November 5, 2006

Let us live while we live...


John Henry Newman, ca. 1840
We were made for action, and for right action,—for thought, and for true thought. Let us live while we live; let us be alive and doing; let us act on what we have, since we have not what we wish. Let us believe what we do not see and know. Let us forestall knowledge by faith. Let us maintain before we have demonstrated. This seeming paradox is the secret of happiness. Why should we be unwilling to go by faith? We do all things in this world by faith in the word of others. By faith only we know our position in the world, our circumstances, our rights and privileges, our fortunes, our parents, our brothers and sisters, our age, our mortality. Why should religion be an exception? Why should we be unwilling to use for heavenly objects what we daily use for earthly? —Newman

Most of the problems that vex our world today would not have surprised John Henry Newman. He looked into the future back when Queen Victoria was still a princess, and described many of them (and solved some of them, if anybody wants to pay attention).

The quote above alludes to his writings about the difficulty of having faith in a skeptical world. There is an argument that goes, "One should not believe anything that can't be proved by logic, or proved by science." (Usually said of religion by the village atheist.) Newman explained that this is a false argument. Almost everything we know we accept by adding together probabilities, and arriving at a certainty. I believe I was born on a certain date because I add the unliklihood of an incorrect birth certificate to the unliklihood of my parents telling a lie (which itself is based on adding up probabilities) and come up with a certitude. Like 99.9% of the things I know, I have not tested it by formal logic or scientific experiment. It is by the same process that I have come to have faith in the existance of Neutrinos and viruses, neither of which I've ever seen or touched...

Newman called this process the "Illative Sense."

Posted by John Weidner at November 5, 2006 6:00 AM
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