Refusing the question

First, let us draw together some of the lines of argument which have run through the course of this essay. In particular, first, we can now revisit for the last time the post-modern crux, the 'Derridean dilemma', which has dogged so many steps on the way of my argument for proof of an unknowable God. For again and again it has seemed that proof and unknowability work against each other: that proof might be had at the price of an 'onto-theological', and so idolatrous, theism, or else that resistance might be made to 'onto-theology', but only at the price of abandoning the possibility of proof. Or, as I put it otherwise in chapter eleven, the dilemma is whether to say that the there is' in there is a God' lies within' language, or outside' it, either answer having unacceptable consequences. For if the there is' lies within language, and so retains its connective tissue unbroken with our ordinary senses of ' there is', then this would appear to buy into a ' Scotist' and onto-theological univocity; whereas if we seek to evade this horn of the dilemma by saying that the ' there is' lies on the other side of language, then we become impaled on the dilemma's other horn. For in breaking the tissue of connection with our ordinary meanings of' there is', the existence of God is placed beyond the reach of any possible proof precisely because it is placed beyond the reach of language.

It is because this post-modern crux - post-modern' it is even ifit is still fundamentally ' Kantian' - must be taken seriously that I have devoted so much of this essay to elucidating the argument-strategy of Thomas's ' five ways', and so little to the arguments themselves. And from my account of that argument-strategy it can now be seen that the means of escape from the Derridean dilemma' is through its horns, as the classical logicians used to say. For if that argument-strategy consists in the justification principally of a question - the question Why anything?' - then we can say that it is the question which lies on the 'inside' of language, and so of reason, and so of logic, and it is the answer which must lie on the other side of all three. Hence, while the question retains its lines of continuity with our ordinary causal questions, the answer does not and could not do so. In short, the existence of God is in the nature of a demonstrated unknowability. Et hoc omnes dicunt Deum.

But if such are the lineaments of an answer to the most basic problem of reason and proof, they also contain, secondly, the principal elements of a response to Christian theological scruples about admitting the possibility of a rational proof of God. That response too begins from the nature of reason - its shape'. It is a shape which is determined by an interplay between the cataphatic and the apophatic, between word and silence, which also determines the shape of faith. The question ' cataphatically' asks, and ' God' is given to the question as its ' apophatic' answer. More specifically, the shape of reason is incarnational', and it is so precisely in that exercise of reason in which, at the end of its tether, it reaches that question it can ask, though it cannot take hold of the mystery which answers to it. That question 'Why anything?' confronts reason as a question about the esse of creatures, about that which is most fundamental to them as their ' actuality', their standing over against there being nothing at all. And it is there, in their deepest reality, that creatures reveal the Creator who has brought them to be, ex nihilo, so that as the questioning gets closer and closer to God, it gets deeper and deeper into, not further distanced from, the creature. In Thomas's proofs the intimacy (the inwardness of God to all things) and the transcendence of God (his total otherness) have the same source in the divine creative activity, and so for Thomas the more profoundly the creature is known the more clearly is it known to be intelligible only as mystery - the mysterion, or sacramen-tum, which is creation. Thus is the argument-strategy of the five ways not only not set in some way against the mystery of faith; in a certain manner its shape - in the character of its determining question - anticipates, but in no way displaces, that shape and that 'interrogation' (as Barth would put it) of faith.

But we are able to grasp this 'proto-sacramentality' of reason only if we fully grasp what is different about this question 'Why anything?', a difference which neither the parasitical atheist nor the theistic counterpart seems able to grasp. It is that, whereas all the other questions were what I have called 'essential' questions, having to do with what there is, this question, the form of our puzzlement that there is anything at all, is the one truly existential question. Nothing is asked or answered about the kind of world we have, and what answers to the question 'Why anything?' cannot make any difference to how the world is. As I have argued, however, too often theologians I have described as 'parasitical' appear to think that they can create a role for themselves of a pseudo-scientific character by means of a quite mistaken and idolatrous account of how theology can tell us of a difference God makes to the way things are, hoping to find for themselves a purchase on something to say that others cannot, a particular difference that their theism makes to our ordinary routine ways of explaining things. They will derive no comfort in such hopes from Thomas Aquinas. For him, to say that the world is created adds nothing at all to our information about the kind of world we have got. As Thomas said, who thought the world is created - it amounts to his reply to Aristotle, who thought that it is not - the difference between a created and an uncreated world is no difference at all so far as concerns how you describe it; any more, as later Kant said, the difference between an existent and a non-existent 100 Thaler bill can make a difference to how a 100 Thaler bill is described.9 As we have seen, for Thomas, the logic of'. . . is created' is the same as the logic of'. . . exists': an uncreated x and a created x cannot differ in respect of what an x is, and so to say that the world is created makes not the least difference to how you do your science, or your history, or read your literatures; it does not make that

9 Kant, Critique ofPure Reason, B627, p. 505.

kind of particular difference to anything. The only difference it makes is all the difference to everything.

And what kind of difference is that? What you mark by way of difference in saying that the world is created out of nothing is that it stands before us not in some brute, unmeaningful, Russellian 'just thereness', in that sense as something just 'given' in which further questions are gratuitously ruled out, and that just at the point where the questions are beginning to reveal something wholly unexpected about reason: that at its limit it reaches a question which strikes it quite dumb with awe. For, in saying that the world is created out of nothing, you are beginning to say that the world comes to us, existence as such comes to us, from an unknowable 'other'; that is to say, you are claiming that existence comes to us as pure gift, that for the world to exist just is for it to be created. As for why it exists, goodness only knows what the reason is. Of course, it might be the case that the world exists for a reason which only an omnipotent goodness knows, as a sort of act of love. But that would be another story which we could not tell for ourselves, but only if we were told it first, as being about the giving of a sort of second, superadded, gift which we call 'faith'.

What, then, is at stake between the theist and the atheist as Thomas conceives of the issues? Why does it matter whether the existence of God can be rationally proved? What is at stake is an issue which is, after all, central to all human intellectual preoccupations as such. It is an issue about the nature of reason, and so of intellect, and about how to take responsibility for all that intellect is capable of, about how to respond to the demands which, of its nature, it makes on us to persist with rational enquiry to the end of its tether. What, then, does the atheist have to deny? What the atheist has to deny is the legitimacy of a certain kind of question, to deny which requires setting a priori limits to a capacity which is, as Aristotle says, potentially infinite; which being so, Thomas Aquinas adds, it is not going to be satisfied by - that is to say, enjoy any question-stopping complacency in - even an infinite object. For what, on this account, marks the limit of reason, is not its resting in a full stop of'just thereness', but its insistence upon asking a question, a question the answer to which it knows to lie beyond its scope. By means of that question the closed, determinate, circle of reason is cracked open into an indeterminacy, the 'grammar' of 'otherness' collapsing into the 'unsayability' of the 'tout autre', but into an 'otherness' which is so absolute as to be not only not inconsistent with its intimacy to our created world and to ourselves, but also more than that: that 'otherness' is the foundation of the very possibility of that intimacy. For God's intimacy to the world as Creator is the foundation of that ultimate intimacy of God to creation which is the incarnation. Deny that possibility and with it the right to ask that question, and you do, for certain, deny God; and you have got your atheism in one move. But in denying the legitimacy of the question you also deny intellect its nature, or, which is to say the same, you deny to our nature its character of intellect. And that, as I have argued, is done just as easily by means of bad theology as by means of a myopic scientism, for eadem est scientia oppositorum. If all the atheists wish to deny is an idolatrously bad theology, well and good. But if what they deny to reason is the possibility of an enquiry which takes us beyond anything the best science asks about, then they betray their own scientific calling, and something fundamental to being human, that is to say, to what is 'rational', is denied in the process. On what account of 'faith' could it be worthwhile for the Christian to join unholy forces with the atheist in ruling out that possibility?

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