Thursday, April 30, 2009

Brad Gregory on Scotus

That's Brad Gregory, one of ND's historians, in an article: "Forum: God, Science, and Historical Explanation", in History and Theory 47 (2008), 495-519.

This article, not really about Scotus but rather about the origins of contemporary attitudes holding that scientific findings disprove religion, endorses what historians playing at being philosophers call "narratives" and runs parallel to the Cambridge Phantasists, to wit, that all those Bad Things about the modern world have their origin in Scotus. In this case, its modern atheism. Now, as is common among historians, there is no discussion of Scotus' ideas beyond which what I will quote below; so, like the Cambridge Phantasists I am not terribly concerned as this just another example of the genetic fallacy. Scotus isn't proven to be wrong because of what other people did with his arguments, but rather when his arguments themselves are proven to be wrong. Naturally, neither Gregory nor the phantasists bother to do this as they are too busy writing stories.

p.501: "The supernatural is both defined over against the natural and understood to belong to the same conceptual and metaphysical framework. So if God existed, God plus the natural world would be components within a more comprehensive reality. This conceptualization of the relationship between God and the natural world in the modern "scientific worldview" is not itself the result of empirical inquiry. No one found or discovered it. Rather, it is contingent on certain theological presuppositions linked to particular metaphysical views: it makes assumptions about what God would be like if God were real. As it happens, the metaphysics of modern science relies on a univocal conception of being first articulated by John Duns Scotus (c. 1266-1308) in response to Henry of Ghent's analogical concept of being, which was then further transformed in the fourteenth century by William of Occam (c. 1285-1347). According to them and to Occam's late-medieval scholastic followers, because being is common to all that exists, including God, it must be conceived as pertaining to God in the same manner as it pertains to all creatures in the natural world, however God is otherwise understood to differ from everything else that exists." [completly false with respect to Scotus. Being isn't common, but a concept of being can be formed that is common. There is no corresponding reality. Scotus is the subtle doctor, after all]

[there follows some talk of someones' brilliant book,] "The particular confluence of theology and and natural science in seventeenth-century thinkers as different as Descartes, Hobbes, Henry More, and Newton combined a nominalist insistence on univocity of expression with neo-Stoic Renassance [sic] conceptions of the homogeneity of nature governed by forces. This combination, plus the de facto methodological assumption of Occams razor, established the framework for the eventual retreat of God in modern science and philosophy." [of course 'ockhams razor' is used of Scotus who ascribes it to Aristotle. maybe we need to roll the clock back to Plato]


"...perhaps God is real and is radically distinct from the universe; perhaps God is metaphysically transcendent. [...] If God is real and is radically, otherly[sic] transcendent, then every quality univocally predicated of God would be a category mistake, including even his existence--which was the point of Aquinas' insistence that there is no genus, not even the genus of being, to which God belongs along with creatures. It was such a view that Henry of Ghent modified and Scotus rejected, leading to the unanticipated and enormously influential trajectory traced by Funkenstein." [contrary to Gregorys assertion, Scotus is explicit that being is not a genus and God is not in a genus. see Ord. I d. 8 q.3]


"The metaphysical assertions of modern science can only be agnostic precisely because of its methodological presuppositions. Atheists' heartfelt, personal, subjective beliefs notwithstanding, the findings of science tend toward atheism only if one's theological conception of God presupposes a univocal metaphysics."


"Scotus insisted on a univocal notion of God [So now God is univocal!!! what can that even mean? that God is univocal to God and creatures? this must have been written late at night] because he recognized that without it, nothing could be said about God directly on the basis of reason or philosophy. By contrast, the traditional Christian conception of a radically transcendent God, which flouts ordinary ways of using language and insists on the reality of what is unimaginable, is neither the outcome of philosophical speculation nor the product of empirical investigation. It is the result of theological reflection on the writings of the Old and New testaments, themselves rooted in the experiences of ancient Israelites, some of whom became first-century Christians."

This is pretty bad. Clearly, the author has never bothered to read Scotus or Ockham on the subject of univocity, to say nothing of the followers of either (they're in manuscript, let me tell you, because I read them), as none of them have a monolithic view of univocity. Scotus' followers alone disagree about every point of its interpretation in Scotus, and Ockham just jumps into the middle of this fracas. The view given here is simply wrong as applied to Scotus. Being is univocal conceptually alone. No corresponding reality outside the mind. I sound like a broken record. Being is not a genus. Of course, one has to be sort of obliquely impressed. After all, Gregory's response continued after the last quote follows in the David Burrell line of "theology is a dance". Scotus' (unread) arguments must be so good that the only alternative is to deny the scientific character of theology, as conceived during the thirteenth century and championed by just about all medieval theologians, Aquinas included.

I'm also suspicious about the link between the nominalists and modern science. Gregory cites literature from the 80's on this, but they look like surveys taking the long view of history, not detailed analyses of individual figures. Anneliese Maier, who held doctorates in physics and philosophy denied any link between fourteenth century science and the renaissance scientists, as the former still maintained most of Aristotle's physical principles that impeded the development of modern science. On her view, even impetus theory was incorrect and still as wrong the rest because it still retained Aristotelian principles. Fr. Wallace in his modelling of nature makes a good case for the "regressus" being common to medieval and modern science, which is basically Aristotle's quia and propter quid demonstrations taken in chains of reasoning. Copleston denies the link as well, for what its worth, though he's no specialist.

It's really too bad; Gregory is a devout son of the Church, who has chosen to follow liberal anglicans in their blackening of the reputation of a man declared blessed by Pope John Paul II.


Michael Sullivan said...

But why would you defend even a blessed who says that being is a genus and God is in it? That otherly transcends my comprehension! My mind reels as though caught up in a theological hornpipe or strathspey! Your comments are so wrong I couldn't be bothered to read them. Reading arguments carefully smacks of ontotheology anyway. A brief skim shows me that your unpoetic prose simply serves as a diaphanous veil of inauthenticity scarcely covering the nakedness of your necrotic dance of modernity. Next you'll be asking King Spirit of the Age Herod for the head of John "Analogy" the Baptist, who angered your mother Univocity by exposing the shame of her incestuous union with the secular sovereign.

Lee Faber said...

This is from a reply by an atheist(?): Tor Egilforland,
"Historiography without God: A Reply to Gregory"

I plead guilty to this accusation: that is, I insist that univocity is a precondition for rational argumentation. My reason for siding with Scotus is the converse of Gregory's for denouncing him, namely, that the alternative to univocity is equivocation. Without univocity, contradiction is impossible: the meaning of concepts would be in perennial flux.(FN12) The damage done to academic discussion by a lack of univocity will be known to everyone who has tried to debate with poststructuralists of a Derridaean bent who never allow stable definitions of the concepts they use, but insist on perpetual différance. Since Gregory elsewhere (505, note 19) comes across as very much opposed to poststructuralists, I would think he ought to appreciate the demerits of straying from univocal concepts. As Gregory comes close to noticing (502), modern science, which is based on the possibility of contradiction, is inconceivable without univocity. But apparently he thinks God is so utterly incomprehensible and hence indescribable that anything but equivocation is misplaced.
   The consequences of not accepting univocity as a premise for the discourse about God is well illustrated by Gregory's assertion that "every possible finding of natural science is compatible with a notion of God whose radical otherness is precisely the possibility condition of his presence throughout the physical world" (509-510, italics in original). I wonder if this really is correct, at least if this God is thought to have some similarity to the God of the Bible, who, according to most interpretations of the New Testament, was incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth. The vast majority of Christians think Jesus somehow rose from the dead after his crucifixion -- and not just metaphorically. I can think of a number of possible scientific findings incompatible with this resurrection, for example the discovery of documents showing either that his disciples had stolen the corpse from the grave and buried it somewhere else, or that he never died, but escaped to India.

Anonymous said...

Are you guys coming out with a book to address this stuff?


Michael Sullivan said...

Now that my dissertation is (more or less?) done and Faber's is well under way, we have in fact begun working on a book collaboration. It's not about refuting modern misapprehensions of Scotus, though, which if stretched out to book length sounds like an infinite, thankless, and boring task. Instead I'm beginning a translation of and commentary on Petrus Thomae's series of questions on intelligible being, while Faber works on the critical edition of the text.

Lee Faber said...

i wrote up an article some time ago on the fate of scotus in modern theological and philsophical historiography, but havent published it yet, but am waiting to improve my german so i can add the german line of interpretation as well.

Lee Faber said...

looking back, it seems pretty obvious why this turned out this way: scotus isnt gregorys main concern anyway, hes just a step on the way to what he really wants to talk about, contemporary issues. so all he did to research scotus was read an article on scotus arguments for univocity, completely ignoring other articles that discuss scotus' complete views across all his works. the arguments for univocity are all in d.3, while the bit about god not being in a genus is in d.8. but all gregory did was note that scotus holds univocity, and then read aquinas who says that means god is in a genus. so gregory then claims that for scotus, god is in a genus. case closed.