Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Atheism and Human Knowledge Part II www.dpl21.com


        It  is impossible to evaluate the position of atheism in modern times without analyzing  the  nature of human knowledge and our knowledge of God. Therefore we must first keep in mind that there are basically two sources of knowledge of God.
       (a) The philosophical arguments for the existence of some transcendent  Source of all reality  like the idea of the Highest Good in Plato, the idea of the First Mover and the First Cause in Aristotle  and also the development of Thomistic philosophy which to a great extend is an adaptation of Aristotelian thought to the basic dogmas of Christian  religion. This would be the philosophical underpinning of  religious faith.  The great systems of Plato, Aristotle or Thomas Aquinas are based on the acceptance of  intelligibility of all being as such and they are metaphysical   in nature.  
        (b) The second and more fundamental source of religious belief is based on revelation. Revelation is the unveiling  of God himself to human beings and  therefore  humans are given some insight into the nature of God, His will and  purposes and also their  relationship to  God's purposes and intentions. For example to be a Christian does not necessarily demand philosophical knowledge of God. One believes because  in the person of  Jesus Christ God  became  a human being , human in all things human except  sin. Christ therefore  is the revelation of God  in  the most  possible way  identified with the  suffering servant  of  the Father. Christ's Crucifixion and Resurrection  is God's  salvific  lifting every believer to the state of adapted child of God with the promise of eternal life after physical death and future  resurrection for eternity. As pointed out above, the Christian believer does not have to be a philosopher, but St. Paul  insists  very clearly that a Christian must be able to  give some reasons why he/she believes, that is must be able to defend  his commitment  to the message and promises of Christ.
          Let's analyse first the philosophical  knowledge of God and it's possibility . This problem is extremely important  especially after the modern  atheists which  deny any  possibility even  of  proving  the rationality of believing in God. The  widely spread  belief of modern scientists and also some philosophers is that only  scientific methods  are fruitful  ways of any knowledge whatsoever. This position  leads directly   to scientific reductionism , rejection of any metaphysical  thinking , to skepticism  and quite often crude materialism. This attitude  is not only  part of modern physics but also  psychology,  psychiatry and  biology with the propagated theory of evolution of all life in the Darwinian way of understanding. Ultimately this dogmatic scientific attitude  leads to the conviction that science  alone will soon  explain all phenomena of nature without any need  for some transcendent or Divine reality. 
         According to this way of thinking  science  supposedly deals only with bear facts (phenomena) and it  does not  show any interest in values of man, meaning of human existence or  destiny of individual persons. Briefly the  whole area most personal and  essential for every reflecting human being  is  a neglected field of interest. 
          Human beings are not only interested  in for example   how many new galaxies were recently discovered by some astronomer or whether  our solar system is doomed to thermal death in  perhaps several billion of years. Those are scientific facts but they do not touch the deepest questions , like  who am I ? , why do I exist? what happens when I die? Is there any sense i  praying to some God if we don't know if He even exists? It certainly would be nonsense  to pray  or make any sacrifices if  there is nothing but matter in space-time. Nor  is there any  solid reason for moral values of any kind apart from  sophisticated selfishness  during this short  journey from the womb of a woman to the womb of mother earth. As Dostoevsky once remarked : If God does not exist everything is allowed!. What did he have in mind when saying this is easy to understand : without some transcending Divine authority  the  human values are reduced only to the level of  the human way of behavior and consequently very often the moral values will be simply turned into some ideological tool of human domination of  one group of people who happen to be in power over those who are considered  undesirable  elements in the society. A classic  example of  this fact is  the  history repeated again and again of  mass extinction organized by  such movements like for example Hitlerism , Stalinism and so many others. We don't have to agree with Dostoevsky in many other things he said but here he certainly was right. The philosophy of Thomas Hobbes : "Homo homini lupus " should not be forgotten or else  we lose a realistic vision of man and his  dark sides and destructive instincts .
         We mentioned already that in our analysis of human knowledge we must remember always the dynamism of the human mind and the basic presuppositions  of any true inside into reality. In practice this means  that a modern scientist, a physicist, an anthropologist or  a paleontologist does not have to be a schizophrenic when he  does his scientific work but also is a believer       in God  and participates in some religious rituals . Why so ?. Because he has the same human mind  like anybody else which he uses rationally and fully in both situations: as a scientist and a believer. This is important to remember   when one is confronted with all those who say that science replaces the concept of God and makes God obsolete  because the scientific method shall  explain all questions of man in a rational way without any need  for belief   in any kind of  transcendent  reality, spiritual in nature . For such people  all is  nothing else but matter in movement and change and any questions for something else  like for example the mental  aspects of reality are superfluous and outdated. Those trends in modern thinking must be  corrected and there is only one way of doing this by a very thorough analysis  what is  knowing in itself.
         Any analysis whatsoever  starts with some  basic assumptions from a definite vantage point . Here we assume that man exists, that he has  an active mind  and  he is able to know reality  following  basic given principles  of knowledge. Those principles are self evident  statements,  which do not admit serious doubt : the principle  that  nothingness can never produce anything real, that whatever exists must have sufficient reason for it's existence, that nothing can  exist and not exist  at the same time  under the same respect, that in order to  know  somehow  reality the mind must follow logical method  of discovery.  This  therefore  will be our starting point of analysis. We do it to avoid  idealism , materialism , skepticism and  scientific reductionism. The level on which we shall move is  the knowledge of being and it's intelligibility .  When  later on we shall  discuss some  religious  modes of understanding the human situation,  we must be careful  to avoid such  views  like: panenteism,pantheism and  anthropomorphic  understanding and distortions of the idea of God. But now let's apply our  basic presumption in knowledge and discuss them on the existential level. The approach we shall adopt  can be  described as methodical realism . The central  concept here is the concept of being  and  the  ability of the human mind to understand  being  in it's all forms  available to human insight.     
     In passing let's just notice  that the  ancient  and  medieval thinkers like  Socrates, Plato , Aristotle or Thomas Aquinas never doubted  the  capacity of understanding  the ultimate  reality  by the human mind. The  doubt  developed  in modern times with Rene Descartes, who  applied his methodical doubt to all knowledge including  his own existence and then  somehow  rediscovered it : " I think therefore I am." This  sentence  has been repeated later on  by many philosophers  especially the Cartesians. However  was it really such a big discovery? One  immediately can see that  Descartes would not be able  to say anything or doubt anything unless  he first already existed. It brings into the mind a little story: In philosophy class  when a student asks the professor : " How do I know I exist?  The professor simply says : "Who is asking?." That means if you did not exist you would not be able to ask such a question. Read Part III