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The “upside” of being a gadget, or, we are all [acting like] atheists now

Lanier's wager, merely a "privatized humanism": “we are better off believing we are special and not just machines”

Lanier’s wager, merely a “privatized humanism”: “we are better off believing we are special and not just machines”

A theological analysis of the debates provides evidence that contemporary culture’s romance with scientific naturalism leads to a serious overestimation of the power of science and springs from deadly moral and spiritual roots. A sinful humanity is itching to hear that the ultimate foundation of all life has no meaning...the popular mind seems unable to resist idolizing naturalistic explanation because it provides an all too human, all too comfortable worldview within which I can function as my own god….We must… assume the burden of challenging the popular romance that lets distorted science substitute for personal encounters with each other and with God. — James V. Bachman

 

Building off of a previous post, I have been thinking more about the problems with the analogy of the cosmos – which man is unavoidably a part of – as a machine (incidently, I was gratified to find thinking that mapped almost entirely with mine expressed here in the article by James Bachman, “Self-righteousness through popular science: our culture’s romance with naturalism” [see here if that link does not work] quoted above*)

As technology and culture writer Jaron Lanier shows us in his book, despite the fall into sin men certainly can see that there are downsides to considering human beings to be mere cogs – or perhaps nowadays, mini-computers – in a more expansive cosmic machine.

That said, fallen man may also think he detects – more or less consciously (perhaps feel is a better word) – some benefits as well (yes, these “perceptions” are illusionary):

For example….

Practically atheism

Practically atheism

SALVATION FROM THE GUILT OF SIN:

If we are a part of the cosmic machine, then all that we “decide” to do is in some sense, basically determined. Even if we talk about chance in contrast to more deterministic forces, the laws of nature that give us diversity only allow for a range of probable outcomes that are, finally, subject to considerations that can be said to be impersonal (note previous post, This is personal) and, in short, mechanical.  Of course, the idea of natural selection further reinforces this idea that we are “made” a certain way and destined, in this or that way, to do what we desire to do – or, more specifically, what our genes “want” us to do.  Therefore, guilt for any “wrongdoing” becomes more of a pragmatic problem, psychologically and socially, than anything else – for we and those we desire to be found with determine “right” and “wrong” insofar as we are able.**  In short, real personal responsibility and accountability becomes questionable and it is easy to see why this results in the banishment of the troublesome “Cosmic Mechanic”:  We are saved from this ridiculous god who supposedly wants to run our lives one way when he made us another way.

SALVATION FROM DEATH:

In order to avoid thinking about death and what it really means, we gadgets can either, as Neil Postman put it, “amuse ourselves to death” [with the gadgets we gadgets make, evidently in our own image], or, if we are really ambitious, we can try and beat it.  Here, as the cosmos is increasingly thought of in terms that, at bottom, can be reduced to the mechanical (no matter how much “organic” language is used as clothing!), the technological may be readily perceived not only as the “strong horse” (as they like to say in the Middle East), but the only horse on earth and in heaven.  All things – even death itself – can be reduced to mechanical problems with mechanical solutions, as someone like Ray Kurzweil basically assure us. And naturally gifted persons like himself find themselves rising to the top as if by destiny, attaining large followings and much worldly success….. They are confident – even religiously so – that they are not only on the right side of history, but that their ideas will change history and everything else (except perhaps for the only “essences” or “substances” that are now thought to exist, the fundamental particles and the laws of nature that accompany them).  Note that in today’s academic world this kind of thinking is far more mainstream than many would suspect.

And why not say: "On a mission from god?"

And why not say: “On a mission from god?”

SALVATION FROM OUR ENEMIES:

Of course seeing the cosmos as mechanical banishes the fascinating but oppressive “demon-haunted” world that Carl Sagan spoke ofFurther, we can more readily find relief from those who oppose us – who insist on ways or forms of life that we find incompatible with our own preferred lifestyles.  When we see the world as a machine it becomes easier to reduce other human beings – particularly the ones that we are convinced are unreasonably opposed to us – to be something less than persons.  They become to us mere “wetware”, “meat puppets” who only have value when we and our friends determine they deserve it.  Piling fantasy on fantasy, we imagine we can be saved from those who oppose us (or maybe just annoy us) in a more passive fashion, by retreating into our “little online worlds” that we have some control over (increasingly giving into the temptation – enhanced and made more readily available via technology – to become more self-centered and to “commodify” the world). But of course this does not work.  For some look for salvation from others more aggressively, increasingly utilizing automatized technology in order to subdue those will not cooperate, either by soma-like methods (Brave New World) or perhaps a heavier hand (1984, Neuromancer). Or maybe, this is done more or less unknowingly, utilizing the impersonal “laws of economics” (Lanier is a helpful resource here as well – see the end of this post).

SALVATION FROM THE MOST OPPRESSIVE AND GREATEST ENEMY OF ALL!:

“Enemy” that is. Of course fallen man does not really know who his Enemy is, even if he thinks he does. He does not truly realize who are true and false enemies – after all, he “knows”, deep down, that God Himself – particularly as He is described in the Old and New Testaments – is his Enemy!  And here, if we simply see ourselves as a machine in the larger cosmic machine it is easier to both retreat from the knowledge of Him and nevertheless attempt justify one’s self before Him**.

Let me explain.  After my last post where I backed away somewhat from my pastor’s succinct appraisal of my view  – “Modern man has been led away from God by the idea that the universe is simply a machine” -  I realized that I had written and posted the following in the recent past:

Fallen man: "Should we assimilate the Creator as well?"

Fallen man: “Should we assimilate the Creator as well?”

“…with an increase in functional knowledge and earthly power, man’s free powers tend to combine with devotion towards certain unbending  principles and “cause-and-effect” laws (like a vending machine: ultimately manipulative “if-then” moralism), and the temptation is for this to take over completely, squelching out the last vestiges of an actual person who is God.  In other words, this “highest of men”, rich in the knowledge and wisdom of the world, seeks to harness not only what have come to be known as the “laws of nature”*** and “natural law”, but any “laws of the [increasingly depersonalized] supernatural” as well (whether more or less “systematically”).  This is accomplished with the help of its magicians/scientists and priests as “salvation” comes through the mighty accomplishments of the appropriate “technologies”, dealing with both the material and the “spiritual”.  Here, we find that the distinction between the natural and the supernatural, for whatever its beneficial uses, has actually been of some assistance in banishing the biblical God.  Therefore, writ large, as unchecked Old Adam more successfully harnesses the order inhering in the creation, in practice he makes the Creator his impersonal creation and himself salvation.****”

(end old quote from this post, part 3 in a 3 part series that is summed up here)

In other words, considering the creation – and especially ourselves – as machines is spiritually dangerous because it opens us up to the temptation to think the same about all persons, including the Creator Himself!   Then, we treat Him accordingly – that is, attempting to manipulate Him as we would any other machine.  In sum, such thinking only gives fuel to our desire to justify ourselves over and against Him.

That we may be Creator, Lord, and Judge.

“Would you condemn me [to non-existence or to a machine-like existence] that you may be justified?” (Job 40:8). 

We would (read more on this here)

As Calvin said, the mind is an idol factory.*****  An illusion factory.

Back to Jaron Lanier. I saw someone highlight a recent quote from him the other day: “We don’t yet understand how brains work, so we can’t build one.”

According to David Bade: “…in our time, following Turing and Chomsky, the machine has been understood not as a product of human activity but as an embodiment of exactly the same design principles which the human being embodies.” But wherein does our epistemological confidence lie?

According to David Bade: “…in our time, following Turing and Chomsky, the machine has been understood not as a product of human activity but as an embodiment of exactly the same design principles which the human being embodies.” But wherein does our epistemological confidence lie?

Of course Lanier does not think that the brain can be reduced to purely material and mechanical causes, even if some persons in the field of artificial intelligence might take that quotation as a call to redouble their efforts.

And why do they do that?  Again, because for them the brain – and the human being in fact – is, in the end a machine of one sort or another.  They just need to figure everything out. Wherein does their confidence lie? Well, again, the ideas of a certain 19th c. Englishman – that the unbelieving world just seemed to be waiting for – helps bolster their confidence that they are on the right track.

As the A.I. scientist Eliezer Yudkowsky puts it:

“Natural selection is stupid. If natural selection can solve the AGI [Artificial General Intelligence] problem, it cannot be that hard in an absolute sense. Evolution coughed up AGI easily by randomly changing things around and keeping what worked. It followed an incremental path with no foresight.” (p. 199, Barrat, Our Final Invention)

But again, I submit that this confidence does not come from Darwin’s theory per se, but the modern scientific and technological mindset (MSTM – again, see previous post on this topic) that Darwin and many other scientifically-oriented persons have allowed to drive them.

It hit me this past weekend as I talked with a fellow Cub Scout dad – a very bright man and gifted mathematician – that everything I am saying here actually dovetails rather nicely with “moralistic therapeutic deism”.  As he explained the video game Spore, I noted how it sounded like a spectacular catechization into a purely Darwinian worldview – where man who emerges from the the laws of nature – the impersonal – basically creates God.  A very moral man and faithful church attending Roman Catholic, this man thought the game was largely right in its view of man. I gave him much to think about, among other things that his view sounded very much like moralistic therapeutic deism to me.

 Do you mean only a mathematician? Even if we think “yes”, how does God want to be known? Is something like this helpful (Wilken)? More later.

Do you mean only a mathematician? Even if we think “yes”, how does God want to be known? Is something like this helpful? More later.

To wrap things up, my view in sum:

it is not only incorrect to say that the cosmos is a machine, but it is even dangerous to say that it is like a machine – and it is best to avoid such talk.  My pastor read me right.  Please note that I am not saying that all persons who currently see the cosmos as a machine think as I have outlined above, for some still identify the cosmos with the creation and see God as very much involved in it.  Further, I am not saying that the errors of those who really do see nature as wholly organic, free and divine are less theologically serious.

I am simply asserting that it is normal for the practice of methodological naturalism to lead persons in this mechanical direction and for it to affect our deepest beliefs.  And I think to say this is not much different from saying lex orendi lex credenda (The Law of prayer is the law of belief).  As one finds some success in the world using naturalistic techniques one may begin to think, somewhat logically******, that they ought to have a very good reason for not letting their methodological naturalism become pure philosophical naturalism. Just what is that good reason?  After all, they think, there is no doubt that I am understanding much about nature and learning ever better how to manipulate it. It works because it is true and its true because it works!

Please go ahead and pushback against me here – I hope you agree with me that this is an important discussion to have.

FIN

 

Notes:

* Also this from a page in a Francis Schaeffer book I happened to turn to the other day: “In my earlier books I have referred to Whitehead and Oppenheimer, two scientists – neither one a Christian – who insisted that modern science could not have been born except in the Christian milieu. Bear with me as I repeat this, for I want in this book to carry it a step further, into the area of knowing.  As Whitehead so beautifully points out, these men all believed that the universe was created by a reasonable God and therefore the universe could be found out by reason.  This was their base.  Modern science is the original science, in which you had men who believed in the uniformity of natural causes in a limited system, a system which could be reordered by God and by man made in the image of God.  This is a cause and effect system in a limited time span.  But from the time of Newton (not with Newton himself, but with the Newtonians who followed him), we have the concept of the “machine” until we are left with only the machine, and you move into “modern modern science,” in which we have the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system, including sociology and psychology. Man is included in the machine.  This is the world in which we live in the area of science today.  No longer believing that they can be sure the universe is reasonable because created by a reasonable God, the question is raised which Leonardo da Vincit already understood and which the Greeks understood before that; “How does the scientist know; on what basis can he know that what he knows, he really knows?” (He is There and He is Not Silent, p. 43, 1972)

**An interesting example my pastor thought of:Slumdog Millionaire relieved the angst of the actors and actresses in Hollywood by convincing them that they need not feel guilty about their popularity and wealth, it was just a matter of chance; if it was not them, it would have been someone else.” Note that this kind of thinking could be encouraged either by [mechanistic] naturalism or the kind of neo-polytheism promoted by Herbert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly where the idea is that the gods and goddesses come into being to explain the unexplainable to man. (see my critique on their book All Things Shining here)

***Though it seems to me that in reality, the one they are trying to please and appease through their deeds – this “hard man” – is actually the one to whom they are enslaved, the devil.

****I went on: “As a result of this, the human person – not considered in light of the Divine person of Jesus Christ and His love for all – is inevitably trodden underfoot, as at least some persons inevitably become means to other ends.”

*****This is a great quote, and also interesting for me in that even it makes the mind sound mechanical in our modern age!

******Why “somewhat”? Well, deism actually makes more sense than atheism in one way, because deism not only banishes a god who is distinct from his creation (this is in line with biblical theism) – where god is said to remove himself from the clock – but also acknowledges that this god will still judge man in some way.  And of course, here man imagines that he can, by cooperating with god’s system, justify himself before him in one way or another.  This is obviously not right, but it is more right than subsuming god in the impersonal system and making him become a part of it.

Of course, I am saying that the practical implications of deism and atheism end up going more or less in the same direction.  Why do many atheists refuse to become deists, a la Anthony Flew? The reasons are many, but here is how some justify this: in the practice of the physical sciences, observation of course plays a key role. If the Designer of the machine cannot be directly observed, one might say that an application of “Occam’s Razor” should cast him out.  After all, the chain of causation must stop somewhere – why not with the universe itself that we can consistently observe to one degree or another?  Of course here the main problem is still this, which was noted in my first post on this topic: we observe an orderly universe, and how is it that one would have an orderly universe without purpose and purpose without an Intelligence, a Mind, of some sort?

**********************************************

Related post on the temptations posed by information technology here.

Images: Wikipedia, Kurzweil: http://www.evidenceunseen.com/theology/practical-theology/the-eternal-perspective/

 

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

History and the foundation of Christian doctrine

Karl Barth, of a decidedly different view: “All our activities of thinking and speaking can have only secondary significance and, as activities of the creature, cannot possibly coincide with the truth of god that is the source of truth in the world.” (Credo, 185-186)

The quote above sounds good, but… : “All our activities of thinking and speaking can have only secondary significance and, as activities of the creature, cannot possibly coincide with the truth of god that is the source of truth in the world.” (Credo, 185-186)

.

Schleiermacher laid the foundation for “selfie theology”.

Prior to von Hofmann, Schleiermacher laid the foundation for “selfie theology”.

In 1950 [Francis] Schaeffer visited the renowned theologian {Karl Barth] at his home in Switzerland. There he asked [him], “Did God create the world?” Barth answered, “God created the world in the first century a.d.” Francis gestured out the window to the forested hillside and asked, “This world?” Barth replied, “This world does not matter.” — Michael Hamilton

It is easy to see how the comments from Karl Barth above also could relate to how one views the matter of history.  Matthew Becker, theologian at Valparaiso University, addresses this a bit more when he speaks about the significance of the 19th century father of Erlangen theology Johann von Hofmann:

As the principal figure in the Erlangen theological tradition, Hofmann’s significance resides in his response to what is perhaps the premiere question of modern Christian theology: What is the proper relation of Christian faith and experience to historical knowledge? On the one hand, as a post-Enlightenment theologian, Hofmann struggled to interpret an historically-oriented faith in response to the nature of history and the critical methods used by historians when they conduct historical investigation. On the other hand, as a post-Enlightenment theologian of faith, Hofmann was concerned to define the nature and basis of Christian faith itself. How, if at all, are God, personal faith, and history related?

As I noted in a recent post, contra Hofmann’s approach, theology must not aim to build itself on the individual Christian’s relationship with God.* (also see this post). This goes for talking about these things in a more abstract or a more personal (experiential) way. On the contrary, the essence of Lutheran theology – Christian theology! – is the utterly justifying and life-transforming good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for the whole fallen world – each individual person included . Period! Always going hand in hand with this is the fearless proclamation of the same, enacted by the sending of those who serve as faithful stewards of the mysteries of God.

"...the German Reformation is imperfectly described when it is considered an appeal to scripture vs tradition.  It was rather an appeal to history” -- Isaac Casaubon

“…the German Reformation is imperfectly described when it is considered an appeal to scripture vs tradition. It was rather an appeal to history” — Isaac Casaubon

Further, Lutheran theology has, like the Apostle Paul, always been keen to point out the critical nature of the historical component of Christian faith** (see the end of this post for a bit more on this). For instance, the courageous Lutheran reformer Matthias Flacius’ (see here) personal motto was in fact “Historia est fundamentum doctrinae” or “History is the foundation of doctrine”.***

But were the great Lutheran theologians after Luther, Flacius, and Chemnitz (or any other great theologians for that matter) as focused on this point?  Perhaps not. Not long ago Lutheran theologian David Scaer, writing a reflection piece**** on the late Robert Preus, had some very interesting things to say about his former colleague’s theology of Scripture vis a vis history:

“For Preus, the Bible’s christological character is determined by the Word that exists alongside of God without referring to it as the incarnate Word and so the historical aspects of Jesus’ ministry are not included in the Spirit’s inspiration of the Scriptures…. In defining the inspiration of the Scriptures… the Lutheran dogmaticians and Preus held to a direct working of the Spirit on the writers and went further to say that Christ as God’s eternal Word was speaking in the Scriptures, but they did not take the next step in identifying the Word with the historical Jesus. In inspiring the Scriptures, the Spirit worked directly without means. Christ, assumably the Jesus of the Gospels, was the content of the Scriptures but was not part of the process of inspiration

David "All theology is Christology" Scaer, Lutheran theologian

David “All theology is Christology” Scaer, Lutheran theologian

More:

“For the dogmaticians, the unity of the Scriptures was derived from common inspiration by the Spirit and not by their historical, organic interconnectedness.” (p. 83)*****

In footnotes Scaer quotes Preus himself talking about this very issue:

The Lutheran theologians refuse to debate how Christ is present in the Word of Scripture and how Scripture brings Christ to us.” (Preus, The Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism, 374, quoted in Scaer, p. 87)… Scaer goes on to write in footnote 55: Preus said Christ’s presence in the Scriptures was a mystery and any probing of this was philosophizing (The Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism, 377). Not really.”

And later in his article Scaer says:

Preus… approaches biblical history from inspiration and not from a historical perspective, as has been recently done by Simon Gathercole,N.T. Wright,and Larry Hurtado.His approach is ahistorical. Inspiration is the proof of an event’s historical character. Just as historical circumstances of the biblical writers have no part in defining inspiration, so the historical events reported in the Scriptures are to be accepted because they have been recorded by inspiration. (p. 84)

Scaer explains more in footnote when he says:

Lutheran saint Kurt Marquart: “Man is not an objective super-observer in the universe, but a condemned sinner with a vested interest in escape.”

Lutheran saint Kurt Marquart: “Man is not an objective super-observer in the universe, but a condemned sinner with a vested interest in escape.”

“In his essay “The ‘Realist Principle’ of Theology,” in Doctrine is Life: Essays on Justification and the Lutheran Confessions, ed. Klemet I. Preus (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 367-373, Kurt Marquart analyzes what he calls Preus’s “realist principle” or “biblical realism” as set forth in “How Is the Lutheran Church to interpret and Use the Old and New Testaments?” Lutheran Synod Quarterly 14 (Fall 1973): 31-32. While Marquart says that the lecture was given at Bethany Lectures in 1973, it is more likely that it was given the year before in 1972. In this lecture biblical realism includes not only the biblical history but doctrines like justification. In this essay Preus insisted “that history and reality underlay the theology of Scripture” (367), and “he specified ‘biblical realism,’ a presupposition for biblical interpretation” (368). Beneath the historical underlay, however, was inspiration.” (footnote 30 on page 84)

While overall Scaer’s critique of Preus looks to be rather powerful and important, it seems to me that this may not be quite the either-or issue he appears to be making it out to be, and I wonder if some form of reconciliation of views here is possible (even as, from Scaer’s perspective, this may be seen as being unnecessary******). How might Preus’ “from above” way of doing theology and Scaer’s “from below” way of doing theology be synthesized in some way – such that a stronger overall theological approach is the result? I think that there is a lot of fruitful discussion to be had in this area, and I hope to start exploring these ideas more myself in a future series.

“Selfie theologian” Von Hofmann, leader of a school of theology that sees Scripture as merely a “form of the word of God” (think Plato) Go here for more on this.

“Selfie theologian” Von Hofmann, leader of a school of theology that sees Scripture as merely a “form of the word of God” (think Plato) Go here for more on this.

To wrap things up: even with all that has been said above, I have no reason to believe that both of these men would not strongly agree on the unique authority of the Scriptures, echoed in what Robert Preus wrote concerning the 17th century Lutheran John Gerhard:

Every decision in doctrinal controversy must be sought from Scripture, and in this sense Scripture is a judge. Scripture acts as a judge in a threefold manner: first, as a touchstone which directs the Church so that she can render infallible judgment in so far as she abides by Scripture; second, as the voice of the supreme judge who settles all problems in doubt in religion ; and third, as that which influences the heart to accept the teaching of Scripture. In divine matters Scripture acts as plaintiff, witness and judge.” (Preus, speaking about Gerhard in the Inspiration of Scripture, 2003 ed., p. 120)*******

More on these issues in upcoming posts.

FIN

 

Notes:

* Johan von Hofmann thought that theology is about “God and the soul” (which some say is the basis of Augustine’s theology) or “God and the sinner who is justified by God.” (something Luther said about theology at one point). It is true that we can say, to some degree, that theology is never only about “God.” Further, when it comes to interpreting the Scriptures and sizing up the work of God in history through his church, theologians (something we all are in a wide sense) are “never able to escape our shadows”. That said, that is exactly what we should try to do: we first and foremost focus on God and because God focuses on us sinners, we also talk about us as *He* talks about us. Therefore, it is indeed inevitable that a limited amount of talk regarding ourselves that is going to happen. And yet, here we find that if there is any human being that we should begin to focus on more and more besides the God-man, it is our neighbor, as we are  continuously reminded and even inspired, in our heart of hearts with Christ, to consider others better than ourselves. In short, as we mature more and more we are always actually looking outside of our individual selves more and more – to God in faith and our neighbor in love.

** Many passages could be noted here, but I believe there is great significance in the following in particular: “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12). “ But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual.” (I Cor. 15:46).  “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (I Cor. 15:14).

*** Going along with this, we can say that the Christian faith, for all practical purposes, has “timeless” or perhaps better, permanent teachings (speaking more literally, a truly timeless on would be that God is Triune and love). God created the world. Man fell. God redeemed the world in Christ. The Decalogue. Jesus is the first and the last, the beginning and the end, the one who has come and who will come again, etc. etc.

Some insist that in the name of articulating the “living reality” of Christian faith and an “organic-historical view” of the same, irrelevant and “dead letter” dogmas such as these must be put in a fresh theological frame and perhaps even transformed.  This, of course, is nonsense.  There is nothing about these doctrines that is dead.  In his Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism: a Study of Theological Prolegomena, Robert Preus tells us:

Historic Lutheranism definitely did not make revelation a mere matter of ‘communicating a body of knowledge,’ as has been sometimes attributed to all of 17th-century theology indiscriminately.  According to Calov, ‘Revelation is an action of God {actus Dei externus} whereby He disclosed Himself {sese patefecit} to our human race through His Word {per verbum suum}, thereby bringing us to a saving knowledge of Him {ad salutarem ejusdem informationem}.” (p. 184, quoted in Press, “Missio Dei: Transforming Center of Scripture”, Missional Transformation: God’s Spirit at Work, pp. 156-157)

We do not submit these things above to a more Hegelian approach towards history (yes, I know in order to be intellectually respectable in today’s theological world one must bow to just this), where one might, for example, distinguish between Heilsgeschichte (“salvation history”) and Universalgeschichte (“world history”) and make much of the critical nature of this distinction. Really, what prevents us from saying, even post-Hegel, that history is history is history (and that, incidently, we are certainly on the right side of it)?  More on this in future posts.

**** Scaer, David P. 2010. “The theology and life of Robert David Preus.” Concordia Theological Quarterly 74, no. 1-2: 181-182.

***** In a footnote Scaer goes on to say:

“Preus is adamant in holding that Christ is the content and purpose of the Scriptures and that “When Scripture speaks, Christ speaks,” but he does not connect inspiration with the historical Jesus. Preus’s position resembles Barths.” (Preus, The Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism)

Later on in the paper (p. 87) Scaer writes:

Neither [Barth nor Preus] included the historical origins of the biblical documents in their doctrines of the Bible as the word of God. Both Preus and Barth began theology with the Scripture as the absolute word of God, but Preus went from the word to history, what he called “biblical realism,” a step Barth did not take. As Morrison points out, Barth’s “radical historicity and total humanness of the text, seemed to allow the luxury of ‘having their cake and eating it too.’”  It was the having the cake and eating it too among his colleagues that Preus addressed.”

****** In the article, Scaer writes:

Absence of apologetics in Preus’s theology fits his dislike of proofs for the Bible as rationalistic, an otherwise unremarkable observation except for his close association with Marquart, who saw apologetics as part of the theological task. While Preus engaged in the circular reasoning of the autopistia and testimonium Spiritus Sancti internum in demonstrating the Bible’s authority, Marquart was comfortable and intellectually equipped in using the extra-biblical sources to support biblical inerrancy. This Preus did not do.  It is likely that Preus was aware of his differences with Marquart but made no mention of it. He had an openness of mind that allowed for different theological approaches.”

In footnote 33, Scaer writes “Preus and Marquart agreed that the Bible was inspired and hence the authoritative word of God, but they reached that goal not only by different roads but on lanes going in opposite directions.

Of Preus’ large-mindedness regarding Scaer’s own positions Scaer writes:

“In Barth-like language he says, “When Scripture speaks, Christ speaks.”As mentioned, Preus admits that the orthodox Lutheran theologians did not provide a reason for why the biblical content was christological.  Neither does he, but the matter surfaced in our different approaches to theology. Preus’s doctrine of inspiration was a theology “from above.” My The Apostolic Scriptures, published in 1971, based biblical authority not on inspiration but on their apostolic origins and hence I approached theology “from below.” Two years later Preus had wanted my popular Christology to be titled What Do You Think of Christ?, but at my insistence it appeared under the title What Do You Think of Jesus? Different titles indicated different approaches. I approached both the Scriptures and Jesus from their human side. At several systematics department meetings, these differences surfaced in discussions of how Christology should be taught in the classrooms.”

On page 88, Scaer also writes about the teaching of dogmatics:

“Preus favored Marquart’s approach in following Pieper’s Christian Dogmatics that the first question in Christology should be how the divine became human, a question that divided Lutherans from the Reformed from the Reformation era. Knowing that the matter of how Christology was to be taught could not be resolved, Preus proposed two christological courses to accommodate the different approaches. Nothing came of it and each student determined from whom he took Christology.”

Is something lost if every theological approach does not make central the incarnational aspect of Christianity – can the fact that God works in history and reveals His purposes within it be underestimated? It is certainly true that Christian theology is ultimately unique in that it is incarnational.  Don’t all of us need to acknowledge in one way or another that God the Holy Spirit does theology in human beings from below – grounding things and thereby us on earth (there are things He has not revealed to us and hence we cannot know, other than what He has given to us, what is His Mind!) – and that the ultimate example of this is found in Jesus Christ Himself, the theologian par excellence (again, see here where I argue in this way not versus Preus’ approach but versus Johan von Hofmann’s approach)?

******* John Gerhard here was writing about handling controversies within the Church – among those who believed in the Scriptures.   In an upcoming series of posts, I will also be taking a look at the just how the Scriptures themselves can guide us in talking with the larger unbelieving world about God’s claim on their lives.  Again, the matter of history is key.

Barth image credit: http://theparsonspatch.com/category/karl-barth/ ; modified selfie pics: https://www.flickr.com/photos/derekadk/8286548226/ ; http://djsdoingwork.com/2013/11/19/selfie-named-word-of-the-year-by-oxford-dictionaries/ ; Schliermacher: http://www.mundodafilosofia.com.br/page55c.html ; Scaer pic: http://www.ctsfw.edu/page.aspx?pid=386 ; Kurt Marquart: www.angelfire.com

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

This is personal

nt Inteigibe without   chritin frme?

Kant: Intelligible at all without a Christian or at least theistic frame?

I mean that both personally and philosophically.

And again, I need to explain what I mean.

First Thing’s First Thought’s blog linked to a really interesting book review by Michael Rosen in the Times Literary Supplement the other day.  Looking at a recent monograph on Immanuel Kant he offers a critique based on his own understanding of the German philosopher.  For Kant, he says:

Personhood is an aspect of human beings that transcends the empirical realm and makes us, as it were, citizens of two worlds (“so that a person as belonging to the sensible world is subject to his own personhood insofar as he belongs to the intelligible world”). It is from this inner, intrinsic value of personhood that all other values must descend.

….If personhood is a transcendental inner kernel that all of us carry within us, then it is, it seems, something that can’t be increased, diminished or destroyed. How is it supposed to guide our actions? The immediate answer is that personhood is something that we have an absolute duty to respect.

the price of a coherent account of Kant’s moral theory may be giving up one of the principal features that drew Rawls and his students to him in the first place….[namely the potential for Kant to be made to be or read as "thoroughly secular"]*”

That put me in mind of a post I wrote some years ago, which I am quoting directly below.  Interestingly, I think it fits with what I posted the other day – about the problems inherent in seeing the cosmos as a machine – like a hand fits in a glove.

From the post:

It seems to me, that for the atheist – the strident philosophical naturalist (i.e. “nature” reveals itself to be unguided and purposeless) – they must believe that the personal realities of life are fundamentally false.  After all, reality is, at bottom, fundamentally impersonal.  Therefore, the idea of the personal – that we are persons, entitled to all the dignity that hallowed word implies, who meaningfully relate to other persons – can be nothing other than a useful fiction.

But if this is the case, this would mean, that in some sense, all of our experiences are false – even if, shunning solipsism, we take comfort in the fact we are all deceived together.  After all, would this not mean that all of our ideas about life: what we theorize in this or that case – as well as what we “know” to be true – could be nothing other than “useful fictions”?  How could anything other than useful fictions arise from useful fictions?  All ideas – including “personhood” and everything else – could only be used pragmatically, which means they can only be used with cynicism.  In other words, the philosophical naturalist must give up on the ideas of truth that philosophers have traditionally explored.

And as goes the person, so goes philosophy.

Really, if the personal arises from the impersonal, as some might argue, what does this mean?  How can the personal be real, unless the impersonal is fundamentally changed into the personal?  But how would this happen?  How would an atheist define person – over and against “human being” (the definition which would have to include, at some level: “…a complex aggregation of fundamental particles, arranged through unguided and purposeless [i.e. “impersonal”] processes”) that is?  And what would be the point – other than creating a useful fiction that allows one to sound sensible around people who really do believe in “personhood” and “human dignity” that is – of even trying to define such a [useless?] word (but then again, are not even all useful words ultimately useless, as life is ultimately meaningless)?

If the atheist says: we create our own meaning together, for some this is clearly too great a burden to bear.  After all, it is a shallow meaning and purpose created by those who have derived from meaninglessness and purposelessness.  What is truth indeed?

Of course, this is getting very far away from the thoughts of children.  I suggest that for them, reality is fundamentally personal.

From the very beginning – from our first cries upon entering this temporal world – we discover that life is personal.  Interaction with others is constant: we smile and look at one another, we make each other laugh, and we observe, study, and imitate those we admire and look up to.  Through one another, we receive joy.  And as Paul argued in Acts 14, seamlessly making the connection between the personal and the physical (or material):  “Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”  Gladness is no doubt created in part through the awe and wonder the created world around us produces – but it is even more so a product of the loving relationships that we have been blessed to know.

How odd it would be if we were to discover that the closer we would examine this thing we call life, that it would reveal itself to be fundamentally made up of that which is impersonal.

(end of old post)

Yesterday, in response to my previous post, my pastor said to me: “Can you distill your argument to a sentence or two? Something like: “Modern man has been led away from God by the idea that the universe is simply a machine.”**

I replied: “…you drive me to be explicit.  In this case, the truth is that I don’t know what I finally think or how I can be sure.  Even if we think machine is a good analogy – and not a hard and fast reality – perhaps this idea does lead people away from God.  Still, I am not sure that this is true, or, if it is true, why that is the case.  I think that it is a reasonable and likely hypothesis (that is, that even the analogy is a strong causal factor in leading persons away from God) and it is what I want to explore – looking to see if this case can be strengthened – or if there are sensible objections.

I invite you to explore potential objections with me.  Needless to say, it occurred to me this morning that this old post I had written and now quoted above might be of some assistance in getting to the heart of the matter… The cosmos shouts Personal Creator and must be inhabited by real persons with intrinsic dignity and worth.

Does it not seem to be the case that mechanistic conceptions of the creation – and Darwinian theories built upon such conceptions – both undermine the Crown of God’s creation, bought with the very own blood of the enfleshed Son of God Himself?

FIN

* From the review: “O’Neill explains that she was both attracted and repelled by utilitarianism. On the one hand, she shared with utilitarianism the view that moral theory should be something precise and determinate that guides actions – that one should look for (as Rawls put it in the title of his very first published article) “a decision procedure for ethics”. Yet utilitarianism’s own decision procedure is one of ruthless aggregation. Kant’s moral theory, by contrast, looks to be a way of defending the individual from instrumental subordination to collective ends. It is, to use the Rawlsian technical term, deontological. Finally, Rawls and his students took for granted that a Kantian ethical theory must be as thoroughly secular and compatible with natural science as its utilitarian rival seemed to be. Hence they focused on Kant’s formulations of the categorical imperative as a “moral law” and not his – avowedly metaphysical – ideas about how human beings’ moral agency ties them to a “noumenal” realm of freedom.”

**He also asked: “And a question: Doesn’t the assertion that God is an ‘artist’ and the creation His ‘art’ have its own inherent weaknesses?”  I said: “I would be interested in hearing about the weaknesses you allude to regarding the art analogy.”  From readers of this blog as well.

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Daring to deny Darwin III: Recognizing the true heart of Darwin’s theory and its intimate connection with the modern technological and scientific mindset (MSTM)

Nope: Kepler, writing in 1605 stated that “the celestial machine is not a kind of divine living being but a kind of clockwork”

Not quite: Kepler, writing in 1605 stated that “the celestial machine is not a kind of divine living being but a kind of clockwork”

Uh uh: Newton: “the world is a machine and a perfect one, with God its creator being ‘the most perfect mechanic of all’”

Uh uh: Newton: “the world is a machine and a perfect one, with God its creator being ‘the most perfect mechanic of all’”

Bingo: “…human beings experience a regularity in the world around them, which they then improperly abstract into a concept of ‘natural law’ that excludes from serious discourse, the mystical, and the religious”. - George Hamann * (pic of Hamann

Bingo: “…human beings experience a regularity in the world around them, which they then improperly abstract into a concept of ‘natural law’ that excludes from serious discourse, the mystical, and the religious”. – George Hamann *

(Part I and Part II)

 

Note: I thank my friend David Bade whom I have quoted below, and who has unearthed most of the fantastic quotations found in the pictures and sidebars garnishing the text below.**

As I noted in just a bit longer exposition the other day (see here), analogies are critical:

The creation we know is not God’s machine or technology, but His living art, the distinct, unequal and beautiful but diseased partner with whom He dances.

A dance of death?: “ Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath; We have drunken of things Lethean, and fed on the fullness of death” ― 18th c. English atheist poet Algernon Charles Swinburne

A dance of death?: “ Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath; We have drunken of things Lethean, and fed on the fullness of death”
― 18th c. English atheist poet Algernon Charles Swinburne

.

I submit that a widespread acceptance of faulty analogies is one of the reasons why, as regards Christianity, unbelief found very fertile ground in the West long before Darwin:

An interesting account of the increasing atheism and agnosticism in 19th c. England.

An interesting account of the increasing atheism and agnosticism in 19th c. England.

….Darwin’s truly distinctive contribution to the nineteenth-century world-view was not to promote materialism, nor to propose a theory of evolution – plenty of scientists and philosophers had already done that; it was to expound a theory of natural selection which removed any necessity for a metaphor of purpose when discussing natural history. Evolution proceeded, in the Darwinian view, by a series of ineluctable progressions, the stronger form always eliminating the weaker. Once the process had been recognized for what it was, there was no need to personalize it at all. There was no need to pretend that Natural Selection had a view of things, or loved the world, or the people in it, any more than it had once loved amoebas or brontosauruses. The bleak impersonal chain of being rolled on with the inevitability of the other “laws of nature”: there was absolutely no need, if this was an accurate picture of what happened in nature, to posit the existence of a “Creator”. (A.N. Wilson, God’s Funeral, p. 188, bold mine).

I suggest reading that quotation above several times, and digesting it slowly, as there is a logic here we need to understand.  I think that this man, an agnostic with religious leanings (more pantheistic), really gets to the heart of the matter. Now, some notes of clarification and critique…

 

With Descartes, mechanics become physics, and an old vision (see below quote on Lucretius) is given new “life”: “there are absolutely no rules in Mechanics which do not also pertain to Physics, of which Mechanics it is a part or type… the laws of my mechanics, that is of [my] physics” – Rene Descartes (quoted by Fabbri)*

With Descartes, mechanics become physics, and an old vision (see below quote on Lucretius) is given new “life”: “there are absolutely no rules in Mechanics which do not also pertain to Physics, of which Mechanics it is a part or type… the laws of my mechanics, that is of [my] physics…” – Rene Descartes (quoted by Fabbri)***

-According to the neo-Darwinian theory, being “fit” has little to do with mere physical strength. The stronger eliminating the weaker needs to be understood as meaning that those who “fit” best in their environments survive – what is in view here is both being in the right place at the right time and having all the requisite traits necessary to overcome obstacles to passing on one’s genes. So, of course raw physical strength alone is not the only critical element, but powers of the intellect, survival instinct, etc.

Francis Bacon on nature: “make her your slave” ... "put her on the rack"

Francis Bacon on nature: “make her your slave” … “put [her] on the rack”

-Nature is conceived of as a machine, operating as it does according to mechanistic laws. Insofar as a personal creator is not in view here this would, given the all-important presence of impersonal “laws of nature”, inevitably seem to be about about viewing the creation as a more or less impersonal machine, even if it can be described as a beautiful, awe-provoking, and even alluring machine.

whereas ancient and medieval engineers and philosophers, from Archimedes and Aristotle to Leonardo, understood mechanics as describing the principles for constructing machines, many if not most of their successors have understood mechanics to be the study of the laws according to which nature--and therefore machines as physical objects--operates. -- David Bade

….whereas ancient and medieval engineers and philosophers, from Archimedes and Aristotle to Leonardo, understood mechanics as describing the principles for constructing machines, many if not most of their successors have understood mechanics to be the study of the laws according to which nature–and therefore machines as physical objects–operates.
– David Bade

 

-The theory seems to feature a glaring contradiction because machines do have a specific purpose.  “Does it make sense to talk of function (or even purpose) without a designer?” (Reiss 2009: 20). Interestingly, the presumption of “nature” as a machine presumes an underlying order and arrangement – and scientists insist we are capable of discerning its workings – yet curiously, it is evidently able to avoid having any purpose (which incidently, then brings up another critical question: how do we *know* part of the “purpose” of certain elements in the universe, for example, is to essentially serve as a clock, by which we might determine its age?)

"In truth, one cannot, it seems, oppose mechanism and finalism, one cannot oppose mechanism and anthropomorphism, for if the functioning of a machine is explained by relations of pure causality, the construction of a machine can be understood neither without purpose nor without man. A machine is made by man and for man, with a view toward certain ends to be obtained, in the form of effects to be produced… a mechanical model of any phenomena is explanatory only so long as we take machines as already granted." -- Georges Canguilhem (1947)

“In truth, one cannot, it seems, oppose mechanism and finalism, one cannot oppose mechanism and anthropomorphism, for if the functioning of a machine is explained by relations of pure causality, the construction of a machine can be understood neither without purpose nor without man. A machine is made by man and for man, with a view toward certain ends to be obtained, in the form of effects to be produced… a mechanical model of any phenomena is explanatory only so long as we take machines as already granted.” — Georges Canguilhem (1947)

 

-Interestingly, what Darwin proposes in positing his theory is something that Hume opposes as regards his epistemology. With Hume, not only is “correlation not causation” but we need not posit causation at all!  We might recognize that something is there, or that something does happen, but why would we ever imagine that asking why – or even how – something happens is, strictly speaking, necessary? (see here for more on Hume, along with a critique)

David Bade: “Mechanics has become the science of any and all motion, regardless of who or what causes that motion…. To argue that the action of a mechanism explains something one must first have rendered invisible both the machine’s maker and the purposes for which it was made” (picture: Cosmos as clock)

David Bade: “Mechanics has become the science of any and all motion, regardless of who or what causes that motion…. To argue that the action of a mechanism explains something one must first have rendered invisible both the machine’s maker and the purposes for which it was made” (picture: Cosmos as clock)

 

-Nevertheless, Hume’s view can be seen as being compatible with Darwin’s theory in a practical sense. In order to not undercut Darwin’s theory with Hume some may note that human beings inevitably will, in spite of Hume’s insistence that it is not logically necessary, search for reasons and causes…  For example, for the evolutionist this means how and why is it that some survive and not others… what is the mechanism?  Again, note that here, for all practical purposes, we are back to nature as a machine (and so, as Bade notes as regards explanations of “purposeless” evolution, “teleology keeps creeping back into mechanical models through the back door.”****)

20th century scientist Richard Lewontin has famously said, “We cannot allow a Divine foot in the door.” But he follows the early scientists and professed Christian, Robert Boyle in whose mechanical philosophy of science, “legitimate scientific explanation” of any quality requires “a describable mechanism that demonstrates just how the quality is produced” (Eaton 2005: 19).

20th and 21st century scientist and agnostic Richard Lewontin has famously said, “We cannot allow a Divine foot in the door.” But he follows the early scientist and professed Christian, Robert Boyle in whose mechanical philosophy of science, “legitimate scientific explanation” of any quality requires “a describable mechanism that demonstrates just how the quality is produced” (Eaton 2005: 19).

 

-While the evolutionist might insist that this search is really only practical and necessary for us, this does end up putting the word “truth” in a certain, very strange, context.  Here “truth” is talked about in a way that is very different than the ways we typically understand the word. In short, the only truth is that every fiber of our being is unavoidably orientated towards simple survival – specifically, as Richard Dawkins never tires of reminding us, that we might successfully reproduce – at whatever the cost.  But note the logical conclusion of this. If our bodies and minds must deceive us in this or that circumstance or context in order that our kind and kin would continue to live[!] – evidently this is the “purpose”, or “goal” of the process[!] – so be it, for this is our destiny (I develop this more, distinguishing my position from Alvin Plantiga’s similar argument in my post Daring to deny Darwin II: how Christians can apply Marx’s largely correct views of human nature to today’s Darwinian climate)

According to David Bade: “…in our time, following Turing and Chomsky, the machine has been understood not as a product of human activity but as an embodiment of exactly the same design principles which the human being embodies.” But wherein does our epistemological confidence lie?

David Bade note that “…in our time, following Turing and Chomsky, the machine has been understood not as a product of human activity but as an embodiment of exactly the same design principles which the human being embodies.” But wherein does this epistemological confidence lie?

 

-This is what is ultimately the “truth” then: determinism must, in some mysterious sense – for yes, we feel like and know (do we not?) we are free to choose much! – rule all (yes, note the contradictory nature of this).  What does this mean? Well, for instance, the importance of considering guilt and its causes is perhaps to be downplayed, denied, and to be made a merely pragmatic consideration. Those influenced by naturalism live as they please and are “reasonably” able to do so with their fellows (that is avoiding nasty short term and long term consequences as best they can discern them), always living with the contradiction that their lives are both seemingly determined and free.

"If god is dead everything is permitted." -- Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“If god is dead everything is permitted.” — Fyodor Dostoyevsky

 

-In the midst of all of this, what man generally calls religious considerations, which he is unable to avoid, comes  to the fore.  An attainable “purpose”, as the doggedly materialistic Darwinist sees it (being somewhat compatible with the only “purpose” we seem to be able to somewhat coherently discern and discuss given the overarching frame of our machine-like existence), is to face up to and, if possible, to avoid death. However, as the Christian knows, the real purpose of any fallen man, with no irony intended (hence no quotes around purpose) – his goal – is to downplay and suppress the horridness of death… and ultimately to deny and avoid facing up to the sin against God which causes death – something that we know, deep down, is not the way it is supposed to be (note that no matter how much we suppress the truth – which today happens quite a lot – we do retain a conscience, however badly seared it might be – see more here)

No.  No.  Yes...

No. No. Yes…

 

-In order for fallen man to be most effective in taking on death he needs to convince himself that somehow, someway, many limits – perhaps most limits – can potentially be overcome (and yes, there are many other ways fallen man tries to deal with death in less extreme ways – not thinking about it, prettying it up, calling it natural, focusing on the afterlife, etc.). “Limits”… note the quotes – this is the hope that sustains (hence the stuff I have been posting here from the paper I wrote for my library technology presentation – see here).

Oh, the irony.  Hawking concludes: "we shall all... be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason -- for then we should know the mind of God."  Librarian and linguist David Bade: "Having theoretically constituted the world as a machine, [scientists] deny their involvement in this construction and identify it with the human striving to know “the mind of God.”— librarian and linguist David Bade."

Oh, the irony.  Librarian and linguist David Bade: “Having theoretically constituted the world as a machine, [scientists] deny their involvement in this construction and identify it with the human striving to know “the mind of God.

Some of those quotes I think are most significant I repeat now:

Many years ago, I was reading Isaac Asimov’s fictional Foundation series and was introduced to the character of Hari Seldon. This man develops a science called “psychohistory” that enables him to predict the future via probability using mathematical formulas.  As an impressionable sixteen year old, this was a very new idea for me at the time and had a real impact on me – I vividly remember the time and place I read this and my subsequent wrestling with the concept: was science really progressing such that it would have abilities like these? Or if it was not, could it? Recently, I came upon what is by now a familiar theme – the universe as a machine, albeit a beautiful one – in the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. As opposed to Hari Seldon’s formula(s), which took into account contingencies (and hence probabilities), what we find in Hugo Cabret certainly seems to be a more deterministic way of looking at things. Whether or not this is the case, here I submit that the practical idea is the same: by treating the cosmos as a machine and by carefully observing it, mathematical formulas can assist in “capturing” the world and be used to make predictions about it.

…Men like Descartes and Leibniz even used the automaton as an “emblem of the cosmos”, and this both summed up and fueled what I would characterize as the modern scientific and technological mindset, or MSTM where the boundaries limiting man’s power over nature increasingly were expected to succumb

(from here and here)

 

From Lucretius through the renaissance and up until the 17th century the phrase machina mundi “emphasizes the ‘technological’ or, again, the poietical character of the notion of nature, without attributing to it the idea of a spiritless (or dead) mechanism” (Mittelstrass 1988: 26)…*****

Pre (and post?) MSTM: From Lucretius through the renaissance and up until the 17th century the phrase machina mundi “emphasizes the ‘technological’ or, again, the poietical character of the notion of nature, without attributing to it the idea of a spiritless (or dead) mechanism” (Mittelstrass 1988: 26)…*****

 

What is this modern scientific and technological mindset (ie. straightjacket), or MSTM, in more detail?

I would characterize the MSTM as being set on overcoming everything seen to be a limit, and being reductionistic and pragmatic in practice. I do not mean to imply that the MSTM was the dominant or most important mode of thinking for most of the early modern scientists (most early scientists were more tempered by competing systems of understanding – particularly religious ones – that would compete against drives such as these) or that it was fully developed in those for whom it was the dominant or most important mode of thinking. More specifically, we can look at the MSTM in this way. It begin with an approach to the world called “methodological (not necessarily philosophical) naturalism” in the 17th century, was upgraded to include “pragmatic utilitarianism” in the 19th century, and has in recent years been upgraded to “systematic iconoclastic world-repurposing” towards man’s desires (late 20th and early 21st century). In some cases of course there were those who were “early adopters” of the upgrades. Again, what this all comes down to (endgame) is that we have behavior that can be described as being reductionistic and iconoclastic (limit and barrier breaking). This may leave us with some “laws of nature”, but also leaves us with moral lawlessness, where the ethical façade of the 19th c. “pragmatic utilitarianism” upgrade collapses altogether. At this point, we can say that there is nothing intrinsic about beauty, justice, and meaning, for example – i.e. beauty, justice, and meaning are only something that I/we (and those we choose to associate with) create / make / determine.

(from footnote here)

Even though his argument evidently was not taken seriously by most all intellectuals since he wrote it some 250 years ago, Hamann (see above) nailed it (even if there were other things he said that were not so good – see here).  The German romantic writer Goethe also was on to something, when he essentially said that because of what I have called the MSTM….

“the Renaissance ideal of classical languages, classical literature, and classical arts would be replaced by classical mechanics, which have no place for meaning, ethics, or Bildung [that is, the “tradition of self-cultivation, wherein philosophy and education are linked in a manner that refers to a process of both personal and cultural maturation”-- Wikipedia] In science and technology, every tool would be used to maximize the power of human being.”******

 

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - right on the MSTM.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – right on the MSTM.

 

So here we see that Darwin was just the nail in the coffin, and we now have this cage we deal with.  What is “right” and “wrong” is now increasingly ruminated on in the context of the cosmic machine – to be overcome by the few, the proud, the chosen. Much is unknown here, but we can say this: they will rule not like the God of the Scriptures would have leaders rule, that is to not only act with true retributive justice, but to major on showing – from the depths of their hearts – kindness, compassion, and mercy for all human beings.

Freud, summing up many an intellectual: “Will man ever be willing to let science alone explain the universe and reconcile him to its ruthlessness?”

Freud, bearing MSTM fruit: “Will man ever be willing to let science alone explain the universe and reconcile him to its ruthlessness?”

 

C.S. Lewis draws things to a close for us – from his Abolition of Man:

What we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument… For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means… [is] the power of some men to make other men what they please….[from elsewhere in the book: …mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of the masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motives but their own ‘natural’ impulses.]  If man chooses himself as raw material to be manipulated, raw material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere appetite, that is, mere Nature, in the person of his dehumanized Conditioners…..

 

The theoretical mechanization of life and the technical utilization of the animal are inseparable. Man can make himself master and possessor of nature only if he denies all natural purpose and can consider all of nature, including, apparently, animate nature--except for himself--to be a means. This is what legitimates the construction of a mechanical model of the living body, including the human body--for already in Descartes the human body, if not man, is a machine." -- Georges Canguilhem (1947)

Well, “himself” not meaning all men…: “The theoretical mechanization of life and the technical utilization of the animal are inseparable. Man can make himself master and possessor of nature only if he denies all natural purpose and can consider all of nature, including, apparently, animate nature–except for himself–to be a means.
This is what legitimates the construction of a mechanical model of the living body, including the human body–for already in Descartes the human body, if not man, is a machine.” — Georges Canguilhem (1947)

 

In short, ruthless mechanical “justice” for the life unworthy of life.  For those unworthy of our boastful strength and might and accomplishment.

 

abolitionofman

 

But heed O man – there is only one way to really survive death…

 

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom

or the strong boast of their strength

or the rich boast of their riches,

but let the one who boasts boast about this:

that they have the understanding to know me,

that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,

justice and righteousness on earth,

for in these I delight.

— Jer. 9:23-24

….this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

– John 17:3

FIN

*This quotation from the mid-eighteenth century, re-iterates one made by the Italian humanist – arguably the father of “historicism”, Giambattista Vico* (really vs Descartes), already offered in the late seventeenth century. In Vico’s mind, methodological error was to be charged towards persons like Descartes, who “apply human ideas, such as ‘laws’ and ‘principles,’ to the study of nature, which was created by God and so is fully known by God alone” (Noland, p. 111)! Vico however made an error of his own, falling off the other side of the horse: While Descartes rejected the “application of human ideas, such as ‘laws’ and ‘principles’, to the study of history, Vico argued that human history is, in fact, created precisely through such ideas, which are ‘modifications of the human mind’” (p. 111) – he “asserted the epistemological primacy of the man-made historical world” (Gadamer, in Noland p. 220). Martin Noland, Harnack’s historicism: the genesis, development, and institutionalization of historicism and its expression in the thought of Adolf Von Harnack (1996).  More on Vico and historicism in an upcoming post.

But if we go with Hamann, does this mean we give up rationality and science?  Hardly.  As I wrote elsewhere:

“I think all of this can be better understood with a simple analogy: Parents arrange things in a consistent fashion so that a child can be captivated, play, create and experiment on the one hand, and they arrange things and *act* in a consistent fashion so that the child feels security, stability, and confidence, on the other hand.  Arranging things in a consistent fashion – more or less so – depending on what we are talking about, and acting in a consistent steadfast fashion is a part of love.  Creating beauty and order for another is a fruit of love. In other words, order is born of love, not love of order – or from a love of order!  As the linguist Roy Harris perceptively notes, communicative behavior cannot arise from non-communicative behavior.  There must be an infrastructure in place from the beginning. This matter does not center around the fact that truth is a social construct instead of some cold and impersonal factual correspondence, or something like that – but that how we conceive of and describe reality can’t not be done personally, or socially.  And such should not surprise, because Reality is personal, is social (rooted as it is in the Reality of the Triune God).  And this in turn brings us back to Romans 1.  It is not that there is nothing to the idea that order=God, but rather that order can’t not be recognized as a fruit of love.  Perhaps one’s proof of God does not begin by saying “Someone must have made this”, but rather by the love that one does know.

Now none of this means that we can’t observe [and harness, as are able] the hard and soft regularities that God has put in place for us.  It just means being humble about working with these things, understanding that He has His own purposes for arranging the world as He sees fit, and we have our own purposes…” (from here)

**From a paper recently presented at a conference “Integrationism and humanism” in Oberageri Switzerland 24-27, June 2014.

Key sources quoted in Bade’s paper and above:

Canguilhem, Georges (2008). Knowledge of Life. Translated by Stefanos Geroulanos, and Daniela Ginsburg, Introduction by Paola Marrati, and Todd Meyers New York: Fordham University Press.

Eaton, William R. (2005). Boyle on Fire: The Mechanical Revolution in Scientific Explanation. London: Continuum. (Continuum Studiesin British Philosophy)

Fabbri, Natacha (2011). “Deus Mechanicus and Machinae Mundi in the Early Modern Period,” Historia Philosophica. An International Journal, IX: 75-112.

Machamer, P., Mcguire, J. E. and Kochiras, H. (2012). “Newton And The Mechanical Philosophy: Gravitation As The Balance Of The Heavens” The Southern Journal of Philosophy, v.50 nr.3: 370–388

Mittelstrass, Jürgen (1988). “Nature and science in the Renaissance.” In Woolhouse, R. S. (ed.), Metaphysics and Philosophy of Science in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries : Essays in Honour of Gerd Buchdahl. (Dordrecht and Boston: Kluwer Academic), 17-43.

Mittelstrass, Jürgen (1995). Machina mundi: Zum astronomischen Weltbild der Renaissance. Basel: Helbing & Lichtenhahn. (Vorträge der Aeneas-Silvius-Stiftung an der Universität Basel ; 31)

Reiss, John O. (2009). Not by Design: Retiring Darwin’s Watchmaker. Berkeley: University of California Press.

***“When Descartes turns to machines to find analogies in his explanation of the organism, he invokes automatons with springs and hydraulic automatons. He is thus a tributary, intellectually speaking, of the technical forms of his age: of the existence of clocks and watches, water mills, artificial fountains, pipe organs, etc…..This explanation can only be conceived once human ingenuity has constructed apparatuses that imitate organic movements…. (for example, the launching of a projectile, the back-and-forth movement of a saw–apparatuses whose action [their construction and activation aside] takes place independently of man)” — Canguilhem, Georges, 2008.

Here the librarian and linguist David Bade has a rather sensible suggestion that those determined to take this path ought to consider: The usefulness and the validity of thinking of the world as a machine depends upon thinking about machines clearly, and this requires understanding them humanistically and teleologically as creations of human beings for human purposes.”

****example: men like Steven Jay Gould, more so than most evolutionists (but they all do this) “in effect treats the end result achieved as the goal of the process. This is the standard view that since the eye is adapted for seeing, its structure can be explained as the result of a process of selection for seeing” (Reiss 2009: xv).

*****David Bade goes on: “…because it remains a creating nature (natura naturans) or, in Christian and neo-Platonic thought, a machine created and sustained by God.”  It seems to me that if the idea of a machine universe is heavily de-emphasized, it is Christians and other persons of the book who still have a sensible foundation for rational and scientific discourse. For others without such a biblical foundation, this kind of confidence may be far more ethereal, and tend to be swallowed up in notions of mystery and the unknowability of it all…

******Noland, Martin R. 1996. Harnack’s Historicism: the Genesis, Development, and Institutionalization of Historicism and its Expression in the Thought of Adolf Von Harnack. Thesis (Ph. D.)–Union Theological Seminary, 1996, p. 176.

Although seeing the big picture more clearly than many of his contemporaries, Goethe was nevertheless, in a sense, also wrong. For, as this post has pointed out, “classical mechanics” had taken a decisive turn. With Galileo and Descartes, there was no room to understanding this as something distinct from nature, having to do with creators and their simple machines: “After Galileo, mechanics became the quantitative study of local motion of bodies, and mechanics and its relation to the simple machines was no longer conceived in opposition with nature” (Machamer, P., Mcguire, J. E. And Kochiras, H. (2012), p.373-374). This theory of motion “became the new model of intelligibility for understanding nature” (ibid.: 374). As David Bade notes: “Whereas Aristotle had distinguished between natural laws of motion and παρὰ φύσινmotions, e.g. mechanical motions which are caused by human action, Galileo argued against that view that mechanical motions also followed the laws of nature, mechanics being the science of the laws of all motion. What he ignored was the fact that levers, winches, pulleys, screws and wedges by themselves do not move; even “the force of the blow” is reduced to “the weight or balance.” The reasons and causes of the miraculous effects of machines has nothing to do with those who make and use them. Galileo’s theory of machines was in many ways and for certain purposes an improvement over earlier theories, but nevertheless his theory of machines was thrown off balance when the existence and operation of the machine was theorized in abstraction from its maker and operator.”

_____

 

Most images of people from Wikipedia (except Canguilhem: http://www.babelio.com/auteur/Georges-Canguilhem/2584)

cosmos as clock: http://sophistsociety.tumblr.com/post/4674299921/clockwork-universe ; Kurzweil gravestone: http://www.catalysthouse.net/film-review-ray-kurzweil-a-transcendent-man/ ; Hawking: http://www.feandft.com/a-review-of-stephen-w-hawkings-a-brief-history-of-time/

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

C.S. Lewis’ prophecy regarding man’s abolition (and my library technology presentation)

"What we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument..." -- C.S. Lewis

“What we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument…” — C.S. Lewis

.

I will get to what I am talking about with yesterday’s post – “There is no God in the machine” – early next week.  In the meantime, the conclusion from the paper I wrote for my recent library technology presentation here.  It will tie in with what I post next week.

Again, much bigger implications than just libraries! (for more on what I call the MSTM below, see here):

….

X. Concluding thoughts

What we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument… For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means… the power of some men to make other men what they please….[…mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of the masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motives but their own ‘natural’ impulses… ] If man chooses himself as raw material to be manipulated, raw material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere appetite, that is, mere Nature, in the person of his dehumanized Conditioners…..

– C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man [i]

In this conclusion I will say no more about specific things I think libraries should do. I think that by now, it should be rather clear that I see libraries within a certain frame of reference – one that I have attempted to make clear – and it is enough for me to put forth the idea that all of our decisions should be made thoughtfully – and, I humbly submit, at least seriously considering the frame of reference that I have put forth.

But there is a great and arduous challenge in front of us, because the MSTM is strongly held, seemingly intractable. The movie Star Trek: First Contact, from several years ago now, illustrates this with particular force. In this film, mankind is threatened by the “uncanny” Borg[ii] – a compelling and disconcerting enemy. In this particular episode, the leader of the Borg has taken on the form of a human female, the Borg Queen. The ship’s Captain, Jean Luc Picard, is “assimilated” by the Borg as is the rest of Picard’s crew. There is one character, however, who remains to be assimilated: the good android, Data. While the collective entity of Borg, exemplified by the Borg Queen, wants to draw life out of the living like a parasite (like a vampire), killing their victim and effectively reproducing itself, Data is not alive and so cannot be assimilated. But as watchers of this science fiction series know, Data desires to become a human being, and so here, the Borg Queen offers Data what he has always wanted: human flesh, by means of implanted skin on his face and forearm. For a while, it appears that Data is all in with the Borg Queen, seduced by the pleasure of feeling truly alive. However, in the end, Data comes though, rejecting the Borg Queen and saving Captain Picard and his crew. As the author of the article, Justin Everett, points out, “it is, ironically, Data’s choice that shows him to be the most human of all, in spite of his losing his chance to be, at least in part, corporeally human. His choice… is clearly accentuated in this scene.”[iii]

Star Trek’s Picard to the Borg Queen: “It was not enough for you to assimilate me.  I had to give myself to you willingly.”

Star Trek’s Picard to the Borg Queen: “It was not enough for you to assimilate me. I had to give myself to you willingly.”

This is a nice picture of a good “robotic moment” (not the way Sherry Turkle uses the phrase) par excellence where the machine, Data, is the salvation-winning hero of the story. Evidently, Data here shows even more humanity than Captain Picard, who at one point in the movie, recalling his own assimilation, stated: “It was not enough for you to assimilate me. I had to give myself to you willingly.” One might draw a parallel here with the biblical story of the Garden of Eden. Where Adam and Eve fell by not trusting in God (Satan: “Did God really say?”), Data, exemplifying the best of humanity, is able to overcome temptation and save humanity (the Enterprise crew) through his own “human” actions.[iv]

This final hope in science and the technological – typical of the MSTM – also mirrors the end of Aiden and Jean-Baptiste’s book Uncharted.   Speaking of Isaac Asimov’s idea of predicting the future from his Foundation series, mentioned also at the beginning of this presentation, they note that sociology found its beginnings in the early 19th century man Auguste Comte, who had hopes mirroring those of Asimov. “Careful empirical study would eventually reveal the laws that governed the operation of human society…. [there are] underlying mathematical principles…” (210) They note that sociology, in fact, was originally called “social physics”. Aiden and Jean-Baptiste give voice to many when they say: “Maybe, just maybe, a predictive science of history is possible. Maybe, just maybe, our culture obeys deterministic laws. And maybe, just maybe, that is where all our data is taking us.” (211, 212)

But for them, data does not save us wholesale like Data from Star Trek does. They want to make more room for the truly human and so quote the anthropologist Franz Boas saying:

The physicist compares a series of similar facts, from which he isolates the general phenomenon which is common to all of them. Henceforth the single facts become less important to him, as he lays stress on the general law alone.

On the other hand, the facts are the objects which are of importance and interest to the historian… Which of the two methods is of a higher value? The answer can only be subjective…” (pp. 208-212)

Henry Ford, giving voice to many more “scientifically inclined” persons: “History is more or less bunk…” (at least insofar as accounts of the past that come down to us are something that are of any real relevance for us – much less that we should be putting our trust in things like these!)

Henry Ford, giving voice to many more “scientifically inclined” persons: “History is more or less bunk…” (at least insofar as accounts of the past that come down to us are something that are of any real relevance for us – much less that we should be putting our trust in things like these!)

Quibbles about simplistic formulations aside, I think this approach is misguided and that history is clearly more fundamental than physics. Why? John Cohen, in his 1967 work, Human robots in myth and science, gives us a clue: “’[some claim]…for prognosis, history is never necessary’. This may be true for an automobile. It is not true for the driver.” (p. 135) This is exactly right – the practice of physics, is, and always must be, contained within the living and pulsing events of human history – passed down in living memory (even as understandings may be deepened and refined through good empirical work) and not vice versa – even if things like n-grams tempt us to think so!)

No, there is a clear order of precedence here: were it not for history, there would be no modern physics. Without modern physics, there still would be history. And without modern physics we are human beings but without history we are not.[v] And Cukier and Mayer-Schoenberger are simply wrong and careless to say “The possession of knowledge which once meant an understanding of the past, is coming to mean an ability to predict the future”.[vi] Without modern physics , we would still have knowledge but this would not be the case without history.[vii]

One might ask, why can we not, like Schumacher*, make these into a couplet? History and physics? The answer is that these things, again, are not alike: physics does not even deserve to be on the same playing field. When it makes a play to be an “equal” – or rather, when human beings make this play – problems have already begun. As they look to move physics to the top position – perhaps even subconsciously – they will find themselves reciting a very different history, with very different facts elevated to the fore. And ironically, assuming a continual dominance of the importance of physics, those with eyes to see can actually predict the future to some extent, as the “natural consequences” of a devotion to physics become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  See again Lewis above.[viii]

And of course it is only because we have a real history – and one that is largely knowable (that as Aiden and Jean-Baptiste point out, we seem to be forgetting with increasingly velocity) – that we also have and a real human future. And with this note about the future, we are brought full circle back to the beginning of this presentation: the relation of the “machine” and prediction.

Today, one will often hear about people being on the “right side of history”. But what does this mean and how can anyone know? People do not say this because they have any sort of confidence from some divine revelation from God. Rather people believe this because they are confident there is a system that aligns with what they consider their truest and best feelings and allows them to accurately predict – even if one can talk about individual choice and freedom within the system – history’s general arc…

Nowadays there might be far more effort to dress it up, make it more organic, soft, and “natural”, but the underlying fact remains the same: we are, in large part, a part of a system. A predictable system. A system under the control of some humans. A machine, though perhaps a kind of organic machine. Concepts such as “information technology” and some notions of what Big data is and will be simply reinforce this viewpoint – subscribed to either subconsciously or consciously – and take it to the next level. Again, as I said in the beginning: by treating the cosmos as a machine and by carefully observing it, mathematical formulas can be “captured” and used to make predictions about it.

This includes people as well – who may, without too much concern, be reduced to their data. MSTM, ever pragmatic and reductionistic, will stop at nothing to make sure that there are no limits for the Controllers – those who understand how the cosmos works and will “work with it” as they please. Again, things like “information technology” and Big data can be seen, just like the physical automata, as a symbol – a microcosm – of what the MSTM sees (at the very least in practice) as the cosmic machine, our “final frontier”. And again, this “mechanical muse” is surprisingly alluring – often surprisingly “free”. It seems clear to me that unless there is some other strong, counterveiling belief that holds controlling precedence over this general view, how we behave – how we treat the universe, the things within it, and especially the persons we know – will, generally speaking, impact deeply what we find ourselves believing.  

To say so is to not say anything really unique.   It is simply to point out what some of the classical and ancient philosophers have been saying throughout history. Christians have always said something similar about their worship: “lex orendi, lex credendi”, that is, the “law of prayer” – which has to do with what we say and do – affects the “law of belief”.

But as I said, this is a deeply secular mediation and so I best not go much further.[ix] I’ll close with a short bit of God-talk” – what little persists among the elites in our secularized age – quoted in the Second Machine Age:

“Technology is a gift of God. After the gift of life it is perhaps the greatest of God’s gifts. It is the mother of civilizations, of arts and of sciences.”[x]

In the proper context – with a few nuances – I think I could make that statement into something I could say “Amen” to. Thank you for your time.

FIN

* E.F. Schumacher, in his enlightening little 1977 book A Guide for the Perplexed, looks at life in a rather broad fashion and puts it this way:

“Justice is a denial of mercy, and mercy is a denial of justice. Only a higher force can reconcile these opposites: wisdom. The problem cannot be solved, but wisdom can transcend it. Similarly, societies need stability and change, tradition and innovation, public interest and private interest, planning and laissez-faire, order and freedom, growth and decay. Everywhere society’s health depends on the simultaneous pursuit of mutually opposed activities or aims. The adoption of a final solution means a kind of death sentence for man’s humanity and spells either cruelty or dissolution, generally both… Divergent problems offend the logical mind (italics mine).”[i]

[i] Ibid, p. 127. More excellent, and I would say very ethical, observations from p. 5 and 125: “What we have to deplore… is not so much the fact that scientists are specialising, but rather the fact that specialists are generalizing…. Convergent problems relate to…where manipulation can proceed without hindrance and where man can make himself ‘master and possessor,’ because the subtle, higher forces – which we have labeled life, consciousness, and self-awareness – are not present to complicate matters. Wherever these higher forces intervene to a significant extent, the problem ceases to be convergent”.

[i]Lewis, C. S. 1996. The Abolition of Man, or, Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools. New York: Simon & Schuster, 67, 70, 81, 80. While he was speaking of scientific practice in general, I think that these comments from C.S. Lewis’ book the Abolition of Man have particular relevance here – one need not think that most all of today’s elites are consciously trying to condition and enslave the masses to see the point Lewis is getting at. His answer to the dilemma is something that he develops throughout the book, the idea of the Tao, which he says is shared by cultures worldwide to some extent: “Either we are a rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes of the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motives but their own ‘natural’ impulses. Only the Tao provides a common human law of action which can overarch rules and ruled alike. A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery” (pp. 80 and 81).

[ii] In this essay “The Borg as Vampire in Star Trek”, Justin Everett writes about the Star Trek villain the Borg sucking out one’s ‘essence’ causing a person to become one of them. He expands on this and also talks about Freud’s notion of the “uncanny” : “the Borg remove something from their victims, and in the process, introduce an alien substance that transforms them into something decidedly nonhuman. Essence can be taken in at least two ways here: 1) as a literal sampling of human flesh (and in doing this, tasting or eating some part, however small, of the victim); and 2) as removing that immaterial quality that makes humans, well, human. The first meaning is merely a part of the physical process of making a Borg in the Star Trek universe. A relationship of this as an attack of vampiric fangs (and, through penetration, ‘rape’) is less interesting than its spiritual analogue. As with a vampire bite, when a Borg injects someone with nanoprobes, that person ‘dies’ in the sense that his human ‘essence’ is lost, though the body continues (though it could hardly be called living), obeying not its own will, but that of the Collective, just as the vampire is a slave to its own bloodlust,   Thus, like vampires, the Borg represent a contradiction, an uncanny infusing of the alien with the human. It is exactly this kind of irreconcilable intermixing that, in the words of Sigmund Freud, ‘arouses dread and horror.’… In Freud’s famous essay ‘The Uncanny,’ he struggles to understand this elusive fear tinged with strange familiarity (or resemblance) that is so changed that something that was recognizable and comfortable becomes a sort of opposite that continues to echo what was familiar in it. Freud uses the German word unheimlich…” (p. 82, 83)

Quoting another who talks about the uncanny being a “peculiar commingling of the familiar and unfamiliar, Everett writes: “It is perhaps the word commingling that is most compelling in this description. Without heimlich, the familiar, unheimlich cannot even be apprehended. It remains alien and utterly without reference. It can only be gazed at in wonder and fear, like glaring dumbstruck into the blinding face of God. Many works of science fiction attempt to relate the sheer awe of encountering something completely unknowable. In film, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is perhaps the best known example of this…” He also mentions Star Trek: the Motion Picture (1979) and Star Trek V: the Final Frontier (1989) as containing examples like this and goes on to say that for the Borg, the “Collective cannot be separated from the heimlich individuals that is comprises. For this reason, the Borg, unique in a universe populated with the unknowable on one extreme and the familiar on the other, are uncanny.” (p. 84)

Browning, John Edgar, and Caroline Joan Picart. 2009. Draculas, Vampires, and Other Undead Forms: Essays on Gender, Race, and Culture. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, pp. 82-84.

[iii] Ibid, pp 88-89.   More: “This is something the Borg cannot do: to choose.   Though Dracula’s victims do not choose to become vampires, the openness to seduction (the potential for sin, the weakness of will) that many victims demonstrate leads them into the undead state in which all humanity, all freedom of will, has vanished.”

[iv] For his part, Everett ends his interesting essay by stating the following: “a forked path lies before us. One leads to a future in which science and technology free human beings to become better than they are now, to shape a utopian vision. The other directs us to the end of humanity, a destiny in which humans become slaves of their own mechanical creations.” Ibid, p. 91.

[v] Questions like “whose history?” certainly have their place here or there, but by no means nullify this deeper point.

[vi] Cukier, K., and V. Mayer-Schoenberger. 2013. “The Rise of Big Data How It’s Changing the Way We Think About the World”. Foreign Affairs – New York. 92 (3): 28-40, p. 39.

[vii] An even more extreme position has been put forth by Anderson (2008), who claimed that as regards researchers using Big data, “data are everything that researchers need and thus…they do not have to settle for models….” See Park, H.W., and L. Leydesdorff. 2013. “Decomposing social and semantic networks in emerging ”big data” research”. Journal of Informetrics. 7 (3): 756-765, p. 757.

[viii]It seems to me that the endgame here would be a loss of confidence in the idea of history altogether, as hope for continued “progress” and “human flourishing” dissipates. Our own “humanity” becomes less obvious (the science fiction writer Philip Dick introduces android characters which constantly “destabilize the human characters, making their very humanity subject to doubt”*). While technological knowledge might not be lost, perhaps it is conceivable that persons would see time more in terms of recurring cycles that never seem to be going anywhere… never having a destination, as it is thought to have now. In other words, “destiny” replaced by “fate”….

*Geraci, Robert M. 2007. “Robots and the Sacred in Science and Science Fiction: Theological Implications of Artificial Intelligence”. Zygon. 42 (4): 961-980.

[ix] I have my own answer to what that wisdom is, and I will start by saying that it is pretty much the opposite of what is contained in this quote:

“I don’t personally have a problem with religious faith, even in the extreme, as long as it doesn’t supersede science and it’s not used to impose outdated mores on others.” He goes on: He goes on: “But some people see our extreme religiosity itself as a form of dysfunction.  In a 2009 paper in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, Gregory Paul, an independent researcher, put it this way: “The level of relative and absolute societal pathology in the United States is often so severe that it is repeatedly an outlier that strongly reinforces the correlation between high levels of poor societal conditions and popular religiosity.”

Charles M. Blow, “Indoctrinating Religious Warriors,” The New York Times, January 3, 2014, accessed Mar. 14, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/04/opinion/blow-indoctrinating-religious-warriors.html?ref=charlesmblow&_r=1

I must admit that I would seek to impress, not impose, my “values” on others (unlike this “liberally-minded” person, who it seems would be much more “Marcusian” [i.e. “repressive tolerance”, after Herbert Marcuse]: http://www.thecrimson.com/column/the-red-line/article/2014/2/18/academic-freedom-justice/?page=single ): I would say the phrase “reductionism and religion”, should also not be on the “divergent-issue list” that I talked about earlier. Nor do I think E.F. Schumacher himself, the author of the quote and one of the fathers of the environmentalist movement, would have accepted this (he was, to my knowledge, like Jaques Ellul, a fiercedly devout and gentle Christian man)

If persons want to continue the conversation with me more, you can contact me at rinne@csp.edu, or get in touch with me via my theology blog, theology like a child. You can start by reading this post dealing with the dangers of technology from a theological perspective: http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/mankind-has-always-and-always-will-seek-to-reach-three-fundamental-things/

[x] Freeman Dyson, quoted in Brynjolfsson, Erik. 2014. Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in the Time of Brilliant Technologies. [S.l.]: W W Norton, p. 1.

 

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

There is no “God in the machine”

Cosmos as clock

Cosmos as clock

Because there is no machine.

Yes, you will not understand what I mean until I explain myself.  By this I am not talking about the plot device lampooned by Greek philosophers I am taking aim at Descartes, who talked about the human body as being machine-like, as distinct from the soul. That particular machine analogy was easily extended to the world at large (see here for more).

Rather, I assert that there is no God, or soul, in either of those “machines” because there are no biological or cosmological machines.

I will explain myself more in an upcoming post.  For now, I assert this: analogies are critical.

The creation we know is not God’s machine or technology, but His art – not so much like a painting, as C.S. Lewis said, but His living art – the distinct, unequal and beautiful (but diseased!  Sin…) partner with whom He dances, always animating and upholding her* .

More later in a couple days…

FIN

*Yes, and particularly His treasured bride, the Church.

Image credit: http://sophistsociety.tumblr.com/post/4674299921/clockwork-universe 

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

The first “Protestants”: “The churches among us do not dissent from the catholic church in any article of faith”

One of the greatest defenses of the catholicity of the Lutheran reformation.

One of the greatest defenses of the catholicity of the Lutheran reformation.  To see a debate I had on the theme of the book with a Roman Catholic apologist, go here.

About a week ago, Matthew Block, the editor of the Canadian Lutheran (published by the more confessional Lutheran Church or Canada), had a very nice piece that was published at the First Thing’s “First Thoughts” blog titled “Are Lutherans Catholic?: Looking for a Protestant Future? Try the Protestant Past.” (for more on what Matthew Block is responding to, read the first two paragraphs of this piece I did)

Here is a sizeable excerpt from the end of the piece, which I recommend reading in full:

…To be catholic, then, is to be heirs of the apostolic faith. It is to be rooted firmly in the Apostle’s teaching as recorded for us in Scripture, the unchanging Word of God. But while this Word is unchanging, it does not follow that it is static. The history of the Church in the world is the history of Christians meditating upon Scripture. We must look to this history as our own guide in understanding Scripture. To be sure, the Church’s tradition of interpretation has erred from time to time—we find, for example, that the Fathers and Councils sometimes disagree with one another—but it is dangerous to discount those interpretations of Scripture which have been held unanimously from the very beginning of the Church.

This tradition of meditation, of course, cannot invent new dogma—it is “not a source of dogma qua dogma,” as Hearth R. Curtis explains well in a 2005 Lutheran Forum article entitled “The Relation between the Biblical and Catholic Principles.” But it is nevertheless, “the source of apostolic interpretation which norms our interpretation of the apostolic Scriptures.” In other words, Scripture is the sole source of dogma for the Church, but the Church’s tradition of meditation “establishes how that source is to be interpreted.” It is in this sense that the three ecumenical creeds are understood to be authoritative: not because they invented new doctrine (they didn’t), but because they carefully codified truths already present in the Scriptures.

In this way the Church’s tradition of meditation guides us into a proper understanding of Scripture. No Christian denomination, therefore, can reject interpretations of Scripture universally acknowledged by the early Church without impairing its commitment to being the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. For the Church’s tradition of meditation, as a faithful interpretation of the Scriptures, itself becomes a standard to which subsequent interpretations can be measured. And yes, this catholic interpretation extends to doctrines now considered denominational distinctives (for example, the doctrine of the Real Presence). Denominations which reject such catholic teaching therefore, in essence, reject part of what it means to be catholic.

On the other hand, that church body which accepts the Scriptures as the sole source of authority in the Church and further acknowledges the tradition of the Church as a norming interpretive principle in understanding the Scriptures may rightly call itself catholic. It is in this sense then, finally, that Lutherans confess themselves to be heirs of the catholic tradition. “The churches among us do not dissent from the catholic church in any article of faith,” Melanchthon declares in the Augsburg Confession. “There is nothing here that departs from the Scriptures or the catholic church, or from the Roman Church, insofar as we can tell from its writers.”

Centuries later, Herman Sasse could assert the same: “It was no mere ecclesiastico-political diplomacy which dictated the emphatic assertion in the Augsburg Confession that the teachings of the Evangelicals were identical with those of the orthodox Catholic Church of all ages,” he writes. “The Lutheran theologian acknowledges that he belongs to the same visible church to which Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux, Augustine and Tertullian, Athanasius and Ireneaus once belonged.”

So are confessional Lutherans catholic? Yes. And we always will be, so long as we hold fast to the traditions of the Apostles, written in the Scriptures and faithfully passed down to us by the Church. Consequently, I cannot help thinking that those seeking out a “Protestant Future” should in fact be looking to the Protestant Past. Looking for a church which faithfully receives the catholic tradition while clearly proclaiming the authority of Scripture? Looking for a church which is both sacramental and devoted to salvation by grace through faith alone? Looking, in other words, for an Evangelical Catholic Church? It already exists. It’s called Lutheranism. (bold mine)

20th century Lutheran theologian Herman Sasse: "A church without patristics turns into a sect."

20th century Lutheran theologian Herman Sasse: “A church without patristics turns into a sect.”

I must admit that I was a bit surprised that First Thoughts, run largely by adherents of Roman Catholicism, would be willing to publish such a piece. I commend them for doing so!

For those interested in looking into these matters more closely, Block also links in the article to another excellent (and a bit more polemic vs. Rome) piece that he published at the A Christian Thing blog called Too Damn Catholic. In a footnote there, we read this:

The early Lutherans, while asserting the primacy of Scripture, never suggested that we may approach Scripture in a vacuum, apart from the witness of the Church throughout history. Indeed, as John R. Stephenson writes, the “authors of the Formula of Concord sharply forbid any unbridled exegesis of the inspired text;” Christians are bound by the ancient Church’s witness. For more on this, see Stephenson’s article “Some Thoughts on Why and How Creeds and Confessions Exercise Authority over Lutheran Christendom” (originally delivered at LCC/LCMS/ACNA dialogues, recently published in Lutheran Theological Review 25 (2013):60-73 here). (bold mine)

Again, highly recommended stuff – even more so because Mr. Block directs us to one of my old professors, the wonderful and highly illuminating Dr. John R. Stephenson, who I recently heard described as the ideal confessional Lutheran (he is a very charming and holy man!).  Matthew Block’s work here is great food for thought – and I think perhaps a superb vehicle for inviting persons into a deeper consideration of what the confessional Lutheran Church has to offer.

FIN

Note: Why “Protestant” in quotes in the title?  See one of my own pieces defending Lutheranism, “As for me and my house, this is not the essence of Lutheranism”.  For another piece I did that is similar to Block’s see my A church within a church?

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

 
 
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