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Western Imperialism and the Myth of Secular Salvation: 1/2 Western Imperialism and the Myth of Secular Salvation: 1/2
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2007-08-12 10:01:09
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“Man can build his greatness, without religion, on the
nothingness that crushes him.” (André Malraux)

“To be a man of the West, is to belong to a culture of
incomparable originality and power; it is also to be implicated
in incomparable crimes.”(William Pfaff)

In a recent insightful article in The Scotsman titled How African Aid can be the New Imperialism, Fraser Nelson argues that there is a new Western imperialism on the horizon, echoing the now forgotten 19th century British rationalization for global empire, i.e., “the white man’s burden”: the moral obligation to change the world—allegedly for the better—and redeem it with civilization, the rule of law, and the spread of democracy and market values.

He characterizes this political phenomenon as “history [that] has swung full circle,” since this vision, allegedly for the benefit of its former colonies, does not proceed directly from Washington (where political power now resides) but from London in the person of the former UK’s Prime Minister Tony Blair. His ambition then and now is to become the conscience of the world while George Bush acts as its policeman.

If one were ignorant of the history of Western imperialism one would see absolutely nothing wrong with the above scenario. We would all feel good about ourselves as Westerners, and perhaps even safer. But to talk of “new imperialism” one must have in mind the old one as a reference point. Moreover, to examine such an old Western imperialism one needs to go all the way back to Alexander the Great, then proceed to the Roman Empire, the Carolingian, so called “Holy Roman Empire” of the Middle Ages, the expansionistic global colonialist era of 16th century Renaissance which extends all the way to the 19th century to encompass the Spanish empire, the French empire, the British empire, the Russian empire, the Portuguese empire, the Italian empire, Napoleon’s empire, Frederick the Great’s empire, Charles V’s empire, the Austria-Hungarian empire, Mussolini’s empire, Stalin’s empire, Hitler’s empire.

The list is endless but worth remembering, for as Marx quipped, those who have amnesia about their history risk repeating it; they may find themselves driving the brand new car called the EU, full speed ahead into a future disaster with no rear-view mirror. That is a dangerous operation as both Vico and McLuhan have well taught us. Hence it may prove useful to briefly revisit the phenomenon of imperialism which is unique to the West. In my opinion, two recent books are essential reading for any kind of valid analysis of the phenomenon: Jacques Le Goff’s The Birth of Europe, and William Pfaff’s The Bullet’s Song: Romantic Violence and Utopia.

Jacques Le Goff is a well known French cultural anthropologist who alerts us that the present geography of the European Union is strangely similar to that of Medieval Catholic Christendom, i.e., the Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne which used to encompass at its core France, Germany and Northern Italy. He then argues that although the ancient Greeks originally proposed the distinction between East (Asia) and West (Europe), nobody at the time, and even subsequently during Roman times, called oneself “European,” despite the famous myth of the goddess Europa. If anything, the proud boast was that of “civis Romanus sum.” The unity of the Mediterranean world was Roman through and through. It was broken not so much by the invading northern barbarians, who often were assimilated and proud to also declare themselves Roman citizens, but by the rise of Islam, its conquest of Jerusalem in 638, and its subsequent conquest of North Africa and Spain.

While Christianity barely survived in Spain, it remained the dominant faith in the rest of the European continent to such an extent that the adjectives “European” and “Christian” tended to be confused. What is intriguing in Goff’s thesis is that he designates as Christian Europe only the Western part of the Roman Empire, not Byzantium, the Christian Orthodox Eastern half; nor Greek and Russian Christian Orthodoxy, nor paganism and its vestiges which are somehow regarded as unessential to European unity.

Be that as it may, one begins to wonder if it is purely coincidental that the present Pope Benedict XVI, who has assumed the very name of the patron saint of Europe, has travelled to Bari, Italy, the land of Saint Nicholas, the linchpin between Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, on the very day when the French people voted down the EU Constitution put before them by their elitist politicians and pundits. Food for thought.

What is of interest to us here is the crucial question suggested by Goff’s thesis: in an ultra secularized modern Europe so unfriendly to religion in general, is it conceivable that the Catholic Christendom of the Middle Ages be at least acknowledged as the direct precursor of today’s Europe? The question may result absurd for many Europeans, but if it is, it would itself reveal an intriguing posture vis-à-vis religion on the European continent. It would at the very least raise the suspicion that the grudge against religion is so deep that one is ready to ignore and even deny one's cultural roots.

The middle Ages, after all, encompass no less than one thousand years of European history subdivided in early (500-1000), high (1000-1300), and late (1300-1500). Le Groff is the first one to discard the early middle ages of Charlemagne as precursor of the idea of Europe. He sees them as too consciously Christian with a rather violent ideological program, although he stops short of branding them as “Christian imperialism,” for indeed the confusion between the spiritual and the temporal, properly speaking begins with Emperor Constantine in the fourth century AD who adopts Christianity at the official religion of the Roman Empire. Goff, however brands Charlemagne’s empire “the first example of a perverted Europe.” Other “perversions” that he takes notice of, are the empires of Charles V, Napoleon and Hitler.

So, what’s left are the High Middle Ages, usually viewed by historians as the most creative segment of the medieval millennium. This period of history produced the Italian city states, seen as the precursors of modern democracy, as well as international banking and commerce, considered the foundations of any modern state. Culturally, the High Middle Ages produce Scholasticism which gives Europe the first modern universities (Bologna, Padua, Naples, Paris, Salamanca) with their uniquely European intellectual propensity for critical thinking rooted in sceptical doubt, intellectual freedom, lucidity and clarity. Descartes, who had a penchant for rationally “clear and distinct ideas” devoid of imagination and the poetical, is often seen as the intellectual grandchild of the Scholastics. Thereafter we have the late medieval and the Renaissance periods which, after the disaster of the Black Death, witness an unprecedented era of European global expansion spanning five centuries: from the late 15th century (1492) till the early 20th century.

The above mentioned expansionary period gives the designation Europe its full meaning. How so? In this sense: while imperialism and colonization proper begin with Alexander the Great, once, and only once so far, has existed in man’s history the phenomenon of total global dominance, and that dominance has been exercised by Europeans, or those of European descent which of course includes North Americans. As Le Goff points out, although in the 15th century China was the most advanced country in the world, it never expanded beyond its borders and never dreamed that the sun would never set on its possessions. The Moslem world also has lost the impetus and cultural fervour of its medieval period. Such is not the case for Europe.

Europe is different. In the explanation of this difference lies the crux of the enigma. Some have explained it away with technological superiority, i.e., superior guns and ships. Others, depending on their pet ideology, go for social explanations: capitalism, or individualism, considered uniquely European. What is lost sight of, is the fact that 1492 while witnessing the beginning of a rapid European expansionism, also witnessed in Spain the dual destruction of Europe’s largest Jewish community, and of Granada, the last bastion of Moslem culture in Western Europe.

So, from the very beginning of the global expansion, one notices a tendency to exclude certain elements which were already present in the Medieval European cultural identity while retaining others; a club mind-set seems to have been set-up, with the included and the excluded. It all leads to another crucial question of cultural identity: does European mean Christian in any sense? The EU constitution, as presented to the European people obviously does not suggest so, since it does not as much as mention Europe’s Christian heritage aside from some vague references to “spiritual values.” And yet, it cannot be denied that several important features of the modern West, such as universities, corporate towns, representative assemblies, have their roots in the Christian Middle Ages. Why this penchant for historical amnesia?


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Jack2007-08-12 17:23:11
I agree that historical amnesia is deadly for broadsiding those who have it (of course they didn't see it coming). It is like the anti-religous bias of scientists today, even thou science's birth came thru Christian's: Sir Issac Newton (a poll of scientists in 2006 ranked him number one among all scientists), Sir Francis Bacon, Nicholas Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Rene Descartes, Robert Boyle, Michael Faraday, William Thomas Kelvin and yes even Albert Einstein (even thou he did not believe in a personal God, he nonetheless recognized the impossiblity of a non-created universe...His famous ephitat was that "God does not play dice" was a famous statement but an even more important and more ignored remark by Einstein was "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind".

Paparella2007-08-12 23:41:22
Indeed. One of the point of this first half of the submission above is that even atheists who are knowledgeable of the history of the West will not deny the great impact for good of millennia of Christianity on European culture. George Santayana jumps to mind. For one thing, without the transcription of ancient manuscripts in monasteries during the Middle Ages we would have lost the whole of Graeco-Roman civilization and there would have been nothing to resurrect (the Renaissance)in Italy; in fact we might still be barbarians running in the woods with our sophisticated technological tools. Unfortunately we are slowly reaching that point in any case... To deny the influence of Christianity on Western cviilization is in practice to deny one's cultural identity. The myth propagated by those who have a bias against religion is that most scientist are atheists and that only the ignorant and superstitious believe in God. That is simply fallacious. Here are the very latest statistics in that regard.

Scientists Who Believe In God – Today
In 1996 and again in 1998, Pulitzer Prize winner Professor Edward Larson of the University of Georgia and Washington Times reporter Larry Witham teamed up to duplicate Leuba’s study in an effort to determine if scientists’ religious beliefs have changed much over the last 65 years. Larson and Witham found that 40% of American scientists still believe in a personal God. This does not include scientists who believe in an impersonal God or in a God who does not answer prayer. Nor does it include scientists who believe in a personal God, but don’t believe in the immortality of the human soul. If we were to take them into consideration, the percentage would be higher.

Sand2007-08-13 08:49:23
The first requisite for the happiness of the people is the abolition of religion.
Karl Marx

Sand2007-08-13 09:03:08

Paparella2007-08-13 11:22:28
“I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn't, than live my life as if there isn't and die to find out there is.”
--Albert Camus

(1957 Nobel Prize for Literature)

Sand2007-08-13 11:24:25
If wishes were horses beggars would ride.

Paparella2007-08-13 11:40:49
In idea socialists can dream out Utopias, disappointed lovers can imagine themselves successful, beggars can ride horses, wanderers can enjoy the fireside at home.
--Josiah Royce

Sand2007-08-13 11:41:56

Sand2007-08-13 11:51:00
"Today the god hypothesis has ceased to be scientifically tenable ... and its abandonment often brings a deep sense of relief. Many people assert that this abandonment of the god hypothesis means the abandonment of all religion and all moral sanctions. This is simply not true. But it does mean, once our relief at jettisoning an outdated piece of ideological furniture is over, that we must construct some thing to take its place." Julian Huxley

Paparella2007-08-13 12:27:14
There is always something that takes its place. In the Bible that is called idolatry; one worships the products of one's hand, or one's technology, or perhaps oneself (narcisism). The Romans made Rome a goddess. And when the idols provide no more meaning for one's life (nihilism) then one goes home and shoots oneself.

Sand2007-08-13 13:01:49
Men create gods after their own image, not only with regard to their form but with regard to their mode of life.

Sand2007-08-13 13:17:15
I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its Churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.
Bertrand Russell

Sand2007-08-13 13:22:58
To surrender to ignorance and call it God has always been premature, and it remains premature today.
Isaac Asimov

Sand2007-08-13 13:47:58

Sand2007-08-13 13:57:01
"With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion." Steven Weinberg

Sand2007-08-13 13:59:07
"The fact that a believer is happier than a sceptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality." George Bernard Shaw

Sand2007-08-13 14:01:11
"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." Blaise Pascal

Sand2007-08-13 14:03:25
"The Bible is not my book, and Christianity is not my religion. I could never give assent to the long, complicated statements of Christian dogma." Abraham Lincoln

Sand2007-08-13 14:04:12
"I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature." Thomas Jefferson

Sand2007-08-13 14:06:06
"I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church." Thomas Paine

Sand2007-08-13 14:08:25
"What a man believes upon grossly insufficient evidence is an index into his desires -- desires of which he himself is often unconscious. If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way." Bertrand Russell

Sand2007-08-13 14:09:56
"The most ridiculous concept ever perpetrated by Homo Sapiens is that the Lord God of Creation, Shaper and Ruler of the Universes, wants the sacharrine adoration of his creations, that he can be persuaded by their prayers, and becomes petulant if he does not recieve this flattery. Yet this ridiculous notion, without one real shred of evidence to bolster it, has gone on to found one of the oldest, largest and least productive industries in history." Robert Heinlein

Sand2007-08-13 14:14:05
"A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death." Albert Einstein

Sand2007-08-13 14:16:03
"To assert that the earth revolves around the sun is as erroneous as to claim that Jesus was not born of a virgin." Cardinal Bellarmine

Paparella2007-08-13 14:45:48
"He is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature."
-- George Bernard Shaw: Caesar, in Caesar and Cleopatra, act 2

The less intellectually barbaric, more open minded and elegant mode is not to begin with a bias and a prejudice and then go look for quotes on google from eminent people who support it in order to grind one's ax, but to look for those eminent scholars who oppose one's biases and pet narrow theories and then attempt an unbiased understanding and explanation to oneself and others. As Einsten put it: one cannot get out of the box of rationalism by using rationalism. The same applies to biases and shallow caricatures.

Paparella2007-08-13 15:01:50
P.S. For example, rather than quote Aristotle on the anthropomorphic gods, it would be more elegant to quote Aristotle on the Unmovable Mover (God), how did he arrive at such a conception, why he tought of theology as the most important of the branches of knowledge, how he proved that the idea of God is not against reason and that in fact it is needed by reason (as Descartes and Pascal also believed)as the scaffolding on which to build any credible metaphysics.

Sand2007-08-13 16:08:00
The overeducated fool will frequently attempt to parry content with form as content is most usually unassailable. -Melissus

Paparella2007-08-13 16:34:54
Dejà vu. And yet the emperor remains naked.

Paparella2007-08-13 17:32:35
A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions and those that agree with his."
--Italian proverb

Sand2007-08-13 17:43:23
The less intellectually barbaric, more open minded and elegant mode is not to begin with a bias and a prejudice and then go look for quotes on google from eminent people who support it in order to grind one's ax, but to look for those eminent scholars who oppose one's biases and pet narrow theories and then attempt an unbiased understanding and explanation to oneself and others. As Einsten put it: one cannot get out of the box of rationalism by using rationalism. The same applies to biases and shallow caricatures. -Paparella

Paparella2007-08-13 17:50:29
"The emperor is naked, indeed." E.g., on Marx's parroted above quote, only a fool would deny that Marx's advise on religion is misguided after seeing the abundant happiness that "the workers' paradise" constructed on Marx's utopian ideological formulas brought to the people of the Soviet Union for seventy miserable years.

Sand2007-08-13 18:37:22
Marx quipped, those who have amnesia about their history risk repeating it.

Paparella2007-08-13 18:44:52
True to form another smear is insinuated against another declared saint and doctor of the Church, by simply quoting selectively one gets the impression that Bellarmine was an ignoramus. That is far from being the case. St. Bellarmine was going by the Copernican theory which was prevalent at the time but conceeded to Galileo that when his theory was no longer a theory and was proven empirically, then the interpretation of that the Bible (a non scientific book) would have to be revisited for truth is one as Aquinas had already taught. He simply insisted on the nature of a theory. The prove came much later.
Bellarmine did not live to deal with the later and more serious stage of the Galileo case, but in 1615 he took part in its earlier stage. He had always shown great interest in the discoveries of that investigator, and was on terms of friendly correspondence with him. He took up too--as is witnessed by his letter to Galileo's friend Foscarini--exactly the right attitude towards scientific theories in seeming contradiction with Scripture. If, as was undoubtedly the case then with Galileo's heliocentric theory, a scientific theory is insufficiently proved, it should be advanced only as an hypothesis; but if, as is the case with this theory now, it is solidly demonstrated, care must be taken to interpret Scripture only in accordance with it.

Sand2007-08-13 18:59:21
I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.
Galileo Galilei

Paparella2007-08-13 20:20:14
On learning how to reason rigorously without bias and axes to grind. St. Thomas Aquinas, a doctor and a saint of the Catholic Church has much to teach us here 300 years ahead of Galileo. His Summa Theologiae is nothing else than a demonstration that truth is one and can be gathered from the evidence of our reason; he bases his philosophy on the natural theologdy of Aristotle to prove that reason when properly used cannot contradict the truth of revelation. When there is a contradiction then either the evidence or the mode of reasoning is false.
Bellarmine surely knew Aquinas. If one opens the very first page of the Summa, which was written for beginners in philosophy not experts, one notices on top the title of the treatise being treated; then comes the question being investigated or the problematic. First Aquinas gives a thorough explanation of the views of the opposition which he names objections (of which there may two or three or four), then he gives his reasoned view, the sed contra or “I answer that” in which he includes a reply to each objection. The whole Summa is reasoned in such a rigorous fashion, one scaffold builds on the other and is intellectually as elegant as a Medieval cathedral. Today we have fools who know only how to present their subjective narrominded views reduced to cliches and caricatures, and are naively convinced that the act of reasoning in itself is reasoning leading to truth, that to establish a false premise and arrive at a false conclusion is fine as long as it is coherent within itself. That fallacy is the fallacy of rationalism devoid of imagination.

Sand2007-08-13 20:43:17
Thomas Aquinas states parenthetically, as something entirely obvious, that men are more rational than women. For my part, I see no evidence of this. [Bertrand Russell]

Sand2007-08-13 21:00:11
The Case Against The Cosmological Argument
Thomas Ash

Particularly relevant to this essay is my other response to the arguments put forward for God's existence, 'The Case Against The Design Argument'.

The cosmological argument is one of the most popular ways of proving God's existence. It is also the best. It has been philosophically influential, and was famously propounded by St Thomas Aquinas in three Ways in his Summa Theologica. We know that the concept itself dates back to Plato and Aristotle's "unmoved mover", and possibly before. Clearly it has great intuitive power, and the benefit of starting from an undeniable fact - the existence of the universe - which seems hard to explain. It is thus a partly a posteriori argument, rather than one based on the purely a priori reasoning of the ontological argument, which few can manage to beleive is up to the job of proving God's existence. Ordinary people also use it all the time, although they probably do not call it the 'cosmological argument', whenever they ask, "Why was there the Big Bang?", or "Why is there anything?", in a leading way.

There are really two key forms of the argument, illustrated by these two questions. The first implies that there must have been a first cause in time. This set off the chain of events: for instance, causes and effects (as in Aquinas' Second Way), or motion (as in his First.) In all three ways, Aquinas rejects infinite regress of motion [1], etc. more or less out of hand ("Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go onto infinity...") so he concludes that there must have been a first cause: "a first mover, moved by no other; and this everyone understands to be God."

The second question is more sophisticated, and does not need to talk about time, and so applies even if there is an infinite regress. It depends on the contingency of the universe, and is hinted at in the Third Way. Here, Aquinas says that all matter in the universe is contingent - depends on something else, and can "not-be" - and thus that there must have been a time when nothing existed, and that material things must have been brought into existence by God, a necessary being external to the universe. This relies on the universe as simply being the totality of all matter - a reasonable view, though one which a believer in souls might wish to question.

Clearly, these arguments at first look very powerful. But, when closely examined, are they really successful? And do they 'prove God'?

Perhaps the most obvious criticism you can make is to ask just why Aquinas is so confident there cannot be infinite regress. To be sure, we find it very hard to comprehend the notion of actual infinity, and it is possible to come up with all sorts of paradoxes which make infinity look like an 'impossible number.' The Islamic 'Kalam' version of the cosmological argument - developed by Al-Kindi and Al-Ghazali before Aquinas was even alive - does just this. Ed Miller's modern version points out that you cannot add a new day onto what is already an actual infinity of days, and that the present would never have been reached if an infinite number of days had had to be completed before it. Similarly, William Craig claims that as any event would happen an infinite number of times in an infinite stretch of time, the tortoise would have won the race as many times as it was run but also as many times as the hare won (this is my example, not Craig's!) The implication is that infinity is somehow paradoxical.

Sand2007-08-13 21:04:23
The idea seems to be to show that you cannot 'fit' the concept of indivisible infinity into our universe of finite things, so it is not a valid concept inside our universe. But all the argument shows is that we have intuitive difficulties imagining infinity, which is, after all, to be expected of such an advanced concept. Mathematicians can cope quite well with an infinite sequence of integers; appealing to the incomprehensibility of infinity is what Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene calls an "argument to personal incredulity."

The word 'personal' exposes the key flaw in this line of reasoning - our limited human imaginations are a poor guide as to what properties the universe can have. It's just arrogant to say "I have difficulty imagining or explaining this thing, therefore no one ever could." But that is what the Kalam argument effectively does.

Besides, the universe as a whole is not an ordinary finite 'object', it is what finite objects constitute parts of; this means we have no reason to assume that the same principles apply. This can be said of both contingency of everyday material objects and their obeying ofthe laws of cause and effect. As Kant pointed out, we have only ever witnessed these properties within the universe. It would be going far beyond what we know to conclude that the universe itself has a cause or is contingent.

Nonetheless, this assumption has great intuitive power as a result of all our experience of what happens within the universe. As J.L. Mackie points out, it is difficult to imagine an infinite train of carriages in motion without an engine providing a driving force, just as God is said to provide a creating and sustaining force. This reflects the intuitive power of Leibniz's 'Principle of Sufficient Reason': there must be some fact (or facts - but I shall pass over this) which completely explains existence. Despite the intuitive appeal of thinking that if there were no such sufficient reason(s) for everything to depend on, there would be nothing, there are several problems with this. A cause or reason must by definition exist (even if it is just an abstract principle, it is the case), so it cannot be the cause of all existence. Also, Leibniz's Principle found its backing in the assumption that God must have created everything for a reason, so cannot be used to argue for God's existence without circularity, unless we can find another reason to accept it besides a gut feeling formed by experience of living inside the universe.

Peter van Inwagen has pointed out that if there is some sufficient explanation of every fact, then everything in the world is necessarily true. This would mean that the putative sufficient reason could only logically fit with the actual world, and van Inwagen thinks the only such fact could be a complete description of the actual world - which is clearly no sufficient reason. However, a theist could think that God could choose to create this world alone. This does not, though, fit with the traditional theistic conception of free will, or with Christian doctrine that God did not have to create any world.

One problem which affects the first (temporal) formulation of the cosmological argument specifically is that a cause of the universe requires that there must have been a period of time before the universe began. But the universe is meant to encompass all time and space. This is also a problem for the Protestant view of God as the eternal rather than timeless creator of the universe - if God were in time, how could he have created all time and space? It is, however, avoided by the more theologically sophisticated Catholic view of God as timeless, and by the second formulation, which depends on the presumed contingency of the universe.

Sand2007-08-13 21:06:07
Another important point to make is that Aquinas says that nothing can be infinite, and then goes on to say that God is infinite. He says that nothing is the cause of itself, then says that God is the cause of Himself. Admittedly, he does say that God is outside the universe. Perhaps this means he is not bound by the limitations which apply within it. Even so, this involves conceding that something can be infinite or indendent, undermining Aquinas' basis for arguing that the universe must have a cause. And we can question whether it makes sense to speak of something outside the universe. If not, the response I have offered to Aquinas is an appeal to mystery, or - less charitably - a dodge.

A more powerful case against the cosmological argument depends on the difficulty of seeing God as "a necessary being", the cause of Himself. As discussed in my examination of the ontological argument, this is a highly problematic notion. We don't know that necessary existence is a meaningful concept. And even if it is, why shouldn't the Universe or the Big Bang (the most basic, earliest thing we actually know about) itself be considered the first, necessary cause? Since we cannot begin to comprehend the notion of necessity, we have no reason to assume it can belong to God's but not to universes, or even 'bangs.'

Bertrand Russell famously suggested taking the existence of the universe as a "brute fact." This approach is often defended by appealing to 'Occam's Razor', the (widely accepted) principle first put forward by the monk William of Occam. Occam's Razor reminds us not to multiply entities unless they really help us explain our experience. At first sight, it might seem like positing God as a first cause of the universe does just this. But unless we can explain why He created the universe, and why He is necessary (something the ontological argument singularly fails to do in its concentration on the psychological), God helps explain nothing. It is best to follow Occam's Razor and not posit a mysterious, complex being outside the universe like God without good warrant. We should accept that the Big Bang is the first cause that we know about.

This is not to claim that the Big Bang is the last word; the first cause. That would be to misunderstand the logical force of the Razor - that if you believe in one entity more than other people, you are less likely to be right, so need a good reason for doing so. Putting God forward as the first cause, and then claiming he was always there, is just to treat Him as a "brute fact." This just shifts the problem to why He - rather than the universe - has no cause. It's never very satisfactory to call something a brute fact. But since we have no alternative for now, we had best make it the universe, which we at least know exists.

This effectively neuters the cosmological argument's intuitive force. But even if (and I hope I have shown that this really is a big if) it succeeds completely and shows the existence of some first cause of the universe, outside the universe, it does not in any way show the existence of God. It is surprising the number of people who use it as their proof for God without acknowledging that the first cause could be anything. If parsimony is a consideration, it is simpler to posit a simple, axiomatic principle as that cuase, instead of the complex entity that is God. In no way whatsoever must it be the God of the Bible and traditional religion. The most honest answer to give to the question of why the universe is here is: "I don't know." The truth is, religions have never known, either - merely claimed they do.


1. Aquinas says that whatever is in motion has to be set in motion by something else that is already in motion. Even if something has the potential to move, it cannot move itself. 'Motion' here is a broad concept, encompassing not only A to B movement but also change, like that of ice into water. This is why Anthony Kenny's point that humans move themselves is not valid - chemical energy from food is changed into movement by our bodies.

© 2001

Paparella2007-08-13 22:50:56
Some ruminations: actually Aquinas who grasped quite well the complexities of the origin of the universe does posit the possibility that the universe might be eternal with God. Some have confused that for pantheism and branded him a heretic. It is not, it is panentheism: the universe as an emanation of God just as language is an emanation of Man but not Man. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God; and everything there is was created through the Word. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (Emmanu-El). We need to think and plan first and then execute and in between much time elapses. Alas, we are creaures not gods. With God thinking and doing are the same thing. The reason we perceive his creation as evolving and ongoing is because we are in time and space and are creatures thrown in time and space. The more humble and reasonable thing to do is therefore forget understanding the mind of God and stick with cultural and artistic creation and institutions and history made by man. That, and only that Man may know 100%. The natural world may be known but up to a certain point, for to know it 100% (the way Stephen Hawkings thinks he will eventually know it via the unified theory) is indeed to know the mind of God, which is to say to have become God and therefore proceed to narcisistically worship oneself: idolatry: one worships one's own intelligence and the products of that intelligence. That is hubris of the highest order represented in mythology by Icarus who wants to fly higher than the sun.

Simon2007-08-14 00:12:39
We all sit watching the comments unfold in astonished silence.

Perhaps Ovi could get the two of you together for a live debate broadcast via webcam... I'd watch!

Clash of the Titans ;)

Jack2007-08-14 00:17:18
It takes more faith to believe that something came from nothing than the first movement came by an already existent Mover. There really are no atheists, only agnostics (and -ism's galore). To say absolutely that there is no God or Creator is saying that one knows where everything, everywhere, that ever was, was seen and explored and points beyound the known universe and in all time's that have existed. [we would worship you then, since that would make you God]. The greater leap of faith is saying that "everything came from nothing" and leaving some Causer out of it. This goes upstream against scientific laws and principles, laws of induction and deduction, i.e. cause and effect, so even science itself is left without a logical explanation for spontaneous creation of all matter.

It's back to 0 + 0 everything.
Time + Chance = everything (ie. life). 0 + 0 equals 0 in any math class. Adding an Exponent to this equation add's a minimum of at least One. That changes everything.

Sand2007-08-14 00:29:58
For someone to believe in an all powerful God and then assume he can discover more than that God wishes him to know is a form of blasphemy. - J.Hiekka

Sand2007-08-14 00:38:19
Anyone familiar with quantum physics is aware that positrons and electrons are erupting out of nothing continuously. Normally they collide and quickly disappear but in the vicinity of a black hole (and there are lots of them around), one of the particles can be sucked in and the other free to roam the universe. Hawking described this.

Jack2007-08-14 01:01:21
Given that "positrons and electrons are erupting out of nothing continuously", there still lies the question,'What caused this action?' It does not answer that. It could not have caused itself into existence, otherwise it was an already existing "it" that happened to, at that time, consist of nothing. It just wasn't anything yet.

Sand2007-08-14 02:18:34
Matter is a ripple in space-time. There is a distinct possibility that our universe is not the only one. We are barely on the edge of being able to sense other universes and energy may move between universes. It is possible that gravity is a force that moves between universes. We don't know yet. It is still pretty theoretical.

Paparella2007-08-14 04:37:43
That is what Bellarmine told Galileo: we don't know yet, it is still pretty theoretical but he gets axed because he was doctor of the Church.

Sand2007-08-14 06:08:45
Stop whining.

Sand2007-08-14 07:14:32
This is a rough introduction to brane theory to indicate the frontier of theoretical multi-dimensional astrophysics.

Paparella2007-08-14 10:54:28
Srop condescending! Does Icarus suggest anything?

Sand2007-08-14 11:06:14
Why, yes. Icarus suggests a bad understanding of aerodynamics and, of course, pilot error.
Your suggestion that Bellamine was open minded about Gallileo leads by his own words to the inevitable conclusion that he had strong doubts about the virgin birth.

Paparella2007-08-14 17:59:18
Of course modern technocratic man has no doubts whatsoever about that: after all he can now play god with life and initiate it "verginally" in a test tube and then have a robot mother carry it in his/her/its belly. It is indeed a brave new world steeped in nihilism and since there is no God it is hard to shift the blame to Her/Him. Eventually we will reap the whirlwind.

Sand2007-08-14 18:14:14
Your fear of experimenting with natural processes is characteristic of those old movies where the peasants gather outside the castle carrying torches and complaining of "unholy" activities. Again you re afraid to utilize those mental capabilities inherent in human understanding. You basically distrust understanding and it is a form of cowardice.

Sand2007-08-14 18:36:39
And beyond that you oversimplify humanity into what might be kinds of Platonic absolutes of human character. You cannot distinguish between Edward Teller and Enrico Fermi or Richard Feynman or George Gamow or Murray Gell-Man or Alan Guth or Leo Szilard or many many more. They are all not individual very different people but somehow evil invaders of holy territory who would wrest from your spooky God some sort of forbidden secrets. You have no discrimination whatsoever.

Paparella2007-08-14 20:37:23
Ah, discrimination, there is the rub, aside from mockery and caricatures. What a delusion to think that one can become a discriminating human being and decide moral issues of good and eveil via scientific formulas. The first discrimination that needs to be acknowledged is that the world of science is a world concerned with the "I-it" of reality. The world of the humanities is concerned with the dialogic world of "I-Thou." That is not a bias against science but a statement of fact. Some of the greatest moral blunders of World War II were the result of that lack of discrimination. See C.P. Snow'w The Two Worlds.

Jack2007-08-14 21:54:31
I agree that we truly don''t know yet. That was my point. We can not possibly know What or Who is out there. It is not humanly possible. And, yes, there may be other universes, other dimensions, again which validates the idea that if you keep going back, Something or Someone had to make these universes and ripples of gravity thru space, even possible. Whether blackholes do indeed create matter out of nothing, then the origins of the blackholes still does not answer the cause of this. You can go back and relate things to prior events, but eventually you have to end it somewhere with a Causer. What if positrons and electrons are erupting out of nothing? We shouldn''t be surprised since He is known a Creator. Perhaps even "still" creating?

Sand2007-08-15 03:47:32
It's most curious the way different points of view decide to stop inquiring as to where first causes acquire finality. Scientific points of view stop at elemental forces and say these are prime and fundamental. People with religious inclinations stop looking once they posit some sort of intelligence that exists forever. They shut off their curiosity as to how this superior intelligence came to exist as if this inquiry was some sort of forbidden territory.

Sand2007-08-15 04:24:22
To carry the "creator" theory into a more contemporary context recent article in The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/14/science/14tier.html?_r=1&ref=science&oref=slogin)
theorizes that the creator is some sort of super nerd who amuses himself with creating our universe in his super computer. It seems to me as possible as any other religious explanation.

Paparella2007-08-15 16:13:45
Here we go again: caricatures substituting for serious reasoning. Obviously what was discussed on De Chardin in this forum went right over your head if it was ever read.

Sand2007-08-15 17:45:40
Here we go again. Another vague reference objecting to an interesting conjecture. You are again demonstrating an incapability for a clear and definite and specific clarification.

Paparella2007-08-15 18:05:16
Yes Simon, nothing wrong in listening in astonishing silence, for philosophy begins in astonishment and wonder while the fool needs scientific proofs of a God in the heavens and listens to his own opinions only, but a more fair characterization than "the clash of the Titans" would be a "tempest in a tea-cup" or perhaps a clowns' performance at a circus. Hope you're having some fun. To put it in Lewis' question: how shall we know the gods till we have faces?

Sand2007-08-15 18:12:05
Thanks for confirming your incapability. Nothing more need be said.

Paparella2007-08-15 18:39:18
Projecting your own unappropiated shadow again? Since rationalists are quite predictable I wager you'll want to add something more to the nothing that needs to be said.

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