In the previous post we concluded that there must be an ultimate, objective Reality. Plato, the Rationalists, Empiricists, and Transcendentalists all realised the problem of knowing what the reality is actually like. Descartes attempted to argue that our senses do tell us truths about the world because, having proved to his own satisfaction that God exists, God is not a deceiver. Berkeley denied the existence of mind-independent objects. Hume argued that the concept MIND-INDEPENDENT OBJECT is actually the result of confusion. Kant explicated the principle that certain concepts cannot be derived from experience, but are in fact necessary presuppositions in order to interpret experience.
Accepting the existence of the ultimate Reality is one thing. Showing that the Reality is God is another. Even if one shows the existence of God, further work is necessary to demonstrate that God corresponds to the figure found in the Bible, as opposed to that articulated by other religions. It certainly is true that the different religions are mutually exclusive. They cannot all be true. Either one is right or they are all wrong.
The Reality must be coherent. What is coherence? Coherence is the absence of contradiction. It must also be non-contingent. If it is ultimate, it depends on nothing else for its own existence.
However, reality is more than these things. Humans attach, for want of a better word, meaning to reality, which is bound up with the problem of Truth. The struggle between the Rationalists and Empiricists revealed the difficulty that arises when one tries to say what reality actually is, independent of our senses. And so, Kant elaborated transcendentalism. This epistemological wall that hinders penetration of the garden of ontology is the reason why metaphysicists sound like mystics.
Atheism is not a common metaphysical commitment among humans. It is very natural for humans to attribute personal qualities to the Reality. In attributing personal qualities, humans turn that Reality into God. The naturalness of such attribution, if accepted, is not an argument that the Reality actually is God. Since humans are capable of mistakes, this could be a mistake.
However, “attribution” is a misleading word. It assumes that humans are fashioning God, whereas they may in fact be discerning His qualities through legitimate reasoning. The argument from coherence seeks to show that the nature of the Reality can be sufficiently explored to demonstrate that the Reality is God.
The key to the problem is personality. Hume thought that an impersonal Reality was no less reasonable a proposition than God. Such being the case, with no side in Hume’s estimation having a conclusive power, the agnostic was perfectly entitled to withhold his assent. (The atheist, having an assertive position, would need further material before he could claim legitimacy).
Was Hume’s assessment correct? He stood in opposition to St Paul, who declared in the opening of the Epistle to the Romans that:
Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse…
Although the context of this passage concerns other matters, the use of it in this post is appropriate. In order for Paul to address his view that humans are rebelling against God, he must presuppose that:
- God exists;
- Humans are capable of knowing that God exists;
- Humans are capable of knowing God’s will; and
- Humans are capable of freely choosing to disobey God’s will.
The following posts will tackle the problem of inferring personhood from the existence and nature of the Reality, and from that inference accepting that there is a God.