Sunday, December 28, 2014


Wisdom is the recovery of innocence at the far end of experience; it is the ability to see again what most of us have forgotten how to see, but now fortified by the ability to translate some of that vision into words, however inadequate.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

'The Cardinal Difficulty with Naturalism'

In Chapter 3 of his Miracles, Lewis' argument is simultaneously thick while his point is simple: Reason must precede Nature. Too sort out the logic of the chapter, I have tried to confer the argument in a syllogistic outline (which is neither my forte nor my preference). But I have done so, not only for my own sake, but for the sake of others, that the argument can become less opaque. Below is my best effort strewn together over free time during a couple of days.

I.                    It is clear that everything we know, beyond our own immediate sensations, is inferred from those sensations.
a.       Put in its most general form the inference would run, ‘Since I am presented with colours, sounds, shapes, pleasures and pains which I cannot perfectly predict or control, and since the more I investigate them the more regular their behaviour appears, therefore there must exist something other than myself and it must be systematic’.
II.                  All possible knowledge, then, depends on the validity of reasoning… Unless human reasoning is valid no science can be true.
III.                It follows that no account of the universe can be true unless that account leaves it possible for our thinking to be a real insight.
IV.                Naturalism discredits our processes of reasoning or at least reduces their credit to such a humble level that it can no longer support Naturalism itself.
a.       There are two senses of the word ‘because’.
                                                               i.      Cause and Effect
1.       Definition
a.       a dynamic connection between events or ‘states of affairs’
b.      essential to every event in Nature
2.       Example
a.       ’Grandfather is ill today because he ate lobster yesterday.’
b.      ’He cried out because it hurt him.’
                                                             ii.      Ground and Consequent
1.       Definition
a.       a logical relation between beliefs or assertions
b.      essential to valid trains of reasoning
2.       Example
a.       ’Grandfather is ill today because he hasn’t got up yet (and we know he is an invariably early riser when he is well).’
b.      ’It must have hurt him because he cried out.’
b.      Two answers to the question ‘Why do you think this?’
                                                               i.      Because…’ (Ground-Consequent)
1.       Valid thinking flows thusly: One truth necessarily follows from another truth.
                                                             ii.      Because…’ (Cause-Effect)
1.       Our acts of thinking are events.
2.       Every event in Nature must be connected with previous events.
3.       Our acts of thinking must be connected with previous events.
c.       This raises a dilemma: How can a thought-event be both valid and caused? Or What is the relationship between logical causation and natural causation in the event of a thought?
                                                               i.      To be caused is not to be proved.
1.       Example
a.       Wishful thinkings, prejudices, and the delusions of madness, are all caused but they are ungrounded.
2.       Often, in fact, if a thought can be wholly accounted for in terms of cause, it is considered false.
a.       Example
                                                                                                                                       i.      ‘You say that because you are a capitalist, or a hypochondriac, or a mere man, or only a woman.’
3.       The system of logic (ground-consequent) and the system of nature (cause-effect) are wholly distinct.
                                                             ii.      But even if a thought is grounded, this seems irrelevant to its causation.
1.       Thoughts tend to happen both logically and illogically – in either case, they are caused.
                                                            iii.      The solution may be this: We must say that just as one way in which a mental event causes a subsequent mental event is by Association (when I think of parsnips I think of my first school), so another way in which it can cause it, is simply by being a ground for it.
1.       Being logical causes a thought to happen.
2.       Being a cause and being a proof coincide.
                                                           iv.      But this is false because a thought does not cause (like a trigger) the thoughts which logically precede or proceed from it.
1.       This would mean thinking the thought ‘This is glass’ would instantly trigger an infinite series of thoughts that are deduced from it.
                                                             v.      So then, this: One thought can cause another not by being, but by being seen to be, a ground for it.
                                                           vi.      Thoughts are unique events.
1.       Most events are value neutral (neither true or false, but merely states of affairs.)
a.       To say ‘these events, or facts are false’ means of course that someone’s account of them is false.
2.       But a thought is about something other than itself and can be true or false.
                                                          vii.      Acts of inference demand to be seen in two lights:
1.       A subjective event in somebody’s psychological history.
a.       In the inference ‘If A, then B’ we would say ‘Thought B followed Thought A’.
2.       They are insights into, or knowings of, something other than themselves.
a.       In the inference ‘If A, then B’ we would say ‘A follows from B’.
                                                                                                                                       i.      If it ever ‘follows from’ in the logical sense, it does so always.
b.      We cannot possibly reject this as a subjective illusion without discrediting all human knowledge.
                                                                                                                                       i.      We can know nothing, beyond our own sensations at the moment unless the act of inference is the real insight that it claims to be.
                                                                                                                                     ii.      An act of knowing must be determined, in a sense, solely by what is known; we must know it to be thus solely because it is thus. That is what knowing means.
3.       An act of knowing can be described in the Cause-Effect version of ‘because’ – but uniquely so.
a.       An act of knowing is conditioned by attention, states of will, and health.
b.      But its positive content is determined by the truth it knows.
c.       It is caused, but it is not determined by the sum of its causes.
d.      Any thing which professes to explain our reasoning fully without introducing an act of knowing thus solely determined by what is known, is really a theory that there is no reasoning.
e.      Naturalism offers what professes to be a full account of our mental behaviour; but this account, on inspection, leaves no room for acts of knowing or insight on which the whole value of our thinking, as a means of truth, depends.
V.                  The origin of reason, historically, is difficult to account for on a purely naturalistic basis.
a.       Mental behaviour is to be distinguished from Rational Thought.
                                                               i.      Natural selection adequately explains the arrival of complex mental faculties.
1.       Lewis uses the example of vision.
                                                             ii.      Rational Thought is marked by abstract (reflective) thought.
1.       Our Physical vision is a far more useful response to light than that of cruder organisms which have only a photo-sensitive spot. But neither this improvement nor any possible improvements we can suppose could bring it an inch nearer to being a knowledge of light.
2.       It is not men with specially good eyes who know about light, but men who have studied the relevant sciences.
b.      Tradition and Repeated experience are to be distinguished from Rational Thought.
                                                               i.      Repeated experiences of finding fire where he had seen smoke would condition a man to expect fire whenever he saw smoke. This expectation, expressed in the form ‘If smoke, then fire’ becomes what we call inference.
1.       All such inferences are invalid.
a.       Example
                                                                                                                                       i.      Water always boils at 212 (until someone tried a picnic in the mountain).
2.       The assumption that things which have been conjoined in the past will always be conjoined in the future is the guiding principle not of rational but of animal behaviour.
                                                             ii.      Reason comes in precisely when you make the inference ‘Since always conjoined, therefore probably connected’ and go on to attempt the discovery of the connection.
                                                            iii.      Sometimes, an inference can be made without experience.
1.       In these cases, those inferences proceed from tautologies (axioms).
2.       Tautologies are things which are completely and certainly known.
3.       The degree to which any true proportion is a tautology depends on the degree of your insight into it.
a.       Example
                                                                                                                                       i.      9 x 7 = 63 is a tautology to an arithmetician.
                                                                                                                                     ii.      9 x 7 = 63 is not a tautology to a child.
4.       If Nature is a totally interlocked system, then every true statement about her would be a tautology to an intelligence that could grasp that system in its entirety.
VI.                The problem is this: a naturalistic history is… an account in Cause and Effect terms, of how people came to think the way they do. And this of course leaves in the air the quite different question of how they could possibly be justified in so thinking.
a.       This imposes on him the very embarrassing task of trying to show how the evolutionary product which he has described could also be a power of ‘seeing’ truths.
b.      The naturalist may in turn claim that inference, too, is a product of natural selection, even if we cannot yet explain the origin of inference.
                                                               i.      The argument goes thusly:
1.       What is most useful is what is selected.
2.       Inference is quite useful.
3.       Therefore, it is likely naturally selected.
                                                             ii.      ‘If useful, then true.’
                                                            iii.      This, of course, is an inference.
1.       And so is reducible to mere matters of Cause and Effect.             
c.       The humble alternative for the naturalist is to suspend any value to things like theology, ontology, metaphysics, etc…
                                                               i.      But this also means suspension of belief in naturalism, which is, after all, a metaphysical claim.
VII.              Theism, on the other hand, offers itself as a less audacious alternative to naturalism.
a.       For the theist, reason is older than Nature, and is the source of nature’s orderliness.
b.      Reason, Logic, and Order, inherent in God, and imparted to Nature, is the very thing that allows us to know Nature.
c.       To subsume Reason under Nature would be to lose both Reason and Nature.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Divine Incompressibility in the Church Fathers

Marion demonstrates the deeply patristic pedigree of divine incompressibility:
Consequently the requirement to neither know nor name God in terms of presence traverses the entirety of Christian theology. (a) It appears in the Apologists of the second century - first Justin Martyr: "No one can utter a name for the ineffable God;" then Athenagoras: "Hear this, oh man: the form of God cannot be uttered, nor expressed and eyes of flesh do not have the power to see it." (b) Likewise, it shows up in the first of the Alexandrians - take the Christians, first Clement "the First Cause is not in space, but above space and time and name and conception ... For our interrogation bears on the formless and invisible"; "invisible and incapable of being circumscribed"; "the invisible and ineffable God." Then Origen: "God is incomprehensible and incapable of being measured." Consider also Philo, the Jew: "It is a great good to comprehend that God is incomprehensible in terms of his Being and to see that he is invisible." (c) And also Athanasius: "God is good and the friend of men.... By his nature, he is invisible and incomprehensible, residing beyond all begotten essence." (d) Basil clearly indicates the paradox with this remark: "[K]nowledge of the of the divine essence involves sensing His incompressibility." (e) And there is nothing surprising in the fact that Gregory of Nyssa should have repeated it almost word for word: "This is the true knowledge of what is sought [sc., seeing the invisible and incomprehensible God] - ; this is the seeing that consists in not seeing, because that which is sought transcends all knowledge, being separated on all sides by incompressibility as by a kind of darkness." (f) John Chrysostom parses it in a slightly different form: "All the while knowing that God is, he [Saint Paul] does not know what his essence is," for "the essence of God is incomprehensible." (g) Of course John of Damascus comes next: "No one has seen God. The only-begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father has himself taught this. The divine is ineffable and incomprehensible" (h) Nothing different from Augustine: "God the highest, who is known better than knowing." (i) Nor from Bernard: "Non ea disputatio comprehendit, sed sanctitas: si quo modo tamen comprehendi potest quod incomprehensibile est." (k) Nor even from Thomas Aquinas, for whom seeing as "what God himself is remains hidden and unknown," it is necessary that man knows how to unknown. Thomas therefore comments on the principle advanced by Dionysius in perfectly appropriate terms: "[W]hat the substance of God is remains in excess of our intellect and therefore is unknown to us; on account of this, the highest human knowledge of God is to know that one does not know God." Without continuing ad infinitum with this anthology of citations, it seems legitimate to admit as a fact still to be explained that at least for the Church Fathers theology does not consist in naming God properly, but in knowing him precisely as what cannot be known properly - what must not be known, if one wants to know it as such.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Christian Words

One of the more beautiful passages from Against Christianity (p. 68):
"Several years ago, I happened to be visiting my parents when a longtime friend of my mother died. As I left the funeral, I spoke briefly to the woman's son and in parting said, 'The Lord be with you.' Without hesitation, he responded , 'And also with you.' We had not seen one another in nearly a decade, but in that moment our common training in the Lutheran liturgy gave us words to say - Christian words - words of comfort and encouragement in the face of death.

Our common training in liturgy had taught us, in that moment at least, to speak Christianly."
I recalled this passage a week into Lent, the day we buried my brother-in-law, and stood silently over the grave site. My Irish uncle suggested we say an Our Father before departing, which we in turn did. It felt meet and right to have the grace of such words of solidarity in the face of death. And even now, as I never know soundly how to pray rightly, having the words of our Lord is an incredible blessing.