Divine hiddenness

The problem of divine hiddenness is an extremely imposing and very impressive mirage. Seen from some angles, and especially when first seen, it seems like any attempt to respond to it would be hopeless, ad hoc, and textbook case of special pleading. But in walking around the problem you suddenly hit many angles where it vanishes entirely. Here are a few:

1.) God doesn’t live here. The gods dwell in the heavens or on Olympus or in Valhalla or the Underworld or whatever. Wondering where the gods are hidden is like standing in the forest and wondering where all the sharks are hidden.

2.) The holy is always both set apart and hidden. Mystery cults don’t do the Superbowl halftime show, Catholics require catechumens to leave before the sacred mysteries, Masons don’t televise the initiation rite, the Mafia never talks about how a guy gets made, and the Eleusian mysteries were practiced on an entire empire for well over a millenia and we have basically no information about what happened. No one talked. Seen in this way, wondering about “divine hiddenness” is to wonder about why the sacred is not more profane, which is about as interesting as wondering why triangles aren’t rounder.

3.) The hiddenness is either ontological or epistemological, and the problem disappears either way. If ontological, we’re either wondering what part of the universe the divine is living in (contra #1) or where the gods are hidden in daily life (contra #2). If the problem is epistemological, it amounts to claiming that the number of persons who know about God is problematically low. But what equations or p-values give us that conclusion?  How do believers in divine hiddenness refute the claim that far too many know about the divine?

4.) It is a problem for revelation only when that revelation is taken out of context. One can wonder why a loving Christ would not make himself more known to persons* or why a Lordly Allah would not make his authority more known to the nations, but in either case this is to demand something that goes against the very revelation as understood. Christ’s definitive and final revelation is within a Church that he himself insisted is a field of wheat and tares and will always carry some obscurity until the eschaton. Islam has it’s own eschatological story of ultimate manifestation that can only be anticipated by various sorts of struggle – and these struggles all require opposition to pure belief whether in ourselves or from others.


*More known than becoming incarnate and setting up an international institution that constitutes the largest religion of all time, that is.


Science and wisdom

James Ladyman argues for the the proposition that human nature is better understood through science than through philosophy or art, and the gods of irony again provide richly for their children by giving us another defense of the superiority of science to philosophy which is entirely philosophical and innocent of scientific reasoning. Ladyman lamented philosophy’s “poor track record” and its failure to resolve disputes while giving his listeners to another run on the track through the pro-science arguments: science replaces superstition, science alone gets out of the armchair, science alone gets consensus…

Look, these heroic science narratives are all past-date, and the militancy with which they’ve been advanced in the Anglosphere since Septemper 11 is a rearguard action. Our contemporary sola scientia is the result of the silly politicization of the Humanities* and the specialization of tracked curricula, which is the only way we could have ever reached the level of peak enstupidation where a student could think he gets only second-rate, purely social, and scientifically replaceable knowledge from, say, The Iliad, Gorgias, translating Vergil, or mulling over Augustine’s discussions of psychology, addiction, and time in Confessions. 

The attempt to pit science, philosophy and art as rival and rankable methods of knowing is pointless for a few more reasons.

1.) Science, philosophy, and art are not more or less perfect instances of one method. There are relatively few ways in which you can compare them the way you would compare Mountain Dew to coffee in its ability to keep you awake or the way you would compare the Wright flyer to the stealth bomber as flying technologies. Homer, Rimbaud, and T.S. Eliot are not fumbling about for algorithms that quantify the results of polling data only to settle for hexameters and anthropomorphism; nor would Aristotle need to change his theories of happiness if a large number of self-reporting happy persons were mired in vice.

2.) “Science” lacks sufficient definition to divide itself from its own philosophical bases. We have no standard to divide science from pseudo-science since scientists are always prepared to accept theories that violate the familiar Popperian or Positivist criteria. We are, of course, perfectly able to identify some things as scientific and others not, but we have no criteria that can do this work in controversial or disputed cases even though these are exactly the cases where it is most important to have formal criteria. A fortiori, we have no criteria that, in controversial or disputed cases, suffices to identify a true philosophical basis for science (like Naturalism or Divine logos theory).

3.) Human thought is not a process in search of an ideal method, but an exitus-reditus structure of mutually ecstatic modes of knowing. The sola scientia movement is part of a larger mistake that takes the unity of the mind to require a unity of method in reasoning, as though reasoning were like a golf-swing or producing a tire and could be done by some maximally efficient single method. But human thought arises from one type of knowledge before leaving it to return to it again: we start from insights, develop them through reasons, and then use the reasons as confirmations or developments of the insights. Again, we need theories in which various things can appear as facts, and facts which can be used as support for theories; we need paradigms that can order masses of data and experience and experience and data that can be the basis of seeing the paradigm. Science does not start from a hypothesis as though from some randomly asserted claim made with no insight, but from a partial insight that works its way back to my confirmation or denial. This partial insight which starts and completes the scientific process is itself a part of a larger whole which both gives rise to science and which science serves to flesh out and confirm. All this leads to the main point, which is

4.) The sola scientia movement entirely overlooks wisdom while always speaking from within an instance or corruption of it.  Wisdom and science are fundamentally different sorts of knowledge, and philosophy and art are above all advances or corruptions of wisdom. We entirely miss the character of philosophy or art when we want them to achieve widespread consensus, to be acknowledged by many, and so to have the “successful track record” of explanation that science is supposed to have.** No one has ever assumed that wisdom could be common or widespread; nor for that matter do we expect the same of good taste, and for the same reason.*** Wisdom has no savants that can shortcut around long experience, and the arguments in its favor are not things that first-timers can divide from the objections to it. There are no wisdom algorithms or universal methods. Wisdom and science are rather the fundamental elements of the mind’s exitus-reditus. Both wisdom and science are ecstatic into each other: wisdom seeks to go outside of itself in search of concretion, detail, consensus; science seeks to go outside of itself in search of transcendental foundations but can only do so by leaving the very concretion, detail, and consensus that drives wisdom to it.


*Though this was itself an extension of the folly of calling them humanities in the first place, as though the only work they did was enculturation. Liberal and classical education is not about making someone a 19th century white, polo-playing Harvard man but is a crucial development of reasoning as such. Reasoning is essentially and exitus-reditus structure of insight/reasoning, theory/ fact,  paradigm/ example, and above all of wisdom / science.

**In fact, science has a long history of modifying what counts as proven or scientific. While they haven’t been as florid in self-negation as philosophers have been, their real history belies their claim to consensus or a successful track record within a single accepted account of proof. Science has had at least three major redactions of what counts as physical science:

a.)  Mathematical description was taken to suffice as opposed to physical explanation.

b.) Necessary and universal laws were seen as replaceable with probabilistic ones.

c.) Push-pull mechanisms were seen as replaceable by information structures or fields.

*** The Latin connection between a sapiens (wise man) and sapere (to taste) is particularly a propos.

Brute facts and knowing that

What we call a brute fact is what Aristotle would call knowledge that something is true without knowing why it is true.  Ironically, while brute facts occur most often in attempts to halt cosmological arguments the conclusion of the cosmological argument is itself a case of only knowing that something is true.

Aha! So as long as we posit a BF in either case, why not take the universe as one and treat God as a superfluous addition? But this is to be tricked by the mere repeating of a word: if the universe is a BF it is because there is only one of them and so we cannot run multiple experiments on it, or because it is (probably) fallacious to extrapolate from truths about parts of the universe to truths about the whole (cf. Lee Smolin’s Time Reborn). But God is a BF because to know what God is belongs only to the blessed.

More simply, the B-facticity of the universe is given to sensation while the B-facticity of God is not. One wonders how much of the talk about “brute facts” involves a failure to recognize the false assumption that the first sort of facticity is the only kind.


Health, safety, salvation

The Latin noun salus, salutis means health, safety, or salvation. The word pops up occasionally in the Gallic Wars and a teacher at a small Catholic school can expect never-ending hilarity from translations that insist that “the soldiers escaped to salvation” or that “there was little salvation in the camp for lack of grain.”  The joke carries an important question about how one views salvation, though: is it more like health or like safety? If the word has both of these meanings as precursors and overtones, what should our sense of salvation be?

The abstract causes all sorts of stuff

I don’t do contemporary philosophy so I have no idea how everyone became convinced that the definitive character of the intelligible/ abstract (IA) is being non-causal. Uncharitably, I assumed it was some weird collective madness that would blow over. I still think it will, because the problems with the claim are legion. Here’s a few:

1.) It’s obviously false. The IA causes knowledge and therefore causes anything that knowledge does. Just how far knowledge is causal is an open question, but it falls somewhere between causing some human actions to causing all events in the universe.

The IA causes science, indignation, insight, revolutionary ideals, making recipes, etc. as a formal cause or as a material component in a larger system. I take it as obviously false to say that this is not bona fide causality, but even if one restricts “causality” to mean “agency” there are still problems like:

2.) The IA is not a logical predicate in spiritual agents and so has real agency. God is his divinity, an angel is his own species, and at the height of human existence the distinction between the purely formal and the individual breaks down. My IA are both wholly mine and yet the same as the ones you know. When Aristotle speaks of the making intellect at the height if human personality he is forced to speak of as that which is purely individual (since it is a part of the individual soul) and yet generative of a world common to all human persons, past and future. The Averhoists  were not entirely wrong in arguing for a single agent intellect for all persons – the agent intellect as a real purely formal character even if it is not formal in every way an angel or divinity is, and this purely formal character makes it communicable to all persons, past and future. But St. Thomas’s insight was the more crucial one – the formal character of the agent intellect is essential to the dignity of the person.

But back to some more down to earth problems like

3.) The claim is anti-teleological. All teloi have intentional existence and so arise from intellect either immediately or by participation. In teleological or axiological accounts, the goal is not just cause but what most of all deserves to be called the cause. When teleology or axiology is in play, it would be truer to say that the IA is the most causal.

4.) It’s against even the broadest and most general elements of the Platonic tradition. Plato himself clearly thinks that the IA is the most causal of all things – Socrates’s speech in the development of his ideas of causality at the end of Phaedo tells of rejecting any account of causality that doesn’t trace it back to the IA. But even the broadest and loosest account of the Platonic tradition (From the Augustinians to Malebranche to Galileo and Newton to Carl Jung) posits the causal supremacy of the IA, whether through the eternity of the ideas or the mathematical-abstract character of the truly real or the positing of governing archetypes.

I am pressed for time and have to stop here, but there’s a good deal more to say…

The overcoming of abstract/concrete opposition

Each rung of the ladder of being involves overcoming of the ontological division between the abstract and the concrete.

1.) Natural things. On the lowest level of being, both the abstract and the concrete cannot both be real. Among sensible things, we either have to say, with Aristotle, that the concrete is real and the abstract is a mere logical being that has existence only secondarily to the concrete; or we say with Plato that the intelligible world is real and concrete sensible things are secondary and purely participatory existences.

2.) The human intellect. The human intellect is the first realm in which the ontological opposition between abstract and concrete begins to break down. Is my abstract idea abstract or concrete (i.e. “mine”)? When I know DNA, do I know it by the idea in my head or by the same idea as you? The questions are all false dichotomies because the human mind transcends the ontological oppositions we find in natural things. Nevertheless, our mind is still the form of a natural body, and as such it mires us in the oppositions we find in #1.

3.) The angelic intellect. Angels overcome the concretion of substance that we find in each human person. In the angel, the reality of the substance is no longer opposed to the reality of the species, but both express their proper perfection in one and the same angel. Nevertheless, the angel is one and only one concrete substance, and so is divided from the substance of others, even if not from his own intelligible, abstract character.

4.) The triune God. The definitive overcoming of the opposition between the concrete and the abstract occurs not only in the doctrine of divine simplicity (where we understand God’s existence through concrete terms and his simplicity by abstract ones) but also in the fact that the existence of one individual is no longer disconnected from the existence of another, i.e. abstraction comes to full flower by preserving its absolute unity while communicating itself to more than one substance, as opposed to angelic nature, which is too restricted to be fully communicated to more than one.

Divinity compared to other abstractions

We recognize the logical possibility of the Trinity not in spite of the fact that there is only one divinity, but because of it.

Either it is impossible for there to be more than one divinity or monotheism just happens to be true for the moment, but monotheism is not the sort of thing that could just happen to be true for the moment (you might as well say that a mathematical theorem is true in this way. The theorem might be true or false, but not true for the moment.)*

At the same time, divinity is essentially communicable to many, formal, and abstract. The impossibility of polytheism or the necessity of monotheism has to be defended in a way that preserves the indefinite or purely formal character of divinity.

God or divinity, like all intelligible things, is communicable because he is purely formal, in the same way that a mathematical theorem both the one I know and you know and the one common to both of us and to anyone who might know or have known it. In God however, this intelligible existence is real existence and not just logical abstraction. Divinity or God is not just an idea but a self.

But this unity of God arises precisely from his intelligible or abstract existence and so must be communicable to many individuals.

So, in comparing divinity to other sorts of intelligible or abstract existence, we get

1.) Unlike other sorts of intelligible or abstract (IA) existence, divinity/God exists really and not just logically. Divinity/ God is truly a self and not just an idea. The capitalization of ‘god’ means only that the abstraction ‘a god’ or ‘divinity’ differs from other abstractions by being a true self. 

2.) Like all other sorts of IA existence, divinity/God is formal and therefore can exist in many individuals.

3.) Like all other IA existence, the nature is not a thing in addition to what it is communicated to. The DNA one learns about in biology class, which is capable of making us know any relevantly similar real strand of DNA, is not another instance of DNA. You can count up the supposed dozen people who knew the theory of Relativity in 1920, and thereby get twelve instances of the theory, but the theory itself would not make for a baker’s dozen. Though divinity/ God is a true self, (cf. #1) he is not, say, a fourth self in a trinity of divine individuals.

4.) Unlike all other IA existence, when divinity is communicated to another so as to make it fully divine it is logically impossible for that individual to exist apart from all other individual of the same description. Any existent frog can continue to be if another frog dies, but this is a logical impossibility for any divine individual. As a corollary to this:

4a.) Like all other IA existence, divine individuals are relations. What exists abstractly or intelligibly is a formal sign, which is not a sign imposed on some already existing substance but a pure relationship making an object known. But because it is a logical impossibility for one divine individual to exist without another, their existence as individuals is relative.


*This claim even serves as common ground for atheists and theists, especially when reflecting on the Ontological Argument.

Logic as opposed to the physical

From the second and third acts of reason: 

We can give an account of how long it takes a neuron to fire or an oak tree to grow or a weasel to run up a drainpipe, but not how long modus tollens or the Pythagorean theorem takes.

If we isolate discrete steps of a physical process, at the moment of an earlier one we can always stop a later one. There are infinite ways to keep a conclusion from being printed after one’s printed the premises. But what applies to printing cannot be said of the logic, even though we can clearly isolate discrete steps in it.

From the first act of reason/ intelligence, (and maybe) sensation 

What is physically present within us cannot be physically outside of us. But some things in our consciousness are physically outside of us. Therefore,* some things in our consciousness are not physically present within us.

I include the “and maybe” because Early Modern philosophy discovered many problems with trying to extend this last claim to sensation. The sense object is always to some extent subjective, and we have no way of knowing to what extent this is so. Intelligence transcends this problem at least with its notion of being and object, which are necessarily other from subjects even if we go so far as to deny them anything but a purely formal content.

To the extent that our knowledge is implicated in sensation, we will be hard pressed to identify any non-materiality in it, and the better research program will always take its point of departure from the study of physical processes. No one has ever said that man was more than a first step outside of materiality.


*Look kids, a FESTINO in the wild!



2.11.16 (b)

-Malebranche and Eddington’s two tables.

-We want to explain reality as it is given. We want to move from a truth to its explanation.

-Explanation requires that the reality of things is not given. If reality were just there, who would need reasoning, discourse, investigation?

– For Aristotle, an elephant was a pretty good example of an individual physical substance. But this committed him to finding sensible particulars all the way down. Except for matter and form.


2.11.16 (a)

Luke 8: 45.

[She] came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. And Jesus said, “Who is the one who touched Me?”…When the woman saw that she had not escaped notice, she came trembling and fell down before Him. 

cf. Genesis 3:9

Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” And the man said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid.”


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