Newmania – 3: Rules for bloggers?
In the first of his Oxford University Sermons, preached in 1826, when he was only twenty-five years old, and entitled “The Philosophical Temper, First Enjoined by the Gospel,” Newman, before arguing his case, noted that Christians are often accused of impeding the advance of philosophical and scientific knowledge. He admits a certain justice in the indictment:
It must be confessed that the conduct of Christians has sometimes given countenance to these erroneous views respecting the nature and tendency of Revealed Religion. Too much deference has been paid to ancient literature. Admiration of the genius displayed in its writings, an imagination excited by the consideration of its very antiquity, not unfrequently the pride of knowledge and a desire of appearing to be possessed of a treasure which the many do not enjoy, have led men to exalt the sentiments of former ages to the disparagement of modern ideas. With a view, moreover, to increase (as they have supposed) the value and dignity of the sacred volume, others have been induced to set it forth as a depository of all truth, philosophical as well as religious; although St. Paul seems to limit its utility to profitableness for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. Others, again, have been too diligent and too hasty in answering every frivolous and isolated objection to the words of Scripture, which has been urged,—nay, which they fancied might possibly be urged,—from successive discoveries in science; too diligent, because their minute solicitude has occasioned them to lose sight of the Christian Evidence as a whole, and to magnify the objection, as if (though it were unanswerable) it could really weigh against the mass of argument producible on the other side; and too hasty because, had they been patient, succeeding discoveries would perhaps of themselves have solved for them the objection, without the interference of a controversialist. The ill consequences of such a procedure are obvious: the objection has been recognized as important, while the solution offered has too often been inadequate or unsound. To feel jealous and appear timid, on witnessing the enlargement of scientific knowledge, is almost to acknowledge that there may be some contrariety between it and Revelation….
The last of these tendencies, various forms of superficial concordism, is the sort of thing that Aquinas warned is likely to incur the irrisio infidelium [the mockery of unbelievers] when they conclude that Christians hold their beliefs for ridiculous reasons. (One thinks of creationism, or efforts to equate the six days of creation with geological epochs.)
That said, the sermon goes on to argue that the moral dispositions urged by Christianity encourage the development of the intellectual skills and habits needed for science and philosophy, and he offers a description of them that might even be considered to describe the temper needed by debaters on the internet:
It is by a tedious discipline that the mind is taught to overcome those baser principles which impede it in philosophical investigation, and to moderate those nobler faculties and feelings which are prejudicial when in excess. To be dispassionate and cautious, to be fair in discussion, to give to each phenomenon which nature successively presents its due weight, candidly to admit those which militate against our own theory, to be willing to be ignorant for a time, to submit to difficulties, and patiently and meekly proceed, waiting for farther light, is a temper (whether difficult or not at this day) little known to the heathen world; yet it is the only temper in which we can hope to become interpreters of nature, and it is the very temper which Christianity sets forth as the perfection of our moral character.