William Pfaff is the author of The Irony of Manifest Destiny, published in June 2010 by Walker and Company (New York) -- his tenth and culminating work on international politics and the American destiny. He describes the neglected sources and unforeseen consequences of the tragedy towards which the nation's current effort to remake the world to fit America's measure is leading. His previous books and his articles in The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and his syndicated newspaper column, featured for a quarter century in the globally read International Herald Tribune, have made him one of America's most respected and internationally influential interpreters of world affairs.   [Read more...]
Asides :  God's Existence
on 2013/2/2 18:20:00 (8421 reads)

The following letter was published in the February 21st edition of The New York Review of Books in response to several previously published letters from academics of scientific or positivist disposition seemingly ignorant of the history and philosophical background to the discussion of Godís existence. What has happened to general education in American universities ?

To the Editors :
I find it odd that the recent correspondence in The New York Review concerning the existence/non-existence 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 non-existence (which has been an argument in Western philosophy since the time of Socrates).

Surely no scientific demonstration of Godís existence is available, the evidence in the matter being (literally) infinite and therefore invulnerable to scientific generalization. Nor, for the same reason, is Godís non-existence 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 religionís 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 ďrevelation,Ē describes the God who is presumed to exist, if He exists. But only philosophy responds to the essential human question, which is Leibnizís: 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, and I would think never will. However this is no surprise since the questions themselves are indirect affirmation of Godís existence.

One should read the late Leszek Kolakowskiís splendid little book, Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing? (2007) which takes Leibnizís question as its title, and dispassionately examines Leibnizís 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


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