Sunday, March 29, 2015

Humility, Science, and Accepting Reality

I could be a Christian, following my Lord, if I believed that we live on a flat plate with nothing between us and the cosmic ocean but a solid dome that holds the stars.

But my faith doesn't depend on maintaining ignorance of what we've learned in the last two dozen or so centuries.

Imagery in 1 Samuel 2:8 and Psalms 148:4 is beautiful, poetic, and consistent with Mesopotamian cosmology: hardly surprising, considering where the Hebrews lived. (July 15, 2014; January 3, 2014)

That was then, this is now, and we've learned quite a bit about the universe since the days of Kubaba and Enmerkar. Some details of their lives seem exaggerated, but folks still pad their resumes, and that — isn't another topic.

Accepting Reality


Humility, Catholic style, isn't a psychotic delusion: a morose counterpart to megaolmania. Despondency isn't a virtue, gloominess is not next to Godliness, and I've been over that before. (June 3, 2012; January 8, 2012; May 5, 2011)

Humility is accepting reality.

In my case, it's acknowledging that I've got a broad range of creative talents, including freakishly enhanced language skills.

That's the kit I was issued when God put me together. My contribution has been deciding to do something with the package. (September 1, 2013; April 11, 2012)

I was also born with defective hips that have since been swapped out — a huge improvement — and lived for decades with undiagnosed depression and something on the autism spectrum.

Again, it's part of the kit I was issued. No complaints, particularly since my circumstances helped me learn to see beauty in just about everything. (February 8, 2015; October 5, 2014; February 12, 2011)

Pretending that I'm less than I am is nuts.

Wanting to seem like more than I really am is a bad idea, too. That's what the sin we call pride is about. That sort of pride is as unreasonable as trying to believe I'm stupid.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote about boasting, humility and pride, including these bits:
"...The sin of boasting may be considered in two ways. First, with regard to the species of the act, and thus it is opposed to truth; as stated (in the body of the article and Question [110], Article [2]). Secondly, with regard to its cause, from which more frequently though not always it arises: and thus it proceeds from pride as its inwardly moving and impelling cause...."
("The Summa Theologica," Question 112, St. Thomas Aquinas)

"...Humility restrains the appetite from aiming at great things against right reason: while magnanimity urges the mind to great things in accord with right reason. Hence it is clear that magnanimity is not opposed to humility: indeed they concur in this, that each is according to right reason...."
"The Summa Theologica," Question 161, St. Thomas Aquinas)

"...'A man is said to be proud, because he wishes to appear above (super) what he really is'; for he who wishes to overstep beyond what he is, is proud. Now right reason requires that every man's will should tend to that which is proportionate to him. Therefore it is evident that pride denotes something opposed to right reason...."
("The Summa Theologica," Question 162, St. Thomas Aquinas)
(translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province (Benziger Bros. edition, 1947))

Humility, Pride, Sin, and Temperance; Catholic Style — Definitions


As usual, it's a matter of balance and reason:
"HUMILITY: The virtue by which a Christian acknowledges that God is the author of all good. Humility avoids inordinate ambition or pride, and provides the foundation for turning to God in prayer (2559). Voluntary humility can be described as 'poverty of spirit' (2546)."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary, H)

"PRIDE: One of the seven capital sins. Pride is undue self–esteem or self–love, which seeks attention and honor and sets oneself in competition with God (1866)."
(Catechism, Glossary, P)

"SIN: An offense against God as well as a fault against reason, truth, and right conscience. Sin is a deliberate thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the eternal law of God. In judging the gravity of sin, it is customary to distinguish between mortal and venial sins (1849, 1853, 1854)."
(Catechism, Glossary, S)

"TEMPERANCE: The cardinal moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasure and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the mastery of the will over instinct, and keeps natural desires within proper limits (1809)."
(Catechism, Glossary, T)

Scientists, Ethics, and Horrors: Imagined and Real


I've said this before, a lot: science and technology, studying this astounding universe and developing new tools, is part of being human.

It's what we do, and necessary for one of our jobs: taking care of this world. (Catechism, 373, 2292-2296, 2415, 2456)

Ethics matter in science, just like everything else we do. (Catechism, 2292-2296)

A scientist occasionally embraces the notion that smart folks are "beyond good and evil." That attitude gives us movies like "The Brain That Wouldn't Die," and real-life horrors like the Willowbrook State School experiments.

No wonder some folks see thinking and science as sinful. (February 27, 2015; August 10, 2014)

I don't: but I'm a Catholic, with a taste for research. I like to find out what the Church actually says: not what I heard some guy say he read somewhere — or what I think should be true.

Being an adult convert, and the child of two librarians, may have something to do with it; and that — is another topic.

Order, Beauty, and Using our Brains


The universe is a place of order and beauty.

It's being created by God: constantly upheld and sustained, in a "state of journeying" toward an ultimate perfection. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 32, 302)

We're rational creatures, created in the image of God, who are "little less than a god:" with the power and frightening responsibilities that come with our nature. (Genesis 1:26-27, 2:7; Psalms 8:6; Catechism, 355-373, 2402, 2415-2418, 2456)

What gets us in trouble is forgetting that "little less than a god" isn't "God."

God's God, I'm not, and I'm okay with that. (March 8, 2015; June 10, 2012)

Using reason, we can see God's work in the universe. Studying this world is okay. (Catechism, 35-36, 282-289, 1704, 2292-2295)

Thinking is not a sin. Using the brains God gave us is part of being human. (Wisdom 7:17; Catechism, 35, 159, 1730-1738)

Science and Humility


Folks knew that the universe is vast and ancient when Imhotep designed an Egyptian step pyramid.

That was around the time Lothal was a major port city — give or take a few centuries. The famous Giza complex came a little later, and that's yet another topic.

Learning that the world is bigger and older than some European scholars thought, a few centuries back, doesn't bother me.

At all. (July 15, 2014)

For me, it's an opportunity for "even greater admiration" of God's greatness. (Catechism, 283)
"4 Indeed, before you the whole universe is as a grain from a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.

"But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook the sins of men that they may repent.

"For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.

"And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?"
(Wisdom 11:22-25)
We're created by God, designed with a thirst for truth and for God — made from the stuff of this world — and made "in the image of God," creatures who are matter and spirit. Using our senses and reason, we can observe the world's order and beauty: learning something of God in the process. (Genesis 1:26, 2:7; Catechism, 27, 31-35, 282-289, 355-361)

I think the sensible — and humble — approach to reality is studying God's universe, accepting what we find, and learning more about it. Insisting that God conforms to ideas published in 17th-century Britain: not so much. (January 9, 2015; October 10, 2014)

We wouldn't have science, arguably, if the Church hadn't been insisting that the universe operates under rational, knowable, physical laws. And that's yet again another topic. Topics. (January 9, 2015; November 21, 2014; October 31, 2014)

More reasons why I'm okay with reality:

2 comments:

David Torkington said...

Simply amazing thoughts. Thank you Brian.
David

Brian Gill said...

Thank *you,* David.

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I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

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Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.