Adam’s sin weakened the will and darkened the intellect of all his progeny. God promised a redeemer to remedy the human condition.
Every time I read the address, which Pope Benedict XVI gave in 2006 at the University of Regensburg, I become more impressed with his outline of the surge in faith and reason in western civilization and its dissipation in modernity. He identifies its origin in the confluence of the Divine Revelation of God as the Logos and the logos of Greek philosophy spanning the few hundred years before Christ.
Faith and reason flourish in the Christianization of Europe and reach a crest in the Middle Ages. The modern descent into the darkness of irrationality, begins in the late Middle Ages with a tendency to exalt the will of God over the intellect of God, the Logos. Benedict calls this demeaning of rationality, the dehellenization of western thought.
It is often said that God can create anything he wills. Yet, it is seldom said that creation is as much an act of God’s intellect as his will. God, e.g. could not create a unicorn, because unicorn is not the nature of anything. It is a cut and paste visualization of the human imagination.
The human mind can only know the nature of an entity a posteriori. To know more fully the natures of things is the never ending quest of the finite, human mind. It is impossible for man to conceive of a creatable nature a priori. This is evident in that knowing fully the nature of any entity is beyond human capacity, even though the entity lies within the scope of human experience.
In this essay I wish to draw attention to three familiar signposts along our descent into the darkness of irrationality, which is modernity.
Faith as sincere, not rational
One recent signpost was noted by Joshua Schulz in his commentary on the majority decision of the Supreme Court in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby. According to the Court, faith and morals cannot be legally viewed or defended as rational. The criterion for its legal admissibility is not rationality, but the sincerity of the individual’s belief.
On page 5 of its decision, the Court noted, “It is not for the Court to say that the religious beliefs of the plaintiffs are mistaken or unreasonable.” On page 38, the Court stated, “Here, in contrast, the plaintiffs do assert that funding the specific contraceptive methods at issue violates their religious beliefs, and HHS does not question their sincerity.” http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/13-354_olp1.pdf
What sets us apart from the animals is our ability to think of who we are and what it means to be human. Our self-knowledge derives from our relationship to reality, where reality is rational independently of our knowledge of it. It is faith, morals and metaphysics which makes us human. Yet, these subjects are not within the scope of rational legal argument, according to the Supreme Court.
What is left to make us human is science. However, science is a remote god whom we adore solely because of his ability to surprise and awe through technology. Take away technology and science would be the butt of everyday humor. You can surprise and, in that sense, awe a dog, but you can’t discuss morals with it. Similarly, you can’t discuss morals with another human, if only science is rational.
Human rights as self-evident, not discovered by rational argument
The enlightenment of the 18th century did away with the superstition of faith and morals, replacing superstition with science, liberty, equality and fraternity. Within that enlightenment, the Declaration of Independence struck a mighty blow to reason when it declared that human rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, are self-evident. No argument of reason can support the content of that which is self-evident.
The right to abortion, the right to die, the right to homosexual marriage are not open to rational discussion. They are self-evident human rights. President Obama did not reconsider any rational arguments which supported his earlier stance against homosexual marriage. His ‘feelings’ about homosexual marriage ‘evolved’ until he recognized it as a human right.
Recently on TV, sports commentator, Jason Whitlock, said his views evolved from being homophobic to supporting gay rights. Evolution is something which happens. It isn’t rational. As soon as anything is labeled a human right, rational discussion ceases because rights are self-evident. One’s feelings evolve until one is able to see something as a human right. Both the process, which is the evolution of feeling, and the end result, which is the perception of a human right as self-evident, are beyond the scope of rational discussion.
R. J. Snell in an essay on the end of debate, refers to the position of Josh Barro of the New York Times as banning rational support of traditional marriage and denigrating rationality itself:
“One gets the sense that Barro interprets every attempt to make an argument against him as proof that the other side is benighted and wicked, as if reasonability renders a position illegitimate. Worse: that to offer reasons in favor of such an obviously oppressive position renders the person illegitimate, not just the position. To argue, then, is to be proven wrong by the mere fact of making the argument.”
Science alone as the rational pursuit of truth
The third signpost or illustration of our descent into irrationality, to be noted in this essay, is the widespread inability to see any distinction between science and philosophy.
In the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District in 2005, witnesses for the defense argued that random mutation and natural selection was an insufficient scientific explanation in specific instances and that the philosophical explanation of intelligent design, was scientific and should be taught in science class. The Court ruled that intelligent design was a concept of faith, a form of Creationism, not scientific and not to be taught in science class. The court did not distinguish between philosophy and science, but between faith and science.
Science is the determination of mathematical relationships among the measurable properties of material reality. It is the pursuit of a small, circumscribed area of truth. It is popular to claim that the only pursuit of truth is science, thus denying the rationality of philosophy and theology. Philosophy is the determination of what principles must be true, if what we experience of reality is to be possible.
Yet, those who would be expected to support rationality betray it. They argue in this dark age that a philosophical conclusion is not philosophical, but scientific and should be taught as science. Their philosophical position would have been better served by questioning if evolution, by means of the random (not natural) generation of mutations and their natural (not random) differential survival, is science or philosophy.