The Secularist Critique
a philosophy of religion blog from a catholic perspective

Wednesday, March 05, 2003  

Truth is Beauty and Beauty Truth
If we ponder the way people actually make important, life-changing, existential decisions, embracing a religion for example, it usually comes about in a way much different then certain rationalists would expect, or wish. Deduction, abstract reasoning, and explicit logic rarely have much to do with it. A person doesn't need a geometry like proof to orient his life in a certain direction, nor is his decision necessarily irrational for lack of such a proof. People don't act that way. The reality seems to be connected with the traditional equating of truth, beauty and goodness. If it's true that truth, beauty, and goodness are one, then we have an approach to truth that is not mere 'proof' or deduction. Beauty, and goodness are both legitimate ways to truth.

I believe this is really how people make such important decisions in their life. A person witnesses the beauty of a man sacrificing himself, or the goodness of an act of profound self-giving. These are experiences of the Real, they resonate deep inside the person's heart (the heart has reasons that reason knows not--pascal?). This is a much more real and profound experience of truth, and it's far from the cold impersonal thing we call deduction. A man may have a friend who is a Christian, whom he has a deep respect and trust for. He witnesses this friend sacrifice his life for another, he is hit hard by the goodness, the beauty and the truth of selfless charity. He doesn't deduce anything at all, he isn't performing syllogisms in his head, he is simply struck by an experience of Realness, and he knows that it is connected to Christianity. Thus if he makes any deductions at all, it is simply that there is Realness in Christianity and that there is truth there. What would be irrational about this man now becoming a Christian because of the witness of his friend?

Of course, this isn't limited to Christianity, experiences of Realness can be found in many religions. The point is, that the nature of rationality, of man, is far broader then the crude and narrow definitions of the rationalists. Deduction plays a small role in actually choosing the way we live our lives, persons live for truth, and truth is inseperably connected with beauty and goodness, and all three of these aspects of the Real are directly experienced by the whole man, not by mere abstract thought.

| posted by theist | 6:08:00 PM

Wednesday, February 26, 2003  

The myth of secularism
Here is another interesting article, Exposing the myth of secularism, by John Gray. The author discusses the more dehumanizing secular myths that have replaced religious myth and compares the religious repression of secular cultures with the victorian repression of sex. A sample:

"It is this painful cognitive dissonance that accounts for the peculiar rancour and intolerance of many secular thinkers. Unable to account for the irrepressible vitality of religion, they can react only with puritanical horror and stigmatise it as irrational. Yet the truth is that if religion is irrational, so is the human animal. As the behaviour of humanists shows, this is never more so than when it imagines itself to be ruled by reason."

I would take issue on one point with the author, who says "liberal humanism has taken Christianity's unhappiest myth - the separation of humans from the rest of the natural world - and stripped it of the transcendental content that gave it meaning". It is not Christianity that has seperated man from the natural world, but science. For nature is significant to man in the same proportion that science is not. Scientific materialism has alienated us from nature by reducing nature's significance to mere capability for being measured and quantified. Secular culture looks to nature for power and nothing more, whereas nature's true significance lies precisely in it's non-quantifiable aspect. Christianity is in full harmony with the most ancient and primitive religious attitudes towards nature, affirming it's sacramental nature.

| posted by theist | 11:41:00 PM

Minds and Reeds
Why do some have this need to compare the mind to a product of our own making. First the mind was supposed to be like a machine, now it's supposed to be like a computer, and tomorrow? Isn't there something backward about trying to model the mind after a product of it's own creation? Doesn't the fact that mind invented machines and computers make it superior to those things that it has made? Pascal had said that man is the weakest of all beings, a reed shaking in the wind, and yet we transcend the whole universe because we can know it. The mind is not made in the image of its own artifacts, but makes them according to its privileged participation in Art.

| posted by theist | 3:20:00 AM

Tuesday, February 25, 2003  

Augustine & Aquinas on Truth
However much Aquinas tried to appear to be following the authority of Augustine, it is evident that when on the subject of truth, Aquinas quite radically turns Augustine’s account upside down, and I don’t think this is a good thing. Truth for Augustine, is transcendent. It has divine characteristics that are plain for all who have eyes to see to see it. Whereas man is temporal, truth is eternal. The mind of man is always changing, but truth is immutable. In its light we judge, but it is never judged. In a word, it is ‘above’ man, it is transcendent.

Aquinas turns this all around. In a way, Aquinas takes all of those characteristics which were attributed to the divine, and makes them attributes of man. For Aquinas, who follows Aristotle closely in this matter, the basic principle is that ‘whatever is received is received according to the mode of the receiver’. For Augustine, truth is regarded more as something public that is perceived by all, but owned by no one. It is like the sun, which illuminates everything. Aquinas has quite a different perspective, viewing truth as a sort of assimilation of created material being into our own soul in an immaterial mode. Therefore, the above mentioned characteristics of truth, are not perceptions of the divine mode, but are merely aspects of its human mode of existing, not because humans are eternal and immutable, but because our mind is not completely immersed into matter, and consequently can receive material being in a non-material way. Since matter is what individuates things, to be able to consider something in a way that is independent from its material conditions, this is what gives truth its characteristics of universality, immutability and so on. To be able to consider things apart from matter, is to consider them in a way free from the restrictions of matter, and therefore free from the limitations of time and change and individuality. In other words, what were divine characteristics for Augustine, are merely accidents of truth’s mode of being in our soul.

To my mind, this is a degradation of truth. It destroys a natural, intuitive, powerful, and relatively clear way to God. Perhaps we can attempt to question this theory from the viewpoint of ethics. The intuition that there are absolutes in ethics is based on these characteristics of truth. The natural and eternal law is based on these characteristics of truth. The inviolability of the human person is based on these characteristics of truth. Now when we understand the essence of personhood and the respect that it imposes on us, are we to suppose that those absolute aspects of the nature of personhood are merely accidents of our knowledge of it? Sure, if in some separate argument we were able to deduce that God exists and that all essences exists in a truly eternal and immutable and absolute mode in God, then this could ground our belief in the absolute inviolability of the human person and we could truly say that abortion was always and everywhere wrong. But is this actually how we establish and perceive moral absolutes? These absolutes are given immediately in our intuition of meaning. We perceive these absolutes as things that really are absolute. As far as I can tell, the theory of knowledge proposed by Aquinas would entail that our immediate and natural beliefs concerning the moral law would be an illusion. This would destroy our ability to know directly the natural and eternal law of God except by a few people who were able to reason out some separate argument establishing eternal ideas in God. This doesn’t ring true. The basic precepts of natural law are intuited directly by all men in all different cultures, they are not the distant conclusions of many previous philosophical arguments about God.

| posted by theist | 2:58:00 AM

Saturday, February 22, 2003  

Six Step Program for Secularists
A Saintly Salmagundi posted a link to an interesting article, Kicking the Secularist Habit.

| posted by theist | 3:17:00 AM

Friday, February 21, 2003  

Artificial Intelligence?
"In contrast with our intellect, computers double their performance every 18 months," says Hawking. "So the danger is real that they could develop intelligence and take over the world."
I'm always amused by statements like these, taken from a recent article from, here is another:
'According to Joy, current advances in molecular electronics mean that by the year 2030, "we are likely to be able to build machines in quantity a million times as powerful as the personal computers of today", and imbue them with human-level intelligence. '

In the book "The Everlasting Man", Chesterton pokes fun at evolutionists who try to cover up the multitudes of philosophical absurdities associated with their theories, with the idea of a huge passing of time. As if any insult to logic could be made more palatable by the passage of a few billion years. I am reminded of this every time I read this kind of nonsense by scientists. Only here they are not invoking a quantity of time, but a quantity of 'performance', of calculation or clock cycles. But the idea is just as absurd. If we just increase the power and speed of our computers, maybe human-like intelligence will just pop up and emerge. Just as Chesterston's evolutionists used the idea of a large passage of time as a smokescreen to smooth the rough edges of their theories, our scientists are using the concept of power, speed, and performance to obscure the glaring differences between intelligence and what computers do.
Computers simply manipulate ones and zeroes in a sequential order that is explicitly given to them. We could say that this manipulation of ones and zeroes are 'calculations' as long as we keep in mind that true calculation is something that only persons do. One wonders why it is necessary to de-mystify computers to people who should know better, but the heart of what a computer does at its most discreet level, is simply check to see if something is on or off. The real power of these machines are they that they can perform an incredible number of these instructions incredibly quickly. This is where they surpass the human intellect. Any calculator can perform its calculations much faster than any person. But that is the extent of it! We could add the speed and power of these computers a zillion times and intelligence will never emerge from it, because no matter how fast or how many calculations per nanosecond, its still made up of discreet steps of 'is this on or off'. Sheer multiplication of these discreet steps into a smaller interval of time is not going to give a machine intelligence.

What is so crude about Hawking and others ideas, is that it assumes that human intelligence is just a calculator. These scientists think that the only thing that separates our minds from these machines, is speed and power, i.e. the number of calculations done in any given period of time, so that if we can just make our computers fast enough, or powerful enough, or give them more memory, or whatever else kind of quantification they can think of that falls under the category of 'performance', they will become intelligent like us. This kind of crass materialism is laughably naive.
The essence of intelligence is not 'performance', it is not calculation (and strictly speaking computers don't even calculate in the human sense). True, because we are intelligent, we can make calculations, but that is not the true heart of intelligence. The essence of intelligence is more to be found in a kind of perception. Without this perception, there are no calculations, no logic. This can be seen by starting with calculation itself and working backword. A syllogism for example, consists of propositions which are themselves made up of terms which have definitions. Discursive reasoning is the process of unfolding the logical content of those terms in logically consistent ways. Where do the definition of these terms come from?If we had no way to percieve these forms, there would not be any reasoning, no calculation. Consequently, this intellectual perception is more the essence of intelligence then mere calculation, on the ground that calculation depends on this perception for its very existence. Personally, I have come to define intelligence this way. Intelligence is the perception of the logos which permeates all things, that which makes visible to our mind the noumenal world in which all empirical reality participates. It is the laying bare the relation of all material things to a higher ideal order, and ultimately to the Mind which alone is creative. If our senses give us 'data', our knowledge is 'meta-data'. It is only after our soul is in possession of a 'form', that logic begins to unfold and unpack the eidetic content, making possible 'calulation'.

Until computers have this intuition, can perceive this meta-data, they can not be considered intelligent. Until computers can develop concepts and language to communicate them, they can not be considered intelligent. They never will be considered intelligent because this kind of perception does not originate in the sensible-material order. The senses, and their material basis, constitute the 'data'. Knowledge is meta-data, and so its origin is above the material basis of sensation.

It is this real essence of intelligence that the materialist hates, the undeniable spirituality of knowledge. Some materialists will stop at nothing to obscure its real nature.
So, in this repsect, the entire field of 'artificial intelligence' is and always will be a total failure, because computers never have had any real semblance to intelligence, and never will. The most powerful computers we can build, will never be anything more than a glorified calculator. So, let the machines double in performance every year, they will always be infinitely incapable of things that my two year old finds routine.

| posted by theist | 3:25:00 PM

Secularist Critique Exhausts Atheists
It seems I have officially tired blog land's resident atheists out. What is hilarious is that they are complaining about 'true believer syndrom' and how you can't argue with a person of 'faith' and just how futile trying to reason with a religious believer etc, even though I never once used religion, revelation, or faith as a part of any argument. It seems that the real problem is that they can't deal with true reason. It's just as well, I don't have all the time in the world to deal with philosophical children.

| posted by theist | 4:11:00 AM

Wednesday, February 19, 2003  

Materialism Not Science
This article on materialism written by a materialist, admits that the history of materialism is based on assumption. He says:

Yet neither Lucretius, d'Holbach, nor Buechner claimed that materialist philosophy was an empirical science. They all realized it rested on assumptions that were ultimately metascientific

And then, instead of giving us the metascientific justification for those assumptions, he just completely contradicts himself by trying to ground it back in science, saying:

So materialism has always inferred its theories from the best empirical evidence at hand and has as a result always had its metascientific hypotheses scientifically confirmed

Metascientific hypotheses scientifically confirmed. Yeah that makes sense. Also, how exactly does one infer from the fact of material existence, that all reality is reducable to matter? Shouldn't we be expecting the justification of metascientific assumptions using some form of metascientific evidence? This article just confirms what I have been saying, that there is no reason for materialism, just pure assumption.

| posted by theist | 6:26:00 PM

Occam's not-so-sharp razor
Occam's razor is so overrated. First of all, it's not some absolute self-evident first principle of reason that must be slavishly adhered to in any and everything. Second, it's too general to really have any meaning in the context of an argument. Third, while it may be a good guide in some circumstances, there are plenty of exceptions, too many for it to really have any power in an argument. Fourth, it's just way too easy for anyone to use it for their own purpose, both sides of an argument could think of countless ways to use it for their own ends. For these and similar reasons I propose that it be put to rest forever as an instrument of debate.

| posted by theist | 1:51:00 AM

Tuesday, February 18, 2003  

True Humanism
Secular humanism is a contradiction in terms. Secularism is a philosophy that denigrates and dehumanizes man. Shouldn't a true humanism recognize the dignity, uniqueness and superiority of man? Yet secularism and its other resident isms reduce man to blind, dumb, impersonal matter. Rationalism constricts man's field of knowledge to those things only which man can wrap his finite mind around, thus excluding any pointers of transcendence and therefore mystery. Scientism absolutizes the scientific method, empiricism identifies knowledge with observation and both consequently narrow man's domain of perception, intellectual or otherwise. Materialism and all its myths degrade man by denying his transcendence over matter, reduces all of reality into a dull one dimensional pool of blind matter, atheism denies the intrinsic relation of human beings with the infinite and personal ground of all things. The end result of this family of liars is a truly meaningless, purposelss, drab, ugly world where man is related to nothing but what is inferior to him, an existence that must necessarily lead to what the existentialists called nausea, anxiety, and of course raises the question of suicide. This is most definitely not humanism.

A real humanism would aknowledge man as a being that can not be explained by, or reduced to forces that are inferior to himself. It would relate man vertically with the only real power that can produce an intelligent person. It would recognize that the actual nature of reason and intelligence is much broader then what is dreamt of in rationalism's philosophy. It would not make any a-priori exlusions of trasncedence and mystery, or forms of experience not reducable to sensation. In short, it would affirm man as man, as he is in truth. The real humanism must be a theistic humanism, not a secular humanism.

| posted by theist | 9:11:00 PM