Contingency per se Entails creatio ex nihilo

Every contingency is brought into being from a state of affairs in which it does not actually exist; from a condition of things in which it is nowhere to be found. And as this is true of each contingency, so therefore is it true of all contingencies, and of the whole lot of them taken together. Contingent being as such comes into being from a prior state of its own non-being.

In a state of affairs in which there are no contingent beings, there is nothing but necessary being. If contingent beings are to be brought into existence from this state of affairs, there are only two possibilities: either they are made from God, and he furnishes from his own actuality the matter of their becoming; or he creates them from nothing. If the former, then, as departments of God, contingencies are in fact necessities. They aren’t contingent in the first place. This is monism. It radically contradicts experience as such, which it has no alternative but to declare our lives illusory and radically unintelligible. So it can’t be true: we can’t really even think it might be true.

Creatio ex nihilo must therefore be true. Having come into existence from nothing turns out to be an inherent aspect of contingent being.

Nature Never Sucks

When my kids were taking high school biology, their (brilliant) teacher’s jocular mantra was, “Nature never sucks.” It meant, first, that Nature is wonderful, beautiful, and so forth – worthy of admiration, study, awe. Second, it was a nod and a prod in the direction of Ockham’s Razor, urging his pupils to adduce no more factors of natural phenomena than are absolutely necessary. But third, and more salient to his honest reductive Ockhamist pedagogical purposes, and most of all, it meant that Nature is not teleological: it neither seeks nor is pulled toward goal states, but rather pushes itself toward certain equilibria, not intentionally, but on the contrary chaotically. The idea is that these equilibria are not themselves somehow attractive, but rather are simply the most stable way that things can be arranged, so that when things happen to blunder into those stable configurations completely by accident, they then tend to stay there until something disturbs them. Things are never falling into place, but are rather only, always, merely falling.

The notion is not new. It goes back to the first Greek atomists, Lucretius and Democritus.

It is Dawkins’ notion that what perdures is only what has not yet failed to perdure: “there are lots more ways to fall apart than to hang together.” It’s true, but as tautological is uninformative.

There are other problems with it.

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Thirty Steps from Honest Uncertainty to Christian Faith

When he finished his setting of the Credo, Stravinsky remarked to a friend that, “it is much to believe.” Indeed. If you start with the banquet of the Creed, you hardly know how to begin, and the whole mass of doctrines it encodes can be pretty hard to swallow at one bite. But there are only about thirty steps, more or less, from complete agnosticism to a profession of Christianity. Many are truisms, that if understood could hardly be denied by anyone; those that depend on knowledge of facts might require a fair bit of (absolutely fascinating) background research (e.g., especially, the Shroud). Each step is of course open to quibble, but such quibbles as I have so far encountered at each step are easily settled. Taken seriatim and in the proper order, none of the steps are as incredible as all of them seem taken at once. Continue reading

In the World but Orthogonal to It

If you’ve got infinite power on your side, what can possibly defeat you?

Any finite number presupposes infinity. So infinity is mathematically necessary; it must exist, somehow or other, in order for there to be such a thing as any finite quantity.

However infinity exists, it must at least be actual. If infinity did not actually exist, then it could not exist mathematically. If it did not exist actually, then its mathematical existence would be illusory – not an accurate reflection of reality. There would then be no such thing as quantity, and mathematics would have nothing to do with truth. But it does. So infinity actually exists.

To say that infinity actually exists is to say that it is, or is a property of, some concrete real. It is also to say that it is an actual fact – which is to say, the factuality of an act. And this is all to say that infinity is a fact of an act of existence of a concrete being. Whatever else that being is, he is infinite.

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Notes on the Ecology of Knowledge

In a recent post, Tom Bertonneau sketched an ecology of knowledge – which I suggested should be called an ecognology – focusing mostly on the social aspects of that ecology. He began with a discussion of homeostasis, which formed the prompt for the following contribution to the ecognological project, which focuses more on its mental and physiological aspects.  

Minds homeostatically seek understanding of their ontological and practical predicaments; when they are disturbed, it is on account of factors of experience that they had not yet quite properly reckoned. They seek clarification of the turbidity that prevents their clear apprehension of things. In short, they seek knowledge. Attaining enough of it – for the time being – they rest – for a while.

In the limit, this search for understanding can attain complete rest only at the comprehension of Truth. While that rest is not something that our finite minds are themselves capable to achieve, we cannot but work at it, so long as we live. We arrive now and then at points of particularly sweet and refreshing rest; then we are disturbed, and the search begins again. All such searches have the Truth as their final end. Truth is the final end of minds, just as a full outermost shell of electrons is a final end of atoms.

Truth is in fact the strange attractor of acts in general, of all sorts of beings. Truth is the archetypal Form of strange attraction; it is that to which all acts, of whatever sort, are attracted, even when they err in their intensions; it is the basic ontological attractor, of which all other attractions partake, and on which they supervene.

So is Truth the superordinate epistemological strange attractor, for all the acts of the human mind and its brain. Beauty is what it feels like to comprehend and implement, enact, or embody Truth. Beauty is what Truth feels like. Goodness is the character of actual conformity of the understanding, and of the rational will, and so of life as lived – i.e., of the whole intellectual, cognitive, physiological and social system – to the Truth. Goodness, that is to say, is the value of Wisdom.

How?

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The Way of all Ways

Any religion must express some truths, or it will be utterly useless, and will gain no purchase among men. It will fail to convince them. They will see that it is just absurd.

So all perdurant religions express some truths. Nevertheless they disagree, or they would not differ. So none of them express the same set of truths. And to the extent that they disagree in any respect with Christianity about the Incarnation and its implications, they cannot but mislead men, to their spiritual detriment, and even in the limit to their damnation.

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Sex in Church

In a wide-ranging and penetrating essay contra the ordination of women, Peter Leithart argues that because sex is inerasably graven in the logos of man, ipso facto is it graven in the nature of whatever man does, from liturgy to marriage; that worship, being the quintessentially human activity, in which we can reach the sublimity of all our special capacities (for thought, word, deed; for art, music, argument, prayer; and so forth), is the font and archetype of all subsidiary activities, to which it lends them form; so that when we upend or confuse the sexes in church, we must perforce do likewise in marriage, and everywhere else.

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The Essential Disagreement of Religions

Cassiodorus asked me to take a look at an essay by Perennialist scholar James Cutsinger and provide my reactions. The essay – The Mystery of the Two Natures – argues that Perennialist archon Frithjof Schuon was entirely orthodox, from a Patristic (and ergo Nicene) point of view, in his insistence that the divine pole of the Incarnation, entailing as it does the ubiquity of Christ’s saving power, means that there is a transcendent unity of all religions.

I have long admired both Cutsinger and Schuon. They are both formidable scholars, both write (so think) like angels, and both have penetrated deeply and sympathetically into many of the great religions. Both are sane, irenic, and wise, and seem holy (sanctity being a dissemblance difficult to carry off). Like all thoroughgoing exponents of the Perennialist proposal, they reject modernity root and branch. I agree with them, I have always found, in almost everything.  

I enjoyed the article a great deal, learned much from it, and recommend it as a wonderfully clear discussion of the Incarnation, and for its original and penetrating analyses of some of the major Christological heresies. But I disagree with it in two respects, one minor, one crucial.
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Truth is a King

Truth demands our adherence, our conformity. There is no just, no correct argument against Truth, or therefore any just or correct way to act in contravention to Truth – indeed, no possible way, for there can be no way to enact a false or incoherent proposition. It might seem prima facie that it is possible to enact a falsehood. But not so. The only way we can possibly act is in a way that is in agreement with reality, and thus with Truth. We can certainly believe that we are enacting a proposition that is in fact false, and so shape our acts wrongly, as appropriate to circumstances that do not in fact obtain. Acts may err in their aims. But they must conform to reality, or they could not happen.

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Plotinus and Augustine on Gnosticism

Gnosis 02The trend of politics in the Western nations since Eric Voegelin’s death in 1986 has made his work increasingly relevant to any philosophically rigorous Conservatism or Traditionalism. In particular, Voegelin’s argument that liberalism and its Leftwing metastases constitute an evangelical religious movement, mimicking and distorting Christianity, has gained currency. The pronounced irrational character of the “Global Warming” cult and the obvious messianism of Barack Hussein Obama’s presidency have together sharpened the perception that contemporary Leftwing politics shares with history’s specimen-type doctrinally intransigent sects an absolute intolerance for dissent, even for discussion, along with a conviction of perfect certainty in all things. The sudden experience of Leftwing triumph attests that, indeed, utopian radicalism draws its strength from a deep well of resentment that puts it in conflict, not merely with those whom it regards as heterodox, but also with the unalterable structure of reality. Voegelin argued – in The New Science of Politics (1952), Science Politics & Gnosticism (1965), and throughout Order and History (1957-65) – that the rebellion against reality was a recurrent affliction of civilized life; he pointed to the acute anticosmic sects of Late Antiquity as offering a paradigm of the phenomenon and expanded the scholarly designation of them as “Gnosticism” to cover insurgent ideological doctrines of the modern period, particularly Marxism and National Socialism.

Thus Lawrence Auster, the late creator and supervisor of the (now inactive) View from the Right website, explicitly links his understanding of the Left and his idea of Traditionalism to Voegelin’s argument that modernity is essentially Gnostic. A somewhat less focused acknowledgment that the Left is cultic in its behavior has surfaced now and then at The American Thinker and the name Voegelin has occurred in that venue. Again, nationally syndicated “conservative” columnist and radio-host Dennis Prager, while not citing Voegelin, has nevertheless in a recent essay declared explicitly that Left-Liberalism is a religion and can be understand in no other way. In my own contributions to The Brussels Journal and in various print articles (for example, in a Modern Age essay on V. S. Naipaul) I have frequently invoked Voegelin, often quoting his pithy sentences, as a rich and clairvoyant explicator of our straitened times. Are we certain, however, that Voegelin’s disapprobation of Gnosticism is valid? And might Voegelin’s insistent parallelisms of the ancient and the modern be a result of an idiosyncratic view?

The topical literature is fortunately large. It reaches back to the Late Antique primary texts of Gnosticism – such as the Valentinian Gospel of Truth (ca. 150) – and the accompanying critical and anti-heretical discourses of the philosophers and the Christian Patres; and it embraces a rich scholarly investigation beginning in the early Nineteenth Century, continuing to the present. What do the ancient sources tell us about Gnosticism? And what does the scholarship of Voegelin’s Nineteenth-Century precursors, his contemporaries, and his successors tell us about it? Continue reading