Saturday, June 28, 2008


At present I'm half-way through volume two of Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago. It's among the best books that I've ever read, and is perhaps the very best of the prolonged accounts of the varieties of evil that I've ever encountered.

At one point, Solzhenitsyn says something quite remarkable about the imprisonment of orthodox Communists in the gulag. Consignment to the gulag, he says, is to be expected - even for most orthodox of Communists - because the government that created it, and the ideology that drives it, is a human idol. By this, I take him to mean that it's a purely human creation in which humans nonetheless put their faith.

Let me reflect for a moment about this. It seems to me to hint at a profound truth. We humans are ruined beings. We come into the world with an in-born disposition to evil (a disposition that, I think, derives from a disproportionate love of self), and that disposition inevitably makes itself known. We do evil, all of us. Moreover, if we cut ourselves off from God - who is Christ has made possible our salvation, our rescue from ruin - we are inevitably lost. But this is just what the Communists did. They denied God's existence - they were, of course, materialists - and instead put their trust in a purely human ideology. Moreover, they put their trust is the ability of their leaders to implement that ideology. Thus they set themselves on the path of ruin. Fallen humanity, when it trusts in itself and itself alone, removes all checks upon its in-born disposition to evil and thus falls upon itself as the wolf falls upon the lamb. Death and destruction are the inevitable result.

Whenever humanity turns from God and trusts in itself and itself alone, Stalins are the result.

(A word of caution here. Recall that I'm a latitudinarian when it comes to faith in God. One's orientation to God - whether acceptance or rejection - is, as I say here, indicated by one's moral character. The good accept Him; the evil reject. Thus those who accept him need not accept him by name. I do believe that, in the life to come, the good will come to know that their goodness entailed an implicit acceptance of Him; but they need not know that now. This seems quite evident to me. There are many good non-Christians.)

What is it to be Human?

One might ask for a biological definition. I propose a spiritual one.

To be human is to orient oneself - to take an attitude towards - the infinite. One might reject its existence. One might embrace it. One might align oneself with it. One might rebel. But no matter what one does, one does something, and this something serves to fix what at bottom one is. Those who are good align with it; those who are evil rebel. But no matter if it is a pole from which we flee or a pole to which we flee, it is the pole around with our lives revolve.

This gets to the root of my objection to materialism. It makes us out to be much smaller than we in fact are. It would seek to reduce us to just a bit of matter. It would seek to say that our existence is circumscribed by a tiny little bit of space-time.

But we are more than this. We can know - indeed we can some into fundamental accord with - the infinite, and this shows that there's something of the infinite in us. (For as the Greeks knew, only like can know like.)

Yes, we are embodied. Yes, we carve out a path through space-time (both the individual and the species). But our boundaries are greater than that. We can reach out in thought and in emotion to the infinite source of our being, and there we can find rest.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

From Nothing Nothing Comes: Objections

In a prior post - a post in which I rehearsed a version of the so-called Cosmological Argument - I promised to return later and consider objections. I'll list all the objections of which I know. Any suggestions about how to supplement my list are most welcome. Some are from Hume. Some are from the good doctor. Some are my own invention.

I'll add to the list as new objections occur to me.

1. If one thinks that there's a need to posit a necessary being, one might as well assume that the sum of all so-called contingent beings (and this sum is perhaps simply the material universe) is itself necessary. If one does this, there is no need to posit an entity outside that sum and thus there is no need to posit any kind of god.

2. The term "necessary" is applicable only to propositions, and when applied to one the result is true just when that proposition is a conceptual or logical truth. (An example of the former: triangles are polygons. An example of the latter: either triangles are trilaterals, or they are not.) Thus one simply cannot say of some entity or other that it is necessary. "God necessarily exists" is, in all strictness, nonsense.

3. To explain the existence of the sum of all contingent beings, one only need explain each contingent entity individually. But to explain a contingent entity individually, one need only cite a prior contingent entity that brought it into existence. Thus contingency suffices to explain contingency by an unbroken chain of cause of effect that leads back infinitely in time.

4. Causes must precede their effects in time. Thus if one speaks of a cause of the universe (and this I do attempt to do in my argument), one must assume that that cause exists prior to it. But time is itself merely a feature, or an aspect, of the universe. Thus nothing can exist prior to the universe. The upshot: the universe cannot have a cause.

5. The argument assumes the truth of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. (The PSR says this: for every state of affairs that obtains, there exists a sufficient explanation of the fact that it obtains.) But science has shown that the PSR is false. There are certain quantum events - like for instance the decay of a radioactive atom - for which there exists no sufficient reason (at least no sufficient reason to explain why they occurred just when they did). Moreover, there is no prima facie absurdity in the denial of the PSR; and indeed there is no way for the defender of the Cosmoligical Argument to prove its truth. Thus an objector is quite free to assume that it does not hold universally.

Why Do I Write?

It's curious - I don't know why I write.

I don't write for recognition. I know that I'll get little of that.

I don't write because I'm convinced of the truth of what I say and feel that I must share that truth with the world.

I don't write simply because I find it pleasurable. (On occasion, I'm infuriated by it.)

But I do feel a need to write. It is at present my sole creative outlet, and for a reason that I don't at all understand, this is important to me.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Science and its Relation to Philosophy

Revolutions in science - like that one replaced Newtonian absolutism with Einsteinian relativity - seem to have profound consequences for our view of the world. Before Einstein, both time and space were absolute; after both were relative. Before Darwin, species were changeless, and there were no relations of descent among species; after species were in constant flux (whether quick or slow), and all present species arose from other prior species.

But are revolutions in science over? Has the last already come and gone? I doubt it. Let us consider the case of physics. It is now dominated by two theories - Relativity Theory and Quantum Mechanics. The former comes into play in investigations of the very big, and the latter in investigations of the very small. But as of yet they have not been integrated into a single comprehensive theory, and thus the search for the so-called Grand Unified Theory continues on.

If GUT ever arrives (and this of course is a very real possibility) we should expect it to effect a significant change in our view of the world. (Why? Scientific revolutions have done this is the past, thus we should expect them to do the same in the future. A very simply inductive inference, this.) Thus I think it quite risky to take present physics and attempt to derive from it a philosophical view of the world, for it's a very real possibility that that view will be overturned.

Of course I mean to speak only of the present situation. It seems possible to me that, at some future time, there will be no cleavages in scientific theory of the sort that divides RT from QM. Perhaps at some future time there will emerge a single, unified theory that explains all phenomena, and if this should come to pass, science might well serve as a firm foundation for philosophical argument. But we are not there yet, and so I find it unlikely that present science is such a firm foundation. Philosophy must assert its independence of science until such time as the house of science is put in good order.