The angelic salutation

Χαῖρε κεχαριτωμένη ὁ κύριος μετὰ σοῦ 

Luke 1: 28

Kaire: The imperative is either a salutation given to superiors or a command to rejoice which could be given by anyone to anyone. Both are appropriate in different ways, since in the order of nature the angel is Mary’s superior but is her inferior in the order of grace.

In the order of nature, the angel reveals the true character of superiority in two ways:

1.) Inviting to the enjoyment of goodness. The purpose of authority is to bring about the full possession of the common good, and rejoicing is the full possession of the good. Even among equals, the highest sort of equality is in the co-enjoyment of a common good.

2.) Concern for others. As Plato shows in Republic I, the ruler simply speaking is not concerned with his own benefit but with the good of the ruled. But the command to rejoice is one that is entirely desirous that the ruled should enjoy the good.

The angel, however, is speaking primarily in the order of grace, and so the sense of Kaire simply is that the angel is greeting Mary as a superior.

Mary’s superiority is established not just from the salutation but from the whole dialogue that Gabriel has with her, and the best illustration of this is to compare it to the dialogue the angel has with Zechariah immediately before he speaks to Mary. With Zechariah he is magisterial, lofty, and severe, but with Mary he is deferential and subordinate. While both Zechariah and Mary are afraid and ask identical questions viz. “How can this thing you say ever happen?” in response to Zechariah Gabriel asserts the dignity of his angelic authority, criticizes Z’s lack of belief, and declares that Z will be struck dumb, while he never mentions his dignity to Mary, doesn’t even suggest a criticism of her, and explains that her proof will be her pregnancy.

Mary’s way of speaking is even more striking. Whereas the norm in the Old Testament is for humans to refer to angels as “Lord” (Genesis 18 and 19, Joshua 5, Judges 2, 6, and 13), Mary explicitly distinguishes the Lord and the angel in “I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to your word”. She doesn’t say “I am your handmaid” or “You are my Lord”. She acknowledges her subordination to God but not to the angel, and the angel quietly backs out of the room.

Kecharitoménae: Much has been made of the word being the verb “to give grace” as a perfect passive participle, but the descriptions are usually a bit thin on how to get from a referring to Mary as “ingratiated” to referring to her as “full of grace”. My own sense is that the matter is both simpler and more profound: “Graced” is being used as a quasi-title just as “Christ” is.

Just as Jesus is anointed (“Christ”), Mary is ingratiated or graced. While Jesus is not the only one who was ever anointed (all priests, prophets and kings were, and continue to be) Christ is the paradigm and fulfillment of all anointing, and, in the same way, Mary is the paradigmatrix and fulfillment of grace. This is not to deny Christ is also a paradigm of grace, but the word Kecharitoménae can’t be said of him since it’s feminine.

The point of the “full of grace” is that she is the measure of grace in the same way that the perfect-10 is the measure of everything else. As is clear in the Fourth Way, among virtual quantities that can be more or less there is always some maximal, and Mary is that maximal in grace.

Advertisements

12.29.18

-I was puzzled by how LGBT was a coherent group since L,G, and B were all ways of relating to other persons of definite sex while T was not a way of relating to others and denies that sex is definite at all. One platform of unification would be to see T as the the apotheosis of “biology is not destiny”, i.e. that the only values of natural structures are those we impart to them.

-The mechanical model of nature is initially puzzling since it is strongly non-teleological but we have no possible experience of a machine without a purpose. A closer look shows that this is all perfectly intended since machines only have purposes relative to us, i.e. the machine does nothing more and nothing less than what some human wants. “Improper use” could only mean a disagreement between one human and another, e.g. a designer and a consumer. The mechanical view of nature is thus anti-teleological because, like machines, nature is supposed to have no value apart from one that we put into it.

Since operatio sequitur esse, if we really are the only authors of operation we are the authors of existence as well, and if we control the value of things we are the authors of their operation.

-“Biology” is one of the recurrent themes in critiques of Catholic sexual ethics, though the word  prejudices the discussion in a certain direction. We’ve all sat through biology classes and there was no ethics there, right?

The biology class, however, has a very robust ethics, and the most robust ethics presents itself as a string of facts. Dissection, for example, forces the student directly to confront the taboo and disgust of death and to respond to it with a transcendent detachment. It demands that we relate to  death scientifically, “factually”, and as a state of matter that is the same as the living being. It requires that we see nausea or uneasiness in the face of death as silly or childish, and in need of a workman-like indifference to get to work laying things open and labelling them.

About those labels: there’s a clear preference for Greco-Roman polysyllables as opposed to familiar or functional vernacular names. Part of this was simply a desire for a common language, but this too is an ethical desire older than Babel. Much of biology is the attempt to master a new vocabulary to replace a messier, less precise, less scientific common speech. If this is right, science is literally another society that stands in judgment of the one we are born into. Scientific society is thus necessarily globalist and elitist. Homo scientificus is detached in the face of death and disgust and has matured beyond any ability to fall prey to feelings of transcendence or degradation.

The “biological” is therefore part of the larger ethical construction arising from a definite theory of the human good, sc. being a member of scientific society through a mastery of its language and ritual.

-The division of our curriculum into sciences and humanities reflects a division over our idea of the human good. The sciences want an internationalist, elitist, mechanical thinker with no vague or messy feelings like disgust or transcendence. The apotheosis of such a person is the all-competent and all-powerful robot, running a program that is identical in all nations and which thus transcends all national divisions. When defined by contrast to this, The humanities justify themselves by spotlighting the vague and messy problems of life. The paradigm for “humanities” thus defined becomes literature and philosophy, where the student is expected to develop a relish for the fuzzy areas of life that one can never figure out. The paradigm here is not mechanical but human, but a human being confronting the essential insolubility of life.

So what is a human being on this sciences-humanities view of educating or perfecting him? Are we supposed to be robots with an appreciation for being puzzled?

-What is a robot that imparts values, though?

-The sciences are the ways in which we foreground agreement and uniformity of knowledge and background any substantive differences; the humanities are the ways in which we foreground division, variety, diversity. This is why we can meaningfully speak of a scientific community but not a humanities community. As a result, the sciences are areas where we enforce conformity over understanding and humanities demands either finding one’s own local in-group or being a charismatic loner.

 

Christmas

The Athanasian formula that God became man that for man to become God has has a symmetrical formulation in the act of creation: God made the cosmos so that the cosmos might make God. 

Sure, the formula sounds new-agey and gnostic and produces allergic reactions in those who pride themselves on orthodoxy and dedication to the tradition, but I don’t just want to insist that it’s true but that its denial is heretical for being certainly Nestorian and implicitly Arian as well. Nestorius insisted on the seemingly innocent theological clarification of referring to Mary as mother of Christ and not as Mother of God since “Christ” was an awaited figure in history but to take this “Mother of God” talk literally would give us the sheer contradiction of generating the ingenerable. Nestorianism mirrored the earlier and more widespread Arian heresy, which also boiled down to the same seemingly innocent desire to clarify that, whatever this “son of god” talk amounted to, there wasn’t literally a generated God.

All this points to the unnerving central mystery of Christianity that is too-easily abandoned by a spirit of moderation, reasonableness, and prima facie orthodoxy. God is generated. God is born. In fact, he was literally born-again (i.e. twice) with one nature from the Father and another from the Virgin. Nestorius and Arius were rebelling against statements that the pious still rebel against. The last time I posted on Mary literally generating God I got a combox full of well-meaning, pious, apologetical denunciations, but they were Nestorian all the same and would have taken very little prompting to become Arian.

The spirit of Nestorius is still with us in our reticence to speak of Mary as literally Mother of God. Both popular and scholarly Mariology tend to view Mary as vessel or, at best, as a source of sinless flesh (whatever that is). But if Mary is viewed simply as something physically containing Christ then she no more needs to be sinless than Judea or the cosmos, and the only way in which flesh is sinful is if “flesh” is a synecdoche for “a human being”. Mary had “sinless flesh” simply by being a sinless human being, and she had that because nothing alienated from God is capable of generating God.

The Marian generation of God has to be viewed through the lens of the hypostatic union whereas the trinitarian generation of the Son does not, but while Mary generated God and Pilate executed him, Mary’s action conferred a nature upon a divine person that Pilate’s did not. Mary is unique among creatures by being mother of God, i.e. the source of existence of a divine person. Staring at the mystery quickly turns into staring at the sun, but that’s orthodoxy, to which Nestorianism and Arianism are the moderate and balanced alternatives. But they’re false all the same.

So God made the cosmos so the cosmos might make God. By “making the cosmos” we mean he made this one, with the foreknowledge of all its sins and their consequences. All these were tolerated for the sake of the mere possibility of the Marian fiat, and the value of that fiat was sufficient to justify tolerating a human history that is too horrible to face squarely. The horror of human and angelic sin is thus the anti-mystery to Mary’s being mother of God, the one with a brightness that makes the intellect fail out, the other with a horror too great for us even to look at, much less understand how anything could justify its toleration. So that’s our predicament – to fear even looking at an abyss that was tolerated for the sake of a sun that we also don’t have the strength to look upon.

 

 

Perverted faculties in Scriptural ethics

A perverted faculty is one intrinsic to a moral agent which he chooses to put to work while simultaneously choosing to frustrate one of its functions. Perverted faculty arguments are most familiar from traditional sexual ethics but they extend to other areas, all of which arise in Scriptural ethics.

1.) Lying. Unlike the Islamic doctrine of taqqiah which allows Muslims to speak falsely in rare situations in order to save their lives, Scripture insists that it is always wrong to use the power of speech while frustrating its power to communicate the truth. As a consequence, the Church sees Christian martyrdom as not just a virtue but the supreme virtue. This gets its supreme exercise in Christ, who, despite finding himself as the defendant in a show trial where he faced contradictory, trumped-up and unproven accusations that put him in direct danger of death, nevertheless responds to the one who decrees his death sentence with:

For this was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.

Clearly, if anyone lacked the “right to the truth” then the accusers of Christ did, and if anyone had a taqqiah Christ would, but at the decisive moment he explicitly rejects this option.

2.) Suicide: Suicide is the limit case of perverted faculties. Since life is an immanent activity it is ordered to its continuance, but suicide is a choice to put the activity of life in direct contradiction to its continuance. In opposition to much of the pagan world, Scripture never allowed the possibility of heroic or compassionate suicide. Despite the Jews continually finding themselves in situations where noble Greeks or Romans would have killed themselves, like being conquered in war, taken into exile, being dishonored by rape, etc the Scriptures never approve of the practice.

3.) Chemical stupefaction. Just as lying perverts the intrinsic connection between speech and truth, intentional chemical stupefaction perverts the connection between the principle of judgment and the powers of reasoning. Scriptural religion differs from a lot of religions by rejecting any truth to psychedelic experience, even while it allows that religious experience and divine oracles often come from altered states of consciousness, like dreams.

4.) Same-sex sexual activity: Perverted faculty arguments are a familiar feature of Scriptural sexual ethics and don’t need to be reviewed here, but Scripture’s approach to same-sex sexual activity is a particularly clear case of its particular theory of perverted faculties, which achieves the same results as a teleological, Hellenistic view of nature from its central doctrine of the goodness of creation.

The perverted faculty argument understands nature as normative and therefore is equivalent to one sense of natura sive Deus. The sense I have in mind has nothing to do with Spinoza’s, but is the the one my chiropractor used last week when she told me that we should lift with our knees because “That’s why God gave us big butts”.  One can just as easily replace “God” with any normative sense of “nature”, but that’s exactly the point.

This sense of natura sive Deus predicts a connection between how we use pervertable faculties and what we think about God, and this is the consistent Scriptural teaching, starting with Leviticus 18:

21 “‘Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molek, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.

22 “‘Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is an abomination. 

Notice the apposition of perverse worship and perverse sexuality. In fact, the word abomination is a typical way of referring to perversions common to religious cults. The crucial argument is this: The Hebrew scriptures see God fundamentally as the giver of life and man as his image, and so false notions of the He-Who-transmits life manifest themselves in false notions about the transmission of human life. Paul makes exactly the same argument in Romans 1: 21-27. This is why the Scripture can be completely without any Greek notion of “nature” but still form the functional equivalent of a perverted faculty argument. It’s not that they saw “nature” as “teleological” but that they saw creation as the work of a God who saw it as good, and in both cases the very rerum natura is equally normative.

In other words, contemporary biblical exegetes like Dan Grippo are right that Scripture condemns same-sex activity in its connection to wrong worship, but this doesn’t mean that it has nothing to say about the same sort of activity when it is separated from this-or-that idolatrous religious cult- which often seems like the only point that the exegetes are trying to make. While the connection between perverse sexuality and this-or-that false idea of God is contingent, the connection between perversion and false ideas of God is necessary since perverted faculty arguments see God under one version of natura sive Deus, namely by seeing creation as the language and will of the goodness of God.

We dwell on this point about sexual activity because it can be generalized to Scripture’s whole approach to perverted faculties. To believe that the cosmos is good and made by God is to relate to nature as what we are calling natura site Deus, so any perverse use of a faculty – whether by lying or drug use or suicide or perverse sexuality – requires a perverse notion of divinity. In fact, it is a perverse notion of divinity.

Our own perverse use of faculties will never be a part of some weird cultic worship, but will arise from a view of nature as so much stuff that receives its value only from us. In fact, the very word “value” seems to reflect the belief that the human will is the only source of normative goodness, and that the divine will has no self-expression in the physical world. This is an utter repudiation the the God of Scripture, and any God it might leave us with is functionally equivalent to atheism.

 

 

 

 

 

Welcoming the Lord and the blessings of life

Genesis 18 and 19 is structured around a recurrent theme of how the watchful welcoming of the Lord gives the blessings of family life and its refusal leads to its cursing.

The narrative starts with the theophany of Abraham:

Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by.

So Abraham is the father of those who wait the Lord more than they that watch for the morning (Ps. 130: 6). Having found what he watched for he welcomes the Lord into his house. During the meal he prepares for Lord he is told he’ll be blessed with a child he had long wanted but had no reasonable expectation to hope for.

Abraham and the Lord set out for Sodom, with the Lord finally announcing that

“[T]he outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”

As the Lord approaches the city, Lot is waiting for him runs up and gives the same welcoming that Abraham gave:

When [Lot] saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.”

In welcoming those he called “Lords”* into his home Lot ends up saving the life of his own family, and this is two ways: first because the Lords blind and befuddle an angry mob that was intent on breaking down the door of his home with the intent to inflict physical and sexual violence upon all those there, and second because the Lords lead Lot’s whole family out of the burning city.

Lot’s welcoming of the “Lords” is particularly charitable in that he puts their integrity and safety before even his own family, at one point even offering the mob one of his daughters if they would leave the Lords alone.

No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.

The shock of taking hospitality to such an extreme as to offer one’s own family in defense of it is even more striking in that if the mob had taken up Lot on his offer his daughters would, under the customs of the time, have become unmarriageable and so would have to be supported by Lot for life. Lot is thus not just offering his daughters but his whole hope of future posterity to the charity of hospitality. Paradoxically but tellingly, it is only by his willingness to offer his family to the Lord that Lot ends up saving it.

For their own part, the mob is the perversion of both Abraham and Lot. Instead of watching for the Lord and giving him welcome they keep watch only to prey upon life and defile it.

While there is a widespread opinion among contemporary Scriptural exegetes** that the wickedness of the mob of Sodom was their violation of hospitality and not any desire to sodomize Lot’s guests, this misses the larger thematic context of the narrative that continually speaks to the integral connection between the welcoming of the Lord and the blessings of life. This connection is played out by the mob in that their violation of hospitality is inseparable from a desire to not just sexually violate others, but their doing so in a way that renders the transmission of life impossible. In raping the guests, they would substitute the power of sexuality to generate the loving unity of a family with the perverse power of exploitation, domination and its consequent alienation; in sodomizing them they would pervert and frustrate the power of sexuality to generate life. The anti-hospitality of the crowd thus results in the inherent and unplanned consequence of making it the perfect anti-family, i.e. a crazed mob that perverts both love and fertility and, as it happens, has no hope of lasting into posterity. Or even to the next night.

While the mob is the perfect inversion of Abraham and Lot’s spirit of watchfulness and welcoming, even Lot’s family are marred by the same failure to watch for the Lord. This seems to be the point of Lot’s wife “looking back”, i.e. to take her eyes of the Lords that are leading her out of destruction and to look back (in sadness? fascination? longing?) at the loss of her city. Whatever her reason, in taking her eyes off the Lord she becomes one with the salt that renders life in the region impossible, at least until lately.

But the ultimate “looking back” upon Sodom seems to come from Lot’s daughters, who, as soon as they are outside of Sodom start to complain that Our father is old, and there is no man around here to give us children—as is the custom all over the earth.  Lot’s daughters thus close off the narrative by being a perfect inversion of Abrahamic story that opens it, because whereas Abraham waits for the Lord in the face of his own infertility, Lot’s daughters interpret the destruction of Sodom as taking away all the men whom they could marry, and they respond to this by performing exactly the sort of act that they were threatened with by the mob the night before – they get their father blind drunk and lay with him. The sexes of those involved make it hard to see this action for the rape that it is.

The daughters conceive, but the text makes it clear that even their fertility is a curse on life:

The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. 38 The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today.

In other words, the fruit of their rape was a cult of child sacrifice.

So to conclude, only those who watch for the lord and welcome him receive the blessings of life. Ultimately only Abraham and Lot escape assimilation to the mob of Sodom and its fate.


*The text refers to those who meet Abraham and Lot as Yahweh, Adonai, men, and also once as “angels”. The exact ontological picture is obscure and irrelevant to the point I want to make here. I choose to refer to those who Lot welcomed by the same word he used to welcome them.

**I’m thinking particularly of Gareth Moore‘s very well written book, but here is a popular riffing on the same idea.

 

 

Modes of predication in categorical and non-categorical things.

For a few months my daughter developed the annoying habit of responding to one of her younger siblings saying “I’m hungry” by extending her hand for a handshake and saying “Nice to meet you, Mr. Hungry!”

Kids with philosophers for fathers are at risk of having Dad explain to them that to be verbs in all languages have a lot of meanings, and that using them to predicate a substance (like one’s own proper name) is not the same use as predicating an accident (like the quality “hungry”). This ambiguity makes it possible to use words other than “be” to express some accidental predicates (like the having hunger of German) or even by dropping the copula and just putting the subject and predicate next to each other. You can sometimes even drop the subject and get an identical expression, like when you look at a child crying and banging on the fridge and ask him “hungry?” For all that, human language differs from mere communication or signaling by arising from an awareness of the nexus between a logical noun and a verb, and the diversity of verb predicates demands different modes of predication, especially for any way of indicating “to be”.

Substances and accidents are categorical but not every predicate is. This gives yet another sense of “be” when we say some non-categorical thing of something categorical. All this requires that “be” is itself non-categorical as it is said of things in diverse categories. Saying that being is non-categorical can mean either: (a) it is said of any category but never outside of a category or (b) it is said of any category and sometimes outside of a category. The resolution between the two is a metaphysical problem admitting of different solutions depending on how own defines terms, but STA argues that categorical things are limited to what can be arranged on Porphyrian trees, that no immaterial being can be put on one, and that immaterial things exist (for the details, read On being and essence). This leaves him as solidly in the (b) camp, and as defining everyone in the (a) camp as a Naturalist.

This gives STA a set of predicates that refer to both categorical and non-categorical substances, though, of course, this requires a new meaning of “substance” that has to be understood relative to the first meaning we can understand (a relationship he calls “analogy”).* One thing we can say about these non-categorical substances is that some non-categorical predicates are more appropriately said of them than of categorical things, for the same reason that predicates of human beings are more appropriately said of humans than of things we anthropomorphize. So if we have a non-categorical word like “real” or “desirable” it will be more appropriately said of an immaterial substance like “mind” or “angel” or “god” than of a categorical being like “candy” or “red”. What we say about privations is a bit more complicated, but when privations exist in immaterial things they seem to be a lot worse than when they are among material ones. corruptio optimi pessima.  

STA places God at the limit of immateriality and so at the limit of non-categorical existence. It follows that positive transcendental predicates would be most appropriate to him, and the most appropriate sort of subject-predicate nexus is between commensurately** universal beings. When we say “God is being” this is shorthand for saying that God is the only subject who, in virtue of being maximally non-categorical, is entirely proportionate to the full extension of “being” considered as a non-categorical predicate. Saying God is being is a way of setting him apart from all others precisely by making him commensurate to something that is said of anything that is. Correctly understood, saying “God is being” is the same as saying “being is God” (which is exactly what Meister Eckhart would argue), but this has nothing to do with the sense of “being” as applying to the totality or to each of the things of which it might be said but as a term which, in its full amplitude as a non-categorical term, is only commensurate to God.

This is one way of putting the classical idea of divine simplicity. The Simplicity is the convertibility or commensuration between God, positive transcendental predicates, and all kind-names for God (like “divinity” or “divine person”).


*This is why I object to any description of immaterial beings as involving “substance dualism”. Analogical extensions of terms do not give us duality except in term-meanings. Arabians and Shire horses are two kinds of horses, each of which is spoken of independently and without reference to the other, but living and dead horses are not like this, and one speaks of the dead ones analogously to the living ones. We speak of immaterial, non-categorical substances only with reference to material ones and in light of a kind of likeness that is compatible with an essential difference, and to think of this as giving us two different kinds of substance is like thinking that the living and dead horse are two kinds of horses.

**Commensuration is the same as the first mode of perseity, but a rough approximation to it is in any convertible predicate like a definition, e.g. any time we can say both S is P and P is S.

Disputed question on heaven and peccability

Those in heaven are both (a) morally free and (b) not free to sin. 

Objection 1: Anyone not free to do evil is not praised for doing good, but anything with moral perfection is praised for its goodness. Therefore anything with the moral perfection of freedom is able to do evil.

Objection 2: Moral law is superfluous where its contrary is impossible, and so if freedom to do evil is not eternal, the moral law which binds humans is superfluous. But human beings existing eternally in heaven are as much under the moral law as those on earth, and are therefore able to sin.

Sed Contra: As Anselm proves, moral freedom can only require the freedom to sin if sin is a perfection of human beings, though it is by definition the opposite.

Response: Freedom is the absence of impediments to the enjoyment of something that we want, and so in the absence of any desire for something a subject is formally neither free nor unfree, but might be called “a-free”, in the way a stone is neither free nor servile.

By “heaven” we mean a sinless state in which one has everything he wants and nothing he does not want. So taken, such a person is a-free with respect to sin and is, in this precise sense, not free to sin. At the same time, such a person by definition exists with complete absence of impediments  to something that he wants and so has perfect freedom.

Response to 1: We praise things to the extent that they achieve the ultimate perfection, but this  praise differs for those on the way and those who have achieved it. Those on the way are praised in a way appropriate to those for whom the ultimate goal is still possible to lose, and so we praise them for succeeding is an ongoing struggle. For those in possession of the ultimate end, this praise is not always appropriate. While it is appropriate to praise the struggle that led to this state, it is no longer appropriate to praise the state in a way appropriate to a state that can be lost.

Response to 2: Law is a principle of moral action exterior to the will. In one sense this law passes away among the blessed, since the will has all that it wants and nothing it does not want, and so has no need of a direction exterior to itself. In another sense the actions exterior to the will is the act of creation that brings it about and the ministration of the angels which enlighten and delight it, and in this sense the moral law never ceases, whether before heaven or within it.

 

Creationists vs. evolutionists on abiogenesis

Let this count as a typical articulation of abiogenesis in the creationist vs. evolutionist debate*:

Abiogenesis was a long process with many small incremental steps, all governed by the non-random forces of Natural Selection and chemistry. The very first stages of abiogenesis were no more than simple self-replicating molecules, which might hardly have been called alive at all.

For example, the simplest theorized self-replicating peptide is only 32 amino acids long. The probability of it forming randomly, in sequential trials, is approximately 1 in 1040, which is much more likely than the 1 in 10390 claim creationists often cite.

Though, to be fair, 1040 is still a very large number. It would still take an incredibly large number of sequential trials before the peptide would form. But remember that in the prebiotic oceans of the early Earth, there would be billions of trials taking place simultaneously as the oceans, rich in amino acids, were continuously churned by the tidal forces of the moon and the harsh weather conditions of the Earth.

In fact, if we assume the volume of the oceans were 1024 liters, and the amino acid concentration was 10-6M (which is actually very dilute), then almost 1031 self-replicating peptides would form in under a year, let alone millions of years. So, even given the difficult chances of 1 in 1040, the first stages of abiogenesis could have started very quickly indeed.

To sum up, the sides are fighting over there is a 10390th  or 1040th  chance of some process terminating in life before either side specifies what the process would be. It’s hard to understand what this means. Compare the debate to a time when we can actually figure out the chances of something happening, like Bingo. A clever seventh-grader can tell you your odds of selecting B5, but only after he knows the process by which bingo balls get selected. Without this, what sense does the question have? What are your odds of choosing B5 right now? To be clear, I don’t mean (your odds of leading a bingo game)(your odds of picking B5). That sees like a question with a possible answer. I mean the much more incoherent question that asks without specifying any process by which a given number gets picked, what is your chance of picking it? The contradiction practically has a siren on top: you can’t know how likely you are to pick something without knowing how you could pick it at all.

I assume that both sides are assuming that all there is to forming life is having molecules bang around and form stuff, but the problem with this theory is not whether its parameters of probability are acceptable or not, but that it is not a theory at all. Saying “things just bang around and stuff happens” is not a process, since a process is a specified set of steps toward a definite terminus while “things just bang around” is not a specified set of steps and “stuff” is not a definite terminus. If we could actually specify the bingo-machine that led to the number of life, neither side would need to figure out the probability of the number popping up, any more than any winner at a game of chance cares what his odds were.

The problem is that we don’t have an acceptable mechanism for abiogenesis and so we have no idea how probable it is. Creationists and evolutionists are fighting over something that neither one of them has.


*I have no dog in the fight between creationists and evolutionists: my own theory being that every substance – living nor not, human or not – arises from bottom-up natural causality tending toward top-down divine act of infusing substantial form. Nevertheless, the debate over abiogenesis is a good an example of what I find puzzling about both sides.

 

 

 

12-15-18

Nagel’s objection to theism is that it displaces the search for intelligibility outside the universe, and so seems to violate a version of the PSR.

But intelligibility is whatever allows us to understand things as they are, so if the existence of something is greater or less its intelligibility will be also. In the sense of “existence” that is the same as the actual we get just these different degrees of existence since some things are actual but not essentially (contingent substances) other things are essentially actual but contingent in their mode or operation (conserved quantities, basic particles, the universe, finite spirits) there’s another that is essentially actual in both substance and operation (members of the Trinity). On this account, relating the intelligibility of the contingent to the necessary and the necessary to the divine is not to abandon intelligibility but to account for it precisely as intelligibility.


Theists and Naturalists agree that explanations have to come to an end somewhere and so that an explanatory regress is impossible. That said, there seems to be an assumption that the place where explanations bottom out is an assumption or fact while the point of classical theism is that it is axiomatic or self-evident in itself. The confusion makes sense in light of the character of the self-evident, which is not the obvious or intuitive but any statement with a per se predicate. In this sense of per se, an extremely complex and very difficult definition of snow, intelligible to only a few physicists of crystals, would still be more self-evident than the claim that snow is white. In the same way, the claim that God exists is more self-evident than that the universe exists, even if we happen to be much more certain of the latter than the former.


The intelligibility of the universe is complete in itself in the same way that the intelligibility of anything is complete in itself: it is what it is and nothing more. But what is a cosmos?

The cosmos has gradually developed life, consciousness and openness to mind and so has gradually awoken to itself. It is cosmos-humanity, which is a sort of empty-angel that, due to his emptiness, needed to draw intelligible forms from outside of itself. Cosmos-humanity is a sort of symbiosis where cosmos opens to humanity in order to be known and humanity opens to cosmos as a source of forms.

The angel does not need the universe as a source of intelligible forms and so is epistemically a sort of universe-in-himself. All that he needs to understand this universe, himself, or any other angel is already innate to him. The angel is thus monadic, needing no windows to peer out in order to have his own perfect operation. For us, the monad is cosmos-humanity.

Aristotle’s interaction problem

After arguing that nous is not a physical organ, Aristotle objects that his account requires both that

a.) Nous is acted upon by physical objects.

b.) Nous is apathes and so unable to be acted upon.

His response is that (a) doesn’t contradict (b) but entails it since the way nous receives physical objects rules out its being physical.

Because all human knowledge falls under the principle of contradiction, nous receives physical objects as beings, but being is not finite. Since nothing finite as such could receive a non-finite, the kind of receptivity that nous has rules out having any finite structure.

Since they make knowledge of both the physical and the non-physical possible, physical objects as known are beings in a more general sense than physical beings. This arises because the physical is known by abstraction, i.e. by thinking of one thing and not another, and so it is the same object in which we know the physical and non-physical. Anything intrinsic to the physical: being concrete, being finite, etc can be abstracted by nous, giving us, for example, the abstract, the mathematical, the formal, the infinite, the absolute etc. Nous thus experiences the physical as both what it is and what it is not and so cannot encounter the physical in a categorical or finite way.

 

 

 

 

« Older entries