Sunday, January 25, 2009

Jaki’s Theses

Thomas E. Woods, Jr., in How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, talks about Stanley Jaki’s “theses” (Science and Creation); that in all the great cultures (Arabic, Babylonian, Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Hindu, and Maya) “science suffered a stillbirth” due to a “burden of conceptual frameworks”, and that it was only in a Christian culture that science could, as indeed it did, flourish. Just as the secularist can witness evolution clashing with “conceptual frameworks” of many Christians, and the consequent numbing of the will when it concerns the specific desire for its development in such circles, so can we identify the sudden general halt which the technological advances in each of the aforementioned cultures met as the result of a similar clash; a clash of the scientific will with accepted metaphysical assumptions of a culture.

Galileo’s case, which is often used against Christianity, is actually instructive here. The Church’s opposition was not erected against Galileo’s theory, but against his general treatment of theory as fact. He suspected he was right, but he did not, yet, have the evidence to affirm it as fact. The Church, in this instance, was defending common sense and reason -- though I’m certainly not arguing that the way they defended it was proper. I say this case is instructive because Galileo had an intuition, a feeling, which he sought to explore; in scientific terms, he had a hypothesis, which he sought to verify; in theological terms he had faith seeking understanding. Whichever way you wish to term it, the scientific will precedes the intellect; once scientific presumptions become more intellectually explicit, once they catch up to the accepted metaphysical assumptions -- be they explicit or still implicit – we will find either a “numbing of the scientific will”, or, as in the case of Christian culture, a nurtured one.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Christianity in Light of Some General Misunderstandings

1. Christianity is existential, it appeals to our will, and is thus anchored to human nature; it is not a test to which we have to give the right answer if we just happened to be lucky enough to find it.

"[Christianity]... is addressed only to penitents, only to those who admit their disobedience to the known moral law… [i]t offers forgiveness for having broken, and supernatural help towards keeping, that law." --Lewis

When someone says that they cannot believe in Christianity they often seem to presuppose that Christianity is primarily an assent to propositions put before the intellect, so that the Virgin Birth, the Trinity, the Incarnation and the like (which in themselves cannot be understood by our intellect) almost axiomatically lack any compelling force and appeal whatsoever in terms of moving one to make the choice to believe. This lack of appeal is to be expected given this understanding, for clearly a bunch of static propositions which are inherently beyond comprehension, detached from the only motive to which Christianity finds them directly related, is going to be less than even mildly appealing. Christianity, however, begins by relating not to a detached intellect, but to an ailing will. It offers medicine to the will, so that the will must begin to partake in order to heal and find itself healing.

Aldous Huxley, himself not a Christian, once wrote, "In traditional Christianity…it was axiomatic that contemplation is the end and purpose of action." Now, by "contemplation" is meant the last stage of faith, union with God even here on Earth, a union so potentially close that, as Brother Lawrence noted, "faith becomes so penetrating… it could almost say, "I no longer believe; I see and I experience." This is the happiness which our ailing wills seek, the goal or purpose for which rational beings are made; the lack of this happiness is the symptom of our need for a savior. Jesus Christ claimed to be the shape of our need, the bridge to happiness, the Savior of man. Therefore faith does not begin in empty intellectual propositions, but is personal trust stemming from a very real human need; a need which is the rock bottom condition of man when all his false objects of happiness are stripped away: a need to which the voice of history answers by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, crucified under Pontius Pilate. That leads me to the second point I'd like to make.

2. God is not just another thing or object, but is both the source and goal of all things and objects.

Any "thing" is a limitation of existence; Joseph Conti, quoting W.N. Clarke, tells us to think about the fact of existence that it exists in different ways; existence can be horsey, or evergreeny, or elmy, or sparrowy, or… you name it. The way things exist is called their “essence.” So things exist in different ways, they are limited existences, or existence limited. We know that a horse is not a bird, and that neither are human beings; we know that existence is limited, here, to a horse essence, a bird essence, and a human essence. But is there something that is pure existence without limitation? In other words, is there a being whose essence is existence? Well, taking what we know is common to each and every thing, namely, existence, we can investigate its properties and come to the grandest, most noble conclusion of human reason: God, the being whose essence is existence, exists! Or, as was revealed to Moses, I AM WHO AM (the being whose essence is existence), actually is. But more than a conclusion of reason, more than, as Huxley said, being "content to know about the unmoving mover from the outside and theoretically," the goal and purpose of life is to come to know God "directly", unitively".

3. God is the objective ground of goodness and worth, which our ideas reflect and thus give to our minds that relation called truth.

"God, to be God, must transcend what is. He must be the maker of what ought to be." - Rufus M. Jones

Given number two, that we are, so to speak, invariably attracted to God, that he is what our will strives for as the object of happiness, as THE end in itself for all human beings -- and all creation --, it's quite easy to see that by the phrase "maker of what ought to be," Jones means the cause or reason (in the sense of final cause) for the path, which includes the intertwining paths of all other human beings, which we ought to take in order to achieve our end. This means, to put it bluntly, that because there is a goal which we seek strictly for itself, and since the path to this goal implicitly involves doing what we can to help others reach it as well, therefore we're able to combine a prescriptive statement (we necessarily seek happiness) with a descriptive statement ((God as the object of happiness) IS) to conclude that we ought to seek God by loving Him, and by loving our neighbors as ourselves (i.e., your perception of your loved ones' infinite worth is not just a projection of your own fantasy, it is a perception which everyone ought to respect -- it is real!). The Christian claim closes the deal, insisting that only Jesus, who is this goal Incarnated in human flesh, can help us achieve such a love.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Hey Bill Maher, St Augustine On The Trinity...

“For I remember that I have memory and understanding, and will; and I understand that I understand, and will, and remember; and I will that I will, and remember, and understand; and I remember together my whole memory, and understanding, and will… And, therefore, while all are mutually comprehended by each, and as wholes, each as a whole is equal to each as a whole, and each as a whole at the same time to all as wholes; and these three are one, one life, one mind, one essence.”