Plato’s Cave Image / God and the Atheist

[Note: It has been drawn to my attention than not everyone reads classical Greek. I apologize, but I honestly forget this fact. It is so transparently clear to me that such an enormous part of what we Westerners believe is derived either from Greek philosophy or Christianity, that it just seems evident that a knowledge of Greek is needed to understand where we are and how we got here.  And it seems equally evident from that that every educated Westerner should have at least a passing familiarity with Greek.  I use Greek words because I want to be precise—I’m aware that “being precise”, which we philosophers regard as a critical virtue of rational discourse, is often viewed by the wider public as a vice, that of “nit-picking” or “hair-splitting.” (I’ve never really understood the “nit-picking” charge though—I mean, if you don’t engage in that very fine grained activity of picking off nits, you get lice. How is nit-picking bad? It is a task that requires a good deal of precision in order to avoid the bad outcome of lice infestation.)  Anyway, I’ve added Latinate transliterations of the Greek words, so people can at least read them.]

Part 1: Plato’s Image of the Cave

Plato’s Socrates, in the very center of the Republic, gives an account of what is probably the most famous image in Western philosophical thought: the Image of the Cave.

It is an image, says Socrates, of us, of human beings “in our education and ignorance.”  It is an image of the fundamental human condition.  It is also a retelling, in miniature, of the entire Republic.

Since the Cave Image is an image, let’s start with pictures:

plato-cave

caveimage

Socrates asks us to imagine a dark cave which opens onto the sunlit world above, but deep within which there are prisoners chained to a wall, in such a way that they cannot turn their heads and see behind them, but can only see the back wall of the cave in front of them. This wall is like a giant movie screen.  Far up behind the prisoners, there is a fire, which casts light down into the cave.  The prisoners cannot see the fire.  Between the fire and the prisoners, there is a wall, and behind this wall some men walk, carrying “artificial things”, that is, things they have made, which they hold up over the wall, in such a way that the light from the fire causes the artificial things hold up to cast shadows upon the back wall of the cave.  The men behind the wall also make noises, which echo off the back wall, and seem to come from the shadows.  You can think of this whole set up as Plato describing a movie projector and a movie screen (many centuries in advance), but also not letting us overlook the fact that people make movies.  The images we see that present reality to us, on television or the internet, are images made by people, or at the very least, placed inside a narrative by people.  They are storytellers.

These shadows and echoes are all that the chained prisoners see and hear, so they are all that they know.  They therefore take these things to be WHAT IS, or reality.  Their reality, what they think is real and true, consists of the shadows of artificial things.  Their “knowledge” of reality consists entirely of images they are shown by others and stories they are told by others. Ask yourself, how much of what you ‘know’ is really something you have been told by someone, a person, a book, a television show, a website?

Now Socrates puts his image in motion.  What would happen, he asks, if one of the prisoners were freed from his chains “by nature”? This freed prisoner would be able to move around freely for the first time in his life.  He would be able, for the first time in his life to TURN AROUND.  The Greek word here is μετάνοια [metanoia] and it is very important. It means a turning around of the intellect or νοῦς [nous].  Just to give you a hint, it comes into Latin as convertio or “conversion.”

Just as a man cannot turn his eyes alone around to look behind him, without turning his whole body around, a man cannot turn the “eye of his soul,” his νοῦς, around without turning his whole soul, his ψυχή [psychē], around as well.  This is the fundamental Platonic teaching that TURNING ONE’S INTELLECT THE RIGHT WAY REQUIRES THE COMPREHENSIVE RIGHT ORDERING OF ONE’S WHOLE SOUL BY VIRTUE.  This is something we moderns often overlook, because we tend to conceptualize knowledge as a kind of technical mastery—the kind of thing Descartes taught us to do—the kind of thing natural scientists do—which as mere technique is largely indifferent to virtue. But virtue or goodness is not irrelevant to our capacity to attain wisdom, σοφία [sophia]; there are certain things that those with disordered souls simply cannot comprehend.  Everything depends on one being “turned” the right way.  Some kinds of knowledge, that is to say, are not existentially neutral; they depend upon the right disposition of our souls. Ethical knowledge, or knowledge of what is good, is particularly like this: bad people are particularly blind to goodness (and to their own badness) which is both a consequence of their badness, as well as a further cause, such that evil (like depression) is a self-feeding cycle.

Back to Socrates’ story. The prisoner has gotten free, and he is now able to turn around; at some point, he certainly will, but since his eyes are accustomed to only the shadows on the wall of the cave, looking up directly at the light of the fire at first causes him “great pain and distress” and also, at first, blinds him because his eyes are unused to the bright light. His first reaction, then, to what he has never seen before, will be to recoil from it, as alien and painful and blinding.  He will be lost and bewildered, no longer compelled to look only at the shadows, but pained whenever he looks in the other, upward direction.

This is where another mysterious character enters the story. Socrates refers to this figure only as “somebody.”  Personally, I think of him as “Mr. S”, because Socrates is very clearly describing himself here. What if, Socrates asks, somebody (or Mr. S) were to take the freed prisoner in hand and tell him that what he saw before are “ridiculous nonbeings” and firmly compel the prisoner to face the light? With time, and the (somewhat ungentle) guidance of Mr. S, the prisoner starts to have his eyes get used to the sight of what is up above, and he sees the artifacts that cast the shadows.

A little aside here: What are these artifacts? And who are the “puppeteers” who make the artifacts and hold them up above the wall to cast the shadows? I won’t argue the point at length, but simply give you my interpretation: they are the poets or storytellersποίησις in Greek means “making” so poets are “makers” in the primary sense.  They make the framework whereby  human beings, being fundamentally creatures of reason and speech—in a word, of λόγοςunderstand the world. Yes, we have senses, but it is through words and speeches that we understand and interpret the world we live in.  Whoever controls the narratives of a culture controls their thoughts and beliefs.  Who tells our “stories” today? Who are our authorities for what is and what is not? Politicians, the media, scientists, and others.

The prisoners are the persons who never get free of conventional opinion and belief. They take to be truth and reality what they are shown (told) to be so. The puppeteers are the ones who have realized, as the sophists did, that reality is not “obvious,” but is a matter of interpretation and narrative.  Plato himself is telling a story, the Republic, in which Socrates is using words to paint an image—with the aim of ultimately relegating images and stories to a lesser place than TRUTH.  It is no accident that the anti-Platonist par excellence, the arch-enemy of Plato, Nietzsche, says things like:

nietzschefacts

and

nietzschearttruth

Later in the Republic, in Book X, Socrates will speak of “the old quarrel between the poets and the philosophers.”  Nietzsche is the philosopher who sides with the poets against the philosophers (that isn’t quite right: Nietzsche is using the poets as his tools, just as much as Plato, but not in the service of truth, but of the will to power and his—Nietzsche’s—own master narrative of the Übermensch.

I suppose it is possible that the freed prisoner, without Mr. S’s intervention, could end up becoming a storyteller, a poet, a manipulator and shaper of reality with his words.  But this isn’t what happens in Socrates’ story. Instead, Mr. S drags him, kicking and screaming “up the long, steep, upward way”, up past the fire, up and out of the cave entirely.  (In a masterpiece of ironic understatement, Socrates asks “wouldn’t he be vexed and annoyed at being so dragged?”)

Now the poor freed prisoner is really blinded. Now it isn’t just a big fire he has to contend with, but THE SUN.  It takes him a good deal of time, in which he has to look first at shadows of real things (better than shadows of artificial things), and then their reflections in water, before moving on to looking at the real things themselves, and eventually, he will raise his eyes up high and see “THE SUN itself in its own place”—even though THE SUN is “scarcely to be seen”—not because it is invisible, but because it is too visible. One who looks directly at THE SUN risks blinding himself permanently.  THAT at least, is not something which one can become, in time, accustomed to.  And yet, in a way, the freed prisoner does see THE SUN, and he knows that it is that upon which all else depends.

Thanks to the previous Sun Analogy and the Divided Line, readers of the Republic understand that, in the Cave Image, the fire in the cave is the actual, physical sun, the “ruler of the visible world”, that gives not only the light of day by which we see all things, but also the warmth which gives us life.  THE SUN on the other hand, is still higher: it is something so bright that it makes the actual sun appear to be a tiny fire … compared to a sun! This is ἡ ἰδέα του ἀγαθού or the Idea of the Good—the ruler of the higher invisible realm, of which the physical world is only a kind of copy, and which far, far exceeds the visible sun is splendor and magnificence.  If the sun gives light and life, what does THE GOOD give? THE GOOD radiates its equivalent to the light of day by which we see, which is TRUTH, which makes it possible for us to KNOW all that we can KNOW, and MORE:

“Therefore, say not only that being known is present in things known as a consequence of THE GOOD, but also existence and Being are in them as a result of it, although THE GOOD is not Being, but is still beyond Being, exceeding in dignity and power.

And Glaucon said, quite ridiculously, “Apollo! What a daemonic excess!”

Just as THE SUN gives light and life, THE GOOD gives truth and Being, while it itself is “beyond Being, exceeding it in dignity and power.” No wonder Glaucon cried out! What a thing to say! THE GOOD “is” beyond BEING?

At this point, words fail.  “Beyond Being.” What else could one say but the words of St. Thomas? Quod omnes dicunt Deum, “this everyone calls God.”

The lesson of the Cave is the lesson of the human quest for wisdom, which begins in darkness, bondage, and ignorance, with the merest hint of truth, glimpses of shadows of artificial things, totally at the mercy of others, and ends after a long and very arduous journey with the vision of GOD or THE GOOD.

To end the story of the Cave where Socrates begins it, after the initial description, Glaucon comments, “It’s a strange image, and strange prisoners you speak of,” to which Socrates replies simply “They’re like us.”

Indeed, they are us, or rather, we are them.

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Part 2: God and the atheist

I regularly get in discussion with atheists, both on and off social media.  Most of them say the same things, over and over. One constant refrain I hear again and again is that “atheism” is “just a lack of belief in God” and that the atheist would believe in God if presented with “sufficient evidence.”  And, almost invariably, if one gives evidence, the atheist immediately, almost reflexively, pronounces “That’s not evidence!”

The problem here is one of chains and μετάνοια. Atheists typically think they are “free thinkers” because they have “shaken off the chains of religious dogma,” but they are, for the most part, utterly conventional people. They all believe very mundane and predictable things, almost always some kind of naturalism wherein scientific knowledge has an almost mystical pride of place, an obsession with empirical evidence (in Platonic and Nietzschean terms, an inability to rise to levels of thought above the animal senses, what Hegel calls “picture thinking”), and a host of utterly conventional post-Christian beliefs, to which they really have no genuine epistemic right:

nietzscherighttochristianmorality

The lesson of the Cave is: you cannot see THE SUN, that is, THE GOOD, that is GOD, without (1) getting free of the chains of conventional opinion, and (2) making, with help, the journey up “the long steep upward way,” a process that at best will take years.  Wisdom is not cheaply bought.

THIS is the primary problem with the atheist demand about God, “prove it!” They want EVIDENCE.  E-VID-ence is “what can be made manifest, what can be brought before one’s eyes”—hence the VID root in “evidence,” which means “to see,” and is cognate with the Greek ἰδέα, Plato’s term for the most real part of reality, which means the eternal “looks” of things, the forms.  But with the atheist, the problem is NOT with the evidence, but with the atheist’s eyes. So long as he remains facing the directly AWAY FROM what he needs to see, he will not, cannot, see it. And so long as he is in chains, he can neither turn around nor be turned around.

And in the story of the Cave, it is clear that Socrates or “Mr. S” does not have the ability to free the prisoners from their chains. That happens “somehow, by nature.” We are not told how. It isn’t clear whether Socrates knows. He makes it his business to find and help those who are able to be turned around, that is, those who have “somehow” got free of their chains, but he cannot himself free anyone from their bonds.

It is also unclear from Socrates’ account whether he can always manage either to turn people around or drag them along the “long steep upward way.”

As an Orthodox Christian, I suspect he cannot.  It seems to me that God’s grace is required at every step: to get free of one’s chains, to be turned around, and to struggle upwards on the long, daunting, and difficult path. Indeed, the Platonic idea of a turning around of the νοῦς and the ψυχή, a μετάνοια, is an absolutely central idea of Orthodox Christianity.  One cannot come to see God or understand God without turning towards God and approaching God, with God’s help and grace, as God approaches you. But turning towards God and approaching God requires God’s help and grace to do at all.

As an Orthodox Christian, I also have faith in the promise of the Lord Jesus Christ, that one need only to

“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

and

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

jesus-knocking-the-door-e1375921604955

The invitation is open. In the traditional iconography of Christ at the Door, there is never a handle on Christ’s side.  It is the seeker who must open the door for Him. He is patient. He knocks and waits. But we are also told that all too many will not open the door:

Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

So, to the question “Do I have evidence of God?”, my answer is “Yes, I certainly do.”

But that’s not the most relevant question.

The first question is: Are you free of your chains such that you are capable of turning around?

The second question is: Will you open the door to let in the light and be guided along the path?

Like Socrates, and anyone, I have no power to free you from your chains, especially not those which are self-forged. I doubt you have the ability to free yourself, either. I would counsel prayer and asking God for help, but this advice, which is the only effective counsel I know, is not the sort of thing that will be listened to by most atheists.

On the other hand, it is not impossible either. The experience of atheist writer John C. Wright says everything that needs to be said, in better words that I can,

A reader I hope is young and not being serious asks:

Let me get this straight: you, a presumably rational individual who writes science fiction stories for a living, sincerely believes that the creator of our 13.7 billion year-old universe of 70 sextillion stars magically impregnated a human female about 2000 years ago – a woman who then gave birth to a son named Jesus who performed miracles, rose from the dead and served as the creator’s messenger to humanity?

This might make for a mildly interesting, if outlandish, science fiction story, but the source of your belief system? If you’re going to base your life philosophy on absurd myths, why not choose something a bit more interesting? Why not master the Dark Side of the Force or the Golden Path, becoming a Sith Lord or a God-Emperor and strive to rule a Galaxy? Why choose something as ridiculous and wretched as Christianity? I must admit I am rather perplexed…

My answer:

I am more than a presumably rational individual, I am a champion of atheism who gave arguments in favor of atheism so convincing that three of my friends gave up their religious belief due to my persuasive reasoning powers, and my father stopped going to church.

Upon concluding through a torturous and decades-long and remorseless process of logic that all my fellow atheists were horribly comically wrong about every basic point of philosophy, ethics and logic, and my hated enemies the Christians were right, I wondered how this could be. The data did not match the model.

Being a philosopher and not a poseur, I put the matter to an empirical test.

For the first time in my life, I prayed, and said. “Dear God. There is no logical way you could possibly exist, and even if you appeared before me in the flesh, I would call it an hallucination. So I can think of no possible way, no matter what the evidence and no matter how clear it was, that you could prove your existence to me. But the Christians claim you are benevolent, and that my failure to believe in you inevitably will damn me. If, as they claim, you care whether or not I am damned, and if, as they claim, you are all wise and all powerful, you can prove to me that you exist even though I am confident such a thing is logically impossible. Thanking you in advance for your cooperation in this matter, John C. Wright.” — and then my mind was at rest. I had done all I needed to do honestly to maintain my stature as someone, not who claimed to be logical, objective and openminded, but who was logical, objective, and openminded.

Three days later, with no warning, I had a heart attack, and was lying on the floor, screaming and dying.

-Then I was saved from certain death by faith-healing, after which–

-I felt the Holy Spirit enter my body, after which–

-became immediately aware of my soul, a part of myself which, until that time, I reasoned and thought did not exist-

-I was visited by the Virgin Mary, her son, and His Father-

-not to mention various other spirits and ghosts over a period of several days–

-including periods of divine ecstasy, and an awareness of the mystical oneness of the universe-

-And a week or so after that I had a religious experience where I entered the mind of God and saw the indescribable simplicity and complexity, love, humor and majesty of His thought, and I understood the joy beyond understanding and comprehended the underlying unity of all things, and the paradox of determinism and free will was made clear to me, as was the symphonic nature of prophecy. I was shown the structure of time and space.

-And then Christ in a vision told me that He would be my judge, and that God judges no man. I mentioned this event to my wife. Then about a month later, when I was reading the Bible for the first time beyond the unavoidable minimum assigned in school, I came across the passage in the book of John, a passage I had never seen before, and to which no Christian in my hearing had ever made reference, which said the same thing in the same words.

-And then I have had perhaps a dozen or two dozen prayers miraculously answered, so much so that I now regard it as a normal routine rather than some extraordinary act of faith.

So I would say my snide little prayer was answered with much more than I had asked, and I was given not just evidence, and not just overwhelming evidence, but joy unspeakable and life eternal.

(I also regard this overwhelming deluge of evidence to be shameful before my fellow Christian, since the saying told to Doubting Thomas, blessing those who believe without seeing, is a blessing denied me. In hindsight, if only I had not been so arrogant, I could have glanced around at the earth and sky, and seen the intricacy, wonder, and beauty of nature, regarded the unanswerable authority of the conscience within me, and known that I was a created being inside a created cosmos, not a random sandheap blown for a season into a meaningless shape by blind winds. Any child can see it, and all children do.)

To me, the universe was death row, and I was a condemned prisoner who believed everything outside death row was delusion and wishful nonsense — and then I got a call from the governor of the universe, commuting my sentence. I will live forever. As will we all. This was my repayment for a life spent in blasphemy and hatred and slander against God. Instead of smiting me as I damned well deserved, He spared me, and exulted me, and showered me with grace.

I was converted.

This is a μετάνοια. And then some. Wright asked God to convince him, even though he didn’t think he was convincible.  God showed him how wrong he was, and then some. It may seem like overkill, but we can trust that God knows what He is doing. My own μετάνοια was much more gradual and less dramatic (although there were some dramatic events), but God knows what we each of us need. And believe me, God got my attention no less unmistakably, if not quite so dramatically, as He got John C. Wright’s.

I know this bothers you atheists, but I’m sorry to tell you, you are wrong. Totally and completely wrong.  And there really isn’t any possibility of a two-way argument, because when God announces His presence to you, it carries the same kind of evidential force as the Cartesian cogito sum, that is, the certain and indubitable knowledge I have of my own existence—but moreso.  To seriously doubt that God IS is more impossible than something that is impossible, which is to seriously doubt that I am.  What argument could you give me, that could convince me, rationally, even in principle, that I do not exist? It cannot be done. The very act of arguing TO ME that I do not exist defeats the argument. The very fact that I am attempting to ENTERTAIN the idea that I do not exist, refutes the idea I am attempting to entertain. Formerly, I had thought that one could not be more certain of anything than this, since it seems to be absolute certainty. But in a way I cannot put into words, God’s existence, when He made Himself known to me, is even more certain that the already absolute certainty of my own existence.

And again, I know it bothers you atheists, but not only is this certainty absolute beyond all other certainty, so is the certainty of the veracity of God. Once again, when God reveals Himself to you, He does so in such a way as to make it utterly impossible to think the thing was an hallucination or a fantasy or anything other than what it was, the presence of God. Not only do you become certain beyond absolute certainty that God exists, you know you cannot be wrong—its truth-making character is truer than truth. Or, I could say, one understands why one must say “God is truth.”

As the theologian John Baillie puts it,

johnbaillieatheism

And this too is true. Atheism, although I used to be an atheist, is an absurd and academic hypothesis, a kind of blind and childish conjecture that doesn’t really even know what it is trying to express. It is literally and totally unbelievable and absurd.

Let me return to John C. Wright’s blog post, because again, he expresses very well the aftermath of his dramatic μετάνοια:

So I was prepared to say adieu to logic and reason and just take things on faith, when I then found out that the only people who think you have to say adieu to logic and reason in order to take things on faith are crackpots both Christian and atheistic.

Every non-crackpot thinks faith is that on which you rely when unreasonable fears tempt you to disbelieve that to which your reason has consented. If your father says you can dive off the high dive with no risk of death, and he has never lied in the past, and your reason tells you to trust him, it is rational to take his word on faith and jump, and it is irrational to let your eyes overestimate the danger poised by the height.

I then discovered that the Christian world view makes sense of much that the atheistic or agnostic worldview cannot make sense of, and even on its own philosophical terms, is a more robust explanation of the cosmos and man’s place in it, answering many questions successfully that atheists both claim cannot be answered, and then, without admitting it, act in their lives as if the question were answered, such as how to account for the rational faculties of man, the universality of moral principles, the order of the cosmos, how best to live, etc.

Turning to my atheist friends, I then discovered none of them, not one, could give me even so reasonable an argument as I was expert in giving in favor of atheism.

They reasoned as follows: “God cannot possibly exist. Therefore any evidence that you encountered that God exists must be hallucination, mis-perception, faulty memory, self-deception, coincidence, or anything else no matter how farfetched and absurd. Since any evidence that you encountered that God exists must be hallucination, mis-perception, faulty memory, self-deception, coincidence, or anything else no matter how farfetched and absurd, therefore none of your evidence proves God exists.”

I found their perfect, childlike faith touching.

No matter what they saw, no matter what they heard, no matter how the world was against them, they would go to the lions rather than look at the evidence, lest their faith in their faithlessness be shaken.

Eve breaking in a second to second this: yes, this is exactly how atheists behave. They rely on the a priori syllogism “God does not exist; there cannot be evidence for the existence of what does not exist; therefore, there cannot, logically, be evidence that God exists.” This is why they automatically respond to any evidence by declaring “That’s not evidence!”

When I pointed out that this was circular reasoning, they called me bad names.

One skeptic, in a bit of a lapse of his vaunted presumably rational character, told me solemnly that I could not possibly have had Jesus tell me something from a book in the Bible I had never read before. He said that I had read it afterward, and developed the previously undiscovered ability to edit and rewrite my memories, which I then used on myself, so that I only thought I remembered Jesus telling me about the nonjudgmentalism of God. The memory was created after I read the passage, and then back-dated. Then I used this power again to make myself forget that I had the power to make myself forget things.

I asked him if I also had the power to rewrite my wife’s memory, since she remembers me telling her about the passage before I read it. He then tried to cut the conversation off, while accusing me of being irrational.

Another atheist told me I induced a heart attack in myself with my previously undiscovered heart-attack inducing power. And then cured the heart pain with my previously undiscovered heart-attack-curing power. I did both things in order to convince myself falsely of a doctrine I did not believe and had no interest in believing, but, unbeknownst to myself, my secret desire to believe was so great that it overwhelmed my sanity and seized control of my subconscious biological and cardiovascular processes. When I questioned him about such things as whether he was familiar with my medical record, or when I asked to see the evidence supporting this theory, he called me names.

I did not get the opportunity to ask him by what means he discovered the hidden workings of my secret unspoken desires, since he had never spoken to me, and he was not within normal mind-reading range. I did not get a chance to ask him whether this strange ability to harm and heal myself at will was something all people had, or whether he thought I had a superpower due to being bitten by a radioactive spider or something of the sort.

Another atheist told me that that heart failure was a coincidence, not a direct result of my prayer tempting God Almighty, and if that had not happened, something else like a car accident would have happened, and since I am irrational, I would have drawn an improper post hoc ergo propter hoc conclusion no matter what happened, on the grounds that God cannot exist no matter what the evidence says nor how obvious it is, and so anyone who draws the obvious conclusions from the evidence MUST be irrational.

He, at least, did not call me names, aside from making the claim that I would have made an irrational lapse in judgment no matter what had happened after praying my one experimental prayer to a God in which I had no particle of belief, in order to sustain and support my (nonexistent, at that time) belief.

He continues to suffer the false to facts belief that he can read my mind back through time and see the internal workings of my psychology during events where he was not present. For a skeptic, he is really, really gullible.

I tried gently to point out the logical error in trying to use reason to persuade me that he, a stranger to me, knew that I suffered from a mental illness that prevented me from reasoning, whereas I, who have access to things like my past history and my medical records and the contents of my thinking, have more authority to speak to the issue than does he, until and unless I am impeached as a witness.

In general, the argument that I am impeached as a witness on the grounds that my testimony did not confirm the prejudices and assumptions of a third party is not one likely to prevail in a court of law, or as a debate among sober philosophers, scientists, nor anyone trained in rigorous reasoning.

And so far not one atheist has approached me with a legitimate argument, such as the Problem of Pain, or the Paradox of Determinism, or any apparent inconsistencies in the Bible. The only feeble effort in this last direction was from someone who insisted that the Gospels were written in the late Third Century, but could give no argument to support this extraordinary revolution in the standard model of history, nor quote an authority in the field in support.

None have even erected a child’s argument, such as asking whether God could create a stone too heavy for Him to lift.

I used to be one of you, my dear atheists, and I was good at my job, and you all embarrass me with the feebleness and silliness of your attempts to do what I once upon a time did so well. You are a disgrace to the powers of evil.

But enough about me!

My question for you is this: if science discovered tomorrow that the universe was half its apparent age, and estimated the stars as half their current number, would the belief in God somehow be twice as credible in your eyes?

If so, why so?

If not, then, logically, the age of the universe and the number of stars has no bearing on the credibility of belief in God or in the Incarnation.

Again, if you are attempting to persuade me that I should not believe in unusual events or unheard-of or hard-to-believe on the grounds that no unusual nor unheard-of nor hard-to-believe events never happen, simple logic shows that this cannot be the case:

Logically, every ordinary event is unheard-of before we hear of it; and the first example of even repeated events is unusual until the second example occurs; and events are hard-to-believe when and only when our expectations and our experience does not match: therefore every novelty is as incredible as the platypus when first encountered. Therefore not only do incredible events happen, they must happen, for if they did not, the concept of credibility could not exist.

If, on the other hand, you are arguing that I ought not believe reports of miracles on that grounds that miracles do not exist, and that we know miracles do not exist on the grounds that no believable reports of them are heard, you are arguing in a circle.

You are also implying that the human race, all of whom believe in gods, ghosts, magic and miracles of one sort or another, except for that exquisitely tiny minority of persons who are consistent atheists, just so happened to have all made the same lapse of judgment in the matter of paramount and foundational importance in their lives, and continue to do so, some of whom would go to the lions rather than reexamine the aforesaid lapse of judgment. While it is possible that everyone during the parade is out of step except the fond mother’s son in the old joke, this would seem to be as unusual, unheard-of and hard-to-believe as a Virgin birth, if not more so.

It really is completely absurd of you to think you are rationally superior to others—precisely on the basis of your total ignorance of the matter in question.  The silliest fundamentalist creationist isn’t that absurd in his conceit of knowing things! This is not a fallacious appeal to authority, but rather to the consensus gentium—which is more along the lines of the view that (say) time and space exist. Anyone denying this will be, rightly, regarded as deranged or dishonest. It is not true because everyone believes it; it is believed by everyone (except perhaps the seriously deranged or mentally defective) because it is universally evident to all.

But as the great Jonathan Swift said,

jonathanswiftnonesoblind

Just remember, my dear atheists, that yes, we do have the evidence you say you want.  But are you capable of doing what you must do in order to receive it?

The evidence is there, waiting to be seen by you, but I cannot do more than point to it. I cannot make you open your eyes, and I cannot make your turn around and look where I am pointing. That is all up to you. And if you are unable or unwilling, that is neither a defect in the evidence nor in me, but in you.

If you are unwilling, no one can help you but you.

And if you are unable, that too I cannot help you with, although there is One who can, and who will, if you but ask Him:

Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ὁδὸς καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια καὶ ἡ ζωή· 

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5 comments on “Plato’s Cave Image / God and the Atheist

  1. Jeffery says:

    I have to say, as an atheist, I got a lot of enjoyment from this article. I may read more of your stuff in the future. : ^)

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  2. Martin says:

    Hi I am reading your blog since a month and as a Christian and a philosophy student I greatly enjoy it. This text is beautiful yet I have questions.

    What troubles me is implicit thesis about the classic philosophers (Socrates, Plato and Aristotle) who seem in their great search for truth begin to search for the Christian God. Or would have searched for him if he came in or after their time and maybe would have become Christians.
    Why do you think that Socrates, Plato and Aristotle would have searched for a Christian God or even would have thought that their philosophy is compatible with the Christian faith? Why do you think Plato would have seen the ideas of the Good, the True and the Beautiful fulfilled in the Christian God?

    It seems like many Christian philosophers think the new god Socrates was accused of introducing is the Christian God.

    If I am interpreting you wrong and you are simply reciting Plato for the representation of an argument or the process of salvation I apologize yet ask for clarification.
    You wrote that the search for truth and study of the classical philosophers lead you to Christianity. So at least you see not the dispute between classical philosophy and Christianity that troubles me. It seems to me like a great key to the understanding of occidental philosophy.

    I found this thesis in Dantes Divine Comedy in which the virtuous heathens (among them Socrates, Plato and Aristotle) are in Limbo as they had lived in wisdom. Living without being with God but also without punishment.

    I found this thesis in the performance of the play SOCRATES MEETS JESUS by Kevin O’Brien, based on the book by Peter Kreeft, via youtube. (I can only recommend it. It is educational and funny.)

    And now I find this thesis implicit in your text.

    (Pro Arguments for the thesis)
    I understand that
    1. The Athens had this temple for the unknown god in their city. They did not claim to have all theological truth. Their own god were often subjects of contradicting myth (Was Eros one of the first gods or the son of Aphrodite?) and often their gods were syncretism of different local gods.
    2. The classic philosophers did not worship the Greek gods. (Socrates was sentenced to death for corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens and of impiety (“not believing in the gods of the state”).)
    Or the classical philosophers claimed to worship them as a public statement while in secret having other thoughts about them like Epicurus did (probably because he wished to avoid the fate of Socrates and live and good life in his garden). The myths about these gods often portray them with very human and flawed characters yet with divine powers. Zeus as an adulterer, seducer and rapist for example. These gods were very clearly made by human since they didn’t transcend humanity.

    So Xenophanes wrote
    “The Ethiops say that their gods are flat-nosed and black,
    While the Thracians say that theirs have blue eyes and red hair.
    Yet if cattle or horses or lions had hands and could draw,
    And could sculpt like men, then the horses would draw their gods
    Like horses, and cattle like cattle; and each they would shape
    Bodies of gods in the likeness, each kind, of their own.”

    And the Greek gods were created or created things out of existing material. First there was chaos.
    A clear difference to the eternal Judeo-Christian God who created the universe out of nothing and made in according to an order. In this point there are similarities between Plato and Christianity, because Plato also thinks God created the universe by creating order.

    3. Some of the classic philosophers see the human nature as negative and humanity in a fallen state similar to the original sin.
    4. Philosophy and Christianity try to teach people how to live a good fulfilled life and see virtue and knowledge of justice as the way towards this goal.
    5. There has been a lot of effort of Christian philosophers and theologians to base the gospel on a philosophical foundation which they often found in the work of Plato and Aristotle, since Jesus was trying to deliver everyone not just the educated by founding a philosophy. And instead of writing a book he preached and acted in this world.
    6. Jesus and Socrates biographies have some amazing similarities. Jesus preached that he is the truth and was martyred for it by his people. Socrates was searching for the truth and was martyred for it by his people. Both never wrote a book. Both teachings were written down by their disciple/students. In the video(26:00) Socrates even acknowledge many similarities: Both taught to love their enemies, liberated people from prejudice, taught a high monotheism, ethical idealism, told people of life after death. In the audiobook that you recommended “Foundations of Platonism – Peter Kreeft (Lecture 2)” he calls Socrates and Plato pious agnostic monotheists.

    And yet.
    (Contra Arguments)

    1. The Christian understanding of God is very different from the understanding of the gods of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. The unmoved mover of Aristotle is deistic and neither is Platos „demiourgos“ very Christian. The distinction of Monotheism and polytheism are tricky here. (I know you already wrote about this.)
    And Plato myths are filled with Greek gods. I know he use them as parables. Yet the God and gods are mentioned in the same book.

    2. Plato believed in a judgement yet his concept of the afterlife is a riddle to me. In “Gorgias” he talks about a prison for the wicked called Tartarus in which they are punished which great horrors. Some of these unfortunate are redeemable others are beyond help. Here are clear similarities with the concepts of hell and purgatory. (Interesting side note. Those with evil nature but without power to act on it go unpunished.) The good, wise and virtuous go to the isle of the blessed. In “The Apology of Socrates” Socrates says meeting wise persons after his death and discussing with them would be his greatest joy. Yet Plato also tells a different myth with a reincarnation-like concept in “The republic”. It is interesting that the humans are here free to choose their new life and career.
    The first concept is somehow compatible with Christianity the other isn’t.

    3. Plato taught that wisdom and not love is the way for the betterment of humanity. This means in the end that just the smart and those wealthy enough to have leisure to educate themselves are able to live a good and virtuous life. Artisan and slave were not able to live such a life because of their work. (He and Aristotle were member of the wealthy aristocrat class.) In his republic he describes his ideal society and it is a society in which the smart and wise govern the society and use noble lies to keep order.

    This stand in contrast to the Christian views expressed in the Sermon on the mount and fact what Jesus cared much for the weak and meek while calling out the bigotry and hypocrisy of the smart and educated religious leaders.

    4. Related to Point 3.Plato had a different view on the body and the soul as Christians. For him the noble part of the soul is the intellectual part and desires were bad. You already have written about this. https://lastedenblog.wordpress.com/2016/07/14/the-platonic-soul/
    Plato expresses “Leibfeindlichkeit”.

    But for the Christian sins can come from both desires and intellect. In the Great Divorce C. S. Lewis wrote that the sins coming from desires of the body are less bad than those coming from the intellect. He wrote that: Not bad mice or flies become demons but bad archangels. The false religion of sensual lust is lesser than the wrong religion of mother love or patriotism of art. (He writes this before the episode of the man plagued by lust).

    Satan is pure spirit and his sin was the greatest of all sin: pride. He said to himself: I want to be god. And so he rebelled against god (in some myth because God created men a hybrid between pure spirit and pure material animal.) Pride is a sin of the intellect not of the body.

    It could also noted here that some Christian speak of “the resurrection of the body” in the Apostles’ Creed instead of the resurrection the dead. I am no theologian but I understand that it means something that Jesus was resurrected in his crucified body not just in a new body or becoming a non-physical entity made out of light. When he met the apostles he even ate some fish and let Thomas put his fingers his wounds.

    One of the big discussion points in early church was the nature of Jesus. Today we pray to the son of God who is true God and true man.

    5. Plato idea of the good is abstract. Knowledge of it and love to it let a human lead a good life. But why should the idea love back or be infinite love like the Christian God?

    6. Let’s say the classical philosopher meet Paul in Athens. Why is it not probable that they simple would have been skeptical to Christianity as to everything else? In Acts 17:16-34 Paul argues with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in Athens and was not able to convince many.
    Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:22: “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom.” And Christ taught wisdom but wisdom that is comprehensible for everyone except those who harden their hearts. Wisdom without a complex philosophical system. Simply saying Christianity is wise for the Greeks because it adapted Plato is questionable to me.

    7. It is often observable that great figure are used or let’s say read in a very certain way after their death. And often different groups are trying present themselves as successors. And at least in one moment of history classical philosophy and Christianity did not mixed well. The Neoplatonic Academy was closed Emperor Justinian I. in 529.
    The Gnostics adapted many ideas of Plato yet today we think of them as heretics.

    I am trying to learn and so I am asking questions and that sometimes requires playing the devil’s advocate.

    Sorry for grammar mistakes. English is not my first language.

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  3. wtquinn says:

    Part 1. Well said. Part 2. I understand and empathize. Even the atheist must admit that Christianity is a phenomenon in the world. People experience what you are compelled to describe and share with others. People have positive in-group bonding experiences with their churches. People have a one-on-one speaking relationship with God. As long as God doesn’t speak back audibly with commands to kill your kids, self and others, then that experience is more good than evil.

    Theocratic Christianity historically reached a tipping point where it was more evil than good. The chains of its theocracy were broken and its dogmatic reality claims under threat of state torture were replaced by secular government. It’s will to power broken. Thank Good. Let’s hope and pray to God, Science, Great Military Industrial Complex, etc. that Theocratic Islam is next.

    Good exists.Virtue exists. Prisoners exist watching really bad Cave-TV. Waiting on their Platonic guide to the surface.

    Just like the Hokey Pokey, that’s what its all about.

    PS: Please consider expounding on the Fall (Platonic and Christian) in a future post. Thank you.

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  4. […] Source: Plato’s Cave Image / God and the Atheist […]

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  5. Jason says:

    Thanks again for a great post, Eve. Brought me again back to my philosophy days. I think the central question in the world right now might be: Who is right? Plato or Nietzsche?

    I guess I hope it’s Plato but I go back and forth. You could maybe describe me as an agnostic. I think I tilt toward God ala Plato’s argument.Though I have a great respect for Christianity, I have a rough time accepting its total truth in any variant I’ve encountered. I run into logical inconsistencies, some of which you’ve addressed (sola scriptura) and some of which you haven’t (had a good but unfruitful conversation about the Ever Virgin Mary at the last Orthodox service I went to, in the sense that the poor guys I asked to explain it to me were sort of left staring at their shoes as I replied with questions.)

    I too argue with atheists and I think that position is silly, but the agnostic position strikes me as entirely rational, if not without some inner turmoil. I appreciated what the Pope emeritus said to the agnostics a few years ago. If God exists, He obviously choose to reveal himself in different ways to different people.

    Many of us, I think, issue prayers like John C. Wright’s, and are not immediately met with such dramatic events, especially visions. When I find myself reading about such experiences, I must admit to a tinge of jealousy (w/re the vision, not the heart attack). You say your own conversion had some dramatic events – it might be interesting to hear about those if you feel like sharing.

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