Posterity remembers Herbert George Wells (1866 – 1946) primarily as a novelist. He came into public acclaim around the turn of the century on the basis of his “scientific romances” such as The War of the Worlds (1897), The First Men in the Moon (1901), and The War in the Air (1906), but he soon turned his attention to the social novel, demonstrating a talent similar to that of Charles Dickens in Kipps (1905), Tono-Bungay (1906), and The Undying Fire (1919). Wells was one of the original public intellectuals of the mediated age, his voice familiar to listeners of the BBC, his visage familiar from newsreels. He believed in the social efficacy of science and technology, called himself a socialist, adding that his vision of socialism was so far ahead of Marxism and Leninism that compared to him their adherents were living in the Stone Age. In the monumental Experiment in Autobiography (1934), perhaps surprisingly, Wells tends to characterize almost all his activities under the heading of education – and he makes it clear that he thought of himself, no matter to what he put his hand, as above all an educator. He wrote any number of explicitly pedagogical books. The Outline of History (1919), A Short History of the World (1923), and The Work, Health, and Happiness of Mankind (1932) come to mind, the first two still useful today. Wells’s first idea of a career, in his early twenties, was a school mastership. He persevered through normal training and migrated through a number of appointments until the poverty of it irked him and he turned to writing.
Please excuse me while I argue with myself.
1. The Bible was written for the simple people of that time and used images and metaphors because that’s what people could understand. We’re smarter, so we can discard that now.
You’re no smarter than the people who first listened to Moses. If they needed images and metaphors, you need them too.
2. It’s all lies! Silly fables! Let’s just have done with it.
Even if this weren’t the word of God we’re talking about, that would be a silly thing to say. Sure, it seems next to impossible that all the world’s animals really descend from those on the Ark. Still, a story like the Flood, shared by peoples all over the world, has got to be more than just the product of some random storyteller’s imagination. Perhaps there was some event that all peoples vaguely remember. My suspicion is that every legend has some basis in fact. But even if you don’t believe this, it’s pretty remarkable that this story is so widely shared. If we assume nothing like what it describes ever happened, then it means either that lots of peoples independently keep recreating this story, or else this story has some sort of special appeal that it transmits quickly from people to people, even when they’re not much interested in other aspects of each others’ culture. Either way, we have the sense that this story is some kind of given, an archetype not manufactured but discovered, a truth of the human imagination if not of natural history. It is certainly worth getting to the bottom of.
3. It’s all well and good to say that Genesis is really giving us symbols of spiritual truths, but to be credible as anything but face-saving in the face of scientific disproof, you’d better be able to say exactly what the symbolism is, and why it had to be related in this way rather than plainly and literally.
If I could tell you exactly what the symbols say, then there wouldn’t have been any need for them, and they would ipso facto not have been necessary. Symbols are not code for literal propositions; they exist to express truths and connections that can’t be expressed with literal propositions.
4. But the only reason you’re looking to chuck the literal–in the modern sense of that word–meaning is that you’re embarrassed by it. The authority of the Bible doesn’t lead you to these weird interpretations, just the fact that you don’t believe what the Bible is telling you. That means that, whatever you may tell yourself, there actually are authorities that trump the Bible for you. Why not be honest with yourself? If you can’t salvage your faith, at least preserve your honesty.
That’s mean. Especially since I’ve already expressed my hunch that there is some historical kernel to all of this. I don’t pretend to have any general principles to offer, but a guideline is to notice when scripture is expressing the inexpressible. For example, Genesis begins with God about to impose form on the Earth, and the chaos of formlessness is represented (as it is for pretty much all peoples) by the primordial waters. Now, in reality, formlessness is one thing that the human mind can’t truly conceive, because the way to think about anything is precisely to extract the form. All our ideas about space, time, mass, and energy are formal aspects of material being. And even after God forms the world, the primordial waters remain as a sign of whatever lies beyond the realm of intelligibility, a beyond about which, by its very “nature”, we can say nothing direct. I suspect that all peoples retain this intuition that beyond the realm of order is a vast chaos, not a mere absence of being, but something active, always ready to crash in on the ordered realm, dissolving form and identity, destroying and renewing. Thus the resonance of the story of the Ark, since indeed the ordered realm is conceived as itself a sort of Ark surrounded by the primordial waters.
Could it be true, that some physical, psychological, or social force of chaos once overwhelmed humanity? If so, it could only properly be remembered by myth.
To piggyback on Bonald’s post below:
At his blog, our Proph recently reposted an item that linked to an essay of mine at the old Intellectual Conservative. Since the old IC was taken down by evil leftist (but I’m redundant) hackers, Proph’s link to my essay is dead. So here is my old IC essay. Its basic thrust: When atheists claim there is no evidence for God, they are assuming atheism at the beginning, looking at life through atheist-colored glasses, and then seeing nothing but atheism. They are being supremely illogical.
No Evidence for God?
Atheism now has a confession of faith. Christians say “Jesus is Lord.” Moslems say “There is no God but Allah.” And English-speaking atheists now say “There is no evidence for God.” But are they correct? Continue reading
I offer a brief continuation of my main essay on post-literacy. My old graduate school buddy “Ivar the Midwesterner,” who teaches humanities on faculty at a “nondescript state college east of the Left Coast and west of the Mississippi,” inveterately asks his freshman composition students on the first day of class to respond in writing to the following prompt, one of the aphorisms from the extant fragments of the Archaic-Age Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus (the “Logos Philosopher”):
All men should speak clearly and logically, and thus share a rational discourse and have a body of thought in common, just as the people of a city should be under the same laws.
Here are five typical responses, as Ivar assures me, to the prompt:
A colleague who teaches in the humanities at the state college where I work also teaches at a nearby private college. In the colleague’s description, the private college is perpetually in the grip of a panic over the prospect of a drop in enrollment. The college’s administration has therefore instituted an unwritten but implacable policy the upshot of which is that the student is always right, no matter how absurd his complaint, and the consequence of which is that instructors must never tax students beyond an infantile minimum of scholarly exertion. Among the consequences of the consequence are that students refuse to undertake out-of-class reading assignments, fail quizzes related to those assignments, and then lodge complaints with chairs and deans against the instructor.
All things have their being by and from God. This is a restatement of the doctrine of omnipotence.
All things have their being in and by way of God: in him we live, move and have being. This is a restatement of the doctrine of ubiquity.
All things have their being for and toward God; he is the end toward which they tend, and that end is the reason of and for their being. This is a restatement of the doctrine of pronoia.
God is then the origin, ground and end of all things; and all things are therefore integral to his life, and partake therein, whether or not they wish to do so, or realize that they do. This participation in the life of God is the mode of their existence, for God is the being of beings. By this participation are they known to him, as aspects of his own life; by that knowledge are their acts of existence completed, for no act of existence is fully complete until it is known and reckoned by God. So the inception of creatures by God and their completion in him are aspects in the singular, integral act of their creation, of which their inception, evolution and completion are phases.
The integration of all things in the life of God is a restatement of the doctrine of omniscience.
By omniscience, all things are in their truest nature integrated into the being and life of God, and are thus – in their truest natures, mind, albeit not necessarily in the relatively defective natures of their creaturely actualities – rendered consubstantial with him.
What then is the nature of the defect in defective creaturely actuality? It is an error about our consubstantiality with God – about the fact that we begin, proceed and end in, from, by, and toward him. It is the illusion that we and our fellow creatures each subsist independently, and are therefore our own creation, beholden only to ourselves. Because it errs in regard to the true order of things, such vanity generates acts that disagree with reality, and thus inflict harm upon the world – sinful acts.
God of the Philosophers : God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob :: Map : Territory.
My good friend-and-colleague at SUNY Oswego, Richard Cocks, who teaches on the Philosophy Faculty, has a discussion of the contradictoriness of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Existentialism at Angel Millar’s always-provocative People of Shambhala website. The article is succinct. I strongly recommend it to aficionados of The Orthosphere. The article is entitled “Nietzsche: Allure and Misunderstanding on the Left and Right.”
Here is a sample:
The saint of acceptance tries to accept everything as a consequence of unconditional love. But when he tries to accept Nature, he finds endless death and no mercy. Better and worse. Strong and weak. Out of love and compassion he will send the weak to the gas chambers and deny their pleas for help because in not accepting their fate, the weak are rejecting LIFE. They must be shown the light. Those who seek to protect the weak are the naysayers.
In a conversation with several other Christians, someone mentioned some atheists who are declaring themselves de-baptized. They have a hokey ceremony incorporating a hair-dryer, and witnesses, and a celebrant: the whole nine yards.
It can’t be done, of course, any more than pigs could fly. Once baptized, always baptized.
A young Evangelical in the company responded, “You gotta wonder: if they are really atheists, *why do they care*?” We all exploded in laughter. Someone else said, “It just goes to show you that despite what they say about baptism being meaningless superstition, in their hearts they don’t really believe it is.”
You can’t rebel against something you know does not exist.
My article on ancient atomism appears at Angel Millar’s People of Shambhala website. In particular, I undertake a reading of Lucretius’s great poem On the Nature of Things, a strange mixture of bold speculation that anticipates modern physics and cosmology more interesting perhaps for its fairly concerted critique of sacrificial religion. I offer a sample –
Posterity knows only a little about Lucretius and much of what it knows it gleans from autobiographical references in his poem. The poem itself is paradoxical. Alleging to explicate, for the sake of a potential recruit, the scientific truths discovered by Epicurus, the truths that will redeem life for the one who accepts them, On the Nature of Things couches itself in the language of insistent evangelism, making of its intellectual hero, as George Santayana noted in his study of Lucretius in Three Philosophical Poets, a secular saint. The poem attests a powerful experience on the part of its author, which can only be described as spiritual conversion, which he then wishes to foster in another. Already in the generation just after Epicurus, his followers acquired the habit of referring to him under the honorific of soter or “savior,” an etiquette that imitated in turn a propaganda device of Alexander’s successors, the Ptolemaic and Seleucid dynasts. Lucretius, whose time and place knew the afflictions of political breakdown, picks up this thus slightly tainted habit.