A taxonomy of the Right

This is a preview of an intellectual history of conservatism essay that I’m always meaning to, but probably never will get a chance to, write.  Of course, there are already a number of taxonomies of the Right in existence, some obviously self-serving (e.g. establishment hacks vs. brave reformers), some useful for labeling two sides of a particular debate (e.g. neo vs. paleo), and some useful for distinguishing the true conservatives from impostors (e.g. libertarians vs. traditionalists).  I’m going to assume my readers are sufficiently advanced that they don’t need my help making the latter distinction.  Instead, I would like to mark out what I think to be the divisions among thinkers who can all legitimately be called conservative.

  1. The romantic conservatives.  This is the best-known conservative tradition, the one emanating from Edmund Burke.  Often, it is mistakenly regarded as the only tradition of intellectual conservatism.  I call it “romantic” because it is fundamentally a reaction against the philosophe/revolutionary program of restructuring society on rationalist-utilitarian grounds.  The romantic emphasizes the limits of discursive reason–both its ability to capture the complexities of social reality and, more importantly, its ability to inspire the sentiments and loyalties on which society rests.  As a supplement to reason, the romantics promote tradition, that repository of past ages’ wisdom that speaks to man’s heart.  Members of this tradition include Burke, Coleridge, Kirk, Chateaubriand, Maistre, and Brownson.  The latter two may be thought to belong to a distinct subdivision, because of their exclusive focus on legitimate authority, rather than all inherited customs.  Russell Kirk popularized the romantic tradition, more or less equating it with the conservative mind itself.  Today, the most prominent defender of traditionalism would probably be Jim Kalb.
  2. The social conservatives.  A distinct critique of the Revolution emerged in Continental Europe, whose first great voice was Louis de Bonald.  The social conservatives had little interest in tradition per se, but dedicated themselves to the defense of authoritative institutions, especially the monarchical state, the patriarchal family, and the Catholic Church.  Against the egalitarians, they defended distinct roles–with their attendant duties and dependencies–for husbands and wives, kings and subjects.  Such distinctions foster the cohesion of the institution and the virtue of its members.  Most importantly, these relationship-structures are prescribed by God Himself, the ground of all authority, whose sovereignty is in them affirmed.  Government interference is a menace to (other) authoritative institutions, but so is industrial capitalism.  French counter-revolutionaries– Bonald, Le Play, Keller, and La Tour du Pin–form a main branch of this tradition.  Also included would be the proponents of Catholic social doctrine–Taparelli, Leo XIII, Pius XI–in Italy, and a parallel Calvinist movement, led by Kuypar and Dooyeweerd in the Netherlands.  Unlike the romantics, who stayed fairly aloof from economic matters, the social conservatives quickly turned most of their attention to the destructive effects of industrialization, which they hoped to counter by punishing usury, promoting agrarianism, and reviving the guilds in a corporatist political order.They also distinguished themselves in their efforts to legally protect the patriarchal family, through laws against divorce or in favor of primogenitor.  Today, a prominent spokesman for this tradition is Allan Carlson.  Much of the substance of today’s conservatism (e.g. opposition to divorce and homosexuality) derives mostly from this tradition.  Unfortunately, it has not yet received a book-length presentation worthy of it, so it is often ignored (as it was by Kirk).  Robert Nisbet and the Red Tories have, in their own ways, promoted a secularized, watered-down version of this tradition, in which multiple associations are regarded as a check on the State, and so corporatism serves to contract rather than (as Bonald had invisioned) to extend authority.
  3. The distributists/agrarians.  In England and America, social conservatism took a distinct form.  It was at peace with democracy, but remained hostile to industrialization.  Its ideal would be a Jeffersonian republic of small farm holders.  Its two branches were English Catholics (Chesterton, Belloc) and American Southern Protestants (the 12 southerners).  These two branches were brought into dialog and collaboration by Herbert Agar.  It reached its heyday in the 1930’s, but after had few proponents–most notably Wendall Berry and Allan Carlson.
  4. The cultural conservatives.  Around the early twentieth-century, a number of prominent intellectuals began to worry that, with the triumph of liberalism, the West was losing touch with its spiritual roots.  Culture was being submerged in materialism, consumerism, massification, and demagogy.  Examples include Eliot, Spengler, Dawson, Guenon, Evola, and Voegelin.  This conservatism was entirely intellectual; it had no political program.  Thus it only gains attention when some brilliant author gives voice to it.  Unfortunately, we are today not blessed with a Spengler or a Voegelin.  Also to be mentioned in this category, as a deformation, are Leo Strauss and his followers, who absurdly claim that atheism is the true intellectual tradition of the West, contained esoterically in the works of its great thinkers, so that only scholars as clever as the Straussians imagine themselves to be are able to extract it.
  5. The Right-Hegelians.  Hegel himself (the Hegel of Philosophy of Right) was a conservative of sorts.  His emphasis was on building a social order that would fulfill people’s need for the world to make sense to them and thus remove their alienation from the world.  The Left-Hegelians (Marx, etc), starting from some of Hegel’s less fortunate (or less understood) speculations, have had a large but deleterious effect on the world.  The Right-Hegelians were prominent in pre-WWI Prussia, but then fell into obscurity.  Today, this tradition is carried on by the British conservative Roger Scruton.  Right-Hegelism is similar, and complementary, to social conservatism in a number of ways.  Methodologically, the former relies on phenomenology, while the latter relies on a combination of natural law, virtue ethics, and divine command.  Thus, the Hegelians work from a “first-person” perspective (the subjectivity of members of a polity), while the social conservatives take a more “third-person” view.  Hegel and his followers are also more reconciled to industrialism, although they favor sensible regulation and a degree of corporatism.  They have no desire to resurrect home production or an agrarian economy.
  6. The anti-cosmopolitans.  This tradition originates with Herder.  Although he associated with social conservatives, Maurras belonged to this school.  These conservatives emphasize, against liberal universalism, the right and duty of every people to protect its own cultural integrity and to foster intra-group loyalty in its members.  Mark Richardson ably expresses this view on the internet today.
  7. The pseudo-conservatives.  I know, I said I wouldn’t discuss them, but they deserve a mention.  This is the group that is fundamentally dedicated to liberalism, but wants to maintain some conservative elements (usually religious piety, parental authority, sexual restraint, or patriotism) as a check on liberalism’s destructive tendencies.  Tocqueville is the great expositor of this view.

There is, of course, much overlap between these seven groups, but there is as yet no real synthesis.  This is to be contrasted with the more favorable current intellectual state of liberalism.  (Controlling the universities helps.)  Leftism used to have many unreconciled branches:  classical liberalism, technocratic utilitarianism, Marxism, anarchism, syndicalism, and lifestyle autonomism.  In the late twentieth century, analytic philosophers achieved a great synthesis, and “personal autonomy guaranteed by public neutrality toward different private preferences” was established as the fundamental principle of all liberalism.  (Of course, the fact that liberalism now has only one head means that we may hope to cut it off with one well-placed blow.)  We conservatives have not yet achieved our synthesis.  Nor shall we, I think, until social conservatives produce a proper exposition of their views (a project I hope to help with through this blog) and romantic conservatives stop pretending they’re the only game in town.

Are condoms always contraceptive? Father Rhonheimer gets creative

Christopher Blosser has an excellent round-up of the debate going on in Catholic circles triggered by His Holiness’ recent remarks on the use of condoms by gay prostitutes to prevent disease.  Swiss theologian Father Martin Rhonheimer has taken advantage of the pope’s unfortunate statements to claim official support for his own speculations–namely, that the prophylactic use of condoms (i.e. to present disease transmission) is not contraceptive at all.

According to Catholic moral theology, as articulated by Aquinas and others, the morality of an act depends on three things:  the agent’s intention (does he mean to do good or evil?), the circumstances (are there foreseeable side effects that would outweigh the good intention?)  and the object (the nature of the act itself; is it intrinsically evil?).  For an act to be moral, it must pass all three tests.  Catholic doctrine infallibly states (and natural law confirms) that contraception–the deliberate frustration of the conjugal act’s generative end–is intrinsically evil.  It would seem, therefore, that one should not engage in contraceptive acts even if one’s purpose is to prevent infecting a spouse, rather than to prevent a conception.  Father Rhonheimer disagrees.  He claims that an act of intercourse with a condom is not a contraceptive act at all unless it is intended as such.  Therefore, prophylactic condom use does not fall under the Church’s ban on contraception, although it may (or may not) still be immoral for other reasons.  Father Rhonheimer also uses his unique understanding of “object” to engage in other flights of fancy.  For example, what any of us would call “masturbation” isn’t so if it’s done to extract semen for infertility testing.

Professors Janet Smith and Stephen Long (see articles in the attached round-up) have pointed out the obvious problems with Rhonheimer’s thinking.  It eviscerates Catholic moral theology by reducing “object” to a restatement of “intention”.  Catholic moral theology is reduced to intentionalism, there are no intrinsically good or evil acts, and anything can be justified by good intentions.  As Long puts it

Of course, this is intentionalism. It is to argue that because one intends prophylaxis, therefore such condom use is not contraceptive. This is precisely the effort to define “direct” and “indirect” with respect to moral action by reference solely to intention while excluding essential reference to the nature of that which is chosen. Yet the putatively good effect achieved through condom use–that of preventing dissemination of disease–is in heterosexual intercourse achieved only by means of the evil effect of a contraceptive blocking of the transmission of procreative matter. Fr. Rhonheimer does not wish to call this “contraception” because for him, not the nature of the act, but rather, exclusively the intention of the agent, determines whether contraception occurs. The integral nature and per se effects of one’s chosen action are thus not held to be imputable to one, but only one’s “intention”. The knight, wiping the blood off his sword, says: “I didn’t really kill a child–I merely helped to prevent dynastic civil war”. Of course, the dead regal child is not by this fact resurrected.
Father Rhonheimer replies to Janet Smith in Our Sunday Visitor.  Tellingly, he makes no attempt to answer her substantiative, philosophical points.  Instead, he starts out by accusing her of libel.  He goes on for some time bitching in a most unmanly way about his wounded reputation.  Then he appeals to his authority as an author of books on moral theology, claiming to be outraged that anyone would accuse an expert like him of an error like intentionalism.  Again, he says nothing substantial to rebut the charge–his thought is so subtle that it can’t be explained in a magazine article on the subject.  Finally, he appeals negatively to the authority of the Church.  He has not yet been condemned; therefore, his writings are consistent with orthodoxy!
Rhonheimer’s piss-poor self-defense has convinced me even more than the reasoning of his accusers.  This man’s books should be condemned.  He should be given the choice of recanting or being charged with heresy.  Not the first time the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has been asleep at the wheel, I’m afraid.

A pill to kill male sex drive

Oz Conservative brings the following Spearhead comment to our attention

 Justa thought, guys keep talking about male pill how about libido suppressant? Are there any drugs out there that will suppress a man’s libido so much he would be a functional eunuch (oxymoron i know)?

Imagine never even thinking about sex, means you can without effort treat every hot chick without that mild inner bias to her goodlooks. Possible with game but this time, you wont be feinging dis-interest, with the utlimate aim of getting in her pants.

You would genuinely not be interested in chicks. We might be surprised how many guys would actually go on such pills if they were available

The context of this quote was a discussion over an absurd proposal that men should separate themselves from women until the latter get over their feminist entitlement complexes.  However, I think the appeal of such a pill would be far larger than “confirmed old bachelors” like Henry Higgins.

In an alternate universe, where the hegemonic culture was Christian rather than libertine, I’ll bet such a pill would already exist.  Think about the good, chaste Christian boys who have to wait a decade or so into their sexual maturity before they’re able to raise a family and can responsibly marry.  Consider married couples who want to put a little space between their children.  My wife and I have a newborn now, and she’s taking up all of our energy.  It would be very hard if my wife were to get pregnant again just now.  The upshot is that I’m looking at about a year of celibacy.  So far, I’m a couple months in, and a pill to take away sexual cravings would indeed make my life more comfortable.

The dilemma is this:  if a man had sex every time he wanted to, the population would explode beyond our means of support.  Therefore, we can either suppress female fertility or suppress male appetite or demand a good deal of male self-control.  The elite hedonistic culture has jumped on the first solution.  The Catholic Church has nothing to offer but the third.  Why doesn’t somebody look into the second?  Honestly, I do think that our wives would prefer that we desired them less, rather than that they should chemically alter themselves to make themselves barren.  Is what I’m suggesting just a technical fix to a moral problem?  Don’t men gain virtue through continence?  Perhaps.  But the same sorts of things might be said about Tylenol.  Isn’t enduring a headache an opportunity to cultivate patience?  Yes, but that doesn’t mean we need to seek out such opportunities.

News makes us dumb

Not to mention mindless servants of our journalistic masters.  I am heartened to see First Things joining my crusade against journalism.  Excerpt:

The product of the news business is change, not wisdom. Wisdom has to do with seeing things in their largest context, whereas news is structured in a way that destroys the larger context. You have to do certain things to information if you want to sell it on a daily basis. You have to make each day’s report seem important. And you do that by reducing the importance of its context.

Still dubious about all this? Consider the proposition: If it is no longer worth your while to go back and read the News of, oh, September 22, 1976, then it was never worthwhile doing so. And why should today be any different?

Here’s a summary of my case against journalism.  Newspapers are inherently hostile to morality, authority, and social order.  They should be banned.

More power to science!–be careful what you ask for

From time to time, you’ll hear people declaiming on the differences between “science” and “religion”.  Science, we are told, is reasonable, open-minded, and self-correcting.  Religion, on the other hand, is supposedly irrational and dogmatic.  People’s religious opinions may have psychological causes, but it’s not admitted that they might have reasons to believe those opinions true.  They are only able to maintain their silly beliefs by persecuting anyone who doubts them.  In fact, one might say that, for may people today, for a belief to be unreasonable and intolerant is the very definition of “religious”.  So, for example, we hear new atheists dismiss communism as a religious perversion of atheism–not true atheism at all.  The reason that communism is “religious” is that it enforces an orthodoxy and persecutes heretics, the opposite of the true “scientific” atheist mindset.  On the other hand, one often hears Republican commentators dismiss the movement to counteract global warming as “religious”–meaning unreasonable and viscious toward unbelievers.  Note well how our supposed friends use the word “religion” (as in “global warming religion”) as an insult.

Of course, it’s silly to say that there are no reasons to believe that some religion is true, or that some particular religion is true.  Certainly, at least some religious believers hold their beliefs for intellectually respectable reasons, and most are very good at being accomodating to unbelievers.  However, the basic claim, that the scientific community utilizes doubt (except regarding its basic methodological premises) while religious communities must discourage it, is true.  The difference, though, has nothing to do with how “reasonable” either way of knowing is.  The difference lies in the different social responsibilities of science and religion.

In Purity and Danger, anthropologist Mary Douglas asks the question “what is the fundamental difference between primitive and modern religions?”  She considers some standard answers, e.g. that primitive sects are ritualistic and superstitious while modern sects are ethical and skeptical, and finds them incompatible with the actual records of primitive peoples.  The real difference, she decides, is that primitive religions are responsible for maintaining a social order–keeping people in line–while modern religions aren’t.  This isn’t because we moderns are freer than our superstitious forebears.  Rather, it’s because we are enmeshed in a much more pervasive and invasive network of social controls, organized with thorough bureaucratic and technological efficiency.  Religion can afford to be tolerant and individualistic now, now that nothing important depends on it.

What does this have to do with science?  Well, the fondest wish of our loudest science advocates is that science should have a stronger social presence, that its disinterested logic and open-mindedness would be allowed to inform public policy to a far greater extent.  Far better, they say, that government should rely on science than on superstition.

Whether or not it would be better for society is one thing we could debate.  I wonder, however, if anyone has thought about whether it would be good or bad for science itself.  If scientists ever should assume the mantle of social responsibility, our famed open-mindedness, our happiness to be proven wrong, would be the first thing we’d inevitably sacrifice.  As soon as some scientific theory becomes the main motive for a people’s collective action, skepticism towards that theory becomes a menace to society.  Today, I feel perfectly free to publicly doubt the existence of dark matter or the Higgs boson, because whether or not those things exist doesn’t affect the legitimacy of the government or any of its policies.   Consider instead the case of anthropogenic global warming.  As one often hears it complained, doubts on this subject are not welcomed; in fact, they are regarded as immoral.  Is this because, as alleged, this one part of science is becoming “religious”?  Not at all; what’s happened is that this one part of science has become socially and politically important.  There is strong evidence that the Earth is heating due to human release of greenhouse gases.  Curbing this effect before its results become catastrophic requires joint action by much of the industrialized world.  Well-publicized doubt threatens this joint action.  Therefore, it must be countered, by character attacks if necessary.  The reasoning here is perfectly valid.  It is the reasoning of a statesman, not a scientist, but that’s nothing to be ashamed of.  In this case, scientists have been thrust into a position of importance.  They must (and, I believe, they are) discharge these unwanted responsibilities as well as they can.  Still, if science continues to become more “relevant” in the coming years, expect centuries hence a future Dr. Douglas to someday write that this was the time that science switched from its “modern” open phase to its “primitive” dogmatic phase.

As a scientist, I hope, pray, and expect that my own field of astrophysics will remain gloriously irrelevant to the practical concerns of mankind.  I rather like it that I can feel free to propose a new explanation of short-duration gamma ray bursts without risking social anarchy.

Peculiarities in the “war between science and religion”

One can often disprove the media’s propaganda without even knowing the facts of the matter, just because the official story is incoherent.  An example I’ve already given is our feminist crusade in Afghanistan.  If the Taliban were simultaneously as unpopular and as poor at governing as we have been led to believe, this war would not still be going on.  Another example is the supposed “war between science and religion” that was allegedly waged in Europe from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries.  One could always do some historical research and prove that this story is factually false.  But, actually, the story couldn’t be true, because it doesn’t make sense.

According to this story, at the beginning of the war, “religion” was by far the stronger party.  Over the centuries, “science” kept being proven right, and “religion” kept being proven wrong, until finally people wised up, and “science” came out on top, so that today, we scientists–the oracles of “science”–rightly enjoy our nearly godlike authority over the enlightened masses.  What’s wrong with this picture?

First, our own observations indicate that this war is very one-sided.  Lots of partisans of “science” attacking religion, which they publicly equate with superstition and ignorance.  On the other hand, when was the last time you heard a religious leader assert that science is incompatible with his creed?  Or that the scientific method is impious or otherwise sinful or unreliable?  Well, sure, you’ll say, of course we don’t see that now.  Now science has the upper hand, and religious leaders are cowed by it.  But, remember, this isn’t how it always was.  According to the official story, “religion” used to have much the upper hand in power and prestige.  Surely if we go back to the sixteenth century, we will find prominent churchmen condemning the insipient scientific enterprise, calling the whole thing wicked, ungodly, or dangerous.  Does anybody have these quotes?  I haven’t seen them.  And I’m sure if they were there, the media would bring them to our attention.  Was the Church afraid to admit that it was at war with religion then?  Why?  At the time, if someone had said “science is incompatible with Christianity”, what would have been, for 99% of the people at the time, an argument against science, not against Christianity.  That is a crucial part of the official story.  If science enjoyed its current prestige during the Middle Ages, then it would be hard to regard those times as an era of “darkness” compared to our “enlightenment”.  Furthermore, if science held its current prestige then, at the apex of confessional strength and aggression, it would be impossible to maintain that religion is a serious threat to the scientific enterprise.

So, during the first half of this war, the churches could have condemned science with little danger to themselves, but they didn’t.  That brings us to the second question.  Why didn’t they?  If science and religion are locked in permanent conflict, why didn’t “religion” squash “science” like a bug when it had the chance?  Perhaps clerics were worried that they would lose out on technical advances to other, more science-friendly societies?  Not likely.  Science didn’t become practically useful until around the nineteenth century.  Before that, it was mostly speculation about the heavens, and that sort of thing.  Was it because confessional differences kept the churches from acting in unison to hound their common enemy?  But why should united action be necessary?  Ecclesiastic divisions didn’t keep Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, etc. from each separately attacking atheism, adultery, and other things obviously inimical to the Christian faith in general.  If “science” is at war with “religion” in general, or even with Christianity in general, we would have expected science to have been treated like atheism or Arianism.

But religion did attack, they say.  Here they’ll usually say something about the trial of Galileo or the Scopes monkey trial.  But that won’t do.  First, because a five century war should consist of more than two skirmishes.  After all, the question is not whether some scientist might run afoul of some cleric, or whether some denomination might find some scientific theory objectionable.  Of course these things might happen.  At most, this proves that science and religion are capable of friction, which I don’t deny.  But the “war” story demands more than this–namely, that they are inevitably and irreconcilably opposed.  To prove this, more than occasional friction is required.  After all, far more artists than scientists have gotten in trouble with the Church, but no one would claim that there’s an eternal war between “religion” and “art”.  No, what we should see is some systematic effort on the part of “religion” to suppress science.  No one even makes a beginning of this.

Athanasius on why it was the Son Who could redeem us

Each Christmas, I re-read a bit of St. Athanasius’s brilliant but short On the Incarnation to get me in the holiday mood.  Some things that jumped out at me this time:

For the solidarity of mankind is such that, by virtue of the Word’s indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all.  You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honored, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it.  So it is with the King of all…

We have recently had cause to discuss this solidarity of mankind in the context of original sin.  Athanasius points to the more important application of this principle to our collective redemption.

When God the Almighty was making mankind through His own Word, He percieved that they, owing to the limitation of their nature, could not of themselves have any knowledge of the Artificer, the Incorporeal and Uncreated.  He took pity on them, therefore, and did not leave them destitute of the knowledge of Himself, lest their very existence should prove purposeless…How could men be reasonable beings if they had no knowledge of the Word and Reason of the Father, through Whom they had received their being?  They would be no better than the beasts…But, in fact, the good God has given them a share in His own Image, that is, in our Lord Jesus Christ, and has made even themselves after the same Image and Likeness.  Why?  Simply in order that through this gift of Godlikeness in themselves they may be able to perceive the Image Absolute, that is the Word Himself, and through Him to apprehend the Father; which knowledge of their Maker is for men the only really happy and blessed life.

To be truly reasonable beings, he says, we must know God, and in particular His Word, which is the rationale of all things.  Mankind is made in the Image of God.  The Son/Word/Chist is the Image of God.  Therefore, man is made in Christ, that is, by Christ and after Christ.  We often think of the Incarnation as God making up a body for Jesus based on what we were already like, but that’s backwards.  We were already made in His image.  Thus, when he came “in our image”, it was no disguise, but the true bodily incarnation of the Son, the template after which we were made.

It was by surrendering to death the body which He had taken, as an offering and sacrifice free from every stain, that He forthwith abolished death for his human brethren by the offering of the equivalent.  For naturally, since the Word of God was above all, when He offered His own temple and bodily instrument as a substitute for the life of all, He fulfilled in death all that was required…

The same writer goes on to point out why it was necessary for God the Word and none other to become Man:  “For it became Him, for Whom are all things and through Whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Author of their salvation perfect through suffering.” (Heb. II 9)

The hardest thing to understand about the Atonement is how one person (Christ) can legitimately pay the debt for the sins of someone else (me).  How is that fair, when Christ and I are two separate people?  It can only make sense if there’s some connection between us.  It may make no sense for a stranger to pay my tickets for me, but it makes a little bit more sense for my father to pay my tickets for me.  As Athanasius tells it, there was an intimate connection between us and the Word even before He became incarnate.  We were made through Him and in His image.  We are also for Him, in that (c.f. the earlier quote) we only fulfill our purpose by apprehending Him.  So we are directly connected to the Word by our efficient, formal, and final causes.  For a being who is my creator, the model for my creation, and my final destiny to take my sins upon Himself begins to sound less arbitrary.  He was necessarily involved in my salvation or lack thereof regardless.

The conservative apostasy continues: The Brussels Journal embraces gay marriage

Doesn’t just bow to its inevitability, but positively embraces it as something wonderful.  See Mr. Fincioen’s article–I refuse to link to it.  I’m not sure if he officially speaks for the magazine, but the fact that such an abomination was allowed to be published shows that the Brussels Journal (BJ) is mutating into a Leftist outfit.

And here my opinion of the BJ had just been going up after they published one of rkirk’s excellent essays (to which I’ll happily link).  It seems that the ham-fisted indoctrination in European schools of which he speaks, particularly its enthusiasm for sexual perversion, has come to influence the BJ itself.

Oh Holy Night–ruined!

Curse you, Wikipedia!

Did you know that “Oh Holy Night” was written by a French anticlerical socialist?  That song is now ruined for me forever.

Thomism and modern physics

Stephen Barr is a professor of physics at the University of Delaware and a member of the First Things editorial board.  It is possible, given the scarcity of our type in academia, that Professor Barr and I are the only conservative Christians who know quantum mechanics.  I’m always interested in what he has to say.

In his latest essay in “faith” magazine, Barr argues that theologians and scholastic philosophers should pay more attention to modern science.  Sure, one can say that metaphysics should be independent of the results of empirical science, but Barr points out that we all have an imaginative “world picture” that goes along with our abstract metaphysical beliefs, and that picture is definitely shaped by science.  If not good science, then bad science.  An example he gives is the old assumption–never a doctrine–that hell is physically somewhere inside the Earth.  Dropping that idea has clarified our thinking.  Barr also thinks, although he doesn’t put it quite this way, that traditional natural philosophy really is going to have to get some updating.  Scholastics often characterize science as concerning itself only with efficient and material causes, while ignoring formal and final causes.  This isn’t quite true.  The example he gives is the band structure in metals.  This is certainly formal, although metals don’t have the intrinsic teleology or indivisible unity of biological substantial forms.  What we need is a sort of weaker idea of form for this lower order of being, one without teleology.  I’m glad Barr brought this up, because it’s been on my mind for some time as well.  Barr also discusses how modern physics might influence our understanding of divine eternity (in this case, supporting the traditional view against contemporary innovations) and the resurrection of the dead.