All posts tagged: science

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 …

Georges Bataille: The Dark Soul of the Night

Unnatural Theology Georges Bataille’s life was an uninterrupted search for the divine. In his wanderings and writings he consistently wrote of the necessity of scientific knowledge, critical reason, and theoretical evaluations. He did this, however, in order to firmly delineate the horizon beyond which these epistemological approaches prove insufficient, misleading, and even poisonous. His scientific search led him to a religious atheism and systematic account of non-knowledge. In his posthumously published Theory of Religion he talked of “the sticky temptation of poetry” that he thought caused illegitimate anthropomorphic descriptions even in the exact sciences. Bataille associated clarity and consciousness with rigorous scientific analysis, and he attempted to apply the tools of analysis to the phenomena of religion. At the same time, he had a desire to give an account of what precedes and comes after the clarity of self-consciousness and scientific rationality. In his slim, fiercely naturalistic exploration of religious thought and practice he hoped to play midwife to a new joining of clear consciousness and the ecstasy previously associated with forms of religious mysticism. …

If the Mother of the Maccabees Knew of Atoms

Social media shoves us all up in each other’s faces in unprecedented ways. Where national politics was once metered in through newspapers and the evening news, now people of all ages have access to global details of immeasurable variety. Through the internet, we can see what friends on other continents had for dinner. We have a finger incessantly on the pulse of global events, from terrorism to natural disasters to scandals in the Catholic Church we never wanted to admit happen. To whatever extent this data dump causes constant anxiety, and constant anxiety upsets brain chemical equilibrium, I have not quite figured out how this torrent of affairs will play out. When I manage to get my nose out of my screen and step away, however, I often think of the Jewish mother of the seven sons in Second Book of Maccabees. She looked upon a different world, but I feel a camaraderie with her. Her story goes back to about 168–166 years before the birth of Christ. Her people, the Maccabees, led a rebellion …

Reality Is Bigger Than the Human Mind

 In “God’s Omnipresence, God’s Body and Four Ideals of Science,” the masterful second chapter of Theology and the Scientific Imagination from the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Century (1986), the late Jewish historian and philosopher of science, Amos Funkenstein, delivered a blow to the believing intellect in his narrative of the unhappy transformation of theological reflection during the Scientific Revolution: The medieval sense of God’s symbolic presence in his creation, and the sense of a universe replete with transcendent meanings and hints, had to recede if not to give way totally . . . God’s relation to the world had to be given a concrete physical meaning . . . [Most] believed that the subjects of theology and science alike can be absolutely de-metaphorized and de-symbolized.[1] It is impossible to overemphasize the difference between such an anti-poetic approach and previous Christian reflection, at least in the Catholic tradition. To speak about God without metaphor or symbol—in other words, to speak of him univocally rather than analogically—was to mistake creature for Creator and to fall into …

Science Is Not as Important as We Believe

The New Evangelization is not about measuring up to science and speaking to its disparate methods. Science matters. Right? If idle chatter on the internet is to be believed, then absolutely. Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s tweets are consistently in the news, and, even if not the force he once was, Richard Dawkins remains a household name. The latter continues to go around endlessly delivering lectures; the former has begun to spin himself as the voice of reason in a disordered age by appointing himself and the unofficial editor of President Trump’s proposed space force Benedict XVI, of course, called Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene “a classic example of science fiction.” Meanwhile, laughing at Neil DeGrasse Tyson is basically a parlor game in some circles. And yet, somehow, we are told that religion must speak to science. As the number of “nones” in the United States grows, we have been tasked with finding a way to convince them that the Catholicism does not stand in opposition to reasonable, scientific inquiry. There is no shortage of write-ups arguing that …

The Method for Avoiding Cheap Success in Apologetics

The condemnation of Modernism in 1907 with Pascendi Dominici Gregis armed certain Roman theologians with the tools necessary to suffocate their intellectual opponents. Men such as Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange saw the condemnation of Modernism as a carte blanche for neo-Scholastic theologians in Rome to condemn, with an almost intellectual violence, anyone who did not agree with their narrow worldview. One of the targets of this intellectual persecution from Roman theologians was the French philosopher Maurice Blondel. Many of them saw the publication of Pascendi as a tacit condemnation of Blondel and his “method of immanence.” The document makes a direct attack against a version of this method, a method which Blondel claims as his own. However, strangely enough, Pope Pius X later wrote the Archbishop of Aix to communicate through him to Blondel that Blondel was actually not a target of the encyclical and encouraged Blondel’s philosophical work. Blondel’s work would later blossom in the thought and project of Henri de Lubac, the French Jesuit who was silenced in the 50’s and later served as a peritus …

An Appraisal of the Neuroscientific Revolution’s Promise of New Theological Horizons

Who are we as spirit and matter? Are we free? Is Christ present to us in time and space? Oliver Davies, in his work Theology of Transformation, traces the history of human self-understanding as embodied beings. Since the Scientific Revolution, a certain set of basic premises have ruled our view of reality. The material world is understood to be a landscape of determinism. Its inhabitants, no matter how complex, are subject to the same laws. To the extent that the human subject is of the world, she too is determined. To escape the reduction of the mental to the mechanical, a particular brand of dualism took root in our modern consciousness. The mind was conceived as a spectral machine that somehow interacts with the physical existence of the body.[1] In this model, human subjectivity was understood as the only possible locus of freedom, the only escape from determinism. Ultimately, this led to the modern turn to the subject—or our capacity for meaning-making—as the sole basis for rationalizing faith. Advances in modern science have upended the …

Galileo in Reverse: America’s Abortion Dystopia

At the end of this week, the people of Ireland are set to vote in a national referendum on the 8th Amendment, which currently guarantees equal rights to the life of the mother and the life of her unborn child. A “yes” vote would repeal the 8th Amendment and allow elective abortion up to 12 weeks gestation; a “no” vote would continue Ireland’s 35 year Constitutional ban on abortion. The country’s restrictive abortion law means that only 1 in 18 pregnancies end in abortion, compared to 1 in 5 in both Great Britain and the United States and 1 in 4 in Sweden. As Ireland prepares for its historic vote, on this side of the Atlantic, we in the United States have the opportunity to critically examine our own abortion laws. Contrary to popular belief, America’s abortion laws are among the most permissive in the world. The United States is included among the 30% of countries that allow abortion for any reason, and while the vast majority of these countries have gestational limits for elective …

Technology Will Serve, but Whom?

This is an essay about technology, a subject that tends to polarize, with proponents too often dismissing the critics as “pessimistic” and the critics too often tending toward the apocalyptic. Part of the problem is that we need somehow to learn to speak about technology again. We need to do so in a nuanced manner which does justice to the complexity of our current situation. A part of the problem is that certain technologies are not devices we make use of on certain rare occasions but are, in some instances, something more akin to companions the loss of which would, for some, be quite literally catastrophic. The human species has always been homo faber but the integration of technology into our lives is such that it mediates almost every facet of our lives, and we can only expect this process to continue. What I want to do is suggest not simply that we have a technology “problem” on our hands (this is obvious) but that those who adhere to the Christian religion have particular problems …

How to Reclaim the Literal Interpretation of the Bible

The science and religion debate can become so convoluted and esoteric, and at times, even heated, that it is easy to forget what a clear and definitive answer the Church has to such questions. This is especially true when it comes to conversations about the supposed conflict between the first two chapters of Genesis and generally accepted scientific theories. On the one hand, is the claim that the biblical creation story is incompatible with the scientific dating of the universe and biological evolution, and thus that the science must be wrong. On the other hand, is the claim that because the biblical creation story and scientific accounts of the universe and humanity are fundamentally at odds, the Bible and Christianity must be wrong. The Catholic response to this question is that this disagreement has no grounds to stand on. Purely from the standpoint of biblical interpretation, the first two chapters of Genesis were never meant to be “scientific” in the modern sense of the term. The biblical creation account states profoundly that God created the …