Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Agnosticism: Question of God is a question of that which is above us

I posted this at Wikipedia:

According to Ratzinger, if the question of the knowability of God is not addressed, then “agnosticisim would in fact be the only correct attitude for man,” an “honest and devout” acknowledgement of that which eludes our field of vision. Ratzinger (later elected as Pope Benedict XVI) also cautions against a premature objection to agnosticism, one that is merely based on affirming man's “thirst for the infinite.” He says that the best critique lies in the practical realm.

The true way to call agnosticism into question is to ask whether its program can be realized. Is it possible for us, as human beings, purely and simply to lay aside the question of our origin, of our final destiny, and of the measure of our existence? Can we be content to live under the hypothetical formula “as if God did not exist” while it is possible that he does in fact exist? (...) I am forced in practice to choose between two alternatives: either to live as if God did not exist or else to live as if God did exist and was the decisive reality of my existence. What is at stake [in agnosticism] is the praxis of one’s life.

Ratzinger thinks that human reason has the power to know reality, and attain the truth. For this, he alludes to the achievements of the natural sciences. He believes that agnosticism is a self-limitation of reason rooted in Kant: reason imposes limits on itself which can lead to dangerous pathologies of religion, such as terrorism and pathologies of science, such as ecological disasters. He thinks that this self-limitation dishonors reason and is contradictory to the modern acclamation of science, whose basis is the power of reason.

When people argue that God is unknowable because he cannot be experienced and tested scientifically, Ratzinger differentiates God from other knowable objects:

This question regards not that which is below us, but that which is above us. It regards, not something we could dominate, but that which exercises its lordship over us and over the whole of reality.

[To] impose our laboratory conditions upon God...implies that we deny God as God by placing ourselves above him, by discarding the dimension of love... [To think thus] would make God our servant.

There are many things that we do not see but they exist and are essential...We do not see our intelligence and we have it: we do not see our soul and yet it exists and we see its effects, because we can speak, think and make decisions.

Ratzinger thinks that there is a natural knowledge of God "through the things he has made," and agrees with Paul of Tarsus that “agnosticism that is lived out as atheism” is not “an innocent position.”

Agnosticism is always the fruit of a refusal of that knowledge which is in fact offered to man… Man is not condemned to remain in uncertainty about God. He can “see” him, if he listens to the voice of God’s Being and to the voice of his creation and lets himself be guided by this. The history of religions is coextensive with the history of humanity. As far as we know, there has never been an epoch in which the question of the One who is totally other, the Divine, has been alien to man. The knowledge of God has always existed.

See Wikipedia on Agnosticism


Anonymous said...

For being the Almighty Catholic, Mr. Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) is pretty level-headed and reasonable. These are not virtues exhibited in a large number Christians, so i was fairly impressed. Go popey go popey go

Raul said...

Many like you have been impressed. He wrote many books before he became Pope. Here you will find excerpts of his work online:

Enjoy the intellectual feast!

Anonymous said...

". . .we do not see our soul and yet it exists and we see its effects, because we can speak, think and make decisions."

How are speaking, thinking, and decision making results and proof of the existence of a soul. Seems like proof of the existence of the human brain.

Raul said...

This is an interesting point. Ratzinger was assuming that people knew of a traditional observation among Catholics. An initial observation is the difference between animals and humans. While both have brains, humans are capable of abstract thinking and free decision making. Animals, on the other hand, are driven by instinct. More can be said about this, e.g.

Raul said...

Check out IV.C of Peter Kreeft's arguments on the LIfe after Death. The whole piece is a tour de force explaining all angles on Life after Death:

Raul said...

Unlike brain cells, thoughts cannot be observed. Thoughts about religion, democracy, poetry cannot be figured out in any brain cell. This article can help:

fnar said...

Whilst Pope Benedict may indeed be a highly intelligent and well qualified papal figure, certain of his basic views are fundamentally flawed by agnostics like myself in fairly simple ways.

Contraception: It is impossible to educate a whole continent so vast yet lacking practically everything taken for granted by the western world and most importantly - it's level of education.
Aids is known to be rife in Africa and to suggest the continent's population refrain from sexual desire is almost like preaching to the nation that they should all try to become catholic priests!
Chastity, fidelity in marriage and anti-poverty efforts being preferred to condom use - none of these will exist in our lifetimes in Africa and are unreasonble solutions to a continent in desperate trouble.
The only effective way to stop this dreadful disease is correct sex education and the use of condoms - The human race are sinners by nature (was that not what Jesus proved), so why should a whole nation suffer because of it.

The distinction between man and woman is all very well. If a man or woman is attracted to the same sex they must be sinners as they can obviously not see the great importance of the evolution of mankind as a whole, or the holy institution of marriage! So anyone born gay should live their lives in denial whilst anyone who divorces should pray for forgiveness every day thereafter - again these views are quite ridiculous in the modern world we live in.
Priests succumbing to sickening desires of young boys seem fairly commonplace - I've lost count of how many times another related story crops up.
Perhaps modernising the Catholic church and allowing priests to marry would save a lot of suffering these young boys suffer at the hands of their trusted priests.
Just as some of Darwins views may be slightly questionable in their entirety (although many have basically proven to be correct), religions such as Catholism should also be subject to modernisation - before becoming archaic and draconian.

Raul said...

Thanks, Fnar, for your comments. :)

As to condoms, you might want to check this other post in this same blog as to the scientific basis of Ratzinger's position: and . From this it can be seen that Ratzinger's position is most enlightened.

As to homosexuality, you may clarify what the Church really says here:

As to divorcees, John Paul II might be able help, esp. 83 of FC:

Catholic church does not view itself as a man-made religion (man going up the mountain) but a divinely revealed religion (God seeking man). The Church says that it only transmits what God the Creator holds as true and reasonable, and it tries very hard to be faithful to it, because it believes that God is logos (God is reason) and God is truth and love. God is mercy.

As to celibacy: and

Anonymous said...

To the blogger - Hello, I just want to know where Pope Benedict said this. Do you have a link to the original document? Thank you.

Raul said...

Hi Anonymous, please follow this link and you will find the original post at Wikipedia, where you will find all the footnotes and the appropriate references:

The basic text is found in Christianity and Crisis of Cultures, but there are others that you will see in that link. Thanks for your interest.

Anonymous said...

Hi Raul, thanks a lot for the reference to the book. I noticed that people have deleted your entry on Wikipedia. That's very unfortunate. Perhaps you should petition Wikipedia and tell them that your original entry is far superior (and knowledge-oriented, as that's what Wikipedia's about) than the current entry.

Raul said...

Thanks for your comment, Anonymous. The present section on Religious Scholars is the result of a compromise among Wikipedians, after a very long discussion. You can see part the discussion here: The consensus was to include the views of several Catholic and religious scholars and not just Ratzinger. The present summary of views is also mine. I agree with you that a more thorough exposition of Ratzinger's thought would have been better, but that is how Wikipedia works. :)

Raul said...

BTW, is there a particular thought of Ratzinger which you think should be included in the present summary? We might still be able to insert it.

Abecedarius Rex said...

thx so much for this entry. great clarity of thought to things i've been saying for years. i'm so glad that Ratzinger agrees with me. no, seriously, we live in a great and exciting age with so remarkable a man as this at the helm.

Raul said...

I cannot agree more Abecedarius Rex. That springtime that John Paul II saw is going to happen.

Anonymous said...

He does seem reasonable, well read and thoughtful but I fundamentally disagree with what he says as true; born and brought up a catholic, I am probably now best described as a theist areligious agnostic (see the Wikipedia article) though I don't think of myself in those terms. I don't believe that agnosticism means you cast away the great questions that Ratzinger says you do, you just come to a position regarding them: they are fudamentally un-answerable. I also don't believe that life needs a pre-formed guiding philosophy, a map written by someone else: growing up is partly about you forming your own one. Actually, to be agnostic, it shows you have thought about the big questions rather than mindlessly absorbing what someone tells you to. Simply stuffing God in to those awkward questions for want of anything else would be illogical, insincere and impious. A Christian has to be comfortable with the concept of faith or believe without evidence- that itself is OK as long as you are explicit that you are doing that. I also totally disagree that agnosticism is not innocent: It is the only innocent position. Christianity requires, in someone not comfortable with the meaning of faith a mindless ritualistic mimicry, usually born of parental example. Atheism is probably the most mindless way to go. How can you prove nonexistence? Dawkins aggressive brand of atheistic bigotry is as comical as it is sinister, especially for a man of learning. Agnosticism is the default to those choosing to be guided by that which christians believe God gave him: a brain.

Raul said...

I respect your way of seeing things, Anonymous. I might be in the same situation if I had your background. In fact I was. I was an agnostic, then an atheist, until a friend helped me find the way to the truth.

A key point is Ratzinger's statement: if the question of the knowability of God is not addressed, then “agnosticisim would in fact be the only correct attitude for man,” an “honest and devout” acknowledgement of that which eludes our field of vision.

So it's about knowability really, and it's a question which you find un-answerable.

But since you also want to be guided by your brain, as you said, you might want to try looking into these rational argumentations of Kreeft:

Kreeft thinks that there is a strong cumulative rational proof for God's existence. He mentions 20.

Since this is the most fundamental question of our life (Ratzinger said it is about our life's origin, purpose and measure!), I'd really recommend you go through these arguments with "the keenest self-criticism, humble listening to the whole of existence, the persistent patience and self-correction of the scientific method, a readiness to be purified by the truth" (Ratzinger again).

Hope these help!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
errorage said...

The Pope makes a rational point. Actually i must admit i was surprised.

I'd like to hear your comment on my point of view. One of the dominant scientific explanations of the creation of the universe is the big bang theory. This is something which is considered scientifically provable. Personally i currently do not believe in the theory, and am more convinced by the idea of supernatural forces providing the initial jolt to start up the universe. This makes me a theist, however seeing as CERN is now conducting research into the big-bang theory I've adopted a stance of agnosticism, waiting for scientific proof from CERN. If this proof comes i will switch to atheism (or possibly a new religion which may evolve from such proof), otherwise i will revert back to theism.
I'd like to hear your taughts on my stance.

I mentioned many ideas went through my head as to what provided the initial jolt to start life. Here are a few examples:
- A man-like 'creature' as god:
This is the theory the bible talks about, i don't see many problems with this. Someone whose superhuman can theoretically be able to control anything and everything.
- Humankind being a research experiment:
Perhaps we are all in a test tube in some laboratory as an experiment of life. Perhaps there are several test tubes with different conditions.
- We know cells are alive and can't see us, what's to say we aren't cells to something larger?
- Perhaps we are an elaborate computer simulation. This may be a shocking thing to think about, but after only 50 years of development we've built a computer program which was able to beat the best human chess player. Let's add another thousand years of development and the possibilities are literally supernatural.
- Perhaps we are the result of a penny arcade where you insert a coin and get to live a life with no memories to start with. Maybe after death I'll be able to brag with the guys I'm in the arcade with that i managed to figure it out while alive...

In all of the above cases there is a god. a man-like creature, a scientist, a superior creature, a master program or in the last example... everyone themselves.

I have, what i believe, an interesting question for those who don't even consider the existence of a god: How can one believe in dark matter if they refuse even the possibility of the existence of god. :)

Okay, I admit my views might be pretty radical, however I am not forcing them on anyone, I'm just stating them as things to think about.

Raul said...

I do find your ideas interesting. Still, ideas have to be studied on whether they have a basis in reality.

Big Bang is strictly a scientific theory, based on several observed phenomena that is best explained with a big bang:

The additional conclusion that there is a cause of the big bang (something that started it) is a philosophical, logical point. People usually point to a being that is usually given the name "God", who is the first cause. This article might help:

As to the other theories you have, you might want to know that in Christian teaching Jesus is both God and man, a human who is the Designer of the universe. All things are designed based on Jesus and all of the human beings are being drawn to Jesus to become one body, one mystical body, one person. Thus we are like "cells", as you put it, of the one Christ.