iSoul In the beginning is reality

Category Archives: Being

ontology, metaphysics, logic

Nominal breakthroughs

Modern science is quantitative, not qualitative. The top breakthroughs in modern science have broken through traditional distinctions of quality or kind. Consider the following:

(1) Newton’s theory of gravitation broke through the traditional distinction between the sublunar and supralunar universe (e.g., the earth and the heavens). All motion is subject to the same laws.

(2) The atomic theory of matter broke through the traditional distinctions between different kinds of matter (e.g., water, earth, air, and fire). All matter is merely a combinations of atoms (or subatomic particles).

(3) Darwin’s theory of evolution broke through the traditional distinctions between different kinds of organisms (e.g., humans and animals). All species are merely variations of life (or genes).

(4) Einstein’s theory of relativity broke through the traditional distinction between space and time. All dimensions are subject to the same laws.

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The hierarchy of knowledge

The physical sciences, especially physics, are considered nowadays to be the pinnacle of knowledge. They are given credit for modern technology, which has far surpassed any other civilization. Maximum deference is given to the physical sciences, which then function as the paragon of all knowledge. “Physics envy” pervades the study of knowledge today.

But it is a mistake to put the physical sciences at the top of the hierarchy of knowledge. They are very limited in scope, and their methods are not appropriate for all disciplines. Instead, the most general disciplines should be at the pinnacle of knowledge. For secular universities this would be philosophy, and for religiously-affiliated universities this would be theology.

The humanities should be returned to their place of seniority above the sciences. Philosophy, great art and literature, classical studies, and mathematics should regain their seriousness and their cultural significance. To some extent mathematics still receives respect, but it is considered an arcane subject, which happens to be useful to arcane specialists.

The social sciences and history should be next in the hierarchy of knowledge. They are dependent on the higher disciplines but are more general than the physical sciences. They provide the context for the physical sciences, which has been weakened by over-reliance on physical knowledge. This extends to all studies of humanity, including those that intersect the physical sciences such as biology. We must never forget that we are humans first, and animals second.

The physical sciences and the practical arts such as business, engineering, medicine, and technology should complete the hierarchy of knowledge. There’s no discredit in coming at the bottom for that is where we mostly live our lives. We are accustomed to extensive physical knowledge as a resource for solving the complex problems of contemporary society.

This is a return to the old academic hierarchy. It was abandoned out of fear that narrow-minded clerics and philosophers would limit the ability of scientists to discover new realities. That is a lesson of history that bears remembering – but only as a genuine history, not as a prejudice against philosophy and theology. We should also be wary of the Whig histories of those who misread the history of ideas.

Methodical Realism

Here are excerpts from Étienne Gilson’s Methodical Realism (Le réalisme méthodique), translated by Philip Trower (Christendom Press, 1990 / Ignatius Press, 2011):

The mathematician always proceeds from thought to being or things. Consequently, critical idealism was born the day Descartes decided that the mathematical method must henceforth be the method for metaphysics. p.11

Indeed, all idealism derives from Descartes, or from Kant, or from both together, and whatever other distinguishing features a system may have, it is idealist to the extent that, either in itself, or as far as we are concerned, it makes knowing the condition of being. p.12

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Handbook for Beginning Realists

From Étienne Gilson’s Methodical Realism (Le réalisme méthodique), Chapter V: A Handbook for Beginning Realists, Translated by Philip Trower (Christendom Press, 1990 / Ignatius Press, 2011). (See also here.)

1. The first step on the realist path is to recognize that one has always been a realist; the second is to recognize that, however hard one tries to think differently, one will never manage to; the third is to realize that those who claim they think differently, think as realists as soon as they forget to act a part. If one then asks oneself why, one’s conversion to realism is all but complete.

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Essentials of Christian Thought, part 4

The previous post in this series is here.

The key to this middle way, if it is truly a middle way between extremes, is divine self-limitation—the idea that the God of the Bible is vulnerable because he makes himself so out of love. p.139

… the personal God of the Bible is revealed there as the one “principle of all things,” “both cause and reason” for everything else’s existence. [Emil] Brunner also rightly emphasized that for the Christian this is no “theory of the world,” no rational, speculative hypothesis, but revealed truth of the “one word of God.” p.142

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Essentials of Christian Thought, part 3

This post continues from part 2, which is here. The following are more excerpts from Roger E. Olson’s The Essentials of Christian Thought.

For [Emil] Brunner, and for me, natural theology means only (1) that the biblical-Christian worldview better answers life’s ultimate questions than its competitors and alternatives, and (2) that eyes of faith for whom the Bible “absorbs the world” see the natural world as God’s good creation—”charged with the grandeur of God”—even if eyes of unbelief cannot see it as such. p.75

For biblical-Christian thought, in contrast with Greek philosophy, souls are created by God, they are not emanations, offshoots, of God’s own substance. p.81

Nearly all extra-biblical philosophies struggle with the [biblical] idea of a personal, related, vulnerable ultimate reality capable of being influences by what creatures do. p.84

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Essentials of Christian Thought, part 2

This post continues from part 1, here.

One characteristic of the book is that the “essentials” or “metaphysics” that Roger E. Olson elucidates are somewhat buried among the text dealing with the competing alternatives. What follows are excerpts that focus on the essentials of Christian/biblical thought itself.

A basic presupposition of this book is that the Bible does contain an implicit metaphysical vision of ultimate reality—the reality that is most important, final, highest, and behind everyday appearances. p.12

Ultimate reality is relational. p.13

Ultimate reality is personal, not impersonal, and humans reflect that ultimate reality in their created constitution—what they are. Here we will call that “Christian humanism.” p.17

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Essentials of Christian Thought, part 1

The Essentials of Christian Thought: Seeing Reality Through the Biblical Story by Roger E. Olson was published by Zondervan in 2017. It’s 256 pages long in seven chapters with as many “Interludes” but no bibliography or index. The author gives a video introduction here.

The intended audience for the book is those who accept the Bible as a guide “to the nature of ultimate reality” (p.11). Its purpose is to describe that ultimate nature (or metaphysics) according to the Bible. Much of the book is spent delineating differences between the biblical metaphysics and that of others. The author leans heavily on four authors (in order of the number of references):

Edmond La Beaume Cherbonnier (1918 – 2017), “an American scholar in the field of religious studies. He served as Professor of Religion at Trinity College, Connecticut”. Wikipedia

“Is There a Biblical Metaphysic?”, Theology Today, 15(4), January 1959, pp. 454–69.
Hardness of Heart, Doubleday, 1955.
“Biblical Metaphysic and Christian Philosophy”, Theology Today, 9(3), October 1952.
“The Logic of Biblical Anthropomorphism,” in Harvard Theological Review 55(3), 1962, 187-206.

Claude Tresmontant (1925 – 1997), “taught medieval philosophy and philosophy of science at the Sorbonne.” Wikipedia

A Study of Hebrew Thought, tr. by Michael Francis Gibson, Descle, 1960.
Christian Metaphysics, Sheed and Ward, 1965.
The Origins of Christian Philosophy, Hawthorn Books, 1963.

Emil Brunner (1889 –1966), “a highly influential Swiss theologian who, along with Karl Barth, is associated with Neo-Orthodoxy or the dialectical theology movement.” Theopedia

The Philosophy of Religion from the Standpoint of Protestant Theology, tr. by Bertram Lee Woolf, James Clarke, 1958.
Revelation and Reason: The Christian Doctrine of Faith and Knowledge, tr. by Olive Wyon, SCMP, 1946.
“Nature and Grace” in Natural Theology, tr. by Peter Fraenkel, Geoffrey Bles, 1946.

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907 – 1972) “was a Polish-born American rabbi and one of the leading Jewish theologians and Jewish philosophers of the 20th century.” Wikipedia

Man is Not Alone, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976.

The next post is here.

Synopsis of the Gospel

A previous post here gave a summary of the Gospel. The following comes from Rev. David Harper’s blog entry, The power of story:

Here’s a synopsis.

1. God created humankind in His image for fellowship and partnership, entrusting to us stewardship of His earth. (Gen. 1:28)  

2. Because of sin, in which we all participate, our fellowship with God and one another has fractured (Gen. 3:1-19, 4:8; Rom. 3:23).

3. God sent His Son, Jesus, as the promised Messianic King and Son of God, come to earth in human form to become one with us. (Rom. 1:3-4; Phil. 2:4ff.).

4. By his death and resurrection, Jesus atoned for our sin, and secured our justification by grace, (1 Cor. 15:3ff.). He has broken the dominion of sin and evil over us (Col. 2:13-15), restored us to right relationship with the Father, and made us the firstfruits of His new creation. (James 1:18)

 5. He has given us His Holy Spirit to empower us to do the works that Jesus did, enlisting us in His plan and purpose to make the whole creation new. (John 14:12ff, Acts 2:1ff, Eph. 1:9-10, 3:8-12

6. At his return, Jesus will complete what he began by the renewal of the entire material creation, and the resurrection of our bodies (Rom 8: 18ff.).)

For more from Rev. Harper, see his website Things New & Old. One thing he is known for is expressed in his talk on Three Streams, One River.

Classical knowledge

As with a previous post here, this post looks at George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s Philosophy in the Flesh (1999). This time the focus is on what they call “folk theories” but I’m calling classical knowledge since these have become so ingrained in Western thought. Starting with chapter 16 they look principles that came out of ancient Greek philosophy. Though they don’t mention it, these were influenced by the other source of Western thought, Christianity.

The Intelligibility of the World: The world makes systematic sense, and we can gain knowledge of it.

General Kinds: Every particular thing is a kind of thing.

Essences:
Every entity has an “essence” or “nature,” that is, a collection of properties that makes it the kind of thing it is and that is the causal source of its natural behavior.

Every kind of thing has an essence that makes it the kind of thing it is.
The way each thing naturally behaves is a consequence of its essence.

Substances:
A substance is that which exists in itself and does not depend for its existence on any other thing.
Each substance has one and only one primary attribute that defines what its essence is.

Metaphysics: Kinds exist and are defined by essences.

The All-Inclusive Category: There is a category of all things that exist.

The Elements: Things in nature are made up of some combination of the basic elements: [which in ancient times were considered to be] Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.

What was considered the essence of being? There were several answers:

Thales: Water; Anaximander: Intermediate Material, Air; Heraclitus: Change; Pythagoras: Number

For Plato: Essences are Ideas (and Ideals)

For Aristotle: Ideas are Essences