Metaphysics: Definitions and Issues
A simple issue in metaphysics may be seen on a biographical level: A man had pushed himself to gain fortune and in the process his wife died of pneumonia. He missed riding the ill-fated Titantic. Wealth has become empty to him. Out of these events he came to ask himself: why do I exist? This simple but profound question brought about a change in the outlook in the life of J.C. Penney. This simple question--why do I exist?--is a question of metaphysics. Metaphysics raises a number of other questions, however. One of the more interesting ones is that of Martin Heidegger who began his work with the question: "Why are there essents (existences, things that are) rather than nothing?"1 Why should there be anything at all? Obviously, if nothing existed there would be no one to know it, but just why is there something at all?
Before we turn to the selected issues of metaphysics, the student should note that the reputation of metaphysics has sagged during the last several centuries. This is particularly true on the modern scene. Metaphysics is now sometimes associated with the occult, or the far eastern fads, and there is nothing so damning as to criticize an author's work as "too metaphysical" which means that it lacks scientific verification. But this is quite a superfluous way of considering metaphysics, for the rejector of metaphysics is merely playing a sleight-of-hand trick in supporting metaphysical systems in a "non-metaphysical" way. Where metaphysical issues are rejected as useless or irrelevant, the rejection generally means a substitute form of metaphysics.
1. Metaphysics, a definition.
A beginning definition of metaphysics involves the word itself. Meta-physics is Greek for "after-nature." Thus metaphysics is concerned with the question of what exists beyond nature, or does something invisible support the visible world? For example, we do see part of the world before us. Is this all there is to it? Is there more that we cannot see? If so, how can we know about it?
Metaphysics is far more complicated than asking the question of what exists beyond nature. It is interested in the nature of nature, space, time, number of basic elements in the world, motion, change, causality, and other issues.2
One of the early definitions of metaphysics was that of Aristotle, who wrote:
There is a science which investigates being qua being and what belongs essentially to it. This science is not the same as any of the so-called "special sciences"; for none of these sciences examine universally being qua being, but, cutting off some part of it, each of them investigates the attributes of that part, as in the case of the mathematical sciences.3
Aristotle proceeds to talk about being as distinct from various disciplines. Similarly, metaphysics has been called "the science of sciences"4 because it is not merely interested in the accumulation of facts only, but in systematic reflection on these facts uncovered by various scientific disciplines. The inadequacy of traditional discipline lines is indicated by the crossing of the lines such as biochemistry, biophysics, astro-physics, and others.
Metaphysics has overtones of another discipline, religion. Religion is also interested in what it means to be, and whether there is reality beyond the natural world. However, religion suffers severe criticism from a number of modern metaphysicians. A.E. Taylor, who is quite sympathetic to religion in many ways, claims that metaphysics deals with ultimate questions "in a purely scientific spirit; its object is intellectual satisfaction, and its method is not one to appeal to immediate intuition or unanalyzed feeling, but of the critical and systematic analysis of our conceptions."5 Taylor's view relegates all religious thinkers to the level of romantics or irrationalists. Heidegger similarly rules out an appeal to the God of the Bible, because "a believer cannot question without ceasing to be a believer."6
In both Taylor and Heidegger there is the feeling or presumption that believers are not thinkers. But what about the atheist who begins his thought with only nature and after examining the alternatives concludes that the God of the Bible makes more sense in his attempt to understand the metaphysical issues? Neither Taylor nor Heidegger are true to the spirit of metaphysics. They rule out beforehand a possible answer that might be of great help.
One of the traditional criticisms against metaphysics is that it demands too many presuppositions to begin. The ideal is always to begin without presuppositions. Can metaphysics be systematic and conclusive if it omits an area of investigation for help? Metaphysics is not religion, but if metaphysics is to seek an understanding of the totality of nature, it would seem that it should not deliberately ignore religion. If metaphysics is to be the science of the sciences, or the science of being, then nothing should be ruled out and everything will be examined with equal fervor.
2. What is Being?
Men in the past who were perceptive came to different conclusions about the basic building elements in the world. Thales (6th cent. B.C.) concluded that all is water ultimately. Pythagoras reasoned that all is number. Others concluded that being is composed of air, or fire, and Heraclitus was so impressed with the changing elements in the world that he concluded that all things flow and nothing is constant. Democritus concluded that the world is composed of atoms, while others reasoned that nous (or reason) was the integrating element. Later it was fashionable to believe that some mysterious "substance" lay behind what is visible.
The answers given to what is being? are many and would require more space and time than many readers prefer to give. Thus a general outline may be useful.
A. Being is unknowable.
Immanuel Kant, in his Critique of Pure Reason, made two points that are important in maintaining that being is unknowable. First, reason can never tell us anything about the ultimate world. Reason has no way of getting to the outside world, that is, the world beyond the mind. Reason is dependent on the senses for its information. If the senses give information to the mind, then reason can work with it, but essentially reason is captured within the framework of man's being and cannot get out to do investigation apart from the senses. Kant gives a resume of the Critique in "that reason by all its a priori principles never teaches us anything more than objects of possible experience, and even of these nothing more than can be recognized in experience."7
The second point is that the senses provide only representations or images of the world in which man lives. Thus the images or representations are one step removed from the real objects. On Kant's ground one can never compare images to know if one is seeing correctly. Since one is only dealing with representations, then one is really in ignorance about the real world. Thus Kant concludes that all we know is about phenomena, and that is not very secure knowledge, while we can never get behind phenomena to what Kant called Noumena. This leaves a measure of skepticism around the world.
This part of Kant's view has come to be called phenomenalism. It has been subjected to various criticisms8 and there is no need to rehash them here, but two points may be remembered. Whenever a philosopher asserts that we cannot know being or reality, he is still asserting a knowledge about it. He is saying that it cannot be known because . . . which is a claim about being or reality. It may not be much, but it is information about why this or that is not reality or being, and why we cannot know it.9 The second point is that Kant's views on the mechanics of knowing are out of date in comparison to a full scale phenomenology of the senses and perception as seen in the work of Merleau-Ponty.10
B. Being is Knowable.
The claim that being is knowable involves diverse theories of being. The only common element is the claim that knowledge of being is possible and that we can know something about being. Since the knowledge of being and the definition of being are quite related we will turn to the different definitions of being and involve the questions of how being is known also.
(l) Being is limited to what can be seen. Men who hold a philosophy of naturalism, in its various forms, argue that the visible world is all there is. What can be seen, touched, etc., is, and what cannot be seen, touched, etc., doesn't exist. This way of looking at nature may be called monism, or a monism of matter, in which all reality is reducible to nature, or atoms. This is a "nothing-but" philosophy. Reality is "nothing-but" matter, or atoms, or cause-effect mechanisms. Whatever the form of naturalism it is limited to and by sense verification.
Questions may be raised about this definition of being. (a) If man is considered, his mental powers must be reduced to chemical or electrical explanations which are inadequate, or treated unjustly. The appearance of mind in a naturalistic world is as difficult to explain as the appearance of life. (b) Naturalism treats the "laws of nature" in a superficial manner. Laws are interpretative, but non-existence devices for explaining events and happenings in nature. Laws are a key to understanding and scientific progress. Thus science would not exist without mind and reason, and these should take precedence in importance in explaining the physical. (c) If nature is to be known by the scientific methods, the method is restricted to knowledge that relates to a physical or chemical type. Can it be that there are other ways of knowing reality that can take one beyond the merely visible? Is there more than the physical world? Our next view presumes so.
(2) The "two-worlds theory" A.
The term, "two-world's" was first introduced into philosophy by Lask11 and refers to two different theories.
The first type of the two-world's theory is that there is a higher world than the visible and the visible is not the real world. It is only an appearance. Man is essentially a unitary part of the world. This identity of man and the world or man and the world-soul--the Spirit back of the appearances--makes it possible for man to claim that when he knows himself he knows being. This view is accepted in various degrees by idealists such as Plato, Whitehead, Taylor, Browne, Hegel and forms of Hindu thought associated with transcendental meditation, and Christian Science, to mention only a few.
We can look briefly at a philosophy on the contemporary scene who incorporates some of these ideas. Karl Jaspers is a philosopher who believes that being is manifested in objects, but is not defined by means of the objects. There are two kinds of beings in the world--subjects and objects. But being is bigger than both of these. The cliche that the Whole is greater than the parts is true here. Jaspers calls it the Comprehensive.12 The Comprehensive is manifested in objects, but objects do not explain or expose the Comprehensive. Hence one cannot, by means of philosophy, get to Being. This can be done only indirectly.
Then how can being be known? Jaspers points to mysticism as the answers. The mystic is the person who transcends "the subject-object dichotomy and achieves a total union of subject and object, in which all the objectness vanishes and the I is extinguished. Then authentic being opens up to us, leaving behind it as we awaken from our trance a consciousness of profound and inexhaustible meaning."13 Jaspers comments that being is indescribable and being that can be communicated is not being. But he claims that "the mystic is immersed in the Comprehensive."14
All of this sounds very romantic and appealing, but it doesn't give us much information about being. The true mystic cannot communicate and being cannot be seen. How then can we describe being? How can we know about it? What does the mystic really see? Can we say that Being or the Comprehensive is related to God? Jaspers does this in some sense, but says that "God is reality, absolute, and cannot be encompassed by any of the historical manifestations through which he speaks to men."15 This would tend to make our small knowledge of God even smaller. Thus, if we cannot regard the knowledge of God in philosophy or theology as meaningful, how can we know that the mystic's is? How does one know when one has found Being?
The introduction of a mystic's path to being needs further comment for the mystic is not an easy person to define. The mystic comes in two breeds. The first mystic claims that the journey inward through meditation leads to oneness with Being. Being is found within. It is claimed that I am one with the World-Soul. Since there is a union between me and the world soul, the only obstacle to knowing Being, is in me. If I transcend my personal identity in meditation, I come to Being. Rooting out the ego leads to the depth of internal being.
The second breed of mystic is the one who seeks a union with God which is outside himself. By means of meditation, purgation of the soul, and prayer, the mystic seeks to achieve a union with God who is outside or external to man's being.
The mystic's path to Being is questionable. Neither of these two forms asks the obvious question: why is Being (God) hidden? We don't see "Being" as we see the truth, neither do we see God in the same way. If we equate man and God and seek a knowledge of Being or God inwardly, then we change theology (knowledge about God) into anthropology, or a knowledge about man. The distinctions between man and God are blurred and probably meaningless. If we follow the second mystics route of trying to achieve union with a God who is outside of himself, then what is the basis of our trying to achieve this? This is the better model of mysticism, but who calls for this type of practice and can man by searching, find the hidden God?
Man can certainly suspicion, or intuit that God is about, but can you know a Being (Person) who does not allow Himself to be known? On the other hand, granting that God does reveal Himself, the "means" of the mystic then are superfluous.
(3) The "two-world's theory" B.
A competing theory of being comes from the influence of religious thought. This form of the two-world's theory is described as a contingent dualism: i.e., the material world is dependent upon God. The previous view was essentially a spiritual monism in which the physical world is a secondary part of the theory. Man must transcend the physical and live in the Spirit alone. While it advances beyond naturalism to include the Spirit, it has little use for the physical ultimately.
This two-world theory now combines the visible and the invisible. Augustine' City of God develops something of this. Part of the differences between these two-world theories can be seen in the following contrasts:
God is identified with the God creates the world, but
world. is not identified with it.
Ultimate Being and Man Ultimate Being and Man are are one. not one.
Nature and God are God is eternal; nature is external. not. Nature is
This form of the two-world's theory involves the following. God is creator. The material world exists because He spoke it into existence. Its continued existence is dependent upon his will. Thus, we have a contingent dualism in which matter is dependent upon Spirit, but is not the same as Spirit. Matter has its being or existence in God, but is not a part of God, or a manifestation of God. How does man get to know Being? He can know one part by means of the senses, the physical part. How can he know the other part? Ultimately, God cannot be known unless God is Personal and reveals himself and his nature. At best there may be hints of this expressed in nature, but as it stands, the world does not have perfection. Even if by means of nature the conclusion is reached that God is, there is no means of bridging the gulf separating man from God.
It is at this point that Being or God must be viewed as personal. Anything less than personal could not communicate with man, nor man with it. Christians claim that the Incarnation event gives a way in which man can come to know Being. God became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. He was true-God and true-man. He was the embodiment of the visible and invisible. He combines the temporal and the eternal. Granting this view as an explanation, one is able to have a knowledge about God who seeks, who reveals himself.
In summary, man's search for being has lead to various conclusions. Philosophers with a restricted scientific outlook have been satisfied to stop at nature. Others have found this empty and have sought a spiritual dimension to the world. Yet others in the Christian tradition have not only argued for a spiritual dimension, but have felt that ultimate reality can be known only in the way of Incarnation.
Part of these differences may be seen in the comment of Kant who wrote:
There is no single book to which you can point as you do to Euclid, and say: This is metaphysics; here you can find the noblest object of this science, the knowledge of a highest Being, and of a future existence, proved from principles of pure reason.16
The influence of Kant has been strong in dissuading metaphysical activity. But the last phrase would be inapplicable to those who seek a religious metaphysics. The Bible does not attempt to "prove from principles of pure reason." But Christian philosophers would argue that the Christian option for some answers in metaphysical questions is still open. Here is where you find out about the Highest Being and a future Existence. If it is not in the last alternative, then philosophy per se has not taught it, nor has it the tools to do so.
We seem to be shut up to some alternative: either we know Being by means of self-revelation, or we are pushed toward meager or skeptical knowledge about being.
We now turn to a different type of issue in metaphysics.
3. What are space and time?
If I could come to the edge of space, would I be able to stick my arm through it or not? If I could not, what would prevent my doing it? If I could, then, have I come to the end of space. This question was raised in antiquity by Archytas, a Pythagorean. His questions are profound since it is quite difficult to view space as either finite or infinite. Equally difficult is the question of the nature of space. Is space something? Filled space obviously has something in it, but what is empty space.
Space as a term refers to several meanings. Conceptual space is the space of geometry. It exists when man thinks about it, and ceases when he stops thinking. Perceptual space is related to our sense of touch and sight. A man sees a new car parked by the curb and then walks over and views it closely. In the process he traverses space and experiences a three-dimensional perception of an object in space. Physical space is the space dealt within astronomy and physics. It is described as public space which can be measured by all observers. Absolute space is a Newtonian concept that there are unmovable measuring points on the edge of the universe. The appearance and acceptance of Einstein's theory of relativity made absolute space an obsolete idea.17
Three different issues exist for us to treat briefly. What is space? Is space Infinite? What is curved space?
First, what is space? Early thinkers conceived of space in terms of something called ether, a substance through which light travels like a fish needs water to get from one part of the pond to another. Ether was conceived as necessary since a vacuum is a relatively late discovery. Another analogy used for space was that of a container. This illustrates where you place a chair in a room, in that "space" by the window. On a larger scale, space is what the world is in. But in neither of these cases is space really defined. Nor does it appear to be possible to give such a definition. It was difficult for early philosophers to conceive of empty space, for how can one talk about a "nothing." Even if you conceive of it as a material called ether yet one never experienced space ether because they did not have the technology.
Later, philosophers beginning with Descartes spoke of space and extension as being identical. Objects could be measured for their extension. Take away the object from that particular space and the dimensions are still measurably "there." Since a vacuum was impossible in their belief system, space ether was important to give form or room to space. For Descartes, space was objective. Later, for Kant, space was regarded as subjective, that is, that space is a product of the mind rather than as a result of "experiencing" space as a result of sensory perception. Space is imposed on objects.
Perhaps the problem of definition centers on trying to make space a thing. Things go in space, but space is not a thing. Space is unique, one of a kind. Then, if space is not a thing, we must think of it as a relationship between things. As such it is depth, width, and length.
Second, is space finite or not? Given the definition of space so far, we can say that philosophers of antiquity as well as those up to the 20th century have held both views--that space is infinite and finite. The Greek atomists, Democritus and Lucretius, among others, believed that space was infinite. Gorgias, an ancient skeptic, was the first to argue that space was finite.
Neither of these conceptions are imaginable. What would the boundaries of space be? Infinite space seems to be the easier of the two ideas because we don't have to imagine what boundaries of space would be like, and what would be on the other side. As far as modern data goes we can only talk about stellar bodies that are on the edge of our telescopic distance.
The infinity of space has implications for the idea of curved space. Space is no longer conceived as a linear movement infinitely away from a point. Space is now described as curved. Albert Einstein has contributed to new ideas in space theory in terms of his theory of relativity. This removes the idea of linear infinite space from being meaningful. A misleading, but useful analogy may help the novice to understand the idea of the curvature of space. The planet earth does not move in a straight line. Its orbit circles around the sun. Why is there a circular orbit of the planets? The old answer is that the gravitational pull of the sun keeps the planets in orbit. However, on the modern theory of Einstein the planets circle because the phenomenon of gravity is "merely the effect of the curvature of the four-dimensional space-time world."18
The other part of the question, about time, may be similarly outlined as in space. Conceptual times relates to the "abstract attempts to study time and motion."19 This is the time that exists only in the mind. Perceptual time is the time experienced by a person as he encounters the events of the day one after another. Physical time is the public measuring device as reflected in the repetition of the earth in orbit which may be subdivided into months or days or the movement of the pendulum. Absolute time is the mate to the absolute space as proposed by Newton who assumed that a universal time exists that was stable very much like absolute space.
What is time then? The early Greeks thought of time in relation to motion. Aristotle wrote, "And so motion, too, is continuous in the same manner as time is; for either motion and time are the same, or time is an attribute of motion."21 As an example, time is the motion experienced in the movement of the sun from rise to sunset. On these grounds, time is also linked to matter. If there were not matter in motion, there would be no time. Hence Plato and others viewed time as subordinate to eternity and only semi-real. Augustine, famous for the question, "What is time?"22 regarded time as "extendedness" which is experienced in the mind itself. Later, Kant also regarded time as subjective but in the sense that the mind organizes experiences in sequential order.
Contemporary philosophers tend to reject the idea that time is an entity that moves, or that it is through time viewed as an entity that one moves. Time is not like a river that flows from point to point. This is why time is difficult to measure if it is regarded as real. Is there an absolute beginning point for time? If one answers that time has always been, then there is no beginning point or a point of departure for measuring it.
If one cannot speak of time as an entity, or time flowing like the analogy of a river, what is proposed to replace such descriptions? The answer is: time is a way of describing before and after events with reference to our speech. The phrase "token-reflection" is used to describe what is meant here. A token is a statement or utterance. Reflection refers to oneself or the statement that is made by one. If I say Harry Truman was elected president of the U.S.A., this means he was (past) elected sometime before I made the statement (which is present). Past or future are in reference to the present statement. "George will mow the lawn this afternoon" refers to an event that will take place after my statement is made and is regarded as a future event.
Thus, there is no entity called time. It is used with relating events in terms of their chronological order. When I say that I have lived 46 years, there is a superficial time sequence involved, but these resolve down to periodic changing of the seasons, a series of events relating to growing up, older, and progressing to changes in my body. But time as a thing does not exist. The conclusion of the event-experience approach to time is that when I no longer experience events, I am dead.
There is another dimension to time's subjectivity. If I am in a hurry and have to wait quite a while in the doctor's office, time appears to "move" slowly, while if I am enjoying a victorious ping pong tournament, "time" goes so rapidly I hardly notice that the hour for the evening meal has come. Translated into the previous terminology, the delay in the doctor's office keeps me from the next event, while the ping pong game is filled with a continuation of events.
There is yet another sense in which time is used. One may say, "Time is heavy on my hands and I would rather die." Or, "I have lived 75 years and it has been a delight." In these cases, time is synonymous with life. My life has been wretched by its events, or my life has been filled with wonderful events.
We can now consider an idea that has the mystery of space fiction. When we put space, with length, height, and width, and time together we get the fourth dimension. The added dimension can be seen in the following example:
An army plane lost in the fog crashed into the 79th floor wall of the Empire State Building at 35th St. between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, New York City, at 9:30 a.m., July 28, 1945.23
Albert Einstein (1874-1955)
Born in Lum, Würtemberg, Germany, Einstein was one of the greatest scientists of all time. He is best known for his theory of relativity set forth in 1905 when he was only 26. There's a story about how Albert Einstein was traveling to universities in a chauffeur-driven car, delivering lectures on his theory of relativity. One day while in transit, the chauffeur remarked: "Dr. Einstein, I've heard you deliver that lecture about 30 times. I know it by heart and bet I could give it myself."
"Well, I'll give you the chance," said Einstein. "They don't know me at the next school, so when we get there, I'll put on your cap, and you introduce yourself as me and give the lecture."
The chauffeur delivered Einstein's lecture flawlessly. When he finished, he started to leave, but one of the professors stopped him and asked a complex question filled with mathematical equations and formulas. The chauffeur thought fast. "The solution to that problem is so simple," he said, "I'm surprised you have to ask me. In fact, to show you just how simple it is, I'm going to ask my chauffeur to come up here and answer your question."20
This example gives a very simple application of time to the other three dimensions. But there is a more
complicated application. It is used in physics and astronomy when travel is related to the speed of light. "The physical theory of relativity suggests, although without absolutely conclusive proof, that physical space and physical time have no separate and independent existences . . . ."24 Consider the
following. If one could travel at 99 percent of the speed of light,
your wrist watch, your heart, your lungs, your digestion, and your mental processes would be slowed down by a factor of 70,000 and the 18 years (from the point of view of people left on Earth) necessary to cover the distance from Earth to Sirius and back to Earth again, would seem to you as only a few hours. In fact, starting from Earth right after breakfast, you will just feel ready for lunch when your ship lands on one of the Sirius planets. If you are in a hurry, and start home right after lunch, you will, in all probability, be back on Earth in time for dinner. But, and here you will get a big surprise if you have forgotten the laws of relativity, you will find on arriving home that your friends and relatives have given you up as lost in the interstellar spaces and have eaten 6570 dinners without you. Because you were traveling at a speed close to that of light, 18 terrestrial years have appeared to you as one day.25
If one could travel at a speed faster than the speed of light, it should theoretically turn back the clock. Gamow has a limerick:
There was a young girl named Miss Bright
Who could travel much faster than light,
She departed one day
In an Einsteinian way
And came back on the previous night.
But the truth of the issue seems to be that, now, nothing material can travel with the speed of light. It must also be remembered, if truth relates to verification, then all that we have said about space-time is pure theory. Any rocket ship that could accelerate to the speed of light would need enormous amounts of fuel, not to mention a fantastic technology to create such an engine.
Although time, space, and space-time have interests for philosophers as well as scientists they are not as close to human existence as our next metaphysical issue.
4. Is this a purposive world?
The question of purpose (or teleology) in the world needs careful examination and definition. No one will deny that there are "small" purposes in the world. A student may declare, "My purpose in life is to make money." This goal may be fulfilled anywhere from making five dollars to five million, or more. But is that student's life related to any better or greater purpose in the cosmos? To come at the question another way, does purpose really exist? Is purpose something that anybody can make up without any relationship to a larger or cosmic purpose? When a man lives decently, morally, and justly all of his life, often against the milieu of society, does this have meaning beyond his own human achievement? Is the universe in any sense a moral or purposive universe?
Obviously, the question cannot be answered from observing matter only. There appears to be nothing morally purposive anywhere except in the human community. If man's moral purposiveness is to be related anywhere, it must be found above him rather than below him.
So what about it? Is there purpose, teleology (a Greek word for goal or end) or design that seems to penetrate to the core of the universe regardless of where you look for it? It is easy to conclude that the world does seem teleologically oriented. The cosmos--from the atom to the solar system--is a world of complexity that is orderly, precarious in balance, magnificent in relationship, much of it scientifically explicable, but awesome on any grounds.
Granting this, the real problem comes: so what? What will be concluded from the world's design and harmony? This is where the argument begins. Note the following problems:
(l) Concluding for a designer.
From Aristotle to Aquinas as well as to modern philosophers, thinkers have argued that the design and purpose in the world is the expression of a designer which may be called God. An English philosopher, William Paley, popularized the argument in Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity. Paley used two examples among others, to reach his conclusion: a watch and the eye. When an intelligent man picks up a watch--as he examines it--he is led to the conclusion that its craftmanship and intricacy were the result of a purpose. Paley argued that there cannot be a design without a designer. Everything about the watch leads to this conclusion. The same conclusion was reached in the second example, the eye. Paley knew nothing about the theory of evolution in his day, but he would probably have agreed with the argument used by Edgar Brightman who wrote concerning the marvels of the eye:
When one takes into account the fact that the eye is a complex organ, that each part of it is adjusted to the function of the whole, and that the parts are useless except in combination, it is difficult to understand the result on a mechanistic basis. If the developed eye is the outcome of gradual successive variations, there is no explanation of why the rudimentary variations would survive before all of the necessary variations had occurred in combination. Or if it is the outcome of a sudden mutation, there is no explanation of why all the necessary parts should appear at once in mutual coordination. On either horn of the dilemma, the similarity of structure and function in the two types of eye is an effect without an adequate cause, a mysterious miracle. There is no explanation unless it is granted that there is at work in nature a power that is non-mechanistic and that realizes ends.26
The conclusion is that there is some power or intelligence in the world that realizes ends or goals.
Moving beyond Paley and the modern illustrations of Paley's point by Brightman, there are two other kinds of examples and arguments that have been used for the conclusion that a designer exists. (2) Man experiences purpose. Purpose in this sense deals with planning for and achieving goals in the future. The future is contemplated in the form of "if this, then that," or "if not this, then that." Explanations of these activities cannot be understood on either chemical, neural, or physical bases in the body, for these parts of man's makeup are not forward-looking. (3) Natural laws suggest purposive content in the cosmos. Light is an example. Traveling at l86,000 miles a second, light is uniform everywhere. Light can be artificially slowed down, and then after it passes through a slowed state, it picks up its original speed. Why is this? One might say merely that that's the way it is. But why light behaves this way might also point to rationality in the cosmos, and hence design.
The idea of purpose is rather alien to the scientific community. Cause and effect have had a large place in the science while the question of why, or an ultimate cause, has had little place. Why is there a world? Why is there life? These questions cannot be answered by looking at only parts of the cosmos. An auto has many parts working in a mechanical relation. Each part works but makes little sense apart from the purpose of the machine which transcends the parts. The purpose is beyond the parts working in harmony. The fact seems to be that once there was no life. Then the world seemed prepared for life. Was it merely chance? Or was there loaded dice and a "cheater" somewhere rolling? It appears to make more sense that the world was prepared and shaped for life. So the modern ecologist seems to be saying. If we don't act intelligently--pursue the seeming design and harmony in nature--we are going to destroy ourselves.
Purposiveness seems to relate to the fabric of human existence in another way. Victor Frankl has done much with his use of logotheraphy for people with problems. People have mental crises because they have no purpose. The will to purpose has become a key difference between living and dying. While Frankl does not conclude that God is the cause of the purpose, yet purpose has more meaning if it is related to God. Serving mankind is purposive activity, but one may do this and yet conclude that "life is a tale told by an idiot" and without meaning. But serving mankind has significant purpose in that it is related to the total meaning of life as proposed by God.
(2) Is the designer finite or infinite?
The argument doesn't say. All that is necessary is that the designer be sufficiently powerful and intelligent to get the job done. But the presumption is that the Designer is all-wise, infinite in power and goodness, and has done the work well.
If the designer is infinite, certain objections are raised against this conclusion. (l) Arguing by analogy, a finite world would not require an infinite God, and thus one could only argue by analogy and cause and effect, that since the world is finite, the designer need only be finite. (However, if the world were infinite, then an infinite cause could be required. Thus the question becomes one related to physics and astronomy, as well as the argument from cause and effect.) (2) The problem of evil mars the perfection implied in the design. The tacit assumption is that this world is either perfect or all good. But there appears to be evil in the cosmos and this needs an explanation. The argument doesn't deal with the matter of evil. One might argue that the Creator or Designer is both good and evil, or indifferent. It is also conceivable that some things called evil may ultimately be found to be good, but the argument doesn't provide for this problem. David Hume raised various objections against the teleological argument such as the analogy of a bungling carpenter who does his work with a bit of trial and error.
The objection of the lack of perfection in the world stands in contrast to the perfection of the Designer. If the Designer is perfect, what has happened to the world? This leads to other questions. Was the world once perfect and then corrupted? This may be a possibility. But philosophically, all that we can now say is that it is not a perfect world as we understand the world, and there is yet considerable design manifested in it. One may seek a solution by an appeal to religious viewpoints, namely, that the world has been corrupted by sin from a once perfect state, but philosophically, the argument by itself has some problems.
If the option that the world reflects a finite designer be maintained, the fact still holds that there is design. We can argue over the degrees of design, or the relative perfection of the designer rather than the absence of design totally. The ideas of purposeness may not be infinite but yet be a major fabric of the cosmos.
The finite designer conclusion tends to cast aspersions on the idea of God. But in spite of this, even if this conclusion were accepted, an enormous intelligence is expressed in the cosmos. Consider the enormous amount of knowledge that we know about the cosmos. Contemplate the future discoveries that man will make. A being who designed the world would have to be enormously precocious. It would not require too much of a leap of faith to conclude for infinite intelligence. This is especially true in light of the unknown "knowledge" of the future that shall be uncovered. If what we know reflects finite intelligences, the limit of our knowledge makes it possible to consider infinite intelligence. But even if we do this, we have yet to come with an explanation for the difficult question of the presence of evil in the world that has purpose.
In fact, the case against teleology almost boils down to one argument, the existence of evil. There are other arguments against teleology, but they are insignificant in comparison to the problem of evil. For example, (l) it is argued that teleology is a human projection on the experience of man in the world rather than a valid conclusion drawn from the world. Admittedly, there are people who fantasize and live in a world all their own, but is this true for the common core of people who are quite realistic in their life styles and beliefs? To say that man generally projects would require a general psychological study of man. No such study has been done. Moreover, if it were found true that men did project their feelings on the world, this would require an adequate explanation. Is man's mind so framed that he sees purpose where none exists? This would raise the credibility of the rest of his knowledge. Does man generally come to acknowledge teleology because he is driven to that conclusion because of the actual possibility of seeing a teleology in the world? What is an adequate explanation for man's projection of purpose if it could be proven to be mere psychological projection?
(2) Another minor objection comes from Darwinism and its varieties. Instead of design and teleology, we now have with Darwin the ideas of natural selection. Some organisms are better adapted to survive than others. This survival value is not due to any Creator or Designer. The wide acceptance of evolution is due, in part, to the rejection of non-tangible explanations such as a Designer or God. Darwinism alone does not abolish teleology. The problem of the origin of life, arising from inorganic to organic, has yet to be solved adequately. But explanations based on genetics and mutations themselves may be seen as expressions of complex rationality. Adaptation may likewise be viewed from the standpoint of teleology as well as the struggle for existence. In reality we have come to substituting words for the same ideas. We may say that "nature has equipped Canadian geese to fly south with the coming of winter." Nature is a scientific substitute term for God. Nature sounds more scientific and less mystical, but nature offers no explanation. But "nature has equipped" says the same as "God has equipped" but in reality is not as meaningful, for nature does not have intelligence whereas God is supposed to have it. The problem may be whether one believes in God or not.
(3) The Problem of Evil.
At this juncture we turn to the real problem of maintaining belief in purpose, the problem of evil. If we are informed by ancient philosophy we are faced with the following alternatives:
If God is good and all-powerful, there should be no evil. Since there is evil, either God is not all-good, or all-powerful.
This has led some to say that evil brings one to atheism, or a rejection of God completely. Others have argued that God is good, but not all-powerful. God struggles against evil and will one day overcome it.
But the quotation above bears some closer examination. Take the phrase "all-powerful." This is a philosophic, but not a religious term. Under its philosophical meaning there have been debates over questions like: "Can God make a square circle. Can God make something to exist and non-exist at the same time? Can God make an object so big He couldn't pick it up?" These questions reflect gravely on the idea of God involved. But who is this God of the argument? How does philosophy come to a knowledge of an all-powerful, all-good God? The either/or alternatives of the ancient philosopher should not come up in a genuinely religious concept of God. For example, a religious view of God based on revelation would require a meaningful sense of rationality attributed to God, not a sense of absurdity and contradiction. God is said to be rational and in a context of rationality the absurd is not seriously considered. In this there is truth in Pascal's statement that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (or the God of revelation) is not the God of the philosophers.
The view of God that one maintains has much to say concerning the solution to the problem of evil. Edgar Brightman, for example, came to conclude that God is good and finite because of the problem of evil. He noted: "Can one believe in a God who willfully permits evil to exist?" Brightman's solution is no solution. One can ask the question: "can one believe in a God who does not willfully permit evil to exist?" The difference? Do you want a divine policeman or a God of mercy? If the Divine policeman prevails then the first act of transgression would mean the abolition of man. Unless mercy prevailed, no one would exist.
In the long run, the question of what kind of God do you want to believe in? is not the right question. The real question is: what kind of God exists? What is the solution to the problem of evil? Can an infinite God of goodness and power allow evil to exist? Are the ancient alternatives correct in analyzing the question of God and evil? Many would argue no.
The problem of evil has called forth a variety of proposed solutions. The following may be used for outlining them.
I. Nontheistic solutions
1. Good and Evil are subjective concepts; the universe is neutral. (Spinoza)
2. Evil is the ultimate principle of the universe. (Schopenhauer)
3. The real problem is to overcome evil, not theorize about it. (Dewey)
II. Theistic Solutions
A. Solutions Calling for the correction of attitudes
4. Evil is unreal, resulting from misinterpretation of the world. (Christian Science)
5. There is no answer for man; the subject should be abandoned for more fruitful discussions. (Theodore M. Greene)
B. Solutions justifying God's Intentions
6. Evil is sent by a totally transcendent God whose holy power is beyond questioning. (Job in the end)
7. Evil is punishment for sin. (Job's friends)
8. Evil is sent as a test of faith. (Satan in the Job story)
9. Evil is provided as a contrast so that good will be appreciated more. (a popular lay view)
l0. Evil is allowed as an obstacle making for moral growth. (Josiah Royce)
ll. Evil serves some unknown purpose. (Aquinas, in part)
C. Solutions placing the Source of Evil Outside God
12. Evil is the work of a devil. (Luther, C.S. Lewis)
13. Matter is the cause of evil. (Manichaeanism)
14. Evil must be possible if nature is to be governed by laws of orderly process. (F.R. Tennant)
15. Evil results from the fact that created beings must be finite. (William Temple)
16. Moral evil, at least, results from free human choices. (Most theologians)
17. Delegated creativity in everything makes novelty possible, and with it, evil. (Whitehead, Berdyaev)27
There are two types of evil generally requiring some solution. First, there are evils perpetrated upon man by man. Poverty, war, robbery, rape and mass murder are the kinds of evils traceable to man. They are products of greed, lust, and hate. The second kind of evil is the natural phenomena of floods, earthquakes, disease, famines, and other natural calamities. Is there a solution to these evils? This is the more difficult one. Some reject these as real moral issues and regard them as part of the struggle for survival in nature. Certainly one does not have to live along the river bottom when floods come with regularity. But disease is different. We don't choose to have cancer or multiple sclerosis. Is freedom any kind of answer here, as it appears to be in the first form of evil? Is there an analogy between the tyranny of man over man and the tyranny of bacteria over man? Harmonious bacteria in man's body is necessary for digestion, health and life. But alien bacteria is detrimental to his health. Freedom and rebellion may be significant motifs for explaining man's existence and his environment with reference to teleology.
Regardless of whatever solution one chooses for attempting to give personal satisfaction to the problem of evil, one must at the same time realize the struggle that philosophers have had with the problem. It is not an easy problem. And in the course of time some answers have emerged as more aesthetically satisfying than others.
So far in this brief introduction to metaphysics we have looked at the issue of what is being? what are space and time? and is there purpose in the cosmos? While these matters are sketched in bare detail with the problems associated with them, the student can start to feel the depth of the problems that philosophers have faced in various ages.
We are going to turn now to two questions that are both metaphysical and religious in their content. These questions are further compounded because there are widely accepted scientific views on the subject of origins: our world and our life.
For Further Reading
Aristotle's Metaphysics. Trans. by Hippocrates G. Apostle. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, l966.
Gamow, George. One, Two, Three . . . Infinity. New York: Viking Press, l964.
Jeans, James. Physics and Philosophy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, l958.
Jaspers, Karl. The Way to Wisdom. New Haven: Yale University Press, l954.
Kant, Immanuel. Prologomena to any Future Metaphysics. Chicago: Open Court Press, l902.
Heidegger, Martin. An Introduction to Metaphysics. Garden City: Anchor Books, l962.
Martin, Gottfried. General Metaphysics. Trans. by Daniel O'Connor. London: George Allen and Unwin, Ltd., l968.
Taylor, A.E. Elements of Metaphysics. London: University Paperbacks, l903.
1Martin Heidegger, An Introduction to Metaphysics, Garden City: Anchor Books, l96l, p. l.
2Cf. A.E. Taylor, Elements of Metaphysics, London: University Paperbacks, l903, p. 43.
3Aristotle's Metaphysics, trans. by Hippocrates G. Apostle, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, l966, p. 54.
4Another word, ontology, was introduced in the l7th century by Christian Wolff, and it basically means the science of being. Some philosophers prefer it to metaphysics since metaphysics implied something behind nature, while being or ontology begins with nature. Cf. Gottfried, Martin, General Metaphysis, trans. Daniel O'Connor, London: George Allen and Unwin, ltd., l968, p. l9.
5Taylor, op. cit., p. 5.
6Heidegger, op. cit., p. 6.
7Immanuel Kant, Prologomena to any Future Metaphysics, Chicago: Open Court, l902, p. l34.
8Cf. Chapter four.
9Taylor, op. cit., p. ll.
10Cf. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception.
11Martin, op. cit., p. 2l2.
12Karl Jaspers, The Way to Wisdom, New Haven: Yale University Press, trans. by Ralph Manheim, l954, p. 30.
13Ibid., pp. 33-34.
14Ibid., p. 34.
15Ibid., p. 47.
16Kant, op. cit., p. 20.
17The ideas from James Jeans, Physics and Philosophy, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1958, pp. 55-56.
18George Gamow, One, Two, Three . . . Infinity, New York: Viking Press, 1964, p. 109.
19Jeans, op. cit., p. 57.
20Reader's Digest, January, 1978, p. 110.
21Aristotle's Metaphysics, p. 202.
22"What is time? If no one asks me, I know. If I try to explain it to someone asking me, I don't know." Confessions, Baltimore: Penguin, 11, XIV.
23Gamow, op. cit., p. 78.
24Jeans, op. cit., pp. 63-64.
25Gamow, op. cit., p. 102.
26Edgar Brightman, An Introduction to Philosophy, Third Ed., revised by Robert N. Beck, New York: Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1964, p. 235.
27Donald Walhout, Interpreting Religion, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1963, pp. 187-188.