Observations On the Modern Critics of Religion

Believers read Hawkins, Dworkin, and other atheists who criticize religious, especially Christian, beliefs based on "scientific" or "empiricist" arguments are invariably stuck by the unimpressiveness of their efforts, which rest on straw men, shibboleths, and banal triviality. The weakness of their arguments has its roots in fundamental unresolved issues in the philosophical framework behind their efforts.

The modern empiricist-skeptic tradition is rooted in the philosophy of David Hume. However, it does not seem that the contemporary authors have come to terms with the central problems and limitations in Hume's analysis. Specifically, Hume's skepticism reduces both epistemological and causational claims to degrees of belief, either stronger or weaker, based on either that which is verifiable in principle or the reliability of witnesses to the experience.

Hume's analysis fails to provide an adequate foundation for the formation of a second order knowledge domain: scientific theory. Contemporary philosophers of science such as Karl Popper, Thomas Khun, Stephen Toulman, and Thomas Nagel, among many others, have conducted interesting but inconclusive investigations. Some of the topic considered include the theory formation and adoption, evidence validation and the warranting of beliefs through trials, and change as a function of the adequacy of conceptual frameworks to support the social system in relationship to its belief systems.

A variety of approaches, such as the logical positivism of A. J. Ayer, the inductive rigorism of Hans Richenbach, the integrative modeling of Rudolph Carnap, and the behavioral reductionism of W.V.O Quine, have been put forward. The results of these efforts have ranged from the fruitless to the indeterminacy of interpretation. On mathematical level, the extensibility of truth claims across an unlimited domain has proven false, resolving to a dilemma between consistency and completeness.

The result of three centuries intensive philosophical efforts is an ability to stochastically model outcome options, and to operationally incorporate data allowing predictability with n-th degrees of probability within well understood systems of equations (mathematical models) that can be meaningfully used as part of a theory. From an epistemological perspective, the ability of this sort of science does not represent a significant advance of that of Pascal's wager, presented almost a century before Hume.

Interestingly, Hume, in his Dialogues on Religion, seemed well aware of the difficulties his philosophical position was confronting, resolving, as did Cicero, writing during a similarly inconclusive intellectual period, in his De Rerum, a fundamentally unsatisfactory set of opinions.

Wittgenstein describes the fundamental challenge to theoretically approaching the sum of experience when he observed that there is a point at which nothing more can be said due to the intrinsic character of the experience itself, of that in to which one must enter. Words are units for measuring meaning, there is a limit to what can be measured, a meaningful condition without scope. Perhapps such a semantic domain might constitute the ground of brute facts.

Less popular and eye-catching than contemporary atheistic complaints but more profound and historically far reaching are those of Ludwig Feuerbach in his The Essence of Christianity.

Methodologically, rather than addressing the issue as an intellectual choice between belief systems, Feuerbach took a more empirical approach by attempting to investigate the internal logic of some of the central claims of (western) Christianity. In doing so, he worked from the critical and idealistic foundations supplied by Kant, and his articulation of the antinomies of space and time, Hegel, and his transcendental dialectic of Mind, and Schopenhauer, with his critique of sui generis cosmology resulting in his framing of a Buddhist-tinged cosmology based on a four-fold root of sufficient reason for the under-girding of thought.

The central result of Feuerbach's critique was his inability to fine a consistent ontology adequate to support the Christological and sacramental claims of Christianity. Lacking an adequate ontological framework, Feuerbach resolves in favor of limiting metaphysical scope to the material universe and adopting a hyperrealist perspective.

Ontologically, the consequence of Feuerbach's analysis was the founding of a material realism, in which all that can exist is limited to ideas rooted in world as bounded by the sense perception.

Karl Marx critiqued Feuerbach's ontology as being insufficient to support the social humanistic experience of reality, contending that while in terms of religion per se, Feuerbach was essentially correct, his concept of "material" was too constrained. To rectify this perceived problem, Marx redefined the concept of "material" of human experience as social being to the principle of labor based-economy. Effectively reducing humanity itself to economic agency.

Frederick Nietzsche similarly accepted Feuerbach's basic analysis of Christianity, and, as Marx, focused on the nature of an ontologically material humanity. Nietzsche rejected Marx's vision of humans as inherently social economic agents and focused instead on moral agency bound to individuals. In doing so, Nietzsche investigated the nature of rationality, individual will, and the foundations of meaning and linguistic representation. The conclusion he draws is that the meaning of human life is poetical expressed in the experience of an irrationality functioning in the context of a will to power without inherent moral constraint.

To provide an ontological foundation capable of withstanding both skepticism and abstraction through idealization, Husserl attempted to find a root logic for phenomenon in which there is an inherent existential givenness, or authentic ideational intuition that can, in principle, be reached through a methodical approach. This effort was extended and revised by Heidegger, who addressed foundational questions about the criteria of authentic being and the nature of thinking as it seeks certainty in its ideational intuitions. In the course of his analytical project, Heidegger offers the image of meaning dawning as sunrise over the thought horizon.

As critique of religious belief the approach of those following Feuerbach's strategy is no more satisfactory than those whose work is rooted in Hume. T he philosophical framing of an a material ontology has failed to provide an adequate grounding for either hermeneutical or semiotic projects, leaving as unresolved question of "What does it mean to think that?" and offering in its place a reduction of a constructed other into an internal opinion act of any actor what so ever.

Perhaps the limitations of ontological investigations rooted in the constrained ontological space was anticipated by Kant in his Critique of Judgment, in which aesthetic principles are foundational. The notion that judgment is art for its own sake unhinges the subjects of judgment from their expressiveness.

Battista Alberti argued the purpose of art was the communication of the subject's istoria, and that this was best achieved through the artifice of a system of perspective that gave the illusion of the nature of things and did not represent them as iconically. Unable to construct an adequate perspective, the talk of atheists and the critics of religion is a babble that does not touch the foundation of faith.

The ontology of Feuerbach's Christianity is that of the separated West, and foreign to Orthodoxy, for whom the dogma of the Incarnation was long ago placed at the foundation of its system of extensive iconographic semiotics. All experience is referenced to a degree of the indwelling of God. This is not the cramped theoretical ontology of scholastic realists and nominalist, let alone materialists. For Orthodox, the declaration "God is with us" is not one of dogmatic self-justification or a war cry, but a descriptive witnessing to the experience of reality of God in Death-facing experience.

Akathist to the Theotokos

Kontakion 6

Having become God-bearing heralds, the Magi returned to Babylon, having fulfilled Thy profphecy; and having preached Thee to all as the Christ, they left Herod as a babbler who knew not how to sing: Alleluia!

Akathist to the Theotokos

Ekos 9

We see most eloquent orators mute as fish before Thee, O Theotokos; for they are at a loss to tell how Thou remainest a Virgin and couldst bear a child. But we, marveling at this mystery, cry out faithfully: