December 24, 2018


Why the Christmas story matters: Religion is not physics. And those who confuse the two will always miss the point. (Giles Fraser, 24 DECEMBER 2018, UnHerd)

Vicar's kids have spent all their lives back stage and are often unimpressed with religious razzmatazz. "No Dad, I don't want to go to Midnight Mass again. It's boring. And anyway, God doesn't exist."

I summarise a little, but that's the gist of it. Bulging with semi-digested food (we have our main Christmas meal on Christmas Eve) a declaration of post-dinner atheism has traditionally been the most effective way to stay firmly planted on the sofa. I am considering implementing an 'atheists do the washing up' policy this year. I reckon that might make a difference to the religious affiliation of the household. We will see. [...]

The problem with discussing the question of God's existence is that it often turns into an argument about what we mean by existence rather than an argument about God per se. Consider, for instance, the surprisingly difficult question of the existence of numbers. Philosophers have been debating this since the Greeks. Is there an independent reality to the number seven - something over and above the objects that there may be seven of, like tables or cars? Or is mathematics simply a clever and complicated organising principle supplied by the human mind? Or something else entirely? No one is doubting that there are such things as numbers - the question is more like, in what way do they exist or what do we mean by their existence?

In other words, most philosophers don't believe that the existence of numbers is an empirical question at all - it is not something that scientists can design experiments to establish. that physics is not physics either.  Russ Roberts approached this topic with John Horgan on the most recent Econ Talk podcast about the Mind-Body problem,.

Meanwhile, Merry Christmas from two vicar's kids.

What Reason Alone Cannot Comprehend (JAMES V. SCHALL, 12/24/18, Law & Liberty)

We cannot say that philosophy wants to know everything and, at the same time, exclude some knowledge that can be known.

The first step would be to show how revelation is not a feeling or a product of human imagination. Revelation does not contradict reason. If something said to be irrational is found in revelational accounts, that revelation must be rejected. On the other hand, if something is found in revelation that, on examining it, proves to make reason more reasonable, makes it aware of a truth that it did not arrive at by itself, then it would seem that revelation and reason have origins in the same source.

Revelation is not something we can expect, something due to us in virtue of what we are. The universe might be just as it is with no claims to a further knowledge found in it. But what we have in fact is a world in which, in addition to reason, we have divine claims or events addressed to this same reason. Revelation has an intelligibility to it, whether we "believe" it or not. It bears the character of mind addressing mind. How so?

If we take the central notions found in Christianity, namely the Trinity and the Incarnation, we see that Christians themselves hold that these events and their explanations cannot be "proved" by reason. To maintain that one can "prove" that God is triune in person is a heretical position. Yet, Christians hold precisely this understanding of the Godhead as something to be believed. This holding would at first sight make them to be irrationalists. The doctrine of the Trinity, however, is intelligible. We know what it means. It is a statement of otherness and order within the one God. This otherness is personal--the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, neither is the Holy Spirit.

What is the significance of this knowledge contained within revelation to the philosopher? The philosopher does not see how God is triune. He can understand what the Christians hold on this topic. But the philosopher on his own terms is puzzled by a question he cannot answer in his own discipline. Aristotle put it well. God, the First Mover, thought thinking itself, seems to lack something, namely, friendship, that is a perfection in the creature, man. But once he has heard of the Christian teaching on the Trinity, on the otherness in God, the philosopher can see that the doctrine of the Trinity puts revelation in line with reason. Revelation does seem to correct reason by making it more reasonable in its own order.

Once we understand the implications of this connection of reason and revelation, it becomes clear that what it contained in revelation can incite reason to broaden its own understanding of reality. In other words, from the point of view of the philosopher, revelation makes reason more itself--more reasonable. It does this by considering how a revelational teaching expands something not fully understood by reason itself.

Reason united with revelation enlarges our freedom because it enlarges our knowledge of our own personal destiny. Plato's "myth" at the end of The Republic taught us that our lives are not unimportant. They are held accountable for what was freely chosen. In this sense, we are both freer and more responsible when we know how the teachings of reason and revelation respond to each other in an intelligible whole.

Posted by at December 24, 2018 6:20 PM