THE QUESTION OF GOD (Woody Allen v Francis Schaeffer)

THE QUESTION OF GOD

“PEOPLE OFTEN ASK ME, ‘HAVE YOU FOUND GOD?’  FIND GOD?  I CAN’T EVEN FIND A PLUMMER ON THE WEEKEND.”

– WOODY ALLEN

We should understand first of all that the three basic areas of philosophic thought are what they have always been.  The first of them is in the area of metaphysics, of “being.”  This is the area of what is – the problem of existence.  This includes the existence of man, but we must realize that the existence of man is no greater problem as such than is the fact that anything exists at all.  No one has said this better than Jean Paul Sartre, who has said that the basic philosophic question is that something is there rather than that nothing is there.  Nothing that is worth calling a philosophy can sidestep the question of the fact that things do exist and that they exist in their present form and complexity.  This is what we define, then, as the problem of metaphysics, the existence of being.

There are two classes of answers given to these questions.  The first class of answer is that there is no logical, rational answer.  This is rather a phenomenon of the last half of the 20th Century and into the 21st Century.  The question has come under “the line of despair.”  The solution commonly proposed is that there is no logical, rational answer – all is finally chaotic, irrational, and absurd.  This view is expressed with great finesse in the existential world of thinking, and in the theater of the absurd.  This is the philosophy, or worldview, of many people today.  It is a part of the warp and woof of the thinking of our day, that there are no answers, that everything is irrational and absurd.

“THE INFINITE-PERSONAL GOD IS THERE, BUT ALSO HE IS NOT SILENT; THAT CHANGES THE WHOLE WORLD.  WITTGENSTEIN, IN HIS TRACTATUS, CAN FIND ONLY SILENCE IN THE AREA OF VALUES AND MEANING.  BERGMAN MADE THE SAME POINT IN HIS FILM SILENCE.  I WOULD CHALLENGE THIS PESSIMISM.  HE IS THERE.  HE IS NOT SILENT.”

– FRANCIS SCHAEFFER

If a man held that everything is meaningless, nothing has answers and there is no cause-and-effect relationship, and if he really held this position with any consistency, it would be very hard to refute.  But in fact, no one can hold consistently that everything is chaotic and irrational and that there are no basic answers.  It can be held theoretically, but it cannot be held in practice that everything is absolute chaos.

The first reason the irrational position cannot be held consistently in practice is the fact that the external world is there and it has form and order.  It is not a chaotic world.  If it were true that all is chaotic, unrelated, and absurd, science as well as general life would come to any end.  To live at all is not possible except in the understanding that the universe that is there – the external universe – has a certain form, a certain order, and that man conforms to that order and so he can live within it.

Theoretically the position of irrationalism can be held, but no one lives with it in regard either to the external world or the categories of his thought world and discussion.  As a matter of fact, if this position were argued properly, all discussion would come to an end.  Communication would end.  We would have only a series of meaningless sounds – blah, blah, blah.  The theater of the absurd has said this, but it fails, because if you read and listen carefully to the theater of the absurd, it is always trying to communicate its view that one cannot communicate.  There is always a communication about the statement that there is no communication.  It is always selective, with pockets of order brought in somewhere along the line.  Thus we see that this class of answer – that all things are irrational – is not an answer.

The second class of answer is that there is an answer which can be rationally and logically considered, which can be communicated to oneself in one’s thought world, and communicated with others externally.  In this class there are only three possible answers to the existence of the universe.

The first basic answer is that everything that exists has come out of absolutely nothing.  Now to hold this view, it must be absolutely nothing.  If one is going to accept this answer, it must be nothing nothing, which means there must be no energy, no mass, and no personality.  Many people say they are beginning with nothing and then begin with something:  energy, mass, motion, or personality.  But that would be something, and something is not nothing.  In point of fact, this argument is never sustained, for it is unthinkable that all that now is has come out of utter nothing.

The second basic possible answer is that all that now is had an impersonal beginning (this may be mass, energy, or motion . . . but all are impersonal, and all are equally impersonal).  Many modern men have implied that because they are beginning with energy particles rather than old-fashioned mass, they have a better answer.  Salvador Dali did this as he moved from his surrealistic period into his new mysticism.  But such men do not have a better answer.  It is still impersonal.  Energy is just as impersonal as mass or motion.  As soon as you accept the impersonal beginning of all things, you are faced with some form of reductionism.  Reductionism argues that everything there is now, from the stars, to man himself, is finally to be understood by reducing it to the original, impersonal factor or factors.

The great problem with beginning with the impersonal is to find any meaning for the particulars.  A particular is any individual factor, any individual thing – the separate parts of the whole.  A drop of water is a particular, and so is a man.  If we begin with the impersonal, then how do any of the particulars that now exist – including man – have any meaning, any significance?  Nobody has given us an answer to that.  In all the history of philosophical thought, whether from the East or the West, no one has given us an answer.

Beginning with the impersonal, everything, including man, must be explained in terms of the impersonal plus time plus chance.  There are no other factors in the formula, because there are no other factors that exist.  But no one has ever demonstrated how time plus chance, beginning with an impersonal, can produce the needed complexity of the universe, let alone the personality of man.  No one has given us a clue to this.

The third possible answer is to begin with a personal beginning.  That is, the very opposite of beginning with the impersonal.  In this case man, being personal, does have meaning.  With this we have exhausted the possible basic answers in regard to existence.

The dilemma of modern man is simple:  he does not know why man has any meaning.  He is lost.  Man remains a zero.  This is the damnation of modern man.  But if we begin with a personal beginning, and this is the origin of all else, then the personal does have meaning and man and his aspirations are not meaningless.  Man’s aspirations of the reality of personality are in line with what was originally there and what has always intrinsically been.

(These selections are from the book, He is there and he is not silent, Chapter 1, “The Metaphysical Necessity” where this is further discussed.)

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