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Part 14: An Imaginary Conversation on the Existence of God between Aristotle and Bertrand Russell
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2013-07-09 08:19:44
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Bertrand Russell: Good morning Professor Aristotle. If you don’t mind me joining this conversation, I think I have a few important contributions to make.

Aristotle: yes of course. I have read your books Religion and Science and Why I am not a Christian and of course they are impressive intellectual works but I must confess I found them a bit too much to the extreme left  of rationalism. I always counsel my students leaning toward atheism to balance those books with the ones by the atheist George Santayana such as Reason in Religion or Aquinas’ Summa for that matter.

R: in an academic setting free speech rules and you are of course at liberty to recommend any book you wish in your courses. Be that as it may, may I ask you to clarify for us the words atheist and agnostic. Often people confuse them.

A: yes of course, atheist is derivative from the Greek word “theos” meaning God. When combined with the prefix “a” which means “without” it results in meaning someone who is without a god, or someone who believes there is no such thing. Similarly the word “gnosis” means knowledge in Greek, so by placing an “a” before it, it comes to mean someone without knowledge of whether or not God exists. They are not sure either way, whether God exists or does not exists. Both of them however are without belief.

R: thank you professor. As I elucidate in my books, there just isn’t any good evidence for the existence of God.

A: But as a good rationalist, you’d admit, wouldn’t you, that assuming you are correct, and I am not saying you are, that there are no good arguments for the existence of God, it would still not show that God doesn’t exist.

R: quite right, we are too good philosophers not to agree that the failure of argument X does in no way show that X is false. But it is up to the believer to assume the burden of proof and give such evidence when you postulate it, and not up to me, the non-believer to show that God doesn’t exist.

A: could you further elaborate on that?

R: well, when a controversy ensues about something or somebody’s existence, the default view is that such a thing does not exist and it is up to the believer to prove that it does. If you claimed that unicorns exist, it is up to you to provide proofs and evidence and not up to the non-believer to prove that it does not exist.

A: with all due respect Mr. Russell. That’s not the way it works in the issue of God’s existence. The default view throughout history, beginning with my proof by ultimate cause, is that God exists. If the vast majority believes something, then what they believe is the default view.

R: are you now not confusing religion with belief in God. The idea of one God is relatively recent. Many religions in history believed in many gods or supernatural beings of various kinds. Buddhism for example does not even speak of belief in supernatural beings. In any case, you ought to know, as a good rationalist that how widespread a belief is does not make it necessarily true. It is logically conceivable that the whole world (except the relative few atheists) has it wrong when it comes to belief in God.

A: That may be but all I am claiming is that such widespread belief makes it the default view and puts the burden of proof on you and your fellow-atheists. So am asking you: do you thinks that your arguments against the existence of God are rationally sound?

R: of course I am sure that they are sound. You claim to have read my books. Would I have written them unless I were convinced that their arguments were sound?

A: as per logical positivism you prove that something exists by observation or some good irrefutable evidence for it. Proving that something does not exist is another story altogether. How could anyone prove that unicorns do not exists.

R: I must admit that you have not lost the master’s touch professor Aristotle. You have given me something to ponder. Who know, this conversation may even impel me to edit my books, but I kind of doubt it.

A: that means you are an agnostic about your infallibility. Frankly I find the atheist’s position much more acceptable, on a philosophical logical level.

R: now, now, professor Aristotle, no need for sarcasm and irony in a purely philosophical conversation.

A: no need indeed. We can remain civil and convivial and continue this conversation some other time. As you know Plato and I disagreed on several things, especially on the concept of the forms, but we remained friendly to each other. The fact that we could with good humor tolerate irony and even satire in our dialogue proved that we were friends and colleagues and were both competent in what we doing in the field of philosophy. Had we not been friends, we might have  descended to the ad hominem and the insinuating and the insulting and the disrespectful and in the process we would have obviated philosophy, a discipline which thrives best when buttressed by friendship and tolerance.


R: I trust we are and shall forever remain friends professor Aristotle. I must leave now. Farewell.   


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