Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What's in a name? Take 2.

His name is not "Barry."

His name is not "Bo or B.O."

His name is not "Bozo."

His name is Barrack Hussein Obama.

You would do well to address him as President Obama, or Mr. President, or POTUS (President of the United States) if you're tweeting. I don't care if you don't like his policies, or even the man himself, but if you cannot muster respect for the man, then respect the office.

I do not know the president as a person, so I can't say whether or not I like him on a personal level. I could most likely have a beer with him. Our conversation would probably involve him saying a lot of nothing - because he's a politician and they're good at that - and me saying a lot of nothing - out of respect and my desire not to get at all heated.

I do know that there are very few policy decisions he has made that I approve of. I do know that I do not like his philosophy and politics, and believe that his are the politics that undermine our good. That does not give me the right to attack him on a personal level, even if it be only in the realm of caricaturizing his name.

It shames me sometimes to hold company with others of conservative mind-set, for the simple reason that during ALL 8 YEARS of the Bush administration we were fighting this name calling, and now what happens when we don't like the sitting president? We turn around and do the same damn thing.

I don't care if President Obama is a Muslim, or has been a Muslim, or has an appreciation for Islam in general, or whatever the Islamic Charge-de-jour is.

At this point, I don't care if the birth certificate is a hoax. The governor of Hawaii said it's the real deal, and let's be honest, the man only has one year left in office.

What concerns me about our sitting president is that he is a left-wing pro-abortion socialist, and I fear that his policies - while of good intent - are going to do more harm than good.

Ad hominem (to the man) attacks are considered fallacies because even if the assertion be true, it does not affect the validity of the person's argument. We are losing the culture war to relativistic socialism, and that is the front on which we must face him, and all who share his political persuasion.

Calling him names does nothing but demean ourselves.

If you can't use reason and history to assault his political and philosophical convictions, don't say anything at all.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Modes of Knowledge

I've been thinking (dangerous, I know), and I have come to the conclusion that much more important than the separation of church and state (which is poorly misunderstood at best anyway), we need the separation of Theology, Philosophy, and Science.

Before you turn me over to the inquisition, here me out. After I've explained myself, if I'm in error, correct me.

Here are three primary disciplines for the acquisition of knowledge and the literal meanings of their root words:

Words, Sayings, and Reasoning about God
Love of Wisdom

For the sake of clarity, let me plainly state that truth is the goal and end of all three disciplines, and therefore their ends are God, ultimately. Moreover, as Aquinas makes plain, truth is truth, and cannot contradict truth. Therefore, if a truth is discovered via philosophy, it cannot and will not be contradicted by science. Science will not be contradicted by theology, nor by divine revelation, if it has achieved a truth. This understanding is very important.

The problem (and I believe the source of most if not all 'contradictions') is that these three disciplines seek to answer three different questions. 'Contradictions' crop up when we attempt to apply a discipline to a question it was not intended to answer. As a side note, this is why we need to return to a more balanced education system. When all you have is a calculator, the whole world begins to look like a math problem.

So, what questions are being asked? How are they being asked? Why are they being asked?


Let me start with philosophy; everything else has. When we approach a thing, often the first question that comes to mind is, "What on God's green earth is that thing?" I argue that this may be the most important question to be asked. How and why flow from what, and so there we start.

Philsophy, then, is the means by which we determine what a thing is. What is its kind, shape, and measure? There are many theories about the 'what,' what is reality, what are good and evil, what is a human person. But every philosophical theory does seek to answer this question. Ask a deontologist what is right, and he will tell you it is duty. Ask an aristotilean what is reality, and she will tell you form, matter, cause, and end. Ask Kant, he'll tell you it is imperative. Every philosophy starts with what a thing is.

But then, this makes sense, does it not? When in the woods and something approaches, how do you know if you are safe or not? You investigate what type of thing it is. Is it a person, or an animal. If it's an animal, is it a doe, a bear, a wolf? Knowing that it is a doe, one knows that it is proper of a doe to eat plants, not people, and so you are safe, so long as you don't spook it and get trampled.

So from that what, we move to the how, and to the sciences. Some may argue that science answers what, but what it answers is modality, not essence. By that I mean, when we ask what a thing is, intrinsically, what is the heart of the thing, part of the answer is of course what it is made of, its material cause. But while the material causes is indeed a part of the 'what' of a thing, the study of the material is a study of how it is. How does the human body work? That it does we know from observation, but how... That is the purview of science.

Science deals with the physical realm, with probabilities and inductions. Whereas previously we were concerned with the truth of the essence, we are now concerned with the truth of the cause and the matter. What conditions and events trigger something to happen, and how do we recreate it or stop it. Science opens marvelous vistas into the workings of everything from the smallest sub-atomic particle to the largest super-galactic cluster. It tells us of the intricacy of our biology, vulnerability opposed by resilience. It is the clock-maker instructing us in the mechanisms that drive the time, strike, and chime.

But it doesn't tell us why these things happen.

Theology answers why because theology seeks to know the heart of the maker. Knowing what a thing is, knowing how it is and how it works, can clue us into its purpose and its end. However - especially concerning humanity - all the science and all the philosophy in the world doesn't tell us why we're here. And since all creation is ordered to our good, and through us to God, the same goes for everything else.

It is theology which tells us of a God who, for no reason but that he willed it, created us that we might be happy with him. Our purpose and finality are God, to love him and be happy with him forever in heaven, and that is a truth we only discover when we listen to what God tells us of himself.

The fullness of theology - recall, Words, Sayings, and Reasonings about God - comes when we are in touch with the Word of God, the only-begotten second person of the trinity. Jesus doesn't tell us about the complexities of sub-atomic structure, but he is praised by it. The Word Made Flesh never explained to us how the Trinity is the prime mover, but he is glorified in Aristotle and Aquinas.

It seems that all good things come in threes. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; Mother, Father, Baby Within; Past, Present, and Future; Scripture, Tradition, and Faith; Philosophy, Science, and Theology. The most stable platform is the tripod, and when we forget that and ignore a leg, we find ourselves destabilized, unbalanced.

All three are important. All three are necessary. All three must be understood and used for what they are, insofar as they are what they are - tools for the acquisition of the truth, modalities of knowledge.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Thought Experiment

I saw the Atheists & Agnostics Society set up outside the Hub the other day, and it sparked me. I understand questioning the veracity of various religions, being turned off by televangelists and "faith healers" and psychics, and even doubting the existence of God. However, I have come to the opinion that in this society where we have replaced worship of God with the worship of Man and Science, we have become pseudo-philosophical at best when it comes to the issue of God.

In deifying reason, we have ceased to become adequately familiar with it, and with it, wisdom.

So I invite you to walk a little while with me, let me pose some mental pictures for you, see what you think.

Supposition 1: The two vitally human acts are knowing and loving.

Allow me to clarify some terms so that we're clear as to exactly what I'm saying here.

First, Aristotle identified three "levels" of life: Plant, Animal, Human. Things like digestion, respiration in the lungs, sleeping, these are things we share with plants. Movement, instincts, direct sensory faculties (the 5 sense), these we share with animalia. There is a 3rd level, something which sets us apart from plantae & animalia, which is our humanity, our human vitality.

Second, by knowing, I mean acts of intellection, reasoning, cognitive processes which go beyond even what we see in the animal world. Humans, not animals, built the Model T and the World Wide Web.

Third, by loving, I don't mean the mere emotion of love (powerful as it may be), but rather the act of will which is a choice, decision, or act. It is not mere intellect, and not merely following through from the fruit of reason, but rather the way in which a human is able to take the input of intellect, memory, and instinct, and make a choice. As an example, take amusement parks. Roller coasters are thrilling because against reason & instinct, we make an act of will to conquer the height (and our fear) for the sake of conquering it.

So, then, what I mean in supposition 1 is simply that what sets us apart from the rest of life, what makes us human, or is at least specially human, is our capacity to know, intellect and reason, and our capacity to love, choose, and decide.

For the duration of this post I will refer to the intellect and will, the mind and heart, or knowing and loving as faculties, and the degree to which we have formed our faculties as our capability. Our current capability is not necessarily indicative of what our actual capacity for these acts of intellection and will are.

Also, for the time being, I don't care where these faculties come from. For all I care, they could simply be advanced brain chemistry. Their mechanism is not important to this foray.

Supposition 2: To comprehend a thing fully, one's intellectual capacity must be greater than the thing being thought of.

What is 2 + 2? 4, of course. There is no doubt in your mind as to the truth of the statement, "2 + 2 = 4." If you had to describe why this were the case, you could explain that you understand the concepts of 2, 4, addition, and equality. What I am positing is that your intellect is greater than any of those concepts, and is therefore able to fully encompass them.

In a sense, one could say that your intellect is capable of arithmetic, certainly has a capacity for intellect. Your intellect is greater than arithmetic, encompasses it, is able to see it for what it is.

How about calculus? What is the integral with respect to x of 3x^2 dx, from 0 to 5? It's 125 of course. However, while at one point in my life (i.e. at the end of AP Calculus, when I scored a 5/5 on the AP test), I could have rattled that off. Now, I had to look it up (though I was able to understand why it was 125).

So, the intellect can be formed, can grow, and can mature. My capability may or may not be indicative of my capacity. I have a capacity for calculus, but I have been lazy in my mathematics, and am no longer fully capable of it as I was. However, since I have the capacity, I am capable of understanding calculus, encompassing it with my intellect.

Supposition 3: Humans, insofar as they are physical, are finite beings.

This should pretty much go without saying. We are born at a particular time, and we die at another particular time. Observationally, therefore, there is a finite span of time within which we live. We live in a finite material universe, essentially a part of it. We grow - sometimes by steps, and sometimes by leaps and bounds - but always it is a finite progression. We are not infinite.

Supposition 4: If God exists as he is typically understood philosophically - omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent - then he is "bigger" than us.

Of course, by bigger than us, I also mean bigger than our intellects. A truly infinite God - for that matter anything truly infinite - must by necessity be beyond the capacity (not just the capability) of any finite intellect. That must therefore mean that he is truly beyond our total comprehension. We can know things about him, but full understanding is not possible, not by our own power.

Conclusion: We've got it all wrong about God.

It's truth time. We need to be honest. I'm not just looking at atheists and agnostics here, I'm looking at Christians, Jews, Muslims, and everyone else who is talking about God in the sense presented above.

Too often we are looking for a God we can understand. We are looking for a concept that fits in a nice little box in our heads, that we can "wrap our heads around."

We don't want to be shocked.

We don't want to be challenged.

We don't want to be anything less than the highest thing in the universe.

If our criteria for rejection of God is that we cannot understand Him, then we have misunderstood the essential truth of Who it is we are looking for.