, , , , , , , , ,

Here is a passage which I will type verbatim from Alasdair MacIntyre’s new book God, Philosophy, Universities. A fantastic short study of the rise of Catholic philosophy and the university system as well as tracing the threads of (particularly) Roman Catholic philosophical thought. Since I tend to agree with almost every word that ever came out of MacIntyre’s mouth (and pen), I reproduce this passage for you and commend it to your thoughts. Enjoy!

“…the disagreement between atheists and theists is one of those fundamental disagreements that extends to how the disagreement is to be characterized. Atheists characteristically take theists to believe in one item too many. They envisage a catalog designed to include a description of every type of being that there is and suppose that theists and atheists have no problem in agreeing to include in that catalog a variety of inorganic and organic beings, stars, planets, dandelions, azaleas, bacteria, viruses, dolphins, wolves, and the like, but disagree about just one remaining item, God. And since none of the reasons that are sufficient to justify the inclusion of descriptions of all these other beings is sufficient to justify the inclusion of a description of God, they take it that theists have at this point affirmed a belief which, unlike those beliefs that theists and atheists share, lacks rational justification. The atheist has, on the atheist’s view, conformed to the canons of rationality. The theist has not.

This is not however how theists characteristically understand their disagreement with atheists. From the theistic point of view this is a disagreement about everything, about what it is to find anything whatsoever intelligible rather than unintelligible. To view something as intelligible is not yet to understand it. It is to recognize it as open to being understood, to recognize that, if one asks what it is, why it is as it is, and why indeed it is–why, that is, out of the indefinitely large set of possibilities that might have been actualized, this particular possibility has been realized–there is a true answer to be found. That answer will identify some agency sufficient to make it the case that things exist as they do and have the characteristics that they have.

It turns out however that no answer provided by the natural sciences is capable of identifying such an agency. For all scientific explanation is of the form “Because such and such antecedent conditions were satisfied, these particular possibilities were actualized” and this makes the outcome that we are trying to understand intelligible only if we are able to say why those particular antecedent conditions were satisfied. No matter how far scientific explanation is taken, the existence of whatever it is that exists and its having the characteristics that it has remain surd facts, yet to be made intelligible. And this is why scientific enquiry always involves trying to move beyond our present explanations, yet never can reach a point where the phenomena that it studies have been made fully intelligible. What kind of agency would have to be identified to make them finally intelligible? It would have to be such that it itself, its existence and nature, require no further explanation, that is, that there is no question of existence having been conferred on its essence, something rules out only if what it is and that it is are one and the same, that it is a being whose essence and existence are identical. But this is how theists conceive of God. So their disagreements with atheists concerning God are inseparable from their disagreements with atheists concerning intelligibility–and these disagreements have a further dimension.

What is distinctive about the theistic view of the nature of things is not only that theists assert the existence of God and that they take the world to be fully intelligible only if understood in its relationship to God, but that they conceive human beings as occupying a unique position in the order of things. Human beings are on the one hand bodies, having a physical, chemical, and animal nature, inhabiting an immediate environment, located at particular points in space and time. Yet on the other hand their understanding extends indefinitely beyond their immediate environment to what is remote in space and time and to the abstract and the universal as well as to the concrete and the particular. And their aspiration to complete and perfect their understanding of the order of things and of their place within it is matched by an aspiration to achieve a relationship with a fully and finally adequate object of desire, an end to which, if they understand themselves rightly (on the theistic view), they are directed by their nature. Yet human beings are not animal bodies plus something else. The human being is a unity, not a duality.” MacIntyre, pages 76-78.

A very nice summation I think of the general line of thought.