Wednesday, August 15, 2007

beauty and synthesis

Here at the office we get GoogleAlerts on all things relating to Jonathan Edwards. A guy who comes up from time to time is a computer programmer named Jonathan Edwards. A research fellow at MIT, he posts on his blog, Alarming Development, about all sorts of programming futurism.

Usually his posts are way over my head, but today I saw something quite interesting. He posted a response to a book just published by O'Reilly (computer publishing bigdog) called Beautiful Code. The book's basic thesis is that beauty should be a guiding principle of computer programming as the most beautiful things also tend to be the simplest and best things.

Interesting. Absolute. Edwardsean.

However, Jonathan Edwards the MIT programmer takes umbrage at this statement for another very Edwardsean reason: human inability.

Jonathan Edwards, programmer writes:
"A lesson I have learned the hard way is that we aren’t smart enough. Even the most brilliant programmers routinely make stupid mistakes. Not just typos, but basic design errors that back the code into a corner, and in retrospect should have been obvious. The human mind can not grasp the complexity of a moderately sized program, much less the monster systems we build today. This is a bitter pill to swallow, because programming attracts and rewards the intelligent, and its culture encourages intellectual arrogance. I find it immensely helpful to work on the assumption that I am too stupid to get things right. This leads me to conservatively use what has already been shown to work, to cautiously test out new ideas before committing to them, and above all to prize simplicity."
Click here to read the whole post.

This got me to thinking about Jonathan Edwards the theologian, and the relationship between his aesthetics, his treatment of human fallenness, and his sense of the world as being a system for enacting God's redemption for the sake of God's glory. There are so many places to go to ponder this, but I landed at Miscellany 1296, on the New Heavens and New Earth.

Jonathan Edwards, theologian writes:
"The most perfect and beautiful material parts of this lower creation are, in a sort, animated, having a vegetative life, and these parts we see receive a great alteration and are made unspeakably more excellent and beautiful on the presence of the sun. 'Tis probable that the material parts of that most perfect part of all the creation, the heaven of heavens, the paradise of God, are most resembled by the most perfect parts of this world.

Indeed, in some respects the animated parts of this lower, material world are less perfect than some of those that are not animated, particularly in that they are not so durable. Hence, perhaps some may be ready to imagine that all susceptibleness of change in material things is an imperfection of them, as arguing corruptibleness and a being easily destroy[ed], as we see grass, leaves, flowers, and plants in general, that so easily put on a new form, are easily destroyed and sooner decay and come to a dissolution than other things that are hardest, most fixed, and furthest from any such mutability, as gold, diamonds, etc.

But because we see it to be so here, this is no argument that it is so in all other worlds. 'Tis no evidence that hardness and fixedness of substance is necessary to durability. It will certainly be otherwise in heaven. The glorified bodies of the saints will be exceeding far from this fixedness. They (as we must suppose) will be most flexible, movable and agile, most easily susceptive of mutation, both from the acts of the indwelling soul and also from the influence of Christ, who will be as it were the animating soul of that whole world, the common fountain of all life, and animating influence, and yet will be immortal and incorruptible. The fixedness of these inanimate parts of this lower world is really an imperfection, wherein appears most of that chief imperfection of material things, as below the things which are spiritual, even their inert quality, or what philosophers call vis inertiae..."
Click here to read the whole post.

What hath Cambridge to say to Stockbridge? Stockbridge to Cambridge? And who says that theology is esoteric theory......enjoy!


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