June 18th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Deregulation cause of dairy industry crisis

CANBERRA OBSERVED Double-dissolution election likely to deliver disillusionment

EDITORIAL Turnbull keeps his smile as all around lose theirs

LIFE ISSUES Infant viability fails to wake upper house interest

GLOBAL ECONOMY A generation left to twiddle its thumbs

LOCAL GOVERNMENT Amateur hour at the Brisbane City Council

EUTHANASIA Too quick a leap to counsel of despair

CULTURE WARS Australia Council cuts funding to Quadrant

SEXUAL POLITICS Gay "marriage" and the given in human procreative behaviour (Part 2)

FEDERAL ELECTION How to ensure your Senate vote goes all the way

PHILOSOPHY John Haldane holds true to faith-reason nexus

HISTORY The Chinese in Australia: not the story you've heard

MUSIC The times it takes to reach eternity

CINEMA Madcap adventures in the Kiwi bush: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

BOOK REVIEW The curate's egg

BOOK REVIEW That other great Irish prelate


 A day in the life of a religious white man from the point of view of evidence and truth

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John Haldane holds true to faith-reason nexus

by Gillian Gonzalez

News Weekly, June 18, 2016

Professor John Haldane, one of the world’s foremost thinkers within the Catholic tradition, has just completed a Visiting Professorship at the University of Notre Dame Australia (Sydney).

Professor John Haldane

Professor Haldane was in Australia to teach a 13-week unit on “The good society: Its nature and foundations” within the School of Philosophy and Theology.

While in Australia, he also gave several lectures in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Perth. In Perth, Professor Haldane spoke at Notre Dame Australia on May 19 and to the Dawson Society on May 21, when he ranged over a variety of social and intellectual issues.

Education, Professor Haldane told the audience at Notre Dame Australia, equates to formation. A Catholic teacher cannot avoid supporting the Church’s teachings. The usual escape mechanisms – public versus private; procedural versus substantial; and moral versus cultural – do not convince.

He dismissed the “marriage equality” slogan as a con because at present those pushing for same-sex marriage do not support polyamory, polygamy or incest – to name a few practices still held to be less wholesome – and thus the selectiveness of the campaign belies the inclusiveness of the slogan.

Focusing on human nature is the best response we can have to the current anti-social movements affecting the West. If we are human and not base animals, we will seek to improve society. Marx’s analysis of the destructive role of capitalism based on greed was meant to lead to society’s demise; only the Catholic Church with its comprehensive social teachings can save us.

Analysing our response to current difficulties suggests that while, say, adultery damages us and society and therefore we are duty bound to avoid it, the climate-change problem is so enormous that the individual can do but little about it. Even state action may be futile since the forces of nature cannot be stopped. But attacks on marriage and the family can be countered by our personal behaviour. In philosophical terms, this is the difference between perfect duty – which is obligatory – and imperfect duty, which if not optional is ineffective.

At the Dawson Society meeting, Professor Haldane spoke on the topic, “Holding fast through strong waters: faith and reason”.

Professor Haldane began by suggesting that there is no such thing as “being on the right side of history”. He gave the example of those living in the days of empire, who would certainly have considered themselves as being on the right side of history. Yet not too many years later, empire had all but disappeared.

He used a quote from German philosopher Georg Hegel to illustrate a point about the retrospectivity of philosophy: “When philosophy paints its grey in grey, one form of life has become old, and by means of grey it cannot be rejuvenated, but only known. The owl of Minerva takes its flight only when the shades of night are gathering.”

Professor Haldane explained that the owl of Minerva represents Wisdom, which often only comes after the event (at the end of the day). Philosophy comes to understand a historical condition just as it passes away. Consequently, philosophy cannot be prescriptive because it understands only in hindsight. In other words, an era cannot really be estimated until it has entered its closing phase.

He said that by the time we had labelled a period (as for example the present time is labelled “progressive “or “liberal”), that period has already passed. By speaking of the death of liberalism, though, he is not insinuating that we are in a more “conservative” period, as that can only be judged in the future – nothing is inevitable. Since we have no idea what is going to happen in 10 or 20 years’ time, no one can really tell where, morally or intellectually, we will stand.

Professor Haldane went on to explain that actions produce ideas, as well as having consequences. Ideas act not so much to drive the future but to help us understand the past. Events like famine, warfare, disease and immigration do much more to shape the future than do ideas. Although we think that we can control the future through ideas, the drivers of the future are events, processes and technological discoveries, famines, diseases and war.

Professor Haldane fears that the large number of refugees currently arriving in Europe is certain to have an impact on Western rights and liberties, including the unsustainability of university education for everyone. And he predicts that, due to Australia’s geographical location, our future will inevitably be affected by events in the South China Sea.

Professor Haldane gave some advice to those on the frontlines of the culture wars. He prefers that Catholics use the theological terms heterodox/orthodox to describe themselves rather than the terms conservative/liberal or traditional/progressive, which he describes as political and cultural terms. The reason being that it is possible for someone to be doctrinally orthodox and at the same time radically egalitarian or even “socialist”.

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