The mania of faith

Faith, says STA, is like opinion so far as both are the assent to a proposition that is less than evident, but faith differs from opinion by being unwavering and completely certain. But this seems like satire – isn’t this exactly the sort of New Atheist account of faith that an apologist is supposed to dismiss as silly and uninformed? STA is literally defining faith as absolute certitude in the absence of evidence! Who wrote this part of the Summa? Richard Dawkins?

That said, faith is an inescapable part of human life. Every sports fan has faith in his team,  not in the sense that he always thinks they will win or that everything they do is good, but because his commitment to them is unwavering. That your team is to be praised or loved is not a belief formed from a cool-headed evaluation of its merits, and it is not to be thrown out by a careful evaluation of a team that might be more worthy of your devotion. Students develop the same sort of faith in schools, along with a corresponding hatred for the school’s rivals. Faith can have reasons, but never ones that could justify the sort of devotion we give to the team or institution.

Faith is responsible for the better and more personal parts of life, since every vow and every pledging of one’s life is an act of faith. A cool-headed evaluation of reasons could not justify the unwavering and absolute commitment that spouses make to each other, citizens make to their regime,  or soldiers make to their country. As Chesterton put it, no soldier will die for pay. This degree of fixity, commitment, and certitude does not arise from seeing that the object of the vow in merits the degree of assent but because, as John Paul II said somewhere, love can’t be entered into on a trial basis. You either commit to the whole thing before you know the whole thing, or you’ll neither know it nor love it.

So faith turns out to be the fullest flower of the teaching that Plato gives in Phaedrus: The highest gifts are the convictions that come to us from the gods as mania, beyond the reach of reason or evidence.

There’s a large scholarly consensus that one lasting legacy of WWI was the destruction of faith. Love of country, honor, and patriotism all became conditional commitments tinged with irony. Faith was for rubes and suckers – nothing more than buying into to a self-interested propaganda campaign of the rich and powerful. My own generation (I’m as Gen-X as they come) prides itself on “knowing” this too, but this is probably related to living through the highest divorce rate ever (and a corresponding dip in the marriage rate). Both of these generational facts have a dynamic relationship with the losing of religious faith. The Nietzschean death of God is both cause and effect of a corresponding death of God and family, i.e. the belief that faith in the fatherland or in fathers is no longer believable.


Reversing the modal definition of possibility

Defined modally, possibility is what exists at one time and not at another, making time a backdrop or domain of the possible. This is incoherent for all sorts of reasons: it makes time static and overly space-like; it leads to contradictory notions of different times existing at the same time; and it makes the accident of when something exists into a substance.

So why not flip the order of existence: possible existents are the backdrop of time. Time is thus an abstraction from the concrete fact that (unactualized) possibilities are incompatible both with other possibilities and with their actualities. Briefly, time arises from the way in which possibilities fall under the principle of contradiction.

Substance from Eucharist to God

The distinction between substance and accident preserves the fact that what we know is distinct from how we know it, that is, we do not yet enjoy the beatific vision.

The desire to do away with substance as unintelligible (say, in Rahner or Schillebeeckx trying to articulate a teaching on the Eucharist apart from transubstantiation) will collapse the quo and the quod of sensible objects in a way that is only appropriate to the spiritual, and so paradigmatically to pure act. Rather, to locate the Eucharistic change in substance is to place it in that domain of existence that most testifies to our knowledge being in via, i.e. as related to an object that will always be beyond our modes of knowing. Since the Eucharist is the crown of our existence in via, STA’s account of its existence is more appropriate than the contemporary attempts to do away with it on behalf of a supposed physical theory that has done away with substances.


Progress in physics

The shift from ancient/qualitative to classical/quantitative physics intensified the axiom that all motion (and so all natural activity) is really change of place, while simultaneously intensifying the axiom that all change of place is dependent on intelligence.* And so the progress of physics has been the gradual awakening to the fact that nature is intrinsically ordered to intelligence.


*Aristotle saw all time as requiring a contribution from intelligence in order to exist, since there could be no time without intellect comparing what exists to what doesn’t (whether past or future). Aristotle himself could not have kept this fact about time limited to time, since time itself is defined with motion and motion in turn defined nature, as STA pointed out in his commentary on Physics. The Galileo-Newtonian doctrine of inertial motion makes the difference between uniform motion and rest rely on a fiat of the observer and so of his intelligence.

Math but not Spirits (2)

We assume that asking whether God exists is relevantly similar to asking whether dark matter or black holes exist, but what if it’s more like asking whether a mathematical entity exists, like Euclidean or Riemannian quantities or complex numbers? IOW, to exist is to be defined and to not exist is to be contradictory.

Things are either possible or impossible, and either exist in fact or don’t. Verbally, this gives us four quadrants of description:

                Exist in fact          Don’t exist in fact.
Possible                        2                       1
Not-possible                         3                       4

Things in quadrant 3 can be disregarded, since they are only a verbal and not a logical possibility. But only material (or at least contingent) things can exist in quadrant 1. Anything necessary, like abstract entities or spirits* can only be 2 or 4.

The tendentious calls for “evidence” that God exists (as though evidence could only mean one thing) are simply demands for a material god who could “make a difference to the universe” by either existing or not. The interaction problem amounts to the same thing.

The Dionysian commonplace that “God is not an existent but outside existence” is true, but it can be said just as much of complex numbers too. All its means is that there are different criteria and methods for establishing existence,** which we shouldn’t forget is admitted by any Naturalist.

*I say “spirits” and not just God or the absolutely necessary. True, a finite spirit is somehow contingent, but he is no less contingent than a mathematical quantity, and we have no problem with inferring the existence of these from their possibility.

**At least of positive existence. There are evils and vices too, but this is a different there are or est than in there are complex numbers or Deus est.

Being an informed media consumer

Start with what Creighton has labeled “The Gell-Mann Effect“.

1a) Whenever you read or hear a news story on something you understand you find it as falling somewhere on the spectrum from completely mistaken and uninformed to, at best, a charming first approximation to the truth with only a few points likely to cause complete misunderstanding in a reader.

1b.) This doesn’t just happen when the reporter tries to speak about your area of expertise but also when he tries to quote you, tell your story, or give an account of an event you were at.

1c ) But then we turn to read a report outside our area of expertise or of an event we weren’t at and we treat it as though it were an immediate apprehension of the thing itself. Every quotation becomes perfectly salient, not out of context, and perfectly descriptive of the speaker’s state of mind. Every agent in the story is accurately described with his/their motives made perfectly clear. Every story is just what an informed reader would focus on to get a well-balanced appraisal of his life and times.

Then, the consequences:

2.) So our normal cognitive state while reading the news is the illusion of objectivity. We habitually relate to the media as though they were im-media-te. We habitually misjudge the value of “unbiased reporting” relative to reporting that is open about its biases and its partiality to one side of the story.

3.) We see the news as it is only when it reports about something we know, even though knowledge about something usually renders the media story superfluous. We see the media as it is only when we don’t need it.

4.) The (national) media does not exist as a noble watchdog of democracy but because we want to have a multi-million person polity and so demand that some story be told about it. A truly human response to a news story should leave us saying “That was a very suggestive account, I wonder what actually happened?” But if we related to all news this way it would be unbearable to read as much news as we do. We need the story to be im-media-te and objective too badly, and this is because we want to live in a megapolis too badly.

5.) And that was always the point of the story:

And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.

And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar.

And they said, Go to, let us build us a city, and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.

The tower needed to reach to the heavens to give us a God’s eye view of our megapolis. We cannot be a people all at once unless we can see our people all at once. We can’t exist as a whole without “making a name for ourselves”, i.e. telling a story about ourselves in grand heroic style as a battle between the noble an wicked gods.

6.) The media is serving a priestly function in the same way that the tower-builders were. I don’t call it a priestly function out of contempt (my life revolves around priestly functions) but as a critique. Does anyone think the media is equal to such a task? Is it obvious that we are better off with pundits than with diviners looking at bird entrails or the ravings of an intoxicated priestess? At least in the latter cases there is an explicit recognition that only God can have a God’s-eye view of things.

7.) The Babel story is a critique of the attempt to attain God’s eye views from technology alone, as though the understanding of time and contingency can be had without religion and prudence. The reporter or pundit will only have something to say when he treats life and work as equal to a genuinely priestly task.

Second Way

Where subordinate agents are interactive, any given agent is in a part-to-whole system. But part-to-whole systems are instrumental (consider the interactive parts of a car, which are just ways of channeling the natural activity of explosive expansion and the intentional activity of executing a trip). But whether there are infinite instruments or not, not all agents can be instruments.

Math but not Spirits

Problem: Naturalism wants to rule out the existence of supernatural things without ruling out the existence of mathematical things. This puts it in the awkward position of having to allow that there is more than one way in which a thing can exist or be objective, and more than one method to establish this, while also having to rule out one sort of objectivity and set of methods which are by definition different from one that they allow.

-Describing mathematics and logic as “formal systems” is tendentious. What do we call one item in the system? A formal entity or being, right? But then our metaphysics is off to the races.

-The desire to allow for math while ruling out God and soul helps to explain the arbitrary dogmatism of our time that “abstract entities are not causal”, an axiom that was established by some act of divination that everyone performed when I wasn’t looking.

-Abstract entities cause events in the same way an agents do, by being non-negations or privations having an existence prior to the event and being responsible for is existence.

-“But abstractions are static!” Maybe so, but so are conduit pipes, rail lines, and river banks while they are still as directive instruments. The shape of the bat is as integral to event-agency as the swing, and the swing takes part in the batter like the shape takes part in circularity.

-“Mathematics is a tool for science, and this establishes that it’s objective and existent”. But it isn’t and it doesn’t. Go explain to a mathematician that his study becomes pointless when it loses scientific applicability (he actually believes more or less the exact opposite). At any rate, the claim proves to much by requiring the existence of ideal gasses, frictionless surfaces, massless rest particles, black boxes…

Objects first

In considering the cognitive powers of soul (what are now called mind or consciousness) Aristotle raises an important question:

Again, which ought we to investigate first, these parts or their functions, mind or thinking, the faculty or the act of sensation, and so on? If the investigation of the functions precedes that of the parts, the further question suggests itself: ought we not before either to consider the correlative objects, e.g. of sense or thought?

Aristotle’s answer comes in the next book:

If we are to express what each is, viz. what the thinking power is, or the perceptive, or the nutritive, we must go farther back and first give an account of thinking or perceiving, for in the order of investigation the question of what an agent does precedes the question, what enables it to do what it does. If this is correct, we must on the same ground go yet another step farther back and have some clear view of the objects of each; thus we must start with these objects, e.g. with food, with the sensible object, or with what is intelligible.

The axiom that Aristotle is working from is the intelligible priority of act, or, alternatively, the derivative intelligibility of possibility and potency, i.e. possibility only gets a logos relative to what arises from it. Cognitive powers are only intelligible relative to objects. This is why STA defines knowledge by starting with its object, specifying that the object is what is apt to be in another. Mind, therefore, first arises as the “other” of its cognitive world.

Descartes reverses all of this, or perhaps puts an interesting spin on it. For him, mind or consciousness becomes self-luminous and gets an intelligible priority to its objects. The power or faculty is seen as more fundamental and “farther back” in causality than its object.

This Cartesian move is part of a much larger class of arguments that (usually tacitly) attempt to derive actuality from potency, whether David of Dinant’s claim that God is prime matter or the Democratian/Evolutionist/multiverse theory belief that explaining any actual thing is just a matter of making a large enough domain of probabilities so as to diminish our surprise in the fact that it exists.*

*With infinite trails, all outcomes happen infinitely and so we have no right to be surprised by any outcome. Of course it happens. But all this means is that we can’t confuse explaining something with lacking surprise that it exists.



Symbol notes

-Eucharist, symbol of Christ: The dove that Noah released was a sign that life could exist outside the ark by being a life that existed outside the ark.

-The dove returned with an olive branch as a sign that life continued over the waters, there is life on the far side of judgment. The Dove is the resurrected Christ as first born of the Eschaton.

-Sacraments.  The Baltimore Catechism definition of “a sacred sign from Christ to confer grace” is simply a development of its existence as a sign, since every sign is instituted by a community to establish a shared life.

-C. S. Lewis, a critique: The authority of Lewis obscures the fact that charity is a sort of friendship. Agape is a sort of philia.

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