De Forma Gloriaque Hominis:

An Argument for the Existence of God from the Initial Levels of Reflection

By

“Phantaz Sunlyk”

For Gabriella – ella – ella, the joy of whom is my argument for the existence of God.

 

I – Atheism and One Aspect of Personhood

 

            By atheistic naturalism I understand the affirmation that all that is is such because of the interaction of physical substances which operate by virtue of their powers, and are operated upon by virtue of their liabilities; and that nothing that is is such because of the purposeful intentions of a non-material agent.[1]  By a physical substance I understand a distinct unit of matter and energy which occupies space, exists throughout time, and interacts causally with other physical substances.  By a non-material agent I understand 1) an existing entity which has 2) no essential ontologically constitutive relationship with material substances, in which 3) a mental life is actual, such that purposes and beliefs subsist within that mental life, and such that 4) that agent, in virtue of certain of its properties, has the capacity to produce an effect.  If atheistic naturalism is true, then there cannot be a non-material agent, and, therefore, there cannot be a god.  If there exists a non-material agent, then atheistic naturalism is false, and that non-material agent might be a god. 

            The universe—the galaxies which stretch across the heavens: the suns, moons, stars and planets; our world: the planet Earth, full of trees, mountains, animals and ocean; and human beings: possessed of beauty and glory, and full of hopes and fears—all of these things definitely exist.  The cause and arche of all that is, and of all events which occur, is either purely physical or it is not.  If it is, then the only thing which exists is the physical, and atheistic naturalism is true.  If it is not, then something other than the purely physical exists, and atheistic naturalism is false, and there might be a god. 

            If atheistic naturalism is true, then no event or substance which is can possibly be such that its actuality can not be explained by virtue of the powers and liabilities of physical substances.  Therefore, if there is any event or substance such that it lacks an explanation by recourse to the purely physical, atheistic naturalism is false[2].  The following will consist of two parts.  First, it will be argued that there are substances and events which cannot be explained by virtue of the purely physical, and that atheistic naturalism is therefore false.  Given this conclusion, the doctrine of the Christian god—the God of Jesus Christ—will be briefly expounded.  Since if atheistic naturalism is false, there might be a god, it will be suggested in conclusion that given the conclusion of the above mentioned argument, and what we all certainly know—or at least what we all have cognitive access to—it is a priori likely, and therefore reasonable to believe, that the God of Jesus Christ exists and is the source and arche of all that is. 

I will not here attempt to argue that, given the conclusion of the first half of this essay, and the hypothesis expounded in the second half, the Christian god must exist.  My goal is rather more modest.  Imagine that there are two houses separated by a small field.  One house is the home of atheistic naturalism.  The other house is the home of all other possible worldviews.  In this other house, there are many rooms.  In one room, we can imagine Islam, in another, we can imagine Judaism, in another, we can imagine Hinduism, in another, we can imagine Buddhism, in another, we can imagine Platonic Idealism, and in another still, we can imagine Christianity, and so on. 

If the first half of this essay has any force, it will follow that the house of atheistic naturalism cannot be lived in.  From this, it merely follows that you’ll have to choose a room in the other house.  The second half of this essay will attempt to show that the particularly Christian room in that house is worthy of consideration—and if I have succeeded, it will further show that the Christian room is very attractive.  But I do not intend to pull you into that room—whatever room you go into, may the Truth that you perceive to be inside of it draw you of its own accord.  For those who remain in the field, or in the hallway of the house, waiting to decide which room to enter, I leave it to Richard Swinburne to complete what I have here attempted to begin.  From here onward, the atheistic naturalism described above will simply be referred to as atheism.  Any form of atheism which, somehow, acknowledges the mental as a fundamental metaphysical reality, is not the object of my attack.

Here I present what is called the argument from reason.  It is an argument which was advanced by C. S. Lewis[3] in the middle of the twentieth century, and its chief contemporary exponent is Victor Reppert[4].  Yet the thrust of this argument is as old as Plato, who through Socrates said that “[w]e should not allow into our minds the conviction that argumentation has nothing sound about it,” and that “a harmony does not direct its components, but is directed by them.”[5]  It is something of an irony that I am presenting this within the context of an argument over whether or not Christianity or atheism is true, for I will now attempt to prove that the fact that we can reason itself suggests that atheism cannot be true.

Three things, among others[6], are implied by the fact that we can and do reason and draw inferences.  First, that “states of mind” have a relation to the object of our thought that “we call intentionality, or about-ness.”  Second, that the propositional content of mental events is causally efficacious.  Third, that the consciousness in which mental events obtain is a unity.

An astronomer who is studying a star in a distant galaxy is related to that star in many ways.  He has a spatial relation to it, and he also has a temporal relation to it.  Both of these relations are purely physical.  One manner, however, in which he is related to the star is a cognitive relation.  This cognitive relation is due not simply to his brain being such and such a distance from the star, but rather, by his thought being about the star.  This relationship is called intentionality, and it is fundamentally distinct from any physical relationship which the man may have with the star.[7]  That one bit of matter is physically, temporally, or spatially related to another in no way entails that the one bit of matter is about the other bit of matter: the above mentioned scientist is related to the star he is studying in a way that the telescope he is using is not.  It is nonsense to speak of the telescope as being about the star, or even about the scientist that is using it.  The telescope is a purely physical entity, and lacks the capacity for such a relationship.   

That purely physical relationship just is: if you describe all of the physical facts involved, you’ve explained everything.  But this is not the case with the scientist’s cognitive relationship to the star, for the scientists’ thoughts are perceptual, propositional, about something other than themselves, and they can be either true or false.  Now, if atheism is true, then it necessarily follows that no relationship can obtain between one bit of matter and another which is a non-physical relationship.  Intentionality, however, does not seem to be a physical relationship; it seems to belong to something like another dimension of reality.  In other words, were the mind purely material—being endowed with nothing like spirit or soul—then we should expect that, if it were to exist at all, it would simply be like a mirror, in front of which physical events occur, and, since that mirror is physical only, within which nothing perceptual or intentional obtains, no matter what might be reflected on its surface.  But we know that this relationship—intentionality—is actual. Your awareness of anything proves it.  Since this is the case, and it doesn’t seem prima facie plausible that atheism can account for this fact, it seems that we have decent reason to believe that atheism may be false[8].

Next, consider the following arguments for the non-existence of God:

1)      If there is a god, then that god is both almighty and all-good.

2)      If god is all good, then there would be no evil.

3)      If god is almighty, then he would be able to prevent evil.

4)      There is evil.

5)      Therefore, god is either not almighty, or not all good.

6)      But if there is a god, then that god must be almighty and all good.

7)      Therefore, since there is evil, there is no god.

And now, the next argument:

1)      If there is a god, then god is all loving.

2)      In order for god to have a genuine relationship with human beings, human beings must be aware that god exists.

3)      If god were almighty, he would be able to make it known to human beings that he exists.

4)      If god were all-loving, he would want to have a relationship with all human beings.

5)      If he existed, god could have a relationship with any human being.

6)      There are human beings who want to know whether or not god exists, and do not know whether or not god exists.

7)      Therefore, if there is a god, there are some human beings he does not want to have a relationship with.

8)      Therefore, if there is a god, he is not all loving.

9)      Since god, if he exists, must be all-loving, god therefore does not exist.  

 

Many of you probably either were, are, or will be weighing the above arguments in mind, and wondering whether or not their conclusions are true or false.[9]  But it is not the truth or falsehood of those arguments that I wish to consider here—if there are any questions about the soundness of those arguments, hopefully I will be able to address them when the time comes for questions.  Right now, however, I want you to focus on the fact of that which happens in your mind when you reflect on those arguments. 

            What is happening when you reflect on those arguments is an event, but it is an event of a special kind: it is a mental event.  Causation—that is, causing—is something we are all familiar with.  We observe it every day.  For example, if you were to pick up a pen and drop it, that pen’s falling to the ground would be caused by the force of gravity.  Imagine a ten foot fuse connected to a stick of dynamite, such that the end of the fuse lies at the very edge of a field.  Now imagine that a bolt of lightening strikes the field, setting it on fire.  If that stick of dynamite were to explode, it would be caused by the fuse being lit, and if the fuse were lit, it would be caused by the fire which happened in the field.  The fire that happened in the field would be caused by the lightening, and the lightening would be caused by the operations of electrical charges in the sky.

These are all physical causes, and the interesting thing to note is this: if atheism is true, all events must be explainable by physical causation.  In other words, if atheism is true, then the Big Bang happened, and after that, event a caused event b, event b caused event c, event c caused event d, and so on for every event.  There would be no event which would, or even could, have an explanation which falls outside of the great cause of impersonal causation which ultimately determines all things.  Your being here right now would be the result, not of your personal choice; rather, given the matter which constitutes your body, the laws of physics, and the chain of causation which directs all things, you could not not be here: your being here is nothing more than what had to be, and it would need to be, in principle, explainable entirely by the laws of physics. 

Recall again the above two arguments for the non-existence of God.  When you reach a conclusion for either of them, that conclusion will be caused by the propositional content of other thoughts.  Yet this surely is not the same type of causation as is physical causation, for the conclusion you reach will depend upon your capacity to perceive and analyze the premises, and it will (hopefully) be conditioned by your awareness and use of the laws of logic, not physics.  In the words of C. S. Lewis, your arriving at a conclusion will not be caused merely by that conclusion’s being valid[10]; rather, it will be caused by your seeing it to be valid.  You reach your conclusion by reasoning.

But it seems nonsense to speak of such mental events, and reasoning, as though they could be explained by merely physical causes.  In fact, whenever we perceive that someone does have an explanation for their beliefs which is not reasonable, we cite that as a reason for rejecting their conclusion.  For example, I might come to the conclusion that your chair is waiving at me.  Someone might be convinced that a blurry flash of light in the sky is a UFO.  Another person may be convinced that dinosaurs never actually existed, but that god put the bones in the earth in order to “test our faith.”

The point is that there are several ways in which one thought can be caused by another, but there is only one way which we give any credit to.  The minute that we suspect that a person’s arriving at a belief is due to non-rational causes, such as purely physical causes without reasons, or fantasy, or prejudice, we reject it outright.  If I believe that your chair is winking at me, it would probably be best to explain that fact by pointing out that I’d just eaten a healthy dose of psychadelic mushrooms.  A man convinced that a flash in the sky must have been a UFO (rather than an air-plane) may well have a strange obsession with Star Trek.  The person that believes that dinosaurs never existed believes so because he is a fundamentalist, and not because he has reasoned from the facts.  Not every thought that is caused has a good cause.  Physical causation, by itself, does not produce valid reasoning.   The mental life is not explicable by recourse to physical causation. 

For a final example, imagine a square with a few polka dots inside of it.  Wait a few seconds.  Now, count the polka dots.  Notice that the number you arrive at, whether it be 2, 3, 4, or whatever, is caused by your perceiving the content of your mental state.[11]  But as the three examples above show, there is no reason why, if there is an effect, that that effect must be caused by the propositional content of that which causes it.  It thus seems that the particular type of causation which happens when we reason—mental causation—is something other than physical causation.  If this is the case—and I don’t see how it could be otherwise—then there is good reason for supposing that atheism is false[12].

Lastly, I refer to what William Hasker calls the unity of conscious experience[13].  If atheism is true, then, when you consider the above arguments for the non-existence of god, what is occurring is, in the last analysis, the complex organization which is your brain is operating in accordance with laws of physics, such that one event causes another in the brain.  For example, imagine a girl, or guy, that you love deeply.  Now imagine them dying an unjust death.  If atheism is true, the entire mental and emotional course of events which obtain in your mind could be, in principle, reducible to this or that portion of your brain acting in this or that way.  Your seeing me would be the mere firing of a string of c-fibers in the brain caused by the light hitting your eye and stimulating your optical nerve.  So on for every thought that you have had, do have, and will ever have.

But the question is this: which part of the brain is aware of the thought?  Which part affectively responds[14] to it?  For it is you who think.  But which portion of the brain has this extremely puzzling quality which sets it off from the rest and somehow makes it you?  According to neural science, at each moment at which you consider one of the above premises for the arguments against god, this or that is happening in this or that portion of the brain.  At one moment, this c-fiber fires; at the next, that c-fiber fires, and so on[15].  Yet none of these c-fibers, nor the portions of the brain to which they belong, could possibly be identified with you, a person.  For if it were true that the portions of the brain are distinct from one another, and one c-fiber is not the same as another, then it cannot be the case that they are identical with one another, and since it is the case that you are an individual, then it necessarily follows that you cannot be, if you are merely a physical entity, more than one of those entities.  And yet if the brain-events which cause thoughts occur in distinct portions of the brain (for example, the c-fiber which fires when you stare at me is not the c-fiber that fires when you reach the conclusion that since evil exists, god cannot—nor do those c-fibers fire at the same time, and nor does their firing produce the exact same causal chain throughout the brain), and if your you is simply your brain without remainder, it has to be the case that you, being aware of those mental states, must be identical with each of them.  But this is nonsense, because in that case they would need to be, in some sense, identical with eachother.

I’m not here trying to advance a strong form of mind-body dualism; rather, I’m simply pointing out a fact which philosophers of mind are well aware of.  And that fact is this: we have no good way of accounting for the phenomena of personhood and consciousness by trying to explain either in virtue of the purely physical.  Yet this is the point of departure for our even being able to know anything at all—including atheism, if it is true.  But when you reach a conclusion from an argument, it is one and the same thing, namely, yourself, that contemplates the premises, connects them one with another, arrives at a conclusion, and has an emotional or intellectual response to that conclusion.  It might be argued that, for example, if there were twenty students in a classroom, and twenty questions on a test, even though each of the students by themselves might not have the correct answers to all of the questions, each of them may have the correct answer to at least one of the questions, and that if they combined together, they could produce a perfect score on the test[16].  Analogously, the argument would continue, it is not implausible that one portion of the brain perceives a, another perceives b, and yet another perceives c, and that together, they entail that d.  But this misses the point, and it is not at all what happens when we think.  Thoughts are occurent states perceived by something other than themselves; that something necessarily must transcend its thoughts, as well as whatever particles of the brain that help produce them.  It is not the manner in which thought is produced that I’m concerned with here; it is the person that is aware of the thought.   

This fact, I suggest, is not easy to account for by atheism.  It is conceivable, for example, that if I put all of the parts which make a watch into a box, and put that box into a machine which shakes it for twenty years in various directions, and with random degrees of force, that something like a Swiss Army watch may be there when I open it twenty years later.  However unlikely it might be, it is at least not in principle inconceivable.  However, with personhood, the case is rather different.  It would be like opening the box and finding not only a watch, but a song as well.  To use another example, you can produce many colors by mixing together the primary colors.  If you mix yellow and blue, you get green.  If you mix blue and red, you get purple.  What you could never get, however, by mixing together any or all of the primary colors, is a new primary color.  Every color you could possibly get would depend on the colors that are already there.  Likewise, I suggest, personhood is the song present in the watch made of non-musical parts; it is the primary color which cannot be accounted for by the mixing of any or all of the known primary colors.  We cannot even conceive of a new primary color, nor would we be able to conceive of a third dimension if we lived only in two.  We cannot hear a sight.  Personhood is inconceivable starting from matter alone; we should seek an explanation elsewhere[17].

From all of the above, it seems that we are well aware of certain facts and states of affairs which the hypothesis of atheism cannot explain.  This isn’t due to the fact that, for example, science hasn’t yet had the opportunity to “discover what’s at the bottom of it;” rather, it is due to the fact that these types of things are such which, by their nature, require another type of explanation.  Recall now the dilemma which was posed at the beginning of this essay: if there are substances or events which cannot be given a purely physical explanation, then it necessarily follows that atheism is false.  If that dilemma is sound, and I believe that it must be as regards naturalistic atheism, and if it is also the case that the features of the mental life explored above are not explicable by reference to the purely physical, then it will necessarily follow that atheism is false.  This has the rather paradoxical consequence that, for example, if you found one of the above arguments for the non-existence of God persuasive, the very fact that you reasoned to your conclusion, and that it was a you who did the reasoning, would prove that atheism is false. 

To return to one of the analogies mentioned above, if you find this argument persuasive at all, you should be in the field, walking away from the house of atheism, and towards the house that has all of the other worldviews.  Given certain facts which you know, the atheist house cannot be lived in.  It by no means follows, however, that you need to be walking into the specifically Christian room of that house.  If the above argument is sound, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Idealism, Buddhism, and many other religions are all live options.  Continuing to proceed from what I call the initial levels of reflection—which are, in principle, available to all human beings—I’ll present an a priori[18] argument for the plausibility of the truthfulness of Christianity.

 

II – Christianity and Human Being

            From the above, it follows that, in this universe, there is something other than the physical.  Any worldview must be able to comprehend and take account of all of the facts.  For example, if it were the case that Christianity could not accept the theory of evolution (which I personally don’t believe), and the theory of evolution were indeed true[19], then it would necessarily follow that Christianity is a worldview that must be rejected.  There would, in that case, be certain facts which it cannot account for.  Likewise, it seems to me that there actually are certain facts which atheism cannot account for—namely, the fact of non-physical mentality—and it therefore should be abandoned.

            Thus far, we are aware of two types of phenomena in the world: the physical and the mental.  Therefore, for any given state of affairs, that state of affairs can be explained either by referring to the physical, the mental, or a combination of both of them.  If there is an avalanche, we could give an explanation of why this or that rock arrived at this or that location with a purely physical explanation.  If you decide to get up and walk out while I’m talking, however, we need to give another type of explanation, which Richard Swinburne[20] calls personal explanation.  You, a conscious person with thoughts, desires, and beliefs, would be choosing to bring about a state of affairs.  Likewise, your actually walking out would require a combination of both physical and personal explanation: you decide to leave (a personal explanation), which in turn causes your brain to stimulate different parts of your body, which take you out the door (a physical explanation).  Surely, we are all aware of these two different types of causation.  It may give philosophers headaches to try and explain how this could be, but that is no reason for us to deny what we know from our own experiences[21].

            Hence there are two possible ways of explaining all that is: the physical, and the personal.  If, as I argued above, the personal cannot be accounted for by the physical, and the personal and the physical do not of any necessity entail each other, then it necessarily follows that the ultimate explanation of the physical must be the personal[22].

            What is a person, and what is it to be a human being?  I’ve been studying the doctrine of the Trinity for about two years now, and I haven’t yet come across a definition of person.  It is an extremely mysterious thing.  But I think this mystery is worth exploring. 

            What is a person?  It seems to me that the first thing that I realize when I think about this concept is that a person is always personal as such by being related to something else.  My realization of my self is both conditioned and constituted by my relation to an other.  I can sit in a room by myself, but even then, I am related to that which I think about.  The thought conditions me and expands me; it brings forth from within me my potential for becoming my self.  And likewise, don’t we feel most truly ourselves when we are in some sort of community?  Telling a joke to friends, laughing together, giving a hug, carrying a conversation—observe the almost haunting boredom that overcomes freshman during their first week on campus, when they have left behind their families, and haven’t yet made any new friends: is it not the case that we feel most truly alive when we are in a relationship? 

            Thus that particular thing which we call personhood seems to us to be experienced in degrees.  The philosopher sitting in his room, alone with his thoughts, is experiencing personhood, but not to the greatest degree possible.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that the autonomous and isolated Cartesian ego is the lowest degree of personhood.  Two friends walking away from an Ethics class, talking unexcitedly about their plans for the evening, are experiencing personhood to a greater degree.  Two lovers, however, together for the first time in months—two people who love each other with their whole hearts, full of so much which they wish to share with one another, being so hopeful to hear what the other has to say, feeling so happy when they finally embrace—these two people are experiencing personhood to a greater degree still.  They are experiencing it by being with one another.  We all, if we give it a moment’s reflection, know that this is true, and though it is mysterious, it is a fact nonetheless.  As the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber[23] said, “I require a you to be me; becoming myself I say you.”

            We can know even more.  What was it about the way that the two people who were so happy to be with one another, that made it seem as though they were experiencing a greater degree of personhood?  It seems that it was love.  And how can we describe love?  Love is that relationship between persons wherein the dialectical tension between disclosure, anticipation and reception transfigures both parties.  When he loves her, he casts his gaze upon an infinite horizon.  He finds himself in giving himself to her, and by receiving the gift of herself into himself.  This mutuality posits a paradox, for in receiving her, he attempts to go beyond her so that he can go toward her.  In the immediacy of communion with her, he finds that he is led beyond her by being led ever more toward her.  This mystery is the experience of love.  It is the infinity within finitude, and the translation of time into eternity.    

            How, then, can we define personhood?  I tentatively define a person as follows:  a center of consciousness, aesthetically in-formed, subsisting as united to an Other through the expression of its own aesthetic in-formation toward the Other, and by the reception of the Other’s expression of its own aesthetic in-formation[24].  Now, by this time, I suspect that many of you wish that I would simply “get to the point.”  In fact, this is the point.  The notion of personhood as an ontological category came from the Christian doctrine of God.

            This may sound unlikely, but it is true[25].  The idea that personhood is grounded in relationality and love can be found, first of all, in the Wisdom of Solomon[26], or perhaps even earlier, in the book of Proverbs[27].  The idea reached its high point in the gospel of John[28], and it is found and subsequently developed in the works of Irenaeus[29], Origen[30], Athanasius[31], Basil of Caesarea[32] and Gregory of Nyssa[33]; the idea pours forth through Augustine[34] and John Damascene[35], and is passed to us through Bonaventure[36], Richard of St. Victor[37], and others—all of them Christian theologians.  Another way of stating this would be to say that when Christians attempted to talk about God, they were forced to talk about personhood and relationality.  In discovering God, they discovered the key to being human. Who or what is the Christian God?

            The Christian God is not a single person.  Of all of the great monotheistic religions—and indeed of all religions which I am aware of—the Christian doctrine of God is the only doctrine of God that describes God as being personal such that “he” is therefore multi-personal, relational, and love essentially[38].  The Christian God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: three persons, one God.  This may seem perplexing, but it is not incoherent[39].  We do not say that the Christian God is three persons identical with the person who is God while not being identical with eachother.  Rather, we say that these three persons are united in love so closely that, ontologically, the existence of one necessarily entails the existence of the other two, and any action of one will involve the action of the other two according to the particular manner in which they are related to one another.

            The Father is the source and font of all that is: in philosophical terms, it is specifically God the Father who is the stopping point of metaphysical explanation.  But the Father never has been alone.  Just as talk of a father implies talk of a child, and at every moment at which the sun exists, the sun brings forth shine; so too, to talk of God the Father entails talk of God the Son, and at every moment at which the Father exists, he brings forth the Son.  It is by bringing forth the Son that God the Father is God; as God the Father is personal, it is by loving the Son that he is a person.  The Father brings forth the Son, and as the Father of the Son, he sends forth his Spirit upon him by loving him; the Son is the Son and personal by being the Son of the Father; by receiving the self gift of the Father in the Spirit, the Son returns the same Spirit to the Father and thus gives himself to the Father; the Spirit of the Father and the Son is such by receiving from the Father and the Son and returning perpetually to them.  For all three, since all three are distinct and yet one with one another, and all three are persons constituted as such essentially by their being related to one another, the point of distinction between them is identical with the point of unity.  The Christian God is a God of love—a God of perpetual motion, of continual gift and reception[40].

            We call God “almighty.”  What do we mean?  John tells us that “no man has ever seen God, but God the only Son, who dwells within the Father’s heart—he has revealed him.[41]  Yet what did the life of Christ reveal, and what does it tell us about God?  It is true that Jesus said many remarkable things.  “I am the way and the truth and the life,[42]” “I am the bread that came down from heaven[43],” “those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty[44],” and so on.  But, as far as words go, I think that the following offers us the clearest insight into Jesus: “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls … my yoke is easy, and my burden is light[45].”

            How did Christ die?  What caused his death?  John tells us that, after he had died, a Roman soldier pierced his side, and that blood and water came out[46].  What that means is this: Jesus died because his heart, literally, exploded.  In the epistle to the Philippians[47], Paul tells the Christians to “let [the mind of Christ] be in you, though he was by nature God … [he] emptied himself, taking the form of a slave … he humbled himself … even [to] death on a cross.”  So, if it is the case that Christ reveals God the Father, what does this tell us?  It tells us that the Christian God is absolutely love; self-giving love; self-sacrificing love; a love that will give up everything to unite others to itself; a love that cannot be comprehended, but only adored; a love that can be known, but only as a mystery; a love which, the more we know it, the more we love it in return.  It is a love that inspires.  It is love raised to the pitch of insanity.  In the Old Testament, the image of God’s almightiness was expressed with the metaphor of a king on a throne[48], exalted high above all that is.  In the New Testament, the image has changed.  The throne is still there, but in the center of it is a slain lamb[49].  What this means is that God is almighty by his humility; the Christian God rules the world by loving it and drawing its pain and suffering into himself that he might transform it[50].  The cross is, within space and time, the cosmic bull’s eye of man’s search for the meaning of life.

            This essay began with the idea of knowledge.  What is it, however, to know something, and why is it that reasoning attracts us to a conclusion as though by gravity?  I believe it is due to the fact that knowing, which is the chief activity of the intellect, is essentially loving.  We may feel different, for example, when we are forced to know the answers to the questions that will be on an exam next week.  But I think that, at bottom, this is true.  Why is this?  Why are we fascinated by truth, and why does the world fill us with so much wonder?  St. Gregory of Sinai said that “the understanding of truth is given to those who have become participants in truth—who have tasted it through living.[51]  And if Jesus is, as we claim, the Truth, what does this imply about knowing?  It is this: that the term of knowledge is to participate in the very life of God.  This is the Christian doctrine of salvation.  Christ died that we could love; he died so that he could know us, and that we could know, and know truly.  By knowing him we can know all things; he can then be known by knowing anything.

            In my life as a Christian, I have had two experiences that I cannot put into words.  One night, it happened while I was walking in the snow.  Another night, it happened when I was praying.  These experiences left marks on my soul that I will never be able to erase.  I was conscious of something, but nothing which I have known before.  I cannot compare it to anything I’ve experienced with the senses: it is as though I looked upon an image, but because it is was so unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, my mind cannot translate the content of the image into words.  I saw the world anew because I saw it through tears—I realized the unfathomable gift of life in myself[52].  How strange it is that I should even exist!  Or that anything should be at all!  How can I thank the Cause of my existence enough?  What can I give it that I didn’t receive from it?  What can I do but rejoice and praise?

            To be a Christian is to be as though born anew.  It’s as though, before, you had walked through life with a paper bag on your head with two narrow holes cut out so that your eyes can see.  Though you see things, you lack the ability to see them all together; you fail to see how one thing relates to another, and how the whole creates a harmony.  But when you become a Christian—at least when I did, and I know that many others will tell you the same—it’s as though the bag is pulled off.  Your capacity for perception is increased, and the world is as though created anew.  It’s almost as though, before, the world had been black and white, and now, it is flooded with color.  It is the perception of a music which, of its own accord, calls forth from the depths of your soul a response.  It is the learning to see things as they are. 

I thus posit the Christian God as the stopping point of all explanation.  Above, it was argued that we are aware of two types of things: physical, and personal.  According to Christianity, the source of all that is is absolutely personal.  The mysteriousness of the Trinity can be located in the exact same place as that mystery with which we are most familiar. The mystery of the Trinity is to be found in the concept of personhood, and simultaneously, communion. For this reason, the Trinitarian doctrine of God is a priori more likely to be true than any other worldview which lacks such a stopping point of explanation, for the hardest thing to understand about it is something we know from our own experience. The point at which it baffles the mind is identical with a baffling that we face, while affirming, every day. But it is quite otherwise with atheism, for at the point with which we are most familiar – the very ground and presupposition of our thinking about God or anything at all: personhood—is the point at which atheism stops without being able to start.  It is indeed an incorrigible wonder in light of personhood; the mind that seeks an impersonal explanation of personhood must in effect shut down at this point.  Any atheist who feels up to the task can try to make some sense of this, but in so doing he will soon find himself in a “dark cloud of unknowing” and mystery that surpasses anything he is so fond of accusing the Christian of.  For even though we Christians worship and live by an absolute mystery, we can say in truth to the atheist that “you worship what you do not know; we worship what we [do] know,[53]” and that, on that account, the Christian holds to a more reasonable account of reality than does the atheist[54].

            Legend has it that one day, Diogenes the Cynic went through a town in broad daylight, with a lit lamp.  When asked what the lamp was for, he replied that he was searching for “a real human being.”  This is why I am a Christian: to be a real human being.  It is a hypothesis which allows me to explain all of the facts which I know.  It gives the fullest explanation to the things that I know best.  It causes me to see, in every person, so much beauty; it inspires me.  It compliments and perfects my best intuitions—it guides me and makes sense of my world.  It is beautiful, and by it I see the world as wonderful.  The glory of the world, the shine of the sun, the calm of the blue sky and the diamond-studded brilliance of “lady midnight and her caravan of stars”—I see in all of them a reflection of the glory and the relentless beauty that is my God.  In seeing them I see beyond them—they point beyond themselves by presenting themselves, and it is only by going beyond them that I can return to them and love them for their own sakes.  I know how to love all things.  My God is harmony; I want to be a song from the mouth of my God. 

            Now, finally, I’m finished.  As I said before, I don’t expect this to convince anyone.  I simply hope that, if you’re standing in the hallway of the house of worldviews, you’ll realize that the room that is Christianity has a light on inside, and that it is worth “checking out.”  I have offered no strictly philosophical arguments for the truth of Christianity—my description of the Christian God was intended to appeal to another way of knowing.  As for philosophical arguments, however, I trust that Richard Swinburne, who will be here in one week, will be more than able to give you the reasons that I could not.[55]

 



[1] See, e.g., The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Paul Edwards (ed.), vol. 5, pg. 179ff.; Daniel Dennett, “Why the Law of Effect Will Not Go Away,” The Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, no. 2, 1976, pg. 171f.

[2] Hence the following:

a = “Atheistic naturalism is true,” m = “Mentality is a fundamental metaphysical reality,” E = Event explainable by recourse to the laws of physics,” S = “Substance explainable by recourse to the laws of physics,” r = “A religion is true,” g = “There may be a god,” and c = “The Christian god exists.”

Thus:

1)       a É {[(x)(Ex Ú Sx)] · [~($x)~(Ex · Sx)]} · ~(m Ú r Ú g Ú c), and

2)       (r Ú g Ú c) º (m · ~a), and

3)       m É (r · g), and

4)       ($x)[(~Ex) Ú (~Sx)] É (~a · m), and

5)       {c É [(r Ú g) · m]} · ~{[(r Ú g) · m] º c}, thus

6)       c É {($x)[(~Ex) · (~Sx)] · m · r · g}

[3] C. S. Lewis, Miracles, Simon & Schuster, 1947, rev. 1960.

[4] Victor Reppert, C. S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea: In Defence of the Argument from Reason, InterVarsity Press, 2003.  The newest issue of Philosophia Christi (vol. 5, 11/1/03) deals extensively with this argument, including articles by Reppert, William Hasker, Douglas Henry, Robert Larmer, Angus Menuge, and atheists such as Theodore Drange, Keith Parsons, and James Beilby.  Reppert notes that Kant used a form of this argument, and it seems that J. G. Fichte did as well (Enc. Phil., vol. 4, pg. 114).

[5] Phaedo, 90e, 93a

[6] These three examples are either taken directly from, or modifications of, Reppert’s list.  See his work mentioned above, pg. 73, for a more thorough list.

[7] Cf. Robert Sokolowski’s Introduction to Phenomenology, Cambridge University Press, 2000, pgs. 66-111 for more on intentionality.

[8] ($x)(~Ex)

/\ ~a

[9] These two arguments, which are variations of the most popular contemporary forms of arguments against the existence of God, are given their most satisfactory treatment in: Daniel Howard-Snyder (ed.), The Evidential Argument from Evil, Indiana University Press, 1996; Daniel Howard-Snyder, Paul Moser (eds.), Divine Hiddenness: New Essays, Cambridge University Press, 2001.  The above two works include articles by theists, agnostics, and atheists, but for exclusively atheist perspectives, see Theodore M. Drange, Nonbelief and Evil: Two Arguments for the Nonexistence of God, Prometheus Books, 1998; J. L. Schellenberg, Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason, Cornell University Press, 1993.

[10] Lewis, op. cit., pg. 27

[11] cf. Richard Swinburne, The Evolution of the Soul, Oxford University Press, 1997 (rev.), pg. 38ff. for more on mental causation.

[12] ($x)(~Ex)

/\ ~a

[13] William Hasker, The Emergent Self, Cornell University Press, 1999, pgs. 122-146.

[14] By an “affective response” I understand a response which is experienced by the subject as qualitative or emotional.

[15] Of course, I don’t intend to convey the notion that I deny that brain events play a role in our mental life; I merely claim that the mental is not entirely explainable by virtue of the physical.

[16] The example is Reppert’s, op. cit., 82f.

[17][ ($x)(~Ex) · ($x)(~Sx)]

/\ m · ~a

/\ r · g

Therefore, the necessary conditions for Christianity being true have obtained.

[18] A priori in the sense that the argument relies for its strength only on that which is available to the immediate levels common to human cognition; not in the sense that its conclusion is deducible from logic, or a certain concept, alone.

[19] The above mentioned edition of Philosophia Christi, as well as, e.g., Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief  (Oxford University Press, 2000), have lengthy articles illustrating the fact that our cognitive faculties’ ability to arrive at truth would be either highly improbable, or inscrutable, given non-teleological Darwinian evolution.  This is a lively topic in contemporary discussions between Theists and Atheistic naturalists.

[20] See his The Existence of God, Oxford University Press, 1991.

[21] This is what bothers me so much about the intellectual culture of our day and age: it accepts doctrines which are, intuitively, highly implausible (such as naturalism), and advances them with dogmatic certitude, even though there are many facts which those doctrines cannot account for.  Scholars reject other explanations outright because they don’t like them, and won’t even allow themselves the opportunity to investigate their possible merits.  Two hundred years from now, many of the intellectual fads that scholars cling to will look as ridiculous as Descartes’ pineal gland hypothesis.

[22] Of course, this dilemma would not apply to a metaphysical dualist, who believes that mind and matter are intrinsically and always related.  Such a person, however, would have some explaining to do, for it is by no means obvious how the two could simply, being actually distinct, co-exist as though by necessity without positing something distinct from both which could explain that co-existence.

[23] Martin Buber, I and Thou, Simon & Schuster, 1970.

[24] Dr. Daniel Spencer pointed out to me that this definition would have the consequence that, for example, a baby or a human in a vegetative condition would fail to meet the criteria of personhood.  It may also be worth considering that animals seem to meet the criteria for personhood, so defined.  This could be solved by noting that personhood comes in degrees, assigning a formal identity to each species such that for that species, such and such a degree of personhood is possible, and then claiming that any individual is a person because they have a certain form according to which this or that degree of personhood is possible.  There is no good reason why we should expect that, if Christianity were true, animals would necessarily not be able to have any sort of personhood at all, nor would their possession of it make it any less mysterious.  I admit, however, that my definition of person is not completely satisfactory. 

[25] Cf. John Zizioulas, Being as Communion, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985, pgs. 27-65; Walter Kasper, The God of Jesus Christ, Crossroad, 2000, pgs. 153-157; Jesus the Christ, Paulist Press, 1974.

[26] 7:22 – 8:3; this work belongs to what is commonly referred to as the Old Testament “Deutero-Canon;” it is part of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bible, and rejected by Protestants.

[27] 8:22 - 31

[28] The whole of John is saturated in the notion of personhood; cf., e.g., 1:1-18; 17:1-26

[29] Against Heresies, 2:17:8

[30] De Principiis, 1:2:10; 1:4:4, etc.  For an exploration of this theme in both Origen and Athanasius, the definitive study is Peter Widdicombe’s The Fatherhood of God From Origen to Athanasius, Oxford University Press, 2000.

[31] Orations Against the Arians, books 1 and 2.

[32] Letter 38; On the Holy Spirit, 18:46.

[33] E.g., Against Eunomius, book 1; cf. Michel Renee Barnes’ The Power of God: Dynamis in Gregory of Nyssa’s Trinitarian Theology, Catholic University of America Press, 2001, pgs. 220 – 259.

[34] E.g., De Trinitate, 6:1:7; 7:1:2

[35] On the Orthodox Faith, 1:8

[36] For Bonaventure’s Trinitarian theology, see especially Hans urs von Balthasar’s monograph in The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics: vol. 2: Studies in Theological Style: Clerical Styles, Ignatius Press, 1984, pgs. 260 – 362.

[37] The Trinity, book 3.

[38] For a good exploration of this theme, see Michael Askionov Meerson’s The Trinity of Love in Modern Russian Theology, Franciscan Press, 1998.

[39] Cf., e.g., Richard Swinburne’s The Christian God (Oxford University Press, 1994).  In passing, I note that I intend to rigorously address this issue in the not too-distant future. 

[40] For more on this, cf. http://www.tektonics.org/filoque.html

[41] Jn. 1:18

[42] Jn. 14:6

[43] Jn. 6:32ff.

[44] Jn. 4:14

[45] Mt. 11:28ff.

[46] Jn. 19:34

[47] 2:5-11

[48] cf., e.g., Isa. 6; Dan. 7; Ez. 1

[49] Rev. 5:6; 22:1; cf. Jn. 12:23 – 33; 17:1-5

[50] See especially the work of Jurgen Moltmann (The Trinity and the Kingdom, Fortress Press, 1980), Richard Bauckham (God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament, Eerdmans, 1998), and Hans urs von Balthasar (Mysterium Paschale, Ignatius, 1970).

[51] Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart, Faber and Faber, pg. 42

[52] It is worth noting that neither of these experiences caused my belief in God; rather, they were the results of  perceptions.  The produced affect went beyond the doxastic, and its chief effect was in another category of my person.

[53] Jn. 4:22

[54] If the a priori argument from personhood is sound, then it is indeed no accident that the above paragraph simply places “atheist” where the word “Unitarian” was in another article of mine: http://www.tektonics.org/holtb01.html

 

[55] I am, of course, well aware that I have ignored almost entirely any historical arguments for the veracity of Christianity.  This is due simply to lack of space.  For those interested in such arguments, see especially N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God, vol. 3, Fortress Press, 2003.