Monday, August 28, 2006


As an example of a philosophy, consider Stoicism, a Greek school from the second century B.C. (The following description is based on an article by James E. Person, Jr., in the June 2003 issue of Touchstone.) Stoics hate passion because they believe that humans can use reason to know the divine reason that pervades the universe.
Once they know that reason, they can conform their lives to the divine reason.
Passion can interfere with reason and is ultimately pointless, since everything happens according to the divine plan.

Stoics accept all things as divine handiwork and achieve a type of detachment from our world. A human's likes and dislikes and successes and failures don't mean anything.
Marcus Aurelius, the last great Stoic, concluded that, with time, one's life will be forgotten.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Philosophy 101

"Philosophy deals with the nature of man and his place in the universe" (World Book Encyclopedia, 1958). It is not one of the physical or social sciences. To understand man's place in the universe, philosophers try to synthesize a variety of knowledge into a coherent vision of reality.

For instance, Plato believed that ideas that we grasp with our mind are more real than the things we sense. The idea or concept never passes away though the object may move or disappear. Thus, the object is unstable, while the idea is eternal.

Because things move, Aristotle motion and favored empirical observation as the way to understand reality. He trusted his senses because humans sense things before they begin reasoning about them and use "common sense" to know things about the real world based on sensory input and influenced by memory and imagination.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Straying beyond science

Martin Hilbert's article "Darwin's Divisions" (Touchstone, June 2006) provides a useful pointer to the International Theological Commission held at Rome during 2000 to 2002. Their report, entitled "Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God," sets a definite limit on what science can say:

"In the Catholic perspective, neo-Darwinians who adduce random genetic variation and natural selection as evidence that the process of evolution is absolutely unguided are straying beyond what can be demonstrated by science."

Why? "Divine causality can be active in a process that is both contingent and guided. Any evolutionary mechanism that is contingent can only be contingent because God made it so."

If the controversy is not a scientific one, the next step is to consider the philosophical issues.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Miracle of Evolution

Stephen Barr's article The Miracle of Evolution, in the February, 2006, issue of First Things states that "we must draw as clear a line as possible between science and philosophy - not to elevate science above philosophy but to restore science to its proper 'metaphysically modest' role."
(The descriptor is from Schonborn's article mentioned in my previous post.)

Barr argues that there are two battles about evolution.
The first has those who claim that evolution did happen against those who deny that it happened.
The second battle, according to Barr, involves the explanation of evolution and brings in philosophical issues as well as scientific ones.

Barr argues that neither the neo-Darwinian explanation of evolution (that there is a natural mechanism for producing complex structure) nor the Intelligent Design movement's "design hypothesis" can be scientifically proven at this time, because "we simply don't know all of nature's tricks."

Barr denies that "God is in competition with nature" and believes that a natural mechanism for evolution does not eliminate God, who can be seen as the architect or author of nature. He concludes "We need not pit evolution against design, if we recognize that evolution is part of God's design."

Barr provides a more comprehensive look at science and faith in his very interesting book called Modern Physics, Ancient Faith.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Faculty Voice

The December, 2005, issue of The Faculty Voice, the faculty newspaper of the University of Maryland, included an article by Professor Stephen Brush listing his objections to intelligent design. The article appeared at a time when the topic was receiving a great deal of attention due to the lawsuit against the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board.

My response, published in the next issue, argued that the dispute is a philosophical one about human reason. On one side is the positivist view that reality is limited to what modern science can observe and deduce. On the other side is a philosophy that not only accepts scientific discoveries but also critically examines and refines the evidence of everyday experience to form a more complete view of reality.

My response did not give credit to many things I have read recently about the debate over evolution. An important influence was The Designs of Science, by Christoph Cardinal Schonborn, First Things, January 2006.

The relevant issues of The Faculty Voice (in PDF format) can be found here: December 2005 and March 2006.


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