Saturday, September 30, 2006

Rationalism, reason and ranting: everybody's doing it

Let's compare the entries in these three essays to try and get a better idea of what the Pope may have been trying to get at:

first there's wayofthewest's seventh essay on history: The Enlightenment. I still think the best quote relates to the experience of thsoe who followed the sixties Hippy Trail: "what they acquired was not wisdom but one or more of a variety of infectious diseases".

However, probably the most important summary of what went wrong is:
"Short-changed at home in their early years by their crassly self-righteous and prejudiced mentors -- an unforgiveable dereliction of duty -- the students were astonishingly uneducated, unaware that what they knew of their own culture was merely the tip of the iceberg, that the West was far, far more than merely a storehouse of techniques and technical goodies; that the Wisdom Literature of the West -- right at their own back door -- easily matched the best of the East in range and depth. However, much of this Western literature comes with the label 'Christian', which makes it like nuclear waste: contaminating, not to be touched. That great annihilator of collective memory, the relentless enemy of institutional Christianity, the anti-clerical Voltaire (d. 1778), was not a deep thinker, but he was a gifted propagandist. Year after year, penning with glib certainty his repertoire of half-truths, he and his confrères managed to establish as social reflexes a certain set of conceptual equations. Two of the central ones :--

Mediaeval and Scholastic = Antiquated Stupidity, Superstition and Injustice.
Modern and Scientific = Progress, Happiness, Open-minded Understanding and Justice.

It was only after experiencing at first hand the emotional traumas and spiritual degradations, the nihilistic landscapes of terror, the vast desolations of mute bleakness, the Gas Chambers, Gulags and Re-Education Camps created during the Modern, Progressive, Scientific 20th Century, that substantial numbers of people began to have doubts about these facile indentifications."

However, the fundamental point of his essay is to classify cultures (a two by two classification, in statistical language) depending on whether or not they address each of two questions posed by Leibniz:
"T]he first question we have a right to ask will be, why is there something rather than nothing? ... Furthermore, assuming that things must exist, we must be able to give a reason for why they must exist in this way, and not otherwise." [Principles of Nature and Grace / 1714 AD].
Richard Dawkin's answer to the first of these, by the way, is `whereof Natural Science cannot speak, thereof I shall insist that you remain silent".

The second [essay], by P E Johnson (a lawyer), I referenced in my earlier post triggered by wayofthewest's essay.
I'll give the link to my earlier post and you can track it from there. The point is that Johnson deftly skewers not only this rejection, but also the fact that Darwinism has actually assumed many of the attributes of a religion (or more properly, a cult), since Dawkins et al. having rejected the question, have simultaneously slipped into believing that somehow Darwinism is the answer. A mystery which dwarfs that of the triune Godhead, IMHO.

The third is a blog post by Shrinkwrapped entitled Reason and Rationality. In this post he builds up to the final statement
"Those who attack people like Hanson as unduly pessimistic are placing their faith in reason without realizing that once divorced from rationality, from a core belief in "a rational cosmos", reason becomes a tool of the enemy. "
He gets there by way of a critique of the basis of science, quoting Lee Harris (paraphrasing Schopenhauer in The Weekly Standard):
"Modern scientific reason says that the universe is governed by rules through and through; indeed, it is the aim of modern reason to disclose and reveal these laws through scientific inquiry. Yet, as Schopenhauer asks, where did this notion of a law-governed universe come from? No scientist can possibly argue that science has proven the universe to be rule-governed throughout all of space and all of time. As Kant argued in his Critique of Judgment, scientists must begin by assuming that nature is rational through and through: It is a necessary hypothesis for doing science at all. But where did this hypothesis, so vital to science, come from?"
The answer, of course, is
"modern scientific reason derived its model of the universe from the Christian concept of God as a rational Creator who has intelligently designed every last detail of the universe ex nihilo".
That's why I have trouble with Science. I know, as a Mathematician, that the rules of logic are right, I don't know that the Universe is a law-governed place. For me it's merely an article of faith.
But that's not important, what's important in Shrinkwrapped's excellent essay is this:

"[How can it be] that Journalists, who embody the perceptual apparatus of our Civilization, end up encouraging the kinds of irrationality that threaten to engulf all of us? By failing to understand how their world, the Western Civilization that nurtures and holds them, rests upon a core belief in "a rational cosmos" (the opposite of Post-Modern thought) the rather limited followers and adherents of such PC thinking facilitate their mis-use by the enemies of everything they hold dear. They ally themselves with those who deny all rationality and demand "submission." The paradox would be merely an intellectual challenge if it weren't so serious."

So, what I wanted to say is simple: if we don't know where we're coming from and what we're about, we're going to be in serious trouble quite soon - maybe that's at least part of what the Pope was really trying to say.

No comments: