The God of the Philosophical Dabblers

If there is an omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent God, it is obvious that we cannot know Him as an object, or even as an external subject, but only as the active foundation of our own self-consciousness, maximally present as such at the very moment in which our self-consciousness, entering into full possession of itself, asks itself about Him. Such is the method adopted by experts on the subject, like Plato, Aristotle, Saint Augustine, Saint Francis of Sales, the mystics of the Philokalia, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, or Louis Lavelle.

When a Richard Dawkins or a Daniel Dennett examine the question of a “Supreme Being” that would have “created the world” and naturally arrive at the conclusion that this Being does not exist, they reason as if they were present at the moment of Creation as external observers, and what’s worse, as external observers from whose intimate constitution the omnipresent God had had the kindness of becoming absent for a few moments so as to allow them to observe Him from the outside and witness His existence or non-existence. This objectified God does not and cannot exist, since he is logically self-contradictory. Dawkins, Dennett, and tutti quanti are absolutely right when they declare him to be non-existing, for they themselves were the ones who invented him. And in addition, through some sort of unconscious shrewdness, they were careful enough to conceive him in such a way that the empirical proofs of his non-existence are, rigorously, infinite, being able to be found not only in this universe but in all possible universes, since the impossibility of a self-contradiction is universal to the maximum degree and in the eminent sense, not depending upon the physical constitution of this of any other universe.

If you do not “believe” in the God of the Bible, this does not make the slightest methodological or logical difference in your attempt to investigate His existence or non-existence, provided that your attempt is honest. Whatever the case, you can only discuss the existence of a previously defined object if you discuss it according to the definition given at the outset and do not change this definition in the course of a conversation—which is tantamount to substituting the object with another and discussing something else. If God is defined as omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, you have to demonstrate the non-existence of this God, and not of some other god that you invented in order to suit the needs of what you intend to prove.

The method adopted by the likes of Dawkins and Dennett is based upon such an elementary, such a grotesque logical mistake that it is enough not only to intellectually disqualify them in this particular realm, but also to cast a shadow of suspicion upon the whole of their work on any other subject-matter, although it is possible that people who are incompetent to deal with a question that is fundamental to all mankind may reveal some ability in treating secondary problems, where the emotional charge is lower.

Far from being able to be investigated as an object of the external world, God is also defined in the Bible as a person, and as a sui generis person who maintains an intimate and secret dialogue with all human beings and indicates to each of them an inner path for them to know Him. Only if you look for signs of this person in the intimacy of you soul and do not find them at all, even following all the indications given in the definition, it will be legitimate for you to declare that God does not exist. Otherwise you will be proclaiming the non-existence of another god, a point on which the Bible will completely agree with you, with the only difference that you imagine, or you pretend to imagine, that this god is the God of the Bible.

When an enemy of faith makes an effort to cling to the Biblical definition of God, he always does so in a partial and caricatural way, and the results at which he arrives are even worse than those of the “creation” argument. Dawkins argues against omniscience, asking how God could possibly be aware of all thoughts of all human beings at the same time. The question is formulated in an absurd way, assuming that self-consciousnesses are objects that exist per se and questioning the possibility of knowing all of them at once ex post facto. But self-consciousness is not an object. It is a vacillating power, which constitutes and conquers itself to the extent that it asks itself about its own foundation and, not finding such foundation within its own boundaries, it is led to open itself to more and more consciousness, until it disembogues into a source transcendent to the universe of experience and notices that out of this source, which is per se unattainable, comes its strength to intensify itself. Ten lines by Louis Lavelle on this subject, or the paragraph in which Aristotle defines God as noesis noeseos, self-consciousness of self-consciousness, are worth more than all the works that Dawkins and Dennett could possibly write in the course of infinite earthly existences. A God who supposedly “observes” every consciousness from the outside is a character of a cock-and-bull story—one who was especially invented to prove his own non-existence. Instead of asking how such god would be possible, and knowing in advance that this god is impossible, a qualified philosopher starts off from the contrary question: how is self-awareness possible? God does not know self-awareness as an external observer but as the transcendent foundation of its possibility of existence. But you can only perceive this if, instead of playing logical games with made-up concepts, you seriously investigate the problem from your own inner experience, with the maturity of an accomplished philosopher and having a comprehensive knowledge of the status quaestionis.

What is killing philosophy in today’s world is amateurism, the intrusion of dabblers who, ignoring the very formulation of the question they discuss, take delight in puerile and inconsequential guesswork, which is even more ridiculous when adorned with a varnish of “science.”

Olavo de Carvalho is the President of The Inter-American Institute and Distinguished Senior Fellow in Philosophy, Political Science, and the Humanities.

The opinions published here are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by the Institute. This article was originally published in the Brazilian newspaper Diário do Comércio on March 18, 2019, and translated from the Portuguese by Alessandro Cota.

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