H5267: PART A: EXPLORATION TOWARDS THE DIVINE MYSTERY
(I)Ways of going towards the Divine
Introductory Remarks: Ways of or for going, rather
Not to take them as if they were meant to or
even capable of bringing about conviction in someone not already well on
the way to belief. They took on this function only in post-enlightenment
defensive apologetics. In their original context of composition they were
To take them rather as philosophical elaborations
of pre-philosophical ways of encountering the divine, giving disciplined,
intelligent, 'sophisticated' expression to pre-reflective experiences -
of the cosmos or of human existence - in which the divine is encountered,
so many tracks or ways from the cosmos or human existence towards the divine,
side by side with 'religious experience' properly so called and apparently
leading the same direction, which is why we call 'God' at the end.
At least two ways for any particular proof to fail:
1) some people don't have the relevant experiences:
not seeing the question which the experience sets, they don't appreciate
2) the particular proof in question is not a good
philosophical elaboration of the relevant experiences. It is conceivable
that a philosopher could write learned articles in defense of various formulations
of a particular Proof, and still remain for all intents and purposes an
Some further reasons why the proofs don't operate
like proofs in logic or maths:
- the question of God is a life question, not just
an intellectual puzzle; it is not just a cognitive question, though it
does have a cognitive dimension.
- the question of God, in its cognitive dimension,
is like a question in metaphysics rather than in science: God is much too
basic an issue to allow for proof in the ordinary sense, either of existence
or non-existence. We are dealing with a determining element within a sort
of super-paradigm (Barbour), or overall vision. The name of the game in
either direction is conversion rather than proof, though there are criteria
so it is not entirely irrational: reasonable rather than rationally required.
We now move on to look in detail at the more common
families of Ways or Approaches to the Divine, and some of their more famous
Some possible criteria for the overall vision of
which the 'existence of the Divine' is a part: (a)consistency, coherence,
simplicity (b)applicability, adequacy to the totality of my/our experience
(c)viability: allows successful insertion into the real, contributes to
the thriving of a particular organism in its total environment (d)personal
criteria: does it feel right? can I take it? Compare the person building
a tower in the gospels. Various different proofs/ elaborations of the different
ways, will feed into this.
In this context we can take different proofs or
ways as a set of converging probabilities (Newman). Or we can think of
proofs and difficulties such as problem of evil and the misuse of religion
as cost-benefit analyses, contributing to reasonable but not coerced decision
as to way of experiencing and taking Nature and people and life as a whole
and the transcendent dimension of things and ways of acting accordingly
Our exposition will typically have three parts,
the first two of which are determined by the reflections above:
The object of the first part will be to get the general
idea of the particular Way or Path or Approach, and what distinguishes
it from other Ways.
The object of the second part of the exposition will
be to give a history of this particular Way and its fate in the history
of philosophy and general culture, and to look finally at some of the contemporary
philosophical exponents of this particular Way.
We will then consider the question, who or what are
we directed towards in the particular Way, how does the Divine typically
present itself as we come up this Path?
(I)Ways of going towards the Divine (cont.)
(a)THE COSMOLOGICAL WAY
-- going from the cosmos or world to God; usually
distinguished from the Design approach which also does this, but they are
easily combinable and each helps to make up the deficit in the other. From
‘cosmos’ and ‘logos’: literally, discourse on the Cosmos as a way to God,
or in the course of giving an account of the Cosmos we find ourselves opened
out onto the Divine Mystery.
(A) Intuitive presentation:
The cosmological approach has its roots not
in the experience of order but in the experience, positively of the being
of the world and of ourselves, the power of being, the stubborn reality
of things; and negatively in the experience nevertheless of the contingency
of the world of our experience and of ourselves as part of it, the creature-liness
of things and of ourselves, the accidentality, facticity, the does not
have to be character of what nevertheless is.
This double experience typically sets up two questions:
1)the utter contingency of the fact that it is: why is there anything rather
than nothing? the wonder at the appearing being that stands before our
eyes and in us; 2)the utter contingency of the way that it is: why is it
the way it is and not otherwise? why this particular kind of world rather
than some other. If meditating on these questions leads us to talk in terms
of some being, person or thing or force, or something else, perhaps extremely
strange, which unlike the things of our experience would not lead to such
experience and such questions, and which provides the key as to why a world
and why this kind of world, then we have a 'cosmological argument'. ?
There are probably three kinds of escape, the third
way however being a correction rather than a rejection:
(i) it is possible that a person has never had such
experiences: the questions which the experiences set are not for him/her
real questions, s/he does not see the point of the whole approach;
(ii) it is conceivable that a person has had such
experiences, does see the point of the questions and even feels them as
real questions, but for some reason denies that questions of this sort
necessarily have answers;
(iii) the Heideggerian critique: Western metaphysicians
go too quickly in finding the explanation of the Being of the beings or
things in terms of another being or thing -- what He. calls the 'onto-theological
structure of Western Metaphysics'. God is not a being, a person or thing,
not even the supreme being: God is Other- than-being, perhaps something
like Heidegger's Being which is not a being but gives the beings, or perhaps
a prime determinant of the character of the giving of Being.
Classic expression in first three of the Five Ways
of St Thomas:
the Argument from Motion, going back ultimately to
Plato but in St Thomas more like Aristotle's version; also Arabs and Jews;
The Argument from Efficient Causality, Aristotelian
in terminology to be found already in Alfarabi;
The Argument from Contingency, similarly.
So they are not original with Aquinas by any means,
though he does give them a style and taste typical of his particular thinking.
For more on these arguments, see History of Philosophy I notes from last
One difficulty of having three or five ways is how
to maintain the unity of the Divine. Contemporary ways of putting the argument
manage to avoid this. But this problem is solved, in large degree, already
in Duns Scotus whose version of the proofs is probably the most sophisticated
in the Middle Ages.
(II) 20th Century
(a)Van Steenberghen, Hidden God, Ch IX. two
steps: 1/there is an absolute; 2/the Absolute cannot be finite: an absolute
finite being is a contradiction in terms; Therefore it is infinite.
(b)Van der Veken: 1/the Totality/Universe/Being/The
Real has certain abstract characteristics -cf. Parmenides already; 2/there
has to be an explanation within the Totality why the Totality has these
characteristics; 3/no finite being, person or thing, nor complex of such
beings can provide this explanation.
(c)Hartshorne: see Creative Synthesis and Philosophic
Method, stated p. 281, argued pp. 283-284.
(d) Swinburne: see seminar reading. Also John
Hick and Ninian Smart for other presentations.
(C)Who or What we are opened towards in the Cosmological
(1) the Divine as immanent in reality, sustaining
(2) the Divine as transcendent to, other than
and different to, reality --everything else as creature.
(3) the Divine as not a finite being, not a person
or a thing in the usual sense of these words, not a being among the beings,
not the kind of thing which itself would provoke the self-same questions.
So therefore extremely strange.
1/ an 'Infinite Being'; or
(3) according to St Thomas as usually interpreted,
and most of the tradition, the Divine as completely unchangeable, absolutely
immutable and impassive. But not everyone accepts this, e.g. process thinkers:
it depends on whether all change and all sensitivity and capacity to be
affected is a sign of creatureliness.
2/ not a being at all but something entirely different:
Neo- Platonists --the ONE, beyond Being, beyond thought; Thomas: Being
itself subsisting; Heidegger: Being --what gives the issing is not one
of the things which is.
With respect to particular proofs on this question...
The Cosmological Way takes us probably the deepest
of all into the Divine Mystery, but still does not give us anything like
what a religious person would want - a kind of Depth at the back of things,
a Ground beyond all grounds, an extraordinary Mystery, the further elaboration
of which, if any, is the function of speculative metaphysics.
The other Ways complement the Cosmological Way
somewhat in this respect, but only religious experience properly so called
taken up into various traditions of experience and interpretation truly
gives us a Divine Mystery that a Christian or a Muslim or Jew would recognize.
The Ways on the other hand convey a kind of credibility
to religious experience which it wouldn’t otherwise have: God breaks through
not just in the experiences of Prophets and Mystics but in everyday experiences
and the experiences of scientists in the performance of their tasks. We
go now to a second family of Ways or Approaches, also starting out in the
Natural World out there, the Way of Design or the Teleological Approach.
Move now to Order and
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