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Heresy, Now and Then

David Cowles

Aug 8, 2023

“The Illuminati prefer their 19th century ideologies to science’s 20th century discoveries… the ‘sin’ of heretics, then and now, is narrowness of vision.”

A single thread runs through the Intellectual History of the Western World. It occupied the Pre-Socratics in the 5th century BCE; it dominated Christian theological speculation in the first centuries CE; and it is a major concern of non-analytic philosophy and theoretical science today: 

How can we account for the Unity of Universe and the Plurality of ‘things’ (e.g. events) that constitute it? 

Alfred North Whitehead (c. 1930), the last great systematic philosopher in the Western tradition (Plato through Hegel), grounded his magnum opus, Process and Reality, on this observation: “Creativity, many, one are the ultimate notions.”

According to Whitehead, the World is a process (creativity) by which many become one and one becomes many. Whitehead’s project, the conciliation of unity and plurality, is no longer a focus for most philosophers but it has become an obsession for many scientists:

  • The relationship between the Quantum Wave Function and its discrete measurements.

  • The distillation of elementary particles and forces from the Big Bang singularity.

  • The phenomenon of non-locality (Bell’s Theorem, 1964).

  • The hypothesis of Dark Matter/Dark Energy.

‘Cutting edge’ is what’s happening at MIT, not Harvard, at Cambridge, not Oxford. (Ok, a gross overgeneralization…but you get my point!) Bad philosophy, bad theology, and bad science share one feature in common: they cannot accept the radical implications of their own discoveries (viz. Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman).

John Bell, Edwin Hubble, and the early Quantum Mechanics were subjects of the most vitriolic attacks. They had shamelessly shunned Empiricism & Rationalism, the twin pillars of modern Western thought. The reaction of the philosophical and scientific communities made it clear that the Illuminati prefer their 19th century ideologies to science’s 20th century discoveries. 

Even Einstein weighed in, “God does not play dice!” Sez who? Of course, he does; in fact, he’s a Craps Master. His picture hangs over the pit at Bellagio. Despite a century of effort by “the best minds of my generation” (Ginsberg, Howl), not a single shred of evidence has been adduced to debunk any of these counter-intuitive models (above).

“It’s yesterday once more!” (Carpenters, 1973) We’re back in the early centuries of the Christian Era. The Council of Nicaea (c. 325 CE) has just put the final stamp of orthodoxy on the Cosmology implicit in New Testament scripture and in the writings of the early Church fathers:

“I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth…I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages…true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father… By the Holy Spirit (he) was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man…I believe in the Holy Spirit…who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified…”

The theological heretics of that age, like scientific heretics today, could not accept the implications of the orthodoxy that alone can account for our everyday experience of unity, plurality, and creativity.

St. Hilary of Poitiers, writing c. 350 CE (De Trinitate), called out several heretics by name: ‘On Valentinus, Manichaeus, Sabellius, Hieracas, on Arians, Dasher, Donner and Blitzen’. These men (and deer), much as they disagreed among themselves, all rejected orthodox Christology as defined at Nicaea. Specifically, they could not get their heads around the relationship between God the Father and God the Son.

I will not take you through the details of each heresy. Collectively (but not uniformly), these heretics could not accept (1) that Father and Son could both be wholly God, (2) that the Father could beget the Son with no diminution of the Father’s divinity, (3) that the divinity of the Son did not compromise in any way the divinity of the Father, (4) that a Son could be born of the Father and of Mary and yet be co-eternal with the Father, and (5) that Father and Son could be two distinct persons sharing a single substance (ousia).


The Church is right to condemn these heresies with extreme prejudice. Had any of them prevailed, Christianity would not be the intellectual force it is today. And the heretics themselves? Burn them, of course? Not so fast! Orthodox Christology is a tough sell to any crowd. As Muslims are fond of saying, “God forbid that Allah should have a son.” 

Hilary’s heretics share a common, dysfunctional ideology: 1 + 1 ≠ 1. When anything (even Godhead) is shared, it must be diluted; when something is one, it cannot be two or three. Similarly, if A is in B then B cannot be in A: ‘a mouse in the house’, not ‘a house in the mouse’.

These reservations seem reasonable, and they may indeed apply within a certain range of experience; but the cosmology they represent is inadequate to account for the entirety of that experience. Similarly, Euclidean geometry and Newtonian physics ‘work’ within a certain range but do not constitute viable models of Universe. Ultimately, the ‘sin’ of heretics, then and now, is narrowness of vision.

Infinity (∞) is, well, infinite, so ∞/2 is still ∞. The Son is the Word (logos) of God: “All things came to be through him. Without him nothing that is came to be.” (John 1: 3) But the relationship between God and Universe cannot be vectored (→); it must be reciprocal (↔): covenant, not just commandment. 

“In the beginning was the Word…and the Word was God… (and) The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1: 1, 14) The Eternal had to ‘happen in spacetime’ so that whatever happens in spacetime might be eternal. Perhaps Hilary’s ‘heretical five’ should be forgiven for not fully understanding this…but that makes the achievement of Nicaea all the more astonishing.    


Image: The Pharisees and the Sadducees Come to Tempt Jesus. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper. Created by James Tissot (1836-1902). Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York.


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