7 Quick Takes (12/7/12)

7 Quick Takes (12/7/12) December 7, 2012

— 1 —

There’s been some discussion this week about what happens after death to the soul, but this New York Times article (“Giving New Life to Vultures to Restore a Human Ritual of Death“) is focused on a religious concern about what happens to the body.

Fifteen years after vultures disappeared from Mumbai’s skies, the Parsi community here intends to build two aviaries at one of its most sacred sites so that the giant scavengers can once again devour human corpses…

The plan is the result of six years of negotiations between Parsi leaders and the Indian government to revive a centuries-old practice that seeks to protect the ancient elements — air, earth, fire and water — from being polluted by either burial or cremation. And along the way, both sides hope the effort will contribute to the revival of two species of vulture that are nearing extinction. The government would provide the initial population of birds.

— 2 —

In last week’s Quick Takes, I had recommendations for books to give as gifts (and if you’re giving anything else, I’d much appreciate you using the affiliate links in that post to place your orders), but this week, io9 turned up a free book you can enjoy right now.  It’s called Scientific Amusements, it turned up in the library of Harry Houdini, and it tells you, among other things, a handy trick for cracking nuts with falling knives:

— 3 —

I included Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall in my best of the year list, and I was delighted to find an NPR interview Terry Gross did with Mantel over Thanksgiving.  In keeping with the holiday season, the discussion was heavy on the beheadings.

MANTEL: Yes, it seems strange to us, doesn’t it, but for a while they – the people at the Tower of London didn’t know whether Anne was to be beheaded or burned. And, you know, typical bureaucrats, they’re sending frantic notes saying: What kind of scaffold have we to build? When you look at it through the bureaucratic language, it all becomes even more chilling because to them it’s just an administrative problem. They just want to get things done efficiently.

After all, it’s not every day that one executes a queen of England.

GROSS: So I’m not sure if this is something you’ve thought about before or not, but I know that you wrote, I think it was your very first book, about the French Revolution, and now you’ve written about Henry VIII, and there are several beheadings in these books. So excuse me for asking this, but if you had to be beheaded centuries ago, would you have preferred the guillotine, or the axe or sword customarily used in England?

— 4 —

I know this makes me a terrible East Coast liberal, but I hate listening to NPR.  Or any radio or books on tape.  My eyes get bored!  So, I only listen to even my favorite book on tape while I’m doing something eye-intensive like embroidery or weaving.  And, although I love NPR’s stories, I always read the transcripts.

That means I hadn’t ever heard Terry Gross’s voice til I saw this short, wonderful video:

— 5 —

Remember a while ago when I went to that CFAR minicamp and mentioned the calibration game?  Well, Andrew Critch has polished the app up a bit and put together a nice little website to refer to when you’re recommending the game to others.

— 6 —

After the election, I had a lot of fun looking at cartograms that resized states by population, and I quite enjoyed stumbling across the periodic table resized by relative abundance of each element on earth.

— 7 —

And finally, this past week my housemates put up Christmas and Hanukkah decorations (everyone is at least part Jewish chez moi and two of us are Catholic). The following exchange occurred:

‎Housemate One: I didn’t think the the lights would cover the whole tree, but it turns out we have more than enough!
Housemate Two: It’s a Christmas miracle!
Me: I’m pretty sure that’s the Hanukkah miracle.

And that’s all the excuse I need to link to the Maccabeats’ Candlelight:


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  • What happens to the body after death?

    Catholic dogma teaches something very weird and it would be fascinating to see how you contort your empirical understanding of the universe with a belief in “resurrection of the body”. Can this even be formed into a rationalist or empirical statement? I believe the most common way of understanding this particular “mystery” for Catholics is to propose that there is a literal reanimation of matter (resurrection of the body) that accompanies the coming again of Christ at the end of the world. Do you really take on faith that such an event will actually take place replete with miraculous physical manifestations and all? If not, are you comfortable in your heresy?

    I can’t help but think that this first item was a dropped hint…. Lately my Ideological Turing Test indicator has been blinking No True Scotsman about a lot of your posts. Disabuse me of my skepticism, please!

    • The resurrection of the body is a future event. So there really is no empirical element to it. It does not make any claim about the current world. The only exception is Jesus. His resurrection has already happened. So if you find the body of Jesus you will have empirically disproved Christianity.

      • If you think that empiricism is blind when it comes to the future, that is a pretty startling claim. After all, one of the main features of the empirical worldview is the ability to make predictions about what is and is not likely to happen. Stating that everybody who ever lived will be resurrected bodily is a claim that the Catholic Church makes and is contained in the Nicene Creed. If you ask those who claim to hold to empiricism to evaluate whether this possibility is at all reasonable based on what we know about empirical reality, I think you will be hard pressed to find any who argue that this is a reasonable prediction.

        Empiricism isn’t a “welcome all-comers” type of argument. To take an illustrative example, if you say that you predict the world will end on December 21, 2012, I can say that the empirical worldview is one that strongly disputes that this prediction is at all reasonable to the extent that it is possible to say that this prediction is not going to come true. The Resurrection of the Body fits in the same category of hard skepticism.

        • joey

          Look up Hume’s “problem of induction”.

          • The problem of induction doesn’t mean that it is a good bet the world will end on December 21, 2012.

          • Alexander Anderson

            The problem of induction means that no statement about the future is a good bet.

          • If no statement about the future is a good bet, then how do we know the sun will rise tomorrow?

    • George

      This statement isn’t true in the sense you are claiming: “I believe the most common way of understanding this particular “mystery” for Catholics is to propose that there is a *literal reanimation of matter* (resurrection of the body) that accompanies the coming again of Christ at the end of the world.”

      The Church does believe in a resurrection of the body, but that does not mean a “physical” body in the sense that you are using the term. Paragraph 999 in the RC Catechism clearly remarks that the resurrected body is a “spiritual body” about which we cannot understand more through reason alone. This idea of the resurrected body being beyond ordinary physical matter is not a new invention either. Aquinas expresses a similar ideas about the nature of the resurrected body in the Summa: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/5083.htm

      I’m not trying to convince you that any of these can be understood from a purely rational or empiricist standpoint. They can’t, and the Church admits as much in the Catechism. That’s the point of miracles after all. However, your understanding of what the Catholic Church teaches in this regard is not correct. A purely “physical” resurrection in the way you use the word physical it is not.

      • Thank you, George, for your apologetics, but I have been taught by other apologists that the spiritual body is only given to those who are glorified. To wit:

        999 How? Christ is raised with his own body: “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself”;551 but he did not return to an earthly life. So, in him, “all of them will rise again with their own bodies which they now bear,” but Christ “will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body,” into a “spiritual body”….

        I suppose there may be a way to claim that the “bodies which they now bear” are also “spiritual bodies” of a sort if the referent of that last prepositional phrase is interpreted broadly, but I think I’m not out on a limb in saying that your accommodation of my empirical doubt at best may be a debatable point. If I was too quick to claim that the majority of Catholic interpreters of this dogma believe in physical bodies upon the resurrection in the Last Days, I do apologize. I have not done the requisite survey, true.

      • Incidentally, http://www.catholic.com/tracts/resurrection-of-the-body seems to agree with the physical body interpretation (at least as my reading of it). http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12792a.htm is perhaps circumspect but they insist that “[i]t would destroy the very idea of resurrection, if the dead were to rise in bodies not their own.” I think that means “physical body”, but you might be able to interpret that away too. Here is a site which seems to explicitly endorse the claim I make that it is a physical body: http://www.ewtn.com/faith/teachings/rboda1.htm

        • Son of James


          Would it kill you to learn some philosophical theology & or philosophy in general so you don’t bore people to death by committing fallacies of equivocation?

          George said “The Church does believe in a resurrection of the body, but that does not mean a “physical” body in the sense that you are using the term.”

          You haven’t shown there is a contradiction between how Aquinas explains the nature of a resurrected body vs the links you provided from ewtn, New Advent or Catholic Answers. You just seem to assume it.

          • Your defensiveness is hardly becoming. I’ve shown that apologists have argued that there will be a physical body resurrected in the Last Days. A Thomist teaching on a glorified body might even be considered a red herring according to the claims that those who do not receive a glorified body will also be resurrected bodily.

            If you are bored to death, feel free to ignore my comments.

  • jenesaispas

    Great selection of videos. The Maccabeats rock!

    Here’s a French band, mostly made up of Christians that I found a few weeks ago. I don’t think the song is that amazing but its nice to see Bethlehem (and join in with the “aaahhaahhhaaahhhaahahahahah’s”:))

    • grok87

      thanks- agree, the video footage of Bethlehem and the church of the nativity were great.

      • jenesaispas

        oh that’s what it’s called, thanks 🙂

  • grok87

    Love the Maccabeats video!

  • whatnofat

    So what do zoroastrians(parsees) do in north america?