On why Perry Miller wanted Jonathan Edwards to be John Locke

Regarding Miller’s landmark study on John Locke Jonathan Edwards…

Miller, Perry.  Jonathan Edwards.  Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1949 [2005].

The late John Gerstner described this book as one of the most important books written on Jonathan Edwards.  And when he said this in the 1960s, he was correct.  Edwards studies has exploded since then.  One must be careful of being too critical of Miller’s work.  When he wrote this few academics took the Puritans or Jonathan Edwards seriously.   Now we have almost a glut of material.   For all of Miller’s faults, he did the the project started.

Miller offers two keys to interpreting Edwards’ life and thought:  the philosophy of John Locke and the internecine politics of New England.   To phrase it more precisely:  Jonathan Edwards’ use of John Locke was a focused and indirect attack on the soon-to-be-labeled “Old Lights” in New England (pp. 3-35).  This is (allegedly) seen in Edwards’ early sermon, “A Divine and Supernatural Light,” from which we understand that the senses in themselves do not deceive (45, emphasis added).  This is very important for Miller’s reading of Edwards’ reading of Lock, for this is how Miller will interpret Edwards’ work The Religious Affections.  In short, Miller reads Edwards as saying “God does not impart religious truth outside sensory experience” (55).

No doubt Edwards was enthralled with John Locke early on.  Further, Miller does cogently argue that Edwards’ use of Locke allowed him to formulate his ideas the way he did.  However, few of Edwards’ modern interpreters have placed the same level of importance on Locke as Miller did.  George Marsden suggests, pace Miller, that Edwards, like any respectable New England thinker of his day, tried to keep apace of modern intellectual currents and this meant reading men like John Locke (Marsden, 60ff).

Nonetheless, there are aspects of John Locke’s thought that did leave a permanent impression on Edwards.  Miller asserts, “Metaphysically, this led to the immense conclusion that the entire universe exists in the divine idea” (Miller, 63).  Indeed, Edwards will further develop this idea in his defense of Original Sin, arguing that in the realm of the mind all of humanity, like an atom, is a single concept (278).  Miller suggests it but doesn’t develop the conclusions:  Edwards had implicitly rejected the older substance-ontologies for an ontology based on mind and atom.

Divine Causality

Edwards understands “cause” to mean “a sequence of phenomena, with the inner connection of cause and effect still mysterious and terrifying” (79).  Cause, for Edwards, is not simply that which determines an effect.  Rather, it is that which is “necessarily antecedent” (257).  The first premise in the argument against free will:  perception is not the import of an object, for the object is without significance, but the object as seen, the manner of view, and the state of mind that views. Miller adds another premise to clinch the argument:  just as the will follows perception’s view of things, rather than the things themselves, so the will lies within the tissue of nature and is caused by something external to it (257).

Against Modernity

Miller sees Edwards as an enlightened critic of modernity, and he places Edwards within a larger anti-modern narrative.   In discussing the implications of a Lockean-Newtonian worldview, Miller notes that the “science” of modernity cannot answer the basic questions upon which it is founded:  if atoms are so hard that they never break, how small is the smallest atom (83)?  Said another way:  if atoms are the fundamentally smallest entity in the world, of which all other entities consist, and that is all reality is, then what holds the atoms together?  Is that which holds atoms together also made up of atoms?  And so the questions could go on.   The important point, though, is that the aforementioned questions represent a fatal weakness in modern Scientism.   Scientism of its day could not answer one basic question:  what holds the atoms together?  Miller has a simple answer:  magic (83).   Unfortunately, Miller does not pursue this.  Many of the Enlightenment thinkers were deeply involved in the occult and Miller could have had a field day exploring this.

Now, I like beating up unbelieving science as much as the next guy, but this picture has largely eclipsed Jonathan Edwards.  Yes, Edwards would have been aware of this discussion.  Further, Edwards would have been a critic of modernity, but as Marsden notes elsewhere, this isn’t the heart of Edwards, and Miller has wasted a lot of time shadow-boxing dead Englishmen.

The Religious Affections

This is the weakest and most frustrating part of Miller’s narrative.  Miller is insistent that Edwards be read according to Locke’s dictum that what we can know, we can know from sense experience.  During the Great Awakening, so the argument goes, many people had “visible signs” of something at work.  Miller, being a pagan, has no understanding of the Holy Spirit, and can only see external effects.   Missing this key fact, virtually everything he says about Edwards from this point on is painfully incorrect.  The reader is encouraged to consult Iain Murray’s biography on this point.

Conclusion: Pros and Cons

Like any work by Perry Miller, the prose is a delight to read.  Unfortunately, that is why the book is misleading.  Much of Miller’s scholarship on Puritanism has since been refuted.  The Puritans didn’t invent the idea of “covenant” to soften a mean God.   To the degree this might have been the case in New England owes more to the structurally flawed nature of Congregationalism and the Half-way covenant than it does to Reformed theology.   And to the extent that Miller captures on key ideas in Edwards, he tends to overplay minor issues and miss major points.   Further complicating things is that none of Miller’s quotations of Edwards point the reader to specific works.  Perhaps accessible editions of Edwards’ corpus weren’t available then (it’s amazing to think of how much good Banner of Truth Trust has done the world on this point).

On the other hand, when it comes to Edwards’ major doctrines Miller summarizes Edwards quite well, and for what it’s worth, cuts off Arminianism at the knees.  Should you read this book?  I suppose.  Any major work on Edwards should consult Marsden first, then Murray, and lastly Miller.

The fallacy of science

I came across Clark’s analysis of the problem of science many years ago in college.    I got a lot of liberal Baptists upset and uncomfortable with just one argument.  It looked like I was attacking their gods. I was using one of their gods (“logic”) to kill another of their gods (“science”).  It was awkward.  I subsequently forgot about Clark’s argument until recently.

As Gary Crampton writes,

All scientific experiments commit the fallacy of asserting the consequent.In syllogistic form this is expressed as: “If p, then q. q; therefore, p.” Bertrand Russell, certainly no friend of Christianity, stated it this way:

All inductive arguments in the last resort reduce themselves to the following form: “If this is true, that is true: now that is true, therefore this is true.” This argument is, of course, formally fallacious. Suppose I were to say: “If bread is a stone and stones are nourishing, then this bread will nourish me; now this bread does nourish me; therefore it is a stone, and stones are nourishing.” If I were to advance such an argument, I should certainly be thought foolish, yet it would not be fundamentally different from the argument upon which all scientific laws are based.

So when theologians bend over backwards to please the unbelieving scientific community, they are abandoning their commitment to logic in order to do so.

The Philosopher’s Stone: The Search for Secret Matter

It is difficult to pinpoint his thesis.   It is easier to examine the argument and narrative as they unfold.   Strictly speaking, the question deals with the nature of the philosopher’s stone—the alchemical device allegedly used to transform base metals into gold.  Farrell looks at it from a different angle—the philosopher’s stone is the physical medium itself.    Transforming one element into another is simply putting stress on that medium.

http://www.amazon.com/Philosophers-Stone-Alchemy-Research-ebook/dp/B00398B2HK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=digital-text&qid=1299378144&sr=1-1

From that thesis Farrell brings in his discussion of the occult, high physics, and Nazi technology.   First, alchemy’s occultic roots.  Farrell picks up where his Giza Death Star Destroyed left off.  Before we discuss that we should note a little background information and some of Farrell’s presuppositions.  Farrell assumes (and I think I hold to something similar) there was an ancient “high” civilization with an ancient technology.   Either this civilization experienced a civil war or fought (and lost) a war from the outside.  In either case the losing side “went underground” for much of what would later become ancient and Western history.[i] Much knowledge was lost and alchemical research is perhaps a search for that knowledge.

Farrell notes that the ancient neo-Platonic magicians spoke in alchemical concepts (and probably studied alchemy).   When St. Constantine converted the Roman Empire, alchemy and many of the schools of magic disappeared.[ii] With the rise of the Templars almost 1,000 years later, alchemy and “magic” revived in full form.  Farrell asks the very interesting question, “How did it appear without ‘missing a beat’ when most movements take decades to fully develop?”   The reasonable explanation is an underground alchemical movement.

Farrell takes this reasoning a step further.  Many alchemists were able to disguise alchemical research via Filioquist terminology.  Indeed, if one studies the hermetic and neo-platonic texts of this period, they use almost the same language and concepts of the Augustinian Filioque and doctrine of Absolute Divine Simplicity.

Farrell’s book then becomes an extended discussion in theoretical physics and will probably lose most readers.  Granted, the Nazi connections are intriguing and explain the evidence better than any other model offered by “academics,” but only the most committed reader can progress beyond this phase.

There was a very good discussion on Nikolai Kozyrev and St Maximus the Confessor.  Farrell (likely borrowing from God, History, and Dialectic) shows how Maximus’ worldview on “being and becoming” is very similar to what Kozyrev said on the nature of time.[iii]

CONS OF THE BOOK

It was really hard to follow at times.   I’ve followed Farrell’s works and have read some of his books, but many of his discussions seemed to belabor the point.

PROS OF THE BOOK

While his discussions belabored the point, they also seemed to prove the point.  His arguments are most thorough.

Further, his rhetorical skill has few equals.  He can draw out the implications of a concept or line of argument better than most.  While his discussions on theoretical physics are dizzying because most people aren’t familiar with post-Einsteinian physics, he does a good job of explaining the points.


[i] An alternative reading of this situation is that the losing side was completely destroyed and the victors were too weak to press the advantage.   Further, one could surmise that most of the knowledge was lost and only a small segment was passed down through certain “cliques.”

[ii] While it is doubtful that David Bradshaw entertains this thesis, his book Aristotle East and West suggests something similar.   He notes that many of these ancient sources went mysteriously untranslated.

[iii] Thomas Torrance said the ancient Greek scientist John Philoponos translated the concepts of St Athanasius and St Cyril of Alexandria into “physical concepts” and anticipated something like modern physics.

Penultimate Thoughts on the Creation Debate

I say this as one who has no definite conclusions on the matter.  The following are some fairly solid points, though:

  1. When Christians simply “latch” on to the latest scientific paradigm (per evolution), they look silly.  These paradigms have short life spans.  As Chesterton said, when men marry the spirit of the age, they soon become widows.
  2. Likewise, when Christians (who have no scientific training) spout evidence to support Intelligent Design, they look silly and convince no one.
  3. Simply coming to a 6,000 year old earth conclusion, and missing the fuller picture of creation, is to miss the whole story.
  4. Time is fluid.  I don’t know enough about relativity theory to say more than that, but I am hesitant to die on hills of years.
  5. If you say man is monkey, you will have a hard time with Christ as the Second Adam.
  6. I can’t get past the suspicion that many of the theistic evolutionists are simply throwing unbeliving atheism a bone, but does anyone seriously think the atheists will respect Christians more for this?  No, these are the people who hate Christ and some respected thinkers suggest Christians should be prosecuted in some sense on this matter.
  7. The holy fathers accurately passed down the faith, and the holy fathers all held to non evolutionary views.  Further, it puts you in a bad light when you use modern atheistic scientists to debunk the holy fathers.   The burden of proof is on you, and when you are opposing 1,900 years of Church teaching….well, that’s a big burden.
  8. If I really wanted to throw a monkey (no pun intended) wrench into the equation, I would bring up the works of Joseph Farrell.  Good luck!

So Jesus Recapitulates this?

Preliminary Notes on Joseph Farrell’s Corpus

Almost one year ago Jay Dyer and Maximos Companik introduced me to the work of Joseph Farrell.  Farrell is a leading voice in the alternative history/science community.  Unlike many in that community, Farrell, being a theologian in the Orthodox tradition,* he has a firmer foot on reality.

Outside of his theological works, Farrell is known primarily for the Giza Death Star Trilogy.  While I am not familiar with the specific outlines of the Trilogy, I do know the general movement of the argument from his numerous radio interviews.  Presumably, the Pyramids represent a form of High Ancient physics that had planet-destroying potential.  Further, Farrell argues that a planet was destroyed.  Upon that destruction, the representatives of the “High Civilizations” encrypted their knowledge by means of different secret societies.  (The next sentence is entirely my own supposition and should in no way be assumed that Farrell holds to this view–he might or might not). Even more, the representatives of these societies, having been kept in check by the Romano-Byzantine-Tsarist monarchies, could influence civilization only in limited ways.  With the destruction of the Tsarist system, though, the fringe elements have become mainstream.

If one announces belief in Farrell’s theses, one will likely be laughed at in the academy, the church, and the conservative news outlets (already being scorned by the Left).  And granted, it is a tall drink of water.  Here are my thoughts:

  • I am willing to entertain the idea of a “High Civilization” with high physics.  This strains the traditional biblical timeline, and that does bother me somewhat, but it is not near as nefarious as positing that we came from monkeys.  Indeed, while I do not know Farrell’s personal views on evolution, his system in many ways turns it on its head.  If anything, mankind has devolved.
  • I don’t know if Farrell believes aliens are involved.  Further, I suppose one could argue that advanced civilizations colonized other planets, including a planet’s destruction, and yet these do not have to be aliens.  Aliens is the simpler answer, but since I follow Fr Seraphim Rose’s look on this, it is not an option.
  • Or maybe there is a synthesis to this dialectic.  Given the dark (almost satanic) designs of both Nazism and elements within Washington D. C. (those in the CFR calling for global government), there is a way one can maintain that the UFO appearances are both High Paleophysics/Aliens and Demonic activity (per Seraphim Rose).  Farrell has noted that when the US and the Russians tested their atom bombs in the 40s and 50s, the yield was twice as great as anticipated.  Farrell suggests, given the nature of his physics, that the atom bombs in some way opened a dimensional gateway (try not to interpret this in the kookiest manner.  I mean “gateway” in the sense that it tinkered with the physical medium–which is beyond doubt–and tremored the space-time continuum).  Around the same time there were increased UFO sightings.  Assuming the latter are demons, there is no contradiction between Farrell and Rose.
  • Along with Jim Marrs, Farrell suggests that the Nazis were able to carry their international financial scheme to South America.  Even more interesting, they had many banking connections with the Rockefeller clan, who would later be instrumental in forming the Bilderbergs, Council on Foreign Relations, and the Tri-Lateral Commission–three groups that directly rule America and the Anglo-banking world today.

There are still too many loose ends.  There are many questions I do not know the answer to.  In many ways I simply do not understand how the physics works and lacking that understanding, I cannot offer a serious critique and/or defense.  However,

  • I remain unconvinced that the people we call Egyptians built them.  I was challenged on this point last year (a commenter on the old Tesla site sent me this link), but the arguments they presented (or whatever they presented) missed the point.  I am not a Sitchenite (not sure what that is) and it seems the truth of the rebuttal assumes the proponent is a Sitchenite.  Further, people keep thinking I am saying that aliens built the Pyramids.  I have never said that.  It is quite possible the Nephilim built it–that fits in quite nicely with the biblical evidence.  In any case, positing that Egyptians built the Pyramids doesn’t account for the evidence of vertical water erosion the Pyramids and Sphinx.  Just saying…
  • Farrell is spot-on concerning secret societies and the banking international.

*I am referring to Dr Farrell’s work on St Maximus the Confessor and his magisterial God, History, and Dialectic–two works which are world changing. However, I do not know Farrell’s current status in the Orthodox Church.  My point is that Farrell is widely read in multiple traditions and has a degree from Oxford.  Understanding that the modern university system is a joke and such degrees more often than not are meaningless, it still counts for something.