Just saying…

The Renaissance Mathematicus

Neil deGrasse Tyson seems to have a real talent for very sloppy history of science. He pontificates on history of science topics without taking the trouble to check his facts. On Christmas day to acknowledge the birthday of Isaac Newton he tweeted the following:

On this day long ago, a child was born who, by age 30, would transform the world. Happy Birthday Isaac Newton b. Dec 25, 1642

Now, you would think that an astrophysicist would be able to cope with simple arithmetic but it seems to be beyond NdGT’s mental grasp. Newton, as he points out, was born in 1642. The contribution to science that he made that “would transform the world” can only refer to his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica and, as any historian of science could have told NdGT, this was published in 1687. Applying the subtraction algorithm, which most of us learnt in primary school…

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Twitter Theology That Makes Me Sigh, And Violent


Zwinglius Redivivus


Ok two things- first, one doesn’t remove Calvin or Luther to make room for NT Wright.  That’s like taking your BMW and your Mercedes Benz out of the garage to make room for a pile of cat vomit mixed with dog diarrhea on a base of maggots wrapped in a crust of cockroaches.  And feeding the mixture to your newborn baby.

And second, if you have so few volumes of Luther and Calvin that Wright’s paltry (and, as mentioned above, disgusting) volumes can take the shelf space… well… you…. I…. it….  NEIN!  It’s two silly volumes.  HOW can you fill up Luther and Calvin’s spot with two volumes…  I… It…  NEIN!!!!!  You, clearly, have NO Luther or Calvin.  And – accordingly – can’t call yourself a person.

I have to go pound an Arian into a puddle of chipmunk feces now.*

*Bonhoeffer and Wesley allowed to remain… I’m speechless…

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The Eschatology of the Transcendentals

Thinking on the symposium on Roger Scruton, I found myself wanting to flesh out a bit the relation between the classical Transcendentals and his philosophy of beauty-as-belonging, so let’s see what can be done with that.

The classical Transcendentals are Beauty, Goodness and Truth – the most important universals or forms (the Christian way of looking at things has generally ascribed them to the divine life – perhaps as divine Ideas, or something else along that line). The will and mind are oriented towards these transcendentals by virtue of the desire evoked by our desire for particulars which instantiate one (often more) transcendental – our desire for a beautiful thing isn’t satisfied by the thing, because our desire for a beautiful thing is ultimately a desire for the beautiful as such. On this view, beauty is a rather abstract thing.

Scruton, in a nutshell, brings beauty down into day-to-day life. The beautiful for Scruton is something which, when pursued, gives meaning to the world and to our endeavors, and from this follows our sense of belonging. Hence, beauty-as-belonging (see the above symposium for more detail). Scruton grounds a lot of his meaning-talk and beauty in the actions of a community – generally, for Scruton, a religious community, where reconciliation and forgiveness can be had.

A possibly fruitful way to put these two themes together might be as follows: suppose we bring the notion of the eschatalogical into play here (which Scruton does, albeit in a somewhat vague manner) – specifically, Christian eschatology? What might that look like?

Perhaps we can think of the transcendentals as ‘orienting our sense of belonging’, that is, as conditioning how we achieve and even express belonging. On the Christian scheme of things, the transcendentals have ‘come down’ to us in the person of Jesus Christ – the embodiment of God, who is Truth, Goodness and Beauty as such. They will, however, ‘come down’ further at the eschaton – this is the now/not yet tension of Christian theology. Thus, in this ‘coming down’, that which orients our mind and will towards action in pursuit of truth, beauty and goodness is seen to be not an abstract form but a concrete person doing concrete things.

Building of Scruton’s philosophy of belonging as being something we practice and ‘build for’, and bringing in the Christian idea of being ‘in Christ’, wherein we participate in both the suffering and vindication of Christ, we might say that we act ‘transcendentally’. Our acts of love, sacrifice and charity are ways in which, borrowing again from Scruton, we redeem the world and build our home in anticipation of when we truly come home at the eschaton. In short, by making the world beautiful, whether through art, or acts of love, acts of service, tending a garden or simple acts of kindness, we act the transcendental – instead of being ‘out there’, they have been shown to be right here in our communities and acts of faith. Our actions becomes practices of belonging in preparation for the final redemption. By ‘coming down’, the transcendentals orient us towards redemptive practices.

Here we need to take careful account of the role of grace – it is only by grace that any of this happens because it is only by a free movement of grace from above that any of our actions are in fact actions of grace and redemption, because it is only by grace that we are incorporated in Christ.

As a kind of summary: by way of Incarnation, Truth, Beauty and Goodness have been shown to be concrete acts done in community, and by practicing the transcendentals (which have been shown to be actions of redemption in preparation for the final redemption) we make the world our home, where we belong, while we wait for our true Home, where we Truly Belong.

An Unexpected Symposium on Roger Scruton

I found this great little set of essays on Roger Scruton’s idea of beauty today, and it’s worth a share:

An Unexpected Symposium on Roger Scruton

Here’s the talk to which the essays are replying:

Some highlights from the essays:

‘The overall thrust is that, yes, Beauty is not something that can be “neatly taped up in a definitive sentence or treatise.” It is not just being at home, nor is it in the eye of the beholder. It is experienced in more than one way, and it manifests less often as a memory of the past than an invitation to a great journey in the present.’

‘Man, distinct in creation, straddles the mundane and transcendent spheres. Given lordship over the world, it is man’s task to pattern the mundane after the transcendental. In the Christian tradition, man is placed in a garden to tend and keep it. That’s the role of art, as Scruton sees it. The three transcendentals are the sources of meaning; art, in its pursuit of beauty, brings meaning to life. This meaning brings a sense of belonging. Belonging is, therefore, a necessary consequence of beauty, but beauty is pursued for itself. The two are inseparable.

This understanding of art and beauty doesn’t lead to utopian attempts at perfect pockets of beauty. Appealing again to the Christian tradition, even before sin entered into the world man was a gardener – someone who brings order and meaning to nature. The search for beauty will never be complete because weeds and disorder threaten at every turn. Man will never build the Kingdom, but he must build for the Kingdom in patient expectation of the One who will make all things beautiful.’

‘The easiest analogy to be made here is with love. Love exists beyond all of us, but in order for us to love—and to be loved in return—we have to make sacrifices. We have to give ourselves over to someone else. In short, we have to belong to someone else. But this belonging is not about love belonging to us. It is about our belonging to love.

Our relationship with beauty works in much the same way. Why do we build beautiful cathedrals, or write and constantly rehearse haunting liturgies, or take the time to decorate and order our houses into places that feel like home?

Because we are practicing belonging.’

Anyway, give it a read, and bookmark Humane Pursuits.

Thoughts On The People of God as Temple

I forget what exactly inspired this topic, but I was thinking about Paul’s use of ‘temple’ language in 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 – broadly, Paul identifies God’s people as the temple. I dug a bit into the latter passage, which is a kind of mash-up of several Old Testament passages – Leviticus 26:12, Ezekiel 37:27 and 2 Samuel 7:14. A few rough and uninspired notes:

– Each of those three OT passages invoke either the ‘your God/my people’ or ‘your father/my son’ covenantal formulas – Paul grounds the identity of God’s people in this very covenant-focused passages.

– The purity/ethical aspects of both 2 Cor 6;14-18 and the OT texts it quotes are brought into sharper relief when considering the temple/covenant language. Impurity in the context of temple equals desecration.

– In a nutshell, Paul seems to be locating matters of purity/ethics within the context of the temple – the people of God being the temple, or being where God dwells, where forgiveness and the presence of God is. This sharpens the issue considerably.

– Related to this is the use of exclusionary language which Paul invokes. The temple is to be kept pure and undefiled.

– The three OT texts have some interesting themes – Leviticus is obviously a more ethical text, 2 Samuel has a more prophetic/eschtalogical dimension to it, and Ezekiel is soundly eschatalogical. I wonder if a trajectory could be argued here, pointing towards the eventual birth of the people of God as the temple. More work could stand to be done here.

A Few MidWeek Links

A few fun links I’ve found on the web:

What N.T. Wright does with the early high christology of Hurtado, Tilling and Bauckham, by  Andrew Perriman

‘Wright aims to take the EHC argument a step further—in a way that effects some measure of reconvergence between the two strands, though he doesn’t put it in such terms. He accepts Hurtado’s thesis that it was the experience of the presence of the risen Christ that led the early Christians to worship Jesus and then develop a high christology through a rereading of the scriptures. Chris Tilling’s relational christology gets an approving mention in passing. But the more important hypothesis to emerge in recent explorations of early christology is Bauckham’s argument that Jesus is included in the unique “divine identity” of the one God.’

To Trust the Person Who Wrote the Books, by Francesca Aran Murphy  (review of Stephen Long’s book on Barth/Balthasar, with a reply by Long)

‘The thesis of this book is that von Balthasar spotted that when Karl Barth criticized the Catholic idea of an analogy of being between creatures and God, he had confused the Catholic analogia entis with the doctrine of a “pure nature,” used by Tridentine Catholic theologians to theorize a virtual reality which is emptied of grace. Long’s thesis is that von Balthasar thought that when Karl Barth heard “analogy of being between creatures and God” the word “creatures” got itself translated into “pure nature” and so Barth imagined that Catholics were constructing a real (rather than hypothetical) foundation for theology upon this “pure nature,” which is graceless and Godless. Long observes that von Balthasar has not only this negative observation about Barth to contribute, but also a positive perception of a “turn” toward acknowledgement of the “analogy” made by Barth round about the time he wrote his book on Anselm, and which is apparent in the Church Dogmatics. Barth may prefer to call it “analogy of faith” rather than “analogy of being,” but in effect he has perceived that, in the person of Christ, there is an analogy between creature (created human nature) and God (uncreated divine nature), and that this analogy is the operative center of theology. Long’s thesis is, moreover, that von Balthasar was right about this, and not merely right about that as a textual claim with regard to Barth’s writings, but right about reality—there is a Christ-formed analogy of being between creatures and God, and above all there is no non-hypothetically, actually existent pure nature.’

Wagner and German Idealism, by Roger Scruton

‘Wagner was to the end of his life a philosopher. All the currents of philosophical thinking that were important in his day, from Fichte’s idolisation of the self to Marx’s critique of the capitalist economy, and from Feuerbach’s repudiation of religion to Schopenhauer’s theory of the will, left traces in his dramas. There is no work of philosophy that delves so deeply into the paradoxes of erotic love as Tristan and Isolde, no work of Christian theology that matches Wagner’s exploration of the Eucharist in Parsifal, and no work of political theory that uncovers the place of power and law in the human psyche with the perceptiveness of The Ring. While taking us into the heart of philosophical concerns, however, Wagner never sacrifices concrete emotion to abstract ideas. Indeed, Tristan and Isolde, to take what for me is the greatest example of this, succeeds in displaying the philosophical mystery of erotic love only because Wagner creates a believable drama, and music that moves with the force and momentum of desire.’

The Conversation Shifts, by Scot McKnight

Some thought this new perspective on Paul — typified in the writings of Sanders, Dunn, and N.T Wright — would unravel the guts of the Reformation doctrine of sin (self-justification) and justification if one did not check the new wave of thinking. All the while at the foundation of this new perspective was a genuinely radical revision of what Judaism was all about. As it turns out, the “old” perspective assumed and in some ways required that Judaism (and especially Paul’s critiques) be a works based religion. With the growing conviction that Judaism was a covenant and election based religion (Sanders, Wright) there came a radical change in how Paul’s opponents were understood and therefore what Paul was actually teaching. He was, to use the words of Dunn, opposing “boundary markers” more than self-justification.’

Thoughts on a ‘Transcendental Realism’

As I was running out to the pet store last night to grab an e-collar for my cat, the thought occurred to me that it might be fruitful to see if the transcendental aspect of Kant’s metaphysic could be married with realism. What follows are various other thoughts that occurred to me on this subject.

What would a transcendental realism be concerned with? Well, as I’m thinking of it, it would be a metaphysic concerned primarily concerned with the following: what are the conditions that make empirical study of the world possible? So in this sense, it’s more of a metaphysic of science. How is science possible? That’s a key question.

To polish the question a bit more: how must the world be in order for science to have proceeded as it has? Two things that come to mind are the issues of causality and universals – laws of nature would probably fit in here under both of those. So what would TR (tentatively) say here?

Well, causality, of one form or another, seems to be necessary for any empirical science to get off the ground. But causality is a metaphysical, and not empirical, category (here we can follow Hume’s insight without committing ourselves to his conclusions). We can’t study causality under a microscope. But if causality is a real feature (albeit a metaphysical feature) of the world, the question we need to ask is how exactly is causality ‘mediated’ through experience (here I wonder if modalities have a role to play)? Here’s a possible answer (not THE answer, but merely a way in which the question might be answered on this view):

Causality is a real feature of the world with both objective (transcendental) and subjective aspects – so it’s a bottom up/top down feature. Causal structures are mediated through and reflected by the empirical world and empirical study. This allows for for the conditions of study, science, etc. This view effectively thinks backwards from the given of our experience, but an argument seems to be needed that I don’t have at the moment.

So I suppose a map of this view would look something like this:

Reality———->causal structures———->experience of reality———->causal concepts———->allow empirical science

I’m not hugely satisfied with this yet, but the raw material for a decent metaphysic is here, at least.

How I See Barth

This comes in the context of a facebook discussion, where the issues of Barth being a modalist, his trinitarian theology and doctrine of election were brought up.

So the issue here basically gets into to very fundamental aspects of Barth’s theology, election and trinity. Barth locates his discussion of the trinity at the beginning of the Dogmatics, and he very quickly rejects the term ‘person’, because he doesn’t think its possible to define it in a way that doesn’t lead to tritheism. He opts for ‘modes of being’, instead, which is generally recognized as not being a very helpful definition since the first thing anyone thinks of is modalism. He uses this language because he sees it as a way to protect the one-ness of God while at the same time recognizing the other ‘modes of being’ – the Son and the Spirit.

Barth’s overall trinitarian theology follows his theology of revelation closely – there is the revealed, the revealer, and the revelation, which would map onto God, the Spirit, and Jesus. He thinks backwards from the given of God’s self-revealing – for this revealing to have taken place, what must be true of God? From there he arrives at the basic structure of his trintarian thought. Barth is also very big on perichoresis – the inter-relations of the Father, Son, and Spirit – as being constitutive of the being of the Trinity. This can be the source of confusion – since he rejects all the language of ‘persons’, it can look incoherent, as a lot of people seem to have thought.

Now, with regard to election. This is Barth’s most original contribution to modern theology (though there are anticipations of it in the early church) because he completely dissolves the classical problem of the ‘absolute decree’ and completely reverses the typical order of election. Instead of God electing some humans and sending Jesus to save them, God eternally elects Jesus. In Christ, we have the eternal will and grace of God. Jesus is election, predestination – and in him all humanity are elect. So, in a sense, the question of:

‘Does that not posit election of humanity as a necessary part for God to be Triune? ‘

…has a real grain of truth to it, but we have to quickly add this: God does elect humanity from all eternity in Christ. Christ is election, grace, and the will of God. There is no ‘God behind the back of Jesus’, no hidden decree, no secret will – there is Jesus. This election of grace, however, is *free* – a free movement of grace, which has its origin within God himself and is not conditioned, constrained, or obligated by anything outside Godself. It is not necessary but free in the deepest possible sense. There is room in Barth for more Hegelian interpretation – determining, becoming, event, etc – but I don’t personally buy into it, because it does lead to all sorts of things like creation being a necessary aspect of God’s becoming, which is quite problematic.

A Conversation on Theological Epistemology

My comments are bolded, and my friends are plain text.

I would say the “knowledge” that counts is more akin to intimacy, communion, or Polanyi’s personal knowledge and less akin to things like warrant, justification, etc. as Western theology has dwelt upon since early Scholasticism. Compare a great deal of the biblical usage of know is intimate knowledge e.g. Adam knew Eve and conceived. I have obviously been corrupted by Eastern Christian mysticism, lol.

I fully agree that the knowledge that counts is more intimacy and less warrant – and further that real repentance is required. Torrance once yelled at John Hick in a debate that ‘you will not understand unless you repent!’ I do think that Plantinga is basically right as far as warrant goes though, without of course reducing knowledge of God to warrant/justified true belief. Although I’m not too sure if it’s a good idea to put a wedge between reason/Knowledge/love – or heart/head knowledge, since it’s the *whole person* that knows, and I think that guys like Polyani and Merlau-Ponty are right when argue for tacit, bodily knowledge.

I see such a wedge between heart/head knowledge is actually between two sides of the same Western coin whose focus is on the epistemological approach of a subject. Love in the patristic sense is actually not a “way of knowing” but glory, participation (2 Pet 1:4), perichoresis, etc. If someone may “know” god via inductive cosmological argument it is surely nonsense to say no one knows God who does not love him? A whole knowing person is still half of a mystical Union -less than half actually. The epistemological prism is not the same as the incarnational prism, and the human/divine issues are just as easily imbalanced with regard to theosis as they are with revelation or Christology, I think. That we cannot know who do not love is from a broadly patristic and/or typically EO POV an issue of ontological union rather than epistemological approach. It is more a question of e.g. if God is love, how can there be union with God without the ontological characteristics of God’s energy transfiguring us (using the lang. of Gregory Palamas).. Love in this sense is not subjective (e.g. heart knowledge, moralism, etc.) -it is Christ’s ontological presence. “God is Love” -it is not our way of knowing or our way of acting etc. that is (that Kind of) love. Cf. the notion of Truth not being an epistomology but a person: “I am the Truth” as opposed to “it is the truth.” Truth as epistemological is a different approach, as is e.g. faith regarded as something like mental assent to a proposition or propositions.

I do wonder if such epistemologies of love tend to become charmed circles – ie, ‘just come inside and it will all make sense’ – immune to criticism from without. I think a lot of theology has gone that way, especially after Wittgenstein. William Alston tends in that direction, for example.

DH: The epistemological question of how do I know what I know viz. God is never asked in scripture. Certainly scripture never presents an argument as to how one knows God exists in the manner of the Five Ways and so on. The wise and intelligent may be blinded, whereas the blind and the mentally deranged may draw near. I think fideism, or the sort of heart knowledge approach stereotypical of charismatic as vs. a head knowledge approach does appear as you suggest, as immune to (epistemological) criticism, but both are epistemological categories as opposed to e.g. perichoresis. From the outside the latter too might appear as a charmed circle immune to criticism; if it is viewed from the epistemological prism “being convinced about perichoresis” might seem a sort of charmed circle of confirmation bias as well -but so would be the assumption that epistemology is all it is from top to bottom.

Fideism is, I think, rightly rejected theologically by RC, and the very notion of faith as a blind leap in the dark is more Kierkegaardian than patristic. However the Scholastic approach to knowledge of God RC has as its dogmatic alternative -also post-patristic- is empirically speaking as likely to lead to atheism as God via reason alone -hence many philosophers reject inductive cosmological arguments for God as question-begging etc.. “Heart knowledge epistemological approach” and “head knowledge epistemological approach” to God are in a sense two sides of the same Western Christian coin. If the reality of knowledge of God is ontologically based in the manner of the patristic view of theosis or deification, viewing knowledge of God from a subject oriented epistemological approach, whether it ranges from fideism to verificationalism, five or fifty ways, etc. is a lesser path to god.

But I think that even in scholasticism there is an emphasis on Gods ‘initiative’, since the only reason we can in fact reason to God is because our concepts preexist in the divine intellect, from which they derive their meaning. Obviously there are deep issues with Scholasticism/Aquinas, but those views are more subtle than often given credit for.

DH: I do agree that we can only reason because of God; discursive rationality as we experience it is not univocal and perhaps better closer to equivocal analogy than univocal analogy if analogical categories are employed -of course Aquinas would not disagree. The ability to reason to God philosophically is something Aquinas held, and RC holds as a dogma; this, of course, was denied by Barth and is something most Eastern Orthodox deny (myself included) albeit (1) I do hold there are rational “pointers toward” God, and (2) there is no bar as such to someone being Orthodox who holds the contrary position, e.g. theist philosopher Richard Swinbourne is Eastern Orthodox. Further I think it would be wrong to discount such avenues as legitimate modalities that may factor into anyone’s journey