Best Possible World: Gateway to the Millennium and Eschaton



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Do you assume that language is merely a tool evolved within our species of primate and that the terms we apply to categories of experience do not carry within them any "essence" of the reality they serve to symbolize? Are you skeptical of holistic approaches to knowing, or to healing, with their grand designs for social change -- or total harmony of being -- that can be neither analyzed nor tested? Do you refuse to devote time and effort to a search for the underlying meaning and purpose of life, and for your own role in some universal cosmic plan?....
All of which was prompted by the following observation:
Many European humanists -- because of deeply embedded cultural tendencies toward romanticism and Kantian transcendentalism [and Rationalism?] -- have never really adopted the evolutionary world view implied by modern science. For them postmodernism is an all-too-easy out. It allows them to have their cake and eat it too. They can avoid facing up to the implications of evolution for human behavior. They can say that, yes, science is one way of comprehending reality; but there are other, equally legitimate modes of knowing. "Most of us here are not in the least interested in Darwinian evolutionary ideology", I have been told a number of times by humanists in Europe. Indeed, I am beginning to suspect that the "postmodern" point of view, which sees all approaches to knowing -- including the scientific one -- as equally ideological in nature, is rapidly becoming the prevailing philosophy among humanists in many parts of the world.
Yes, those Continentals are a subversive bunch. And Pat is right about having to draw a line in the sand. One, well aimed, immaterial stone could bring down the whole glass house that is materialism. The Continental mysticism is a pragmatic defense against the immanent, logical collapse of scientific materialism. They don't want to be taken down with that edifice. They don't want to have to ride shotgun for Science as do their Analytical colleagues over here. The Continentals hope that only one end of the secular boat will sink.
This rather obvious point about Freud vs. rationalism had not occurred to me:
One of the strongest blows to classical rationalism did not come from the crisis of its bulwarks at the turn of the century (applied non-Euclidean geometry, logical conventionalism, etc.), but rather from Freud's attack on the crystalline transparency of self-consciousness. In effect, Chomsky's neo-rationalism in linguistics adopted from the start the ‘opaque’ character of language universals.
No wonder that neo-rationalism is an uphill battle. This is from a footnote of Alberto Peruzzi in 'From Kant to Entwined Naturalism'. I'm attempting to discern a possible Continental flavor to naturalism, hopefully it will be spiced up a bit. I am reminded of Linsky & Zalta's Naturalized Platonism vs. Platonized Naturalism discussed on the previous page. In the present case, Peruzzi is using the mathematical theory of categories to Kantianize Nature. Again, this is not grandmother's idea of Nature, but scientists have been mathematizing Nature from the beginning. Also Peruzzi reminds us that logic and math are normative sciences rather than descriptive. Is this how we can smuggle intentionality into Nature? Are the Continentals going to help the naturalists get off the materialist hook by making irreducibility more scientifically palatable? Let us see. I suspect, however, that this is another foot in the door for rationalism, and that by giving it these few inches, it will not be difficult for rationalism to take the whole nine yards. But am I the only one who respects the potency of the rational? Has Freud reduced the ratio to the libido? Obviously the cosmic libido respected the rationale of the Monster Group or we would not have Physics. Creation is about the entwining of the Life force and the Logos to produce the BPW. A real neat trick!
But then why am I calling this 'rational theism' and not 'libidinous theism'. I may have just been taking the libidinous part as a given, as in, 'give us a break!' On the Trinitarian scheme does the Force reside more with the Son or the Spirit? It will be on your next quiz.
Science, in its transactions with Nature, recognizes neither the vital force nor the logos. The logos of mathematical physics is a significant exception.
[10/19]
While reading Peruzzi, I notice the next essay on the Google list, rationalism & naturalism, is 'THE STRUGGLE BETWEEN CHRISTIAN THEISM, METAPHYSICAL NATURALISM AND RELATIVISM: HOW TO PROCEED IN SCIENCE?' by Jitse van der Meer (1995). It has been posted on the ASA website. The American Scientific Affiliation espouses a more academically respectable version of creationism with God working through nature, more or less, but it is more demanding of scientific openness than anything you would find at the AAAS, for instance, although I am sure that many scientists who are also evangelical belong to both out of professional necessity. Van der Meer is emphasizing the intellectual tension that must exist between naturalism and theism. This is a tension that I have found to be notably lacking among the more nominally, or non-evangelical theistic scientists, who see science as another job. They just work there, so to speak. It is not part of their job description to wax metaphysical, and they'll be damned if anyone tries to make an issue of it, as Jitse does here.
[Incidentally, the Intelligent Design/Irreducible Complexity advocates do not appear to have a presence in the ASA. I'm not sure how closely affiliated the IDers are with the reactionary creationists.]
I then suggest that science needs to expand its methodology beyond the current confines. This expansion consists of accepting non-material causes in scientific explanations, and using broader criteria for theory choice. Instead of explanations that use material causes only, science needs multi-dimensional explanations that admit the causal efficacy of purpose and intent. Not only is the pursuit of several different explanations more adequate for a multi-dimensional reality, but it also provides a way of limiting one-dimensional explanations including those developed in terms of matter alone. This is an hermeneutical approach to explanation in the natural sciences which emphasizes "understanding" and sees explanation in material terms as one form of it.
This is not an unreasonable suggestion, but it will not be taken up without a 'struggle', our without a major shift in public sentiment and understanding. It will not be taken up until rational theism is more widely appreciated.
Methodological materialism is important because it acknowledges the materiality of creation.
Well, there just went the whole ballgame. There's a throwaway line for you. Can anyone out there tell me why the prophetic traditionalists are knee-jerk dualists? I keep trying to understand this dogmatic dichotomy of Creator and Creation, but cannot quite fathom it. Are not human souls part of creation? Are they not immaterial? Ergo, Jitse is in a blatant self-contradiction. His obliviousness to this blinding inconsistency is endemic among theologians. Will someone please clue me in? What is going on here?
[10/22]
I've spent the last couple of days perusing reductionism & mathematics. I am finding no defenders of reductionism. Dawkins remains the primary advocate of materialism; however, his 'memes' are decidedly immaterial entities, rendering him anomalous. After him comes Dennett, but his 'functions' are neither physical nor reducible.
There are quite a few philosophers who are 'non-reductive materialists', but I am not the only one who sees their position as self-contradictory. And these latter-day materialists seem motivated primarily by the desire to avoid Cartesian dualism. Their monistic predilection may put them in the forefront of idealism when its turn comes again. Their colleagues have too readily surrendered to the blandishments of pluralism.
Materialists lately refer to themselves as 'physicalists'. However, if you ask a physicist what physics reduces to, they will likely respond with 'mathematics'. If you ask a mathematician what mathematics reduces to, my perusal of the above list tells me that you will not get a definite answer. A century ago, the answer might have been 'logic', but that aspiration has long vanished. Are there any irreducible mathematical objects to which one may point? There are many objects that seem quasi-reducible at best. My favorite remains the Monster Group, which many believe has physical ramifications, along with its more diminutive siblings. It does contain many of the smaller sporadic groups as subgroups, but as the largest of that class, it is technically irreducible to them. It is not just the sum of its parts, because its group structure specifies a unique set of relations amongst all its elements. One might claim that the Monster is reducible to the coding of its existence theorem. However, the fact that this putative theorem has never been assembled in one place, is not fully understood by any one person, and is estimated that it would fill some 1,500 pages [3/10/03: wrong, it was 15,000 pages compiled by some 50 mathematicians between 1961 and 1980 (additional reference)], renders this form of reduction less than compelling. Surely, the existence proof of the Monster is already contained cryptically somewhere in the decimal expansion of Pi, along with Shakespeare's sonnets, but specifying its location therein might require many more than 1,500 [15,000] pages. But the Monster group is not physical, per se. It can exist only as an idea, and not as an isolated idea, but only as part of a seemingly unspecifiable, holistic set of ideas embedded in an intelligence having considerable overlap with human intelligence. Reductionism seems only able to lead us into irreducible logical circles. Its would-be defenders have been left in disarray.
Where does that leave the rest of us? That leaves us as if suspended on the edge of reality. Suddenly our world is populated by many new and mysterious objects. What are we to make of this new landscape?
Whatever else might be said of this landscape, intelligence is not an epiphenomenal aspect of it. Can concepts exist without conceivers, or experiences without experiencers? By definition, intelligence is structured to render the world minimally intelligible. Given the existence of immaterial, irreducible intelligences, it would seem unnatural to confine higher intelligence to a purely dependent existence. Especially so if we come to suspect, as many have, that the peculiar abstractions of space and time are dependent constructs of mind. In that case, our own immersion in space and time is an integral aspect of a cosmic construct to whose intelligibility we are prime witnesses.
[10/23]
It is revealing to read Steve Weinberg's comments, REDUCTIONISM REDUX, on the reductionism symposium at Jesus College in 1992. His arrogance is equaled only by the shallowness of his discussion. I have not read the proceedings, but there does appear to have been a dearth of philosophical reflection in a discussion dominated by scientists throwing barbs at each other, a technique easily mastered by Steve. Steve's now 'Standard Theory' combining weak, electric and strong forces may well have been the last hurrah of reductionism, or as he calls it 'grand reductionism'. Steve's 'grand' project was already being 'sneered' at even before the ink on his awards had dried. What role is left for him but curmudgeonhood?
There is another reason for some of the opposition to reductionism, and specifically to the perspective provided by grand reductionism. It is that this perspective removes much of the traditional motivation for belief in God.
Now there's a bit of candor. One almost has to wonder if Steve is concerned about his historical spot in the cosmic pecking order. By the same token, any significant shortfall in the grand project is evidence for cosmic purpose. Check out his defense of the 'meaningless universe'. With both Dawkins' and Dennett's reductionism suspect, Weinberg might have to be given the top spot on reductionism's hit parade. His motivation seems to lack personal conviction; what I see instead is a literal reductio ad absurdum of his professional role playing.
Steve's equation of modernism with 'grand reductionism' is correct, and so is its adversity to theism. The postmodern refusal to grapple with either rationalism or theism is its defining characteristic. It is a deliberate lacuna that is consigning its practitioners to instant irrelevance. The cottage industry of theological apologetics for science should be a scandal. Steve and the fundamentalists have the correct assessment. Pluralism is a desperate ploy to curtail thought and discussion of anything foundational. Anti-foundationalism has nowhere to stand.
Meanwhile the evidence against reductionism is mounting. It is strongest in the areas of epistemology and linguistics, areas that traditional reductive science abjures. The subtle arguments of its practitioners are lost beneath the furious controversy concerning human nature. Piaget's and Chomsky's structuralism was much too easily subsumed under biological genetics. Their 'genetic epistemology' was never intended to be about DNA, and the public ignorance of their subdued protestations to that effect only underscores the pervasiveness of the modern reductive hegemony.
The starkly theistic implications of any anti-reductionism, as touted by Steve, pose a great intellectual and political barrier to its academic proponents. They must toil amidst the unobtrusive details, leaving the obvious speculations to us outsiders. Even the growing cadre of theistically committed philosophers is slotted into areas of ethics. It is true, however, that there is a major overlap between ethics and epistemology. It is in that obscure venue that we might keep an eye out for an anti-reductive theistic initiative. Epistemology represents the soft underbelly of scientific materialism.
Plantinga's Reformed Epistemology is certainly a move in a parallel direction, but it does not focus specifically on reductionism. Alvin is just looking to construct a new branch of epistemology, a safe harbor for theism, rather than provoke a general confrontation. The neo-theists are following his lead, to the relief of their secularist colleagues. That the reformed and evolutionary accounts of epistemology can much longer avoid a confrontation is doubtful, however.
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Let us look at "reformed epistemology" & reductionism. An interesting article, 'The Relationship between Philosophy and Theology in the Postmodern Age' (1999), is on the al-Islam website. This is an important essay. It provides a comprehensive introduction to contemporary philosophy of religion; actually, it is the best I have seen on the Internet to-date.
While philosophy in the U.S. has been dominated by analytic thought throughout, most of the twentieth century, over the last ten or fifteen years, continental thought has come to play a prominent role in American philosophy. What is emerging is a "world philosophy," but one from which the Islamic world is largely excluded. The reason for this exclusion is not because of some conspiracy to suppress Islamic thought, but because we Muslims have not seriously attempted to enter the discussion. If we are to enter the discussion, we must beware that it takes place in what is often hostile territory, in the context of expectations, presuppositions and standards of reasoning many of which are quite foreign to those found in the Islamic sciences.
What a breath of fresh air from Dr. Muhammad Legenhausen.
Consider, for example, the role of the principle that an actual infinity of causes is impossible. A number of Western philosophers, physicists and mathematicians have come to doubt this principle. In defense of the principle, an important book has been written in which some of the ideas of Muslim philosophers are given attention: William Lane Craig's The Kalam Cosmological Argument (New York: Harper & Row, 1979). This is one of the rare cases in which ideas from the Islamic tradition (particularly those of Abu Humid Ghazali) have been the subject of discussion in the contemporary philosophy of religion.
I'll bet you didn't know that.
Other defenders of the Christian faith have argued that the doubts raised by Hume (1711-1776) and Kant (1724-1804) about the rationality of religious belief can be answered through an examination of the standards of reasoning employed in the natural sciences today, which are far from what Hume and Kant imagined.
Amen, Brother. Is it peculiar or not that the best summary of Christian philosophy comes from Islam?
The theologian provides the philosopher with the doctrinal setting in terms of which reports of mystical experiences are understood, and the philosopher provides a critical analysis of both doctrine and report in order to place mystical experiences within the framework of a broader epistemological theory.
Dr. Muhammad is getting me in trouble. I may be violating Federal Law with more than 'fair use' of his article.
[10/24]
Here is another helpful summary: 'An Evangelical Theological Response to Postmodernity'. (This essay, as noted, was cached by Google from an inactive site. Unfortunately, no other information is available.) I agree with the notion of a global ethic:
Many of the issues which have fostered the development of postmodern thinking are primarily ethical, causing Grenz to comment on the growing concern for a community-based ethic of being.164
In the postmodern world we are becoming increasingly aware that every ethical proposal - even ethics itself - is embedded in an interpretive framework which in the end comprises the shared belief structure - the theology - of a community. In short, every understanding of the ethical life is ultimately derived from a community-based vision, which links the personal life with something beyond.165
Grenz believes that the hope for a global ethic, which originally arose out of the modern pluralist ethos, is even more workable in a postmodern communitarian climate.166
I am most sympathetic with the teleology:
Through the cultivation of a proleptic [i.e. anticipatory] consciousness of the yet-to-be consummated whole of reality, we can gain an awareness and anticipation ahead of time of the future whole, 111 based on Gods promise and faith in Gods faithfulness. The gospel of Jesus Christ promises a destiny - the new creation, which means reality is future-oriented. Only with the fulfillment of this promise does reality become a whole and the true nature of all the parts, including ourselves, is revealed. In the life death and resurrection of Jesus, we see ahead of time what this nature is.
He examines the notion of Gods creating as a continuous act, drawing implications for modern cosmological ideas, and introducing the concept of proleptic creation. God creating from the future, not the past, means that it is the continuing divine work of future-giving that is the source of life and being. For Peters, Gods creative activity within nature and history derives from Gods redemptive work of drawing free and contingent beings into a harmonious whole. 114

[10/25]


In this last, anonymous essay, mention is made of Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928 -). This is a name that I have not run into in years. My bad. He is an advocate of 'systematic theology'. I am wondering if he may exhibit coherentist and idealist tendencies. Stanley J. Grenz, an American follower, provides a review:
In contrast to the classical tradition, he declares that truth is not found in the unchanging essences lying behind the flow of time, but is essentially historical and ultimately eschatological. Until the eschaton, truth will remain provisional and truth claims contestable. Therefore, theology. like all human knowledge, is provisional. It simply cannot pack into formulas the truth of God. The future alone is the focal point of ultimate truth. As a result. all dogmatic statements are hypotheses to be tested for coherence with other knowledge. This, he claims, is in accordance with the Scriptures, which declare that only at the end of history is the deity of God unquestionably open to all-an event. however, that is anticipated in the present.
OK for coherentism, and we get the eschaton as a bonus. I am embarrassed not to have remembered Wolfhart much sooner. This indicates a lacuna in my Internet search strategy. .

[10/26]


While missing Pannenberg, I also have missed the lasting Hegelian and German idealist influence on modern theology. In previously picking up on Anglo-American theistic idealism, I was mainly seeing an offshoot of the former. However, after WWII, French existentialism and scepticism became dominant on the Continent, and theistic idealism toiled in relative obscurity.
Pannenberg's influence may be expanding in the US, of late, despite a pervasive anti-idealist undercurrent which remains characteristically inchoate. It seems to be an opposition mainly directed against subjective idealism.
I need to focus on this trend, and particularly in its eschatological form. For all I know right now, Pannenberg is the only exponent of this form. My speculation is that Wolfhart is an amillennialist: all the drama is focused on the eschaton. In contrast, I am a pre-millennialist: there is a dramatic overturn of materialism that ushers in the Millennium. If this is true of Wolfhart, I don't know his rationale, but, again, let me speculate. For Wolfhart, the eschaton lies in the distant and otherwise unforeseeable future, thus the concept of an historical Millennium would be a relatively minor addendum at best.
Carl Henry is perhaps the premier orthodox Christian theologian. Here is a review: Carl Henry's Reasoned Apologetic:
Henry launches his metaphysical inquiry in these works by asserting the supernatural reality and objectivity of God against a tradition of dialectical and existentialist [and idealist] theology whose roots are traced to Kant and Kierkegaard, current manifestations he believes are the subjectivizing tendencies of Barth, Brunner, and Aulèn, as well as Tillich and Bultmann. Thus the author returns to the emphasis in earlier volumes on Scripture's univocal propositional knowledge as juxtaposed to the non-cognitive [sic] personal encounters attributed to neo-orthodox theology, or to the ambiguities of the analogical language as defended in the tradition that runs from Aquinas to Mascall. The future-oriented theologies of Moltmann and Pannenberg also come under criticism for casting doubt on the present reality of deity and the lack of adherence to scriptural testimony about the incarnation.
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These doctrinal errors are all finally traced to a reliance on philosophical conceptuality rather than biblical revelation.
The last sentence sums up the perennial objection to reason. One might wonder if human rationality were the work of Satan. Carl is our articulate, literate bibliolater. He can't see Jesus for all the Christianity. Rationalism and coherentism struggle to obtain a foothold in the no man's land between science and religion.
I would argue that Henry's incoherent, legalistic literalism is the same one that informs scientism as well as analytic philosophy. [and see below]

[10/27]


How 'bout that eschaton! Let's listen to Bob Russell, Founder and Director, The Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, Berkeley, 1981-present, speaking from his important meta-library:
According to Wolfhart Pannenberg, all Christian theology depends on the future coming of God. Eschatology thus involves “one of the most obvious conflicts between a worldview based on modern science and the Christian faith.” John Macquarrie, too, wrote that “...if it were shown that the universe is indeed headed for an all-enveloping death, then this might seem to constitute a state of affairs so negative that it might be held to falsify Christian faith and abolish Christian hope.” Are these conclusions avoidable?
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