Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Knowledge of God, TAG, Part B

Dualistic Atheism


Dualistic atheism still says that there are no deities in the universe, but it does allow for the existence of the soul in order to deal with some of the problems with materialism such as the “Illusion of Thoughts and Self” problem. However, because this view still has an impersonal origin of man, all of the problems with Materialism remain:


  1. Argument from the Illusion of Thoughts and Self: Because the soul still has its origin in the impersonal cosmos, the most we can expect out of this soul is impersonality, and thus, there is a still a denial of the self-conscious, cognitive ego (see Argument 1. from “Materialism” above).


  1. Argument from the Reliability of Cognitive Faculties: (see Argument 2. from “Materialism” above.)


  1. Argument from ‘Evolving’ Truth: (see Argument 3. from “Materialism” above.)


  1. Argument from ‘Person-Specific’ Truth: ‘Truth’ would still be relative to each individual soul since there would be no common, personal origin of these souls but an impersonal one instead (see Argument 4. from “Materialism” above).


Vitalistic Atheism


Vitalism, or rather neo-Vitalism, is the belief that the material cosmos has an unseen, inherent property, or “life force”, which causes matter to give rise to life. A small minority of scientists within the scientific community of the early twentieth century played around with this belief to deal with the “origin of life” problem. However, it still cannot avoid the problems associated with an impersonal universe as the origin of life and cognitive faculties:


  1. Argument from the Illusion of Thoughts and Self: Because the ‘mind’ (which is still nothing more than matter) came from an impersonal cosmos, and thus, could only be as personal as the cosmos that gave rise to it, then it too would still be impersonal (see Argument 1. from “Materialism” above).


  1. Argument from the Reliability of Cognitive Faculties: Because the universe which gave rise to the cognitive faculties of man was impersonal, and an impersonal force is not concerned with truth (since truth is an abstract idea of a mind), then it follows that the reliability of man’s cognitive faculties is unreliable or inscrutable at best (see Argument 2. from “Materialism” above).


  1. Argument from ‘Evolving’ Truth: (See Argument 3. from “Materialism” above. Of course, this would apply only if there was some element of non-teleological evolution involved as well.)


  1. Argument from ‘Person-Specific’ Truth: ‘Truth’ would still be relative to each individual brain since there would be no common, personal origin of these brains but an impersonal one instead (see Argument 4. from “Materialism” above).


A Vitalistic Atheism that is also dualistic (i.e., including the soul) would still have all of these problems since, as I showed above, adding a soul but keeping its origin (as well as that of the body and its cognitive faculties) in the impersonal cosmos does nothing to solve these problems. (See the arguments against both “Dualistic Atheism” as well as “Vitalistic Atheism” above.)


Pan-psychism


Pan-psychism is a form of naturalism that attributes both a mental as well as a material aspect to all things. Even atoms have a degree of consciousness.1 Like Dualistic Atheism, this is an attempt to avoid the “Illusion of Thoughts and Self” argument that plagues materialism. However, because Pan-psychism’s cosmogony has an impersonal origin of the universe, man, and his soul, then it still suffers from the problems with man’s non-teleologically formed material body and mind interacting with the material universe.


  1. Argument from the Reliability of Cognitive Faculties: (see Argument 2. from “Materialism” above.)


  1. Argument from ‘Evolving’ Truth: (see Argument 3. from “Materialism” above.)


  1. Argument from ‘Person-Specific’ Truth: ‘Truth’ would still be relative to each individual mind since there would be no common2, personal origin of those minds (see Argument 4. from “Materialism” above).


Polytheism


Polytheism is the belief that there exist many separate finite deities that came into existence in the distant past from the chaotic void or substance.3 To quote one scholar:


“All non-biblical cosmogonies, according to Keil and Delitzsch, ‘are either hylozoistical, deducing the origin of life and living beings from some primeval matter; or pantheistical, regarding the whole world as emanating from a common divine substance; or mythological, tracing both gods and men to a chaos or world-egg. They do not even rise to the notion of a creation, much less to the knowledge of an Almighty God, as the Creator of all things.’ The consequences of this non-biblical perspective are far-reaching. In this concept, being is evolving and in process. Because being is in process, and being is seen as one and undivided, truth itself is tentative, evolving, and without finality. Since being has not yet assumed a final form, since the universe is in process and is continually changing. A new movement or “leap in being” can give man a new truth and render yesterday’s truth a lie.”4


Also inherent in this worldview is the dialectic between the two eternal, impersonal principles of chaos and order causing the events of the cosmos. Thus, history proceeds in an impersonal fashion without end due to these principles of chaos and order ‘balancing’ each other out. Because of this, polytheism suffers from all of the same problems as materialism, only instead of the ground of existence being the material cosmos, it is the impersonal (and irrational!) chaotic void.


  1. Argument from the Illusion of Thoughts and Self: If everything, including the soul arose from the chaotic void, its thoughts and even the self-conscious ego would be an illusion. It would be nothing more than the result of the outworking of the two impersonal cosmic principles of order and chaos (see Argument 1. from “Materialism” above).


  1. Argument from the Reliability of Cognitive Faculties: Although most polytheistic systems say that the gods or some personal agent created man, this only takes the problem one step backward since those very gods were themselves formed from an impersonal, non-teleological process (see Argument 2. from “Materialism” above).


  1. Argument from ‘Evolving’ Truth: “Because being is in process, and being is seen as one and undivided, truth itself is tentative, evolving, and without finality.”5 (see Argument 3. from “Materialism” above.)


  1. Argument from ‘Person-Specific’ Truth: Because each soul derives its identity and its relation to the ‘outer’ (i.e. material) world individually from the impersonal, chaotic cosmos, ‘truth’ would be relative to each individual soul (see Argument 4. from “Materialism” above).


Dualism


By dualism, I mean a form of polytheism in which there are two equal and opposing deities that fight over the universe. The form of Zoroastrianism under the Sassanid dynasty would be a kind of dualism. Because the two deities share space and interact in the universe, the universe must be more ultimate than they. Thus, either the impersonal universe gives birth to these deities, or there is some aspect of the universe which they cannot control (not to mention the two deities battling for control over it). Under the first scheme, there are all the problems associated with polytheism. As for the second, it would suffer from all the problems associated with metaphysical dualisms such as Platonism (see “Platonism” below).


Monistic Pantheism


Monistic Pantheism, or simply Monism, is the belief that everything is ultimately one and without division, and thus, all divisions are ultimately illusory. This view usually involves reincarnation. Buddhism and Hinduism are examples of this worldview (though they have serious differences).


  1. Argument from the Illusion of Thoughts and Self: Because everything is an illusion, then you and your thoughts are also an illusion. Of course, this means that the belief that your thoughts are illusory is also an illusion, and this results in an infinite regress of illusory beliefs. Second, any supposed reason to believe in monistic pantheism is also non-existent since it too would be illusory. Finally, the belief in monistic pantheism would be an illusion as well, and thus, the belief completely defeats itself. Reductio ad absurdum.


  1. Argument from Truth: Since there are no differences, there is no contrast between ‘truth’ and ‘falsehood’:


“Panikkar maintains that Indians cannot really accept the principle that might be called the backbone of western philosophical thinking: the principle of contradiction. For Indians, Panikkar insists, things can indeed ‘be’ and ‘not be’ at the same time. …This seems to be close to the Taoist idea of yang and yin, where all things participate in the reality of their opposites: light and darkness, male and female, good and evil, flesh and spirit, and so forth.”6


“There are those who argue that these Eastern patterns of thought are inviolable and Christianity must adapt to them completely. Jung Young Lee has argued that in Asia we must get out of the habit of thinking in terms of either/or; we must be able to think of both/and. Change, he believes, may be the key to the universe, and ambiguity and differences merely the reflection of aspects of reality. In traditional Chinese thought, yin and yang are believed to be complimentary modes of being….He seeks to apply this to his view of God.”7


“Zen is one thing and logic another. When we fail to make this distinction and expect Zen to give us something logically consistent and intellectually illuminating, we altogether misinterpret the signification of Zen.”8


If there is no difference between ‘truth’ and ‘falsehood’, then everything and its opposite would be both ‘true’ and ‘false’ in the same sense at the same time. To make it even more absurd, this belief destroys itself: if everything is both ‘true’ and ‘false’ in the same sense at the same time, then that very belief would be false at the same time as being true! Thus, there is no reason to believe in this view (as opposed to not believing in it) since every reason to believe in it also presents us with a reason not to believe in it in the same sense and at the same time. Thus, knowledge (including the belief that monistic pantheism is true) would be impossible. Reductio ad absurdum.


  1. Argument Against Reincarnation: If everything is ultimately one and thus, an illusion, then man is also an illusion. That means that all of his experiences and actions of good and evil are illusions as well making the possibility (not to mention the very idea!) of reincarnation impossible. Furthermore, if all is one, then everything and its opposite are the same as well. This means that good and evil are simply two sides of one coin. Ravi Zacharias explains a story from the Bhagavad-Gita:


“There is a classic passage in the Bhagavad-Gita in which Krishna counsels young Arjuna, who is on the battlefield, facing the possibility of killing his own half-brothers. He struggles and cannot bring himself to do this. Krishna, who comes as his chariot-driver, talks to him about his duty. This was his duty, to fulfill his caste’s responsibility as a warrior. This is the way life moves on. But he told Arjuna not to fear to do his duty, for all good and evil are fused in the one ultimate reality, Brahman. In Brahman, says Krishna, the distinction breaks down. That which appears evil is only the lesser reality. In the end, all life, all good, all evil, flow from God and back to Him or it.”9


Thus, reincarnation is made impossible since there can be no ascending the scale of being for doing right or descending for doing wrong since all actions, whether good or evil, are both good and evil at the same time and in the same way. Reductio ad absurdum.


Dualistic Pantheism


This ontology posits the existence of both matter, spirit, and an impersonal power that controls the history of the material and spiritual universe. This would be your “Star Wars” type world (though I don’t know how many real religions like this are out there). In this worldview, like the chaos/order dialectic of paganism, the impersonal power would cause the events of history to fatalistically go back and forth between chaos and order, good and evil.10 Thus, this worldview would have all the same problems as materialism except that the hard determinism would come about through the impersonal force rather than through matter and physical laws.


  1. Argument from the Illusion of Thoughts and Self: Because of this fatalism, man and his thoughts, being a part of the universe controlled by this impersonal force, would simply be a puppet to the swinging pendulum of history controlled by the impersonal power. Man would simply think and believe whatever the impersonal power needed him to believe in order to bring the cosmos back into “balance”. Man, as a personal ego, would technically not exist since he is simply the outworking of the impersonal force (see Argument 1. from “Materialism” above).


  1. Argument from the Reliability of Cognitive Faculties: Like materialism, man and his cognitive faculties would come into existence as the result of an impersonal process moved along by this impersonal power (see Argument 2. from “Materialism” above).


  1. Argument from ‘Evolving’ Truth: Because man would come about via some form of evolution, ‘truth’ would ‘evolve’ (see Argument 3. from “Materialism” above).


  1. Argument from ‘Person-Specific’ Truth: Corollary to (1) is the logical conclusion that ‘truth’ would be relative to each individual (see Argument 4. from “Materialism” above).


Panentheism


This is the worldview in which the material universe is God’s ‘body’. This could take a number of forms. The first is one in which ‘God’ is not a personal being and would be the same as the “Dualistic Pantheism” mentioned above. But the most popular form of panentheism would be the view that ‘God’ is a personal but changing being that evolves along with the rest of the material cosmos (since it is his ‘body’). Thus, his cognitive faculties would be unreliable, and what he believes to be ‘truth’ would evolve with him. Likewise, it is usually held by those of this view that this ‘God’ had nothing to do with the emergence of man, and so, man came about as the result of a non-teleological process of evolution.11 This view would have the same problems as “Dualistic Atheism’s” enumerated above.

Another (unpopular) form taken would be to give priority to this ‘God’s’ spiritual nature over his material one. This would allow this ‘God’ to be an unchanging being that could make man with properly functioning cognitive faculties. However, that view would simply be a form of theism and somewhat similar in terms of the affect on epistemology (but still vastly different in many other important ways) to Christian theism’s doctrine of God’s omnipresence.

In summary, if this God is impersonal or personal but evolves or learns of himself12, or if he had nothing to do with the emergence of man, then man is doomed to epistemic nihilism for the above mentioned reasons. The opposite of that view would simply be a form of theism.


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1 There are typically two views of pan-psychism. The first says that each entity down to the very particle has its own consciousness. The second says that the entire material universe possesses a collective consciousness like an organism. I will be dealing with the first view under this heading. The second view can range from Dualistic Pantheism to Panentheism, and thus, it would be susceptible to any of the arguments I list under those headings below.

2 Since each thing down to the very atom has its own consciousness which is limited in scope, knowledge of the universe would be specific to the individual composed of those individual atoms. If, however, one argues that the material world has a collective consciousness, then this view would reduce to something akin to panentheism (see below).

3 I am not dealing, here, with another polytheistic view like that of Tolkien’s Middle Earth which says that the gods were created by an eternal, self-existing Deity. This would actually be a form of Theism. In fact, there is a slight similarity in Scripture to this since God did create other ‘mighty beings’, namely the angels.

4 Rousas John Rushdoony, The One and the Many (Thoburn Press: Fairfax, VA., 1978), p.143.

5 ibid.

6 Stephen B. Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1992), p.5.

7 William A. Dyrness, Learning about Theology form the Third World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), pp.140-141.

8 D.T. Suzuki

9 Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message (Nashville: W Publishing, 2000), p.119.

10 This would not be the same as Divine Providence since, in the Christian doctrine, God causes all things to come to pass through both secondary as well as primary means. Thus, while both of these views are deterministic, the Christian Providential view would be a form of compatibilism which allows for free, human actions but the pantheistic view cannot avoid being a form of hard determinism.

11 One could hold to a view in which this ‘God’ created man, but it would still suffer from arguments 2 and 3 since, like polytheism, it would place the problem one step backward to the ‘God’ who is himself evolving.

12 That is, if this ‘God’ either does not have complete knowledge of himself or the material universe (which, in this case, would also be part of him), then it follows that there could be some remnant of unknown potentiality, whether in his own spiritual being or the material universe, which would affect his ability to know and create humans with properly functioning cognitive faculties attuned to man’s environment.

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