Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Plato: Teaching on the Soul 6(10)

The Meaning of Human Life: Atheism and Human Knowledge Part I

There exists a spreading belief among a number of atheists that human beings are products of evolution. Human   knowledge  is only a higher degree  of  knowing which is on a lower level  present also in other  pre-human forms of life. The classic definition of man known to  the ancient philosophers is homo sapiens as  rational animal. Atheistic biologists ( Richard Dawkins  and his friends) consider man somewhat higher developed animal , descendant  on the ladder of evolution of the great apes.
         There is no denying that pre-human animals posses a degree of psychism  and they are  able to make situational judgments . Animals  have  social life , they build nests , shelters etc, they hunt in groups, they defend their young  and also use stones  or sticks as tools  of reaching the food. That is why we said they are capable of  situational judgments. Of course animals can be trained and have been trained by humans for their human needs and entertainment (circus). All this makes many  zoologists and biologists  to believe that there is no  any  deeper difference between man and  other forms of life. In their view humans  are only a link on the  ladder of evolution and  it is doubtful whether what we are today is  the last and the best form of homo sapiens. Perhaps future humans will be far  higher in their development not only on the biological level but also the psychic endowments and their knowledge will be incomparably higher than at our stage of life. Nevertheless it is  obvious that non human animals  do not make any tools of their own , do not show any progress  in their essential instinctual behavior  or any new inventiveness . Briefly they do not grow mentally.
           On the other hand  human beings and only human beings live  with awareness of death that is the knowledge that they certainly must die. Only human beings  use their knowledge and become physicians, scientists, philosophers and so on. Only human beings distinguish between mentally healthy persons and those who suffer mental disabilities of some sort. Only within the horizon of human existence we find  churches, temples , libraries, hospitals, museums, cemeteries and so on. The human drive to know extends towards the  Absolute that is God.
            Most importantly humans only developed  conceptual  knowledge and use propositional language, therefore  they are capable of rational discourse. Humans  developed technology , politics , history and other forms of   discovering reality.
           Only humans  developed ritualistic practices and religious forms of worship. Humans  have moral conscience:  a sense of right and wrong  and of ethical values. Only humans  experience  the ecstasy of  beauty. Aesthetic values  are important in human life. Only within the sphere of human life   there is  sharp awareness of  difference between criminals and saints , cowards and heroes , selfish monsters and  loving selfless individuals. Only humans  are ready very often to freely give their physical life for their beliefs especially their religious belief, however not only religious in nature. Only humans  are obstinate truth seekers and ready also  for the greatest sacrifices to discover the truth and later on to defend it. Only humans are seekers  for  the meaning  of existence itself: Why do I exist? Why should I go on living?  What is the end or purpose of my life and what should I do with it? Only humans feel responsible for what they do with their lives and   experience remorse of conscience for failure to  live up to the moral ideals.
        The above characteristics of man are  given  to observation and they do not leave any room for doubt. Therefore it seems  clear that human beings  although they are  one link on the ladder of evolution nevertheless they are unique in their nature and  different in kind not only degree  from the other  forms   of pre-human  higher animals.  This by which  man  differs  is obviously  the inner dynamism  of his drive to know. Therefore  at this point we  must analyze the  question what is knowledge and  especially what is human knowledge. 
        There is  and there always was a number of different answers to the above question what is knowledge. Depending on  how  the question is answered   the whole vision of reality changes radically for example if  we follow the criticism of David Hume and later Immanuel Kant, and  the  German idealists  we can easily get lost in our quest and  fall into skepticism which in turn  leads to  resignation from the effort of searching for truth. 
                  The crucial  problem lies in the question how much can the human mind comprehend  and what is the meaning of the word to know. The  dynamism of the human mind towards knowing itself is not questioned. What is at stake  is the range of intelligibility of reality  available to the human mind.  What kind of knowing leads to  truth and what kind of truth is open to human inquiry. Can the dynamism of knowing transcend  the senses alone.  Methodical realism stands on the ground that there is a universal intelligibility of all reality conceived under the   concept of being as such. Whatever can be defined as "It is"  is comprehensible in some way to the human mind. and here we  see the divergence of the question of knowledge. The scientific method which produced  so many marvelous results is by many understood as the only way  to know. The criterion  of truth  is experiment  and repeatability .   The scientist discovers  some  regularity of  material agents and  creates a hypothesis  then he/she shares  his/her discovery with scientists within the same branch of inquiry . If  his/her finding is confirmed  by the experimentation of his/her colleagues  then   the hypothesis becomes a theory. No scientific theory however is  absolute or final   it can be modified or even replaced  by another theory  when  new and unknown facts are discovered. Most scientists believe that science as such is only interested in facts: questions of meaning or values is not in the province  of science. Therefore it is obvious that science as such is absolutely neutral to the most  fundamental questions  of human beings. For example:  does God exist or not?, why is there universe at all? what is  the meaning of my existence here and now?.  Such questions  cannot be definitely answered by any scientific theory. Because this theory which is accepted  may  simply be discarded with the progress of scientific discoveries.   
          Aristotle already said,  many centuries ago..." all men by nature desire to know."   The  drive to know is therefore not limited only to what  senses alone give the knower . The most universal   concept is the concept of being  and  it  in some way covers all  reality whatsoever. The human mind is an active power in man, that means  that it operates in very strict ways governed by fundamental principles of  logic  and experience. Man not only knows but he/she knows that he knows that means the act of knowing is  transcendent by it's very nature.  This fact cannot be denied and if it is denied then the  act of knowledge is arbitrarily   truncated.  This fact  is  extremely important  for any reflecting human being. It envelops  man within the narrow confines  of  sense experimentation. For many  this  means  the  attitude of  radical doubt relative to the ultimate questions  leading to skepticism , scientism and finally  narrow materialism.
         As pointed out the very act of knowledge  is transcendent  in itself. Sense data are of course necessary but  there are no  pure sense data . When for example I see a tree in the garden I can go closer touch it , push it or manipulate  it  in other ways, I do not     only    have  appearances of pure senses, I am in a presence of being  in some form , therefore I can analyze   it according to  the basic principles of the mind and sound logic. Some of those principles are obvious because they are fundamental   for the activity of the mind: For example the principle of non contradiction, the principle of sufficient reason. the principle  of causality, the principle of contingency, to name a few only. Without transcending and metaphysical  reflection there simply is no valid and solid truth available to humans.
          Some scientists   seem to   disregard  the fundamental ways the human mind operates. One can hear such statements by well known physicists like for example:"...the universe came into existence out of nothing". and such statement somehow is repeated by others ! Nothingness is  absolute absence of any shadow of being even and it is absolutely certain that nothingness cannot in any rational way be understood as productive of being.
             The question of the existence of some transcendent reality can be answered within the context of philosophy of being and the use of the concepts of analogy of being. Any search for the ultimate source of all finite existence begins with observation of the finitude and the limitations   of beings within our experience here and now. The  obvious fact of change against stability the  fact of becoming needs intelligible explanation. Some things do not exist, then exist for a while, and then don't exist again. It is easily observable fact. Where    are  all the people who lived on this globe   several  hundred of years ago?.

         The fact of change on the level of existence we call the contingency of finite beings. All  finite beings are contingent that is, they do not have the sufficient reason for their existence in themselves. Therefore they must receive existence  from some other being since nothingness does not produce any reality whatsoever. Because   finite beings have no sufficient reason  for their existence in themselves, but still they exist, there  necessarily must be at least one being which has existence  by  itself: the being as Thomas Aquinas would say " by itself," this is the  pointer towards the existence of  Transcendent Reality. Here we touch  the Platonic concept of God as Highest Idea of Good as well as the Aristotelian concept of the "prime mover " and also the  Deistic   God of the XVIII  century philosophers.

                 This  line of thinking creates the  philosophical underpinning  of  the religious concept of the monotheistic religions. It is clear that a God  who is interested only in his own thought (Aristotle) or who is only the first cause of all existence is not  satisfying the human  search for ultimate meaning of existence. Only if  revelation of  God to humans ever happened then such God would  represent  the  fulfillment of the human search for meaning . Revelation therefore is a necessary  requirement for a truly religious concept of God. Among the living monotheistic religions,  Christianity is par excellence  a revealed,  active union between God and men: God in search for man, and men's responding to God's initiative   of  offered to him salvation and eternal blissful existence  if man freely answers to God's initiative  in the person of God-Man in the life actions , death resurrection and the promises of eternal life in Jesus Christ.

           Man is not just mind and reason , he is of flesh and blood  instinctual potent passions and  he also is free  to search for truth or simply neglect the ultimate question of human existence .

           There are  all kinds of atheists. Some of them are convinced atheists and  aggressively attacking any sort of religion as source of evil , superstition  and   inimical to reason  and truth. There are atheists who are essentially skeptics . Their basic attitude is  that it is impossible to answer the ultimate questions. There are also  those who simply never think about  God, religion or any such realities. They are busy with their everyday concerns and  never really feel a serious need to reflect on the ultimate issues. There are also those who believed in childhood or their early young years but then for some or other reason get alienated from religion or believing in God. Their idea of God is  usually erroneous  and loaded with negative emotional feelings to whatever is related to religion.

                        In many cases the source of the atheistic attitude is the result of ignorance of the idea of God and also  desire for complete fulfillment here on earth. People like this are not interested  in what God wants and in His will but what they want. They manipulate  God with their so called prayers. If they receive what they desire  well and good, but  when things get complicated and when suffering,  disease and tragedy strike ,  they accuse God of cruelty and evil commandments. True religion like for example Christianity imposes very real and difficult demands on the believer. It calls  for complete and  absolute subjection to the providence of the Creator and Redeemer no matter what happens in this life here and now and how difficult it becomes to be faithful to what their religion requires. It is important to remember that man is in his very nature self-centered   and  the egoism and rejection of true dependence on God's will is always open possibility for humans.

           Atheism seems to lift the burden  of moral  effort and self control and also unwavering faithfulness. Faith  always was, and always will be impossible without God's assistance. That is why atheism seems to be a liberating experience  giving independence and freedom to follow one's own  desires no matter how immoral they may feel. Manmade morality without the foundation in God's will  is necessarily subject to error, deviation and darkness.  


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