Saturday, September 26, 2020

If You Can Read This Sentence, You Have a Soul

We have to distinguish between two types of atheism, negative and positive. The former type of atheist is simply apathetic: he doesn't pretend to know and pretends not to care. It is a fundamentally unserious view of life, and not worthy of Homo sapiens sapiens, AKA the doublewise homo. We won't spend any more time on him. He's not even clever enough to be wrong.

Positive atheism makes the bolder and more grandiose claim that God definitely does not exist. Of course, it depends upon what the atheist means by "God." Generally speaking, nor do we believe in the atheist's conception of God, but we'll leave that to the side.

What? Have you been listening to the Bob's story? You have no frame of reference, do you?

I'll say it one more time: we are immersed in the unpleasant and thankless task of reconciling the pure Darwinism -- or evolutionary psychology, to be precise -- of The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous, with the pure Thomism of Introduction to the Science of Mental Health. Both of these cannot possibly be true, at least not in the same way.

By the way, which book is the more difficult? Which requires more brainpower, both to read and write? No contest: anyone with a room temperature IQ can comprehend the mechanism of natural selection. After all it has only three moving parts: genetic variation, differential reproduction, and survival. According to this view, every human trait is a consequence of this trinity.

Well, not exactly, for any number of traits slip through the net of natural selection. In other words, just because a trait survives and persists, we can't necessarily say it was adaptive to a particular environment. Noses weren't selected to hold up eyeglasses, and all that.

Anyway, the big black book of Thomism is much more challenging. The WEIRD book is just tedious and predictable. It very much brings to mind a number of apt observations by the Aphorist:

Science easily degrades into fools’ mythology.

To believe that science is enough is the most naïve of superstitions.

The natural sciences can be adequately cultivated by slaves; the cultivation of the social sciences requires free men.

Scientific ideas allow themselves to be easily depraved by coarse minds.

In this context, Henrich is like a child who wanders in in the middle of a movie and wants to know what it's about. He's out of his element!

Really, he wants to have it both ways; he wants to have his crock and eat it too. What I mean is that he acknowledges the centrality of Christianity in laying the groundwork for our WEIRDness -- our Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic civilization -- but wants to pretend it's all just a random genetic aberration. As Professor Backflap puts it,

Henrich reveals how the Roman Catholic Church unintentionally shifted people's psychology, and the trajectory of Western civilization, by transforming the most fundamental off human institutions: those related to marriage and kinship. It was these social and psychological changes in Europe that... [laid] the foundation for the modern world (emphasis mine).

Unintentionally? The Church was trying to make the world a worse place?

Bear in mind that biology cannot evaluate whether or not the changes wrought by the Church were Good Things. Rather, they're only Things. Biology is descriptive, not prescriptive. It describes what is, not what ought to be. Ought Henrich avoid such breathtakingly simplistic and anti-intellectual generalizations? Biology can't say.

A few years ago we wrote a series of posts on an excellent book called Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism. As I recall, it tills much of the same ground as does The WEIRDest, only without the fanciful attempt to squeeze it all into a scientistic bed of genetic reductionism.

What I want to ask is: who is the anti-intellectual here? Henrich? Or St. Thomas? Who is the more generous, the more curious, the more open-minded, the more humanistic? The less dogmatic, narrow-minded, and doctrinaire? The questions answer themselves.

Although Christianity is responsible for our progress from premodern anonymity to modern individuality, from tyranny to democracy, and from subsistence to abundance, here is the sum-total of what Henrich knows about religion and God (for if this is all he knows, this is all he can know, i.e., it is a frank confession of total ignorance):

Just to be clear, I'm not praising either world religions or big gods. To me, they are simply another interesting class of cultural phenomena that demands explanation.... These beliefs evolved not because they are accurate representations of reality but because they help communities, organizations, and societies beat their competitors.

Oh. I was wondering why sociobiology evolved. Henrich's ideas are so adaptive, he must have like a dozen children!

Back to one of our main points: which is the more capacious metaphysic? Which has more explanatory power? Well, by definition the theistic view does, since there can be nothing more capacious than God. My God is always larger than your godlessness.

I'm going to briefly switch gears to overdrive and see what Fr. Spitzer has to say about the subject:

At first glance there appears to be a conflict between the Bible and evolutionary theory. The Bible suggests that human beings are a special creation of God independent of other biological species....

However, the theory of evolution suggests that human beings did come from an evolutionary progression. Can the two be reconciled?

Not only can they be reconciled, they must be reconciled. It is only for us to understand how. In other words, the reconciliation already exists. It not only precedes us, but is a necessary condition for the very possibility of science. You are free to drain the world of transcendence, but doing so necessarily drains it of both immaterial knowledge and the transphysical knower. Spitzer:

The Bible is making the theological point in Genesis that human beings were created as distinct from the animals and “made in the image and likeness of God.” Can these two theological truths be consistent with the truth of evolution?

Yes -- so long as we hold that human beings are not only biological organisms (subject to an evolutionary process), but have a unique transphysical soul individually created by God.

Is the existence of the soul in any way inconsistent with natural selection? Of course not, any more than is the existence of music, poetry, painting, and science. Obviously, evolution does not "create" transcendence. And it certainly doesn't prevent it, or I'm not typing this sentence and you're not understanding it. Spitzer:

the soul cannot be reduced to any physical or biological structure or process.... Can Catholics believe that the physical-biological part of human beings evolved from other species? Yes. Can they believe that even the cerebral cortex came from an evolutionary process -- from homo-erectus to Neanderthal to homo-sapien? Yes.

Is there a problem? Not for us. The more truth, the merrier: "Catholics should always seek the truth, for there can be no contradiction between reason and faith. As St. Thomas Aquinas implied -- how can there be a contradiction?" There can only be a contradiction if we get things out of order. Beginning with our own minds.

To be continued....

Thursday, September 24, 2020

In the Meantime...

I commend this essay to readers: How the Great Truth Dawned, by Gary Saul Morson. It is surprisingly relevant to the Current Project in a number of ways, beginning with the importance of narrative as vehicle for truth:

Novels of ideas... exhibit a masterplot: a hero or heroine devoted to an idea discovers that reality is much more complex than the idea allows.

For example, a materialist believes that love is nothing but physiology and that individual people differ no more than frogs, yet he falls deeply in love with a particular woman (the plot of Turgenev’s Fathers and Children). A moralist asserts that only actions, not wishes, have moral value, yet winds up consumed by guilt for a murder he has fostered only by his wish for it (the plot of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov)....

As mentioned in the previous post, our Current Project involves the reconciliation of evolutionary and Thomistic psychologies -- where they converge, where they diverge, and where only one can possibly walk out alive. This cosmos -- no cosmos -- is big enough for two ultimate truths.

If I were a novelist, perhaps I'd write a story of a strict sociobiologist who insists that love is nothing but a deception of the genes to trick us into reproducing, yet falls deeply in love with a particular woman. Only then does he discover a reality that transcends his little ideology, and that frogs and persons aren't of equal value and significance.

On an even deeper level, I wonder if the biblical narrative -- the arc of salvation that spans from creation to the beatific vision -- isn't a bug but a feature? In other words, this metastory not only must be told in history, but with history. What if history is made of truth -- the truth of fall and redemption?

I have a note to myself: consequences of Darwinism. Suffice it to say that no Darwinist actually thinks and lives the consequences of his ideology. Indeed, if he takes them seriously, he could under no circumstances take them seriously, because they abolish the very possibility of knowing truth. Only a sociopath could be an intellectually and morally consistent Darwinian.

Volodin recalls Epicurus’s words: “Our inner feelings of satisfaction and dissatisfaction are the highest criteria of good and evil,” and only now does he understand them. “Now it was clear: Whatever gives me pleasure is good; what displeases me is bad. Stalin, for instance, enjoyed killing people -- so that, for him, was good?”

How wise such philosophy seems to a free person! But for Volodin, good and evil are now distinct entities. “His struggle and suffering had raised him to a height from which the great materialist’s wisdom seemed like the prattle of a child.”

Similarly, compared to St. Thomas, the wisdom of evolutionary psychology seems like the prattle of a child.

Solzhenitsyn explains: “To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good, or else that it’s a well-considered act in conformity with natural law.... it is in the nature of a human being to seek a justification for his actions.”

Here again, a strict Darwinian can never speak of natural law or of a transcendent human nature.

Why is it, Solzhenitsyn asks, that Macbeth, Iago, and other Shakespearean evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses, while Lenin and Stalin did in millions? The answer is that Macbeth and Iago “had no ideology.” Ideology makes the killer and torturer an agent of good, “so that he won’t hear reproaches and curses but will receive praise and honors.” Ideology never achieved such power and scale before the twentieth century.

How does the ideology of Darwinism explain this? More to the point, from the perspective of Darwinism, on what basis can we say that Stalin and his ideology are evil?

Anyone can succumb to ideology. All it takes is a sense of one’s own moral superiority for being on the right side; a theory that purports to explain everything; and -- this is crucial -- a principled refusal to see things from the point of view of one’s opponents or victims, lest one be tainted by their evil viewpoint.

If we remember that totalitarians and terrorists think of themselves as warriors for justice, we can appreciate how good people can join them.

Ideologies have consequences. The consequences of atheism are absolutely ruinous:

Bolshevik ethics explicitly began and ended with atheism. Only someone who rejected all religious or quasi-religious morals could be a Bolshevik because, as Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, and other Bolshevik leaders insisted, the only standard of right and wrong was success for the Party.

The bourgeoisie falsely claim we have no ethics, Lenin explained.... But what we reject is any ethics based on God’s commandments or anything resembling them, such as abstract principles, timeless values, universal human rights, or any tenet of philosophical idealism. For a true materialist, Lenin maintained, there can be no Kantian categorical imperative to regard others only as ends, not as means.

Each of our lives is a narrative, a story. Indeed, how could human life even be conceived if not as an unfolding drama? But what is the drama about? Does it point to a telos beyond itself, or is it only about the past -- about our past adaptations to this or that contingent environment? Can it really be about nothing other than selfish genes, or class warfare, or the elimination of people with white privilege?

Kopelev, Solzhenitsyn, and others describe the key event of their life as the discovery that just as the universe contains causal laws it also contains moral laws. Bolshevik horror derived from the opposite view: that there is nothing inexplicable in materialist terms and that the only moral standard is political success.

To be continued...

Monday, September 21, 2020

Project 2 + 2 = 5

Just for metaphysical kicks & giggles, I'm reading two books that represent opposite sides of the spectrum, after which I will try to reconcile them and thereby fashion a daring jailbreak from a supposedly inescapable, ultra-postmodern ideological prison surrounded by impenetrable and crock-solid walls of pure nothingness!

The first is the unwieldy and dryasdust Introduction to the Science of Mental Health, which exhaustively and exhaustingly lays out the Christian/Thomistic view of our predicament. I'm about halfway through with that one. It's somewhat slow-going, like reading a medication insert that goes on forever.

The second is called The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous. I'm only 20 pages into this one, which comes at it -- or us, rather -- from a strictly evolutionary standpoint.

Now, both of these can't be true. And yet, let's assume they are. How can this be? We can't simultaneously have a universal human nature if what we call "human nature" is just a contingent adaptation to everchanging environmental circumstances. Can we?

The challenge is in figuring out how both perspectives can possibly be true. Of course, there are levels of truth, so that's one way to pull it off. Still, we want details: how exactly can contradictory truths be true on a deeper or higher level?

So, that's what we're working on at the moment, and I first have to get further into the books before putting them into the cosmic blender. And as usual, I have other responsibilities gumming up the works, including my dreaded semiannual continuing education requirements and the upcoming MLB playoffs.

Therefore, if things are a bit slow around here, that's my excuse. I'll leave off with a few aphorisms which may point the way upward and provide a bit of preluminary light for the journey:

Two contradictory philosophical theses complete each other, but only God knows how.

Every truth is a tension between contradictory evidences that claim our simultaneous allegiance.

Truths do not contradict each other except when they get out of order.

It is not the false idea that is the dangerous one, but the partially correct one.

The philosopher who adopts scientific notions has predetermined his conclusions.

There are sciences that can be taught and others we can only learn. Natural sciences, social sciences.

Whoever appeals to any science in order to justify his basic convictions inspires distrust of his honesty or his intelligence

Science, when it finishes explaining everything, but being unable to explain the consciousness that creates it, will not have explained anything.

Without philosophy, the sciences do not know what they know.

The Christian who is disturbed by the “results” of science does not know what Christianity is or what science is.

The doctrines that explain the higher by means of the lower are appendices of a magician’s rule book (Dávila).