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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Blind Science vs. Blind Faith: Some Thoughts on Breaking the Deadlock

Dallas Willard

Students in our colleges and universities live constantly in a tension between two authority systems: one more or less vaguely associated with science and the other with religion. Both systems are “blind” in the sense that the edicts they impose on thought and behavior are never, for the vast majority of people, reduced to anything close to understanding, verification, or proof. An illustration comes from a recent experience reported by one of my students.

Dallas Willard
This student was walking across campus with a professor whose field is religious studies. In their conversation, the student happened to mention the resurrection of Christ. The professor's response: The resurrection is inconsistent with the laws of physics. Now, in fact, the laws of physics lie at a considerable conceptual distance from phenomena such as human death and decay and their possible reversal. This particular professor in any case, would have little if any idea where to begin showing that resurrection conflicts with physics—or why it matters, if it does conflict. Indeed, who would? Very few, I would imagine. "Science" was vaguely invoked to end the discussion, just as in other contexts, "religion" is used for the same purpose.

But then the professor probably will never be confronted with the task of actually demonstrating how the resurrection is inconsistent with the laws of physics. The student in question, an extremely bright as well as devout young man, was too gracious (and perhaps stunned) to force the issue; and certainly he would have found it difficult to show that the resurrection and physics are not inconsistent or why it doesn't matter if they are.

It is painful to observe that our culture provides no friendly meeting place for the authorities of science and religion to engage in good‑faith efforts to understand the truth about our life and our world. How many people seek or find the preparation required to deal profitably with issues such as resurrection and the laws of physics? To be genuinely open to truth and able to seek it effectively is surely one of the greatest human attainments. I am convinced that it can come only as a gift of grace. It implies faith in a cosmic context where one no longer feels the need to hide, to invoke explanations that really explain nothing at all but simply enable one to hold a position with an appearance of reasonableness.

The professor who invoked physics is surrounded constantly with things and events for which no physical explanation yet exists, nor even the beginnings of one. Just look at the physics texts and see. A most obvious case is the existence of the physical universe itself, as well as of life and human consciousness. When confronted with the de facto inability of physics in this respect, the academically sanctified dodge is to invoke chance, along with huge spans of time, for everything to "work," and further, to invoke the promise of what science (really, physics) supposedly will be able to explain in the future as it continues to make progress. But chance is not something that can produce or explain anything. Rather, it is invoked precisely at the point where there is no known explanation or cause. And if something is, indeed, impossible, it will not help to have more time to get it done. We need a demonstration of the possibility, for example, of life's emerging from the inorganic, and then we can talk about time. But the assumptions of this "scientific" evasion are so complicated and culturally protected that most people confronting it do not realize they have been handed intellectual sawdust instead of bread.

Unfortunately, religion frequently invokes its own non‑explanations as a means of holding its ground. Usually these involve the idea that God's power is so great that we can say with reference to anything simply that He did it and thus have an explanation that protects us. There's no need to look further or think further.

Now God's act as an explanatory principle has an advantage over chance in that we all know something of what it is like for an act or choice to bring something about. Nothing comparable can be said of chance. Personality is a source of energy and causation with an intelligible structure. It simply is not a physical structure. But there is no good reason it should be, and once you think about it, every reason it should not. For if it were, the fundamental feature of human life and consciousness would be destroyed or reduced to illusion. As long as we recognize that knowledge does not reduce to physics, and as long as we understand that science is just knowledge, we have every right to speak of the possibility of a science that encompasses consciousness in divine and human forms along with the physical and whatever else there may be.

The impasse of authorities confronting authorities (or intimidating others) begins to dissolve when prepared and thoughtful people devote themselves to the humble examination of facts and evidence rather than to defending their positions. It is difficult to imagine anything more necessary and Godlike than this. We must escape the cultural deadlock that is turning universities—and churches—into places of “right views,” rather than thought and knowledge, and producing a Christian personality split into a religious side and a professional, intellectual side which never come into contact.

Important work of reconciliation needs to be done. Progress is possible if a vast number of Christians, devoted and qualified, will permeate all dimensions of society and bring the Spirit and power of Christ to bear upon the points where the authority structures of the intellectual professions are in blind conflict with genuine faith in Jesus Christ.

From here.

Related reading: Reasons to Believe; The Folly of Scientism by Austin L. Hughes; C.S. Lewis on Christian Apologetics

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Heidegger's Lectures on Aristotle

Alice C. Linsley

Martin Heidegger's early morning lectures at the University of Freiburg focused on the writings of Aristotle. The lectures became known as the "Aristotle breakfast club" and Heidegger's scholarly approach to Aristotle, which was philological, historical and phenomenological, influenced many of his students. Some became scholars of classical and pre-Socratic Greek philosophy; among them were Hans-Georg Gadamer, Hannah Arendt, and Leo Strauss. Strauss once wrote that Martin Heidegger impressed him as no other contemporary thinker had.

The influence of Aristotle on Heidegger's work should not be underestimated. He wanted to understand how Aristotle renders a practical understanding of being. In books IV, VI and XI of the Metaphysics, Aristotle defined ontology as the science or theory of being qua being (ὂν ἢ ὀν). It is significant that he expresses it this way and Heidegger took this as his cue to explore being qua being.

Another significant influence on Heidegger's thought was Edmund Husserl. Heidegger pointed out the weaknesses in Husserl's conception of consciousness and cognition, and in developing his thoughts he came to recognize that he was once again dealing with Plato and Aristotle. He wrote, "Phenomenology radicalized in its ownmost possibility is nothing but the questioning of Plato and Aristotle brought back to life: the repetition, the retaking of the beginning of our scientific philosophy." (History of the Concept of Time: Prolegomena, p. 136)

As Heidegger read long passages of Aristotle in Greek to his students, he explored the texts in a scholarly manner, drawing on philology, history, and literary criticism. He found that ontological research is essentially historical. It requires looking behind the text; being conscious of what can be seen through the text. He wrote, "It is necessary to surpass Aristotle - not in a forward direction in the sense of a progression, but rather backwards in the direction of a more original unveiling of what is comprehended by him." (Aristotle's Metaphysics [theta] 1-3: On the Essence and Actuality of Force, p. 69)

Related reading: Crash Course on Phenomenology; Learning to Question Narratives; Dreyfus on Metaphysics and Phenomenology; George Pattison on Martin Heidegger