An Agnostic Rebuttal To The God Debate
This essay is my own reaction
to the book "Does God Exist?" That work was a collection of transcripts
from an oral debate, plus some additional material written to add to
the debate after the fact. The principal authors were Dr. J. P.
Moreland, who is an activist for the Campus Crusade for Christ, and Dr.
Kai Nielsen, a well known academic and advocate of atheism. My own book
will focus on the allegedly impartial material supplied by Peter
Kreeft, as it points out the narrowness of the debate's focus from the
point of view of someone who has studied the matter more broadly.
My own opinion is that even Peter Kreeft presents too narrow a focus, because so very little of the material comes from outside of the boundaries of Western Civilization. I feel that it is critical to bring in important concepts from other historical periods throughout human history. For a question so fundamental as the alleged existence of God, we must deal not only with assertions of the Western Christian churches, but with the assertions of each of the other great religions of the world. Furthermore, we should view the morality or immorality of human conduct not only from the perspective of our own 20th century Western values, but also from the perspectives of various cultures and civilizations throughout human history. My own views are strongly tinted with my belief in the essential correctness of the cyclical theory of human civilizations advanced by Oswald Spengler and his followers.
It has been nearly eight decades since Spengler penned his grand view of the almost mechanical repetition of important episodes of human history.1 When I first became entranced with this vision, in the early 1980s, the two volume set, titled "The Decline of the West," was still in print.2 It is clear to me that the West has continued to decline as those many decades have gone by, but just because the West is declining does not mean that mankind has no hope at all for a better future. In fact, it would appear that mankind is on the brink of the possibility of achieving the true greatness for which all humans have given their lives so far.
It is difficult indeed for anyone with a "contemporary" education to read Spengler. It is even more difficult to contemplate that Spengler was taught in our high schools back in the 1920s and 1930s. To understand what Spengler is writing about takes a breadth of knowledge which our modern educational system has ceased to convey to any but the "permanent student." Only a few of the most intellectually gifted among us will ever gain the requisite understanding needed to critique Spengler in detail. Still, for those who wish to challenge their minds, and also expand their horizons, a trip to "the horse's mouth" is highly recommended.
But most of us (including, unfortunately, me) will never have the intellect and patience to sift through nearly a thousand pages of highly boring text. Luckily, the essential thoughts for all of us to grasp are actually quite easy to comprehend. If you can believe in the principles of cause and effect as scientific facts, then you can conceive of those forces leading to a cyclical history. This occurs because the "root causes" of the formation of civilizations and their progress from epoch to epoch are virtually the same for each group of humans who forms such a complex society.
At this point I must insert a vocabulary note about the deliberate distinction which I mean to imply between "Culture" (with a capital "C") and "culture" (without it), and also in the same way, between "Civilization" and "civilization." We have our own natural meanings for those words, and when I mean to imply the natural meaning, I use the word uncapitalized. Spengler had very specific meanings for those two words, and when I mean to imply Spengler's meanings, I use the word with a Capital "C."
Spengler did more than merely recording a history of the past. He also indulged a bit in predicting the future. After over seven decades, it ought to be possible to examine how well he did. Setting down that record is yet another goal. My own conclusion is that, so far as Western Civilization goes, Spengler's predictions continue unabated: the West still declines. In fact, as Spengler asserts, the West began declining centuries ago, and there seems to be nothing anyone alive today can do about it.
As death follows life for all known living organisms, so does the decline and eventual death of the Civilization follow the birth and growth of its Culture.
And this is the main "problem" with Spengler: his thesis leads us to a thoroughly demoralizing conclusion that Western Civilization is going down the drain, and there is just about nothing we can really do about it (other than, perhaps, to delay the inevitable).
This overall view of decline and eventual death for our Civilization has tended to give a hugely morose cast to what would otherwise be an unemotional and scholarly dissertation. The moroseness is inherent in many people as they approach their own death, so it should not be surprising to find it in our civilization as it approaches its own death. In fact, many civilizations develop morose and fatalistic philosophies late in their existence. Western Civilization is certainly not unique in that regard.
Atheism is the ultimate in morose and fatalistic philosophies. The essence of the atheistic belief is that there is no hope for relief from an outside source for any of the trials and tribulations in which mankind currently finds itself engaged. God does not exist, the atheists assert, and thus mankind must rely upon itself for any solutions to all of our present afflictions. Such a belief system can never become popular, because it has no attraction to the troubled souls of the Late Civilization period. In the face of the absolute disbelief of the atheists, the forces of the "Second Religiousness" arise to do battle.
A study of Spengler shows that modern atheism has its counterparts in every one of the Civilizations which Spengler studied in detail. In the Classical Civilization, it was the "Hellenistic-Roman Stoicism" which became widespread after about 200 a. d. In the Arabian Civilization, it was a "Practical fatalism in Islam" after 1000 a. d. All three of these movements are characterized by a rejection of the hope which springs from a strong religious belief. If Spengler is correct, each of these world views will generate a strongly pious "Second Religiousness" as counterpoint to their own lack of piety. For the two old Civilizations, such movements were obvious. For our own, it was not.
So, one way for me to validate a prediction from Spengler, who has set forth his predictions of the future based on his perceived pattern, is to locate some event which has occurred after the prediction of it, and which was remote enough from the prediction of that event to show that the most likely explanation for the accuracy of the prediction is the truth of the world view from which the prediction flows. For my analysis of Spengler, that accuracy is displayed by his prediction of a "Second Religiousness" in the masses.
We are only now reaching the point in the history of Western Civilization where we may assert the truth of Spengler's prediction of the rise of a "Second Religiousness" in the masses of humanity. Spengler asserts that this "Second Religiousness is the necessary counterpart of Cęsarism, which is the final political constitution of Late Civilizations."3 This clearly implies a relationship between the controlling religious and political movements associated with the "end times" of Western Civilization.
The "Second Religiousness" for Western Civilization was not at all obvious at the time when Spengler wrote "The Decline of the West." Historical trends are best analyzed a few centuries after the facts, in order to get the best perspective on those facts. Nonetheless, I would assert that Spengler's predicted "Second Religiousness" arose in the late 1960s with the rise of the "Born Again" Christian movement, which is now sometimes called "Charismatic Christianity."
As Spengler sees it, the "Second Religiousness" must be a form which contains certain elements of Gothic Christianity, and it will be seen as sect-like as it grows. The "Second Religiousness" is characterized by a strong feeling of piety, and will implement a syncretism of religious movements. In my humble opinion, all of these elements are fulfilled by the "Born-Again Christian" movement which arose around 1965. It: 1) is a sect of Christianity; 2) is open to present or former adherents of any Christian (or other) church, and is insensitive to variations in ritual (thus implementing the indicated syncretism); and 3) holds itself out as a strongly pious belief system (although far too many of these sects are seemingly involved in scandal of one sort or another). A clear distinction, however, exists in the fact that the Christian Coalition is attempting to mount a political program on behalf of the adherents of this religious sect. The program, for example, includes such "steel-bright concepts" as a firm opposition to all forms of abortion and suppression of entertainment options which are not illustrative of so-called "family values." Whether or not Spengler would consider that a disqualifying factor is open to speculation. My personal opinion is that it is NOT a disqualification for a "Second Religiousness" sect to have a political program. But since it should be the companion of Cęsarism, its rise over the last couple of decades would clearly indicate that part of the program may well be to install the Cęsar-figure as our ruler. The first attempt at this was clearly when Pat Robertson first ran for President. While no obvious religious leader is in the 1996 presidential field, that should not be taken as an indication that the influence of this group is not felt. Just look at the Pat Buchanan candidacy.
You might wonder why the introduction to a book about the debate over the question of the existence or non-existence of God would focus on establishing a political and historical context by reference to the theories of Oswald Spengler. The reason for this is that my first criticism of the debate, as presented by Drs. Moreland and Nielsen, is that it was far too narrowly focused, in that it is an almost classical exposition of the struggle for power in a Late Civilization period. It is virtually inevitable that this debate should occur at this point in time in our existence.
My personal view is that this debate cannot have any validity until and unless we are ready to divorce ourselves from the biases and prejudices with which our own education in the ways of Western Civilization has endowed us. That is a difficult task for any of us. My initial focus on the views of Spengler is an attempt to create an abstract view of our present situation in the greater scheme of things. This is also an attempt to move the debate into an arena where the entire scope of human history must be dealt with if any historical questions are going to be relevant to such a debate.
It is clear from reading the debate itself that both Drs. Moreland and Nielsen are culturally myopic. Each of them debates from the point of view of someone who is the perfect exponent of their camp in the Late period of Western Civilization. This misses the point. If you cannot justify the truth or falsity of the proposition(s) which you assert as valid for all people at all times, then those who are outside of the scope of your world view will be left to wonder where they fit in the overall scheme of things.
The theists in this debate are all products of the "Second Religiousness" which was predicted by Spengler. Even in Islamic countries, the spread of Western Civilization has caused the Islamic church to become subject to the same forces which afflict the Christian religions, so there is a resurgent fundamentalist Islamic movement throughout those nations which is exactly in synchronization with the fundamentalist Christian movement in our own nation and the other Christian nations. All fundamentalist belief systems proceed from a base of absolute faith in their basic scriptures. This is true whether you are speaking of fundamentalist Jewish, Islamic, or Christian peoples. The accepted text becomes the religion, and no variations, interpretations, or other deviance from this text is allowed to gain any significant following.
Once these fundamentalists are exposed for the religious bigots which they actually are, then you will be able to locate the flaws in their chains of reasoning in any debate which touches on their religious belief systems. A significant part of this book is my attempt to set forth the flaws in the assertions of the Christian bigots.
But the atheists will not escape un-chastised from my own world view. The basic flaw in the atheist belief system is that a vacuum consisting entirely of negative concepts can be a viable human philosophy. It cannot. In other words, just because the Christians (or Muslims, or whoever) are wrong in the arguments which they advance from their own religious viewpoints, that does not lead to a conclusion that there is no God.
However, my strongest criticism will be saved for the assertion by Peter Kreeft to the effect that Agnostics are basically indecisive about the existence of God, or about their religious beliefs. I have taken a couple of decades of thought to come to the totally valid conclusion (for me, at least) that the Agnostic belief is the only valid belief system. I have thoughtfully and willfully decided to be an Agnostic.
Since neither of the debaters were Agnostics, neither propounded an Agnostic point of view. The basic point of this book is to set forth my own Agnostic point of view as a rebuttal to both Drs. Moreland and Nielsen. I hope you find my efforts worthwhile.
RIVERSIDE, CALIFORNIA; March 21, 1996.
1 The author claimed to have it mostly done by 1914, and to have the first edition fully written by 1917, although the first edition of the first volume was not published until July of 1918. The second volume was published in 1922, and an extensively revised Second Edition appeared in 1923. Even measured from this essentially "final" version, it has still been more than seven decades.
2 And it may well STILL be in print. It is not possible for me to keep up with this, but check with the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf. My personal copy is dated as published in 1983.
3 "The Decline of the West" (1918 and 1922) by Oswald Spengler; authorized English translation (1926 and 1928) by Charles Francis Atkinson; Volume II, page 310.
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