The God Of The Philosophers And The Via Negativa

Generally speaking, we distinguish the God of the philosophers from the particular Gods, say Hindu vs Christian, in that philosophers are interested in God or Gods insofar as they are knowable or can be demonstrated.  In this way God is usually understood in terms of abstract concept like omniscience and omnipresence rather that as having a particular descriptive trait or mood tendency.  Let’s consider the God of the Philosophers.

(1)  The Finite and Infinite Mind

When philosophers characterize God in the western tradition they generally distinguish between the Finite mind of a human with the Infinite mind of God.  Infinite doesn’t mean Indefinite, in the sense that God has a human like mind like we do but knows ridiculously more than we do.  Rather, human experience fails to reach Godlike experience, which is not only a difference of degree, but also a difference of kind.  So for example, an omnipresent God would have its attention on the six people currently eating at Burger King on Ontario street, and also be focused to the absence of people in the Donut shop on Facer street.  God thus experiences some people and no people at the same time and in the same way, which contradicts the way the human mind is able to focus its attention.  So, the infinite mind will be important when we consider the Via Negativa.

(2) The Philosophical Proofs For The Existence of God

There are a number of traditional philosophical proofs that are offered for the existence of the God of the philosophers.  Here are the main ones:

(a) The Ontological Argument.  This argument basically says God must exist because God is the most perfect being and if God lacked existence, he wouldn’t be the most perfect and so must therefore exist.  This argument is best understood in Latin where perfectio means complete, and so is saying a reality composed of relative, contingent beings are possible because they have as their foundation something absolute and complete in itself.  The argument is actually fairly evident, though Kant challenged it that existence has to do with “how” something is not “what” it is, and so it’s meaningless to say what something is could imply that something is, the distinction between existentia (how: the table is badly positioned) and essentia (what: the table is brown and hard)

(b) The Cosmological Argument

 One of the most popular traditional proofs for the existence of God is the cosmological argument.  For William Lane Craig it means whatever begins to be ultimately points to a cause that itself did not begin to be.   In other words, if we say The Big Bang caused the Universe, the question arises of how the materials and energies that made up The Big Bang got there in the first place?  To stop an infinite regress series of causes, we need to posit an original uncaused cause (The buck stops here!).  As the Kiosk author of an possibly upcoming article suggests, if you accept this argument , it doesn’t imply a specific kind of God, and so specificity must be argued on other grounds (Apologist Gary Habermas, for instance, tries to demonstrate the resurrection).  This uncaused cause need not even be “mind-like.”  But is the cosmological argument reasonable even in this weak way?  No, as the history of philosophy demonstrates, especially with Kant.  Why?

With the paradoxes of Parmenides and Zeno, we see the limitations of the human mind in re-presenting reality.  For instance, I had parents, and they had parents, and so far back in this causal series to a cause that did not itself have parents.  This is normal everyday thinking but as Kant said it is often misapplied.  So, one of the Greek critiques of motion  is the “fraction distance” paradox:  I can imagine two runners in a race, one faster, and one slower.  The slower runner is given a 5 second head start.  The faster runner then starts the race, and proceeds in a series of making up half the distance between him and the slower runner: 1/2 the distance; then another 1/2 the distance; then another 1/2 the distance; etc. The problem is that since we are measuring in fractions the faster runner can never catch the slower one, even though logic dictates we know in reality the faster one will pass and win.  This contradiction exists in the mind, not in reality.  Similarly, we can easily represent 1/3 with a pie graph, but run into trouble representing it numerically with decimals because it is 0.3333333 -> which isn’t a number we can conceptualize numerically because the decimal goes on indefinitely.  How does this relate to the cosmological argument?

Kant says we think in categories that are features of the mind, not reality (I think causally; I think in terms of substance, etc; etc).  As physicist Carlo Rovelly argues, categories like substance/properties are useful and important in the everyday world, but they don’t really apply at the level of the very small quantum level.  The cosmological argument is a claim about the ultimate ground of reality using categories that only reliably apply to everyday experience.  We cannot picture reality without an uncaused cause, but this is a truth about how the mind works, not necessarily reality.  It could very well be that the Universe is infinite, we just can’t picture it as such, as Kant says in the Antinomies. 

But, the sword cuts both ways.  It is impossible to picture an Omni -God who is outside of space and time because such a God is neither here nor there, as is neither now nor then.  How can God not be now?  If God created Space/Time, the core of what He is must be non-spatial and non-temporal, which is ungraspable by the human mind which deals with spatiotemporal matters, at least certainly always temporal ones.  To go from the point that science is still too young to be definitive about the origins of reality is hardly reason to insert a God in this gap, one of the oldest God of the Gaps fallacies.  And, scientists are looking into what might have been the state of affairs before the Big Bang.

The conceptual paradoxes of Parmenides and Zeno are rigorous, but to maintain the cosmological argument you would have to assume a 1 to 1 correspondence between reality and conceiving thought, which we know not to be the case and led Parmenides (The Same: Thinking as well as Being) and Zeno to numerous absurd conclusions that were still rigorously thought out and applied.  The fast runner passes the slower one, even if thinking in fractions denies such a reality.

(c)  The Arguments From Design And Beauty

  These two arguments are similar, and so argues that just as a beautiful painting implies an artist, so too do things like a beautiful sunset.  Analogously, just as the precise complexity of a watch could not randomly assemble through chance, so too do things like the fine tuning of the universe for life and the irreducible complexity of certain features of life imply a divine watchmaker.  These argument have been countered with ideas like what the universe actually seems fine tuned to do is create black holes, which makes no sense under the creationist model, and beautiful sunsets are a human peculiarity, beauty doesn’t “exist in itself,” and so there is no reason to suppose a housefly has an aesthetic experience looking at the sunset.  Aesthetics are grounded in evolution, as are religious experiences.

(3)  Philosophy of Religion and Negative Theology

Continental Philosophy in the last century such as Derrida turned to such thinkers as the mystics to explore negative theology, the way of thinking about God by negation: denying positive attributes about God.  So, the infinite mind is described, not by saying what it is, but by saying what it is not: apophatic theology.  If you are religious (I’m not), this method seems more intellectually rigorous than the traditional path because it really emphasizes the inability of finite human thought categories to appropriate the divine. This is known as the Via Negativa, the way of denial.