The Argument from Contingency: A Brief Synopsis

Definitions:

Def 1: A contingent being is a being such that if it exists, could have not-existed or could cease to exist.
Def 2: A necessary being (or non-contingent being) is a being such that if it exists, cannot not-exist (and therefore could not not-have-existed and cannot cease to exist).

Note: I use ground-reason essentially to do the work of the German Grund, a word which neither the English “ground” nor “reason” sufficiently captures in meaning, since it unites the sides of being and knowing, the ontological and the epistemological, in one.

The Argument 

1. A contingent being C exists.
2. This contingent being C has a ground-reason for its existence.
3. If C were the ground-reason for C’s existence, C would not be a contingent being, but a necessary one, since C, as self-grounding, could not not-exist—contrary to 1.
4. Therefore, the ground-reason for C’s existence must be something other than C.
5. This ground-reason for C’s existence other than C must either be another contingent being or set of contingent beings alone or it must be or include a non-contingent (necessary) being N.
6. Contingent beings alone cannot provide a completely adequate ground-reason for the existence of any contingent being (neither ontologically as ground nor rationally as reason), so the ground-reason for C’s existence is not any contingent being or set of contingent beings alone.
7. Therefore, the ground-reason for the existence of contingent being C must be or include a non-contingent (necessary) being N.
8. Therefore, a necessary being N exists, because without such a necessary being N, C could not exist, contrary to 1.
9. The universe and every part of the universe is contingent (as is “the multiverse” and every part of it, if this concept is supposed to subsume “universe”).
10. Therefore, a necessary being N which is something other than the universe or one of its parts (or “the multiverse”), must be the ground-reason for its existence.
11. Therefore there exists a necessary being N which is the ground-reason for all contingent beings, including the universe or cosmos or multiverse, as well as all their parts, whatever they may be.
12. Et hoc omnes intelligunt Deum.

Commentary: 

Premise 1: This premise is empirical but evident. As long as anything at all exists which could have not existed or could cease to exist, it is a contingent being. It is obvious that physical beings are contingent.

Premise 2: This is simply a statement of the Satz vom Grund or Principle of Ground (usually expressed in English as the Principle of Sufficient Reason), although perhaps the Principle of Ground-Reason would be better as I use it.  This principle can be expressed negatively as “nothing happens or comes about FOR NO REASON.” It is a core principle about reality, that things cannot happen for no reason at all, just as it is about reality that a thing can’t both be and not be the same at the same time and in the same respect—and because Being is like this, thinking (which follows being) has the Principle of Ground and the Principle of Noncontradiction as basic first principles.

Premise 3: Evident. If C were its own ground-reason it could sustain itself in being and never cease to be, and would thus be a necessary being; but C is already posited in 1 as contingent, so it can’t be the ground-reason of itself.

Premise 4: Also evident. Since C is not its own ground-reason, the ground-reason of C must be something other than C.

Premise 5: By the Principle of the Excluded Middle, this something other than C is either fully contingent or contains a necessary being.

Premise 6: This is the premise that would take the most argumentative work to establish and to get clear about. Since in contingent beings, existence is a property that is “passed on” from another being, if a contingent being got its existence from another contingent being, that being would have to be either contingent or necessary. In this scenario in Premise 6, no necessary beings are in play.  So one would have to hold either that there is an infinite regress of contingent beings each passing on their being to another being and receiving it from the one before—most philosophers think the idea of an actual infinite is  absurd (conceptual or abstract infinites are not).  Or the passing on of existence would have to be circular, where A causes B to be and B causes C to be and C causes A to be.  This becomes more clear, perhaps, when we look at it from the side of explanation, as the reason for C: I want to explain how C got here, so I say C₋₁ explains C, but C₋₁ is explained by C₋₂ and it by C₋₃ and it by C₋₄ … infinitely C₋∞. But this “explanation” never actual explains anything. In simply passes the buck infinitely backwards.  It is as if I wanted to know the origin of a magic book that contains the secrets of the cosmos, and someone tells me he got it from his father, who got it from his father, who got it from his father … who … etc.  No matter how long you make this chain of fathers passing down books to sons, you never answer “Yes, but where did the book originate?”  We need something it terminate the infinite regress, where the “buck” of explanation can no longer be passed.  Similarly, it would be famous for the possessor of the book, Dave, to explain he got it from Mary, who got it from Josh, who, is it happens, got it from Dave. If I said to Dave, “Yes, I know Mary gave it to you, but where did it come from?” it would not do for Dave to say “I always get it from Mary, who always gets it from Josh, and I always give it to Josh. This circuit is itself the origin of the book.”

Premise 7: If it is correct, then, that the ground-reason for a contingent being cannot be nothing but other contingent beings, whether in the mode of an infinite regress (which is a non-explanation) or a circular explanation (which is a non-explanation), then it must be the case that there is a necessary being which terminates the regress.

Premise 8: Since C requires there be a necessary being N in order for C to be, and C is (premise 1) then there is an N.

Premise 9: The argument from 1-8 applies to every being without the universe, all of which are contingent, as well as the whole ensemble of contingent beings called the universe. A whole made entirely of contingent beings cannot itself be necessary, since it is susceptible to change—which a necessary being cannot be.  Someone might say that an inference from the things that make up the universe to the whole universe might be a fallacy of composition, but this cannot be the case, since the universe is an aggregate that contains contingent parts and therefore changes.

Premise 10: The same argument 1-8 reapplied to the universe as contingent. There must be something other than the universe, a necessary being N, which is the ground-reason for the universe.

Premise 11: So there is such a necessary being N which is other than the universe and is its ground-reason.

Premise 12: Bit of a joke. This is a variant of how St. Thomas Aquinas ends each of his Quinque Viae or “Five Ways” of proving the existence of God: “And this everyone understand to be God.”

As a piece of natural theology, the argument from contingency will indeed not get one straight to the Christian God—but then, it isn’t meant to. It will get is to “there is a being other than the universe such that it is the ground-reason for the universe’s existence and is in itself a necessary being, such that it has the ground-reason for its own existence in itself.

From there we can go on to flesh out what other things this entails about such a being: if we work through it will find out it is timeless, spaceless, unchanging, and perfect.

In other words, it is very certainly AT LEAST what Jews, Christians, and Muslims call “God, what Hindus call Brahman, what the Chinese call “The Tao,” what Plato knew as “The Idea of the Good,” Etc.

The argument from contingency isn’t enough to settle the theological question of what God is like, but it is enough to show that atheism is false and agnosticism unwarranted.

Intellectually Dishonest or Defective Atheists

As philosopher Edward Feser has pointed out, some atheists are simply not intellectually serious. They may be very ignorant or uneducated, directly dishonest, deeply confused, ill-informed, willfully obtuse, ideologically dogmatic, or just plain stupid; the end result is the same: it is not possible or fruitful to have a serious, rational discussion about God with such people. Here are some red flags which will alert you that you are dealing with an intellectually dishonest or defective atheist:

✅ 1. A persistent inability or refusal to distinguish God from a god or gods. This is a distinction 3 or 4-year-old children can easily grasp, so any atheist who claims not be be able to grasp it is either severely intellectually impaired or lying. In almost all cases, the atheist is simply attempting to conflate God with a god in order to set up a strawman and/or trying to annoy you by belittling God—while ignoring the basic conceptual distinction that all European languages mark by differentiating the word “God” from the word “god” by capitalization. As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains, in the entry written by atheist philosopher J. J. C. Smart:

‘Atheism’ means the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God. I shall here assume that the God in question is that of a sophisticated monotheism. The tribal gods of the early inhabitants of Palestine are of little or no philosophical interest. They were essentially finite beings, and the god of one tribe or collection of tribes was regarded as good in that it enabled victory in war against tribes with less powerful gods. Similarly the Greek and Roman gods were more like mythical heroes and heroines than like the omnipotent, omniscient and good God postulated in mediaeval and modern philosophy.

Theists have little to no interest in discussing gods, at least not when God is the topic of discussion. If an atheist wants to discuss gods, he is free to do so, but he cannot pretend talk of gods has any bearing on or relevance to a discussion about God.

✅ 1.1 A persistent inability or refusal to distinguish God from such things as imaginary friends, faeries, wizards, spaghetti monsters, Santa Claus, or other fabulous, fictitious, or mythological entities.

✅ 1.2 A persistent habit of paraphrasing religious ideas in ways which are deliberately ludicrous, derisive, or tendentious, e.g. describing the resurrected Christ as “a zombie,” or God as a “sky daddy.”

✅ 1.3 Persistent use of the fallacious “I just believe in one god less than you” rhetorical trope.

✅ 1.4 Persistent use of tendentious and irrelevant rhetorical mischaracterizations of Christianity, e.g. as “Bronze Age mythology.” Christianity, of course, dates from long after the so-called “metallic” ages, in fact from the prime of the Roman Empire, on of humanity’s civilizational high points. And Judaism, its precursor religion, derives almost entirely from the Iron Age up through historical times—not that the age of a teaching has any bearing whatever on its truth-value.

✅ 1.5 Persistent dishonest characterization of God as some kind of “cosmic tyrant” or “cosmic oppressor” (interestingly enough. the position of Satan).

✅ 1.6 Persistent dishonest characterization of God, especially in the Old Testament, as a moral monster.

✅ 1.7 A persistent inability or refusal to distinguish miracles from magic, usually paired with a tendency to attribute magical powers to nature, e.g. in such claims as “the universe created itself out of nothing” or “properties such as consciousness just emerge out of unconscious matter, because they do.”

✅ 2.0 Belief in scientism, the logically incoherent claim that “only scientific knowledge is valid/real/genuine knowledge” or that “only science or the scientific method can establish the truth-value of propositions,” claims which are neither themselves scientific nor established by science, and hence, self-defeating, and which entail such absurdities as “no human being knew anything before Europeans in the 1600s.”

✅ 2.1 Persistent claims that science, which studies physical nature by means of empirical observation and quantitative measurement, has any bearing on the question of the existence of God, who is by definition, beyond nature, not empirical, and not measurable in terms of quantity. Persistent insistence that claims about God must be proven “scientifically” or that any evidence for God must be “scientific” fall into this category.

✅ 2.2 The claim that Galileo Galilei’s run-in with the Roman Catholic Church in 1633 proves (somehow) that there is some kind of natural antipathy between either (a) science and religion, or (b) science and Christianity, or (c) science and Catholicism. This indicates a complete ignorance of the history of the Galileo affair, and is merely a recycled weaponized meme of the early Enlightenment.

✅ 2.3 Use of the non sequitur that the multiplicity of religions proves that no religion is true, either wholly or in part. By this logic, of course, one may also “prove” that no scientific theory is or can be correct, wholly or in part, since there are always rival theories.

✅ 2.4 Claiming or assuming that the atheist, a finite being who is not all-knowing, is not all-powerful, is not all-wise, and is not all-good, nevertheless is in an epistemic position to know with certainty what an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-wise, all-good being would or would not do or have done.

✅ 2.5 The belief the atheist knows the true or real origin of religion in human pre-history, a matter which, since it occurs far in human pre-history, we have no certain knowledge of, but only conjecture.

✅ 2.6 The peculiar belief held by some atheists that their total ignorance with respect to God and divine matters is in fact an infallible indication of their intelligence or wisdom or knowledgeableness precisely about the things about which they know nothing.

✅ 2.7 Repeated assertion of the evidently false claim “there’s no evidence for God.”

✅ 3.0 Persistent use of the burden of proof fallacy, that is, the rhetorical trope which combines an argument from ignorance (“my position is the default position,” i.e. “my position is true until proven false, so I need not argue for it) with special pleading that the atheist be allowed to use arguments to ignorance in support of atheism (i.e. “atheism is true because I am totally ignorant about God or divine matters”).

✅ 3.1 Chronological bigotry, i.e. the absurd belief that human beings who lived prior to (say) Richard Dawkins were one and all somehow mentally inferior to anyone living today, up to and including the greatest minds of the past. This would also include the belief that all human beings in the past were incapable of skepticism or critical thinking, or were somehow exceptionally gullible or credulous in a way we, the Enlightened Moderns, are not.

✅ 3.2 “Arguments” that consist wholly of posting atheist memes, e.g. “Eric the God-Eating Penguin.”

✅ 3.3 “Arguments” that consist of no more than exercises in blasphemy or obscenity.

al-Ghazali and the Apes of Unbelief

al-Ghazali was one of the greatest of the Islamic thinkers. Virtually single-handedly, al-Ghazali brought it about that Islam came to regard mathematics, science, and philosophy with suspicion and hostility. And this, arguably, was what was responsible for what has been called “the closing of the Islamic mind,” and the bringing of the Islamic Golden Age of intellectual inquiry (~950-1150) to its end.

Even today, the Islamic world remains on the whole very hostile to the very idea of science and philosophy—these things seem to be man attempting to fathom the ways of Allah, in a way which is blasphemous and impious, as well as absurd and ridiculous. What man can fathom the mind of God? What man would be so presumptuous?

The Muslim world likes technology—because these things may easily be regarded as gifts from Allah. Muslims tend to deny any strong causal link between developed theoretical science and technological development. If you assert that there is one, you will be told (correctly) that correlation does not entail causation. Muslims are, or tend to be, Humeans (or more precisely, Hume is a Ghazalite or Ash ̔arite, al-Ghazali following al Ash ̔ari on this crucial point) that

  1. Correlation does not establish causation.
  2. All attempts to establish causation do so by means of correlation.
  3. ∴ Causation can never be established.
  4. ∴ There is no evidence for causation.
  5. ∴ Natural cause and effect are fictions of the mind.

Hume taught that “cause and effect” was not a reality, but a mere psychological habit the human mind has of connecting things. It followed that all or most of human science was not grounded in reason, but it an irrational and unjustifiable psychological prejudice. So Hume ended up in a deep and almost total skepticism.

al Ghazali applies Ockham’s Razor centuries before Ockham and notes (correctly) that the most parsimonious explanation of seeming regularity in the world, or what some call “nature,” is simply a single cause: the omnipotent will of Allah. One cannot get more parsimonious than one and only one cause.

So it follows that there is simply no such thing as “nature.” There are no second-order causes that operate apart from the will of Allah. It is not the case that paper placed in fire will burn because the fire consumes it.  Fire has no power to cause anything, including burning—what happens is, when paper is place into fire, Allah may (or may not) cause the paper to be burnt. Every event, bar none, is caused directly by the will of Allah. The word “nature” is not the name of anything. There is no such thing as nature. The very idea of “nature” and therefore of “natural sciences” rests on a mistake, namely, that there is an order of causation that is independent of the will of Allah. But this cannot be so, so it is not so.

It is a strange argument for most Westerners, given their understanding that “nature” was the great discover of the Greeks that allows the very possibility of philosophy and science. But it isn’t entirely foreign to the Western tradition either. As I’ve already noted, William of Ockham taught just such a an occasionalism conception in which God is the single cause of all events; and David Hume took philosophers and scientists to task for believing their concept of “cause and effect” was a rational one, as opposed to a merely irrational habit of associating two things in the mind.

al-ghazali

As new and radical as the insights of Ockham and Hume seemed in their own day, they were only following in the footsteps of al Ghazali. Here are some of his words.

As a thought experiment, when you read al-Ghazali’s words below, replace “mathematics” and “mathematician” with “science” and “scientist” respectively:

Mathematics comprises the knowledge of calculation, geometry, and cosmography: it has no connection with the religious sciences, and proves nothing for or against religion; it rests on a foundation of proofs which, once known and understood, cannot be refuted. Mathematics tend, however, to produce two bad results.

The first is this: Whoever studies this science admires the subtlety and clearness of proofs. His confidence in philosophy increases, and he thinks that all its departments are capable of of the same clearness and solidity of proof as mathematics. But when he hears people speak of the unbelief and impiety of mathematicians, of their professed disregard for the Divine Law, which is notorious … he says to himself that, if there was truth in religion, it would not have escaped those who have displayed so much keenness of intellect in the study of mathematics.

Next, when he becomes aware of the unbelief and rejection of religion on the part of these learned men, he concludes that to reject religion is reasonable. How many of such men gone astray I have met whose sole argument was that just mentioned. And supposing one puts the following objection: “It does not follow that a man who excels in one branch of knowledge excels in all others, nor that he should be equally versed in jurisprudence, theology, and medicine. It is possible to be entirely ignorant of metaphysics, and yet to be an excellent grammarian. There are past masters in every science who are entirely ignorant of other branches of knowledge. The arguments of the ancient philosophers are rigidly demonstrative in mathematics and only conjectural in religious questions. In order to ascertain this one must proceed to a thorough examination of the matter.” Supposing, I say, one make the above objection to these ‘apes of unbelief,’ they find it distasteful. Falling a prey to their passions, to a besotted vanity, and the wish to pass for learned men, they persist in maintaining the preeminence of mathematicians in all branches of knowledge. This is a serious evil, and for this reason those who study mathematics should be checked from going too far in their researches. For though far removed as it may be from the things of religion, this study, serving as it does as an introduction to the philosophic systems, casts over religion its malign influence. It is rarely that a man devotes himself to it without robbing himself of his faith and casting off the restraints of religion.

Now tell me: has he missed the mark?

Atheistic Arguments

Something that doesn’t get a lot of attention today are actual atheistic arguments, arguments for the position “God does not exist.” This is the result of an odd situation that occurred in the mid-20th century in which atheists essentially did two things:
(1) they admitted their position could not be defended and gave up trying to do so, and
(2) they still did not abandon their indefensible position, but instead shifted their position to a much more defensible one, agnosticism—except they did not do this honestly and openly, but redefined ‘agnosticism’ and ‘atheism’ so that they two words are now supposed to mean essentially the same thing (despite the fact that ‘agnosticism’ had been coined in explicit contradistinction to atheism, and also despite the fact that the loud atheist minority did not bother to ask permission of the agnostics before forcibly co-opting their identity).

What are the arguments that God does not exist? How strong are they? There are only four, to my knowledge, and if you suspect they are not very strong, given that atheists themselves recognized their complete failure, you would be correct.

1. The Argument from Evil. The argument from evil makes the case that the amount of evil in the world is sufficient to be incompatible with an all-good, omniscient, omnipotent God. It essentially says that such a God would not permit evil, and would have the means to do away with evil, but since there is evil, no such God exists. The argument from evil is the most powerful of the atheistic arguments because it makes a very powerful emotional appeal. In grief, suffering, and loss, human beings are apt to demand of God “Why?”—and taking the pain and incomprehension a step further, one can go on to conclude that a good God would never allow such a painful or horrible thing as X (whatever X is) to happen.

Logically the argument does not have much force. First, it is important to note that human reckoning of evil and horror tends to drop off very sharply with time. No one gets worked up about the Magyar invasions of Europe in the 9th century, and screams “Why???” at God. The problem with emotional reasoning is that it over-prioritizes things that matter to you, personally. The reason that the argument from evil logically breaks down is that the premise “An all-good God would not permit evil” can be defeated simply by denying it in favor of the the premise “An all-good God would not permit evil without sufficient justification.” Then the argument from evil turns on whether or not God has sufficient justification for permitting the evil that He does permit. So the argument from evil requires that the following premise be established: “An all-good, omniscient, omnipotent God would not permit the amount of evil that actually does exist in the world.”

It should be obvious with a moment’s reflection that, in order to establish this needed premise to be true, one would have to be in a position to evaluate the actions of an all-good, omniscient, omnipotent God.  One would, that is, have to be oneself both all-good and omniscient.  And any argument that stands on a premise that requires omniscience and omnibenevolence to support it is going to fail.  All the argument from evil can do is attempt to elicit an emotional agreement to this premise, that it can no way establish to be true except on the basis of “feeling” it to be so.

But of course many Christians and other theists “feel” that God exists, so the atheist cannot allow premises to be established on the basis of feelings.

2. The Argument to Parsimony, or the Appeal to Ockham’s Razor.  This argument holds that God is explanatorily unnecessary in the order of nature, and therefore does not exist. It is typified by the response of Laplace to Napoleon, when asked by him as to the place of God in his system of Newtonian physics: “Sire, I have no need of that hypothesis.”

A child should be able to see that this argument, logically speaking, is a non sequitur. From the fact that God is not required as an explanatory principle, it simply does not follow that God does not exist. The argument is simply invalid.

It should also be said, however, that the premise that God is explanatorily unnecessary is dubious—it is perhaps true that God is explanatorily unnecessary within physics, but it very possibly and even likely is the case that God is explanatorily necessary to explain nature and the possibility of physics—that is, to address what is sometimes called the question of being: Why does anything at all exist, and not rather nothing?

3. The Argument from Self-Contradiction.  Some atheists have argued that the concept of God is self-contradictory, and since nothing self-contradictory can be, God cannot exist. The problem with this argument is that it at most succeeds in showing that “God” cannot exist when “God” is defined in a self-contradictory manner. But no one has ever succeeded in showing that classical philosophical definitions or understandings of God are contradictory.

4. The Argument to an Alternate Explanation of the Concept of God.  This argument takes the form of

  1. X is a possible alternate explanation of why people might believe in God other than God existing.
  2. Therefore, God does not exist.

As with the Argument to Parsimony, this is an obvious non sequitur. It was popular in the 19th and early 20th century, being deployed by the likes of e.g. Marx and Freud.  Freud, for example, argued that belief in God arises in human beings as a kind of wish-fulfillment.

Without getting into the details of Freud’s speculations—which are questionable at best—one can merely reply with “So what?”  The human belief (at one time) that it would be possible to construct devices to allow human beings to fly was certainly partly grounded in a wish to fly.  That fact has absolutely no bearing on the fact that it is possible, according to the laws of physics, to build airplanes.  Today many people have a wish for spaceships that can travel interstellar distances in short times. Our science fiction writers dream about “warp drive” or “hyperspace” travel. Does our wish to explore the universe have any bearing on whether or not this is possible, according to the laws of physics? Not that I can tell. Why would it? Many of us wish for peace on earth, or for the number of murders and rapes in the world to be zero. Do our wishes for these things entail that they cannot be? Everyone who plays the lottery (I assume) wishes to win. Does the fact that every player wishes to win demonstrate that it is impossible for anyone to win the lottery? Or in team sports, fans wish for the team they support to win. Does that wish demonstrate no team will or can possibly win? How would it?

The point, of course, is that at the end of the day, the fact that something has its origins at least partially in desire or wish has no logical bearing on the truth of the matter.  One can make a rather powerful argument on Freudian grounds that atheism arises as a kind of human wish fulfillment: the human wish to be autonomous and free of any binding normative obligations and especially the wish to be free of judgment and punishment for wrongdoing.  It is rather difficult to see how wish fulfillment can account for the traditional, orthodox Christian belief in Hell, but it is extremely easy to see how atheistic disbelief in Hell could arise from wish fulfillment:

feseratheismhell

There are the only four arguments for atheism that I’m aware of. And they are all logically unsound.

I do not count the Evidentialist Argument here, because it is not, properly speaking, an atheistic argument, but an agnostic one.  Framed as an atheistic argument, it would run

  1. If there is insufficient evidence to establish that X exists, X does not exist.
  2. There is insufficient evidence to establish that God exists.
  3. ∴ God does not exist.

So framed, it is valid, but Premise 2 is highly contestable to the point of being almost certainly false, and even if it were not, even if it were true, Premise 1 is obviously false. This can be seen invoking such things as intelligent alien life in other galaxies.  We certainly do not have sufficient evidence to establish that such a thing exists.  But how would that be evidence that intelligent alien life does not exist, much less prove that it does not? We have insufficient evidence that faster than light travel technology can exist; is that evidence that, necessarily, it cannot exist? We had insufficient evidence that coelacanths did not go extinct 65 million years ago—until some fishermen caught one.

The problem here is that both “the evidence we have” and “what counts as evidence” are not static.

The Evidentialist Argument is somewhat stronger when used to argue that we do not have sufficient evidence to warrant or justify a belief in the existence of God—while openly acknowledging that this situation, even if it is the case, in no way demonstrates the nonexistence of God.

Even here, though, the Evidentialist Argument always seems to involve a kind of question-begging circularity.  It begins by postulating certain criteria as evidentially sufficient, and then goes on to show how God does not meet the postulated criteria.  The argument proceeds in way almost logically identical to the Argument from Self-Contradiction, except in this case, instead of offering a definition of God which is self-contradictory, and proceeding from there to show that the offered self-contradictory definition is, unsurprisingly, self-contradictory, the evidentialist strategy is to specify evidentiary criteria upon which God will be found to be insufficiently evidenced, and then to go on to show that, on such criteria, God is, unsurprisingly, insufficiently evidenced.  The problem here is that this seems very much like a trick—and it is a trick that anyone can play.  It is trivially easy for a clever person to, for example, show that science is insufficiently evidenced—one would only need to “pull a Hume” and attack the various unjustified assumptions that all science makes, e.g. in the reality of cause and effect, in the uniformity of nature, in the intelligibility of nature, in the reliability of reason, etc.

This is the kind of argument I refer to as a Vorpal Sword Argument: it will indeed succeed in disproving what you are trying to disprove, in a sense, but this is because it can succeed in disproving anything whatever. A vorpal sword can kill anything—and it does not care who wields it against what.  Atheists, and anyone else for that matter, should think twice before legitimizing arguments that can be turned on any and all positions alike, including theirs.

Okay, so much for the arguments for atheism roundup.  See you next time.

John Ballie on “The Top of Our Minds”

Do we really need to take atheists seriously when they claim not to have any knowledge or experience of God? Professor John Baillie argues we do not.

____________________________________________

“The Top of Our Minds”

by theologian John Baillie

In his celebrated essay Of Atheism, Francis Bacon asserts that ‘atheism is rather in the lip than in the heart of man’. That it is not in his heart I have already contended; but I think we must allow that it is not only in his lip but also in his head. There are undoubtedly some men among us who not only say but also think that they are utterly devoid of all religious belief and feeling, including belief in God …. Nevertheless there have been and are some men who wold apply the term ‘atheist’ to themselves and would do so, as we must believe, with some real meaning. There are men who think they do not believe in God …. The question then arises whether men may be mistaken concerning their own beliefs. Is it possible to hold that those who do not think they believe in God really do believe in Him?

The question has been investigated in an essay which I, in common with many others, have regarded ever since I first read it as one of the most important theological documents of our time—I mean the paper on ‘Rational Grounds for Belief in God’ which was read by the late Professor Cook Wilson to an Oxford society … Cook Wilson answers the question with a confident affirmative. He is able to produce many examples of knowledge which men have possessed without being aware that they possessed it, and even while expressly denying their possession of it—cases in which ‘it is not merely that we have not become aware of a necessary element in our thinking, but we have actually denied that we have it at all’. He therefore concludes that the fact that some people ‘think they have no direct experience or knowledge of God’ is quite compatible with the hypothesis of ‘His direct presence in their consciousness’. ‘The true business of philosophy’, he submits, ‘is to bring the belief to a consciousness of itself.’

What we have here to do with is thus a special case of the familiar distinction between consciousness and sub-consciousness. All belief must in some sense be conscious—unconscious beings cannot entertain beliefs—but not all belief need be conscious of itself. We may have an awareness of a certain reality without being aware of that awareness. And we may therefore, without ceasing to be aware of such a reality, set about doubting and denying its existence—and that in all good faith. There have been people, so-called solipsists, who denied the existence of everything and everybody except their own selves. But are we, who believe in the existence of other selves, therefore obliged to allow that these other selves are not really and directly present to the consciousness of the solipsists? There have been other people, so-called subjective idealists, who denied the independent existence of the external world. But are we others, who believe in an external world which is objectively presented to our consciousness, therefore obliged to allow that it is NOT so presented to the consciousness of the subjective idealists? We should not dream of allowing these things. Why then should we, who believe in God, think it necessary to allow that because some men, the so-called atheists, deny the existence of God, God cannot therefore be directly present to their consciousness as He is to ours? We should say that the solipsists and subjective idealists are as conscious of their neighbors and of the world about them as we are, but they have been misled by false and confused philosophical argumentation into a meaningless (though doubtless quite sincere) intellectual denial of their existence. We should say that though they deny the reality of their neighbors and of the world about them with THE TOP OF THEIR MINDS, they believe in them all the time in the bottom of their hearts. Why then should we be precluded from occupying the same ground with regard to the so-called atheists? There have even—and this, unlike the others which I have mentioned, is one of Cook Wilson’s examples—been people like Hume who denied the reality of their own selves …. For we who do believe in the reality of our own selves would not only refuse to allow that Hume’s self was not real; we should also refuse to allow that Hume was not conscious of its reality; the most we would allow being that he was not conscious of being conscious of it—that he had argued himself into an intellectual denial of a self-consciousness which actually was every whit as fully developed in him as it is in the rest of us.

It may possibly be objected that the case of the atheists is not entirely parallel to that of the solipsists and subjective idealists or of skeptics like Hume, in that these do not deny their acquaintance with the experiences which we others interpret as involving the direct presence of our fellow men and the external world, or of our own self-hood, but only deny the correctness of the ordinary interpretations of them. I should hold, however, that exactly the same thing is true of the atheistical denial of the direct presence of God. The Christian believer may indeed often be found pointing to experiences which he claims to have had and which the unbeliever can truly say that he has never had; but I am sure the commoner case is that the believer finds God in experiences which the unbeliever would equally claim to have had, but which seem to him susceptible of a purely humanistic or naturalistic interpretation. The believer finds in the most familiar experiences of life a meaning and a presence which the unbeliever does not find in them; and it is on this basis alone that he is able to proceed to those further experiences which the unbeliever cannot have at all.

Three Steps to Orthodox Christianity

The question of the relation of reason and revelation has occupied some of the greatest thinkers in the Christian tradition, as well as in the Judaic and Islamic theological traditions.

I wanted to be clear with my readers what I understand to be the relationship between human reason or philosophy and the Christian faith, by which I mean the orthodox Christian faith in general (“little-o orthodox”) and Orthodox Christianity specifically, since I am Orthodox.

Step One: Reason and Natural Theology. I hold that human reason alone, that is, philosophy—and more specifically, sound metaphysics—is sufficient to demonstrate the existence of God understood very broadly, as i.e. ἡ ἀρχή τῇς οὐσίας, the ground of Being.  When I speak of ‘God’ in this sense, that of natural theology, I take myself to be referring not only to what Christians call ‘God,’ (θεός, Deus), what the Jews call YHWH (יהוה), what the Muslims call Allah (الله), but also to what Plato is refers to as ἡ ἰδέα του ἀγαθού or the Idea of the Good (“beyond Being, exceeding it in dignity and power”), what Aristotle refers to as the unmoved mover, what the Stoics refer to as the Λόγος, the Chinese as the Tao (道), Vedantic Hinduism as Brahman (ब्रह्म), the Zoroastrians as Ahura Mazda (اهورا مزدا ), Fiche, Schelling, and Hegel as The Absolute, etc .As far as I am concerned, all these are names for one and the same, that which is the first and the last, the beginning and the end, the highest and deepest.

[NOTE ON BUDDHISM: Buddhism is a strange case.  It is worth noting the Buddha clearly and explicitly teaches that “There is an Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed. Were there not this Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed, there would be no escape from the world of the born, originated, created, formed”—Buddhism seems to reject the idea of God under the headings of Brahma or Īśvara, but what the Buddha is rejecting seems to be a degenerate concept of Brahman that was prevalent in his time, much as the original concept of God as θεός degenerated among the Greeks merely to Sdeus or Zeus, and kind of Sky-Father god or “king of the gods”. I have found that Buddhists frequently mistake the God of Christianity for that which the Buddha rejects under the name of Īśvara; however, I believe that they have radically misunderstood the orthodox Christian teaching on this point.]

Step Two: The Strongest λόγος. Socrates teaches that human beings, not being gods, cannot have the perfect possession of truth by their own efforts. As beings essentially defined by λόγος (speech/reason, discursivity) human wisdom consists in open inquiry and to always follow the strongest λόγος and where the λόγος leads. My view is that, given the above essentially universal theistic agreement concerning many aspects of the Absolute, the question turns to their differences, not only in their accounts (λόγοι) of what the Absolute is LIKE but also the various accounts they give of the human condition, the nature of the world, and man’s place in the world and in relation to God/the Absolute.  Here, I think the case can be made that the Christian account proves to be strongest λόγος, that is, it provides the account of all things which both best conforms exemplifies the divine nature and best accounts for the state of man and the world.  It is, for example, evident to me that it is a greater perfection to be a WHO than a mere WHAT, which leads me to reject any conception of the Absolute that is impersonal, or a mere ‘Force’—similarly the Christian account of the divine personhood and the divine essence as being LOVE (ἀγάπη) is the only conception that adequate to the divine nature.  It would be a long and complicated matter to lay out why I hold the Christian λόγος to be the strongest λόγος concerning God, man, and the world, but I want to emphasize that here we are not entirely beyond the reach of reason. To reach Christianity, a leap of faith is required, as Kierkegaard rightly taught and (over?) emphasized—but it is not a blind leap of faith; philosophically it may be regarded as one of the most rational procedures which one commonly finds in all science: an argument to the best explanation.

Step Three: Becoming a Christian.  If and when one ventures a leap of faith into Christian belief, one is not left untransformed by this. As crude as the “born again” talk of some fundamentalist Protestants is, this is trying to name something absolutely fundamental, that entrance into the Christian faith, primarily by the mystery of Baptism, is rebirth, a new birth, in which one dies to oneself only to live again in a new and changed way. Becoming a Christian is not merely an adoption of a certain set of beliefs, but is an ontological change at the deepest level of one’s being.  It is on this side, the other side of the leap of faith, that one learns that the leap was fully and totally justified (although it was a reasonable leap beforehand).  There is simply no adequate way of explaining this to one who has not yet become a Christian—including those who are merely nominal Christians, those whom the Thomist philosopher Jacques Maritain termed ‘practical atheists’—for the are atheists in their praxis.  I wanted a rational and satisfactory explanation of the nature of reality, and I got much more than I could ever have expected or guessed.  As I have said to many atheists—and this seems to annoy them, which does not bother me—before I had encountered God for myself, I had not thought there could be anything more certain that the Cartesian cogito sum, the “I think; I am”, the absolute certainty I have of my own existence.  Why possible evidence or argument could one present to me that could persuade me that I do not exist? The idea seems absurd, self-contradictory. How could one even try to convince ME that I do not exist? And yet, although I still hold this to be the case, that I am absolutely certain that I exist, the certainty I have of God’s existence is still more absolute.  I am aware that saying things like “more certain than absolute certainty” sounds paradoxical. Indeed, in saying such a thing I perhaps begin to sound not like a philosopher, but a mystic. Well and good. There is simply no other way to talk about God, however inadequate this is. Socrates was not ashamed to utter the speech that the Good “is beyond Being, exceeding it in dignity and power,” and even though I say with Descartes, and with absolute certainty, “I think; I am!” this certainty is but a dim shadowy image of the eternal I AM.

This is my account of the three steps that led me to theism, to Christianity as seen from without, and finally to Christianity as seen from within.

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.

___________________________________________________________

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·