Sunday 23 January 2011

Beyond Physics

The relationship between physics and metaphysics (literally "beyond physics") is a fascinating one. It helps sometimes to remember that we can approach God from the side of philosophy and not just on the basis of revelation. Terry Pratchett, the English fantasy writer who has sold more than 60 million books and once said he was "rather angry with God for not existing", in a more recent interview ventured the view that "It is just possible that once you have got past all the gods that we have created with big beards and many human traits, just beyond all that, on the other side of physics, they [the gods] just may be the ordered structure from which everything flows." Indeed, the Christian idea of God, properly understood, is of something that could not not exist, if the world is to make any kind of sense.

Ever since 2006 in Regensburg, Pope Benedict XVI has spoken about the need for "broadening our concept of reason and its application". But what

Saturday 15 January 2011

Music unforgotten

Listeners to Radio Three had a treat over Christmas. The BBC devoted twelve solid days and nights to playing everything composed by Mozart. What struck me is how, where Beethoven comes over as emotional, heroic and tragic, and Bach as mathematical, angelical and lyrical, Mozart often seems simply “playful”. But this may be connected with the reason his music is so profound. It resembles nature, in the sense of natura naturans (“nature naturing”, or doing what nature does). In nature, creative freedom always manifests a law – but the deepest law of all is the pure ebullient spontaneity of the Good.

John Tavener said of Mozart (in the programme notes for Kaleidoscopes in 2005):

I have always regarded Mozart as the most sacred and also the most inexplicable of all composers. Sacred, because more than any other composer that I know, he celebrates the act of Being; inexplicable, because the music contains a rapturous beauty and a childlike wonder that can only be compared to Hindu and Persian miniatures, or Coptic ikons.

In an essay in the Winter 2006 issue of Communio, Fr Jonah Lynch sees in Mozart a kind of Catholic balance that reflects the paradox of the Incarnation:

Mozart’s melodies carry something of the birth of an infant God, the remarkable union of opposite absolutes, total simplicity and infinite depth. Only here is the completely free and ever-surprising united to formal structural perfection.

The work of Mozart and the other great composers echoes the “unforgotten music” that we carry in our bones. It opens our senses, so that we feel the air of Paradise – what Josef Pieper in Only the Lover Sings calls the “paradise of uncorrupted spiritual forms” – and notice the fragrance that still clings to our coats of skin. Perhaps it is not too much to suggest that when we hear this music, even if like the Good Thief we are still hanging on the cross, we become more conscious of the possibility of grace.

Saturday 8 January 2011

Constructing the Universe Classroom

Geometer and educationalist Michael Schneider has started a range of classes for young and old at his place in San Anselmo, CA. He writes: "I prefer to facilitate learning by beginning with a youngster's own natural interests. Some interests are fluid, and others lead to ongoing projects in some depth. These classes are not 'tutoring' sessions for the usual school topics although they often involve the same skills used in the context of an investigation. Young people can learn to see and appreciate the excellence of nature and its patterns which teaches many valuable lessons. I approach each subject to promote wonder at the ordinary, the interconnectedness of knowledge and a love of learning in general." Go here for details.

Monday 3 January 2011

Natural selection

A couple of times in this blog I have commented on the theory of evolution and promised to come back to it. Though I did not address it directly in my book, it is one of the big influences on modern education (along with Freud, who deserves separate treatment). But the influence is not so much from the science of evolution as from the "idea", often exaggerated into an ideology that purports to explain everything. One of the most informative and enjoyable presentations of the current state of knowledge and speculation is Nick Lane's Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution. The "inventions" in question are life itself, DNA, photosynthesis, the complex cell, sex, movement, sight, hot blood, consciousness and death. In each case, science is trying to show how these breakthroughs were achieved without intelligent design, by physiochemical processes over long stretches of time. Though many of the answers remain elusive, the search for them has thrown up a huge amount of fascinating information. In this sense the book is a treasure trove. Lane concludes that the "convergence of evidence" from many fields makes it impossible seriously to doubt that life did evolve. Whether this is compatible with faith in God is a question he sensibly leaves open. That is something I debated with Clive Copus in the Catholic Herald last year. Readers interested in this question would do well to look at writings by Simon Conway Morris and Conor Cunningham. You will also find a number of relevant articles on the main Second Spring site, if you look in the online Articles section under Caldecott, Case, Dulles, Fedoryka, Hanby ("Saving the Appearances"), Olsen and Schonborn.