January 21, 2015

THE NO LOGOS MOVEMENT:

Islam's Demotion of Reason : a review of The Closing of the Muslim Mind : How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis By Robert R. Reilly  (FATHER C. JOHN MCCLOSKEY 01/16/2015, National Catholic Register)

At the heart of Reilly's book is his argument that the "denigration of dialogue is due to the demotion of reason that took place in the ninth-century struggle between the rationalist theologians, the Mu'tazilites and their anti-rationalist theologians, the Ash'arites. Unfortunately, for those who prefer dialogue, the Ash'arites won."

He writes, "The Ash'arites' position was that reason is so infected by men's self-interest that it cannot be relied upon to know things objectively. What is more, there is really nothing to be known, because all created things have no nature or order intrinsic to themselves, but are only the momentary manifestations of God's direct will. Since God acts without reason, the products of his will are not intelligible to men. Therefore, in this double disparagement, reason cannot know, and there is nothing to be known."

All of this may prompt memories of the Islamic world's outrage when the just-elected Pope Benedict XVI told his audience in Regensburg, Germany, that not only is violence in the service of evangelization unreasonable and therefore against God, but that a conception of God without reason or above reason leads to that very violence. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger, in his 2005 address in Subiaco, Italy, said:

"From the beginning, Christianity has understood itself as the religion of the 'Logos,' as the religion according to reason. In the first place, it has not identified its precursors in other religions, but in the philosophical enlightenment which has cleared the path of tradition to turn to [the] search of the truth and toward the good, toward the one God who is above all gods."

Reilly writes, "Ultimately, this theological view developed into the realist metaphysics of Aquinas, which became the metaphysical foundation of modern science, as Father Stanley Jaki, a Hungarian theologian and physicist, explained in his voluminous writings on the origins of modern science. Jaki laid out, as well, the reasons modern science was stillborn in the Muslim world after what seemed to be its real start."


How the West Won--but "Western Civ" Lost (Rodney Stark, February 10, 2014, Intercollegiate Review)

In early times China was far ahead of Europe in terms of many vital technologies. But when Portuguese voyag­ers reached China in 1517, they found a backward society in which the privi­leged classes were far more concerned with crippling young girls by binding their feet than with develop­ing more productive agriculture--despite frequent famines. Why?

Or why did the powerful Ottoman Empire depend on Western foreigners to provide it with fleets and arms?

Or, to change the focus, why did science and democracy originate in the West, along with represen­tational art, chimneys, soap, pipe organs, and a system of musical notation? Why was it that for sev­eral hundred years beginning in the thirteenth century only Euro­peans had eyeglasses or mechanical clocks? And what about telescopes, microscopes, and periscopes?

There have been many attempts to answer these questions. Several recent authors attribute it all to favorable geog­raphy--that Europe benefited from a benign climate, more fertile fields, and abundant natural resources, especially iron and coal. But, as Victor Davis Han­son pointed out in his book Carnage and Culture, "China, India, and Africa are especially blessed in natural ores, and enjoy growing seasons superior to those of northern Europe." Moreover, much of Europe was covered with dense hardwood forests that could not read­ily be cleared to permit farming or grazing until iron tools became avail­able. Little wonder that Europe was long occupied by cultures far behind those of the Middle East and Asia.

Other scholars have attributed the success of the West to guns and steel, to sailing ships, or to superior agriculture. The problem here is that these "causes" are part of what needs to be explained: why did Europeans excel at metallurgy, ship­building, and farming? The same objection arises to the claim that science holds the secret of "Western domina­tion," as well as to the Marx­ist thesis that it was all due to capitalism. Why did science and capitalism develop only in Europe?

In attempting to explain this remarkable cultural singularity, we must, of course, pay attention to material factors--obviously history would have been quite different had Europe lacked iron and coal or been landlocked. Even so, explanations should not--cannot--rest primarily on material conditions and forces. It is ideas that matter (though this basic premise, too, is quite unfashionable in contempo­rary scholarly circles). As the distinguished economist and historian Deirdre McCloskey observed, "Material, economic forces . . . were not the original and sustaining causes of the modern rise." Or, as she put it in the subtitle of her fine book: "Why economics can't explain the modern world." Quietly mocking Karl Marx, McCloskey asserted that Europe achieved moder­nity because of "ideology."

If Marx was sincere when he dismissed the possibility of ideas being causative agents as "ideo­logical humbug," one must wonder why he labored so long to communicate his socialist ideas rather than just relaxing and letting "economic determinism" run its "inevitable" course. In fact, Marx's beloved material causes exist mainly as humans perceive them--as people pursue goals guided by their ideas about what is desirable and possible. Indeed, to explain why working-class people so often did not embrace the socialist revolution, Marx and Friedrich Engels had to invent the concept of "false conscious­ness"--an entirely ideological cause.

Similarly, it is ideas that explain why science arose only in the West. Only Westerners thought that sci­ence was possible, that the universe functioned according to rational rules that could be discovered. We owe this belief partly to the ancient Greeks and partly to the unique Judeo-Christian conception of God as a rational cre­ator. Clearly, then, the French histo­rian Daniel Mornet had it right when he said that the French Revolution would not have occurred had there not been widespread poverty, but nei­ther would it have occurred without revolutionary philosophies, for it was "ideas that set men in motion."

Posted by at January 21, 2015 3:57 PM
  

blog comments powered by Disqus
« PURITAN NATION: | Main | THE COMPROMISE WILL CUT THE TAXES THE GOP WANTS CUT TOO: »