Sunday, July 23, 2006

Sexual Love is the Opposite of Evolution

As this argument makes clear, propagation of ones genes is clearly not the bottom line of biological organisms or else evolution would have remained at the initial stages. I take this argument to refute the reductionist notion advanced by Richard Dawkins and others that humanity can be reduced to biology and biology to “selfish genes”. That we find the inverse ratio, elucidated below, in biology would seem to indicate, if we assumed Dawkins was right, that the process of evolution was self-destructing by the development of sexual differentiation and the decrease in propagation. Isn’t this, indeed, a signpost to the alert that materialism does not account for biology?

“Ordinarily the meaning of sexual love is supposed to lie in the propagation of the species, for which it serves as a means. I consider this view incorrect- not merely on the basis of any theoretical considerations, but above all on the basis of facts of natural history. That propagation of all living creatures may take place without sexual love is already clear from the fact that is does take place without division into sexes. A significant portion of organisms both of the vegetable and the animal kingdom propagates in a non-sexual fashion: by segmentation, budding spores and grafting. It is true that higher forms of both organic kingdoms propagate by the sexual method, but the organisms which propagate in this fashion, vegetable as well as animal in part, may likewise propagate in a non-sexual fashion (grafting in the vegetable world, parthenogenesis in higher insects). Moreover, setting this aside, and recognizing as a general rule that the higher organisms propagate by the means of sexual union, we are bound to conclude that this sexual factor is connected not with propagation in general (which may take place also apart from it), but with the propagation of higher organisms. Consequently, the meaning of sexual propagation (and of sexual love) is to be sought not in the idea of the life of the species and its propagation at all, but only in the idea of the higher organism.
We find a striking confirmation of this view in the following important fact: within the limits of animals which propagate exclusively in the sexual mode (the division of vertebrates), the higher we ascend in the hierarchy of organisms, the weaker the power of propagation becomes, but, on the other hand, the greater the power of sexual attraction becomes. In the lowest class of this division- among fish- propagation takes place on an enormous scale: the embryos produced every year by each female are counted in millions. These embryos are fertilized by the male outside the body of the female, and the method by which this is done does not admit of any powerful sexual impulse. Of all the vertebrate animals this cold-blooded class undoubtedly propagates most of all. In the next stage- that of amphibians and reptiles- the power of propagation is far less significant than among fish (though some of the species of this class, not without basis, are assigned in the Bible to the number of creatures that swarm in great quantities); together with a smaller rate of propagation, we already find in these animals more intimate sexual relations… Among birds the power of propagation is far weaker, not only in comparison with fishes, but also in comparison, for instance, with frogs, yet the sexual attraction and the mutual attachment between male and female attain a development unheard of in the two lower classes. Among mammals, which are already viviparous- the power of propagation is significantly weaker among birds, and sexual attraction, among the majority at any rate, is less constant; but, to balance that, it is far more intense. Lastly, in humans, in comparison with the whole animal kingdom, propagation is effected on the smallest scale, but sexual love attains its utmost significance and its highest power, uniting in the superlative degree, both constancy in the relation (as in birds) and intensity of passion (as in mammals). So then, sexual love and propagation of the species are found to be in inverse ratio to each other: the more powerful the one, the weaker the other. Speaking generally about the aspect which is being examined, the whole animal kingdom develops in the following order: At the bottom there is an enormous power of propagation with a complete absence of anything resembling sexual love (owing to the absence even of division into sexes). Farther on, among the more perfect organisms, sexual differentiation, together with its corresponding sexual attraction, makes its appearance. At first the attraction is extremely weak, but later it gradually increases in further stages of organic development, as the power of propagation diminishes (i.e. attraction is in direct ratio to the perfection of the organization and in inverse ratio to the power of propagation), until finally, at the very peak- in humans- the most powerful possible sexual love makes its appearance, even to the complete exclusion of propagation. So, if in this way, at the two extremes of animal existence we find on the one hand propagation without any sexual love, and on the other hand sexual love without any propagation, then it is perfectly clear that these two phenomena cannot be bonded indissolubly with one another. It is clear that each of them possesses its own independent significance, and that the meaning of the one cannot consist in its being a means to the other. The result is the same if we examine sexual love exclusively in the human world, where it is incomparably greater than in the animal world, and where it assumes that individual character by power of which just this person of the other sex possesses for the lover absolute significance, as unique and irreplaceable, as a very end in itself.” -Vladimir Solovyov, The Meaning of Love, Chp. 1, Part 1.

Two intense examples which come to my mind of what Solovyov is speaking of when he alludes to human sexual love without any propagation are the love of Dante for Beatrice and the life long love of Gibran Khalil Gibran for the woman who loved him but submitted to an arranged marriage to a man who cheated on her.

(Solovyov was a friend of Doestoevsky. It is thought that both the chracters of Alyosha and Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov were based on this outstanding figure in Russian history).

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Seeing Caesar as he is

From Pascal's Pensees:

"Caesar was too old, it seems to me, to go off and amuse himself conquering the world. Such a pastime was all right for Augustus and Alexander; they were young men, not easily held in check, but Caesar ought to have been more mature." #49

"It would take reason at its most refined to see the Grand Turk, surrounded in his superb seraglio by 40,000 janissaries, as a man like any other." #44

(#44 is a very impressive little essay by itself on the Imagination as it relates to the vanity of man. Reading these sentiments by Pascal is refreshing after reading what struck me as excessive praise of Caesar by Eric Voegelin recently. Interestingly enough the subject of Caesar converged in three separate books I am reading through in my readings this evening, in Voegelin's History of Political Ideas: Vol. 1 Hellenism, Rome and Early Christianity and in David Hume's An Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals and in the above. I would quote Hume and Voegelin but I think it more to the point to consider a passage in The Wonderful Fool by Shusaku Endo. Endo's main character, Gaston, is held hostage by a hitman (named Endo) who plans to use him to accomplish his plan of revenge on the superior officers who used his brother as the fall guy for warcrimes committed during the WWII. Gaston realizes in the time he is held captive that Endo is like this beaten little dog he had previously taken under his wing. Endo is a feared hitman, but it takes someone like Gaston, considered a fool by most in the world, to see Endo's true nature. In Grahame Green's Gun for Hire the hitman in the story in the opening goes to the house of a minister he is to murder, of whom it was said that he was a lover of humanity and had no friends.

Alexander the Great was reported to have said, "Had I not been Alexander, I should have liked to be Diogenes." Once, while Diogenes was sunning himself, Alexander came up to him and offered to grant him any request. "Stand out of my light," he replied. When asked why he went about with a lamp in broad daylight, Diogenes confessed, "I am looking for a [honest] man."

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Raskolnikov and Nietzsche Have Compassion on a Beaten Animal

A few odds and ends from the day:

Exodus chp. 34 seems to have some bearing on a recent discussion at the Lonergan Institute on St. Augustine's discussion in De Trinitate of what the Scripture meant when it says that Moses saw God. It was this one I remembered without chapter and verse which seems to show an unbroken narrative of Moses seeing God and then his countenance being transformed by the experience. Although I would be loathe to disagree with Augustine on the doctrinal stance about seeing God I am do not find his exposition of this to ring true. However, in this passage the text does seem to emphasize Moses's hearing God rather than his seeing Him and it says God came down in a cloud. It says however that God stood by him and the effect is the resplendence of Moses countenance that is too bright for the Israelites to bear.

v.20 "No one shall appear before me empty handed." It occurs to me that there is a passage regarding King David in which he apparently shows abeyance to this verse in his pious appropriation of this statement from the Pentateuch.

I have been listening to selections from a wonderful cache of speeches at the Veritas Forum. Included among these are several speeches made by Dr. William Edgar which I have found quite good, in particular "A Biblical Theology of Entertainment" and "The Revenge of the Aesthetic".

An interesting point in the later is that apparently a number of infamous postmodern philosophers including Derrida have recently agreed in arguing against relativism when it came to beauty. As Edgar points out, Doestoevsky predicted that "Beauty will save the world." Is it possible that this is along the lines of what Doestoevsky meant? I will have to pull this fish in with this thread as much as I can in the coming days. I am convinced that Doestoevsky saw things that provided essential answers or guideposts to modern man past the impasse and quagmire of Nietzsche.

I also find it fascinating that the powerful dream remembrance of Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment of his childhood compassion for a cruelly beaten donkey, in which he collapsed in tearful embrace of the dieing beast, juxtaposed with the murderer that he had become as an adult, resembles the collapse of Nietzsche, who's mystique of mercilessness was abrupted when he ran outside and tearfully embraced a horse that was being beaten by its master. It is from this point that Nietzsche's descent into madness is generally thought to have begun. Did this occur in Doestoevsky's lifetime, before the publishing of Crime and Punishment? I wonder if Doestoevsky knew of this? Or perhaps there is just an uncanny correspondence here. In any case, it is especially resonant to me because I believe that Doestoevsky powerfully conveyed the way to freedom past the "intellectual swindlers" of the day and specifically that he compassionately showed the way past Nietzsche's saccharine lies by a greater authenticity. Nietzsche himself said of Doestoevsky that he was the only psychologist that he had anything to learn from. Would that he had learned more!

A Christian Theology of Romantic Love

Harry Blamires provides in The Christian Mind a list of a handful of books that break some ground in forming a much needed Christian theology of romantic love. I admit a fondness for such lists by someone such as Blamires. First Blamires discusses the sorry state of Christian thinking regarding sexuality:

"Whilst Christians have been aware of this pattern of demand and response in moral sphere and in the spiritual sphere, its relevance to such things as human sexuality, or experience of beauty in art and Nature, has been largely ignored. This is because we lack a Christian mind. The field of discourse upon these rich areas of human experience has been left to the secularists. Some of them have trodden there with clinical irreverence. Others, like the poets [he means the Romantic poets], with greater reverence but with too little understanding. Hence the moving, sensitive, but eventually frustrating raptures of a Shelley. Hence the grand gropings of Wordsworth, a melancholy monument to the ultimate dissatisfactions of Christian brinkmanship."

Blamires then provides the following list of books as the ones that he drew on in the chapter "Its Sacramental Cast":

He Came Down From Heaven and The Figure of Beatrice by Charles Williams.
The Meaning of Love by Vladimir Solovyev
The Unknown Eros and The Rod, the Root, and the Flower by Coventry Patmore

He writes in particular of Charles Williams, the most idiosyncratic member of the Inklings (C..S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien being other members):

"Charles Williams tried to fill the gap. He left behind him a comprehensive, illuminating, and orthodox Romantic theology which does justice to the spiritual significance of sexual love. Christians who are aware of the need to reconstitute a Christian mind able to cope with all human experience theologically ought to consult his work, notably He Came down from Heaven and The Figure of Beatrice."

(See this Touchstine article "What About Charles Williams?" for more about him. Beatrice was the woman that Dante Alighieri fell in love in his youth and regarding whom he wrote La Vita Nuova. His experience of romantic infatuation with Beatrice and her early death had a decisive formative effect on Dante. )

Vladimir Solovyev is said to have put Russian philosophy on the map. His lectures were attended by Tolstoy and Doestoevsky and he became a friend of Doestoevsky. It is thought that Doestoevsky based both Alyosha and Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov on Solovyev. It appears no small praise that Hans Urs von Balthasar saw in Solovyev ""the greatest artist of [conceptual order] and organization'- after St. Thomas- in the entire history of thought, a thinker who borrows from all systems after purging them of their 'negations'. His philosophical and religious thought is 'a work of art' on a large scale- a drama, an epic, and a hymn to the universe" (George L. Kline). It is also said of Solovyev that he was the first contemporary thinker to devote himself to the reunification of the churches. George L. Kline calls him "perhaps the most impotant proponent of ecumencial principles in Europe after Leibniz." I have just acquired Solovyev's The Meaning of Love and Lectures on Divine Humanity and anticipate posting on them in the future.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Philip Rieff: Deconstructing the Heart of Darkness

Recently I have been tantalized by some discussion of Philip Rieff's thought in First Things (see Richard John Neuhaus's discussion upon Rieff's death at 83 this last week) and The New Pantagruel (see "Life Words: A Review of My Life Among the Deathworks: Illustrations of the Aesthetics of Authority" ).

I was particularly interested in Neuhaus's following comment on Rieff:

"People who try to practice orthodox Christianity and Judaism today, he says, inevitably remain trapped in the vocabulary of therapy and self-fulfillment. “I think the orthodox are role-playing,” he says. “You believe because you think it’s good for you, not because of anything inherent in the belief. I think that the orthodox are in the miserable situation of being orthodox for therapeutic reasons.” I’m still reading the last book, but I think Rieff is saying that it’s all over. I don’t think he’s right about that. I hope he’s not right about that. But he could be right about that. At the very least, it is a possibility to be considered when proposed by one so thoughtful as Philip Rieff. Christ never said of Western Civilization that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

This made me think. Rieff's comment is like Paul's exhortation to his audience to search themselves to see if they believe, or has a similar effect. Neuhaus sees the implication for Western culture as a whole. More immediately it makes me think of the implication for myself and the actual ways of thinking and if they actually spring from a heart set on Christ or are rationalized distances and putrid mockeries.

From the review article for his last book (which thankfully he delivered to us before he died), Rieff is quoted:

"Culture is the form of fighting before the firing actually begins.”

“I intend to describe that unprecedented condition of fighting against the cultural predicate that organized all human societies until almost our own time. That predicate I call sacred order.”

Jess Castle's review notes the following (to understand further what is meant by third culture I refer to the review or better yet to the book, which I am ordering):

"The third culture disposition has been introduced by cultural elites, mostly artists and writers. Accordingly, much of the book is devoted to deconstructions of their “deathworks.” Deathwork is Rieff’s term for “the resolution, in life and/or art, of a particular world creation.” More plainly put, deathworks are cultural creations that function as hidden assaults on true culture. In his analyses of third culture deathworks, Rieff seeks to expose the de-creation—the undoing of sacred order—that constitutes the central task of late modern literature and art. Rieff gives brief, dense readings of Duchamp, Picasso, Joyce, Kafka—and the list goes on. He writes, “I hope to take the reader behind and beyond contemporary reality by juxtaposing events and works that do not appear, on first reading, to be related. Call it deconstructing radical contemporaneity.” These readings are intended to allow the reader to see clearly through late modernity and enter sacred order, to which we have been blinded by so many images destructive of it. Rieff’s breakdowns of deathworks are deeply compelling, and their logic hard to dispute."

Here is another quote of Rieff in the review article that I found tantalizing:

For Rieff, then, the not-I/I of second culture identity possesses a strength that third world-dominated selves cannot attain—no surprise to anyone who has read his earlier works. Whatever one thinks of Rieff’s concept of the sacred self, his descriptions of it can be quite powerful. Consider the following passage on Gerard Manley Hopkins:
Whatever the shatterings Hopkins felt threatened his and other sacred selves, perhaps precisely because of that threat, he composed the greatest passage on the God-relation of identity since Galatians 2:20. Despair shatters itself against the hard truth of Hopkins’s sense of identity. Whatever the shatterings Hopkins felt threatened his and other sacred selves, perhaps precisely because of that threat, he composed the greatest passage on the God-relation of identity since Galatians 2:20. Despair shatters itself against the hard truth of Hopkins’s sense of identity.
I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, andThis, Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond, Is immortal diamond.Whatever the Jack, joke, mortal trash of our lives may be, our predicative relational identity, Not-I/I, supplies the resistant hardness of sacred self Hopkins blazons in everyone’s honor, each Not-I/I an “immortal diamond.” When I read Hopkins, as when I hear a Bach mass, I am an honorary Christian. The aesthetics of truth form alliances, profoundly elective affinities, that the intellect stripped of feeling inclines to reject…. Intellection must address the matter of its feeling.
Such evocative passages cast doubt on third culture’s assertion that “there are no truths, only rhetorics of power and self-interest.”

I am take out a particularly resonant line for me and repeat it here:

"Intellection must address the matter of its feeling."

He is well focused and I think could prove an insightful read. I look forward to the more in depth discussion of his work that will be coming out in the August/ September edition of First Things and to his last book.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Some context for Blamire's The Christian Mind

Interesting to note Blamires's The Christian Mind in its larger context as noted in this article in The New Pantagruel:

Anti-Intellectualism: Parallel to the above concerns, many of these authors further object to an anti-intellectual mindset they perceive behind the popular evangelical distrust of theology. And this anti-intellectualism finds additional critique from the pen of evangelical historian Mark Noll in his 1994 Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.36 Describing his perspective as that of a “wounded lover,”37 Noll opens his volume with a powerful accusation, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”38 While evangelicals have been strong on piety and evangelism, zealous in missions and mercy ministries and activism, they have neglected the serious life of the mind, a charge he repeatedly demonstrates by appeal to the continued lack of an evangelical research university fifty years into the movement’s modern incarnation. Indeed, evangelicals “have nourished millions of believers in the simple verities of the gospel but have largely abandoned the universities, the arts, and other realms of ‘high’ culture.”39
Also in 1994, Os Guinness accused evangelicals of anti-intellectualism in Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to Do About It.40 Blaming the eight “P”s of polarization, pietism, primitivism, populism, pluralism, pragmatism, philistinism and premillenialism—alongside what he terms the “idiot culture” of postmodern America—Guiness calls on evangelicals to think critically about all of life from a biblically-defined perspective. Both Guiness’ and Noll’s critiques find precedent in Harry Blamires’ 1963 classic The Christian Mind, in which Blamires disparages the Christian mind for succumbing to the secular drift of western culture at large.41 Indeed, the evangelical movement’s modern incarnation began with a self-critique book accusing fundamentalism of anti-intellectualism and cultural obscurantism, Carl F. H. Henry’s 1947 book, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism.42
But in all of these contemporary criticisms of American evangelicalism, personal ethics and morality are nowhere targeted. Nor are evangelicals in these volumes called to new moral or political crusades in the culture at large. No new activism is called for. Rather, the focus is on reforming the theology of the churches with a renewed vision of God’s greatness, holiness, grace and sovereign power. And behind this emphasis on the highness of God stands a concern for the ultimacy of biblical authority, an authority these authors see attacked on every front, not from the outside, but from within the evangelical movement itself.

Blamires, New Urbanism, and Thinking Christianly about Technology

I found Blamires book (see earlier post on his book) very stimulating, a withering critique with strength, freshness and perceptiveness, so I plan to blog some of his thoughts here. In chapter 5, "Its Concern For the Person" of The Christian Mind Blamires deals with the challenge to the Christian mind to think Christianly about the technology in the modern world. I found it refreshing that he presented such cogent thoughts paralleling the current movements such as New Urbanism back in 1963.

He identifies servitude to the machine as a mark of contemporary worldliness and a challenge to the Christian mind. He identifies two aspects of this servility, the practical and the theoretical.

"The theoretical aspect is the fact that modern man is increasingly living his day-to-day life in servitude to mechanical contrivances. The theoretical aspect is the fact that the machine has now produced a way of thinking as well as a way of living."

Blamires notes that this way of thinking extends beyond spheres of life to which mechanical things are relevant. It is interesting note here a parallel understanding, or view if you prefer, expressed by Blamires' tutor C.S. Lewis (who encouraged Blamires to write) in "Is History Bunk?", a look at what appears to me to to be same servility of mind applied to the subject of history, but then touching upon technology as well with the mention of Henry Ford:

"There will always be those who, on discovering that history cannot really be turned to much practical account, will pronounce history to be Bunk. Aristotle would have called this servile or banausic; we, more civilly, may christen it Fordism."

Is servile a good term to characterize much of our thought about modern technology? Is the posthumanism movement in a sense a total surrender to the view humanity as technology and therefore properly adjustable in terms of the technology supplementing the technology that is humanity? The late Neil Postman in such books as Technopoly and Amusing Ourselves to Death stressed the danger of the complacency of the modern mind in dealing with its technology and the need to critically think about the place we as a society should designate for technology. Another contemporary thinker of choice value on in stimulating thought and consideration on this matter is the maveric siomething of a prophet Wendell Berry in his many essays on our relation to technology and the environment. (He detests the word environment for the kind of relationship to the nature implicit in the word). But to return to Blamires (shortly, in the next posts).

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Theistic Science

Materialism is a matter of faith, science is not- not in the sense of merely being investigation of material causes. I recognize material causes like materialsts do but this is not a belief that originated with materialism but already within the theist worldview, from which science sprang. The theist worldview recognizes material causality and also has a clarified and reasonable standpoint from which to view it. There is no necessity to be a materialist in order to do and recognize science nevertheless one finds an ubiquitous conflation of clearminded material investigation with, in my view, imbalanced materialism that incautiously forgoes altogether the kind of self-examination Socrates memorably urged, disparaging the obvious knowledge attainable in it through disciplined and noble as altogether nothing but "navel-gazing". Christian theism understands and embraces what is good in both material investigation and self-knowledge (and knowledge of other minds) instead of charging with the bandwagon into "the wasteland". Many valuably see great unifying potential, and some more keenly than others, in science and material investigation. I see this unifying power essentially unassailed in a clarifying theism, which provides a "maximum of differentiation" that materialism fails to attain.
An individual recently wrote to me saying, "The fact that 'mind' cannot be demonstrated leads us to the possibly incomplete explanations defined by science and its inability to deal with your concept 'mind'. " I think this point is over the beating heart of the modern problem. In fact we cannot explain anything except from a starting point that takes the mind's existence for granted. In every act of explanation or rationalization the mind is already there. The mischaracterization of knowledge and learning shared by both Kant and Hume which minimalizes knowledge by not dealing with the presence of the mind already implicit in every moment of perception seems to be the web we are caught on.

Science hit a brick wall with the Big Bang. But the framing of the question seems key to me. Science has worked off the assumption of the mind. It has to to act. Nietzsche laments this when he writes:

"[Unbelieving philosophers of late modernity] are far from being free spirits for they still have a faith in truth... It is still a metaphysical faith that underlies our faith in science- and we men of knowledge today, we godless men and anti-metaphysicians, we, too, still derive our flame from the fire ignited by faith a millenia old, the Christian faith, which was also Plato's, that God is truth, that truth is divine."-in "Genealogy of Morals."
How is a cultivated ignorance of the starting point we take for granted, by an axiomatical denial of knowledge outside the sequential Method artificially imposed, in the end, promising of knowledge of ourselves superior for instance to that reached by the Greeks, or to the great geniuses of the world of all the different nations? The supposition that those who study neurobiology are likely to attain greater self-knowledge than those who read the classics that many of them look down on from a supposedly epistemologically sacrosanct perspective, appears, with a little reflection, preposterous. In fact materialism makes natural sciences into an impostor and despoiler of human self-knowledge by setting up an unholy caste system of concocted epistemology, but a clarified theism avoids this by understanding material investigation and also the inviolate mind.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Pascal and Blamires

From Pascal's Pensees:

"2 Order by dialogues. "What must I do? I see nothing but obscurities on every side.'
'Shall I believe I am nothing? Shall I believe I am God?'"


I am drawing to the end of Harry Blamires book The Christian Mind and have come across a section of remarkable prescience when he applies the Christian considerations to our use of technologies. It is very congenial to some of the concerns of New Urbanism and environmentalism but from a robustly Christian perspective.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

"Is There Life After Truth" by Richard John Neuhaus

I find Richard John Neuhaus to be one of the most if not the most brilliant Christian mind in America that I am aware of and one of the best speakers I have heard judging from the following speech he gave at Yale. He is the guiding light of First Things magazine. Here is a link to the speech:

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”

Neuhaus on the Immigration Problem

Richard John Neuhaus of First Things comments on the United States' immigration issue:

With respect to politics and everything else, the better framing of the question is, What would Christ have us do? I am not at all sure. In terms of what’s good for the American economy, I am impressed by the arguments of the Wall Street Journal and many economists that a more or less open immigration policy is, all in all, an economic plus. The Catholic bishops are also undoubtedly right in their insistence upon compassion for the twelve million or more illegal immigrants already here, and it does not detract from the moral integrity of their position that the great majority of immigrants from the South are Catholics, and therefore immigration is seen as benefiting the Church.
At the same time, as Mary Ann Glendon notes in the current First Things, there is in the bishops’ statements a conspicuous lack of concern for obedience to the law. Law and order does not guarantee justice, but there can be no justice without law and order. I expect that most Americans are not sure precisely what should be done about immigration but are appalled by the specter of lawlessness. What they perceive is a non-policy for immigration that is wildly out of control, and they have slight confidence that the people who framed the laws now so widely violated with impunity can be trusted to bring the situation under legal control.
The old Immigration and Naturalization Service is now part of the Department of Homeland Security and is called the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. Incompetence by any other name is incompetence, and horror stories abound from people who have tried for years to play by the immigration rules. The snarled muddle of laws and regulations for getting into the country legally is manifestly not working, which gives people little confidence in the complexity of new procedures proposed by the White House and Senate. Meanwhile, there is the prospect of millions of more illegals pouring across the southern border.
The political elites seem to be indifferent to the disruption of communities resulting from unbounded illegal immigration. I expect that is in large part because they don’t live in those communities. On the upper West and East sides of Manhattan, the illegals who live in the outer boroughs but come into Manhattan to work are a convenient servant class. Moreover, as Joseph Bottum has noted in this space, elite sympathy for illegals is reinforced by their both sharing an adversarial relationship to American society. For the elites, that relationship is ideological. For the immigrants, it derives from the fact that, no matter how much they may admire the opportunities on offer in America, they are, to put it simply, outlaws.
The other night, PBS showed a compelling documentary of brothers from a Mexican village who were determined to go north. One of the brothers died in the desert of Nevada, and there was powerfully affecting footage of his mourning family back in Mexico. The film said that more than three thousand people had died trying to enter the United States from Mexico illegally in the past decade since United States authorities started getting tougher on border control, thus forcing illegals to attempt riskier routes through the desert. The invited inference is that the United States should let up on enforcement, making it easier for illegals to enter the country. Or maybe the border, along with immigration laws, should be abolished altogether, letting additional millions enter the country legally. And why should only Mexicans and Central Americans have a right to unlimited entry?
One measure of America’s success as a society is similar to measuring the success of a Broadway play: People are lined up around the block trying to get in. In this case, however, they’re lined up around the world. I expect that, had they the opportunity, at least a billion people in the world would emigrate to the United States as rapidly as they could. Of course, long before we reached that number, America would stop being a successful society. Some might observe that, at that point, the immigration problem would solve itself, since people would not be attracted to a society in ruins. It is a solution that is not likely to win the support of many Americans.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

A Response to Howard Van Till's "No Place for a Small God"

A Christian friend of mine who disagrees with Intelligent Design sent me a copy of Howard Van Till's essay No Place for a Small God in which Van Till argues that the universe was set in motion by God with all the requisite capacities and design to unfold by itself all the biological forms and structures that we encounter today. Van Till calls this the Robust Formational Economy Principle.

First, I readily agree with him that a preset capacity and design in creation would show the brilliance of God and does not equate logically to a rejection of a Creator. Atheists still have to account for the law and design inherent in the Creation from the beginning.

However, Van Till attacks "episodic creationism" from his standpoint. Like young-earth creationists, he believes in an instantaneous form of creationism, though in the case of young earth creationists they may believe in a series of these, he suggests that everything was present in the first moment of creation and that God did not have his hand in it any further from that point. He denigrates episodic creationism , saying it "conflates the action of 'Mind' and 'Hand'. However, there is little reason, to my mind insufficient reason, philosophically or theologically or Scripturally to make the deistic presupposition that the Creator binds himself from the initial point of creation not to again effect its processes. Clearly in order to be a Christian Van Till must in some form believe in the divine intervention in the affairs of humanity in the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but he might reply that believing in Redemption is another matter than believing in episodic Creation, which it is, but consider: Christ it is averred in Scripture was crucified before the beginning of time, which it seems suggests that the intervention of Christ was in the plan from the beginning. Why not also other interventions or episodic creation? Surely the Redemption does not show the weakness or smallness of God but His incomparable greatness, though it is astonishing to the Greeks, etc.

Another reason that considerations of the grandeur of a robust economy might be mitigated is that we find in Scripture where the Creation activity and the rest of God are in some sense suggested as a model for man. On the seventh day God rested, so man is to rest on the seventh day, being created in the image of God.

A central assumption Van Till makes throughout his essay is encapsuled in this statement by him:

Contrary to the presumptions of episodic creationism, there is strong empirical encouragement for the idea that the formational economy of the universe is sufficiently robust to account for the assembly of all known physical and biotic forms.

Throughout the essay he makes no attempt to support this assertion or to persuade the reader of its merit beyond arguing how accomodating a naturalistic account to the extent he does still does not let those like Daniel Dennett off the leash.

However, as Phillip Johnson observes:

Perhaps the best way to start is by answering Howard Van Till's question: just what would biological history have been like if left to natural phenomena without God's participation? If God had created a lifeless world, even with oceans rich in amino acids and other organic molecules, and thereafter had left matters alone, life would not have come into existence. If God had done nothing but create a world of bacteria and protozoa, it would still be a world of bacteria and protozoa. Whatever may have been the case in the remote past, the chemicals we see today have no observable tendency or ability to form living cells, and single-celled organisms have no observable tendency or ability to form complex plants and animals. Persons who believe that chemicals unassisted by intelligence can combine to create life, or that bacteria can evolve by natural processes into complex animals, are making an a priori assumption that nature has the resources to do its own creating.

To see the exchange between Howard Van Till and Phillip Johnson in First Things see God and Evolution: An Exchange.

Van Till discusses Daniel Dennett's opposition to religion in comparison to his teleological stance.

Dennett forcefully rejects the "Handicrafter-God" of both episodic creationism and the Argument from Design, characterizing such approaches as ill-conceived attempts to inject supernatural explanations into circumstances where natural explanations would suffice. Dennett's position is composed of claims at several quite different levels (although his rhetoric does not demonstrate an awareness of these differing levels). First, the credibility of unbroken genealogical continuity among all life forms has, he says, been established. Second, the concept of episodic creation has, once and for all time, been discredited. And third, the existence of the entire universe, complete with its remarkably robust formational economy, may therefore be taken for granted as a starting point that needs no explanation.

First regarding Dennett's suggested that we should park our brains and take for granted the existence of the entire universe as it is symptomatic of his complacency over fundamental issues of human existence, a state of mind he not only personally cultivates but which he energetically evangelizes for especially in his adoption and expansion of Dawkins meme theory in an attempt to ultimately describe human thought in non-agency terms like a good materialist. To Dennett I would simply ask why should we park our brains there?

Van Till assumes that Dennett's opposition to religion is based on his opposition to episodic creationism. Is this true? Perhaps Dennett's complacency comes first. Perhaps he does not derive the complacency from the first two but rather because of his complacency he is more likely to accept the first two. Afterall this has been the contention of many regarding Darwinian narrative from very early. The philosophical worldview of materialism already had a social standing historically and minds were primed to hear such a narrative. The argument is that when it comes to evolutionary narrative the commitment to naturalism compromises the perspicacity because it so temptingly provides a creation myth congruous with materialism and that many of our best minds are lured by their subtle philosophical commitment with its drive to rationalize so that they become like sugar daddies that never discipline their children, that is that they become much too forgiving in a laissez faire sense because of the need the narrative subtly provides for.

Van Till when all is said comes out squarely for design and much of his argument is similar to those like Michael Denton who to a degree stand under the umbrella of Intelligent Design. Paul Nelson's Is "Intelligent Design" Unavoidable-Even By Howard Van Till? A Response diagnoses Van Till's stance as follows:

Howard Van Till has long been a critic of interventionist conceptions of God's creative activity, and he places the "intelligent design" position in that category. Yet certain lines of reasoning in Van Till's own work can best be understood as arguing for design. It is likely that this reasoning will eventually bring Van Till into conflict with an increasingly naturalistic scientific community.

I would certainly recommend reading Van Till's essay and the others I cited here.