Categories: being, Body of Christ, Christian in the universe of Einstein, Human nature
Due to some volunteer projects followed by a sinus infection, I’ve been writing little for publication. My energies have been devoted to early drafts of a couple of novels as well as reading background material to the next stage of understanding the world from a traditional Christian viewpoint—where `traditional’ should be taken in the dynamic sense of the line going through Augustine and Aquinas and Pascal and Newman and Pelikan, with many in between all of those men of powerful minds and noble characters. I’ve chosen to aim high and to try to enrich our understandings of human moral nature and human moral order.
It might be that many of the posts on this blog over the next few months will deal with the development of my ideas in this area.
And I begin by reminding myself and my readers of a few general particulars of my understanding of created being and Creation as a whole.
In an essay I published in June of 2012, Christian Traditionalism: Moving With God’s Story., I once again quoted the historian Carroll Quigley:
The truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
Right now, the truth is emerging in a communal process from which the Church and the ruling elites of the West and many other communities are staying aloof. Over recent centuries, we’ve seen great advancement in understanding various realms of Creation. Physicists and chemists, biologists and sociologists, novelists and poets, painters and architects, and many others, have explored reality and experimented more than a little. Not all of it has been successful, even in the hard sciences where verification and replication can eliminate a lot of spurious or fraudulent results. Theologians and many philosophers, clergymen and teachers, politicians and managers have tried to cover up any evidence that their ways of thinking and feeling and acting are inadequate to our world as we now know and as we inhabit it.
I’ll return to my essay, Christian Traditionalism: Moving With God’s Story., where I claimed that Christian thought can be brought into line with Creation, a manifestation of certain thoughts chosen by God and expressed in narrative form, a place of evolution and development:
In ancient times, it was plausible to see a proper order in a crystalline form. More recently, men began to think in terms of a society which moved in a way corresponding to Newtonian dynamics. Smaller communities of men might be bound to a larger center of power and culture and that entity which was seen to reside at the center of power was unaffected by the movements of those smaller and more distant entities. Then, as was the case in Newtonian dynamics, thinkers began to adjust for the effects of smaller communities on the greater center, coming to realize `binding forces’ worked on the entire system and all the entities in that system—even the greatest and most central of entities. Over time, various thinkers have done much to account for such complications and nonlinearities. These analogies from earlier understandings of physics to moral systems or political systems didn’t live only in the human mind. They were part of the nature of created being.
And, now, we need to move on to understand a world which seems to sometimes move well outside the boundaries of any system of reason we have yet developed. As one example, I think we need some abstraction of the geometric concept of geodesic which has certainly proven its worth in physics and other sciences including the engineering sciences. In that article, we read a limited definition, but one that covers our needs and more:
[A] geodesic is a generalization of the notion of a “straight line” to “curved spaces”. In the presence of a Riemannian metric, geodesics are defined to be (locally) the shortest path between points in the space. In the presence of an affine connection, geodesics are defined to be curves whose tangent vectors remain parallel if they are transported along it.
The concept of geodesic practically invited itself into theories of gravity, which—roughly speaking—have become theories of spacetime since Einstein gave us his theories of relativity. I think some corresponding concept, abstracted properly, can play a role in restoring some serious understanding of this world and of God’s way of moving it towards His purposes. How do we get to a proper abstraction and a better understanding of our world? Let me retreat a little to talk in very general terms about the ways in which our understanding of the nature of being, including the being of moral creatures, are truly meta-physics, dependent upon ideas drawn from physics.
In a sense, the geodesic (anticipated by Dante in the opening lines of the Inferno) is a gimme. It is a generalization of the concept of a straight line—with some curves thrown in, pun intended. “The straight and narrow path” becomes “the geodesic”.
I noted near the end of that essay that:
Static understandings of the world as a whole, of God’s story which is a morally purposeful narrative, are no longer possible though such understandings of classes of entities and of individual entities which are static for substantial periods of time will continue to carry much truth. We can consider first-order changes to static entities and—even more importantly—to their relationships. That brings us to an idea of an orderly but steady movement through time, corresponding to the concept of velocity in physics but leaving us in a pre-Newtonian state. Even Galileo didn’t fully appreciate the importance of second-order changes, acceleration, but that was expected since the calculus was needed for a true appreciation.
Second-order changes correspond to acceleration or to a geodesic through a curved spacetime—the curvature of spacetime might be flat and the geodesic is then a straight line. I imagine that any realistic understanding of the more general structure of our world, the structure in which we moral creatures live and move and form our relationships, will be very complex. That structure will be a manifestation of an high-level abstraction which will perhaps be a straightforward generalization of the spacetime of General Relativity and other theories of gravity. Perhaps.
I’ll refer to the following graph I’ve used before: .
We can start at Node y2, which represents our current understanding of The Spacetime of Our Universe This node is found on the bottom row. From that node, we work our way up through higher levels of abstraction until we reach a level which shows some promise for helping to understand, for example, human nature. So, by abstracting somewhat, we can reach Node x which is Abstractions Leading to Complex Paths and then travel down to Node z2 which is Human Nature including our understanding of our moral pathways through this world. This understanding is also supplemented by other abstractions as shown by the arrow from the unlabeled node titled Various Concrete Abstractions. By concrete abstractions, I intend to convey the idea of a level of abstract being which is close to that of our concrete world.
As we understand more deeply and more broadly, the human mind will change rapidly because it is an encapsulation of our successful responses to our world and the abstract realms from which this world was shaped. As mankind learns more, the individual intelligences of men and the intellects of human communities reshape themselves in response—not to the new knowledge as such but to reality as mediated by that knowledge.
There is more in that essay, Christian Traditionalism: Moving With God’s Story., but I’ll leave it to the reader to follow up while I move on to a preliminary discussion of my ongoing efforts to provide a deeper understanding of created being, including human being in its moral aspects. This loosely defined project seems to be maturing in some sense though it might take a year to produce a book representing even the first overview of a new understanding of human morality, itself pointing to the moral purposes of God in His freely chosen role as Creator of this particular Creation.
Human thought can be enriched by new knowledge. The world as understood by human beings changes and we change as a consequence. Yet, we can also change the world in objective ways. Our power to so change the world is far less than that of the Creator but it is a significant power in a local way, at least under some definition of `local’. Human beings both widen their responses to created being in this thing-like world and also begin to respond to other realms of created being, such as that of abstract mathematics or that of the possible forms of substantial being which lie on the other side of the event labeled the `Big Bang’. In the process we change ourselves, other creatures around us, and the world we inhabit.
This new knowledge can be new empirical knowledge, in which I include much of mathematics. It can also be new speculations, which may lead to a new understanding of old knowledge or an integration of new knowledge; that knowledge reworked, in a manner of speaking, by speculation might include revelations from the Bible or by way of the Christian Church—however understood.
The world changes, becomes a new place.
We shouldn’t underestimate the effects of these changes on human nature, our individual natures and the nature of the Body of Christ. We are born raw stuff and become more particular human animals, and maybe even human persons, by proper responses to what lies inside of us and around us. As our understanding changes—of our own selves, individual and communal, and of what lies around us—we change in an objective way. We aren’t better revealed to ourselves in the way of a magician revealing a card—we are responding to Creation in a different way, richer and more complex, than before learning more about Creation. We can learn more about the viewpoints of those in other cultures or times; we can learn more about politics or history or literature; we can learn more about technology or mathematics or space sciences; or we can learn more by acquiring skills of playing the piano or painting landscapes or making furniture and thus learning more about our bodies and about the stuff around us.
During the times of rapid change in human accomplishments of all sorts, the more creative among us come to the fore—or maybe are prevented from doing so in societies refusing to change, choosing death over new forms of being. During these times of change, established knowledge and traditional forms of understanding have been overrun by what is newer and not yet fully made a part of our understanding. One of the major problems with modern Christianity is that neither the leaders of Christianity nor the ordinary believers have much respect for truly creative thinkers. As we pass through a period of dealing with knowledge about a richly complex Creation, those leaders and believers are seeking simple explanations; in this they are no different from most human beings confronting a world they don’t understand. I read recently that Zbignew Brzezinski noted that American Exceptionalism can be seen as a response to the American entry into an international sphere which we don’t understand. I’d add that we don’t try very hard to understand and just go for the simple explanation: all these problems can be solved in simple ways if only everyone would listen to us Americans. Since they don’t listen to us, we’ll go over there and rebuild their countries and any resistance will show they’re evil, that they hate the simple goodness that is the Land of the Free and the Brave.
Facing up to the complexities of reality seems a much better option and a more pious response since the Creator is the one who works with quantum events and the bending of spacetime and it is the Creator who tells our story in part by way of evolution, so nasty and bloody at times. We should not think our inherited understandings are inherently better than what can be developed from proper speculation upon modern empirical knowledge. After all, the best of those traditional understandings come from human beings such as Isaiah and Jeremiah (great political analysts) and Plato and Aristotle and Augustine and so forth. They are the results of magnificent human speculative efforts working on available understandings of the Bible and also available understandings of the empirical world. Even our understanding of God’s revelation that He is Father and Son and Holy Spirit in one God is colored by the thoughts of not only Paul the Apostle but also Athanasius and the Cappadocians and Augustine and so on.
How many the agents who bring us these new understandings: poets and prophets, theologians and philosophers, physicists and novelists, biologists and historians, and so on. Architects and painters and furniture-makers and road-builders at least strengthen ongoing trends and may well be responsible for moving into new territories—for good and bad as is true of all creative efforts, conscious or unconscious.
In past generations, these changes often happened as if by magic; we can call it the magic of the Invisible Hand. In fact, that will ever be the ultimate situation in this mortal realm and perhaps even in Heaven: as we act, the results will be unforeseeable but often have been more richly interconnected human communities, cultures and civilizations gaining some proper or hubristic control over nature by way of first disciplining their individual and communal selves to some sort of higher and better moral order.
We must act according to the best standards of our age. We must act in unison with our feelings and our thoughts; we must move forward as unified individuals forming relationships which give us also the stuff of unified communities. The Body of Christ is the ultimate community, the one we should always keep in mind and heart and even hands.
Let’s see if we can figure out some better and more exact ways to talk about our current situation and what we can do about it.