Thursday, July 02, 2009

EXTRA!!! Chesterton Scoops Jaki!

In my never-ending search for quotes and quips, I wander through the fifty-odd megabytes with my AMBER torch - and sometimes make the most astounding discoveries. But today I must preface my discovery with a very short reference to my fictional work now in development.

Somewhere in a lovely valley, surrounded by towering snow-capped peaks, is a fertile region presently being farmed by the local citizens of a country (countries?) whose name(s) I suppress for security reasons. On one of the mountain spurs soars a vast cathedral, with its various ancillary buildings. The local folk consider it a monastery of some ancient and most reverent order, and bow in prayer when the great bells ring in the tower - which ring somewhat more often than one may expect from the usual. In one of the nearby buildings, linked to the cathedral by a walkway, there is a large atrium called the "lobby" by those who frequent that building. It is a curious place, all the more so because the local farmers have never been inside. They would be puzzled, unless - like you - they had read Chesterton.

For the lobby is not empty. It contains many statues: statues of humans, done in a style which sometimes approaches the great sculptures of the world. But some of them are shrouded in veils, leaving visible only an arm or a foot - or the pedestal with a descriptive engraving. Does that not sound familiar to you? Perhaps you have forgotten this text:
If we were at rest in a real paganism, instead of being restless in a rather irrational reaction from Christianity, we might pay some sort of pagan honour to these nameless makers of mankind. We might have veiled statues of the man who first found fire or the man who first made a boat or the man who first tamed a horse.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:200]
Yes, the first statue - twice the size of a normal human - is that of a male, almost fully veiled in black, with one bare foot protruding, elevated somewhat on a huge granite rock, and one bare arm bearing a flaming torch; its engraving reads: "The Man Who First Found Fire". The second is a chaste yet distinctly lovely female, also veiled, with a child at her side; it reads: "The Woman Who First Made Bread".

As I said, some of the statues are not veiled, and perhaps you might recognize them. However, there are others, which are clearly very recent additions, and are yet veiled. One of these belongs to my own field, and bears the title "The Man Who First Invented Linked Lists".

[One of our tech readers may be inspired to do a "literature search" and tell me who that is; all I can say here is that you are forgetting this is fiction. Besides, I might merely reply are you sure he was first? But I am digressing.]

Now, I have told you this, not to explain the lobby or the statues, or even to try to begin a short treatise on "linked lists" - which are just a clever technique to maintain a variety of information within a computer memory. I might as well have begun with the line from a rock-and-roll song (the band I have forgotten) which states very clearly that
"One thing (one thing) leads to another"
a concept appearing in C. L. Dodgson's famous study called Alice in Wonderland, and which Chesterton encapsulated in his famous quote about the encyclopedia: is the test of a good encyclopaedia that it does two rather different things at once. The man consulting it finds the thing he wants; he also finds how many thousand things there are that he does not want. It advises the particular man upon his particular problem, though it were quite a private problem, almost as if it were giving private advice. And the man must be so far touched to some tinge of healthy humility, if it be only the admission that he does not know everything, and must seek outside himself for something.
[GKC The Common Man 240]
Which is curious in that it suggests doing a search on the INTERNET can be an act of humility - I think that mayshake some people rather deeply. Being shaken into humility is a good thing.

But again I digress. I was searching for something, now what on earth was it? Ah yes, it was the Chestertonian view of a train, so naturally I was trying to hunt for "fire" and "dragon" - and I happened to find GKC's interesting ILN essay for September 18 1926 in CW34:164 et seq. That essay ought to be posted in full, but I cannot do that just now. One of the things I found there (a thing which I did not expect) was another of GKC's arguments about miracles and the nature of belief, a point we have seen that he raises in Orthodoxy, and about which his excellent novella, "The Trees of Pride" (in CW14) is centered. But this essay also mentioned the fabulous creature called the "Great Sea Serpent". Yes... don't you just love the Great Sea Serpent? And that led me (as it were, through a "link" of a linked list!) to another ILN essay about the Sea Serpent.

Behold! I began to read it and was utterly stupefied to see Chesterton "scoop" Jaki about the correct technique of Bible Scholarship - specifically to the questions arising from "Science" (wit large, as Jaki says) and "Genesis One" (the creation).

The scoop I refer to is GKC's reference to St. Augustine. But you must read the context:
I should never be surprised to learn that some of our modern sceptics think that all Christians must believe that Noah was glued to a little round wooden stand, or that he had three dots for his eyes and nose. I should never be surprised to read a withering article in the Freethinker proving that all the principles of naval construction make it impossible for the Ark to have been exactly like the toy in the nurseries; or that the animals could not have fed and slept and taken exercise with any comfort, if they had been packed as they were in those delightful Christmas boxes, a large number of them upside down. The little wooden Ark of the toy-shop has defeated the vast mysterious Ark of the tradition, exactly as the popular apple has ousted the mystical fruit; exactly as the modern whale has swallowed the primeval fish, as well as the Prophet Jonah. But it is unfair to turn round and blame the Bible because of all these legends and jokes and journalistic allusions, which are read into the Bible by people who have not read the Bible. I do not say there are not things in the Bible which a modern rationalist might refuse as not being what he would call rational, even if he had read them. But half the things he thinks of are things that were added by some earlier rationalist, to suit what would call rational. There is a philosophy which logically rejects miracles, as there is an equally philosophic philosophy which necessarily accepts miracles. But there is nothing very specially miraculous about the Great Flood, any more than there is about the Great Sea Serpent. Only some rationalists are so curiously made that they cannot believe in these things being so big. Quite apart from miracles, I never could quite understand why a Great Sea Serpent should not be big; or even big enough to swallow a moderate-sized Hebrew prophet.

In short, I only say that the ideas of popular science and scepticism about these things are very much in a tangle. The sceptics do not distinguish between what, on their own principles, they could or could not believe; or between what, on the other principles, they would be required to believe. They would doubtless be required to believe many things which at present they could not believe; but they have not at present the least notion of what the things are. Indeed, some of them simply cannot believe how little they would have to believe. I have tried in vain to hammer into the head of Mr. H. G. Wells, for instance (if I may allude to so large and illustrious a head in so irreverent an image) the perfectly elementary historical fact that the mystic and partially symbolic interpretation of Scripture is the old and orthodox interpretation of it; and that the mania for materialistic exactitude is a modern mania. At the very beginning of Christian history, St. Augustine said that some things in Scripture must be read as symbols, and that it was puerile to do anything else. But right at the end of Christian history, Brigham Young and the Mormons refused to see anything symbolic even in God's eye or right hand; and insisted that He must physically exist, like a sort of giant. A certain margin of mystical interpretation was an idea perfectly familiar to the Fathers and Schoolmen; and it was not their fault, or the fault of the Bible, if the idea was less familiar to Billy Brimstone, the saved Bootlegger of Kansas City, or Freeze-the-Devil Debora, the sweet and winning Prophetess of Potluck, Neb.

But in the Victorian debates between Science and Religion, about such a question as the Deluge, there was a double ignorance and an ambiguity on both sides. On the one hand, as I have said, neither the opponents nor the defenders of orthodoxy knew what was originally considered orthodox. On the other hand, the scientists knew no more than the theologians what would be the real outcome of the inquiries of science. They had no right to insist on men accepting the latest word of science as the last word of science. They perpetually gave themselves away by the very phrase they were most fond of using. They were always bullying priests and parsons for not accepting what they called "the conclusions of science." Yet they were also incessantly boasting that science had not concluded and would never conclude. Certainly their second boast has been less unlucky than their first. There is scarcely one of the conclusions of science, which the churchmen were then ordered to accept, which the scientists would not now reject. The Atom has melted into a metaphysical mist of Electrons; the Conservation of Energy is itself no longer conserved, even by the most conservative; and only a sort of priesthood of old obscurantist officials still shudders at any criticism directed against the name of Darwin, even in an upheaval that has shaken the name of Newton. If there was really any conflict between that Flood and that Ark, it is at least obvious that the Ark was relatively solid, whereas the Flood was in its nature fluid. That Deluge boasted of always rising higher, as if the world were all floods and no ebbs. But it has washed out its own landmarks, and none more completely than the marks of its own work of destruction.
[GKC ILN Apr 20 1929 CW35:78-80, emphasis added]
Now, let me give you the corresponding relevant excerpt from Jaki:
Augustine’s appreciation of quantitative relationships had, of course, no immediate consequences for the emergence of scientific method. His main concern went far beyond the acquisition of numerical data in particular and learning in general. What interested him most was the quest for happiness, and this implied far more than marshaling bookish details, a point well to remember in this age threatened by the tyranny of sheer learning and by the voracious storing of information. Possibly, he underestimated the role of man’s mastery of nature by knowledge in the process of securing happiness. He took the view that the knowledge of natural sciences, astronomy in particular, could not help one much in understanding the biblical message, as it concerned not man’s natural skill but his supernatural destiny. On the other hand, he wanted no part of a study of the Bible which purposely ignored the well-established results of scientific studies. He put the matter bluntly: “It is often the case that a non-Christian happens to know something with absolute certainty and through experimental evidence about the earth, sky, and other elements of this world, about the motion, rotation, and even about the size and distances of stars, about certain defects [eclipses] of the sun and moon, about the cycles of years and epochs, about the nature of animals, fruits, stones, and the like. It is, therefore, very deplorable and harmful, and to be avoided at any cost that he should hear a Christian to give, so to speak, a ‘Christian account’ of these topics in such a way that he could hardly hold his laughter on seeing, as the saying goes, the error rise sky-high.” Such a performance, Augustine remarked, would undercut the credibility of the Christian message by creating in the minds of infidels the impression that the Bible was wrong on points “which can be verified experimentally, or to be established by unquestionable proofs.”
[SLJ Science and Creation 182 quoting The Ante-Nicene Fathers; the quote from St. Augustine appears in his De genesi ad litteram, Bk. 1, ch. 19; also see SLJ's Bible and Science.]
So there you have it. Now I must return to my work, so I will let you contemplate these amazing links in the chain - and speculate on the identity of the other statues in the lobby...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Join our FaceBook fan page today!