Friday, May 16, 2014

The Courage to Think For Yourself, philosophy/religion: Atheism and Human Knowledge PART III

The Courage to Think For Yourself, philosophy/religion: Atheism and Human Knowledge PART III             Atheism is the categorical  denial of  the existence of any transcendent absolute reality. The atheists of course can simply...

Atheism and Human Knowledge PART III

        Atheism is the categorical  denial of  the existence of any transcendent absolute reality. The atheists of course can simply deny the existence of God on some emotional, irrational grounds and  stop right there. However it is not enough to simply state: "God does not exist." The atheist has to have some  valid arguments pointing to the  impossibility of   God's existence. And this fact  makes the problem of human knowledge very important to the existence of God. Briefly: Does belief in God involve a contradiction and  epistemological impossibility. Otherwise the question remains open, the most that can be said is  a confession of skepticism, that is we simply do not know and we will never know and that is that!.  To repeat again: It is  incumbent on an active atheist to show convincingly that belief in God is  intrinsically contradictory and  epistemologically impossible   not only as some contend  superfluous. This is why many modern atheists stress that only  science and the scientific experimental method can give us knowledge . Any other form of knowing , especially metaphysics is  by such an option already   rejected  as any way towards discovery of God.  A deep influence  here  was exercised on human minds by the  philosophy of David Hume and  following him Immanuel Kant. However a thorough analysis of  those philosophies   and  also idealistic  theories  of knowledge  would lead us too far from our topic. We therefore  already from the very beginning  adopt the  epistemological position of  methodical realism  and on the basis of it  we will develop the  existential arguments for the existence of God on the level of  the concept of being as such. This method  was developed  by Thomas Aquinas who followed  very substantially  Aristotle.
          To  the philosopher adopting  the epistemology  of methodical realism  the mind  is  a comprehensive  faculty able to understand and know  in some degree all reality as some form  or forms of existence or being . When for example I see a tree in the garden I have of course all the impressions given me by my five senses  with their limitations of course  . I say limitations because  if  I  had let say fifteen senses instead of a five I poses , certainly  the appearance  of  the surrounding world would be very different. My  seeing touching and feeling of a tree  is of course  confined to the sense perceptions  given to me  with my  bodily equipment. However  when I look at whatever object  somehow present to me through my sense perception I already am given  it's existence that is: I am confronted with some presence, some being  because I cannot  have even the slightest    perception of  something  that does  not exist simply. Because otherwise  if I go shopping and buy a carload of articles  I would have to be able to pay for it with non existing  money in my pocket. The absurdity of this is  clear and it does not need any elaboration. We all know that nothingness which is absolute non-existence of anything can never in any way be productive, and this in spite of  some  scientific atheists who have the courage to say that the universe came into existence out of nothingness. It was a " free lunch" out of nothing. 
        The human mind is an active power of knowing and is a knowing subject discovering whatever confronts it but is not   me in some way, and therefore is a broadening of the horizon of knowledge. Man therefore  and the human mind cannot be as David Hume would like to have it and defined man as :" a bundle of perceptions."     Man does not only  know  but knows that he knows . That is one of a fundamental beliefs of Rene Descartes. Kant  followed  the reflections of Hume , as he himself confessed that reading Hume awakened him from his metaphysical slumber. If  man is nothing but a bundle of perceptions then  only perceptions are available to him and therefore  Kant denied the intelligibility of being in itself : Ding an  Sich. 
            As already mentioned we shall follow the  theory of knowledge called methodical realism. This attitude is accepted by Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and modern Thomists like Jacques Maritain and Etienne  Gilson  among others. This brings us back to the  concept of being and the implications  following from it. Being can be defined as whatever  exists. The word exists here means  that it is actually  some reality confronting the  human mind. The concept of being therefore is the most universal   concept because it covers  all that exists in any way whatsoever.  The concept is  therefore  the richest  way of knowing  and it opens literally infinite horizons of knowledge. We must immediately stress here that the concept of being is analogical in it's nature . Because whatever exists does not only exist but it has some definite form of existence constitutive of it's whatness because the human mind does not only want to know  that something exists but also  what it is that exist. This is the ancient Aristotelian concept of form  accepted also by other already mentioned thinkers. The fact that the concept of being is analogical in  nature already indicates the  transcending character of  human knowledge. It means also that the dynamism of the human mind  is one and the same  in  pre-scientific knowing,  knowing on the level of science and knowing on the metaphysical level. Any philosophy  that limits  this one dynamic  activity of the mind is therefore  dogmatic and must lead to errors and misconceptions . For example in experimental sciences it appears as  scientific reduction-ism  and it leads to skepticism and finally materialism. Materialism  of course is part of atheistic attitudes  because  atheists  deny any reality to non material spiritual side of knowable  reality. The basic  fundamental dogma of atheism  is the belief  that whatever exists is matter in movement and  many scientists not only physicists but also biologists  like Richard Dawkins and his friends and also psychologists like behaviorists all try again and again to produce their " arguments" for this atheistic belief.  A classic example, to illustrate those efforts is the  attitude of  Richard Dawkins , Daniel Dennett, Lewis  Wolpert, Sam Harris , Victor Stenger and others . All belong to the same materialistic and atheistic   bend of mind. Richard Dawkins  is a zoologist and for him the fact of  evolution of life on this globe seems to be absolute  certainty  that  God is superfluous  and not only superfluous but  destructive and  evil  influence on many minds of believers. Religion  is  positively evil in itself  and nothing but destructive superstition which  produces division among people , hatred, and all this is done  in the name of  a non-existent God.      Dawkins  makes here a  very serious error in thinking : It is true  that some religious people indulge  in those  deviations  but  we must remember that it is human beings who do that and  therefore  it is  part of human finite  fragility and  bias towards narrowmindedness and egoistic  outlook on life. It is not part of any of the living religions  in our time.
           However we  have to  first focus our attention on  the horizon and possibility of human knowledge in relationship to the possibility  of a transcendent source of all existence on the level of  philosophical analysis  within the epistemology of  methodical realism. It is important to remember  that this is  a philosophy of being and the intelligibility of being, and the analogical character of all that can be called being . Analogy simply is the realization that beings are  partly  similar to each other and  partly different . For example a piece of rock exists therefore it is a being, and  Plato existed and was a being but   there was a  deep difference between the two beings: of the stone and Plato. Their being therefore was  analogical  partly similar and partly different.  This principle of analogy is  universal in metaphysical thinking and it  is an important vehicle of reaching to the  transcendent.
     In this world we are surrounded by all kinds  of beings  as already mentioned above  that  is our first observation.
    Second  there are many  beings .
   Third each of those beings is limited .
   Fourth each of those beings is  in itself only a possible being : it may exist but also  may not exist . For example when a human being dies the remains  are no more human  being and this principle applies to all finite beings  and we call this fact the contingency of all finite limited  beings. Contingency implies that  any finite being  does not possess  existence  by itself  or better of itself and therefore it needs  another being to make  it's own existence intelligible, but this is simply to say that  any finite being is  caused  in some  way by some other  being. This other  again is either contingent too or  it must finally point to some being  which has existence in it's very nature, that is  it is existence by itself and  therefore is  the source and cause  of  all finites entities.
             In short all finite beings  existing,  known  by humans,  have  their existence  ultimately from some One Transcendent source and cause. This One Source  and Cause  is transcendent, infinite  One. Both Plato and Aristotle and later on the medieval philosophers, especially  Thomas Aquinas saw in this  contingency of finite entities a fundamental pointer to the existence of  the Infinite One. The contingency  of  finite entities is of course very clear because given in experience . However it is important to  notice  that  it is an analogical mode of knowing. We do not have any direct knowledge of God. In short we know that the transcendent One  Being exists, that it has  existence of it's own,  but we don't know  the nature of this One Being.  Thomas Aquinas said : We  know that God exists, but we do not know what He is. As a First Cause this Infinite being is somehow also the source of all contingent reality. It is not important whether  the number of  contingent beings is infinite or somehow limited because  the gist of the argument is  the nature of those beings that is  their contingency, not how many contingent beings exist. The Aristotelian  Prime Mover is defined as mind thinking itself, absolutely independent in it's own existence and  not in any way related to the contingent world. It would be demeaning for the  Infinite Intelligence to be interested in the insignificant contingent entities. It is obvious now that Plato and Aristotle were very close in their thinking to the concept of God developed later by Thomas Aquinas  but we must remember that Thomas Aquinas was a Dominican monk, a Christian who tried  to give the philosophical foundation for the Christian faith. He did not however pretend  that his thinking is his own invention and was very clear to confess that he borrowed very much his ideas not only from Plato and Aristotle but also from Arabic thinkers too.
    To summarize  this part of our reflections we may say the following. The  very nature of contingent beings of the universe is  a permanent pointer toward existence of the One  Infinite Self-existent  transcendent  cause and source of all beings that are existing but are limited and finite and therefore are essentially dependent in existence on another. Ultimately this Other becomes the God in religion. Who would pray let say to Infinite Cause or Infinite Mind  wrapped  up in self-contemplation?. Such concepts may be  very close  to the Creator of the Deists later  in the XVIII and XIX centuries, but when it comes to true religious beliefs  the Transcendent One becomes   a Personal Jehovah  of the Judaic religion, the all forgiving, and loving Father of Jesus Christ in Christianity, the Allah of Islam and Brahman of the Hindus. In short Infinite, benevolent , omnipotent Creator who reveals Himself in some way or other to humans  and  reveals His plans for human beings,  and gives instructions  how humans should live on earth  so that they maybe received by the loving God  to eternal  existence with him in some way.   Every religion is some kind of unity between  humans and God. This last point is the very basis and central fact on which the whole building of Christianity rests: in  the teacher of Nazareth His birth, teaching death, and resurrection God is present in human form and  redeemed man from the slavery to sin and evil and eternal death.
          AT this point we are in the center of what we already mentioned in this article that there are two sources of religious beliefs and pointed out that revelation is fundamental to all genuine religion. But here we face a number of objections against the religious concept of  God, the ways God is worshiped by some religions, and even  the very rationality of any religious belief whatsoever . Some objections which we shall analyze ,  are made in the name of science , other objections from  the existential  impact of religious belief on human existence and human life.
                     For more elaboration of this topic please visit my website or contact me for  discussion.