Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Challenge to Faith

Philosopher John Haldane of Scotland presented at the JPII conference last weekend. Part of his talk was about the challenges to faith in the modern world. He identified three of them: cosmological immanentism, evolutionary naturalism, and philosophical materialism. He made a special point to emphasize the last two, in particular that Catholic philosophy, or religion in general, could never expect to destroy the philosophical foundations of science. The results that science has produced are too useful and too convincing for that.

Please understand that Prof. Haldane is a distinguished academic, and I am your typical idiot with a keyboard, but nonetheless I am actually quite confident that Prof. Haldane is wrong, at least as it regards the challenge of faith. My reasons are different from some of the other conference participants, I think, and in fact are bolstered by the increasing progress in scientific results.

Philosophical materialism holds that reality in general and the causes of events in particular and physically determined, and our spiritual nature and the possibility of spiritually-caused actions are illusions. But that's not so. As humans, we have a real spiritual nature that is described in anthropological terms as the Law of the Gift. That is, our spirits are most clearly manifested in the action of pouring itself out as a gift to somebody else or some end outside itself.

As my monk friend Peter points out, the music of Beethoven is a spiritual expression of Beethoven the person, in his case, in response to the crucible of suffering. More importantly for this note, his music defies all theories of materialism, and is just as real as the law of electrodynamics.


Even though we all experience this (or something similar) in our own way, the whole thing just seems so squishy compared to the rigors of natural science. But that is where the progress of science comes in. As science progresses, the materialist detritus will be progressively stripped away and bring into clear relief the nature of the spirit, even if spiritual bodies are not subject to direct experiment. In fact, this has started to occur already with the all research into neurology and psychiatry has only served to emphasize that human consciousness is an essential mystery.

And it will also become clear, that the progress of science is not dependent on the materialist arguments of radicals, either philosophers or scientists. More concretely, just because accept the reality of our own ability to love, to believe, or to hold in solidarity with somebody else, doesn't at all mean that the transmission in our car is going to break.

As a side note, Prof Haldane made a couple of comments directly related to Intelligent Design. He said the apologetic from design actually can be made rigorous, but that it was very, very difficult, and the ID folks have certainly not done it (or even gotten very close for that matter). I wholeheartedly agree, and that probably summarizes the situation as succinctly as it is possible to do. This can be taken as criticism of ID, and probably was intended to be. But I actually take it as a net plus for ID, and why I am a qualified enthusiast of it. If the IDers are allowed the academic freedom to pursue their work without political interference, we should hope to see real progress in this area.

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