Transitions In Thought

     The history of human thought has not been one of monotonic advance. There have been times and places where material rationality — i.e., the use of the methods of the physical sciences to investigate the properties of the physical world – has attempted to supplant aspects of thought that those methods cannot address. One such period was the European Enlightenment, which for a while broke free from its Christian origins and threatened to destroy the connection between reason and faith.

     That last sentence probably has a few Gentle Readers scratching their heads. What possible connection could there be between reason, which plumbs the causes of the events we observe in our temporal universe, and faith, which adopts propositions without conclusive proof? To the modern, “scientific” mind, there appears a deep gulf between them. Yet that is a relatively new attitude: about three hundred fifty years old.

     The following is from Diane Moczar’s book The Church Under Attack: an incisive look at such attacks and the myths that have been perpetuated about them:

     One other point must be stressed if we are to appreciate some of the truly revolutionary consequences of the changes that began in the seventeenth century, and it has to do with the very definition of science. For the Greeks and their Western cultural heirs, science meant “certain knowledge through causes” and included all types of investigation that produce certitude. Ancient and medieval thinkers took as the object of their study all of reality; not just the study of nature, but theology, philosophy, ethics, politics, and many other disciplines were called sciences. The sciences were arranged in a hierarchy according to their objects. Natural science was the lowest of the sciences because it dealt only with material things, while the sciences dealing with man, such as psychology and ethics, were higher. All these disciplines, however, deal with things that change. There were other sciences, higher still in the classical hierarchy, that deal with things that do not change: with being itself and with God. We call these sciences metaphysics and theology. Different methods were used for each discipline, but all were considered sciences, and they were approached through their causes.

     This question of causality may seem a bit difficult, but it is crucial to understanding the gulf that opened in the Western mind, beginning in the seventeenth century, between how earlier thinkers had approached reality and how modern man looks at it. The Greeks and their intellectual descendants approached anything they wanted to know through four causes: material, formal, efficient, and final. They used the example of a statue to illustrate the operation of the causes. The material cause of a statue of Zeus is the marble from which it is made; its formal cause is the shape it takes, as an image of the god; the efficient cause is the sculptor who imposes the form on the marble; the final cause — the ultimate one, governing all the rest — is the purpose for which the statue is made: to be set up in a temple, for instance. In analyzing the operation of these causes in the objects they studied, the ancients accepted the fact that for most of the things they observed they would be able to determine only the first three causes; physics, biology, and astronomy, for instance, are incapable of providing information about final causality — their ultimate origin and purpose. For answers to those questions, the scientist turned to the higher sciences of metaphysics and theology.

     Now how does the thinking of a modern scientist differ from what I have just described? It would seem to diverge in almost every way. To begin with, only the study of material things is now considered science, and it is generally much more highly esteemed than philosophy, theology, or any other field that the Greeks would have put at the top of their list. No modern thinker would consider philosophy or theology sciences or think of them as productive of any type of certitude whatever. In fact, a major consequence of the Scientific Revolution was the divorce of natural science from philosophy and theology and its eventual increase in status to the most highly valued field of study.

     What about the four causes? Modern scientists still consider the matter and form of the things they investigate, as well as the proximate causes that affect them. What they repudiate, out of a sort of unspoken agnosticism, is final causality. It is ironic that what most interested Greek and Christian scholars was the true purpose of things — the ultimate Why — while contemporary thinkers are either totally uninterested in such questions or think that qua scientists they have no business thinking about them. The modern scientific mind, in fact, denies the reality of any nonmaterial cause and is thus reduced, should it be interested in final causality at all, to the futile exercise of looking for ultimate explanations in matter itself. I recall a modern textbook author who described how Roger Bacon accurately diagrammed the workings of the human eye and discovered the details of its operation. He remarked disparagingly, however, on Bacon’s comment that the seven parts of the eye were like the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, allowing supernatural light into the soul as natural light enters the body. For the modern writer, Bacon was dragging religion into what should have been a religion-proof scientific discussion; for Bacon, the delight of his discoveries included seeing the glory of the Creator reflected in the details of his creation.

     We must not ignore the real breakthroughs that resulted from the Scientific Revolution, such as the development of the experimental method, the use of mathematics to formulate scientific propositions, and the invention and use of new scientific instruments. All this made possible enormous strides in modern science and technology. It could have occurred, however, without the rupture with the past and the radical change in mentality that accompanied the progress of the revolution. To sum up its long-term consequences, we can observe that the old worldview that saw distinction but not conflict between faith and reason, or between theology and biology, and that took all of reality, material and immaterial, as the object of its study, was destroyed. Science and philosophy parted company, and the work of old-fashioned thinkers such as Aristotle and Aquinas, who had harmonized the many disciplines, was rejected. The emphasis on final causality, the answer to the ultimate Why, was abandoned in favor of the descriptive how — how it operates, not why it is there in the first place. This shift has been described as a denial of the concept “that the world has a purpose more profound than its description.” Natural science in the seventeenth century rose from the humblest area of research to its current position as standard for all others: science (narrowly defined) became the measure of all things, the final arbiter of truth, so that we now say, “Scientists tell us . . .” or “A scientific study has shown . . .” when we really want to clinch an argument. This new science is defined so as to exclude all causality that is not material. The scientist is the new high priest of arcane knowledge (and if he is a rocket scientist — well, you can’t get wiser than that, can you?).

     And it all started with Galileo.

     The hard-materialist / atheist resolve to eliminate all considerations of final causes, and the metaphysical / theological explorations they inspire, has given rise to something C. S. Lewis touched upon in That Hideous Strength, in this passage about the Satanic N.I.C.E. – supposedly a purely “scientific” institute – hoping to enlist the resurrected Merlin in its army:

     The old Druid would inevitably cast in his lot with the new planners. A junction would be effected between two kinds of power which between them would determine the fate of our planet. Doubtless that had been the will of the Dark-Eldils for centuries. The sciences, good and innocent in themselves, had even in Ransom’s own time begun to be subtly manoeuvred in a certain direction. Despair of objective truth had been increasingly insinuated into the scientists’ indifference to it, and a concentration upon power had been the result. Babble about the élan vital and flirtations with pan-psychism were bidding fair to restore the Anima Mundi of the magicians. Dreams of the far future destiny of man were dragging up from its shallow and unquiet grave the old dream of Man as God. The very experiences of the pathological laboratory were breeding a conviction that the stifling of deep set repugnances was the first essential for progress. And now all this had reached the stage at which its dark contrivers thought they could safely begin to bend it back so that it would meet that other and earlier kind of power. Indeed, they were choosing the first moment at which this could have been done. You could not have done it with nineteenth-century scientists. Their firm objective materialism would have excluded it from their minds; and their inherited morality would have kept them from touching dirt. MacPhee was a survivor from that tradition. It was different now. Perhaps few or none at Belbury knew what was happening: but once it happened, they would be like straw in fire. What should they find incredible, since they believed no longer in a rational universe? What should they regard as too obscene, since they held that all morality was a mere subjective by-product of the physical and economic situations of men? From the point of view which is accepted in hell, the whole history of our Earth had led to this moment. There was now at last a real chance for fallen Man to shake off that limitation of his powers which mercy had imposed upon him as a protection from the full results of his fall. If this succeeded, hell would be at last incarnate.

     Think about vivisection.
     Think about the sale of organs from aborted late-term fetuses.
     Think about the “euthanasia” of the mentally ill, and the harvesting of their organs.
     Think about the torments that have been inflicted from time to time on prisoners, in the name of Rehabilitation.

     Think about all of it…and pray. We don’t have much time left.

1 comment

  1. With first geography then history very deliberately not being taught in schools, to leave young minds lost in both space and time, and now false history being taught, it is a surprise to no one that the zeitgeist is, pace Orwell, “Reason has always been at war with Religion.”

    It is something I try to address in my books.  Here, for example, is a young machine speaking with an older human.  From “Foes & Rivals

    Nichole stared straight up into the sun.

    “I understand the transcendent.  I do not understand God.”

    “No one does, dearie!  Likely not even His mother!” Nancy laughed again.  Nichole had on occasion been a little jealous of her joy.  “Ever seen a bird fly with one wing?”

    “What?” she was confused at the turn of topic into avians.  “Of course not…”

    “You think you’re gonna get up where you’re lookin,’” Nancy glanced up and away from the sun, “with one wing?”

    “’One wing…’”

    “You’re a level-headed, sensible girl; why, look at what you’ve done to my John!” Another laugh.

    “But you’ll never know the Lord just through reason.  You need one more wing… ah!  Here we are!”

    They’d just arrived at her church.  Nichole stopped them.


    “Faith, my friend.  You need to find your faith.  Come on!”

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