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Heresy: Systems of Control

We’ve looked at various ways of defining heresy here, here, and here; and we looked at orthodoxy and heresy in terms of conformity and non-conformity over here.  In this post, I want to look at the issue in a more sociological context.

The tendency in writing about heresy–definitely in traditional histories of Christianity, where orthodoxy is the Good Guy trying to fight off the heretical Bad Guys that keep popping up, but also in a lot of revisionist narratives, too–is to make it about the intellect, on the one hand, or Good vs. Evil, on the other.

The first mode is sort of theology as mathematics.  That is, the emphasis is on minute analysis of data (in this case, Scripture, Tradition, statements by Councils, and so on), discussion, and debate, all geared towards discovering what the real teaching of the Church actually is.  In other words, it’s a lot like trying to prove whether or not Fermat’s Last Theorem is correct or not–it might take a lot of work, but it can be done with enough intellectual elbow grease.  This point of view is especially appealing to the Scholastic and Thomist temperament; but unfortunately, it’s a really bad model of what’s going on.

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Miracles, Evolution, and Metaphysical Frameworks


I actually ran across this on my extension hard drive while looking for something else.  This was originally written as a response on a web discussion–I think it was at Beliefnet, but it’s been awhile, and I’m not sure (I sometimes write drafts for posts that I know will be detailed and lengthy, and save them for later posting).  The discussion was with someone defending so-called Intelligent Design–with which I have no truck.  Beyond that, I don’t remember the specific context; but I thought that with a little bit of editing, the following might be of interest.

The context is a discussion with a person who was trying to defend Intelligent Design (ID).  He was arguing that evolutionary theory–which he insists on calling “Darwinism” necessarily implies a metaphysics (as opposed to a procedure).  In other words, it goes beyond mere methodological materialism (which is a necessity for any type of science) and necessarily implies metaphysical materialism (a whole separate kettle of fish).  In this regard, he argues that the intervention by God assumed by ID is no different from miracles, and to reject it is to reject miracles a priori.  In any case, while I do believe in miracles, I think that’s only possible if one already has metaphysical commitments that imply miracles; one cannot use them to “prove” ID or any religion or metaphysical view in general.

The following is my response, slightly edited.  The sentences in italics are relevant statements from my interlocutor’s post which I’ve quoted in the process of making my response.

Consider: you’re at the Wedding at Cana–you’re a scientist who has time-traveled back with equipment. You examine the water–it is basic or acidic, hard or soft, pure or with impurities, etc. etc. You look at the jugs–they’re made of such-and-such type of clay, glazed or unglazed, etc. etc. Now Jesus tells the servants to take this water and fill the jugs. You look in the jugs and see they now contain wine. You analyze the wine–such-and-such percent alcohol, tannins, etc. etc. This was a miracle, but both before and after you have ordinary materials obeying all natural laws to any possible observation. In other words, the wine may be 10% alcohol, or have tannins, sugars, and other congeners–but there is no experiment you can perform on it that shows it to be of Divine creation. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, in the aftermath of a miracle, the materials conform to the ordinary, everyday run of things. There is no “residue of holiness” that can be perceived! Even during the miracle itself, you can’t detect Divine power coming from on high, through Jesus, and into the water.

Thus, the antecedents and results of the miracle are perfectly normal. The question is, what about the miracle itself? That’s the kicker, and that’s where interpretation comes in.

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