THE RACE TOWARD IMMANENCE: THE DEMISE OF TRANSCENDENCE

POSTMODERN REJECTION OF TRUTH AND OBJECTIVITY

(Creation, Nonlinear Physics and The Social Construction of Reality)

 

If there is no True Truth there is no rational explanation of Intersubjectivity

in the Light of Postmodern Ecumenical Universalism

 

The Church must engage postmodern scientific cosmology in a fruitful manner as we race through the year 2003. Both the truth and the relevance of the Church and the Gospel are at stake. During the 19th and 20th centuries the developments in the sciences and after the coming of Kant, the West abandoned the concept of Transcendence as Explanatory Model.

 

Classical Christian thought, both Catholic and Protestant, have consistently affirmed the transcendence of the creator God as the origin and foundation of the basis of “reality.” The classical creeds consistently affirm that God, the Father Almighty, is maker of heaven and earth. The “entire universe” here is the concern of this statement. The Tridentine Creed (Pius IV, Nov. 13, 1564) contained nothing new on creation. (Nicea/Constantinople Creed, “All things visible and invisible” describe the universe.)

 

The creation was untouched by the Reformers’ views of nature and grace and ecclesiastical continuity. There was nothing in their enconium of God’s omnipotence against speaking at length of “heaven and earth” lay a summary of the story of creation as given in Genesis.) (See Stanley Jaki’s Genesis One; compare Genesis with Babylonian creation myths.) At this juncture there was awareness of the court form of Neo Platonic Pantheism. When the catechism was issued in 1566, Bruno’s pantheistic discourses were still a generation away. This pantheism, as well as Robert Feudd, et.al.) Was too mixed up in Hermetist and Cobbalistic lore to make it immediately appealing. Bruno began to come into his own only with coming pantheism in the guise of German idealism.

 

Bruno’s dicta on Copernicus could ask which of the world systems’ geometric or heliocentric did mathematically better justice to the phenomena? Newtonian physics was soon taken for mechanistic philosophy (in a closed system universe).

 

The enormously successful prediction of Mach’s phenomena in terms of the inverse square law created before long the illusion that it provided their explanation as well. Two hundred years after Newton, Ernst Mach accurately portrayed this process in saying that Newtonian gravitation turned from “an uncommon intelligibility into a common unintelligibility.” (E. Mach, 1872, Die Geschichte und dei Wurzel de Sitzes von des Erhalting der Arbeit (Prague, 1872, p. 32). The same is now happening to Einstein’s theory of gravitation (cf. Galileo’s condemnations and Leibniz’ attack.)

 

While it was possible to discuss whether the universe was geocentric or heliocentric, it made no sense to doubt whether there was a universe, a coherent totality of things. Although Hobbes cast doubt on the very reality of the world in his discussion of whether the world was finite or infinite (Elements of Philosophy Selections, ed. By F. Woodbridge (Chicago, Scribners & Sons, 1930, pp. 124,125).

 

A full century had to run its course before Hume and especially Kant succeeded in discrediting the universe as a respectable object of rational discourse. Kant’s deconstruction threw the universe into the status of a regulative idea, for if that idea had but unreliable ties with reality (as Kant so contended), it could not logically be taken for a reliable guidepost about anything real.

 

Even Moses Mendelssohn failed to see this implication in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Kant’s three main contentions, none of which had anything to do with the universe, all revolved around the synthetic apriori. The implication of this development was no match for consideration of the real universe, let alone its totality. Mendelssohn coined his famous phrase about “Kant who crushes all.” The phrase appears in the very first paragraph of Mendelssohn’s most systematic philosophical work, Morgenstunden oder Vorlessungen ubur dos Daseyn Gothes (Stuttgart, 1974, vol. III. 1, p. 3), published four years after his critique. The work offered Mendelssohn’s endorsement of the ontological argument of the existence of God, hardly a delight for Kant, together with a place for an “enlightened” form of pantheism. Kant must have been dismayed on seeing that the entire book did not contain a paragraph on the cosmological argument whose destruction was his very aim. But if Kant had been consistent, he should have taken the view that if he had really crushed the all-critical minds he had best stop referring to it. This is exactly what they did. They began to celebrate Kant’s destruction of the rational proofs of the existence of God without saying anything about the Kantian destruction of the universal! (Vial implication) (cf. Mendelssohn’s phrase was recalled in Schoepenhaurer’s The World As Will and Idea (see Tr. R.B. Haldane and J. Kemp, 3rd edition) London: Kegan Paul, 1896, vol. 2, p. 9).

 

Is the universe One or Many? Was it chaos, or a set with no intrinsic coordination, compatible with the creator (infinite, rational, purposeful and benevolent)? (Leibniz, Theodicy, first in French in 1710 and in Latin in 1719). A century later the works started to appear with the word cosmology in their titles (for a listing of them, see S. Jaki’s, Kant’s Universal Natural Science and Theory of The Heavens (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1981, p. 215, note 1; also Wolff’s Cosmolegian, the first major work so entitled and there are 50 pages of discussion. They contained a laborious proof of the existence of the universe from its very definition). During the period between Nicene and Trent the existence of the universe was never called in doubt, not even by Gnostics and Manicheans; their immediate errors were about the creator (Gnostic syncretism made it necessary to emphasize the distinctness of pure spirits (angels) from humans (made of body and soul).

 

One of the targets of Vatican I was the issue of pantheism; the second part has in view the fideists (discussion over 200 folio columns; they contain only one reference to Spinoza and only one to Kant. In neither case do we find any discussion of status of the universe; the same is true in Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Locke, Condilliac, Voltaire and Rousseau.

 

The idealists were dismissed by a remark that they proposed a nebulous doctrine of knowledge. The cosmological argument is not limited to claims of knowing God from things visible (cf. Augustine’s inference from soul to God). Kant only allowed knowledge of sensible things. The stated target of the definition of God’s existence as absolutely different from the universe is pantheism, which is, of course, a logical consequence of idealism, German or contemporary new age - nonlinear physics. This problem and its development would entail a detailed reconstruction of Kant’s principle aim. A more crucial issue is the definition of the recognisability of God from things visible or the world or universe. Kant’s pivotal claim had far more in mind than the overcoming of Wolffian verbalism, and Humean skepticism (Vatican I failed to perceive the Kantian challenge, the coming war and the premature closure “Papal Infallibility and Collegiality of bishops; see discussion in The Rhine Flows Into The Tiber: A History of Vatican II by R.M. Wiltgran, 1967; also S. Jaki’s essay, “Undeceivably Infallible” in The Wanderer, July 18, 1991, pp. 4,6.)

 

The target of Vatican I definition (“saved from democratic dogma”) had been pantheistic and was abundantly clear in view of the deification of the earth and the universe which is turning into a vogue via New Age pantheism (cf. Resurgent influence of Eastern Religions). (John Henry Newman spoke in 1838 of pantheism as “the great deceit which awaits the age to come” (in Discussion and Arguments on Vatican Subjects (new edition, Longmans, 1897, p. 233).

 

The post Vatican I cosmogonies gave impetus to Laplacean pantheistic cosmogenesus which became a fundamental vehicle through its recasting by Herbert Spencer. According to this theory, the universe had its origin in a supposedly homogeneous fluid, a primordial nebula. With Spencer’s pantheistic explanation of the origin of the universe, the public became eager to be saved by science. The primordial nebula was homogeneity--incarnate. Thus it needed no transcendent explanation. The universe with such a starting point needed no creator (see Jaki, chp. 2 “Nebulosity Dissipated” in God and The Cosmologists (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press; Washington: Regnery Gateway, 1989; contra Laplace’s theory about evolution of the planetary system).

 

H.G. Wells noted only a generation after the death of Herbert Spencer: “He (Spencer) believed that individuality (heterogenesity) was and is an evolutionary product from an original homogeneity, begotten by folding and multiplying and dividing and twisting it, and still fundamentally it.” (Wells, First and Last Things, Confessions of Faith and Rule of Life (London: Watts and Co., 1929, p. 30). Vatican II was a great opportunity to deliberate on the subject of the universe.

 

The official texts of the council dealt exclusively with those tenets that relate to the redemption of man as mediated through the Church. Vatican II made no judgments about the absolute distinction of God from the world or about His recognisability from the visible universe of things. (Vatican II - Paul VI imbued with maintaining “integral humanism” and its cultural program all ecumenical councils were one sided.) The stated aim of Vatican II was to transcend previous ecumenical councils via negating particular heresies. Vatican II was meant to offer a positive presentation of all Christian teaching relevant to our modern times. Among the teachings not even one paragraph is devoted in the official texts to the first creedal affirmation about the Maker of the Universe (cf. Dogmatic Constitution in the Church “. . .By an utterly free and mysterious decree of His own wisdom and goodness the eternal Father created the whole world.” (The Documents of Vatican II, ed. W.M. Abbott (NY: Guild Press, 1966, p. 15). The rest of the text is all about the Church and man. A similar pattern is present in The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation.

 

The opening phrase of its third paragraph, “God, who through the Word creates all things (John 1.2) and keeps them in existence, gives men an enduring witness to Himself in created realities” (cf. Romans 1.19-20), ibid., p. 112) is immediately followed by twenty-three paragraphs on the work of salvation. Not surprisingly, all references to the world in the council documents relates to that world which is the moral universe, the arena of a perpetual confrontation between sin and grace. Yet the Council warns that there is on hand a “monumental struggle against the powers of darkness which prefaces the whole history of man . . . and will continue until the last day, as the Lord has attested.” (Ibid., 235) Though this emphasis is part of the biblical paradigm of the world, its emphasis on the moral world in contrast to the universe is crystal clear. The Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew word world is ‘wlm’ (E. Jenni, Das Wort ‘wlm’ im alten Testament (Berlin, 1953, p. 23); and L.I.J. Stadelmann, S.J., The Hebrew Conception of The World (Rome, 1970, pp. 1-3).

 

The Aramaic Hebrew and Greek word kosmos (TDNT article) means more than “the moral world.” Jesus’ references to “heaven and earth” is a Hebrew expression for the physical universe. The subject index of the Council documents do not do adequate justice to the issue of the “universe” by calling, with no qualification, the moral meaning of “world” its biblical meaning. The use of kosmos in the New Testament cannot be reduced to the “social world,” though it entails this dimension (cf. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the modern world, section 2, on “Faith and Culture,” science is repeatedly mentioned as related to faith (ibid., p. 263; i.e., reference to Proverbs 8.30,31). In the 1950's and 60's pleasant aspects of all sorts reached new heights, then science and technology encouraged man to believe that he could control the space age. Only the sky seemed to be the limit to man’s aspiration on earth. In less than a decade these hopes become vacuous (a replay on a colossal scale the fate of mighty Samson). From the 1960's to the 1970's, we were reading the Signs of the Times; Naisbitt’s Megatrends, resurgent charismatic phenomena, New Age outbreak, Baby Boomers, violent music, videos, etc..

 

One looks in vain for a reference to the universe, creator, creation. The oversight of Vatican II seems colossal for two reasons; (1) Appreciation of Protestant authors who employed the brand of the German theologians (cf. E.R. Curtius wrote that Wisdom 13.20 was one of the most often quoted biblical phrases throughout the Middle Ages (European Literature and The Latin Middle Ages (Tr. W.R. Trask (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1953, p. 504). (2) The second reason relates to science itself. Einstein died in 1956, a mere six years before Vatican II (1962-64). Einstein emphasized that his greatest feat related to the universe itself in a more than purely scientific sense.

 

In the fifth and concluding installment of his memoirs on general relativity, Einstein did much more than lay the basis for modern scientific cosmology. In his memoir, published in 1917, he also restored to the universe that intellectual respectability which Kant had denied it. If Post-Einsteinian science failed to explore that recovered concern, the universe as available to human intelligence, they did so by sharing Kant’s real aim and strategy.

 

The groundless transendentals, known as Transcendental Thomists, claimed that they were the first in the Church to take Kant seriously. Seriousness was r rarely more farcical. This new group paid scant attention to the universe. For Kant the universe was the kingpin in a dubious philosophical game. For transcendental Thomists the universe had to become in their philosophy the kind of stepchild who is not to be in the focus of attention. Their world of ideas was about many things, but never about the everything that is the universe.

 

Monumental examples of this phenomeon is Karl Rahner’s Spirit in The World, his chief justification of the transcendental version of Thomistic epistemology. Apart from the title page, the word “world” becomes visible in that book only in its last three pages. There, Rahner presents his sole thematic declaration about the world over almost four hundred pages. “The world as known is always the world of man, is essentially a concept complementary to man.” (Spirit in The World (NY: Herder and Herder, 1968), p. 406). The ill-concealed conceptualization of such a phrase keeps under cover that “universe” which existed long before man appeared to form a concept about the world and will be around long after homo sapiens has gone the way of all other species. For all we know from evolutionary biology, the chief certainty about species is that they eventually yield to other species. Only by special revelation can we hope that homo sapiens will be around at the onset of a new heaven and new earth.

 

Kant would have been delighted by the Rahnerian phrase in which the world is reduced, however unintentionally, to the level of a mere concept. Though Kant, to recall the words of Bertrand Russell, was a “mere muddle in the history of Western thought” (Philosophy (NY: W.W. Norton, 1972), p. 30), he was a first rate ideological strategist and he knew what other strategies would be so much grist to his gruesome mills. Only heaven will tell what God and Aquinas might think of Rahner’s rendering of article 7 of question 84 of Part I of the Summa Theologiae, the chief subject of The Spirit in The World.. What place did or does the universe hold in the thought of Aquinas and Rahner and other transcendental Thomists, his admirers in particular?

In the writings of Aquinas there are over 3000 references to the universe (see S. Jaki, Thomas and The Universe, The Thomists 53 (1987), pp. 545-572; “universe” in Aquinas, Rahner and Marechal “Loiuvain” absence of entry on “universe” in the subject index of C.V. LeThomiste devant la philosophie critique (1926); and Marechal’s Le point de depart de la metaphysique).

Even Eddington saw a chief advantage of his idealist epistemology in that “the question of attributing a mysterious property called “existence” to the physical world never arises.” (Philosophy of Physical Sciences (NY: MacMillan Co., 1939), p. 157). This leaves us in chaos concerning the “universe” and its meaning and purpose. Its only meaning and purpose is my own construction! (Cf.. Kant’s Constructionism) No wonder pluralism/deinterpretation dominates our cultural structures - “the center cannot hold.”

 

Rahner’s world is expressed in the work edited by Rahner, Sacramentum Mundi. This all-encircling encyclopedia did not attempt to make one circle around the solar system, not one around our galaxy, let alone the universe. This is shown by the articles “creation” and “world” one volume Encyclopedia of Theology: The Concise Sacramentum Mundi (NY: Crossroad, 1986), pp. 312-38; pp. 1833-1838).

 

P. Smulders begins with the statement that “creation when taken actively means the creative act of God and the totality of the world” when taken passively. The conclusion of the articles states that the world’s principal feature is given as God’s gift to man. Nothing is present that affirms that universe principally serves the glory of God. Nothing can be a gift unless it exists in the first place. God keeps in play a world that is already created: “Creation is an act of the present instant and remains true to itself till the hour of eschatological salvation.” (Ibid., p. 319) This leaves little credence to the subsequent claim, “it is true that one can argue from the contingency of the world to its origin from an absolute being, but is questionable whether the origin can be recognized as creation.” (Ibid., p. 317-18)

 

Kantian motivations are also present in the sequel (by A. Darlap) the declaration: “there is no such thing as a material world qua purely material, which could be interrogated in the concrete as to its intrinsic destiny.” (Ibid., p. 323) This transcendental Kantianism dribbles with words like “world” when there is no world, and “sacrament” where there is only form, amounting to mere words, but no matter.

 

G. Haeffner’s article, “World” feel for the Kantian bait that Kant meant to save Newtonian physics as a free creation of the intellect from the teeth of mechanistic philosophy. Kant cannot save us from Newton! Was Kant really interested in freedom? Poincare’s “c’est librement qu’on est deterministe” (“Suir la valeur objective des theories physiques” Revue de Metaphysique et de morale (1902, p. 238). For unless one doubts freely, any doubt about free will is meaningless. To save the freedom of spirit did not demand the pathetic construction of the Kantian antimonies. Kant’s freedom for man was freedom from transcendental constraint!

 

In order to preserve freedom he had to turn the world into a mere idea, however regulative. “The totality was not a matter of objective knowledge, but only a methodological reflection.” (Encyclopedia of Theology, p. 1836). The fact was that the totality Kant talked about was not matter at all. Double talk is apparent in the author’s remarks that “. . .for Kant the world in itself only means the objective counterpart and source of sensible impressions in our knowledge.” (Ibid) The world in itself, like any Kantian noumenon, could not be known; it could not even be talked about as objected to Kant by some of his perceptive students. It was precisely Kant’s chief contention that the three principle noumena of traditional metaphysics--soul, universe and God--were to be ruled out of the court of rational discourse for being the chief illegitimate products of the metaphysical crowning of he intellect. (Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, section 4 and 5, pp. 430-439; “to take the cosmological ideas to be ‘empty and merely fictitious’ should seem at least a ‘well grounded suspicion.” The Kantian contention is the point of demise of Transcendence in modern/postmodern thought. We are on the way to our pluralistic, humanistic, contextualistic, relativistic, dissacralized world. Kant is the father of these “isms.”

Kant’s efforts to shore up faith with a recourse to his analysis is a futile enterprise. We are on the road to the “death of God”!!! The vast volumes which were homage to Rahner’s, Gott in Welt, do deal with the natural sciences, the science of cosmology is nowhere touched upon (cf. Essay J.B. Lotz to prove the existence of God), on Kantian terms plus transcendental Thomism, and Heidegger. This is surely a futile enterprise. [”relevance of science to proofs of God.” “On the pleas of their impenetrable obscurity like the cosmological”] (Critique of Pure Reason, p. 431). That these essays were written during the 1960's that witnessed the discovery of 2.7 degree K cosmic background radiation, which turned the science of cosmology into the investigated branch of modern physics, should seem most curious. Clearly, Rahner inspired no interest tin the universe and its cosmology. A book called Cosmos, explicitly dedicated by its author to “Karl Rahner and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin as masters and older brothers in Christ” is a case in point. The reference to a system about world “cosmological universe” only to support “systems theory” and the dubious science of holism. Apart from this the entire book is on man, including a special chapter on personal knowledge.

 

R.J. Pendergast, Cosmos (NY: Fordham University Press, 1973). The fate of the universe in Vatican II and Rahner are parallels (reversed order of cause and effect). By not looking for the universe, transcendental Thomists have deprived themselves of the only ground worth transcending. In E. Coreth’s Metaphysics (chapter on “Being in The World” immediately followed by “personal world” moves to Kantianism) one is also disappointed in Lonergan’s Insight if one is seeking a universe, “the world of sense is a mystery of God.” (NY: Harper, 1958), pp. 689, 692)

 

Dr. James Strauss, Professor Emeritus, Lincoln Christian Seminary