Thursday, March 19, 2009

"...the vast potential of human reason..."

From the Holy Father's address to the Muslim community of Cameroon:

My friends, I believe a particularly urgent task of religion today is to unveil the vast potential of human reason, which is itself God’s gift and which is elevated by revelation and faith. Belief in the one God, far from stunting our capacity to understand ourselves and the world, broadens it. Far from setting us against the world, it commits us to it. We are called to help others see the subtle traces and mysterious presence of God in the world which he has marvellously created and continually sustains with his ineffable and all-embracing love. Although his infinite glory can never be directly grasped by our finite minds in this life, we nonetheless catch glimpses of it in the beauty that surrounds us. When men and women allow the magnificent order of the world and the splendour of human dignity to illumine their minds, they discover that what is "reasonable" extends far beyond what mathematics can calculate, logic can deduce and scientific experimentation can demonstrate; it includes the goodness and innate attractiveness of upright and ethical living made known to us in the very language of creation.

Apophasis & Falsification

Humor me for a moment. . .

Here's how the Eastern Orthodox theologian, Vladmir Lossky, defines apophatic theology:

"The negative way of the knowledge of God is an ascendant undertaking of the mind that progressively eliminates all positive attributes of the object it wishes to attain, in order to culminate finally in a kind of apprehension by supreme ignorance of Him who cannot be an object of knowledge" ("Apophasis and Trinitarian Theology," 13 in In the Image and Likeness of God).

Now, compare that definition to Popper's notion of falsification:

"Falsificationism claims that a hypothesis is scientific if and only if it has the potential to be refuted by some possible observation. . .all testing in science has the form of attempting to refute theories by means of observation. . .it is never possible to confirm or establish a theory by showing its agreement with observations. Confirmation is a myth" (P. Godfrey-Smith, Theory and Reality, 58).

In both cases, we proceed on a via negativa in order to reduce the accumlative effects of the descriptive errors that occur when we try to explain positively the object of our investigation.

What this comparsion assumes is that the objects of scientific investigation are as elusive as the object of theological investigation.


Whales & Shakespeare in labs?

One of the friars here at the Angelicum is writing a dissertation on Josiah Royce. He sent me the following quote from Royce:

“For us it makes absolutely no difference in our faith about the ultimate spiritual nature of things, whether the world that we see makes our hair stand on end or not, or whether the biologists ever come to succeed in making living matter or not…Nor the truth of things be less spiritual, if we could also manufacture not only protoplasm, but whole whales or Shakespeares in laboratories.”

Not sure what I think of this. . .comments?