Tuesday, August 01, 2017

The Rupture: God and Man, Intellect and Truth

Brief timeout for a reset: everything we've discussed in the last month or so has revolved around the question of how to distinguish between good and bad religion.

The new atheist crowd simplifies matters by insisting that all religion is bad religion because religion is bad. Why is it bad? In a word, because it is untrue, which is to say, because it fails to comport with reality, AKA the Nature of Things.

Similarly, the rank-and-file believer simplifies matters by maintaining that his religion is right, while all the others (including atheism) are wrong.

Can it really be this simple? First, what does the atheist mean by "reality"? This is actually a compound question, conflating reality with knowledge of it. In other words, 1) is there an ultimate reality, and 2) can we know it?

But that boat sailed long ago, when Cap'n Kant divided appearances from reality. We can never have real knowledge of things, only of our own categories. Reality is what it is, and we are what we are, and never the twain shall meet. Except maybe in a thoroughly irrational religiosity. But even if religion touches the noumenon, we could never know it. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't, but we can have only faith, not knowledge.

So: if you believe there is a reality and that man may know it, you are actually on our side, which is to say, the religious side, even -- or especially -- if you are a "scientist." Scientists are not philosophers, but a few of them are beginning to realize -- with great alarm -- that the practice of science is completely incompatible with a leftist metaphysic.

For example, you may pretend one sex is the other, but that's just fantasy, not science -- not reality. You may pretend that illegal immigrants don't suppress wages, or that an unborn human isn't a human, or that women are equivalent to men, or that a high tech civilization can run on solar energy, but these aren't even beliefs, since a belief requires some basis in reality.

I said above that a belief in reality places science on the religious side of the divide. Check me on that. It places science on the orthodox Christian side, as exemplified by Thomas Aquinas. Other religions -- including even post-orthodox versions of Christianity -- downplay or dismiss man's ability to know the truth of reality. And modern and postmodern philosophy are too sophisticated (in the original sense of the term, as in sophistry) to believe such a naive proposition. Deconstruction is simply the reductio ad absurdum of man's exile from an intelligible reality.

And, sorry to say, Protestantism is founded on the principle of man's total depravity, including depravity of the intellect. Just as there is a convergence between orthodox Christianity and science, there is a strange convergence between (original) Protestantism and deconstructionism, in that both would agree that knowledge of reality is an insane pretension.

The separation of intelligence from world results in the separation of truth from will. For Luther, "reason is the devil's harlot" and "can do nothing other than blaspheme and desecrate everything that God speaks and does." For Luther -- as for Islam -- a "rational theology" is an insult to God, since it presumes to enclose and limit his arbitrary will.

This is the original Rupture, and it probably goes back to Genesis 3. What, after all was that about? For Luther our primordial Rupture is complete and total, i.e., man from God and therefore intellect from truth. No longer are there degrees of sinfulness, rather, just Sin and unmerited Grace, either/or. And there's not a damn thing you can do about it, because anything you do is already drenched in sin.

Postmodern philosophy says something quite similar: for example, if you are white, then you are steeped in racism. Pretending otherwise is simply evidence of your bad faith. You are totally depraved by the original sin of racial animus (or sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, etc.).

By the way, none of this is to suggest that this or that modern-day Protestant rejects Thomist metaphysics and is on board with deconstruction. Nevertheless, the first Protestant not only sharply protested the rationality of the Thomist tradition, but insisted that the attempt to reconcile faith and reason was frankly demonic.

Bottom line: if someone claims that faith and reason are incompatible, don't look at me. That's Luther's claim, not mine. In protesting against reason, methinks he protested too much.

At any rate, Douthat begins with two important points, that "every human culture is religious -- defined by what its inhabitants believe about some ultimate reality, and what they think that reality demands of them"; and "American democracy, while formally secular, has always depended on religion to provide a moral framework for its citizens..." As such, "the eclipse of Christian belief has led, inevitably, to the eclipse of public morality and private virtue alike."

As history played out, mainstream American Christianity ended up deviating markedly from Luther. Most notably, the Founders posited truths that are self-evident and rights that are unalienable. Luther would not have been on board with either. Why would he, if man is totally depraved? As he charmingly put it,

Peasants are no better than straw. They will not hear the word and they are without sense.... Like the drivers of donkeys, who have to belabor the donkeys incessantly with rods and whips, or they will not obey, so must the ruler do with the people; they must drive, beat, throttle, hang, burn, behead, and torture, so as to make themselves feared and to keep the people in check.

These goads will continue until morale improves -- which is to say, until faith and will are in alignment. Don't pay attention to the intelligence, which is just a proud and rebellious usurper.

Not to belabor the point, but the mainstream American Christianity of the founders wasn't like that. But now we have the worst of both worlds: purely faith-based religiosity on the one hand, and the power-based metaphysic of the left on the other. Oddly, both are rooted in the will and estranged from the Intellect of the Founders.

Douthat quotes a passage by Auden, who poses the question: "If, as I am convinced, the Nazis are wrong and we are right, what is it that validates our values and invalidates theirs?"

Note that there is precisely nothing in contemporary leftism that can anchor any objection to Nazism. Multiculturalism and moral relativism specifically assert that there is no objective way to affirm that one culture is superior to another.

Ironically, Hitler believed that political conflict is a matter of the stronger will prevailing. Once you have jettisoned objective truth, all that's left is power and will. Which is why -- "ironically" -- the only organized form of fascism in America is the quintessentially leftist Antifa movement.


julie said...

Bottom line: if someone claims that faith and reason are incompatible, don't look at me. That's Luther's claim, not mine. In protesting against reason, methinks he protested too much.

Yes. That's a mindset often found among Christians that is very frustrating; those who follow it are, in essence, willfully choosing to be ignorant - as though anything that is true could possibly be outside of God's plan.

Van Harvey said...

"So: if you believe there is a reality and that man may know it, you are actually on our side, which is to say, the religious side, even -- or especially -- if you are a "scientist." Scientists are not philosophers, but a few of them are beginning to realize -- with great alarm -- that the practice of science is completely incompatible with a leftist metaphysic."

Yep. Still, it's always a laugh to confront the leftist who claims to be arguing from the 'reality based' position, with questions about what reality is, and then why none of his positions mesh with it. There's a theory of laughter in there somewhere, waiting to be revealed.

Gagdad Bob said...

If only they could laugh at themselves, they'd never stop.

Van Harvey said...

And of course, Monty Python was first with the punchline, unfortunately, the Left will probably never get it.

Van Harvey said...

"Bottom line: if someone claims that faith and reason are incompatible, don't look at me. That's Luther's claim, not mine. In protesting against reason, methinks he protested too much."

Yeah, ol' Sunshine lost me at comparing Aristotle to lice and vermin. Highly unsanityary.

Anonymous said...

How can there be any rupture between God and Man, and intellect and truth?

People are made out of God-stuff, and everything we do and think is reality. We are reality itself; even if the frontal lobes don't cogitate on certain things, we still embody them, which is a kind of "knowledge." Unquestionably we know reality very intimately, and we know God very directly as we are actually pieces of the main body of God, and we are not disconnected all that much.

What we do crave is drama, and for that we need to be made fallen and sinful, so that some kind of tale of redemption can ensue. Perfection is very dull. Luther was just stirring things up a bit. But he can't be taken seriously. Positing a rupture also creates a problem to be solved; very stimulating.

My two cents worth. Probably worth less than that.

Roy Lofquist said...

Deconstruction is to philosophy as reductionism is to science.

reductionism - the practice of analyzing and describing a complex phenomenon in terms of phenomena that are held to represent a simpler or more fundamental level, especially when this is said to provide a sufficient explanation.

Both methodologies discard essential meaning and truth. An example:

Reduction(Hamlet) ---> a large Scrabble set.
There exists a function f such that f(a large Scrabble set) ---> Hamlet.
Find f().

f() is ineffable. It is the province of the Divine and glimpsed by mortals only "through a glass, darkly".

julie said...

Yes, that's a good way to put it. Or consider the old gag about infinite monkeys with typewriters creating Shakespeare: in truth, they never would. What's really being claimed is that randomness is capable of generating something that has apparent meaning. Quite simply, it can't; it is as absurd as expecting to see, over time, a detailed portrait pop up on a screen of white noise.

Only intent - and all that implies - can create meaning.

Roy Lofquist said...


More than you ever wanted to know about infinite monkeys:


julie said...

Wow - I should have expected that somebody somewhere had already done the math! Good to know that science backs me up.

Funny that the Library of Babel comes up in there, too. I read the story at Vanderleun's, but never knew how it was inspired.

That was an interesting wiki entry - thanks.

doug saxum said...

Or through a Douglass?

From a place name, Goidelic dubh(“black”) + glais (“stream”).

Roy Lofquist said...


Here is a bit from Douglas Adams I like to use in discussions about artificial intelligence.

“Sir Isaac Newton, renowned inventor of the milled-edge coin and the catflap!"

"The what?" said Richard.

"The catflap! A device of the utmost cunning, perspicuity and invention. It is a door within a door, you see, a ..."

"Yes," said Richard, "there was also the small matter of gravity."

"Gravity," said Dirk with a slightly dismissed shrug, "yes, there was that as well, I suppose. Though that, of course, was merely a discovery. It was there to be discovered." ... "You see?" he said dropping his cigarette butt, "They even keep it on at weekends. Someone was bound to notice sooner or later. But the catflap ... ah, there is a very different matter. Invention, pure creative invention. It is a door within a door, you see.”

― Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

That's the difference between data mining, incorrectly deemed, AI and ineffable intuition.

@ doug saxum,

1 Corinthians 13:12 - "For now we see through a glass, darkly;"

doug saxum said...

Yes, I'm just planting seeds:)

doug saxum said...

And harvesting

doug saxum said...