Dr. Vito Caiati writes (minor edits, formatting, and bolding added),
I thank you for your online response (Reasoned Mysterianism: A Defense of an Aphoristic Provocation) to my recent email. In it you offer an impressive, rigorous defense of “reasoned mysterianism” that has impelled me to think more deeply on this subject, so much so, in fact, that I spent part of the night awake in bed ruminating over your argument. Both it and your aphorism of July 21 (The Believing Philosopher) lead me to repeat what I wrote in my first email to you last February: “You have helped me sharpen and deepen by thinking on many questions, and you have made me more assured in turning away from easy or comforting answers.”
In this spirit, I will take up the invitation made in your email of yesterday and respond. In doing so, I would like to draw a clearer distinction between a “reasoned belief” and a “reasoned mysterianism” by referring to your statement,
Vito mentions the leap of faith. As I see it, there is no avoiding such a leap when it comes to ultimate questions. There is no possibility of proof or demonstration hereabouts. One can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God, for example. So if, on the basis of arguments for or against the existence of God, one comes to believe in God or not, there will be a leap of faith either way.
I fully agree with what you say here because while the affirmations of God’s existence or the existence and immortality of the soul cannot be proven, they can be reasonably held. In holding the former, for example, one gives assent to one or more philosophical arguments or calls on other forms of evidence, while acknowledging the powerful arguments and evidence against this belief. But here, most would agree that we are not dealing with what “to the discursive intellect must appear contradictory”; rather, while the intellectual challenges are so enormous that certainty is beyond our grasp and, as you correctly point out, that a leap of faith is required, we respect the intellectual limitations imposed on us by our “cognitive architecture.”
For me, this is the important point: that we not go beyond these limitations however much we would like to do so. Therefore, I agree that “reasoning about God and the soul, etc. is precisely reasoning in justification of a leap of faith or else in justification of a leap of disbelief.” In such matters, the absence of “certainty” is no hurdle for me in affirming the existence of God, which I do.
However, while I grant that “it may well be that there are certain objects and states of affairs and phenomena whose internal possibility we cannot discern due to our irremediable cognitive limitations. [And that] Apparent contradictoriness would then not argue unreality,” I hold that such objects and states of affairs are best left alone. If the objects and states of affairs of “reasoned belief,” such as God’s existence, remain as open and debated today as they were in the distant past and as cloudy to the human mind, what can we possibly know of those shrouded in absolute mystery and apparent contradiction? Here, it seems mere hubris to make a leap of faith; rather, is it not better to acknowledge the mystery and grasp what aspects of the Unknown, albeit small, that reasoned belief permits? Why not be content with the latter and leave the rest to God, who, after all, either intended or permits our having a constrained “cognitive architecture”?
The misery of our ignorance, perhaps the greatest evil, is not to be undone by mere conjecture and hope, however well intended. Thus, while I agree that we must choose, I think that the possible choices are quite circumscribed.
I will begin on a note of deep agreement: the misery of our ignorance is indeed a great, and perhaps the greatest, evil. It surprises me that this is not usually mentioned when people recount the evils of the human predicament. Surely it is awful that we are almost totally in the dark about the ultimate whence, whither, and wherefore, and that bitter controversy rages on every side. To my mind the human condition is indeed a predicament, a 'situation' deeply unsatisfactory, the solution to which is either impossible or, if possible, then such as to require a radical revision of the way we live.
Now on to the meat of our disagreement.
For most of my philosophical life I have held the position sketched by Vito Caiati according to which only what we can see to be rationally acceptable may be accepted. So if, by my best efforts, I cannot bring myself to see how a religious dogma satisfies the exigencies of reason, then I ought not accept it.
But lately I have been re-examining this position. Such re-examination is in the spirit of philosophy as critical reflection that spares nothing, not even itself. There is nothing unphilosophical in questioning the reach of reason.* Note that this questioning remains within philosophy: from within philosophy one can question philosophy and raise the possibility that philosophy can be and perhaps must be supplemented ab extra.
One type of supplementation is via divine revelation. Now philosophy cannot prove the fact of divine revelation, nor can it validate the specific contents of a putative revelation, but it can reasonably allow for the possibility of divine revelation. Without quitting the sphere of immanence it can allow for the possibility of an irruption into this sphere of salvific truths that we need but cannot access by our own powers.
Vito will grant me that it is reasonable to believe that God exists. If so, it is reasonable to believe that there is a transcendent Person capable of revealing himself to man. I would argue that the possibility of revelation is built into the concept of God. Our concept of God is a concept of a personal being who could, if he so desired, reveal himself to his creatures in specific ways, via prophets who leave written records, or even by revealing himself in person in a special man who somehow is an, or rather the, incarnation of God. Our possession of such a concept of God is of course no guarantee that there is such a God. But without straying from the precincts of philosophy one can articulate such a concept.
This implies that it is reasonable to be open to the possibility of receiving 'information' of the highest importance to us and our ultimate well-being from a transcendent Source lying beyond the human horizon. This possibility is one that we can validate from within our own resources and thus without appeal to divine revelation.
One who grants the existence of a personal God cannot foreclose on the possibility of the receipt of such 'information.' To foreclose on it one would have to adopt some form of naturalism or else a non-personal conception of God. Spinoza's deus sive natura, for example, is clearly not up to the task of transmitting any saving truths to us.
Now suppose some of these bits of 'information' or revealed truths are beyond our ken not only in the sense that we cannot validate them as true from within our immanence, but also in the sense that we cannot validate them as possibly true. That is, we can generate no insight into their logical possibility. Suppose they appear, and indeed must appear, logically impossible to us within our present (fallen) state. The idea is not that they are logically impossible in themselves, but that they must appear logically impossible to us due to our current 'cognitive architecture.'
Supposing all this, would it be reasonable to take Vito's advice and leave these putative truths of revelation alone, on the ground that it would be hubris to make a leap of faith in their direction when, by our own best lights, and after protracted examination, they appear logically impossible?
It is not clear to me that it would. For then the measly creature would be valuing his intellectual integrity over the possibility of an eternity of bliss.
There might well be more hubris is setting up ourselves as arbiters as to what is possible and what is not. Weak-minded as we are, who are we to judge what is possible and what is not? If God exists, then we are his creatures. We are in the inferior position and ought to listen to God's teachings and commands whether or not they pass muster by our criteria, and especially since our ultimate happiness is at stake.
If we really understand what is meant by 'God,' and we believe that God exists -- which I admit itself requires a leap beyond what we can legitimately claim strictly to know -- then how can we insist that God, his actions, his commands, and his revelations satisfy the exigencies of our puny intellects in order to be admissible?
There is much more to be said, but I have gone on long enough for one post.
* Think of the academic and the Pyrrhonian skeptics, the empiricists, the critical philosophy of Kant, phenomenology with its anti-dialectical orientation and invocation of the given, logical positivism, and the ordinary language philosophy of the later Wittgenstein.