Monday, June 8, 2015

The Dead End of Rational Arguments for God's Existence

From an Orthodox Christian perspective, rational arguments for the existence of God, though helpful in explaining to a non-believer that God's existence is rational rather than irrational, come to a dead end by not being able to effectively demonstrate that God exists. Though metaphysics can lead to a certain logical certainty about something, only empiricism can verify and confirm a philosophical or emotional argument. Every argument can present a counter-argument based on logical laws and principles, but empirical scientific observation cannot be philosophically discounted. Therefore, without empirical proof for God and an actual observation, there is ultimately no proof for God's existence to confirm what is inferred through logic.

Orthodox Christianity alone provides the most precise means to empirically prove the existence of God. This scientific method of verifying the divine comes through the process by which man can acquire the Holy Spirit and through glorification (union with God) actually perceive God (Matt. 5:8) in this life, which produces inner faith that is based not on mere acceptance of other peoples observations (the appearances of God to the prophets, apostles and saints), but a faith based on personal empirical proof. In Orthodox theology, one definition of a saint could be that it is someone who has verified the existence of God through empirical observation.

The article summary below by neurosurgeon Michael Engor takes the rational arguments for God to their dead end, through this brief history of modern philosophy and science, that could lead no further than a faith based merely on the empirical observations of others, and this gap is what has led to the modern rise of rationalism and atheism. (J.S.)

By Michael Egnor

September 17, 2009

Charles Darwin exploited a deep error that had arisen out of Descartes’ rejection of Thomist metaphysics and his embrace of Mechanical Philosophy. Descartes and his successors dispensed with the hylomorphic understanding of nature—with Aristotle’s and Aquinas' understanding of substances as a composite of matter and form and the invocation of four causes (material, efficient, formal, and final) in nature—and replaced it with an anemic metaphysics of truncated material and efficient causes.

Mechanical Philosophy explains the world as a system of disparate mechanisms, mechanical particles and parts randomly bumping about and constrained only by laws of force, without intrinsic essence or teleology. It is a woefully impoverished attempt at metaphysics; it serves well Francis Bacon's dream of a model of nature that can be manipulated, but it utterly lacks the traditional hylomorphic understanding of nature that is the foundation of Western philosophy and natural science. Mechanical Philosophy ignores teleology and organizational principles in nature; it is a description of nature as particles in motion. It has survived in spite of its inadequacy because of the remarkable success of scientific endeavors that have focused on the these limited mechanical aspects of nature. The focus on mechanical aspects of nature (material and efficient causes) over the centuries as a philosophy became a comprehensive explanation of the natural world. There were of course ideologues who understood something else about Mechanical Philosophy: as it denies teleology in nature, it provides a wedge with which to deny the existence of God. For atheists, Mechanical Philosophy was a gift from... well, a gift.

Mechanical Philosophy is a methodology for manipulating nature; it explains nothing. Now don't get me wrong: I'm all for manipulating nature. I'm a neurosurgeon, and I manipulate nature professionally. I take out brain tumors, using very mechanical means, and during surgery inference to material and efficient causes suits me just fine. Applied science is a methodology, and for some purposes, that methodology is good enough. But the person on whom I'm operating can't be explained by the scientific method or by truncated notions of material and efficient causes. In fact, nothing in nature can really be explained without inference to all aspects of causation—material, efficient, formal, and final. And of course, hylomorphism (the metaphysical view that incorporates the four causes) necessarily leads to other conclusions, such as the existence of a Prime Mover/First Cause/Necessary Being. I'm fine with that, because I'm a Christian, and the necessary existence of a Creator seems obvious to me. I'm not an atheist, and therefore I don't begin with a bias that precludes a rigorous understanding of organizational principles and teleology in nature.

Perhaps the most obvious stumbling block of Mechanical Philosophy is its inability to explain life and the mind. Most people don't know or care about hylomorphism or Descartes or philosophical disputes that date back centuries, but they have the good sense to see that "particles in motion" is an impoverished framework for explaining biology and for explaining the immaterial aspects of the mind. They understand that it's not merely that "particles in motion" doesn't explain life and the mind; they understand that it can't explain life and the mind. Darwin's "accomplishment" was to offer a faux-explanation—chance (ateleology) and necessity (tautology)—to account for life. (Materialists are still scrambling, quite unsuccessfully, to provide a mechanical explanation for the mind). But Mechanical Philosophy has no explanatory power; it merely provides, under some circumstances, a methodology for applied science.

Essences (forms) and teleology pervade nature, and Mechanical Philosophy by its own precepts is blind to such aspects of reality. Darwin provided a faux-mechanism by which the living world acquired essences (species) and teleological attributes (specified complexity), without the invocation of real essence (form) or teleology. Darwin's error was to perpetuate an antecedent and much deeper philosophical error; he provided a faux-mechanism to explain life without reference to organizational principles and teleology in nature. Darwin concealed and exploited flaws in Mechanical Philosophy and in the anemic theology that it spawned; he didn’t reveal them.

Darwin didn’t show that “there could be no proof for God’s existence”; nothing he wrote touched any of the classical demonstrations for the existence of God, which are logical demonstrations, not empirical hypotheses. The arguments with which New Atheists must struggle are the meticulous theistic arguments of Aristotle and Augustine and Maimonides and Averroes and Aquinas and Konig and Maritain and Gilson and Moreland and Plantinga and Craig. The debate with New Atheism is a debate about the rationality of belief in God, and the basis for that rational belief is built on several millennia of profound philosophical insight. The effective theist answer to New Atheist casuistry is not to point out that we feel awe and a sense of mystery and that the object of that awe must be God; the theist answer to New Atheists is that God’s existence is logically demonstrable, and that His existence is the indispensable basis for reason, science, and morality.