Galileo and Duality

BooksOne new thing I learned from Galileo’s Daughter was the extent of Galileo’s good faith efforts to submit to Rome.  After the edict of 1616 against Copernican heliocentrism, Galileo bent over backwards to clear the manuscript of his Dialogues for publication — with both the head Office of the Inquisitor in Rome, and his local Inquisitor in Florence.

Another thing I learned was that (by the face value of his words, at least) Galileo’s intention in publishing the Dialogues was not to overturn geocentrism in favor of heliocentrism, but to show the world that Italians and Catholics were not toothless hick fundies: Continue reading

Chesterton on Evolution

Blogorrhea has been dormant for a little while, so I thought I’d paste a few interesting quotes. I’ve been reading Chesterton lately. For a few years now, I have had Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man sitting on my to-read shelf. The Everlasting Man is broken into two sections, each founded on its own “striking fact”. In section one, about man, Chesterton recasts all of all of human history in light of the startling fact of humanity. And section two is about Christ: “those who say that Christ stands side by side with other myths, and his religion side by side with similar religions, are only repeating a very stale formula contradicted by a very striking fact”; namely, the fact of the Resurrection. Chapter 1 (“The Man in the Cave”), is bookended by two astute quotes about “evolution”.

There is something slow and soothing and gradual about the word [evolution] and even about the idea. As a matter of fact it is not, touching these primary things, a very practical word or a very profitable idea. Nobody can imagine how nothing could turn into something. Nobody can get an inch nearer to it by explaining how something could turn into something else. It is really far more logical to start by saying ‘In the beginning God created heaven and earth’ even if you only mean ‘In the beginning some unthinkable power began some unthinkable process.’ For God is by its nature a name of mystery, and nobody ever supposed that man could imagine how a world was created any more than he could create one. But evolution really is mistaken for explanation. It has the fatal quality of leaving on many minds the impression that they do understand it and everything else; just as many of them live under a sort of illusion that they have read the Origin of Species.

Chesterton spends the rest of the chapter describing eloquently how cave paintings demonstrate that man is distinct from beast in having a mind. And coming back to evolution, he concludes:

Now as a matter of fact, there is a not a shadow of evidence that this thing [the human mind] was evolved at all. There is not a particle of proof that this transition came slowly or even that it came naturally. In a strictly scientific sense we simply know nothing whatever about how it grew, or whether it grew, or what it is. There may be a broken trail of stones and bones faintly suggesting the development of the human body. There is nothing even faintly suggesting such a development of this human mind. It was not and it was; we know not in what instant or in what infinity of years. Something happened; and it has all the appearance of a transaction outside time. It has therefore nothing to do with history in the ordinary sense. The historian must take it or something like it for granted; it is not his business as a historian to explain it. But if he cannot explain it as a historian, he will not explain it as a biologist.

After I finished ch 1 of Everlasting Man, I got an email telling me that Orthodoxy is now available in .mp3! Providentially, I am currently experiencing a shortage of podcasts, so this is filling my commute all week. Chapter 3, “The Suicide of Thought,” has the thesis, “There is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped. That is the ultimate evil against which all religious authority was aimed.” Chesterton asserts that Evolution (in a strong form; materialistic, naturalistic, atheistic) is just such a thought:

Evolution is a good example of that modern intelligence which, if it destroys anything, destroys itself. Evolution is either an innocent scientific description of how certain earthly things came about; or, if it is anything more than this, it is an attack upon thought itself. If evolution destroys anything, it does not destroy religion but rationalism. If evolution simply means that a positive thing called an ape turned very slowly into a positive thing called a man, then it is stingless for the most orthodox; for a personal God might just as well do things slowly as quickly, especially if, like the Christian God, he were outside time. But if it means anything more, it means that there is no such thing as an ape to change, and no such thing as a man for him to change into. It means that there is no such thing as a thing. At best, there is only one thing, and that is a flux of everything and anything. This is an attack not upon the faith, but upon the mind; you cannot think if there are no things to think about. You cannot think if you are not separate from the subject of thought. Descartes said, “I think; therefore I am.” The philosophic evolutionist reverses and negatives the epigram. He says, “I am not; therefore I cannot think.”

In other words, the presuppositions of the naturalist don’t account for (or allow!) personhood, nor meaningfulness.

[UPDATE] Now that I have finished listening to all of Orthodoxy, I offer one more quote about evolution. From ch. 7, Chesterton is discussing how Christianity puts man in a proper relationship with nature, but Darwinism tends either to bestial amorality (“insanely cruel”) or PETA (“insanely sentimental”):

Darwinism can be used to back up two mad moralities, but it cannot be used to back up a single sane one. The kinship and competition of all living creatures can be used as a reason for being insanely cruel or insanely sentimental; but not for a healthy love of animals. On the evolutionary basis you may be inhumane, or you may be absurdly humane; but you cannot be human. That you and a tiger are one may be a reason for being tender to a tiger. Or it may be a reason for being as cruel as the tiger. It is one way to train the tiger to imitate you, it is a shorter way to imitate the tiger. But in neither case does evolution tell you how to treat a tiger reasonably, that is, to admire his stripes while avoiding his claws.

If you want to treat a tiger reasonably, you must go back to the garden of Eden. For the obstinate reminder continued to recur: only the supernatural has taken a sane view of Nature. The essence of all pantheism, evolutionism, and modern cosmic religion is really in this proposition: that Nature is our mother. Unfortunately, if you regard Nature as a mother, you discover that she is a step-mother. The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister.

Attention Presuppositionalists

Any and all aspiring presuppositionalists need to read Paul Davies’ NY Times Op-Ed article, “Taking Science on Faith.” (And when you’re done, you might be interested to read at least one atheist’s response). Right up front, Davies sounds like Bahnsen or Van Til getting warmed up on TAG:

…science has its own faith-based belief system. All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn’t be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed. … Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from “that’s not a scientific question” to “nobody knows.” The favorite reply is, “There is no reason they are what they are — they just are.” The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational.

I’m not aware of whether Davies is a Christian, but I’m guessing no.  Towards the end of the article, he parallels the one-way flow of authority from a Sovereign God to his created universe, with the one-way flow of authority from impartial natural laws, to the universe they control (concluding that “both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence”).

As a scientist, dissatisfied with this state of affairs, he attempts to bend things back around to pure naturalism:

It seems to me there is no hope of ever explaining why the physical universe is as it is so long as we are fixated on immutable laws or meta-laws that exist reasonlessly or are imposed by divine providence. The alternative is to regard the laws of physics and the universe they govern as part and parcel of a unitary system, and to be incorporated together within a common explanatory scheme.  In other words, the laws should have an explanation from within the universe and not involve appealing to an external agency.

I can’t imagine how that would work — it seems that such a scheme would be in principle impossible.  Davies speaks of the laws of physics as “the bedrock of reality”; if science somehow reaches his desired end, then there is no longer any bedrock.  It would have to be a worldview not founded on axioms, but somehow circularly self-supporting.  Whatever such a beast might look like, I don’t see how it could be immune from Davies’ own criticism of the explanatory weakness of multiverse theory: “This process will require its own laws, or meta-laws. Where do they come from? The problem has simply been shifted up a level from the laws of the universe to the meta-laws of the multiverse.”

Davies’ closing sentence is also a good closer for me: “until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus.”

I wouldn’t wait up.

Shaky Foundations

[NewsFlash! evanescent is not (as I assumed) the author of the article discussed below. If you follow this link to my previous comment thread, you will see that he never actually claimed to be the author, but just recommended the article as what we should read to understand the ethical system he endorses, which is called Universal Utilitarianism. I have made a few edits in the post below, but in case I missed anything, know that the following is a response directed to evanescent, due to his insistence that we all read about Universal Utilitarianism at

After the comment thread on Ethical Question II spiraled out of control, I said I would post separately a consideration of an article at which describes the ethical system that evanescent endorses, which is called “Universal Utilitarianism” (UU for short).

Continue reading

Cruel Logic

While y’all wait for me to complete a new post on evanescent’s carrot & stick article, here’s a link to whet your appetite. (HT: Gene Cook, TNM #864)

You can’t take your Rolex with you

An interesting post at De Regnis Duobus today, about how time turns pleasure into vanity:

Perhaps you have been haunted by the inexplicable feeling that your very environment, the only environment you have ever known (namely time), is foreign. Could time, the very stuff of life and building block of society that greets us every morning with the buzzing of the alarm clock, and then pushes us through each day, actually be an enemy? As bizarre as it sounds, I suggest that it is, and as the Preacher argues in the book of Ecclesiastes, this enemy adversely affects all of our toil under the sun. In a word, time renders all of man’s earthly pursuits utterly pointless.

That’s a pretty bold statement about time, and it made me wonder: Is time inherently a force of decay? Will time join the three space dimensions of X, Y, and Z in their ReCreation for the New Heavens and New Earth? Will there be time in the consummation, or will God be bringing us out of time, as He is? Is that why heaven will be “eternal”? Rev 21 tells us that heaven will have no sun, no moon, and no night. The given reason for no sun or moon is that there will be no need of light; but the stated reason for their creation was “for signs and for seasons, and for days and years”, so wouldn’t their removal possibly indicate that there is no further need to mark time — because there is no more time?

Ethical Question II

Well, the last question from this article sparked some interesting discussion, but that was the easy one. This one’s harder:

Let’s take two examples. A trolley is coming down a track, and it’s going to run over and kill five people if it continues. A person standing next to the track can flip a switch and turn the trolley onto a side track where it will kill one but save the five. Most people think that’s morally permissible—to harm one person when five are saved. Another case is when a nurse comes up to a doctor and says, “Doctor, we’ve got five patients in critical care; each one needs an organ to survive. We do not have time to send out for organs, but a healthy person just walked into the hospital—we can take his organs and save the five. Is that OK?” No one says yes to that one. Now, in both cases your action can save five while harming one, so they’re identical in that sense. So why the flip-flop? People of different ages, people of different religious backgrounds, people even with different educations typically cannot explain why they think those cases differ.

Frankly, I’m having a hard time justifying my intuition that killing one instead of five is preferable when it comes to trolleys, but is not preferable when it comes to emergency rooms. What do you think?

Ethical Question I

A few months back, I was intrigued to read an article in Discover Magazine which purported to have an atheist explaining the universality of ethics. Not too surprisingly, it turned out the atheist really did no such thing (even the most universal ethic against murder is relativized culture by culture). But the article included a few neat ethical puzzles that made me think, so I thought I’d slap them up here and spark some discussion. I’ll start with the easy puzzle (which is at the end of the article): Ooh, I love puzzles!

Image vs. Word III

Well, the whole Jacques Ellul Image vs. Word series has not generated the response I was hoping for. So instead of the originally planned four, I will cap off the Old Covenant and Incarnation phases with just one more post on the final two phases of New Covenant and Consummation. But that’s OK, because these are basically reiterations of the first two phases anyways, so there’s less new to discuss.

I want to read that discussion


From wandering in the blogosphere (all the way over to Kenya, apparently), a quote from C. S. Lewis which must have been from the same work as quoted here.

If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.

A Kenyan Analyst has gathered many more gems, and I don’t want to requote everything quoted over there, but I can’t resist this one:

You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.

If you haven’t yet, pop back a few posts for a juicy quote from G. K. Chesterton. I wonder if I can find any from J. R. R. Tolkien? Those brits and their initials and their pithy sayings! Maybe if I started calling myself R. J. I would become more clever.

P.S. Kenyan Analyst also has collections of quotes of various opinions about Jesus, through the millenia, originally from this site, which is is one of the best-designed websites I’ve ever seen, and fun to roam around; but ultimately not very Christian — you can wander on that site for quite a while before you detect any hint that Jesus is God incarnate, or that he was sinless, or that we are sinful, or that the good news of the gospel (through faith, his sinlessness can be imputed to us) is only good news because without it there is bad news! Saved From What, indeed. No wonder people are staying away from churches in droves; people are smart enough to realize that without redemption, there’s no point to Jesus. I could keep going, but there’s a limit to how much I’ll put in a P.S.