Friday, September 28, 2012

The little decisions we make

I have heard from time to time the objection that if the Christian Faith is true then what we do in this life doesn't matter at all.  The afterlife (we are told) is all that matters.  This in turn should mean that Christians are not charitable, have no concern for the earthly concern of others, etc.

I cannot speak about this criticism impacts our Protestant brethren as it seems more targeted at them rather than Catholic theology (even though critics often confuse the two).  From my observations Protestant theology makes a sharp distinction between justification and sanctification.  The former involves righteousness and the latter sanctity.  In Catholic theology we recognize the distinction but they are much closer together.

The first objection to the criticism is that the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world.  Period.  The affiliated charities, hospitals, homeless shelters, etc point to the fact that being a Catholic Christian does not mean one stops caring about the world.  As Archbishop Chaput states:
Jesus tells us very clearly that if we don’t help the poor, we’re going to go to hell. Period. There’s just no doubt about it. That has to be a foundational concern of Catholics and of all Christians.
So Catholics and Christians have an obligation to care about the world and the material needs of fellow man.  The "brighter" side to this is that all Man is made for Love, and since Love is an act of Will, we are made to Love and care for our neighbor by acts of charity.

While this is important I think the criticism is wrong at a more fundamental level.  If (according to classical theism and Catholicism) God is Love, Goodness and Truth, then any action that we perform brings us closer to Him or farther away.  In fact far from this life not mattering the very little acts we do lead us or move us away from God.

Telling a white lie, sending a get well card, giving someone directions.  These are all things that mean something for those who believe.  In fact the only way anything can have real meaning is within the context of a universe created by God.

Far from this world not meaning anything, every decision we make here and now has the potential to impact our ultimate destiny.  This world matters to those of the Faithful.  To say otherwise is to misunderstand our Lord, the Faith, and our duty.  And that is a very perilous position to be in.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

On the subject of "usefulness"

One of the topics that comes up in defense of modern thought is that scientific truths are the only truths that are "useful."  Improvements in health, wealth, and efficiency are touted as truths worth pursuing in exclusion to other truths that are deemed unknowable.  Truths such as the existence of God.

As discussed ad nausem neither Christian nor atheist is disputing the contribution that science has made to sectors of human life.  What I as a Catholic dispute is that these things that atheists tend to value are the be all and end all that we can know about truth.  In particular, the notion that unless a truth is "useful" with regard to these predefined values, such truths are not only not worth pursuing, but cannot even be known.

Yet the problem with such ideas as always is the underlying assumptions to arrive at that point.  In particular, one must define "usefulness".  Without a proper understanding of what usefulness really means, evaluating truths in such a manner becomes a question begging exercise.

Secondly, the values or objectives that such truths are meant to pursue must be defined.  This is often done in an ad hoc fashion by materialists.  Usually this is based on health, longevity, and advancement of technology.

A problem arises really quickly with this.  How exactly does one come to the conclusion that such values are worth pursuing under these premises?  That technology can improve health is not in dispute.  That health is worth pursuing is what is up for debate.

The Christian believes that health is worth pursuing due to his faith.  The denier of objective truth (or at least the ability to know objective truth) has no recourse.  The value of truth is determined by its usefulness.  But how we arrive at a truth's usefulness is an unanswered question.

The only way we can know what truth is worth pursuing is to have a framework with which to evaluate that truth's value.  But that framework cannot be determined, because only truth that is useful is what can be knowable.  Without such a framework, the ability to determine a truth's value is impossible.

This is the dilemma of the usefulness advocate.  If truth cannot be known unless it is useful, then truth cannot be known.  For truth to be useful, it must correspond to a value.  But the value cannot be known, because the framework must be determined independent of a truth's value claim.

This shows that the Christian view on truth is more reasonable.  Unlike the denier which biases the question, the Christian holds that ALL truth is worth pursuing.  This is due to all truth ultimately pointing to God, the source of truth.

The above does not prove the Christian view true.  But the Christian view of truth stands more of a chance to be true than the utility view.  And this is why the denial of objective truth and its ability to be known is not only wrong, but undermines itself.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Friday, September 21, 2012

Why we need Aristotle and Aquinas pt 5

In my last post on this subject I talked about how A-T philosophy is always tethered to the underlying reality of the existing universe.  The philosophical premises that form the foundation of A-T proceed from the notion that nature and reality are communicating real truths.  This leads to some resistance on the part of the modern mind, mostly because the modern mind simply doesn't know that there are other ways of thinking about the universe.

The first objection to such ideas lie in the physical properties of the universe and the perception by our senses.  It is pointed out time and again that the properties that we perceive are not the whole story and at times our senses can be incorrect.  This, we are told, proves that our ability to perceive truth through the senses is unreliable.

This objection fails on two fronts.  The first is that while the physical properties of an object or entity, such as the cup from my previous post, may have different physical properties than I originally perceive does not disprove that the cup is communicating reality and that the senses perceive that reality.  In fact in order to be corrected, my senses first perceive the "erroneous" data, then with scientific instruments, learn more about object.  And even if this new data itself is imprecise, I proceed in both cases that eventually the senses, with proper understanding, will eventually understand said properties.  This is not only in tune with A-T philosophy but the scientific pursuit practically begs for A-T philosophy to be true on this front.

The second is that while the accidents of entities such as my coffee cup are important in terms of what actually defines "cupness", they are not as important as the fact that both the cup and "cupness" exist.  A-T does not get caught up per se in the minutia of accidents.  It is far more concerned with entities themselves, and the truths that are derived from the existence of things, the universe, etc.  Thus the fact that our understanding of the accidentals of entities changes does not in any way impact the value of A-T philosophy and the truths that it pursues.  

The most important contribution to the discussion of A-T for the study of science though is the connection between the reality and the theories meant to explain that reality.  A lot of the silliness of modern skeptics (who happen to be scientists) could easily be avoided if a proper understanding of philosophy and the role it plays in conclusions derived from the physical universe were imparted.  As it is, modern skeptics such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, etc, will continue to make silly arguments that a first year A-T philosophy student can reduce to cinders in an instant.

A revival of A-T philosophy and modern derivations of this as well as Platonic studies are already underway.    We have an uphill battle ahead of us.  But the sheer sense that A-T philosophy as well as other classic schools of thought are a breath of fresh air to the nonsense that pervades most academic halls these days.  I have every confidence that the reformation is underway.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Bleed effect

One may ask if it is so obvious that the Idea of the absence of objective truth is so obviously wrong then surely people do not actually believe it?  For the most part this is true at least implicitly.  The minute someone says "You are wrong" demonstrates this fact, as everyone has said this at one point or another.

But the human mind is capable of believing quite a bit of nonsense even when implicitly denying it through other means.  Humans live notoriously fractured lives, and the gap between what we believe and how we live is but one obvious gap.  Nor is this revelation new, as greater minds throughout history have attempted to grapple with this.

The reason why it is important to counter the denial of objective truth as an idea is because while we live fractured lives the beliefs we hold bleed into other areas of our lives eventually.  The ideas that we hold, however compartmentalized, begin to affect other areas of our thinking as well.

I have illustrated in other posts how the denial of objective truth has led to the destruction of things such as the arts, intellectualism proper, and education as a whole.  While many other factors contribute to this as well, my own thinking is that at the heart of a lot of societal ills lie in the embrace of this obviously wrong yet powerfully seductive idea.

I have termed this the "Bleed effect.". The first time I heard the term was in the video game Assassins Creed.  In this game the protagonist, Desmond, relives the lives of his ancestors via a machine called the Animus.  One of the side effects of this however is that Desmond, even outside of the machine, continues to relive the memories, and begins to be unable to distinguish his own life from that of those who came before him.

Ideas have a similar effect, no matter how we try to compartmentalize them. Humans were meant to live as a unified whole.  As such even the ideas that are patently absurd and cannot be lived out nonetheless have an impact on how we view the world and think about it.

If Catholics are to evangelize the Western World we must stand up to the seductive lie that is the denial of objective truth.  Our goals now are twofold.  First to defend the existence of objective truth and to point out the obvious.  The second is to make the case that the truth is worth following.  Both are immense challenges, but there is always hope.  For the human being longs for real truth and the soul seeks it, even if the mind attempts to get in the way.