Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category
A truly extraordinary interview to Jesuit Father James Schall on the Vatican’s Zenit, about his book “The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays“, that “explores the habits of being that allow one to use the tools of faith and reason to explore all things seen and unseen“.
Somehow, there’s lots of me in that interview. A few extracts follow:
ZENIT: What does it mean to have a mind that is Catholic? What are its key elements?
Father Schall: The mind that is Catholic is open to all sources of information, including what comes from Revelation […] It is characteristic of the Catholic mind to insist that all that is knowable is available and considered by us in our reflections on reality.
[…] We think, in the end, that what is peculiar in Catholicism is not opposed to reason but rather constitutes a completion of it. It was Aristotle who warned us that the reason we do not accept the truth even when it is presented to us is because we do not really want to know it. Knowing it would force us to change our ways. If we do not want to change our ways, we will invent a “theory” whereby we can live without the truth. The “primary” source of the Catholic mind is reality itself, including the reality of revelation.
[…] Why do these and many other thinkers “embody a mind that is Catholic?” I think it is because they take everything into account. What is peculiar to Catholicism, I have always thought, is its refusal to leave anything out. In my short book, “The Regensburg Lecture,” I was constantly astonished at the enormous range of the mind of the present Holy Father. There is simply no mind in any university or public office that can match his. He is a humble man, in fact. It is embarrassing to the world, and often to Catholic “intellectuals,” to find that its most intelligent mind is on the Chair of Peter. I have always considered this papal intellectual profundity to be God’s little joke to the modern mind.
[…] Catholicism knows that all sorts and sources of knowledge flow into its mind, one of which — the primary one that makes it unique — is revelation. But it is a revelation, in its own terms, addressed to active reason. That too is the mind that is Catholic.
A mathematical theory places limits on how much a physical entity can know about the past, present or future…
David H. Wolpert, a physics-trained computer scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center, has chimed in with his version of a knowledge limit. Because of it, he concludes, the universe lies beyond the grasp of any intellect, no matter how powerful, that could exist within the universe. Specifically, during the past two years, he has been refining a proof that no matter what laws of physics govern a universe, there are inevitably facts about the universe that its inhabitants cannot learn by experiment or predict with a computation…
As Scott Aaronson, a computer scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, puts it: “That your predictions about the universe are fundamentally constrained by you yourself being part of the universe you’re predicting, always seemed pretty obvious to me…”
What is therefore the point to atheism? Even if there is nothing else but the physical universe, there is no way for any part of it to “learn it all by experiment” or “predict with a computation“. In other words, the physical universe is the only thing that can fully know the physical universe.
How far is that from the definition of Divinity? And what does that leave to the atheist? Absurdities like believing in the non-existence of the physical universe?
If Wolpert is right, there is no logic left in atheism. And Dawkins’ “Ultimate 747” proof of the non-existence of God appears quaint: the Divinity cannot be any part of the physical universe.
One of course can and will always be able to reasonably state agnosticism. But post-Wolpert agnosticism becomes simply the belief that the Divinity cannot be communicated with or experienced as such).
There is one thing we can be certain of, in any case: that there’s more out there than a collection of physical entities.
It took a while, but I have finally found the original source behind Elissa Ely’s “Bridging the abyss – if only briefly” thoughtful contribution to the IHT.
It’s from Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik‘s “Confrontation“, and appeared in “Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Thought“, 1964 volume 6, #2. Quote only very slightly modifed, from the Boston College’s website:
It is paradoxical yet nonetheless true that each human being lives both in an existential community, surrounded by friends, and in a state of existential loneliness and tension, confronted by strangers. In each to whom I relate as a human being, I find a friend, for we have many things in common, as well as a stranger, for each of us is unique and wholly other.
This otherness stands in the way of complete mutual understanding. The gap of uniqueness is too wide to be bridged. Indeed, it is not a gap, it is an abyss. Of course, there prevails, quite often, a harmony of interests, – economic, political, social – upon which two individuals focus their attention. However, two people glancing at the same object may continue to lead isolated, closed-in existences. Coordination of interest does not spell an existential union.
We frequently engage in common enterprise and we prudently pursue common goals, traveling temporarily along parallel roads, yet our destinations are not the same. We are, in the words of the Torah, a helpmeet to each other, yet at the same time, we experience the state of remaining different and opposed to each other. We think, feel and respond to events not in unison but singly, each one in his individual fashion.
Man is a social being, yearning for a together-existence in which services are exchanged and experiences shared, and a lonely creature, shy and reticent, fearful of the intruding cynical glance of his next-door neighbor. In spite of our sociability and outer-directed nature, we remain strangers to each other.
Our feelings of sympathy and love for our confronter are rooted in the surface personality and they do not reach into the inner recesses of our depth personality which never leaves its ontological seclusion and never becomes involved in a communal existence.
It turns out, Pope Benedict was not so wrong after all.
Excerpts from “A Rescue of Religion” by John Gray, The New York Review of Books, Volume 55, Number 15 · October 9, 2008 – reviewing “Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?: 23 Questions from Great Philosophers” by Leszek Kolakowski, Basic Books:
It is part of Kolakowski’s achievement as the greatest living intellectual historian to have tracked the ways in which religion has shaped Western thought. His work is, in effect, a sustained argument for the irreducible presence of religion in intellectual life and in society. In Kolakowski’s view the secular movements of the last century, such as communism, […] deployed categories of thought, including a view of history as a narrative having a consummation or end-point, which are inheritances from Western monotheism. […] Religion was not in truth superseded, either in Marx’s thought or in the movements Marx inspired. Instead, the promise of salvation reemerged as a project of universal emancipation.
The renewal of religious categories of thinking in avowedly secular systems of ideas […] continued in the ideology of neoconservatism. The notion of the end of history […] derives from religious traditions of apocalyptic myth. […] Presupposing as they do a teleological view of history that cannot be stated in empirical terms, all such theories are religious narratives translated into secular language. […]
Religion has had a formative influence on our categories of thought, which it is the task of philosophy to examine. Excavating the archaeology of our concepts is a part of philosophical inquiry. For us, that inescapably involves tracing their debts to Judaism and Christianity. Any way of doing philosophy that neglects these traditions is unhistorical and impoverished.
There are some philosophers for whom the only place for religion in philosophical inquiry is that of a bogey, a specter of irrationality that must be exposed and expelled so that philosophy can be an entirely secular discipline. As Kolakowski has argued, however, a good deal of secular thought has been shaped by Western religion. Exorcising religion is harder than it seems.
The existence of a Multiverse has many philosophical consequences (and it just makes so much more physical sense than having us living in a Goldilocks Universe). And as the Multiverse has been postulated from actual observations, we can almost say we can test its existence.
Of course it would be all much more interesting if we could talk to a parallel universe.
Or would it? Communication between Universes may actually be made rather difficult by a “crowding echo effect“.
Imagine I were to try send a message via a quantum interference pattern, for example.
Obviously, all my quasi-identical copies from “nearby” parallel universes quasi-identical to my own Universe, would be trying to send quasi-identical information via quasi-identical ways at quasi-identical times: so we could all be creating so much noise as to make the reception of any message next-to-impossible.
Even more paradoxically, we could actually be reading each other’s message: but since those messages would all be quasi-identical to each other, we could mistakenly convince ourselves that we were listening each one only to his own echo.
After all what meaningful information could anybody exchange with a quasi-identical copy?
It may take a very very long time to figure out the minute differences between the two and those may as well be undetectable or absolutely irrelevant.
One thing to clarify first. I wrote a blog, not a 100-page tome dissecting the question from all points of view. So it naturally had to come across simplified and blunt.
Anyway, as usual in discussions like this, the main point is not necessarily the topic of the blog. And so the contention, more than the beliefs of professed atheists, is on the exact concept of “Deity”.
Of course, usually “Deity” is associated (in the shared culture of most of the people reading this blog) with a “Personal, Sentient, Omnipotent and Benevolent God”. People are free not to believe in that God. Many of those will then develop the impression that that will qualify them as “atheists”.
According to my reasoning, that is a logical fallacy. And even if one doesn’t believe in Abraham’s God, or the Hindu “Pantheon” or whatever other organized religion, still one is not necessarily an “atheist”.
Actually, one cannot be a “logical atheist“. Since we are here there has to be something that caused us to be. Either we accept the agnosticist’s point, and that “something” is not knowable, or we have to accept the existence of some sort of Deity (or deity).
To explain it further I start with NF: “If ‘luck’ fills the ‘gap’ where you think a ‘god’ should be, it doesn’t mean that person views luck in the same way that you view God, or someone else views their gods, i.e raised to a level of a diety of some sort, to be revered and venerated”.
Well, I made in the blog the point that a deity doesn’t have to be worshiped, venerated, and may be uninterested to the world or completely lacking any conscience. There are plenty of examples one way or the other in hundreds of human traditions. And of course, it could be Nature.
In fact, I suggested that a “logical atheist” can only recur to “Luck” as the Source of Everything. Some people may not like that: call it “chance” then, or “the force of randomness”. Or “Nature” (a slightly different concept). The main argument does not change: there has to be a “Source of Everything”
And so to Joe, who writes “There is no reason to suppose that anything other than natural processes are the cause of our existence”; to SL, who says “we can at least conceive plausible explanations that do not require supernatural intervention”, and to MJP, who makes the point of being an “agnostic atheist”, saying “I see no reason to posit a supernatural cause”: my answer is that the rejection of “supernatural” is not necessarily the mark of an atheist.
One can only say that the Creator in that view of the world is “Natural”. There we go with Spinoza again.
Actually, as I wrote in my reply to Joe, a wholly-natural outlook of the Universe is very, very similar to animism. Under that, we are in the hands of Nature and all its constituents. Just substitute subatomic particles with the Spirit of the River, and the Spirit of the Mountain, etc etc.
Interestingly, this is a point that did not escape JB, as per his comment: “So how many quarks can dance on the head of a pin?”
And to finish: WV says “I no more consider myself an atheist for not believing in a supernatural being than I consider myself an aphilatelist for not collecting stamps”: but the situation varies considerably, if you believe or not in the nonexistence of stamps. It is one thing to be uninterested to them, another to actively argue they are not there.
Atheists have their Supreme Being too
“One who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods”: that is the usually-accepted definition for an Atheist.
Paradoxically, though, it cannot be true.
What do Atheists believe in, in fact? By denying the existence of God or gods, they have to assume that the “world” just happen to exist, and that we are here to talk about it due to pure luck.
Or to say it better, due to Pure Luck.
The ancient Greeks themselves recognized the power of Luck, and they worshiped Her as the Goddess Thyke.
And so Atheists have to believe in something: they have to believe in Luck.
Perhaps Luck is not a personal deity. Perhaps She is not interested to the ways of the world (still, can’t resist dabbling into it) and perhaps there is no point in praying to Her.
That is besides the point. The point is that if one exists and there is no God, then Luck must exist, and Luck is the Creator: for all intents and purposes, a God.
This applies also if Luck gets out of the way, and Creation is a property of a Spinozian Nature.
Hence nobody can be a strict, logical “Atheist”.
Agnosticists, on the other hand…