Thursday, March 10, 2005

How to Lose a War

The 18th century saw the rise of a new "theology," Humanism. The positive development enabling the growth of Humanism was the rise of modern science. But there was also an intellectual void that allowed Humanism to co-opt science. Christians have largely adopted three responses, all of which have left Humanism unchallenged to lay waste the surrounding culture:

  1. Mainline (liberal) Protestants and liberal Catholics welcomed it and had no scruples in overthrowing tradition and Scripture in favor of scientistic doctrines.
  2. Evangelical Protestants, for whom doctrine depends on private interpretation, clamped down on the interpretation of scripture.
  3. Faithful Catholics, for whom doctrine has always been settled and constant, separated their metaphysics from natural philosophy. Many retreated into the philosophy of Esse (Being).

In military terms, these responses divide into two categories:

  1. Switch sides and declare victory (n. 1)
  2. Retreat behind siege walls (i.e., texts; nn. 2 & 3)

Faith found "safety" by walling itself off from the "really real" world of science, but in so doing abandoned all claims to that world. The natural world is where we live; it is life. To hide behind battlements, to cut oneself off from the natural world, is to banish oneself to the irrelevance of subjectivism. (Remember Gandalf's counsel in Moria: "We must not get shut in.")

Both categories of response leave Humanism with the field. Clearly there can be no victory over Humanism if there is no challenge to it.

The only way to win the war and take back the world is to challenge Humanism on the grounds of the objective world now occupied by science. Science is already turning to our side. Scientistic ideology is giving way to scientific data, for example (off the top of my head):

  • Sociological studies show that children are gravely damaged by divorce,
  • Ultrasound shows convincingly the humanity of the unborn child,
  • Darwinism and its heirs suffer from tremendous empirical gaps.

Nevertheless the ideological root of Humanism remains untouched. Whittaker Chambers writes from his own experience with a most potent form of Humanism:

[Communism] is an intensely practical vision. The tools to turn it into reality are at hand—science and technology, whose traditional method, the rigorous exclusion of all supernatural factors in solving problems, has contributed to the intellectual climate in which the vision flourishes, just as they have contributed to the crisis in which Communism thrives. For the vision is shared by millions who are not Communists (they are part of Communism's secret strength). Its first commandment is found, not in the Communist Manifesto, but in the first sentence of the physics primer: "All of the progress of mankind to date results from the making of careful measurements."

If religious believers are to turn the tide, we need to seize the objective, natural world back from Humanism by developing an integrally realistic philosophy of nature.

If we want to lose, we need only continue hiding.

Benedict Ashley, Theologies of the Body: Humanist and Christian (Braintree, MA: The Pope John Center, 1985), 61, 213, 231-232.

Whittaker Chambers, Witness (New York: Random House, 1952), forward. (Clipped from The Augustine Club)


MC said...

Can you give an explanation of what you mean by "integrally realistic philosophy of nature"? Some examples would be helpful.

How would it help scientists to have this philosophy? How does this way of thinking become part of our vision of the world?


MC said...

Can you give an explanation of what you mean by "integrally realistic philosophy of nature"? Some examples or reading suggestions would be helpful.


Lawrence Gage said...

Dear MC,

Thanks for your very good questions.

By "integrally realistic philosophy of nature" I mean a philosophy of nature that reflects the reality of not just quantities, but of qualities and that thus admits purpose back into nature. I plan to write more on these topics in coming posts.

How would it help scientists to have this philosophy?Only with purpose can scientists (and humans in general) find their place in the universe.

Intellectually more knowledge about nature (through qualities, purposes) can only better develop the wholeness of our knowledge of nature.

How does this way of thinking become part of our vision of the world?By learning about it and taking to heart its truths, e.g., through education and cultural media, like literature and music. Not to mention the religion. Like any truth, it would need to be acknowledged in every aspect of life. It's difficult to set limits.

As for reading recommendations on this topic, I'd first of all highly recommend Anthony Rizzi's The Science Before Science (Baton Rouge: IAP Press, 2004) [also from Amazon]. On top of that, many of the books I've refered to in this blog, e.g. Benedict Ashley's Theologies of the Body, William Wallace's The Modeling of Nature, are very good though not dealing as directly with this topic as far as I've read.

I hope that this answers your questions. Thanks again!


Anonymous said...

What do you mean (or whose philosophy are you signifying) by the term "the philosophy of Esse (Being)" and in what regard do you think it is a philosophy that separates metaphysics from natural philosophy?

Anonymous said...

I agree with your post in the main, but I always feel a tad nervous when I see Catholics criticize evolution. If you really wish to change popular culture, you should choose your battles carefully, and siding with Creationists is equivalent to joining forces with Mussolini.

Evolution has flaws, but there is no valid replacement thesis to replace it. Creationism per se is humorously stupid, and intelligent design is a simplistic gloss that is merely a more subjective interpretation of evolution. To paraphrase Churchill, "evolution is the worst possible explanation of the natural world ... except for all the others."

I think the dislike many RCs have for evolution is because of the many nasty atheist humanists like Stephen Jay Gould who have used it for decades as the cutting edge of an anti-religious agenda. Evolution does not have to be used in that manner, and effort must be made to separate the scientific theory from the misuses to which it has been put.

If evolution were unopposed, or opposed by level-headed rationalistic alternatives, then dismissing it would be an easier chore. However, at heart, the main populist evolution opposition at this point in time is a bunch of ignorant fundamentalists who don't like to be compared to apes. Tough noogies, but in the meantime claiming the earth is 4,500 years old and that dinosaur bones were arbitrarily aged by God and put underground to test the faithful (quotes from Pat Buchanan) just opens one to ridicule. Check the demographics on beliefs in evolution out -- the evolution opposition is composed mainly of poorly educated folks.

Moreover, if we Catholics wish to change popular opinion on things that matter (abortion, stem cells) we must avoid the appearance of being unscientific cranks, and siding with the anti-evolution lobby definitely gives us this baggage. No matter how many holes there are in evolution, arguing against it on the mainstream level makes one look like a reactionary because of the lowbrow nature of the rest of the opposition.

As Church teaching does not oppose evolution,

and as that theory has markedly little moral weight on matters of current concern, let's fight for things that matter, leave the know-nothing fundamentalists to their own text-book labeling agenda, and wait for evolution to be disproved by some coherent, demonstrable, and unbiased alternative!


Lawrence Gage said...

Dear Anonymous(1):

Thanks for your question. The philosophy I'm refering to is the quasi-official Catholic philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas.

I am not criticizing 20th-century work on the philosophy of Being—I'm sure it's good philosophy—but the flight from confronting Humanism in the objective world that its historical timing entailed. Baking a cake is a good thing in itself. Baking a cake while there's a thief in your living room is not a good thing, even though the cake may turn out wonderfully.

Also, when I say "separated" in this context, I don't mean formally, but materially. In other words, it's not an error manifested in the philosophical system, but by concrete people ignoring the masked stranger in the living room.

Thanks again for your question; I appreciate the opportunity to clarify.


Lawrence Gage said...

Dear CMK:

Thanks for the wonderfully documented comments! Your points are well taken.

You may know this already, but let's be clear that Darwinism is not identical with evolution, even common parlance uses the words interchangeably. Darwinism is the belief that random mutations and natural selection bring about evolution. It is only a mechanism for evolution.

The problem is that this mechanism or explanation isn't really very scientific. A scientific explanation tells us why something happens. Chance (or randomness) is the intersection of two otherwise unrelated lines of causality (Aristotle); it is not an explanation of why those lines of causality intersect. Chance explains nothing. In reality Darwinism is a pseudo-scientific way of saving face while throwing up one's hands in despair.

that theory has markedly little moral weight on matters of current concern

Here I have to disagree. Vehemently. Darwinian evolution not only allows atheists to maintain a fig leaf of respectability, but also allows even non-atheists to deny purpose in the universe and thus to condemn morality as an "unnatural" imposition of arbitrary rules.

Certainly Darwinism is not the root of all evil in the modern world, but it is the mediator of much of it.

Yes, the ID is not perfect, but it is drastically better than Darwinism and its heirs. The real problem with the ID movement is its philosophical superficiality: they miss the errors underlying Darwinism (to which Chambers alludes)—as if one can kill a dandelion by chopping off the parts above ground.


Julie the Protestant said...

I'm not going to lie, John. I'm not sure why you let me know this discussion was going on! You've heard my views about 20xs in 50 different ways. Seriously, I probably need to find about 6 months to do serious study before I "tap this" ...

Julie the Protestant said...

One brief comment (unrelated to my true favorite topic -- BTW I just saw the movie "Luther." Gotta admit, I finished that movie with the feeling they'd left ALOT out -- good romance, though.) --

Here's the problem. People quickly attribute miracles to the divine. Miracles shatter the premise of unaided nature. The problem is, "unaided nature" is one big collection of miracles. They're just familiar miracles. Point being, the only reason atheists get away with their ridiculous position is b/c the evidence of God is regular. Which, of course, makes their position all the more ridiculous, when you think about it. It's kinda like saying computers put themselves together because you see them everywhere, everyday.

ludwig said...

Humanism is unfortunately an enormously difficult concept to locate historically or reach much consensus on. The Heidegger-inspired account that sees "humanism" as the bogeyman of history is interesting, but not easily empirically cooberated. Worse, keep in mind that Anglo/French/American ideas of constitutionalism, human rights, and capitalism amounted to just another 'humanism' for Heidegger and his disciples--in fact one of the most evil types.

In the end, if humanism is defined as a body of thought that emphasizes human potentiality and the importance of a fruitful tension between autonomy and community, as opposed to determined or deterministic rules of human conduct, then I'll all for it. But in the academy, humanism has pretty much become whatever one wants it to mean.

Lawrence Gage said...


This post is no more an "attack" on Protestantism than it is on Catholicism. Read more carefully please....

You seem to be using the word "miracles" equivocally. Equivocation is a sure way to confuse your audience, if not yourself.


Lawrence Gage said...


Thanks for your comment. It's funny that you would site Heidegger as a critic of humanism. In my ignorance, I would've classed him as a humanist.

I take my notion of humanism from Benedict Ashley's book. He sites Humanist Manifesto II as a set of common principles that humanists subscribe to.

Fr. Ashley writes in Theologies of the Body:

It is important to note that while Humanist Manifesto II sounds politically and ethically "liberal," its basic principles are common to both liberals and conservatives in the elites of the western democracies. The differences between left and right in the twentieth century is no longer between Humanists or Marxists [on the one hand] and Christians [on the other], but between Humanists and Marxists, or (as in the United States) between Humanists who stress "social welfare" and Humanists who stress "free enterprise." (57-58)

So it sounds like Fr. Ashley would agree with Heidegger, though I would be surprised if he had drawn much inspiration from him.