Grayling States it Plain

The fall semester begins one week from today. Much work, both physical and psychological, must be done to prepare. Cuts into the blogging time. Sorry about that.

But since it hardly seems fair that my problems should cut into your bloggy pleasures, have a look at the latest column from the always excellent A. C. Grayling, writing in The Guardian.

In the aftermath of the Reformation in the 16th century, Ignatius of Loyola founded the Jesuit Order as an army of defence against the attack on the One True Church. The Jesuits saw that the reformers had learning and intelligence on their side; they were translating the Bible into vernacular tongues, and encouraging lay people to read it, and when laymen did so they could see that the doctrines and practices of the Roman church were a mountain of rubbish. The Jesuits aimed to be an army of very smart casuists and propagandists, skilful in rhetoric and argument, trained to counter the reformers’ charges, not interested in truth but in Catholicism’s tendentious version of it.

I like that paragraph. Now go read the rest of the column and let me know what you think.

Comments

  1. #1 SteveWH
    August 17, 2009

    While I generally rather like Grayling, I have to object to his characterization of the Jesuits. Whatever their history and the reasons for their origin may be, today, the Jesuits are not, in my experience, the ideologues that the paragraph you quote makes them out to be.

    Some of my own history: I was raised Catholic, and attended Catholic schools from K-12, after which I attended a Jesuit university for my undergrad. It was there, in my Religious Studies 101 class (the department had made a conscious choice some years back to change their name from Theology to Religious Studies) that I was first introduced to the idea of atheism in any kind of rigorous way – we read Nietzsche’s ‘The Anti-Christ’. In the same class, we read work by John Shelby Spong, and were taught to read the Bible as a historical document. The second major exposure I had to atheism was in a philosophy of religion class that I took with a Jesuit priest – we studied work by John Mackie, among others. An atheist by the time I graduated, I was supported in my decision to write my senior thesis attacking the natural law foundation of the Catholic ethics of sex, and their manifestations in the Church’s Catechism – my thesis was passed with high marks. Throughout my undergraduate education, I was taught to critically examine the Catholic Church and its teachings, often by the Jesuit priests themselves.

    Today, I am a graduate student in philosophy, and teach adjunct at a (different) Jesuit college. My experiences there are much the same. We are encouraged to look critically at Church teachings, even to criticize and challenge such fundamental doctrines as transubstantiation and the pro-life position on abortion and euthanasia. I have spoken with may other professors from Jesuit schools around the country, and our stories are pretty much the same. We are more comfortable teaching controversial subjects and being open about our beliefs – which are often in strong contrast to the official positions of the Catholic Church – than we have been at public institutions where we have taught, because the Jesuit community is supportive of scholarship of all stripes.

    One more example: the rector of the Jesuit community is openly gay, and also vocal in speaking out against the Church’s teachings on homosexual and transgender people; he is publicly supported in this by both Campus Ministry and the President of the college.

    I am an openly gay atheist teaching on campus, and the school does not care (actually, one of the Jesuits I work with once tried to set me up with a gay friend of his). I teach students to be critical of fundamental church teachings, and the Jesuits encourage me to continue doing so. In my experience, the Jesuits are the opposite of what they are portrayed as in Grayling’s piece.

  2. #2 tomh
    August 17, 2009

    SteveWH wrote:
    “In my experience, the Jesuits are the opposite of what they are portrayed as in Grayling’s piece.”

    But if you’ve read the article you know that Grayling doesn’t say a word about what the Jesuits of today might be like. He uses the story of their origin, 400 years ago, and the purpose of that origin, and compares it to what Dembski and his college courses are doing today. The Jesuit origins may have no relation to their present incarnation, Grayling doesn’t delve into that.

  3. #3 Jim Harrison
    August 17, 2009

    The I.D. people can only dream of developing a cadre of ideological warriors on a par with the original Jesuits! Even the people at the Templeton Foundations, which I think of a sort of Tobacco Institute for God, have more chops than William Dempski and company.

    Of course it goes without saying (or should go without saying) that Grayling’s version of what the Jesuits were about is a tad one-dimensional. The so called black legend is not the only thing modern skeptics and atheists inherited from Protestants. It was a product of the desperate religious wars of the 16th and 17th Centuries and has the degree of objectivity you’d expect taking into accounts its origins in a deadly conflict where no holds were barred on either side.

  4. #4 bmkmd
    August 18, 2009

    Yes. Its scary to hear about the troops practicing to disrupt board of education meetings, and train students how to make science teachers look stupid, or at least block a regular discussion of the subject to be taught. (Sort of like insurance people fear mongering about the dangers of the Federal Government in anything, even health insurance)

    Why are we not training teachers to be comfortable in 0explaining the science of Evolution clearly, setting limits on questioning, and assigning special homework to the ID Zombies to learn the real science?

    Why should we be afraid?

    bmkmd

  5. #5 eric
    August 18, 2009

    Stylistically it was a bit over the top for me. I like my articles understated. But no argument about whether he writes well or makes good points; he does.

    SteveWH:

    Whatever their history and the reasons for their origin may be, today, the Jesuits are not, in my experience, the ideologues that the paragraph you quote makes them out to be.

    They couldn’t be – official RCC doctrine made a complete about-face on who should read the bible (i.e. from priesthood only to everyone), rendering their original mission moot.

    Dembski’s questions appear to be training warriors to fight battles already lost. Dover has been decided. The Templeton foundation already considered funding ID – like a decade ago – but declined because they didn’t think it had any scientific merit. And the DI does spend millions on “research” (although its more like $1M/year, not $50M), to no effect. There is no reason to speculate about what ID research would produce, because money is being spent on it now. It produces nothing.

  6. #6 Robocop
    August 18, 2009

    1. Despite an alleged commitment to being open to other ideas in the face of better information, I don’t see any less certainty on the part of Grayling, Dawkins, et als. than in ardent fundamentalists.
    2. Grayling wants to have his cake and eat it too. Religion gets the blame for everything done by its adherents irrespective of causality (does he really think Ulster is even primarily about religion?) and atheism gets none of blame for what its adherents have done.
    3. It’s must easier to destroy than to create. By attempting to build something affirmative, religion is open to all kinds of attacks, many of them entirely justified. But Grayling resists venturing into affirmative territory. Even those who reject religion and who live with an outlook toward the world that Grayling endorses have to build their lives upon some sort of affirmative framework. All previous attempts to create a specifically atheist or scientific governing structure have failed miserably. Just what does Grayling propose?
    4. Grayling offers a (wholly predictable) parade of religious horribles. How is that parade substantively different from explicitly atheist parades including the atrocities of post-Bastille France, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc.?
    5. Grayling is correct that, to date, scientists haven’t attacked each other over competing scientific theories. My best guess is that the individually religious are more dangerous than the individually secular because they posit a reward in the hereafter based upon their (misguided) actions here and that “governmental anti-religionists” are more dangerous than governments more friendly toward religion because they don’t see any risk of accountability to a higher authority.

  7. #7 Wolfgold
    August 18, 2009

    Decided to jump into the fray. So much to say, so little time…

    Not having been raised in this country of highly politicized religion, I may be a bit of an anomaly. I would consider myself a liberal evangelical. I think Christians are wasting their time on the Creation/Evolution issue because, frankly, it’s not what my faith is about. Now, don’t misunderstand, I am not lauding ignorance and I am a firm ID believer myself, it’s just not what Christianity is about. We’re not a political group, never was and never should have been. I really think this is at the bottom of things in this area. I did my share over many years defending Creation/ID. My believes in that area has not changed, I just think it is a waste of time; both for me and however I’m arguing with.

    Well, gotta get back to work.

  8. #8 JR
    August 19, 2009

    “Religion gets the blame for everything done by its adherents irrespective of causality (does he really think Ulster is even primarily about religion?) and atheism gets none of blame for what its adherents have done.”

    I see him only blaming religion for what its adherents has done in its name, not all atrocities that people who are religious have committed. Since (Dawkins has made the same point) people have not murdered in the name of atheism it is entirely consistent that he does not let atheism take the blame for Stalin et al.

  9. #9 notedscholar
    August 19, 2009

    According to Rodney Stark, this is not true!

    I wonder, are there any intellectually honest Jesuits? Probably not.

    NS

  10. #10 Robocop
    August 19, 2009

    “Since (Dawkins has made the same point) people have not murdered in the name of atheism it is entirely consistent that he does not let atheism take the blame for Stalin et al.”

    By carefully insisting upon a changed definition of atheism that turns it into a mere default position, some atheists claims insulation from blame for anything, ever. Of course, those same people who rush to the exits when blame is apportioned also want to claim every scientific victory as their own. Imagine that. It’s a pretty neat trick.

    But this defense simply doesn’t hold up to the “smell test.” When an expressly and intentionally atheist state (whether the Jacobins, the Stalinists, or whomever), actively seeks the “de-conversion” of its citizens, punishes those who fail to comply, destroys churches, and hunts down and kills pastors and other church leaders, no matter how vigorously you claim a lack of responsibility, I don’t see how they get a pass. I suppose the Tamil Tigers or Sam Harris’s suggestion that we have to think about killing people for having religious beliefs get a pass too? Moreover, the “in the name of” distinction is overly simplistic to the point of incoherence. Killers in Ulster claim their “trophies” in the name of religion. Does any rational person actually believe that religion is even the primary motivation?

  11. #11 Takis Konstantopoulos
    August 20, 2009

    What I found most interesting is the exam set by Dembski. As Grayling says, this clearly aims at producing students ready to launch religious wars. It is not an exam for university students, it has nothing to do with Academia, it does not produce scientists.

    But, come to think of it, Dembski is not a good scientist. Based on my reading of some of his papers (I am a probabilist), I called him a failed mathematician who turned into religion in order to survive in Academia while pursuing his religious illusions. And he found lots of donors to support him with lots of bucks.

    I’d be interested to hear your views on Dembski’s scientific credentials (if any). My understanding is that he has very little.

  12. #12 J. J. Ramsey
    August 22, 2009

    An interesting blog post on Grayling’s treatment of the Jesuits: http://thonyc.wordpress.com/2009/08/22/a-c-grayling-the-jesuits-and-prejudice/

    I’m sure it won’t be a surprise that Grayling’s depiction of the Jesuits was dodgy.

  13. #13 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 22, 2009

    J. J. -

    Thanks for the link to Thony C’s post. It’s not very convincing, though, since it bears little relationship to anything Grayling wrote. Thony simply lists various scientific accomplishments of the Jesuits in the centuries following their initial founding. Fascinating. The fact remains, though, that the Jesuits were initially formed in large part to counter the spread of Protestantism and were fanatically devoted to a specifically Catholic understanding of Christianity, precisely as Grayling said. There is a reason the word “Jesuitical” is still used today as a derogatory term for an argument that is more devoted to making a case than it is in getting at the truth of something.

  14. #14 JR
    August 23, 2009

    “When an expressly and intentionally atheist state (whether the Jacobins, the Stalinists, or whomever), actively seeks the “de-conversion” of its citizens, punishes those who fail to comply, destroys churches, and hunts down and kills pastors and other church leaders, no matter how vigorously you claim a lack of responsibility, I don’t see how they get a pass.”

    No one is giving them a pass. The policies of the Soviet Union are an excellent argument against communism in particular and fanaticism in general. Note that Grayling does lump communism in with the other religions.

  15. #15 J. J. Ramsey
    August 23, 2009

    Rosenhouse:

    Thanks for the link to Thony C’s post. It’s not very convincing, though, since it bears little relationship to anything Grayling wrote.

    Grayling was saying that the IDers, who use sophistical arguments to block scientific progress, were behaving similarly to the Jesuits. Indeed the implication is that the Jesuits were among those “who espouse a belief system or ideology which pre-packages all the answers, who have faith in it, who trust the authorities, priests and prophets, and who either think that the hows and whys of the universe are explained to satisfaction by their faith, or smugly embrace ignorance.” The evidence suggests that this is a slander to the Jesuits. It is certainly hard to make scientific progress if one is “not interested in truth,” as Grayling claimed the Jesuits to be.

    Rosenhouse:

    There is a reason the word “Jesuitical” is still used today as a derogatory term for an argument that is more devoted to making a case than it is in getting at the truth of something.

    There are also reasons why “welsh” is used to refer to avoiding payment and breaking one’s word.

  16. #16 Chris Schoen
    August 23, 2009

    Jason,

    That’s not a very close reading. Grayling is quite clearly referring to the Jesuits’ influence not just on the truth of religious doctrine, but of the truth known to Western Civilization generally, when he writes:

    The Jesuits saw that the reformers had learning and intelligence on their side; they were translating the Bible into vernacular tongues, and encouraging lay people to read it, and when laymen did so they could see that the doctrines and practices of the Roman church were a mountain of rubbish.

    There is clearly a pitched battle being laid out here between inquiry and dogma (which reflects the larger theme of Grayling’ essay), that is not restricted to matters of Christian doctrine.

  17. #17 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 23, 2009

    J.J and Chris –

    I don’t know what essay you two are reading. Grayling was holding out the Jesuits as examples of people who were fanatically devoted not to the truth per se, but only to a tendentious Catholic reading of it. From Wikipedia

    As part of their service to the Roman Church, the Jesuits encouraged people to continue their obedience to scripture as interpreted by Catholic doctrine. Ignatius is known to have written: “…: I will believe that the white that I see is black if the hierarchical Church so defines it.”

    That’s what Grayling was criticizing. Unless you want to tell me that quote is inaccurate that looks pretty definitive. They were plainly putting dogma ahead of inquiry, on those occasions when the two collided.

    Grayling said nothing about Jesuits wanting to block scientific progress. From the other side, modern ID proponents don’t want to block scientific progress as a general proposition, and some, especially Michael Behe, have made genuine contributions to science (just not their work on ID). Even modern fundamentalists are happy to accept most of what science says. But in those places where science and faith collide they side with faith. That’s what Grayling’s column was criticizing, and it certainly appears to be an attitude shared by the early Jesuits.

  18. #18 J. J. Ramsey
    August 23, 2009

    Rosenhouse: “Grayling said nothing about Jesuits wanting to block scientific progress.”

    I’ll let Thony C.’s reply to you speak for itself:

    According to Jason I apparently list ‘various scientific accomplishments of the Jesuits’, really? I was of the opinion that I had very much emphasised that ‘modern’ science was a central platform of Jesuit education and given the fact that they were without exception the most widespread and most influential European educational organisation in the 17th century makes their support of the latest scientific developments highly significant.

    –snip–

    [Quoting Grayling]If anyone does not know how to pluck from history and the contemporary world examples of these opposing mindsets and their operation then he is either deaf, dumb, blind and illiterate – or he is one of the creatures of faith.

    This is followed by the Jesuit passage. It is obvious that Grayling is contrasting the scientific method of enquiry, the first paragraph above, with what he sees as the anti-scientific closed-mind attitude, second paragraph above, of the Jesuits, his example plucked from history, third paragraph.

    As for the quote from Loyola, I can’t check its context right now, but if I were in your position, I would have checked it before using it, especially since it seems at odds with the way the Jesuits have actually behaved.

  19. #19 Chris Schoen
    August 23, 2009

    The quote is accurate–and famous–but it has a context. It’s taken from a pamphlet Loyola wrote called “Spiritual Exercises,” designed to be read and followed during a structured retreat. If you read the exercises in context and with an educated eye, they take on a flavor opposite to the one you attribute to the Loyola quote, of improving one’s discernment of the world by cleansing oneself of the distortion of personal passions, in a way notably similar to Buddhist practices.

    You may be (understandably) uncomfortable with the role of the Church as object of surrender, but that does not itself change the intent of the quote, which was meant in the spirit of inquiry and truth, not adherence to dogma. The fact that all Jesuits of this period were trained in these exercises, and that they disproportionately contributed to the scientific progress of this period should lend some credence to this interpretation.

    The evidence of history–as opposed to a lone quote culled out of context on Wikipedia–appears to demonstrate that the Jesuits were as “fanatically” devoted to the “truth per se” as anyone else during that period.

  20. #20 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 23, 2009

    J. J. –

    This will be my last contribution to this discussion since I don’t think either you or Thony are being serious.

    If the quote from the Wikipedia article is inaccurate or misleading let me know; I also am not in a position to check it just now. Whether it is consistent with the way the Jesuits of the time actually behaved is precisely the point at issue. What seems clear is that they held a fanatical devotion to Catholic doctrine, and saw the defense of that doctrine as one of their primary goals. That they also did some good work in science is no more relevant to what Grayling said than is the fact that in many cases ID proponents and even young-Earth creationists have done good scientific work.

    As for Thony’s reply to me speaking for itself, I am afraid the only thing it says is that Thony has, only temporarily I hope, lost his mind. It is certainly well below his usual standard. He writes:

    I was of the opinion that I had very much emphasised that ‘modern’ science was a central platform of Jesuit education and given the fact…

    Only if an unswerving devotion to Catholic doctrine was an essential component of science at that time.

    Jason’s implied claim that Grayling in only citing or criticising the Jesuit’s interpretation of Christianity is disingenuous to say the least.

    My claim is that Grayling cited the Jesuits as representative of a poor way of thinking, one that places religious dogma ahead of free inquiry. I think that is manifestly obvious from what Grayling wrote. It is also entirely true, as far as I can tell. This has nothing to do with whether the Jesuits also did some good work in science.

    It is more than somewhat ironic that Jason is claiming that Grayling is apparently defending Protestant theological veracity against smug, ignorance embracing Jesuit zealot killer commandoes.

    Where on Earth did that come from? How could Thony think that either Grayling or I have any sympathy for Protestant theology? How could he possibly think that either one of us were defending the Protestants of the time as exemplars of science and tolerance (as the rest of Thony’s paragraph suggets)? There is nothing in what either of us wrote that can even be plausibly misinterpreted as meaning that.

    The Jesuits are portrayed by both Grayling and Rosenhouse as deliberate distorters of truth and as Sophists that is those who use hidden logical fallacies to win arguments, nothing could be farther from the truth and demonstrates how successful the anti-Jesuit polemics of the Protestants has been over the centuries.

    No one said anything about the Jesuits deliberately distorting anything. The claim, again, is that they started their investigations from a rotten starting point, one that parallels the starting point taken by modern ID folks and creationists, and that they frequently defended their views with arguments that were more sophistic than accurate.

    I worked as a historian of logic for many years and all of the historians of logic and logicians that I have known, and that is naturally quite a lot, were all agreed that if you got involved in a strictly logical argument with a Jesuit scholar you were very likely to get your arse delivered to you on a plate.

    Again, who said otherwise? The problem is that strictly logical argument is only as good the premises that go into it. At the level of pure logic, Phillip Johnson could argue circles around most defenders of evolution. I could say the same for other ID folks. Logic based on rotten assumptions is nothing to brag about.

    If you or Thony want to claim the Jesuits of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as models of open-minded inquiry you are welcome to them. But you have produced nothing of relevance against what Grayling wrote.

  21. #21 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 23, 2009

    Chris –

    Your comment was posted while I was composing my reply to J.J. The context that you provide (and thank you for providing it) does nothing to make that quote look reasonable. Making the Church an object of surrender is precisely what Grayling was criticizing them for. Clearing your mind of passions so that you may better see the truth of Roman Catholic teaching, which certainly seems to be the intent of the quote, is hardly a style of thinking of which to be proud. It also is not at all what Buddhists do.

  22. #22 John Pieret
    August 23, 2009

    I also am not in a position to check it just now.

    The context of the quote isn’t hard to check, since it is online.

    fordham.edu/halsall/source/loyola-spirex.html

    Thirteenth Rule. To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it, believing that between Christ our Lord, the Bridegroom, and the Church, His Bride, there is the same Spirit which governs and directs us for the salvation of our souls. Because by the same Spirit and our Lord Who gave the ten Commandments, our holy Mother the Church is directed and governed.

    In the context of the Reformation/Counterreformation, that seems clearly directed to the Sola Scriptura versus “traditionalism” conflict and directed solely at matters of faith (like the Commandments) that lead to salvation, not to matters of science. Elsewhere in the exercises, he requires praise of “positive and scholastic learning.”

    Pointing to “fanatical devotion” on Jesuits’ part to the Church’s version of matters of faith does not carry the weight of Grayling’s claim that Jesuits are an example of those to whom “the hows and whys of the universe are explained to satisfaction by their faith.” They certainly weren’t very open to opposing views of God (and certainly not to atheism) but they were most definitely interested to an understanding of how the universe works and at least to an understanding of Aristotle’s material, formal and efficient causes of why it works as it does, which pretty much encompasses what we call science.

    You seem to either be moving Grayling’s goal posts for him or failing in his prescription to “inquire, examine, experiment, research, propose ideas and subject them to scrutiny” — not to mention to change your mind when shown to be wrong.

  23. #23 Chris Schoen
    August 23, 2009

    Jason,

    What I am trying to convey is that the quote is not as it seems, which is difficult to see at first because it is so provocative.

    My interpretation is *not* that it is intended to promote “Clearing your mind of passions so that you may better see the truth of Roman Catholic teaching.” Rather it uses the authority of the Church as a sort of anchor or point of focus so that one is not distracted by personal passions, in the same sense that a Buddhist might use a mandala, or one’s own breathing, or a yogi might use a mantra.

    I humbly propose that if you’ll suspend your antipathy for Catholicism just for a moment (it’s not my intent here to make an apology for the Church) and consider the scientific and psychological climate of the time, this interpretation won’t seem quite so implausible. I think you have to put aside your feelings about the venality and attachment to dogma of Catholicism (which I do not say are unfounded) and ask yourself on a purely pragmatic level how well it would work to make the authority of the “hierarchical church” an effective hedge against one’s own distorted thinking.

    I do not claim it was (or is) a perfect method for improveing discernmen, or that it was every bit as good as the Buddhist method (not to mention the then-nascent scientific method). I only claim that “seeing white as black” is a means, in this context, and not an end.

    As sensitive as I know you are to quotes about evolution and natural selection being stripped from context by Creationists, I think you would want to take more care here to examine what is being discussed, rather than taking a volatile quote at face value.