“Nature reveals God's mind and imagination, and scripture
reveals God's heart and will,” says philosopher Peter Kreeft. But
the “ability to read natural signs has decreased with the increase
in the ability to read and decipher artificial signs.”
professor of philosophy at Boston College, Kreeft has authored
nearly 50 books
including, The Sea Within,
I Surf Therefore I Am
, and If
Einstein Had Been a Surfer
. He reflected
recently on why the sea holds such a fascination for us, even as we
are more and more distracted by technology.
Why do you think the sea fascinates
reason why the sea does this in a special way is as mysterious as the
sea itself. Its size, of course, bespeaks the ontological size of
God, but the air the heavens above is even bigger, but does
not evoke in us the same wonder.
the last resort the wonder of the sea is not reducible to a clear,
rational explanation. "Deep calleth unto deep" the sea
of waves without evokes the sea of wonder within.
explanations are helpful, however. In general, the reason for the
fascination is what the Iroquois call "orenda," the
spiritual magnetism or electricity in things that draws us and gives
us that standstill shock, that catch of the breath. It is the secret
ingredient the Creator put into seas, trees, stars and music.
specifically, the sea combines the bigness, the ever-aliveness, and
the paradoxical juxtaposition of peacefulness and storminess that we
see in our own souls when we dive deep enough there.
You have written about the vitality the beach provides through
seemingly boring things, the endless rolling in of the waves,
long stretches of sand, etc... What do you think this tells us about
I have A.D.D. and get bored easily. Yet waves are
endlessly fascinating. Why? The Iroquois had a word for
it, "orenda," designating the spiritual magnetic power to
draw the human spirit out of itself, a power something like the "te"
of the Tao for a Taoist or the "chi" in Tai Chi. It
is found especially in mountains, oceans, and forests. As to
how it works, that is as mysterious to me as most of the other things
in life, including why God invented the face of an ostrich. I
remember a Woody Allen line from one of his later films. His
son has rejected the family's Jewish faith and become an atheist, and
his wife blames him because he can't answer his son's questions about
the problem of evil. She tells him, "He wants to know: If
there is a God, why are there Nazis?" And Woody replies: "Why
are there Nazis? How should I know why there are Nazis? I don't
even know how the damned can opener works."
the words of Merry to Pippin in The Lord of the Rings
sometime's it's "better not to know." G.K. Chesterton,
driving down Broadway at night during a trip to the U.S., was asked
what he thought of the "great white way." Noticing both the
beauty of the neon light colors and the silliness of the commercial
messages, he replied that it was the first time he wished he was a
what we are at the beach.
You have written about how sea in such a way that harkens
back to medieval cosmology where a deeper understanding of God, the
Creator, comes through his creation. In light of this, how do you
view the sea an icon of God?
mind, in essence, is simply the human mind. Seeing nature, and
especially special things in creation, such as the sea and the stars,
as an icon of the Creator is as natural as seeing a work of art as an
icon of the mind of the artist.
It was a medieval commonplace
that "God wrote two books, nature and scripture." Both are
beautiful, mysterious, and without errors, only puzzles. Nature
reveals God's mind and imagination, and scripture reveals God's heart
You suggest that man has lost the
ability to distinguish between facts and signs. How do you understand
these terms? Do you think this vision of reading signs can
The ability to read natural signs
has decreased with the increase in the ability to read and decipher
Similarly, the ability of my students to do
simple, natural, ordinary-language logic Aristotelian logic
with its base in the natural signs that are concepts, has decreased
proportionately to their ability to do artificial, mathematical
logic, with its base in arbitrary propositions "p" and
"q" rather than "men" and "mortals."
Especially, they can no longer understand analogies. The SAT
Reasoning Test had to drop the whole section on analogies; Harvard
geniuses were flunking them.
This is more significant than it
seems, since the whole of creation is a set of analogies, likenesses,
similes or metaphors of the Creator. We understand them with
right-brain intuition, not with left-brain digital analysis. The
analog half of our brain is atrophying as the digital half is
There is no way to teach sign reading. You just
catch the art, as you catch a baseball, or the measles, from someone
who has it. Read Black Elk, or St. Bonaventure, or C.S. Lewis.
As a philosopher, you bring in a discussion of the age-old
question of happiness. How does untamed nature bring happiness in a
way a computer never can?
All explanations, all
hows and whys, are like hypotheses in science: They are for the data,
to explain the data, and must be judged and validated by the data, by
how well they explain the data. The more deeply you go into the data,
the better hypotheses you have. So the more you understand, by
experience, how nature makes you happy, the less nonsense you will
spout when you try to explain it.
Those who have gone most
deeply into this happiness, speak the least. The classic case is Lao
Tzu's Tao Te Ching
, with its famous beginning: "The way
that can be spoken of is not the real way." A silent smile
speaks more than a scholarly book about music, romance, music or
nature: "Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make
The how question is important only in
technology: "Techne" means know-how. It's a distraction
elsewhere. Who knows how divine grace works? Who cares, except the
professional theologian? It works. Jesus explained nothing,
especially himself. He presented everything, especially himself. He
gave out meals, not cook books.
Someone said, "Life is
not a puzzle to be solved but a mystery to be lived." That's a
hard truth for me as a professional philosopher to swallow, but it's
Have you had any similar thoughts about
other elements of nature, as St. Francis would have said, about
"brother sun, sister moon," or the mountains, raging
storms, the universe and their ability to reveal God?
St. Francis will teach us all in heaven, where there will be a
"new heavens and a new earth," to love and sing the praises
of all the new creatures, even the mosquitoes. Look at one under a
microscope even now and see the wonderful delicacy of it.
God put Francis here to teach us to rehearse for eternity. If we
really saw the Sun and Moon as "brother sun, sister moon,"
it would transform us twenty-four hours a day, not just when we're
We would feel at home, tiny children in our Father's
big, beautiful mansion with presents and surprises coming at us like
gushing geysers. And that's an exercise in realism, because that's
what the world really is, and what we really are, and what God really