All posts tagged: faith and reason

Newman’s Strategic Reassembly of Secular Trends

“Newman’s mind always pushed against the edges of knowledge,” says Owen Chadwick.[1] Newman is rarely an easy read and An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent is maybe his most dense work. But Newman’s rhetorical, philosophical, and personal complexity pushes his readers to push against the edges of their own knowledge of Newman, his world, and the world as a whole. By identifying faith as a form of reason, Grammar of Assent reflects the European renegotiation of the relationship between Church and state occurring in Newman’s day. We will first examine the book’s context and arguments, then its implications, and then its influence beyond the 19th century. Newman attends to the political order as a “grammar” of interrelated parts. We will conclude with an analysis of Newman’s poem “Lead, Kindly Light” in light of Grammar of Assent, and in contrast with Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” the paradigmatic poem of British modernity. In 1851, six years after entering the Roman Catholic Church, Newman wrote that he had been considering writing a “philosophical polemic” for …

Ah, to Live in a Cosmos Again!

Anaxagoras takes the stage early in Aristotle’s Metaphysics as that sober man among drunks who rightly claims that reason is the cause behind all of nature and its beauty.[1] This same Anaxagoras, we are told, “answered a man . . . asking why one should choose rather to be born than not by saying ‘for the sake of viewing the heavens and the whole order of the universe.’”[2] Reason is needed to cause the beauty of the whole; only mind can make the world a cosmos. Mind is also needed to recognize that we live in a cosmos, as Seth Benardete remarks: “We see heaven and earth, but we do not see their unity, which we call cosmos. ‘Cosmos’ puts a label on an insight about the structure of the whole that is simply not available to sight.”[3] This label, “cosmos,” is rooted in the Greek verb kosmein, meaning both “to arrange” and “to order, rule” as well as “to adorn” (as in “cosmetics”). The aggregate of all that exists is a cosmos because of …

Reason’s Shadow: Romanticism’s Impact on Catholic Thought

Bl. John Henry Newman, one of the greatest modern intellectuals for both Anglican and Roman Catholic traditions alike, had little patience with Romanticism. Although a contemporary of the British Romantics—Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats—Newman was by and large dismissive of Romantic efforts to turn the world away from an overdependence on reason, which had seeped into modern minds with Kantian ideas and the emergence of German idealist philosophy. Instead, Newman offered a robust recalibration of reason in his Grammar of Assent, The Idea of a University, and various of his Oxford Sermons. Reframing the first question of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, Newman enjoined, “Admit a God, and you introduce among the subjects of your knowledge, a fact encompassing, closing in upon, absorbing, every other fact conceivable. How can we investigate any part of any order of Knowledge, and stop short of that which enters into every order?”[1] Newman’s preoccupation with reason and knowing emerged in response to modern philosophy’s downgrade and dismissal of faith as a matter of personal and non-rational belief. What mattered in …

I Used to Be a Creationist

I have a confession to make: I used to be a creationist. This probably sounds absurd, especially coming from a student at a university which prides itself on its commitment to faith and reason—a university which was even home to one of the first Catholic defenders of scientific evolution—Fr. John Zahm. It will most likely sound even more absurd when I tell you that I am now making faith and reason my life’s work by studying theology, philosophy, and physics. I have quite clearly come a long way from thinking that science and religion do not work together, and would consider myself the better for it. Nonetheless, I am incredibly grateful for the time that I spent holding the opinion that we have to take the book of Genesis to its literal extremes, and thus that evolution just had to be wrong. It helped me identify one of the central aspects of the science and religion debate: science and religion are not at odds with each other if you recognize that science does not have …

Nourishing the Imagination: Science & Religion

As anyone reading this article is likely to know already, the McGrath Institute for Church Life is dedicated to nourishing the Catholic imagination and renewing the Church. The past three years of my work in the MICL have made the claim that we are in fact serving the Church in this way very easy to believe. Yet, what has escaped my attention until fairly recently is the fundamentally biological nature of the metaphor of nourishment. To nourish is a particular function, more interior and deliberate than merely to feed. To nourish assumes an understanding of nutrition and digestion, as well as organicity, ecology, that is, it assumes a whole biology, and a dynamic and integrated one at that. In his 1844 Handbuch der Physiologie des Menschen, Johannes Peter Müller, an eminent German physiologist and comparative anatomist, made a then startling claim about the nature of nutrition and its relationship to human physiology. He claimed, quite simply, that “nutrition is not an object of microscopial research.” Müller saw in the standard fare of the physiological science …

Contemplating the Cosmos: The Building Blocks of Nature, God Included

Protons, neutrons, electrons. Atoms, elements, and chemicals. These are words that you are probably used to hearing in a science class, not in a blog post about how one encounters God. I am a chemist, though, and as strange as it might sound, through these basic building blocks of matter, I find God in my work. In chemistry, we manipulate chemicals to make new compounds, to treat diseases, to improve energy efficiency, and to lessen climate change. We tackle a variety of projects to improve our lives. An individual chemist cannot work on all of these projects during his or her lifetime, and only the most extraordinary chemists make world-changing discoveries that catch the public’s attention. Most of us work on projects that, while significant, remain disguised in technical jargon and are only understood by other scientists. The scientific advances that we have made and the ways in which we now understand nature are amazing. There’s one thing, though, that I’ve always wondered about that seems to go beyond a simple chemical explanation: life. Synthetic …