Philosophy


From The Value of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell:

It cannot be maintained that philosophy has had any very great measure of success in its attempts to provide definite answers to its questions… It is true that this is partly accounted for by the fact that, as soon as definite knowledge concerning any subject becomes possible, this subject ceases to be called philosophy, and becomes a separate science. The whole study of the heavens, which now belongs to astronomy, was once included in philosophy; Newton’s great work was called ‘the mathematical principles of natural philosophy’. Similarly, the study of the human mind, which was a part of philosophy, has now been separated from philosophy and has become the science of psychology. Thus, to a great extent, the uncertainty of philosophy is more apparent than real: those questions which are already capable of definite answers are placed in the sciences, while those only to which, at present, no definite answer can be given, remain to form the residue which is called philosophy.

This is, however, only a part of the truth concerning the uncertainty of philosophy. There are many questions — and among them those that are of the profoundest interest to our spiritual life — which, so far as we can see, must remain insoluble to the human intellect unless its powers become of quite a different order from what they are now. Has the universe any unity of plan or purpose, or is it a fortuitous concourse of atoms? Is consciousness a permanent part of the universe, giving hope of indefinite growth in wisdom, or is it a transitory accident on a small planet on which life must ultimately become impossible? Are good and evil of importance to the universe or only to man? Such questions are asked by philosophy, and variously answered by various philosophers. But it would seem that, whether answers be otherwise discoverable or not, the answers suggested by philosophy are none of them demonstrably true.

If God exists in a similar form to most Gods that have been proposed, his existence is certainly the most important reality of all. Therefore, perhaps the most important question of all is “Does God exist?”

The existence of God is among the most lively debates in philosophy, though investigating the problem is difficult. Since no scientific proofs of God exist, philosophical arguments must be used. John Polkinghorne‘s analogy is that the existence of God is like quantum mechanics: neither can be measured directly, both are paradoxical, but they can make sense of disparate data.

Arguments for the existence of God are usually metaphysical (purely philosophical), empirical (based on evidence), inductive (probabilistic), and subjective (arising from personal experience). Arguments against the existence of God are usually empirical, inductive, and deductive (logical).

I did not investigate polytheism because there are no serious theories on how polytheism could explain the universe we know, and virtually no serious thinkers accept polytheism as more than a set of archetypal metaphors. I also did not investigate pantheism because if God is all, then God is merely a redefinition of God to mean “existence.”

Before getting into the arguments for and against God that I have studied, let me address Pascal’s Wager. Blaise Pascal argued that it is a better bet to believe in God than not, because the expected value of theism (eternal salvation) is better than the expected value of atheism. Taken by itself, though, this is valueless wager, because there are hundreds of mutually exclusive claims to methods of salvation. How is one to choose between all the different religions that offer salvation or other benefits? The wager itself does not address this problem. Of course, Pascal proposed the wager in the context of his own arguments for the Christian God, and we will deal with those types of arguments separately.

Finally, in the interest of authenticity I must make a disclaimer that may, for some, invalidate my journey into truth. From the beginning, I have wanted to find a benevolent God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, because I find Jesus to be the most beautiful thing in earth’s history. And, I have been asking God to lead me into proper truth. But if he doesn’t exist, this will not have corrupted my search for truth. And, nobody can investigate the most important and affecting questions in the universe without bias. I do believe I have solid rational grounds for believing what I now believe. The rest of my story will expose this rationality.

By stoic philosopher Epictetus, from his Golden Sayings:

Are these the only works of Providence within us? Nay! What language is adequate to praise them all or to bring them home to our minds as they deserve? Why, if we had sense, ought we be doing anything else publicly and privately than hymning and praising the Deity and rehearsing his benefits? Ought we not, as we dig and plow and eat, to sing the hymn of praise to God:

Great is God that he has furnished us these instruments werewith we shall till the earth! Great is God that he has given us hands, the power to swallow, and a belly, and the power to grow unconsciously, and to breathe while asleep! This is what we ought to sing on every occasion.

And above all, to sing the greatest and divinest hymn that God has given us: the faculty to comprehend these things, and to follow the path of reason.

What then? Since many of you have become blind, ought there not to be someone to fulfill this office for you, and on behalf of all sing the hymn of praise to God? Why, what else can I, a lame old man, do but sing hymns to God? If indeed I were a nightingale, I should sing as a nightingale; if a swan, I should sing as a swan. But as it is, I am a rational being. Therefore, I must be singing hymns of praise to God.

This is my task. I do it, and I will not desert this post as long as it may be given to me to fill it. And I exhort you to join me in singing the same song.

Knowledge is my song.