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Current Catholic intellectual state?

Started by Geremia, June 01, 2020, 03:00:50 PM

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After corresponding with you, frequenting your online library, and perusing your forum, I can tell that you and I share foundational interests. (It's very difficult to find such a convergence of minds in today's intellectual cesspool.) That said, I was hoping you might help me resolve a question.

In my few years of serious study, I believe the work of both John Deely and Fr. Benedict Ashley has equipped me with unassailable principles in the pursuit of knowledge. That said, I've found Deely's dismissive and downright denigrating presentation of Church History to be nauseating. On the other hand, Ashley was much more balanced, but I suspect he conceded too much to the historical critical and scientistic narrative as well. Being philosophical specialists—and, in Ashley's case, a theological specialist as well—these brilliant minds had to rely on streams of information they took on trust. It seems neither of them was as comfortable with the details as might seem (especially Deely).

Let me illustrate: Deely and Ashley accepted many features of the Darwinian-Einsteinian paradigm, and much of their life's work went into affirming their truth. (I'm aware that there are qualifications to be made, as Fr. Ashley's Way Toward Wisdom acknowledges the problems of bare Darwinism.) To their minds, the prospect of something like geocentrism was ridiculous. This tidbit I find interesting, however: On matters intensely scientific, Ashley would often defer to his colleague Fr. William Wallace. To my knowledge, Wallace also never entertained geocentrism. That said, when it came to the greatest mystery in science—the quantum world—Wallace explicitly referred his readers to Wolfgang Smith's The Quantum Enigma.

Here's the irony: Smith, one of the only experts capable of addressing this most fundamental mystery of science, is himself a geocentrist! And he maintains that a proper understanding of the former implies the latter. I've discovered this from reading Smith's latest book, Physics & Vertical Causation. If you're interested, the new documentary, The End of Quantum Reality, is a summary of Smith's life work and, in particular, this book. (You'll love this one: A philosopher named Olavo de Carvalho, who absolutely idolizes Smith, is interviewed in the documentary. There is a quick scene in which the audience sees Carvalho reading Deely's Tractatus, 2nd Edition!)

Anyway, right now I'm suffering from some serious cognitive dissonance. Ages ago, I passed through a "creationist"/geocentrism frenzy. Robert Sungenis was my reference point. Regardless, after becoming a little more philosophically literate, I lost interest in those (I supposed) reactionary ideas. Maritain, De Koninck, Deely, and Ashley offered a Thomistic worldview that seemed to account for all the facts of modern science. In contrast, Sungenis is a philosophical ignoramus, even if he exhibits a powerful empirical mind. But has he been right all along?

At present, I'm ready to embrace—once again—a geocentric cosmology. But young earth creationism seems fanciful. I can't see how some form of macroevolution didn't happen. I like Ashley's stance: we live in an old universe in which macroevolution was effected via the angels and, ultimately, God. Is this coherent? How have you resolved these questions to your satisfaction?

I ask because I suspect you've seriously wrestled with the issues. My major handicap here is that I am scientifically illiterate, though one day I hope to amend that. (The problem is that I don't know where to begin when it comes to the literature.)

May God bless you on this holy feast day of Pentecost.

I replied:

Quote from: Geremia on May 31, 2020, 03:31:04 PMVery good summary!

I tried to get Deely interested in Pierre Duhem; I think he would've been had he lived longer. Deely did know Fr. Wallace's excellent works on the logical treatises of Galileo, etc., though.

"Deely's dismissive and downright denigrating presentation of Church History to be nauseating". That was my initial reaction, too, but I think Deely is more nuanced than that. See the last ¶ on pp. 35-6 of Purely Objective Reality for his most in-depth discussion of "Galileo affair" that I've seen.

I like how Deely, in several of his works, insists that Poinsot knew about Galileo: Tractatus de Signis p. x:
QuoteThe Naturalis Philosophiae Secunda Pars, on astronomy, was suppressed in the year of scheduled publication (1634, the year of Galileo's condemnation in Rome) by Poinsot himself, and there is no extant text of this Part known at the present time"

Cf. ibid. pp. 402-5, the "Editorial Afterword", on Poinsot's omission of the Naturalis Philosophiae Secunda Pars on astronomy from his collection of other works that he called "a finished curriculum of Arts". It's interesting that St. Thomas's De cœlo was also unfinished. I wonder if Poinsot burned Naturalis Philosophiae Secunda Pars on astronomy? Portuguese friend tried to look for it, but he couldn't find any clues; it might've just been lost in a fire.

Cosmology is very important; "error with regard to the nature of creation begets a false knowledge of God" (Pope St. Pius X, Doctoris Angelici)!

I know Sungenis and De Lano personally. I invited them to present on The Principle in 2014; see this video.

I haven't seen De Lano's new doc, but I'm glad to see him pulling Wolfgang Smith out of retirement (with De Lano's project etc.).

I agree "Sungenis is a philosophical ignoramus" when it comes to the philosophy of physics. I sent him a copy of Pierre Duhem's To Save the Phenomena: An Essay on the Idea of Physical Theory from Plato to Galileo, but I'm not sure he read it. Still, Sungenis has done good historical and (albeit somewhat deficient) exegetical work (partially making up for Deely's deficiencies).
Sungenis's waek point is that he completely dismisses St. Augustine's view that one needn't interpret Genesis's 6 days as a temporal succession (cf. I q. 58 a. 6), but this is a unique, minority view among the Fathers.

You forgot to mention the physicist Dr. Anthony Rizzi and how Fr. Ashley tried to get him away from Maritain! :)

Happy feast of the descent of the Spiritus Veritatis!  🕊️

Read Duhem.
Quote from: Geremia on May 31, 2020, 03:42:13 PM
QuoteMy major handicap here is that I am scientifically illiterate
You've got to read Pierre Duhem's Aim & Structure of Physical Theory, then.
I read it at the end of my formal studies of modern experimental &  theoretical physics, and it confirmed what I had learned from experience as well as giving me more profound insights.

See also this, written by a Duhemian historian of physics:

Maneamus in Spiritu Veritatis.

Sciences must be clearly distinguished/classified.
Quote from: Geremia on June 01, 2020, 10:59:07 AM
QuoteWhere would you suggest I start for leaning mathematics and its relation to physical theory? (Maybe that's in Duhem.)
Yes, Aim & Structure of Physical Theory discusses that in-depth.

QuoteSo do you think that young earth creationism is a dead end? If you haven't ruled it out, what is the most sophisticated literature in its defense that you know of?
It is a dead-end in the sense that it doesn't properly distinguish theology and natural philosophy.
The ancient Greeks hindered the progress of science by confusing confusing theology with natural philosophy, too; cf. Duhem-expert Fr. Jaki's The Savior of Science, where he shows that their pantheism resulted in a "still-birth" of modern science.

QuoteAnd, if you care to elaborate, why exactly is Maritain's philosophy of science erroneous? That is, why would Ashley warn Rizzi against it?
I think because Maritain (1951, pp. 89-98) considers modern "empiriological" physics to be a distinct science (although he does seem to think it, too, is the study of ens mobile; that natural philosophy's subject is ens mobile, cf. Cajetan Tractatus de subjecto naturalis philosophiae), but Duhem argues (Aim & Structure pp. 163-4) that modern (idioscopic) physics "Is Less Certain but More Precise and Detailed than the Non-scientific [i.e., natural philosophy or "cenoscopic"] Establishment of a Fact"; viz., the difference between natural philosophy and modern physics is a matter of degree (more concrete → more abstract), not species.

In a way I agree with Feser (Aristotle's Revenge 1.1): "when each of the three main views in this dispute within Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy has been suitably qualified, it is in my view not clear that much of substance really rides on the dispute." However, (as I mentioned above re: young earth creationism), distinguishing sciences is very important!
Feser says (ibid.): "the distinction between natural science and the philosophy of nature is not always observed in practice by either philosophers or scientists". But it should be! Metaphysics 995a10 [174.]: "it is absurd to search simultaneously for knowledge and for the method of acquiring it"!

Dominus tecum.

Duhem & semiotics
Quote from: Geremia on June 01, 2020, 02:47:37 PM
QuoteWhat you say about Feser sounds right. Brian Kemple has made the same point in one of his CP-Insight YouTube videos, that not much of substance rides on the dispute.
Are you referring to Quaestiones de Quodlibet - Prima Series, Q.1, A.1?

QuoteAs his dissertation makes clear, "ens ut primum cognitum," that most general and confused apprehension of mind-dependent and mind-independent being, is a more foundational issue than the epistemological primacy of material or spiritual being.
His dissertation is very interesting! First principles is something that has fascinated me, ever since I read Posterior Analytics's solution to the ∞-regress problem (cf. Weisheipl, O.P.'s fascinating quote of Aristotle).

QuoteSemioticians, it seems, don't get too excited about the above dispute. While Deely (more or less) sided with the Laval/River Forest school, he didn't get it too much coverage in Four Ages.
C. S. Peirce has probably the most developed classification of the sciences.

Duhem & semiotics
Although Duhem doesn't explicitly used the word "semiotics", he does speak of signs:
Duhem, Aim & Structure, "1. What Is the True Nature of a Physical Theory and the Operations Constituting It?", pp. 19-20 (my emphases):

QuoteA physical theory is not an explanation. It is a system of mathematical propositions, deduced from a small number of principles, which aim to represent as simply, as completely, and as exactly as possible a set of experimental laws. [...] These mathematical symbols have no connection of an intrinsic nature with the properties they represent; they bear to the latter only the relation of sign to thing signified.

Une théorie physique n'est pas une explication. C'est un système de propositions mathématiques, déduites d'un petit nombre de principes, qui ont pour but de représenter aussi simplement, aussi complètement et aussi exactement que possible, un ensemble de lois expérimentales. [...] ces symboles mathématiques n'ont, avec les propriétés qu'ils représentent, aucune relation de nature ; ils ont seulement avec elles une relation de signe à chose signifiée.

Duhem also understands applied mathematics as translation (which is a semiotic operation); ibid. p. 133:
QuoteThus as both its starting and terminal points, the mathematical derivation of a physical theory cannot be wedded to observable facts except by a translation. In order to introduce the circumstances of an experiment into the calculations, we must make a version which replaces the language of concrete observation by the language of numbers; in order to verify the results that a theory predicts for that experiment, a translation exercise must transform a numerical value into a reading formulated in experimental language. But translation is treacherous. Between the concrete facts, as the physicist observes them, and the numerical symbols by which these facts are represented in the calculations of its theorists, there is an extremely great difference.
(as quoted in Sarukkai 2001 "Mathematics, Language and Translation")
This brings up the question of whether Duhem was a scientific conventionalist, instrumentalist, or realist. I'd say (with Duhem scholar Needham "New perspectives on Pierre Duhem's The aim and structure of physical theory" pp. 7-12) that he was a moderate realist. I'd also consider him a structural realist (Feser discusses structural realism in Aristotle's Revenge, but he, like Wallace, seems to classify Duhem an instrumentalist).

Papers comparing Duhem & Peirce:

Duhem also discusses analogy (I can give you the quotes if you want, but this is getting a bit long already...).
Duhem wasn't a Neo-Thomist, however; he opposed that movement (perhaps also for similar reasons why Kemple does: Neo-Thomism's simplistic, insuperable ens reale / ens rationis divide?).

QuoteBy the way, sorry for bombarding you with these questions. They should be coming to a close. Just looking for some clarity.
That's fine. Keep asking questions. "Do Not Block the Way of Inquiry." :)

☧ tecum.

First principles
Quote from: Geremia on June 02, 2020, 09:40:08 AM
QuoteThat quotes from Aristotle is magnificent.
The Magna Moralia, I, c. 34, 1197a20-23 / "scientia est conclusionum, et intellectus principiorum" one? Or the Metaphysics one about how one can't do methodology and science simultaneously?
Magna Moralia is interesting; I don't think Aquinas et al. knew about it.

QuotePeirce's classification of the sciences, the diagram I've seen, looks remarkable. Once I get a better grounding with Duhem, I think I'll be able to understand it better.
Duhem and Peirce, although contemporaries, never knew each other or cited each other, that I know. I've asked both Duhem scholar Stoffel (who maintains almost all of Duhem's correspondences) and a Peirce scholar.
So, who knows what Duhem would've thought about Peirce's classification.

Philosophically, Duhem was a Pascalian. Duhem frequency mentions Pascal's esprit de géométrie vs. esprit de finesse distinction—the former: "geometric", "ample", "broad-but-shallow" mind (Duhem says this is characteristic of British minds.), the latter: "intuitive", "supple", "narrow-and-deep" mind (Duhem says this is characteristic of French minds.). (It's interesting that intellectus, νοῦς is sometimes translated as "intuition".)
There's a lot of debate about what exactly Pascal meant, but from how Duhem describes it in Aim & Structure pt. 1 ch. 4, it seems an esprit de finesse is one who loves resolving thought into first principles, whereas an esprit de géométrie loves juggling several principles simultaneously. Duhem gives the example of how Napolean was a "British mind" because he coordinated several military strategies in his mind simultaneously, and Newton was a "French mind" for resolving physics into three axioms. :)

QuoteBy the way, have you seen this book ( It looks perfect for someone like me. I was great in Math back in high school but have lost touch with it over the years.
I've never read Morris Kline, but my 8th grad math teacher recommended his calculus book, and he does seem to be a respectable historian of math. Was he the one who began calculus with integration first, then differentiation?

QuoteWow, based on those quotes from Duhem, I really think Deely and Ashley could used him for an even stronger support. I can't wait to read him.
Frs. Ashley and Wallace didn't seem that enthused with Duhem. I think they were suspicious he was an instrumentalist and/or conventionalist.

QuoteFinally, I need to learn French. My intellectual aspirations appear to be blocked if I don't have a working knowledge of that language. Do you have any grammar books to recommend?
I learned to read French just to read Pierre Duhem's scientific works (almost all of which have never been translated into English!).
I became better at French reading by doing computer assisted translation (CAT) of Duhem, using OmegaT (with the Google Translate (without API key) plugin).
I think knowing Italian helped, though.
The best way to learn languages is to listen and read it. Listening is how we all learned our mother-tongue in the first place.
You'd be interested in Polyglott: How I Learn Languages by Kató Lomb, who knew 16! Cdl. Mezzofanti (during Gregory XVI's reign) knew 38 languages fluently!

Veni Sancte Spiritus!

Quote from: Geremia on June 03, 2020, 09:56:31 AM
QuoteI find that Duhem comparison between the British and French hilarious.
I figured you would. haha
He calls Maxwell "English", too. (He was Scottish.)
Duhem wrote another called German Science, in which he praises German science over English science.

In The Electric Theories of J. Clerk Maxwell p. 6, Duhem writes that Maxwell's 1861 paper "On Physical Lines of Force"
Quoteaims to be a mechanical model that describes or explains (for an English physicist, the two words have the same meaning) electric and magnetic action.
English physicists tried reducing everything down to a mechanical model, epitomized by Oliver Lodge's cogwheel machine for modeling the ether, cord-and-beads model for a dielectric, rubber band model for electromagnetic field, and other overly fanciful things... cf. Darrigol §5.3 "Picturing Maxwell", in the ch. "British Maxwellians", pp. 180-9 for pictures.
Physical theories are not machines! This is the root of the "quantum enigma": You can't understand quantum mechanics by reducing it to a machine, a mechanistic collection of particles.
Duhem (e.g., in Evolution of Mechanics), like Dr. Wolfgang Smith and Pascal, also fought against Cartesianism.

Quote from: Geremia on June 03, 2020, 10:21:03 AM
QuoteWhat makes this so difficult is that the Magisterium still needs to work out a comprehensive ecclesiology.
Ecclesiology is fascinating because it encompasses so many branches of theology, esp. Christology (∵ Christ = Mystical Body = Church). It's like a "meta-theology".
Fr. Stanley Jaki did his theology dissertation on ecclesiology. An English translation of it is in the final stages and will be published by Real View Books.

Trinitarian Intellectual Life
Quote from: Geremia on June 07, 2020, 03:11:06 PM
QuoteHappy Feast of the Holy Trinity!

Super Sent., lib. 1 d. 10 q. 1 a. 3 "Utrum spiritus sanctus sit unio patris et filii" really helped my understand why we often conclude our prayers " unitáte Spíritus Sancti. Amen.":
QuotePossunt enim pater et filius considerari vel inquantum conveniunt in essentia, et sic uniuntur in essentia; vel inquantum distinguuntur in personis, et sic uniuntur per consonantiam amoris: quia et si per impossibile poneretur quod non essent unum per essentiam, ad perfectam jucunditatem oporteret in eis intelligi unionem amoris.

Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., shows the role of Trinity in Catholic intellectual life, intro. of De Deo Trino et Creatore:
QuoteIn the Trinity we see the infinite and eternal fecundity of the divine nature, which is communicated by the Father to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost by the Father and the Son. The Protestant theologians mentioned above say that the mystery of the Trinity is an enigma without meaning for our interior life, but the traditional theologians say that in this mystery of the Trinity we come to some knowledge of the most perfect intellectual life, that is in the three persons, who in the same divine truth live by the same act of pure intelligence which is subsisting intelligence itself.
We certainly know how Trinitarian the semiotic thought of John of St. Thomas, O.P., is! He clearly saw "traces of the Trinity (vestigia Trinitatis)" in nature. Or Peirce's Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness.

felix festum Sanctissimæ Trinitatis! ☘