Newman on the art of war

Saint John Henry Newman, in his Essays on Miracles, and in the Grammar of Assent, calls attention to what Science and Revelation have in common. Both are rules-based. Religion is certainly, and science is apparently, immortal; neither admit exceptions.

Our current historical mania for “evolution” is in denial of this, from two directions. First, we believe that these generalities have the remarkable power to write themselves into existence; and second, having that singular power, they may also change themselves over time. In a word, they evolve, and did evolve or will evolve if they cannot be seen to be evolving now.

To my mind, however — the author of these idle essays — the interest of science is that its laws are impregnable. No matter how often the defiance of gravity, or of the conservation of energy, or of the sum of entropies, or of the fastidious speed of light, or of progress by perpetual motion, is proposed or promoted through such a place as YouTube, we know it cannot happen. There will be no variations in principle or fact. Indeed, a variation transiently observed will bring a better understanding of the law, for if it is genuine it will prove indefinitely repeatable.

Likewise with miracles, which appear (though seldom on YouTube) to break all the rules that pertain to religion, as well as science. They do not, however. They are only detectable because of the seeming breach in the physical order. But they remain perfectly consistent with the moral order, which thus shows itself to be “higher” that the physical.

How else can we tell them apart? The physical provisions of the universe are plausible. But the moral provisions are paradoxical in kind.

The rules of warfare belong finally to the moral. At the physical level, the power with the bigger army, and the better weapons, wins every time. That is “how the world works,” according to the military manuals, and the great majority of soldiers. The moral order is by comparison naïve, and is sometimes summoned as an implausible joke.

But what is this moral order?

“We advance by yielding; we rise by falling; we conquer by suffering; we persuade by silence; we become rich by bountifulness; we inherit the earth through meekness; we gain comfort through mourning; we earn glory by penitence and prayer. Heaven and earth will sooner fall than this rule be reversed. …”

To which I might add, that who dares, wins.