Thursday, March 12, 2009


I posts pictures out of habit. What sort of picture to portray "concord?" This picture might better depict "discord." It's a picture of my nephew's dog at my fountain--I've never hooked it up to spout water. I laugh at it because dog visitors here always check out the lion face, and some bark wildly at it. (You can click on the photo to see it larger.) It's always puzzled me that dogs take offense. This dog seems more curious than disturbed.

It's awful: I've got something in mind to say, but know full well what I've got to say isn't very well put together. Anyhow, I'm thinking of concord as it applies to science and religion. More particularly how representatives of various religions might find concord in approaches to responding to our ecological crisis. In the background to this is also the quest for concord among my religious friends and me.

In my last posts I've been leading up to questions of epistemology and ontology. For many reasons traipsing down the philosophical avenue seems an unlikely route towards the destination of concord. A big part of the unlikeliness has to do with my general incompetence about philosophy, so errors are to be expected.

Until recently I'd never heard of Gotthard Gunther, a very important philosopher, born and 1900 and died in 1984. I was looking for Web pages about Warren S. McCulloch and landed on a remembrance of McCulloch by Gunther entitled Number and Logos. This essay seemed profound and was very exciting to me. I know that I'm kind of strange to get excited about metaphysics. It's especially strange because I'm fairly ignorant about philosophy, and truly inept when it comes to logic. Nevertheless, Gunther's ideas in the essay made an awful lot of sense and it seemed incredible that I'd never heard of Gotthard Gunther. The Vordenker Webforum hosts the Web pages for the Institute for Cybernetics and Systems Theory in Bochum, Germany. They have quite a number of papers by Gunther and about him up.

Gotthard Gunther's ideas about polycontexturality are very engaging indeed. But what I'm interested in for this post has more to do with Gunther's deft handling of the intersection of epistemology and metaphysics. Epistemology has to do with how we think. Gregorgy Bateson was convinced that scientific thinking, specifically thinking about living systems, suffered from bad habits of thought. I mentioned that he pointed to the great chain of being as a large logical argument. The great chain of being goes to the subject of ontology, a branch of metaphysics. Bateson also noted that Lamarck turned the deductive chain of the great chain of being upside down. And noted:
The unity of epistemology was retained in spite of a shift in emphasis from transcendent Logos to immanent mind.
Wow! Well the shift in emphasis really does seem to me to make a big difference when it comes to religious metaphysics. The epistemology part needs unpacking too, and Guther's work is quite useful for that.

Wikipedia is always handy for someone as unschooled as me, and in the article, Laws of Thought the three classic laws of thought attributed to Aristotle are listed:
law of identity
law of noncontradiction
law of excluded middle
The first two laws are easy to grasp. Identity says A is A. Noncontradiction states that contradictory statements cannot at the same time both be true. The third law is a little less intuitive, at least for me. But another name for the law is Tertium non datur meaning "there is no third (possibility)." That makes more intuitive sense.

Ah logic! I managed to fail the course twice. Nonetheless everyone--even me--knows that logic is quite useful.Classical logic has stood the test of time, and regardless of limitations provides a huge area of agreement. When people talk about reason, classical logic is a big part of what they mean. However classical logic fails sometimes. Bateson points out as example:
When the sequences of cause and effect become circular (or more complex than circular), then the description or mapping of those sequences onto timeless logic becomes self-contradictory.
ThinkArt Labhosts many papers of Gotthard Guther as html pages, here. The paper I will be referring to is Life As Polycontexturality and I just linked to a PDF of the paper--so the choice of file formats is yours if you care to read it.

Gunther opens in a startling way:
A great epoch of scientific tradition is about to end. It has lasted almost two-and-a-half millennia and philosophers and scientists begin to call it the classical period of science.
That might make you want to read the entire piece, but right now I'm interested in what he says about the classic way of thinking. Gunther begins with the conception of science Aristotle presented. Aristotle according to Gunther proceed from a Platonic distinction between Being and Thought. You'll note this distinction has to do with ontology or metaphysics rather than epistemology. However the relevant question is: "How can Thought ever know Being in a rigorous and communicable way?" Gunther presents Aristotle's method: "Aristotelian logic-found to be in the deduction of the particular from the general."

The great chain of being is an idea which lasted over time and hence colored and flavored differently, but as an argument follows the form of this Aristotelian logic as Guther describes:
It is the general or - as it is better called in its ontological aspect - the universal. The general is, - qua Being, the ultimate substratum of Reality on which everything rests, but at the same time it is the supreme Idea from which all particular thoughts derive.
Under the universal Guther places four pairs: Being/Thought, Causality/Reason, Thing/Concept, Positive/Negative to illustrate a dualism which emerges from the ambiguity of the universal. Gunther has no quarrel with this Aristotelian theory of epistemology as far as it goes. He does note some limitations and the rest of the paper defines a construct of contextures, which I won't discuss now.

I'm still mulling over Bateson's point that Lamarck inverted the great chain of being. Following on that Darwin proposed his theory of evolution, which is only one branch of science provoking discord between science and religion. I don't want to foster discord, or even discuss evolution. Instead in an incompetent and long winded way trying to point to more basic issues of epistemology and ontology. There surely are areas of conflict, but also possibilities for concord; that is especially the case if one agrees with Gotthard Gunther that "a great epoch of scientific tradition is about to end." The old conflicts between science and religion may not be the most important today, nor old areas of concord still in effect.

Last night I began watching Keith Hart's Cambridge lecture on international development. I watched the first four videos. I was struck by Hart pointing out how important Cambridge was as a center for Evangelical Christianity, and how important that was for international development.

Via the Wikipedia article on The Great Chain of Being I liked to a 1975 paper from the journal History of Science by William F. Bynum, The Great Chain of Being after Forty Years: An Appraisal (PDF). Hart is an anthropologist who gets at his subject through economics. William F. Bynum is Professor Emeritus of the history of medicine at the Wellcome Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London. Bynum notes in his paper how important it is to look at the relationship between natural history and anthropology. He examines Lovejoy's great study of the history of the idea of the great chain of being. He finds little fault in Lovejoy's treatment of the philosophical framework of the ideas, but notes that Lovejoy did little to assess how "the empirical, social, rhetorical, or polemical dimensions coloured the ways in which individual thinkers used the chain of being." So to an extent Bynum takes an anthropological perspective towards the book. And as Hart encouraged his Cambridge audience to pay attention to the Evangelical Christian legacy of Cambridge, Bynum avers that Christianity is crucial to understand what happened to the idea of the great chain.

This year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. Among the many articles on Darwin in the press many have noted that Darwin's anti-slavery views were important to his development of the theory of evolution.

This post is confusing! I've suggested that scientific ideas are moving in ways that may make a difference in the ways that science and religion might find areas of concord. I introduced in a very sketchy way Aristotelian logic as an area where of agreement about reason, but also point to limitations in its use. Basically logic is part of epistemology, nevertheless hint that the limitations are in part a result of ontological ideas that have relevance to both science and religion. Finally I introduce the notion that to understand the history of ideas social context plays an important role. I allude to the prospect that present stereotypes of Evangelical Christianity may distort the significant contribution to emerging scientific ideas. In the next post I'll take a stab at relating all of this to Buddhist economics.

1 comment:

DaisyDeadhead said...

Totally expecting your intelligent and insightful feedback on my blathering post on religious appropriation. You might be the only person who is interested in my wacked-out stuff, but I know I can count on you! :P

What I feel, I can't say, but my love is there for you anytime of day...