Monday, June 29, 2009

What?

What does a horse eat like, then?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Circus fire!

Did you hear about the huge circus fire on Long Island?

It was in tents!

It was so intense, in fact, that it killed 20 clowns.

They were all taken to the hospital in one ambulance.

Alas, however, hours later they succumbed to mortality. They were all buried in the same coffin later that week.

Not a laughing matter, even by their own standards.

The whole story was so appalling, it got my friend, Harry, thinking like never before about his own mortality. As a result, he's finally decided to stop stalling and pursue his dream a reality: selling fake toupees.

If it's real, it can be measured…

Where does a point exist? How large is a point? What are the material components and dimensions of a point? Does it exist at any place in empirical spacetime? If not, is it therefore meaningless and non-existent?

Where does the existential copula (est, είναι, что, is, ist, es, c'est, 是, etc.) exist? How large is the copula of being? What are the material components and dimensions of the copula? Does it exist at any place in empirical spacetime? If not, is it therefore meaningless and non-existent?

Is it a condition imposed on an infinite line that it be unbounded, or is it simply intrinsic to the meaning of an infinite line? Can we measure an infinite line? If not, is it therefore meaningless and non-existent?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Uncomprehended logic?

Even if the laws of logic are intrinsic principles of being, which Aristhomism asserts they are, logical concepts still require an intelligence adequate to them in order to exist as intelligible principles. Even if all existence were reduced to a plain white orb of iron, which we shall call Alf, and though Alf would obey such logical principles as identity (e.g., Alf is Alf), non-contradiction (e.g., Alf is not non-Alf), transitivity (e.g., if 'Alf' is Alf, then Alf is 'Alf'), etc., yet unless Alf itself could grasp the logic of its own ontic principles, the Alf-cosmos would lack logic as an intelligible order of being. There is no point in trying to account for being, since being by necessity exists. There is, however, a great need to account for how being can be grasped. Unless intelligence is as intrinsic to existence as intelligibility, then intelligibility is not actually intelligible.

By rough analogy, if there were never any objects capable of perception or sensation, it would be meaningless to say the world contained perceptible and sensible objects, since those latter objects are intrinsically perceptible-sensible only in the act of being perceived and sensed. Likewise, if there were never any intellect capable of intelligibly grasping logical concepts, it would be meaningless to speak of intelligible objects. Intelligible to whom? Intelligible in what terms? Intelligible where, on virtual leaf loose paper inscribed in quarks? Dreams without dreamers? Visions without seers? Alternatively we can imagine a world devoid of all concepts for measurement (e.g., inches, numbers, relative grades, spatial demarcations, etc.), and thus see the incoherence of positing measurable objects. Measurable objects presuppose adequate measuring devices; sensible objects presuppose sentient beings; intelligible order presupposes intelligence.

The modal suffixes (i.e., -ible and -able) point to the potentiality (potentia) of perceptibility, measurability, and intelligibility; it is only in connection with active (agens) perception, measurement, and intellection that such potencies become actual in existence. The more intrinsic such potencies are in the order of being, the more intrinsic their requisite acts-of-being are in being. Intelligibility is more intrinsic and universal in being than measurability, but measurability is more intrinsic and universal in being than sensibility. Therefore, the act of intelligence is most intrinsic and universal in being, measurement less so, and perception still less inclusive and less penetrative. This order of active ontic appropriation makes sense of the ability of theology and metaphysics to outstrip the reach of empirico-theoretical science, as well the ability of exact theoretical science to outstrip the reach of human sentience.

Logic is only logical when grasped by a mind capable of conformity with the principles of logic. I can show a pet rock sheet after sheet of Venn diagrams, but the rock, lacking intelligence, will of necessity never be suffused with logic qua conceptual truth. It will, like Alf, obey the laws of logic in itself, but it is only because we, in the course of imagining Alf and the pet rock, already grasp the intelligibility of logic that we can superimpose logical categories on the pet rock's (unwitting) ontological intelligibility. Logical truths, qua the principles of being, possess a dual modality: one mode of intelligible being is ontic (viz., identity, non-contradiction, transitivity, etc.), the other mode is conceptual. Only if logic is manifest both in the structure of being and to the intellect as it participates in being, can we say that logic is fully itself, in both modes of its ontic universality and conceptual comprehensibility.

If existence is intrinsically intelligible, it is intrinsically grasped by intellect. Moreover, if existence is eternally intelligible, then existence is eternally intellectual. If, however, nature's intelligibility is a mere fluke of later historical emergence, which we then impose upon nature without nature itself already possessing logical intelligibility, then rational discourse, science, philosophy, and language are sheer constructivist illusions. If the universe depends on our minds for its logical ordering, then its logical order is contingent, in which case logic itself is contingent on non-logical principles. If, however, existence has, at all times, been in accord with logical principles, then intellect has existed just as long to grasp those principles as logical. The intrinsic logic of being is coterminous with existence only insofar as existence is coterminous with intrinsic intelligence. Because we discover the logic of being, we of necessity admit its preexistence as actively intelligible. This is hardly pure idealism, since implicit in the recognition of intelligible order is the fact that logical order exists in actual being. Hence, intelligibility requires intellect without, however, sacrificing actual being to sheer virtuality. In God alone do the eternal principles of logic and the inexhaustible actuality of being coincide as one pure act of intelligible being. In knowing Himself in His Logos, God knows all things in His Logos; in the Λόγος του θεοῦ (Logos tou Theou), all things are intelligible as proper objects of intelligence. We participate in the intelligibility of logic in the same way we participate in the music of Mozart: we discover it and then properly defer to it as the expression of a greater mind suffused with that beauty. On that final Day, we will see God as He is in Himself, according, that is, to our mode of vision in the order of grace; and then will know all things, including ourselves, in His light, in «l'amor che move il sole e l'altre stelle» ("the Love … That moves the sun in heav'n and all the stars", Paradiso, Canto 33).

Lesser men…

Lesser men would have cracked under the strain.

Greater men would never have gotten into the mess in the first place.

But maybe a good man can get out of it, without cracking, and emerge a better man.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wisdom from…

THOMAS DE VILLANOVA (1486–1555): The glory of the Virgin was all within

For a long time I have wondered and been at a loss to understand why the evangelists should have spoken at such length about John the Baptist and the apostles, and yet told us so little about the Virgin Mary, who in life and distinction excels them all. Being at a loss, as I say, to understand this, all I can think is that it pleased the Holy Spirit that it should be so. It was by the providence of the Holy Spirit that the evangelists kept silent, because the glory of the Virgin, as we read in the psalms, was all within, and could more truly be thought of than described. The most important fact of her life, that Jesus was born of her, is enough to tell her whole story. What more do you want to know? What further inquiry would you make concerning the Virgin? It is enough for you that she is the Mother of God. What beauty, I ask you, what virtue, what perfection, what grace, what glory does not befit the Mother of God?
(Birth of Mary, Sermon 2, 7-9: Opera Omnia IV, 298-300.)

Thomas, an Augustinian friar and archbishop of Valencia, became known as the Beggar Bishop and father of the poor for his devotion to the poor. His many sermons had an influence on Spanish spiritual literature.

ST. AUGUSTINE: Mary and the Church

Mary is holy; she is blessed. Yet the Church is better than the Virgin Mary. Why? Because Mary is a part of the Church, a holy member, an excellent member, of the Body. If Mary is a part of the whole Body, it is clear that the Body is greater than its mother.
-- Sermon 72A, 7

Prayer. Let our beautiful God, the Word with God, come to us that we may gaze upon him with the eyes of our minds. He was beautiful in the womb of the Virgin where, in taking on our humanity, he nonetheless did not lose his divinity.
-- Commentary on Psalm 44, 3

ST. THOMAS D'AQUINO: THAT THERE IS NO MATTER IN GOD [Quod in Deo non est materia]

[1] From this [i.e., that there is no passive potency in God, Quod in Deo non est potentia passiva] it is likewise evident that God is not matter [Deum non esse materiam].

[2] Whatever matter is, it is in potency [Quia materia id quod est, in potentia est].

[3] Matter, furthermore, is not a principle of acting [Item. Materia non est agendi principium]. That is why, according to Aristotle, the efficient cause and matter do not coincide [Physics II, 7]. But, as we have said, it belongs to God to be the first efficient cause of things. Therefore, He is not matter.

Aristotle's distinction between efficient causes and the matter upon which they act can be seen this way: since every change matter undergoes must be caused by something, the cause for its alteration cannot be in the matter itself, otherwise one and the same matter would both retain and alter its exact proportions. Hence, only if an efficient cause is distinct from matter can the matter retain its exact characteristics and yet still undergo changes. Matter is that which undergoes change, and therefore it is passive with respect to efficient causes, and indeterminate with respect to formal causes. Matter becomes determinate ("specific") by being informed and, by the same token, becomes active by means of efficient causes, which are themselves ordered toward some end.

[4] Moreover, for those who reduced all things to matter as to the first cause it follows that natural things exist by chance. Aristotle argues against these thinkers in Physics II [8]. Hence, if God, Who is the first cause, is the material cause of things, it follows that all things exist by chance.

The reason a purely material world can only give "chance" explanations for natural phenomena, is that matter [hyle] intrinsically lacks its own determining principles, otherwise efficient and formal causes would be unable to "revoke" matter's principles and produce material variability. Since matter per se lacks intrinsic formal and efficient principles, it is "open" the so to speak mutable determinateness which efficient and formal causes bring to bear upon it. As such, if everything were matter, there would be no intrinsic principles for why each thing is what it is. We could only cite "chance," or, in other words, sheer ignorance. Chance is a code word for ignorance, not a meaningful explanation.

[5] Again, matter does not become the cause of something actual except by being altered and changed [Item. Materia non fit causa alicuius in actu nisi secundum quod alteratur et mutatur]. But if, as we have proved, God is absolutely immobile, He cannot in any way be the cause of things according to the mode of matter.

[6] Now, the Catholic faith professes this truth, namely, it asserts that God has created all things, not out of His own substance, but out of nothing [qua Deum non de sua substantia, sed de nihilo asserit cuncta creasse].

[7] On this point, however, the madness of David of Dinant stands confounded. He dared to assert that God is the same as prime matter on the ground that, if He were not, He would have to differ from it by some differences, and thus they would not be simple. For in the being that differs from another by a difference, the difference itself produces a composition. David’s position was the result of ignorance. He did not know how to distinguish between difference and diversity […qua nescivit quid inter differentiam et diversitatem intersit]. The different, as is determined in Metaphysics X [3], is said relationally [ad aliquid], for every different is different by something [omne differens aliquo est differens]. Something is called diverse, however, absolutely, from the fact that it is not the same [diversum autem aliquid absolute dicitur, ex hoc quod non est idem]. Difference, therefore, must be sought among those things that agree in something, for we must point to something in them according to which they differ: for example, two species agree in genus and must therefore be distinguished by differences. But in things that agree in nothing we need not seek the whereby they differ; they are diverse by themselves [In his autem quae in nullo conveniunt, non est quaerendum quo differant, sed seipsis diversa sunt]. In the same way, opposite differences are distinguished from one another [Sic enim et oppositae differentiae ab invicem distinguuntur]. For they do not share in the genus as a part of their essence, and therefore, since they are by themselves diverse, there is no need to seek that by which they differ [et ideo non est quaerendum quibus differant, seipsis enim diversa sunt]. In this way, too, God and prime matter are distinguished: one is pure act, the other is pure potency, and they agree in nothing [Sic etiam Deus et materia prima distinguuntur, quorum unus est actus purus, aliud potentia pura, in nullo convenientiam habentes].
(SCG, I, xvii)

ST. FRANCIS DE SALES:

My God! When will we receive the grace to have the holy virgin come and be born in our hearts? For my part I see that I am unworthy of this favor, and certainly you think the same about yourselves. But was not the Divine Son born in a stable? Courage, therefore! Let us prepare a place for Mary. She loves humble places of stark simplicity, yet spacious in charity. She is very happy to stay close to a stable and at the foot of the cross; she was not worried about having to go into exile in Egypt, far from every comfort, so long as she had her Child with her.
(Letters 308; O. XIII, p. 91)

G. K. CHESTERTON:

A PHILOSOPHER cannot talk about any single thing, down to a pumpkin, without showing whether he is wise or foolish; but he can easily talk about everything without anyone having any views about him, beyond gloomy suspicions.
('G. F. Watts.')

9/8

Sunday, June 21, 2009

NOTES: Be Filled with the Fullness of God by George A. Maloney, SJ

p. 10: The Trinity is primal grace as the self-giving of each unique person of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to us in the uncreated energies that bombard, penetrate, surround us at every moment in and through every creature. … Creation is not finished.

p. 12: Only by love can we penetrate the mystery of God as the ground of our being and the mystery of our own uniqueness…. The first loving touch of another human being is the beginning of our discovery of God, who is love (1 Jn 4:8), and points us to the center of ourselves where God lives as a community of self-emptying love.

p. 18: The dark side of God's no-thingness turns to light as God wishes to find himself in self-giving to his Word.

p. 19: Gabriel Marcel, "The I is the child of the We." n. 5

pp. 20–21: God-Trinity is truly an I-thou-we community. …all reality is already contained within the circle that has no circumference.

p. 24: [The Father] utters his Word in love, the Spirit, [and the Word] turns back to his source and the Father hears his Word come back to him in a perfect, eternal yes of total surrendering love, that is again the Holy Spirit.

p. 28: The Godhead knows itself in its Logos….

p. 30: Athanasius, De Incarnatione Verbum Dei, 54: "God became man that man might become God-like [Αυτός γαρ ενηνθρώπησεν, ίνα ημείς θεοποιηθώμεν]."

p. 34: Creation would be brought to its completion in becoming the loving community of the body of Christ, the Church….

p. 35: …the whole cosmos us an immense symbol of the trinity's revelation to us. … It is the Spirit who harmonizes chaos into a loving unity.

p. 39: It would be an imperfection between the Father and the Son if their love did not want to be shared with another. But to share this mutual love, there is need of a condilectum, one that is loved equally as the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father. This is the Holy Spirit.

Cf. Richard of St. Victor, De Trinitate bk. 3, chap. 19 (PL 196.915B-930D) and n. 6:

Strictly speaking, there is shared love when two person love a third in a harmony of affections and a community of love they have for the third…. From this, then, it is evident that shared love would not have a place in the divinity if there were only two persons and not a third.

p. 40: In this continued, unchanging "action", the Spirit finds his whole personhood, his unique self…. Speaking the Word in eternal silence through his out-pouring love that is his Holy Spirit, the heavenly Father hears his Son-Word come back to him in a perfect, eternal yes of total, surrendering love, that is again the Holy Spirit.

p. 42: The true nature of love is not to have a "face", but to be experienced in the kenotic or self-emptying between two persons.

p. 56: It is the Father who is imaged to each of us in the torn, mangled body of Jesus….

[Jesus is WHAT the Father says to us; the Holy Spirit is HOW He says it to us.]

p. 61: Basil, "Man is the creature who received the order to become God by grace." n. 1

p. 62: Maximus the Confessor wrote that human beings by divinization have all that God has by nature, but without identification of nature. n. 7

Cf. PG 91.1308B, choris tes kai ousian tautoteta

p. 66: …we do not have access to the Father except only in the Son and we have access to the Son only by the Holy Spirit. n. 11 Thus the epiklesis is necessary.

p. 75: Do you understand the dignity to which you were called?

p. 76: Maximus Confessor, "The Word of God, born once in the flesh…, is always willing to be born spiritually in those who desire him. In them he is born as an infant as he fashions himself in them by means of their virtues. He reveals himself to the extent that he knows someone is capable of receiving him." n. 7

p. 77: The only destiny God ever had conceived for all of us human beings is our transformation into the image and likeness of the only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

p. 81: Christ is the center of the world and yet resides at your center as in his temple. … To be a Christian is to become ever more aware that Christ lives in us. … we must struggle to dissipate such darkness. Sin in any form is the absence of the life of Christ in our lives.

p. 82: Often the Christian mystics… used the symbol of seeing Christ within themselves as light, illuminating their minds as to what was the will of God in the given moment.

p. 83: Symeon the New Theologian, "man indeed becomes truly like a woman carrying a child." n. 10

Cf. Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill, chapter 1:

"Individually, men may present a more or less rational appearance, eating, sleeping, and scheming. But humanity as a whole is changeful, mystical, fickle, delightful. Men are men, but Man is a woman."

p. 84: St. Isaac of Nineveh, "Your heart is aflame, burns like fire day and night; and so the whole world seems like dust and dung…." n. 11

p. 86: We reach our true identity to the degree that we live in Christ…. We know the abiding power of Christ loving within us by the love we show others.

p. 92: The Spirit is moving lovingly throughout the material world to draw God's embryonic creation in the definitive unity… the body of Christ. … [Athanasius expresses] optimism in a world moving toward an ordered beauty [thus:] "…the Wisdom of God, holding the universe like a lyre, adapting things heavenly to things earthly,… harmonizes them all…, makes one world and one world-order in beauty and harmony." n. 1

p. 93: God the Father utters his creative Word by calling his Spirit down upon the cosmos in a continuous cosmic epiclesis … to divinize matter into spirit.

p. 95: …he would have remained a muted Word in the silence of Calvary if in his "glorification" he would not have sent his Holy Spirit….

p. 96: 1 Cor 3:16, ecclesial not merely individual, n. 2

p. 103: …prayer becomes more an action of yielding to the indwelling Spirit so as to enter into the very movement of triadic life that is present and dynamically exercising its life from within. …let go in the darkness of our inner poverty to be guided by the [p. 104] "luminous-dark" presence of the indwelling Trinity.

p. 110: …what the indwelling Spirit within us reveal is that our proper dignity as children of God consists in our functioning within the body of Christ out of love to serve the whole community.

p. 113: [The Spirit's] unifying force is felt in all technological and medical advances brought about by human beings co-operating with the uncreated energies of God. … [He is also active] in the lives of a man and woman deeply in love who experience this divine, unifying force of love in their conjugal union as they leave selfish eros to find their own beings and to expand by giving without reserve to the other to bring forth in that overflowing energy of life a new life, made to the image and likeness of God himself.

p. 117: The truly charismatic Christian… is a mystic who has been transformed into a living incarnation of God's love for mankind.

p. 120: The eucharist is the centre of all other presences of God toward us. In the eucharist, we touch the basis of all reality, the Holy Trinity….

Cf. Cyril of Alexandria, "Fundamentally the eucharist is a victory…." CITATION?**

p. 123: Gregor of Nyssa, n.3, like bread leavened, the eater becomes the divine nourishment

p. 125: John Chrysostom, "…not merely to look upon him, but even to touch him and to consume him and to fix their teeth in his Flesh and to commingled with him…." n. 4

Recall St. Augustine's words in Confessions X, 27:

Too late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new, too late have I loved you. You have called to me, and have cried out, and have shattered my deafness. You have blazed forth with light and have put my blindness to flight! You have sent forth fragrance, and I have drawn in my breath, and I pant after you. I have tasted you, and I hunger and thirst after you. You have touched me, and I have burned for your peace.

p. 128: Cyril of Alexandria, "…one by conformity in godliness… and this is a real, physical union." n. 6

p. 130: Hilary of Poitiers, "Christ is in us by his flesh and we are in him, while all that we are is with him in God." n. 8

p. 136: …we become Church when we share the caring love of Jesus for each suffering person we meet.

p. 137: The eucharist is not fully received unless it is lived.

p. 140: …the Church… is to be the resurrected body of God's creation, evolving through history and brought to its completion with our co-operation.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

NOTES: The Divine Romance by Fulton J. Sheen

[Sheen, Fulton J. The Divine Romance. (Staten Island, NY, Bandra, Mumbia, India: St. Pauls, 1982, 1996)]

p. 12: Suicide is not so much the desire tat one wants to be annihilated, but rather that one wants to be at ease, which is just another way of saying one wants to have a different life.

p. 12–13: …it is only before strangers that we must speak. Then the love of spouse for spouse is sealed in the bonds of matrimony, and when monotony threatens its sanctity, then there comes a child which makes an earthly Trinity.

p. 13: Successes of life are soon exhausted. Reputations wane and are forgotten .Schemes have their hour and come naught. The science of one age is superseded by that of another. The taste of one age is unintelligible to the next. Poets become silent. Each tick of the clock brings us closer to the tomb; "our hearts are but muffled drums beating a funeral march to the grave." "From hour to hour we ripe and ripe; from hour to hour we rot and rot." Life may be a great torrent outpoured from the inexhaustible chalice of eternity, but we are permitted but a few drops of it in the cup of our own life.

p. 14–15: Where find the author of existence and truth and love that vibrates thoroughout all creation? … They are things that are reasonable and, therefore, must have been intelligently produced. … I must go out to a Life that is not mingled with the shadow, death; I must go out to a Truth which is not mingled with the shadow, error; and I must go out to a Love which is not mingled with the shadow, hate.

p. 17: Since He gave us Truth, are we not in duty bound to know Him? Since He gave us Love, should we not love Him in return? Since He gave us Life, should we not serve Him? If we admit the triple bond, then we admit religion, or commerce between God and man, and such is the first lesson of the penny catechism: "Why did God make us?" "God made us to know Him, to love Him, to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him forever in heaven."

p. 28–29: Love is not only in the Father. Love is not only in the Son. There is something between them, as it were. … They give themselves in a love so infinite that, like the truth which expresses itself only in the giving of a whole personality, their love can express itself in nothing less than a Person, who is Love… [expressed in a way] which indicates the the very exhaustion of our giving: namely, a sigh, or a breath….

Cf. Richard of St. Victor, De Trinitate, bk. 3, chap. 19 (PL 196.915B-930D):

Strictly speaking, there is shared love when two person love a third in a harmony of affections and a community of love they have for the third…. From this, then, it is evident that shared love would not have a place in the divinity if there were only two persons and not a third.

As cited in George Maloney, SJ, Be Filled with the Fullness of God (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1993), p. 38.

p. 30: Just as I am, I know, and I love, and yet I am one; as the three angles of a triangle do not make three triangles but one….

p. 31: Heaven is a place where we find the fullness of all the fine things we enoy on this earth.

p. 35: The rose is good, and tells its secret in perfume. The sun is good, and tells its secret in light and heat. Man is good, and tells the secret of his goodness in the language of thought. … God could not keep, as it were, the secret of His love, and the telling of it was creation.

p. 36: This is not absolutely the best world that God could have made. But it is the best world for the purpose that He had in mind in making it. … God willed to make a moral universe, and the only condition upon which morality is possible is freedom.

Cf. Fulton J. Sheen, The Life of All Living, p. 23:

The simple words "Thank you" will always stand out as a refutation of determinism, for they imply that something which was done could possibly have been left undone.

p. 38: The only way to try love is in a trial which forces one to declare it. … A double condition was laid upon [Adam and Eve] to test their love. The first part of the condition was obscure; it gave them an opportunity to admit that the added knowledge was a gift of God. The second part was reserved; it allowed them to admit that the added power of the will was a gift of God. … God did not say why they should not––and that was the obscure point on which their intelligence was tried. Man should believe God on this point as on all others. God did say they must abstain from the fruits of that tree. That was the reserved point which was the trial of their will.

p. 40: …what is primary is the respect due to God, the fruit of the tree being the symbol of that respect. …the famous tree in which God summarized all the knowledge of good and evil was a symbol, a moral limit which God imposed on the sovereignty of man to prove his obedience and his love.

p. 41: …man lost nothing which was due to him or to his nature. … He was reduced [by sin] to a state in which God might possibly have created him, with the difference that the loss of the gifts weakened his intellect and will, but did not make his nature intrinsically corrupt.

p. 42: …original sin alone can explain the almost contradictory character of human nature which makes a man aspire to higher things and at the same time succumb to the baser. … By its nature, the evidence of Eden is not something we can find. Ny its nature the evidence of sin is something one cannot help finding. As a matter of personal experience something has happened––we are not what we ought to be.

p. 47: …an offence, an injury, or a sin is always to be measured by the one sinned against.

p. 48: …one can never be merciful unless he is just. Mercy is the overflow of justice. … while injury is in the one injured, honour or reputation is in the one honouring.

p. 49: …in order that the finite and the infinite should not be acting as two distinct personalities, and in order that infinite merit should result from man's suffering, God and man in some way would have to become one.

p. 50: …we attribute the actions of various natures [e.g., a pencil and a human hand whilst writing] to a person and the one thing that characterizes the person is not action, not nature, not direction, but responsibility. That is why I do not say my stomach is hungry, but I am hungry; not my eyes see, bu I see. Actions belong to the person.

Now let the pencil represent poor human nature, of itself unable to pay an infinite debt to God. Imagine now a divine person with a divine nature coming down to that human nature, taking it up and becoming united with it in a far more perfect way than my hand is united with the pencil. If such an act of condescension should ever happen, the action of the human nature and the action of the divine nature would be attributed to either alone, as the action of the pencil would not be attributed to the nature of the pencil or to the nature of the hand alone; it would be attributed to the person.

p. 50: Love tends to become like the one loved….

p. 51: The shepherds found their Shepherd, and the wise men found discovered their Wisdom. … And from that day to this there have been only two classes of people who have heard the cry of Christ and who have found Christ: the very simple and the very learned. … In order to enter the cave, one must stoop….

pp. 53–54: …the superfluity of love. Love which is real loves even to the point of sacrifice, in fact loves even to the end which is the giving of one's own life. … And if you were the only person in the world who ever lived, He would have come down and suffered and died just for you alone. That is how much God loves you. … The fall came through three realities: first, a disobedient man, Adam; second, a proud woman, Eve; third, a tree. The reconciliation and redemption of man came through the same three. For the disobedient man, Adam, was the obedient new Adam of the human race, Christ; for the proud Eve, there was the humble Mary; and for the tree, the cross. … Humanism is impossible because it is too academic; love of humanity is impossible because there is no such thing as humanity……there are only me and women; the religion of progress is impossible because progress means nothing unless we know whither we are progressing.

Cf. G. K. Chesterton, Heretics, chapter 2:

It is as if a man were asked, "What is the use of a hammer?" and answered, "To make hammers"; and when asked, "And of those hammers, what is the use?" answered, "To make hammers again." Just as such a man would be perpetually putting off the question of the ultimate use of carpentry, so Mr. Wells and all the rest of us are by these phrases successfully putting off the question of the ultimate value of the human life.

p. 62: The Church is Christ and Christ is the Church––such is the divine equation.

p. 63: …He lives today His mystical life in a new body taken from humanity but likewise overshadowed with the Pentecostal Spirit, which we call the Church.

p. 64: Just as His own physical body had a visible head, so, too, His mystical body has a visible head. …the truth which communicated to the body through its visible head, the Vicar of Christ, is not a spiritual truth distinct from the truth existing in the invisible head of the Church, which is Christ Himself, any more than the spiritual truth of the teacher became another truth when articulated. …the truth will be necessarily infallible, or free from error, for it is essentially the truth of Christ….

p. 65: Each sacrament is a kiss of God….

p. 66: The Gospel therefore is being relived by the presence of Christ in His new body, which is the Church.

p. 67: [When I hear the Church criticized] for being too undogmatic… too dogmatic … too worldly and unpatriotic… too unworldly and refusing to compromise… I recall that they are contradictory charges and that the only fitting punishment for one condemned on contradictory charges is the sign of contradiction: the cross on which one bar is at variance and in contradiction with the other.

Cf. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, chapter 6:

For not only (as I understood) had Christianity the most flaming vices, but it had apparently a mystical talent for combining vices which seemed inconsistent with each other. It was attacked on all sides and for all contradictory reasons. No sooner had one rationalist demonstrated that it was too far to the east than another demonstrated with equal clearness that it was much too far to the west. No sooner had my indignation died down at its angular and aggressive squareness than I was called up again to notice and condemn its enervating and sensual roundness. …

Thus, for instance, I was much moved by the eloquent attack on Christianity as a thing of inhuman gloom; for I thought (and still think) sincere pessimism the unpardonable sin. Insincere pessimism is a social accomplishment, rather agreeable than otherwise; and fortunately nearly all pessimism is insincere. But if Christianity was, as these people said, a thing purely pessimistic and opposed to life, then I was quite prepared to blow up St. Paul's Cathedral. But the extraordinary thing is this. They did prove to me in Chapter I. (to my complete satisfaction) that Christianity was too pessimistic; and then, in Chapter II., they began to prove to me that it was a great deal too optimistic. One accusation against Christianity was that it prevented men, by morbid tears and terrors, from seeking joy and liberty in the bosom of Nature. But another accusation was that it comforted men with a fictitious providence, and put them in a pink-and-white nursery. One great agnostic asked why Nature was not beautiful enough, and why it was hard to be free. Another great agnostic objected that Christian optimism, "the garment of make-believe woven by pious hands," hid from us the fact that Nature was ugly, and that it was impossible to be free. One rationalist had hardly done calling Christianity a nightmare before another began to call it a fool's paradise. This puzzled me; the charges seemed inconsistent. Christianity could not at once be the black mask on a white world, and also the white mask on a black world. The state of the Christian could not be at once so comfortable that he was a coward to cling to it, and so uncomfortable that he was a fool to stand it. If it falsified human vision it must falsify it one way or another; it could not wear both green and rose-coloured spectacles. …

It must be understood that I did not conclude hastily that the accusations were false or the accusers fools. I simply deduced that Christianity must be something even weirder and wickeder than they made out. A thing might have these two opposite vices; but it must be a rather queer thing if it did. A man might be too fat in one place and too thin in another; but he would be an odd shape. At this point my thoughts were only of the odd shape of the Christian religion; I did not allege any odd shape in the rationalistic mind.

… I turned the next page in my agnostic manual, and my brain turned up-side down. Now I found that I was to hate Christianity not for fighting too little, but for fighting too much. Christianity, it seemed, was the mother of wars. Christianity had deluged the world with blood. I had got thoroughly angry with the Christian, because he never was angry. And now I was told to be angry with him because his anger had been the most huge and horrible thing in human history; because his anger had soaked the earth and smoked to the sun. The very people who reproached Christianity with the meekness and non-resistance of the monasteries were the very people who reproached it also with the violence and valour of the Crusades. It was the fault of poor old Christianity (somehow or other) both that Edward the Confessor did not fight and that Richard Coeur de Leon did. The Quakers (we were told) were the only characteristic Christians; and yet the massacres of Cromwell and Alva were characteristic Christian crimes. What could it all mean? What was this Christianity which always forbade war and always produced wars? What could be the nature of the thing which one could abuse first because it would not fight, and second because it was always fighting? In what world of riddles was born this monstrous murder and this monstrous meekness? The shape of Christianity grew a queerer shape every instant.

… The one real objection to the Christian religion is simply that it is one religion. The world is a big place, full of very different kinds of people. Christianity (it may reasonably be said) is one thing confined to one kind of people; it began in Palestine, it has practically stopped with Europe. I was duly impressed with this argument in my youth, and … I was thoroughly annoyed with Christianity for suggesting (as I supposed) that whole ages and empires of men had utterly escaped this light of justice and reason. But then I found an astonishing thing. I found that the very people who said that mankind was one church from Plato to Emerson were the very people who said that morality had changed altogether, and that what was right in one age was wrong in another. If I asked, say, for an altar, I was told that we needed none, for men our brothers gave us clear oracles and one creed in their universal customs and ideals. But if I mildly pointed out that one of men's universal customs was to have an altar, then my agnostic teachers turned clean round and told me that men had always been in darkness and the superstitions of savages. I found it was their daily taunt against Christianity that it was the light of one people and had left all others to die in the dark. But I also found that it was their special boast for themselves that science and progress were the discovery of one people, and that all other peoples had died in the dark. Their chief insult to Christianity was actually their chief compliment to themselves, and there seemed to be a strange unfairness about all their relative insistence on the two things. …

This began to be alarming. It looked not so much as if Christianity was bad enough to include any vices, but rather as if any stick was good enough to beat Christianity with. What again could this astonishing thing be like which people were so anxious to contradict, that in doing so they did not mind contradicting themselves? I saw the same thing on every side. …

I wished to be quite fair then, and I wish to be quite fair now; and I did not conclude that the attack on Christianity was all wrong. I only concluded that if Christianity was wrong, it was very wrong indeed. Such hostile horrors might be combined in one thing, but that thing must be very strange and solitary. … But if this mass of mad contradictions really existed, quakerish and bloodthirsty, too gorgeous and too thread-bare, austere, yet pandering preposterously to the lust of the eye, the enemy of women and their foolish refuge, a solemn pessimist and a silly optimist, if this evil existed, then there was in this evil something quite supreme and unique. For I found in my rationalist teachers no explanation of such exceptional corruption. Christianity (theoretically speaking) was in their eyes only one of the ordinary myths and errors of mortals. They gave me no key to this twisted and unnatural badness. Such a paradox of evil rose to the stature of the supernatural. It was, indeed, almost as supernatural as the infallibility of the Pope. An historic institution, which never went right, is really quite as much of a miracle as an institution that cannot go wrong. The only explanation which immediately occurred to my mind was that Christianity did not come from heaven, but from hell. Really, if Jesus of Nazareth was not Christ, He must have been Antichrist.

And then in a quiet hour a strange thought struck me like a still thunderbolt. There had suddenly come into my mind another explanation. Suppose we heard an unknown man spoken of by many men. Suppose we were puzzled to hear that some men said he was too tall and some too short; some objected to his fatness, some lamented his leanness; some thought him too dark, and some too fair. One explanation (as has been already admitted) would be that he might be an odd shape. But there is another explanation. He might be the right shape. Outrageously tall men might feel him to be short. Very short men might feel him to be tall. Old bucks who are growing stout might consider him insufficiently filled out; old beaux who were growing thin might feel that he expanded beyond the narrow lines of elegance. Perhaps Swedes (who have pale hair like tow) called him a dark man, while negroes considered him distinctly blonde. Perhaps (in short) this extraordinary thing is really the ordinary thing; at least the normal thing, the centre. Perhaps, after all, it is Christianity that is sane and all its critics that are mad -- in various ways. …

Nevertheless it could not, I felt, be quite true that Christianity was merely sensible and stood in the middle. … Now, it was just at this point of the speculation that I remembered my thoughts about the martyr and the suicide. In that matter there had been this combination between two almost insane positions which yet somehow amounted to sanity. This was just such another contradiction; and this I had already found to be true. … The idea was that which I had outlined touching the optimist and the pessimist; that we want not an amalgam or compromise, but both things at the top of their energy; love and wrath both burning. Here I shall only trace it in relation to ethics. But I need not remind the reader that the idea of this combination is indeed central in orthodox theology. For orthodox theology has specially insisted that Christ was not a being apart from God and man, like an elf, nor yet a being half human and half not, like a centaur, but both things at once and both things thoroughly, very man and very God. …

All sane men can see that sanity is some kind of equilibrium; that one may be mad and eat too much, or mad and eat too little. …

Paganism declared that virtue was in a balance; Christianity declared it was in a conflict: the collision of two passions apparently opposite. Of course they were not really inconsistent; but they were such that it was hard to hold simultaneously. Let us follow for a moment the clue of the martyr and the suicide; and take the case of courage. … Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. …

He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. … No philosopher, I fancy, has ever expressed this romantic riddle with adequate lucidity, and I certainly have not done so. But Christianity has done more: it has marked the limits of it in the awful graves of the suicide and the hero, showing the distance between him who dies for the sake of living and him who dies for the sake of dying. And it has held up ever since above the European lances the banner of the mystery of chivalry: the Christian courage, which is a disdain of death; not the Chinese courage, which is a disdain of life.

And now I began to find that this duplex passion was the Christian key to ethics everywhere. Everywhere the creed made a moderation out of the still crash of two impetuous emotions. …

Christianity thus held a thought of the dignity of man that could only be expressed in crowns rayed like the sun and fans of peacock plumage. Yet at the same time it could hold a thought about the abject smallness of man that could only be expressed in fasting and fantastic submission, in the gray ashes of St. Dominic and the white snows of St. Bernard. …

Thus, the double charges of the secularists, though throwing nothing but darkness and confusion on themselves, throw a real light on the faith. It is true that the historic Church has at once emphasised celibacy and emphasised the family; has at once (if one may put it so) been fiercely for having children and fiercely for not having children. It has kept them side by side like two strong colours, red and white, like the red and white upon the shield of St. George. It has always had a healthy hatred of pink. It hates that combination of two colours which is the feeble expedient of the philosophers. It hates that evolution of black into white which is tantamount to a dirty gray. In fact, the whole theory of the Church on virginity might be symbolized in the statement that white is a colour: not merely the absence of a colour. All that I am urging here can be expressed by saying that Christianity sought in most of these cases to keep two colours coexistent but pure. It is not a mixture like russet or purple; it is rather like a shot silk, for a shot silk is always at right angles, and is in the pattern of the cross.

So it is also, of course, with the contradictory charges of the anti-Christians about submission and slaughter. It is true that the Church told some men to fight and others not to fight; and it is true that those who fought were like thunderbolts and those who did not fight were like statues. All this simply means that the Church preferred to use its Supermen and to use its Tolstoyans. There must be some good in the life of battle, for so many good men have enjoyed being soldiers. There must be some good in the idea of non-resistance, for so many good men seem to enjoy being Quakers. All that the Church did (so far as that goes) was to prevent either of these good things from ousting the other. They existed side by side. …

Christian doctrine detected the oddities of life. It not only discovered the law, but it foresaw the exceptions. … Any one might say, "Neither swagger nor grovel"; and it would have been a limit. But to say, "Here you can swagger and there you can grovel" -- that was an emancipation.

This was the big fact about Christian ethics; the discovery of the new balance. Paganism had been like a pillar of marble, upright because proportioned with symmetry. Christianity was like a huge and ragged and romantic rock, which, though it sways on its pedestal at a touch, yet, because its exaggerated excrescences exactly balance each other, is enthroned there for a thousand years. In a Gothic cathedral the columns were all different, but they were all necessary. Every support seemed an accidental and fantastic support; every buttress was a flying buttress. So in Christendom apparent accidents balanced. …

Last and most important, it is exactly this which explains what is so inexplicable to all the modern critics of the history of Christianity. I mean the monstrous wars about small points of theology, the earthquakes of emotion about a gesture or a word. It was only a matter of an inch; but an inch is everything when you are balancing. The Church could not afford to swerve a hair's breadth on some things if she was to continue her great and daring experiment of the irregular equilibrium. Once let one idea become less powerful and some other idea would become too powerful. …

pp. 67–69: The Church… must be condemned in three languages, in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, in the cultures of Jerusalem, Rome, and Athens, in the name of the good, the true, and the beautiful. Now as then the representatives of these three cultures pass beneath the cross and ask that the Church give up and come down. … It is human to come down, but it is divine to hang there. It would be easy for the Church to come down…. It is always easy t let the age have its head, but it is difficult to keep one's own. It is always easy to fall; there are a thousand angles at which a thing will fall but only one at which it stands, and that is the angle at which the Church is poised between heaven and earth.

Cf. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, chapter 6:

This is the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy. People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic. … It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one's own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob. To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of Christendom -- that would indeed have been simple. It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands.

p. 74: In itself the cross is a sermon.

[The Incarnation of the Word is itself, in word and deed, one Word spoken to humanity by divinity.]

p. 75: [When Christ said "I thirst" Sheen glosses it as "I thirst for love."]

p. 76: Love, as the world understands it, is symbolized by a circle which is always circumscribed by self. Love, as our Lord understands it, is symbolized by the cross with its arms outstretched even unto infinity to embrace all of humanity with its grasp. … Love did not keep the secret of its goodness––that was creation. Love became one with the one loved, and that was the Incarnation. … If divine Love stopped merely by appearing among us, man might say that God could never understand the sufferings of the loneliness of a human heart; that God could not love as men do, namely, to the point of sacrifice.

pp. 78–79: Christ is still on the cross. … Because of sin… "we crucify again to ourselves the Son of God." The scars are still open. "earth's pain still stands deified." … every sin is another act by which Barabbas is preferred to Christ. … we begin to say in our own heart of hearts that after all He could not be God, for if He were God how could we have crucified Him?

p. 80: And if we are to undo the harm that we have done, we must make our way up the penitential slope of Calvary, up to the chalice of all common miseries, and cast ourselves at the foot of the cross.

p. 84: Has not all death within itself the germ of life? Does not the "falling rain bud the greenery"? Does not the falling acorn bud the tree? Why should all creation rise from the dead and not the Redeemer of creation?

p. 85: She [the Church] is in love with death as a condition of birth, and with her, as with Christ, unless there is a Good Friday in her life, there will never be an Easter Sunday…. In other words, every now and then the Church must be crucified by an unbelieving world and buried as dead, only to rise again. She never does anything but die, and for that particular reason she never does anything but live.

Cf. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, part 2, chapter 6

p. 87: It is a strange fact that the Church is never so weak as when she is powerful with the world….

p. 88: What may be weak is her discipline…, whereas he faith is of God.

p. 89–90: The world should profit by experience and give up expecting the Church to die. …she is constantly finding her way out of the grave because she has a Captain who found His way out of the grave. … The Church has put to bed all the errors of the past, for she knows that to marry the passing fads of any age is to be a widow in the next.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Laws or wills?

Is there any law that dictates what the most basic laws of physics are? Are the laws of the universe self-ratifying, or are they in need of some grounding principle to account for their exact correlations?

If there is no rational ordering principle for the basic laws of physics, they are irrational. If they "just are," independent of some basic principle that correlates them, then they are inexplicable. That is, if there is nothing by which or in terms of which we can explain the most basic laws, we therefore lack a real explanation of those laws.

Is there not of necessity some additional formulation that states––and therefore makes integral sense of––the basic laws? Is not the (supposed) final articulation of the laws of nature itself the completing element that frames the laws as a coherent set? If so, is not our final articulation of natural law itself a natural law?

How do we account for the basic laws' basicality if not by some other, let us say, Law of Basicality which "picks out" these and those laws––or even just This One Law––as the basic principle of the world? It appears that the final statement of the basic laws of the universe must be as basic and incontrovertible as those laws themselves, otherwise their formal interrelations as the basic arrangement of all spacetime are only contingent (and thus revisable under some later theory).

This post, obviously, is more confused that convincing, more perplexing than persuasive, more at a loss than apologetic. All I can say in defense is that the following words from Paul Davies (my emphases added) set me along this ragged path:

What I find lacking in the conventional intelligent-design argument, is … [the] appeal to something outside the universe that has to be accepted as given and cannot be proved. I’d like to try to explain as much of the universe, including its bio-friendly laws of physics, from within the universe – and in a way that doesn’t appeal to something outside of it.

Even standard physics says the laws of physics are friendly for no reason, but have just been imprinted upon the universe at the time of the big bang from without, by some unknown mechanism. Again, the argument makes an appeal to something outside the universe, instead of something intrinsic to it.

For most people, the first interpretation is, “Well, God did it.” What I’m saying is that that gets us nowhere at all. It just shoves the problem off to some other realm. But saying “God did it” is no worse than saying “the laws of physics did it.” They both basically appeal to something outside the universe.

The problem with saying God did it is that God is unexplained, so you’re appealing to an unexplained designer. It doesn’t actually explain anything; it just shoves the problem off. But to say that the laws of physics just happen to permit life is no explanation either.”

This is a common point in debates about cosmic origins, creation, God, naturalism, etc.

On the one hand, theists assert that God best explains the nomological order of the cosmos. On the other hand, atheists assert that the universe can just as coherently fill the role of "most basic cause." The key argument against the alleged sufficiency of God as an ultimate explanation for everything else, is that God Himself seems to require an explanation. If the universe's most basic laws require God, then why doesn't God require something to explain His nature? We've all got to have some most basic premise, so if theists can have God as their metaphysical bedrock, why can't atheists have the cosmos as their bedrock?

I am a theist, so obviously I side with "the God option," but, as I say, the course of this post is pretty much toothless. I have a hunch (if it can even be called that), that theism is right if only because an intentional formulation of even the most basic laws of nature is rationally inescapable. This intentional formulation of the cosmos the Church calls the Divine Logos. Although I am trying to be as irenic as possible in this post, I think it is also worth pointing out that the appeal to an explanation for God is disingenuous, since the whole debate has always been about explaining the universe. Historically, both sides admit that the universe requires a deeper explanation. Why would that be so, if the universe really had the same ontological stature as God? Since the debate centers on how to account for the universe as a material, dynamic reality, it is a stinky red herring to shift the debate to an explanation for God. Protesting that a theist's explanation is "not good enough" still leaves the atheist without an explanation of his own.

Only once I set into writing did I realize how closely connected this pseudo-hunch of mine is with Gödel's incompleteness theorems.

Briefly (and probably wrongly), those theorems entail that any non-trivial arithmetic set is either complete, but not consistent, or consistent, but not complete. In other words, any formal logical-operational system––which is what the universe's basic laws would reduce to––can either possess all its axioms without contradiction but lack proof for all the axioms (viz., without a further axiom outside the set), or be provable but only by recourse to another "dangling" axiom, which renders the new hybrid axiom-set inconsistent. To quote none other than the great Wikipedia (19 Jun 09):

"Gödel's first incompleteness theorem shows that any formal system that includes enough of the theory of the natural numbers is incomplete: there are statements in its language that it can neither prove nor refute. … Gödel's second incompleteness theorem can be stated as follows: For any formal effectively generated theory T including basic arithmetical truths and also certain truths about formal provability, T includes a statement of its own consistency if and only if T is inconsistent."

Let me propose an analogy. One day Mrs. Miller tells all the kindergartners to go outside for play time, adding that they are to remain inside the sandbox for the first fifteen minutes of recess. Once all the kids are in the sandbox, however, certain doubts begin to break out among them, like deformed pearls coalescing around the grains of sand. What does Mrs. Miller mean by "in the sandbox"? How far do the precincts of the sandbox extend?

They can see the white beach sand inside the oak-board pit, but they wonder if crouching outside the pit to dig into the sand is allowed, or if bringing piles of sand out a few feet to the darker dirt (for soil wars, of course) is allowed. And so on. Noticing a disturbance in the force, Mrs. Miller strides to the sandbox, kneels down to grab a handful of sand from the sandbox, and walks around the sandbox as she lets a fine stream of sand drizzle behind her. She explains that staying in the sandbox means not crossing the thin white line of sand on the dirt she added just around the box-pit.

At this point, most children are satisfied. They know the limits of the sandbox; they have proof from Mrs. Miller herself! But other children begin to worry a new bone: if the line itself is made of sand from the sandbox, doesn't the sandbox then reach to the line? How can the sand be inside the line when some of it is at the outermost edge of the no-play zone? Doesn't Mrs. Miller's sandy stricture mean that some of the sand itself falls outside other grains of sand marking the innermost limits of the sandbox? These scrupulous kindergartners see the proof of the limits of the sandbox right before their eyes, but they find it naggingly inconsistent to use the contents of the sandbox to show where it doesn't reach. They face a grave choice. (Fortunately, they also only have five more minutes of sandbox time, so their crisis won't reach Camusian proportions.) They can either stick to the proof outside the system and say the sandbox demonstrably extends no farther than the sand Mrs. Miller sprinkled, or try to be rigorously consistent and waver indecisively as to just where the sandbox sand ends and the do-not-cross sand begins.

So it is, in terms of Gödelian incompleteness, with arithmetical sets: we can either find a proof of their axiomatic limits from some set outside those limits, or remain totally consistent with their proper axioms and lack the proof of those axioms within the axioms themselves.

In any case, and to let you hear from someone who knows what the heaven he's talking about, the late Fr. Stanley Jaki argued for decades that Gödel's theorems had huge consequences for the world of physics, and noted sardonically for nearly as long how little attention had been paid Gödel by the inhabitants of that world. "Herein lies the ultimate bearing of Gödel’s theorem on physics," Jaki explains in “A Late Awakening to Gödel in Physics”. [Alas, I know, the link is broken, since, I believe, Fr. Jaki's webpage has been taken offline until his executor can deal with the data and materials formerly available on it. I have a copy of the "Late Awakening" paper, if some eager beaver really wants it.]

It does not mean at all the end of physics. It means only the death knell on endeavours that aim at a final theory according to which the physical world is what it is and cannot be anything else. Gödel’s theorem does not mean that physicists cannot come up with a theory of everything or TOE in short. They can hit upon a theory which at the moment of its formulation would give an explanation of all known physical phenomena. But in terms of Gödel’s theorem such a theory cannot be taken for something which is necessarily true.*

This relates to my opening questions because, if the basic laws of the universe are one day found to be consistent, they will for that reason be unprovable. If, however, they are proved, they will for that reason be inconsistent. Indeed, the "extra step" of proving the basic laws' coherence is none other than the human articulation of that proof (i.e., nothing less than an axiom "extrinsic" to the set of basic laws). As such, the universe's basic structure lacks the metaphysical self-sufficiency and ontological necessity that characterize God Almighty.

Although I have not yet finished it––since I let a copy of it fly off my scooter on the way to work one day!!!!––I understand that J. R. Lucas's The Freedom of the Will deploys Gödel's findings in remarkable ways to demonstrate the freedom––that is, the consistency yet intrinsic indeterminacy––of the human will. And this is the point I want to sink this post's tiny, nubbin teeth into: theism provides a better explanation of cosmic law and structure than naturalism because, first, it posits a mind which can intelligibly "see" the whole of the cosmos as one coherent set of formal laws, and, second, it is not prone to a regress of "explaining God," insofar as God just is the active principle which both "proves" the universe's order and grounds His own personal structure. Naturalism not only offers no such resources for framing the laws of the universe into a coherent whole, but also succumbs to an explanatory regress that must terminate in the wise agency of the Good One.

It is of the essence of a free personal action to require no extrinsic or deeper reason for the action's coming about than the agent's agency itself. An agent's action is intrinsically explicable just by reference to the agent's agency at the point of acting. Moreover, the agent's agency is intrinsically coherent just by virtue of the fact that it issued in the action willed by his agency. Nothing extrinsic compelled the agent to bring about the action in question, since he himself freely brought it about, and nothing caused the action other than the particular agency of the agent. By analogy, if I eat a sandwich I find in the fridge, neither the sandwich causes me to eat it, nor does the event of my eating cause my eating. In the first case, the sandwich lacked the property of being "the sandwich involved in Elliot's eating-of-a-sandwich" until I gave it that property by eating it. In the second case, the event of "Elliot eating a sandwich from the fridge" did not even exist until I began eating, and therefore it lacked any causal influence on my eating. I was and am the first, final, intrinsic, and complete explanation for my own eating of the sandwich. In an analogous way, God is the first, final, intrinsic, and complete explanation for His own creating of the world.

In contrast, the universe's set of basic laws, like any formally deducible set, possesses nothing within itself to ground its own coherence. Indeed, naturalists' entire point is that the universe is not sentient, is not personal; as a result, by their own admission, there is nothing metaphysically parallel to the intrinsic agency of divine creation in naturalistic cosmic endurance. (Lo, mystery of mysteries, yon sandwich is eaten without there being an eater!) There is nothing intrinsically self-explanatory about the basic laws of the universe, which is why naturalism fails, but there is something intrinsically coherent about the most basic actions of an agent, which is how theism resurrects naturalism.

God does not stand in need of further explanation, since, first, He is a personal event, and therefore presupposes an agency that formal systems lack, and, second, His Triune "structure" need not be proved, since there is nothing logically deducible about free personal actions. The perichoretic structure of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not a formal set of axioms: it is an eternal utterance and eternal echo of an eternal Word of Living Love. Apart from the divine agency itself, there is no formal, logical reason why the Father begets the Son in the Spirit, and, hence, there is no need for an extrinsic grounding principle for the ordo divinitatis (aka, "the Triune set").

Nor is there any logical necessity in the creation of the world: it is a free effulgence of the Triune goodness. This is why we will never discover logically necessary physical laws (cue Gödel's incompleteness theorems again): the laws of physics are consistent, but not intrinsically, deductively, apodeictically provable. Moreover, they are not even provable as such without reference to their intelligible ratification by the Mind of God. Nothing grounds the laws of nature (as a formally deducible arithmetic set) other than the added axiom "In the beginning God…" And while it is true that nothing grounds the Triune perichoresis other than the Father's eternal Love for the Son in the Spirit of Father-Sonship as the Father-of-the-Son, nothing other than the divine agency need ground a personal event. This is as non-controversial as saying there is no logical grounding for my eating the sandwich from the fridge. Of course there isn't: eating the sandwich was not a logical entailment; it was a personal action.

God did not obey a basic "law" in existing triunely or in creating anything, but He did execute His own will without remainder. Nature, by contrast, lacks a will and can only follow its basic laws––laws, which, once more, insist upon being accounted for. (Strange dream: accounting records without a head accountant!) A coherent, final explanation need not––and most likely cannot––be a logical demonstration, which is why theism's reliance on God as the ultimate explanation is coherent without being logically necessary, and, in turn, why naturalism's search for intrinsic explanatory principles in nature itself is both impossible and metaphysically bankrupt without a Lawmaker to stipulate the laws at work.

* The Gödelian non-necessity of any final theory of the cosmos ties in hugely with Fr. Jaki's work on the cosmological argument. Insofar as everything non-necessary is contingent, and everything contingent requires an explanation outside itself, the non-necessary specificity of the universe as we find it cries out for a causal grounding, namely, God. But that is not exactly germaine to this post, so for now I bracket it, outside the set, as it were.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Why oh why?

Why do flowers grow best when you pour shit on them and waste your breath over them?

Or do they do better if you step back to give them sunlight and sprinkle pure water over them from a distance?

Or both?

A few months ago I blogged about St. Thomas' claim that "my soul is not I." This was merely part of my ongoing desire to explore and promote Aristhomistic hylomorphism on this blog and in my intellectual life generally. One of the key points I made in that post concerned the intimate connection between the human senses and the human intellect. It is a Scholastic axiom that "nothing is in the intellect that is not first in the senses [nihil est in intellectu quod non prius fuerit in sensu]." [After reading this post, please refer to the comment box for a documentary "appendix" about this axiom.]

I happened to notice that sometime later, a commenter had critiqued this axiom, thus:

Don't forget genetics. That determines what we can sense, literally, and how it can be sensed.

Also, the vast majority of what we do sense never reaches consciousness, and our decisions are rarely rational. Saying that we're sentient rational beings is a step or two beyond generous. That we're so prone to flattering ourselves for qualities we mostly lack says something about the quality of our subjective judgement.

Now I don't know the commenter, and I realize the thread at unBeguiled is cold, but the impressive illogicality of the critical comment merits a closer look. And I mean that. For me, a major element of Scholastic anthropology is at stake if this commenter's critique had any merit, and, therefore, his jab at hylomorphism ought to be skewered so that similar failures of logic have that much less of a voice in the debate. I will also conclude by noting a disastrous irony in the critique, which I will call "a klu(d)ge attack", in reference to the notion, à la Gary Marcus, that the human cognitive system is an ad hoc, clunky, ultimately unreliable quick-fix patched together just well enough by crude evolutionary duct tape and self-congratulatory human confabulation to let us survive childhood and inseminate a viable uterus.

But enough romance.

The first claim in this kludge attack is as easily dispensed with as it was dispensed, since it merely restates the Scholastic axiom. The point of the axiom is that our intellectual contact with the world is rooted in our created biological nature. Adding the term "genetic" to this nature does little more than sharpen its image.

The second claim is more ambitious, mo' bigger, and therefore falls mo' harder. It is an attempt to show that the axiom nihil est in intellectu quod non prius fuerit in sensu is wrong. It is attempting to show that the cleft between our senses and our intellect is wider than the Scholastic axiom permits. To grasp how badly the kludge attack misses the mark, consider this modus tollens syllogism:

Nothing is digested by your stomach that is not first ingested by your mouth.

But this bubble gum is in your mouth and not in your stomach.

Therefore, you have a deficient digestive system.

The kludge attack displays a parallel (il)logic:

Nothing is conceived by the intellect that is not first perceived by the senses.

But some sensory data are in the human senses and not in the human intellect.

Therefore, humans possess a rationally deficient intellect.

The second prong of the kludge attack rests on a massive logical confusion. The Scholastic axiom says that what is (normally)* in our intellectual grasp is first of all in our sensory grasp. It does not, however, state that whatever is in our sensory grasp is in our intellectual grasp. The kludge critique, however, assumes the axiom does entail the second claim, which is why it notes cases where what is in our sensory grasp is not also in our intellectual grasp. This is true enough, and is basically what the Scholastics meant by saying that humans have not only a vegetative (biotropic) and animal (semiotic) soul, but also a rational (intellectual) soul. The critique fails, then, by trying to refute Scholastic anthropology with a distinction it already accepts.

The primary intrinsic organizing principle (or soul, anima, morphē) of human life is a "vegetative" power. This metaphysical substratum keeps our lungs breathing and hearts pumping, propels us to seek warmth and nourishment, compels away from crushing pressures and pains, and so forth. This is our "brain stem soul." A second intrinsic organizing principle of human life is the animal power. This energizes us to interact with other living entities, to seek more distant desires (like that water hole we recall from a few days earlier), to emit sounds of distress and interest, and so on. This is our "cerebellar soul." The third intrinsic organizing principle of human life is the rational soul, which is what enables us to name objects, to organize large-scale plans based on immaterial desires, to reprioritize and redefine our values based on our social commitments and linguistic ideals, etc. It is by the intellect that we "know" what a "tree" is, but it is by the senses that we know this or that tree. Without the intellect, we could never know a "tree" as something metaphysically distinct, for we cannot perceive the particular (sensory) without a simultaneous conception of the universal (intellectual) in any particular. Nor can we directly intuit metaphysical essences apart from direct sensory contact. We know the universal, therefore, in the particular and the particular by the universal.

This delicate balance between empirical and rationalist cognition is what makes Scholastic anthropology so robust. There is nothing disturbing for an Aristhomist to hear that much of what enters our sensory database does not also inform our rational actions. Most of life is driven by the autonomous vegetative and animal powers of man, and it's just as well, since if the lower two powers in man had to be vetted by the rational soul moment by moment, humans would suffer a cognitive overload.

The third point worth mentioning is that the denigration of our rational nature inherent in this "kludge cudgel" is self-destructive. Here we have a commenter denying the efficacy of human reason… by means of human reasoning. He is, in other words, deploying a rational argument against rational argumentation. Hence, as G. K. Chesterton writes in his preface to Fulton J. Sheen's God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy (New York: Image Books, 1925), "in the modern world generally, the Catholic Church comes forward as the one and only real champion of Reason" (p. 7). "The Church is larger than the world," Chesterton continues,

"and she rightly resisted the narrow rationalists who maintained that everything in all the world could be approached in exactly the same way that is used for particular material things in this world. But she never said those things were not to be approached, or that reason was not the proper way to approach them, or that anybody had any right to be unreasonable in approaching anything. She defends the wisdom of the world as the way of dealing with the world; she defends common sense and consistent thinking and the perception that two and two make four" (p. 7).

Chesterton's point takes on even greater significance when we recall how the commenter's jab at human reasoning is, as I say, itself a specimen of human reasoning. "Who knows," Chesterton mockingly pantomimes an irrationalist like Ibsen, "that two and two do not make five in the fixed stars?" (p. 8) The humble air of critical worry, in both Ibsen's worry and our commenter's anti-rationalism, is as initially admirable as it is ultimately incoherent. "If you are not sure there are any fixed facts" Chesterton goes on, "how do you come to be sure there are any fixed stars?" (p. 8) In other word, the ability to detect errors in human reasoning presupposes the reliability of our rational examination of those errors.

We obviously are not merely blind kludges-with-legs, since we can transcend our kludgey limitations well enough to discover, trace, and remedy them. This dynamic captures the vitality of Aristhomistic epistemology, insofar as Artisthomism maintains a healthy balance between the sensory limits of human reasoning and the intellectual advances humans can make over their sensory limitations. For this reason I call the largely anti-rationalist kludge psychology of modularity-evolutionary psychology biological Kantianism (cf. the lower sections of this post on Lakoff and Johnson). Just as Kant's distinction between phenomena and noumena and his attendant denial that we can know the noumena presuppose an adequate enough knowledge of both terms to know where one begins and another ends, so biological Kantianism presupposes the reliability of our cognitive abilities in the very act of deconstructing them.

Chesterton's whimsically devastating comments dovetail with a point Sheen makes a few chapters later in God and Intelligence. Contrasting the contemporary (ca. 1925) intuitionist-pragmatist form of theology with the classical-intellectualist form of theology, Sheen notes the latter "began with the world––not the world of internal experience but the external world of movement, contingency, varied perfections, efficient causality and finality. Its point of departure was extra-mental. The source of its proofs was in the open air" (p. 43). This emphasis on the externality of our cognition is all of a piece with the Scholastic axiom nihil est in intellectu quod non prius fuerit in sensu, since that axiom without question directs man to look outside the limits of his own skin and his own dim inner intuitions of the world, and to remain in humble connection with the world as it comes to him via the sensory systems endowed to him by his Maker. A sounder metaphysical basis for empirical science could hardly be fathomed, and, in fact, has not yet been fathomed.

* * *

* I say "normally" since Catholic mystical theology acknowledges "infused knowledge." Infused knowledge is anything known by a person––say, a foreign language, the hour of someone's death, the exegesis of a biblical passage, etc.––that does not enter his intellectual conceptions by means of the normal sensory-inductive process. Despite its insistence on sensory intellection, Aristhomism finds infused knowledge no more bizarre––nor any less in need of a special "outside" grace––than if a doctor surgically implants a meal into a patient's stomach after a major craniofacial operation.

All good things...

"All good things must come to an end."

Or so goes the conventional wisdom.

But will the truth of this claim also come to an end at some point? That is, will its goodness as a true claim someday cease?

Its truth-value is a good thing. If, however, it is true that "all good things will come to an end"-- i.e., lose their existence as good things-- then this claim is itself only provisionally true, and therefore ultimately false. As such, it is not true that all good things will come to an end. Only if the claim's truth persists without end, would it be true, according to this permanent truth-claim, that all good things come to and-- but then, of course, the claim's endurance as a good thing would contradict its own import, since its own truth-value would be the one good thing that does not come to an end. Hence, this piece of conventional wisdom is self-contradictory.

I realize that this piece of folk wisdom is not normally invoked as a rigorous metaphysical claim, but is usually, for example, invoked to encourage high schoolers after their first break-up. Still, though, I have encountered cases where a kind of worldly pessimism insists that even the glory of the Church, or, say, the life of the soul will, in time, wither, die, and disappear. Bertrand Russell claimed on more than one occasion that a thing's value is not related to the length of its existence: a good life, in other words, need not result in eternal goodness in Heaven. So, the claim can have metaphysical teeth, and it is those I am plucking in case someone, like Russell, tries to bare them.

Now consider this statement: "Nothing that is perfect comes to an end."

Will the truth of this claim ever come to an end?

If so, its truth is not perfect, and therefore it is not an absolutely, perfectly true statement. If its perfectly true status does come to an end, then, paradoxically, it was never true, since its "truth-demise" is an instance of a perfect thing ending (imperfectly). The claim is not an indexical truth, like, "Marv is eating a hoagie in the lounge" at 12:35, which by necessity is no longer true at 12:36 or after. The second claim, rather, is more like "Marv was eating a hoagie in the lounge at 12:35," which is permanently true when the time is included in the statement.

In any case, if the second claim's truth-value never ceases to be true, then its endurance as a truth is evidence of its own correctness. If it were ever proved wrong, it would only count as an instance of the terminal nature of imperfect things (viz., truth claims), but would, nevertheless, still retain its truthfulness insofar as some other perfectly true claim would never end in falsity.

Seeing as the second claim trumps the former, in terms of both epistemic integrity and ontological robustness, ought we not look to the eternal for truth and lasting perfection? Does not the perfection we seek in love, mixed though it is with apathy and hate, in truth, though it is mixed with error and deceit, and in life, though it is mixed with decay and death–– does not the nature of our deepest ambitions point toward infinity, where the goals of our hearts will persist in eternal perfection?