Monday, January 14, 2008

Symbolism and the Ontological Argument, Part I

The ontological proof for the existence of God takes many forms. For some philosophers it is strong, for others it is almost laughably weak. “Because the idea exists, the reality must exist” certainly does not seem tenable; it can be reduced to the form, “God exists because I wish Him to exist.” If we imagine the moon is made of green cheese or that pigs have wings, does that make it so? Just because I can imagine something does not make it real.

Of course, there is something more persuasive about the argument. For instance, if we hold that the search for God and meaning is inherent or instinctual, then the implication that this search must end somewhere seems more tenable. We feel hunger, for instance, and this implies food. We feel sexual desire and this implies some kind of necessary purpose, namely procreation. So since many of us need to find meaning in life, the implication is that there is a meaning. Many atheists insist that they feel absolutely no need for God, but it is harder for anyone to say that they can live without giving life some kind of meaning.

The existentialists argue that there is no inherent meaning to anyone’s existence and that we are therefore obliged to impose one. I hold that this is a circular argument that has no particular conclusion. My ability to impose meaning may indeed be a facility that is a part of the entire construct of meaning and the search for it.

There are some who say that there is no order in the universe; that it is fundamentally chaotic. Man imposes order and meaning in order to survive and to further his agenda. Indeed the appearance of meaning is a result of this imposition and is artificial. This is traceable to developments from Newtonian to Quantum physics, etc.

Newton’s ideas were based, as many scientists’ were, way back when, on a faith in the ultimate rationality of the universe, due to its being the product of God’s divine reason. Now that the need for a God has been jettisoned in humankind's explanations of the world, it seems that in some circles it has become fashionable to question the ultimate coherence of natural laws. But, again, even if it were possible to argue for the fundamental ultimate incoherence of nature, which I think is purely fatuous, we still have to answer whence comes the human brain’s capacity to impose order.

In fact, even those who do not believe in God still seem to accept instinctively that the universe operates according to laws that can be divined by the use of reason. That the universe operates consistently is axiomatic. The apple that fell from the tree and hit Newton on the head did not fly in the opposite direction on the full moon. But even if it had, there would have been a reason for that too, and that reason (had he found it) would not have existed purely in Newton’s brain.

Science is based on the faith that a reasonable explanation can be found for even the most unusual exceptions. So if Newtonian physics cannot explain phenomena on certain levels of experience, then another paradigm must be sought. Even chaos theory is an attempt to explain apparent randomness.

The idea that universal laws somehow point to the existence of a divine intelligence is, again, one of the traditionally more persuasive arguments put forth by Catholic theologians for the existence of God, even though philosophers have here too found rational holes.

All the rationalists’ objections to Aquinas’ and other Catholic theologians’ “proofs” for the existence of God come down to the objection, “Why should this series of facts necessarily point to a God?” If all causes have a cause, why should there be a Prime Cause called God? Why not just accept that there may be an infinite causal series with no beginning at all?

As a believer I am predisposed to accept all the arguments for the existence of God, from the cosmological to the teleological and including the ontological. But there are religions like Buddhism and Vedanta that say the universe and the conditioned state of the jivas is anādi, beginningless.

The concept of the relation between Creator and Creation in Vedanta is not exactly the same as in the Semitic religions. In a way, it attempts to strike a middle ground between the timelessness of God and the cosmos while attributing the organizing principle of the cosmos to its existence in God rather than to a specifically conscious creative act within time.

In the next section, I will turn to symbols and the idea that God communicates himself to us through them, since he cannot be grasped in any other way, and the limitation of literalist understandings of God.

No comments: