Thursday, July 19, 2012

Great Courses: Science and Religion, by Prof. Lawrence Principe.

4. God and Nature - Miracles and Demons.

This is a continuation of an earlier post.  Lecture 4 is really two lectures packed into one, so that neither subject can be done properly.  Since I am full of faith, I will guess that a better set of lectures was prepared, but last minute editing for time caused things to lose their coherence.  

The first part deals with the view of Christians regarding causality:  Prof. Principe suggests that there is one school that believes that God directly causes every thing that happens, event by event, and arbitrarily doing whatever each time something comes up.  At an opposite extreme, there is a belief that God defined laws of science which act as an intermediary and that God simply started the ball rolling.  There is a spectrum of beliefs in between.  From my perspective, I don't know that Christians have ever believed the first view, while the opposite extreme was alleged by Pascal against Descartes, but probably misrepresents Descartes and doesn't really have any serious takers outside of modernists.  Christianity mostly flowed with a different view as I discovered elsewhere by reading authors like Bede and Anselm, then moving on to Bacon.  Maybe this will show up in another lecture?  Yes, there are laws of space and time, but God intervenes periodically.  Cluttering up things more is the asserted Muslim connection which certainly existed, but did it really change things?  Mostly the Arabic writers commented on Aristotle, but Aristotle's world view was hopeless as a foundation for modern science - and Latin civilization was already infused with classical views.  This isn't significant to any argument, but Prof. Principe lists Averroes as a Muslim, yet Averroes was deemed a heretic by Islam due to his modernist views.  The lecture thus ignores the stream of science that was already active in Western thought while giving the usual confused view of what was transported over from Arabic. The other point that mustn't be passed over is that Latin scholars frequently traveled to the Byzantine Empire to obtain training in Greek and Greek literature, without the intermediary of Arabic or Muslims.  Finally, this being Silicon Valley, it is important to note that the charismatic churches (the Christian extreme that is most focused on God's day by day interventions in His creation) are doing quite well, and that a good number of scientifically trained folk are in their congregations.  (No, I am not a charismatic.)  The net result is that the lecture doesn't seem to have brought us any closer to an understanding of historical views and developments on this subject nor gave us any help to understand modern Christian views.

The second half of lecture 4 deals with miracles.  It starts well with a discussion of miracles from Aquinas.  Prof. Principe then asserts that Christians believe demons to be utterly powerless creatures, yet full of knowledge so that they can perform illusions.  The first half of the lecture asserted there are many Christian views on how nature is effected by God, although I would claim the vast majority of Christians fall very nearly to one viewpoint.  The second half asserts only one view regarding demons where a rich variety does exist.  So ... if demons can't effect anything, how could they possibly trick anyone?  The Bible asserts that demons are fallen angels, while also assigning great power to angels.  Did God take away the power of demons?  Where does it say that in the Bible?  Demons only seem to act within people, yet is this because they can't act otherwise?  Or is it simply because they much prefer to take up residence in a victim?  The first chapter of Job both clarifies and confuses matters much more.  The number of plausible alternatives within Christian theology is quite large so that I could not choose a view, but I would reject the one prof. Principe has offered as neither being consistent with the Bible nor with itself.  Then we still have the inexplicable silence on the subject of angels in all this.  The next two lectures are on the trial of Galileo.  Given that there was no transcript from the trial, this should be interesting.

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