Metaphysics, Philosophy, Traditionalism, Wolfgang Smith

Metaphysics as Seeing: The Christic Center of the Metaphysical Journey

Metaphysics as Seeing - The Christic CenterIn the quest to enter metaphysics as ‘seeing’ it is essential to establish the importance and necessity of a metaphysical schematic for understanding reality. Metaphysics is important because it is needed to answer the fundamental questions of life, and it is necessary because we interpret reality through the principles of first philosophy. Now, we are prepared to analyze Wolfgang Smith’s essay, Metaphysics as ‘Seeing’, so that we might find the Christic center of our journey.

Contrary to the modern suggestion, metaphysics isn’t confined to the halls of academia where professors smoking pipes and wearing tweed jackets break down the problem of universals to its linguistic parts in order to reject it as an ancient abuse of language; nor is it a field of thought accessible only to the modernist apologetics intelligentsia utilized only to frustrate the new atheist credo.

Metaphysics is effectively a human endeavor.

Wolfgang Smith reminds us of this perennial truth,

“Since the beginning of modern times, metaphysics has been viewed as an academic discipline, to be pursued at universities; and it is of interest to note that, as such, its standing and prestige in the educated world has steadily declined, to the point where many nowadays deny its philosophic legitimacy. Yet I contend that the metaphysical quest pertains by right, not to the artificial environment of the contemporary university, but to human life, human existence in its untruncated reality. In plain words: it springs from man’s innate thirst for truth, which is none other than the thirst for God…Metaphysics is therefore something that concerns each of us by virtue of the fact that we are human, which is to say, ‘made in the image and likeness of God.’ It is indeed a case of, ‘noblesse oblige’: so far from reducing to a mere academic discipline – to be pursued by ‘professionals,’ notably recipients of a doctorate in philosophy – metaphysics constitutes an activity of the mind and heart to which, in principle, all are not only entitled, but are, in a way, ‘called.’”[1]

It is worth noting that because metaphysics is by its nature a human endeavor, and not a speculative product of academic investigation, that its deepest roots are planted in the theophany of aesthetic wonderment. Humans crave answers to the deepest and most fundamental questions of life because we are made in the imago Dei and participate in a created order that proclaims the glory of the Triune Creator. Our hearts are restless, St. Augustine says in union with St. Paul, because it is “in Him that we live and move and have our being.” To the contrary of modern materialistic and epistemic reductionism, metaphysics springs from aesthetic longing and wonder, rather than doubtful skepticism.[2]

The divergent approaches in the metaphysical quest for truth points toward an important distinction between the perennial tradition and the modernist misconception. It is because the modernist intellectual conviction manifests itself through speculative doubt that it subordinates metaphysics to the confines of critical reason alone. With this in consideration, Smith says that “we tend to think that the means or modus operandi of metaphysics consists of reasoning, that is to say, of rational argument, when in fact it is, again, the very opposite: a question, namely, of ‘seeing,’ of direct perception, of gnosis properly so called.”[3] This is not to deny the rationality metaphysics exemplifies in the human pursuit of truth; it is, however, important to identify the appropriateness of its praeambula-type nature, that is, “reasoning does have a role to play; but its function is inherently negative and preparatory; to be precise, rational argument serves to deconstruct false beliefs, and in so doing, to purify the mind.”[4] Smith’s explanation corresponds to St. Paul’s teaching, “We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”[5] Once these metaphysical “obstacles” are cleared away and the mind is ‘wiped clean’, the ‘seeing’ person will be prepared to perceive God in Christ.[6]

Metaphysics is not only a human endeavor; it is inherently mystical in its ultimate end, which is seeing the Incarnate Christ.

These truths should point us to the realization that the spiritual and intellectual journey of metaphysics as seeing is not merely an external investigation of the fundamental principles undergirding all of reality, but an internal examination as well. God is not only the end to which our initial aesthetic desire is satisfied, but the very subject imminently prompting our soul towards its beatific union with the Creator.[7] Smith says, “It is this inscrutable indwelling of God – as the ‘soul of our soul’ – that enables and indeed powers the quest from its first inception to its ultimate end.”[8]

Metaphysics as seeing is the primordial human endeavor journeying toward mystical union with God through the life, death, and resurrection of the Incarnate Christ.

While this is what metaphysics as seeing is, it is important to recall that a purifying of the mind in order to see reality properly is required. The human pursuit of divine truth has been clouded by a “collective blindness.”[9] Motivated by the illusions of progress, guided by the mantras of the Enlightenment, and fueled by the habituation of concupiscence, modern man has institutionalized the postmodern abyss described by Catholic doctrine as the fall of man. Progress, so-called, is the cultural actualization of nihilistic deterioration. When the demonic deceptions of the serpent echo throughout the halls of modernity the collective blindness inexorably increases in its darkness as the light of God in Jesus Christ is pushed further to the margins. This modern cultural reality indicates that, “the primary task of the true metaphysician is then to undo the collective decline, to reverse it in himself. It is a question of restoring the ‘heart’ from its ‘darkened’ condition, and in so doing, to recover the unimpaired use of our God-given ‘eyes’: such, in brief, is the task of veritable metaphysics.”[10]

In order to prepare the mind to see nature as a theophany created by God the metaphysical evangel must expose the faulty, indeed the diabolical, Cartesian dualist apparatus presupposed by modernity in an effort to wipe the blurred mirror clean. Cartesian dualism sets up an illegitimate bifurcation of reality into the mechanistic and extended material realm and the internal subjective realm of the soul or conscious mind. Dividing the world in this way has disconnected the external and internal, and nobody has figured out how to reunite them. Instead of casting aside the Cartesian project for the disaster that it is, its presuppositions are maintained due to their usefulness for scientific modeling. The ruinous nature of this bifurcation becomes most apparent when the issue of consciousness is addressed.

Smith explains,

“The point is that ‘seeing’ does not reduce to the ‘reception into consciousness’ of something that pre-exists in the external world, but constitutes rather an ‘act of intentionality’ which conditions and in a way ‘defines’ its object. What is more, consciousness is not something which precedes that ‘act,’ but is itself that act, which is to say that it is never without content – like an empty receptacle – but is invariably a ‘consciousness of.’ So too, what antecedes the intentional act ‘externally’ is not in fact the object or ‘extended entity,’ but the phenomenon, conceived (according to the literal sense of that Greek word) as ‘that which shows itself in itself.’”[11]

The participatory nature of the conscious intentional act and the phenomenal showing in itself not only circumnavigates the prioritization of the object and the intentional act of consciousness or the intentional act of consciousness and the object, but effectively breaks down the Cartesian bifurcation with the intrinsically simultaneous relation of being between subject and object.[12] And when the erroneous sophistry of the Cartesian divide has been exposed the insanity of the project, ironically, manifests itself as the demonic trickery of a philosophical nightmare.[13] After cleansing the mind of the bifurcated illusion, we can begin to take steps toward seeing anew in the depths of our heart.

After clearing the spiritual and intellectual blockade of Cartesian dualism, realizing that we are not confined to the inner sanctuary of our mind and that reality is in fact accessible, we come face to face with another hindrance obstructing the path of metaphysics as seeing – Newtonian mechanism. To properly expunge this stain from the mirror of our mind, Smith proposes the scientific Anschauung of Johann Wolfgang Goethe. The Goethean view of science suggests that the objects under observation cannot be reduced to the sum of their parts, mechanism is rejected for the organic whole of nature, there is no mechanism standing behind the phenomena waiting to be discovered by the scientist, and that which is ‘seeable’ is that which is being theorized (that is, the theory is of the object and not concerning anything ontologically behind the object).[14]

This view of science, according to Smith, has been vindicated by the discovery of quantum mechanics,

“I would like to now point out that the Goethean ‘denial of mechanism’ – which in his day was met with derision, bordering upon contempt, and not only by the scientific establishment, but by the ‘enlightened’ public at large – has in fact been vindicated through the discovery of quantum mechanics, which turns out not to be a mechanics at all. It appears that the physical universe – the universe as conceived by the physicist – cannot actually be separated from the interventions effected by the physicist himself: as John Wheeler has put it, we have been forced to admit that physics deals, finally, with ‘a participatory universe.’ What ‘breaks a physical system into parts,’ it turns out, is the empirical intervention by which the parts in question are specified; and because the measurement of one observable has an uncontrollable effect upon its so-called conjugate, it follows that the system as such can no longer be conceived as a sum of well-defined parts.”[15]

Saint Bonaventure Quote copy

The Goethean view of science, as it has been vindicated by the quantum discovery of a participatory universe, opens the door for the possibility of reconnecting to nature rather than remaining alienated from it according to the inherently reductionist project of ideological scientism. It intuitively follows from this renewed understanding of participation that a qualitatively permeated “kinship” with nature as an organically created whole reflects its analogical correlation to its divine source of being.[16]

It is from this perspective then, after eradicating the modernist presuppositions of Cartesian bifurcation and Newtonian mechanism, that metaphysics as seeing moves from being a mere potentiality to an appropriately situated mystical actuality. Metaphysics as seeing actualizes the potential for discovering the realization of the “primary center in man”[17], that is, man is the pinnacle center of creation having been made in the imago Christi, which is to say imaged after the Christic center of the Trinity. To see is to know Christ, and to know is to see Christ. The metaphysical quest begins and ends with God; indeed it culminates in our union with Christ.[18]

 

– Lucas G. Westman


[1] Science & Myth, Pg. 201

[2] “We are prone, first of all, to imagine that the discipline stems from ‘doubt,’ when in fact it springs from a profound sense of ‘wonder,’ which is actually the very opposite of doubt: for that wonder proves to be in essence a recognition, however dim, of the inscrutable immanence of God in the thins of this world.” Ibid, Pg. 201

[3] Ibid, Pg. 201, 202

[4] Ibid, Pg. 202

[5] 2 Corinthians 10:5

[6] “Admittedly, reasoning does have a role to play; but its function is inherently negative and preparatory; to be precise, rational argument serves to deconstruct false beliefs, and in so doing, to purify the mind. That is all it can do, and indeed all it needs to do; for to the extent that the mind has been purified – the ‘mirror’ wiped clean – the ‘seeing’ takes care of itself. This holds true to the very end: as the Savior assures us: ‘the pure in heart shall see God.’” Ibid, Pg. 202

[7] “We need however to realize that God enters the picture, not only at the end of the metaphysical quest, but from the very outset, and not only as object of the aforesaid ‘wonder,’ but in a way as its subject as well. Indeed, we could in no wise ‘sense’ God outside of ourselves if H were not also present within the depths of our soul as the first ultimate ‘seer.’” Ibid, Pg. 202

[8] Ibid, Pg. 202

[9] “We have maintained, in keeping with sapiential tradition, that metaphysics is inherently a ‘seeing’; it needs also, however, to be noted that every ‘seeing’ – even the humblest act of sense perception – is in a way metaphysical, and can in principle serve to initiate the metaphysical quest. It is a question of following what may be termed ‘the spoor of God’ in visible things. ‘For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood from the things that are made.’ (Rom. 1:20) One may take this to mean that what St. Paul refers to as ‘the invisible things of God’ are in fact what is ‘clearly seen,’ which is to say that they are precisely what would be seen, if indeed we say ‘clearly.’ St. Paul is putting us on notice that in ‘seeing’ we generally ‘see not.’ We are given to understand that a collective blindness has overtaken us, which the Apostle goes on to ascribe to an apostasy, an estrangement from God: ‘Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.’ (Rom. 1:21)” Ibid. Pg, 202, 203

[10] Ibid, Pg. 203

[11] Ibid, Pg. 204

[12] “It is to be noted, moreover, that the phenomenon, by virtue of the fact that it shows itself ‘in itself’ – that is to say, not just in some representation, some private phantasm, but literally ‘in itself’ – does not belong ‘exclusively’ to the external or objective side of the Cartesian divide: it breaks the dichotomy, in other words.” Ibid, Pg. 204

[13] “It should however be noted that in fact – mercifully! – not a single human being accepts this Cartesian stipulation in his or her daily life: to do so would constitute insanity. Instead, we have leaned to oscillate, as it were, between our ‘daily’ Weltanschauung and the Cartesian – we uphold in our scientific convictions – without so much as realizing that these two orientations stand in stark contradiction: that one moment the grass is green and the next it is not!” Ibid, Pg. 205

[14] Ibid, Pg. 208, 209

[15] Ibid, Pg. 210

[16] “But there is more: Goethe’s science is based, not only upon a profound kinship with Nature, but also upon a deep love: a love which cannot but be near to what religion knows as ‘the love of God.’ If Nature be more than a mechanism – more than an inert machine – it must be something noble and beautiful and instinct with power; and that, to be sure, is something worthy to be loved. One senses an almost Franciscan quality in Goethe’s relation to what he termed ‘Nature.Ibid, Pg. 211

[17] Ibid, Pg. 214

[18] “The metaphysical question – which is none other than the task of religion according to its highest conception – reduces thus to a cleansing that rids the soul of its impurities: those intangible and elusive ‘little bits’ that stick to it and impair our vision. We are called to the very ‘purity of heart’ by which we ‘shall see God.’ Nothing less than this will do: such is the perfection Christ has enjoined upon us…” Ibid, Pg. 220

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Metaphysics, Philosophy, Traditionalism, Wolfgang Smith

Metaphysics as Seeing: The Necessity of Metaphysics

Wolfgang Smith - Metaphysics as Seeing The Necessity of MetaphysicsThe journey toward metaphysics as seeing requires preliminary steps to be taken. The first step is to appreciate that when investigating the five most basic questions of life[1] a metaphysical schematic is required, that is, the importance of metaphysics must be recognized. After identifying the importance of metaphysics, another preliminary step is essential in the quest for truth – accepting the intellectual and spiritual necessity of metaphysics.

Comprehending the necessity of metaphysics is imperative because there are many who would deny both of these preliminary steps. However, these metaphysical scoffers do so at their own intellectual and spiritual peril. For it will be seen that those who deny the importance and necessity of metaphysics end up staring at the shadows in the cave rather than gazing upon the light of truth. There is no amount of epistemological trickery, semantic posturing, or scientistic shenanigans that will successfully eliminate the fundamental reality of metaphysical presence. Philosophy and the first principles of wisdom can either be united to a way of life moved by the divine light, or it can be a tool to justify a brutish existence blinded by sensual passion. Indeed, “philosophy always buries its undertakers.”[2]

Throughout the history of philosophy metaphysics has had to overcome challenges. Rather than a comprehensive survey, it would be profitable to focus on the modern confrontations our current era is up against. In his Encyclical, Fides et ratio, Pope St. John Paul II identifies five primary threats against a traditional understanding of Christian philosophy and metaphysics. These threats are eclecticism,[3] historicism,[4] scientism,[5] pragmatism,[6] and nihilism.[7] In addition to Pope St. John Paul II, Thomist philosopher Robert Koons identified a similar catalogue of modern threats to Christian philosophy and metaphysics. He argues “metaphysics faced opposition from five sources in the early twentieth century.”[8] The primary opposition came from subjectivism and phenomenology, positivism, relativism and historicism, pragmatism, and physicalism.[9]

Along with the general identification of philosophical schools of thought that are hostile to traditional metaphysics, there are some common objections routinely made against first philosophy. W. Norris Clarke zeroes in on three basic objections:[10]

  1. No distinctive subject matter.
  2. We, as parts of the Whole, cannot comprehend the Whole.
  3. Objections to metaphysics from modern restrictive theories of knowledge.

The first objection, that metaphysics has no distinctive subject matter, is an attempt to categorically transform metaphysics into something that it cannot be, which is a sort of empirical field of study. The objection amounts to nothing more than a complaint that metaphysics isn’t more like the hard sciences, but this makes no sense because metaphysics is the study of being qua being, and not observable quantifications of concrete reality. Metaphysics is the study of what is fundamental to all the sciences, which is being as such. As Clarke states, “Metaphysics does not have a distinctive subject matter, since it treats of all beings, but it does have a distinctive point of view from which it studies them.”[11] Clarke continues, “It [metaphysics] considers in them only their most fundamental attribute of being and the properties and laws which they have in common with all beings, or all changing and finite beings, as these beings exist in the community of other existent beings, acting and interacting with each other to form the universe in which we are all plunged.”[12][13]

The second objection, that metaphysics is impossible because we, as parts of the Whole, cannot comprehend the Whole, is arguing that in order to comprehend reality in its totality would require a God’s-eye-perspective, which is obviously impossible for creatures like us. It is due to this philosophical impasse that we must, maybe out of polite humility, focus on studying the parts rather than pretending that we can understand the whole.

Clarke does a beautiful job of refuting this objection (emphasis added),

“But this is precisely the wonder and paradox of the spiritual intellect we all possess. Because it is by nature ordered to being as such as its proper object, it is open to the entire horizon of being without restriction, and so can think about it as a whole and about our own place in it, can encompass it in a certain sense in its own thought – not in detail, of course, but in its broad outlines – which other non-intelligent beings in the universe cannot do. Hence, by the very fact that we can raise the question about being as a whole, the human person is not just a part of the universe but a whole, within the Whole. Every person endowed with intelligence is thus, at least implicitly, a point of view on the whole universe. This is an essential part of our dignity as images of God.”[14]

The third objection to metaphysics is based on the epistemological restrictions placed on reality by empiricism, Kantianism, and relativism. The empiricism of David Hume is quite restrictive and claims that all knowledge is derived from sense experience. Because of this limited source of knowledge, there can be no justification for claiming to know anything outside the realm of sense data. Kantianism is the view that knowledge of things-in-themselves is impossible, and the intelligibility of the phenomenal world comes from the categories of our mind as they are imposed on the world. Metaphysics, then, is an illusion of reason because each person is “locked without escape within the walls of our own minds.”[15] Finally, relativism, which is directly related to historicism and postmodernism, claims that every person is bound by the historical, cultural linguistic framework in which they live. Due to this constrained situational epoch, there is no such thing as objectivity or universal knowledge that can surpass the limits of historical circumstances.

A primary problem with empiricism is that it destroys experience for the sake of ignoring fundamental questions of reality. Moreover, empiricism as an epistemological theory violates its own criteria of what constitutes knowledge since the theory of empiricism is not subject to validation through the patterns of data collection required of the five senses. For example, in order to articulate a theory of empiricism an argument must be put forth to make the case. This argument will have basic premises to which our reasoning can syllogistically connect in our intellective capacities. The problem with this is that the premises themselves are not connected by way of sense experience because the intellect itself is not a product of the same sensory input. The intellect is extra-sensory, so to speak, and is the prerequisite for the intelligibility of sensory experience.

The Kantian assault on metaphysics, as sophisticated as it might be, is ultimately incoherent for the reason Clarke outlines,

“One of the central flaws in Kant’s theory of knowledge is that he has blown up the bridge of action by which real beings manifest their natures to our cognitive receiving sets. He admits that things in themselves act on us, on our sense; but he insists that such action reveals nothing intelligible about these beings, nothing about their natures in themselves, only an unordered, unstructured sense manifold that we have to order and structure from within ourselves. But action that is completely indeterminate, that reveals nothing meaningful about the agent from which it comes, is incoherent, not really action at all.”[16]

The objection of relativism, as well as the historicism and postmodernism that follow, fails the same way each relativistic theory fails. Every declaration related to a theory of relativism refutes itself because to claim that there are no objective or universal truths is itself an objective and universal truth claim. This becomes transparent when applied to the suggestion that there can be no objective and universal truth transcending the inherited cultural and linguistic frameworks. Due to the nature of the statement, this claim is itself an objective and universal assertion that allegedly transcends each cultural and linguistic framework because it is meant to describe every culture throughout all of history. It is a self-defeating statement.

These are the modern schools of thought and common objections against the necessity of metaphysics. And while there may have been a resurgent relevance in academic metaphysics during the twentieth century, this recovery has not been in any way influential in the culture. In fact, it might have worked to only further solidify what has already been established among these combative theories and arguments just outlined. The fusion of all philosophical heresies continues to jealously grip the soul of every Western cultural institution.

Despite this death grip, it is imperative to confront the errors of these despotic sophists combatting the truths of perennial wisdom. Although the lists provided above should be respected in their entirety, it is the united ideological synthesis of metaphysical naturalism and epistemic scientism that inexorably reduces to postmodern historicism, relativism, and nihilism. Our enemy, in a word – is atheism.

Brandishing the modern discoveries of science, atheists have proclaimed the death of philosophy, and therefore, the ultimate demise of metaphysical speculation.[17] And while philosophy is claimed to be dead according to atheistic champions, the important questions of life remain. The persistence of life’s ultimate questions needs a new guide, so to speak, since the advances of a technocratic scientism have outdone the ancient teacher.

Who wouldn’t argumentatively shrink from the obvious successes of modern science? Who needs theology and metaphysics when we can carry a computer in our pocket? What can religion offer when its mythical tenets are throwbacks to an era prior to the advent of scientific discovery, progress, and technology? How can the Davidic underdog of traditional philosophy dare challenge the Goliath of modern science?

The advance of scientific progress is a powerful narrative. But underneath the rhetoric of a premature declaration of victory lurks a dirty little secret atheists desperately want to keep hidden. The entire atheistic Weltanschauung depends on a metaphysical and epistemological schematic that is utterly incoherent. Moreover, the truth claims made by the atheist requires a metaphysical extrication from their own materialistic imprisonment so they might rob from the perennial wisdom previously spurned in order to feign intellectual superiority.

The atheist must take from what they have proclaimed to be dead.

It is metaphysical naturalism, however, that is ultimately dead on arrival because it epistemically depends on an ideological scientism that fails for the same reasons empiricism collapses into itself. Scientism cannot abide by its own principles without arguing in a circle, and begging the most important metaphysical questions. Without epistemic scientism metaphysical naturalism loses its offensive arsenal. Edward Feser provides the nails for the scientistic coffin:[18]

  1. Scientism is self-defeating, and can avoid being self-defeating only at the cost of becoming trivial and uninteresting.[19]
  2. The scientific method cannot even in principle provide us with a complete description of reality.[20]
  3. The “laws of nature” in terms of which science explains phenomenon cannot in principle provide us with a complete explanation of reality.[21]
  4. What is probably the main argument in favor of scientism – the argument from the predictive and technological successes of modern physics and the other sciences – has no force.[22]

If these four points are the nails sealing the scientistic coffin, this summary is the dirt pushed into the grave and guarantees its anti-metaphysical demise,

“For scientific inquiry rests on a number of philosophical assumptions: the assumption that there is an objective world external to the minds of the scientists; the assumptions that this world is governed by regularities of the sort that might be captured in scientific laws; the assumption that the human intellect and perceptual apparatus can uncover and accurately describe these regularities; and so forth. Since scientific method presupposes these things, it cannot attempt to justify them without arguing in a circle. To break out of this circle requires ‘getting outside’ of science altogether and discovering from that extra-scientific vantage point that science conveys an accurate picture of reality – and, if scientism is to be justified, that only science does so. But then the very existence of that extra-scientific vantage point would falsify the claim that science alone gives us a rational means of investigating objective reality.”[23]

It should be evident that any attempt to avoid, discredit, undermine, or eradicate metaphysics from the human pursuit of truth in the quest to see reality utterly fails. No matter the school of thought or the argument presented attempting to do away with metaphysics through the front door, an instantaneous attempt to smuggle in a schematic of first philosophy in order to maintain rational cogency is ushered in the back. Now that the importance and necessity of metaphysics has been established, the final step toward metaphysics as seeing is possible.

To be completed…

 

– Lucas G. Westman


[1] These questions were referenced in the previous installment, Metaphysics as Seeing: The Importance of Metaphysics. The questions are – Does God exist; Why is there something rather than nothing; Who am I in relation to all that exists; What is the good life; What happens when we die?

[2] “The reality of the fact itself seems to be beyond question. Plato’s idealism comes first; Aristotle warns everybody that Platonism is heading for scepticism; then Greek scepticism arises, more or less redeemed by the moralism of the Stoics and Epicureans, or by the mysticism of Plotinus. St. Thomas Aquinas restores philosophical knowledge, but Ockham cuts its very root, and ushers in the later medieval and Renaissance scepticism, itself redeemed by the moralism of the Humanists or by the pseudo-mysticism of Nicolaus Cusanus and of his successors. Then comes Descartes and Locke, but their philosophies disintegrate into Berkeley and Hume, with the moralism of Rousseau and the visions of Swedenborg as natural reactions. Kant had read Swedenborg, Rousseau and Hume, but his own philosophical restoration ultimately degenerated into the various forms of contemporary agnosticism, with all sorts of moralism and of would-be mysticisms as ready shelters against spiritual despair. The so-called death of philosophy being regularly attended by its revival, some new dogmatism should now be at hand. In short, the first law to be inferred from philosophical experience is: Philosophy always buries its undertakers.

That is the reason why, at the very time when he was denouncing the illusory character of metaphysical knowledge, Kant sought the root of that illusion in the very nature of reason itself. Hume had destroyed both metaphysics and science; in order to save science, Kant decided to sacrifice metaphysics. Now, it is the upshot of the Kantian experiment that, if metaphysics is arbitrary knowledge, science also is arbitrary knowledge; hence it follows that our belief in the objective validity of science itself stands or falls with our belief in the objective validity of metaphysics. The new question, then, is no longer, Why is metaphysics a necessary illusion, but rather, Why is metaphysics necessary, and how is it that it has given rise to so many illusions?” The Unity of Philosophical Experience, Gilson, Pg. 246, 247

[3] “The first goes by the name eclecticism, which is meant the approach of those who, in research, teaching and argumentation, even in theology, tend to use individual ideas drawn from different philosophies, without concern for their internal coherence, their place within a system or their historical context. They therefore run the risk of being unable to distinguish the part of truth of a given doctrine from elements of it which may be erroneous or ill-suited to the task at hand. An extreme form of eclecticism appears also in the rhetorical misuse of philosophical terms to which some theologians are given at times. Such manipulation does not help the search for truth and does not train reason – whether theological or philosophical – to formulate arguments seriously and scientifically. The rigorous and far-reaching study of philosophical doctrines, their particular terminology and the context is which they arose, helps to overcome the danger of eclecticism and makes it possible to integrate them into theological discourse in a way appropriate to the task.” Fides et Ratio, Pope St. John Paul II, Pg. 108, 109

[4] “Eclecticism is an error of method, but lying hidden within it can also be the claims of historicism. To understand a doctrine from the past correctly, it is necessary to set it within its proper historical and cultural context. The fundamental claim of historicism, however, is that the truth of a philosophy is determined on the basis of its appropriateness to a certain period and a certain historical purpose. At least implicitly, therefore, the enduring validity of truth is denied. What was true in one period, historicists claim, may not be true in another. Thus for them the history of thought becomes little more than an archeological resource useful for illustrating positions once held, but for the most part outmoded and meaningless now. On the contrary, it should not be forgotten that, even if a formulation is bound in some way by time and culture, the truth or the error which it expresses can invariably be identified and evaluated as such despite the distance of space and time.

In theological enquiry, historicism tends to appear for the most part under the guise of ‘modernism.’ Rightly concerned to make theological discourse relevant and understandable to our time, some theologians use only the most recent opinions and philosophical language, ignoring the critical evaluation which ought to be made of them in the light of the tradition. By exchanging relevance for truth, this form of modernism shows itself incapable of satisfying the demands of truth which theology is called to respond.” Ibid, Pg. 109

[5] “Another threat to be reckoned with is scientism. This is the philosophical notion which refuses to admit the validity of forms of knowledge other than those of the positive science; and it relegates religious, theological, ethical and aesthetic knowledge to the realm of mere fantasy. In the past, the same idea emerged in positivism and neo-positivism, which considered metaphysical statements to be meaningless…Regrettably, it must be noted, scientism consigns all that has to do with the question of the meaning of life to the realm of the irrational or imaginary.” Ibid, Pg. 109, 110

[6] “No less dangerous is pragmatism. An attitude of mind which, in making its choices, precludes theoretical considerations or judgments based on ethical principles. The practical consequences of this mode of thinking are significant. In particular there is growing support for a concept of democracy which is not grounded upon any reference to unchanging values: whether or not a line of action is admissible is decided by the vote of a parliamentary majority. The consequences of this are clear: in practice, the great moral decisions of humanity are subordinated to decisions taken one after another by institutional agencies. Moreover, anthropology itself is severely compromised by a one-dimensional vision of the human being, a vision which excludes the great ethical dilemmas and the existential analysis of the meaning of suffering and sacrifice, life and death.” Ibid, Pg. 110, 111

[7] The positions we have examined lead in turn to a more general conception which appears today as the common framework of many philosophies which have rejected the meaningfulness of being. I am referring to the nihilist interpretation, which is at once the denial of all foundations and the negation of all objective truth. Quite apart from the fact that it conflicts with the demands and the content of the word of God, nihilism is a denial of the humanity and of the very identity of the human being. It should never be forgotten that the neglect of being inevitably leads to losing touch with objective truth and therefore with the very ground of human dignity. This in turn makes it possible to erase from the countenance of man and woman the marks of their likeness to God, and thus to lead them little by little either to a destructive will to power or to a solitude without hope. Once the truth is denied to human beings, it is pure illusion to try and set them free. Truth and freedom either go together hand in hand or together they perish in misery.” Ibid, Pg. 111

[8] Metaphysics: The Fundamentals, Koons and Pickavance, Pg. 6

[9] Ibid

[10] The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics, Pg. 8-14

[11] Ibid, Pg. 8

[12] Ibid, Pg. 8, 9

[13] “This fundamental dimension of being itself, of the actual existence of what they are studying, is taken for granted by all other branches of knowledge, which then go on to study what it is and how it works. But just because something is taken for granted does not mean that it is unimportant. This is just what metaphysics, and it alone, aims to do: to draw into the explicit light of reflection what all other human inquiry takes for granted and leaves implicit – the foundation of actual existence upon which all else is built and without which all subject matter vanishes into the darkness of nonbeing, of what is not. Martin Heidegger, the great contemporary German metaphysician – not himself a Thomist at all – complained that the whole of Western metaphysics, from Plato on, lapsed into a ‘forgetfulness of being,’ not of what things are, their essences, but of the radical fact that they are at all, standing out from nothingness and shining forth to us.” Ibid, Pg. 9

[14] Ibid, Pg, 10

[15] Ibid, Pg. 11

[16] Ibid, Pg. 12

[17] “We each exist for but a short time, and in that time explore but a small part of the whole universe. But humans are a curious species. We wonder, we seek answers. Living in this vast world that is by turns kind and cruel, and gazing at the immense heavens above, people have always asked a multitude of questions: How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves? How does the universe behave? What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a creator? Most of us do not spend most of our time worrying about these questions, but almost all of us worry about them some of the time.

Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” The Grand Design, Hawking and Mlodinow, Pg. 5

[18] Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction, Pg. 10

[19] “First as I have said, scientism faces a dilemma: It is either self-refuting or trivial. Take the first horn of the dilemma. The claim that ‘the methods of science are the only reliable ways to secure knowledge of anything’ (Rosenberg 2011, p. 6) is itself not a scientific claim, not a something that can be established using the scientific method. Indeed, that science is even a rational form of inquiry (let alone the only rational form of inquiry) is not something that can be established scientifically.” Ibid, Pg. 10

[20] “The second main problem facing scientism, I have said, is that science cannot in principle provide a complete description of reality. Indeed, it cannot in principle provide a complete description even of physical reality. The reason, as paradoxical as it sounds, has to do precisely with the method that has made the predictive and technological achievements of modern physics possible. Physics insists upon a purely quantitative description of the world, regarding mathematics as the language in which the ‘Book of Nature’ is written (as Galileo famously put it). Hence it is hardly surprising that physics, more than other disciplines, has discovered those aspects of reality susceptible of the prediction and control characteristic of quantifiable phenomena. Those are the only aspects to which the physicist will allow himself to pay any attention in the first place. Everything else necessarily falls through this methodological net.” Ibid, Pg. 12, 13

[21] “If there are limits to what science can describe, there are also limits to what science can explain. This brings us to the third problem I have claimed faces scientism – the fact that the ‘laws of nature’ in terms of which science explains phenomena cannot in principle provide an ultimate explanation of reality.” Ibid, Pg. 18

[22] “Now if scientism faces such grave difficulties, why are so many intelligent people drawn to it? The answer – to paraphrase a remark made by Wittgenstein in another context – is that ‘a picture holds them captive.’ Hypnotized by the unparalleled predictive technological successes of modern science, they infer that scientism must be true, and that anything that follows from scientism – however fantastic or even seemingly incoherent – must also be true.” Ibid, Pg. 21

[23] Ibid, Pg. 10, 11

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Metaphysics, Philosophy, Traditionalism, Wolfgang Smith

Metaphysics as Seeing: The Importance of Metaphysics

Wolfgang Smith Metaphysics as Seeing Part IThere are five primary questions every person will wrestle with throughout their life, and how these questions are answered will shape who they are and what they might become. Even if these questions are ignored, or suppressed, they will remain lurking in the psyche of each individual. And because there is no escape from these questions any attempt to ignore them is in actuality an answer to them.

The five most important questions every person must confront and provide an answer for are these:

  1. Does God Exist?
  2. Why is there something rather than nothing?
  3. Who am I in relation to all that exists?
  4. What is the good life?
  5. What happens when you die?

These questions are fundamental and ultimate. It is because of their ultimacy that nobody can evade responsibility for providing answers to them. Every moment of any person’s life will result in a way of thinking, knowing, believing, and acting which reflect how these questions have been answered. The answers might be thoroughly examined or they may be entirely unexamined, but either way, they will be answered in the choices we make here and now in this life.

The fundamental importance of these questions is also the strongest reason why so many people attempt to hide from them; because once they have been answered the virtuous will recognize the necessity to submit and conform to the truths discovered. Hiding only leads to ruin and spiritual decay.

While these questions might seem disparate and independent of one another, the truth is they are intricately united by a word that causes modern men to tremble in fear – metaphysics. These five questions are metaphysically united; how the first question is answered will affect the manner in which the rest of the questions are answered. And even if the first question – Does God exist? – is ignored for the sake of starting with the fourth question – What is the good life? – the examination of what constitutes the good life will inevitably lead to whether or not God exists. The impact the divine has on the questions of life are, as we will come to see, world changing.

There are at least three all-encompassing metaphysical questions that directly overlap with the questions of life (these three questions are taken from the book, Metaphysics)

  1. What are the most general features of the World, and what sorts of things does it contain? What is the World like?
  2. Why does a World exist – and, more specifically, why is there a World having the features and the content described in the answer to Question 1?
  3. What is our place in the World? How do we human beings fit into it? [1]

It is evident, then, that there is no way to avoid metaphysics when examining life’s ultimate questions. It is built into the fabric of reality.

As penetrating as these questions might be, and as daunting as metaphysics can become, there are only two general metaphysical frameworks or schematics of reality that make sense given the nature of the questions under examination. For example, God either exists or He does not exist; the world/universe is either infinite or it is finite; there is a purpose or reason for why we are here or there isn’t; there is either a good life or there is not a good life; there is an afterlife or there is not an afterlife; the reality we perceive either exists independently of the mind or it is dependent on the mind; there are minds or there are not. Nuances arise when figuring out how these options might fit together in a coherent whole, but there are really only a couple of available routes from which to choose at the foundational level.

Another way to break down the metaphysical situation is to recognize that throughout the history of rational thought there has been a theistic and a materialistic/atheistic schematic vying for sway in the minds of men, and ultimately the cultures men find themselves living.

The theistic answers to the fundamental metaphysical questions are all of reality and everything therein exists because it has been created by God;[2] God is the necessary being which sustains all of created reality;[3] and human beings are made in His image to love, serve, and honor Him in this life and the next.[4]

The materialist/atheistic answers to the fundamental metaphysical questions are that all of reality is reduced to atomized matter in motion;[5] matter is a brute fact and eternally exists;[6] and human beings are intricately structured products of the material reality they find themselves existing.[7]

The theistic and materialist/atheistic metaphysical schematics cannot both be true. They are both making claims about reality that are fundamentally incompatible. Moreover, this metaphysical incompatibility significantly influences what might constitute the good life, that is, questions concerning moral philosophy, as well as answers concerning the mysteries of life after death.

The ultimate questions of life are vitally important and will impact every person not only by the choices made today, but potentially in the afterlife as well. The answers to the ultimate questions are fundamentally informed by metaphysical presuppositions that can either be examined or left unexamined by those who fear the consequences of what might arise concerning the truth. And these metaphysical presuppositions will directly influence how a person will answer moral questions and questions pertaining to the afterlife. Now that the importance of metaphysics has been established, it is worth examining why metaphysics is necessary and unavoidable.

To be continued…

 

– Lucas G. Westman


[1] Metaphysics, Inwagen, 3rd Ed., Pg. 4

[2] “The World consists of God and all He has made. God is infinite (that is, he is unlimited in knowledge, power, and goodness) and a spirit (that is, He is not material). He has made both spirit and material things, but all the things he has made are finite or limited. God has always existed, and at a certain moment in the past He first made other things; before that, there had never been anything besides God. God will always exist, and there will always be things He has made.” Ibid, Pg. 5

[3] “God has to exist, just as two and two have to equal four. But nothing else has this feature; everything besides God might not have existed. The things other than God exist only because God (who has the power to do anything) caused them to exist by an act of free will. He could just as well have chosen not to create anything, in which case there would never have been anything besides Himself. Moreover, God not only brought all other things into existence, but he also keeps them in existence at every moment. If God did not at every moment keep the sun and the moon and all other created things in existence, they would immediately cease to exist. Created things no more have the power to keep themselves in existence than stones or lumps of iron have the power to keep themselves suspended in the air.” Ibid, Pg. 5

[4] “Human beings were created by God to love and serve Him forever. Thus, each of them has a purpose or function. In the same sense in which it is true of John’s heart that its function is to pump blood, a human being has free will and can refuse to do the thing for which it was made. What we call human history is nothing more than the working out of the consequences of the fact that some people have chosen not to do what they were created to do.” Ibid, Pg. 5

[5] “The world consists of matter in motion. There is nothing but matter, which operates according to the strict and invariable laws of physics. Every individual thing is made entirely of matter, and every aspect of its behavior is due to the workings of those laws.” Ibid, Pg. 5

[6] “Matter has always existed (and there has always been exactly the same amount of it), for matter can be neither created or destroyed. For this reason, there is no “why” to the existence of the World. Because the World is wholly material, and because matter can be neither created nor destroyed, the World is eternal: it has always existed. The question ‘Why does it exist?’ is a question that can be asked only about a thing that had a beginning. It is a request for information about what caused the thing to come into existence. Since the world is eternal, the question ‘Why does the World exist?’ is meaningless.” Ibid, Pg. 5, 6

[7] “Human beings are complex configurations of matter. Since the World is eternal, the existence of complex configurations of matter is not surprising, for in an infinite period of time, all possible configurations of matter will come to exist. Human beings are just one of those things that happen from time to time. They serve no purpose, for their existence and their features are as much accidents as the existence and shape of a puddle of spilt milk. Their lives – our lives – have no meaning (beyond such purely subjective meaning as we choose to find in them), and they come to an end with physical death, since there is no soul. The only thing being said about the place of human beings in the World is that they are – very temporary – parts of it.” Ibid, Pg. 6

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Traditionalism, Wolfgang Smith

Wolfgang Smith: Modern Science & Guenonian Critique

Wolfgang Smith on Scientistic IdolatryIn the previous article examining the thought of Wolfgang Smith, three modern paradigms through which reality is interpreted were identified. These paradigms were the Newtonian, the Darwinian, and the Copernican. It is important to recall that while Smith is critical of the paradigms, he is willing to recognize legitimate scientific discoveries made despite the faulty lenses interpreting these findings. For example, Smith is highly critical of the mechanistic metaphysical framework of the Newtonian paradigm, while simultaneously acknowledging discoveries made through its application. This is relevant because Smith’s essay, Modern Science and Guenonian Critique, begins by saying, “Reading Rene Guenon’s discourse on modern science more than half a century after it was written, one is struck not only by the depth of its penetration, but also, to a lesser degree, by its glaring insufficiencies.”[1] In the previous article, Smith disassociates what he believes to be faulty philosophical analysis applied to the various fields of science, and in this essay, he disassociates what he believes to be an overzealous philosophical critique of legitimate scientific discovery.

Smith recognizes in the Guenonian critique a penetrating metaphysical analysis of modernity and its scientistic reduction of reality to that which is merely quantifiable. This hyper-reductionism is leading our modern world toward an ongoing “descent to the lowest point.”[2] Smith agrees, and referencing Guenon, argues that if our modern contemporaries knew where ‘the reign of quantity’ was leading society, “the modern world would at once cease to exist as such.”[3] But this is where Smith’s agreement with the Guenonian critique ends. He says,

“However, along with such major recognitions – which I find unprecedented and indeed definitive – there are aspects of the Guenonian doctrine that strike me as less felicitous. I charge that these questionable tenets are not only gratuitous – that is to say, uncalled for on the basis of Guenon’s central contentions – but demonstrably false. What primarily invalidates the Guenonian critique, as it pertains to physics in particular, is the failure to recognize that in the midst of what is admittedly a ‘scientific mythology,’ there stands nonetheless a ‘hard science,’ a science capable of an actual knowing, ‘partial’ though it be. As I have argued repeatedly, the one thing most needful for a just appraisal of modern science is the distinction between ‘scientific knowledge’ and ‘scientistic belief,’ that is to say, between science, properly so called, and scientism. Yet it appears that nowhere does Guenon draw that crucial distinction, apparently for the simple reason that he does not credit contemporary science with any bona fide knowledge at all. Admittedly, science and scientism are invariably joined in practice, and prove indeed to be de facto inseparable; whosoever has moved in scientific circles will have no doubt on that score. It can even be argued that scientistic belief plays a vital role in the process of scientific discovery, that in fact it constitutes a pivotal element in the scientific quest. Yet, even so, I maintain that the two faces of the coin are as different as night and day, and need to be sharply distinguished.”[4]

It is important to take a moment to reflect on what it is Smith is looking to accomplish overall in his argumentation. Smith’s general criticism of the modern scientistic ideology is that bad philosophy has been illegitimately united to good science. The flawed paradigms have lead to supposed discoveries of scientific paradoxes, but in truth, they are the result of erroneous philosophical interpretations of reality. Identifying these paradigms, the anti-myths, which lend credence to the contemporary mechanistic cataract by which modern man views the world is the first step toward resolving these “paradoxes.” Following their identification – the Newtonian, the Darwinian, and the Copernican – they must be stripped away from the legitimate scientific discoveries being made in the hard sciences so that they might be reinterpreted by the corrective traditions of the perennial metaphysical and ontological understanding of an organically united natural world. However, it is important to guard against what Smith is criticizing in this essay, which is, to refrain from throwing the scientific ‘baby’ out with the dirty metaphysical ‘bathwater.’ Smith is walking the tightrope between these two extreme positions, that of ideological scientism and metaphysical fundamentalism. To successfully walk this line, Smith unites scientific discovery to the ancient wisdom of the perennial philosophical traditions.

The Guenonian critique, then, can be expressed by two basic principles – ‘solidification’ and ‘dissolution.’ And if I am understanding Smith’s analysis, he would maintain that these two principles correlate to the Cartesian bifurcation of reality, the eradication of essences and substance from modern metaphysics, and the institutionalization of these philosophical dogmas within the ‘scientific’ worldview.[5]

Following the introductory analysis of the Guenonian critique, Smith proceeds to argue that the discoveries of quantum mechanics opens interesting pathways towards reconciling traditional metaphysics and ontology to these findings. In order to accomplish this, Smith argues that, “the very possibility of mathematical physics is based upon the fact that every corporeal object X is associated with a corresponding physical object SX, which in the final count reduces to an aggregate of quantum particles.”[6] This distinction is made so that it can be recognized that X and SX are not identical, and that they belong to differing ontological planes pertaining to reality.[7] Moreover, Smith identifies the rule that, “SX determines the quantitative properties of X; and this is the reason, of course, why there can be a mathematical physics.”[8] According to Smith, moving in this direction points toward accepting the fact that contemporary physics can only be appropriately discerned from a distinctly metaphysical point of view.[9] Admitting the need for a viable metaphysical and ontological interpretation of the quantum realm, and following a brief examination of the importance of measurement and probability, Smith says this,

“It turns out, quite unexpectedly, the physicist is catching a glimpse of materia, of the Aristotelian hyle. Not in itself – not as a ‘pure potency’ or a mere possibility – but as a weighted possibility: as a probability, to be exact. Whether he realizes it or not the quantum physicist is looking in – through a keyhole, as it were – at the mysteries of cosmogenesis: not in the bogus sense of big bang theory, but ontologically, in the here and now. By way of quantum theory he has entered upon an ontological domain ‘prior’ to the union of matter and form: onto a sub-existential plane which presumably has never before been accessed by man.[10]

When reality has been correctly interpreted by properly uniting the authentic discoveries of science to that of a superior and traditional metaphysical world picture, the corporeal and physical domains become uniquely seated in their hierarchically cogent ontological planes. So construed, the Guenonian critique of modern science is appropriately corrected to include spheres of knowledge discovered by the exceptional methodological powers of the hard sciences.

 

– Lucas G. Westman


[1] Science & Myth, Pg. 25

[2] Ibid, Pg. 26

[3] Ibid, Pg. 26

[4] Ibid, Pg. 26, 27

[5] “The decisive event in the evolution of modern thought was no doubt the exclusion of essences effected by Galileo and Descartes, and the concomitant adoption of a bifurcationist epistemology which relegates perceptible qualities to the subjective domain. These metaphysical and epistemological infractions, however, do not in themselves invalidate the modus operandi of a science concerned exclusively with the quantitative aspects of reality. From a methodological point of view, the exclusion of essences constitutes simply the delimitation that defines and thus constitutes the domain of physical science; and it is by no means paradoxical that the science in question owes its prowess precisely to that very reduction of its scope; as Goethe has wisely observed…Let us note, at the same time, that since the logic of contemporary physics is positivistic or operational, as the prevailing philosophies of science aver, that science has nothing to do – on a technical plane! – with the Cartesian premises; and if it happens that contemporary physicists, in their scientistic beliefs, remain affected by a residual Cartesianism, this does nothing to invalidate the positive findings of physics as such. The knowledge in question may be miniscule by comparison to higher modes, and may indeed conduce to dissolution, as Gueonon avers, but constitutes, even so, a bona fide though partial mode of knowing.

On the other hand, Gueonon’s failure to distinguish between science and what he terms ‘scientific mythology’ does not invalidate his perception of the scientific enterprise as the dominant factor driving contemporary humanity ‘downwards’ to the end-point of its cycle. He broaches the question by pointing out that the public at large is prone to accept ‘these illusory theories’ blindly as veritable dogmas ‘by virtue of the fact that they call themselves ‘scientific,’ and goes on to note that the term ‘dogma’ is indeed appropriate, ‘for it is a question of something which, in accordance with the anti-traditional modern spirit, must oppose and be substituted for religious dogmas.’ What follows, in The Reign of Quantity, is an elaborate analysis of the modern and indeed postmodern world, which has rarely, if ever, been equaled either in depth or in breadth.

It is of major importance to recall that Guenon distinguishes two principal phases in the ongoing descent, which he designates by the terms ‘solidification’ and ‘dissolution’; and it is of interest to note that he enunciated this distinction at a time when physics was just entering the second aforesaid phase through the discovery of quantum mechanics. Although Guenon displayed no more interest in the new physics (which came to birth between 1925 and 1927) than in its Newtonian predecessor, and seems hardly to take not of the quantum revolution, it is clear that the advent of quantum theory does indeed mark the de-solidification of the physical universe. Not only, however, does this development – which came as a complete surprise and major shock to the scientific community – accord with the principles of the Guenonian analysis, but as I will show in the sequel, that analysis provides in fact the key to a metaphysical understanding of quantum theory, and thus of contemporary physics at large: they very science, that is, the existence of which Guenon never recognized!” Ibid, Pg. 30, 31

[6] Ibid, Pg. 34

[7] Ibid, Pg. 34

[8] Ibid, Pg. 34

[9] Ibid, Pg. 34

[10] Ibid, Pg. 37, 38

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Traditionalism, Wolfgang Smith

Wolfgang Smith: Science and Myth

Landscape & SpaceWolfgang Smith’s essay, Science and Myth, utilizes Ananda Coomaraswamy’s articulation of what constitutes an authentic myth in order to raise our conscious awareness that science too develops myths, or paradigms, when interpreting the surrounding natural order. Smith identifies three modern scientific paradigms – the Newtonian, the Darwinian, and the Copernican – which he classifies as “anti-myths.” These paradigmatic anti-myths constitute the revolutionary pillars combatting the perennially wise, sacred traditionalism inherited by mankind prior to the Enlightenment. The importance of recognizing that we are not simply arguing with individuals reporting the scientific facts opens a pathway for a clearer understanding of St. Paul’s teaching that unbelievers suppress the truth in unrighteousness.[1] When these paradigms are exposed as the vehicles for countering the authentic, sacred “myths” (paradigms) of biblical revelation, we can then move toward challenging their veracity so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ may be boldly proclaimed.[2]

Smith begins his essay by introducing the dynamic interaction of myth and doctrine, and that myth exceeds doctrine similar to the truth that a cause exceeds its effect.[3] And while this is an appropriate understanding of the relationship between myth and doctrine, it is not, however, the task of doctrine to explain away the founding myth. To the contrary, the purpose of doctrine is to bring us into dynamic interaction with the myth.[4] Sacred doctrine is respected, proclaimed, and defended by those who adhere to its perennial truth, but ancient doctrine is not sacred to everyone. As Smith points out, “atheists and iconoclasts have myths of their own. Not only the wise, but fools also live ultimately by myth; it is only that the respective myths are by no means the same.”[5] These atheists and iconoclasts champion the modernist paradigms that have fueled much hostility against the traditions of mankind, and especially the Holy Roman Church.

The first myth Smith discusses is the Newtonian mechanical universe, where “bare matter” and the interaction of physical parts is understood through the forces of attraction and repulsion, which reduces the movement of the whole to its disparate parts.[6] To be sure, the mechanical universe is related to the Cartesian bifurcation of reality into the machinery of nature and the subjective soul, so in many ways the stupendous errors of the father of modern philosophy are undergirding the Newtonian paradigm. It is important to note that Smith’s criticisms of the Newtonian paradigm does not amount to an attack on the legitimate scientific discoveries acquired through this model of the universe. Smith says,

“Though the Newtonian worldview may indeed be spurious – a ‘myth’ in the pejorative sense of this equivocal term – history confirms that it has nonetheless functioned brilliantly in its capacity as a scientific paradigm. It appears that error too has its use! One sees in retrospect that science of the contemporary kind could never have ‘lifted off the ground’ without the benefit of a worldview that is drastically oversimplified, to the point of being incurably fallacious.”[7]

He continues,

“Despite its philosophical invalidity, the success of the Newtonian paradigm has been spectacular. From the publication of Newton’s Principia, in the year 1687, to the beginning of the twentieth century, it was universally regarded, not simply as a successful paradigm, but indeed as the master-key to the secrets of Nature, from the motion of stars and planets, to the functioning of her minutest parts. I will not recount the triumphs of Newtonian physics which seemingly justify this grand expectation; the list is long and singularly impressive. Suffice to say that by the end of the nineteenth century the Newtonian scheme had extended its sway beyond the bounds of mechanics, as commonly understood, to include electromagnetism, which, as it turns out, cannot be pictured in grossly mechanical terms.”[8][9]

Smith continues to argue that even the advancement of Einsteinian physics remains largely mechanical, which indicates that the Newtonian paradigm is capable of absorbing new discoveries as long as the physical universe can, in principle, be accurately described in terms of differential equations.[10] It wasn’t until the advent of quantum mechanics that the mechanistic metaphysical paradigm of the cosmos was seriously challenged. The fundamentals of quantum theory have shown that the universe cannot be understood in fully deterministic terms.[11]

The second paradigm Smith identifies is Darwinism. While Smith is critical of the Newtonian worldview, he still respects the breakthroughs made in the field of physics following its institutionalization. The Darwinian paradigm receives no such respect,

“We turn now to the Darwinian paradigm, which proves to be, in a sense, the opposite of the Newtonian: for it happens that Darwin’s idea has been an unmitigated failure from the start. I contend, in fact, that Darwinism is not in truth a scientific theory, but is simply an ideological postulation masquerading in scientific garb.”[12]

The Intelligent Design movement notably influences Smith’s disagreements with Darwinism. He does not hesitate to use the arguments developed by Philip Johnson, Michael Behe, and William Dembski. Smith is particularly impressed by the mathematical application of intelligent design developed by Dembski, which Smith considers the strongest refutation of Darwinism.

Due to the weight of the criticisms developed by the Intelligent Design movement, Smith is in agreement with at least four of their main contentions. The first contention is that the fossil record lacks the necessary evidence to support the theory, which is why the evidential situation calls for developments such as ‘punctuated equilibrium.’ Simply stated, the intermediary forms are nowhere to be found. What does occur in the fossil record, however, is the clear indication that species appear, and then disappear with very little, if any morphological changes.[13] The second criticism of Darwinism is that the key principle of naturalistic evolution, “survival of the fittest,” is a vacuous tautology. It amounts to nothing more than a slogan masquerading as a scientific hypothesis. Chanting the “survival of the fittest” is tantamount to saying, “whatever happens, happens.” The third criticism is the circularity of “the so-called molecular clock, which supposedly measures the rate at which evolutions takes place.”[14] Smith explains, “However, in the euphoria generated by this discovery, one forgets that not even a ‘molecular clock’ can measure the rate of evolution unless evolution has indeed occurred.”[15] This criticism leads to the fourth critique, which is Michael Behe’s discovery of irreducible complexity. According to Behe, the irreducible complexity of say, the bacterial flagellum, cannot be accounted for in purely Darwinist terms, which leads into the mathematical explanations of William Dembski demonstrating the impossibility of Darwinian naturalism.

The third myth Smith discusses is the Copernican paradigm. To properly capture the enormity of this paradigm, it is worth quoting Smith at length in his description of it,

“Our third paradigm pertains to contemporary cosmology. It happens that field equations plus astronomical data do not suffice to determine the global structure of the physical universe: an infinite number of ‘possible worlds’ remain. One therefore requires an additional hypothesis. Following Einstein’s lead, scientists have generally opted for a condition of spatial uniformity in the distribution of matter: one defines an average density of matter, and assumes this to be constant throughout space. Thus, on a sufficiently large scale, the cosmos is thought to resemble a gas, in which the individual molecules can be replaced by a density of so many grams per cubic meter. It was Hermann Bondi who first referred to this assumption as the Copernican principle, and not without reason; for even though Copernicus himself knew nothing about a supposedly constant density of stellar matter, the principle in question constitutes in a way the ultimate repudiation of geocentrism, and thus consummates what has been termed the Copernican revolution. Henceforth space in the large is assumed to be void of structure or design, and subject only to local fluctuations from an average density, much like the molecular fluctuations in a gas, which remain imperceptible on a macroscopic scale. I would like however to impress upon you that this is not a positive finding of astrophysics or a proven fact, but simply an assumption: to be precise, it is the postulate or hypothesis which underlies our contemporary scientific cosmology.”[16]

This assumption eventually developed into what is now recognized as standard big bang cosmology. However, the standard model is facing difficulties due to observations that do not comport with the presupposed Copernican paradigm.[17] Only time will tell if this particular paradigm will survive the storm of observational abnormalities.

These three paradigms, these anti-myths, are what informs the modern mind and shapes the culture. The modernist cultural psychology, guided by these paradigms, is what motivates the new atheist activists looking to eradicate religious traditions from society at large. Instead of defending the authentic discoveries of science against the spirit of ‘fundamentalist’ anti-intellectualism, enemies of sacred tradition have become the ideological vanguards of an anti-mythos inherited from the now defunct “Age of Reason.” These realities significantly affect the spiritual conflict between sacred tradition and modernism,

“Now, it is at this point, I say, that modern science touches upon the spiritual domain: it enters the picture, I contend, not as an ally of true religion, but perforce as an impediment to faith, and therefore as a spoiler, an antagonist. It is a case of opposing myths, of mythologies that clash: or better said, of myth and anti-myth.”[18]

Recognizing the clash of worldviews leads to the identification of metaphysical idolatry in the modern mind,

“The trouble with paradigms, however, is that they tend to become absolutized, that is to say, dissociated from the scientific process; and this is where the idolatry sets in. One transitions surreptitiously from the hypothetical to the certain, from the relative to the absolute, and thus from a science to a metaphysics. But not to an authentic metaphysics! True to its origin, that ‘relative rendered absolute’ remains unfounded and illegitimate, a pseudo-metaphysics one can say. It needs to be understood that a paradigm of science absolutized turns forthwith into an anti-myth.”[19]

These insights afford us a properly biblical understanding of our current state of affairs. The traditionalist worldview, in possession of the graces of the Christ-mind, must interact with the deformations of the fallen, anti-christ worldview of the modernist mind in an uncompromising manner. The anti-mythos discussed in Smith’s essay cannot be approached by Christ’s disciples seeking respectability so that Christ might be added onto these erroneous presuppositions built to dethrone the King of kings from the cosmic monarchy. These paradigms under examination are intrinsically anti-logos, and therefore deny the absolute primacy of Christ over all of the created order.

Contained in the sacred pages of Scripture is a cosmic picture of reality that does not cohere with the modern anti-mythos. What we discover in the Bible is a cosmos that is created, finite, contingent, organic, hierarchic, ordered, designed, purposeful, meaningful, intentional, metaphysically peaceful, spiritual as well as material, qualitatively objective in its beauty, and revelatory. The modern picture of the cosmos, guided by the Newtonian, Darwinian, and Copernican paradigms is uncreated, mechanical, chaotic, disordered, metaphysically violent, not designed, devoid of purpose, unintentional, meaningless, materialistic, contains no objective beauty, and snuffs out any notion of God being revealed by the things that have been made.

There is simply no way to reconcile these two divergent worldviews. What separates them is figuratively, and quite literally, cosmic in scale.

 

– Lucas G. Westman


[1] “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.” Romans 1:18-23

[2] Smith doesn’t suggest that sacred tradition is a myth in the sense that it is false, or a silly fairy-tale. What Smith suggests is that there are true “myths,” those of sacred tradition, and there are false “anti-myths,” which are the paradigms of modern scientism.

[3] Science & Myth, Pg. 7

[4] Ibid, Pg. 7

[5] Ibid, Pg. 7

[6] Ibid, Pg. 9

[7] Ibid, Pg. 9

[8] Ibid, Pg. 10

[9] This is an important qualification because any criticism made by a religious traditionalist of the metaphysical naturalism and epistemic scientism prevalent in elite corners of society is often mistaken for a criticism against the field of science itself. It is in many ways a preposterous conflation made by the adherents of the modernist paradigm, but it is necessary to make such mistakes in order to guard against the wafer thin justification these errors are resting upon. Philosophical crudity is often the intellectual residence of those who live comfortably in the realm of mantra.

[10] Ibid, Pg. 10

[11] Ibid, Pg. 10

[12] Ibid, Pg. 11

[13] Ibid, Pg. 11

[14] Ibid, Pg. 13

[15] Ibid, Pg. 13

[16] Ibid, Pg. 14, 15

[17] “Before too long, however, big bang cosmology ran into difficulties, which have since led to a number of modifications in an ongoing effort to accommodate the mathematics to the empirical data of astronomy. Nonetheless, all is not well, and those who claim otherwise ‘overlook observational facts that have been piling up for 25 years and have now become overwhelming,’ as Halton Arp pointed out in 1991. For example, astronomers claim to have spotted galaxies separated by close to a billion light-years. Now, given the low relative velocities observed between galaxies, it would take about 200 billion years to arrive at such a separation from an initially uniform state: a good ten times longer than the estimated age of the universe. Or, to cite another fundamental difficulty: there seems not to be nearly enough matter in the universe to generate gravitational fields strong enough to account for the formation and persistence of galaxies. Such incongruities, however, are general taken in stride by the experts…What does one do, for instance, if there is not enough matter in the universe to account for galaxies? One strategy is to introduce something called ‘dark matter,’ which supposedly does not interact with electromagnetic fields, and is consequently invisible. Its only measurable property is gravitation, and its only discernable effect is to bring the gravitational field up to the levels demanded by the big bang scenario. Never mind that not a single particle of dark matter has ever been detected: for advocates of big bang theory, it seems, the existence of galaxies is proof enough. According to some estimates, proposed by the respected members of the astrophysical community, about 99% of all matter in the universe is dark. What is more, one postulates two kinds of dark matter: so-called ‘hot’ and ‘cold,’ with very different properties, in a mix of 1/3 hot and 2/3 cold as the required blend!” Ibid, Pg. 15, 16

[18] Ibid, Pg. 19

[19] Ibid, Pg. 19

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Apologetics, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Traditionalism, Wolfgang Smith

Wolfgang Smith: Preliminary Remarks

School of AthensThe contemporary debate between religion and science, faith and reason, creation and evolution will most likely continue to rage on for several generations. And no matter how ardently avoided due to the vitriolic annoyance of the modern cult of new atheist personality, the traditionalist will at some point have to wrestle with these debates despite the ill-conceived categorizations. The atheist may feel comfortable with these erroneously presumed classifications by mindlessly repeating the mantra that science has defeated religion, or that reason has won the day over faith, or that evolution is scientific fact while creation is a misbegotten magic fairy-tale, but these pontifications have very little to do with the crux of the disagreement between the opposing worldviews.

The atheistic Weltanschauung requires these conflicts because the principles they are attempting to commandeer in support of their irrational dogma are undermined by their own materialistic presuppositions. The desperate hope for the atheist, then, is to go on sophistical autopilot by way of repetitious platitude in an attempt to persuade others to refrain from thinking in ways that transcend the procrustean reductions of materialism. The traditionalist, however, recognizes the perpetuation of these dialectical categorizations to be a fallacious starting point, a dead end program that ultimately traps a person in the corner of absurdity. There is no conflict between religion and science because “religion” examines revelation, which comes from God, through mystical contemplation of the theological recognition of divine mysteries, while science is a methodological study of those secondary causes discovered in nature that have been created and sustained by God. Faith and reason are not competitive aspects of the human mind and will; rather, they share a dynamically interactive relationship on the same spectrum of contemplation.

Creation and evolution, however, are at odds with one another and there is simply no way to get around this fact. This is where the conflict can become tricky. Evolution is claimed to be a scientific fact, whereas creation is dismissed as frank stupidity resulting in a staggering level of anti-intellectualism. These are the claims made by the atheist, inexorably linked to a Darwinism that perpetuates the erroneous notion that religion and science, and faith and reason are diametrically opposed to one another. Due to this interconnected narrative attacking religion, many contemporary Christian apologists have committed themselves to making peace with the secular sciences in order to analytically demonstrate, not necessarily the truth of revelation, but the compatibility of faith with secular reason according to a probabilistic epistemic theory. This maneuver has proven to be as disastrous as it is unnecessary. Rather than “sanctifying Christ as Lord in our hearts,” contemporary apologetics has knelt before the dictates of a phony secular prestige in order to look respectable.

Instead of prostrating before an ideological enemy, the traditionalist must set the terms of the debate by exposing the specious assumptions crafted by the atheist. The disagreement isn’t within the scope of scientific discoveries against the mythos of a bygone era of superstition; the debate is between a traditional mythos and a modernist anti-mythos pretending to be scientific. The sooner this is realized, the sooner the traditionalist might no longer be intimidated by illusory methodological prestige.

This is where the thought of Wolfgang Smith becomes vitally important for the traditionalist looking to confront the errors of modernist heresy. Smith is a Roman Catholic, an adherent to the perennial school of philosophy, and his credentials are notable,

“The author (Wolfgang Smith) graduated from Cornell University at age eighteen with majors in physics, philosophy, and mathematics. After taking an M.S. in physics in Purdue University he pursued research in aerodynamics. In those early years he distinguished himself by his papers on the effect of diffusion fields, which provided the first theoretical key to the solution of the re-entry problem for space flight. After receiving a Ph.D. in mathematics from Columbia University, Dr. Smith held faculty positions at M.I.T., U.C.L.A., and Oregon State University, where he retired as a Professor of Mathematics in 1992. In addition to numerous technical publications (relating mainly to differential topology), he has published five other books dealing with foundational interdisciplinary problems, and has become widely recognized as one of the foremost authors to offer a critique of modern science in light of traditionalist metaphysics. He has made it his mission to unmask conceptions of a scientistic kind which are today generally accepted as scientific truths, in the hope of opening doors which have been officially bolted since the Enlightenment.”[1]

These credentials indicate that Smith is well equipped to interact with the claims being made by the secular scientific community. In addition to his ability to interact with the technical rigors of modern scientific theory, Smith possesses the aptitude to philosophically engage the assumptions being posited as scientific breakthroughs when in actuality many of these so-called discoveries are themselves rationalized conventions. Indeed, these capabilities make up for various deficiencies within the contemporary traditionalist school when attempting to refute the modernist anti-mythos.

There are three deficiencies often hindering the total annihilation of the modernist anti-mythos:

  1. First, there are numerous Christians who have attained the necessary academic credentials to critically engage contemporary secular science, but often times these same Christians lack the ability to identify key philosophical issues important to the debate taking place between the opposing worldviews.
  2. Second, there are many Christians who have attained the necessary academic credentials to critically engage contemporary atheistic/naturalist/physicalist/materialist philosophy, but often times lack the ability to identify key scientific issues important to the debate taking place between the opposing worldviews. This results in an apologetic endeavor attempting to show that Christianity can at the very least co-exist with secular science, which in my view is totally inadequate. Another scenario that may take place is the appropriate recognition that the debate is fundamentally metaphysical and ontological, which results in the scientific community’s assumptions frequently escaping critical scrutiny.
  3. Third, the philosophical interaction with modern atheistic philosophy and secular science is most often not done from a distinctively traditionalist perspective, that is, many mainstream Christian apologists share the assumptions of the mechanistic metaphysical worldview that came out of the Enlightenment and overthrew the ancient, organic, hierarchic Christian view of reality.

Wolfgang Smith uniquely overcomes these deficiencies by not only having the scientific and philosophical acumen necessary to deal with the important issues under consideration in the dispute, but he also approaches the debate from a traditionalist perspective.

The result of Wolfgang Smith’s thought is an uncompromising traditionalist refutation of the modernistic atheism hiding behind the esteem of scientific discovery.

The refutation and reinterpretation constructed by Smith has three important phases in its process:

  1. First, it is recognized that scientistic ideology is masquerading as science, that is, method is being mistaken for metaphysics. The philosophical ideology of scientism not only reduces itself to an untenable absurdity, it also nullifies the possibility of properly interpreting authentic discoveries of the natural order.
  2. Second, once this illegitimate marriage between metaphysical ideology and the legitimate methods of science has been annulled, so to speak, authentic discoveries of the natural order can be separated from the modernist anti-mythos so that they may be reinterpreted in light of sacred tradition.
  3. The third and final step is taken when the authentic discoveries of the scientific community are newly reinterpreted in light of sacred tradition so that a fuller, more robust comprehension of the cosmos can begin to emerge. Instead of reducing the whole of reality to its atomized parts, the traditionally understood hierarchic created cosmos is once again free to proclaim the splendor of the Creator.

Wolfgang Smith is one of the most important, and yet unknown, Catholic intellectuals of our contemporary era. His thought is not only relevant for defeating the errors of the modernist anti-mythos, but also, for seeing reality through new eyes. Smith makes it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled traditionalist.

 

– Lucas G. Westman


[1] This summary of credentials is located on the back of his book, Science & Myth.

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Philosophy, Politics, Wolfgang Smith

The Ideology of Scientism & Progressive Politics

Wolfgang Smith QuoteWolfgang Smith cuts through the ideology of scientism with some intellectual realism, “We need to transcend what we have been taught in schools and universities to discover on our own what we are never told: only thus can we begin to perceive the full picture. To place The Grand Design within the context of the existing culture, it is above all imperative to get over the notion that science is simply a quest in search of truth: open, unbiased, and fair. We need to realize that the enterprise has an ideology, an agenda, an establishment, and vested interests to protect; as anyone past childhood should realize, “politics” does enter the picture.”

Richard Lewontin perfectly expresses the mindset that Smith is exposing and the ID theorists have committed themselves to defeating (emphasis added):

“We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill some of its extravagant promises for health and life, in spite of the toleration of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

The legitimacy of science has been transformed into an ideology, a scientistic alchemy that fits the political motives of progressivism, secularism, and nihilism.

Consider this video by Bill Nye, where he pretends that his scientific credentials (whatever those might amount to other than his old identity as the “science guy”) lend approval to the gender fluidity of the sexual revolutionaries. What is consider to be science is really a secular theological and philosophical interpretation of nature masquerading as objective verification of empirical reality.

 

– Lucas G. Westman

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Culture, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Traditionalism, Wolfgang Smith

Wolfgang Smith on Myth & Anti-Myth

Science and Myth“The tenacity and fervor with which the presiding paradigms of science are defended even in the face of plainly hostile data suggest that, here too, an element of ideology may be at play. Science is not in reality the purely rational and ‘disinterested’ enterprise it pretends to be; it is after all the work, not of computers, but of men. There is reason to believe that the paradigms of science are more in fact than cold, sober conjectures, mere hypotheses to be discarded in the face of contrary evidence. It appears that the top paradigms, at least, are weightier by far than that. In addition to their formal or ‘operational’ connotation, one finds that these paradigms carry a wider sense, a ‘cultural’ meaning, one can say; and it is mainly this broader connotation, which actually eludes scientific definition, that mainly communicates itself to the public at large, which in fact is incapable of comprehending its strictly ‘scientific’ use.

Now, it is this circumstance that in a way justifies our claim that science entails an element of ‘myth.’ I say ‘in a way,’ because it happens that traditional or authentic myth is something far greater, something that categorically exceeds the ‘mythical’ dimension of scientific paradigms. Let us say, then, that there are different kinds of myth, ranging all the way from the sacred to the profane, from the sublime to the trivial or absurd. We need, moreover, to understand that man does not live by ‘facts,’ or by ‘fact’ alone, but preeminently by ‘myth’”: this is indeed, culturally speaking, his daily ‘bread.’ What, above all, differentiates one man from another – again, from a ‘cultural’ point of view – is the presiding myth that directs, motivates, and informs his life. I contend that the stature and dignity of a person depend primarily on the myth he has made his own; in a way we become what we believe. And I would add: no more telling reason has ever been proposed for treading cautiously!

To comprehend the nature and function of ‘myth,’ we need, first of all, to get over the idea that myth has to do with what is imaginary or unreal, a notion which came into vogue in the course of what historians call the Enlightenment, when men thought that science had at last delivered us from the childish dreams of a primitive age. In this optic, myth was perceived simply as the antithesis of fact: at most a pleasurable or consoling fiction. One might go so far as to admit that such fictions may be indispensable: that our life would be intolerably drab and void of hope without some kind of mythical embellishment; but when it comes to the question of truth, it is to Science that we must look.

Such then was the prevailing view of myth during the age of modernism; but that phase, as one knows, is presently nearing its end, both philosophically and culturally. The new outlook, generally termed postmodernist, breaks with the old: the deconstructionist zeal, which in days gone by was directed mainly against established religious, cultural, and political norms – against everything, one could say, that smacked of tradition – has now been turned against the scientific enlightenment as well. There is logic in this, and a certain justice too; but yet it needs to be understood that the effects of the Enlightenment or modernity upon our Weltanschauung – and in particular, on our ability to perceive what science is actually about – have not been thereby canceled or ameliorated. Readers of Ananda Coomaraswamy will comprehend very clearly how much we have lost: that despite the material advantages of modern life, we have become woefully impoverished. In fact, we have arrived at the point of losing what is truly ‘the one thing needful.’ Cut off – as never before – from the source of our being, we have all but forgotten that life has meaning: a goal and a possibility which is not ephemeral; but needless to say, neither modern science nor its postmodernist critics can enlighten us in that regard. For this one requires authentic myth: the kind that belongs inextricably to sacred tradition as the paramount expression of its truth. Such myth, says Ananda Coomaraswamy, ‘embodies the nearest approach to absolute truth that can be stated in words’: a far cry indeed from the prevailing conception of myth as ‘the fictitious’!

Myth alone, however – no matter how exalted it may be – will not save, liberate, or enlighten us. Traditionally speaking, the illuminating myth must be received under appropriate auspices, which include conditions upon the recipient or disciple, the chief of which is sraddha, faith: there can be no spirituality, no true enlightenment, without faith.

Now, at this point, I say, that modern science touches upon the spiritual domain: it enters the picture, I contend, not as an ally to true religion, but perforce as an impediment to faith, and therefore as a spoiler, an antagonist. It is a case of opposing myths, of mythologies that clash: or better said, of myth and anti-myth.

Let us try to understand this clearly. We must not be put off by the simplistic look of traditional myth, its typically crude literal sense, remembering that such myth speaks, not to the analytic mind, but to the intuitive intellect, sometimes termed ‘the eye of the heart,’ a faculty which, alas, modern civilization has been at pains to stifle. Now, it is precisely on this level of understanding – the level of the authentic Intellect – that myth does in fact constitute ‘the nearest approach to absolute truth.’ What we have termed the ‘myths’ of science – namely, its paradigms, be they true or false – on the other hand, deliver such content as they have primarily to the rational mind; there is no mystery here, no reference to higher realms of truth. Quite to the contrary: these so-called myths offer a substitute, a ‘quasi-myth’ here below, a kind of idol of the mind, which impedes our spiritual vision. As a tool of science – as a paradigm in the strict sense – they have of course a legitimate use: think, for instance, of the now discredited Newtonian paradigm. The trouble with paradigms, however, is that they tend to become absolutized, that is to say, dissociated from the scientific process; and this is where the idolatry sets in. One transitions surreptitiously from the hypothetical to the certain, from the relative to the absolute, and thus from a science to a metaphysics. But not to an authentic metaphysics! True to its origin, that ‘relative rendered absolute’ remains unfounded and illegitimate, a pseudo-metaphysics one can say. It needs to be understood that a paradigm of science absolutized turns forthwith into an anti-myth.”

Wolfgang Smith, Science and Myth

– Lucas G. Westman


*Science & Myth, Pg. 17 – 19

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Traditionalism, Wolfgang Smith

Biblical Cosmology & Modern Misconceptions

Christ's Ascension“That there are today, in our civilization, religions with followers still standing by their beliefs is, with respect to the modern world, a kind of anomaly: religious belief definitely belongs to a bygone age. A believer’s situation, whatever his religion, is not an easy one then. But what is true for all sacred forms is especially true for Christianity, because for three centuries it has been directly confronted by the negations of modernity. The day when Hinduism, Buddhism or Islam experience the omnipresence of this modernity, they will undoubtedly in their turn undergo serious crises.

The blows dealt by the modern world against a people’s religious soul is in the first place concerned with the plane of immediate and daily existence. No need for ideological struggle here; merely by strength of its presence and extraordinary material success, this world refutes the world of religion, silences it, and destroys its power. This is because religion speaks of an invisible world, while contemporary civilization renders the sensory world more and more present, the invisible more and more absent.

This is, however, only the apparent aspect of things. The omnipresence of a world ever more ‘worldly’ is only the effect, in the practical order, of a more decisive cause that is theoretical in nature, namely the revelation of Galilean science, its technical progress being only its consequent confirmation. For the religious soul, the importance of the scientific revolution consists in the fact that it affects this soul’s own inwardness. As powerful as it might be, for the human being, society represents only an environment which it can in principle ward off. Whereas the scientific revolution, insofar as it ascribes the truth to itself, imposes itself irresistibly and from within on the intelligence that it besieges. It is a cultural and therefore a ‘spiritual’ revolution to the extent that it makes an appeal to our mind. But whenever it is a question of a believer’s mind, it is the vision of the world and the reality implied by his faith that is subverted. What remains then is the option either to renounce his faith, or else – an almost desperate solution – to renounce entirely the cosmology that it entails.

On the whole Christian thought has committed itself to this second way: to keep the faith (but a ‘purified’ faith!) and abandon all the cosmological representations by which that faith has been expressed. This is a desperate solution because these cosmological representations are first scriptural representations, the very forms by which God speaks to us about Himself. But if we disregard these forms, what remains of our faith? Scripture informs us that the apostles saw Christ raised from the earth and disappear behind a cloud, while Galilean science objects that space is infinite, that it has neither high nor low, and that this ascension, even supposing it to be possible – which it is not – is meaningless. What remains is then to see in it a symbolic fiction by which the early Christian community attempted to speak its faith in a vanished Jesus Christ: if He is no longer visible, this is because He has ‘gone back to heaven.’ Following Rudolf Bultmann the majority of Protestant and Catholic exegetes and theologians have adopted this ‘solution.’ Since then an immense process of demythologization of Christian scriptures has been in progress. According to Bultmann, what is mythological is a belief in the objective reality of revelation’s cosmological presentation: ‘descent,’ ‘resurrection,’ ‘ascensions,’ etc. To demythologize is to understand that this cosmological presentation is, in reality, only a symbolic language, in other words, a fiction. To pass from myth to symbol, this is the hermeneutic that enables to a modern believer, living at the same time in two incompatible universes – that of the Bible and of Galilean science – to avoid cultural schizophrenia.

But at what price? At the price of making unreal all biblical teachings on which faith relies and with which it is bound up. To reject this cosmological presentation, the witness of which the apostles, for example, vouch to have been, is this not to reject with the selfsame stroke the faith attached to it? What does this parting of faith from its cosmological garment, of kerygma from myth, imply? Basically, would this not separate the Divine Word from its carnal covering and ultimately deny the Incarnation?

How surprising that another way never occurred to Bultmann, a way which, had it been taken into consideration, might have changed many things in the course of the West’s religious history. It is this way that the distinguished mathematician Wolfgang Smith proposes to explore, and into which he now offers us insights. In the present crisis, in which Christian thought is split between an impossible fideism and its confinement to moral problems, his book discloses a liberating perspective which, in the name of science itself, restores to faith its entire truth. It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of such a work. On the most essential points, the most burning questions concerned with biblical cosmology, heliocentrism, the nature of space and matter, the concept of a true causality, etc. Wolfgang Smith shows how the conclusions of contemporary science cease to be incompatible with the affirmation of traditional cosmology.”

– Jean Borella, Foreward to Ancient Wisdom and Modern Misconceptions – 

– Lucas G. Westman

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Apologetics, ID Theory, Traditionalism, Wolfgang Smith

Against Darwinism & Theistic Evolution

theistic-evolutionThese two passages are taken from Wolfgang Smith’s work, Theistic Evolution: The Teilhardian Heresy. Beginning with a statement from the preface,


“By way of a first orientation it can be said that what presently confuses and misleads the faithful above all are pseudo-philosophical notions masquerading in scientific garb. It is this spurious pretension to be ‘science-based’ that renders these tenets virtually sacrosanct in the eyes of the populace, and explains why even theologians of rank have been misled. Does not our science work ‘signs and wonders’ that could indeed ‘deceive even the elect’ as Christ has foretold?”

Continuing from the Introduction,

“The tenet of theistic evolution, as its very name implies, is the off-spring of two disparate disciplines – science and theology, namely – and may consequently be viewed from either side. Let us begin on the side of science by recalling the gist of Darwin’s famous theory. The basic idea is as simple as it is bold: one species, supposedly, can give birth to another by way of small random mutations. The stipulated scenario is obviously ‘slow’ and hence of enormous duration, and requires a principle selection to determine which mutations are incorporated into the line of descent. And there again the idea is simple: it is summed up in the phrase ‘survival of the fittest.’ Let me further recall that Darwin supported his theory in The Origins of Species by citing copious examples of species inhabiting the Galapagos Islands which had deviated from their mainland ancestors through the acquisition of characteristics needful to survival in the new environment.

More than a century and a half has now elapsed since this theory was first promulgated, and apparently it has taken about that length of time for the inherent difficulties to manifest. One must remember that, in Darwin’s day, the science of biology was as yet in its infancy. Most notably, genetics – the biology of descent! – did not yet exist: the foundation was laid by Gregor Mendel in 1865, and his work remained unnoticed for some thirty five years. It then took another half century before the actual structures that carry the hereditary traits – the DNA contained in the nuclei of cells – came into view. And it turns out that the more biology we know, the more difficult it becomes for the Darwinist to stand his ground. The interested reader may consult the serious anti-Darwinist literature – which in recent decades has been growing by leaps and bounds – to learn exactly what the problems are that now threaten the theory, and in the opinion of many, have rendered it untenable.

For the purpose of this Introduction, three simple points will suffice. First, the evidence for the existence of evolutive transformations, as given in The Origin of Species, pertains to what has come to be called ‘microevolution,’ a kind which is severely limited in its scope. Whether microevolution does or does not transgress the bounds of a species depends of course upon the definition we assign to this elusive term. Yet it appears that the authentic species does prove to be inviolable. The Galapagos finches, notwithstanding their unusual plumage and beaks, are still finches; and as a matter of fact, no bona fide ‘transformation of species’ has ever been observed. And this sharpens the debate: what henceforth stands at issue is macroevolution. And here the theory runs into two main problems, the first being what some have termed ‘fossil stasis.’ Not only are the intermediary forms demanded by Darwin’s theory nowhere to be found, but it happens that the fossil record is characterized throughout by a pattern of stasis, interrupted here and there by the sudden emergence of new morphological forms. In a word, the paleontological evidence unquestionably repudiates the Darwinist theory: that is the first major problem, which has been recognized for quite a long time. The second came to light more recently: with the emergence of molecular biology, to be exact, a science which provides mathematically sharp examples of what Michael Behe terms ‘irreducible complexity.’ The idea is simple, ‘By irreducibly complex,’ writes Behe, ‘I mean a single system composed of several well matched-parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease function.’ What this means is that an irreducibly complex structure could not have evolved by way of chance mutations selectively assumed into the genetic line: on the molecular level the question submits to mathematical analysis through the calculation of probabilities, and thus at last renders possible a rigorous refutation of the Darwinist hypothesis. This line of inquiry is presently being pursued by advocates of what has come to be known as ‘intelligent design.’ More cogently perhaps than any other discipline, ID research demonstrates the impossibility of the evolutionist claim.

Why, then, in the face of mounting counter-evidence, is the Darwinian theory not only retained, but pronounced in high quarters to be scientifically sacrosanct truth? The answer to this puzzling question has been given with the utmost clarity by a leading evolutionist himself. I am referring to Richard Lewontin, who avers that it is ‘our a priori commitment to material causes’ that drives the Darwinist: ‘and that commitment,’ he tells us, ‘is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.’ Which brings us finally to our proper subject, namely ‘theistic evolution’: a new kind of Darwinism, which not only does allow ‘a Divine Foot in the door’, but maintains that ‘a Divine Foot’ is in fact needed if evolution is to take place. Instead of replacing God as Creator by the evolutive process, theistic evolution affirms that this process is actually the means by which God does create: ‘God creates by evolution,’ so the dictum goes. Strange as it may sound, Darwin’s atheistic theory has thus metamorphosed into a theistic doctrine, espoused today by major segments within the Christian world. The fact is that theistic evolutionism, in conjunction with the so-called big bang scenario, is nowadays taught in seminaries and widely disseminated to the faithful as the enlightened up-to-date cosmogony, which in effect replaces what is waved aside as the ‘literal sense of Genesis.’”

Wolfgang Smith, Theistic Evolution: The Teilhardian Heresy


In addition to this lengthy passage referenced above, the homily titled, The Golden Calf of Evolution, is a wonderful exposition of what the traditionalist position ought to be concerning the doctrine of creation and the idol of scientistic Neo-Darwinism.

 

– Lucas G. Westman

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