Thursday, February 25, 2010

It is perhaps the strongest response a Christian can make to the tide which philosophical naturalism started, to see a rose and continue to call it beautiful.

Let us be on our Guard. Let us be on our guard against thinking that the world is a living being. Where could it extend itself? What could it nourish itself with? How could it grow and increase? We know tolerably well what the organic is; and we are to reinterpret the emphatically derivative, tardy, rare and accidental, which we only perceive on the crust of the earth, into the essential, universal and eternal, as those do who call the universe an organism? That disgusts me. Let us now be on our guard against believing that the universe is a machine; it is assuredly not constructed with a view to one end; we invest it with far too high an honor with the word "machine."Let us be on our guard against supposing that anything so methodical as the cyclic motions of our neighboring stars obtains generally and throughout the universe; indeed a glance at the Milky Way induces doubt as to whether there are not many cruder and more contradictory motions there, and even stars with continuous, rectilinearly gravitating orbits, and the like. The astral arrangement in which we live is an exception; this arrangement, and the relatively long durability which is determined by it, has again made possible the exception of exceptions, the formation of organic life. The general character of the world, on the other hand, is to all eternity chaos; not by the absence of necessity, but in the sense of the absence of order, structure, form, beauty, wisdom, and whatever else our aesthetic humanities are called. Judged by our reason, the unlucky casts are far oftenest the rule, the exceptions are not the secret purpose; and the whole musical box repeats eternally its air, which can never be called a melody - and finally the very expression, "unlucky cast" is already an anthropomorphizing which involves blame. But how could we presume to blame or praise the universe? Let us be on our guard against ascribing to it heartlessness and unreason, or their opposites; it is neither perfect, nor beautiful, nor noble; nor does it seek to be anything of the kind, it does not at all attempt to imitate man! It is altogether unaffected by our aesthetic and moral judgments! Neither has it any self-preservative instinct, nor instinct at all; it also knows no law. Let us be on our guard against saying that there are laws in nature. There are only necessities: there is no one who commands, no one who obeys, no one who transgresses. When you know that there is no design, you know also that there is no chance: for it is only where there is a world of design that the word "chance" has a meaning. Let us be on our guard against saying that death is contrary to life. The living being is only a species of dead being, and if a very rare species. Let us be on our guard against thinking that the world eternally creates the new. There are no eternally enduring substances; matter is just another such error as the God of the Eleatics. But when shall we be at an end with our foresight and precaution? When will all these shadows of God cease to obscure us? When shall we have nature entirely undeified? When shall we be permitted to naturalize ourselves by means of the pure, newly discovered, newly redeemed nature?

Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 109.

See also:

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Quotable: LXX

καὶ ἐὰν μὴ πιστεύσητε, οὐδὲ μὴ συνῆτε
Isaiah 7:9 (LXX, as cited by Augustine)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"What Darwin Got Wrong"

At this point, the idea of somebody publishing an attack on Charles Darwin isn’t exactly surprising. The 19th-century naturalist, and the man behind the theory of evolution, has never been a particularly popular figure among conservative Christians, and, these days, the anti-Darwin movement is a cottage industry. In the last year, which marked the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth and 150 years since the publication of "The Origin of the Species," the man was even subjected to the peculiar indignity of an assault by former "Growing Pains" star Kirk Cameron.

But unlike most of these attacks, "What Darwin Got Wrong," a new book by Jerry Fodor, a professor of philosophy and cognitive sciences at Rutgers University, and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, a professor of cognitive science at the University of Arizona, comes not from the religious right, but from two atheist academics with -- surprise -- a nuanced argument about the shortcomings of Darwin’s theories. Their book details (in very technical language) how recent discoveries in genetics have thrown into question many of our perceived truths about natural selection, and why these have the potential to undermine much of what we know about evolution and biology.

Salon spoke to Fodor over the phone from his home, about the problems with Darwin’s ideas, bloggers’ "obscene" comments on his work, and why Darwinism might be as unreliable as creationism.


Do you think people are defending Darwinism because they think any attack on Darwinism gives power to creationists, and they don't want creationists to get the upper hand?
I think there's the sense that if you think that there's something wrong with the theory you're giving aid and comfort to intelligent design people. And people do feel very strongly about whether you want to do that.

When you do science, you try to find the truth. The problem with creationism, even if you're not a hardcore atheist, as I am, is that anything is compatible with creationism. If God created the world, he could have created it any way he liked. So creationists, when faced with evidence of evolution, are happy to say that that's the way God created the world. If it turns out that there is no process of evolution, they'd say OK, that's fine too. Whatever turns out to be the case it's compatible with God having created the world, so you can't argue with their position or you throw your shoulders out.

As you explain in the book, one of the problems with Darwinism is that Darwin is inventing explanations for something that happened long ago, over a long period of time. Isn't that similar to creationism?
Creationism isn't the only doctrine that's heavily into post-hoc explanation. Darwinism is too. If a creature develops the capacity to spin a web, you could tell a story of why spinning a web was good in the context of evolution. That is why you should be as suspicious of Darwinism as of creationism. They have spurious consequence in common. And that should be enough to make you worry about either account.

Read the article

Of course this would come from a Philosopher.

ht: Rod Dreher

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Quotables: Aristotle and Piper

We say that some peole who do just actions are not thereby just, if, for instance, they do the actions prescribed by the laws either unwillingly or because of some other end, not because of the actions themselves, even though they do the right actions, those that the excellent person ought to do.

- Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, IV, 12.15-19

(Lewis) demonstrated for me and convinced me that rigorous, precise, penetrating logic is not inimical to deep soul-stirring feeling, vivid lively imagination. He was a romantic rationalist. He combined what almost everybody today assumes are mutually exclusive, rationalism and poetry, cool logic, warm feelings, disciplined prose, free imagination. And in shattering these old stereotypes for me he freed me to think hard and write poetry, argue for the resurrection and compose a hymn to Christ, smash an argument and hug a friend, demand a definition and use a metaphor. It's a wonderful thing when a great man shows a struggler how to be himself.

- Piper on C.S. Lewis

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Loss of Dignity

Meditation has lost all its dignity of form; the ceremonial and solemn bearing of the meditative person have been made a mockery, and one would no longer endure a wise man of the old style. We think too hastily and on the way and while walking and in the midst of business of all kinds, even when we think on the most serious matters; we require little preparation, and even quiet:--it is as if each of us carried about an unceasingly revolving machine in his head, which still works, even under the most unfavorable circumstances."

Nietzsche, The Gay Science

Which begs the question, was Nietzsche married?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Timely Advice from Epictetus

You want to win an Olympic victory? I do too, by the gods, since that is a fine thing. But consider what leads up to it and what follows it, and undertake the action in the light of that. You must be disciplined, keep a strict diet, stay away from cakes, train according to strict routine at a fixed time in heat and in cold, not drink cold water, not drink wine when you feel like it, and in general you must have turned yourself over to your trainer as to a doctor, and then in the contest 'dig in,' sometimes dislocate your hand, twist your ankle, swallow a lot of sand, sometimes be whipped, and, after all that, lose. Thank about that and then undertake training if you want to. Otherwise you will be behaving the way children do, who play wrestlers one time, gladiators another time, blow trumpets another time, then act a play.

Epictetus, Encheiridion

Quotable: Nietzsche

I do enjoy posting these things without much comment. I think it's because I feel it's better to interact with these thoughts without the context of affirmation/condemnation.
2. The intellectual conscience.—I keep having the same experience and keep resisting it every time. I do not want to believe it although it is palpable: the great majority of people lacks an intellectual conscience. Indeed, it has often seemed to me as if anyone calling for an intellectual conscience were as lonely in the most densely populated cities as if he were in a desert. Everybody looks at you with strange eyes and goes right on handling his scales, calling this good and that evil. Nobody even blushes when you intimate that their weights are underweight; nor do people feel outraged; they merely laugh at your doubts. I mean: the great majority of people does not consider it contemptible to believe this or that and to live accordingly, without first having given themselves an account of the final and most certain reasons pro and con, and without even troubling themselves about such reasons afterward: the most gifted men and the noblest women still belong to this "great majority." But what is goodheartedness, refinement, or genius to me, when the person who has these virtues tolerates slack feelings in his faith and judgments and when he does not account the desire for certainty as his inmost craving and deepest distress—as that which separates the higher human beings from the lower.

Among some pious people I found a hatred of reason and was well disposed to them for that; for this at least betrayed their bad intellectual conscience. But to stand in the midst of this rerum concordia discors [discordant concord of things] and of this whole marvelous uncertainty and rich ambiguity of existence without questioning, without trembling with the craving and the rapture of such questioning, without at least hating the person who questions, perhaps even finding him faintly amusing—that is what I feel to be contemptible, and this is the feeling for which I look first in everybody. Some folly keeps persuading me that every human being has this feeling, simply because he is human. This is my type of injustice.

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science

Monday, February 08, 2010

Quotable: Plato, death heals

“ὦ Κρίτων, ἔφη, τῷ Ἀσκληπιῷ ὀφείλομεν ἀλεκτρυόνα: ἀλλὰ ἀπόδοτε καὶ μὴ ἀμελήσητε.”

ἀλλὰ ταῦτα, ἔφη, ἔσται, ὁ Κρίτων: ἀλλ᾽ ὅρα εἴ τι ἄλλο λέγεις.

ταῦτα ἐρομένου αὐτοῦ οὐδὲν ἔτι ἀπεκρίνατο, ἀλλ᾽ ὀλίγον χρόνον διαλιπὼν ἐκινήθη τε καὶ ὁ ἄνθρωπος ἐξεκάλυψεν αὐτόν, καὶ ὃς τὰ ὄμματα ἔστησεν: ἰδὼν δὲ ὁ Κρίτων συνέλαβε τὸ στόμα καὶ τοὺς ὀφθαλμούς.

ἥδε ἡ τελευτή, ὦ Ἐχέκρατες, τοῦ ἑταίρου ἡμῖν ἐγένετο, ἀνδρός, ὡς ἡμεῖς φαῖμεν ἄν, τῶν τότε ὧν ἐπειράθημεν ἀρίστου καὶ ἄλλως φρονιμωτάτου καὶ δικαιοτάτου.

“Crito, we owe a cock to Aesculapius. Pay it and do not neglect it.” “That,” said Crito, “shall be done; but see if you have anything else to say.” To this question he made no reply, but after a little while he moved; the attendant uncovered him; his eyes were fixed. And Crito when he saw it, closed his mouth and eyes.

Such was the end, Echecrates, of our friend, who was, as we may say, of all those of his time whom we have known, the best and wisest and most righteous man.

One Giant Hologram?

This blows my mind:
If this doesn't blow your socks off, then Hogan, who has just been appointed director of Fermilab's Center for Particle Astrophysics, has an even bigger shock in store: "If the GEO600 result is what I suspect it is, then we are all living in a giant cosmic hologram."

The idea that we live in a hologram probably sounds absurd, but it is a natural extension of our best understanding of black holes, and something with a pretty firm theoretical footing. It has also been surprisingly helpful for physicists wrestling with theories of how the universe works at its most fundamental level.

The holograms you find on credit cards and banknotes are etched on two-dimensional plastic films. When light bounces off them, it recreates the appearance of a 3D image. In the 1990s physicists Leonard Susskind and Nobel prizewinner Gerard 't Hooft suggested that the same principle might apply to the universe as a whole. Our everyday experience might itself be a holographic projection of physical processes that take place on a distant, 2D surface.

The "holographic principle" challenges our sensibilities. It seems hard to believe that you woke up, brushed your teeth and are reading this article because of something happening on the boundary of the universe. No one knows what it would mean for us if we really do live in a hologram, yet theorists have good reasons to believe that many aspects of the holographic principle are true.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Quotable: Plato, contra the misologue

You know how those in particular who spend their time studying contradiction in the end believe themselves to have become very wise and that they alone have understood that there is no soundness or reliability in any object or in any argument, but that all exists simply fluctuates up and down as if it were in the Euripus1 and does not remain in the same place for any time at all.

What you say, I said, is certainly true.

It would be pitiable, Phaedo, he said, when there is a true and reliable argument and one that can be understood, if a man who has dealt with such arguments as appear at one time true, at another time untrue, should not blame himself or his own lack of skill but, because of his distress, in the end gladly shift the blame away from himself to the arguments and spend the rest of his life hating and reviling reasonable discussion and so be deprived of truth and knowledge of reality.

Plato, Phaedo

1 The Euripus was the name of the straits between Euboea and Boeotia; its currents were both violent and variable.

Monday, February 01, 2010

On Evil, David Bentley Hart is confronted with only this bare choice: either one embraces the mystery of created freedom and accepts that the union of free spiritual creatures with the God of love is a thing so wonderful that the power of creation to enslave itself to death must be permitted by God; or one judges that not even such rational freedom is worth the risk of a cosmic fall and the terrible injustice of the concequences that follow from it. But, then, since there can be no context in
which such a judgment can be meaningfully made, no perspective from which a finite Euclidean mind can weigh eschatological glory in the balance against earthly suffering, the rejection of God on these grounds cannot really be a rational decision, but only a moral pathos.

And yet Ivan's (Karamozov) argument still cannot be set aside, for a number of reasons: because it is in fact a genuinely moral pathos to which it gives expresion, which means that it is haunted by the declaration in Christ of God's perfect goodnes; and because it is precisely the finite Euclidean mind that is meant to be transfigured by God's love and awakened to God's mercy, and so the restlessness of unquiet heart must not be treated as mere foolish unfaithfulness;"

The Doors of the Sea, David Bentley Hart