Miracles and a Deeper Magic

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Though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time.[1]

David Hume famously defined a miracle as “a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity.”[2] Apart from ensuring his conclusion on the improbability of miracles, Hume’s definition betrays several faulty ways of thinking of miracles. Considering these will lead us to a better understanding of what miracles actually are.

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Reason is a Matter of Faith

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The Quad at Magdalen College, Oxford

 

“Neither reason nor faith will ever die; for men would die if deprived of either.”  – G. K. Chesterton

“It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith,” wrote G.K. Chesterton in his book Orthodoxy.[1] “Reason is itself a matter of faith,” he continued, “It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.”[2] He was assessing the state of modern thought, noting that since the Enlightenment philosophy has begun from a place of unyielding skepticism when it comes to religious faith. Yet, he adds that so far as religious faith goes, reason goes with it because “they are both methods of proof which cannot themselves be proved.”[3] In other words, reason and faith are intertwined in such a way that to reject one means that the other will eventually be questioned, too. The two must exist in tension, or neither will survive. Why then is religious faith still viewed with extreme suspicion? Does the requirement of faith undermine the religious believer’s quest for genuine knowledge? Two extreme positions have emerged from considering these questions: (1) the strong rationalist who believes that reason demands that all faith commitments be avoided versus (2) the fideist who claims that our reasoning on religious matters is so untrustworthy that we must begin from a position of complete commitment and faith before we can think about God. In the middle stands the critical rationalist approach that claims that a certain degree of both faith and reason are needed in order to proceed, or we will be forever frozen between the two. Taking a closer look at these three positions – the strong rationalist, the fideist, and the critical rationalist – and their approach to understanding the Gospel will help us discover which of the three represents “a more excellent way” when it comes to thinking about faith and reason.[4]

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“Anti-Religious Thought in the Eighteenth Century” by G.K. Chesterton

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Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky

“What was called the Age of Reason has vanished as completely as what are called the Ages of Faith.”

Originally a contribution to An Outline of Christianity; the Story of our Civilization.  Vol.  IV.  Christianity and Modern Thought, 1926.  The Waverley Book Co., London

by G.K. Chesterton: THE ECLIPSE of Christian theology during the rationalist advance of the eighteenth century is one of the most interesting of historical episodes.  In order to see it clearly, we must first realize that it was an episode and that it is now historical.  It may be stating it too strongly to say that it is now dead; it is perhaps enough to say that it is now distant and yet distinct; that it is divided from our own time as much as any period of the past.  Neither reason nor faith will ever die; for men would die if deprived of either.  The wildest mystic uses his reason at some stage; if it be only by reasoning against reason.  The most incisive sceptic has dogmas of his own; though when he is a very incisive sceptic, he has often forgotten what they are.  Faith and reason are in this sense co-eternal; but as the words are popularly used, as loose labels for particular periods, the one is now almost as remote as the other.  What was called the Age of Reason has vanished as completely as what are called the Ages of Faith.

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“The Spice of Life” by G.K. Chesterton

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“ I am perfectly certain that all our world will end in despair, unless there is some way of making the mind itself, the ordinary thought we have at ordinary times, more healthy and more happy than they seem to be just now, to judge by most modern novels and poems.  You have to be happy in those quiet moments when you remember that you are alive; not in those noisy moments when you forget.  Unless we can learn again to enjoy life, we shall not long enjoy the spices of life.  ” 

~G.K. Chesterton

This short essay comes from one of the last radio broadcasts by G.K. Chesterton. It was published posthumously in a collection of the same title, The Spice of Life. With a strange but not uncharacteristic prescience, Chesterton appears to be handing off the baton to the next generation of culture shapers. He does so with a warning, though. Dale Ahlquist at The American Chesterton Society writes the following:

“It is Chesterton’s parting shot. He refers to none other than T.S. Eliot, who in many ways would be his successor as the great man of letters in the English language, who, though he shared many of Chesterton’s ideas and certainly admired him, nonetheless represents a change in outlook towards the modern world.”

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G.K. Chesterton on Tolstoy, Nietzsche, Joan D’Arc, and Jesus

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From Orthodoxy, “The Suicide of Thought”

“….Here I end (thank God) the first and dullest business of this book— the rough review of recent thought. After this I begin to sketch a view of life which may not interest my reader, but which, at any rate, interests me. In front of me, as I close this page, is a pile of modern books that I have been turning over for the purpose— a pile of ingenuity, a pile of futility. By the accident of my present detachment, I can see the inevitable smash of the philosophies of Schopenhauer and Tolstoy, Nietzsche and Shaw, as clearly as an inevitable railway smash could be seen from a balloon. They are all on the road to the emptiness of the asylum. For madness may be defined as using mental activity so as to reach mental helplessness; and they have nearly reached it. He who thinks he is made of glass, thinks to the destruction of thought; for glass cannot think. So he who wills to reject nothing, wills the destruction of will; for will is not only the choice of something, but the rejection of almost everything.

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Dragons, Telescopes, and Treasure

Dragon

This is the remarkably true story of a flying telescope, dragons, adventure and an unfathomable treasure in the heavens.

by Daniel Ray

In October of 2013, a team of dedicated astronomers and astrophysicists took up a fantastical quest to push the Hubble Space Telescope to its limits, to see deeper into the heavens than any previous mission had done in Hubble’s nearly three decades of service. “How deep can we go?” they wondered. “What are the faintest and most distant galaxies we can see with the Hubble Space Telescope now?”[1] And from the imaginations of a core group of scientists was birthed the Frontier Fields mission, a grand celestial adventure that focused Hubble’s sights on the most ancient light in the universe; exotic and enigmatic light that will “set the scene” for the new James Webb Space Telescope to explore after its launch in early 2019.

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Wonder and the Philosopher

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Prehistoric cave paintings from the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave (from about 35,000 years ago)

“Fairy tales founded in me two convictions; first, that this world is a wild and startling place, which might have been quite different, but which is quite delightful; second, that before this wildness and delight one may well be modest and submit to the queerest limitations of so queer a kindness.” ~G.K. Chesterton

“The beginning of philosophy is wonder,” and its end is divine worship.[1]  Yet since the end of the Medieval Era, philosophy has begun from a place that has ensured ends of uncertainty, dislocation, and despair. In his essay The Philosophical Act, Josef Pieper observes that modern philosophers adopt only the disillusionment aspect of wonder, never moving towards its positive ends—the ends that humble us, but also give us a cosmic location and identity. They interpret someone like Socrates as merely a gadfly, failing to see that his insistent questioning was founded upon assumptions that were deeply rooted in tradition, not merely doubt. Pieper notes that “under the impulse of a rationalistic and ‘progressive’ doctrine, the history of philosophy as it has been written in modern times, does the exact reverse and sets the beginning of philosophy at the moment when thought cut itself free from tradition.”[2] Modern man uses philosophy to break down what he sees as the confining walls of dogma without moving further up and further in, so to speak, to the wonder that will move him to praise. One such man was philosopher David Hume, the thinker that would awaken Kant from his “dogmatic slumber.”[3] Hume needed a good dose of the species of disillusionment that wonder evokes, for his doubt did not go deep enough. It merely uprooted the mind, leaving it to languish in an unexamined, skeptical dogma of its own. G.K. Chesterton’s Elfland is perfectly suited for this task, for it is built upon this more “elementary wonder” that reminds us the world is astonishing because it could have been different.[4] This is the true wonder that is the beginning of philosophy and whose end is gratitude.

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