Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Philosophy 101


I like to think I’m a Thomist who just hasn’t read Thomas yet. (Today is the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church.) Every time I read about Thomas Aquinas’ views on theology, philosophy, and logic, it just seems so reasonable and beautiful. My cursory understanding of substance theory and the unmoved mover tell me that there is some good stuff there. I wanted to start on Summa Theologica over Christmas break. But it’s really long. I’m talking even-the-author-didn’t-finish-it long. And dense. I feel like a need a bit better backing on Western philosophy before attempting it again. 

It’s difficult to make sense of the arguments of theologians like Augustine and Aquinas without understanding the arguments of philosophers like Plato and Aristotle. I’ve never had much philosophical training, and I’m starting to see how detrimental its absence in education is.
When people refer to proof these days, they mostly mean falsifiable scientific evidence that is a result of the empirical method. Post-enlightenment education has tried to conform everything to the empirical method. This has caused areas that are beyond scientific measurement to be regarded as inferior. Philosophy, ethics, and metaphysics are areas worthy of study that have their own methods of proof and evidence. Truth is not limited to scientific testing. If rhetoric were still held in as high regard in education as it once did, maybe political debates would have more sustenance than just two men comparing their parties’ statistical studies with one another. Science is certainly useful in studying the physical world, in understanding how our bodies work, in developing technology and medicine, etc. But science doesn’t teach honor, or liberty, or love. Those fields deserve to be studied within proper frameworks just as much as scientific fields. 

I fear that some people don’t see the value in studying anything outside of scientific methodology and that they are missing out on the depth and richness of humanity’s study of the world. Education did not begin with the Enlightenment. There have always been scholars, for thousands of years in every civilization.

I’m in grad school, but I’m only beginning to really look into the claims of Greek philosophy, despite the fact that I’ve been raised in a society rooted in that understanding of the world. I’m starting to see the foundations of my assumptions and values. And then upon that foundation a cathedral can be built.

However, it is important for me to not get overwhelmed in my studies. I’m a student by nature, I think, and I value education highly. So it is easy for me to make the error that knowledge will increase my faithfulness. As Augustine discovered, knowledge does not equal virtue. Even after the seeking and understanding, there is still a call to action. It is my response, my actions, my virtue, that matter more than my understanding. That’s sort of a disheartening message for a student who would find it simpler to seek redemption through knowledge. But it is also liberating in knowing that I don’t need to understand it all. I don’t need to accumulate and synthesize all of Western knowledge to make sense of God. My pursuits can be knowledge for the sake of knowledge, a journey made out of love.

Because philosophy arises from awe, a philosopher is bound in his way to be a lover of myths and poetic fables. Poets and philosophers are alike in being big with wonder. -Thomas Aquinas

Friday, January 24, 2014

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 82)

I've been busy getting back into the routine of school. That usually means that I've written very little and not paid attention to any news. However, I have been following the protests in Ukraine. Some of the images and stories seem surreal. But even in dark times like that, light shines through. So for my Quick Takes, I want to share some of the more peaceful pictures I've seen come out of Kiev.

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President meets with opposition leaders

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Friday, January 10, 2014

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 81)


1. I haven’t done a Quick Takes in several weeks because I sort of lost track of days over winter break. But work and school start up next week, so it’s back to being aware of such things.

2. I had a wonderful Christmas!

3. I had a not-so wonderful New Year, since I was sick. Then again, I didn’t mind staying in my PJs and playing with coloring books.

4. I didn’t get nearly as much reading and writing done as I had hoped. Story of my life. Sigh.

5. My mom and I went through a lot of my childhood toys, books, and schoolwork. It reiterated my belief that children’s books are better than adult. 

6. I haven’t totally messed up my sleep schedule over break, so here’s hoping I can get in a good school routine.

7. With all the sleep I’ve caught up on, I’m optimistic about starting a new semester. That should last for about two weeks.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Star of Wonder


The speed of light is 186,282 miles per second. That’s fast, but it still requires time to travel that far, and the universe is big place. When we look at the sun, we see it as it was eight minutes ago. When we look at Proxima Centauri, we see it as it was four years ago. Observers of the universe can never see all the galaxies in their present state, just in different stages of past development. It’s possible there is some civilization in the Andromeda galaxy looking at earth and seeing dinosaurs. The further out we look, the further into the past we see.

It seems as if the past and future are out of reach, but all I have to do is look up. I can stand in the present and watch the past light up the sky. The dead are still alive to my eyes. The movements of burnt out stars still guide the way. Time gets all wibbly wobbly, as it always does. Past, present, and future are not clearly distinct; they are always running into one another.

The most famous biblical stargazers are, of course, the wise men, who followed a star to the baby Jesus. The “star” has been speculated to be a comet, a crossing of planets, or a nova. So the magi followed light from the past that led to a present event, knowing this baby had an important future.There is a lot of legend around the wise men. Were there really three? Were they kings, magicians, astrologers? Did they really exist at all? Was the star a comet, a supernatural event, or a literary device? But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the wise men signal that even gentiles could find Christ, that the cosmos would lead people of all cultures to God. The wise men and their star represent foreigners, unfamiliar with messianic prophecies, sincerely searching and worshipping. They represent the pilgrim’s journey, traveling by faith. Their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh represent the roles of Christ. The star represents the light in the darkness. It represents all of creation pointing to God, across culture and space and time.

The universe is unfathomably large, full of wonders I can’t comprehend. But all the worlds and supernovas and dimensions are part of the same creation. Everything is intertwined, part of the same story. I see suns of the past lighting up the sky, and I’m connected to them. Here they are, in my front yard, in my present. Distant galaxies join in my delight at our God.