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.

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