Sunday, September 13, 2015

Conspicuous Disjunction As A Protection of Reputable Status

I therefore consider the Encyclical of Pope John XXIII, [Pacem in Terris] which I have read, to be one of  the most remarkable occurrences of our time and a great step to the future. I can find no 
better expression of my beliefs of morality, of the duties and responsibilities of mankind, people to other people, than is in that encyclical. I do not agree with some of the machinery which supports some of the ideas, that they spring from God, perhaps, I don't personally believe, or that some of these ideas are the natural consequence of ideas of earlier popes, in a natural and perfectly sensible way. I don't agree, and I will not ridicule it, and I won't argue it. I agree with the responsibilities and with the duties that the Pope represents as the responsibilities and the duties of people. And I recognize this encyclical as the beginning, possibly, of a new future where we forget, perhaps, about the theories of why we believe things as long as we ultimately in the end, as far as action is concerned, believe the same thing. 

Richard Feynman:  The Meaning of It All

Thinking about what Richard Feynman said, it's rather remarkable that he seemed to assert that the conclusions he endorsed, so remarkably for an atheist-scientist iconoclast, were separable from the arguments made to arrive at those conclusions.  And not just any individual component of that conclusion but the integrated conclusion supported by the integrated argument for it.   Considering that Richard Feynman identified Pacem in Terris as " of  the most remarkable occurrences of our time and a great step to the future. I can find no better expression of my beliefs of morality, of the duties and responsibilities of mankind, people to other people..."  it is incredible that he could, immediately, disregard the propositions that led to that "great step to the future," that "no better expression of" morality, duties and responsibilities of mankind, people to other people".   If he found the arguments of Pope John XXIII to be the best arguments for those that were ever made, to discount the thinking that led him to that powerful statement doesn't make any sense.  Clearly, when he made that statement, Feynman hadn't found any secular or political or scientific articulation of his thinking that had the power that the Pope had based on theological and, most of all, Biblical foundations.  That is, I have to assert, a kind of irrational thinking that is incredible from a scientist of Feynman's greatness and genius.   I doubt he would ever have discounted the thinking that led to conclusions of which he so passionately approved of in any other area of life, except religion.

I have to say that there is a definite feeling in reading how Feynman said what he said, as if he realized that he was breaking one of the major taboos of his intellectual set in endorsing a theological document. And I have to wonder if he wasn't violating his life long habits, as received from his father, as well.  During one of those Nova programs which made Feynman a superstar even as he was dying, among the mid-brow and low-brow and put Tuva on the map of the popular American mid-brow mind - musically if not geographically or anthropologically - he talked with great affection for his father's hated of the Pope, as a source of his own, famous, disdain of authority.    Perhaps that pope was Pius XI, among those cited by St. John XXIII in his encyclical, or his predecessor, Benedict XV, also cited in Pacem in Terris, Benedict XV's exhortation to the rulers of the belligerent powers of August 1, 1917.

In the modern, university-educated, elite and respectable milieu we all at least pretend to share in, you're not supposed to take what Popes say seriously but if you have to, if you find yourself compelled to take what they or  some theolgian or other religious figures says, seriously, you've got to disdain the basis of their saying it so as not to endanger your own reputability.

I wish it were possible to ask Feynman if he could imagine a non-pope, Giuseppe Roncalli, producing the conclusions he did relying on entirely secular antecedents or, in fact, why none of the far more intellectually credentialed secular thinkers produced as coherent, as comprehensive or as powerful an expression of those ideas which Feynman so lavishly endorsed.   The absence of such a document would force the question as to why , in light of that, he could have so summarily pushed aside the very thinking, the very arguments, the very sources that produced what he found so powerful so brilliantly reasoned, such a great thing to be hoped for.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not going to push the argument to " you must be a believer to agree with the Pope," (nor did you do that, but everything on the internet goes to extremes in order to produce MAXIMUM OUTRAGE!!!!!!!!! Which is really all the internet is about....), but if you "reverse" Feynman's argument and argue that some result of science (basic genetics, basic physics, chemistry, what have you) is clearly true while you don't accept the work of Newton or name-your-scientist-here (including Mendel and LeMaitre), you are impressed with the conclusions.

    There's a sort of "huh?" there that exposes the weakness of thought in the Anglo-American sphere about religion. Partly that's due to recent American history and the outsized role evangelical Christianity plays on the public American stage. But really, I read Feynman (the quote above) and think "well, he's got it," and then I think "Huh? What rabbit trail is he running down now?" And of course, his purpose is to protect his reputation among his colleagues (at least while he was living) who'd have written him off for even acknowledging the basic information known to any anthropologist or professor of philosophy (esp. philosophy of religion).

    These things that pass for knowledge I don't understand.....