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Please, God!

In response to:

Oh God! from the January 10, 2013 issue

What Can Be Proved About God? from the December 6, 2012 issue

Can Religious Belief Be Tested? from the November 8, 2012 issue

To the Editors:

I find it odd that the recent correspondence in The New York Review concerning the existence/nonexistence of God has been conducted as if this subject were something new [Letters, November 8, 2012, December 6, 2012, and January 10, 2013]. For proof of His existence, ESP and individual cosmic sentiments or intuition (sensus divinitatis) have been proposed, and the existence of evil is cited as evidence of His nonexistence (which has been an argument in Western philosophy since the time of Socrates).

Surely no scientific demonstration of God’s existence is available, the evidence in the matter being (literally) infinite and therefore invulnerable to scientific generalization. Nor, for the same reason, is God’s nonexistence scientifically provable. In modern terms, the proposition that God exists can neither be scientifically demonstrated nor falsified.

The existence of God has never been held to be demonstrable other than by philosophical reasoning, as remains the case today. The claim that God exists rests on a different category of knowledge from that of science: philosophical reason—which is indifferent to the inability of science to explain the existence of the universe. Philosophy makes no claim to offer an irrefutable validation of religion’s essential claims, has no expectation of doing this in the future, and does not consider that it needs to do so.

Philosophical discourse is capable of logical persuasion but not the material proof of abstract propositions. Theology, which rests on biblical or prophetic “revelation,” describes the God who is presumed to exist, if He exists. But only philosophy responds to the essential human question, which is Leibniz’s: Why is there something rather than nothing?

The equivalent question as posed by Aquinas is that of the Uncaused Cause. Neither science nor philosophy has adequately answered it, and I would think never will. However this is no surprise since the questions themselves are indirect affirmation of God’s existence.

One should read the late Leszek Kołakowski’s splendid little book, Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing? (2007), which takes Leibniz’s question as its title, and dispassionately examines Leibniz’s discussion, as well as the responses offered to twenty-two of the other fundamental questions of human (or divine) existence by the major philosophers of Western civilization, from the Greeks to the twentieth century.

William Pfaff
Paris, France

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