On Proving the Existence of God

The great argument of the “new atheism,” as of most atheisms of the old stripe, seems to be that “you can’t prove the existence of God.”

In other words, using the tools of science, you can’t prove the existence of something that transcends science.

To think more clearly on the matter, it might be helpful to look at the word religion. It comes from the Latin – legio: to tie, and re: a broad prepositional prefix with too many possible meanings to be able to properly translate.

The idea is generally taken to be that of tying together.

A religion is not a conclusion to an argument. It is a teaching that ties everything else together, that harmonizes everything.

The most powerful religions are those that are able to tie the most together.

I am a Christian because, while I have great respect for other religions, they all seem to leave us with one or two irresolvable dichotomies that are reconciled in Christ.

The mother of all dichotomies might be that between the material and the spiritual realms. Naturalism, the religion of today, resolves it by denying the spiritual or giving naturalistic explanations for all things spiritual.

Gnosticism, the perpetual enemy of Christianity and, according to Richard Weaver at least, the painfully ironic foundational dogma of progressive education (Dewey, James, etc.) treats the spiritual as legitimate and important and the material as valueless.

Christianity tells of one who is big enough to weave all things together into a harmony that damages nothing and blesses everything: Christ, the incarnate logos: Spirit made flesh, God made man, the weaving together in one of all things.

Now, if a religion is true, it cannot simply dismiss what it doesn’t like. That is a sign of theological weakness. A true religion ties everything together.

But when a philosophy is based on a necessarily inadequate premise, as is naturalism, then it is hard for this Christian to see why he ought to abandon his foundations because the other guys have developed a sophisticated argument.

A premise is necessarily inadequate when it excludes what it doesn’t like at the beginning of the discussion.

God is not the conclusion of an argument based on naturalistic premises. He is the beginning of thought and the harmony of all truth. He is necessary to every other premise, but I don’t see how that can “prove” his existence. He is simply Necessary: to thought, to ethics, to beauty, to society, to physics, to marriage, to education.

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How to Cultivate Wisdom Through Writing (part 2)

Click here to see Part 1

To understand how to cultivate wisdom, we need to understand what wisdom is. Now, any number of definitions are available, but I want to look at this from the practical angle.

In other words, if we’re going to think about “how” to do something, we need to think of it as the end of actions. If it can’t be seen that way, then there is no how to.

For example, if redness is simply a state of being and there is no way to become or make something red, we’d be wasting our time trying to think about how to become red.

Looked at from this angle, there are three ways to look at wisdom that all mean the same thing but are worth expressing in three different ways.

First, wisdom is the knowledge of causes.

Second, wisdom is the ability to order and to judge.

Third, wisdom is the ability to perceive the nature of things so as to know how to appropriately relate to them.

These definitions help us see that there are different kinds of wisdom.

There is what I call, for lack of a better term, mechanical wisdom, which is characterized by great precision and regularity. It is guided by the principle of effectiveness and its end is utility. The standard of excellence for this form of genuine wisdom is usefulness.

Then there is artistic wisdom, which is less precise and therefore requires more judgment. It is guided by the principle of propriety and its end is creative human production. The standard of excellence is the beautiful.

Next comes ethical wisdom, which is even less precise and requires even more judgment. It is also guided by the principle of propriety, but its end is human action itself. The standard against which human action is measured by this wisdom is virtue.

Even higher comes philosophical wisdom, which is amazingly imprecise though its foundations remain absolute. It is the knowledge of first causes or principles. It requires astounding judgment. Philosophical wisdom is guided by the principle of truthfulness and its end is knowledge of truth; therefore it is measured by the standard of the truth.

The highest wisdom of all is theological wisdom, which becomes knowledge of the unknowable. It is the knowledge of Him who transcends knowledge. No judgment can reach this knowledge and all other forms of wisdom are subject to it. The standard by which it is measured is, if there can be one for here I am speculating far beyond my capacity, the harmony of the useful, the beautiful, the virtuous, and the true.

If that is what wisdom is and if these are the kinds of wisdom, the next question becomes, “how do we get it?”

More on that in my next post!

The Distinction Between Productive and Contemplative Knowledge – Part II.

If there is a distinction between natural things and products of human craft — as I argued some time ago — and this distinction lies in the presence of an internal principle of motion in natural things and an absence of that principle in things produced by craftsmanship, then we may explore the character of God’s creation of the natural world in light of this distinction.

One thing should be immediately evident: that Christians ought to be very wary about thinking of creation in a way that makes God a craftsman and creation a product of his art.

This image has some metaphorical value even if it is not an especially Biblical metaphor, but the metaphor is limited by the fact that natural things are fundamentally different than the products of a craft and God is fundamentally different from a craftsmen.

God does not create as a craftsman does, by gathering material together and impressing a form upon it. God creates ex nihilo, from nothing.

Further, God creates natural things, things that have their own internal principle of motion. To the extent that one thinks of creation in a way that denies the intrinsic nature of things, one thinks in opposition to reality.

This argument has a practical consequence in the current debates about the origin of species. William Paley’s design argument fails to fully take into account the distinction between natural things and the products of human craft.

Paley argued that just as if we found a watch in a field we would infer that an artificer exists, so when we look at created things we should likewise infer the existence of an artificer.

Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation.

In other words, the same sort of structure that one finds in a watch, one finds in created (i.e., natural) things. To the extent there is a difference, it is a difference of degree rather than of kind.

This is precisely the denial that things have inner natures, and therefore it is a denial of the way in which God created the natural world. Or, to put it another way, it is a denial that God’s ways are above ours. However innocent Paley’s mistake, it is one we should not commit ourselves.

On Hunger

In Matthew 6 our Lord expresses his much recited and much neglected promise. Laying out, as it were, the foundational principles of the life to which He calls those who would follow Him, He says:

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

…Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or What shall we wear?” For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

Some people, for whatever reason, treat this passage more like a command than a promise. When they do so, the tone changes, the meaning of the passage, though not the content. A barrier is created between the disciple and Christ, because the disciple’s attention is directed to himself instead of to the words of his Lord. Something inside us always wants to take on the burden, but the whole point of this passage is to put it down.

It is instructive that Matthew 6 is part of the sermon on the mount and that the sermon on the mount follows Matthew 4, in which we read of Christ’s temptation.

“Command these stones to become bread.”

“All these things I will give you…”

Christ knows what it is to be tempted. In fact, the temptations He endured make a joke of the ones we confront. He knows how to deal with temptation.

In each case, He appeals to the word of God. But notice something else. In each case, we can see that He is looking in a different direction. He isn’t seeking bread. He isn’t seeking “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.” He isn’t even seeking to prove Himself or His God.

He is seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness, so He is not worried about these other things. He knows that His Father knows His needs, so He is content to say that “Man shall live… by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

Jesus was tempted at the beginning of His task because He is the second Adam. Look back to Genesis 3 for a moment and compare what happens there in the light of Matthew 4 and Matthew 6.

God the maker has created an all-good creation and placed the man in a garden, which he is to tend. The only restriction He gives him is that he must practice the tiniest of fasts: don’t eat from this one tree.

Mind you, this was one spectacular tree. When Eve looked at it, she saw that it was good for food, but it was also pleasant to the eyes and could make one wise.

But they were to fast from this one fruit. They were to believe that man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. They were to seek first God’s righteousness and to trust that the other things would be given.

Perhaps that is why our Lord fasted for 40 days and 40 nights before He was tempted.

They listened to the tempter.

Now here is something that seems worth noting: our Lord told us in Matthew 6 not to worry about what to wear. It seems to me that most of us, when we read that, take these words rather literally, which we should. In other words, we take Him to be talking about being anxious about having clothes to protect us from the cold.

But take a look at Genesis 3. Do you notice the role of clothes in that context? Why do Adam and Eve cover themselves?

Because they feel shame.

No wonder. This goodly frame the earth had come to seem a sterile promontory, this brave o-erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, had come to appear no other thing than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors.

And worse, The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals, noble in reason and infinite in faculty, has become the quintessence of dust.

Adam could say, Man, that is, I, delight not me. No, nor woman neither.

We who are born with shame and practice hiding it in some dark corner of our soul from the day our mothers greet us with their tears, we cannot imagine what it must have felt like to feel shame for the first time.

Oh what a noble mind is here o-erthrown.

The primary purpose of clothing has never been to keep us warm, but to keep us invisible, undiscovered – covered.

Clothes are the means by which we hide our shame.

It seems to me, therefore, that our Lord’s words in Matthew 6 go deeper than we might have thought. The greatest fear we have in following Christ is that we’ll end up ashamed. People won’t respect us. But worse, it might not pay off. We might fail. He might fail.

We would never say it that way; we only make decisions as though it might happen.

This fear of shame drives the conventional school and compels us to grunt and sweat under a weary life, to bear the whips and scorns of time, and all for what?

For words. For nothing.

For air that spills from others’ mouths and evaporates into the air, forgotten.

If we want to see the coming of the kingdom of heaven, then we must abandon the kingdoms of this world and all they offer. We must turn from bread and clothes as the way to validate ourselves, and we must seek Him.

Or maybe it would be more fitting to say, we can seek Him. He calls us to it. He promises to attend to the things we worry about most: hunger and shame.

Contrasts

To the Christian mind, the cosmos is a symphony. To the post-human, it is an unending meaningless experiment.

I’m Singing This Note ‘Cause It Fits In Well

Education is not a specialized subject. If you try to understand it by isolating it and studying it as a specialized activity, you will have guaranteed that you will never understand what you are studying.

Yet, to a large extent, teachers’ colleges and even educators conferences treat it as such a specialized subject. They seem to make a common modern error – that of thinking that reality itself is empirical or analytical. It is not. It is formal. Reality is not an experiment, it is a symphony.

Therefore, when we seek to know it, we seek an ever-expanding harmony, not a list of research based conclusions about discrete elements, and not a lab report on a series of experiments.

The experiments and the research are valuable sources of information about reality, and they can certainly fit within reality, but they are not the whole of realityand they are far from the most informative manner of perceiving reality.

That explains why we do the CiRCE conference the way we do. We don’t try to present leading experts in their field who have done “the research” and performed the experiments. We draw on speakers who have seen truth with their own eyes.

It ends up being a lot like a jazz performance, actually. If a better musician organized it, then it might be like a symphony. But my instincts are more like jazz, at least so far as I can understand something musical. We lay down a theme. We explore it together. Individuals go on their trails, and come back.  A lot of improvisation takes place. There is no predertermined outcome.

But each year it seems something beautiful happens because we’re all committed to the same idea.

Based on most of the feedback, that is what happened again this year. We thought about liberty. We had an overarching theme and even a contra or anti-whattayacallit thing.  A number of sub-themes arose: the need for mentors in a free society, the liberation of the teacher who uses a Christian classical pedagogy, the different types of freedom, the false freedoms that seduce us into slavery, modes of teaching that set students free, the need to think to be free, and so on.

A crescendo was reached, I felt, when, on Saturday morning George Sanker addressed on the elephant in the living room – the need for African-Americans and minorities to experience a Christian classical education as well as suburban whites. One more workshop and a coda brought the conference to an end.

These reflections are retrospective, probably because I’ve come to realize lately how reality is formal and not logical, scientific, or empirical. It is beautiful, and only human folly has brought ugliness into it.

Then let’s seek the wisdom to make something beautiful, harmonic, melodious, unified, flourishing, rhythmic, and ultimately integrated, healthy, and pleasing.

Next year we’ll sing a new theme: What is Man? A contemplation of Imago Dei. Will you sing with us?

Darwinian Parenting

My desires define me, and my group, and my people.

From Dr. Tingley’s lecture on Postmodernism

I flew from San Francisco to Orange County airport, seated in 6B. Across the aisle in 6C was a mother, and beside her, in 6D, was her child, a four or five year old boy with big brown eyes, a friendly face, and a pleasant personality.

Nothing unusual there. Moms often fly with their children on airplanes and children at that age are generally cute. What was unusual was this: in 7C was another mother and beside her, in 7D, was her child, a four or five year old boy with big blue eyes, a friendly face, and a pleasant personality.

Have you ever flown with two little kids that close to you? I was mildly worried about how it would go, but much more interested than worried. I had, I felt, a self-created laboratory. So I listened.

To understand the point of this post, you must know that the mothers were basically the same in their approach to their children. My wife has a little plaque she keeps in the kitchen that I always felt a little uneasy about. It says,

Raising children is like being pecked to death by chickens

Both of these mothers had mastered the survival technique that all mothers master to endure the pecking.

They tune out.

This is one of the great mysteries of motherhood to the young father (next to our wonderment at our wives lack of fervently expressed gratitude when we clean up after their morning sickness). We come home from a long day of brutal, back-breaking work (do you know how uncomfortable an office chair is?) to our wives and children, expecting large smiles and fervent 50’s-TV doses of affection.

Instead we see mommy half-seated, half-lying on the couch, legs extended, the free arm hanging limply off the couch, a vacant gaze filling the inch or two in front of her eyes – not unlike the look of St. Theresa in Ecstacy. Next to her is little Johnny (or David or Matthew or Katie) saying, over and over, “mom, mom, mom.” Just like that. Staccato.

Mom.

Mom.

Mom.

And here’s dad, exhausted from a day’s labor, incomprehensibly looking at mommy, thinking, and sometimes foolishly saying, “Why don’t you answer the child!?”

Karen has described this condition to me. She tells me that she’ll sit for a while not hearing anything, then after a few moments a distant sound will rise in the deep cavities of her mind, a sound that gradually works its way toward consciousness, staccato, not quite an echo, not even insistent, though certainly persistant, until finally it touches on the conscious mind and just a little light enters mommy’s eyes.

Calmly, as though David had only said “Mom” once, she looks at him for a moment and says, “Yes.”

“Katie cut off her foot at the neck.”

“OK, tell her to go back to bed.”

This is a womanly gift we men don’t have and thus fail to appreciate.

Part of the gift is the female capacity to contextualize the unconscious. The children in this my account, remember, were on an airplane. The mothers knew this.

Another trait of parenting, and this one is shared by fathers, though from what I can tell, not generally as fully developed, is the feeling of deep shame over every public manifestation of childishness by a child. Everybody else on the plane thinks the kids are adorable, but the parent usually seems ashamed, so they shush their child and get angry at them for not acting like adults, which is peculiar since it means that we parents are acting like children by being angry at our children for not acting like adults.

The combination of these two paternal gifts led these mothers to an interesting challenge with a simple solution. They didn’t want to their children to embarrass them, but they didn’t want to be pecked to death by the chickens. What to do?

Solution: bring the pecking to consciousness a little more quickly.

It was fun to watch.

Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom.

Yes?

And this is where the paths diverge. These pleasant little, good-natured children were clearly brought up on different assumptions about what a human, and therefore a child, is. I could tell because of what followed when mom was brought back to herself and to her child.

From 6D: I want some water. I want to play so and so. I want to… I want…

Don’t get me wrong. This child was not particularly demanding or at all bratty, though he did let out three loud, manipulative wails. He was just a normal kid who had been brought up on the assumption that the appetites merit an awful lot of attention.

From 7D: I spy with my little eye… Look mom, the airplanes are playing follow the leader… We’re following the leader, the leader, the leader. We’re following the leader wherever he may go.

I’ve stood by while my wife raised five children (gave her advice on those rare occasions when I had something to contribute and she was willing to pay for it) and I have to tell you one thing I learned a long, long time ago. Most of what you do consciously and purposely as a parent has very little affect on your children.

What affects them is the things you aren’t aware of, the kind of person you really are (regardless of what you want to be, which they don’t take the trouble to figure out), the beliefs you hold in your subconscious and that express themselves in attitudes and tones and environment and games and pastimes and commitments.

But most parents are looking for clear parenting methodology, so they read books with the latest techniques for potty-training and watch videos explaining how to prepare your little girl for kindergarten or listen to lectures that show you how to make your child love reading or sports or cooking or single-sex parents or whatever.

There is no parenting methodology. There’s just struggling parents, hearts yearning toward their children, lacking in confidence to act on their principles and concentrate on character.

What matters most in a parent is who you are. And what matters second to who you are is what you believe your child is. I mean believe in your soul, not your conscious mind, believe in your heart of hearts, not by logical or empirical persuasion.

You might have worked out that he is the image of God, fallen and depraved. Or you might have resolved intellectually that she is as innocent as the spring flowers.

But what do you believe in your soul of souls? What do you think in your heart?

Do you raise them with fear and trembling. Probably not. The meaning of parenting doesn’t really sink in until it’s too late, because if it sank in while you were doing it you’d be so overwhelmed you’d be unable to parent.

But just a little fear and trembling is a good thing.

The child in 6D was brought up by a parent whose soul-belief was that her child was a cute animal, driven by appetites. The child in 7D was brought up by a parent whose soul-belief was that her child was something more, something with rational faculties worth cultivating, something that gained happiness from careful observation, intellectual activity, and gameful expression of his awareness to those around.

The first mother was a type for the practicing naturalistic materialist, internalizing the doctrines of Darwin. Most mothers today are – even, frankly, most Christian mothers.      

The second mother was a type for the practicing Christian classical supernaturalist. Her child did not begin intellectualizing the world that day. His rational faculties (the quest for pattern, for harmony, the delight taken in unity and surprise) had been cultivated, clearly, since he was very young.

One might well argue that he was not morally better. Just more human.

He might have been the best answer to post-modernism. He was not defined by his desires, or those of his people, but by his uniquely delightful and human faculty to reason. If you want to overcome the deadening impact of our culture on your children, if you want to push back all the arguments for the post-human world, remember what your child is: the image of God, a reasoning person with a will to cultivate.

Play follow-the-leader.