Thursday, September 22, 2022

What's Your Superpower?

We're still on the subject of relationship between divine and human freedom. We've dismissed the easy answers (no God / all God), so now we'll widen our scope and consider some other possibilities.

Here's a question: what is your superpower? If you're reading this -- let alone understanding it -- you no doubt have more than one. But let's just suppose you are an animal endowed with reason. This being the case, then your superpower is rationality.

But even such a seemingly modest claim involves a host of presuppositions and entailments. It's not at all obvious how it got here -- that is, by virtue of what principle(s). Things have their reasons, and we are owed a rational explanation for our rationality.

Owed? How did this verb find its way into the cosmos? For it is an obvious departure from the natural world of mere isness, and implies the complementarity of freedom <---> obligation, in short, the supernatural world of ought. Thus, supposing you are a moral agent, then that is another literal superpower. 

Backing up for just a moment, this line of thought was provoked by a passage I read about Tolkien, to the effect that The Lord of the Rings involves a "triple conflict" of "grace against nature and nature against anti-nature" -- or "between the supernatural, natural, and unnatural." 

So, three levels. Everything that defines man qua man is supernatural, although obviously not "outside" nature. We're still animals, but not only animals, or we could never know it. There is no merely scientific explanation for how this can be the case, because the very conduct of science presupposes what is in need of explanation: the rational, truth-seeking scientist. The practice of natural science is already supernatural.

But for this very reason it can also be subnatural -- for example, the Nazi physician Josef Mengele, or the diabolical surgeons who are at this veery moment castrating and mutilating children a result of their own perverse ideology.

Say what you want about gender ideology, it isn't remotely natural but explicitly anti-natural, a clear example of the vertical realm that bisects the horizontal: it has an up and a down, not only vis-a-vis truth, but beauty and goodness as well. 

And the superpower of freedom is precisely what allows us to ascend or descend on this scale. It is the ground of the very notion of "progress," for if one denies supernature, then progress reduces to will. Which reminds me of a tweet at Happy Acres:

How can there even exist judgmental relativists, e.g. progressives?

This is not a trivial question but a deeply metaphysical one, for it goes to the heart of progressive ideology. It is the first principle they need to defend: if there is no supernature, then why are you so agitated, insistent, and authoritarian about your imaginary "ought"? By virtue of what principle is one ought distinct from another? Supposing I am a fascist, or racist, or homophobe, why are these bad, if there is no objective truth or morality?

Me? I think racism is immoral because I believe in an objective morality that transcends nature. It's also why I know it is wrong to cut off a man's -- let alone child's -- johnson. I'm not a nihilist. 

Now, way back at the top of this post we alluded to the definition of man as an animal endowed with reason. Not only does this make man supernatural, but it presupposes the supernatural ability to know abstract and immaterial essences. To put it conversely, the world is not intelligible, nor are we intelligent, if we can't know essences. But we can, and now we have to explain how this can be so.

Let's say, for example, "natural selection" is true. What is natural selection? It is essentially

Bing! Stop right there: get your own essences, because no naturalistic or materialistic metaphysic can account for them. 

Once again you are presupposing what is at issue. You're begging the question. You need to demonstrate how demonstration is possible, and then how a chance animal can know necessary truth. In short, how on earth are you able to transcend natural selection and discern its essence from above? Magic?   

This whole discussion is very much tied into our first -- and essential -- definition of man, that he is an animal endowed with reason. We know what animals are. What is reason? 

I don't know how it happens, but the right book is always falling into my hands, in this case one called The Yves Simon Reader: The Philosopher's Calling.    


We all know what "responsibility" is. Animals, for example, are not responsible for their actions, which is why we don't put them on trial for pooping on the rug. Conversely, everyone knows man is responsible for his actions, unless he is asleep or insane. But if man is responsible, it presupposes that he is free to choose between alternatives. 

Now, reason as such is always tautological: premises in, conclusions out. Therefore, man is not "merely" or only rational, if only because he is free to be irrational. Which again points to the verticality of human transcendence: we can only choose rationally if we are free to do so, and we are only free to the extent that we can choose the true and good. 

About this superpower of freedom. Again, what exactly is it, and how does it get here?

I have to run, so we'll continue this tomorrow, but here are a few helpful aphoristic hints. Although Dávila came up with them, credit Bob for putting them in an ascending order that even tells a kind of story (and implies the ideological anti-story):

If determinism is real, if only that can happen which must happen, then error does not exist. Error supposes that something happened that should not have.

The stone is right, wherever it falls. Whoever speaks of error postulates free actions.

To admit the existence of errors is to confess the reality of free will.

In any proposition about man its paradoxical fusion of determinism and freedom must emerge.

Determinism is ideology; freedom is experience.

The permanent possibility of initiating causal series is what we call a person.

Freedom is not the goal of history but the material that it works with.

The free act is only conceivable in a created universe. In the universe that results from a free act.

The prestige of freedom in a society that professes scientific determinism is a Christian holdover.

17 comments:

julie said...

How can there even exist judgmental relativists, e.g. progressives?

Reminds me of a parallel question/ observation I have often wondered, if atheists are right, why do they care what anyone else thinks about the existence of god/s?

julie said...

Speaking of superpowers, my daughter has one. In Tae Kwan Do, she may not have the strongest kicks and punches, but her kiai will effectively shatter the eardrums of any would-be assailant.

Gagdad Bob said...

Across this line you DO NOT.

Gagdad Bob said...

Also, the preferred nomenclature is Taekwondo.

Anonymous said...

What leads you to believe that atheists as a group of people generally care what what anyone else thinks about the existence of god/s? There are certainly some that do and they are vocal about it. I am atheist and don't have any problems with anyone else's beliefs as long as they don't try to force them down my throat, don't feel a need or desire to convert anyone else to my beliefs, and also feel that my opinions about religion are my own and private and don't offer them up unless asked.

John Venlet said...

Faith is a superpower, if only we could make it larger than a mustard seed.

julie said...

John, agreed.

Jeez, Bob, I'm not talking about the guys who built the railroad, here.

Er, I stand almost corrected; I can never remember if it's Kwon or Kwan, which isn't helped by the fact that their particular school is Chang Moo Kwan Tae Kwon Do.

Cousin Dupree said...

"my opinions about religion are my own and private and don't offer them up unless asked." The technical term is "performative contradiction."

Gagdad Bob said...

A vegan, an atheist, and a MENSA member walk into a bar. How do you know? Don't worry, they'll tell you.

julie said...

Ho! Indeed.

What's tepidly amusing about anon's protestations of faithlessness is that he's... here. If I were - for that matter, when I was - a devout nonbeliever, I'd be spending my stray moments doing any number of things, but most of those would be very horizontally focused. They certainly wouldn't pertain to reading about things that couldn't possibly be, and even less so at a place like this.

Gagdad Bob said...

When atheists reject what they call "god," it's always a god that does not and cannot exist. I also reject that god, so we agree on that score.

Dougman said...

Remember the story of the third time that the disciples saw Jesus after the resurrection. Jesus directed Peter to cast his net to the right side of the boat and there were so many fish in the net they couldn’t haul it in.
I liken the fish to atheists just waiting to be towed to the shore to be introduced to the Truth, the Light, and the Way.
If an atheist and a believer both find themselves suffering for the truth, aren’t they both in the ‘’Body of Christ’’?

John Venlet said...

If an atheist and a believer both find themselves suffering for the truth, aren’t they both in the ‘’Body of Christ’’?

I can't answer that question, but in reading it the first thoughts that came to mind were the parable of the vineyard workers, and the thief on the cross, as I think both of these narratives' lessons speak to us about The Messiah's power to save in an instant.

Green Boots said...

I can remember way back to when one's “superpower” was that through a belief in Christ, that while all things may not be possible in your lifetime, you’d sure as heck wouldn’t become demoralized by at least trying.

It used to be that if you got called out for doing something greedy, corrupt, or stupid and then proclaimed that “The devil made me do it!”, you might be forgiven by your peers. Maybe even your victims. At least for the minor stuff. For the bigger, more public humiliations, if you publicly proclaimed: “I’ve sinned against you!”, that might do the trick. Sin first and beg forgiveness later was a real thing.

Today it’s all about shamelessness. A culture of shamelessness. Shamelessness is now our superpower. Rule of Law is for losers and suckers.

That's because we get to do whatever we want to because only through total freedom can we best defend “God, Family, and Country” (not to mention get some coin and power perks in the process). If you’ve done something really sinful, then just make the other poor dumb bastard pay for it. And by calling him a progressive, your tribe will forgive you totally because Josef Mengele was far, far worse.

That said, I still hope that a culture of Christian ethicality, and sanity, can be restored, somehow. Because the trends are showing that Christians will be in the minority by the next generation. Does this mean that it's now time for a Christofascist theocracy under our anointed benevolent strongman? Discuss.

Anonymous said...

Hard pass.

John Venlet said...

Does this mean that it's now time for a Christofascist theocracy under our anointed benevolent strongman?

The simple answer is no. Not now, not in the past, nor in the future. And based on the preamble, I also think the question absolutely disingenuous.

Van Harvey said...

"To admit the existence of errors is to confess the reality of free will."

And that is the seed and fruit of the superpower of Reason, though it flourishes best where sewed and tended to by the Gardener. Or as the Gardener put it:

"...Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat..."