April 4, 2009 in Features

Philosophy departments bringing religion into focus

Jim Becker Special to The Spokesman-Review
 

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People who do not believe in God have a common line of thinking: Since God is not subject to scientific proof, God is not real. Belief in God is an act of blind faith. It has no reasonable basis.

This is the view that has dominated American intellectual circles for a century. Today, interestingly enough, this view is on the run where it started. University philosophy departments are finding religion.

In a recent issue of Christianity Today, the magazine noted that philosophy departments of major universities are more and more becoming dominated by those who argue the case for the existence of God. The movement is so strong that Quentin Smith, philosophy professor at the University of Michigan, has publicly lamented what he calls the “desecularization” of university philosophy departments.

The reason for this movement is the simple fact it is logically more difficult to argue against the existence of God than it is to argue for it. The main philosophic arguments against God’s existence that dominated American academia for most of the twentieth century are gone.

Through the 1930s and ’40s, academic philosophers held to what was called Verificationism. This was the idea it was meaningless to talk about the existence of God because God couldn’t be verified through the five senses. The high point of the movement was the cover of the April 8, 1966, issue of Time magazine that declared, “God is dead.”

Verificationism, however, collapsed because the idea itself could not be verified. If the idea could not be proved by its own criteria it was, by definition, illogical.

This forced philosophers to once again deal with the classic problem of existence: How did we get here? The problem is summed up in the classic syllogism:

1. Everything that exists has a cause.

2. The universe exists.

3. The universe has a cause.

It is easy to see how this line of reasoning soon has to deal with the idea of God. One of the explanations that makes clear logical sense is that the universe is the product of an external, transcendent, personal mind. This is what we mean by God.

There are, of course, objections to this conclusion. One of the classic arguments was that the universe did not need a cause since it has always existed. It is eternal.

Science, however, the child of reason, has turned this idea on its head. The emergence of the Big Bang Theory and our ability to actually determine the age of the universe has dealt this argument a fatal blow.

We now know that the universe had a specific beginning and is spreading outward into space at a specific rate of speed. It is not eternal, but bound by time. Logically, the universe as we know it still needs a cause.

This is a prime example of how we should be cautious about using science to make grand conclusions about the nature of reality. If there is anything true about science, it is that what we believe today will be altered by what we find out tomorrow.

One of the current prominent theories about the nature of matter is “string theory.” This is the idea that all of what we call matter is actually energy vibrating at different rates.

A leading physicist in the field explains the idea by referring to the Bible. He notes that Genesis says God created the universe out of nothing. This is what string theory contends: Everything is actually made out of energy.

In a material sense, the universe is made of nothing. It seems the religious writers were correct thousands of years ago.

In the 1960s, a sociologist by the name of Theodor Rozak wrote “The Making of a Counter Culture.” In the book Rozak argued that science had become the new religion. It had set itself apart as the only way to truth. Rozak, who was not a religious writer, simply contended this was wrong.

One can hope the movement in philosophy departments to logically examine the idea of God will nudge a cultural shift. It’s past time for religious thought to again be part of serious intellectual conversation.

Jim Becker is a retired teacher of communication and theater. He and his wife, Joan, operate The Lion’s Share, a creative center for the arts in Spokane.

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