Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Story of God and the Prodigal Scientist

To briefly review, we've been discussing this exceedingly strange cosmos we find ourselves in, and how it is that such shocking features as consciousness, love, truth, beauty, and justice are possible "within" it.

Along the way, we have concluded that there is something especially odd about this persistent duality -- we call it an irreducible complementarity -- of subject and object. Science treats the former like some kind of unwanted bacteria in what should be a sterile universe, but frankly, we have found this to be unpersuasive ever since the evening of June 16, 1991, while out walking the dog.

The cosmos can be looked at in a linear, temporal, and horizontal manner, or in a vertical, hierarchical, and spatial manner. Here again, the one complements the other, for one cannot even notice time unless it is from a spacious vantage point "outside" or "above" it, so to speak.

Higher mammals may have some vague sense of the passage of time, but they are too immersed in it to gain anything like a clear view. My dogs can sometimes get (or at least look) bored, but they know nothing about the history of canines, to say nothing of how boring it is. Only man can be in the river of time while simultaneously laughing about it on the way to the bank.

What we call "Darwinian" evolution is obviously horizontal. It doesn't take a genius to notice that there are prokaryotes, then entry level eukaryotes, followed by reptiles, mammals, and humans, yada yada. But it cannot make any value judgments about the process, because in order to do so, one must stand in a transcendent, vertical space of qualities -- qualities such as truth, compassion, beauty, etc.

From a strictly horizontal Darwinian perspective, there would be no essential difference between, say, a cave painting and a spider's web or bird's nest. Or, if the differences are essential, then Darwinism has proved its own insufficiency.

Again, horizontal is to time what vertical is to space; science can pretend that only the former is "real," but the truth of the matter is that man cannot exist outside this total cosmic sensorium of vertical and horizontal, or quality and quantity, form and substance, facts and values, music and words, etc.

It is in this vertical sense that the cosmos "completes" itself in man -- or in the psychospiritual activity of man. Even looked at only horizontally, the cosmos is always surpassing itself, e.g., from matter to life to mind.

But it also transcends itself vertically in every act of knowing. Nothing in the cosmos is "complete" in itself. Rather, everything moves toward completion via relationship. Objects are related to, and find their completion in, the subjects who know them. And a subject cannot "be" itself unless it is situated in a world of objects that yield real knowledge.

But at the same time -- for reasons discussed in yesterday's post -- there is no possibility of exhaustive knowledge of any object, not so much as a rock.

What this means is that even the barest "fact" nevertheless conceals a mystery at its core, a kind of "intimacy," so to speak, from which the most brilliant mind is barred. And yet, it must somehow be "known," for only what is knowable may exist. We can say it is "known by God," but let's not get out in front of our headlights.

If nature could truly be stripped bare and placed on the rack, she would be robbed of her own dignity, her majesty, her mystery and allure. To put it another way, nature would have no interiority and hence, no meaning.

This objectification of nature is a kind of "knowledge," but it is a "violent," or "destructive" knowledge, so to speak. For in the words of Balthasar, it "would cast a cold, pitiless, shadowless light into every corner, and there would be no possibility of escaping this scorching sun."

When modest science becomes grandiose scientism, it is analogous to an overexposed photograph, a picture rendered ugly because of too much light. If the normal man at times feels inclined to turn away from this photograph, it is not because of the science itself, but the way it is misused by subspiritual men to cast that scorching sun into the very realms that make this cosmos so hospitable. Truly, it is like cognitive porn, which, in showing "everything" reveals nothing (and not the good kind).

To "illuminate" a mystery in the vulgar, scientistic sense is analogous to studying night by the light of the sun. This is simply to convert night to day, and then deny the existence of night.

In reality, it is always night, with the exception of those times that the sun is out. The sun is surrounded by darkness, just as the human ego is surrounded on all sides by the dual mystery of the unconscious and supraconscious, and human existence as such is surrounded by a kind of "darkness" on all sides. Which is why you must get thy thingdom done while the sun is out, because the night is surely coming in which no man can blog.

For if it is honest -- or at least consistent -- science cannot actually tell us where man came from, where he is going, why he is here; in short, it can have nothing to say about origins or destiny, alpha or omega.

This wideawake and cutandry stance toward the cosmos is necessarily closed, and not just vertically. Rather, it must ignore anything that is not susceptible to abstraction and quantification. It inevitably leads to -- or is founded upon -- a kind of worldly-wise cynicism, which occurs "whenever man no longer has a flair for the central mystery of being, whenever he has unlearned reverence, wonder, and adoration, whenever, having denied God, whose essence is always characterized by the wonderful, man also overlooks the wondrousness of every single created entity."

This is surely to miss the concrete celestial trees for the abstract terrestrial forest. It is to cash in human existence for a "hypothetical life" that only works in theory, never reality -- like Keynesian economics, or anthropogenic global warming.

Again, much of this discussion revolves around the nature and existence of mystery, which is by no means synonymous with "ignorance." Rather, in the spiritual sense, mystery is positive information, a kind of revelation of essence. This essence is always -- thankfully! -- more than (human) words can say. Objects may speak their finite truth, but whisper their infinity.

Furthermore, this essential mystery is not "solved" in man, but only deepens: "It increases as things move up the scale of being-for-itself; it reaches its complete form on the level of self-conscious spirit."

Again, at this level there is a choice as to whether one will reveal the mystery to another; and, to a large extent, it is only in revealing it to another that the subject comes to know his own intimate mystery. Again, Balthasar:

"On this level, the exteriorization of the interior is left to the discretion of the spirit and is thereby protected from being grasped mechanically by any stranger's knowledge."

Remember Adam and Eve, who suddenly become aware of their nakedness? Individual psychogenesis recapitulates cosmogenesis, so I have noted with fascination my son's growing awareness of his own intimate space, along with his capacity for shame. We have never "forced" him to disclose things he is not ready to share. Rather, we let him know that he can always tell us anything whenever he is ready to disclose it. Which he does, in ways that are frequently *mindblowing*.

Likewise, we never took pictures of him naked, for the same reason one wouldn't do it of anyone else without their consent. Rather, we have treated him as a subject with his own autonomy and dignity right from the start -- and that would include his intrauterine life. Simple courtesy, really.

Now, isn't God the same way? What kind of God would compel you to accept him, would force his way into your psyche and demand assent? Yeah, him, but not the Christian God. Rather, he says, "whenever you're ready, I'm here. Just don't do anything really stupid while you're out, because then I might not be able to bail you out so easily."

32 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

From a strictly horizontal Darwinian perspective, there would be no essential difference between, say, a cave painting and a spider's web or bird's nest.

Along those lines, it seems as though every time a creature is found using tools, there is a concerted effort among scientists to imply, in essence, that since birds/ chimps/ fish/ bugs use tools, they are just like us. Or rather, we are just like them, except somehow we took it a bit farther than they do.

7/13/2011 09:02:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

The sun is surrounded by darkness, just as the human ego is surrounded on all sides by the dual mystery of the unconscious and supraconscious, and human existence as such is surrounded by a kind of "darkness" on all sides.

Interestingly, one of the great mysteries of space is that even the darkness is filled with light. Thus, in literal truth, the light shines in the dark, and the darkness has neither comprehended, perceived, apprehended, understood, overcome, nor extinguished it. This light that fills the darkness is only revealed when there is a subject present to reveal its presence.

The only place where it is truly dark is within a light-fast enclosure, such as a cave or a human blockhead.

7/13/2011 09:14:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Any time you start discussing time, I am fascinated. I probably need to read Hawkings' book one of these days. But that would take time that I don't have.

7/13/2011 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Speaking of issues of human dignity, Harvard scientists want to take overweight kids away from their parents.

While certainly I agree that childhood obesity is a problem - a trip to the San Diego Zoo last weekend made that issue entirely too apparent - forcibly removing kids from their homes and placing them with government-approved strangers hardly seems like a good solution. In truth, once again I suspect the real solution has more to do with culture than with any other factor at this point, something which no amount of government meddling can improve.

7/13/2011 12:34:00 PM  
Blogger William said...

What kind of God would compel you to accept him, would force his way into your psyche and demand assent?

The scripture makes it clear that if you do not believeth in Him, you WILL perish. And that is a threat from the Christian God.

Your essay has glorified ignorance and science denial. Congratulations. You can glorify our continued search and the mysteries of the Universe without denying science.

Standing by Christianity is the wrong approach. Think larger when you think of 'God.'

In the words of a bonefide genius, which you Bob, are not:

"Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind" - Albert Einstein

But what was his view of the Bible?

“The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. These subtilised interpretations are highly manifold according to their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text. For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions.”

– Albert Einstein, Physicist, Letter to Eric Gutkind (1954)

That statement: "These subtilised interpretations are highly manifold according to their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text. "

Essentially it doesn't take a genius to realize you can get whatever interpretation you want out of the Bible.

Scientists like Einstein know that absolute certainty is the kiss of death to the scientific method because it limits the questions one is willing and able to ask, let alone research to find answers. To celebrate and be content with not knowing is against the nature of mankind, but certainly not against the nature of some men.

7/13/2011 01:16:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

As if more proof is needed that outside (and often inside) physics, Einstein was no Einstein.

7/13/2011 01:24:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Or, file under Nothing makes clearer the limits of science than the scientist’s opinions about any topic that is not strictly related to his profession (DC).

7/13/2011 01:30:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Although Einstein did make one metaphysical comment with which we agree wholeheadedly: "One can best feel in dealing with living things how primitive physics still is."

7/13/2011 01:34:00 PM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Folks, good to see you're still chillin'. I guess yet one more of us is taking the journey of reincarnation known as 'having kids'.

:)

7/13/2011 02:24:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

River! :D

You're going to be a father?!!

Coongratulations - this calls for a happy dance! (My boy has just figured out how to do that; you can't help but want to join in). When's the due date?

7/13/2011 02:37:00 PM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Ahm, last Wednesday. He's 7 days old now! I just realised I needed to catch up with y'all.

7/13/2011 02:48:00 PM  
Blogger John Lien said...

Congratulations!

Say goodbye to sleep.

7/13/2011 02:58:00 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

Congratulations!

7/13/2011 02:58:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Wonderful news! I trust mama and baby are in good health, and that you're getting just enough sleep to squeak by ;)

It doesn't seem so long ago you were still trying to figure out how to meet the right girl. How quickly things change! Blessings and prayers for you and yours, and give those little niblet toes a kiss for me. They don't stay niblet-sized for very long :)

7/13/2011 03:00:00 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

I remember that, too! My goodness! And then there was a brief mention of a coming change, without a mention of what it was... I wondered if it could be something such as all of these things. :)

(Though it could have been unrelated and a coincidence of course!)

7/13/2011 03:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

I'll assume my cigar was lost in the mail.

7/13/2011 05:28:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

That was a cigar?

Congratulations, River. I should have been paying more attention.

7/13/2011 08:21:00 PM  
OpenID lukestorms said...

Dear Gagdad Bob,

I love this blog.

I also have a feeling you once had a blog called "Froth from Walt."

This said blog still shows up in my Google Reader and it is filled with the most remarkable passages from most remarkable books. If this is your curating expertise, I would like to know what happened. Was it moved? Did it disappear like a Tibetan sand mandala? I think that material is priceless and needs to be resurfaced, shared and spread like leaves in the wind.

warm regards,

Luke

7/13/2011 08:54:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

No one knows why Walt pulled the plug. Some say it was in order to fulfill the Prophecy and trigger the last days. Others imply that he had been indiscreet in disclosing the Secret, and had to enter a period of silent penance. And still others maintain that he received a cease and desist letter from the legal department of one of the publishers. And at least one person says that he completely changed his religious views after an alien abduction involving a rusty cheese grater. I don't think we'll ever know the truth.

7/13/2011 10:02:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Probably not, but he is sorely missed. I suspect a serendipitous mishap involving kimchee and a gong.

Now that the subject has come up, I may have to drop him a line to see how he's doing...

7/13/2011 10:05:00 PM  
Blogger walt said...

Sheesh! Gong, but not forgotten. What's a hermit to do!?

But The B'ob, apu, came disturbingly close: "silent penance."

As to Luke, well, he runs an inneresting ship hisself, and just needs to keep working, most likely.

Now, Julie, thanks to yer kind Words, I'm already "running late" and must go do my thing.

7/14/2011 02:49:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

Mmmmm . . . kimchee ....

7/14/2011 02:55:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Waking up thirty minutes too late for a month in a row would do it.

:)

7/14/2011 07:02:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Don't worry, it'll get worse. But then it gets easier -- in about four years, give or take.

7/14/2011 07:14:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Walt!

:D

I'm glad you piped up. I tried to send a more private "howdy," but it bounced. You are most definitely never forgotten.

7/14/2011 08:42:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"This wideawake and cutandry stance toward the cosmos is necessarily closed, and not just vertically. Rather, it must ignore anything that is not susceptible to abstraction and quantification. It inevitably leads to -- or is founded upon -- a kind of worldly-wise cynicism, which occurs "whenever man no longer has a flair for the central mystery of being, whenever he has unlearned reverence, wonder, and adoration, whenever, having denied God, whose essence is always characterized by the wonderful, man also overlooks the wondrousness of every single created entity." "


Or as Hume confessed his over exposedness,

"Morals and criticism are not so properly objects of the understanding as of taste and sentiment. Beauty, whether moral or natural, is felt, more properly than perceived. Or if we reason concerning it, and endeavour to fix its standard, we regard a new fact, to wit, the general tastes of mankind, or some such fact, which may be the object of reasoning and enquiry.

When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion."


At least Adam & Eve had the decency to recognize their indecency, Dave on the other hand, just let it all hang out.

7/14/2011 12:22:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

willian said "Essentially it doesn't take a genius to realize you can get whatever interpretation you want out of the Bible."

No it doesn't. Still stuck on that irony free diet I see.

Oh look, your portrait is ready:

"When modest science becomes grandiose scientism, it is analogous to an overexposed photograph..."

Yep, it's a deadringer.

7/14/2011 12:40:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

River! Outstanding! Coongratulations to the three of you!!!

7/14/2011 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

Run that through a reversal function and it would be a nice quotation. If you start at the end and start switching the switches backwards, it will exponentially get more and more corrected as it approaches the beginning. And in the end, isn't it one's tastes and pleasures that judge a person, or at least identify a person? Just musing here. It's a rather eloquent quote, but exactly wrong, so it caught my attention. He used such thorough language to arrive at the wrong kind of nowhere.

wv: holess (Dense... blockhead?)

7/14/2011 12:44:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Hi Walt (bummer about the cheese grater).

Gagdad said "Don't worry, it'll get worse. But then it gets easier -- in about four years, give or take."

For all you beginner's out there 'The eye of the hurricane' should be the term kept firmly in mind there.

Just sayin'.

Still, ain't nothing like riding the storm out, a better tailwind you'll never find.

7/14/2011 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

(My comment was in reply to the David Hume paragraphs.)

7/14/2011 12:59:00 PM  
Blogger Sal said...

River, and family!
Congratulations- this is wonderful news.
E-mail me for his ritual sweater:
sbb19@hotmail.com

Hi, Walt!

7/15/2011 05:01:00 AM  

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