Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Fuzz in Descartes' Belly Button

By Michael David Rawlings


Nowhere in the West during the period of the Enlightenment was the hostility toward religion more palpable than it was in France. Rationalist thinker René Descartes, the father of modern philosophy, was among the most sterling exceptions to the general rule until the arrival of the early proponents of laissez-faire in 1750 and the classical liberals of the so-called Thermidorian Reaction of 1794. This is not to say, however, that I approve of Descartes' epistemological ground for substance: that being (what is) is subordinate to the cogito (the thought of it).

God is the self-subsistent ground of all reality. He is the "God Who stands and stays",1 as Carl F. H. Henry puts it, and the natural law of human apprehension conferred by Him, as rendered by Thomas Aquinas and refined by John Calvin, is the only legitimate foundation for a universal morality and for civil law. This is not a conditional aspect of human psychology.

A more satisfying epistemology, one that more perfectly mirrors that of scripture, is a synthesis of rationalism and empiricism, albeit, one that is contingent upon the imperatives of the imago dei and the historic, objectively independent interventions of transcendent revelation. In other words, it's because God does exist, and for that reason only, that we may be confident that the calculi of human consciousness correspond with the structures and mechanics of the temporal world beyond . . . insofar as they are guided by revealed religion. For whether one be aware of it or not, all scientific theory rests on an apriority of faith as a matter of practicality: the assumption that the rational forms and logical categories of the human mind are reliably synchronized with the apparent substances and mechanisms of empirical phenomena.

To be fair, Descartes never intended to cloud our awareness of the innate, natural law of divine origin or diminish the stature of nature's God. But he failed to anticipate that the reduction of the basis for knowledge from man's intuitive, preanalytic apprehension of cosmic order (which entails his moral and aesthetic senses) to the first impressions of a detached introspection would lead to the subjective relativism of postmodern popular culture—the untutored, inner musings of human reasoning making baby talk about the world beyond. He also failed to recognize that his basis for knowledge could not withstand the logical implications of an empiricism likewise detached from divine revelation . . . and he never imagined the subsequent nihilism of a Darwinian naturalism.
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1Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority:  God Who Stands and Stays (Waco, TX:  Word Books, 1983), Vol. VI, Part II.

2 comments:

Richard said...

Michael,

Why does God exist?

Michael David Rawlings, a.k.a. "Bluemoon" said...

The only answer to that question that's ever made any sense at all to me is that nothingness is simply not possible. Laying aside certain types of logical errors, nothingness seems to be the only thing for which we have only a referent with which to pin it down in our minds. That's as close as I know how to answer the question.

*shrug*

What do you say?