Monday, August 6, 2012

On the Divinity of Christ Part 1: The Origins of My Philosophizing

A recent paper made me reflect that it is about time, I start a reflection on the divinity of Christ. This is a hard one. It is not hard for me to decide; the harder part consists in philosophizing on the very divinity of Christ to such an extent that it opens up oneself before others. I violate something deeply sacred by subjecting the divinity of Christ to reflection. There is an unfortunate social cost in America about rejecting Christ's divinity, or seeing it as something else. Let me first start with a long history of my beliefs.

Years ago, I was baptized in the Catholic Church. My mother's family had immigrated from Southern Germany. My father's family had been Roman Catholic. As such, I made my first holy communion in the Church. Then, my parents left the church. We did not attend mass regularly, and my family moved to Michigan. I am unsure why my parent's left the Church. My father had worked for GM his entire life, and contract negotiations and labor disputes often stole his attention from many matters in life. Moreover, I simply saw Sunday as one more day to do something with my father, or to play with my friends. Sunday never seemed sacred.

Years later, we lived in Pennsylvania. I had several friends attend a youth group. I joined the youth group at Northminster Presbyterian. My parents were slightly taken aback when I asked to be confirmed in this church, and so they let me decide my own spiritual fate. I joined the Presbyterian church having been baptized and making my first holy communion in the Catholic Church.

One night at the youth group, Northminster brought in a speaker, and the speaker started speaking bad about evolution. We all sat politely, but something in me sparked. I recall with great irritation the distortions of Potassium-Argon dating of volcanic tuft, the distortion of Carbon dating and the distortions inherent in the factual presentation about the science. With fondness, I recall this as my first memory of being Socratic and regard this as the moment that sent me down the philosophical path I have traveled today. I openly questioned his presentation in the company of my peers. I left that night very confused as to how someone might criticize a science without ever really knowing about the mechanisms of that inquiry. That very same year, my science teacher had singled me out and invited me to a science fair on the nearby campus of Grove City College. She said I had a knack for it and might want to go.

Unbeknownst to me, I had rebelled. The Youth Director had privately told me she was not pleased with me. I did not go back for some time. Throughout high school, I became an atheist. I once yelled at a kid  for prostyletizing me before home room. I demanded that he should have scientific proof before asking me to assent to the truth of his belief. Instead, I had been reading about Buddhism. I had picked up books by Alan Watts at our local library. I read Thich Nhat Hanh's Living Buddha, Loving Christ. The fascinating thing about Buddhism is that at its root Buddhism is empirical. Buddhists seek to cultivate the same experience of an altered-state of consciousness the founder had achieved, and the long lineage of its tradition repeated the same state over and over. In this way, I thought that Buddhists had repeatably confirmed this altered-state of consciousness like one does with scientific experimentation. 

Meanwhile, I had been an art student all throughout high school. I enjoyed photography, water coloring and charcoal drawing. At Edinboro University, I decided on art education as my major, and I spent my freshman year locked away in buildings drawing. In addition, I took Elliot Wreh-Wilson's Introduction to Philosophy, and the question that bothered me was: What is love and where is it? We had just discussed Platonic forms, and I thought that was not a likely solution. We, then, talked about reducing love to its material parts, a neural mechanism perhaps, or a series of cognitive mechanisms that direct an evolutionary adaptive behavior for human pair bonding. Yes, I thought! That's it!

I had left the Presbyterian church, became atheistic, but I wanted something like God to be true. I had worried about the naturalistic reading of love, and then been reading about the mind-body problem. I had read Descartes, and found solace in his arguments. I could have an immortal soul; God existed because I already possessed an idea of perfection, and given that perfection implies existence, God certainly existed. In the same chapter, we started to read about physical explanations of mind, and the week I found solace in Descartes' arguments. This was a shortly lived peace. I recalled with great irritation that I found arguments for materialism more convincing. Descartes could not adequately explain how a nonphysical mind interacted with a physical body.

I would walk at 3 am around campus. I would sit on the bench overlooking "Fake Lake" (a glorified retention pond). Since I was not approaching my art anymore with vigor, I decided to become a philosophy major. This seemed more comfortable given that I would worry about God's existence. I then read Paul Churchland's Engine of Reason, Seat of the Soul. I found it to be a strange but fascinating work. Churchland described in intimate detail how stereoscopic vision works, and lauded the science behind it. He would put in plain language how such science should inform our philosophizing. At this point, I am still persuaded in the materialist arguments.

For other personal reasons, I left Edinboro. I transferred to Slippery Rock University. To this day, they are my alma mater, and my experiences with religion and God would finally culminate in a trajectory they inspired. I am almost done with my dissertation and entering my final year of philosophy graduate school, but given the complexity and fondness of the Rock, I will leave this story unfinished.


Rick Dunn said...

I enjoyed reading this. It reminded me of myself to a certain degree (not trying to say that my intellect is anywhere near yours). It appears to me that science is paradoxical, and has less certainty ,than Christianity (I am speaking primarily of Catholicism/orthodoxy ). If we applied the scientific method to science as a whole, it would be hard to hold little comfort in what we supposedly know because of science. Science has continually been wrong, and is constantly being adapted and changed, because of its errors. Today we still have great conflict in science, quantum mechanics versus Einstein's relativity. Two theories giving explanation of our universe and clearly conflict with one an other. There are many more who explained through science the ways of the universe only later to find they were not correct; Newton, Copernicus, David Hillbert, etc... It appears Science has always been wrong. Why should we believe in Science?

Carbondale Chasmite said...

I don't think "believing in" science is the point, nor is it "less certain" than Christianity. Rather, science is always open to revisability. People who use science as a springboard to philosophizing often forget the nature of revisability or the assumptions that make it possible to do science. To do science, one must assume the world is causally uniform and open to experimentation.

The conflict we observe in explanations is a consequence of science's inherent revisability, and one should not perceive this as "conflict" to the point that nobody should "believe in science", nor that science "has always been wrong" Rather, we should be honest about how hard scientific inquiry is and be aware of the difficulties in scientific explanation. Scientific explanations are constantly being adapted to newer insights, changes in technology to observe nature and competing models to predict phenomena. This is never a reason to discount science versus religion, and nor should that ever be the focus of the story. I have not reached the point of this genealogy. I am currently 33, and I just reached a point where I was 19 in the story.

Some people adopt Karl Popper's view of science as incapable of positive demonstration. Instead, science can only falsify a given hypothesis. I make no claims about the philosophy of science; there are far better people that do it than I. Anecdotally, I have a friend who is a physicist. He hates when people forget that when one does scientific research, we really don't know what is going on.

Science can become reified in exactly same way that people can be dogmatic about religion. There are plenty of evangelical christians in this world that use religion to distort our ethical claims to welcome strangers, forgetting Christ's example of entirely welcoming everyone. There is an ethic of hospitality and service in Christ that somehow has become co-opted by powerful institutions that undermine this ethics with foolish agendas.The point is seeing how each opens up possibilities for interactions with nature and each other.

Rick Dunn said...

Thanks for the response!

I tend to look at science from what I understand of Kuhn's paradigm shifts.
I think it is apparent that there is a problem of putting to much trust in science, because of its inherent revisability. Accepting science based off of false theories (even though they work for the time, such as Ptolemy's epicycles) can be harmful academically and physically to society as a whole. To say "never a reason to discount science versus religion" appears as reckless.

p.s. I enjoy your blog, keep up the good work!