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On Grayling on the Jesuits

A long time ago I would debate the local Jesuits over scotch, when I was still a Christian theology student. I learned two things: 1. those guys could really hold their liquor (I drank much more sparingly); and 2. Jesuits are really really smart.

But as a theolog, I also read Pascal’s Provincial Letters, which, up until letter X, is a biting satire of the casuistry of the Jesuits in supporting whatever they wanted to for political reason. Of course, it is not the 17th century any more, and things have moved on.

But not, it seems, Anthony Grayling. He is still replaying the Reformation and English politics. And Thony Christie, Chris Schoen, and Brandon all take him to task for it. Read them in that order.

25 Comments

  1. After four years of their tender educational ministrations, I can say the American version was every bit as smart; were not so wedded to doctrine as Grayling thinks (a good 10% of our instructors were defrocked Jesuits and we had a Protestant teaching a course in bible history); and they could drink all us college kids under the table.

  2. Veronica Abbass Veronica Abbass

    While I was looking for confirmation of my suspicion that the the relationship between the Vatican and the Jesuits has not always been a marriage of like minds, I found this.

    “The once illustrious Jesuits, the great defenders of faith, have over the last 40 years been steeped in dissident controversy. Jesuit priests have featured prominently in the homosexual priest scandal and Jesuit universities and their theologians have been hotbeds of dissent on Church teachings especially those on life and family.”

    lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/jan/08010708.html

  3. One of my professors in college had got his degree at a Jesuit university. We called him “The Pope” because he was always right. By that I mean, I cannot recall him ever saying anything that could not be defended logically. Sometimes a naive student would challenge him with some canard, and we’d sit back to watch the metaphorical slaughter. If only popcorn had been available.

    Not everyone realized, but he really, deeply cared about his students. Wanted them to get their money and time’s worth in college. I took every one of his classes that I could, never got an A in any of them. But in 28 years, have hardly forgotten a syllable of it.

  4. I knew several Jesuits back in college and found them to be keen debaters and stalwart drinkers. They also all had a great deal of savoir faire as witness the fact that every one of them eventually married well.

  5. “1. those guys could really hold their liquor (I drank much more sparingly)”

    I don’t know about that anymore. The St. Louis seminary, for one, has been infiltrated by a large number of young teetotalers (abomination!). Went to a college basket ball game with a mixed group of Dominicans and Jesuits, and it was the former rattling their beer cans against the guardrails and hassling the referee, while the latter talked theology and sipped their root beers.

    “Jesuit universities and their theologians have been hotbeds of dissent on Church teachings especially those on life and family.”

    Shit yeah. Saint Louis U. has been banging heads with the local Archdiocese on a range of issues. The latest was the refusal to fire the SLU Basketball coach for publicly supporting a woman’s right to choose.

  6. Wes Wes

    In the 17th century the Jesuit schools and colleges had the best science curriculum, teachers and textbooks, in fact those textbooks were so good they were also used in protestant schools and colleges.

    Far from being a hindrance to scientific truth as Mr Grayling would wish us to believe the Jesuits were one of the most powerful forces for its development in the 17th century.

    Sigh…

    How long will it be before historians realize that this is not a valid counterargument? I could easily give you examples of how the Nazis advanced science in Germany. Such examples would be irrelevant to an argument in political philosophy over whether Nazi ideology was friendly to free inquiry. It is possible to advance certain areas of knowledge while hindering others. You don’t have to be a genius to realize that.

    For any group label you wish to choose, you can find scientifically apt people who label themselves thus. There are creationists who have impeccable credentials. That. Is. Not. Relevant.

    So Jesuit schools had good textbooks. Whoopty fucking shit. Even if their textbooks were the super duper coolest textbooks ever written, that would not be relevant to an argument that the Jesuits hindered free inquiry.

    • John Wilkins John Wilkins

      And yet, the Jesuits simply did not hinder science. If you want a good overview, read John Hedley Brooke’s Science and Religion. Sometimes the church and its orders hindered some aspects of religion, when those aspects had theological or moral implications. But most of the time, they were forces for education before universal education became the norm in the west, at the end of the nineteenth century.

      Grayling is rehearsing English history from the 17th century. It is not relevant to today, and even back then the Jesuits supported scientific education. They had their flaws, certainly, but the myth of the warfare between science and religion is just that, a myth. It was invented by Draper and White at the end of the nineteenth century.

      • Wes Wes

        I have Brooke’s book. Please do not talk down to me.

        If someone wishes to argue for free inquiry, then if the church hindered ANY aspects of free inquiry, it will be a target of criticism. No one–no historian, no philosopher, no scientist–can deny that the church has historically hindered free inquiry.

        In the 17th century, they might have done some good, by the standards of the time. The same could be said for a lot of what would be considered barbarism today. Much of American culture could not have existed without African slavery. That does not change the fact that slaveholders were denying freedom to their slaves. When someone objects to Jesuit ideology, “X was Jesuit and Sciencey” is not a relevant retort. One could accept everything you and Thony are saying without contradicting what Grayling is saying.

  7. jeb jeb

    Its a very bad and rather weird paragraph; although I think he is refering to learning and education in general rather than science in particular.

    Does seem to reflect some old school English attitudes though.

    Protestant reformers have truth, learning and intelligence while the catholic church only has a large pile of dogmatic crap with which to counter.

    hmmmm. Grayling’s soft spot for the Protestant faith seems a bit out of place, given his general tone on religion.

    Flag waving is a popular historical past time
    This seems a prime example.

  8. I have Brooke’s book. Please do not talk down to me.

    Says the commenter who had just written a comment talking down to everyone in the comments thread. (“Sigh….”, “How long will it be before historians realize”, “That. Is. Not. Relevant.” It’s almost as if someone tried to write a caricature of talking down to someone; while all John did was recommend a book.)

    It’s not really as difficult as you’re making it. Grayling’s argument required that the Jesuit example serve a very specific function; it does not serve that function, and cannot, because Grayling gets the relevant facts wrong. Thus it is, contrary to what you suggested in your previous comment, a reasonable counterargument to point out that he does, in fact, get the facts wrong — and nothing is more relevant to the argument that Grayling is actually making than the fact that he, despite saying that people who couldn’t easily distinguish out cases of the opposing mindsets (of those who “inquire, examine, experiment, research, propose ideas and subject them to scrutiny” and those who “espouse a belief system or ideology which pre-packages all the answers”) were either “either deaf, dumb, blind and illiterate – or…one of the creatures of faith” couldn’t manage to do it himself, since he mangled badly his example of the latter.

    Can one make arguments to something more or less like Grayling’s conclusion without using the Jesuits? Of course; and obviously those arguments won’t face the problem of bad analysis of the mindset represented by the Jesuits. But those are different arguments, and by conflating them with Grayling’s, you are not doing justice to them, and you are the one introducing irrelevant considerations. Grayling’s own argument, as stated, depends on the Jesuits example being a clear and obvious case of people “who either think that the hows and whys of the universe are explained to satisfaction by their faith, or smugly embrace ignorance” — which is such an utterly implausible characterization of early modern Jesuits that it flabbergasts. It’s an absolutely mangled argument. It would have been reasonable (and right) to point out that the mistake about Jesuits doesn’t necessarily vitiate the type of argument Grayling is making; but trying to pretend that a refutation of a particular argument is not relevant to it because there are other arguments of the same type is not something that can stand serious analysis.

    • Wes Wes

      Here is the Grayling paragraph in question:

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

      Here is Thony’s response:

      In the 17th century the Jesuit schools and colleges had the best science curriculum, teachers and textbooks, in fact those textbooks were so good they were also used in protestant schools and colleges.

      Far from being a hindrance to scientific truth as Mr Grayling would wish us to believe the Jesuits were one of the most powerful forces for its development in the 17th century.

      I still maintain that Thony’s counterargument is irrelevant. Grayling charges that the Jesuits were propagandists. Thony replies that they contributed a lot to science and had really good textbooks. I fail to see what that has to do with whether or not they were casuists and propagandists.

      Like I said, one can without contradiction claim that the Nazi party used universities as propaganda machines, and that significant scientific development took place under the Nazi regime. In fact, both of those are true. Pointing out that the Nazis developed modern rocketry and jet engines in response to a charge that the Nazi propaganda machine hindered free inquiry is completely missing the point.

      • J. J. Ramsey J. J. Ramsey

        Thony C. already answered your point, Wes. Grayling cited the Jesuits as an example of those who, among other things, “think that the hows and whys of the universe are explained to satisfaction by their faith, or smugly embrace ignorance.” What the Jesuits did with regard to science makes them a poor example of what Grayling had in mind.

      • Wes Wes

        J. J. Ramsey // August 25, 2009 at 10:54 pm

        Thony C. already answered your point, Wes. Grayling cited the Jesuits as an example of those who, among other things, “think that the hows and whys of the universe are explained to satisfaction by their faith, or smugly embrace ignorance.” What the Jesuits did with regard to science makes them a poor example of what Grayling had in mind.

        From Thony’s “rebuttal”:

        One last point before I close. The Jesuits are portrayed by both Grayling and Rosenhouse as deliberate distorters of truth and as Sophists that is those who use hidden logical fallacies to win arguments, nothing could be farther from the truth and demonstrates how successful the anti-Jesuit polemics of the Protestants has been over the centuries. The whole point of the Jesuit education is to supply their scholars with the best and most accurate factual education possible while at the same time training them in the best use of correct logical argumentation. The point behind this education is to make the Jesuit able to demolish the arguments of his opponent by exposing the opponent false facts and false logic. Loyola realised that reliance on dogma and false argumentation would not enable the Catholic Church to win against the well educated and well informed Lutherans and only by being better educated, better informed and above all better trained in logic could he and his followers succeed in demolishing the arguments of their opponents. Jesuits win arguments not by twisting the truth but adhering strictly to it. Several commentators at Evolving Thoughts have remarked on the level of learning of the Jesuits they have known. I worked as a historian of logic for many years and all of the historians of logic and logicians that I have known, and that is naturally quite a lot, were all agreed that if you got involved in a strictly logical argument with a Jesuit scholar you were very likely to get your arse delivered to you on a plate.

        The bold portion basically confirms Grayling’s accusation. Critical thinking is not about finding ways to demolish your opponent. I’ve taught logic and critical thinking courses for years, and that is NOT what I teach my students.

        Bill Dembski treats “critical thinking” that way, but he is actually teaching a Christian apologetics course disguised as a critical thinking course. And Thony appears to be admitting that the Jesuits did the same thing. If Thony is right, then so is Grayling. The Jesuits were teaching people how to be sophists.

        In other words, if the Jesuits really were how Thony describes them, then they are an excellent example of what Grayling is talking about. That’s true even if they had bad ass textbooks and awesome science education. Logic is not about demolishing your opponent.

      • J. J. Ramsey J. J. Ramsey

        Wes:

        Being an ideologically driven propagandist is not incompatible with running quality science schools.

        But thinking “that the hows and whys of the universe are explained to satisfaction by their faith, or smugly embrace ignorance,” which Grayling said that the Jesuits did, most definitely is incompatible with running quality science schools.

        When did I say that Rahere was representative of Thony? In fact, I explicitly stated that that comment came from a commenter, not from Thony.

        Fair point, I guess. But why comment on Rahere here rather reply to Rahere in a comment on Thony C.’s site?

  9. Wes Wes

    From Thony’s commenters on the thread JJ Ramsey linked:

    Rahere
    August 26, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    Having heard Grayling unchained on Radio 4’s The Atheist and the Bishop, he immediately subverted his entire case by basing it on an allegory with a musical compositon. That’s a Catholic quadrivium doctine poorly understood and quoted out of context. This man’s supposed to be a Professor of Philosophy, so he cannot possibly excuse himself of ignorance. QED, it’s worth listening to – I soon gave up counting the number of unacknowledged references he and his lifted from a cultural structure they refute. He’s a parasite plain pure and simple.

    Good god. I use the term “Narcissicist” while stupidly asserting that Narcissus was pure mythology. I guess I’m “lifting from a cultureal structure I refute”.

    Oh, wait. Yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I can borrow metaphors from the Greeks while maintaining that their myths are the products of ignorant misogynists. There’s no contradiction in borrowing myths from a cultural structure while denying the literal reality of the supernatural beings inhabiting that cultural construction. Fancy that.

    I would also bet that, as a professor of philosophy, Grayling knows what the abbreviation “QED” means. The above commentator apparently does not.

    • J. J. Ramsey J. J. Ramsey

      Wes, there is a huge difference between exposing an opponent’s “false facts and false logic” and what Dembski does. There is also a huge difference between sophistry and exposing false facts and logic.

      And quoting from Rahere as if s/he were representative of Thony C.? Maybe you ought to revisit the material on critical thinking that you’ve taught.

      • Wes Wes

        1.) Call me a Platonist, but I’ve always drawn a clear distinction between arguing to win and arguing to find the truth. Engaging in the latter entails the possibility that you opponent is right and you are wrong. Training in “demolishing one’s opponent” is not the latter.

        2.) When did I say that Rahere was representative of Thony? In fact, I explicitly stated that that comment came from a commenter, not from Thony. I was expressing my exasperation at the ridiculous notion that there’s something wrong with borrowing a metaphor from a mythology I refute. I have no idea if Thony feels that way or not, and don’t care.

        3.) None of this has addressed the central point I’m trying to make: Being an ideologically driven propagandist is not incompatible with running quality science schools. Thony’s objection is not relevant. I can come up with several examples of groups who were both ideologically driven propagandists AND who made big contributions to science. Thony is not saying anything which contradicts what Grayling is saying.

        Is Grayling right? I have no idea. I don’t know much about the Jesuits, and don’t care. But I do know that a counterargument needs to contain some kind of information which contradicts the original claim in order to work. And Thony’s does not.

    • Jeb Jeb

      Logic as far as I am aware is not about the promotion of myths and Grayling is very clearly promoting one that has a long and unpleasant history in the U.K.

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

      Protestants were happy to re-use older Catholic myths when it suited them. In Scotland they vowed to destroy the monuments of past superstition yet trotted out a range of older beliefs regularly in a number of texts intended for wide public consumption.

      Presumable because their audience was very familiar with the myths and it was an easy, entertaining and highly effective way to make an ideological point with little effort.

      • Wes Wes

        The list of things logic is “not about” is infinite. But also, whether or not Grayling is right is on the list of things my objection is not about.

        Regardless of whether Grayling is right or wrong, Thony’s argument is a red herring. The fact that group X made contributions to science does not contradict the claim that group X were propagandists. Thony is committing a fallacy I see too often in history of science. It gets frustrating after a while. It’s not as frustrating as the “Historical personage S believe propositions x and y, therefore x and y are philosophically compatible” fallacy, but it’s up there.

  10. One can make a reasonable claim that the Jesuits sometimes went too far in justifying the means by the ends as in their appeal to the doctrine of mental reservation, which they used as a way of getting around the prohibition on lying. Thus, they held it to be licit to equivocate to protect the sanctity of the confessional or to avoid detection while working under cover as a missionary in a Protestant country. The Jesuits didn’t invent the doctrine, by the way, and it was never proposed as a blanket excuse for dissembling. Ignatius Loyola just wasn’t Leo Strauss. The Jesuit defense of Catholic doctrine wasn’t the knowing promotion of a false but useful doctrine. Those guys believed in the truth of Catholic dogma and the scholastic philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. They weren’t sophists trying to make the worse argument prevail over the better because they thought they had the better, indeed the best, argument. Perhaps they were zealots, but they weren’t hypocrites. Hypocrites aren’t that dangerous.

  11. Regardless of whether Grayling is right or wrong, Thony’s argument is a red herring. The fact that group X made contributions to science does not contradict the claim that group X were propagandists.

    Again, you are ignoring the original argument to which Thony C. was replying. Grayling’s argument is explicitly a dichotomy, and he makes the explicit claim that we can easily sort out some kinds of people on the ignorance side of the dichotomy, and the Jesuits are given as an explicit example of this; the above claim is inconsistent with Grayling, not e.g. with Thony C. (who was only making a fairly narrow point about a glaring flaw in Grayling’s argument). Trying to pretend that Grayling’s argument was a different argument than it was is not a defense of Grayling, and is reminiscent of IDers who deny that refutation of a particular ID argument is ‘really’ a refutation because there’s some other argument that might have been made (but wasn’t) that didn’t turn on the particular point by which the argument was refuted. It’s not reasonable there and it’s not a reasonable defense of Grayling here. Perhaps you would have come up with a better argument than Grayling did; but arguments Grayling could have made but did not are not relevant to whether, in your words, the refutation of the argument actually made was a “counterargument” or “relevant”.

  12. BERNIO BERNIO

    all these comments are just bullshit.i wonder all you assholes really don’t know who jesuts are?please,do more research,and be giving accurate information,right.
    i guess all these rubbish is just nothing but speculation,fools.

    • Preach it like it is brother!

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