Some unscientific reality

Where things are not repeatable, they cannot be probable, for where multiple possibilities are not given there can be no probability-yielding proportion between the possible and actual.

Where things are not probable, they cannot arise from or be described by law.

A method that studies the repeatable is inadequate to study (a) what has an existence not composed with essence (b) what is a self beyond being merely individual (c) what is not bound by time and (d) what arises from chance.

(a) is existence that cannot be repeated in multiple instances because it cannot enter into any composition. This is the only thing on the list that is properly divine.

(b) is existence rising above essence that might in some respects be repeatable. So far as anything is a self, adds something beyond what can be captured in the repeated essence.

(c) is an existence that cannot be repeated.

(d) is an existence with no essence at all. That David saw Bathsheba out the window and seduced her is a narrative but not a logos. Pace Leibniz, “David” is not a logos that contains seeing or seducing Bathsheba.


The method for hitting the most probable

The first criteria to identify science was Aristotle’s: science is certain and all else is doxa. Science gave up on conclusions transcending doxa but held out hope that it could be identified by some method. So science becomes the method to find what is most probable.

Two problems:

1.) Probability is secondary or instrumental. Probability is a development of background assumptions, which you can say are probable but you can’t treat that way. Far from being a modest, humble approach where we settle for the probable, science becomes a way of systematically forgetting what we’re treating as certain.

2.) So far as probability is real, it is unintelligible. Probability is an index of uncertainty and so of our minds. Something like this is in the world too, but it is chance, which might make for an interesting story but not one where there is any intelligible connection between the terms. And no, a Parmenidean-Einsteinian block universe does not make all narratives necessary. To say that there is a unification of all physical events is to say infinitely less than that there is a unification of all physical events under all possible descriptions. A chance event might have a narrative (after it happens) but it needn’t have a (human) logos.


Theology of marriage

Christians follow Christ, but Christ is followed as either

a.) God made manifest as man in this present age.

b.) God manifesting man as he will exist in the eschaton.

According to (a), we are given sacraments. According to (b) we have the threefold vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. By poverty, we participate in the common ownership of all goods in the eschaton; by celibacy we participate in final transcendence of eros; by obedience we live as if under the kingship of Christ.

Marriage is therefore a perfect sacramentum (Eph. 5:32) so far as it is a sign giving grace through a love fixed in this world. All other sacraments either give a permanent character and so are not fixed in this world (baptism, confirmation, orders – and its proper operation in eucharist) or are recognitions of the absence of perfection in body or soul (penance, anointing). Marriage alone lacks the permanent character and so is firmly situated in the world while elevating and recognizing the love and perfection in that world.

Selfishness and the logic of the good

We evolved with instincts of co-operation. Genes are our masters and they demand social behavior. Okay. But we might equally well say that all humans treat common good is superior. A “selfishness that looks to the needs of others” is a muddle or a contradiction,* but to see my own highest good in something that is so superabundant that it cannot be exhausted by me is just what one expects a highest good to look like. Consider the limit case: an infinite good could never be spent up by me, and yet I could never prefer it to a finite one. We all tend to infinite goods, but the only proof we’ve found one is that we could be the universal, sufficient benefactor to everyone, including ourselves.

Even goods that can’t be shared, as goods, desire to be shared. Look within: The phenomenology of hoarding is not like keeping a museum piece but like jailing something. We are not preserving some resource in a fitting state but holding it at gunpoint. The lock on a hoard is as much to keep others from breaking in as to keep the good itself from breaking out. This is why private property is only a temporary dispensation to best preserve what will belong to all in the eschaton, and why even the exclusivity of eros – which also will not remain in the eschaton – must transcend itself.

Selfishness is for goods, but goods will not be hoarded. They have an energy and structure of their own that is an imitation of the highest good which is a set of persons that, cannot exist at all except as relative to each other. For the Father to hoard the Son would make the Son impossible, and therefore make the Father impossible.


*Or, better yet, it is a sort of working hypothesis to get deeper insight into how the common good is entirely personal and so fully present in our biological dimension.

Literal/ allegorical vs. tropological

a.) St. Thomas divides the literal from the allegorical sense of Scripture and gives some sort of primacy to the literal, but this primacy can’t consist in somehow being “more inspired”. Inspiration is divine authorship, and St. Thomas argues for an allegorical sense because he claims that God authors both words and of the realities they describe.

b.) The literal sense has a structural primacy in Scripture so far as the New Testament contains literally what is allegorical in the Old, and an argumentative primacy so far as doctrinal matters are based on the literal sense.

c.) Following Dionysius, “literal” includes what follows logically from it. If our words weren’t committed to everything that followed from them, we would not have to renounce what we said when some conclusion came to grief. It follows that only God speaks literally. None of us know all that our words commit us to.

d.) Following Erasmus (who is taking a cue from Augustine’s “Rule of Charity”) both the literal and allegorical senses are subordinate to the tropological sense, that is, scripture so far as it converts the heart. Just as God authors words and realities (1a) he also informs by language and directly acts on the heart. The literal sense is neither the basis nor material cause of the tropological sense since perfect conversion does not presuppose perfect grasp of the literal. We can teach persons from principles they already know; God can give insight even where there was no understanding before.

e.) Scripture scholarship easily becomes a systematic way of avoiding the tropological. Hebrew words! Later interpolations! A search for true authors! ANE motifs! All valuable to know, but all can be ways of avoiding Scripture.


Whether Christians and Muslims believe in the same God

Hypothesis: Asking whether Muslims and Christians believe in the same God is the same as asking whether geocentrism and heliocentrism are descriptions of the same universe.

So do they describe the same universe or not?

The question is not best seen as followed by an instruction to check the yes or no box. If you’re asking whether contrary theories to explain the same fact are about the same fact, then the answer is (analytically) yes. If you’re asking whether contrary theories to explain the same fact are the same (i.e. not contrary) then the answer is (again, analytically) no. Rather, the question becomes interesting when we ask what relation contrary accounts have to the thing they are accounting for.

When St. Thomas raises the same question in ST 1.13.10 his answer is that no one uses a word to signify X except to signify the real X, and that even when we are mistaken in our significations this does not change our orientation to speaking of a thing as it is. Since all our accounts arise from an orientation to the truth, mistaken accounts are dependent on this basic orientation, which gives contrary significations of one word an intrinsic order to one meaning (i.e. the true one). Contrary accounts of one word or fact (like “God”) are therefore instances of what STA calls an analogous name.

Celibate single-heartedness

Paul’s well known defense of the superiority of the celibate life:

One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided.

Ambrose’s commentary points out multiple ways in which one gets chained to the world, the first of which is “the desire to live”. As a father I knew exactly what he meant – he was pointing at the terror that some accident will orphan your kids and widow your wife. Paul was speaking first the way in which the love that a provider is supposed to have for his family chains him to the world. How can I look at my five kids under 10 and say that I desire to flee and be with the Lord, since this would be far better (Phil. 1:23)? Still, in virtue of my baptism there is some sense in which I have to say this. And that’s an unavoidable way in which my interests are divided.

Faith-based science

Take this as faith:

Our trust in the word of someone we esteem in a position to know, which we justify by pointing to the good we get from trusting.

So defined, one of the ironies of “science vs. faith” is that science only separates itself from philosophy, and from earlier (more rigorous) accounts of science by being faith-based.

I take my evidence for this as decisive: science is uncontroversially taught from nationwide standardized textbooks (NST). The evidence for what happens when you try to teach philosophy this way should be well known to most who comes to this site: remember what happened when the Church tried to make NST’s for  Thomistic philosophy after the Leonine revival. Philosophers are still howling in protest fifty years after it ended, and not only Anti-Thomists: the Laval school insists they reject NST’s out of love of St. Thomas, as does – in a very different way – David Bentley Hart.

There is (a) a general way that NST’s are faith-based (b) a particular, largely American historical way in which they are and (c) a way in which science as such is.

(a) Being N and S, NST’s present their subject as having a broad and far-reaching consensus. To achieve this they skip over or play down controversies, leave off important but too-technical complications, and promote a classroom defined not by inquiry but by drills and shop-talk vocabularies. We demand the student trust a consensus that is very frequently either absent, more complicated, or more hesitant and tentative than it is presented. If we demanded that the student actually know the subject the class would take ten times as long to teach and could be learned only by relatively few students. Rather, we ask students to trust the consensus in order to get some participation in a discourse while still having enough time to learn other things. Faith.

(b) The Back to the Basics movement in math education in the 70’s was predicated on the claim that abstract concepts and extended, proof-based discourse was too hard to teach and so we had to shift away from teaching an actual science to teaching topics in a science, often with an eye to practical applications and Engineering. All American science NST’s assume the same thing. Building up a science requires a lot more than just teaching more of its topics: it requires a systematic explication of the subject in the logical order appropriate to the subject itself. But if this is what we meant by science, we neither know what an actual science education would look like nor do we have any desire to write one. For those who actually know what a science looks like (say, those who have read Euclid or Thomas Aquinas or Newton or Galileo) an NST looks like an arbitrary and unscientific presentation of a subject. And so it is. Those who study it aren’t getting scientific knowledge but a series of topics that are useful to do practical things and might be used to construct a science some day. Faith again.

(c) More broadly, all science is an agreement to settle for something less than science in order to attain  various goods like

i.) to gather more data that might someday lead to solving the fundamental controversies that we first table, then forget, then treat as pointless to dispute. Knowledge advances only because we’ve agreed to lower the standard of what will count as proven, and then dismiss all higher standards as unscientific.

ii.) to get a sort of knowledge which, while not speculatively adequate, at least allows us to solve various pressing practical and engineering problems.

iii.) to see how far we can get if we act as if certain fundamental problems are solved, when in fact they’re just ignored.

Given this, the NST is a sort of recruiting tool and instruction manual for the sort of student that likes understanding topics in this way. Philosophical minds are ignored, selected against, allowed to drop out, or escorted behind the high walls of the Philosophy of Science camp. Everyone who is left treats consensus opinion as what is known, and lives off the practical benefits of the science and/or the hope of a oneday, rational TOE. More faith – and this time with an eschatology too.


Clarification on the PSR

A: You accept the basic difference that a cause makes something exist and a reason makes something known?

B: That seems fine.

A: But then what sense can we make of the principle of sufficient reason? By substitution, it would be the claim that something always suffices to make itself known.

B: Huh?

A: But I don’t know how to take this. Are we saying that there must always be something that suffices to make something known to us or to some intellect or another (even a virtuous, ideal, angelic, blessed, or divine intellect)

B: Well, the principle wouldn’t be much good unless we made the claimed it for ourselves.

A: Right. So we must be claiming that there are no reasons that can arise in an intellect other than our own. But more than that, they have to arise in human intellects that lack moral and intellectual virtues or are not enjoying the beatific vision. For that matter, the reasons should be evident even to children that first get the use of reason.

B: All right, but that’s crazy. The PSR should mean that a sufficient reason can always arise in an intellect disposed to receive it.

A: But then all we’re saying is that if something can get a reason there is a reason it can get. And you no longer can say that there has to be a sufficient reason for us but only for some intellect or another. But what good will it do for my reasoning to say that there will always be a reason for, say, a perfectly virtuous intellect with a 6-sigma IQ, or for the three highest choirs of angels, or even for the divine logos? We both agree that a ten-year-old kid with a terrible character and an IQ of 68 doesn’t have what it takes to sufficiently make something known in its intellect, so where – roughly speaking of course – do intellects hit that threshold where they get sufficient reasons for everything?

B: When you put it like that, it seems like only God knows the PSR.

A: But what in the world would God need a principle of reasoning for?

B: He knows science, doesn’t he?

A: Not in the sense that he has to puzzle things out or actualize some latent powers to know things.

B: So then the only one who could know the PSR can’t have it.

A: But maybe we missed a crucial distinction between a reason that something is and a reason why or what something is.  We can prove that there are infinite prime numbers without knowing what they are.

B: That’s a good example, since it would be impossible to know what they are.

A: Thanks. So are we saying that all intellects are capable of knowing that there must be a reason for something without claiming they can know what the reason is?

B: Yes.

A: But we understand this leaves open the possibility that it is impossible for us (or for us in the state we’re in) to know what the reason is?

B: Exactly.

A: It seems to me this still doesn’t get past the basic problem that we can’t identify where intellects universally start getting a sufficient-reason-that. But even leaving that problem aside, isn’t the whole point of science to move beyond the reason that something is true?  

B: Absolutely. Knowledge that is inferior to knowing why or what, and no one would choose the inferior.

Creation and intelligibility

Geometry is so intelligible because (a) the figure is only given when we can specify a process by which we can make it and everything we subsequently learn about it arises from relating it to things we made and (b) the object is both as concrete as a sensible thing (look, a triangle) and as abstract as an intelligible one (let it stand for all triangles). It’s a science that is only appropriate for a being whose proper object is a mix of the sensible and intelligible, i.e. for human beings. Because of this, an idealized knower (e.g. God) only knows the truths of geometry by contemplating the contents of the human mind. Outside of our minds, there is nothing to know, and even if there were it would not be known in the best possible way.* Similar things can be said about the other maths, but my grasp of the ontology at work in these domains is more of a work in progress.

Maths are the closest we get to the act of creation, i.e. to being responsible for the existence of an objectively given universe.** But if this is our chief metaphor for creation, what literal truth can we cash it in for? We seem to get two competing ones:

1.) The purely intelligible universe. On this account, our takeaway from the metaphor is so far as anything is created it is intelligible. Being responsible for existence is inseparable from creating the objective and intelligible order. We see no contradiction, and in fact we see an unalienable harmony, between existence production and the objectivity of what is produced. We could not be more wrong in thinking that if a subject makes something exist that the product is relative and subjective. Such an account would make mathematics the most subjective and relative of all sciences, when in fact it is the paradigm of rationality, objectivity and science.

2.) The universe unintelligible to us. On this account out takeaway is that anything created is intelligible to the mind that makes it. Sure, the universe is perfectly intelligible… to God. But even a perfectly complete, Laplacian demon-TOE-understanding of physics is something that God could only know after he decided to take a peek into the contents of the human mind. In asking what God’s own view of the universe is we cannot do much more than say that it cannot include what admits of a formal contradiction. All of Medieval cosmology and metaphysics might be taken as an attempt to see how much truth we can distill out of this fact – but it won’t give us anything like what we get from science.



*And so we see the profound folly of seeing our science as an attempt to know with the mind of God. So far as something is what we now call “science” God only knows it by seeing it as part of the contents of our own mind (see infra).

**One of the better accounts of “science” is the attempt to understand everything the way we understand maths, i.e. define things according to the process that we make or identify them, try to reduce everything to an algebra of symbols and, of course, focus on the quantitative aspect of things.

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