Tuesday, March 17, 2015

I Think I Sort of Disagree

Vanderleun has alerted me to a piece by David Warren called Flatman Rising. He's very forceful in his assertions, but are these assertions cosmically correct?

Warren begins with the entirely sound observation that we not only "live in flatworld," but that this has become "the ground condition for Enlightened man." Around here we call it Flatland, but it's the same idea. It is summed up by Don Colacho, who says that Modern man treats the universe like a lunatic treats an idiot, or like a liberal politician treats an MSM journalist.

Warren references the biologist Richard Lewontin, who rejects genetic determinism because -- it seems to me -- it undermines his religion, in his case, Marxism. Thus, he is a harsh critic of metaphysical and reductionist Darwinism, or -- as in the title of one of his books -- Biology as Ideology:

“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs [and] in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism."

True, but I too have a commitment to materialism. In fact, no one can be more committed to matter than the Christian, being that it is the temporal stage for the adventure of consciousness and drama of salvation.

But "commitment," of course, is a vertical category. The problem is a de-differentiation and re-fusion of vertical and horizontal. The vertical can never be negated, mind you. To even be conscious is to have transcended matter, but flatland scientism pretends to pull the subject(ive) into the object(ive) without remainder -- i.e., as if that has exhausted the need for any further explanation.

Lewontin continues: "It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”

I'm not so sure about that. There is no problem in beginning with the material world. The only alternative is to begin in the ideational world, and thus take a wrong turn into the Great Modern Deviation that begins with Kant.

Note the real problem: modernity doesn't begin with an embrace of the material world, but rather, a rejection. No longer can we know the world, because all we can really know are the forms of our sensibility. So it's really a radical subjectivism masquerading as objectivity.

This latter is also the whole basis for the leftwing attack on science masquerading as a veneration of it. Nothing can be more subjective and relative than liberalism, so the idea that liberals "support science" is laughable. Rather, they use science, where it is convenient, to support their prior commitment to liberalism. What we call "materialism" is really pure verticality pretending to be horizontal.

The cosmically orthodox view is that knowledge indeed begins with the senses. This provides a sure foundation, but the purpose of a foundation is to build upon it.

Warren believes that most people have become unwitting votaries of an evolutionary materialism. This is a separate question. To me, it's a little like the debate over "climate change." Of course the climate is changing. That's what it does. However, it has no built-in direction, no final cause, no telos.

But it's very difficult, if not impossible, to understand the world in the absence of final causes. And if there are final causes, there is evolution toward these nonlocal attractors.

Evolve is derived from a word meaning unfold or unroll; according to Webster's, it means "to disclose by degrees to view," to disentangle, to develop. So, is the world evolving? This has nothing to do with Darwinism, mind you; or, to the extent that Darwinism has any truth to it, it would be because of this deeper context of cosmic disentangling and unfolding. Absent the latter, what we call Darwinism would be strictly impossible.

Warren is half-right in his rejection of evolutionary theologians who "think that God works through evolution." He reserves particular scorn for Teilhard de Chardin, "the ingenious Jesuit charlatan whose works had such a powerful hold on the minds of liberal churchmen around the time of Vatican II," and for whom "Church doctrine was necessarily 'evolving.'"

Truth, of course, does not evolve because it cannot evolve. But this doesn't mean we cannot evolve toward truth. In fact, I just read a completely orthodox book called God and the Ways of Knowing, that goes directly to this question. If man were not evolving, then it would have been possible for God to give the full revelation to the very first man -- or to Abraham -- but this is not how it worked in practice.

Rather, God's revelation (in the Christian view) is very much a matter of a successive unfolding -- limited by man's evolving ability to handle the truth, so to speak -- culminating in the revelation of the Trinity.

Jumping back for a moment to the blessings of our material foundation, Danielou says that "nothing is more dangerous than a religion that claims to have outdistanced reason," for "this can only lead to fanaticism, illuminism, obscurantism... lost in a jungle of superstition" (think only of the Islamists).

Remember, Christianity at its foundation is actually an empirical religion, for if there was no Incarnation then there is no Christianity. Likewise, if we cannot really know the world, then we cannot know Christ either, because we would again have only knowledge of our own neurology.

Here is another relevant passage from Danielou: God "possesses in Himself in a pre-eminent fashion both that which creates the value of mind and that which creates the value of matter. Christianity is not a spiritualism in the Platonic sense of the word, which identifies the divine with the sphere of spirit." Rather, it also has "a materialist aspect" which "is of great practical consequence" -- one consequence of which was the very development of science.

I am no uncritical fanboy of Teilhard, but I think it's unfair to say that he believed man creates Christ via evolution. Rather, my understanding -- and I could be wrong -- is that he sees Christ as the ultimate telos, the omega point that is drawing creation in his wake.

Looked at this way, Christ is not just Word-made-flesh but future-made-now, not just once, but always -- or "once and for all." God becomes man so that man might become God (or be divinized), as in the formulation of various Fathers. From our end this is a teleonomic process.

Warren claims that "God does not create through evolution, and could not possibly do so, for that would mean creating in time. God, who created time, cannot be confined (except by His own kenosis) within what He has created. Rather, God creates through time."

I would affirm rather the opposite, in that there is something of the nature of time in God, only in a supereminent manner. One reason I say this is that I don't see how man should be privileged to have something that God doesn't. To put God entirely on the eternal side of the time/eternity complementarity is to imagine a God who is unmoved and unmovable by anything that occurs in time, say, oh, suffering. Either God suffers with us or he doesn't. And if he does, he moves.

Indeed, I would go further and say that if God relates to us, then he is relative. As Hartshorne says, not only is God relative, but he is the most supereminently relative at all, in that he is the last word in compassion and empathy.

Is this not the deepest meaning of the Trinity, that it is irreducible relationship, such that relationship -- love -- is prior to substance? This is a perfection, not a limitation -- just as an unmovable human being would be far from perfect. And it seems to me that "divine time" (so to speak) is the endless perichoretic boogaloo; and that creative time is a kind of distant reflection of this in the herebelow.

Danielou looks at it in a complementary and orthoparadoxical way: it is fine to say that God is perfectly immobile so long as we immediately add that he is perfectly receptive! To quote one of the early Fathers, "He is stable and immobile, dwelling always in the same place, and yet mobile, since He radiates through all things." Complementarity.

The problem is that it is possible to affirm God so strongly that one negates man. But even God doesn't do this, or we wouldn't be here.

Just because becoming isn't everything, it doesn't follow that it is nothing. A pure "philosophy of the eternal" may end in "the negation of the value of time." There is a kind of divine omnipotence that renders man completely pointless, just a prolongation of God, with no freedom, no dignity, no meaning, and no adventure.

It is also a devaluation of our most precious divine gift, our intellect. What is it for, if not to understand? For Warren, "The very existence of this universe and of ourselves is a bottomless Mystery that cannot be 'solved.' Reason may worm about, and make its observations on our plane, but Revelation provides the only possible access to that vertical dimension."

Yes and no. Reason can actually reason all the way up to the threshold of God, affirming his existence without claiming to know what he's like. Nor do we have to check our intellect at God's door, because revelation is a prolongation of it, not a negation or radical disjunction. Indeed, intellect (i.e., the nous) is itself a revelation, just as revelation is a letter addressed to it.


Van Harvey said...

"I'm not so sure about that. There is no problem in beginning with the material world. The only alternative is to begin in the ideational world, and thus take a wrong turn into the Great Modern Deviation that begins with Kant."

'...begins with the door to know-nowhere cracked open by Descartes and flung wide open by Kant'.


And a big Yep to the rest.

Cousin Dupree said...

Yes, you can't put Descartes before the horse's ass...

julie said...

If man were not evolving, then it would have been possible for God to give the full revelation to the very first man -- or to Abraham -- but this is not how it worked in practice.

I have recently had occasion to idly wonder why, for instance, when God was laying down The Rules for the Israelites and also gifting them with all of the technical knowledge required to craft All The Things for the Tabernacle, the Ark, etc., why he didn't also give them knowledge of, say, how to harness electricity or fossil fuels or firearms or modern medical techniques. Or even just the secret of iron.

But of course, the answer must simply be that they were not ready for that knowledge; it all had to be earned and learned in its own time.

mushroom said...

But this doesn't mean we cannot evolve toward truth.

Exactly. As I was reading Warren's essay, I had the same objection. Truth is the Alpha and the Omega.

mushroom said...

And, after all, God was materialist enough to go with that Incarnation thing. He was very much in time.

Gagdad Bob said...

All pre-Christian pagan religions -- not to mention Eastern religions and neo-Platonism -- devalue time.

Gagdad Bob said...

Again, it's not everything, but it's not nothing.

Van Harvey said...

Just for fun, a tidbit of deToqueville's that came up last night:

"...ur second letter.
I reply to the first part of it by telling you, that during the last few days I have been reading the life of Mahomet and the Koran. The Koran is the most annoying and the most instructive of books; for, on looking closely, one sees all the threads by which the prophet [341] held, and still holds, his votaries. It is a complete compendium of the art of prophecy, and I strongly advise you to read it. I cannot imagine, how ——— could say, that that book was an advance upon the Gospel. In my opinion there is no comparison between them, and I think that reading it is enough to explain the difference between Musselmans and Christians. The Koran seems to me to be no more than a clever compromise between materialism and spiritualism. Mahomet has opened the door to the coarsest passions of our nature, in order to introduce with them certain highly refined notions; so that, one set balancing the other, human nature may hang tolerably suspended between heaven and earth.
This is the philosophical and disinterested part of the Koran; as for the selfish part it is still more evident. The doctrine that “faith saves;” that “the first of religious duties is to believe blindly in the prophet;” that “the sacred war is the best of God’s works;” and many other doctrines, of which the practical result is easily seen, are found in every page, and almost in every sentence in the Koran.
The violent and sensual tendencies of the Koran are so striking, that I cannot conceive their escaping the observation of a reasonable man. It is an advance on polytheism, inasmuch as it contains clearer and truer ideas of the Divine Being, and a more intelligible and wider analysis of certain duties common to man. But the passions which it excites have made it more mischievous to mankind than polytheism, which, having no unity in doctrine or priesthood, never had much hold [342] over men, and left them considerable freedom of action; whilst Mahometanism has exercised over the human race an immense, and on the whole a far from salutary influence...."

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Aye, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the incarnation of Jesus proves that God operates in time as well as timelessness.
I like how you explained the unfolding of man (evolving) in relation(ship) to God.

Unfortunately, leftists have poisoned the word evolution, which causes many Christians to reject it outright (an overreaction), rather than the false definition leftists have tried to associate with it.