Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth.
–Jesus speaking at John 17:17
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
This series has sought to explore a point of contact between the arguments advanced by Saint Anselm and Saint Thomas Aquinas in favour of the existence of God. It has used the modes of thinking developed during the Enlightenment and the terminology given to those modes by Emmanuel Kant (though the basic ideas and concerns can be traced back to the pre-Socratics).
As Christians grow in their faith and see more of the world, questions and doubts naturally arise. These can be intensified if one is exposed to challenges from militant atheists and agnostics or the rigours of Analytic Philosophy.
Epistemological and metaphysical questions, though often avoided for the doubt and difficulty they involve, were popular for a time through the influence of films such as The Matrix, Inception, and Solaris. Arthouse films continue to address these questions.
The culture wars and questions about how the Bible is to be interpreted and its relationships with history and science have also contributed to doubts and the search for answers among Christians. Some have abandoned their faith (though in the case of a sub-set, this may be temporary), while others have passed through the trial and come to a more nuanced understanding of the Bible, aided by theology, philosophy, science, and contextual reading of the primary material.
In the midst of these challenges, a few core questions impress themselves upon the struggling Christian.
- Is there a God?
- Can I know with certainty that there is a God or must I rely on faith?
- Even if there is a God, is Christianty the true expression of the divine-human story?
These are important and troubling questions – questions that demand answers. Humans appear to need meaning in order to obtain inner peace. Coherence is at the heart of this epistemological and metaphysical angst, along with the subjective-objective distinction. Indeed, the culture wars that rage at the moment are an expression of this angst. The fact that they concern the foundation of our knowledge, faith, and existence explains why they strike many observers as eschatological in nature, as a break from the general rancour of human internecine conflicts.
Without coherence, there can be no meaning, and without meaning we are truly wretched. Existentialism and nihilism have proved to be failures. They are contradictory worldviews, and so cannot be expressions of truth. Their proponents usually fall into contradiction in the sentiments they express (whether they realise and admit this or not) and they are largely incompatible with human psychology. It is immensely difficult for humans to sustain contradictions and these contradictions are especially challenging to sustain.
We know we exist (or, at least, the individual does – see Descartes’ “evil genius hypothesis” and the problem of solipsism in Berkeley’s idealism). Knowing that we are contingent beings, we can follow a chain of reasoning used by Aquinas, Leibniz, and others to infer the existence of a Necessary Being, the Great Reality or Objective Substrate of existence.
This information by itself, while bringing us a step towards inferring the existence of God and finding meaning in life, does not give us final comfort and peace. While reality may be coherent, at this stage we do not have a guarantee that we are significant, that our works matter, or that we properly understand reality.
It is by turning one’s thoughts to the mind (i.e. self-reflection) that one begins to see personality in reality, and from that to see design in the world that we experience. The human mind is a marvel, and a proper study of epistemology and the metaphysics of mind will confirm this.
The human mind, being contingent, must have a source. Reductionists posit that the human mind is simply the product of certain physical conditions, produced by the forces of evolution. This is not an adequate description of what the human mind is; nor is it a satisfactory explanation of the origins of consciousness.
A mind cannot come from the physical world alone. It’s reflective power and sense of self point to another Mind that is the origin of both the universe and the minds that inhabit it. Such a Mind can be identified with the Necessary Being, and thus we arrive at God.
Positing the existence of such a Mind restores meaning and coherence to our existence. Indeed such a thesis has great explanatory power in the problems of philosophy.
- Humans, having a subjective existence, are nonetheless mentally connected to objectivity because their Minds are ultimately designed and created by the Objective Mind, which wills that they should have this faculty.
- Humans are moral realists because morality is real – it comes from the Objective Mind, which has designed human and spiritual conduct to aspire to the blueprint standard of the created order.
- Humans can trust perception and know that they should because perception, being a connection of mind and world, is designed to be a source of knowledge. Truth, being a component of this process, is involved because the Great Mind wills that there should be proper correspondence between mind and world.
- The universe has an origin that proceeds in a coherent manner because the mechanisms of physicality were preplanned by a Mind that is separate from and not dependent upon physicality, but whose power is transcendent – the Great Manifold.
- Humans are the apex of the Second Cosmos. Their existence can only be rationalised through recourse to the doctrine of Love, which is, by definition, a personal doctrine. Love is, therefore, an underlying principle of human meaning.
These observations bring this series to an end. Further study on why Christianity is the best religious framework for parsing these questions is beyond the scope of this series. Many resources exist for those who wish to explore those questions.