Friday, November 07, 2008

The Death of God

I'm a student of philosophy. I like to think I'm a student in the truest sense, in that I seek truth. While I've discussed before that I think truth can never actually be attained, it's the journey that is important, not the destination. Merely being on a quest for truth should steer me rightly.

One conclusion that I keep hitting is that God, practically, doesn't exist. He might exist, but how can we know? The Bible? Other people telling us so? Ha! Literature and testimony are so unreliable we frequently don't allow them in the courts, much less in such an important question about the existence of the divine.

So many great philosophers who set aside their dogma in a philosophical quest run headlong into a wall that they can't seem to climb. Descartes is the most famous one of which I can think. His (in)famous "light of nature" argument was basically a poorly formed attempt to transcend his earlier destruction of truth.

I have always thought of Aristotle as the first atheist. Even though he assumed that "God" was at the foundation of the world's functioning, he eventually distilled him/her/it down to pure activity. When you've done that, it's a small leap to eliminate the assumption of intelligence and get into a force-driven world. I think it's no surprise that so much of Medieval philosophy was focused on discussing the ramifications of the newly-rediscovered Aristotelian thought. Bonaventure, Aquinas, and many others were dedicated to the now-commonplace arguments for separating empirical observation from religious thought, and even if you couldn't separate them, religious thought trumped empiricism.

Most medieval thought was primarily theological and not philosophical. They really didn't get back into philosophical thought in earnest until near the Renaissance. I say theological because, even though there was philosophical thought mixed in with the overarching religious concepts, the assumption of God and his characteristics was at the center of their works. The Islamic thought of the time was much more receptive to contemplation about the nature of God and was, consequently, closer to real philosophy.

Moving into the Renaissance, we finally got more questions about God, and again those that questioned moved dangerously close to either atheism or agnosticism. I always see René Descartes as the most famous. He was a devoutly religious person who managed to so thoroughly destroy confidence in reality that he had to come up with a half-baked theory to explain how we can rest assured that God exists.

Move ahead about a hundred years to Immanuel Kant. Another very devout person who not only was a true philosopher, but actually destroyed, to most people's satisfaction, one of the only real arguments for the existence of God: Anselm's ontological argument. I see in these men a person who believed, but was unable to set aside his intellect for the sake of those beliefs.

So, again, God may or may not exist, but it's the belief in Him that's pointless. As I said earlier, being on a quest for truth can steer me rightly. I have no need for religion, except for maybe bake sales. I am my own cause, and if I am that, what does a God I can never know do for me? Nothing, I say.

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