Friday, October 17, 2014

Secular Myth and Religious Science

"The simplest truth about man," writes Chesterton, "is that he is a very strange being."

Just as it is impossible to look at a dead universe and foresee life, it is impossible to look at animals and see an incipient man. You could say that man is just a weird animal, but that doesn't quite cut it; for he appears more like an alien "from another land" than "a mere growth of this one."

As we hope to explain, "It is not natural to see man as a natural product" (ibid.). For man is not simply an extension of animality, nor a prolongation of biology. What then?

Well, for starters -- and this is as true today as it was when Chesterton wrote it in 1925 -- "there is not a shadow of evidence that this thing was evolved at all." The thing to which he refers is "a mind with a new dimension of depth."

Again, this dimension is at a right angle to everything that came (chronologically) before. As we have argued declared in number of posts, depth is the dimension of soul; or of height, if you like (or even breadth). Either way, soul is the nonlocal organ of verticality, or of vertical perception. It is truly what defines the human person and sets him apart from all other things in existence. A man without a soul would be an animal; I'll give you that.

The soul is not a product of evolution because it cannot be a product of evolution. No one has ever explained how this could even be possible, let alone actual.

Nor is there "a particle of proof that this transition came slowly, or even that it came naturally." Indeed, how could something that is self-evidently trans-natural ever have arisen via nature? If nature is capable of rising up and outside itself, then this only proves that we have no idea what nature really is. Show me the naturalistic principle that renders the human subject even possible (just the subject, mind you, not even the soul).

We are told that there is a definable line between this cosmos and whatever "preceded" it, i.e., the Big Bang. To be sure, the Big Bang cannot be the beginning of existence per se, only of this existence (or order). Similarly, there is an identifiable boundary between life and death, or living and nonliving matter. Neither is a continuum, but rather, a singularity: a sudden transition.

Likewise the human person: "It was not and it was; we know not in what instant or in what infinity of years. Something happened; and it has all the appearance of a transaction outside of time" (emphasis mine).

Now, why is the Conspiracy resistant to such a self-evident truth? It didn't used to be this way. Rather, all men at all times have intuited the vertical ground of the soul.

Consider the cave painting in yesterday's post. Someone was driven to produce that. He did not first attend kindergarten, where he was furnished with crayons and finger paint and encouraged to express his creativity. Nor can one say it was simply "spontaneous," because there was nothing in his environment answering to the spontaneous urge. Rather, the creative impulse must have come "out of nowhere."

Besides: urge to do what, exactly? Yes, to create an aesthetically beautiful image. Is your soul really satisfied by a deduction from a priori Darwinian principles, through which you may confidently affirm that he did it for reasons of more booty? Then you, sir, have lost your soul. And that includes your intellect.

Clearly, that image is prima facie evidence of a "transaction outside of time." How do we know this? For starters, because it is timeless -- 30,000 years later, and we're still admiring it. Furthermore, it is something that human beings -- so long as they are human -- will always and forever be capable of admiring. There will never be a man incapable of appreciating timeless beauty -- nor timeless truth or universal virtue. Although the left is certainly doing its best to abolish man, there will never be a day when humans cannot potentially know and appreciate transtemporal truth and objective morality.

Humanness is an irreducible cosmic category, something we must simply accept and move on. This is the point, say, of the Declaration of Independence, i.e., that all men are created, and created equal. Just declare it and move along, for to deny it renders any good polis strictly impossible.

In other words, to say that there are no self-evident truths about man is to not only say that we shall argue over first principles forever, but that there is no way to arrive at the truth anyway. What is left? Power, or the law of the Obama jungle.

Chesterton cooncurs that the existence of the soul "has nothing to do with with history in the ordinary sense." Rather, "the historian must take it or something like it for granted; it is not his business as a historian to explain it." He can, like an idiot, defer to the biologist, but the biologist is even less equipped to deal with the question.

What is the question again? How did this mysterious alien being get here?

The other day, our invincibly dense anonymous troll expressed disdain for the function of myth. What is myth? First, myth is something produced by (or better, "in") man, not by a man. It embodies a kind of higher (which is to say, vertical) collective wisdom; one might say that it is analogous to what instinct is in animals. Thus, a proper myth reveals vital truths about human nature. Are there myths in Genesis? Of course. As if this is an insult!

There are also secular myths that provide a ground for psychic unity, making us spiritual brothers, so to speak. When I was a child, I heard the one about George Washington having never told a lie. When I was in college, I heard the one about him being nothing more than a racist slaveholder looking after his own economic interests.

The former is infinitely closer to the truth of the matter, the truth being that every American (and frankly, every human being) must count himself lucky and grateful that such a great soul appeared when and where he did in the stream of history. And that's the point of the myth, jackass. Not only does it save a lot of time, but it inoculates one against infectious tenure.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Mirror, Wrapped in a Space, Inside a Cave

If we find a turtle on top of a fencepost, we can be sure it didn't get there by itself. And if we stumble upon a painting, we know it was made by man.

Back beyond the horizon of myth, some 30 or 40 thousand years ago, our first parents tunneled to the center of the earth, to the womb of nature, and left their pneumagraphs. These were not just men, but artists, or maybe you can pull this off (and remember, you first have to invent paint and brushes, and don't forget to bring a flashlight):

The first thing one wants to say is: how is it possible that artistic standards have so deteriorated since then?

For Chesterton, these efforts show "the experimental and adventurous spirit of the artist, the spirit that does not avoid but attempts difficult things.... In this and twenty other details it is clear that the artist had watched animals with a certain interest and presumably a certain pleasure."

Or in other words, the paintings reveal the uniquely human combination of objectivity and disinterest on the one hand, and aesthetic delight on the other.

Now, objectivity is transcendence; it stands outside and above, "uncontaminated" by the passions. Conversely, the delight of aesthetic pleasure is obviously subjective; it is not only embodied, but impossible to know in the absence of a body. But this is what man IS: to paraphrase Schuon, he is intellect, sentiment, and will; and he is these things because there is truth, love, and freedom. Intellect is conformed to truth, sentiment to beauty, and will to virtue.

The paintings are of course beautiful, but they also (obviously) reveal a break in nature from necessity to freedom: only an idiot would suggest that these paintings reveal no more freedom than do the spider's web or beaver's dam. There is nothing superfluous in those instinctive constructions, whereas the cave paintings are joyously useless. And when I say "useless," I mean that in the best possible sense. Even if they had some "utilitarian" purpose, they are far more accomplished than they needed to be in order to serve that purpose.

So, I suppose what we want to know is, 1) how did man transcend nature and exit the physical cosmos?, and 2) how did he seemingly enter it more deeply and become so passionately involved in it? As I mentioned a few posts back, it is as if all other vertebrates are on a two-dimensional line (we could say that invertebrates are one-dimensional points). But humans exist in a three- (or four-, really, including time) dimensional space that extends both up and down, forward and back. Perhaps you may have gnosissed how incredibly "roomy" it is in here. How is this so? What is going on in here?

If you have been to college -- or worse, graduate school -- these questions do not come up, because they have long ago been barricaded by the Conspiracy -- the Conspiracy to Steal Your Slack. And Slack is nothing if it is not this expansive and ever expanding soulspace "inside" our heads. I put that in scare quotes, because it is literally the case that our heads are in this space, as per yesterday's post. Although body and soul go together, the body is in the soul, not vice versa (which would be impossible); in other words, form transcends substance.

Long story short -- or maybe 100,000 years is actually a very short span of time relative to a 14 billion year-old cosmos. It would represent what... math is hard... you figure it out. The point is, when speaking of matters that are sui generis, who knows what constitutes a long time? It is not as if we have anything else to compare it to. No doubt for God it is a blink of the eye. You might ask: why did he wait so long to incarnate? To which I might respond: why did the Big Bang wait so long to bang?

So, the two people who first discovered the cave paintings "dug very deep and found the place where a man had drawn the picture of a reindeer. But [they] would dig a good deal deeper before [they] found a place were a reindeer had drawn a picture of a man" (ibid.). This sounds frivolous, and yet, it entails a deep truth: everyone who hasn't been to graduate school appreciates the infinite gap between animals and man, and will not waste his life trying to prove the gap isn't real, or that reindeers can draw more than sleighs, or that spider webs really are works of art.

Yes but: those latter can be quite beautiful, can't they? Now, what is that all about? I'm kind of partial to this one -- in a completely disinterested way, of course:

What we want to know is, why was there so much damn beauty in the cosmos, with no one there to appreciate it? Why is the world beautiful at all? Why does this category even exist?

The reason is that the world is created. Man, being in the image of the Creator, is the co-creator. Creation and freedom go together like intellect and truth. Man is free. Free to do what? Free to create. Create what? Beauty.

Or maybe you have a better idea of what to do with yours. Certainly that is true of the left, for whom artistic creativity is subordinated to an ideology that denies both freedom and beauty -- and therefore man.

The existence of primitive art also speaks to absoluteness, for knowledge of perfection is knowledge of the Absolute. Again, no animal endeavors to improve itself or its behaviors. But the human effort to do so is only possible in light of a transcendent standard. Which is in turn why no great work of art can surpass another -- each has reached the threshold of the absolute, and therefore done its job. What's better, the Pieta or the Divine Comedy?

This would explain why in the cave paintings we see no evidence of "development or degree. Monkeys did not begin pictures and men finish them; Pithecanthropus did not draw a reindeer badly and Homo sapiens draw it well" (ibid.). Rather, as soon as art commences, it is attuned to transcendent perfection. This is indeed what makes it art and not just postmodern scribbling.

So, "we cannot even talk about it without treating man as something separate from nature. In other words, every sane sort of history must begin with man as man, a thing standing absolute and alone" (ibid.).

Man's ultimate origin is not only beyond the horizon of myth, but beyond the horizon of science, since it is not only at a right angle to science, but reveals the very space in which science takes place.

"This creature was truly different from all other creatures; because he was a creator as well as a creature.... somehow or other a new thing had appeared in the cavernous night of nature, a mind that is like a mirror.... as in the furniture of a room a table may be round like a mirror or a cupboard may be larger than a mirror. But the mirror is the only thing that can contain them all. Man is the microcosm; man is the measure of all things; man is in the image of God" (Chesterton).

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Slow Motion Miracles

Continuing with the spirit of yesterday's post -- which everyone agrees was much too short -- we are batting around the idea that man is not an evolution but a revolution; not a genetic stroll but an ontological leap; not a random reshuffling of existent materials but an entirely novel development.

That word, evolution: I don't think it means what they think it means -- or at least their definition begs the (?!). For Chesterton, "this notion of something smooth and slow, like the ascent of a slope, is a great part of the illusion. It is an illogicality as well as an illusion; for slowness has really nothing to do with the question. An event is not any more intrinsically intelligible or unintelligible because of the pace at which it moves" (emphasis mine).

In other words, if I pull a rabbit out of a hat rrrreeealllllly sloooooooooowwwwlllly, it doesn't make it any less of a trick. Likewise if I pull life out of matter or man out of ape. If you don't believe in miracles, then "a slow miracle would be just as incredible as a swift one." But our fast-talking scientistic magicians engage in a kind of sleight of hand, or misdirection, by waving their evolutionary wands over what is nevertheless a roiling mystery.

The fundamental question remains, and cannot be "answered by some substitution of gradual for abrupt change," by "the same story being spun out or rattled rapidly through, as can be done with any story at a cinema by turning a handle." Or pressing the fast-forward button.

After all, Genesis presents the same story, only vry qkly. (That must be why Hebrew has no vowels, right? You can write it even faster.)

The other evening I was confessing to some friends that I have never actually read the Bible in its entirety. Why? Because I can hardly get past Genesis. It's just too rich. After all, in a remarkably compact narrative, it provides us with timeless lessons in cosmogony, ontology, metaphysics, anthropology, psychology, human sexuality, marriage, linguistics, sibling rivalry, snake-handling, and a bunch of other things I can't think of at the moment. Although brief, Genesis provokes a kind of "endless understanding" -- like some kind of bush that burns forever without being consumed. (Here is a book that tries to explicate all that is implicit in it, but it can only scratch the sophitch.)

I have the same problem with the book of John, by the way. John even alludes to this at the very end, with his crack about the "many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written." I believe that one hunnerd percent. Why? Because he's still doing them, for starters.

Recall what was said a few posts back about the nature of mystery: it is not mysterious because unintelligible, but rather, the converse: because of an excess of intelligibility. In other words, it is a fount of endless understanding -- like Genesis. From where does this excess arise? How does this blinding light inhere in here? How can a container be so much smaller than its content?

Well, just look at your head -- or your brain. It is "finite," right? -- encased inside your skull. And yet, it is for all intents and purposes infinite, or at least partakes of infinity. No one will ever write the last poem or compose the last melody, unless there are no men left to write and compose.

We can see the begending of the cosmos -- the background radiation from the big bang -- but will never get to the end of the mind. Being is rich beyond the gift of language; words are like the shovels we use to dig into the ground -- which is why philosophy is waaaay beyond useful, to the point of complete and utter uselessness. To reduce it to some practical formula is to suffocate it in tenure.

Now, when I say that the mind is infinite, I am of course referring to our own queer kind, not the Other folkers. Other subspecies of man -- other Homos -- most certainly get to the end of their minds and then call it a life -- leftists, for example, who already know everything, and never tire of telling us so. They are the ones who superimpose magic upon mystery and call it "science." But real science is literally a never-ending process that does not disclose the nature of reality, because it is a consequence of that prior reality.

But despite their magical word games, "a mystery still attaches to the two great transitions: the origin of the universe itself and the origin of the principle of life itself." Furthermore, with man, "a third bridge was built across a third abyss of the unthinkable when there came into the world what we call reason and what we call will" (Chesterton) -- i.e., intellect and freedom, or truth and virtue.

This talk of a "bridge" highlights an extremely important principle, because this bridge is not just from the past to the present but from the top down; what I mean is that the human bridge doesn't just face down and back, but all the way up; or, from God's perspective, all the way down.

Irrespective of the contribution from the genetic/horizontal side of things, there was a moment when man became "ensouled" (and therefore man) and stepped upon this bridge. There was some mythterious moment when primate neurology was capable of hosting a human soul -- or when an animal became a person -- when God breathed a living soul into him.

Almost in passing, Rizzi suggests something similar in The Science Before Science -- that between man and "penultimate man" is "an infinite abyss: the difference between not having and having the ability to abstract ideas, the difference between having and not having an intellect....

"Such a transition," he continues, "is the most important transition of [the] universe. It marks a transitional event of a unique and profound type. At the transition point, something is about to join the universe that is infinitely greater than the entire mere material universe" (emphasis mine).

Think about that: it is very much analogous the the skull/brain relation described above. Suddenly we have the ingression of something vaster than the universe in the universe.

Wo. Can I buy some pot from you?

Here's the orthoparadoxical deal: if man weren't already a person, he could never become one. It's all-or-none, like non-existence/existence and matter/life. Nor can a person be "made," rather, only created. Thus, persons as such are evidence of the Creator-person.

So, how did it all go down, if not via natural selection? That's for God to know and us to find out. Besides, if he told you, the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Man: Miracle or Monster?

Hmm. As our president is fond of saying of his Straw Man of the Day, I reject this false choice!

I read Chesterton's The Everlasting Man several weeks ago, and remember being impressed at how he was able to apprehend certain ideas of mine before I was even born. Later we will get into the metaphysics of clairvoyant plagiarism and eschatological theft, but right now I want to set my bitterness aside and review what I discovered. I'll even be magnanimous and say "co-discovered."

Readers who have been with me from the beginning will recall one of our central principles -- that our cosmos has not been subject to just one bang, but several. And indeed, the later bangs are even more inexplicable than the first, since it is always possible to imagine that there was something prior to that initial one -- a big suck, for example.

What I mean is that the Big Bang of cosmology is not necessarily a case of creation from nothing, whereas this is not true of the subsequent bangs. They truly are creatio ex nihilo -- or, to be precise, there is nothing from the past that can explain them. They are cases of radical novelty that can in no way be reduced to their antecedent conditions.

Specifically, there is nothing we know about matter per se that allows us to entertain the notion that it might suddenly come alive, or play host to life. Frankly, it is the last thing in the world we would expect of matter, which is, after all, material. That's why we call it matter: because it is dead. You could stare at a pile of dirt and wait for it to start moving around of its own accord, but this is like watching paint dry and expecting it to turn into a painter.

Likewise -- and this will be the main subject of our post -- there is nothing about living (subhuman) animals that would permit us to see in them a budding Mozart, or an Aquinas struggling to get out. Nothing.

To the extent that scientistic types do see something, that constitutes literary backshadowing of the most naively childish kind -- similar to (as in yesterday's comments) foolish progressives who look at Christopher Columbus and see Josef Stalin. In short, we cannot understand a past reality with knowledge that was unavailable at the time. We cannot look at animals from the perspective of a reality totally unknown and unknowable to them. Truly, we have no idea what it is like to be a bat (or any other animal, for that matter), nor they us.

In other words -- and this is the nub of the gist -- there is not a line between animals and man, but an infinite and unbridgeable gap. To be sure, we may discern some some horizontal/material lines, but the gap between Bach and birdsong is as wide as the one between matter and life. No one with knowledge of birds only would anticipate symphonies.

If we are honest with ourselves, we see that "man is not an evolution, but a revolution" (Azar, from the introduction). Take those paleolithic cave-paintings, for example: "Nowhere do we find pictures of dogs drawn by cats," nor paintings of men produced by monkeys. Thus, "art is the signature of man." If we see it, we know without question that a man produced it.

But this self-evident observation has profound implications, first, "that man is not only a creature, but a creator as well" (ibid). And ultimately -- and I would say self-evidently, if we follow the logic to its end -- this is because man is in the image of the Creator.

In other words, man does not create creativity, so you can stop pondering how all the novelty got here, and forget about trying to shoehorn it all back into matter and necessity. Truly, doing so is precisely analogous to shoving the cosmos back into the singularity of 13.7 billion years ago and saying "that's all it is." Or, it is to equate the oak and the acorn and insist that only the latter is really real.

The game is easy to play, and is a favorite pastime of the progressive ignorantsia: for example, a human being is just selfish genes, the global economy is just the white man's greed, human nature is a war on women, etc. Each case involves the weird compulsion to auto-castrate and render oneself spiritually and intellectually infertile. True, it makes the mystery of man go away, but at the cost of genocide. And make no mistake: the real genocides of this world wouldn't have been possible without first making man less than what he is. Doing so isn't a sufficient condition for genocide, but it is a necessary one.

The attributes that define man are not to be found in the past, in antecedents. We alluded to one of them above, creativity. Others include freedom, speech, love, objectivity, and the apprehension of beauty.

To paraphrase Chesterton, Man either stands among the living as a miracle or a monster. For the left, man is a monster that they propose to "cure" or reform through state-sponsored coercion. For us, man is a kind of fallen miracle who may heal and elevate himself through a living relationship with what surpasses him, with his vertical source. In other words, man is the measure of things to the extent that he is in turn measured by something above and beyond, not down and back (otherwise he has unexplained himself and therefore his measurements).

Returning to the question of real creativity: again, it always has an element of appearing "from nothing." For example, there is no reason to believe that Shakespeare's plays would have come into existence in the absence of Shakespeare. And where he got 'em, no one knows. But this is true of all genuine creativity. As Chesterton writes,

"Nobody can imagine how nothing could turn into something." And more to the point, "Nobody can get an inch nearer to it by explaining how something could turn into something else." Do you see the point? We can well understand decay. We can also understand lateral translation, like a Marxist into a global warmist. But creative transformation from one thing to another -- like a progressive into a conservative? To call this "evolution" is to beg the question entirely, the question being "how is this even possible?" How does the higher emerge from the lower?

For something to occur -- and this is a truism -- it must first be possible to occur. And if something is possible, then we must say that its principle is somehow implicated in its antecedents.

Thus, for example, we now know that life is implicit in matter, but this knowledge also happens to undermine everything we think we know about matter, or at least reorders it. For as far as I am concerned, the most important property of matter is that it is susceptible to this weird thing called "living," and you can't get to life from physics. Man explains physics, not vice versa.

One can, of course, choose to go from life to matter, but that's what we call suicide.

To be continued...

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Word of Silence

In honor of Indigenous People's Day there will be no post today, since indigenous Americans didn't have writing. Besides, I have to leave for work. So, open thread. Feel free to put in a request for a future topic, or to point out anything I've left out so far.