Skip to main content

Hart on Naturalism, Existence and God

So, life is kind of hectic and reading has not been high enough on the priorities recently, but this afternoon I picked up The Experience of God by David Bentley Hart (Yale 2013) again. The book is starting to get going, although I'm sure he could say the same thing more clearly with 1/3 of the words, but maybe that is a style thing?

[P]hilisophical naturalism could never serve as a complete, coherent, or even provisionally plausible picture of reality as a whole. . . The question of existence is real, comprehensible, and unavoidable, and yet it lies beyond the power of naturalism to answer it, or even to ask it. (p95)

To be clear here: not only has physics not yet arrived at an answer to this question, it never can. All physical events - all physical causes, all physical constituents of reality - are embraced within the history of nature, which is to say the history of what already has existence. The question of existence, however, concerns the very possibility of such a history, and the very expectation that the sciences could possibly have anything to say on the matter is and example of what might be called the "pleonastic fallacy"; that is, the belief that an absolute qualitative difference can be over come by a successive accumulation of extremely small and entirely relative quantitative steps. This is arguably the besetting mistake of all naturalist thinking, as it happens, in practically every sphere. (p98)

At some point, then, at the source of all sources and the origin of all origins, the contingent must rest upon the absolute. One will not understand this line of reasoning properly, however, unless one recognizes [sic] that it is not concerned with the question of the temporal origin of the universe; it would make no difference for the argument whatsoever if it should turn out that the universe has existed forever and will go on existing eternally, without beginning or end, or that it belongs to some beginningless and endless succession of universes. (102)

. . . the cause of being is not some mechanical first instance of physical eventuality that, having discharged its part, may depart the stage; rather, it is the unconditional reality underlying all conditioned things in every instant. (104) 

Hart is at pains, over several pages, to make the often overlooked distinction between cosmology and ontology clear. I think it is a helpful point and certainly relevant to discussions about the relationship between science and theology, i.e. any cosmological claims made by religion are at risk of the being overturned by the advances of science, but ontological claims are of a different order. And of course this is not just about justifying religious belief in the face of atheist attacks but about requiring an answer from the atheist as to how they explain existence in the first place. All good. Hart also makes a slightly more overreaching claim in the same vein which I might try and explain in another post.

Let me know what you think, :-)


Popular posts from this blog

That one time Jesus got the Bible wrong

It's so typical isn't it? You are preaching all day long, training your disciples, sparring with the Pharisees, encouraging the poor and down trodden, healing the sick and casting out demons, all day, day after day, and even when you go up a mountain to get a rest the crowds hunt you down and follow you up, and then the one time you get a bit muddled up with some of the details of a biblical text . . . that is the one they write down in the first gospel - verbatim. At least Matthew and Luke had the good sense to do some editing. But Mark, he always had his eye on giving the public the "historical Jesus" whoever that is supposed to be . . . warts and all. Thanks a lot Mark!

Some think I made the mistake on purpose, just to show the Pharisees up.

For some there is no mistake worth mentioning, only a slightly ambiguous turn of phrase.

Others think I am doing something tricky with Abiathar's name, getting him to figuratively stand in for the priesthood.

It really has…

Thor Ragnarok and Parihaka: Postcolonial Apocalypse

Thor: Ragnarok is a riot of colour, sound, violence, humour, sci-fi and fantasy. As a piece of entertainment it is the best Marvel has produced so far. As in many of Taika Waititi's films the plot often seems secondary to the humour and a number of quirky moments seemed only to serve for a quick giggle. I left the theatre overwhelmed by the sensory experience, but ultimately unimpressed by any deeper meaning.

It wasn't until the second morning after my trip to the movies that I woke to the realisation that the movie could function as a profound postcolonial metaphor (I do some of my best thinking while alseep, also it can take me a while for the penny to drop). Unfortunately a quick google showed me that I was neither the first, nor the second to have this thought.

[Spoiler Alert!]

It's easy to miss with all the other stuff going on but Thor undergoes a postcolonial awakening during the film as he slowly realises that his beloved Asgard and its dominion of the nine realms …

Dale Martin does Mark

Dale Martin is an important and frequently controversial NT scholar. Those of us who can't make it to Yale to hear him teach can access some of his lectures, in fact his entire introduction to the NT course, through the magic of the internet.

Here he is holding forth on Mark . . .