is wrongheaded.

I think it's fair to assume no one wants to kill babies. It is a perverted barbarism that has as its goal the destruction of helpless innocents. This is the reason pro-abortion people want to be called pro-choice. This removes the moral locus from the death of a human being to the putative "choice" of an articulate and autonomous mother. However, the rhetoric and arguments often advanced by the pro-choice camp do not seem to hint at anything more profound than the following: 1) people should be encouraged and free to have sex on any terms, no matter what the cost, and 2) human life is a dispensable and destructible thing subservient to the will of those who, to borrow Chesterton, "happen to be walking about." The pro-choice philosophy includes no notion of moral responsibility or heroism, supererogation or self-sacrifice. At bottom, its first principle is pleasure for pleasure's sake.

It's no wonder pro-choice activists make little attempt to hide their efforts to de-sacrilize, de-personalize, instrumentalize, genitalize and animalize (yes, I made up those words) human sexuality. Yet they accuse the Church of being "obsessed with sex" and tell her to "stay out of people's bedrooms." Their shrill voices succeed only in proving the opposite: they are the obsessed. Their whole worldview is defined by a faulty understanding of sexuality wedded (pardon the pun) to a rebellious notion of human freedom.

They cry, to paraphrase the Gospels, "We have no king but Pleasure." Their concept of freedom does not say that every person has a right to do what she wants with her life but rather a person's choice determines what is good. This, my friends, is autonomy unrestrained by reason and commonsense. And it is one of the most insidious forces at work in medicine, law and politics.

Note my following words with careful precision: pragmatically, the aforementioned worldview makes out pro-choice arguments and protestations to be so many thinly veiled expressions of a vicious desire to maintain a world that permits and even encourages the killing of unborn babies. The express position of the pro-choice philosophy is compassion solely for the mother. But compassion is morally neutral and it can be misguided and dangerous when not guided by a proper understanding of the good for human life.

On the other hand - the boisterous exclamations of the pro-choice lobby notwithstanding - the pro-life philosophy's express position is compassion for both mother and child. And it is a compassion motivated by a genuine love for both woman and child, created equal in the "image and likeness of God."

Unfortunately, arguments aren't very convincing, even when they are logically sound. There is an element of the human heart not persuaded by reason alone. As Pascal observed, "The heart has its reasons, which reason knows not." To this end, groups such as the Genocide Awareness Project, couple graphic images of abortion to their arguments supporting the pro-life worldview. This is meant to appeal to the pathos of pro-choice and pro-life alike. Few of the pro-choice crowd will ever be convinced by logical argument, and few pro-lifers will be roused to action by the same, but no one can argue with the pitiable sight of a helpless innocent maimed and dismembered by the overweening conclusions and practicalities of the pro-choice philosophy. After all, as a "liberal" - as if massacring innocents could have anything to do with the promotion of authentic freedom - shibboleth goes, the GAP is merely "speaking truth to power." For my birthday, on the first of these two days, why not come express your solidarity with these tiny victims and their defenders? GAP will be here April 18-19.
© Copyright 2007 Independent Collegian

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

IC Column On Easter

Easter renews faith

By: Patrick Beeman

Posted: 4/5/07

Christianity is alive and well. No better is this seen than today, Maundy Thursday, as most of the world's two billion Christians countdown the final days of Lent to welcome the unspeakable joy of Easter. The Easter Triduum begins on Holy (Maundy) Thursday, continues with Good Friday, and culminates with the Feast of Feasts, this Saturday night's Easter Vigil, in which, as the Catechism teaches, "the mystery of the Resurrection, in which Christ crushed death, permeates with its powerful energy our old time, until all is subject to him."

Easter is more than simply the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox (this is how the date of Easter has been determined ever since the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.). It is certainly more than a bunny as well. For all Christians, but most especially the liturgically-minded Catholic Christian, Easter is a long-awaited and welcome vivification of "our old time" by this special feast of the mystery of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection - that is the Paschal Mystery, which we re-celebrate each year.

The Easter Mystery makes all things new once again, and Christ comes alive in the hearts of his people as new Christians are welcomed into the Church through the gift of Baptism, separated Christians enter into and are welcomed by the Church that Christ founded, and all Christians - new and old - renew their baptismal promises, reject Satan and open themselves to Christ's Redemption (this all usually occurs during the Easter Vigil, on Holy Saturday).

Easter is my favorite day of the year. To see the joy on the faces of the newly baptized and those Christians who have chosen to enter the Church is exhilarating. One can tell they are supremely happy in that moment, like the weight of the world's sin and agony is lifted from their burdened hearts by God's consuming love. And actually that is kind of what happens. I know; I am a convert.

The funny thing is all of us converts describe a unique and ineffable joy attendant upon our entrance into the Church, something like coming home or finding true happiness. The long list of Catholic converts - St. Augustine of Hippo, Gerard Manley Hopkins, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jacques Maritain, Walker Percy, Oscar Wilde (a deathbed conversion, but a convincingly authentic one nonetheless), G.E.M. Anscombe, G.K. Chesterton and Alasdair MacIntyre (a Scotsman, but that's OK) - attests to the kind of great intellectual, aesthetic or literary genius that finds a home within the Church.

Yet some people say Catholicism is for the unenlightened. Well sure, if by "enlightenment" you mean a rejection of great literature, music, philosophy, theology, art and all the best of Western culture. No, Catholicism is, without being pretentious or recondite, all at once a rigorous theology for those with the minds to comprehend it, a persuasive worldview for those with the wills to believe it, a beautiful aesthetic for those with sensitive and refined imaginations, and above all, the way to a vibrant relationship with God for those with simple faith and child-like hearts: pauper and polymath alike.

I believe Catholicism because it is true, which is the only good reason for believing anything. What is sad to me is so many people, even Catholics, are indifferent to the coming Easter joy. They are of the "different strokes for different folks" type.

A consideration of truth-claims never enters into their thoughts about religion. Yet religion itself makes demanding claims of truth. It really does make a difference to Christianity whether Christ resurrected on Easter. To deny this is to delude yourself.

Pope Benedict XVI invites us to consider, "how a Christianity grown weary of faith has abandoned the Lord. The great ideologies and the banal existence of those who, no longer believing anything, simply drift through life, have built a new and worse paganism, which in its attempt to do away with God once and for all, has ended up doing away with man."

One way you, O Christian, can reclaim your faith, the dignity of man and affirm the reality of God's love, is to embrace the mystery of Easter these next three days. I'll see you at Mass.
© Copyright 2007 Independent Collegian (

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Correspondence Between Me and Dr. W

His encouraging Response (Uberstudent? That was nice).


While stumbling around in the dark, a minor will accidentally strike gold.

I have been pontificating (please excuse this lapse of manners) for so long that the steady diet of science majors that have been

feeding our medical school will lead us down many wrong paths, and here, under my nose, is the uberstudent I have been seeking. (I was a mere

English major. You, on the other hand, may have just what we need to deal with the main problems of medicine today.)

More later. It is sad to think that you have to translate your thoughts so much to get students to read them. that is scary.

I definitely do not think Darwin is a neo-Darwinist. I could be wrong. I don't have your intellect.

More later.

Dr. W,

My response

Dr. W.,

I was a bit disoriented by parts of your e-mail, but for what it is worth, I will attempt to address the salient points of your missive. First a few rhetorical issues must be noted.

Since its number is so large, my primary audience is the undergraduate community at UT. For my own part, I try to write as much for medical students and the few faculty who read my column as I can (thank you for your readership). As you've noticed most of the columnists deal with tripe of the most inane sort. I tend to tackle the 'bigger issues' because a college newspaper is one of the few places that still exist where something like a public intellectual can express philosophical and theological ideas freely and stimulate discussion among members of his audience or fellow columnists.

Secondly, I majored in philosophy and theology and hold a Master's degree in the former. I came to medicine during my solitary senior year of college and completed the premed requirements while studying for my M.A. Accordingly, when I address philosophical or theological issues, I tend to know more about and comment upon the trends in academia bearing on these two venerable disciplines.

Hence, my comment about the general trend in academia to deny truth's existence. This can be seen most readily in the tired philosophies of postmodernism and deconstruction propounded by the likes of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and other 'continental' types. On your end, I agree and am glad that you are of the opinion that truth is what we are seeking. From my end, I believe this does demand that there is an ultimate Truth which can be found. No natural desire can be in vain, argued St. Thomas Aquinas and the other Schoolmen. In fact this is the whole point of philosophical realism, to which I think you alluded, namely that truth or reality is something that we discover not something that we subjectively impose on the world as in Kant or the German Idealists.

Another rhetorical point, I must be hyperbolic and superficial on some points or no undergraduate will read my column. I do not mean to write inflammatorily but the desire to evoke a reaction sometimes does creep in as I set my fingers to the keyboard. Along with this, my columns do not necessarily represent my most well thought or articulated view on a given matter, just one that would stimulate discussion and offer an alternative to much of the secularist philosophy that predominates our university (this is sad, for you will remember, the university is a Catholic invention).

I do not take my columns as seriously as my scholarly work. For instance, I am giving a paper at the University of Toledo's Philosophy, Medicine, and Diversity conference on April 21. It is entitled "Getting Our Priorities Straight or Which Comes First the Catholic or the Physician." Moreover much more seriously do I take my professional writing for publications such as This Rock (a magazine of Catholic theology/philosophy), and hopefully soon America and First Things, both of which have pending submissions. That being said, I do try to choose my words extremely carefully and much of what I say is nuanced. I learned to be precise from reading the Great Books and studying Latin and Greek.

On to more serious points which do not as much concern the art of persuasion. Neo-Darwinism is manifestly an atheistic philosophy masquerading as science. One has only to think of the titles of Richard Dawkins' most recent works "The God Delusion" or "The Blind Watchmaker." These are just puerile polemics with very little philosophical justification or legwork. I mean, scientists get angry when the Southern Baptist theologian denounces evolution, shouldn't the biologist dabbling in philosophy and theologically pontificating on the idea that there is no God and therefore no need of a pontiff at least consider that he is overstepping his professional competence by writing on these matters?

To be fair, even the six-day literal creationist, fundamentalist with a southern drawl, if he is a doctor, is going to use the latest antibiotics despite his worldview or convictions. No doubt you were overstating the case for rhetorical effect, but isn't that just kind of a wee bit ad hominem?

I am not a creationist, but I do believe in creation. I believe in evolution but I am not an evolutionist like Dawkins or others who use a scientific theory to construct their entire view of reality and frame the moral universe of their lives. You've no doubt heard of Francis Collins, arguably one of today's best scientists and an evangelical to boot. His take on evolution I think is more representative of Christian intellectuals like myself. To this end please consult the following by Stephen M. Barr whose nuanced view of evolutionary theory closely approximates my own. The first is the "Miracle of Evolution" the second is "theology for Physicists" and the third is "The Design of Evolution." You would probably really enjoy the last one.

Is belief in God a matter of faith, you ask? Yes and no. For some it is. For others it is not. Through reason one can come to an understanding, albeit limited, of God's existence and some of his attributes. Faith, to be sure, completes the picture painted by reason. Most persons likely do just believe in God on faith, and that's okay. Being a philosopher or a good logician is not for everyone, but most religions think that being a follower of the Deity is. But, as John Paul II observed in Fides et Ration, "Faith and Reason are like the two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth-in a word, to know himself-so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves." That's my view in short on the relation between the two.

Ah what else. O yes. In my defense, the first day of school Dr. Gold said something to the effect that Evidence-Based Medicine would be a part of our curriculum beginning with the first year. While I recognize that this cannot be entirely true because we don't actually have any responsibility for prescribing medications, implementing treatments, etc., my comment was not directed to this. I meant it more in the sense of a reductio ad absurdum argument. If truth doesn't exist then there is no "right" treatment for a given disease, therefore, such a doc would practice a "do-whatever-I-feel-like-at-the-moment" brand of medicine. Hyperbole as I said before.

Finally, you wrote, "I agree that Columbus, Galileo and the earth is round does not refute, or deny God. it more or less describes human limitation, and progress. where are we going, and why are we going? those are the questions, but no one has the answer in this dimension. we can always hope, however, and have faith, that we will eventually get there." (sic)

To the questions of where and why, most people find an answer in religious faith, so the burden of proof remains on the person who opposes religious belief to prove that the latter is absurd. That's not going to happen. So in my opinion we are stuck searching for the Truth, and having found it, we are to make sure our reasons are good and live our lives according to it, scrutinizing the inconsistencies in our thought but always being open to faith, because God is the ultimate source of Truth which comes to man through faith and reason, neither of which can contradict the other, for truth cannot contradict truth, and God cannot contradict himself. That's all I've got. Thanks

Best Regards,

Patrick C. Beeman
University of Toledo
College of Medicine

P.S. Please read my column tomorrow, it's on religious faith and Easter.

HIS First Message (posted just as he wrote it)

after being a faculty member in the medical school for the past 20 plus years, I was interested in your assertion that there is a trend to deny truth's existence. really? I thouught truth is what we are seeking? some of your arguments seem to imply that some major philosophical truth is an endpoint that a realist must accept (on faith?), rather than question, or inch our way toward the light.

or that there is a trend or fashion of materialistic Neo-Darwinism evolutionary theory that motivates us. if scientists and non-scientists took the important question as seriouusly as Darwin did, we would be better off. He was very concerned, as a religious man, of how God conceived the universe. As a physician who may not believe ini evolution, will you withhold newer antibiotics from those patients whose Staph has evolved a resistance to an older antibiotic? or not use the latest treatment for TB since evolution does not exist. will you offer your patients a choice?

I personally have no problem with evolution. why should man in her/his arrogance assume that the divine power did not use evolution as one of the tools to create? where does an understanding of evolution lead to assuming that Catholicism or Christianity of Judaism is for buffoons? an awful lot of scientists who believe in the fossle record have belief in a supreme being. and some dont. it is a matter of faith, after all, isnt it?

and where have you understood that some doctors practice a do-whatever-I-feel-like brand of medicine? is that what you suspect, after 6 months of medical school? I did not realize that evidence based medicine is part of the first year curriculum.

I agree that Columbus, Galileo and the earth is round does not refute, or deny God. it more or less describes human limitation, and progress. where are we going, and why are we going? those are the questions, but no one has the answer in this dimension. we can always hope, however, and have faith, that we will eventually get there.

IC Column: On the Existence of Truth

This Column provoked an interesting correspondence with the chair of a department at my school. See above for the correspondence after reading this.

Always for the truth

By: Patrick Beeman

Posted: 3/29/07

There are few things more absurd than advancing the truth-claim "there is no truth." The self-referential inconsistency of such a notion is not difficult to grasp, but it is not for that reason any less popular.

Undergraduates, being suggestible creatures, heteronymously live at the behest of a great number of forces. University administrators mandate which classes to take at which time and where, professors say what to believe, parents insist on good grades and a "useful" (I shudder at this word's application to the university) major for financial support. Such suggestibility, however, begets a certain amount of unreflective belief.

Consider a few diverse examples. Do you know anyone who believes in God, the liceity of abortion or the injustice of the Iraq War (these people are almost as bad as the pro-abortion group) who when pressed to defend their beliefs cannot adduce a single logically compelling reason? For instance, at this stage your answers should not be "because the Bible says so" or "women have rights" (well what about female fetuses?) or holding a sign bearing the words "Troops out now!" (Give me a break).

Or consider this scene: someone says, "I don't believe in God." And you ask why not. He responds, like one of the character's in C.S. Lewis's Pilgrim's Regress, "Christopher Columbus, Galileo, the earth is round, invention of printing, gunpowder, [you believe in God] because you do not have the benefits of scientific training." Can anyone say non-sequitur? This no more disproves God's existence than closing your eyes disproves yours. It simply doesn't follow.

The issue here betrays a crisis of reality. Most famously, it was stated in the words of Pontius Pilate who, in response to Jesus' statement that all who belong to the truth listen to Him, asked, "What is truth?" Indeed.

The moribund but stubborn trend in academia and among the intelligentsia has been to deny truth's existence. That is, to make the following logical proposition: it is true that there is no truth. Wow! And these supposedly clever people are teaching us bioethics, religion, literature, and science. These are not unimportant subjects like modern art or sociology about which we can be cavalier.

Yet, so it goes. Undergraduates eagerly jump on the bandwagon of whatever intellectual fashion is in ascendancy among their peers and professors. The materialist presuppositions of Neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory are the latest "scientific" dogma? Sweet, count me in on that one. The evangelical or Catholic Christianity of my parents is for buffoons? Too bad for my parents. There is no truth? Why, I believe that is true.

You see the problem? One has to take a stand on issues and not just accept simpliciter what professors or your friends believe. Recently, someone wrote a provocative little piece on the idea that the search for truth never ends. Well, yes, not until you find it. If the search for truth is a journey, it must have a destination, a goal. Questions demand answers. Those who describe themselves as being on a never-ending "journey to discover truth" are by definition lost. The road they're traveling leads, by their own admission, nowhere.

Truly one should never become complacent in one's beliefs. So you believe in God? Fine. The truth of God's existence is your conclusion, but don't ever stop searching for premises to support that conclusion. Live like He does, and let that truth vivify your intellectual pursuits and all other aspects of your life. Don't let the proposition become banal, for surely it is the most important issue of all.

So, for all you Pontius Pilates out there, consider Aristotle's observation, "If a man says of what is that it is or of what is not that it is not, he speaks the truth." So then, truth is simply "telling it like it is."

Truth is the conformity of mind to reality. Call me a rube, but I'm sure glad I believe what is true. I think my future patients will also be glad that I'm not a relativist. "What are we gonna do about my cancer, Doc?" "I dunno, I don't want to jump to any hasty conclusions about the existence of truth [i.e. the best medicine] - let's just do nothing and see what happens."

Lastly, I'm sure my lawyer will be glad when I tell him that I practice medicine according to the truth and not from the perspective of an ever-tortuous, do-whatever-I-feel-like-at-the-moment perspective. I'm sure that will make his job a bit easier. Semper pro Veritate.
© Copyright 2007 Independent Collegian (

IC Column: Grey's Anatomy Some of What Medicine Is

'Grey's Anatomy:' some of what medicine is

By: Patrick Beeman

Posted: 3/22/07

OK. Perhaps my last column on "Grey's Anatomy" was a bit harsh. I was challenged to find some good in the show, and I never turn down a challenge (which is part of the reason I am now in medical school). At any rate, after scouring through too many "Grey's" episodes, I found one beacon of light within the drama's benighted moral universe.

In one episode, the intern George O'Malley is wrestling with his father's illness and death. In a conversation with the attending cardiothoracic surgeon Preston Burke, George cries out to his friend for guidance on what to do about his father. He presses Burke for the scientifically best course of treatment for his father's illness. Burke hesitates and says, "I don't have any more medicine for you. Now, it's about faith." Incredulous, George bursts out "but we're men of science."

"In my experience, science is not enough, O'Malley," Burke retorts, "but if you want me to hope with you and send up a prayer, that is something I'd be happy to do." And there you have it: "Grey's Anatomy's" single, solitary, sole expression of something profound. But then again, if one speaks enough, he's bound to hit upon something of depth at one point or another. By golly, I'll even admit that on that principle gunners ask good questions sometimes.

At any rate, my point in bringing this scene to your attention is to highlight the importance of recognizing the limitations of science and medicine. You see, medicine is about human life. This is not some feel-good nicety we doctors-in-training tell ourselves in order to justify the unconscionable salaries some of us desire. Rather, this goes to the heart of medicine's raison d'etre. That may sound pedantic, but it is no less true for that reason.

Medicine is an inherently moral enterprise that, nevertheless, needs the guiding power of ethics in order to stay true to its mission to comfort, cure and heal the sick without consideration for their social status, ability to pay or whatever; in short, to defend life in all its forms from conception to natural death. Medicine can only "take you so far," as it were. But when it comes to the big questions the sick person asks as he faces the horror of disease, suffering and even death, the answers are to be found outside the realms of scientific enquiry and inside the properly human part of man. And most fundamentally, man is a religious creature who finds his fulfillment only in something outside himself: namely, in God.

Is it any wonder, then, why the sick are often so much closer to God than the healthy? The comfort and material success of the wealthy and psychologically content are ingredients in a recipe for complacency. The logic goes: why worry about God, if I can meet my needs on my own? But when the stability of life is pulled out from under a person by the malicious hands of sickness, one sees his radical dependence on something greater than himself. He learns that his life is not his own, and his destiny is inextricably bound to something higher. Here's a lesson we all could learn: suffering, though not something to be sought in itself (that would be masochism), nevertheless has redemptive value. However, it is up to the person suffering to give it such value.

And the rest of us who are confronted with the suffering of others? Our recourse is not only in the fallibility of the medical profession, as "Grey's" taught us this one time. It is also in hope and prayer. So, let us hope and pray that medicine will humbly recognize its limitations in answering questions pertaining to life's meaning and abandon the pompous support of so-called mercy killing, abortion, embryonic stem cell research and the like.

I've got no more medicine for you now. But if you want me to offer up some hope and a prayer to end the suffering of the unborn, the sick, and the dying, that's something I'd be happy to do.
© Copyright 2007 Independent Collegian (