Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Strangeness

Sometimes I am struck with how "strange" the Christian faith is—it just seems a bit incredible. But this reflection, I think, helps: we have very good reason to think that the correct physics and cosmology is going to be very strange, too. (Even if, and maybe especially if, it turns out to be quite simple and elegant.) What is prior in the order of knowledge is posterior in the order of being, the Aristotelians tell us, and so we would expect the ultimate explanations of reality to be removed from ordinary experience. I always find amusing the story of how St John Chrysostom had to preach against Arian heretics who used arguments like "If God is a Trinity, then God's essence is incomprehensible; but God's essence is comprehensible; hence God is not a Trinity." St John was preaching against the second premise.

3 comments:

PFS said...

Good comparison. I agree that for Aristotle, the criteria for fundamental truths is not certainty (in that it is the kind of belief that we're accustomed to, or one that we can clearly comprehend). Rather, for Aristotle, it would seem that a fundamental claim that meets a certainty criteria would count it against it being a true fundamental claim. For him, it just doesn't seem right to say, for example, "I clearly comprehend the nature of being."

Of course, many contemporary metaphysicians would say that this is merely an excuse for obscurantism; a sophistical device to hide untruths. An Aristotelian is not without resource against this claim. As you mentioned, there Thomistic idea that it may be obscure to us but quite intelligible in itself.

Joshua Blanchard said...

Didn't C.S. Lewis make a comment somewhere about how you wouldn't make this story up, and that's one reason to think it's true?

However, I can't remember with sufficient clarity.

Chad said...

I share your strangeness intuition.

Interestingly, some Christians today maintain that the Trinity should be essentially mysterious. At last year's EPS, after pointing out to a speaker that his attempt to solve a philosophical problem relating to the Trinity presupposed divine simplicity, he responded, "well, if we remove divine simplicity, the Trinity ceases to be mysterious." I was shocked.