Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Hume's Legacy through Kant

With Hume killing off the en vogue way to God, we are left at an impasse. For Hume opens up questions that previously were not addressed. Following his philosophy we learn that everything is open to critique and question in a way that was more radical than Descartes. Hume, in effect, killed philosophy and the theology that was based on the philosophy of the day. How then do we precede? There are two options that come to mind:
  1. Based on Hume's critique, we abolish religion. We let religious thought slink back into the shadows and eventually die out. If we cannot know God, if we cannot know Truth, how then do we worship? 
  2. We take Hume's critique seriously and attempt to answer it without slipping into a relativistic subjectivism. We establish that thought and knowledge is not just founded upon objective reason nor subjective experience. We need to hold the two methods (reason and experience) in tension to find the truth. 
It is this second approach that the Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant undertakes in his philosophical and theological enterprise. After reading Hume, "Kant came to realize that the human mind finds itself in in the peculiar situation of being burdened by certain metaphysical questions which it is unable to ignore but which also appear to transcend the mind's power to answer." (Modern Christian Thought, Livingston, pg. 58) By this, Kant points to the fact that there is humanity a notion of something that is outside of themselves and outside of the Natural realm. Humanity feels the weight of this other realm upon it's shoulders and then through various forms of thought, tried to understand the world. However, as pointed out in the second part of the quote, these issues are beyond the power of the mind to formulate and come up with a satisfying answer.

Instead of giving into Hume's critique, Kant takes it further. Not only did Kant extend and further enumerate Hume's critique, he did so in a positive way that laid a new foundation and ground for theological and philosophical understanding.

In his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant outlines the three ways to prove God's existence and shows how each fails:
  1. The Ontological Argument- (Anselm) The argument runs that God is a perfect being who has all qualities of perfections, which includes existence. Therefore, to be perfect, God has to exist. Since God is perfect, God exists. Kant states that this argument is not logically valid due to the fact that existence is not a predicate.In other words, I can convince of something without it existing. An ideas existence is not dependent on it actually existing. Something does not have to physically exist (have Being) to be thought of. Therefore, we can posit God's non-existence without being logically inconsistent. What Kant's critique truly boils down to is that even if God exists as a perfect Being, it has no bearing on us, due to God, in this instance, only being a Theoretical entity. If we hold to Anselm, according to Kant, there is no practical insight gained. 
  2. The Cosmological Argument- The argument runs that if something exists, there must be a Cause behind its existence. The problem with this, Kant contends, is that we can only posit the existence of a Cause and nothing about the Cause itself. We cannot, from this proof, posit any attributes to the cause if we with to be logically consistent. Kant continues his critique by stating that the rule of Cause and Effect only operates in the sensible world. Cause and Effect are based in experience (which Kant takes over from Hume) and therefore cannot be used for anything outside of experience.
  3. The Physico-Theological Proof- This proof holds that due to the perceived order of the world there has to be a designer behind the order. This designer is then identified as God. Kant, like Hume, holds this to be untenable.  For Kant, the argument from design can only show that there "is an architect of the world who is always very much hampered by the adaptability of the material in which he works, not a creator of the world to whose idea everything is subject." (pg. 61) Thus, the designer is not the creator but is working with already created materials. Again, this proof goes nowhere if we are trying to prove the existence of God and understand God's attributes. 
What Kant is doing in these critiques is continuing Hume's thought and then taking it forward. We must, for Kant, recognize that our logic and rationality will always fail to posit and proof God's existence. However, Kant (against Hume) holds that the opposite is also true. We cannot through logic and reason, prove and posit the non-existence of God. Kant, unlike Hume, will not dismiss the concept of God due to the fact that the proofs do not work. Instead, Kant will instruct us to use the idea of God and his attributes in a regulative way. That is, although we cannot prove God or God's attributes, the ideas offer us guidelines for our thought and life.

According to this basic summary of Kant's first critique, the Church needs to understand that God is not absolutely provable. God is not a scientific theorem or maxim that can be shown to be valid or not. And in a way counter to contemporary Scientism, we need to understand that just because God and His attributes are not logically or experientially provable., we do not need to abandon the notion of God.

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