Debate between two theologians

A: So of what are we trying to convince the atheists?

B: That God exists, I suppose.

A: But that’s not why either of us believe in him, is it?

B: What do you mean?

A: No one gave us arguments that took us from non-belief to belief. Speaking for myself, I found myself believing and got interested in the arguments later. Sure, they helped my belief and gave it some support, but the belief itself was always something else.

B: I guess I had the opposite experience. I really didn’t believe and came to belief through the argument.

A: But, still, you don’t relate to your faith like a ongoing convention dedicated to theistic argumentation, right?

B: I guess not. It’s not a seminar on rational theology.

A: There’s some sort of gap between reasons and what we would want those without belief to have, just as  it would be odd to talk about your belief in the Pythagorean theorem. Accepting something as true allows for a detachment from it that belief in God can’t allow for.

B: Proofs always allow for some detachment from conclusions, but don’t we believe in them in the sense that we trust them to work?

A: That’s an interesting take. On this account “belief in God” in the sense that rational theology can impart is the argument that God can be counted on to deliver some result, the way we believe in Newtonianism to faithfully get the rockets to the moon and back.

B: A faith in one who is faithful first.

A: But this can’t be quite what our belief is. If it was just a matter of trusting something to work it only has to be close enough to true, and neither of us believes in God as something close enough to true. Why can’t God belief be like the engineers at NASA using Newtonianism to guide rockets? They know its ultimately not a description of how things are, but its simple enough for what they are doing. Analogously, belief in God doesn’t reflect how things are but we go on believing because its the simplest thing for what we need it to do.

B: Like what?

A: Ensure moral codes or intelligibility or give us something to thank or whatever. It’s presently our only alternative to a Nietzchean abyss.

B: But all this is the fallacy of the consequent. If we prove that God exists, then we should believe that he is faithful so far as it goes. But it doesn’t follow that our arguments go no further than the ways in which God is faithful to creation.

A: You’re arguing that our arguments about the existence of God go far beyond whatever practical effect they might have to human life.

B: Of course! This is just what makes them rational. It’s sensation that is only interested in objects for what practical benefit they might serve to life. Practical effects and consequences for life are essential elements of our knowledge, but only so far as we are a sort of mortal animal. They result from the ways in which knowledge is subordinate to life, and this can only occur to the extent that activity is secondary to existence.

A: This leads to a fascinating paradox – as our knowledge of nature advances, it gives us greater and greater control over nature and so makes it more an more an object of practical knowledge. In this sense, we are becoming more and more like God, for whom all of nature can be an object of practical knowledge. But the same advance makes the universe an object for us so far as we are mortal animals, making it less and less like an object with a relation to a divine being.

B: This is humbling for those of us who trusted in the advance of human knowledge to finally open up into a vision of divinity.

A: Isn’t it stranger than humbling? Empirical knowledge of the world seems simultaneously to take us closer to a vision of God and further away. As knowledge advances, the world seems more an more divine and more and more something that we don’t need a divinity for. In this sense theism and atheism are two sides of the same developing advance into the mysteries of nature.

B: Well, if you put it like that I’m left feeling deeply ambivalent about human knowledge, or at least with what we take as the paradigm case of human knowledge, sc. a rational insight into nature that would make it transparent to rational reconstruction.

A: So we shouldn’t ever want our arguments to be rational in this paradigm sense of human knowledge, where knowledge is always proportionate to control of the environment or at least to the benefits and consequences that the knowledge has for life.

B: Well, we should be ambivalent about having that kind of knowledge.

A: Maybe we need to be more precise: we need to be ambivalent about knowledge about God from the universe so far as we view this knowledge as extending no further than what has practical effects like an increase in power or a benefit to life.



The Funny Math of a Larger Family

My husband, the other Dr. Chastek, asked me to post some pictures to this blog while he’s up north with our three oldest and his brothers and father. For those who don’t know us in real life, you may not know that we welcomed baby no. 6 in late January.  Our oldest had been praying for a brother – to even the score, and our girls had been praying for a sister – to crush the opposition.  But just before the baby was born the 5yo decided she’d prefer a brother so that “James would know how annoying it is to share a room with two siblings.”  Spoken like a true little sister!

Charles Magnus evened out our numbers, giving us three girls and three boys. I wonder if he will always be the balancing force in our family?

The children, without exception, delight in him.


So what’s the funny math of a larger family? I used to believe that, “after three, what’s one more?” But now that I am in the thick of it I can say, with some authority, that 6 kids is waaaay more than five kids, at least at this point. I’m sure that it will get better as they get older and more independent, but right now I spend most of my day counting heads, making sure I have them all.

Also, three small kids is waaaay more work than having all six at home.  Go figure.


Today, Charming Charlie is 4 months old. God surely knows what He is doing by starting humans out this cute and flooding their mamas with oxytocin!


Have a great weekend, everyone!

Dr. Chastek, the wife

Oh, BTW, did you know that Dr. Chastek has mad tie tying skills?


An Anthropology

1.) Every cognitive power has an object and a clarity. Eyes see EM waves in some bandwidth, but eagles see with more clarity than humans and humans than fish; noses detect scents but moths detect them with more clarity than bloodhounds and bloodhounds than us.

2.)  Where knowledge is in the service of life the differences in clarity are easily dealt with: When lack of clarity harms life the life form is killed off. If greater clarity gives X an advantage over Y then, ceteris paribus, Y dies off and X flourishes.

3.) But intelligence and its truth is not entirely in the service of life, which is why (pace Islam) confessional martyrdom is sometimes necessary.  Intelligence as such cannot die anyway, which is why it is irrational for it to subordinate its activity to its life.

4.) Like all cognitive powers, intelligence has its object and clarity. Its object is all being, but its clarity runs the gamut from God, through the angels, to the human person. At the bottom (i.e. us) one finds an intelligence that is practically vestigial, like the eyes on a mole.

5.) Since this intelligence exists for itself it was not enough that it contributed to life, and so it also needed to be assisted in its action since in its natural state our intelligence would have to run through practically infinite options before it hit on the appropriate ratio. In order to facilitate its operation, it was given the support of two sorts of pre-rational automatic responses. The first are like “the tangible exists” or “pleasure is good” or “faces and speech are important” or “common goods are better”. Putting them as propositions, of course, makes them far more distinct than they are in experience, where they are usually just a conatus.  Second, a large part of the pre-programming varies from individual to individual, giving rise to personalities (on the simplest level, this divides us into male-female, and then to the finer grains we can detect in personality science). And so what might be called naturally known truth and personality are the set of automatic responses that allow for a greater ease of operation in a minimally clear intellect. “Sensation” or “sense appetite” is a general name for any action of a central nervous system that gives rise to such automatic responses, but the minimal light of human intelligence also plays a role in forming automatic response.

De Anima II. 1 (3)

If the eye were an animal, vision would be its soul. But when the eye is a part of the animal, it can lose this ability without ceasing to be alive. This is the difference between the parts of living beings and the parts of machines, which latter are called dead iff they lose the ability to function.

And so we can make the account of soul that Aristotle is driving at more explicit as that which gives the parts of a complex physical system an existence beyond their abilities to function.

The existence in question is ultimately the self or individual which, if the definition holds, we have no reason to posit in complex physical systems that are not alive. And so soul is also the principle of individuation in the sense of being a self or individual as opposed to individuation as enumerated and therefore homogeneous quantities. Note that even a being that we imagine passing the Turing test would not be a self in this sense, even if they have a perfect performative or functional ability to mimic what is most distinctive in human behavior (do we really need to point this out? Is there any doubt that the there is more to being a dog than mimicking what is most distinctive about canine activity?)


De Anima II.1 (2)

Soul is the name we give to the reality that, when a body loses it, it is no longer the same body except equivocally. Is this compatible with a Physicalist or mechanist account of soul?

It seems like it is since we could see soul as a functional totality. Take enough parts or the right parts from any machine and it won’t be able to function as the type of machine it is. That thing on blocks in the yard is not a car except equivocally, since one can’t define a car except as something able to transport and the thing on blocks lacks such an ability. On this account, soul means “having enough parts to perform the function some name describes”, and falling short of this the name applies only equivocally.

One difficulty with this is that it demands the non-functional be non-living, but anesthetized or severely broken limbs are completely non-functional while still being alive. The parts of living beings, in other words, have two ways of lacking the ability to function: one in which the whole is dead and another where it isn’t. Leaving aside the extrinsic restrictions of function that both he parts of machines and the parts of living things have in common (like handcuffs or car boots) the parts of machines have a single privation of ability to function while the parts of living things have two: legs can be non-functional without being dead while engines cannot.


De Anima II. 1

An ax is not alive because there is nothing that the shaped handle or head could lose that would make it not an ax except equivocally.

An eye, on the other hand, is the sort of body that can lose something that would make the resulting body not an eye except equivocally. This is the point of “if the eye were an animal, vision would be its soul”.


The loss of one real time

1.) Understood as a dimension time is spatial and so exists at once. This is an insight about time but it needs to be balanced against the way in which distinct times can’t exist at once.

2.) Let event space be the futurity that a present state needs to play out (timelines visualize this space as a line). Raskalnikov’s story takes the time that ranges over 400 pages, a pop song about 3 minutes, and the chasing and death of a sheep is harder to determine outside the particular case.

3.) Event space exists prior to a clock, since “clock” is just the name for seeing event space X relative to event space Y when Y involves presumptively uniform, repeated events like earth-rotations, pendulums, or jiggling cesium atoms.  Event  space : clocks :: absolute entity : relative entity.

4.) Relativity shows that Absolute time (where time is defined by a clock) is impossible, or is nothing but the equation that relates any two possible event spaces, i.e. how to predict the units of any clock. Where light speed is infinite, any event space uniformly measures any other (and vice versa).

5.) Modernity seems to arise where we assume that any event space can measure any other. This is Benedict Anderson’s claim about “The News”: for us, finding out what is happening in the world means to throw all that is happening on the same front page, news report, web aggregator, etc. We assume some space where all events are commensurate and able to be tied together. In the ancient world, this commensuration was seen as a construction (co-ordinating events with each other was very hard work) while we tend to see it as just how time is.

6.) Between the ancients and us, of course, is Christianity, specifically its attempts to construct a worldwide calendar of all events around the AD/BC axis of the Incarnation. So we went from no real time for all, to one time for the world through Christ, to one real time for all without Christ.

7.) This last time proves illusory though we don’t know what sort of world it leaves us with, or even if it leaves us with something deserving the name of “a world”.



Persons (11-14)

11.) Mortality is non-conservation. If some quantity of energy or a Newtonian particle were alive, it would be immortal. Non-conservation demands transiency of form: either the transiency of an accident in some subject or of the subject itself being consumed by something else and transforming into it.

12.) Transiency of form is non-uniqueness, for transience is communicability. Persons as enumerable fit this description, but not as incommunicabilis.  As an enumerable entity, therefore, the person is mortal; as a unique one he is immortal.

13.) The person exists only within the community of kinship and friendship. Uniqueness is so far from being isolation that it can only be realized in community. The doctrine of the trinity argues that this truth is transcendental.

14.) Death is both in intensification of personality and a diminution of it. In abandoning the enumerable it both loses something that constitutes its personality and that is opposed to it. Christianity addresses this paradox with a three-stage account of human life starting as a σῶμα ψυχικόν, transitioning in death to some sort of anima separata and completing its life in the σῶμα πνευματικόν of 1 Cor. 15:44.

Person (8-10)

8.) Person is the rational nature qua unique or incommunicabilis. Human personhood is not always recognized:

a.) Enemies. The enemy is usually a homogeneous and faceless threat – the Terrorists, Islam, the Jews, whatever. They are motivated by the irrational hatreds (*hand wringing* “why do they hate us?”) and will stop at nothing to crush our way of life.

b.) Foreigners. All foreigners look and sound the same to us.

c.) Employees. While we can recognize their individual traits, nevertheless qua employee or one-under-contract we see them as replaceable as soon as they don’t deliver.

Recognition of personhood usually only occurs in ties of friendship, kinship and cult. A nation, to adopt Anderson’s description, seems to be the imagining of these ties in a larger group of otherwise anonymous persons.

9.) In one sense the phrase “human non-person” is a cruel irony or self-contradiction, in another it is the factual recognition that person can only be revealed within a limited social context. It is nevertheless a real moral project to extend the scope of those we view as persons. This is the basic project of Christianity and of other internationalisms, and the fundamental critique given by Nationalisms.

10.) The ideal of recognizing everyone as persons puts pretty severe limits on justifiable sorts of killing. The psychological impediments to recognizing personhood while treating someone as an enemy seem insurmountable.


Persons 4-7

4.) The rise in Personalist philosophy coincided with the linguistic turn because the two reinforce each other. The study of language makes it clear that the first and second person perspective is not a mode of a fundamentally objective third person view, but that the reverse is true: the third person perspective is the generic “outside” or negation of a first-second linguistic reality. Community relations are the basis of language, and these are concretely I-thou relations.

5.) Speech is not a dyadic subject-predicate relation but a triadic subject-predicate-speaker relation. The subject is conditioned by a being identical, the same-in-type or other than a speaker, with the third person essentially other-than-speaker and so derivative from the second and first person modality. The speaker relates to the predicate in the same way, giving rise to time (sometimes called tense) in the verb.

6.) Genesis gives two creation stories: in the first the person is the crown of the universe, in the second he is a unity between the lowest thing of in the universe (the slime of the earth) and something utterly outside the universe (the breath of God). Each and both stories drive at the same point, that the person is both crown of nature and other than nature. It is degrading and non-theological to see the person even (but only) as the crown of nature. Dekoninick is not entirely free from criticism on this point.

7.) The definition of person as individualis substantia rationis naturae is ambiguous on the intentional term “individual”, which means both an enumerable reality and a unique one. These two are opposed since nothing is enumerable qua unique. In the first sense, an individual is fourth, seventieth or first in some actual or possible series. In this sense, the cause of individuation is matter. But in the second sense, the cause of individuation is esse. 

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