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Two Books on the Nexus between Faith and Reason
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2009-02-16 09:44:29
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To continue with book presentations, here below are two books with a common theme: the nexus between faith and reason. The simple operation of juxtaposing two book titles with a common theme often stimulates in the reader further thoughts and leads to fruitful discussion of ideas and/or issues.

What remains intriguing to me about those two particular books written some forty years apart and in different languages (I translated the second one into English), is that while the author of the first book was an atheist and the author of the second was a believer, nevertheless a dialogue between the two remains eminently possible and desirable given that both philosophers believed in the ability of human reason to synthesize and harmonize apparent dichotomies and to lead to the realm of the spiritual via the exploration of the highest ideas in the tradition of natural theology initiated by Plato and Aristotle.

The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe is a 1959 book by Arthur Koestler, and one of the main accounts of the history of cosmology and astronomy in the West, beginning in ancient Mesopotamia and ending with Isaac Newton.

Here is an excerpt: “The history of cosmic theories can be called, without exaggeration, a history of collective obsessions and controlled schizophrenias, and the manner in which some discoveries have been made resemble the conduct of a sleepwalker, rather than the performance of an electronic brain.”

The book challenges the habitual idea of a progressive science working towards a definite goal. The suggestion of the title is that the scientific discoveries and the geniuses that come to them are like a game of sleepwalking. Not that they come by pure chance, but that often the genius doesn't really know that he has discovered, as it is evident for instance in the three Laws of Kepler.

A central theme of The Sleepwalkers is the changing relationship between faith and reason. Koestler explores how these seemingly contradictory threads existed harmoniously in many of the greatest intellectuals of the West. He illustrates that while the two are estranged today, in the past the most ground-breaking thinkers were often very spiritual.

Koestler also casts doubt on the firm beliefs that today people hold as truth without even understanding them. For instance, he says, "I am sitting on a chair made of molecules, which consist of atom, which are formed by subatomic particles, but the distance between these particles (he refers to protons, neutrons and electrons) is so huge relative to their sizes that it would be better compared to the distance between stars. So basically I am sitting on a chair made of nothing"

To this point is important to note that another recurrent theme of this book is the breaking of paradigms in order to create new ones. People - scientists included - hold onto cherished old beliefs with such love and attachment that they refuse to see the wrong in their ideas and the truth in the ideas that are to replace them.

The conclusion he puts forward at the end of the book is that modern science is trying too hard to be rational. Scientists have been at their best when they allowed themselves to behave as "sleepwalkers," instead of trying too earnestly to ratiocinate. Descartes may be a primary example of the extreme rationalist while Einstein may be an example of the “sleepwalking” scientist acutely aware of the spiritual forces of the universe.

Philosophy and Revelation: A Contribution to the Debate on Reason and Faith is a 2001 book by the philosopher Vittorio Possenti, translated by Emanuel L. Paparella. Ashgate Publishing Ltd., London.

From the Publisher: This encyclical, dealing with faith and reason and their specific universality, may turn out to be the most important document of the modern Church on the subject of faith and reason and on philosophy understood as a mirror of people's cultures.

Philosophy and Revelation presents an accessible, critical commentary on the Fides et Ratio encyclical and the topical faith and reason debate, whilst questioning more deeply the nexus between philosophy and Revelation. The historical introduction of the relation between philosophy and theology through the middle ages, early modern period, and the 19th century to the present, forms an invaluable background to understanding the faith/reason debate and the spirit of the Encyclical.

With a focus on truth, reason, metaphysics and wisdom, the author explores philosophy per se and its relationship to a faith reaching for its self-understanding. Arguing that the co-operation between human thought and biblical message, which has met various difficulties in modern times, could be a pivot for an open postmodern culture, this book reflects on the responsibility of philosophy in postmodern culture; the importance of metaphysics of being; the problem of nihilism and its determination by Fides et ratio; and the question of whether philosophy can present itself as "praeparatio evangelica". Philosophy and Revelation was first published by Città Nuova in 1999 in Italian under the title Filosofia e Rivelazione. This English translation has been completed by Emanuel L. Paparella.

Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.

"Even reason needs to be supported in its search by a trusting dialogue and a sincere friendship. The atmosphere of suspicion and of distrust, which at times surrounds research, forgets the teaching of the ancient philosophers who conceived of friendship as one of the most ideal contexts within which to philosophize correctly" Pope Jean-Paul II, Encyclical Fides et Ratio

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