The “Religious” Dimension of Atheism (2/2)

Leaving aside any theological judgements on the assertions of Bonhöffer -one could for example object that the rediscovery of the human face of God does not necessarily imply a denial of metaphysics, or also that faith in the God of Revelation does not exclude the correctness of a philosophical access to the existence of an Absolute as grasped by reason- there is no doubt that his thought represents a valuable contribution to better understanding how contemporary atheism is not only a metaphysical product, but is closely linked to the new historical and religious situation defined by Bonhöffer as “secularization.” If secularization, combined with the growth of human autonomy in the world, has also produced atheism as an obscuring of the God of transcendence, it is also true that the same atheism can constitute for the Christian a fresh possibility for rediscovering the true face of God.

Some of Bonhöffer’s theories have been taken up by the “theologians of secularisation,” in particular by Harvey Cox (The Secular City, 1966), also Fr. Gogarten, J.B. Metz, G. Vahanian, P.M. van Buren, for whom it was the Christian vision of the relationship between God and world that abolished the sacral-pagan vision, introducing the “desacralization” in which contemporary men and women live, and in which the adult faith of a Christian can operate refusing the traditional “mythicization” of the world. An extreme form of this theology of secularisation is represented by the so-called “theologians of the death of God,” in particular William Hamilton and Thomas Altizer, author of The Gospel of Christian Atheism (1966), in which he claims that the essence of the Gospel consists in the renouncing of every human discourse on God, to every mythical-religious vision, so as to make room for an “adult” faith that would make atheism the very premise, interpreting the figure of Jesus as “the man-for-the-others,” without further theological specifications relating to his nature and divinity.

Also for the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber (1878-1965), author of Eclipse of God. Studies in the Relation between Religion and Philosophy (1953), atheism has a purifying function in comparison to the false images of God created by us. The human being is an “I” that can experience God only if he or she meets him as a “You,” a divine You. God is not an It (Ger. Es), but a He (Ger. Er), indeed, Buber specifies, a You (Ger. Du): “if God is not a living person, then he is an idol,” because “we can encounter God only in a I-You relationship.” The “eclipse of God” is Buber’s answer to Nietzsche’s claim that “Gos is dead.” The eclipse of the “God of concept,” of the God-It, does not mean for Buber the death of God, but only that the God-It of science and philosophy is eclipsed in the modern conscience, and that the road is being prepared to rediscover the God-You. God-You, the God of prayer, will continue to live untouched behind the wall of obscurity that atheism has raised, because although human beings eliminate the name of God from philosophy and science, that name will however live in the light of its eternity. The Nietzschean announcement of the death of God, in truth, says that man has become incapable of apprehending a reality absolutely independent of himself and of having a relation with it, and is also incapable of depicting or representing this truth in living images that cannot replace the contemplation one longs to have of it. In contrast to Heidegger, Sartre and Jung, Buber maintains that between the human being and God stands now our omnipotent Ego, surrounded by the God-It built around: God would then stop being a You for us, someone with whom one could establish a true dialogue and enjoy a genuine reciprocity.

Similar to what we previously observe when speaking of Bonhöffer, the re-evaluation of the purifying role of atheism in comparison to the false gods and the rediscovery of an existential dimension in the relationship between the human person and God, a relationship that cannot be surrogated by the simple conceptualization of a philosophical Absolute, as brought to light, with different slants, by the previous authors, does not imply the refusal of metaphysics or the denial of any access to God through the analogy of Being. The metaphysical perspective, whose global appraisal in today’s world still appears to be greatly conditioned by the work of Heidegger, does not lead to a conceptualization of God. The notion of God brought about by metaphysics is not closed on itself, but offers meaningful connections with anthropology and phenomenology, including existentialist phenomenology. Such a notion of God remains open to the inexpressibility and the mystery of Being, taken not only as a foundation, but also as source of morality, meaning and freedom. From a more theological perspective, a correct understanding of the image of God transmitted by Biblical Revelation implies –as shown by P. Ricoeur– the notion of the God of common sense and philosophical thought, including some reflections on God even coming from scientific thought (cf. Jervolino, 1995). The problem of atheism and its debate with the believing thought, seems therefore destined to keep open both fronts of discussion and study, that is the metaphysical-scientific and the existential-personalist.

Source: Gaspare Mura (Interdisciplinary Encyclopedia of Religion and Science)


The “Religious” Dimension of Atheism (1/2)

Other interpretations of atheism exist, that consider it not only as a metaphysical or scientific phenomenon, but also as a historical phenomenon of reaction against an inadequate ethical and religious vision of the relationship between human beings and God. Among these, offered by authors such as: H-U. von Balthasar, K. Rahner, E. Borne, C. Bruaire, G. Fessard, H. de Lubac, G. Marcel, G. Morel, E. Mounier, J. Lacroix, P. Ricoeur and others, is one which says that atheism can have a positive function of intellectual purification from the false idols of modernity and from all the absolutes created by us, responsible for having hindered the vision of the true God, revealed in Christ. In short, it is suggested that atheism is not only (justly) criticized from the metaphysical or rational perspective, but is also valued by a renewed Christian philosophy that is more attentive to the Bible.

Romano Guardini (1885-1968) speaks of a “purifying atheism” with regard to the philosophical idols represented by all those deistic or theistic conceptions, which take the cue from the conception of God as a Being and transcendent Principle of the cosmos, instead of beginning by considering Him as highest and greatest personal subject. Atheism would then have the providential function of purifying the “outdated viewpoint” of ontology, to open our eyes to the vision of the living and personal God. The God-Person is the God that looks not at the being, but at the existence; He is the God-for-us, the God-for-humankind, the God who speaks and gives a meaning to real human life. Atheism, of course, does not lead us to explicitly recognizing the existence of God, an existence in which metaphysics was positively concerned, but rather would prepare more suitable existential conditions to the act of faith in his Word. Faith, according to Guardini, cannot be born as the result of a conceptual elaboration. We can open to faith only existentially, in the horizon of a conception of God as Value and as a Person. Only when faith is welcomed as a gift, we have the proof that the true face of God is the “God-for-us.” “Atheism can act in a positive sense also as historical factor, which awakens a dull and ‘sleepy’ religiosity, which leaves aside a false auto-intelligibility and intensifies the attention towards issues. By making everyone responsible that every genuinely religious existence is based on decision and constitutes an audacity, this type of atheism can bring vital matters to a superior level” (R. Guardini, Fenomenologia e teoria della religione , in “Scritti filosofici”, vol. II, Milano 1964, p. 280).

Along the same lines the theologian Dietrich Bonhöffer (1906-1945) pushes this vision even further and in a more radical way (1906-1945). A witness to his faith to the point of martyrdom under Nazism, Bonhöffer, like Barth maintains that the provocation of atheism allows the overcoming not only of the concept of God as a “being” but also the religious concept of God as “transcendence,” both linked to a purely rational and mundane consideration of God. According to them, this should open the way to the God-for-us of Biblical Revelation, a thesis that recalls what was stated by Emmanuel Lévinas (1905-1995) regarding the absolute transcendence and “otherness” of God, who can appear to us in the “face” of others. Radicalizing the positions of Karl Barth’s “dialectic theology,” who confirmed the absolute distance between the human being and God (the Totally Other, Ger. ganz Anders ) and the supremacy of the historical Revelation of God in Christ against every philosophical speculation on God, Bonhöffer also adopts the position of existential thought, in particular that of Kierkegaard. According to the Danish philosopher, God is not an object but a Person, not an Es but an Er , and the believer must be familiar not to the calmness of thought but to the risk of faith (Ger. Glaubenswagnis ), he is not asked for concepts on God, but for a very decision of life (Ger. Entscheidung ). It is in this precise theological context that Bonhöffer is not afraid to claim that, thanks to contemporary atheism, we are in reality faced with the death of the “religious God-object,” the “stop-gap God” (Ger. Lückenbüsser ) invented by us to respond to our own insecurities. The human being, having reached adulthood in the era of secularisation, no longer knows what to do with such an idea of deity: God as a hypothesis, as a stop-gap, has become superfluous for our existential problems.

It is no longer possible to announce to our contemporaries a God merely understood as a remedy for human deficiencies, the God of Power and the Supreme legislator of the cosmos. We must rather announce a God that is powerless and weak in the world: only a God like this can remain with us and help us. This, for Bonhöffer, cannot be the God of philosophers, but the God of Biblical Revelation. The death of the stop-gap God, capable of covering our personal deficiencies and gaps, opens up a vision of a God who abandons us not because he is absent, but because he appears present in our own lives, in the good that we do and in the positive efforts of our work. Feuerbach’s thesis, according to which God is the alienating projection of the essence of the human conscience, is here turned on its head: God is with us in our lives and our story when we fulfil our nature and our full vocation as men and women. “And we cannot be honest without recognizing that we must live in the world etsi Deus non daretur. It is just this that we recognize in the presence of God. God himself compels us to this recognition. The achievement of the ‘coming of age’ brings us to a true recognition of our situation in God’s presence. God makes it known to us that we must live as men and women that can get by without God. The God who is with us is the God who abandons us (Mk 15:34). The God who makes us live in the world without the work hypothesis of God, is the God in whose presence we are at all times. With God, and in the presence of God, we live without God. God is powerless and weak in the world and only in this way does he stay with us and help us (Mt 8:17). It is very clear: Christ does not help us by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness of his suffering” (Widerstand und Ergebung , C. Kaiser, Gütersloh 1998, pp. 533-534). The transcendence of God is discovered therefore not as metaphysical transcendence, but rather as an “agapical transcendence,” as God for us, who makes us, in turn, a sort of transcendence for the others.

Source: Gaspare Mura (Interdisciplinary Encyclopedia of Religion and Science)

Montefiore argument for God existance

Montefiore lists eleven features of the physical universe whose values had to be ‘just right’ if life and ourselves were to be possible. The details are not germane to our present discussion but the bare the list serves to focus our awareness of how formidable is the array of evidence. It is as follows:

1. The distribution of gases in the early universe.
2. The expansion in all directions of the primeval gases had to be uniform to within.
3. The heat of the universe.
4. The weight mass of neutrinos.
5. The mass of the universe.
6. The neutron mass.
7. The relative weight of neutrons, protons, and electrons.
8. The balance between the forces of gravity and electromagnetism.
9. The magnitude of the strong nuclear force
10.The magnitude of the weak nuclear interaction.
11. Conditions for the production of carbon dioxide.

Without the coincidence of all these features there would have been no universe and no life in it. Does the convergence of all these very remarkable properties make the case for God overwhelmingly probable? Accordingly we need to consider the chance of what has occurred on each of the possible hypotheses on offer. In the simplest formulation there are just two: God exists or he does not. If an all-powerful God exists who intended to create a world such as this he would have been able to ‘fix’ all these properties ‘as a package’. We can then reasonably conclude that the probability that he would be successful would be virtually one. Next we have to consider what that probability would be if there is no God. This is much more difficult. If there was no directing hand it seems incredible that even one of these coincidences would have occurred. The chance that eleven would have all occurred simultaneously is then beyond belief. Even if some are linked so that they are not completely independent the position is not significantly altered——the probability of things being what they are is negligible. If we were to stop here and were to compare the likelihoods the chance of the universe as we know it is immeasurably more plausible on the theistic hypothesis than on the random—happening scenario. We know that if we turn this likelihood ratio into a posterior probability ratio we have to introduce the prior probabilities. But here note that the prior presumption of atheism would have to be extremely strong to counterbalance the overwhelming evidence the other Way provided by the likelihoods.

Rationality And Faith in God

To explain man’s situation in the world, Plato came up with an allegory, the so-called allegory of the cave. In its simplest terms, it looks like this: human beings are sitting in a windowless cave. They sit in chains, facing a wall. A play of shadows is projected onto the wall; it is a cave-theater. Behind the backs of those who are chained
is an artificial light source, in front of which figures are moved back and forth, and their shadows are cast on the wall. The people have never known any other situation but this one. They are unable to see one another, or even themselves, but only the play of shadows.

For them, therefore, this play represents the only reality there is. They argue over this reality, they speculate about what will happen next in the drama, they come up with theories and make prognoses. Of course, there is a rumor floating around that there is such a thing as a true world outside of the cave, and that it is possible to get free
and make it out there. But it is also known that there were some who had in fact gone outside and whose eyes were blinded by the light of the sun, so that they would not have been able to see anything at all if they did not have the patience to let their eyes grow accustomed to it. Thus the cave dwellers resist hand and foot if someone from the outside comes back to set them free. By means of this allegory, Plato intends to present the world of ideas as the true reality and the material world as a mere image of
reality. But we are able to modify the allegory a bit without distancing ourselves very much from Plato’s intention. The sun, for Plato, is the image of the substantial Good, the highest Good, which motivates all the striving in the world as the final end, and which the Church Fathers later equated with God. And this is not far from correct, since Plato says that the Good itself is the ground not only of the reality of things, but also of their knowability and truth. In my modification of the allegory, we ourselves are not only spectators in the cave-theater, but also co-actors in the film. Our reality owes itself in every moment to the light of a creative projector and its band of film. I call it creative because it projects things and beings that are actually alive and even free within a certain framework to move themselves in this or that way. If the light were to go out, then the film and all of its figures would disappear into the darkness.

They would not die, for indeed dying is still an event in the film and has causes that for their part belong to the film: disease, accident, murder, etc. The cutting short of the film is not a part of the film. But within the film, there is also a past that we extrapolate. We know that a child, whom we see, not only has parents, whom we also see, but also grandparents and great-grandparents, like any other child. And on the basis of observations made within the film, we are also able to develop extensive physicalistic theories about the world’s past and its causal laws. The projector with the film band, which is in fact the cause of the whole thing, does not of course appear in the film. The Big Bang, for example, and perhaps even that which preceded the Big Bang, is still part of the film. But the projector never appears in the chain of causes, not even at the beginning. It is rather the ground and cause of the entire chain and of every single one of its links. The word “cause” does not have the same meaning, but is used analogously, when we refer it to prior conditions within the world and when we refer it to God. What I am describing here is an image of what the word “creation” means. It does not mean an initiating event within the earthly reality, an event that we might stumble upon perhaps at some point in our investigations. Instead, it means that the entire process of the world and each of the tiniest events that take place within it have their true ground in a creative will that lies outside of this process.

Source: Robert Spaemann (2005) “Rationality and Faith in God” Communio 32(4)

An empirical evaluation of materialism

What about the pursuit of things? Treating yourself to coveted material goods is guaranteed to make you happy, right?

In three separate studies, Marsha Richins of the University of Missouri scored consumers as rating either “high” or low” for materialism, and then evaluated their emotional state before and after making an “important purchase.”

In each study, the reigning materialists anticipated future purchases with strong, positive emotions, much more so than other consumers. Joy, excitement, optimism, and even peacefulness coursed through them regardless of whether they were thinking about buying a house or a toaster, next week or next year.

The materialists were also more likely “to believe that an upcoming purchase would transform their lives in important and meaningful ways.” They had faith in their upcoming acquisition’s power to improve their relationships, boost their self-esteem, enable them to experience more pleasure, and, of course, be more efficient. The intensity with which they felt the positive emotions was directly related to just how transformative they expected those transformations to be.

But after the purchase was made, and the materialists inevitably adapted to life in possession of said coveted item, what followed was a “hedonic decline,” in which their happy feelings dissipated.

Although “materialists’ perceptions that acquisition brings them happiness appear to have some basis in reality,” that happiness is short-lived, Richins concluded. As such, “The state of anticipating and desiring a product may be inherently more pleasurable than product ownership itself.”



A Snapshot of Attitudes Toward Quantum Mechanics & Philosophical Prejudice

How much is the choice of interpretation a matter of personal philosophical prejudice?

Debates about the foundations of quantum mechanics are sometimes perceived as an ideological battle where the objectivity of the scientific enterprise succumbs to philosophical and personal preferences. In our poll, a clear majority sees at least some influence of philosophical prejudices on the choice of interpretation of quantum mechanics. Whether we should be pleased with this realization and the situation in quantum foundations it reflects is difficult to say. In the absence of empirical differences between the interpretations, it is only natural to conclude that one’s decision which in- terpretation to adopt will be influenced by personal preferences and beliefs. Of course, some may hope that this situation will be merely temporary, and that we should strive to settle the question of interpretation in a definitive way.

Source:  Maximilian Schlosshauer, Johannes Kofler, and Anton Zeilinger, Jan 2013,

Can Philosophy of Mind Provide Reasons for Believing in God?

[I] Are Free Will and the Determinism of Science Incompatible?

In Minds, Brains and Science John Searle, a prominent American philosopher, argues that all mental phenomena are simply features of the brain because all mental phenomena are caused by processes going on in the brain. From this he concludes that humans have no free will. His argument can be

A. Any system that is simply a feature of physical and chemical laws is a deterministic system (“simply a feature” means only a feature).
B. The human mind is a system that is simply a feature of physical and chemical laws.
C. So the human mind is a deterministic system.
D. No deterministic system is a system that exhibits free will.
E. So no human mind exhibits free will.

Despite this argument Searle concedes that he cannot abandon the belief that he can do otherwise than he in fact does. Searle believes that this belief is genetically programmed into him. According to Searle having and acting on this false belief has some kind of survival advantage for the human species. The point of interest for this paper is that Searle believes that the truth of the free will thesis is inconsistent with the truth of a key
assumption undergirding the natural sciences. Searle’s view of this incompatibility isprevalent among contemporary analytic philosophers.
I will now argue that the argument A–E above is flawed because premise B is false. While it is true that any system that is simply a feature of physical-chemical laws is deterministic, it does not follow from this that every concrete realization of such a system is deterministic. To think that the determinism characteristic of the system in abstraction from the concrete applies to the concrete is an example of what Alfred North Whitehead
calls, “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.”3 In order to explain this fallacy it is helpful to consider the relation between concrete events and scientific theories. We cancharacterize the relation in terms of

1. A law, statable in principle in terms of the primitives of the system, which asserts that if the relevant traits of the object(s) are in one state at one time they will be in another state at another time, or that if some relevant traits are in one state other traits will be in another state. I shall refer to the relevant traits as “state variables.”

2. Statements of initial conditions noting what is the case in the actual phenomena with respect to the state-variables used in the antecedent of the law.

3. Closure assumptions which are suppositions that traits of concrete objects that are not referred to in the law do not ever or do not always affect the interactions of traits that are referred to in the law.
(Homogenous closure assumptions are suppositions that the interrelations of relevant traits in one concrete object or system of objects can be adequately described withoutreference to the same traits of other concrete objects. Heterogenous closure assumptions are suppositions that the traits selected in the abstraction process are functionally independent of those traits of the concrete situation not selected. For example, in a study
of the Galilean equations of free fall motion of objects in introductory physics classes, the instructor asks the students to neglect the factor of air resistance, for it is a trait that
belongs to the concrete object that is deemed not important when one is dropping lead weights off of skyscrapers).

Source: Michael J. Degnan Department of Philosophy