Thursday, September 29, 2011

Let's not forget we have a Foe!

It's the feast day of St. Michael - the day we ought to recall that we have a dangerous Foe working against us...

Speaking of Lucifer, one thinks of Michael, a name which means “who is like God.” It is also a hallowed shorthand, telling perhaps less of God than of Lucifer's daring and downfall. Lucifer wanted to play God. How an angel can do that is a question for which answers, very speculative to be sure, may be found in the writings of an Aquinas or a Maritain. All such answers rest on considering angelic nature, pure intellects, whose cognition has three main features. The mode of that cognition is intuitive, its origin is innate, and its operation is independent of things. The Cartesian theory of errorless human knowledge is expressed in exactly the same terms. It should not be surprising that a man, believing himself to be capable of knowing in such a way, should try to play God. Descartes tried to do this in the only sense in which a poor mortal can do it, namely, to dictate to God how to go about the business of creation.
[Jaki, Angels, Apes, and Men 15-16]

Let the scientific enquirer continue to cultivate the patience of science. Let him linger - at any rate let me linger - in the place of popular entertainment whatever it may be, and take very careful note (if necessary in a note-book) of the way in which ordinary human beings do really talk about each other. As he is a scientific enquirer with a note-book, it is very likely that he never saw any ordinary human beings before. But if he will listen carefully, he will observe a certain tone taken towards friends, foes and acquaintances; a tone which is, on the whole, creditably genial and considerate, though not, without strong likes and dislikes. He will hear abundant if sometimes bewildering allusion to the well-known weaknesses of Old George; but many excuses also, and a certain generous pride in conceding that Old George is quite the gentleman when drunk, or that he told the policeman off proper. Some celebrated idiot, who is always spotting winners that never, win, will be treated with almost tender derision; and, especially among the poorest, there will be a true Christian pathos in the reference to those who have been "in trouble" for habits like burglary and petty larceny. And as all these queer types are called up like ghosts by the incantation of gossip, the enquirer will gradually form the impression that there is one kind of man, probably only one kind of man, perhaps, only one man, who is really disliked. The voices take on quite a different tone in speaking of him; there is a hardening and solidification of disapproval and a new coldness in the air. And this will be all the more curious because, by the current modern theories of social or anti-social action, it will not be at all easy to say why he should be such a monster; or what exactly is the matter with him. It will be hinted at only in singular figures of speech, about a gentleman who is mistakenly convinced that he owns the street; or sometimes that he owns the earth. Then one of the social critics will say, "'E comes in 'ere and 'e thinks 'e's Gawd Almighty." Then the scientific enquirer will shut his note-book with a snap and retire from the scene, possibly after paying for any drinks he may have consumed in the cause of social science. He has got what he wanted. He has been intellectually justified. The man in the pub has precisely repeated, word for word, the theological formula about Satan.
[GKC "If I Only Had One Sermon to Preach" in The Common Man]

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle! Protect us, our families, our countries, and help us do our work well, to the glory of God. Do not let us walk into our labs or classrooms thinking we are God Almighty...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

GKC on the Mystery of Observation

I had no time to arrange a posting this week on our topic, so I will just give you this important excerpt from a Chesterton essay.
--Dr. Thursday

I have seen with my own eyes in print all the above explanations of the Sea-Serpent as seen by sailors. They are all perfectly plausible and typically modern; they all only forget one thing: that it would be just as easy to apply this distributive and disruptive process to any other object that had only been momentarily seen on some score of occasions. When first the giraffe was described by travellers it was treated as a lie. Now it is in the Zoological Gardens; but it still looks like a lie. If few save stray travellers had seen the thing, and if the scientists (for some muddle-headed reason of theirs) had decided to doubt it, it would have been quite easy for them to explain every alleged appearance in the same way. There might be a tall python with a stretched neck just behind a horse with a hidden and sunken head: this might give the impression of a quadruped with a dreadfully long neck. There might be an animal with a long nose and pointed ears peering from the top of a lonely and leafless tree: this might give the impression, in certain lights and shades, of a tall vertebral column terminating in an ovine face. There are no limits to these coincidences of illusion on land or at sea; but we have the right to ask two questions of those who actually use them as an argument against the possible existence of giraffes. We have a right to ask, first, why all these coincidences tend to create the image of a giraffe? And we have a right to ask, secondly, why the dickens there should not be such a thing as a giraffe?
[GKC ILN October 21 1911 CW29:176-7]

Yeah - interesting, even if humorous, isn't it?

Now, to help you out - kindly print these out in a nice, fairly large font, and post it somewhere for you and others to read and think about:

When first the giraffe was described by travellers it was treated as a lie.

Now it is in the Zoological Gardens; but it still looks like a lie.

--G. K. Chesterton, 1911

One of the severest tests
of a scientific mind
is to discern the limits
of the legitimate application
of scientific methods.

--J. C. Maxwell, 1878

Friday, September 2, 2011

In order to consider the Scientific Method, we must first consider what Science is

I wrote a lot yesterday, in the tactile sense (pen and paper) and have only just begun to transcribe it... it will come in fragments, just as it is fragmentary in its character. But it helps move us along. And so, let us begin...

In order to examine this topic of the "Scientific Method", we first need to consider what "Science" is. As big as our chosen topic is, as argumentative as it may be, the matter of "science" is even larger and more argumentative.
This is neither a New Thig, nor one which has arisen from the usual issues blamed for "new" things, such as:
1. The Renaissance
2. The Protestant Reformation
3. The "Enlightenment" (which some of us call the Endarkenment)
4. The "rise of science"
5. The Industrial Revolution
6. Quantum Mechanics
7. Modern - that is, 20th and 21st century life.
and so on...

Why? Simply because the question as to What Is Science dates as far back as the 1200s, or even further.

For over 800 years, people have been debating on "science" - its definitions, its divisions and order, its methods... and even more amazing, these were people who
1. were friends
2. were quite orthodox in their belief and behavior, and not in any sense "protestant" (Though I think they were Reformers in the best sense, that is, in the sense of John the Baptist: they not only wished but worked to reform their lives, which we are all called to do.)
3. were authentic believers but at the same time they were "scientists" (if I may be permitted to use the term before we've defined it - we computer scientists do this, and I will talk about that another time.)

That is, these people wished to consider seriously the reality of things and apply their intellects - and indeed their whole energy - to understanding at least a little of that reality.

(to be continued)

note: three references on this topic I have here with me are:

1. The Division and Method of the Sciences - St. Thomas Aquinas' commentary on the De Trinitate of Boethius, tr. Armand Maurer
2. Science and Creation inthe Middle Ages by Nicholas Steneck (this considers the work of Henry of Langenstein (d. 1397) on Genesis.
3. The Didascalicon of Hugh of St. Victor tr. with notes by Jerome Taylor