Month Three as a Henry Fellow: Life, Participation, and the Wingfeather Saga

This month, I have two main study and writing goals. First, I plan to read as much of the literature as I can on the origin of life to get a sense of the current state of play in science. The goal is to write one chapter for my popular level book, Eleven Stones, on the origin of life and then one section of a technical article examining how one’s philosophy of nature influences how the scientific evidence for origins is assessed. I’ve written the first section to the technical paper, setting out the two dominant ways of looking at the universe—the neo-Humean view and the neo-Aristotelian view. Now the real work begins…

My second main goal is to read a book (actually a re-read of Boresma’s Heavenly Participation) and a couple more articles on the metaphysics of divine participation in preparation for a longer article. I’ve noticed that a lot of theologians are talking about a “sacramental ontology” or how the world “participates” in God in some sense. I think that (if I might say so myself) we philosophers can help bring some clarity to this discussion by offering an account of the nature of the participation relation, the word “sacramental” and related notions. As a Platonist about the abstract realm and an Aristotelian about the concrete realm, I am happy to see the uptick in folks talking about a sacramental ontology or the need to return to a kind of Christian Platonism. In my own work, including my Cultural Apologetics book, I too talk about reenchanting the world and seeing and delighting in the world the way Jesus does. In my book, I intentionally never used the world Christian Platonism, but it was always in the back of my mind. I hope to read a good bit of theology and then a good bit of philosophy and see if I can figure out just what that participation relation is (for philosophers: I don’t think it is the grounding, resemblance, causation, part-whole, constituent, or identity relation; I’m thinking it is a derivative relation (made up of some of the relations just mentioned and maybe a few others); I think it ascribes value to concrete material reality and also mediates God to the world (and the world to God?)—but stay tuned, lots of reading and processing to go!).

Here are some of the books I hope to work through this month:

My fun read for the month, Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga is on the night stand. As for binge-worthy television when I can’t read anymore, I’m also excited that Jack Ryan has dropped and that the next season of The Expanse will drop soon!

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