The Limitations of Reason are Designed for Trust

If the metaphysical comfort of Christianity cashes out only as having the epistemological consistency that comes from believing in God, then most of Christianity becomes superfluous and unnecessary. The rest of Christianity becomes additional unattached ritualistic beliefs. They do not add to the value of belief in a philosopher god. God can be a black-box! But, we need more than a god of philosophy, a god that only exists out of a necessity in human problem-productions of philosophy and not out of the intrinsic and intuitive issues we come across as human bodies. The unnecessary convolutions of Christianity are the very beating heart of our metaphysical comfort—and the consistency that comes from divine belief is one of the many fruits adorning the tree of trust, the tree that gives the shade underneath we sit, the tree that makes a home for the sparrows.

If you are sitting in your chair wondering how the truths of Christianity can be the case, the insanity of believing in a God-Man and in the cosmic invention of creation (in itself a quite reasonable thing to believe considering the other option of spontaneous unnecessity), if you are comparing the insanity of your beliefs with your experience and find that the beliefs in unseen things does not match up with your experience of sense perception, know that Jesus did the very same comparison. Jesus must have had to marvel at the fact of God, the fact of His divine nature, the fact of answered prayer, that he created the world—and yet that he had human experience just like us.

Jesus is in heaven praying for you by name, spending his time on all of us. Praying is for laying everything up, even if you pray, “Lord, I have trouble believing in you. It seems so hard to believe, help me believe! I believe; help my unbelief.”

That Jesus has gone through what we have: not knowing what time it is, getting hungry and sleepy, having to come up against and discover the limitation of his sense perception, wondering how crazy the fact of existence strikes us, attractive women (some more than others), having best friends—Jesus went through all of this as a gift to us and this is the answer to any prayer we could ask, since we pray for the promises of God. We pray because we come up against our human bodies. Both the promises of God and the indwelling of a human body are things Jesus satisfied for us in perfection. Jesus knows exactly how to pray for us.

The beliefs of Christianity are difficult for us to comprehend, but they were designed for us to be led into trust, just as Christ submitted to his father in all things. We too must do the same. We must submit our reason and the reliability of our sense perception at the foot of the cross for it is there that God reveals the true purpose of all our thought, all our actions, all our desires—to come to Jesus Himself, so that God might dwell with us and we can see beyond ourselves in him. We should not feel guilty or angry about our small frames for we little vessels are ushered into eternity through trust.

Belief is meant to be difficult, because it is designed for our small frames to reach beyond ourselves. We do not believe for the same reasons a philosopher might believe in a God, but we believe because Christ first believed for us. Jesus showed us the way to trust and submission: and for those who recognize our limits as beings, this trust in God is the most reasonable position to be in.

Caleb Joseph Warner

The Brain is Like a Computer.

“Eventually, I believe, current attempts to understand the mind by analogy with man-made computers that can perform superbly some of the same external tasks as conscious beings will be recognized as a gigantic waste of time.” – Thomas Nagel

What is at the heart of Nagel’s dislike? Is it that you cannot be benefited by a comparison that is intrinsic to the way something is made? A computer was intentionally made to work in the same way the brain does. If we say that a brain works like a computer, maybe we are not helping ourselves because we are stating the obvious.

If this is Nagel’s hang-up—and if this is why he thinks it is an unfruitful comparison—then why was a similar comparison made earlier in the history of science so fruitful? I am referring to the movement in the Scientific Revolution from conceptualizing the universe as an organism in favor of a machine metaphor. Man-made machines. I don’t know if Nagel will see, like me, how obvious this broad cultural turn was in the minds of those doing science. We might even disagree if it was a fruitful turn. But, wouldn’t we both agree that the universe does work like a machine?

But, isn’t this comparison between the universe and a machine a similarly strange reverse-engineered comparison? Machine is quite a broad species of objects, but we could potentially define it (if you’ll allow me) as: those inventions of man designed to replicate willful actions of natural organisms found in creation. For example, we all know that an airplane was in fact inspired by the bird. Or, in a different way, we know that a waterwheel only works because the same rules of how to move liquid apply to any process of moving liquid, whether it be in nature or made by man. Both what man makes and what is found in creation are governed by the same set of rules, laws. And what man makes is always inspired by what is found in creation and there is nothing made by man that does not find its root in something found in nature.

And the fact of the matter is that imagining the universe as a machine implies that there is someone who crafted the machine to work as it does.

The point I want to make is that I think Thomas Nagel is wrong about the fruitlessness of comparisons between computers and brains. I think it could be a very helpful comparison, because in times past it has always been helpful to imagine different facets of creation as if they were made by man (or some other rational creature). Speaking broadly, when scientists in the Scientific Revolution imagined the universe as a machine, one of the assumptions that came with it was that the universe works according to a set of understandable rules. Those rules can be discovered, if you analytically break down the processes you see. By imagining the universe as a mechanical machine, scientists could look favorably upon experimenting and breaking down creation. And conceptualizing the universe as a machine has aided in bringing the physical sciences to where they are today. Anyone who sees where they are now would be hard-pressed to say, “Yeah, that is just totally an unfruitful way to think about the universe.” They wouldn’t say that even if we disagreed that the logical implication of a crafted universe (which heretofore (a useful word) has worked splendidly for us) is a crafter.

I don’t know where the conceptualization of brains as computers could take us, but I think we should for the time being embrace this conceptualization (sorry for nominalizing). The danger of mechanizing the brain is not intrinsic. Yet, if it is paired with an atheism that denies the existence of the soul we could be led down some very dark paths. And the denial of the existence of the soul might seem like a strange thing to choose here. For, wouldn’t the danger of atheism in the study of the brain be the denial of a crafter? I would say, “Yes, of course.” It is dangerous to deny that there is no inventor of the machine for epistemological inconsistencies. But, the assumption of an inventor of the machine is not a faceless, black-box foundation for trust. If we are to assume an inventor of the machine, we must assume that this inventor comes with his set of preferences and rules he plays by. And when most people believe in an inventor of the human machine, they believe there is a function of that machine distinct from the brain. That is the soul.

I won’t go into why it is reasonable to think there is a soul, assuming an inventor. I will say that if you assume an inventor, you are inclined to believe in a soul—and are further inclined to think that the work of the soul is not found exclusively in the brain. Someone that denies an inventor places all the function of the soul in the brain. And the danger is that if there is in fact a soul, those studying the brain atheistically will mistreat the souls of man. When they study the brain as if it was a machine, they will come across those functions of the soul that work in concert with the brain, but will nevertheless fail to distinguish them. And instead of imagining the soul mechanistically according to the rules appropriate to it as a crafted part of the human being, atheistic scientists will inappropriately treat the soul. And for someone who believes in the soul of man, that is a frightening prospect.

Even though I believe the brain might very well work quite like a computer, I do not believe that anyone can use this conceptualization fruitfully. It is only the person that believes in the existence of the soul who can rightly study the brain as an amazing craft. Anyone else would doom the dynamic functions of the human will to minimalist rules.

I believe in the value of human invention as a gift and a gift so naturally desired that it lies in secret for those with eyes to see the revelation of God himself. He is in our inventions as much as he is in nature; he is in what we make because he is in us. And the way we make is God’s gift for helping us to understand how he make and why we are here. I affirm this is not a reverse-engineering, for he made us to look back at him and for him to see himself in us.

God intended for us to compare our efforts to his. That is the one true glory of the accomplishments for man: we reach to be like gods and we do not attain. We do not attain and we marvel at God himself and we marvel at God and we become like him, for he marvels at us and says to us, “These are my beloved sons in whom I am well-pleased.” It is when we reach not to be like gods, but for our limits, that we feel not where we are in prison, but where we are designed to be. And we ought not to try to go to those places where we are not designed to go, since we cannot get outside ourselves. The space outside ourselves is not for us and this should lead us into the joy of trusting the God outside us. We are designed to be inside ourselves and for God to enter into us and for the eternal word to tabernacle within our bodies, so that God himself can sustain us within our natural boundaries. We reason, we make, we labor to discover these creaturely boundaries and we discover these creaturely boundaries, so that we can marvel at God as the creatures we are: we are worshipful creatures and worship by creating like him.

Caleb Joseph Warner

Gutterblood

I am tempted to say my heritage is trash. I am the product of a long line of poor pioneers and low men. I do not come from noble stock. My ancestors did no great deeds. They did not build civilization in any noteworthy way; they farmed and mined and stole horses and owned slaves. They were the worker ants, and so I am a worker ant. I cannot expect any great deeds from myself, because I lack the blood for it.

This seems to swim upstream against the popular American current of belief: that anyone is capable of anything with the right amount of individual willpower. I do not know whether that is the truth or not, but I do know that my will itself is shaped by the wills of those who went before me. Their weaknesses have been the seeds for my weakness, their lowness for my lowness.

But, I dwell upon this just to avoid responsibility. It is too easy to ignore all of the hardworking and godfearing among them. As they were, I ought to be–and more so, to strengthen the line. But their hard work was born out of necessity. Until these most recent generations, none of them have been in such a position of complete comfort. Through the luck and hard work of many generations, their latest fruit is in me: a tired boy for whom everything has been provided. The youngest and as of now last of many thousands of Joneses does not have to tame the land the way that they did. He does not have to go off to work at ten years of age to provide for his family. He can just sit at the end of the conveyor belt with his mouth open.

For me, working is a choice, and the choice to work becomes part of the work itself. Their challenge was to find a way to live amidst so much hardship. My challenge is to find a way to live amidst so much ease. I, like so many of my generation, have the pampered life of a king, with none of his responsibility.

The suburbs weren’t built to raise up kings. They were built to be safe and clean and nice, to raise up more independent American citizens, perfectly individual and perfectly free to do whatever they wished to the extent of their ability, so long as it did not harm others. But the creeping problem, the tendrils of which we have become ensnared, is that not everyone has great ability, or will, or vision, or passion, or whatever spark it takes to stand at the head of the armies of art, to build up the church or the empire or whatever needs building or saving or reforming. Everyone is suppose to be equal, but nobody is.

It is hard for me, as an American with a passing knowledge of history and an interest in the arts, to accept that I am capable of very little.

Which is why we need others, of course. We need to find the Great Men so that we can serve their vision, to sing in harmony, to build something greater than any one man together. The problem is that I can’t find any such men to latch onto. All of their visions are feeble. Their desires seem just as desiccated as my own. The problem with equality in this country is that it means I can’t find anyone else who seems noble enough to serve under.

I am exaggerating, of course. Very often, I meet people more skilled than me at everything; more powerful, more beautiful. But none of them care to lead. And the ones who do lead or wish to lead seem generally ugly and pathetic. And it is not  their own fault! They are simply betrayed by the office they have taken upon themselves, for the office always has greater aesthetic demands than they are able to fulfill. I suppose this is why we have hagiography. But in the real world, the wisdom of the rulers always runs out, and when it does, it is a messy affair. It is easy as a private individual to criticize public figures for their failings, but how would you fare under the spotlight? Every twist and wrinkle in your life would be revealed under the careful scrutiny of society, and your failures would confirm their suspicion of inevitable equality: that no one can be perfect, that no one can be noble.

But I reject that. They are simply picking at the fatal flaws of any given hero. We live in a country that gnaws at the need for heroes, needing them but not wanting to need them, craving them but trying to suppress them at the same time. Greatness in a man naturally grows in the midst of oppression and conflict, so the only real way to suppress it is to remove conflict altogether. Destroy all of these potential great young men and women with indulgence, with virtually infinite food and knowledge and entertainment. But this is an obvious lie, for anguish and sin and death still persist. We have merely been overcome by illusions of security. And so I still believe men of natural valor exist and are needed.

It hurts to admit that I am not one of them. Perhaps you need to accept that as well. Or, perhaps you are one of those who do have the capacity. You deserve your higher learning, and as a free and powerful man, you will put it to good use, to fight on behalf of the kingdoms.

As for me, I may not come from Great Men, but I do come from good men. So perhaps I cannot be great, but I can be good. I can serve faithfully. I can be kind to those around me. It is just painful to have a vision of a powerful nobility that I will never attain. And it is very humbling to have to grub around with the seemingly menial tasks ever tied to loving God and loving my neighbor. I grumble far too much about it, but I should be thankful. Some men will only ever be princes in this life, whereas I will only be a prince in eternity. Very few get to be both, but it is the latter that counts most. And so perhaps it is for the best that I will never ascend higher and exert my will over other men on this world. It is a weak will, after all.

But I will leave you with this thought: let us suppose both you and I are destined to be low folk in this life. We will never build our own castles. We will never overcome the warm, fuzzy shackles of mediocrity. We will never be higher than we are. But perhaps we can go deeper. Perhaps we can still question the mores of the city of men, and challenge the high places in our hearts or on the mountain tops. Perhaps we can explore the strange corners, and maybe even become a little strange ourselves. That would be fun, wouldn’t it?

What is your capacity? What is the office you have inherited?

Michael Thomas Jones