Mirrors Darkly

mass, prayer, petition, funeral, worship

church, prayer, petition, meditation, worship

Truth

Truth is what is. Truth is the real.

We error-prone and sometimes reality-denying human beings have the truth when what we think about corresponds to what is real. So for us, truth is the correspondence of mind to reality.

We would like to know things for sure. How can we be confident? Thomas Aquinas (ST, II, II, q. 1., a 2) in his typically brilliant fashion gives us four levels of certainty. It is good to know clearly what we mean when we say we doubt something or we have an opinion about something or that we believe something. A fourth kind of certainty has for us modern folk a strange and misleading name: science.

Propositions

We propose to ourselves, or others propose to us, all kinds of statements about reality. Here are some:

  • God exists.
  • That is a piece of Bazooka Bubble Gum.
  • Lying is wrong.
  • She’s not in love with me.

Judgment

When I look at a little red, white, and blue wrapped rectangle and say, “That is a piece of Bazooka,” I am making a judgment. The judgment is what we want to be true, that is, to correspond to reality.

Let’s look at “God exists.” Either God exists or he does not exist. What you judge about the proposition “God exists” has no effect on what is being proposed. Your thinking does not make God exist or not exist.

Doubt

I have doubt that God exists when I don’t have any more reasons in favor of God existing than of God not existing. I may want God to exist (because otherwise the universe cares nothing for me and will kill me forever), but if I am an honest doubter I can’t claim he does. I may want God not to exist (so I am free to do whatever I want), but if I’m in doubt I really can’t judge he is not.

One big problem here is that we human beings have a great talent for rationalizing. That is, we make a decision and then come up with reasons why we are right.

The common meaning of agnostic is someone who has doubt whether or not God exists. But strictly speaking, we can be and probably should be agnostic about many things.

Opinion

I have opinion that God exists when I have enough reasons to think God exists but I still have some fear or doubt that God might not be. Note that this use of the word opinion is different than the use of the word as preference, as in Chocolate Toasted Almond Coconut ice cream is better than Peaches ‘n Cream ice cream. Dictionary.com actually has a pretty good definition of opinion in Thomas’ sense: “a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty.”

Thomas’ notion of opinion is akin to the modern judicial test of preponderance of the evidence. When most of the evidence points to guilt, the jury is supposed to find the defendant guilty. If not, the defendant is to be found not guilty.

It is probably the case for many of us that when it comes to our rational understanding, our opinion, based on good reasons, is that God exists. But we may also, based on other reasons, have the fear that maybe he does not.

Science

Now we come to the tricky part, science.

When we hear the world “science” today we almost always think of natural or empirical science. People in white coats looking at test tubes. One exception might be when someone asks whether something, like teaching, is an art or a science.

Before natural science took over the word, the concept science meant knowing something by knowing its cause or causes. Aristotle said you fully know the why of something when you know what it is made of, how it’s parts are arranged, what makes it to be the way it is, and what it is directed toward.

For example, I can know this round object is a baseball when I know:

  • that it is made of leather, yarn, string, rubber, cork, and adhesive (its material cause);
  • that these materials are arranged as a round cork core covered in rubber, wrapped with various kinds of wool yarn, string, and adhesive, covered by stitched cowhide, and of a specific weight and circumference (its formal cause);
  • that it was manufactured by workers in a factory in Costa Rica (its efficient cause); and
  • that it was made to be used in the game of baseball (its final cause).

In this original meaning of science, we can know something by science in two ways. The first is immediately through first principles. Here is an example from Euclid’s geometry: things which are equal to the same thing are also equal to one another. Once you understand what is being said you see that it is true. If we could see God directly (which we can’t in this life), God exists would be this kind of statement.

The other way something can by known by science is by demonstration, that is, as the conclusion of a process of reasoning. This is a way that Aquinas (and the Catholic Church) says that the existence of God can be known by science. It is a valid process of reasoning from effects (created things) back to cause (God as the final explanation for why those things exist).

Faith

A final way of certain knowledge is faith. I know by faith that God exists when my will, through trust in an authority, moves my intellect to affirm that he is.

Faith can be natural, as when a child believes God exists because his mother, whom he trusts, teaches him so. All students begin their studies with a natural faith in what their teacher tells them is true, because they cannot yet see it on their own. A great deal of what we know is known by natural faith.

And faith can be supernatural, as when I am convinced that God exists because he has revealed himself. So, I believe what Jesus Christ teaches about God because I can trust him. My reasons for trusting him are that he fulfilled many Old Testament prophecies and performed miracles to demonstrate his divine power, especially his Resurrection. Supernatural faith opens the door to many more truths about God and man which, unlike the mere existence of God, could never otherwise be known. Examples are that God is in himself a loving Trinity of persons; that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became man; and that God wants to share his divine life with us.

A glass darkly

Doubt, opinion, and faith have in common that the intellect does not directly see the truth of the propositions, whereas with science it does.

Science in its old meaning and revealed faith have in common the complete certitude in regard to the propositions they hold, whereas doubt and opinion do not. With science the intellect sees either directly or through demonstration what is. With supernatural faith the person assents to what God reveals because God can neither deceive nor be deceived.

In heaven, doubt, opinion, and even faith will give way to a new kind of science, that of seeing directly as first principles God and all things in God. As St. Paul puts it, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (1 Cor 13:12).

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13 thoughts on “Mirrors Darkly”

  1. Wasn’t it Pilate who asked: “What is truth.”? Even this pagan knew the answer was a bit more complex than can be found on earth.

  2. Kevin-read your bio-am so curious what you do in your free time? This always helps me re “truth” and “Truth”: The large circle labeled “Truth” is intersected by the small circle labeled “Science” i.e. so much of science is outside the “truth” circle, so much of science is un-truth. For Example, There are now-rejected scientific theories in most branches of science, including, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy, Cosomology, Climate study, geography, geology, psychology, and medicine. In a part of the small circle outside the large circle, the un-truths of science, are listings for all of these scientific theories once accepted as true, but which have now been rejected as false: Spontaneous Generation theory; Lamarckist Evolution; Phlogiston theory; Caloric Theory; Luminiferous Ether theory; the Ptolemaic System; Heliocentricism; Flat Earth theory; Hollow Earth theory; Geosyncline Theory; Four Humors Theory ; and Phrenology. Guy McClung, San Antonio, Texas

  3. “Truth is what is. Truth is the real.”

    I liked this very much, it was well arranged and clear. Now, where do you put illusion, one of the tenants of eastern deism ? For most of our human existence a rock was solid and inert (judgement) and at one time based on science … until now, when it is far from solid and static ? There was no doubt as to its status, no contrary opinion on its properties and our faith in its physical nature was pure. Simply put, Illusion is truth’s nemesis and nightmare and it pervades all of reality as understood by human senses.

    1. If one judges it to be an illusion that a rock is a solid at the level of human sensation based on knowledge of structure at the atomic level, then the knowledge of atomic structure must also be an illusion. It depends upon the general reliability of human sensation at the level of sensual observation, which is illusory.

    2. Having had a full parochial education based on the Jesuit model, I call to mind a ” very, very special film ” we were told was forthcoming (in the 4th grade) which pictured atoms, the solar system and galaxies ( as known in the 50’s) as alive. I don’t even have to close my eyes to see all us kiddos out in the hall where the projector had been set. Quite a few jaws dropped that day as the animated film panned away to reveal that the macro view of the universe formed a giant being in the likeness of Jesus and his sacred heart. What it was all about eluded me until long after Vat II when this long delayed … program … burst forth in places like CS, to wreak havoc on traditional mindsets. Blame it on the nuns 🙂

    3. An illusion is in the mind, not in reality. Things are just what they are. The illusion is only because the mind has misapprehended the reality.

    4. I understood James’ initial comment to claim that we now know that rocks are not solids at the level of human sensation because we now know they are not solids at the level of atomic structure.
      Perhaps I did not properly state my initial reply to
      James. One cannot argue that a rock’s solidness at the level of unaided human sensation is an illusion because we know it is not a solid based on atomic structure. If its solidness is an illusion, then sense knowledge is generally unreliable. However, our knowledge of atomic structure ultimately depends upon the general reliability of sense knowledge. Such unreliability would mean that our knowledge of atomic structure must also be an illusion.
      Rocks are indeed solids at the level of human sensation and are not solids at the atomic level of instrumental detection. In this there is no incompatibility or illusion

    5. And at the macro level the rock becomes part of an aggregate of something that
      does not look like a rock at all – but a slowly spinning globe of blue, green and white with every other color mixed to perceive a beautiful world far removed from
      a rock. There’s three illusions now and if we pan out to the edge of the solar system, to the right set of eyes the planets circling the sun, its nucleus, appear to be one atom in a cosmos of atoms which make up something we can not perceive.
      There are four illusions of which none is a coherent whole.

    6. Morphing one image into another is a popular technique in TV advertising today. It is meant to create an impression, just as the film you saw as a child apparently succeeded in its purpose by impressing you. Like today’s TV ads, that film was obviously not intended to be an exposition of theology, philosophy or science. The film was meant to impress your imagination as a child, to induce you to acknowledge the truth that Jesus, as God, is Lord of all material creation.
      Denying the wisdom of a pedagogical technique, does not refute the truth of the idea, the teaching of which is being attempted by that technique.
      When we are children we think that science consists of images where atoms are miniature billiard balls. When we grow up, although our imaginations may still depend upon such images, we understand that the science is in the mathematical relationships inferred from instrumental measurements. Atomic science is not properly represented by any pictures in our imagination. That is why the fact that rocks are truly solids, is completely compatible with their atomic structure.
      Our imaginations are well suited to representing what we perceive at the level of sensation, but not beyond the limits of sensation. The distinctions among solid, liquid and gas are fundamentally at the level of sensation. I don’t have to be aware of any instrumental measurements or any mathematical relationships to properly understand these distinctions.

    7. ” The film was meant to impress your imagination as a child, to induce you
      to acknowledge the truth that Jesus, as God, is Lord of all material creation.”

      Au contraire, We learned this in the first grade when God said ” Let there
      be light”, No need for a ” very …special film” to understand that most basic elementary fact.

      ” That is why the fact that rocks are truly solids,…” And not solid at the same time – at least acknowledge relativity. If we existed only as Lilliputians we would have no idea they were solid nor any way to prove it except by theory The implications from string theory and neutrinos alone show that everything is illusory.

      “Our imaginations are well suited …”

      This does not have anything to do with our imaginative minds. In eastern deism Brahman, the creator of the universe is represented as a living being.pervading all reality. We have a Jesuit pope who pops in to say hi to Buddhist monks – not as a PR stunt but to soften up our rigid doctrines that have choked out similar, older wisdom that dovetails the gospels and needs to be integrated with all the sciences . You put a lot of stock in the five senses we know about and so little
      imagination in what we do not know. But as always, it’s good trading faith.with
      you.

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