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.

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