[percy-l] Language is an airplane

Michael Larson Mlarson at SOUTHEASTMN.EDU
Thu May 10 21:52:30 EDT 2007

Robert Eckert states:

"The process of natural selection which allows a creation to continue is the mechanism the Creator uses to create creature speciation.


We cannot finally know how we were created."

These two statements seem to be in conflict. If we cannot know how we were created, then we can claim neither evolution in general nor natural selection in particular as the method by which God created us. Science, by its own admission and method, must derive its explanations of the universe by observable phenomena. This is good as far as it goes (as Percy often said), but it only goes so far. If we look to science for an explanation of origins, well, then evolution, with its subset of various processes (some of which are even readily observable) is an admirable theory, a valiant attempt to make sense of it all given the self-imposed handicap of allowing only material evidence. But along comes man, the symbol-mongerer, and a wrench is thrown into the evolutionary machine. And this was Percy's point: language is one of those things man does (not the only one) that cannot be explained in random-evolutionary or materialist terms. At the very least, we must acknowledge a mystery here (as I think Robert does as well).

If we expand our considerations in our search for truth to include such non-material proofs as philosophy and alleged divine revelation, then we have much more to work with, and we have righted the modern inversion; spirit once again takes its place above and over matter. From the Roman Catechism (Article I), "Christian philosophy, on the contrary, so quickens the human mind that without difficulty it pierces the heavens, and, illumined with divine light, contemplates first, the eternal source of light, and in its radiance all created things." Before we are too quick to cast aside such a claim, let us remember that Percy counted himself among the recipients of Catholic Faith. And this is not something to easily dismiss. Consider his essay, "The Message in the Bottle," which centers on the idea that it is not so much the news as the news bearer that carries persuasive weight. And this merely echoes Aristotle, who claims that ethos, among the three rhetorical proofs (the other two being logos and pathos), is in fact the most influential on the rhetorical situation. In other words, we often learn what is true by our trust in who it is that tells us so.  

Robert goes on to state:

"Man does become a unique being at the crossing of the triadic threshold. 

The reason we become god like is, to me, because only God and man can synthesize triadic relations.That is, God speaks the universre into being, we speak our mental, cultural world into being.

The act of creation by man is indeed not the process of natural selection. God and man are creators now. Witness domesticated species and recombinant DNA creations. 

We indeed have dominion."

It is true that we are unique among material creatures by way of language, but the function of language is strained, I think, by suggesting that it makes us co-creators. A novelist, for instance, can do no more than signify the objective creation; he cannot actually call it into being. Even Tolkien, who invented in detail the idea of Middle Earth, does not cause it to actually exist. 

So language is a portal through which we may leap into the non-material realm, but it is not synonymous, in and of itself, with that realm. Imagine a man, a complete amnesiac, who wakes to find himself on a deserted island, nothing but the clothes on his back and, farther down the beach, a weird metal object with wings. Day after day, he examines the object, certain that it is a clue, a key to how he got here and possibly to how he might return (whatever that might mean). Then one day, he starts it up by accident, and something clicks: he remembers that he is a pilot, and he starts making forays to neighboring islands--for communion with others (and for fuel!). He makes longer and longer flights. One day, he knows, he will have to make the longest flight of all in a calculated gamble to find his homeland.

As a pilot, Percy never mistook his airplane for where he meant to go with it.
Best regards,
Michael Larson
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