Given that the next episodes are about phenomenology and not about religion any more, I wanted to give a few parting thoughts to the topic of religion for the moment and refer new listeners to some old episodes they may not have been aware of. I've created a Podcast Topics page that includes a Philosophy of Religion section that I'll keep updating as we do more episodes. These particular comments are just meant to get my own thinking in order; I don't pretend to speak to the other guys on the 'cast.
1. Kant is right: we can't know with certainty what the world is "really" like, so ruling out a metaphysical creator is simply not something that science or reason can do. (See our agnostic streak on Episode 43 about arguments for the existence of God.)
2. At the same time, I just don't see invoking a divine creator as at all explanatorily helpful. Contra Swinburne (also from Ep. 43), I don't find the concept of God simple (see Dawkins's argument in Episode 44), i.e. a component of the simplest explanation for anything.
3. Though I can't vouch for Hume's entire epistemology, I do buy in outline his argument against miracles: see our description of his epistemology in Episode 17: whether there are miracles or not, we're not epistemically justified in believing in them. Were God to come up and turn into a burning bush in front of me personally, that would change matters.
4. Though Swinburne has lessened my conviction that the concept of a God is just plain nonsensical (e.g. via problems with the notion of omnipotence), I definitely still find the concept of a personal God incoherent. Per Spinoza (in Episode 24), if God is everything (and this is how I interpret His infinite, omnipresent nature; He wouldn't be simple in the way Swinburne thinks if He weren't), then creation is part of God, not a separate thing. God is One and inseparable, whereas consciousness, which is involved in any kind of personal relationship, requires separation, which the universe qua God just doesn't have.
So, maybe God exists as the foundation of existence (though I don't pretend to understand what "foundation" in this sense could really mean), but if there's a divine person who talks to people, that same entity can't be it. (Hegel has an interesting, though crazy-seeming alternate view of God as a constantly evolving and internally divided Being; see Episode 15.)
5. Could there be some other mechanism (maybe a non-omnipresent God or gods, or whatever) that provides comfort and hope in the world in the way that religion purports to? Per William James (in Episode 22, there are plenty of religious conceptions not directly contravened by science, and whether or not we feel the need to embrace them depends on a lot of personal factors. James saw religion as life-affirming as a practical matter. Given our current climate and where I'm at in my life, I have practical reasons for avoiding the whole thing. If I'm talking to my dead loved ones, who's to say for sure that I'm not connecting with them?
6. I do feel like there's something important about our lives that can't be expressed, and I'm in awe of the infinite: If there is a God, He's too big for me to think anything about, predicate anything sensible of, etc. Chuang Tzu (in Episode 12) calls this incommunicable the Tao, and even though we can't say anything about it, we can allow it a practical role in our lives.
7. Can this sense be channelled back into support for our traditional Western religions? Schleiermacher (Episode 39) says yes: the historical religions represent, at their core, people who have this sense of the divine trying to share their findings, and though we can't take their factual claims about creation, history, and metaphysics literally, they're not meaningless either. However, the notion of one Scripture produced at a particular point in time that is the exclusive source of truth, to the exclusion of things revealed to people today or people in different parts of the world, strikes me as extremely implausible.
8. Nor, then, do we need such a book or religious authority to tell us what to do (Episode 46). If religion has something to teach us about ethics, it's because wise people in multiple traditions think a lot about these things and hit on the same truths that we all get around to figuring out if we engage in enough ethical reflection (see Episode 45 on moral sentiments).
We hope these discussions provide as good an introduction to this topic as a bunch of agnostics of varying degrees can hope to provide. I'm grateful for the tolerance of both you folks who are frustrated by our lack of capacity to take full-blown faith in traditional religion seriously and to those of you that find discussions of religions simply tedious and want us to get back to discussing "real" philosophy. However I may bluster and dismiss, I appreciate the convictions of anyone who actually thinks about these topics, whatever conclusions they may draw, and am grateful for your willingness to engage us, even if I do not always personally have the time or energy to take up some particular thread with you.
I came across your podcast due to your discussions on philosophy and religion and thoroughly enjoyed them. I hope you return to the topic in the future (which you certainly could in a discussion of Derrida). Two possible additional voices are that of John Caputo (which you mentioned a few weeks ago in a PEL post and would have much to add to a discussion on Derrida) and John Milbank of Nottingham University, one of the founder’s of radical orthodoxy. I think both would make for interesting discussions.
You invoked Kant, and if his three questions (What can I know? What ought I do? For what may I hope?) are central to discussions of philosophy, then religion and faith certainly must have their say. Cheers.
Mark Linsenmayer says
Thanks, Nathan. Yes, after we’ve actually gotten to post-modernism, another phil. of religion in that area would be appropriate. Shorter term, we do have Martin Buber in the queue (Jewish existentialism).
Tony G says
I appreciate all of the different perspectives about religion. I have learned so much. I have gained from it. Believe it or not ( no pun intended 8^D) it has helped me view my Christianity in a more rounded way. I am also interested in the next episodes on Sartre, Phenomenology, and Existentialism. Thanks for all that you highly educated philosophical scholars do for us philosophically curious christian laymen…No offense when I say…God Bless You Guys 8^D
I just don’t buy number one. I really don’t think that we have to have certainty to rule out something via either science or reason. If there’s no real good reason to believe in something (and there isn’t), then it seems that you justified in not believing in it. I think science and reason give us good reasons not to believe in god. It really does seem like Kant is just making room for metaphysical baggage like god.
Jay Jeffers says
I would be interested in hearing your reasons about science and reason giving us reason to not believe in god. I can’t see my way clear either way. I mean, maybe there’s a god, maybe there’s not. I wonder what (ultimately) caused the universe, and yet I can’t tell. Perhaps there was never a good reason to believe in god, but if so, then the enlightenment tradition of reason and science haven’t given us knock-down arguments that make the question silly.
Of course, if you’re talking about an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent god (a single creator of this universe that possesses the “3 O’s”), or one that created the universe in 7 days, then OK fine… but that’s too easy. I grant that god should be a personal one, (rather than Tillich’s “ground of all being”) and one powerful enough to create the universe. But it doesn’t have to be omnipotent (Mormons don’t think so) and it doesn’t have to be one that overtly contradicts evolutionary theory.
Number 1, which you objected to, doesn’t get you to god’s existence, it just stops short of ruling it out. You object to it on grounds that science and reasons give us good reasons not to believe in god. Well I wonder what those reasons are, because I suppose as an agnostic I don’t believe in god, but you seem to be going beyond that by saying we’re justified in ruling it out. And this is because of, science and reason?
I guess maybe I could see reason (interpreted broadly) doing the trick, but science?
Whenever I think and talk about God, I usually mean a god that actually cares about us and what we do. This is the kind of god that most people who believe in god seem to believe in. I think that the theory of evolution by natural selection in combination with the evidential problem of evil give us good enough reasons to determine that there is not a god that cares about us. At the very least, it makes is just as reasonable to believe that there is a god that hates us as it is to believe that there is a god that loves us. Most people would dismiss the former as not reasonable though. So I’m an atheist about the god that most people believe in (at least in the United States where I live). I’m more agnostic about a deistic conception of god, but I dismiss it for the same reason that I dismiss unicorns and goblins which is that we don’t have any good evidence and it’s an extraneous explanation. Some people might think of this as philosophically unsophisticated and that might be far, but I haven’t really heard a good reason why this comparison isn’t apt.
Ethan Gach says
On number 6, I agree with Mark, and have similar feelings.
But what I find interesting is why most religions seem to want to turn this into justification for various epistemic claims.
I’m fascinated by the mystical, uninteligible, seemingly uncontemplatable. I believe in the importance of traditions, rituals, and all manner of communal and individual acts of meaning.
And yet no where do I see epistemic truths arising from the beauty of the bible (or other holy texts/teachings) nor the feelings in us it inspires (outside of the fact that those feelings exist).
Mark, as far as #3 goes, with all due respect to you and Mr. Hume, I don’t see how you can not believe in miracles given the fact that Tim Tebow just won his 4th straight game for the Broncos. What more evidence do you need?
Seth Paskin says
Mark Linsenmayer says
I don’t believe in sports.
Daniel Horne says
I’d like to insert a 9th parting thought, if only as an excuse to reference the Kierkegaard episode:
9. Aside from whether religion can explain our existence or inform our morals, Kierkegaard (Episode 29) argued that religious belief has psychological benefits, regardless of whether God’s existence can be objectively proved. One’s psyche requires some external entity against which it can ground itself, due to the relentless internal conflicts created when reflecting on the imbalance between one’s sense of free will and one’s physical/temporal limitations (if nothing else, awareness of one’s own future death). A proper and balanced objective sense of self can develop only with reference to other people; see Hegel on Self-Consciousness (Episode 35). But the seemingly infinite possibilities created by one’s perception of free will are frustrated by awareness of one’s own physical limitations. Internal self-reflection on this conflict results can result in emotional disharmony, what Kierkegaard would call “despair”. Of course, most of us choose not to think or worry about these things, but Kierkegaard thought this was living in denial. The only true cure would be to focus your subjective existence toward something infinitely greater (i.e., God), which will externally ground your inner sense of self. This requires an unquestioning belief in God (i.e., faith), but not an understanding or comprehension or proof of God’s existence, which would anyway be impossible. Because unquestioning belief in God provides emotional solace by grounding and balancing the self, Kierkegaard felt faith was worth pursuing for its own sake.