Which “Ecological Conversion?”

Ecological frenzy feeds on the fear of collapse and gives rise to many very different attitudes. Between the excesses, the integral ecology of the Church traces a path respectful of all balances which only achieves its full coherence in a process of conversion.

To make the libertine of thought feel how dizzying their emptiness is before the Everlasting, which understands them and which they can only try to understand, in order to prepare their souls for conversion – such is the famous approach of Pascalian apologetics. Fright as a propaedeutic. Anguish as a preamble to metaphysical conversion. And this is also the method of a certain ecology of the doom-and-gloom variety.

The call for “ecological conversion” is fueled by the anguish of collapse. It is necessary to describe a crisis so that the feeling of ecological urgency arises, and with it the call for a radical change of lifestyle, a reversal of perspectives. The almost metaphysical vertigo, which engenders the consideration of the fragility of life and its conditions of existence, therefore, seems to entail a religious attitude.

It is one of the paradoxes of our time to seek in ecology the most ultimate contradiction to its technical frenzy. As if the consumption of organic quinoa seeds could make modern humans forget their addiction to new technologies. The recent investitures of so many mayors bearing this label of ecology, during the last elections in France, revealed both the omnipresence of the question of ecology in people’s minds and the great diversity of realities that it covers. There is Cassandra with apocalyptic prophecies, aka, Greta Thunberg now consecrated as priestess and pythia of this new spiritual order, which has given rise to public demonstrations of disturbing fervor, when it does not use openly pagan voodoo rituals, as in the case, for example, of the term “Demeter” used in viticulture.

It may be enlightening to read on this subject, Murray Bookchin, a thinker who worried about the epidemic rise of a “spiritual” ecology, and according to whom ecological problems are emptied of all social content and reduced to a mythical interaction of natural forces. Even among some Christian environmentalists, it seems that the way to Heaven sometimes resembles a bike trail, so that the question arises whether the way is even now clearly understood. Thus the “Green Church” label recently set down by the French Bishops’ Conference might well raise questions. Should the epidemic rise of this spiritual ecology worry Catholics? Is it a prelude to a radical conversion of the soul towards its Creator and Savior, or an ersatz conversion within the Church itself?

It appears that the relationship that man has with the Earth, which welcomes and precedes him, brings to light three possible attitudes that engage the individual in various ways.

Surface Ecology

The first attitude is a surface ecology, well-intentioned but really just navel-gazing, and steeped in inconsistencies. This explains the paradox of the Whole Food movement in the United States, offering “organic” products from all over the world, and also prospering on the awareness of the undeniable ravages of an ultra-productivist agricultural policy on the other side of the Atlantic. The recent takeover of this sector by the giant Amazon shows how much the logic of the market has taken hold of this attitude to better serve increasingly hegemonic group interests. In La Cyberdépendance: pathologie de la connexion à l’outil Internet (Cyberdependence: Pathology of the Connection to Internet Use), the psychiatrist Philip Pongy writes: “Capitalism is a past master in the art of recovering everything, including its most critical and virulent opponents. Promoting conviviality on Twitter strengthens Silicon Valley. To talk about degrowth on TV is to serve the entertainment industry.”

Thus, the consumer who eats quinoa seeds and soybeans from the ends of the earth, after leaving the overheated gym, can afford good intentions at little cost. The attention paid to the nutritional quality of food from large-scale distribution only reinforces the domination of a system of culture and consumption, sinful in its very essence. This ecology in no way educates the selfishness of consumers, governed by their pleasure principle, but rather adorns their impulses with a green polish. It is therefore not a question of a conversion of the individual but of the exaltation of his desire. It is not surprising that this pageantry-ecology can culminate in the apology for PMA, or in protests, because the endocrine disruptors contained in the waters of the Seine from the contraceptive pills discharged by Parisians which are causing a sex-change in fish, thus promoting “gender fluidity” among the lower orders. The primacy of the individual at the expense of the Whole is thus the matrix of this first green imposture.

“Deep Ecology”

The obverse of this surface conversion, is the second attitude, which is not mistaken in calling itself “deep ecology.” This Malthusian and guilty ecology, far more ideological, makes the Whole triumph over the individual. Humans are too many; they are a parasite; potential polluters who can be easily intimated by their carbon footprint, and must be destroyed. The appalling number of vasectomy treatments, the new face of this thousand-headed hydra that is the culture of death, illustrates the dissemination of this thesis to the general public. This ideology of Greenpeace activists, who immolate themselves when a whale is slaughtered, or castrate themselves to avoid giving life, is part of a vegan and animalist movement ranging from the agit-prop of League 214 (which wants to highlight the suffering of animals by shocking acts) to the candidates of animalist parties that we saw appear during the last European campaigns. It is no longer a question of exalting the desires of the subject, but of refusing any preeminence of human nature.

In this new face of transhumanism, man is nothing more than the link in a chain of mammals, all equally capable of suffering, and therefore all potentially subjects of law. The regulations protecting farm animals are thus underpinned by the recognition of their sensitivity; that is to say, of their capacity to feel pleasure, suffering and emotions. In France, it is Article L214 of the Rural Code (codification of a law of 1976) which mentions their character as sensitive beings. In 2015, the Civil Code recognized that animals are sentient beings, who yet remain subject to the regimen of property. On January 29, 2021, the National Assembly adopted at first reading, with modifications, the bill aimed at strengthening the fight against animal abuse.

Integral Ecology

Consideration of the singular vocation of the human soul and the duties which bind it to Creation, which has no rights but towards which the human sou has duties, can resolve this antinomy. Man is not an animal like any other precisely because his freedom makes him capable of taking care of Creation that is entrusted to him. This answers the anti-speciesist.

Ecology can thus only be chosen in an integral way; that is to say, by involving all dimensions of existence, and by requiring coherence. Such a consideration, to which the luminous encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato si, beckons, is therefore at the same time an ecology of nature, a human ecology and an ecology of peoples, with each of these three orders meriting its balance to be preserved by the application of a principle of precaution. Ecology, which seems dangerous when it abolishes all transcendence in order to spiritualize matter, takes on meaning if it opens a Franciscan path of poverty and sobriety that takes care of the common home by considering creation as the image of the Creator, a mirror of His greatness. The “ecological conversion” is therefore neither ontologically nor chronologically first – it is the consequence of the choice to follow Christ, so that the most successful model of ecological life is undoubtedly the monastery.


Maylis de Bonnières is a French educator in philosophy. (This article appears through the kind courtesy of La Nef. Translated from the French by N. Dass).


The featured image shows, “Rocky Mountain Waterfall,” by Albert Bierstadt, painted in 1898.

Human Variation And Human Flourishing: A Conversation With Bo Winegard

This month, we are so very pleased to present this interview with Bo Winegard, an evolutionary psychologist and former professor. He was fired from his tenure-track post at Marietta College because of what he researches and what he writes about human biological differences and physical and psychological traits. He is now an independent scholar. He is in conversation with Grégoire Canlorbe, who is well-known to the readers of The Postil.


Grégoire Canlorbe (GC): The “coalitional value theory,” which you helped formulate, asserts that humans evolved unique mental mechanisms for assessing each other’s marginal value to a coalition. Could you tell us more about those mechanisms—and how they intervene in artistic, scientific production?

Bo Winegard (BW): The basic idea is that we evolved some kind of mental system—I’m not sure exactly how this is instantiated in the brain/mind—to assess each other’s value to coalitions. For example, suppose that we form a soccer team. Pretty quickly we would understand who is better (more valuable) at soccer, and who is worse (less valuable). Ceteris paribus, we defer to those who have more coalitional value (e.g., if Messi were on your team, then you would defer to him); and we often assert ourselves over those who have less value.

Bo Winegard

My colleagues and I hypothesized that these mechanisms might partially explain the creation and display of certain cultural artifacts, such as paintings, poems, history books, scientific articles. The idea is that cultural displays signal underlying traits (e.g., intelligence, ambition, education) that generally contribute to a coalition, that make it (the coalition) more formidable and successful. In politics, for example, being able to persuade other people is valuable; it helps a coalition to achieve its goals. Therefore, politicians might signal their value by delivering eloquent speeches. And those in the coalition might respond to such speeches with awe and admiration.

The grand idea, which is not entirely novel, I should say, is that human coalitions are cooperative status-exchange systems. Leaders and other revered coalitional members have high coalitional value; they make the coalition better. And in exchange for their service, members defer to them, giving them priority access to coveted resources, such as food, material wealth, and mates. In this way, the coalition benefits (by having the person high in coalition value) and the high-status person also benefits (by getting priority access to evolutionary relevant resources).

GC: A whole field of investigation lies in sex differences as regards cognition and the relationship to knowledge. What did your long-standing collaboration with Cory Clark allow you to learn in that area?

BW: Ha! I’m not sure I understand the question. I think you are asking what did I learn about sex differences by collaborating for so long with Cory Clark? If so, I will just say a few things. First, Cory is atypical for females, so I would not generalize from my experience with her. And second, I do think that men on average are more tolerant of direct confrontation. My brother and I often get into vehement debates while working on projects, for example. I spare Cory from that because that’s not how our relationship works.

GC: It is sometimes doubted that intellectual manhood (i.e., the ability to think for oneself and to be intellectually innovative and dissident) is substantially correlated with IQ. What is your take on that issue?

BW: I’m not aware of research on this topic. (And it would be arduous to operationalize “think for oneself.” Even creativity is incredibly difficult to operationalize, and I’m not sure I trust much of the research on it.) I do think originality and innovation require a certain minimum level of cognitive ability. However, once one is above that level, I doubt there’s much correlation. I know many brilliant people who are intellectual cowards. In fact, I would contend that American universities are filled with craven professors who are afraid even to voice their true beliefs on a wide variety of taboo topics. I suspect that intellectual cowardice and cognitive ability are completely orthogonal.

GC: It is easily noticed that the greatest military strategists in human history have been, if not bisexual (like Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar), at least misogynist (like Napoléon Bonaparte). Is there a coalitional value theory of that phenomenon?

BW: I’m not sure that I completely understand the question. But I think that some misogyny is likely a result of coalitional value mechanisms. For men’s coalitions, women, on average, simply aren’t as valuable as other men. Consider, for example, a sports’ team. Clearly men are better, on average, than women at sports. Thus men often deride other men who are bad at sports as being effeminate (e.g., “throwing like a girl,” “crying like my sister,” et cetera).

GC: You challenged the idea of a “panhuman nature.” Could you remind us of your argument? Do you also contest, more specifically, the idea of a certain psychological, physical structure invariant across those human populations that are racially European?

BW: The idea behind a panhuman nature is this: Most human-specific traits evolved before the end of the Pleistocene; and, more specifically, most probably evolved before humans expanded across the globe to face novel selection pressures. Therefore, most human psychological traits are shared across populations. There is thus a panhuman nature. I think the concept is useful in some ways but mistaken in others. Think about a different example that is clearer: Dogs. It is the case that one can generalize about a canine nature. Dogs of different breeds share many tendencies. On the other hand, it is wrong or misleading in my view to say there is a pancanine nature in a strong way because dog breeds also vary in behavior proclivities in important and fascinating ways. A Yorkshire Terrier is quite different behaviorally from a Whippet, for example. If you purchased one expecting the behavior of the other, then you might be surprised!

Human groups are not so different from each other as dogs are, obviously. But they are different. And for similar reasons: selection. Of course, dogs were artificially selected and humans were more or less naturally (sexually and socially) selected. And the intensity of selection dogs faced was probably much higher. But humans lived in different environmental conditions from each other for many thousands of years. They faced different selection pressures (probably primarily related to climate). This is phenotypically obvious. People whose immediate ancestors evolved in Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, look different from those whose immediate ancestors evolved in Northern Europe. The most obvious difference is skin color, which is related to the intensity of ultraviolet radiation in such a way that darker skin is associated with more intense radiation. In my view, psychological traits are no different from other physical and anthropometric traits.

Thus groups have slightly different psychological traits from each other. Unfortunately, in the United States at least, this is a very controversial topic—probably more taboo than any other in the social sciences. If groups are different from each other, then some groups might score higher on average on certain socially desired traits such as intelligence and compliance and self-control. And this offends the sensitivities of many progressives, who appear to believe in what I have called “cosmic egalitarianism,” or the notion that all human groups are equal on all socially desired traits.

I think this belief, this cosmic egalitarianism, is no more plausible than Greek mythology or leprechauns at the end of a rainbow. It’s almost impossible to imagine, that is, that human populations are the same on all psychological traits. Now, they aren’t terribly different. So we can make generalization about human nature that apply, I think, to all human populations. But we have to consider group differences, if we want to understand basic social phenomena, such as income and crime disparities between populations, et cetera. Again, it is hard if not impossible to talk about these things honestly in the United States because of the dominance of progressives in the media and academia. But I don’t think it helps anybody to concoct a fantastical fiction about group sameness and to use it to then promulgate the myth that systemic racism is the cause of all group disparities.

As for the second part of your question—again, that depends upon what one means by “invariant psychological structure.” Do I think that European populations differ slightly in traits and propensities? Yes. I think that is quite likely. Do I think that they have fundamentally different psychological structures? No. In a paper, my colleagues and I once compared this to guitars, and I think that’s a good comparison. So guitars are pretty similar to each other. They share a certain structure, if you will. But, there are also subtle differences among them that lead to different tones and tendencies. A Fender sounds slightly different from a Gibson. And an acoustic guitar sounds different from an electric guitar. I think the same holds for human populations, even within Europe.

GC: You covered some of the bias present in politically liberal scientists. What are those? Do you also identify some political bias in hereditarian research about intelligence?

BW: Cosmic egalitarianism. And what we have called “equalitarianism.” Equalitarianism is really a set of biases about group differences. Primarily, liberal scientists repelled by the idea that groups might differ in socially desirable traits in ways that appear to favor white people. At this point, I have no confidence in social science in the United States because of how pervasive this bias is. It’s simply impossible to write about or study topics that are related to race honestly. This is especially true of hereditarianism, because the IQ gap “favors” whites in that whites have a roughly 15-point advantage on average in IQ inside the United States. (The gap appears to be globally consistent, although the exact number depends upon the country, and our data are much more copious inside the United States.) At his point, hereditarianism, or the view that a not insubstantial proportion of the gap is caused by differences in genes, has been removed from mainstream discourse and the academy like a heresy. The orthodoxy simply will not tolerate it, will not debate it, and will not even interact with those who promote it. It has been defeated not by evidence, but by moral bullying—and it is a victim not of falsification but of suppression.

GC: You established yourself as a defender both of “scientism” and of “conservatism.” Yet a common criticism against the view that science (i.e., imaginative hypothesizing corroborated through quantitative, not-trivial empirical predictions) should be solicited to solve all the problems of society is that the limitations of the human mind render science unable to do as well as our cultural traditions, which have been molded—and successfully tested—over several generations of intergroup competition. How do you conciliate science and tradition?

BW: Great question! It’s certainly true that many conservatisms have railed against so-called scientism. But I think that is a mistake. Of course, what follows depends upon one’s definition of scientism. There is certainly a pseudoscientific pretense of knowledge that one should condemn. And there is also a “we trust science” attitude promoted often by progressives in the United States which is mendacious because, of course, they do not trust science that contradicts their sacred values. What I believe is that scientific thinking—skepticism, experimentation, reliance on evidence, et cetera—is the greatest force for generating accurate knowledge in the history of the world. And since I think conservatism is an accurate political philosophy, I think that the insights of science will generally align with the insights of conservative thought. Of course, science will contradict certain particular hypotheses. Maybe, say, the claim that homosexuality is a “chose,” which used to be popular among American conservatives, at least. That is no longer tenable. But the basic idea behind conservatism, namely, that tradition is a good guide to a well-ordered, hierarchal, and cohesive society, is something that will be supported by science. In fact, I’m writing a book on this right now!

Some critics of scientism have argued that it is wrong because science can’t determine values. This is correct, I think, in an academic sense. We could find out, for example, that social policy X would increase human flourishing significantly, and some nihilist could say, “I don’t care. I don’t like human flourishing.” Sure. And science will never show that we should care about human flourishing. But most humans share the intuition that human flourishing is important and should be promoted. Once we have that shared intuition, then we can use science to assess policies. Of course, we should always be humble and recognize that we are incredibly ignorant about many things. That is an important conservative argument.

GC: Some attempts have been made to solve moral issues on the basis of biology and evolutionary psychology. Thus abortion and contraception are deemed permissible on the grounds that birth control—a mere cultural acquisition among humans, but an instinctual predisposition among a large variety of other vertebrate species—comes to implement the “natural law” that is allegedly the demographic adaptation of any population to its environment.

As for homosexuality it is claimed that its recurrence as a genetic trait proves that homosexuals, despite being disadvantaged as concerns their reproductive success, are provided with a number of competitive advantages by reason of which homosexuality should be socially welcomed rather than sanctioned. Likewise premarital sex is justified as fulfilling an alleged hidden function of the sexual intercourse among humans, namely, the function of ensuring—especially throughout pregnancy—the emotional attachment of the male to his female partner and their future progeny. Do you subscribe to such inferences?

BW: On these issues, I do not think evolution (or biology) is informative about what our moral values should be. In general, I think we should promote human flourishing (broadly defined). I don’t think that finding an evolutionary reason for something justifies or condemns it. I’ll give you two examples. It is possible that rape is an adaptive strategy. Not all rape. But the general behavioral predisposition. I certainly don’t think that makes rape morally acceptable. On the other hand, love is an adaptation, and I think love is often (though not always) morally laudable. What is important is the trait or behavior’s relation to social cohesion and human flourishing, not its evolutionary or genetic logic.

GC: You proposed an evolutionary approach to “tribalism in human nature.” How would you sum up your insights? How do you account for the ability of human individuals (to a varying degree) to identify to groups extending beyond the level of ethnical, biological bonds—from multiracial nations and multiethnic religions to humanity taken as a whole?

BW: To be clear, there was nothing particularly unique in that approach! But the basic idea is this: Humans evolved in the context of competing coalitions and therefore evolved traits and proclivities that facilitate tribalism. They create tribes, favor members of their own tribe, and see other tribes as potential competitors. The first and most primitive tribe is the family, for straightforward reasons of kin selection. But humans collaborate with non-kin as well.

My best guess is that ethnic affinity is a byproduct of a kin-recognition system. Humans recognize kin via certain cues. One such cue might be maternal perinatal association. Another is probably phenotypic similarity to the self or to other close kin. Experiments have found, for example, that people trust putative others in photographs that have been manipulated to look like the self more than others in non-manipulated photographs. Individuals in the same ethnic group on average look more similar to each other than individuals from different ethnic groups. Others have argued that ethnic affinity is a byproduct of tribal recognition system. I suppose it doesn’t really matter for the purposes of this question. What does matter is that humans do evince ethnic affinity. But they can of course transcend such affinities, creating large tribes called “nations” that are multi-ethnic.

They do this mostly by inculcating norms of inclusion and tolerance and creating shared symbols (flag, national anthem). But it is worth noting that even within nations, ethnic groups often compete with each other. Ethnic diversity, in other words, often creates tension; and it appears to decrease social trust. This does not mean it is necessarily bad (or good). It’s simply a statement of empirical fact. So, it is true that humans can create large tribes that include many strangers and members of diverse ethnic groups; but those tribes are often inflicted by at least low-level tribal competition and tension.

GC: Thank you for your time. Would you like to add a thing or two?

BW: The thing that I think is most important is to promote free, judicious debate about all scientifically interesting topics, at least in academia. And we are losing that audacious spirit of the pursuit of truth, replacing it with a timid spirit of obsequiousness. But the truth should not be feared. And our pursuit of it should be non-negotiable in the sciences. I’m not suggesting that we should say every thought or idea that pops in our head because we think it is true. But I am saying that we should explore every reasonable theory about the empirical world. And today that is simple not happening.


The featured image shows “Battle of San Romano,” by Paolo Uccello, painted ca. 1436-1440.

Cultural Evolution And Cliodynamics

Peter Turchin leads a recent academic movement to quantify and mathematize human history. That is, instead of analyzing history thematically, or engaging in broad analysis of happenings and trends, he aims to use processed data to prove hypothesized truths about our collective past. Turchin calls this new science cliodynamics (after the Muse of history), and I thought this effort was largely successful in his Ages of Discord, in which the focus was cycles of stability and instability. I think the effort much less successful in Ultrasociety, which tries to explain all of human history as inevitable cultural evolution towards cooperation; but still, it’s an interesting, if bumpy, ride.

Turchin begins by telling us, accurately enough, that humans are unique in their ability to cooperate at scale. When Turchin says “cooperate,” he means individuals choosing to act in concert with others in pursuit of at least a modestly complex common goal, such as hunting. He says that cooperating only in small groups with known others is the norm among all primates, and that was once also the limit of all human cooperation. Turchin’s bad habit of blurring inconvenient facts shows up early here, however—he ignores that cooperation among non-human primates is actually sharply different than that among primitive humans, so the smooth evolutionary line he is trying to draw from our most distant ancestors to us is not accurate. For example, Turchin does not say, but it is true, that non-human primates cannot even cooperate in small mechanical tasks, such as two chimpanzees carrying a log (they lack “shared intentionality”), and the very earliest humans apparently could.

Anyway, for humans, Turchin contrasts limited cooperation among hunter-gatherers with what is true in the twenty-first century, where some societies are now extreme cooperators, meaning they coordinate voluntarily across millions of people and many years to produce costly public goods (those to which equal access for everyone is the default; air is a public good, for example). Turchin’s aim, therefore, seeing where we began and where we are now, is to explain how this happened “through the new science of Cultural Evolution,” which is a subset of his larger field of cliodynamics.

Turchin never offers a pithy definition of cultural evolution, but he means that cultures evolve through natural selection, that is, competition that drives one society to extinction and enhances the survivor. In an initial sleight of hand, in one glancing reference, Turchin dismisses as the cause of increased cooperation recent biological evolutionary changes such as those proposed by Gregory Clark and Nicholas Wade. Considering that possibility would detract from his thesis of cultural evolution, but he is too honest to reject the reality of biological changes entirely, so he ignores them instead. He traces back the modern version of cultural evolution to E. O. Wilson in the 1970s, and views his own contribution as adding data and mathematical synthesis, which gives “us the tools to analyze societies as coherent, integrated wholes,” strengthening what otherwise might be perceived as mere anecdotes.

In these introductory sections, Turchin previews the rest of the book by informing us that the driver of cultural evolution, more than anything else, is war, which paradoxically, after much tears and blood, creates “large, peaceful, and wealthy ultrasocieties.” (“Eusociality” is the instinctive large-scale behavior of honeybees and certain ants; “ultrasociality” is, we are told, the term for similar cooperative behavior by choice, only found in humans—thus the title of the book.) In short, therefore, this book is an explanation of why war is necessary for peace. I think Turchin is probably right in that, but I think he’s wrong that humans qua humans have reached some unique level of beneficial cooperation in the modern world, and in fact it’s pretty obvious we’ve either passed over into diminishing returns from cooperation, or discovered the hard-coded limits of cooperation. But more on that later.

To prove his claims, Turchin offers selected history from the past ten thousand years. He points out the extreme violence that characterizes all tribal hunter-gatherers (which all humans were ten thousand years ago, with some variations in societal complexity), from American Indians to pre-pharaonic Egyptians. No cooperation existed between tribes, rather a state of war. Turchin wants to offer an explanation of what changed and what made the cooperation of today possible. This is another way of asking how human societies became more complex than tribes, a question that has exercised very many great minds. The short answer given by Turchin’s version of cultural evolution is that the need to not be wiped out led, in zigzag pattern, sometimes up, sometimes down, to greater cooperation and societal size. This is basically Francis Fukuyama’s idea, and not new with him either, but Turchin puts an original gloss on it.

He sets the stage by complaining that cooperation has been declining in America, no doubt trying to offer a compelling hook to the casual reader. He does identify correctly that America is now a far lower cooperation society than it was in 1955. But he does himself no favors with his tendentious and wholly inaccurate capsule history of the last sixty years, in which he ascribes this problem to one cause—the ideology of Ayn Rand, filtered through and popularized by Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, and politicized by Ronald Reagan, who channeled Gordon Gekko (occasionally spelled by Turchin “Gecko,” not lending confidence to the reader). This led to Enron, which was Very Bad. The ludicrous silliness of this trite and superficial analysis cannot be overstated—it completely ignores the several real drivers of this decline, and grossly overstates the influence, and unitary philosophy, of dead European refugees.

Economically the global free market, in what is now in retrospect obviously a mistake, was indeed allowed to overwhelm America. But that’s among the minor reasons that social trust and cooperation has disappeared; the rot of the elites and the dominance of leftist narratives are far more important, as I have discussed more than once elsewhere. Ayn Rand and Mises have no relevance to anything in 2021 America.

From here, though, Turchin improves (even if there’s lots of bouncing around, and a distinct odor of cherry-picking, easy to do with archaic history). He discusses when it is rational to cooperate, most of all to produce public goods, and when it is rational to free-ride. (Answer: always the latter, absent some larger framework that changes incentives; contra Richard Dawkins, there is no biologically-evolved altruism toward strangers, and the “selfish gene” is a myth.) Team sports teach us about cooperation (although reader confidence drops again when Turchin refers to the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team as “famous” and its wins resulting in the campus “celebrat[ing] for days on end”—the former is not true, and I doubt the latter). For a team, maximizing individual performance (and therefore benefit to that player) will almost always lead to not maximizing team performance. According to Turchin, data across multiple sports shows that teams which have higher inequality of performance among team members perform worse, on average, than teams with less inequality of performance. Egalitarian cooperation, that is, on average maximizes returns to the group.

Then Turchin turns back to “the study of how and why the frequencies of cultural traits change with time.” He talks about social trust (which he seems to treat as a subset of social cooperation, though I’d invert that), citing Edward Banfield’s The Moral Basis of a Backward Society, which studied a mid-twentieth-century Italian village with very low trust (although Turchin is wrong that Banfield identified this as a trait passed down over the generations; he actually said the opposite). “Evolution,” Turchin hastens to add, doesn’t mean progress; it just means some change in an otherwise stable cultural system.

From these small-scale societal anecdotes Turchin generalizes a theory of “Multilevel Selection.” He offers some basic (but confusing) math, the “Price equation” (a way to measure the generational effects of covariability), to show that given intense competition between groups, more variation within groups leads to worse outcomes, but more variation across groups leads to better outcomes—for the winning group, that is. “Variation” here includes degrees of cooperation; thus, if a group has more free riders than another group has cooperators, the second group will, on average, out-compete the first (because, as for basketball teams, egalitarian cooperation is better). It will grow more crops, it will get bigger, it will win more battles—as long as the cooperators don’t lose out to free-riders within their own group. To avoid this, they must suppress internal competition, and not allow free-riding within the group.

Having set the evolutionary scene through a mathematical lens, Turchin purports to apply it directly to human history. In this telling, projectile weapons were more important to human evolution, biological and cultural, than fire; they allowed felling large animals and eating the marrow, moving from scavenging corpses to making corpses (and helping to increase brain capacity). Humans were still hunter-gatherers, and fitting with Turchin’s theory, hunter-gatherer societies appear to have been universally (and are today) notably egalitarian, with a “reverse dominance hierarchy” where the group strongly discourages attempted domination by any one person.

Why, though, when other primates have normal dominance hierarchies? Turchin says it was because projectile weapons allow those who set themselves up to be alpha males to be easily killed by the others—unlike among other primates, whose lack of such weapons invariably means an alpha male-headed hierarchy. This meant that evolution selected men (who of course still led, as they have led every group in human history, with zero exceptions) not so much for strength, but for social intelligence, the ability, among others, to build coalitions through cooperation. And in this process, when groups competed with each other, in war, those with more cooperators tended to win out, because of Multilevel Selection.

Cultural evolution isn’t inevitably the result of intense inter-group competition, however. Turchin details the constant warfare of the New Guinea highlands, which continued into the modern era. No cultural evolution resulted at all; some war is just counter-productive, leading to endless death with zero change. For the most part, such wars are either wars within societies or inconclusive wars, as both of which Turchin counts New Guinea wars. He also goes on a pages-long digression, an attack on Victor Davis Hanson’s claim that the “Western way of war” is a “decisive clash with close-range weapons.” Turchin says this is a “delusion,” and all that matters, or has ever mattered, in warfare is long-range weapons, in the West and elsewhere.

But, paradoxically, egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies evolved, zig-zagging, not to larger egalitarian societies, but to the most extremely non-egalitarian societies in human history. Turchin uses the example of Hawaii, where a version of god-kingship evolved, in which lower caste people were often killed for looking incorrectly at the king, or sacrificed in religious rituals. Most or all archaic societies developed in a similar strongly inegalitarian direction, including the earliest human civilizations in Mesopotamia. Turchin ascribes this to the development of agriculture—not at the inception of agriculture, though. He claims that small-scale agriculture, with societies still egalitarian yet capable of cooperation, prevailed for thousands of years before larger archaic states came into being. He ascribes this stasis to people resisting inegalitarianism; his perspective is basically that of James C. Scott (whom he does not cite), that the agriculturalist is much worse off than the hunter-gatherer.

Still, societies gradually moved toward being more agricultural and less egalitarian, even against the interests of most individuals in the society. Why did societies so develop? War—bigger societies win against smaller ones, and a bigger society only works if you culturally evolve to cooperate, to produce crops, among other things. Societies that don’t cooperate get exterminated, using the Price equation. And you can have top-down cooperation; Turchin is not using “egalitarian” as a synonym for “cooperative,” although he frequently blurs the difference in a confusing way.

Turchin offers an unconvincing explanation for why it took thousands of years for this cultural evolution to happen, alleging that anyone trying to grab power was assassinated until “new cultural methods for legitimating” the power of chiefs evolved. He uses the example of the Germanic tribes and Arminius, who was assassinated despite his success against the Romans, and concludes “there must have been thousands of upstarts in human history who failed to make the leap to a permanent kingship.” Then he ascribes success to “avoiding arrogance and cultivating modesty [and] demonstrat[ing] to the people that the hierarchical social order is preferable to the alternative.” Turchin rejects alternative explanations of the masses voluntarily giving up egalitarianism, such as the need for irrigation, economic benefit, or the masses being hoodwinked.

Still, in these early years of the new agricultural mega-societies, those men at the top who were successful in war somehow managed to achieve the right aura to become god-kings, the top of the heap. These god-kings behaved in terrible ways, unrestrained by any moral code, including as a rule “massive human sacrifice.” Cultural evolution nonetheless proceeded; competition among these new larger societies led some to survive and some not; “by eliminating poorly coordinated, uncooperative, and dysfunctional states, [this process] create[d] more cooperative, more peaceful, and more affluent ones.”

So in a sense the societies of god-kings “worked.” But their reign of personal terror was ultimately tempered by the spiritual awakening of the Axial Age—not ended, but refocused onto the well-being of the people. The Axial Age, a term coined by Karl Jaspers, began roughly at the same time as the Greek archaic age (800 B.C.) and lasted for six hundred years, or so. Jaspers’s, and Turchin’s, theory is that a great spiritual awakening took place all over Eurasia during this time, everything from Confucianism to Zoroastrianism, commonly in connection with a clearer separation between the gods and men, and in particular introducing the idea of gods who monitored and cared about human behavior (thereby increasing trust as a result of fear of displeasing the gods). Turchin refers to this as a “universal egalitarian ethic” and says that the god-kings changed their ways as a result. That claim is pretty dubious, given the massive differences among the cited religions (or philosophies), and Turchin ignores inconvenient examples not fitting this claim, such as the Greeks and Romans during the Axial Age.

At the same time, horses, iron, and archery allowed the expansion of horse warriors on the Eurasian steppes; these threatened the existing agricultural empires, wherever they were on the egalitarian scale, which responded with further cultural evolution towards cooperation to meet the new threat. Those societies that failed to adapt in this way, such as the Assyrians, disappeared. States therefore continued to increase in size—and the new Axial religions assisted by gluing multi-ethnic empires, such as the Achaemenid and Mauryan, together, allowing “imagined communities” to arise.

We then skip nearly directly to the modern era, with a lengthy pause to attack Steven Pinker. Turchin rejects Pinker’s theories in The Better Angels of Our Nature; he agrees that violence is down; he just denies Pinker’s claim of a smooth decline over the ages, and rejects Pinker’s claimed drivers, in favor of, no surprise, increased cooperation, and a direct correlation and causation between increased cooperation and decreased violence. Pinker has, apparently, attacked cultural evolution (he instead, like Dawkins, points to the desire to help kin and reciprocal altruism as the origin of cooperation), so Turchin is here repaying the favor; the result is fairly boring inside baseball. (And again, Turchin does not inspire confidence when he refers to the eighth to twelfth centuries A.D. in Europe as “a period of retreat of reason also known as the ‘Dark Age.’ ” One wonders if his history knowledge is anything but surface deep; there is little evidence it is.)

Now we have arrived in the twenty-first century. Turchin uses as his exemplar of modern human ultra-cooperation, the claimed pinnacle of human achievement, the International Space Station. In a sense this is true (even if it’s mostly a United States achievement); the ISS is shiny and fancy, and nobody could make and operate such a machine a hundred years ago. But the ISS also shows that cooperation is not a good in itself; what it produces matters. And the ISS is a dead end, a waste of space, a sink of corruption, and an anchor weighing down human achievement. You never hear about the ISS, because there is nothing worth talking about. Not to mention that government by committee, which is the nature of the ISS, never accomplishes anything except dissipating resources. The ISS is basically a bigger, and not especially better, Skylab—which fell to earth in 1979. It has cost around $200 billion (mostly funded by the United States), with nothing to show for the money. Turchin says “What needs to be destroyed [through cultural evolution] are those cultural traits that make societies less successful—less cooperative, less internally peaceful, and less wealthy.” But what if cooperation, past a certain point, leads not to success, but to stupidity, waste, and retrogression? That’s certainly what it’s led to in the case of the ISS.

Turchin’s other examples of modernity’s cooperative achievements fare no better as proof of progress. CERN (the particle accelerator) is nice, I suppose, and I like scientific research, but it’s been going on for many decades without pushing the human race forward in any meaningful way. And the United Nations?! Please. I could write ten pages on that, but really, does any sensible person think the UN does anything of value? No, it’s a combination of cover for thug regimes, and a poisoned spear used by the global elite to forcibly infect countries with globohomo. In both cases, it’s not some impressive example of cooperation; it’s an engine of corruption and backward movement.

Thus, modern humans simply don’t cooperate for worthwhile purposes on the unprecedented scale that Turchin says. Most large-scale cooperation produces merely diminishing returns and bureaucratic sclerosis; look around. Does the now more than one trillion dollars spent on the Department of Education make you feel good about our ultrasociety’s accomplishments? In fact, history shows societies only effectively cooperate on the scale of the nation-state (or smaller)—and almost always only where there is a starkly homogenous culture; Turchin ignores that the Price equation implies that more than a small amount of diversity, along any variable tied to societal cohesion, is likely fatal for a society.

Moreover, the only cooperators with a lengthy track record of any cooperative ultra-achievement are Western countries. Many non-Western countries have cooperated to a reasonable degree for centuries, and what have they ever added to humanity? Nothing of any importance. There also exists no worthwhile global-scale cooperation, whatever Turchin optimistically claims, and none appears on the horizon. The Wuhan Plague turned out to be not very important as a plague, though very important for other reasons, but certainly global cooperation wasn’t the response, even among Western countries.

Turchin, a prolific and ambitious author, didn’t write this book as an isolated project. As he discusses, ten years ago he started a “global history databank,” named Seshat (after the Egyptian god of scribes), to collect and code historical data. The goal is to mathematically analyze the data collected to prove (or disprove) theories tied to cliodynamics. This sounds good, but it’s not clear to me such a project makes sense.

In Ages of Discord, Turchin tied certain quantifiable indicators, such as elite overproduction, to societal changes, and predicted the 2020s would be a decade of chaos. That he seems to have been right makes that effort seem prescient. But the far broader application of mathematics Turchin tries here doesn’t convince the reader of anything that wasn’t already obvious, and my expectation is that Seshat has the same impact. I could easily be wrong, though, and whatever my reservations about this book, it makes one think about both our history and our future, which is certainly something beneficial.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.


The featured image shows, “Ice landscape,” by Hendrick Avercamp, painted ca. 1610.

God And The World: Renovating Philosophy

I intend here to return to my renovation of Platonism—and to confront some classical arguments in favor of God’s existence, then present how my claims on God and on the supraworldly realm are corroborated by cosmic evolution. I will also deal with the issue of apodicticity in mathematical knowledge—and in the knowledge of essences.

The Identity Argument

A classical argument for the existence of God goes like this. At a given moment, in a certain respect, any existing entity is necessarily what it is, rather than what it is not. It follows that any existing entity is necessarily an entity which has always existed, or an entity which was engendered by another entity; and that an entity that changes is necessarily an entity that owes its change to the action of another entity. In other words, no existing entity is an entity born out of nothing, nor an entity that changes spontaneously.

It is thought one can deduce the existence of God from this argument. Some of the entities in that world change or appear seemingly in a spontaneous manner (i.e., change or appear without finding the origin of their change in another entity existing in that world) and the universe itself has not always existed. The apparently spontaneous change and appearances, and the appearance of the universe itself, are therefore, it is said, the result of an entity eternal and external to the universe. And that entity would be God (conceived of as supramundane).

This argument is refuted as follows. The alleged fact that any entity is necessarily what it is rather than what it is not in some respect, at a given time, does not imply that any entity necessarily remains identical to itself (unless an external action to make it other than what it is at a given moment, in a given respect); nor does it imply that any entity is either uncreated or created by another entity. In other words, if one proved that our world is indeed subject to the law of identity, the fact that it is subject to the law of identity would not result in the impossibility for the entities within it—or for our world taken as a whole—to change spontaneously or to create itself spontaneously.

The aforementioned argument in favor of the existence of God—which concludes the existence of God on the grounds that entities in that world change in an apparently spontaneous mode and that new entities appear spontaneously (and that the world itself was created), and that the law of identity allegedly makes spontaneous change or creation impossible—is therefore false. The existence of God (conceived of as supramundane) would not be implied by the law of identity if it existed. The apparition of the universe from nothing would not be rendered impossible by the existence of the law of identity.

The Movement Argument

Another classic argument in favor of the existence of God, which for its part was proposed by Aristotle and taken up by Saint Thomas Aquinas, goes like this. Any existing entity that happens to be moving (in the broad sense of displacement, action, or change) necessarily finds the origin of its movement in another entity that, temporally, precedes it or is simultaneous with it. Yet an infinite regression of movers is inconceivable, whether on the worldly or supraworldly level. It follows, it is said, that the existence of a prime and supramundane mover, itself immobile, is necessarily supposed by the existence of movement in the world.

The premise of the impossibility of spontaneous movement is ambiguous from several points of view. It strictly admits two interpretations with regard to the question of the supramundane extent of said impossibility. The first interpretation is that any existing and moving entity, whether on the plane of that world or on the supramundane plane, finds the origin of its movement in another entity. The second interpretation is that in that world, and only in that world (rather than on the supramundane plane), any existing and moving entity necessarily owes its movement to another entity. To those two distinct interpretations of the premise of the impossibility of movement correspond two distinct interpretations of the argument. Either way, the argument does not hold up.

As for the first interpretation, the argument is thus refuted. The alleged facts that, on the worldly and supramundane planes, every movement (in the broad sense, therefore beyond the sole fact of moving in space) is (strictly) the fruit of another mover, and that, on the mundane and supramundane planes, every mover is necessarily either a first engine or a non-prime engine (otherwise there would be an infinite regression in the number of movers, which is allegedly inconceivable), are false. Moreover, they exclude each other, i.e., cannot coexist; and, for that, their necessary implication is self-contradictory. The force of attraction exerted in that world by quarks, stars, or apples, which falls within movement in the broad sense, is not the result of an external mover.

As for an infinite regression (in any domain), it is quite conceivable that it is possible in that world as much on the supramundane plane—and possible in that world as in other possible worlds. Besides, the allegation that movement, in that world as well as on the supramundane plane, is inconceivable in the absence of a prime mover contradicts the allegation that an external mover, in that world as much as on the supramundane plane, is necessary to generate the movement of a given entity. And that to affirm simultaneously those two premises necessarily amounts to affirming, notably, that the movement of a certain mundane or supramundane entity requires the movement consisting for a primary and supramundane mover to provoke (directly or indirectly) the movement of the above-mentioned entity, but that the movement of the first and supramundane agency will itself necessitate the movement of another agency prior to that first mover. Which is a self-contradictory, and therefore absurd, assertion.

Instead of these two premises implying that the existence of a first and supramundane agency, itself immobile, is a necessary condition for the movement of entities in that world—they imply that the movement of entities in that world has, as a necessary condition, a prime and supramundane agency, and that the latter is itself a non-immobile agency which has as a necessary condition for its movement a mover prior to that prime mover. In other words, the necessary implication of those two premises is that there is a prime and supramundane mover, itself mobile, which is both prime and non-prime, which is absurd. It is, admittedly, quite conceivable that there exists a supramundane and mobile agency which—instead of being prime—is itself moved by another supramundane and mobile agency preceding it, and that that other supramundane and mobile agency is itself moved by another supramundane and mobile agency preceding it; and so on.

But that speculation is neither the conclusion that effectively flows from the premises mentioned above (namely that any intramundane or supramundane movement is the result of an external agency, and that an infinite regression is possible neither on a worldly plane nor on a supramundane plane); nor the conclusion that the movement argument (thus interpreted) believes, wrongly, to be able to infer from said premises. The concept of an immobile mover is itself contradictory: every mover exerts a movement in so far as it exerts an agenting activity.

When it comes to concluding that there is a primary and supramundane agency, the argument from movement, if we now interpret it in these terms, is more coherent. In such a world, but not on the supramundane plane, any moving entity (in the broad sense) is necessarily moved by another entity. Yet an infinite regression of the movers is inconceivable, whether on the worldly or supraworldly plane. It follows, says the argument of movement thus interpreted, that the movement in such a world necessarily presupposes a primary and supramundane mover, itself immobile, whose agential activity is not due to another mover preceding it.

Here, the premises are now compatible, but are again wrong. Endless regression is not more inconceivable on the mundane level than on the supramundane level. Moreover, it is wrong that any moving entity in that world (as it is reasonably conjectured) finds the origin of its movement in another entity. As for the suggested inference, it is almost consistent. What the above-mentioned premises necessarily imply is in fact that movement in such a world necessarily presupposes a primary and supramundane mover itself mobile, whose agential activity finds its origin in itself. They do not imply what the argument from movement (thus interpreted) claims to be able to infer from it—namely, that they do not imply that movement in such a world necessarily presupposes a primary and supramundane driver, itself immobile. They even imply that it is wrong (and absurd) that the prime and supramundane mover be itself immobile.

As correct as the inference is that intramundane movement necessarily presupposes a primary and supramundane mover, which is at the origin of its own movement—the premise of the necessary impossibility of spontaneous movement in such a world, and the one of the inconceivability of an infinite regression of the agents on the worldly or supraworldly plane, are both false. Therefore, that alleged proof of the existence of God is not valid. Here, I will leave aside Saint Thomas Aquinas’s four other arguments for the existence of God.

The Perfection Argument

The argument of perfection, most often known as the “ontological argument,” goes like this. It is in God’s concept to be perfect. If God lacked the property of existing, something would be lacking in him; he would therefore not be perfect. It follows, it is said, that it is in the essence of God (i.e., among the constitutive properties of God) to exist. That classic argument, which dates back at least to Anselm of Canterbury, was the subject of a refutation attempt by Immanuel Kant. For my part, I claim that the Kantian critique is not more valid than is the argument from perfection itself.

The Kantian criticism goes like this. The term “is” is not a “real predicate,” i.e., a logical predicate corresponding to an alleged attribute of the object contained in the concept of the logical subject. In Kant’s terms, it is not “a concept of something which can be added to the concept of a thing.” The term “is” is either “the copula of a judgment,” i.e., a word which establishes a link between the logical subject and the logical predicate, without itself being a logical predicate; or a logical predicate which poses the object of the concept of the logical subject without itself, being a real predicate. In other words, the fact that an existing entity exists is not an attribute of said entity; and the fact that the logical predicate “exists” to be used does not add anything to the concept of the logical subject, nor does it make explicit what the concept of the logical subject contains.

The concept of perfection is certainly contained in the concept of God; but the judgment “God is” is a synthetic judgment (in the Kantian sense, i.e., in the sense of a judgment which associates with the logical subject a logical predicate, not included in the concept of said subject), which does not associate a “real predicate” to the concept of God.

Therefore, if God existed, it would not add any attribute to God that was not already formulated in his concept. Just as “a hundred real thalers contain nothing more than a hundred possible thalers,” the perfection of God, if he existed, would contain nothing more than the perfection constitutive of God according to his concept. In other words, the fact for God to exist (instead of being only possible through the concept of God) would not increase the perfection of God; but would only make it happen with all the properties which are attributed to him according to his concept, without adding or subtracting anything from his properties.

In Kant’s words, “even if I were to think in a thing, all of reality, except one; that one missing reality would not be supplied by my saying that so defective a thing exists, but it would exist with the same defect with which I thought it; or what exists would be different from what I thought. If, then, I try to conceive a being, as the highest reality (without any defect), the question still remains, whether it exists or not.” Therefore, it is impossible to infer the existence of God from the concept of perfection, included in the concept of God, just as it is impossible to infer the existence of one hundred real thalers from the concept of one hundred thalers. “Whatever, therefore, our concept of an object may contain, we must always step outside it, in order to attribute to it existence.”

Kant’s critique of the ontological argument (as Kant calls it) comes to a correct conclusion, but infers it (correctly) from a false premise. It is quite true that the existence of God would not make him more perfect than he already is according to his concept; and that the fact the concept of perfection is included in the concept of God does not render his existence necessary. Nonetheless, it remains false that existence is not a property of existing entities; and that the logical predicates “is” or “are” are not “real predicates.” Existence and the mode of existence are genuinely properties of existing entities: just as the fact of not existing and the mode of non-existence are genuinely properties of non-existent entities.

To say that Donald Duck is a fictional character genuinely consists of attributing “a real predicate” (namely “fictional character”) to the logical subject, “Donald Duck.” In other words, it genuinely consists of attributing to the logical subject, “Donald Duck,” the “real predicate” of inexistence; and, more precisely, the “real predicate” of the mode of non-existence consisting of being a fictional character (rather than a real person).

To say of a human who really existed that he was born in this or that year and died in this or that year genuinely consists of attributing to the logical subject the “real predicate” of a certain mode of existence (namely, the fact of coming into existence through birth and of existing for the duration of a human lifetime); and the “real predicate” of a certain mode of non-existence (namely the fact of having ceased to exist after death).

The flaw in the perfection argument is the following one. An existing entity that would be perfect in every way would not need to exist to be perfect. In other words, the perfection constitutive of a perfect existing entity would not render its existence necessary: the attribute of existence existence and the attribute of perfection would be in said entity independent of each other. Therefore, the fact that perfection is included in the concept of God does not imply that the existence of God is necessary. Just as Botticelli’s Venus does not need to exist to be perfectly beautiful, so God does not need to exist to be perfect. The existence of Botticelli’s Venus would not render her more beautiful than she already is according to her painting; the existence of God would not render him more perfect than he already is according to his concept.

So, what is going on with these concepts, including the attribute of existence – for example, the concept of substance, which includes the attribute of existence in an eternal and uncreated mode. In a certain existing entity, the attribute of existence is not implied by those attributes distinct from the attribute of existence. Therefore, the non-existential attributes of an entity, alleged by a certain concept, including, and thus alleging, existential attributes imply neither the allegation of the alleged existential attributes, nor the existence of the alleged existential or non-existential attributes. It follows that in a certain concept whose object corresponds to a certain existing entity, and whose object is defined by an attribute of existence, the inclusion of the attribute of existence does not render the object real; i.e., that the existence of the object is not implied by the inclusion of the attribute of existence. In other words, it follows that a certain concept will be true or false, depending on whether its object exists or not—and not depending on whether the attribute of existence is included or not. Jesus existed depending on whether he existed or not—and not whether or not the concept of Jesus says of Jesus that he was born in Bethlehem on December 25 shortly before the year one. Venus existed depending on whether or not she existed—and not on whether or not Botticelli’s painting shows the birth of Venus in a seashell. Substance exists according to whether it exists or not—and not whether or not its concept describes it as an uncreated, eternal entity.

The World As Incarnation

I intend now to return to my conception of God—and to argue in its defense. My conception of God, which I already introduced elsewhere, can be put as follows. Let us imagine that someone starts to write a book in an improvised mode. His story begins with a character rolling a six-sided dice, which lands on the face with three dots. On the one hand, the fact that the dice lands on that face is due to chance in the world of the story considered independently of the writer. On the other hand, in the world of the story, considered in relation to the writer, that fictional event is rendered necessary by the fact that the writer decides to land on the face with three dots.

Then the writer wonders what the possibilities are for the rest of the story, i.e., wonders what such a beginning for his story renders possible and impossible for the rest of the story. One possibility is that the character, having thrown the dice, finds himself in a casino; another one is that the character does not find himself in a casino, but in a bedroom with the dice on a bedside table. The number of possibilities is tremendous, but the writer cannot identify each of them. He finally decides that the character finds himself in a field of daisies and has thrown the dice on a wooden table. Then he continues to expand the created fictional universe by identifying possible implications and by actualizing some of them. The situation of God in relation to His creation is to some extent similar to the situation of that writer in relation to his story.

The notion of reality has a strong sense and a weak one. In the weak one, reality is the totality of what exists—whether supramundane or intramundane, and whether material or spiritual. I claim there are two levels of reality in the weak sense. One is like the letters written in a novel; the other is like the fictional world created by those letters. In the strong sense, reality is the material, worldly plane. For the sake of semantic clarity, the rest of the article will make use of the notion of reality only in the strong sense. I claim reality (understood in the strong sense) to be the incarnation of a supraworldly, spiritual plane that is like a book whose letters produce a fictional world.

Two things must be specified when doing that comparison. On the one hand, the letters of a novel do not incarnate themselves into the occasioned fictional world. But the supramundane plane, for its part, incarnates itself into the real world it occasions (while remaining virtual and external to the world). On the other hand, the letters in a novel are placed one after the other. But the supramundane plane is, for its part, atemporal—in the sense that its past, its present, and its future are simultaneous rather than successive. The supramundane plane is composed of an infinity of ideational entities—and endowed with a pulse to select some of those ideational entities and to turn the selected ones into material entities.

In selecting and materializing some ideational entities, the supramundane plane proceeds like the aforementioned writer. It starts with materializing some ideational entities (what occasions the apparition of the world from nothingness); then deciphers the possible implications from those very first materialized ideational entities. It selects some of those implications and actualizes them, what is tantamount to materializing some other ideational entities; then it actualizes some of the new offered possibilities, and so on. The world is the material, temporal incarnation of the virtual, atemporal pulse through which the supramundane plane sorts and actualizes its own content.

The pulse through which the supramundane plane sorts and actualizes its own content is also the pulse through which the supramundane plane is united. That virtual and atemporal supramundane plane united by its own sorting, actualizing pulse—and selectively incarnated into a material, temporal world to which it however remains external—is what I deem to be God. Like the aforementioned writer, God improvises His creation; and like the aforementioned writer, God plans and renders necessary those events in our world that happen in a random, unplanned manner.

As random and unplanned as are genetic mutations in our world considered independently of the supramundane plane, they are decided and forced in the supramundane plane and incarnated into our world. In improvising the course of unplanned, random events, God tries to generate ever-higher levels of order and complexity in the world; that is how an undirected, random cosmos is persistently, but fallibly, evolving towards order and complexity. Just like mistakes happen in some improvised fictional narratives, mistakes happen in the march of the improvised universe; it is not a perfect universe, nor a universe with a predefined arrival line. It is an irremediably imperfect universe, partly random (and irremediably random); but relentlessly, surprisingly evolving towards order and complexity, without the final stage of cosmic history being preset.

Again, the cosmos is a temporal, material improvised incarnation of an atemporal, virtual improvised pulse; a pulse whose past, present, and future stages happen simultaneously. The operation of that pulse does not exclude the operation of some intermediate demiurges between God and the humans; but every pulse in the world happens as an incarnation of a single pulse. Whether it comes from a demiurge, a human, a bacterium, or a dog—every pulse in the mundane realm comes as a temporal, material, singular illustration of the divine pulse, incarnating itself into the whole cosmos and remaining however external to the cosmos.

I will not venture to try to prove the existence of God (such as described here); but I believe I can show that my approach to God is highly corroborated (in default of being proven) by two things, at least. On the one hand, cosmic evolution, as conjectured nowadays in Western science, is an undirected, largely random process that however leads, more or less, to ever-higher levels of order and complexity. By itself, such a process is highly unlikely to result in such high levels of organization as those conjectured.

My approach to God proposes a solution to that paradox and transcends the opposition between the thesis of the “intelligent design” and those theoretical conceptions known as “Neo-Darwinism.” Cosmic evolution (including biological) is indeed undirected and largely random, as so-called Neo-Darwinists claim; but it is also the shadow, so to speak, of a directed, spiritual process. The latter is not present in the world, in which evolution is really undirected and (partly) random—unlike what the proponents of the “intelligent design” thesis believe. Instead, the divine process, which is purposeful and nonetheless fallible, is incarnated into the cosmos, which remains undirected and largely random for its part.

On the other hand, my approach to God takes into account the existence of suprasensible intuition, i.e., the experience of the supraworldly, ideational realm through unempirical perception. Suprasensible intuition is especially practiced in the knowledge area known as mathematics—as Pythagoras and Plato claim. For the sake of semantic clarity, the rest of the article will call “entities” only those distinct beings that are material and intramundane.

The distinct beings within the supraworldly, ideational realm will not be called entities. The distinct ideational beings include numbers and figures; but, also, the ideational models for the entities within the worldly realm—as much those that used to exist as those presently existing and as those existing in the future. The ideational models within the supraworldly realm also include models for those entities corresponding to possible worlds that the sorting, actualizing pulse chooses not to actualize. The issue of knowing whether some truths in that world remain true in all the possible worlds is an old one. Mathematical truths are often thought to be such truths—and, more precisely, thought to remain true in all the possible worlds through being apodictic statements. I intend now to turn to that issue.

Mathematics As Suprasensible Intuition

An allegedly apodictic statement is a statement allegedly true by its sole terms—and therefore true by right and true whatever may be. An allegedly analytical statement is a statement that, allegedly, is true or wrong depending (and depending only) on the (correct) laws of formal logic. In Kant’s approach to analyticity, an analytical statement is, more precisely, a statement in which the predicate is included in the concept of the subject. In the approach of logical empiricism, an analytical statement is, more precisely, a statement that is either tautological (i.e., true for any distribution of the truth-values in the calculation of predicates), or reducible to a tautology (i.e., a statement true for any distribution of the truth-values in the calculation of predicates). In Leibniz’s approach, an analytical statement is, more precisely, a statement whose opposite is self-contradictory.

An allegedly synthetic statement is a statement that, allegedly, is true or wrong depending (and depending only) on whether it is congruent with reality. In Kant’s approach to syntheticity, a synthetic statement is, more precisely, a statement in which the predicate is not included in the concept of the subject. In the approach of logical empiricism, a synthetic statement is, more precisely, a statement that is neither tautological nor reducible to a tautology. In Leibniz’s approach, a synthetic statement is, more precisely, a statement whose opposite is not self-contradictory.

The problem with the notion of apodicticity is dual. Firstly, the problem is to know whether an apodictic statement is possible. Secondly, it is to know whether an apodictic statement (if it is possible) is necessarily an analytical statement. Kant is commonly thought of as claiming the mathematical statements to be apodictic ones that are nonetheless synthetic in the Kantian sense, i.e., endowed with a predicate that is not included in the concept of the subject.

According to my understanding of Kant’s approach to mathematics, he really conceives of mathematical statements as synthetic statements that are not apodictic; but which can nonetheless be proven true or false independently of sensible experience. And that by reason of the fact their concepts are constructed exclusively within the “pure forms of sensible intuition” that are, according to Kant, space and time, i.e., the fact that their concepts are constructed not on the basis of sensible experience, but only within the a priori spatial, temporal framework that the human mind, according to Kant, confers onto sensible experience. What Kant has in mind when speaking of an “a priori synthetic judgment” is not an apodictic synthetic judgment, but a synthetic judgment that, while being a priori (i.e., independent of sensible intuition) and while being not apodictic, can be proven true or false when—and only when—constructed within the human mind’s “pure forms of sensible intuition.”

Kant’s thesis (that mathematical judgments exclusively deal with concepts the human mind spontaneously constructs within the spatial, temporal framework of the human mind) is notably opposed by the one—notably shared by Pythagoras and Plato—that mathematical statements are exclusively the fruit of suprasensible experience. I will leave aside the issue of knowing whether Pythagoras and Plato also think of mathematical statements as apodictic ones.

In my opinion, Kant’s thesis suffers two flaws, at least: on the one hand, a logical flaw (i.e., a flaw in terms of internal coherence); on the other hand, an analytical error, i.e., a mistaken appreciation of reality. On the one hand, it claims the (true) mathematical synthetic judgments to fall both within unapodictic statements (i.e., those statements that are not true by the sole reason of their terms) and a priori, objective knowledge (i.e., objectively true knowledge logically anterior to sensible experience); but is really unable to account for the alleged ability of the human mind to determine in an a priori mode (i.e., independently of sensible experience) whether its mathematical synthetic judgments are true or wrong.

If mathematical judgments were, indeed, both unapodictic and (exclusively) constructed within the alleged spatio-temporal framework of the human mind (as Kant claims), the fact would still remain that such origin for mathematical judgments would not allow the human mind to determine in an a priori mode whether those unapodictic judgments are true or wrong. Thus, Kant’s thesis leaves unexplained an alleged fact it proposes to explain: the alleged character of (true) mathematic judgments as a priori, unapodictic, objectively true knowledge.

On the other hand, Kant’s thesis is partly mistaken about the origin of mathematical synthetic judgments. Those are really the fruit of suprasensible perception to some extent; and the fruit of the human mind to some extent. Here I will leave aside the issue of knowing whether the mathematical statements the human mind is able to conceive (and able to conceive of as true) are necessarily an extension of statements the human mind is able to conceive of as true by the sole operation of certain admitted logical laws. Or the issue of knowing whether any true mathematical statement, i.e., any mathematical statement congruent with reality, is necessarily an extension of certain admitted logical laws congruent with what may be called the ontological structure of reality. My only points here are the two. First, the truth of a mathematical statement—such as “7 + 5 = 12”—is not apodictic. Second, our mathematical concepts and statements are to some extent the product of the suprasensible perception which Plato and Pythagoras refer to; and to some extent the product of the human mind itself.

At least in that world, perhaps also in all the possible worlds (which remains to be determined—and I will leave aside that issue here), an apodictic statement (i.e., a statement true by its sole terms—and therefore true whatever may be, and true by right) cannot exist. At least in our world, a true statement can be true only by virtue of its conformity to reality. Hence, there can be no statement true by reason of its sole terms. A certain statement that holds true, whatever may be, is true by virtue of a certain fact that remains whatever may be, i.e., a certain fact that remains in all the possible worlds; but it is not true in an apodictic mode.

The same applies to logical laws and to definitions. An objectively valuable logical law, i.e., a logical law that objectively allows for coherent lines of reasoning, is objectively valuable because it is in line with the ontological structure of (our) reality; but it is not rendered objectively valuable by its sole terms. The law of identity, the law of non-contradiction, the law of the excluded middle, the modus ponens, the modus tollens, etc., cannot be logically valuable unless the corresponding alleged ontological facts (i.e., the alleged fact that any existing entity is necessarily what it is, rather than what is not, etc.) are real. Likewise, an objectively valuable definition is necessarily a true definition, i.e., a definition that is congruent with reality; it cannot be rendered objectively valuable by its sole terms.

An allegedly analytical statement is an allegedly apodictic statement that allegedly owes its apodicticity to being true by the sole operation of some (allegedly correct) logical laws. An admitted logical law is not analytical, i.e., is not rendered true or false by its own operation; but it is true or false, depending on whether it is congruent with the ontological structure of our world. A tautological statement is a statement that certain admitted logical laws (whatever they may be) deem to be true (or deem to be false) for any distribution of truth values. A tautological statement necessarily expresses what it claims to be—a certain illustration (in our world) of the ontological structure common to all the possible worlds. For instance, “a cat is cat” expresses a certain illustration of the ontological law of identity—and implicitly claims such law to be common to the ontological structure of all the possible worlds.

A tautological statement is not analytical, i.e., is not rendered true or wrong by the sole operation of certain admitted logical laws; but it is true or false, depending on whether it is congruent with an actual illustration (in our world) of a certain ontological law of our reality—and on whether that ontological law is common to our world and to all the possible worlds. “A cat is a cat” is true depending on whether the alleged fact that a cat is a cat is an actual illustration (in our world) of an actual ontological law in our world—and on whether that ontological law is common to the ontological structure of all the possible worlds.

A definition is a statement of some alleged properties in the object of a certain concept. An admitted definition in a certain language is contentless and conventional from the angle of that language, considered independently of reality; but it is informational and speculative from the aspect of that language considered in relation to reality. An admitted definition is not analytical, i.e., is not rendered true or false by the sole operation of certain admitted logical laws; but it is true or false depending on whether it is congruent with the object of the definition. A mathematical statement is not analytical either; but it is true or false depending on whether it is in line with what may be called the mathematical field of reality.

Here I will leave aside the issue of knowing whether a mathematical statement and a definition can be reduced to a tautology; but let us admit they can be reduced to a tautology, i.e., a statement that certain admitted logical laws deem to be true for any distribution of truth values. Their reducibility would not render them analytical—since they would be reducible to a (tautological) statement that is not analytical. Saying that a statement is true for any distribution of truth values, in regards to certain admitted logical laws, is tantamount to saying that the latter is true in all the possible worlds in regards to those laws. Yet a statement is not rendered effectively true in all the possible worlds by the fact of being tautological in regards to certain admitted logical laws.

The only way for a statement to be true in all the possible worlds (i.e., true whatever may be) is to be congruent with a fact that remains in all the possible worlds. A tautological statement is not contentless (as Ludwig Wittgenstein and others claim). If it were a contentless statement, it would be neither true nor wrong; but a tautological statement is true or false depending on whether it is congruent with an actual illustration (in our world) of an ontological law common to all possible worlds.

Wittgenstein’s claim that a tautological statement exhibits (but does not tell) the ontological structure of our world (and only that of our world) is doubly wrong. Instead, a tautological statement tells (instead of showing) what it claims to be—the ontological structure common to our world and to all possible worlds. If any possible mathematical statement is reducible to a tautology, then any possible mathematical statement speaks of the ontological structure allegedly common to our world and to all possible worlds. Any possible mathematical statement is true or false, depending on whether it is congruent with an actual illustration (in our world) of an ontological law common to all the possible worlds.

Going back to Kant’s claim about the origin of mathematical judgments, I suspect that the human mind is indeed endowed with a spatio-temporal framework which it uses to structure the sensible content; and that such framework is innate or acquired through experience or culture. But the human mind is not the only originator of its mathematical statements and concepts; they are to some extent the fruit of suprasensible intuition (in people highly gifted with suprasensible perception). On the one hand, the human mind’s spatio-temporal framework hosts within it the fruit of suprasensible intuition; on the other hand, the human mind works from the fruit of suprasensible intuition and generates its own mathematical concepts and statements.

The necessarily flawed character (to a varying degree) of a suprasensible intuition is one of the reasons why our mathematical knowledge is necessarily perfectible—and why revolutions can happen in mathematics. The fact the human mind, when it does not host the necessarily flawed fruit of a suprasensible intuition, only deals with its own invented concepts and statements, is another reason for the perfectibility of our mathematical knowledge. It is true that our mathematical concepts and statements, whether they stem from suprasensible intuition or from the human hind itself, can be corroborated by reality, such as it is observed or conjectured; but our observations of reality and our conjectures about reality can only corroborate our groping mathematical knowledge. They cannot confirm it. Such affirmation deserves further clarification, which I intend to deal with elsewhere.

The Issue Of Essences And Definitions

Besides containing ideational numbers and figures, the ideational domain also contains ideational models for existing entities (as well as for those that used to exist and for those that will exist). The essence of a (material) entity is what a (material) entity is. More precisely, it is both what an entity is—and what makes said entity be what it is, rather than be what it is not.

The essence of an entity is dual: it has an ideational component on the one hand; and a material one on the other hand. The ideational essence, i.e., the ideational component of an essence, contains the sum of all the properties of the considered (material) entity. The material essence, i.e., the material component of an essence, only contains the sum of all the constitutive properties of the considered (material) entity. I intend now to deal more extensively with the subject of ideational and material essences.

A mistake by Plato was to conceive of essence as only ideational—and to conceive of ideational essence as only containing the constitutive properties. More precisely, those constitutive properties that are general in the strong sense, i.e., attached to the genre under which a considered entity falls. An ideational essence instead contains the sum of all the properties of the considered entity—and not only those properties that are both constitutive and general in the strong sense.

As for the material essence, it only contains those properties that are constitutive—but as much those constitutive properties that are general in the strong sense as the rest of those properties that are constitutive. Another mistake by Plato was to conceive of the material entity as partaking of its ideational model. Any material entity is instead the incarnation of its ideational model, which incarnates itself into the corresponding material entity while remaining ideational and external to the corresponding material entity.

The definition of a material entity can be unique to some individuals, or can be generally admitted, i.e., admitted in a certain language and common to all the people participating in that language. Any definition deals with some properties of the defined material entity; more precisely, those properties whose inclusion into the considered definition allows the latter to make the considered entity easily distinguished (and recognized) when referred to in a certain statement. The properties evoked in a certain definition do not necessarily coincide with the constitutive properties of the defined entity. But the definition of a certain entity is true or false, depending on its conformity to the properties of the entity. Here, I will leave aside the issue of defining properties rather than entities—and the issue of defining ideational models rather than material entities.

A property is what is characteristic of a certain (material) entity at a given moment of the entity’s existence. Among the properties of an entity, some are constitutive of said entity, i.e., part of what makes that entity what it is (rather than what it is not); others are accessory, i.e., external to what makes that entity what it is (rather than what it is not).

Among the constitutive properties, some are innate to an entity, i.e., are attached permanently to said entity over the course of its existence (unless its integrity is broken); others are emergent in the weak sense, i.e., become attached (whether permanently or temporarily) to said entity over the course of its existence. Among the emergent properties in the weak sense, some are constitutive; others are accessory. Among the emergent properties in the weak sense, some are emergent also in the strong sense, i.e., they introduce qualitative novelty into the world; others are emergent only in the weak sense, i.e., are properties that become attached (instead of being permanently attached to the considered entity over the course of its existence), but which are not novel qualitatively.

Among the properties of an entity, some are necessary, i.e., are forced to be attached permanently to the entity, or are forced to become attached to the entity; others are contingent, i.e., are attached permanently to the entity, or become attached, but without being forced to be attached permanently or forced to become attached. Among the necessary properties, some are constitutive, permanent properties; others are constitutive, emergent (in the weak sense) properties. Among the constitutive properties, some are general in the strong sense, i.e., are attached to the genre within which the considered entity falls; others are unique, i.e., are attached to the considered entity but are not attached to its genre.

While any constitutive, permanent property is also a necessary property, any necessary property is not a constitutive, permanent property. While any general property in the strong sense is also a constitutive, necessary property, any constitutive, necessary property is not a general property in the strong sense. Among the properties of an entity, some are fundamental; others are secondary. Among the constitutive properties of an entity (whether they are permanent or emergent in the weak sense, and whether they are general in the strong sense or unique), some are fundamental; others are secondary.

The ideational model of a certain entity contains the sum of all the properties of said entity over the course of its existence—as much those constitutive, as those accessory; as much those permanent, as those emergent in the weak sense; as much those emergent only in the weak sense, as those emergent also in the strong sense; as much those necessary, as those contingent; as much those general in the strong sense, as those unique; as much those fundamental, as those secondary. Any admitted definition in a given language is true or false depending on the quality of the reality—whether or not that definition only deals with all or part of the constitutive properties of the defined entity. Any admitted definition is both a contentless statement from the aspect of language considered independently of reality—and an informational statement from the aspect of the confrontation of language with reality.

What is more, any admitted definition is both conventional from the aspect of language considered independently of reality—and conjectural from the aspect of the confrontation of language with reality. No definition (whether it is generally admitted or not) is analytical, i.e., true or false by the sole operation of certain admitted logical laws. But any admitted definition in a given language is thought (by that language) to be synthetic, i.e., to be true by being congruent with reality. No definition (whether it is generally admitted or not) is rendered true by the fact that the involved language deems that definition to be true; but any definition is true or false depending on reality.

Any definition is likely to get updated when progress is made in the knowledge of reality—whether such progress is made through (sensible) observation, through corroborated conjecturing, or through suprasensible perception (i.e., through the suprasensible grasp of ideational models). As for those (impracticable) definitions dealing with all the properties of a certain entity—a perfectly true definition of that kind is a definition perfectly mirroring the whole ideational model of the defined entity. And as for those definitions only dealing with all or part of the constitutive properties of the defined entity—a perfectly true definition of that kind is a definition perfectly mirroring all or part of the constitutive properties formulated within the ideational model of the defined entity. The ideational entities within the ideational domain are too much complex with respect to what a human mind is really able to understand (no matter how powerful a human mind is). Hence, the suprasensible grasping of a certain ideational model by a certain human mind is necessarily imperfect. In other words, only a more or less misrepresentative portrait of a grasped ideational model can be obtained through suprasensible intuition.

Conclusion—And A Few Words On The Kabbalah

The problem of knowing whether the world emerges from God is different from the problem of knowing whether God necessarily occasions the existence of the world. Besides, the latter arises differently, depending on the answer given to the former. If God, conceived of as substance (in the sense of an uncreated, necessarily existing entity), creates the world, the question of the necessary or contingent character of the world’s causation then applies to a world distinct from God. If God, conceived of as substance (in the sense of an uncreated, necessarily existing entity), sees the world emerging from God, the question of the contingent or necessary character of the world’s causation then applies to a world that constitutes a constitutive emergent property in the strong sense, i.e., a property that, while being constitutive of God and introducing novelty, is not co-eternal with God.

For my part, I claim that the world is neither created nor emergent, but that it incarnates God (conceived of as uncreated and as necessarily existing), who nevertheless remains distinct from said world (as the Father remains distinct from the Son, who is nevertheless His incarnation). That relation of incarnation is necessarily occurring. Hence, the world is necessarily occasioned. Besides, that relation of incarnation is co-eternal with God—although the world has a temporal beginning.

The cosmos is neither an emergent property of God (as in the medieval Kabbalah), nor a product of God (as in the modern Kabbalah). The cosmos is an incarnation of God— more precisely, an incarnation of the book, that is—both in a simultaneous and improvised mode—written in God’s mind. The Kabbalah’s idea that the cosmos is created through letters is thus deepened in this way: the cosmos is created through an improvised, atemporal writing process, incarnating itself into the temporal, (partly) random cosmos.

As for the Kabbalah’s idea that man is made in the image of God and is mandated both to repair the world and to respect God’s law, is deepened in this way: the writing process incarnating itself into the world aims to accomplish ever-higher levels of order and of complexity, but is likely to commit mistakes. It is up to man to repair those mistakes to the extent possible—and to respect at the same time the cosmic order, which is part of God’s law to humans.

When some men are trying to repair the creation, they are really the incarnation of God trying to repair His own work through them. Yet some men are more linked to God than others—and therefore, more able than others to grasp the writing process through suprasensible intuition. Those men are as such because they have a more yechidah soul.


Grégoire Canlorbe is an independent scholar, based in Paris. Besides conducting a series of academic interviews with social scientists, physicists, and cultural figures, he has authored a number of metapolitical and philosophical articles. His work and interviews often appear in the Postil.


The featured image shows, “Young Man Holding a Roundel,” by Sandro Botticelli, painted ca. 1475.

Neo-Positivist Realism: A Discussion With Emil O.W. Kirkegaard

Grégoire Canlorbe continues his intriguing interviews with people who are forging new ways of understanding the world. This time around, he is in conversation with Emil O. W. Kirkegaard, who is a Danish intelligence researcher and freelance data scientist. Learn more at his website. Before you ask—there is no connection with existentialist philosopher, Søren Aabye Kierkegaard. However, Emil Kirkegaard’s great-grandfather, Harald Rudyard Engman, was a Danish dissident, anti-Nazi artist, who was exiled to Sweden during Word War II. The featured image is a work by Harald Engman. We are so very delighted to have Mr. Kirkegaard join us.


Grégoire Canlorbe (GC): Your name is notably associated with the study of stereotype accuracy—especially those stereotypes underlying immigration policy preferences in Danes. How would you sum up your research in this field?

Emil O.W. Kirkegaard (EOWK): It all began some years ago, around the time of my father’s 50th birthday (in 2014). I was visiting Sweden, because his girlfriend is Swedish, and my father decided to rent a house in Skåne, occupied East Denmark, for the birthday party.

Emil O.W. Kirkegaard.

Some years prior I had read Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate, and recalled that he made some reference to the accuracy of demographic stereotypes. Checking out the supporting references, I found the same names repeated many times: Lee Jussim and Clark McCauley (all the cited works are in an edited book, Lee et al., 1995). I Googled the names of the authors and found a copy of a book chapter with the great title, The Unbearable Accuracy of Stereotypes. It contained a neat summary of the evidence, as it was at the time (Jussim et al., 2009).

I realized there was an entire scientific literature on this topic, one that wasn’t as stupid as my general impression of social psychology. Recall this was in the middle of the early years of the replication crisis, with priming results falling left and right. After that, I checked out the library (that is, Library Genesis, the Russian pirate library), and found that Lee Jussim had written a book in 2012, Social Perception and Social Reality: Why Accuracy Dominates Bias and Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, and I immediately started reading it (Jussim, 2012). While reading this book, I immediately saw the connection to Bayesianism, which I was familiar with because I had long been reading the blogs from people in the Silicon Valley rationalism movement (focused on LessWrong in those days; now mostly reduced to the Scott Alexander-verse).

Say that you’re judging some person for some trait, say being anti-social. The prior belief is the initial guess about some individual based on whatever demographics one can immediately glance at, whether this is sex, age, country of origin, race, name, clothing and so on.

As such, the question of stereotypes is easy to attack scientifically: simply ask subjects to estimate the group means of various groups, and see how well these line up with reality. In fact, a decent sized, but haphazard, set of studies had been done like this, and they pretty much invariably turned up strong evidence of accuracy (the exception being when the data assumed to represent reality was questionable (see, Heine et al., 2008).

At the same time, I had just started studying immigrant outcomes in Europe, and had in my possession a big dataset from Denmark, where we had crime rates, mean incomes, rates of use of social welfare, educational attainment, and unemployment for some 70 immigrant groups in Denmark, as grouped by country of origin (or of their mothers (Kirkegaard & Fuerst, 2014).

In other words, I had the perfect criterion data to study stereotype accuracy in Denmark, and I knew that similar data existed for other European countries, so there was a way to expand afterwards (Kirkegaard, 2014b; 2015). I then found a way to buy survey data fairly inexpensively. We first conducted a pilot study and found quite large accuracy, despite recruiting unrepresentative people online (such as from my Facebook!).

I then managed to raise some funding from friendly sources, and our first big study was published in Open Psych journals in 2016 (Kirkegaard & Bjerrekær, 2016a; 2016c). I tried to do things right, from the start: large sample size (about 500), pre-registered analyses, and open science practices (open access, data, code, and reviewing).

As mentioned above, I was familiar with the replication crisis issues in social psychology and did not want to contribute to such poor practices. I also knew that my results would get attacked by leftists, and thus had to be extra strong to withstand scrutiny (Gottfredson, 2007; Kirkegaard, 2020). However, our results were crystal clear—the main aggregate stereotype correlated r = .70 with real differences—and the results were closely in line numerically with the findings that Lee Jussim had summarized.

The idea of linking this data to the immigration preferences was good, and obvious in hindsight, but it wasn’t mine. Noah Carl was the first to combine the two ideas in his 2016 paper, also in Open Psych (Carl, 2016). After reading his paper, I knew the next step forward was to measure all three variables in a single study: real group differences (insofar as government data can tell), stereotypes (estimates of those differences), and finally policy preferences for the same groups.

When looking at immigrant groups, it was obvious that popular opposition to immigrants was closely in line with the actual immigrant groups with high rates of social problems, whether crime or welfare dependencies (so in practice, against Muslim groups). I teamed up with Noah for a study like this, and we wanted to get it out somewhere “mainstream.”

So, we tried a bunch of social psychology journals; with not much luck. One editor, Karolina Hansen, at a Polish university, told us we needed to explicitly state, multiple times, that Muslims were not causing their own misfortunates, whereas our study was agnostic on this topic. I guess I should not be so surprised since, despite being in Poland, she has a Danish last name, so was probably infected by the Woke memeplex.

Unfortunately, it was around that time that troubles began for Noah Carl, and he had to divert time to defending himself against the communist campaign and its friends in the media (Carl, 2019). It didn’t end well; and he was fired. We managed to finally publish this work in 2020 (Kirkegaard et al., 2020).

To return to the question, I would say that my work in this field has just begun, and I expect to publish a bunch more studies on immigrants, stereotypes and their links to intelligence. We are currently finishing up a big study in the Netherlands, with similar results. The last part is important, because from an intelligence research perspective, having accurate stereotypes is simply a manifestation of the general factor of intelligence, already strongly correlated with general knowledge.

So, one should see pervasive correlations between stereotype accuracy and intelligence. And, in fact, that is the case. Some left-wing psychologists and their media cheerleaders hilariously tried to brand this as a negative aspect of intelligence (Khazan, 2017; Lick et al., 2018; Sputnik News Staff, 2017).

GC: A well-known investigation of yours deals with the dataset of OKCupid’s users. You especially focus on the association of cognitive ability with self-reported criminal behavior—and with religiousness. Could you tell us more about it?

EOWK: Back in 2010, or thereabouts, I discovered the OKCupid dating site, and used it myself. The dating site really was very special, as no other dating site collected so much interesting data on their users. Most dating sites attempted only crude social matching, or even dumber things like astrological signs. However, OKCupid was started by a mathematician, and he had a better idea, despite having no background in psychology.

As a big fan of open science, I was wondering how to get a copy of the data for my own curiosity. I teamed up with a programmer to do a scraping (automatic download) of the website, and we managed to download data from nearly 70,000 users. Mind you, a lot of these profiles are essentially empty and not useful. But still, the dataset is amazing, and one can typically use about 10-30k users in a study, depending on which variables are desired and which subgroups.

Again, in the spirit of open science, we wanted to share this data with the world, so we sent our paper to review at Open Psych (Kirkegaard & Bjerrekær, 2016b). I don’t recall exactly how it happened, but some mainstream social psychologists started retweeting my tweet to the data (e.g., Brian Nosek of OSF), and eventually the SJWs joined in (Oliver Keyes was a notable nutty blogger who wrote some rambling blogpost on this, since apparently deleted), or maybe the other way around.

In any case, it ended up being a global media event of sorts, where we got featured in various big outlets: Wired, Forbes, Vox, Vice, even Fortune magazine. A guy I went to school with, in 2006, called me and wanted some input for an article he was writing for the Danish state media. The data on the website was really already public, and just required a free user (some of it). It’s just that when this data sits in 70,000 profiles, it is not as useful for analysis as when it is in a spreadsheet-type format. The task of scraping could be done by a chimpanzee, and involves visiting random profiles and copypasting the data into a big spreadsheet. In fact, the website itself wrote in its user agreement that users should consider the data public (“You should appreciate that all information submitted on the Website might potentially be publicly accessible. Important and private information should be protected by you”).

In the end, OSF deleted the copy of the dataset on their service, following a copyright complaint from OKCupid’s owners. Someone reported me to the Danish data protection agency, and they sent me some questions in a threatening manner, which I didn’t answer; and then after a few months, they gave up the case. The media never reported on this dropping of the case. So, in the eyes of the media and the public, it appears I was accused and presumed guilty of some crime; when, in fact, a case was not even filed against me in court.

Aside from all, the dataset is really quite something. This is because the questions on the site were mostly made by users themselves; and because of this, some of them asked about things that psychologists would not dare to ask about. They are also a lot more diverse in topics than what interests psychologists. We have published some studies looking at intelligence estimation based on some 14 questions with high g-loadings; and intelligence scores from these do in fact relate to religiousness, crime (self-reported, not optimal), political interest and so on, in the usual ways (Kirkegaard, 2018; Kirkegaard & Bjerrekær, 2016b; Kirkegaard & Lasker, 2020).

This is doubly interesting because the data was filled out by users knowing well that other users would be reading their answers; thus suggesting that social desirability bias should be large here. Evidently, it is not large enough to remove the usual associations. Later on, the website got bought out by Big Dating, that also owns Tinder and others, and the website is now a low quality clone of Tinder; a shell of its former glory. Sad! The most interesting remnant of the website, aside from this (unfortunately) partial copy of the site’s database (and others that exist), is that the founder wrote a book on some analyses he did (Rudder, 2015). It’s really a commercialization, and not a very good at that, of the old OKTrends blog. Fortunately, internet polymath Gwern has archived the blog, so people can, and should, read the unredacted analyses.

GC: Your university background is linguistics. Do you believe race differences may be manifested in language? What are your thoughts about Umberto Eco’s remark that “the language of Europe is translation”?

EOWK: I did a bachelor degree in linguistics, starting in 2010. Before that I studied philosophy for two years, but I was disillusioned with that department and the field, and did not finish the degree. I was always good with language in school, and since I was already interested in the philosophy of language, branching out to linguistics was not a big step.

Honestly, though, studying linguistics had a big advantage: there were no class attendance requirements, so I could avoid going to classes (these are a waste of time). This freed up a huge chunk of time, and allowed me to sleep during the day and work at the night, whenever this was practical (I have non-24 disorder). Passing exams was really mostly a matter of writing three essays (10-15 pages in length) every 6 months, one for each class that one took that semester. Each class was usually based on some book or some papers, which you read. All in all, writing a paper takes perhaps two days, editing included, and reading the required material takes maybe another three days; so we’re looking at about fifteen days of work every 6 months.

In Denmark, the state pays students a stipend to study, about US $800, and there is low-cost, subsidized student housing available too. So, this income is livable; and one can even invest some of it in Bitcoin on the side (Moon Inc.). The rest of the time, I used unwisely to play too much on the computer. But still a large proportion of the time I used to self-study psychology, genetics, statistics and programming. When I was doing the master’s (candidate) in linguistics, in 2015, I was already good enough that a high-profile professor wrote to recruit me for his startup in genetics. That ended my career in academia, not that I was keenly interested in pursuing a linguistics PhD.

So, with my unusual linguistics background aside, what about race and language? It’s hard to say because linguists are, generally speaking, non-quantitative people, and don’t look at these things, except in bland ways. There are some findings on how the physical shape of humans differ by race, and this affects the sounds they produce. Africans have notably larger lips and a broader nose (for cooling), and this results in slight differences in the sounds they make. I don’t think this is very important, however.

More interesting in the big picture are associations between culture and language (an extreme version is called linguistic relativity); and of course, some cultures are vastly more complex than others. Some languages are really quite simple, lacking words for most scientific concepts, some for even basic mathematics, like counting. I am not aware of any formal study of ethnic group IQs and their language features. Economists conduct these kinds of studies, trying to spot relationships between psychological traits and languages, and how this should be reflected in economic outcomes. Best thing they have come up with is that languages that allow dropping of pronouns are higher in some good stuff (Feldmann, 2019; He et al., 2020; Mavisakalyan & Weber, 2018).

There is a big dataset of language features called The World Atlas of Language Structures (WALS), which is used to study this stuff (the field is called linguistic typology). It has data for some 2700 languages last time I looked, and these are given geographical coordinates, countries, and so on. One could match this to ethnic IQs and national IQs, failing that, and maybe something useful would come out of this. Honestly, I have not looked, because I don’t think anything interesting will come out of it. I did take an initial look at the data from a quantitative perspective in a preprint never published (not even submitted anywhere, (Kirkegaard, 2021); I posted it as a formal preprint for the purpose of this interview).

The national data is rather small for languages, because of the extensive family relationships between them. So, the effective sample size is less than the number of countries. Biologists are familiar with this problem, and have standard phylogenetic regression methods to handle it, and linguists also (they do it in a worse way), but economists less so. I think it is better to proceed here with ordinary national IQs work, and expanding to the genetics of these, á la what Davide Piffer has been doing since 2013 (Piffer, 2013; 2015, 2019, 2020a, 2020b), and what we did in our big 2016 paper looking at the genetic ancestry of countries and their subdivisions (Fuerst & Kirkegaard, 2016). I am not familiar with Umberto Eco, so I have no comment on that quote.

GC: As an avowed proponent of eugenics, do you share the belief in COVID-19 pandemic’s purifying role? What is your assessment of the reservations on negative eugenics that Charles Darwin—while acknowledging the attenuation of natural selection in Victorian England—expressed in The Descent of Man? Namely that “the surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil.”

EOWK: COVID-19 almost only kills old people who are no longer reproducing, so it has no eugenic or dysgenic effect. If one wanted to be really cynical, one could say that by killing off a bunch of unproductive people, it is easing the state’s welfare budgets, though causing large initial costs in healthcare.

I agree with Darwin. There is an uneasiness with realizing the problem of dysgenics and doing anything about it. Galton himself commented on this in his autobiography (1908): “Man is gifted with pity and other kindly feelings; he also has the power of preventing many kinds of suffering. I conceive it to fall well within his province to replace Natural Selection by other processes that are more merciful and not less effective.” So, how can we do things more mercifully? Many have thought about this problem (Glad, 2004).

I submit that we don’t need to do too much. Some countries have already managed to reduce the intelligence-fertility relationship to quite a weak negative or null association through existing social policies and cultural changes (Kolk & Barclay, 2019; Meisenberg, 2008; Reeve et al., 2018).

Aside from that, we have the tools at hand to reverse the problem: embryo selection and genome editing. With the latter, we can edit embryos to remove some known errors, insofar as these are known (typically well-known genetic disorders). The former technology has been here for years, but needs to be augmented with a modern genomics approach, and to get rid of the communist ethos that prevents this from happening (Anomaly, 2018; 2020; Anomaly & Jones, 2020).

Interestingly, survey evidence shows that large fractions of the world population, with notable differences between countries, are already in favor of such technology, and this fraction is increasing over time, just as it did when the original IVF technology emerged (Pew Research Center, 2020; Zigerell, 2019). On the technology side, we need to figure out how to produce a lot of egg cells (sperm are plenty!), and combine these with the best sperm cells if possible (sperm selection), nurture the resulting embryos, and pick the best combination of genes among the sibling embryos according to the best genetic prediction models.

This approach was outlined in Gattaca back in 1997, so this is hardly new. We just need to get serious about it. Galton suggested the same more than 100 years ago (“I take Eugenics very seriously, feeling that its principles ought to become one of the dominant motives in a civilised nation, much as if they were one of its religious tenets”).

If we let the power of capitalism achieve this, we can all have healthier, smarter, prettier, more creative children, and work towards improving our Kardashev score. Considering the current way Western elite thought is moving, there is probably not so much hope for this. Richard Lynn made similar forecasts in his 2001 book, Eugenics: A Reassessment.

GC: A nation’s collective intelligence partly lies in its average IQ. It also lies in its ability to network the various individual IQs within it in an efficient way, i.e., in a way allowing the nation to solve challenges and to prevail in intergroup competition. Efficient networking within a national brain notably includes intragroup competition for innovation—and the shifting of resources towards sound innovators, i.e., individuals bringing a way of thinking which is different, novel, but also more efficient than the previous admitted thought patterns. Do you sense a correlation between average IQ and efficient networking? Historically, which nation performed best in terms of intragroup cognitive collaboration?

EOWK: It’s a tough question because competing nations throughout history have not generally been so easy to compare, since they differ in population size, and change their borders and thus populations over time as well (e.g., modern Austria vs. Austria-Hungary vs. Greater Germany). The ultimate test of inter-group competition is warfare, and so one can look at which countries are very good at this, or have good standing militaries (Karlin, 2020). One can go beyond looking at who won a lot of wars.

One can look at efficiency specifically, and for World War II, there are some numbers here on the combat efficiency of soldiers from the warring states. Though these were calculated by the US army after the war, it probably won’t surprise many to learn that Nazi Germany’s soldiers were the most efficient in per capita terms. Specifically, the research computed the worth of a solider, setting the Nazi German one to 1.00, yields values of 1.10 Americans, 1.45 British, and >4 Slavic (Polish or Russian) (Kretaner, 2020; Turchin, 2007). Details of the calculations are hard to find, and I have been unable to find numbers for World War I or any other wars.

But I admit to not being a military historian and not having spent more than a few hours looking. Peter Turchin talks a lot about this collective efficiency. He uses the term, Asabiya for this, from the great Islamic golden age thinker, Ibn Khaldun. We can make some guesses though. Group efficiency is higher when people have a feeling of belonging.

Most academic research finds negative effects of ethnic/race diversity on social trust (Dinesen et al., 2020), and given the iniquitousness of ethnic voting in democracies, and the endless anti-European hatred from the European left, it’s hard to disagree with a diagnosis of an overall negative effect of ethnic diversity on collective effectiveness.

We currently live in a time of extreme political polarization (mostly Europeans versus other Europeans in the same countries), mostly caused I think by the radicalization of the global media by communist Woke theories from academia. Zach Goldberg is doing great work on this topic (Goldberg, 2019a; 2019b).

China, on the other hand, is going strong in terms of collective efficiency, insofar as their human capital allows (corruption is endemic outside WEIRD populations; (Henrich, 2020)). All this aside, collective efficiency is positively affected by national average intelligence, and this shows up in any kind of analysis one does. Intelligence is at the individual level related to trust, honesty, competence at any job, patience and so on. So, it is not surprising that countries with smarter people outcompete others by large margins (Kirkegaard & Karlin, 2020).

GC: You dedicate yourself to exploring the relationship of personal names to factors like social status, intelligence, age, and country of origin. What are your conclusions at it stands? Do you subscribe to the Jewish belief that someone’s name predicts his destiny?

EOWK: I’ve never heard of this Jewish belief, but it is certainly true that names have associations with outcomes in life. You see when most social scientists discover such patterns, they immediately think it results from some kind of discrimination (the so-called second sociologist fallacy: any group difference is caused by discrimination by the above average groups). They devise experiments to show that people preferentially hire people with higher status names, and so on (Bertrand & Mullainathan, 2004; Oreopoulos, 2011). Yes, I am sure one can find some evidence of this stuff. It goes back to the stereotype discussion initially. People act in a crudely Bayesian manner; they use whatever information about an individual they can find. Sometimes researchers give people only names, and so of course people will use such information until they can get better information. This is both rational and not a big mystery.

My entry into this topic was, again, due to nice data presenting itself, but in a less useful format. A Danish newspaper bought government statistics about first names of people living in Denmark, specifically about their average incomes, crime rates, and so on. This data were then published on a website, sort of. There was a search function and one could look up any name to see the stats for that name; but no way to download all the data.

Together with a friend, we figured out how to get the entire dataset behind this website. We then carried out a bunch of analyses of this. We confirmed the usual “S factor” pattern. Maybe we should call this Thorndike’s Rule, as he wrote in 1920: “a still broader fact or principle—namely, that in human nature good traits go together. To him that hath a superior intellect is given also on the average a superior character; the quick boy is also in the long run more accurate; the able boy is also more industrious. There is no principle of compensation whereby a weak intellect is offset by a strong will, a poor memory by good judgment, or a lack of ambition by an attractive personality. Every pair of such supposed compensating qualities that have been investigated has been found really to show correspondence.” (Quoted from Gwern’s page on correlations).

Anyway, in our data, names with higher mean incomes were also, on average, less crime prone, and worked better jobs and so on (Kirkegaard & Tranberg, 2015). So, for every name, one can score it on this composite measure of social status, or “general socioeconomic factor,” as I called it in 2014 (Kirkegaard, 2014a), in a study of countries. I got the idea from reading Richard Lynn and Gregory Clark’s books in short succession (Clark, 2014; Lynn & Vanhanen, 2012). Clark talks about how everyone is born with a latent, genetic score for this generalized social status; and the various social status indicators in life are an imperfect indicator of this (and the other part being mostly luck).

However, if one relies on last name data, one can actually see that the heritability of the latent general social status is about 75%. This finding replicates across many datasets from different countries, even in Maoist China. It’s really quite astonishing. I realized then, that the same thing can be said for countries and subpopulations inside countries, such as immigrant groups (Kirkegaard & Fuerst, 2014).

In our follow-up study, we were also able to show that average intelligence measured in the Danish army correlated quite well with this general social status of names (Kirkegaard, 2019). Personally, I don’t think having a funny name does much to harm one’s career; and it’s a quite simple matter to change it these days, if one really thinks so.

The fact of the matter is rather than funny parents give their kids funny names, and low status parents their kids low status names, and so on. This results in first names being differentiated by genetic propensity for social status, despite not being a family. One can even see dysgenics this way in our Danish data, as higher social status names had fewer “kids;” a kind of pseudo-fertility measure; and so these reduce their share of the population over time. Elite families dying out is a familiar finding for many historians.

GC: It is sometimes asked whether our ontological concepts (causality, identity, quantity, and so on) are intended in the human mind to relate to objective properties of the observed things. Or, on the contrary, only serve as molds, allowing the human mind to clarify, organize the empirical data; but having nothing to do with the content of reality. It is also asked whether the human mind is able to draw its concepts from an immaterial dimension reached through suprasensible perceptions. Or, on the contrary, is condemned to rely on itself—and on sensible experience. What is your take on such issues?

EOWK: That philosophy is a waste of time. For those few who still want to wade into this territory, I highly recommend Alan Sokal’s writings on ontological realism, quantum mechanics and postmodernism (Sokal, 2008; Sokal & Bricmont, 1999).

In my opinion, the best philosophy is written by working scientists or philosophers with a very close relationship to science (and I don’t mean doing some pop-neuroscience). For those wanting to put a label on me, I like to refer to myself as a neo-positivist scientific realist. This is essentially the view that evolution favors organisms that have some level of accuracy of their perception of the real world, which come equipped with a bunch of mostly adaptive cognitive biases (“tinted glasses”), and that through rigorous application of the scientific process, we can better see reality as it really is.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that social science is close to this scientific ideal, being staffed by the wrong people, with the wrong incentives. Social science would do better if we fired everybody who works there, and hired some random physicists to figure things out. This is essentially what Dominic Cummings did in order to win the 2016 Brexit vote, his blog has a bunch of stuff on this.

GC: Going back to linguistics, you may have heard of the proposition “Est vir qui adest.” Namely the anagram for Pilate’s question to Jesus, “Quid est veritas?” What does such connection inspire to you? Which one of Jesus or Pilatus is the chad—and which one the virgin?

EOWK: I generally don’t read fiction, so I am not overly familiar with the Bible stories. Considering that Jesus supposedly died as a childless Virgin (if we disregard the Mary possibility), and Wikipedia tells me that Pilate apparently had a wife, and we don’t know anything about any potential children. So, it boils down to the interesting question of whether Jesus was as holy as he claims to be (i.e., the Gospels claim him to be!), considering the base rate of fertility rates among cult leaders. On the balance of probabilities, I am going with Chad Jesus and the groupies theory, and may God forgive my atheist sins!

GC: Thank you for your time. Would you like to add something?

EOWK: These were some very far reaching questions. You certainly have a talent for interviewing. Maybe you can get a job at Playboy!


The featured image shows, “Nyboder with figures, evening,” by Harald Rudyard Engman, painted in 1931.

Mariano Artigas And The Debate On The Origin Of Man

1. Love Of Wisdom

“All men naturally desire to know” (Aristotle). With this striking statement, the great Greek philosopher Aristotle begins his famous work entitled, Metaphysics. Without a doubt, these few words, in all fairness, may be perfectly applied to Mariano Artigas—because his deep intellectual concerns led him to get a doctorate in philosophy, theology and physics.

This natural appetite for a thorough understanding of the whole of reality made Artigas plunge into a deep and careful investigation of a whole series of questions relating to a plurality of disciplines so varied, but intrinsically connected, as they can be—namely, cosmology, anthropology, philosophy of nature, metaphysics, theology (both natural and revealed), philosophy of science in general and epistemology in particular, as well as certain crucial points of the history of science (such as, for example, the detailed study of the Galileo case). All this plurality of theoretical knowledge converged in the spirit of Artigas into a focal point: truly knowing the ultimate foundation of reality, in such a way that our minds may be able to elaborate a thorough and comprehensive account of the totality of being, including the apprehension of the true human essence.

In this article, we will deal with one of the central themes of this ambitious and complex intellectual project of Artigas: the knowledge of man, both with regard to his biological origin and evolution, as well as relative to his authentic ontological dimension. On the spiritual level for Artigas, clarifying these questions was present in his mind from very young. Getting to know the true place that man occupies in Nature was a restlessness that very soon awoke in his soul. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger said that:

No other epoch has accumulated so great and so varied a store of knowledge concerning man as the present one. No other epoch has succeeded in presenting its knowledge of man so forcibly and so captivatingly as ours, and no other has succeeded in making this knowledge so quickly and so easily accessible. But also, no epoch is less sure of its knowledge of what man is than the present one. In no other epoch has man appeared so mysterious as in ours.

Heidegger points out with his usual acuity that never has so much been known about man as now. Indeed, multiple disciplines, such as, psychology, anthropology, sociology, history, archeology, paleontology or biology, provide us with a kaleidoscope of information and knowledge about ourselves that would cause enormous astonishment and perplexity to any sage of even a century or two ago.

But, at the same time, that halo of mystery that has enveloped man, not only remains standing, but grows larger as we delve into our own knowledge. Another German philosopher, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, noted the same when stating that: “We who know are strangers to ourselves” (Nietzsche). A few words that invite a suggestive reflection, and that in the case of Heidegger brought him to see humanity as “stateless in their own homeland” (Heidegger). Explaining what that homeland is and what the authentic ontological status of man in that homeland consists of is what Artigas devoted all his intellectual effort in the field of anthropology, both in its philosophical-theological, as well as its scientific, aspects.

2. What Is Man?

Towards the end of the Critique of Pure Reason Kant argues that the three most important questions humans can ask are: What can I know? What should I do? And what can I expect? The first question refers to the nature of human knowledge, to the understanding of its origin, its limits, its reliability and scope. The second refers to moral conduct consubstantial to the fact of being human; and the third to the immortality of the soul and the existence of God. The surprising thing is that the Prussian philosopher reduces these three questions to a more basic one: What is man? Making it the most important of all. It is not that Kant reduces epistemology (or gnoseology, in general), ethics and natural theology to anthropology, but he considers that by knowing well what is man we will be able to adequately approach all the other questions.

Perhaps the question, what is man? is not the most important of all (some will say that it is relative to whether God truly exists in an objective way or not). What is indisputable is that it is one of the most fundamental questions. It is also beyond doubt that the question of man is linked to that of God, since our identity (who are we?), as well as our origin (where did we come from?), and our destination (where are we going? which is the popular equivalent of Kantian, what can I expect?)—are fully engaged in the question of the existence or not of God. Artigas raises this issue explicitly when wondering if we are purely material beings who exist thanks to chance, in such a way that everything ends for us with death; or if, on the contrary, we have a spiritual dimension created by God that opens the doors to immortality and that confers a transcendent meaning to our existence (Artigas and Turbón 2008, 19).

3. Emergentism: More From Less

In the first case, the materialists have to explain what is the origin of the so-called spiritual faculties that man has: intelligence and the will (with its unique ability to love freely). According to them these would have arisen gradually throughout the evolutionary process, a position that Artigas describes as “emergentism.” For him, the spiritual elements that characterize humans (“more”) cannot come from the potentiality that matter contains (“less”), but rather represent an ontological leap; so that the difference between man and the rest of the living things is qualitative and not merely of degree, as emergentist materialism would maintain.

It is true that man is a being that has a biological basis of the same nature as that of other living beings, and that this biological dimension seems to be dynamic (evolutionism), but Artigas insists that this does not cancel out the fact that man encloses an essential novelty with respect to all other living natural entities. As for what is the same: man is an animal, but he is not just an animal.

For the emergentists, human qualities gradually emerged in prehuman hominids (perhaps some species of australopithecine such as A. africanus, A. garhi or some other still undiscovered, even some other genus of hominids not yet found). For those who maintain that God has a direct relationship with that ontological leap that gives rise to man, the question is when and in whom did it occur. For Artigas it is not possible to scientifically answer these questions. According to him the “spiritual dimensions began to exist in the human being at some point, when the necessary biological basis existed. We do not know when it was and likely we will never know” (Artigas and Turbón 2008).

The answer to the question of when is related to who. In other words, what species of hominid did Adam and Eve belong to? Were the first parents of mankind the first couple of Homo sapiens? Or maybe the first pair of Homo habilis, or Homo rudolfensis?

In the first case, humanity would be around 200,000 years ago. In the second, we would be talking about two and a half million years. Fiorenzo Facchini maintains that this issue has to be elucidated by scientists and not by philosophers or theologians (Artigas and Turbón 2008).

4. Monogenism And Polygenism

A much more problematic question from the doctrinal point of view is whether the biblical Adam and Eve represent a pair of real individuals from which all humanity would come; or if it is a symbol that refers to a first population formed by several protohumans that would have appeared simultaneously from a prehuman hominid species. That is to say: is the origin of humanity monogenic or polygenic?

It does not escape anyone that this question is not at all trivial, since it has to do with the Judeo-Christian doctrine of original sin. Artigas, in his aforementioned book on the origin of man published together with biology professor Daniel Turbón, after exposing the biological advantages offered by monogenism (facilitating the restructuring of the genotype to present decisive novelties in the emergence of a new species) calls attention to a fact of great interest, and that is that “the current edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not mention the term monogenism” (Artigas and Turbón 2008).

Elsewhere, after noting that: “No matter how great the scientific progress, it seems very difficult to reach clear conclusions about monogenism or polygenism relying only on science… On the other hand, although monogenism poses some difficulties to our desire to represent the origin of the human species, polygenism also poses difficulties that are hardly trivial.” (Artigas 2007), Artigas warns that, although “there are scientifically respectable possibilities to explain the monogenistic origin of modern man… polygenism has not been excluded in an absolute way” (Artigas 2007).

In fact, in such a way that some end up observing that certain “theologians have tried to show that this conciliation could exist, although it is an issue that presents difficulties” (Artigas 2007). The truth is that there are many difficulties to which Artigas alludes. Then, as Pius XII points out: “It is not seen how such an opinion [referring to the polygenist] can be reconciled with what the sources of revealed truth and the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church propose about original sin” (Pius XII 1950).

5. The Vatican And The Reception Of Darwinism

The very delicate and complex question of monogenism and polygenism leads us to deal with another of the issues to which Artigas devoted great attention in his latter years: the attitude of the Congregation of the Index towards Catholic authors who defended the compatibility between the scientific theory of biological evolution and Christian doctrine. In other words, it was about analyzing what the official position of the Vatican had been regarding this theory, since it became known in the second half of the 19th century (and, incidentally, see the position of the popes in relation to the evolution of man). This was possible after the opening of the Archive of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1998. Investigating this matter took Artigas to Rome the following year, in order to study the Vatican archives (for a detailed analysis of this question, see Martínez 2007).

Reviewing documents for the reception of Darwinism by part of the Holy See, Artigas had the unexpected and fascinating surprise of stumbling upon the discovery of an unpublished manuscript in which Galileo’s atomistic doctrine, in his popular work Il Saggiatore, was judged. It is not necessary to emphasize the enormous historical value of material of this caliber. The translation and the study in question took a couple of years. Once this task was completed, which was finalized with the publication of the manuscript (Artigas et al. 2001) and of a work on the content and its implications (Artigas, Martínez and Shea 2003), Artigas resumed the original project, which Rafael A. Martínez had now joined.

The enormous progress of the empiriometric sciences of nature produced since their appearance in the seventeenth century, led to a confrontation between science and Christianity in the nineteenth century. Certain intellectuals of the time were interested, for purely ideological reasons, in presenting both as inevitable and irreconcilable enemies.

The tension between science and religion was accentuated in the second half of the 19th century as a result of the publication and dissemination of Darwinian ideas on the evolution of species, which had natural selection as an explanatory mechanism for change or transformation. In this age, theology was constantly attacked by those who used science as a weapon capable of discrediting religion. In this way, for some, the theory of evolution left in evidence the millennial biblical account of the creation of man by God, offering instead a naturalistic alternative that delighted the materialistic monists. In this context, it is not surprising that there were theologians who viewed the theory of evolution with suspicion and wagered on its denunciation. But there were also Christian theologians who considered plausible the elaboration of a synthesis that would wager on making this theory compatible with the anthropogenic conception included in the Genesis account.

Artigas’ studies carried out in relation to the Index Archives concluded that the Vatican authorities never pronounced an official condemnation of the scientific theory of biological evolution, although there were warnings against its supporters. That is, there was no official Vatican policy against evolutionism as such (understanding it here as a scientific theory and not as an ideological movement), nor a common pattern in the decision-making of popes and cardinals—but rather it was acted on, in accordance with the specific circumstances of each instance.

Artigas and his collaborators analyzed six specific cases. In those (of Bonomelli, Hedley and Mivart) “there was no action against these authors” (Martínez 2007). In the three cases in which the Congregation of the Index intervened (those of Caverni, Leroy and Zahm) “it did so in response to external complaints. The Holy Office did not intervene in any of the cases. It can be affirmed that the cases examined did not correspond to a policy of the Roman authorities against evolutionism” (Martínez 2007).
In short, “Evolution has never been the subject of any official condemnation by the Vatican authorities” (Artigas 2007). For Artigas, the cause of the absence of an official conviction was in the will, on the part of the Vatican, to avoid the repetition of a new Galileo case. Indeed:

The Vatican authorities were aware that there was no doctrinal decision about evolutionism, and apparently they did not have much interest in provoking it. They examined the various writings in response to specific allegations, and attempted to analyze them based on existing doctrine, without following any explicit directives on the matter. This explains why the various reports, very different in terms of length, arguments and conclusions, did not follow any uniform scheme… It is very likely that the mildness of the measures taken was the result of the desire not to compromise the authority of the Church in a field related to science. The Roman authorities did not want to be faced with a new ‘Galileo case’ (Martínez 2007).

In summary: “The Magisterium of the Church has never condemned scientific theories of evolution, and admits that these theories can be reconciled with Christianity, provided that the basic aspects of Catholic doctrine about the action of God and the human person are respected” (Artigas and Turbón 2008). And it is that “the Catholic Church has never, officially, pronounced against evolutionary theories, as long as they are not extrapolated outside the scientific field” (Artigas 1992b).

6. Popes And Evolutionism

The study of the research carried out by Artigas, regarding the reception of Darwinism by the Vatican authorities, can be complemented with the exposition he makes of the opinion of various popes on the theory of evolution.

In 1950, Pope Pius XII published the encyclical Humani generis; it includes a paragraph that has served for decades as a point of reference to support the compatibility between Christianity and evolutionism. The text in question is as follows:

For these reasons the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter – for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God. However, this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church, to whom Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scriptures and of defending the dogmas of faith (Pius XII 1950).

In April 1988, the University of Munich organized in Rome an international Symposium on the Christian faith and the theory of evolution, which was attended by the then Cardinal Ratzinger and led by Robert Spaemann and Reinhard Löw, who stated that “a theory of well-formed evolution can not only be acceptable, but perfectly compatible with faith” (Artigas 1992b); to the point that “the theory of evolution, if kept within its just limits, not only does not shock faith, but, in some way, highlights its splendor” (Artigas 1992b, 97). Pope John Paul II himself affirmed there that “the debate around the explanatory model of evolution finds no obstacle in faith, as long as the discussion remains in the context of the naturalistic method and its possibilities” (Artigas 1992b).

The following year, and during a General Audience, John Paul II recalled the aforementioned words of Pius XII and made them explicit, noting that “it is possible, according to the aforementioned hypothesis, that the human body, following the order printed by the Creator in the energies of matter, has been gradually prepared in the forms of antecedent living beings” (John Paul II 1986, 1041).

A decade later, he made some especially relevant statements, noting that:

New insights lead us to think that the theory of evolution is more than a hypothesis. Indeed, it is remarkable that this theory has gradually imposed itself on the minds of researchers, due to a series of discoveries made in various disciplines of knowledge. The convergence, in no way sought or provoked, of the results of works carried out independently of each other, constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory (John Paul 1996, 4).

This does not mean the uncritical acceptance of any evolutionary proposal, but of those that do not transcend the limits of positive science and that do not make statements, rather, of a philosophical nature, that are pronounced with a clear ideological tone when making them pass as scientific conclusions. Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Ratzinger, had already touched on the subject in his work Creation and Sin where he affirms that:

We cannot say: creation or evolution; the correct way to pose the problem must be: creation and evolution, since both answer different questions. The history of the clay and the breath of God… does not tell us how man originated… And conversely, the theory of evolution tries to know and describe biological periods. But through this, it cannot clarify the origin of man’s “project,” his intimate origin or his own essence. We are thus faced with two questions that complement each other to the same extent and are not mutually exclusive (Ratzinger 2005).

Ratzinger considered the question of the origin of man so important that he alluded to it in his opening papal homily, stating there that: “We are not the casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each one of us is loved, each one is loved, each one is necessary” (Benedict XVI 2005).

The two issues raised by these Ratzinger texts put on the table the issue of the compatibility between the notions of creation and evolution and that of a finality in nature—in such a way that God has a plan, a project, for man, the existence of which is not the mere fruit of chance. Let’s look at both questions.

7. Compatibility Between Evolution And Creation

For Artigas, “the alleged oppositions between evolution and divine action are baseless” (Artigas and Turbón 2008). And it is that “evolution does not lead, by itself, to affirm or deny the action of God in the world. Scientists study evolution without counting on God, because they look for natural explanations. But that does not mean that they deny God. It simply means that biology is limited to what can be known through the methods of science” (Artigas and Turbón 2008). Therefore, it can be stated “that there is no alternative ‘evolution-creation,’ as if it were two alternatives from which to choose. Evolution can be admitted and, at the same time, divine creation” (Artigas 1992c). In fact, “God was able to create the universe in very different states, and this does not conflict with the possibility that later some beings emerged from others” (Artigas 1992c).

For Artigas, the conclusion is evident: “The theories of evolution have nothing with which to object to the need to admit a Creator. These theories only study the origin of some living beings from others, but it will always remain to be determined what is the ultimate cause of the existence of everything that exists; and at that level it is necessary to admit the existence of a creator God” (Artigas 1992c). So that:

According to the teachings of the Catholic Church, there is no opposition between Catholic doctrine and evolutionary theories, provided that these are valued with the necessary rigor, which means, among other things, that they are not used outside of their scientific context, such as happens when unjustified leaps are made that lead to materialistic positions, or to the denial and relativization of religious truths. However, there are not a few authors who make that leap unjustified to materialism, presenting it as justified by science (Artigas 1992c, 202).

Artigas insists on this idea in several places. Thus, in Man in the Light of Science, he points out that “according to the teachings of the Catholic Church, there is no opposition between Catholic doctrine and evolutionary theories, as long as these are valued with the necessary rigor, which implies, among other things, that they are not used outside the scientific context” (Artigas 1992b).

At this point, Artigas asks himself the key question: “Can there be, at the same time, evolutionist and Christian? ” (Artigas and Turbón 2008, 135). The answer is clear: “Today, Catholic theologians say yes, because creation and evolution are compatible; the latter is nothing but the dynamic expression of the former” (Artigas and Turbón 2008).

In fact, Artigas remarks that not only the notions of evolution and creation are compatible, but the former requires it—in the sense that for something to evolve, it must first be created; in the sense that, in the first place, evolution occurs within creation and, secondly, the totality of contingent entities (and the evolutionary process) ultimately requires a necessary foundation and transcendence that creates them in a free and gratuitous act. Thus, “created causality is compatible with divine action” (Artigas and Turbón 2008). Therefore: “if it is understood what the creation and conservation in being is, it is easy to understand that the action of God is not situated on the plane of created causes; and that must be affirmed whether evolution is admitted or not” (Artigas 1992c, 195).

8. Teleology

We said before that the compatibility between creation and evolution is linked to the idea that there is a purpose in nature (teleology) which corresponds to a divine plan. This is precisely the big question. This is how Artigas recognizes it when he warns that:

The big problem, in short, is whether we are the object of a divine plan or have appeared on Earth as a simple result of blind laws and chance. But these are not conclusive extremes. For God, who is the First Cause that gives being to everything that exists, and therefore knows everything perfectly, there is no difficulty in having His plans carried out relying on natural laws of which He Himself is the author, and with intervention, which for us is random because we cannot predict it (Artigas 2007, 28).

Chance exists for us insofar as it is the ignorance of causes. On the other hand, “for God, there is no chance, because everything is subject to His power and He knows perfectly all the processes and their effects” (Artigas 2007, 42). The conclusion drawn by Artigas is that: “I see no reason to deny evolution nor to underestimate the role of chance and natural selection. It seems to me that these are aspects that must be taken into account by rigorous philosophical reflection today. However, it also seems to me that this does not authorize us to dispense with purpose in the study of nature” (Artigas 2007, 74).

According to Artigas, “there should be no problem to combine evolution and the existence of a divine plan” (Artigas and Turbón 2008); and this is so because “the same effect can be considered as contingent when compared with its immediate causes and, at the same time, being included within a divine plan that cannot fail” (Artigas and Turbón 2008).

Biology and philosophy (especially metaphysics) address different ontological and epistemological planes of reality, not through juxtaposition, but by complementing each other, so that “the combination of chance and purpose, of variation and selection, together with the potentialities for self-organization, can be easily completed as the path used by God to produce the process of evolution” (Artigas and Turbón 2008).

In relation to this issue, Artigas concludes that:

Everything has its cause; but many things happen when independent causes come together. This is called chance: the concurrence of independent causal lines. Chance exists. But it only exists for us. For God, who is the First Cause on which everything always depends, there is no chance or causality. Therefore, from the existence of chance in evolution, it cannot be concluded that there is no divine plan and that the human being is not the intended result of that plan (Artigas and Turbón 2008).

To deny the existence of finality in nature, in the name of science, is to force it to say more than its methods allow to affirm, thus,

When it is asserted that the combination of necessity and chance renders recourse to a metaphysical cause superfluous, the limits of the scientific perspective are reached. To affirm the existence of a divine plan, it is necessary to take a metaphysical leap whose legitimacy cannot be justified by science. But, for the same reason, science cannot show that this leap is illegitimate either” (Artigas 1992a, 399).

This detail is very important, since, “the combination of necessity and chance is real. It may be enough to partially explain nature, showing what types of processes are involved in the functioning of nature, and how some entities can arise from others. But it cannot explain the radical foundation of nature (Artigas 1992a, 399).

9. The Harmony Between Reason And Faith

In short, Artigas wagers, arguing in detail, on the compatibility between the evolutionary vision of living nature with the metaphysical notion of creation from nothing, a fact that escapes the research methods used by science. Indeed, the empiriometric science of nature studies the transformations produced from an initial concrete physical state to another final concrete physical state. Creation ex nihilo, on the other hand, consists of a passage from absolute nonexistence (and therefore devoid of any physical characterization) to a physical state, so that it is a fact that cannot be studied by science.

As far as human beings are concerned, Artigas does not see any incompatibility between the study of their evolutionary biological development and the affirmation that their spiritual dimensions are the object of direct creation by God. The aforementioned compatibility between the theory of evolution and the Christian doctrine of the creation of man, as far as his intellectual concerns are concerned, is framed in the context of the general compatibility between the truths of faith and the truths of reason. In other words, Artigas wagers on the harmony between science, reason and faith. On the other hand, there are those who use the theory of evolution to try to scientifically prove that God is a fictitious entity and that religion, therefore, is a suprastructural discourse with no real basis.

10. The Ideological Manipulation Of The Theory Of Evolution

Artigas denounced as active and passive the manipulative use of any scientific theory to try to spread ideology by passing it off as science. The theory of evolution has been, precisely, one of the most used against religion since “Darwinism is often used in this context to affirm that Darwin has made it possible to be an atheist in an intellectually legitimate way, because Darwinism can show that it is not necessary to admit divine action to explain the order that exists in the world” (Artigas 2007, 92).

This ideological use of the theory of evolution has been repeatedly rejected by Artigas as having nothing to do with science, strictly speaking (Artigas 1992). Thus, he claims a sincere search for the truth, leaving aside all ideological prejudices. In fact, there is a manifest contradiction in those who wield science in general (and the theory of evolution in particular) as a proof of the truth of materialism, when this is, in reality, a philosophical ideology and not an empirically proven scientific theory.

With profound insight, Artigas highlights the fact that the same science that is used to seek to prove the truth of materialism and to claim to demonstrate scientifically that man is nothing more than an animal, since everything that exists would be purely material (Artigas 1992b ; 2007)—is precisely an example of the essential difference between man and animals (Artigas 2007).

11. That Mystery Named “Man”

The scientific theory of evolution is not opposed by itself to the metaphysical and theological doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, but to fixism (the belief that God created the species as we know them today). God creates for free. He does not need to create, since He is perfect. Thus, He does not benefit at all from His creation, for He is imperfectible. So why does He create? He does it to communicate His perfection and benefits to creatures (Artigas 2007). In the case of man, God makes him a participant in His spiritual life and offers him the possibility of being able to enjoy His glory; the only way to satisfy the desire for full happiness to which every man naturally aspires. Now, making use of his free will, man can accept or reject that destiny.

Artigas’s has practically dedicated an entire life to studying and searching for the wisdom that allows us to truly know how is the cosmos, man and God. A search that has led him to conclude (by virtue of those spiritual capacities that specify man: intellectuality, freedom and capacity to love, seeking only the good of the other) that “each human is a mystery” by virtue of the practically inexhaustible wealth that human interiority contains (Artigas and Turbón 2009).


Carlos Alberto Marmelada is a philosopher, professor at the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya, and author of various publications on evolution, cosmology, and metaphysics.

The article is courtesy of Scientia et Fides. Translated from the Spanish by N. Dass.


The featured image shows, “Creation of Eve,” by Carlo Francesco Nuvolone, painted ca. 1662.

Humans In Society: A Conversation With Aurelio José Figueredo

This month, we are especially honored to present this invigorating conversation with Professor Aurelio José Figueredo, who is a Cuban-American evolutionary psychologist. He is a Professor of Psychology, Family Studies and Human Development at the University of Arizona, where he is also the Director of the Ethology and Evolutionary Psychology Laboratory.

Aurelio José Figueredo

He has also been a long-time member of the interdisciplinary Center for Insect Science at the University of Arizona, which has regrettably been closed just this past month. His major areas of research interest are the evolutionary psychology and behavioral development of life history strategy, cognition, sex, and violence in human and nonhuman animals, and the quantitative ethology and social development of insects, birds, and primates. He is interviewed by Grégoire Canlorbe, on behalf of the Postil.

Grégoire Canlorbe (GC): Welcome, Professor Figueredo. It is a great pleasure to have you with us. You are notably known for your research on personality in nonhuman primates (including monkeys and chimpanzees). The Hominoid Personality Questionnaire was used as a quantifier of the big five personality traits in chimpanzees. Could you start by telling us more about it?

Aurelio José Figueredo (AJF): To be clear, the research on stumptail macaques, published in 1995, used a different list of behavioral traits which had been developed by Stevenson-Hinde, & Zunz (1978). The Hominoid Personality Questionnaire was used for our study of personality in chimpanzees in 1997, and was later extended to other Great Apes. That is an important distinction, because the findings of these two studies were different. The Great Apes all showed human-like personality structures resembling the human “Big Five,” although to varying degrees. The macaque monkeys showed a simpler pattern of three major factors; but whether this was a result of differences in the list of items used is unclear.

GC: A controversial hypothesis by J. Philippe Rushton is that fast life history – including traits like psychopathy – and a healthy, powerful mind, which is high in g, are negatively correlated at the individual level. Do you believe such correlation is indeed displayed – from lower animals to the most sophisticate of mammals?

AJF: There is something that we have called “The Rushton Paradox.” On the level of individual-differences, at least two meta-analyses (Woodley, 2011; Figueredo et al., 2014) have found weak and trivially small correlations between life history speed and general intelligence.

On the other hand, at the aggregate level of human social groupings or biogeographical regions, there is a strong positive correlation between slower life history strategies and aggregate cognitive abilities (e.g., Figueredo, Hertler, & Peñaherrera-Aguirre, 2020). This paradox was resolved by modeling the evolution of higher levels of aggregate intelligence as an emergent property of social groups rather than an individual-level adaptation (e.g., Figueredo et al., 2017).

In the 2017 paper that I cited, the one we called “Plants, Parasites, and People,” we constructed a model, which is a multiple-stage “Cascade Model,” that slow life history, first of all, is attributable to ecological factors; that we have warmer and wetter climate as well as higher parasite loads predicting human life history speed. Then, life history predicts a variety of other things in sequence before we get to intelligence.

For example, slow life history people are generally more cooperative – they have less crime and conflict within their groups. So, it creates a more cooperative society. And what we found out in other publications is that they are more strategically differentiated. They’re more diverse, both in their cognitive abilities and their life history strategies. Those are called the cognitive and strategic differentiation effort hypotheses.

What that cognitive and strategic diversification leads to is macroeconomic diversification where the society becomes, first of all, more productive as per Ricardo’s Law of Comparative Advantage – there’s a higher economic productivity consequent to having a greater degree of specialization and trade between the different specialists. It boosts the productivity of a society, and we use various indicators of macroeconomic diversification in that paper. And we show that the intelligence of a slow life history population is elevated indirectly, through this macroeconomic diversification, increasing their aggregate wealth, and thereby indirectly increasing their human capital.

Now see, once you increase your human capital, that leads to gains in IQ. But this kind of thing is called an emergent property of social groups, so that an individual can have individual traits like extraversion, or weight, or height, or anything like that, but an individual can’t have something like macroeconomic diversification all by himself or herself. That is not a property at an individual level. That is a property of an aggregate economy.

For example, I can’t have inflation. I can live in a society that has inflation, and I can be affected by inflation; but I don’t personally have an inflation rate, per se. Similarly, macroeconomic diversification is something that only exists at the aggregate level, and it is produced indirectly by a population’s aggregate slow life history.

Once you have that, it has the effect, and we documented that in this paper, of increasing the cranial capacity and the intelligence of the population. And that was our explanation of the Rushton paradox because it wasn’t just in one study. In study after study after study, the relationship between individual level IQ and individual level life history is trivially small. It’s extremely small, in many cases, not statistically significant.

Actually, J. Philippe Rushton, who passed away in 2012, is one of the people who were somewhat resistant to the results of such analyses. But this is what you get, like it or not. So, on an individual level, Phil Rushton was wrong. Now, I’m not saying this to bash Rushton. He was a very good friend. And I agreed with him on many things, but there are other things that we frankly argued about in a friendly way because we were friends for years. And we would argue – I’m sure you argue with your friends, that happens. And there are points of contention between you.

There is virtually no empirically-validated relation between individual IQ and individual life history strategy. But at the aggregate level, there is a very strong relation. And I sent you a couple of papers that show that between aggregate intelligence and aggregate life history. And that is the answer to the Rushton paradox. At least, that’s the answer that our group has proposed. As far as I know, nobody else would propose any solution to this paradox because most people are not even aware that there’s a paradox. But that is my answer to that question.

GC: A fundamental debate in psychology focuses on how knowing whether a certain behavioral pattern that is widespread, if not in all human societies, at least in most human societies (for instance, the prohibition of murder and incest), comes as the result of cultural selection. Or, on the contrary, it comes as the result of genetic selection – whether such a pattern was inherited from our primate ancestors, or designed in the Pleistocene era (or even later in the course of our species’ biological evolution). As an evolutionary psychologist, what criterion do you resort to when it comes to distinguishing between those of widespread (if not universal) behaviors due to cultural selection, and those due to genetic selection?

AJF: The framing of this question presupposes that “cultural selection” and “genetic selection” are two distinct and independent processes. Quite simply put, they are not. Since at least the 1980s, most mainstream theories of human evolution have incorporated the idea of gene-culture coevolution (e.g., Lumsden & Wilson, 1981; Richerson & Boyd, 2005), meaning that genetic changes produce selective pressures for cultural changes, and that cultural changes produce selective pressures for genetic changes.

You are correct that genetic selection continued to take place well after what is commonly presupposed to have been either in our distant nonhuman primate ancestors or in our own species during the distant past in the Pleistocene Era. Gene-culture coevolution has continued (and even accelerated) throughout the Holocene (Cochran & Harpending, 2009) and up to and including the Modern Era (Hertler et al., 2020).

One notable example is that of lactose tolerance, the ability of people like you and me to drink cow’s milk in adulthood. Now, all mammals are born with an enzyme called lactase, which digests the milk sugar, lactose, but they only have it for a certain period of time during infancy because mammals only feed on milk during their infancy, and afterwards no longer feed on milk. So, they don’t need the enzyme for lactose after that time. In certain human, not all human populations, but in certain human populations, that created a cultural adaptation because dairy farming is not genetic. They had a cultural innovation for dairy farming, and they substantially enhanced their nutrition and fitness.

And as a result of that, those populations evolved what’s called lactase persistence. In medicine it’s called lactose tolerance, but it’s really the persistence of that enzyme into adulthood. It is not distributed evenly throughout the world. Studies have been done, where, according to the archeological record, there has been like 5000 years of dairy farming.

So, in those areas, the gene for lactase persistence is highly prevalent. Where there has been very little to no dairy farming, you know, then, lactase persistence is absent. And for a long time in medical circles, this absence was called lactose intolerance and treated as a disorder. Because in societies derived from European or Mediterranean societies, it is rare to be lactose intolerant because everybody digests the milk from cows even as adults. Dairy farming is a clear-cut case of a cultural innovation – because nobody has ever identified a genetic mutation for dairy farming.

But wherever dairy farming took place over sufficient evolutionary time, and adults were drinking milk, a genetic mutation followed and spread throughout the population. I said cow’s milk, but it could be sheep’s milk or mare’s milk. It’s believed by some that mare’s milk was the first kind of non-human milk that we started drinking, out in the Eurasian steppes.

The proto-Eastern Europeans started doing that thousands of years ago. It is in those populations where that gene is not universal, but it’s highly prevalent because of the fitness advantages of being able to consume the milk of non-human animals even as an adult, even after you are past the breastfeeding period.

GC: Your name is attached to the claim that, instead of religion being the cultural cause of moral intuitions, the association between religiosity and moral intuitions comes as “a spurious correlation” caused by slow life history strategy. How do you develop that insight?

AJF: We developed and empirically supported that idea by testing various alternative structural equation models, some of which hypothesized religion as the cause of moral intuitions, and comparing them for best fit to the data that we had collected. The best model, by these empirical criteria, has life history strategy as the common cause of both. Both behavioral traits are thus ultimately reducible to that single biological cause, rather than one psychosocial trait causing the other.

GC: As a proponent of the multilevel selection approach, you probably know E.O. Wilson’s suggestion to leave behind kin selection theory (i.e., the claim that group selection only occurs at the level of groups of kin-related individuals), which he says has been refuted in Hymenoptera and a variety of other species (including homo sapiens). Do you believe kin selection, instead of being wholly inoperative, applies in some specific cases? What is your take on E.O. Wilson’s suggestion of a more comprehensive model of group selection – namely eusociality?

AJF: We do not agree (see, Hertler et al., 2020) that kin selection theory has been entirely “refuted” in Hymenoptera. In fact, we just wrote a recently accepted entry (“Hymenopteran Eusociality”) to the Encyclopedia of Animal Cognition and Behavior on that topic, which I can provide upon request.

What has been refuted is the idea that kin selection is the sole selective pressure underlying Hymenopteran eusociality. Other forces have also been conclusively shown to be at work, and kin selection alone is neither a necessary nor sufficient explanation for advanced forms of sociality.

In our view, kin selection models have largely been subsumed under more complex models of multilevel selection, only applying to altruistic relations among very close kin. For more diffuse kin networks, such as in human hypersociality among quite distant relatives, or ultrasociality, as it is sometimes called (Turchin, 2016), other theories need to be incorporated. The relative degrees of genetic relatedness within-groups and between-groups (as captured in the statistic Fst, for example) is still a cardinal parameter underlying social evolution, but it is not the only consideration. Ecological factors, for example, also feature prominently.

GC: The cover of your very new collaborative book, Multilevel Selection, reproduces Lionel Royer’s famous painting of Vercingetorix surrendering to Caesar. What motivates such illustration choice? In group selection and life history terms, how do you explain that the West has been unique in producing such a variety of great men (both in history and fiction)? To name but a few, Achilles, Ulysses, Alexander the Great, Sulla, Julius Caesar, Vercingetorix, William the Conqueror, Cesare Borgia, Julius II, Davy Crockett, Rhett Butler, Tony Montana, Frank Castle.

AJF: That cover was selected because we wanted to emphasize the continuing importance of competition between groups as a persisting selective pressure in historical populations. That scene was a particularly dramatic one, illustrating a relatively recent outcome of intergroup conflict.

As far as the West producing a disproportionate number of “great men,” I am not really sure that is true. Most of the examples that you give are military leaders. To those, I would retort with Temujin son of Yesugei (the “Genghis Khan,” which was a title, not a proper name), who conquered the largest contiguous land-based empire in human history, and his General Subutai, arguably the greatest military strategist that ever lived! If we are instead talking about spiritual/philosophical leaders, I could counter with the cases of K’ung Fu-Tse (“Confucious”), Lao-Tsu (founder of Taoism), and Prince Siddhartha Gautama (“The Buddha,” founder of the eponymous religious philosophy). In what way are these lesser men than their Western counterparts? I am simply skeptical of the premise behind this particular question.

GC: The fall of the Soviet Union resulted in ending the intergroup tournament between America and Russia. How do sum up the Cold War’s intragroup consequences on America’s biocultural fabric? What happened to the latter once the war was over?

AJF: The fall of the Soviet Empire clearly reduced the intergroup selective pressures to which US populations are subjected. Our current conflicts are cases of “asymmetrical warfare” against substantially weaker opponents. There hasn’t been a major war among “Great Powers” for over half a century. Not that I am looking forward to having one, mind you, but it would definitely ratchet up the group-selection pressure, as by providing a true “existential threat,” which the current crop of Jihadis simply do not do, in spite of all the fear-mongering about them. In several of our recent publications, we have documented the decline in group-selected values in “Britannic” populations (meaning the successor states of the British Empire, including the USA) as a direct consequence of the reduced intensity of competition between groups over the Late Modern Era (reviewed in Hertler et al., 2020).

Within our collaborative writing group, including colleagues like Michael A. Woodley of Menie, these group cohesion factors and things like loyalty, altruism, martial valor, self-sacrifice are thought to be group-selected traits that, within the context of a multilevel selection model, have sometimes been able to partially overcome the forces of individual selection, which are disruptive of these traits. They have been able to partially counteract, in certain historical periods, the forces of individual selection, which oppose group cohesion. But this can happen only under conditions of intense inter-group competition. And when that intense inter-group competition declines, for whatever reason, then these traits erode. We have documented this trend during the relatively peaceful and prosperous period that followed the very harsh and conflict-ridden Little Ice Age.

The Little Ice Age had raged throughout most of the early modern era, starting in the mid 14th Century, actually early 14th Century. And that was a period of very intense competition, resource scarcity, famine, pestilence, warfare. But the Little Ice Age came to an end at about 1817, and things have been relatively benign since that time, and the prevalence of warfare has substantially decreased. The prevalence of inter-group competition has decreased, generally.

So, we have been trying to frame group selection within a broader historical perspective in that respect. A lot of people don’t get the fact that social conflict has been decreasing over the past couple of centuries – actually, Steven Pinker (2011) wrote about this phenomenon in his own book, that even though millions and millions of people died in World War One and Two, your per capita risk of dying, corrected for the total population size, was much less in those two wars than in most of the wars of the more distant past. The actual per capita rate of war mortality has plummeted. Also, the rate of criminal homicide – the rate at which we kill each other – has declined, and all social competition has been substantially reduced since the end of the Little Ice Age. And as a result, the amount of violence has decreased in European and European-derived populations.

But we’ve also – Michael and I – found, for instance, that a lot of these pro-social values, a lot of the idea of sacrifices for the security of the group have been eroding consistently since the 1800s. In fact, we’re just now revising the paper that we recently submitted that show the data for this as well. And we can send you that paper, if you’re interested. But right now, it’s still in the review and revision stage.

The Soviet Union, in my reading of history, was the last great existential threat that the United States faced since the defeat of Germany and Japan in WW2. That was a serious challenge. Had the Germans and the Japanese won WW2, the Anglo-American hegemony that had been exerted over the world since the end of the Napoleonic Wars would have been reversed, and the dominance and hegemony of the Anglo-American, Britannic people would have been essentially broken. Similarly, had the Soviet Union won the Cold War, the same thing would have happened. That was a real threat.

Once the Soviet Union fell, there was virtually no threat from anyone in the world to the global dominance of the Britannic people for a long time. And as a result, we have shown by various types of evidence that their group selected traits and social cohesion have been eroded, and are presently in a state of decay.

Now, this may not persist, because some people believe that communist China is going to be the next big threat to this Pax Americana, so to speak. I don’t know enough political science to know whether that’s true or not, but some people are saying that there’s going to be another threat, whether there will be a cold war, or a hot war, or any kind of war is unknown. I have no way to predict that. But if that should happen, you will see a resurgence of this kind of nationalism and this kind of group cohesion in response – with respect to the external threat.

But without an external threat, the forces of group selection cannot overcome the forces of individual selection. Individual selection puts a premium on self-interest and not group welfare. And as a result, those are the evolutionary conditions that lead to the proliferation of individually-selected people and the erosion of group cohesion. So, the fall of the Soviet empire was just the latest episode in this process. It may not be the last. I can’t tell the future with any degree of confidence because there are still uncertainties, for example, as to what’s going to happen over time.

GC: Anthropologist Robert Ardrey did not hesitate to characterize man as a territorial animal, most likely evolved from carnivorous African primates; and not – as was then the scientific consensus – from Asian herbivores. Unless in the case of defensive wars, those intended to expulse one or more intruders, Ardrey nonetheless refused to include war among the manifestations of the territorial imperative. Rather he thought war to fall within cultural selection. Do you follow him on that point – or do you judge war to fall within biological adaptation?

Besides, how do you account for those inter-ethnic differences in territoriality we witness today? With superorganisms in the West proving prone to tolerating an ever-higher proportion of foreign ethnicities on their soil; and, conversely, those in Asia and Africa exhibiting persistently high levels of territoriality.

AJF: First off, Robert Ardrey was not much of an “Anthropologist.” He was primarily a playwright and screenwriter for most of his life (a very good one, in fact!) He then wrote some semi-popular science books to cash in on the then-current fad of writing potboilers based on human evolutionary science and ethology.

Ardrey’s speculations notwithstanding, war is indeed a biological adaptation and is a straightforward manifestation of violent intergroup competition. We see it in many other species besides ourselves, as with many eusocial insects. We also have evidence for the antiquity of warfare in our own species, dating back to prehistoric as well as contemporary pre-state societies (see, Keeley, 1996), where it has been present nearly universally.

For example, the archeology of the European Neolithic is littered with the mass graves of the defeated, with bones clearly exhibiting signs of violent deaths. Many sites in Africa show similar patterns – so this is not limited to ancestral Europeans. Once again, in response to Ardrey’s position on the matter, recall that cultural and genetic selection are not mutually exclusive nor independent of each other; so his dichotomy there is both useless and obsolete.

With regards to current trends in demographics, I can only speculate. My first reaction is to see how long they last. The “superorganisms in the West” of which you ask might well be in the process of fragmentation as a result of the relaxation of the formerly intense group-selective pressures. However, as you know, in places like France, there is a substantial opposition to this. And in many other countries, there is a substantial reaction to these open immigration policies that they have had.

So, I don’t know that that is going to be viable long term, because a lot of the natives have been reacting to this quite strongly. And governments may be pressured to avoid this kind of thing, or at least, to limit the ethnic separatism that is practiced by some of these immigrant communities. For example, you know, I speak a little French – I’ve been to France several times – so I hope you don’t mind if we talk a little bit about the specific example of France.

I don’t think any French people, at least none that I know, and I know quite a few of them, object to the Muslims staying in France. They just insist that anyone, whether Muslim or not, has to adapt to French culture, French civilization, if one wants to live in France. You have to speak French, abide by the laws of France, and be a normal citizen of the republic. That’s what French people have told me. It is not that they don’t like Muslims per se, but that the kind of separatist impulses that some of these communities have are objectionable to French nationalism. That’s my understanding.

The idea that incorporating diverse cultural elements within one society is unfeasible, I don’t think that’s completely correct. To wit, if you look at European history, the Roman Empire lasted for over a thousand years, but I’m talking about the Western Empire. If you count the Eastern Empire, the so-called Byzantine Empire, that lasted – their collective existence might be close to two thousand years.

Those were empires that, although established by particular ethnic groups (the Romans), ruled over a very multicultural, diverse array of nations, for century after century. And they had a thriving civilization going. Now, were individual ethnic groups pursuing their own self-interest? Of course, they were. You know, everybody pursues their own self-interest, regardless of who it is. So, was there a certain amount of ethnic nepotism among all the groups involved?

Absolutely. That’s really what any evolutionist would expect. But does that mean that within an empire, you cannot coexist with these other groups for perhaps centuries, and perhaps even millennia? I would say the history of Europe would answer no, it is not impossible. You can have a multicultural empire that includes a diverse set of ethnicities, provided they are all guided by a common set of laws and principles. In that sense, I completely agree with the French attitude on this matter.

The Romans referred to this principle as Romanitas, or Romanness. And, the law was the law; and it was the law for everybody; and Roman law was strictly enforced. And after a few centuries, everyone in the Empire was granted Roman citizenship. At least, all free persons (not slaves) were granted Roman citizenship. And there were many emperors from Gallia, from Hispania, even some from North Africa that actually became Roman emperors. And they were all incorporated.

In fact, there was one semi-popular book I remember called, The Celtic Empire, in which the author made the case that Gallia, which is now France, became one of the dominant parts of the Roman Empire after the second century. It was a really critical part of the Empire. The Roman Empire wasn’t just Italians. So, I frankly don’t agree that ethnic homogeneity is absolutely necessary for a functional multinational society or state – what I’m calling an empire regardless of type of government. There have been plenty of examples where that has been made to work.

Another example, if you don’t want to think of Rome, is the so-called Inca empire, correctly called Tawantinsuyu, of the Andes in South America. They had a very multicultural empire. However, they had a brilliant road system, just like the Romans, and any province that rebelled or tried to practice separatism was crushed by the imperial army. Rebellion was not tolerated. You had to follow the rules, and you had to actually be part of that Andean state. And if not, there were dire consequences. So, a certain degree of conformity to social norm was enforced both by the Romans and by the Andean people. And they both were very good examples of multinational states, multi-ethnic states that lasted with some degree of stability, literally for centuries.

So, even though I’m an evolutionist and yes, genetic relatedness is an important factor in group selection, it is not the only factor. It is not necessarily the predominant one. And it is not strictly necessary, as some theorists have argued. The historical evidence indicates that nationalism, as we know it today, arose in the 19th century. It – that ideology of nationalism – was not even a coherent doctrine in Europe before that. I’m not saying there aren’t some instincts for ethnic nepotism. Those clearly exist in every human group; everywhere, you find ethnic nepotism.

But the kind of radical nationalism that Europeans came to accept in the 19th century is a recent historical invention, and it may be degraded over time as a result of these different social realities. I think this phenomenon was actually caused by the imperial expansion of the European powers; the fact that they incorporated ethnically different groups into their empires; often against the objection of the natives; but they incorporated these diverse groups into their societies.

So, for example, to use the case of France again, you have a lot of Algerians in France. The Algerians never invaded France. France invaded and conquered Algeria. That’s historical fact. So, we have Algerians now in France. Just understand – you asked for them, right? They did not voluntarily do this. And it’s not just like that in France, but in all the formerly imperial powers. They just incorporated these other people, created worldwide empires and global trade networks. So, that automatically incorporates these people within your society whether you acknowledge it or not.

So, now the question is how to deal with these diverse groups – and how to incorporate them as part of an orderly society. I believe that historical evidence indicates that that is possible.

But you cannot tolerate the separatists. This kind of multiculturalism philosophy that’s being preached nowadays, where everybody is just pursuing their own ethnic interests and there’s no loyalty to any kind of higher power, is not feasible in the longer term. But is it possible to create a true multicultural state where everybody engages in a cooperative network and everybody plays by the same rules? I think that historical evidence indicates that yes, it is possible. But you have to be firm. You can’t be weak. Only strong empires can do this.

GC: You challenge the idea that interindividual romantic relationships are primarily influenced by communication. You instead suggest that life history strategies in partners serve as the most fundamental force in shaping the outcome of their relationship. Could you come back at that issue?

AJF: Again, I tend to favor more fundamental and biological explanations to purely psychosocial and behavioral ones. “Communication” is only a proximate cause, whereas life history strategy better specifies the ultimate selective pressures that might have led to that behavior. Specifically, the need for biparental care in species with altricial offspring (such as our own) requires long-term bonding between fathers and mothers for the purpose of raising their offspring. It is that biological function that requires the communication. I am not downplaying the important role of supportive communication in maintaining human romantic relationships, but merely trying to explain why it is there.

GC: Thank you for your time for this enlightening conversation. Is there anything else that you would like to add?

AJF: I should point out that all the work that you have attributed to me was instead the work of many collaborative efforts over the years, and the role that my coauthors have played, as well as the massive contributions that they have made, should not be downplayed. I just wanted to acknowledge that before we finish. The citations provided present only a partial list of those collaborators. I think this was a very good interview, and I thank you for being honest, and as you said, not hostile. I don’t feel on the spot like you’re trying to catch me in something as some interviewers have tried to do in the past. And I appreciate your being open-minded.

The featured image shows, “Vercingetorix jette ses armes aux pieds de Jules César (ercingetorix throws down his arms at the feet of Julius Caesar),” by Lionel Royer, painted in 1899.

How To Dismantle Scientism

This article was written in 1946. It’s relevance has only grown over the decades.

If a man were to say to me, “I refuse to use my eyesight except through a microscope,” I might think that the man is queer or crazy, and I would certainly try to avoid his company. Imagine taking a walk with a man who keeps one eye closed, and the other, permanently fixed to a microscope!

Such a man is worse than blind, for a blind man who cannot see the stars, talks about them, and eagerly seeks to learn; but the man tied to the microscope neither sees nor seeks. The blind man knows that he is blind and acts accordingly, but the man with the microscope thinks that he is the only one who sees, and if you dare to mention the sky before him, he says, “But where is the sky!”, meaning, of course, that the sky could not exist unless it could be placed in his range of vision.

Now if you take this clumsy and most unlikely illustration and translate it from the order of sense to the order of intelligence, you get one of the most common intellectual types today, the type of a mind that will not apply its intelligence except through the scientific method.

This type of mind is apt to undermine common sense, on the ground that future scientific discovery might disprove any certainty. It discredits philosophy, because the objects of philosophy (God, the spiritual soul, cause, substance, etc.) cannot be weighed or measured, can neither be reduced to a mathematical formula, nor observed in a test tube. And finally, this type of mind discards all revelation, on the ground that religion is not a channel of knowledge and that its value is purely emotional and unintellectual. This is the attitude of mind that is gradually being recognized as a cultural danger by educators and social thinkers, and is coming to be called “scientism”. Scientism is not the same as science, but is rather an abuse of the scientific method and of scientific authority.

Here are some instances to illustrate what I mean by the term “scientism”: Physicists are now being consulted, not only on the development of atomic energy, but also on the morality of dropping atomic bombs.Professional experts must now tell us, not only whether children may be exposed safely to gamma rays, but even, whether children may be exposed to sun light.

Experts must decide whether mothers should be allowed to hug their babies. Einstein is teaching, on the grounds of mathematical physics, that God is not personal. Whitehead describes the attitudes of God in terms of quantum physics. Bergson builds biology into a false metaphysical religion. Bridgman moves over from the specialized field of high-pressure physics, to define democracy, investigate the foundations of morality, and pronounce on the freedom of the will!

I propose to study in this article some aspects of scientism, this cultural disease, which I hold responsible to a large extent for the alarming number of infidels and atheists in modern universities, and for the rise of dangerous beliefs and practices, the absurdities of which could be detected by a child, but not by the involved mind of the “scientific expert” and of those who worship authority. I hope to suggest that the remedy lies in restoring philosophy to its rightful place in education.

Philosophy has been called “the Queen of the Sciences”, and indeed, the realm of the sciences left without philosophy is like the kingdom in a state of anarchy. Philosophy defends the fundamental certitudes of common sense, establishes the grounds of morality, prepares the mind for revelation, and restores order in the house of science. Let the reader then be prepared to become more philosophically minded, if this article is to make its point.

To begin with, let us observe the place of knowledge in the life of man. Knowledge is the most characteristic activity of man. A man could, without knowledge, fall down from a balcony like a fainting acrobat; but no man could, without knowledge, climb up a balcony like Romeo. When the fainting acrobat falls down, we call that an act of man, because it is a man and not a stone or a log that is falling under the pull of gravity; but when Romeo climbs up, we call that, not only an act of man, but also a human act.

Knowledge must be present in every human act: in every art or profession, in humor and in prayer, in virtue and in vice. Man cannot even commit a sin without knowledge. Even man’s beatitude is defined in terms of knowledge, for “this is eternal life: that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). If, therefore, knowledge plays such a tremendous role in the life of man, and if the consummation of this life in the beatific vision consists in the knowledge of all truth, would it not be extremely strange if God had restricted the privilege of knowing to that very small fraction of mankind who constitute the class of scholars and scientists?

As a matter of fact, by far the greater part of our knowledge belongs to the order of common sense. Even the expert scientist could not live one single day in this world, were he to depend exclusively on his expert knowledge in this special field. And besides, both science and philosophy presuppose the great mass of common sense knowledge, and could not proceed without it. If a student comes to a biology laboratory not knowing how to distinguish between a living and a non-living thing, what would stop him from observing the properties of life in a piece of chalk?

Also, both science and philosophy use the same knowledge-seeking faculties as we use in acquiring our common-sense knowledge; and therefore, if these faculties were discredited as they function normally in common sense, it is difficult to see how they could be trusted as they function artificially in other fields. A philosopher who cannot distinguish by common sense between his head and his headache, would never acquire that distinction by studying the abstract attributes of substance and accident.

Common sense knowledge has some remarkable qualities which are easily lost when knowledge gets to be artificially methodical. To mention just one quality, common-sense knowledge is somehow complete and integral; that is to say, that in common sense, the complete man knows in a certain manner the whole of reality. Common-sense knowledge is undivided and unclassified, it is knowledge about God and about the world, about men, animals, plants, seas, lands, time, space, institutions and objects of all kinds.

Certain knowledge is mixed with knowledge that is only probable, and knowledge which comes through the senses is not distinguished from knowledge which comes through the intellect. A soldier on the front line, does not say, “Let me abstract from the noises I hear and the sights I see, and reflect on the principle of causality” nor, on the other hand, does he say, “Indeed, I hear all kinds of sounds, and see all kinds of shapes and colors, but I must not make any further inferences.”

Common sense is also knowledge within a perspective. Only God, eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, can afford to know too much about too many things, without much reference to a purpose. The man on the front line knows all reality, but only as relating to the thing at stake, his very life. And the man of common sense is constantly on the front line, the line that divides time from eternity; consequently, he must know all things as they relate to the maintenance of his life in this world, and the salvation of his soul in the next. You cannot teach the man of common sense until you get him interested, and you can get him interested only by relating all things to the ultimate purpose of his existence.

But common-sense knowledge has its limitations, as the man of common sense very well knows. By mere common sense, no airplace can be constructed, and no medical operation can be performed. When the man of common sense needs to build a bridge, he does not go to another man of common sense; instead, he uses his common sense and goes to an engineer. It must be evident, therefore, that if we would have many of the things we consider desirable, common-sense knowledge would no longer be sufficient, and scientific knowledge becomes necessary.

But the discipline that is required for the acquisition of scientific knowledge makes that wholeness, that completeness of common-sense knowledge, impossible on the scientific plane. No man can possess technical scientific knowledge about everything; and therefore, every one must specialize in that part of knowledge needed for his profession, or for his function in society. Further, in contrast with the spontaneity of common sense and the directness with which it envisages its objectives, we find that science requires intricate and roundabout processes for its attainment. This makes it quite possible for man to lose every perspective of relevance, and to proceed along blind alleys of knowledge and research that lead nowhere. And yet all this is unavoidable and follows from the very nature of science.

It would be absurd to ask a medical student to justify in terms of ultimate human purposes every single action or assignment required in his general training for his profession. Hence we have another danger of specialized training; namely, when man is trained to know a part of reality, and to deal even with this part in a manner that is systematically artifical, this man develops more as a function than as a person .

Hence, it is that science and technology carry the danger of depersonalizing social relations. But man insists on being a person and on being treated as such; and as a person, he insists on his right of somehow knowing all reality and being concerned about his destiny as a complete man. Therefore, once his common-sense perspective gets to be distorted by the artificial mold which frames his mind in a special field, he tends to raise his special and partial science up to the dignity of a universal science.

“All reality is made up of material atoms or quantums of energy,” says the physicist. “Reality is a mysterious life force, elan vital ,” retorts the biologist, who would see all things from the window of biology. All history is made by economic forces (Marx), or by sexual energy (Freud). These and similar monisms, represent some of the grave dangers of scientism.

And then we have what is perhaps the greatest danger of scientism, namely, the philosophy of positivism. The primary interest of the special sciences is not the contemplative understanding and appreciation of reality, but the control of the visible world for practical purposes. In order to harness the powers of nature, all the knowledge needed is knowledge of certain accidential aspects of material things. Such an accident as the quantity of the thing, is all that remains of reality when the real thing is replaced by a measure and is introduced into a mathematical formula.

Of course any child could tell you that the quantity of a thing is not its complete reality, but the scientific expert tends to identify the quantity with the whole thing. Hence we get those quantitative ghosts called by such names as, energy, mass, atomic number, wave length, intelligence quotient, etc., floating around the scientific graveyards where the objects of common sense are deeply buried, and parading in the garbs of the real and substantial entities.

When this tendency of the sciences is built up into a complete philosophy, a world view, which denies the substance of things, denies the reality of causes, and admits only those surface accidents or appearances of material things which can be measured and made subject to the scientific method, when this thing happens, we get that most negative of all philosophies, namely, ironically enough, the philosophy of “positivism.” Now neither God nor the spiritual soul of man can be made subject to measurement or to test-tube analysis. Therefore, the positivist rejects on principle, all metaphysics and all religion.

But now, having seen some of the dangers of scientism, let us proceed to study the nature of science. This will lead us to determine whether philosophy is a science. The Greeks and the scholastics considered philosophy the science par excellence , but to the modern mind, this view cannot be taken for granted; it has to be justified.

What is a science, and how does scientific knowledge differ from the knowledge of common sense? The most superficial observation reveals to us that what we call sciences possess a certain form and order, i.e., they are organized bodies of knowledge and not random collections of facts. Now this order of the sciences is not imposed on them externally like the alphabetical order of a dictionary. It is an order which mirrors and reveals the order of real things.

The sciences have order because they put things together as things flow from common origins, principles, or causes. Science begins as soon as things begin to be systematically and methodically explained, and the more explained things are, the more orderly they appear to be. Man, therefore, can be said to have sciences, because he asks questions and seeks explanations of things that fall within his experience. And man is a great “question-asker.” As a matter of fact, man is the only question-asker in the whole universe. You could almost define man by this property, which flows from his very essence.

Now here is the reason why man asks questions. The human mind is made for a reality which is absolute, necessary, and simple, and which contains the sufficient reason for its being. This reality is, of course, God. Once the mind sees God, our intelligence is so thoroughly satisfied that it can raise no further questions, because no problem or mystery remain, either in God Himself, or in anything He caused. But when the human mind is confronted with a contingent reality which does not possess within itself a sufficient reason for its existence, the mind immediately tries to explain this reality, and explaining a thing means reducing it ultimately to a cause or principle which does not need to be explained.

To put what we have just said in more philosophic terms, we could say that the mind knows with absolute certainty that there must be a sufficient reason for everything that is. If we didn’t know that, we would never seek the “why” of a growing tree or of a falling apple. Every single science in the world owes its existence to this thirst for explanation, which all men share. This thirst for explanation is in our intellects and not in our senses. Animals never ask questions and never attain science. The stream of sense experience received in my skin from a flowing river does not raise any questions, but the notion of movement abstracted by my mind raises the problem of change, and starts the mind along the track of science.

The number of the sciences could be very large, because in addition to the great variety of objects that could be studied scientifically, there is a great variety of aspects from which to study things. A chair, for example, could be studied in physics, in chemistry, and in economics; and man may be studied in anatomy and in politics. In each case, the material object is one, but the formal object different.

But this variety of the sciences forms a natural hierarchy. For example, biology is superior to bacteriology, physics to metallurgy, astronomy to navigation, and economics to banking. What determines this hierarchy? The principle of explanation, in which the very essence of science consists. The superior sciences come closer to giving an ultimate explanation.

In every case mentioned so far, the superior science explains the principle of the inferior science, and defines its basic concepts. Hence, the inferior science of each pair presupposes the superior science, and depends upon it for being a science at all. Metallurgy presupposes the ordinary laws of general physics (such as the laws of heat and light, the principle of specific gravity, the laws of magnetism, etc.). If one were to stop and give a sufficient explanation of every term occuring in the science of metallurgy, one would have to include the greater part of general physics in every chapter on metallurgy; but, of course, physics is ordinarily taken for granted.

The hierarchy of the sciences is, therefore, a hierarchy of explanation. But along with this mark, others follow, stemming from it and depending upon it. The superior science is in every case a greater general interest and is valuable as knowledge in itself and for itself, while the inferior science is primarily of practical interest, and is valued on that account. No one studies metallurgy in order to become better educated.

Close to the top of this hierarchy, we find such sciences as physics, biology, and mathematics. Yet none of these sciences is ultimate, not even in their respective orders of knowledge. No book on geometry, for example, discusses the nature of quantity, continuity, shape, dimension, point, number, measure, space, etc. Geometry takes all these concepts for granted, just as it also presupposes its axioms and the general method of demonstration. The same could be said about physics and biology with regard to their basic notions and principles, such as the notion of matter, change, mass, energy, entropy, atom, field of force, life, generation, etc.

All these sciences, in so far as they are sciences, that is, in so far as they possess any explanatory value, presuppose the superior philosophic sciences of logic, cosmology, rational psychology and ethics. And these philosophic sciences, in turn, presuppose ontology or general metaphysics. Ontology is the absolute summit of natural knowledge; it is the one science which does not presuppose any other. Ontology studies all things under the most important aspects of all things. What ontology studies about being is more important than anything said about that being in any other science.

Is there any approach to reality more important than to study a thing in so far as it is one, true, good, and beautiful ? Supposing you take a society and remove from it all institutions and persons concerned with the attainment and expression of truth, goodness, and beauty, how much of that society is worth having? Or, let us take the history of man and remove from it the stories of its philosophers, scientists, poets, artists, saints and mystics; how much of what is left of that history is worth studying? As ontology studies all these attributes of being, it studies things in so far as they reflect the perfections of God; for God alone is supremely one, true, good, and beautiful.

Ontology thus establishes the highways on which the mind constantly travels from the world to God, and from God to the world. Moreover, ontology raises, formulates, and answers, all the most basic problems which torment the minds of men in all ages, and which underlie all great literature. Such problems as the problem of being and of change, the problem of evil, and the problem of knowledge, are solved in ontology as well as is possible for the human mind.

But then, have we any right to call ontology a science? According to modern usage, when we say science, we understand primarily something like physics, bacteriology, or perhaps even sociology. It should be clear however, from our discussion, that the notion of science applies primarily to ontology, secondarily, to the other philosophic sciences, and only in a very weak sense, to the special sciences. But since the discussion has been a little general so far, I would like to illustrate by a concrete example, the contrast between the philosophic and scientific outlooks (using the word “scientific” in accordance with modern usage).

Let us suppose that a philosopher and a scientist were to witness together the death of a man; the scientist would ask, “Why did this man die?”, and he would seek an explanation in such things as poison or heart failure. On the other hand, the philosopher perceives immediately a more fundamental problem: he would like to know, not the accidental reason why this man died, but rather why anybody should die at all.

The investigations of the scientist might contribute to the sciences and arts of medicine, pharmacy, and perhaps even chemistry; the reasonings of the philosopher, on the other hand, lead to a better understanding of a composite, material being, in contrast with a simple being, and therefore, to a deeper understanding of God and of man. Science goes hand in hand with the practical arts and artcrafts, with medicine, farming, engineering, industry, etc.; while philosophy associates with religion, poetry, and the contemplative arts.

Put in the language of philosophy, this difference between philosophy and the sciences can be expressed in the following terms: philosophy seeks the ultimate explanation, while science is satisfied with the proximate causes of things.

Now as far as the mind is concerned, proximate explanation is really no explanation at all. It explains only for practical purposes. To know that water can be decomposed into oxygen and hydrogen is useful information in case you are interested in manufacturing either of the two gases, but it certainly fails to explain the mystery of chemical union. And besides, the problems of science presuppose those of metaphysics.

Man would not seek the precise cause of malaria unless he knew that things like malaria must have a cause. For obviously the scientist does not try to determine whether malaria has a cause, but rather what the cause is. The scientist obviously knows that a contingent thing like malaria must have a cause, although he does not develop the notion of a “contingent being” and the notion of a cause, nor does he care, as a scientist, to reason out all the implications of what he implicitly asserts with regard to these notions. Were the scientist to stop and reflect on these matters, he would move out of the field of science and into the field of philosophy.

Philosophy, therefore, not only has the title to be called science, but has it in the highest degree: it is, as already intimated, the queen among the sciences. Beginning with ontology, and running down the hierarchy of sciences, we would get something like the following arrangement:

I. Ontology (or general metaphysics) of which the most important part is Theology.

II. The Philosophic Sciences (the sciences of special metaphysics): Logic, Cosmology, Rational Psychology, Ethics.

III. The Mathematical Sciences and the General Sciences of Observation and Experimentation: Arithmetic, Geometry, Physics, Chemistry, Astronomy, Biology, Politics, Economics.

IV. All the practical arts and sciences whose primary purpose is not the understanding or the explanation of reality but some practical utility. Their number is very great.They correspond with the variety of crafts and professions, especially those which are intricate enough to require the development of a science or perhaps many sciences. E.g. , all the sciences of medicine, engineering, farming, pharmacy, navigation, metallurgy, banking, jurisprudence, electrical engineering, etc.

One glance at this table reveals the root reason of scientism. The lowest order in this hierarchy of the sciences is the foundation of our material civilization: it builds our machines, runs our hospitals, and fights our wars. In order to maintain our culture we are bound to devote a great part of our time and attention to the cultivation of these lower sciences.This trend has been crowding out of existence those sciences of the highest two orders, which guarantee cultural unity and a balanced perspective.

The general science of the third order, like physics and economics, came to be regarded as the core of liberal education, but these sciences are ordered primarily to the practical interest and not to the speculative. Physics, biology, and economics are not innocent crafts like carpentry and masonry, which require the development of special skills, without distorting the truths of common sense. The latter are sciences of a kind, without being sciences to the limit. And when the mind is made to perform on the plane of science, it must either be led to final and correct answers, or find false substitutes in sophistry and ideological error.

We must restore philosophy, religion and common sense as valid means of knowledge, or else we are going to die from the sickness of scientism. It is nice to have a nose on one’s face, but when you see a nose swelling and about to efface the remaining features, you know that there is disease and danger. Culturally speaking, scientism is such a pathological inflation of science, at the expense of all other forms of human knowledge.

As for common sense, little can be done for it deliberately. As soon as common sense becomes reflective or methodical, it becomes something else; that is, it becomes either philosophy or science. Common sense cannot formulate or defend its convictions against the attacks of false philosophies and false religions, and therefore, unless the fundamental certitudes of common sense are developed and defended by good philosophy, false doctrines are bound to arise.

And as for revelation, it is foundationally in God, under His disposition; and, as long as we do not confuse ourselves by perverse use of our natural faculties, God can talk to us and lead us to the saving truth. Our own responsibility consists in using our natural powers according to the purposes intended by God, and God gave us intelligence, primarily, so that we may know Him and love Him, and, secondarily, in order that we may rule the material universe. We are putting a tremendous effort towards the attainment of the second of these objectives, but if we are to be faithful to the first objective, we must restore philosophy to its place in liberal education.

Of course, this advice cannot be given except to those who know where to find the one sound tradition of philosophic truth. This tradition is protected, and will always be secure, only in the shadow of the Catholic Church. Here is another confirmation of Christ’s promises, where he says: Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things will be added unto you.

Here is another temporal problem, which shall never be solved by those who do not care to discover the kingdom of God, as it exists in this world. If the place of philosophy is usurped by the confusion of all the false doctrines and perverse opinions of all times, then certainly that kind of philosophy will offer no remedy to the confusion of scientism.

They say, “You want to bring philosophy back to the modern man; but he already suffers from the complexity and diversity of his interests. Wouldn’t philosophy add just one more item to this complexity?” This is like saying about a man trying to find his way around in a crowded dark room, “Why crowd him further with a lamp?”

For that is precisely what philosophy contributes to the complexity of modern civilization: a lighted candle in a crowded dark room.

Brother Francis Maluf was born in Lebanon in 1913 and held a PhD in philosophy. Along with Father Leonard Feeney, he was a founding, in 1949, of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a religious Order. Brother Francis went to his heavenly reward in 2009. This article appears courtesy of Catholicism.org.

The featured image shows, “Fiat lux” (“Let there be light”), from the sketchbook of Francisco de Holanda, dated 1545.

Mathematics And Morality

Nothing could be more distinctive of the age in which we live than the overpowering prominence of mathematics. All through the Catholic centuries, arithmetic and geometry constituted all the mathematics that an educated Christian was asked to learn. Even these two subjects were treated from a more contemplative point of view, which made them far more harmonious with other liberal studies. Arithmetic consisted in the study of the properties of numbers; geometry in the study of shapes and figures. When not overdone, and when counterbalanced by the proper correctives from the other types of knowledge, geometry and arithmetic, as they used to be taught, cultivated a few desirable virtues of the mind like clarity and precision, and sharpened the mind for the perception of harmony, rhythm, and pattern in the study of nature and of Holy Scripture. But even then, many saints and sages warned against the excessive preoccupation with such studies, and especially against the seductive clarity of mathematics; for it is not enough for the mind to be accurate and clear; we are bound to ask “accurate and clear about what?” Since in mathematics accuracy and clarity are achieved at the price of the reality and the goodness of the object, it is a danger of the mathematical mind to continue to sacrifice reality and goodness for the sake of clarity in every other field in which man must seek and find the truth.

But in our time, education is overwhelmed by mathematics and on more than one score. For, while a contemplative interest in the properties of shapes and numbers is almost completely extinct, an illiberal and utterly inhuman form of mathematics dominates the years of learning of our boys and girls, almost completely from the very first year of the primary school to the very last year of college. In place of arithmetic and geometry, whose relation to reality is definite and understandable, there is now an indefinite confusion of branches which go by the name of mathematics, the nature of whose objects nobody understands! Such topics as topology, non-Eudidean geometry, Boolean algebra, transfinite numbers, projective geometry; not to speak of other more recognizable subjects like algebra, trigonometry, integral calculus, vector analysis and the theory of equations. These new subjects are not only more confusing but much more difficult to acquire, and therefore much less likely to leave the mind at leisure for other liberal studies. But the predominance of mathematics today is not restricted to those courses which go by its name, because mathematics, in some form or other, in matter or in method, has crept into every other corner of the curriculum. According to the modern positivistic conception, mathematics and not wisdom is considered as the prototype of science. In subjects ranging from physics to education, covering every field of human learning, there is an evident tendency to assimilate all knowledge to mathematical knowledge and to resolve all realities into mathematical formulas. This trend reaches its apex in the development of symbolic logic, in which guise mathematics invades even the field of philosophy, to distort all the basic conceptions of the mind, and to deflect all the activities of thought from attaining their fulfillment in true wisdom which consists in knowledge about God, by keeping them whirling endlessly around the nihilistic circle of sheer mathematical emptiness.

Now in an attempt to determine the influence of mathematics on the mind of a Christian, it would be folly to ignore the fact that after twenty centuries of Christian living, it is impossible to name one single patron saint for mathematics. There are Catholics indeed who occupied themselves considerably with mathematics and as far as we know kept the faith; but I know of no mathematician whose faith burned so brilliantly as to earn him a place among the stars of sanctity. Nor is this a mere coincidence, for any one of us can look into his own mind to find that there is no other kind of human knowledge or human experience which offers less in terms of value for the Christian message than mathematics. Almost all that one needs in the way of mathematics in order to learn all of Holy Scripture and all the Doctors of the Church, does not exceed the ability to count up to a thousand and to distinguish between a vertical and a horizontal line. Whatever it is you talk about in mathematics, it is never anything you can carry over to your meditations, or employ in your prayers; it gives you no courage in your moments of despair, and no consolation in your loneliness.

In the field of philosophy, mathematics has always been fertile grounds for sophistry. There is hardly any other intellectual interest which has contributed more to confuse men about fundamental truths regarding God, man, and the universe, than mathematics. Just to mention the names of Thales, Pythagoras, Plato, Descartes, Spinoza, Whitehead and Russell, would suffice to convince one even slightly acquainted with the history of thought about the great number of minds that were deceived by the mirage of mathematics, and misled to accept fraudulent substitutes for the saving truth. I believe that an unprejudiced consideration of the nature of mathematics and of the nature of its objects would reveal clearly that all these charges leveled against the mathematical mind are rooted in the very nature and essence of things.

But what kind of a science is mathematics? Is it a practical science which envisages the achievement of a good, or a speculative science which envisages the attainment of truth? A practical science, like medicine or ethics, would be eliminated by the elimination of the corresponding good. For example, if men were indifferent to health and its opposite there would be no criterion for distinguishing between a right prescription and a wrong one, and consequently, medicine would cease to be a science. In a similar way, if men per absurdum were suddenly to become neutral to the attainment of happiness or its opposite, that would be the end of ethics. But what good, if ceasing, would determine the end of mathematics? None whatever, for the simple reason that mathematics prescinds from all good and all value. Mathematics talks the language of a speculative science. It utters propositions which must be either true or false. Now a proposition is true or false depending on whether it is or is not in conformity with reality. Just as a practical science envisages a good to be achieved, which good functions as the criterion for right and wrong precepts in that science, so a speculative science considers some part or aspect of reality, which stands as the measure of truth and falsehood in that science. If there were no stars there would be no astronomy; and theology would be sheer nonsense if God did not exist. But what part of reality would destroy mathematics by being eliminated? What does the mathematician talk about? Is the object of mathematics a creature or a creator? Is it a substance or an accident? Is it something actual or merely potential? Is it changing or changeless? Temporal or eternal? Material or spiritual? Tangible or intangible? If one were to compose an inventory of all the subsisting realities of the whole universe, including God, the angels, men, animals, plants and minerals, would the objects of mathematics be on this list?

Am I asking too many questions? Well, here are a few answers whose reasons will either be supplied later, or be left to the reader to discover for himself. Mathematics is a speculative science whose value can only be in the practical order. It has no speculative value, because it does not convey any essential knowledge about any subsisting reality. It is not contemplative knowledge and therefore not essentially good for man, because it occupies the intellect with objects which the will cannot love. It is knowledge which does not proceed from understanding nor does it resolve in wisdom. It does not proceed from understanding, because the mathematical expression of any reality, never conveys any understanding of it. It may however convey the means for the control of that reality. You are not one inch closer to the penetration of the mystery of light and color when you know the number of Angstroms in each of the colors of the spectrum; nor about the nature, cause, or purpose of gravity when you resolve its laws into mathematical formulas. And it does not resolve in wisdom, because neither is mathematics concerned with the First Cause, nor does it lead to the First Cause. The manner by which mathematics deals with its objects abstracts completely from any dependence upon God, and as a matter of fact, attributes to these objects a species of eternity and turns them into quasi divinities completely independent in themselves. This explains the autonomous nature of mathematics, according to which, left to itself, it never leads to anything non-mathematical. A mathematician might be led to think about God by an accidental non-mathematical reason, but never from the very needs of mathematics.

As for the object of mathematics, it is not a physical entity but a mental entity; it is not real but ideal. There is nowhere in the world, outside of the mind of a mathematician, a point without dimensions, a line without width or thickness, or a square root of minus one. But these fictions of the mind are founded on reality, and their foundation consists of the accident of quantity and its properties and relations. Arithmetic is founded on discontinuous quantities or multitudes; geometry on continuous quantities or magnitudes; while algebra is founded on abstract quantity considered generically, prescinding from whether it is number or magnitude and therefore potentially capable both of an arithmetical as well as of a geometrical interpretation. Other mathematical objects, more distantly removed from this real foundation of mathematics, are rooted in these simpler elements and in the relations which hold among them. Having experienced the three dimensions of bodies in space and having represented these three dimensions by the three variables of an algebraical equation, nothing prevents the mind from creating the fiction of a space corresponding to an algebraical equation of four variables – hence four-dimensional space.

But what do we know about this accident of quantity, on which is founded, proximately or remotely every object of mathematics? We learn from philosophy that quantity is an accident of material substances, and that in contrast with the accident of quality, quantity manifests the material and not the formal aspect of these substances. Therefore the real foundation of mathematics is found in the material aspect of material things. Further, an accident when conceived as an accident always brings you back to its substance; but in mathematics the accident of quantity is conceived as if it were a substance. Further, a material substance concretely considered, has a nature through which this substance moves to the attainment of an end, but the mathematician considers quantity as a substantialized material accident devoid of any principle of change and abstracted from any movement to attain an end. The concrete material substance manifests itself through its sensible qualities by means of which it is known, but the object of mathematics, without being a spiritual substance like an angel, prescinds from all sensible qualities and can be known only by the intellect and not by the senses. Hence we have the apparent paradox that while the only foundation for the mathematical object is the material aspect of material things, still mathematics represents its object such as matter could neither be nor be known. For matter is nothing but a principle of change, while mathematics prescinds from change; and matter can only be known through the senses while mathematics prescinds from sensibility.

The object of mathematics is therefore an accident parading as a substance, a material reality pretending to be immaterial, an ideal entity which poses for something real. At the basis of all these antinomies is the fact that mathematics arises only when an intellectual mind, directs the light of its spiritual intelligence, not for the purpose of contemplating being, but for the purpose of controlling potency. The mathematical object is the shadow that matter casts on spirit. For when spirit knows spirit, there is not even the foundation for mathematics; when material cognition (sensation) knows material things, the objects of mathematics cannot arise; even when a spiritual being knows matter contemplatively it understands a material substance through its form and its qualities. It is only when a spiritual being concerns itself with matter and for the purpose of sheer control that mathematics finally finds its grounds.

But how about the truth in mathematics? If the objects of mathematics are mental entities (entia rationis) what is it that determines the truth or falsehood of a mathematical proposition? What reality stands as the measure to the judgment of the mind? In the classical branches, arithmetic and geometry, the foundation in reality was close enough to preclude any statements that are not justified by the real properties of multitudes and magnitudes. But as mathematics branches out and develops into newer mathematics, and higher mathematics, and purer mathematics, that control becomes less and less until finally the mind remains its own measure. Consistency and not conformity becomes the touchstone of validity.

Apart from mathematics, there used to be three other distinct types of knowledge: physical, logical, and ethical. All three led ultimately to God – the physical sciences under the aspect of Ultimate Cause; the logical sciences by way of the Prime Truth; and the ethical sciences by way of the Supreme Good. But in mathematics, the mind reigns supreme, lord of all it surveys. The mind finds in itself a sufficient cause for the kind of being the mathematical entity enjoys. It is the only ultimate measure for the truth of its judgments. It prescinds completely from the aspect of goodness. Of all the intellectual pursuits, mathematics alone does not lead to God.

It is like the web of a spider, it proceeds from the very substance of the spider and ends up being its own jail. It gets more involved and more intricate the more it is extended, and finally, when the web is intricate enough, the new threads do not have to measure up to any real independent distances of walls or furniture, for when the new-thrown thread fails to meet a point of support, it sticks on another thread of the same fabric.

From the spider of mathematics, may God deliver us.

Brother Francis Maluf was born in Lebanon in 1913 and held a PhD in philosophy. Along with Father Leonard Feeney, he was a founding, in 1949, of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a religious Order. Brother Francis went to his heavenly reward in 2009. This article appears courtesy of Catholicism.org.

The featured image shows a “Portrait of Luca Pacioli,” attributed to Jacopo de’ Barbari, painted before 1516.

What Made 18th-Century Britain So Innovative?

We are so very thankful to The Critic to allow us to bring to our readers a new series – History Talks – which are podcasts by Professor Jeremy Black, in conversation with Graham Stewart, The Critic’s political editor.

The purpose of these podcasts is to inform and also delight. Each month, Professor Black answers an important question, explores an interesting web of ideas, or simply tells us about things we may not know about. This means that each of his talks is nothing short of a “Grand Tour” of the past, providing exquisite nuggets of historical details that you can carry with you as delightful souvenirs.

We begin this month with an intriguing question – Why was 18th-century Britain so innovative? The ideas and inventions that emerged on this little island in the 1700s changed not only Britian but the entire world.

Things that we take for granted would have been impossible if they had not been invented and created in Britain, such as, free speech, a free press, consumerism, industrialization, urbanization. All this is finely summarized in Rupert Brooke’s famous words:

For England’s the one land, I know,
Where men with Splendid Hearts may go…

But why did all this not happen in any other country? Why did it happen only in Britain? Let’s listen to Professor Black for the answer.

What Made 18th-Century Britain So Innovative?

The image shows, A Philosopher Giving that Lecture on the Orrery, in which a Lamp is put in place of the Sun or The Orrery, by Joseph Wright of Derby, painted ca., 1766.