Letters to the Editor
FAITH Magazine January-February 2008
A QUESTION OF MATTER
Dear Father Editor,
I have been looking again at your September 2006 editorial (Form and Matter: Towards a New Synthesis) and I find myself in agreement with pretty well all your conclusions. On the positive side, I am sure you are right that Catholicism goes beyond all other religious traditions, Christian and non-Christian, in the dignity it confers on matter and the human body; on the negative, we must indeed get rid of ‘infinitely contrary poles of existence’ and the successive swapping of abstract forms by parcels of intrinsically featureless matter.
I think that (partly thanks to J L Austin and Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations) among modern analytical philosophers idealism in the form that matter doesn’t exist at all, or that if it does, it cannot be known because our knowledge is limited to the contents of our own minds, is a dead duck. Some philosophers cling to ‘qualia’, the latest make of sense-data, but the current orthodoxy, thank goodness, is realism about the material world. On the other hand though not many analytical philosophers will have read Holloway’s Perspectives( I myself am acquainted only with his Catholicism) , there might be widespread sympathy with his notion of a ‘relative substance’“. It would be agreed (with Aristotle) that artifacts like houses and tables cannotbe described simply in terms of their structure; very different structures are all houses because they have the same function of providing shelter for human beings. Animals equally must be seen not just as clusters of cells but as units which seek food and avoid predators. And even materialistic philosophers say that however much mental states may depend upon brain states, what makes something the belief, say, that the cat is on the mat is not the brain’s satisfying a certain physical specification, but the belief’s arising from our seeing the cat and its resulting in our stepping carefully round the mat. The contentious issue today, it seems to me, is not whether matter of every kind has an intelligible structure, but whether there is any purpose for which it has this. Do physicalinteractions in the world occur, and do the complexes we call ‘animals’ arise, for no purpose whatever, or do they occur because God so desires and is his purpose that animals, ourselves included, should arise and thrive?
If I have understood the Holloway position correctly, I prefer it to what your Jan/Feb correspondent Rev. John Deighan apparently takes to be the traditional Thomist position. I think he is disingenuous in saying ‘Prime matter, for Aristotle as for Thomas, doesn’t exist.’ He does not mean, I suspect, that Aristotle and Aquinas rejected the notion of prime matter, or that they never had it; rather he thinks they believed that there is a kind of matter with no properties or causal powers, but that it never exists except in things that do have properties and causal powers. This idea is indefensible, and it is no use saying ‘the metaphysical and the modern/scientific concepts of matter are not the same’ (his italics): the modern/scientific concept is what a metaphysicianworth his salt should be discussing, not some chimera known only to his philosophical allies.
Dr William Charlton
Dear Father Editor,
After reading that Simon Conway Morris had attacked the Intelligent Design(ID) school of thought yet again (Road from Regensburg, Sept. 07), I decided to re-read Michael J. Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box. In 276 pages he mentions God around ten times and that was in the chapter on “Science, Philosophy, Religion”. Nowhere does he mention God as an Intelligent Designer.
What Behe in fact does say is that: “Inference to design doesn’t require that we have a candidate for the role of designer”; and “The conclusion that something was designed can be made quite independently of knowledge of the designer.”
ID does not deny evolution, but is an attack on Neo-Darwinism. One of its main critiques is that the latter cannot explain the clear fact that the human body includes amazingly complex chemical mechanisms which natural selection select for as it only ‘chooses’ systems that are already working.
In science discerning an effect from a cause is only the first step in furnishing an explanation. In order to overcome criticisms of such methodology from people such as David Hume, a detailed reasonable mechanism is required. Conway Morris and his fellow Christian evolutionists fail in this aspect. Their God may have the property of love but not, it seems, of intelligence.
Editorial comment: As ever we are pleased to be encouraging such reading and debate. As ever we remain interested in ID’s pointing out of the significantly incomplete explanatory power of neo-Darwinism. We would sympathise with Professor Conway Morris in as much as ID sees such incompleteness with regard only to some “amazingly complex” aspects of the universe, not all of it. With regard to these ‘highly’ complex structures Natural Selection as a sufficient explanatory cause is depicted as not “detailed” enough. For us nothing in the cosmos is fully explained without the rest of the cosmos under the Mind of God.
All observed causal patterns and structures, however detailed and complex, have further environmental contexts, still, to some extent, to be unveiled by the development of time and of human understanding. This discovery does undermine the Platonic view of true explanation, based as it is upon static ‘forms’, but does not justify Hume’s scepticism. There is a middle way which accepts both the realistic and developmental nature of the scientific mapping of our cosmos (cf. Holloway’s Perspectives in Philosophy) .
Dear Father Editor,
You add an editorial comment to my letter on your quotation of Tertullian as a “Latin Church Father” that you kindly published in the latest issue of Faith.
One certainly agrees with the importance of founding sacramental theology solidly on a patristic basis but, unfortunately, the comment is otherwise at times imprecise and tends to play down the difficulties of using Tertullian as an ecclesiastical author representative of orthodox Catholic thought.
Q. Septimius Florens Tertullianus was born about 155 AD and is considered to have converted to Christianity about 193. His writings are dated between 195 and 220 and, although the date of his death is not known, St Jerome tells us that he lived usque ad decrepitam ætatem. He was already reflecting Montanist ideas by 206; Quasten tells us that he openly went over to them by the following year.
Tertullian wrote two treatises, De carne Christi and De resurrectione carnis, the first mentioning his intention to write the second: they seem to be dated to about 210 and 212, already his Montanist period. The first treatise demonstrates some of the quirkiness of which Tertullian is only too capable (he defends the reality of Christ’s humanity to the point of asserting that the Lord was ugly!); the second, from which you quote, concludes with an openly Montanist belief in a new descent of the Paraclete.
Tertullian, then, did not “fall into schism at the end of his life”. At least half of his life after his conversion in 193 was spent as a member of the Montanists – to the point of founding his own North African version, one destined to last to the time of St Augustine – and the Montanists, we must remember, were not simply separated from communion with the Catholic Church: they were indeed, as St Thomas Aquinas says of Tertullian himself, actual heretics.
Piazza della Cancelleria
LOVE AND SEX: ADVICE FOR ALL
Dear Father Editor,
Interesting exchanges on sexuality (letters, November 2007), are not helped by concentrating so much on sexual tendencies and outward observances, so much deplored by the Lord who simply urges us to clean up our minds and hearts (Mt 5.8). The more we do this , the more apparent it becomes that sexual activity is for having children. The more this becomes a conviction, the more love grows as is apparent in marriage and religious experience. That’s how we become blessed as the Saviour teaches not otherwise.
Fr Bryan Storey
Dear Father Editor,
In the light of John Deighan’s engaging overview of the inexorable political attack upon the family (Nov. 2007) your readers might be interested to learn of the British People’s Alliance. It is an emerging pro-life, pro-family, pro-worker and anti-war party of economically social-democratic, morally and socially conservative British and Commonwealth patriots. We are planning to contest every seat in the United Kingdom at any and every General Election from 2009 onwards. Provided, of course, that we can find the candidates. The press release containing our Founding Statement of Principles may be read at http://davidaslindsay.blogspot.com/2007/1 0/british-peoples-alliance-just-released.html.
RESCUING THE KNOX BIBLE
Dear Father Editor,
The past 40 years have seen a welter of English translations of the Bible. One seems to have been quite lost in this biblical multiplication: that of Ronald Knox which was so immensely popular in the 1940-1950s. I was no more than a very relative fan when it first came out: readable, interesting, debatable... But in any case it descended into practical oblivion after Vatican II. It might – and perhaps should – have survived if Knox had not made the mistake of sticking to the “thou” forms throughout.
Some time back, seeing the very varied quality of the newer versions, I began to wonder if Knox, in “you” forms throughout, might not be of interest and help to some people. So (more as a divertissement than anything else), I began to while away odd moments by “you-ing” his New Testament (I have a good program for such a task). With “you” etc. throughout, many passages take on a new freshness and interest. Probably this would apply even more to the Old Testament.
May Ronald Knox forgive me from his heavenly abode, if he does not approve of my efforts. But I would not like to see any of his masterly prose being lost because of a few pronouns or adjectives here and there.
To date, only the first books of the New Testament have been subjected to this orchestration. Perhaps they represent no more than a curiosity: but those who are curious can read them on my website: http://www.cormacburke.or.ke
(Mgr.) Cormac Burke