“Remember, the Thomist allows that in the intellect’s normal state, corporeal activity is necessary for its operation — it’s just not sufficient for it, which is why intellectual activity is essentially incorporeal. Even if corporeal activity were necessary full stop, and not just under normal conditions, it wouldn’t follow that the Thomist’s arguments for the intellect’s immateriality are undermined. Hence it wouldn’t follow that the soul does not survive death. What would follow is only that it would be inert after death. So the reader is just mistaken to think that the dependence of intellectual activity on the brain threatens to ‘ruin [the] argument… for its survival after bodily death.’ At most it threatens the claim that the intellect can function after death. A proponent of the ‘soul sleep’ theory of personal immortality could happily accept that, and argue that the intellect functions again only when the body is restored to it at the resurrection.Now of course, the Thomist does not accept the “soul sleep” theory. He holds that the intellect does function after death. How can this be? Remember that I said that corporeal activity is necessary for the intellect’s operation under normal conditions. But as Aquinas argues in the article linked to above, it is not necessary full stop. The intellect functions one way when it is in its normal state — that is, when conjoined to the body — but in another way under the abnormal circumstances when we are no longer ‘in the flesh.’”
Regis Martin writes at Crisis:
“The answer, of course, is that the idea of God has no particular source, no genesis one could trace back to the point of origin. Anymore than, say, the idea of geometry, or music, or speech, the movements and rhythms of which are simply of a piece with being human, belonging therefore to the deepest operations of head and heart. And because the idea of God is both real and unique, abiding in both mind and will from the beginning, there is nothing in science or history or ideology that could possibly have put it there. Secularism can no more generate this light than it can succeed in putting it out. It was from the beginning and will always be simply there. Like a sudden flash point of eternity into time, whose unforeseen illuminations have come to light up the night sky of our lives with the absolute certainty of hope. Only God can account for the idea of God.”
Philosopher Massimo Pigliucci writes a post at his blog Rationally Speaking regarding the supernatural, and discusses some specifically Catholic ideas in so doing. Now, Pigliucci is also a naturalist (of the philosophical sort; i.e., one who thinks that only the natural exists, not the kind that collects rocks and beetles), and so he also rejects claims of the supernatural. However, he critiques the arguments that some of his fellow naturalists use against belief in the supernatural, citing Richard Dawkins’ arguments against the Virgin Birth of Christ and transubstantiation as specifically poor examples. Pigliucci notes of the so-called “scientific” objection to the doctrine of transubstantiation that it is an argument that would “move no fervent Catholic, nor should it.” Of course, Pigliucci rejects these doctrines as well, and he offers his own objections, which are far more substantial and repectable than the polemical, popular sort of atheistic arguments. This is the sort of intellectual atheism that is respectable in comparison to the sophomoric variety that seems to dominate on the shelves of the science section of the bookstore.
That being said, Pigliucci’s argument against transubstantiation, although he is not trying to lay it out rigorously here, goes fundamentally amiss. If you believe that every aspect of everything that exists is held in existence by God, it surely isn’t strange to accept that God could cause the appearance of a thing to be different than its substantial identity. Pigliucci says that transubstantiation “violates the basic law of identity in logic” by saying that something is not that same something, that brand and wine are flesh and blood. But transubstantiation doesn’t say that; it does not say that the Eucharist is bread and body—it says it is body, period. It does not say we have wine and blood on the altar, it says we have blood, period. No laws of identity are violated. Wine is wine, and blood is blood, and when one becomes the other, the former is gone and the latter comes into being. What is said to be miraculous is not some superposition of identities, but merely the provision of an appearance and an interaction that is miraculously different than the identity, even down to the smallest level. Of course, if the naturalist were to object that this there is no reason to conclude that this strange claim is true, the Catholic would agree, except for authority. This is a “difficult and unacceptable teaching.” Unless you already accept the authority of the Church, then of course there is no reason to think that transubstantiation actually happens. It is a claim that cannot be independently verified, and I wouldn’t expect any non-Catholic to accept it as a stand-alone idea, apart from the question of the Church’s claim to teach truth.
The critic might go on to suggest that the very idea of accepting that some things are entirely other than they seem, through the miraculous power of God, dangerously undermines any confidence in the ability to rationally investigate nature. But again, the miraculous transubstantiation of the Eucharist is not a normal thing. Catholics don’t claim that the sort of thing that happens in transubstantiation happens in the ordinary, everyday world. Indeed, it would be perverse to reason to suggest that God regularly goes about muddling up the connection between things and their appearances. It is only because of the singular, sacramental nature of the Eucharist and its role in the spiritual life that an exception is made in this case, and it is only because of acceptance of the Church’s teaching, and not because of independent investigation, that any Catholic should accept the particular doctrine of the transubstantiation of the Eucharist.
I am also, apropos, more inclined than Pigliucci to give Samuel Johnson the benefit of the doubt with respect to his famous “refutation” of Berkeley. I don’t, in fact, think that with his kick Johnson was attempting to say something much other than what Pigliucci says here—that Berkeley’s scheme may be logically unassailable, but it is also, in the world of stones that may be kicked by any man out on a stroll, unbelievable. I suspect that Johnson was not so much contradicting Boswell as agreeing with him, in his usual eccentric way.
Now it might seem that these two sentiments contradict: acceptance of the “unbelievable” teaching regarding the Eucharist while rejecting Berkeley for similar unbelievability. But the difference is that Berkeley’s doctrine was a universal doctrine about the nature of everything, which did in fact undermine altogether the ability of the mind to get to know the reality around it. On the other hand, the teaching regarding the Eucharist is not about the general nature of metaphysics, but is a particular, miraculous case. Berkeley is unbelievable because his system is divorced from the very sorts of observation from which all rational investigation must begin. The Eucharist, however, follows not from any assertion about the universal nature of things, but from a specific teaching about a specific case, derived from a particular source that is counted as an authority and ordered towards a particular goal, the obtaining of grace in the sacramental life. It does not, like Berkeley, say to the rational investigator, “Nothing is what it seems”; it says instead to the believer, “This one particular gift has been made sublimely and infinitely better.”
I am looking foward to reading the new encyclical Lumen fidei, issued by Pope Francis and started by Pope Benedict. For now, here is some commentary from MercatorNet by Fr. Carter Griffin. The topic of the enyclical, faith and its role in our modern “rational” world, is of definite importance for understanding science’s place in our lives. — MB
Pope defends faith as a way to truth
by Fr. Carter Griffin
Pope Francis has written an encyclical on faith, Lumen Fidei, not only for those who struggle to believe in Christ, but for those who struggle to believe anything at all. The starting point for this encyclical is that contemporary men and women have painted themselves into a philosophical corner, too confident in their vision of truth to see its inadequacies, too skeptical in their vision of faith to see its possibilities.
Building on the work of his predecessor Benedict XVI, Francis offers a well-timed and well-aimed letter to those yearning for a life of faith built on foundations of objective truth.
The Pope expresses the modern dilemma about faith and truth as follows. “In contemporary culture,” he says, “we often tend to consider the only real truth to be that of technology: truth is what we succeed in building and measuring by our scientific know-how, truth is what works and what makes life easier and more comfortable. Nowadays this appears as the only truth that is certain, the only truth that can be shared.”
Br. Guy Consolmagno, of the Vatican Observatory, discusses science and faith in a recent TED talk.
“An ancient Chinese myth tells of ten Suns that existed in primordial times. Prideful and intemperate, as pagan gods are often wont to be, these Suns rode together over the surface of the Earth each day, their combined heat scorching it. Insensitive to the plight of the mortals, the Suns refused to take turns in the sky, and were eventually struck down until only one Sun remained.
I was reminded of this story when I read yet again another example of an atheist inviting religious believers to go “one god more” when critically evaluating their beliefs. For instance, here is noted skeptic Michael Shermer at a recent debate about science and belief in God: “Ten-thousand different religions, a thousand different gods. Our opponents agree with us that 999 of those gods are false gods. They are atheists like we are atheists. What I’m asking you to do is just go one God further with us.”
and the University of Queensland is still performing the world’s slowest experiment.
Links: NewScientist, Catholic Herald, and University of Queensland
Image: University of Queensland
From his Wednesday audience yesterday:
“But our question today is does it make sense in the age of science and technology, to still speak of creation? How should we understand the narratives of Genesis? The Bible is not intended as a manual of the natural sciences; it wants to help us understand the authentic and profound truth of things. The fundamental truth that the stories of Genesis reveal is that the world is not a collection of contrasting forces, but has its origin and its stability in the Logos, the eternal reason of God, who continues to sustain the universe. There is a design of the world that is born from this Reason, the Spirit Creator. Believing that this is at the basis of all things, illuminates every aspect of life and gives us the courage to face the adventure of life with confidence and hope. So the Scripture tells us that the origin of the world, our origin is not irrational or out of necessity, but reason and love and freedom. And this is the alternative: the priority of the irrational, of necessity or the priority of reason, freedom and love. We believe in this position.”
January 25th—Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul
During his human life, Jesus chose twelve men to be His apostles; it was these men who formed the authoritative leadership of the Church after the Resurrection. Yet we also find among the apostles another figure: a man who did not join them until after Christ’s death and Resurrection, Saint Paul. After the Gospels, the book of Acts begins with the Twelve, but it ends with Paul. The epistles of the New Testament are predominated by Paul’s writing. Paul’s influence is such that some have claimed, implausibly but perhaps not unexpectedly, that Christianity is in fact a Pauline invention. How are we to understand, then, this preeminence of Paul? Why was Paul chosen to be one of the foremost spreaders of the Gospel in the early Church? Why do the Twelve, who spent their time with Christ while he was alive, seem almost to take a back seat to the zealous evangelism of this newcomer, who not only didn’t know Christ until after His Resurrection, but was also an earlier persecutor of the Church?
The apostles are, first and foremost, witnesses. Christ is only significant if He is, in fact, the true historical figure we claim Him to be. In the end, it must be true that Christ lived and died and rose just as the Gospels claim that he did, or our faith is in vain (to quote Paul himself). Not being there ourselves to witness it historically, we must rely on the witness of the apostles. The Twelve were all there; they saw Jesus in his ordinary human life. They scattered when He was crucified, it is true, but they were there during His ministry, and they saw Him after the Resurrection. The Twelve, as witnesses, are witnesses of Christ’s real life, death, and Resurrection. They are necessary for our belief that He really lived.
Paul is a little different. Paul’s encounter with Christ is not less real than that of the Twelve, yet it is distinct in that it is solely an encounter with the risen Christ. Paul is, in a sense, an Apostle for the latter time, an Apostle not for the days of the Incarnation, but for the Last Age. Salvation history may be divided into three periods: the time before Christ, the time during His life, and the time after His Resurrection. Paul belongs entirely to this last period. St. Paul is the first apostle whose experience of Christ is like ours, in that it occurred after the event. Paul is chosen, in his own words, “last of all.” Yet this last place of witness is the first, in fact, of the modern Church.
There is no end to the reasons of Providence. I can only speculate, but Paul’s early influence might have been God’s way of emphatically beginning the mission of the missionary Church. Read more →
Br. John McCusker, OSB, writes at Homiletic and Pastoral Review:
Although the doctrine on the immortality of the soul is knowable through the supernatural light of faith, it can also be known philosophically through the natural light of reason. In his grand encyclical, Fides et Ratio, Blessed John Paul II proclaimed the need for a strong and rigorous philosophy which can respond to the most profound questions proposed by the human experience, lest people of our time (especially the young) stumble through life without foundation or any valid points of reference. 2 He challenges philosophers to address these most profound questions—which have an important relationship to the Christian faith—including the desire of men to know what happens after death: “We want to know if death will be the definitive end of our life or if there is something beyond—if it is possible to hope for an after-life or not.” 3
This natural knowledge of the immortality of the soul, part of what are traditionally known as the “preambles of the faith,” can reinforce the legitimacy of the basic questions answered by the Christian faith—such as: what happens to the soul after death?—and reassure believers in their most basic convictions.