Three notions are whizzing about in my head that seem inescapably connected:
1. Calvinists, in the course of defining Sola Scriptura, state: “The authority of Scripture was not through rational argumentation or proofs, but through the witness of the Holy Spirit.”
2. Hegel, in his Logic, states, among other monstrosities varied and fell:
“A comparison of the forms to which spirit has raised itself in the practical and religious sphere and in every branch of science both physical and mental, with the form presented by logic which is spirit’s consciousness of its own pure essence, reveals so vast a difference that the utter inadequacy and unworthiness of the latter consciousness in comparison with the higher consciousness displayed in those other spheres cannot fail to strike the most superficial observer.” Science of Logic, Introduction, § 58.
Translation: traditional logic sucks because it’s old-fashioned.
3. On the other hand, Aquinas states:
Well, something like that:
What is natural cannot be changed while nature remains.* But contrary opinions cannot be in the same mind at the same time: therefore no opinion or belief is sent to man from God contrary to natural knowledge. And therefore the Apostle says: The word is near in thy heart and in thy mouth, that is, the word of faith which we preach (Rom. x, 8). But because it surpasses reason it is counted by some as contrary to reason, which cannot be. To the same effect is the authority of Augustine (Gen. ad litt. ii, 18) : ” What truth reveals can nowise be contrary to the holy books either of the Old or of the New Testament.” Hence the conclusion is evident, that any arguments alleged against the teachings of faith do not proceed logically from first principles of nature, principles of themselves known, and so do not amount to a demonstration; but are either probable reasons or sophistical; hence room is left for refuting them.
Aquinas, Thomas Summa Contra Gentiles. Book I, Chapter 7.
So, we have Thomas stating, in the 13th century, that there is one Truth, that it is not possible to refute Revelation by logic – nor is it possible to refute logic by Revelation. Insofar as they are both true, they are one.
At first, the Calvinist position seems reasonable enough – certainly, the truth of Scripture is based on something more than mere human reason. But this notion also places Scripture beyond the reach of reason – how could it be anything short of blasphemy to try to understand Scripture with the human intellect? Are you putting your mind in the place rightly occupied by the Spirit? What could you possibly hope to attain by applying your mind to Scripture? It is to be read in faith – I am tempted to add: it is to be read in Faith Alone. It’s the Will that is engaged, not the Mind.
I contend that the intellectual gravity of this particular idea, unless counterbalanced by something else – say, a statement like Thomas’ about the value and appropriateness of human reason in understanding, even understanding Scripture – inexorably leads to simply disparaging logic and reason, especially when they appear to contradict Scripture.
Is this not what we see all the time? The almost laughable dismissal by many Evangelicals of all geologic and biologic evidence for an ancient earth is merely this idea finding its natural place, settling down in its moment of least potential; that truth is vouchsafed by the Spirit, which trumps anything we, in our infinite depravity, could come up with. Rather, do we not say, with Thomas:
The truth of our faith becomes a matter of ridicule among the infidels if any Catholic, not gifted with the necessary scientific learning, presents as dogma what scientific scrutiny shows to be false.
All that is true, by whomsoever it has been said has its origin in the Spirit.
What we have here, historically, is Calvin, using a highly selective appeal to Augustine, attempting to undo the authority of the Catholic Church, an authority that uses Thomas as its logical point man. Since human reason (and the facts on the ground, such as how any general reading of Augustine leads one to conclude that he was remarkably Catholic and not much at all like Luther and Calvin) had been drafted and successfully integrated with Catholic teaching, it becomes the enemy. The Reformers do not seem to ever really address Aquinas on his own terms, but rather dismiss him on their terms. If I’m an intellectual flyweight, my best survival strategy is to refuse to get into the ring with the intellectual heavyweight champion of the world.*
This anti-intellectualism has two ugly children: a physical science that dismisses out of hand what it correctly sees as the overreach of Protestant claims on its turf, and a philosophic history that evades and denigrates and compartmentalizes the human intellect.
This bastard child of science – Science! – is what we here on this blog pillory. It is science with its feelings hurt, that wants to get even with capital t TRVTH for dissing it back in the 16th century. But we cover this elsewhere.
The other bastard child is the philosophic tradition that runs through Descartes, Hume, Kant, Fichte, and Hegel and on through Nietzsche and modern nihilists. The defining characteristic of this tradition is bifurcation: either stated as the mind-body problem, or as the separation of Intellect and Will (with Will getting to drive) or as the simple denial that human reason has anything to say about truth.
Descartes throws down the gauntlet by trying to found philosophy on certain 1st principles, axioms that can be known certainly without the aid of sense impressions. This was a conscious attempt to get away from Aristotle and Aquinas. But his approach was dead on arrival: the same ‘demons’ that destroy his certainty about sense impressions could also poison any other thought he might have – an obvious eventuality that goes unacknowledged.
Hume picks it up, and in his adolescent way, carries Descartes’ ideas much farther, and introduces the radical doubt in the form the world knows it today. Kant comes along and attempts an integration: what if we used pure logic on Descartes’ ideas while accepting his radical doubt? Thus we end up with a tightly proscribed world of the mind, where a crippled but perfect certainty can live, while leaving everything else to faith of one kind or another.
Now comes Hegel: he sees the Spirit working directly everywhere. All of Philosophy and History (and Art and Science and everything else) is the Spirit unfolding itself through time, and precipitating and resolving dialectical states. Because this is an ontological truth revealed by the Spirit to those enlightened few Hegelians, human reason as understood by Aristotle and Aquinas and their followers has nothing to say about it. True philosophy looks at reason’s protests that such up-to-date notions are irrational and self-contradictory with a condescending smile. Reason has no standing in the court of philosophy.
Hegel’s philosophy is the logical (in the old-school sense Hegel rejects) result of the Calvinistic statement that the revelations of the Spirit trump and obviate mere human reason. He is the Patron Saint of Protestant Philosophy: in him, the Spirit’s utter domination of human reason finds its purest, fullest expression. He passes the theological test, in that he always considered himself an orthodox Lutheran. All that’s left is to establish his feast day.
Could there possibly be a downside to this? Well, what if lowly reason finds something it cannot square with what the will has chosen to believe Scripture says? In keeping with the nature of this philosophical stream, the options are 2: reject the findings of the mind and believe, despite the evidence, that the world is 6,000 years old. Or flat. Or has corners. Or that the man with 2 coats is damned to Hell. There’s really no logical limit, it’s all a matter of taste – or rather, what it is we have chosen to believe the Spirit is telling us.
Or we can reject Scripture, as many scientists and all Unitarians and most mainline Protestants have done.
There is third option: reject the untenable ground Hegel stands upon – reject Calvin’s teachings. Embrace the unity of truth with Emerson Cod and Thomas Aquinas and the Catholic Church.
Luther loved the truth of God’s Word as that was revealed to him through his own struggles with the assurance of salvation. Therefore Luther wanted true reformation in the church, which would be a reformation in doctrine and practice. Erasmus cared little about a right knowledge of truth. He simply wanted moral reform in the Roman Catholic Church. He did not want to leave the church, but remained supportive of the Pope.
This fundamental difference points out another difference between the two men. Martin Luther was bound by the Word of God. Therefore the content of the Scripture was of utmost importance to him. But Erasmus did not hold to this same high view of Scripture. Erasmus was a Renaissance rationalist who placed reason above Scripture. Therefore the truth of Scripture was not that important to him.
What actually occurs in the dialogue between these two men is that Erasmus (with one notable exception) refrains from name calling and ad hominem attacks, and instead tries to explore what Luther’s ideas mean in practice. Erasmus was a brilliant Renaissance scholar and writer, fully versed in logic and rhetoric. Luther comes off as the pedantic, bitter, crass bumpkin he actually was. He makes no attempt to engage Erasmus’ arguments, because, as the comment quoted above indicates, his understanding of Scripture was pure Spirit-infused goodness beyond the reach of reason, so that to disagree with him was simple heresy.
Luther’s refusal to allow for *any* role for human reason is spun as a holy reliance on “the truth of God’s Word as that was revealed to him through his own struggles with the assurance of salvation.” Riiight.
I am not against intellectuals, unless they think of themselves as such, and I have spent perhaps too much time in schools myself, but I find that people who do not make a career of school are generally brighter than those who do. Some of the brightest people I have known dropped out of school early on. I do not mean to diminish those who have dedicated their fine minds to noble teaching, and many of them are as intelligent as the ordinary people I meet on the street every day. It is just that teaching in a university is like fishing in an aquarium, and teaching in a parish is like fishing in the ocean.
America’s best educated kids don’t go to school. The article goes through the usual socioeconomic analysis – home schooled kids tend strongly to come from intact, better educated families. Yes, and? Doesn’t all that show is that people who can in fact cope in the real world can in fact also educate their own kids?
Bottom line: more and more people, especially competent people, are opting for homeschooling, and it works way, way better than factory schooling. (With the usual caveat that the standardized tests used as stand ins for ‘success’ have not been shown to have all that strong a relationship to ‘success’ as any sane person would define it.)
Devout Catholics Have Better Sex, Study Says. Recognizing that this is just a hit-generation-bonanza headline with no real concern with reality, and also that what a sane person means by ‘better’ sex is going to differ from what an insane culture means by it, nonetheless: This is a surprise? Who in their right mind would think sex with, say, random strangers, however mechanically adventurous they may be, is going to top sex with someone you are deeply in love with, completely committed to, and with whom you have brought other human beings into the world? No amount of gymnastics and novelty can even remotely touch this. Since devout Catholics are among the most dedicated to this two-become-one death-do-you-part version of sex, it only figures we’d be leading this particular parade.
This should be a long post written by somebody smarter, but rather than have it join the Invisible Draft Parade, where end up most of my good ideas that need more help than I have time or brains to give them, we’ll try to break it up into small pieces and throw it down! Yea, internet!
I may have mentioned this before: Carl Sagan managed to reeeeeally rub me the wrong way back in the early 80s when I first became aware of him through Cosmos, a comically overrated Science! series. One thing that got me was his repeated sneering dismissal of ‘mysticism’, a term whose functional definition was anything Carl didn’t like: God and religion, of course, but also philosophy and especially metaphysics, insofar as they have anything to say about Science!.
“Now, what I want is facts” I can hear Mr. Gradgrind, oops, Mr. Sagan say. None of this mystical nonsense! Except Gradgrind, just like Sagan, is a man of “facts and calculations.”
It’s the calculations part we’ll look at today.
One insinuation of Sagan and materialists in general is that what they disparage as mysticism is the result of weak-minded refusal to face the facts, of a pathetic effort to layer on ‘meaning’ or ‘purpose’ beyond the immediate world. Oddly, this turns out to be about opposite of the historical truth.
I contend, and I think anyone who has seriously looked at the question will concur, that Aristotle, he who coined the term ‘metaphysics’, was as hard-headed and practical as any thinker has ever been. What I mean is that he started, as he was fond of saying, ‘with what is most knowable to us’. He didn’t stop there, however – he asked the fundamental metaphysical question: what would need to be true for those things that are knowable by us to be knowable at all? This question leads, by one very short and inevitable step, a step a massive logical gravity pulls us inexorably to take, to all those things Sagan derides as mysticism.
Let’s ask the question about ‘calculations’ – about math.
What would need to be true for 1+1=2 to be true? How is it that I know 1+1=2? Please, show me the ‘facts’ in the material world that allow me to *know* this is true. The standard response, in my anecdotal experience, is to bluster and bluff and pretend it’s a dumb question to ask. In reality, it is the ONLY question to ask, if you are a materialist of any sort. Show me ‘4’ for example. Not four of something, but 4. Can’t show me 4 in the material world, let alone E=MC^2 or any other of the myriad of formulas that make up a large part of our scientific understanding of the world? It would seem materialism has a problem, if they live only as ideas, ideas which are unvalidatable by anything in the material world.
We cannot understand the material world scientifically without math. Yet math is immaterial.
The key point here, maybe the only point, is that men like Aristotle and his greatest student Thomas do not arrive at metaphysics because they are weak and cowardly and can’t face a world without and ultimate cause or reason. Rather, they philosophize because they want to know how it has come to pass that we mere mortal men came to know anything at all. The weakness and cowardice kicks in when we flee such questions.
Two questions leap to mind: Is ‘hubrisitic’ even a word? And what the heck is a Gothamist?
The first: Hubristic is a logical form, even if infelicitous and obscure and unrecognized by WordPress’s spell-checker. Its use might push the readability index past 6th grade level, which I thought was a no-no for newspapers. Plus, doesn’t ‘hubris-drenched’ sound more disdainful and dismissive? And easier to appreciate at first glance? I’d have definitely gone with ‘hubris-drenched’, especially in a post about hurricanes. It’s the little things.
The second: Gothamist just turned up in the Google news feed, which, if that’s the criteria for a news source, means it is one. Here’s what they say about themselves:
Gothamist is the first site in the Gothamist LLC network of blogs and is the most popular local blog in New York. Founded in early 2003, Gothamist has been described by The New York Times as a “marvelous, not-to-be-missed Web site” that “reflects everything worth knowing about this city.” Forbes described Gothamist as a “sophisticated, deliciously urbane city blog”.
So, urbane and sophisticated. If New Yorkers need yet another source to tell them how wonderful they are, here ya go. But it’s a blog. Kind of like this here blog. Why Google, or maybe Google’s news-feed algorithms, think Gothamist is a news source remains a mystery that only deepens upon reading the posting.
As for the actual ‘news’, it would appear that mentioning that Sandy was the result of the confluence of a series of unlikely events constitutes hubris, because it is suggested that another Sandy is unlikely any time soon. The exact quote is not given; nor it it to be believed that a scientist with a scintilla of integrity would slap a number like 700 years on what would at best be a probability. What they might say is that Sandy represents a once-every-700-year event, on average, given current conditions. How hard would it have been to give the exact quote for the claim, so we, the urbane and sophisticated Gothamist readers, could see for ourselves? Especially since the hubristic scientists are willing to swear on it…
Note the near-total disconnect between the headline and the ‘news’ part of the article, the first 4 paragraphs. That section contains the usual hedged and conditioned statements typical of small ‘s’ science. We then proceed to the ‘untethered speculation’ section, wherein heresy is exposed and burned at the stake. Or something. The emotional context is clear; the intellectual context is not, if there is one at all.
To Gothamist’s credit, there are some links. However, one comboxer mentions that no claim is made in the attached document that another Sandy won’t hit for several hundred years. That’s just the kind of narrow thinking, insisting on petty facts, that would cruelly deflate a guy just as he’s on a roll up there on the soapbox. How mean spirited.
In a few day, the family will be heading out to Indiana for a memorial Mass. July 20th marks the 1 year anniversary of the death of our beloved oldest son, Andrew. He was struck and killed by a car in the early morning on a highway in Indiana while on a Crossroads Pro-Life walk from San Francisco to Washington DC. He was a month shy of 21 years old.
He was a remarkable young man, and we miss him terribly. May he rest in peace.
Here is an In Memoriam page with links and stories and reflections. Please pray for us all.
Stuck in a 5 hour meeting while our largest customer is pressing me to finish up a contract. Solution? Negotiate a large agreement typing with my thumbs via iPhone while pretending to pay attention to the meeting.
2. Egypt’s transition teeters as PM moves to form cabinet. “Transition”? Interesting choice of words. This is a military coup, but almost certainly a good one, unless you want to see the Copts exterminated and serious Islamic rule. But calling it a transition is like the British calling WWII the late unpleasantness.
3. SEC Votes to Lift Ban on Hedge Fund Advertising. A cynical man would marvel at how the SEC – a wholly-owned subsidiary of Goldman Sachs – is looking out for the little guy by allowing huge, rich companies whose money-making activities are understood by some tiny fraction of even professional investors, to advertise their products directly to the little guy. “Now, you too can get in on our fool-proof credit insurance derivatives arbitrage fund!”
The internet is neat. Right now, at this moment, via a couple links on this blog, you can tune into two very different and yet convergent sets of arguments for why, if you are going to be a Christian, the only reasonable kind of Christian to be is Catholic. Emphasis on “reasonable”, which, for a God who says He is the Logos, is no small thing.
John C Wright, an atheist to Catholic convert, takes up the reasons he went straight to Rome when he was miraculously converted to Christ. He is as coolly logical as they come, and applies logic and philosophy to tease out the truth.
Renee Lin, an Evangelical Protestant to Catholic convert, goes after Protestantism’s soft underbelly of unspoken assumptions and ahistorical fairy tales over on her blog Forge the Roads. In a nice way, of course. She uses a staggering amount of research to expose the inconsistencies and howlers lurking in both popular and more scholarly Protestant apologetics.
Is this what the New Evangelization looks like? Cool.