In Defence of Broken Hearts
"If it were done, when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly."
Something can be done to resolve the present muddle among good-hearted Christian men - mostly Protestant but including many Catholics - whose distress in failing effectively to come to grips with atheism, in science and in social affairs from law to politics, is so sorely evident today.
My concern here is whether it may be done. We all suspect that if some unity of approach to general philosophy and common sense could be agreed upon then the strutting anti-intellectualism which threatens to drag civilisation into its bleak nihilism could be withstood.
But before we can make any progress some hard facts must be faced. There are reasons for everything and therefore reasons for our disunity. Nothing will be done if the pretence continues that there is nothing to be done. And time which has a hand in our history has become scarce, if anything is to be done.
So I beg to be forgiven for opening with something that may appear strident and controversial. We who stand for decent things, who harbour and defend the laws that we found written on our hearts, all know that there are few ills indeed that did not infiltrate our civilisation in the first place by taking advantage of ruptured friendships among people whose sole and avowed duty it is to love.
Our vision of something at the centre of things is stricken. This essential thing is all we really have to boast about and we call it Love. We love or our Faith dies; and yet we remain divided in love. It is as though we Christians are dying from a broken heart.
For sometimes a man may define a contentious thing and have his motive misconstrued - as when a husband resurrects an old hurt upon the resolution of which some new crisis may also be met. Yet in raising it he also risks offending his wife. For what was meant to secure the happiness of both could be mistaken for gratuitous cruelty; a hazard for healing misunderstood as an opening of old wounds.
But I shall seize the iron and nail my cause upon the doors of two old Roman Catholics, John Calvin* and Friar Martin Luther. For I fear that if we are ever to be effective against the present drift towards another Dark Ages the legacy of both those Reformers, in one particular matter, must be addressed.
*Son of an embarrassed diocesan accountant
I must declare at once that I do not presume here to apportion blame, between them or upon any human being directly, for the vexatious divisions in Christianity; for these are latent in the heart of every man. No, rather I accuse both men of a far lesser thing which has, nevertheless, wrought havoc on the nations. In this secular aspect, their unworthy monument has been to dam up and then disperse into troubled shallows the ancient stream of Western civilisation - the supreme science of scholastic philosophy.
Any investigation into the Reformers' motives for denigrating, not just philosophy, but the very right of good reason to know God's creation, which they claimed were driven by scriptural imperatives, must be left for another time. Reasonable men would prefer this to be carried out by Protestant and Reformation scholars themselves.
Nor can Catholics expect the complete exculpation of their 15th and 16th century fathers. The option of Peter's sword was too often preferred to absolute trust in Jesus whose brothers we ALL are, and the sheer success of Christendom brought with it smugness and even some corruption and worldliness.
While most scholars now deplore the excessive criticism levelled at the Medieval Church (ref; The Stripping of the Altars by Dr Eamon Duffy) the existence of, say, the Commendam system by which abbacies fell under the control of absentee laymen in the late Middle Ages (as rewards of the secular state), perhaps demonstrates the complex symptoms of strain in that period.
The process has already been initiated by scholars to restore historical balance - something which already threatens those who dislike Christianity in any form - and this in turn will go far to restore unity. What is needed now is an appraisal of our need for a synthesising philosophy to energise and direct a new confidence among intellectuals finally disappointed by the sterility and circular nature of modernist humanism. It will call for a courageous re-examination of many ancient prejudices.
Divided we may be in how best to serve our Lord (surely the most pathetic and incongruous of lamentations) but there is general agreement about the need for a unified response to a common enemy, at least in his own arena the material universe.
If it is beyond us to repair the unity of the Church, let us bridge what schisms we can. Let us begin with natural things and for the present place our hope for full Christian unity directly in God's hands through prayer.
The following is an attempt to assess the persisting fact of the schism between Reason and Faith. Those who discern the intellectual sterility of atheism and at the same time enjoy a lively religious experience are often frustrated when division among Christians even thwarts the general authority of human reason without which no common ground can be found.
I cite, for example, a coolness towards philosophy, certainly as an adjunct to scientific discussion, (who today would acknowledge it as overseeing secondary sciences?) which extends until today what began at the Reformation. It is a dichotomy between nature and reason, as it is between creation and the Creator. I argue that it has directly led to the overwhelming victory of atheism in all secular affairs.
But even more deadly than these was the Frenchman who made a reckless summa from his barrack's bed, Rene Descartes. Their success is amazing for they carried only the ragamuffin small arms of amateur philosophy against the powerful cannons of scholasticism; but they came when that battery had been spiked by its own gunners. They came upon defenders already ravaged and exhausted by the civil war of Faith.
These sophists seemed to have picked the bones of Christendom clean. Yet, as the millennium ends, there are signs of a last Christian sortie being mustered. The sort of sudden flurry that erupts against a conqueror when his iron has absolutely prevailed and seems consolidated forever.
Such stirrings are historically hopeless and indeed there is little chance of success, as worldly onlookers would mark it, for those remnant intellectuals who lift the flag of Christian civilisation again today. But they are moving at last; even if the immediate strategy seems less than heroic - little more than a symbolic act to mark things for some future race before our own culture irretrievably crumbles into chaos.
But it could be greater altogether. It is the worst sort of cowardice among Christians to call any good cause impossible; because there is, in the believer, what must chill those of his enemies who have made a genuine study of Christian history. In all the hopelessness of lost causes, his, the Christian's, is the only organism in existence which thrives in loss. His instinct is to trust an obscure passage from scripture concerning strength abiding in its antithesis; an implicit Faith in the God who cannot refuse the underdog; a God who chooses to humble the vain while He empowers the weak with His own strength.
And even if this promise were withheld for a time, in not knowing when he is beaten in the wider conflict, a Christian's capacity to be a good warrior (or an honest scientist - for essential to this campaign is the need to restore the human intellect) remains undisturbed - in fact the seeming hiatus in logic determines the extent of his courage, and in the end produces something noble and even indomitable.
It is apparent that many of us, lacking any special training in metaphysics, often depend upon flawed scientific philosophies to communicate with each other, while, at the same time being necessarily influenced by the attitudes of the times whose authority is as insistent as it is subtle.
Some take refuge in a form of dualism - a pretence that a blind adherence to scriptural precepts may be accommodated in an utterly contradictory intellectual ambience; or alternatively that one can be a Christian while secretly condemning some of its doctrines as though they stood against worldly reason - somehow true in Church but false in the market place. A young scientists said to me: "My work in the laboratory is a total contradiction of my Faith." That is immensely sad but it deftly describes the problem I raise.
There seems to be a common discomfort in the face of an unarguable first principle, viz., the only conclusion that can be reached by any human intelligence when confronted with design is that it was designed, either free of immediate volition, as in the case of weather carvings, or designed by man's will or a higher intelligence - that is by very definition of the term.
It is another principle that nothing can be uncaused.
Yet the idea is everywhere held now that a scientist who proposes the need for a primary cause to make sense of reality must therefore be in the grip of Biblical Fundamentalism; the implication being that he is something of a crank.
Alas even in the purely secular domain, a general degeneration of confidence in the intellect itself has set physical science apart from theoretical sciences, almost as though they each belonged to entirely different species of ratiocination. It is not uncommon to hear a scientist say he considers philosophy as either a contradiction of his discipline or at best a pleasant but inessential intellectual indulgence.
This is the impasse that must be resolved. I offer some reflections taken from Aquinas which can be laid beside my premise to support or develop it; that is the premise that we must all reach for the very best in human thought to defend thought itself from the forces of universal scepticism. In assembling these reflections I have also tried to re-create the lively arguments of the past which so perfectly answer or refute so much of what we consider novel today.
It would be idle to suggest that I believe there is anything other than scholasticism available to supply the bridge between Reason and our full humanness, never mind Faith; but, being a scholastic, my mind is quite open to consider whatever others might propose as being superior.
Give us back our reason!
Reason's existence is defended by pointing to evidence of design in nature which logically affirms the presence of a designer. Scholastic philosophy is the most excellent expression of the intellect's own design; it describes how the human mind acts at its highest level. It is simply put thus: Only the human intellect can discern the implications of design; and the corollary, to deny the meaning of design a man must first deny the action of his own intellect.
Again, this cannot be further argued. Nothing else underlies the fact, no syllogism may be constructed to prove this human capacity to know in every sense of the term know. Its acceptance as a principle depends upon the honesty as well as the intelligence of the intellectual who considers it.
Before raising his great arguments for the existence of God, Aquinas reminds us there is nothing new in this denial of such a vital principle of the mind: "It seems that everything that appears in the world can be accounted for on the supposition that God does not exist. Natural processes can be resolved solely into physical determinism, and design can be resolved solely into the factors of human reason or will…"
It would seem that if a mind can refuse to accept design and purpose in the obvious, general scheme of things, it can refuse the same in matters of detail. Such a man's answer to the first suffices for the second. Who is not free to affirm or resist Aquinas' dictum: "An end must be prefixed to everything that acts by natural necessity; wherefore, say the philosophers, the work of nature is the work of intelligence."?
Aquinas argued: "Things lacking knowledge move towards an end only when directed by someone who knows and understands, as an arrow by an archer. There is consequently an intelligent being who directs all natural things to their ends; and this being we call God."
In this air how can Darwinism breathe? Thus I begin with the fact of design and suggest that unless we do, no argument for sanity itself may be designed - for nothing that can be described can evade design, even description itself. .The form of nature is design. You cannot say the word "shape" without its echo "shaped", or notice cause and fail to find effect. To form a thought one must design a word, or find a word designed by another man. To be seen as man others must recognise us by the design of man. Design is a term that can be substituted for form.
It is not only men of ill will who struggle with that statement or why is such a lucid truth, in which any intellect should rest, so alien sounding even to scholarly Christians, indeed to scholars of any religion and none?
I argue that it offends against a powerful but unquestioned consensus which has become so entrenched in the Western academic psyche as to have become almost inseparable from what anthropological psychologists describe as "primitive bonding". It goes something like this: "I must not assume that this or that thing as been designed because to do so may pre-judge the issue or bias my mind towards prejudice!". But then why not begin by asking if a scientist may use words at-all, or the notations of formal communication? Amusing when put that way, and it has often been put that way; but it is also essential that we reduce the problem to just such absurdities.
To be or not to be is not the question but the answer
In brooding about the design of things our minds are led back to what is prior to design or form - being, qua being. We can grasp without any need to include shapes, colours, actions and so on, the simple, general concept of the being of a thing, or of things.
Being must be prior to change. This is the unavoidable conclusion of logic. If science is offended by this, then science offends against the intellect as surely as it would in contradicting the law of identity or the law of non-contradiction. "What IS is as itself and can be no other; and a thing cannot be one thing and another at the same time in the same sense."
It is accepted without demur that philosophy is supposed to contradict scientific principles by imposing limits upon an imaginary universe in which everything is considered to be homogeneous in accordance with the principles of mathematical extension, nothing is conceived as natural to itself or perfectible in its being, and in which everything, even the utterly illogical can be, must be, considered possible under the wand of "Science".
But of course such an eccentric vision of reality cannot be accepted as scientific in any sense. We may refer to it as scientism for want of a better word; and we can easily refute the flawed philosophies upon which it actually rests for its justification if we take up the arguments of scholastic reasoning.
Only the deployment of the full intellectual resources of human minds can synthesise being and the implications that derive from contemplating it - whether in a lab or enjoying a symphony orchestra, whether the being we brood upon is a genome or a phrase from the Agnus Dei in Mozart's Requiem.
If philosophy, or science, or man's sense of wonder, exists without the others, the intellect at once loses its integrity. In terms of what we might call disciplines, each is mistress in her own house, but one thing oversees the order of the whole so far as the mind of man is concerned I shall argue. In its simple form it is known as common sense and in its higher development it is the science of philosophy. In the loss of this queen of sciences can be traced the baffling confusions of state-dependent scientism philosophies.
Put the four causes of Aristotle before a modern university class and you will get some idea of the materialist foundations of school education generally. Nobody attends to what a things is or for what it is. Everything is flat, a series of causes and none of them a first cause. Nobody teaches about the principles of things except to some limited extent in mathematics. Any suggestion of purpose smacks of medieval mystery plays.
How then can anybody suppose he can break out of this endless succession of secondary causation by adding other secondary reasons? It is an infinite plane.
A man may deny that there ever was a start to things, that there is instead an infinite state of matter in flux or change. A steady state cosmos is an extravagantly metaphysical standpoint -but, remarkably, it is also beyond the formal science of scholastic metaphysics to refute outright, unless to do so by leaning upon the latest astronomy physics which propose a "Big Bang" ex-nihilo, i.e. that out of utter nothingness a mass of matter formed and unravelled explosively setting up micro and macro universes, bio-forms from bugs to blue eyes, and all the brains of mice and men to boot.
Aquinas said this: "That the world must have existed always is not a necessary truth, nor can it be demonstratively proved." and "That the world has had a beginning is credible, but not demonstrable; that is, a beginning cannot be strictly deduced from the concept of an object of which the meaning is not temporal or spatial, or by an analysis of the causality involved in its production." (Summa Theologica).
Reason from the standpoint of common sense, however, proposes the unmoved mover. And scholastic metaphysics has constructed elegant arguments for the need of a prior Mover (whom all men historically call God) whether steady state creation or not. If matter infinitely existed God must still be invoked as its Mover, infinitely creating it, Aquinas proved.
The intellectual imperative for that conclusion derives from a science more germane to humanity than any mere description of corporeal things. In fact without it the purpose or end of such things may not be concluded, nor even their natures apprehended. The proposition of that power which all men call God, is not a religious belief but a practical necessity and from the science of philosophy it can be said to command the assent of the human intellect.
It is from this standpoint of need of a First Cause rather than an option that the rest of this consideration of modern muddles proceeds …
My approach to students has always been to point to this paradox, that God, while intelligently creating and guiding his creation, does so in terms of the nature which he has fixed by his design into each thing called into being. That is, he endows a particular nature on each being. Which is why we are less than human to consider even a fly as though it were a passing entity caught in a web of meaningless mutations, no greater now as an insect than its time as two separate bundles of genes carried in bodies not its own; or of no more consequence than the rotting fluff it must soon become.
"Creation implies a thing's existence in fact, not that it has been achieved as the result of a preceding process. No approach to being is involved, nor any transmutation. What is stated is just initial reality coupled with a reference to the Creator. In this sense creation is original freshness related to God." Disputations, III de Potentia, 3.
Now for those who have no experience of Aquinas there is a temptation to conclude that here he is denying causality in an excessive bout of mindless fundamentalism. As we will show, he is almost offensively modern in his understanding of what can only be called "evolution" even to accommodating the probability of cross-speciation.
It is useful at this stage to consider the implications involved in admitting this necessary reason for the existence of things. It is not important either to have any emotional or sensate connotations concerning the admission of God in the intellectual context, or none; neither does it matter if you have all of these. For the purposes of philosophy and of science, a power is required before the nature of things can be sufficiently explained.
If one only thinks in flat terms of physical causes, it is hard to raise the mind to recognise the particular activity beings enjoy as a result of their created design and purpose - within its natural motion, a thing acts by necessity of that nature to its natural end. The atheist cannot see further than the last effect and those who have an ill-considered or immature faith consider that God's providence over-rules material reality so as to render it irrelevant. As if to say, if God controls things then these are not moving according to physical natures. Others accept a creator but then remove him to a position of irrelevance.
But God has not directly excluded fire as the cause of heated air. He sustains the fire to be fire and the air to receive changing motion according to the nature of both. But proving truths like this is not the task of the lab technician, nor for that matter can the technician disprove them. In brief I am saying that Philosophers must shuck off white lab coats and put on their gowns again. I'd like to see a bit of strut, phellows! A good start might be to raise an eyebrow when the chap whose job it is to measure finches' beaks concludes that nobody made little green apples.
Of course all flat roads lead to Topsy who "just growed" and to Charles Darwin who seems never to have stopped proliferating. Darwinian theory is the tabernacle of a new humanist religion which was canonised by Julian Huxley at the United Nations, and its excitable communitarian acolytes seem to believe that only he confirmed the concept of re-generation of living things down through the ages, together with the complete explanation of the mechanisms that directed them into being or out of being.
This alone could be said to be new because previously it was understood that no individual man's will could significantly affect his race in a future time, other than by directly murdering every other human creature. Mice, and all other life-forms, seem to lack the necessary gumption to make decisions beyond what immediately, instinctively gratifies appetitive needs; and are unaware of the processes either of their own or their species survival.
When it is pointed out that a cosmic reality actually exists and acts which witnesses to his point in most respects, were it not for the fact that it is obviously moving according to the laws of direction and control; his response is what might be expected from any closed mind. He supposes that his listeners are fools who cannot recognise the operations of nature; or he argues with religious phantoms who perceive idolatry in any admission that created nature is empowered to act of itself; or he pursues a myriad quite natural facts but presents these as proofs against the very principle they prove - that they also contradict by their very order and direction his synthetic arguments of purposeless chance.
If you wish to test this, ask its disciples why they have lost the human capacity to perceive design; why indeed they must, as a sine qua non of the philosophy, deny even the existence of design, the quite obvious direction of natural things from a cause to an end; and, at all costs, the unavoidable implication in nature's motion that it is controlled.
This blanket drawn across the most alarming and exciting natural drama ever produced really must be lifted at last and scientists must be allowed to act the part again by examining what is in reality and not what fits an ideology of deprivation. Perhaps "the Producer" might then receive proper credit too - Whomever one believes Him to be.
Fair-mindedness would be expecting a lot from men who must begin all study from the position of denying the obvious, never mind scientific rigour; and of course Darwinism is strewn with embarrassing gaffs which its enemies take pleasure in pillorying; but they chase shadows who pursue the reasoning of unreason and often do greater harm than good by getting drawn into circular argument.
Hence Aquinas' warning concerning arguments from men of good-will and men of ill-will. Have we lost the confidence of the middle ages to call a spade a spade? "In meditating on the universal truth of beings, primary philosophy must also scrutinise the general setting of truth." Commentary, II Metaphysics, lect. 2.
Aquinas as I have already pointed out, described the evolutionary theory already old hat in his time (even to new species as in the product of a mule from an ass and a mare). He perfectly understood that although the mule cannot propagate itself, the astounding crossing remains. The fact that it is guided by man's will rather than God's directly gives rise to even more profound problems than those attaching merely to whether or not species could ever rise from another naturally or even emerge from an original single cell.
He did not have the advantage of modern techniques to hunt for inter-species links (which, incidentally, have signally failed to prove what most fair-minded folk sense to be true). But that is a matter for science, not philosophy. All we need do is to ask if anything might be discovered, other than God, that requires no cause.
Aquinas seems to follow what many natural philosophies have accommodated since the earliest times in proposing, that God directly created the various kingdoms and phyla in primitive form.
Aquinas, however, was in every respect the antithesis of a Darwinist evolutionist. For a start even as a thing acts according to its nature, that act is supported by the creative activity of God in his understanding of reality - not as an opinion but as a conclusion supported and required from reasoning.
But the greatest difference between the man of God and the atheist is to be recognised first and foremost in virtue, however one decides to examine virtue and whatever of the many virtues available to man is selected for scrutiny. Aristotle insisted that men are actually defined by the virtue of knowing, that it is our nature to Know. In the same way it is the virtue of a knife to be sharp, or of a horse to be fast.
If we attempt to reason while denying the works of reason we attempt nothing. This fact overwhelms every and any analysis of merely mechanical causation, indeed it renders them dumb and irrelevant. And I claim that unless one begins here, in that lawn of reasonable light which lies between the finger of the All Holy and the beings he formed distinct from his own Divine Being out of his freely offered generosity, (a conclusion which does not depend upon articles of Faith or Revelation but arises necessarily from science) we will continue to see our poor brothers misled by lies.
But immediately, the statement of such a self-evident principle witnesses to the only possible cause that dares withstand it - an a priori denial of nature's need for an Unmoved Mover. If this denial continues unchallenged, the intellectual energy of people will darken in dualism, irrelevance, and frustration; at the end to die in itself.
Until we recover from the intellectual regression which places us lesser than the Ionians and the early thinkers who "floundered at first and mistook bodily things for entire reality" nothing may ever be achieved in the repair of education, and, as I have argued, from such a privation civilisation must perish..
The immediate issues
It follows from the nature of efficient causes that motion from potency to act suggests in all physical phenomena a common connectedness (integrity) and this observation establishes a sense of "fact" upon all sorts of evolution hypotheses - Darwinism being the most sterile as many nowadays would agree; because intrinsically it denies human intellect. Darwinism, arguing in contradictions - creative chance - is not a matter of intellect but of desire to Deny. It creates a sort of bias against humanity in its highest virtue, which is that it desires to Know.
Aquinas in the 13th century wrote: "After the works of the six days of creation, none of the things subsequently made by God is so utterly new as not to be there anticipated in some way. Some things pre-exist materially, others causally as well, as the individuals that are now generated pre-existed in the first individuals of the species. Fresh kinds that may emerge are present in forces already at work - as animals of a new species are sometimes produced from the union of animals of different species…" (Summa Theologica, 1a lxxiii. 1, ad 3)
It is not repugnant to reason or dismissive of divine Revelation to propose the ascent of things, even to the summit which is human life; God "took clay" to create man when he had already made clay, as it were, from nothing. Other than stating the case in very general terms, little more can be done until, if ever, physical evidence is collated to cast light on that dawning of things; except to admit that even the relatively recent appearance of life on this planet has so far thwarted our best efforts to comprehend its proposed transition from inorganic forms. (Ref; Appendix A)
Nor is it unreasonable for a scientist to admit that, despite the foregoing, material causes cannot of themselves suffice to explain the coming of matter into being, or do more than demonstrate, without explaining, its control and direction.
It may surprise some academics whose education in the physical sciences was at the expense of humanities that this modern debate was raging and developing from a thousand years before Christ but that since its collapse by the 17th century, it has barely moved on, indeed from some arguments presently being aired, it has gone backwards.
I offer this for the honest consideration of those influenced by Christian particularities who suspect the proper authority of human reason, arguing that this was lost in the Fall as a result of Adam's sin - theological devices as such have no real place in this essay but one may be forgiven for pointing out that had this been so then Cain could not have sinned, for to sin means to know and to have a choice - "It would scarcely accord with the character of Divine Goodness were God to keep His knowledge to Himself without intimately disclosing Himself to others, since to be generous is of the nature of good." Opusc. Xlv, Exposition, de Divinis Nominibus, i, lect. 1.
It only remains to set into some form of order, borrowing from classical philosophy, that present debate between open minded men who discern wider perspectives of reality, up to and including a spiritual dimension, and those of flatter intellect, less sensitive to the alarming implications of human enquiry and the even more alarming processes of the intellect. These are usually identified as propagating atheistic, non-purposive materialism and some go so far as to deny the reality of human reason altogether.
I have made a point of presenting much of this case from the pen of a medieval friar, not because I cannot speak in plain English but to enliven our intellectual heritage and demonstrate the timeless authority of a perfected instrument of the mind.
At stake, as I have already suggested, is the very authority of reason. To whoever denies this the only response is to insist upon reason's capacity to reach truth (despite difficulty and the need for objective testing) as a first principle. Common sense dictates that if this is not so then nothing of substance exists on either side of the debate but emotional posturing.
A less obvious principle is that phenomena should be studied so as to apprehend reality in as complete a manner possible; certainly with concern for the nature of things, and especially so in the study of man. "To enquire into the meaning of animal is one business, to inquire into the meaning of human animal quite another." (Summa Theologica, 1a. xxix. 4)
There is no novelty in men presuming a matter proved if it can be fitted into the framework of a fashionable general theory, but that such an unsafe argument seems to have supplanted rigorous methody among the leaders of origins investigators may account for much of the contumely they attract from their less reckless fellows, even those, as is the case with Gould, who share their mistrust of any Cause prior to material existence.
The senses can be said to be disunited. The same applies socially when some thinkers disturb the peace of the whole group, whether through ill-will or out of honest attention to truth.
Extreme tensions may arise when concepts fundamental to the peace and security of a group are seen to be attacked, as in religious quarrels, or disputed concepts upon which morals, ethics and law might depend. Often the immediate need for harmony leads thinkers into "schizophrenic" accommodations of falsehood and truth, fantasy and reality.
There is nothing new in this as Islamic and then Christian history evidences; Siger of Brabant's proposition of contradictory truths, following Averroes, arose from just such tensions despite the ancient wisdom of our civilisation, (best articulated in this case by Aristotle), upon which they had erected their philosophies in the first place. Aquinas insisted on the law of non-contradictions which surely must be followed now as then; and the seductive dualism option rejected. A thing cannot be at once true and false; and "What is untrue to nature is false from every point of view." (Disputations, 1 de Potentia.)
I therefore discern two elements confronting well intentioned thinkers today, the first is consideration of the true nature of Being, and what specifically has being, which leads the mind comprehensively to consider the nature of things; but against this position there stands a widespread denial of nature as such, replacing that concept with a purely mechanical series of contingent and random influences which is said to account for the existence and motion of phenomena generally.
Here I must draw your attention to exactly how the English sensualists attacked the traditional view of human reason as something superior to the other animals, not in order of mere development but in its very nature.
Aristotle had distinguished between thought which could be accounted for as an immediate processing of information received from the senses. This was thereafter known as "sensible" apprehension. But the mind from such information could proceed to another level quite beyond the explanations available to the first processes. Man could universalise, abstract notes for consideration from what he observed or considered, could accord meanings to annotations and in doing so create words and language. None of these directly mirror particular material but rather relate to material. Mentally coherent structures and strategies are erected, usually through trial and error, which in itself indicates a purposiveness distinct from the actual processes of rationalising and computation.
The fact is that things considered are brought under the domination of the mind that treats of them. The information being processed cannot be said to be the processor. This function has traditionally been termed "intelligible" comprehension.
The enlightenment fallacy
Hume, Locke to some extent, and Berkeley had to deny this to hold to their anti-intellectual doctrines and did so immediately by denying abstraction in the making of language. Despite Locke's insistence "Brutes abstract not" he followed the general move against reason first arising, or being made possible, by a previous or prior capacity to "know" what is brought to it.
Empirical and testable psychological proofs of this can of course be assembled (Averoes and Aquinas both did so) but, there is no real need for these for the purposes of this little essay, since by simply exercising our own reflexive powers we can assure ourselves that "we know that we know".
The materialists fell into practically every possible error through their lack of scholastic learning and the loss of classical elucidation. For example, their problem in finding distinctions between ideas and images, failing to recognise basic laws such as non-contradiction, their reduction of material reality to a flat plane consideration by jettisoning three of the Four Causes*, all served to exacerbate an already flawed philosophy. But what has entered the very flesh of modernism from that time is perhaps the most dangerous of all - a limiting of distinct intellectual procedures to proofs unsuitable to them, and an over-reliance upon such elements of ens rationis as they had picked up along the way.
*Descartes reduced all material to infinitely divisible mathematical extension - length, breadth, thickness - a universal homogeneity. This system is the philosophic interpretation of chemical atomism. Its leading tenets may be expressed in the following propositions:
- The Atoms of simple bodies are homogeneous, i.e. of the same nature. They are distinguished only by a quantitative difference of mass and motion.
- All corporeal properties are reducible to modes of local motion.
- The substantial being of the atom is itself inert, possessing no inherent principle of activity. Communicated local motion constitutes the whole of its energy, which is therefore merely borrowed.
- Intrinsic finality of the substantial adaptation of beings to determined ends is for modern cosmology a useless fiction. The working of natural forces and the harmonious succession of material phenomena is adequately explained by mechanical laws.
- In a word, two factors alone are needed to explain the world: homogeneous mass and communicated local motion, capable of being transmitted and transformed in numberless different modes.
It is a double denial; firstly that the mind abstracts and creates knowable reality of its own; and secondly, but in contradiction of that denial, that its innate power of logic can be selectively denied; i.e. One may deny its conclusions from first principles but accept this if the conclusions are in mathematics.
Nor did it seem to occur to them that by taking away the mind's right to know, making of it a reactor to external stimuli, it is no longer valid to propose either subjective or objective thought. If I am reacting to external influence alone, I have no say in the matter, neither as to what enters my own mind nor what happens in someone else's. But neither can I accept what is claimed for another's mind.
Such obvious matters had been handled adequately by the Middle Ages:
"The same sort of certitude is not to be expected in all fields of scientific enquiry. The well-disciplined mind will not demand greater certitude than the subject will offer, nor be content with less. To accept mathematical truth on rhetorical persuasions (Alas, Hume!) is almost a crime; so also to exact mathematical demonstrations from an orator," Aquinas wrote. Commentary, Ethics, lect.3.
In fact the general aura surrounding the English Sensualists is fudge. Of Hobbes it can only be said that he was adamantly wrong and that his name and works have been fudged by generations of scholars bent on canonising him as the first real atheist. An atheist too early it seemed for his day, for he had to modify his enthusiasms against theism by Royal imperative.
Hobbes was a materialist to the point of continued self-contradiction, even of unabashed opinionated bigotry against anything that stood against him. It should be noted that Darwinism would have been impossible to mount without the destruction of common sense achieved by such men.
There are some deft exposés of the errors in 17th century philosophy now in publication; perhaps as good as any for those new to the problems of philosophy, is Dr Mortimer Adler's Ten Philosophical Mistakes. (ISBN 0-02-064120-6).
For something more immediately applicable to modern concerns is Professor Phillip E. Johnson's Reason in the Balance (ISBN 0-8308-1610-0).
The first element concerns those scientists directly involved in material secondary causes but demands from them sensitivity to the light of human intelligence as an authority by which phenomena ought to be regarded. This is best explained by its antithesis which is to reduce the scientist to the level of mechanical reactor to given stimuli. This anti-intellectual position is the common mind-set expected among Western scientific academicians. The strength of this false position rises from a part truth, the thread in the chord of clinical experimentation that validly demands mere measurement and the rigorous exclusion of extraneous influences at the inductive stage of a description.
"A singular truth is never produced no matter how many generalities are assembled," Disputations, de Anima, 20.
And yet it is quite common for those who place ideologies before proofs, to attempt this very thing; to propose the refutation of either a first or an ultimate cause as arising from the consideration of nothing other than the material cause of a thing, or alternatively from generalities concerning material causes.
It is not widely realised how inimical to reason these "enlightenment" inheritors of the 17th century materialists and sensualists actually are. But they also must be confronted if any real defence of wisdom is to be mounted. Indeed much of the sensitivity pricking this subject is occasioned, not by its matter but from disordered discourse, some lack of distinction between the various subjects (and sciences) involved, and improper guidance, sometimes even a lack of confidence, in understanding the necessary separation of material science and theological considerations based upon deposits of wisdom received from a Divine source. From this last muddle such ill considered remedies as dualism are too often resorted to, either explicitly or, what is worse, in a form of psychological ambivalence from which neither science nor religion emerges with any advantage.
Aquinas wrote: "A man should remind himself that an object of faith is not scientifically demonstrable lest, presuming to demonstrate what is of faith, he should produce inconclusive reasons and offer occasion for unbelievers to scoff at a faith based upon such grounds."
But he also made the equally valid point, "Some hold that our views about creatures are irrelevant to the truth of faith so long as our religious attitude is correct. They have adopted a thoroughly unsound position."
How are these two observations squared? Well for one, by not mistaking science for the sensible human faculty of looking upon what IS and seeing that it is good. It is idle to take the discipline of the laboratory along to the ball park, unless you prefer the measurement of velocities and physiques to the human genius for playing and having fun.
As to synthesising Faith and Science, Aquinas wrote: "Demonstrative, cogent, and intellectually convincing argument cannot lay hold of the truths of Faith, though it may neutralise destructive criticism that would render Faith untenable."
But, if I may suggest a classical start; secondary or materially efficient causes are themselves caused by other efficient (or secondary) causes. What a philosopher understands at once we seem to have lost as a group - matter cannot make itself unless we render creation, or any other starting point, redundant and posit the ancient theory that the material universe had no beginning and matter is merely an ordered but endless motion.
Now Darwinism, although its disciples may deny it, IS a creation theory itself. It believes things "were started", even if like our little friend Topsy "they just growed". They are saying "matter created matter". Then they say: "matter directs and controls matter". Then they say, nor who can blame them: "Matter is not intelligent." They are not often jollied along about the logical and material contradictions involved. They ought to be!
Aquinas, as I have already mentioned agreed that unaided reason could not absolutely refute the hypothesis that material had no mathematical beginning, but that if this were so then God must have been infinitely creating it.
Despite that, he furnished elegant proof that only God "in the act of creating" could explain matter coming into being at all - and in doing so he displayed the human mind's natural resonance with the truths of Revelation and its capacity to grasp them. His proofs of the existence of God are in large part based upon the need for secondary cause to be caused in turn.
It is solidly logical and cannot be refuted in the framework of philosophy. And philosophy IS a science.
Now we have little excuse to ignore Aquinas in this since the Big Bang theory of material sciences reinforces the point. It indicates a physical proof of what simple common sense had already grasped. Even an evolutionist proposes an ascending or developing direction in things which necessarily seeks a state of beginning and that in turn means a finite point of departure, however dusty.
It is a fad to believe that Aquinas, just because he preceded us by something less than a millennium, must necessarily be less educated. The truth is that philosophy had reached its summit by the 13th and 14th century, whereas the physical sciences, which have relied so heavily upon the industrial development of instrumentation, are only now maturing. Philosophy is not just a valid science; it has become the sine qua non for intellectuals.
The Big Bang
But by implication there arises from this philosophical approach a number of related considerations. The first is mathematical in the modern sense of the term.
"Would the one be louder or quieter than the one before?" I quipped. He seemed to grasp the nonsense only when I asked: "How do they DO that when there IS nothing there in the first place to DO anything?" There ain't no pre-Bang bangers hanging around if you exclude the power that all men call God.
A lady opined: "It must be quite a task getting the whole thing emptied out before another Bang!"
She was exercised by the notion of tidying up space into a state of non space, non time, and non being. A cosmic Mrs Mopp! But the problem remains in the quite separate physical order of biology where mass, qua mass, plays no pivotal part in generation or multiplication. One cell becomes many cells and of course this is also repugnant to the intellect in a certain sense. We see it and we should not believe it. Indeed the Thomist description of life runs; "living things are those that set themselves into activity".
Forget the astronomical complexity of the cellular multiplicity involved in the evolution of one adult from a blastocyst. Unlike one billiard ball striking another which is a simple efficient cause, the fact that one cell becomes two cells does not rest so readily with reason seeking causes - even when an extrinsic cause directly effects this multiplication - unless it brings into the equation further elements; extra material, association with its object (efficient power), and extrinsic and intrinsic action in response to design. In short, material, planning/work and intelligence.
Paradoxes of multiplicity
Few modern laboratories would feel comfortable with the following dictum of Aquinas as part of a policy statement.
Thus Aquinas again; concerning multiplicity: "From the first unique being proceeds multitude and diversity, neither because of the exigencies of matter nor because of any limitation of power, but because of the order of wisdom." He also wrote: "All plurality is a consequence of division ..."
Aquinas, having discussed multiplicity arising from unity by the breaking up of a whole as "taking away the integrity and completeness of the whole", then discusses the multiplicity "of many species issuing from one genus, and many individuals from one species". But he does so in context of a nature created in things in such fashion as to mirror elements of God's own Being.
He also writes: "It must be granted without qualification that God operates in all natural and voluntary activity. Through not appreciating the situation accurately, some have made the mistake of attributing all action exclusively to God and denying that natural things perform by their proper powers, as though fire did not heat, but that God creates heat, (the false doctrine of occasionalism, i.e. that creatures are not true causes, but occasions of Divine causality). Disputations. III de Potentia, 7.
Now this all touches upon the need to examine any phenomenon according to its nature. Aquinas develops this in the Summa, thus: "Some have interpreted the workings of efficient causality as though no created power has any real effect on things, but that God alone is the direct cause.
"This, however, is impossible, for it would abolish the order of cause and effect among created things, and this would reflect ill on the power of the Creator; for to impart power of action to an effect comes from very strength of causality. Furthermore, the operative powers we notice in things would be futile were they destitute of real action. Therefore we must so understand God's action in efficient causes as to leave intact their own proper actions."
*Darwin's Black Box and irreducible complexity
Incidentally, any material extrinsic cause, which I suggest earlier would be required before multiplicity could arise from unity, is a material being also and it too must conform to cause and effect; and the tracing out of these causal implications comprises chemistry and physics, indeed all the sciences of secondary causes.
And yet when each of these is examined as to its nature, there is always lacking what sufficiently explains it. It is not unscientific to draw attention to this. It is unscientific to refuse to consider it.
Those who would propose no other energetic dynamic in nature beyond local motion (which palpably cannot of itself empower any effect) are nevertheless reckless in adorning the unpurposed, non-directed material universe with sufficient innate power to effect what hoi poloi "mistakes for miracles" - usually implying even the Resurrection of Jesus. These, be it also noted, are the same people who reduce the mystery of biological action to mere mechanistic reaction, mathematical extension, and material homogeneity (Taken together all quite incongruous).
Thomas Huxley (1825-95) is reported by Rev Henry Latham (The Risen Master, 2nd ed. 1910, p.25) to have argued: "Modern physiology can find parallels in nature for events of apparently the most eminently supernatural kind … There is no impossibility except such as involves contradiction in terms. It may be improbable that a man should walk on the water, be born without human intervention, rise again. But we cannot say that it is impossible for anyone: we are only at the beginning of our knowledge of nature, and we cannot set bounds to its possibilities."
Spinoza (Epistle XXIII) had anticipated Huxley thus: "I may ask whether we weak men have so great a knowledge of nature that we can fix the limit of its might and power, and say what surpasses its might."
Renan with typical economy wrote: "Miracle is only the unexplained."
Dr Johnson in Rasselas (1759) treating of the immortality of the soul, met a similar objection. His contention has been that thought is always found to be a modification of which matter is incapable. Hence it arises from some non-material cause. He has the objection raised: "The materialists urge that matter may have qualities with which we are unacquainted."
And to this he makes Imlac reply:
This is as fresh today as it was when the good doctor wrote it. Especially since scepticism has moved from the denial of mere miracles made by God to the mystery of the ordinary things created by God.
My point is that true philosophy not only discerns the flaw in atheistic cosmology and displays its incongruity when set against the Creator (which it detests), but that it reveals its inadequacy in the face of nature's full dimension.
Before proceeding this should be noted; it is a philosophical principle that "that by which" a thing is brought into act cannot at the same time be "that which" is brought into act. Also, that a potency and the act to which it moves are not and cannot be the same thing.
This could be exemplified by the "discovery" that DNA carries or comprises information but at the same time cannot write it.
With little more to bring to our problem than a clear understanding of unity and multiplicity, sensitivity to cause as it applies not just as to mover but as to material (what a thing comprises), form (design), purpose and end, endlessly futile disputes can be avoided or even settled all this simply by recognising the issues clearly.
If one adds logical rigour to distinguish non-contradictions and separate, say, the doer from what it does; many excesses can be curbed and errors demonstrated in the present vexatious debate. Some grasp of terms and their meanings such as being, essences, potentiality, and act. The vocabulary of philosophy is easily acquired by an educated person; and from this one may proceed to the science of ontology and metaphysics.
One can develop paradoxes of unity and multiplicity indefinitely but to cut to the chase (or the aftermath of the Big Bang among the detritus of its remains), one grain of rock associating randomly with another grain of rock makes two grains of rock (Both no doubt boiled and quite sterile). One grain of rock does not become two unless it breaks into smaller bits which is not at all the thing we are discussing. (In passing beware loose metaphors about crystals. It is not by accident that students are being encouraged thus in describing animate creatures. Look rather at the many examples of micro-evolutionary adaptations in species which have cast limbs or other parts. We seem unable to find limbs growing where previously there were none. I use this merely to re-enforce a point of approach to a general problem.)
When I went to observe Professor Phillip E. Johnson taking atheism by the ear at Cambridge to pull it out from behind science's petticoats, a group of Japanese biologists assured me they knew exactly how a cell multiplies (or divides) and I assured them that they did not. Labels make great lullabies, even in Japanese. They had never been asked to consider the difference of a thing "acting of itself" and merely responding to an immanent cause. So I described a video film of two thousand dominoes toppling in response to a finger moving the first one; then, beginning with the last to fall, rising one after the other until all two thousand pieces were upright again.
The second series of events I argued were all associated with a prior cause, but a cause quite different from the transmitted energy of toppling in the first series of effects.
"But how did they all rise up again?" I was asked. "They didn't. The film was reversed," I said. "If I control the media I control perceptions of reality."
"So do you still imagine you can tell me how a cell lives and in living 'decides' to proliferate and organise anything from flies eyes to jet pilots?" I asked. "To observe the operation of living things without appropriate wonder would be like watching fallen dominoes rising again upon their own dynamic as though it were a common place activity!"
Now if grains of rock associate contingently with others and become one living cell, that not only defies maths and biology as we presently understand things, but logic as well. We are postulating the first impossibility before all the others of "randomly driven order" - truly a contradiction in term.
But in physics or chemistry or maths we are assuming logical mutability between incongruous natures.
Unless of course there is an extrinsic power operating upon them which defies all available descriptions of corporeal material, their mutability cannot be handled rationally. Time, one must add, has no logical bearing on this once the true implications of random assembly are grasped. Again one deplores the lack of philosophic discipline which allows immature reflections on time and space to bedevil disputations involving some of the most illustrious of today's protagonists.
Handle time by imagining a huge nature-world camera speeding up action. What may happen or what cannot happen in nature is unaffected by time as such, although such and such a thing, according to a rate at which certain motions naturally occur, may be assisted or prevented by the amount of time available. Here modern technology has come up with a pretty good time/motion model. This is not new earth stuff.
The mathematician Wickramasinghe effortlessly dismissed "the school of random assemblies" if you will forgive the pun. Philosophy, like good English, simply says exactly what random means. The mathematician exemplified cause through to effect without direction or control (other than contingency which is also a very powerful occasion for cause).
As I remember his improbability factor for the random assembling of the T4 bacteriophage was 10 to the 780,000 power.
The figure given for the age of the material universe since the Big Bang is, I believe, 10 to the 18th power old. Not enough time for the T4 bacteriophage by many, many orders of hard sums to assemble itself randomly even if this could take place in the course of an explosion initiated and culminated at a corresponding rate. The word that springs to the lips must limp in place of science here. It is "instantaneous"! the cause identically met by its effect.
What any reasonable man must conclude about that excellently chosen but paradoxical metaphor from percussion or dynamite is that while explosions of such ferocity hurl the existing equilibrium into chaos, this one imaginatively hurled a stone and laid the stars in place. But all that takes us back to information as extrinsic to what it informs. Nothing, as I say, that Aristotle had not answered when he pointed out that a thing cannot be at once its cause and its effect, its potency to act and that act itself.
Some rhetorical considerations
We are sometimes looking at the wood and missing the trees in the theism/science debate. By observing the mechanisms operating in a given phenomenon we conclude that we have grasped its cause. This is not the old sow that Philosophy asks "Why" while science asks "How". No I reiterate what I stated at first, that we lost the power to ask the fully rounded human question of things when we lost Aristotle's four questions which are answered by the four causes - what is it made of? What IS it? Who or what made it? What's it for?. Thus material, formal, efficient, and final causes.
The degrees of refinement within this framework are simply inexhaustible, but one thing stands out from this approach to apprehension, and that is the operating and self-evident reality of human intellect as a first principle. That means that to ask for the four causes presumes a mind lit a priori for the agens intellectus. That mind has the capacity to know before what it is to know is brought to it via the senses.
Unless this principle is first agreed, it is futile to attempt to marshal any or every "scientific" fact or hypothesis thereafter to proving the nature and origin of being.
In this mind-set, nothing may break out of the chain of efficient or secondary causes. Here the circular argument rules. Material science is the only truth. Caused causes are not scientific. God suggests the cause of causes, therefore God is not scientific. Nobody who posits whatever implies an Unmoved Mover can grasp truth. Truth is what we say it is. Subjectivity replaces the principle of the authority of testable reason.
Who could brazenly deny that reason defends as well as describes science, or that this is efficiently exercised in philosophy? Ideological dogma about phenomena is inimical to honest and open scientific methody. But false ideology springs from flawed philosophical precepts, not from science as such; therefore the necessary defence of good method and the refutation of erroneous method is, surely, good philosophy.
It is not enough to tackle an ideology, which explains itself in the vocabulary of secondary sciences, with specific sciences themselves, such as physics or chemistry.
There is a need to return to exactness in terms as there is a need for a return to the science of argument.
For example, it is only the intellect that can form a concept like chaos - which does not in observable nature really exist - or universalise, or abstract, or construct mathematical edifices which of course have no mirror in reality (although reality may be moved because men advise action from such concepts, even from the remotest ens rationis).
Only this first light of the mind which is negatively provable, can create language, or see that this or that is bad or good, beautiful or unlovely. And yet all, or many, of these statements are exactly what materialist empiricists deny in principle. The very word science is a universal, impossible to a creature incapable of the intellectual authority to abstract notes of consideration from reality.
I argue that philosophy, logic and criteriology must be restored and promulgated sufficiently in our universities to offer students a viable alternative to academically structured materialism - not on a religious basis but on the basis of reasonable, ascertainable truth in which religion, and indeed all that is highest in man and tending to justice and friendship, best flourishes.
The present conflict is not between men of honesty and goodwill, but between good men (often ineffectually armed) and either ill-educated, opinionated, or downright vicious men operating from the basest motives and controlling educational resources with the direct or implicit assistance of professional politicians and the international media. They have already educated the society that honours and succours them and, I am unabashed to voice my opinion, that only Christian division and intolerance of other faiths created the vacuum in the first place which atheism filled.
Words may yet rescue reason. Words like random are shamefully, intentionally misused. Enter philosophy again where grammar and accurate vocabulary were honed to near perfection: Random occurrences cannot be uncaused. Chaos is incompatible with order. To speak of order arising from chaos is a contradiction in terms. Indeed grammar is the first construction of philosophy, nay, ontology which seeks the predication of the verb "to be".
Can a philosophically designed synthesis be offered to scientists, if not to comprehend the cosmos and its design, then at least to set true limits upon what things may become of themselves according to their specific natures and what they depend upon which cannot be proposed from within those natures or material at all? I believe it can, indeed the foregoing is the skeleton of such a work.
Yet, even if it failed in those two aims, it might encourage more scientists to rely upon the terrific resources of human common sense.
A good start would be to rid oneself of the delusion that there is a specifically scientific form of intellect or brain. There is most definitely not. Science is honesty assisted by method, attending to what is material if we are considering corporeal phenomena, and attending to what is intellectual if we are engaged in philosophy. Each differs only as to its end.
I do not argue this lightly. The modern impasse began with the loss of confidence in human reason which by definition puts humankind beyond the immediate control of material causes while remaining physically part of that causal nexus. But that is an experience of the human condition even before it is a principle from which the rest may be raised. It is also, like an axiom, reduced already beyond its own proofs.
If it is presented for what it is, supported by reason of its inevitable implications, then it will be harder to reject than accept - indeed it becomes a test of the quality of whatever mind judges upon it.
Most first year scientists at school in my day were invited to give up judgement in the name of science. The examiners, of course, retained the right though! They judged everybody who disagreed with them to be a failure.
Heavens knows, now they are stripping theology students of the same right by mocking it as judgementalism.
But common sense remains the main scaffold to philosophy. We have lost the great sceptical grace of recognising the impossible. When we look at an impossible thing happening we should have the courage of our convictions and the humility to describe it as such, even miraculous. When I first saw one amoeba become two before my startled eyes as a boy in stinks, I had seen the miracle of the loaves and fishes; seen it without understanding it. In manhood I found that my friends who "went into science" saw much more than me but were then conditioned to understand much less.
I have no doubt the flat plane modern mind lost a lot when Aristotle's Four Causes were jettisoned with so much else in the Reformation aftermath. He and Aquinas looked at things with a really human eye and saw them in the round and with a sense of wonder for what empowered and controlled them. They really did ask the only sensible questions a man may ask to prove he is greater than a robot.
What IS has design by very definition, yet we have men with a designed theory denying design selectively and yet to select is to enact design. They speak of random as though it could exist as random in chaos; chaos thus far, then random, then order. BUT NO DESIGN. I listen hard but cannot hear laughter. No ring has ever been set between chaos and order for the simple reason that they do not co-exist.
Bear with me if you are tempted to think the following is a flight into mere rhetoric. It is not. The argument is quite solid. Some friends cannot seem to see that basing models on material phenomena left floating in space and time independent of God's sustaining action is inimical to natural faith because it decides to see nothing that depends in the first place upon faith in things.
Those who have become accustomed to wonders like gravity, or biological fecundity, or the thought that wanders to creation's end cannot seem to grasp Aquinas' rule concerning Cause - that God IS the First Efficient Cause, that it is "not the hand which moves the stylus but the man". Thus for "stylus" in his metaphor read efficient cause, and for "man" read the power of the Creator.
Aquinas is the philosopher of my own choice and I am delighted to acknowledge a great drift towards the light of that inimitable intellect.
In the following he encapsulates the whole Origin's paradox:
"God has so communicated His goodness to creatures that one thing can shed on another what it has received. To detract from the proper actions of things is to disparage Divine goodness.
"If creatures exerted no actions productive of real effects, we could never deduce their natures from their effects, and all natural science would go by the board….Contra Gentiles, 69.
"When the three following things are taken into account, namely that God is the cause of the being of natural things, that He has particular interest and care for each, and that he does not act by the compulsion of His nature, we can see how some particular effects need not agree with the usual course of nature." Disputations, vi, de Potentia, l.
I am reminded over all by his lovely dictum: "Natural things lie midway between God's knowledge and ours. Human science derives from them, and they derive from God's own vision."
But if we dehumanise our minds in the sterile cause of phantom empiricism, or from one or another form of religious transcendentalism, we may never see that far. Nay, we may see nothing that matters; and evil things will continue to proliferate in that darkness.
Letter to State Board of Education
William B. Travis Building-Room 1-104
Texas Education Agency 1701 North Congress Avenue Austin, Texas
For the past 21 years, I have had three minutes each seven years to try to bring to your attention as well as the attention of the authors and publishers the very misleading treatment of the origin of life. I previously testified in 1983 and in 1990. I have a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering and work principally in the area of Polymer Science and Engineering, including polymeric composite materials. I have co-authored a book entitled The Mystery of Life's Origin: Reassessing Current Theories, published by Philosophical Library in 1984, which has sold ~15,000 copies. I have also written several book chapters, had one article published in the professional magazine for High School Biology Teachers, and had one journal article published in Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere (1988) It is very disappointing to see that the current treatment of the origin of life in these textbooks (except for Leonard and Penick who don't treat the subject) is as incorrect as were the two previous sets of textbooks, giving the very erroneous impression that we essentially understand how life began and all that is left is to tidy up some minor details. While workers in the field have retreated from the very optimistic pronouncements about soon being able to explain in total how life began which followed the ground-breaking work of Miller and Urey in 1953, the books get more dogmatic with time. It appears that origin of life research is making its greatest progress in high school textbooks rather than in the origin of life research laboratories around the world. With major review articles appearing in the Scientific American in 1992, 1994, and 1996, as well as a comprehensive review of the state of affairs by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Science entitled The Search for Life's Origins (1990), it is hard to understand why the textbooks continue to present half truths, and in some cases, ideas that are patently false.
It is particularly ironical that Stanley Miller, whose work is most heralded in the textbooks, concluded his chapter in Major Events in the History of Life (ed. William Schopf) in 1992 as follows:
In the November, 1992 issue of Discover, the origin of life was included in their cover article on ten great unanswered questions of science. In the August 15, 1997 issue of Science, Belgian Nobel laureate in chemistry C. de Duve noted, "Until such time as biologists can demonstrate an entirely material origin for life, the divine will remain a contender."
De Duve's comment is particularly germane to the textbook comments of Raven and Johnson who take the opportunity in their textbook to stereotype "scientific creationist" as people who believe in a recent creation of earth (a position which I and most other scientist who believe in some form of intelligent design in nature would reject), and more generally, in ideas which are "reached on the basis of arbitrary faith". They further add that scientific creationism is (1) not supported by any empirical observations; (2) does not infer its principles from observations; and (3) its assumptions lead to no testable or falsifiable hypotheses. As I will demonstrate presently, all of these criteria apply to their treatment of the origin of life (as well as the other textbooks), making their presentations essentially religious rather than scientific by their own definition.
All of the textbooks appropriately present the seminal work of Miller and Urey, who made amino acids and other molecular building blocks by sparking methane, hydrogen, and ammonia. Getting these energy rich chemical to react is about as difficult as getting water to run down hill. That some of the chemical by-products were amino acids is not at all surprising. Only Raven and Johnson of the textbooks reviewed bothered to note what all atmospheric scientists since the late 1970s have known: that the early earth's atmosphere had none of these chemicals, rendering Miller's experiments of only historical interest but not scientific value in explaining how life began. For fifteen years there has been an essentially universal consensus that the early earth's atmosphere contained only nitrogen, water, and carbon dioxide, which yields nothing when sparked. To solve this problem of needing a reducing atmosphere, Raven and Johnson add the following false comment to their book: "The atmosphere is also thought by most investigators to have been rich in hydrogen gas, although there is some debate on this point." The National Research Council report states clearly that an that the early earth's atmosphere consisted of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and water with hydrogen occurring in trace amounts at best. It goes on to say that until there is actual evidence to support the contention, the assumption of a highly reducing atmosphere (such as Miller used) cannot be taken for granted; therefore we should be looking for organic synthesis starting with carbon dioxide (which will be like getting water to run uphill). People have tried to synthesize biomonomers beginning with carbon dioxide to no avail, which is exactly what one would predict from thermodynamics (Thaxton, Bradley, and Olson, 1984).
Next the textbooks assume that it is straight forward to polymerize amino acids into protein and nucleotides into RNA or DNA, neither of which is so. Fox did polymerize amino acids under some very contrived conditions, but failed to get either all peptide bonds or all L-amino acids in his polypeptide, precluding biologically significant activity. To Miller's quote above, I would add one from the National Research Council Report,
Finally, several of the books place great stock in RNA as a solution to the protein/DNA chicken and egg dilemma. They conveniently fail to note that making RNA under plausible abiotic conditions is extremely unlikely, rendering this approach dubious at best. The National Research Council report notes,
These problems are neither new nor well kept secrets. Why do the authors choose to ignore them in their presentations, giving students the very false impression that the "RNA world" was probably how life began. It is almost certainly not so! By Raven and Johnson's own three point test, it is clear that their presentation is more religious than scientific, and purposefully so it appears.
Many of the same types of problems attend the presentations on biological evolution as those discussed on chemical evolution above. In his newest book, Climbing Mount Improbable, Richard Dawkins argues that highly improbable changes such as scaling the front of a shear cliff in a single bound are impossible, but there is a foot path around and up the back side of the mountain that can be managed one small step at time with ease. He concedes that the existence of such a path is a critical assumption in neo-Darwinian macroevolution. Yet the existence of such a seamless, small-step path has yet to be demonstrated, and biochemical evidence such as that presented in Lehigh University chemistry professor Michael Behe's new book
Darwin's Black Box, point to many examples of irreducible complexity on a biochemical level, or large discontinuous steps on the back side of Dawkins' Mount Improbable. The contrary fossil evidence of the Cambrian explosion is also conveniently omitted from the textbooks, though it has had major press in the media within the last year, with a cover story in Time magazine.
Again, there is much irony in the statement by Raven and Johnson concluding their section on macroevolution, "That the Bible provides the correct and literal explanation of biological diversity is still widely accepted by many people today, those who prefer a religious belief to a scientific explanation". Hello!!! What scientific explanation was offered for the Cambrian explosion and the many sudden appearances of new systems such as light sensitive cells which function as eyes and represent irreducible complexity, or new phyla for that matter. All the book provides are many good examples of microevolution which includes speciation in my definition, and then a hand waving generalization that this also works for increasing complexity, without even considering the implicit assumptions which at least Dawkins is kind enough to make explicit. Particularly, Raven and Johnson should spare their students the patronising nonsense that makes their "religious belief" in macro-evolution so superior to the subset of their students who may feel unpersuaded by the poor evidence to believe neo-Darwinism is an adequate explanation for the origin of phyla, as in the Cambrian explosion, for example.
I would urge you to insist that the textbook authors and publishers give a more honest treatment of the origins issues than is presented in these books at present. I would be pleased to provide more details and/or references than can be summarised in a three minute presentation.
This item 1225 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org