Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Reason's Incompetence For the Study of Causes

Back to the Becker, finishing chapter 2 on Natural Theology in Luther, p. 64,65.

Reason's Incompetence For the Study of Causes

Luther approaches this whole problem of the knowledge of our present visible world also from another point of view.  He says that the wisest of men do not know final and efficient causes.  In the modern scientific world final causes are usually not considered at all.  Hutchison quotes the remarks of Francis Bacon, who said that final causes are like vestal virgins, dedicated to the gods but unproductive, and, he continues, "The Aristotelian classification that comes closest to modern scientific views of cause is the efficient cause."
Just at this point Luther would have raised violent protest.  If modern science agrees in Hutchison's estimate of its philosophy, it is deceiving itself.  Luther would have said that just this is the basic error of modern science--it professes to know more than it knows.  In reality it can find only material and formal, or instrumental, causes, but in its ignorance it imagines that it has found efficient and final causes.  It is this attitude which is behind the "scientific" assertion that diseases cannot be caused by devils because they are caused by germs, or that God cannot answer prayers for rain because rain is the result of the interaction of complicated meteorological factors.  Man, with his reason, can only deal with phenomena, and he ought to be conscious of the limitations which this places on all his investigations.
...Since reason cannot truly know God, and since God is the only true efficient cause, and God's will is the only true final cause, therefore reason can never go beyond material and instrumental causes.  Consequently reason can never know anything correctly.

I feel incompetent to unpack this properly, however, the question seems to center around whether final causes matter or not.  Francis Bacon's analogy of the vestal virgins may be elegant, but is false.  If we do not know the ultimate cause or the answers to ultimate questions we don't really know much that matters.

I have previously said this, too.  Science is great but in the end it does not answer the questions that really matter the most to us.

[For one thing it does not explain how so many can be one body.  :)  (See previous post.)]

From The Foolishness of God by Siegbert Becker (c) 1982 Northwestern
Publishing House ( All rights reserved. Reprinted with

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