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Life and Intelligibility vs. Death and Inanity: Scientism and Meaning

November 16, AD2017 7 Comments

order, design, creation, intelligibility

Moses set before the people Life and Death; from another aspect, Intelligibility and Inanity. He urged them to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19).

The Transcendentals

Life and Intelligibility in this context refer to a single identity. They differ as logical, not real, distinctions. With Purpose, they form the triad of transcendentals. Each transcendental name refers fundamentally to being, to existence. Each transcendental of the triad differs from the other two only in aspect.

Transcendental names form a trinity. The most basic trinity are Existence, Truth, and Goodness. A thing is true and good to the extent that it exists. A thing exists to the extent that it is true and good. Reality, intelligibility, and desirability are another trinity of such names. Jesus identified himself by the transcendental names of the life, the truth, and the way. The negations of life, truth, and way are death (as non-existence), falseness (non-truth) and purposelessness (the absence of good as a goal).

Even in human terms, the three are one. Truth is the conformity of human judgment to reality. The good, the object of human desire, can only be perceived as existent, at least as a possibility. In contrast, evil is the non-existence of some perfection which we judge to be desirable, such as health, the wholeness of our bodies.

In God, the transcendentals are persons. The Father is The Existent. The Son, or the Word, is God as self-known and thereby intelligible and true. The Holy Spirit is God as the sole good, both desirable and His own raison d’être.

In recognizing that the existent is the true is the good, we understand reality.

In the English language, meaning can refer to intelligibility (the true) or to purpose (the good as a goal). Similarly, inanity can refer to a lack of intelligibility or to a lack of purpose. The great error of our day is to equate intelligibility solely with mathematics. This leaves everything but mathematics inane with respect to intelligibility and inane with respect to purpose. Our god is Mathematics in its manifestation, Technology.

The Transcendentals and Scientism

Scientism completely divorces intelligibility, which it equates with the laws of the physical sciences, from material reality, which it claims consists of elementary particles abjectly obeying the Laws of Science (mathematical formulae). According to the cosmologist, Sean Carroll, there is no essential difference between a living body and a corpse. Both unconsciously obey the Laws of Science.

In scientism, the phenomenon of consciousness, which we associate with the sentient living body, is ephemeral. Our consciousness of life is not the consciousness of true identity. The true identity of a living thing is that of a collection (a mathematical set) of elementary particles in motion, fundamentally no different from any other set of elementary particles. That is not how we perceive ourselves in our self-consciousness. Thus our self-conscious perception is false.

Scientism divorces intelligibility, which it identifies solely as the Laws of Science, from the material, which it identifies as the sole reality. Consequently, the concepts of life, meaning and love cannot be real. They can only be our creation.

The divorce of intelligibility (the Laws of Science) from reality (material particles) tears apart the transcendental of truth from the transcendental of existence. This divorce implicitly denies that anything is good; i.e., inherently desirable.  When life, meaning, and love are of our own creation, we do not simply fail to recognize the identity of reality under the corresponding transcendental names of the existent (life), the true (meaning) and the good (love). We unwittingly deny the reality, intelligibility, and goodness of materiality.

Somewhat surprisingly, the materiality, and thereby the reality, of scientism’s elementary material particles is superficial. Material particles are indistinguishable from mathematics. In the mathematics of space and time, points in space are mathematical coordinates. An elementary material particle differs from a point in that its coordinates vary with time. An elementary material particle is a temporal mathematical locus. What we call humans or grains of sand are mathematical sets of temporal loci.

If, as scientism claims, elementary material particles are mathematical loci, then the sole identity of materiality is mathematical. Any purpose associated with materiality would be within the internal logical consistency of mathematics. Human life is totally meaningless. This, if true, should affect those of us who thought that the world in which we live was obviously material, not just mathematical.

The Consequence of Scientism: Make Believe

Adherents of scientism recognize that any meaning of life must be of one’s own creation, as Sean Carroll acknowledges. Similarly, the video, Optimistic Nihilism, addresses meaninglessness within scientism. It offers the consolation of historical hedonism, “for tomorrow we die.” Its version is: Do not succumb to existential dread. Be optimistic; say, “So what?” For tomorrow, not only you but the entire universe and with it all memory will cease in heat death.

A reserved New Englander, Prof. Holly Ordway, in the movie, Convinced, notes that she was initially convinced of the truth of atheistic scientism, partly as a reaction to her encounter with overly enthusiastic evangelical classmates in graduate school in North Carolina. Atheism seemed much more rational and seemed to make sense of things through its embrace of science. In accepting atheism, she accepted the fact that the world is meaningless and that it was up to the individual to generate meaning in one’s own life. This has the attractiveness of self-reliance, a can-do individuality. Yet, she concluded, “The only problem is that it actually doesn’t work. At a certain point you have to realize, ‘I’m faking this.’”

In scientism, we are the creators of the meaning of life, both in identity and in purpose. It would seem that other peoples’ unquestioned acceptance of the sex to which one has creatively transgendered would be satisfying to a transgendered person. Yet, in a video, such success is lamented by a transgendered couple, because observers of their appearance assume they are (1) non-transgender and (2) straight in their sexuality. They lament that others are unaware of their self-creation. In scientism, we are all creative of our self-identity and self-purpose; a transgendered person is just more aggressive than the rest of us in this art of make-believe. The couple in the video want to be acknowledged for their extraordinary self-creative art.

The U.S. Supreme Court expressed our right to make believe quite eloquently: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life.”

Reality, Not Fantasy

Traditional philosophy could fully endorse the SCOTUS statement by changing “the right to define one’s own concept” to “the right to discover, without external constraint, the concept”. This changes liberty from the right to create fantasies to the right to understand material reality.

Scientism identifies matter as just another abstract concept in the logic of mathematics. True philosophy acknowledges the existential character, the reality, of matter. Through revelation, God tells us that he has united matter with his Divinity as the Son, in order to save us from the poverty of our own imaginations.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Bob Drury is retired. He has been fascinated with the reasonableness of the Faith since his junior year in high school in the mid-20th century for which the religion text was entitled, “Faith and Reason”. That fascination has continued throughout his education in philosophy, math and science. In his essays he hopes to share that fascination with others. Read more at his website, They Have No Wine.

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  • This is a fantastic article. very understandable (intelligible). A must read for students of philosophia perennis.

    • Thank you. When I went to DePaul, all undergraduates were required to take a minor sequence in philosophy. Like the sciences of math and physics, philosophy was taught systematically as accumulated and refined knowledge. Recently, I looked at today’s curriculum in philosophy. In the spirit of the age, the courses appear to be surveys of opinion. That undergraduate philosophy and math has been the bedrock of all my later education in science.

    • Thank you. My philosophy teacher wrote an article on Scientism back in 1946. You may like to read it here And another one Scientism Revisited by one of his students here

    • The article of your teacher, Brother Brian Maluf, exemplifies the strength of the philosophy departments of the Catholic universities in the mid-20th century. How strange that they now scorn their heritage when the absurdity of the implications of scientism has become so apparent.

    • Thank you Mr. Drury. Yes, Brother Francis was a great teacher, doctorate in philosophy from Michigan U, but he also taught physics at the American U of Beirut back in the late 30s when he was barely 20. He was a good friend and disciple of Charles Malik.

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