Frederick Copleston on the limits of human language and metaphysics

“Language is primarily designed to refer to the objects of our sense-experience, and is very often found inadequate for the precise expression of metaphysical truths. Thus we speak, and cannot well help speaking, of “God foreseeing,” a phrase that, as it stands, implies that God is in time, whereas we know that God is not in time but is eternal. We cannot, however, speak adequately of the eternity of God, since we have no experience of eternity ourselves, and our language is not designed to express such matters. We are human beings and have to use human language — we can use no other: and this fact should make us cautious in attaching too much weight to the mere language or phrases used by Plato in dealing with abstruse, metaphysical points.”

Copleston, Frederick Charles. A History of Philosophy: Volume 1. Garden City, NY: Image, 1962. 165. Print.

David Bentley Hart on Heidegger and the ‘evasion of the mystery of being’ in the west

“Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) –a morally problematic figure, admittedly, but not to be dismissed–was largely correct in thinking that the modern West excels at evading the mystery of being precisely because its governing myth is one of practical mastery. Ours is, he thought, the age of technology, in which ontological questions have been vigorously expelled from cultural consideration, replaced by questions of mere mechanistic force; for us, nature is now something “enframed” and defined by a particular disposition of the will, the drive toward dominion that reduces the world to a morally neutral “standing reserve” of resources entirely subject to our manipulation, exploitation, and ambition. Anything that does not fit within the frame of that picture is simply invisible to us. When the world is seen this way, even organic life–even where consciousness is present–must come to be regarded as just another kind of technology. This vision of things can accommodate the prospect of large areas of ignorance yet to be vanquished (every empire longs to discover new worlds to conquer), but no realm of ultimate mystery. Late modernity is thus a condition of willful spiritual deafness. Enframed, racked, reduced to machinery, nature cannot speak unless spoken to, and then her answers must be only yes, no, or obedient silence. She cannot address us in her own voice. And we certainly cannot hear whatever voice might attempt to speak to us through her” (David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God, pp. 311-312).

Intelligent Design (like scientific materialism) is a post-Christian and effectively atheist view of the universe.

“Much of what passes for debate between theist and atheist factions today is really only a disagreement between differing perspectives within a single post-Christian and effectively atheist understanding of the universe. Nature for most of us now is merely an immense machine, either produced by a demiurge (a cosmic magician) or somehow just existing of itself, as an independent contingency (a magical cosmos). In place of the classical philosophical problems that traditionally opened out upon the question of God–the mystery of being, higher forms of causality, the intelligibility of the world, the nature of consciousness, and so on–we now concern ourselves almost exclusively with the problems of the physical origin or structural complexity of nature, and are largely unaware of the difference.

The conceptual poverty of the disputes frequently defies exaggeration. On one side, it has become perfectly respectable for a philosophically illiterate physicist to proclaim that “science shows that God does not exist,” an assertion rather on the order of Yuri Gagarin remarking (as, happily, he never really did) that he had not seen God while in orbit. On the other side, it has become respectable to argue that one can find evidence of an Intelligent Designer of the world by isolating discrete instances of apparent causal discontinuity (or ineptitude) in the fabric of nature, which require the postulate of an external guiding hand to explain away the gap in natural causality. In either case, “God” has become the name of some special physical force or causal principle located somewhere out there among all the other forces and principles found in the universe: not the Logos filling and forming all things, not the infinity of being and consciousness in which all things necessarily subsist, but a thing among other things, an item among all the other items encompassed within nature” (David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God, pgs 302-303).

The Father of all Bombs

Thought I would link to a Daily Telegraph article on a new bomb developed by the Russian military which they call the Father of all Bombs. Here is a link to the article.

I’ve highlighted the part of the quote that I found particularly bizarre…

 

“Test results of the new airborne weapon have shown that its efficiency and power is commensurate with a nuclear weapon,” he said.

“The main destruction is inflicted by an ultrasonic shockwave and an incredibly high temperature,” ORT added.

“All that is alive merely evaporates.”

Despite its destructive qualities, the bomb is environmentally friendly, Gen Rushkin said.

The test comes after weeks of increasingly belligerent rhetoric from the Kremlin.

Spinoza on “the interpretation of Scripture”

Spinoza applied the scientific method (which was developed in order to conquer nature) to the reading of Scripture, and this became what is now known as the “historical-critical method.” His view was that religious conflict in Europe was a result of differing interpretation on key biblical passages. He developed this method of reading Scripture in order to bring about universal agreement on its meaning. The method is exceedingly powerful (like the scientific method) and it was for a long time, and mostly still is, the only method of Bible study taught in seminaries and colleges. It is often taught and used without any reference to its philosophical roots. Like the scientific method applied to nature, it does not allow for a spiritual or supernatural component in reading the Bible (or any other book). Being merely natural, a devotional aspect has to be attached to it, rather artificially and as an afterthought. So, like the relation of modern science to nature, there is the conflict in Biblical circles about the difference between “conquering” scripture and “understanding” scripture. Modern biblical scholarship is reluctant to throw out the method because of fears regarding “free for all” interpretation of scripture, but some quarters have also acknowledged the inherent danger of this disecting and critiquing method upon any devotional relationship to it. Various alternative methods have been developed (ie, “historical-narrative” method and neo-patristic reading) in order to try and keep the desired scholarly objectivity while allowing room for devotion.

“If we would separate ourselves from the crowd and escape from theological prejudices, instead of rashly accepting human commentaries for Divine documents, we must consider the true method of interpreting Scripture and dwell upon it at some length: for if we remain in ignorance of this we cannot know, certainly, what the Bible and the Holy Spirit wish to teach.

I may sum up the matter by saying that the method of interpreting Scripture does not widely differ from the method of interpreting nature — in fact, it is almost the same. For as the interpretation of nature consists in the examination of the history of nature, and therefrom deducing definitions of natural phenomena on certain fixed axioms, so Scriptural interpretation proceeds by the examination of Scripture, and inferring the intention of its authors as a legitimate conclusion from its fundamental principles. By working in this manner everyone will always advance without danger of error — that is, if they admit no principles for interpreting Scripture, and discussing its contents save such as they find in Scripture itself — and will be able with equal security to discuss what surpasses our understanding, and what is known by the natural light of reason.

Continue reading

Nietzsche — “obedience over a long period of time in a single direction”

Beyond Good and Evil

188

Every morality is, as opposed to laisser aller [letting things go], a bit of tyranny against “nature”; also against “reason”; but this in itself is no objection, as long as we do not have some other morality which permits us to decree that every kind of tyranny and unreason is impermissible. What is essential and inestimable in every morality is that it constitutes a long compulsion: to understand Stoicism or Port-Royal or Puritanism, one should recall the compulsion under which every language so far has achieved strength and freedom—the coercion of meter, the tyranny of rhyme and rhythm. How much trouble the poets and orators of all peoples have taken—not excepting a few prose writers today in whose ear there dwells an inexorable conscience—“for the sake of some foolishness,” as utilitarian dolts say, feeling smart—“submitting abjectly to capricious laws,” as anarchists say, feeling “free,” even “free-spirited.” But the curious fact is that all there is or has been on earth of freedom, subtlety, boldness, dance, and masterly sureness, whether in thought itself or in government, or in rhetoric and persuasion, in the arts just as in ethics, has developed only owing to the “tyranny of such capricious laws”; and in all seriousness, the probability is by no means small that precisely this is “nature” and “natural”—and not that laisser aller! Continue reading

Dostoevsky — Sonia’s reading of the raising of Lazarus in Crime and Punishment

“So you pray to God a great deal, Sonia?” he asked her.

Sonia did not speak; he stood beside her waiting for an answer.

“What should I be without God?” she whispered rapidly, forcibly, glancing at him with suddenly flashing eyes, and squeezing his hand.

“Ah, so that is it!” he thought.

“And what does God do for you?” he asked, probing her further.

Sonia was silent a long while, as though she could not answer. Her weak chest kept heaving with emotion.

“Be silent! Don’t ask! You don’t deserve!” she cried suddenly, looking sternly and wrathfully at him.

“That’s it, that’s it,” he repeated to himself.

“He does everything,” she whispered quickly, looking down again.

“That’s the way out! That’s the explanation,” he decided, scrutinising her with eager curiosity, with a new, strange, almost morbid feeling. He gazed at that pale, thin, irregular, angular little face, those soft blue eyes, which could flash with such fire, such stern energy, that little body still shaking with indignation and anger–and it all seemed to him more and more strange, almost impossible. “She is a religious maniac!” he repeated to himself.

There was a book lying on the chest of drawers. He had noticed it every time he paced up and down the room. Now he took it up and looked at it. It was the New Testament in the Russian translation. It was bound in leather, old and worn.

“Where did you get that?” he called to her across the room.

She was still standing in the same place, three steps from the table.

“It was brought me,” she answered, as it were unwillingly, not looking at him.

“Who brought it?”

“Lizaveta, I asked her for it.”

“Lizaveta! strange!” he thought.

Everything about Sonia seemed to him stranger and more wonderful every moment. He carried the book to the candle and began to turn over the pages.

“Where is the story of Lazarus?” he asked suddenly.

Sonia looked obstinately at the ground and would not answer. She was standing sideways to the table.

“Where is the raising of Lazarus? Find it for me, Sonia.”

She stole a glance at him.

“You are not looking in the right place. . . . It’s in the fourth gospel,” she whispered sternly, without looking at him.

“Find it and read it to me,” he said. He sat down with his elbow on the table, leaned his head on his hand and looked away sullenly, prepared to listen.

“In three weeks’ time they’ll welcome me in the madhouse! I shall be there if I am not in a worse place,” he muttered to himself.

Sonia heard Raskolnikov’s request distrustfully and moved hesitatingly to the table. She took the book however.

“Haven’t you read it?” she asked, looking up at him across the table.

Her voice became sterner and sterner.

“Long ago. . . . When I was at school. Read!”

“And haven’t you heard it in church?”

“I . . . haven’t been. Do you often go?”

“N-no,” whispered Sonia.

Raskolnikov smiled.

“I understand. . . . And you won’t go to your father’s funeral to-morrow?”

“Yes, I shall. I was at church last week, too . . . I had a requiem service.”

“For whom?”

“For Lizaveta. She was killed with an axe.”

His nerves were more and more strained. His head began to go round.

“Were you friends with Lizaveta?”

“Yes. . . . She was good . . . she used to come . . . not often . . . she couldn’t. . . . We used to read together and . . . talk. She will see God.”

The last phrase sounded strange in his ears. And here was something new again: the mysterious meetings with Lizaveta and both of them– religious maniacs.

“I shall be a religious maniac myself soon! It’s infectious!”

“Read!” he cried irritably and insistently.

Sonia still hesitated. Her heart was throbbing. She hardly dared to read to him. He looked almost with exasperation at the “unhappy lunatic.”

“What for? You don’t believe? . . .” she whispered softly and as it were breathlessly. Continue reading