Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Knowledge of God (Part 2)

This week's installment from The Fundamentals

by Dr. David James Burrell

The second pathway of the God-seekers is Reason.

Here we come upon the philosophers and those who travel with them. This also leads to disappointment; as it is written, "The world by wisdom knew not God."

The golden age of philosophy in Greece followed close on the decay of the Pantheon. It was when the people had lost confidence in their idols and the cry was heard, "Great Pan is dead!" that the Groves and Gardens and Painted Porches arose on the banks of the Ilyssus. The thoughtful men who assumed the name philosophoi, that is, "lovers of wisdom," were all seekers after God. The Stoics, Epicureans, Cynics and Peripatetics all hoped to discover Him by the light of reason. How vain the quest!

When Simonides was asked for a definition of God, he required some weeks for meditation and then answered, "The more I think of Him, the more He is unknown." The innumerable gods and altars of Athens had been laughed out of court; and the results of philosophic inquiry were recorded on that other altar which succeeded them, "To the Unknown God."

The stock in trade of the philosophers of Athens was precisely that of the philosophers of our time. It consisted of four arguments, to wit: (A) The ontological argument; to the effect that the being of God is involved in the idea of God. This is good as far as it goes, but it falls vastly short of demonstration; and in any case it reaches no conclusion as to the character of God. (B) The cosmological argument, which reasons from effect to cause and expresses itself in the epigram ex nihilo nihil fit; our of nothing nothing comes." This is equally inconclusive, since the necessary Somewhat to which it leads is the merest shade of the shadow of a god. (C) The teleological argument, which proceeds from design to a designer; carrying with it a strong presumption as to infinite wisdom but taking little or no cognizance of the moral nature of God. (D) The anthropological argument, which infers the moral nature of God from the moral nature of man. This goes further than the others; nevertheless it is so far from being final proof in the mathematical sense that one may reasonably question whether any truth-seeker was ever really convinced by it.

These are the arguments which have been used by philosophers from time immemorial; and little has been added in the process of the passing years. The result, as a whole, is melancholy failure. The world by its wisdom, that is by the exercise of its unaided reason, has simply reached Agnosticism; it has not "found out God."

Sola's note: While this series eventually gets to the point, I will make it here: genuinely finding and knowing God must first and foremost be by divine revelation, as indicated by God Himself in Scripture. No one can come to the Son except that the Father draws him (John 6:44).

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