An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Saturday, 28 September 2019

Interview (part2) with Marinus Dirk Stafleu

This is the second part of an interview with Professor Stafleu - the first part is here.
His personal website has access to the majority of his work

- You were a visiting scientist at the H.H.Wills Physics Laboratory in Bristol for a while - did you have any contact with any British reformational scholars at that time? What was your impression of the UK?

During this visit of ten months in 1968-1969, I studied extensively Herman Dooyeweerd’s New Critique, and I wrote Analysis of time in modern physics (see below). However, I did not meet British reformed scholars. It is a remarkable fact that their number is significantly larger than in any other European country, with the exception of the Netherlands. I benefitted from several fruitful contacts with British scholars interested in Christian philosophy.

- Which of your books (or articles) do you regard as the most important - and why?

I have the habit of publishing my views first in a paper, next in a book. During my development as a philosopher, five papers have been pivotal:

* ‘Analysis of time in modern physics’ (1970), Philosop­hia Reformata 35:1-24,119-131. Introducing subject-subject relations, I amended Dooyeweerd’s philosophy of time.
* ‘Some problems of time - some facts of life’ (1986), Philos­op­hia Reformata 51:67-82, is the first paper in which I put forward that evolution is consistent with Christian philosophy. 
* ‘On the character of social communities, the state and the public domain’ (2004), Philosophia Reformata 69:125-139, proposed the political relation frame.
* ‘Philosophical ethics and the so-called ethical aspect’ (2007), Philosophia Reformata 72:21-33, argues that ethics is not qualified by a specific relation frame.
* ‘Time and history in the philosophy of the cosmonomic Idea’ (2008), Philosophia Reformata 73:154-169, presents my philosophy of history.

My most important books are:

* Time and again, A systematic analysis of the founda­tions of physics, Toronto: Wedge; Bloemfon­tein: Sacum 1980; revised 2019: Some friends in Canada and South-Africa made the publication of my first book possible. For several natural scientists in The Netherlands and abroad, it became their first introduction to PCI. It was discussed during a summer seminar at the Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto, 1975, where each participant commented on a chapter of the book. 

* Theories at work, On the structure and functioning of theories in science, in particular during the Copernican revolution, Lanham 1987: University Press of America. This book is based on a series of lectures given at a summer school at the Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto, 1985 and on lectures delivered at the University of Potchefstroom, South-Africa, where I was a guest in 1981 and 2001. This book reports on my study of the philosophy of science from a historical perspective. It was revised in 2016 as Theory and experiment, Philosophy of science in a historical context,
* Chronos & Clio, Time in history, Buijten & Schipperheijn, Amsterdam 2011. (Translation 2012 on my website.) This book contains my mature views on the meaning of time and human history. 

* Encyclopaedia of relations and characters. I. Natural laws. II. Normative principles, 2018-2019, This book summarizes my views on relations and characters, both natural and normative, in their dynamic development. The unravelling of the architecture of relation frames and character types is like solving an interlocking puzzle.
* A strong state and a strong society,, 2019, discusses my views of the political relation frame, the state, and civil society.

- Which of your books (or articles) do you think provides the best introduction to your work?

I should recommend The open future, Contours of a Christian philosophy of dynamic development, 2017,

- Which books have been most influential in your development as a scholar?

Besides Herman Dooyeweerd’s works, these are books by critical realists like Mario Bunge and Karl Popper, and by realist historians of science like Eduard Dijksterhuis, Alexandre Koyré, Stillman Drake, and David Wootton. The philosophy of dynamic development is based on a realistic reading of the history of science, rejecting Enlightenment philosophy, romanticism, positivism, historism, and relativism alike, as I discussed in Nature and freedom, Philosophy of nature, Natural theology, Enlightenment and Romanticism (2018),

- What advice would you give to budding reformational scholars?

Be critical and creative, not believing in anyone’s self-appointed authority. Enlarge the Enlightenment’s ‘Dare to think’, into ‘dare to believe that the world is created according to natural laws and normative principles to be discovered and to be elaborated’. Keep an open mind to the future. Evolution and history will never end, nor will philosophy.

- What challenges do you see facing the reformational movement at the moment?

To take distance from conservatives like the creationists, and to develop a truly progressive and dynamic view of our time and history.

- What do you like to do for fun?

Reading history. Travelling, visiting ancient and medieval historical sites. I like puzzles, reading and viewing thrillers. My philosophical project is a puzzle-solving activity.

- And finally, in true desert-island-discs style: If you were on a desert island what two luxuries would you take with you?

A computer and a reliable broadband internet connection.

Friday, 27 September 2019

Interview (part 1) with Marinus Dirk Stafleu

Born 1937, Marinus Dirk (Dick) Stafleu studied physics at the University of Leiden before becoming a research fellow at the Catholic (now Radboud) University in Nijmegen. He earned his PhD in experimental physics in 1967. He is the author of numerous books dealing with his philosophy of dynamic development which is based on a lifelong study of Herman Dooyeweerd and Dirk Vollenhoven. He retired in 1998 and has since then been a full-time philosopher. 
His website contains the vast majority of his written work.

He also has a page on

Nearly twenty-five years Dick Stafleu was a member of the board of editors of Philosophia Reformata, eight years as its chairman, successor of Herman Dooyeweerd and of Johan van der Hoeven.

- It seems unusual for a physicist to become a philosopher. What was it that precipitated the change?

As a member of the student corporation Societas Studiosorum Reformatorum Lugdunensis I became interested in the Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea as initiated by Dirk Vollenhoven and Herman Dooyeweerd. However, until my early retirement I considered myself a physicist, first a research scientist, next a teacher of physics at the Teacher Training Institute in Utrecht. For my philosophical and historical studies the University Library at Utrecht turned out to be a splendid source.

- Who or what are your influences? How did you come across the reformational philosophy of Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven? What was it that attracted you to it?

In Leiden I attended the weekly philosophical courses in Calvinian philosophy of Johan Mekkes. Otherwise I was mostly influenced by intensively studying Herman Dooyeweerd’s A New Critique of Theoretical Thought. I was attracted by Mekkes’s radical Christian approach to philosophy, as well as by Dooyeweerd’s systematic analysis.
I was also influenced by critical realists like Mario Bunge and Karl Popper, resisting twentieth-century positivism and relativism. I believe that the world as we experience it is created by God, fallen into sin, and resurrected by Jesus Christ in communion with the Holy Spirit. This world is subjected to natural laws and normative principles, which are not freely invented by human people, but can be discovered and applied. Therefore I consider myself a critical-realist.

- You describe your work as a 'philosophy of dynamic development'. Can you briefly summarise what that means?
More than the Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea, which often makes a static impression, I stress the dynamic development of the world we live in. In 1959 Herman Dooyeweerd wrote an extensive and careful review of Jan Lever’s Creatie en evolutie (1956), in which he took distance from the idea of biological evolution without rejecting it. Nevertheless, it was devastating in two ways. First it alienated many christian scientists from his philosophy, in particular at the Free University in Amsterdam. Second, it led several (especially North-American) reformed philosophers into believing that his philosophy endorses creationism, although Dooyeweerd emphatically denied this. Since 1986 I started a program of making clear that natural evolution is consistent with the basic principles of the Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea, if that philosophy was supplemented with the idea of dynamic development. For this term I was inspired by Johan Mekkes, who always stressed the dynamis of the creation.
From the outset I used the history of science as a source for understanding its philosophy. In 2008 I published a paper in which I criticized Dooyeweerd’s view of history. His point of departure was the assumption that history is characterized by the ‘historical modal aspect’ succeeding the logical one as the first normative modal aspect. I argued that history is the normative kind of dynamic development, after evolution as the natural one. However, nowhere does Dooyeweerd suggest the existence of a modal aspect characterizing natural evolution. Therefore I think his theory of history is not consistent with his view on evolution.

- In what ways have you developed Dooyeweerd's approach?

The christian philosophy of dynamic development is not a conservation program, directed at conserving the inheritance of Dooyeweerd or Vollenhoven. There is nothing wrong with conservation programs, but I prefer working in a progressive research program as I conducted in the past half century. As a philosophical project it is intended as a twenty-first-century update of Herman Dooyeweerd’s and Dirk Vollenhoven’s Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea (PCI for short). The main differences can be summarized as follows.

* The idea of law
With the idea of law I remain quite close to PCI. The most important addition is the insight that the laws for the creation allow of a margin of indeterminacy, contingency or chance, individuality and uniqueness. The coexistence of lawfulness and randomness undermines any kind of determinism.

* Relations
PCI discussed subject-object relations extensively, but paid little attention to subject-subject relations, which I find to be much more important. This leads to a new perspective on the modal aspects. Whereas PCI introduced the law spheres to be modal aspects of being, I interpret the relation frames first of all as laws for intersubjective as well as subject-object relations. Because nothing can exist isolated from everything else, it then follows that the relation frames constitute conditions for the existence of anything. The relation frames are aspects of human experience as well, because experience is always expressed in relations. They are also aspects of Dooyeweerd’s (not Vollenhoven’s) cosmic time which I consider relational. In each relation frame the relations are subject to a temporal order as the most general law for that frame.
In Dooyeweerd’s view the serial order of the modal aspects is the primordial expression of time, in which each aspect transcends the preceding ones. The final aspect (faith) is transcended by religion. In this order Dooyeweerd considers history to be a process in which the modal aspects are opened up. I present a broader view of human history, taking into account the transfer of experience in asymmetrical subject-subject relations; the design, production and use of artefacts; as well as the development of associations and of social networks in the public domain.
The emphasis on relations has a large impact on my views. It extends PCI’s scarce remarks on the natural relation frames and characters into a wide-ranging philosophy of development as investigated in the mathematical, physical, and biological sciences. Networks of subject-subject relations and subject-object relations play a decisive part in my analysis of the function of the state on the public domain.

* Characters and character types
The theory of characters (clusters of laws for natural or normative types) is a consequent elaboration of PCI’s theory of structures of individuality. It tries to make sense of the diversity of the world and of society. Besides the primary qualification and secondary foundation of each character as suggested by Dooyeweerd, I add the tertiary disposition or propensity of each character to become interlaced with other characters. This is inspired by Dooyeweerd’s view on enkapsis, but it is much more straightforward and general. Characters constitute the law side of typical individuality. There is an enormous variety of characters, but a much more restricted set of character types. Normative character types are not determined by variable norms, but only by invariant normative principles, besides natural laws. A character defines an invariant class of individual subjects besides an objective ensemble of all possible states allowed by the character, describing the possible variations within a class.
The physical aspect is not the first to qualify characteristic things as Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd assumed. Important quantitative, spatial, and kinematic characters exist as well.
Although this theory allows of a classification of character types, its main relevance is dynamic. It shows that the actual existence of individuals determined by a character is subject to developmental change. Therefore, I consider the analysis of characters and character types to be much more important than it occurs in PCI. 
With respect to the individual character of a person, I do not basically differ from PCI, though I do not share Dooyeweerd’s view on the human heart transcending time. I developed PCI’s unfinished anthropology, emphasizing the dynamical development both of nature and of humanity since it emerged from the animal world.

* Evolution and the emergence of humanity from the animal world
Contrary to PCI, I present a comprehensive view on the evolution of the astrophysical universe, of the chemical elements and their compounds, and of the evolution of the organic and animal world. Thereby I take distance from the world views of evolutionism and of creationism. It turns out that evolution has a random component on the subject side (e.g., the push of natural selection and of sex), but is guided by natural characters on the law side (e.g., the pull of genetic laws).
Whereas PCI never came to terms with theories of natural evolution, I showed both evolution and human history to depend on processes in which the development of characters (natural, artificial or social) is crucial. Rejecting creationism based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, I distinguish scientific theories of natural evolution from popular evolutionism, the prevailing naturalist world view. I argued that evolution theories can provide a necessary explanation for the emergence of mankind from the animal world, but not a sufficient one, because this requires the introduction of principles which are not natural but normative. This provides a new perspective on Christian anthropology.

* Values and norms for human acts and relations
More consequently than PCI, I distinguish normative principles, supposedly given in the creational order, from norms made by humanity and therefore culturally and historically different. Although human-made, norms belong to the law side of human culture. It means that humanity is not only active at the subject side but also at the law side of reality.
I consider ethics to be the study of normative activity, stressing the freedom and responsibility of any human being. I therefore reject PCI’s supposition of a moral or ethical aspect, which had better be called the relation frame of loving care. I recognized the political relation frame to be different from the justitial. Whereas there is no difference of opinion on the order of the natural relation frames, following the lead of some Canadian Dooyeweerdians I proposed a quite different order of the normative relation frames than PCI does:

My alternative:

Loving care

In PCI the conceptual analysis of the modal aspects, their meaning nuclei and analogies (anticipations and retrocipations) appears to be most important, whereas I stress their relevance for the architecture of natural and normative character types.

* Artefacts and the alleged autonomy of theoretical thought
Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven paid little attention to the characters of human-made artefacts, which for the understanding of anthropology and history are no less important than human acts and associations. I define artefacts as specific objects, primarily characterized by one of the normative relation frames. Technical artefacts have a singular character, qualified by the technical relation frame and founded in one of the natural frames. Other artefacts have a dual character, a concept absent in PCI. The generic character is qualified by one of the post-technical normative relation frames and is founded in the technical one. The specific character is qualified by the same frame as the generic character, and is founded in a preceding frame.
Artefacts sustain human experience and its transfer. I consider theoretical or conceptual thought to be different from natural thought because of the use of artefacts like concepts, statements or propositions, and theories. This leads to a view on epistemology somewhat different from Dooyeweerd’s. In my analysis, stressing other forms of experience sustained by artefacts and being more interested in ontology than in epistemology, theoretical thought is far less dominant than in PCI.

* Associations
More precisely than PCI does, I distinguish between organized associations and unorganized relation networks, communities connecting individuals and associations. Associations are specific human-made subjects having leadership with authority and membership with discipline. They have a dual character. Generically all associations are politically qualified and socially founded. Specifically each type of association is primarily qualified by one of the normative relation frames, secondarily founded in a preceding frame, and is tertiarily characterized by its disposition to become interlaced with other types of associations. Since the twentieth century, the relevance of associations is world-wide increasing.
I apply Abraham Kuyper’s idea of sphere sovereignty only to associations and not to communities, showing its increasing relevance for understanding civil society. PCI interprets sphere sovereignty incorrectly as the irreducibility of types of associations, extending it as a metaphor to the irreducibility of the modal aspects. I used the idea of sphere sovereignty to develop a fundamental critique of various views on societal relations.

* The public domain
Whereas Dooyeweerd based his extensive discussion of the body politic on the nineteenth-century idea of a territorial nation state, I started from a quite different perspective, introducing the concept of the public domain as an open set of communities, i.e., networks of subject-subject relations including both individuals and associations. Each network is characterized by one of the relation frames and is accompanied by an objective network, like a lingual community requires a common language. In the course of history, these communities have grown from local to national networks, but since the second half of the twentieth century, they more and more exceed national boundaries, becoming global.
The public domain is based on the technical community of subjective human labour and an objective technical infrastructure. The state’s generic character does not differ much from that of other associations, but according to its specific character it has a unique function. Within its territory it is the guardian of the public domain, and its specific character is therefore founded in the technical frame. It is politically qualified to make rules for the functioning of public networks, in order to keep peace, to warrant the freedom and further the responsibility of all its participants, whether citizens or foreigners. Because the public domain more and more exceeds the national boundaries, the individual states have to share their sovereignty with each other and with supranational organizations. I downgraded the function of armed power, as organized in various kinds of intervention forces. Contrary to many Christian philosophers, I do not consider the state to exist because of sin.