An Oft Repeated Historial Fallacy

In speaking of the announcement last week that two more planets orbiting other stars have been found in habitable zones, Ross Douthat assumes an oft repeated fallacy regarding Medieval cosmology here. He writes,

“The first possibility obviously raises theological as well as scientific questions. In one sense, it elevates humanity, restoring us to an almost pre-Copernican position in the cosmos. At the same time, though, plenty of religious believers are untroubled (or even inspired) by the idea of extraterrestrial life, while the possibility that the cosmos might be as empty as it is vast raises troubling questions about what, exactly, its Designer had in mind. (“The eternal silence of these infinite spaces fills me with dread,” wrote the great Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal.)”

The false and often repeated belief is that Medieval cosmology elevated humanity by viewing the universe geocentrically as if the earth was the hub or the centre. This was not their understanding or assumption. Rather, C.S. Lewis explains,

“…men had realized that movement towards the centre of the earth from whatever direction was downward movement. For ages men had known, and poets had emphasized, the truth that earth, in relation to the universe, is infinitesimally small: to be treated, said Ptolemy, as a mathematical point (Almagest, i.v). Nor was it generally felt that earth, or Man, would lose dignity by being shifted from the cosmic centre. The central position had not implied pre-eminence. On the contrary, it had implied, as Montaigne says (Essais, n. xii), “the worst and deadest part of the universe’, ‘the lowest story of the house’, the point at which all the light, heat, and movement descending from the nobler spheres finally died out into darkness, coldness, and passivity. The position which was locally central was dynamically marginal: the rim of being, farthest from the hub.” 

English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama

Materialism’s Heavy Baggage

The upshot is this: If the mathematics of quantum mechanics is right (as most fundamental physicists believe), and if materialism is right, one is forced to accept the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics. And that is awfully heavy baggage for materialism to carry.

If, on the other hand, we accept the more traditional understanding of quantum mechanics that goes back to von Neumann, one is led by its logic (as Wigner and Peierls were) to the conclusion that not everything is just matter in motion, and that in particular there is something about the human mind that transcends matter and its laws. It then becomes possible to take seriously certain questions that materialism had ruled out of court: If the human mind transcends matter to some extent, could there not exist minds that transcend the physical universe altogether? And might there not even exist an ultimate Mind?

from: “Does Quantum Physics Make it Easier to Believe in God?” By Stephen M. Barr

Jovial Kingship

“Before the other angels a man might sink: before this he might die, but if he lived at all, he would laugh. If you had caught one breath of the air that came from him, you would have felt yourself taller than before. Though you were a cripple, your walk would have become stately: though a beggar, you would have worn your rags magnanimously. Kingship and power and festal pomp and courtesy shot from him as sparks fly from an anvil. The pealing of bells, the blowing of trumpets, the spreading out of banners, are means used on earth to make a faint symbol of his quality. It was like a long sunlit wave, creamy-crested and arched with emerald, that comes on nine feet tall, with roaring and with terror and unquenchable laughter. It was like the first beginning of music in the halls of some King so high and at some festival so solemn that a tremor akin to fear runs through young hearts when they hear it. For this was the great Glund-Oyarsa, King of Kings, through whom the joy of creation principally blows across these fields of Arbol,…. At his coming there was holiday in the Blue Room…”

C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength

Lewis captures the jovial spirit in the descent of Glund in That Hideous Strength. Notice the similar language in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Lucy asks regarding Aslan, “Is he—quite safe?” To which Mr. Beaver replies, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Here’s Michael Ward talking about the Jovial spirit.

And the second part…

Gaudete Sunday

Today is Gaudete Sunday. During this Advent Sunday’s readings is the scripture from Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again, Rejoice!” In it we remember the message of the Angel of the Lord and the Heavenly Host as they announcement to coming of the Messiah, “Fear not because I bring you good news of great joy!”

I recently came across a 16th Century Christmas carol entitled “Gaudete” which is a rejoicing song about the coming of the Messiah.

Here is the text with a loose translation.

Gaudete, Gaudete!
Christus et natus
Ex maria virgine,
Rejoice, Rejoice!
Christ is born
Of the virgin Mary,
Tempus ad est gratiae,
Hoc quod optabamus;
Carmina laetitiae,
Devote redamus.
Now is the time of grace
That we have longed.
Let us sing songs of joy!
Let us render devotion!
Deus homo factus est,
Natura mirante;
Mundus renovatus est
A Christo regnante.
God was made man;
Creation marvels.
The world was renewed
By Christ who is King.
Ezechiellis porta
Clausa pertransitur;
Unde lux est orta
Salus invenitur.
The closed gate of Ezekiel
Has been passed through;
From where the light arises
Salvation is found.
Ergo nostra cantio,
Psallat iam in lustro;
Benedicat Domino:
Salus Regi nostro.
Therefore let the assembly,
Sing in the brightness of dawning;
Let it praise the Lord:
Greetings to our King.

I love the language and what I think is a reference to Ezekiel 46. The imagery captures the true worship led by the King in the Restored Kingdom in which the Eastern gate is not only opened to the direction of the dawn but also to direction of those who are in captivity in Babylon. The passage reads:

“Thus says the Lord GOD: The gate of the inner court that faces east shall be shut on the six working days, but on the Sabbath day it shall be opened, and on the day of the new moon it shall be opened. The prince shall enter by the vestibule of the gate from outside, and shall take his stand by the post of the gate. The priests shall offer his burnt offering and his peace offerings, and he shall worship at the threshold of the gate. Then he shall go out, but the gate shall not be shut until evening.”

I also love the imagery of light — a light that is not mere inner illumination or enlightenment but is of a cosmic dawning that banishes darkness.

At any rate, I first came across Steeleye Span’s version of the carol which climb the music charts in England in the 60’s. Here’s their recent anniversary edition.

And a much more polished version by another choir here:

Lewis: Out of the Silent Planet

Out of the Silent Planet (Space Trilogy, #1)Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve read the ‘excursionary’ Space Trilogy numerous times since 1992. Only recently have I been clued into the influence of the medieval cosmology which Lewis loved so much. In the past I enjoyed the book on its merits, but since, I have grown in my enjoyment of the attempt made by Lewis to let us enter a martial world in which the will stands like caryatids under the weight of necessary obedience.

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