Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

I Know, and So Do You

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 13, 2006

I had one of those intuitive moments on my last evening walk. It was one of the first warm nights of an early Spring, and although turbulent weather was threatening, the sky was still clear, and the moon full. No leaves yet, so the view was perfect. Shining through a few light clouds and between the branches, over a wind strong enough to be heard, the moon was trying to tell me something. The moon was trying to speak.

It Is All So Clear

In such a setting we may hear no words, yet meaning surrounds us. Which of us has not been caught in a moment of wonder when it suddenly became absolutely and obviously clear that there was a being greater than ourselves at work in the universe? There are times when we just know this; we can see it as clearly as we can see the moon, the stars, the sun, the sky, the sea. Most men have known it throughout history. Most of us have a stubborn religious streak deep down inside, confirmed in moments of vision such as this.

Never mind for the moment our quarrels over what God has revealed. I refer now only to the inescapably obvious fact that God is. So obvious is this fact that it takes considerable rhetorical sophistication and no little intellectual sleight-of-hand to get away with asserting the opposite. This sophistication and sleight-of-hand consists primarily of convincing people that one has a special expertise, a special qualification to speak which others may not gainsay. But really, these others generally accept the expertise without accepting the conclusion. They may keep grudgingly silent in the face of their supposed “betters”, but they still know what their betters do not.

The Temptation of Science

What else can it mean, for example, that a huge percentage of Americans would like the evidence for intelligent design presented in public schools after two generations of brainwashing to get them to believe that evolution is a fact which disproves the existence of God? Examples of this sort can be multiplied. People seem to go along, but when they are quietly polled, they answer not based on what they have been taught, but on what they know. And they know God is.

The temptation of science is to believe it explains so much while actually explaining so little. Science is not at war with philosophy or theology; it operates on another plane. It seeks answers to questions about how nature ordinarily functions. It does not seek answers to the question of why nature exists at all. To observe certain laws or predictable processes (or lack thereof) in nature tells us absolutely nothing about how nature came to be. And people know this, too. They may be occasionally confused, but they know and, ultimately, they do not forget.

Science is rooted in utility, the same as magic, though it is a superior system. The goal is to understand how nature works so that we can harness nature’s forces for the benefit of ourselves. This is excellent, but it is not all, not even by half. When a man stops being useful for a moment, he begins to wonder not about how things work but about the nature of reality itself, and why what is real should, well, be.

The Grand Alliance

But there are those who have a vested interest in quashing this sense of wonder. Who are they, and why? Was it Churchhill who remarked that he had seen the enemy and it was us? There is a temptation in all of us to be a god, and to do this we must erase the memory of the real God. Our motives may vary. For one, it may be a moral problem. He naturally seeks to overturn the moral order that he may be comfortable with his sin. For another, it may be the desire for worldly glory or gain. He must bury the idea of God which nags him away from what he seems to desire. A third may wish to be seen as the font of wisdom, the very eminence of knowledge. For the proud, God is not a judge but a rival.

Can you imagine it, this incredible competition with God? It is the same in every age, and in every age the most worldly—who are almost inevitably the dominant group in any culture—must seek the most effective way to keep God at bay. For moderns, the best game in town is science. And so, in the name of science, God becomes a very doubtful proposition. We may well erase Him entirely. Then we may do as we please, and it is a small price to pay to worship the scientific savants, who are too wise to attempt to make us change our lives. That science plays this role is not essential to science; it is merely a convenience, very like an accident of history.

The Triumph of Wonder

But those of us who are not so far gone, know. All those who are neither sophisticated nor deceptive enough to call black white and white black, know. And even those who have given themselves more completely to the world, the flesh and the devil—in moments of disgust or fear or true peace, they know too. Thus the world goes on and, in general, despite enormous problems and obstacles and a propensity to trip all over itself, the world knows.

How is this? How do we know? We know because we are human and, despite the fallibility of our vision, we have been fashioned to perceive reality directly. As a scientist, a person measures only the manifestations of reality, the phenomena. But as a person, he or she sees things whole and as they are. The empirical data, the measured tangibles, these are less than the whole. Persons, by virtue of being persons, exist in relation to other persons and to things. We do not see only the shapes of noses and the lengths of eyelashes. By instinct, we look deeply and perceive essences. Like Adam, we have the power to name.

And why should we have the power to name? It is what I’ve been saying. It is because we know.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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