Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Believe through thick and thin"

Perhaps particularly annoyed by Hawking's declaration early in his new book that "'philosophy is dead' because it 'has not kept up' with science, which alone can explain the universe. 'It is not necessary to invoke God'...", Carlin Romano, a professor of philosophy, reviews how some rather prominent 20th century philosophers from Hawking's university might respond. "Their message to Hawking? Scientists eager to delete God exceed their job description." One of the philosophers Romano cites is Ludwig Wittgenstein and in the essay he describes Wittgenstein's relationship to Christianity:
.... Wittgenstein turned decidedly religious during his World War I service in the Austrian Army, when he read the Gospels repeatedly. He prayed often. Even before the war, William James's Varieties of Religious Experience exerted a powerful influence on him. Later, during the only public lecture of his career, he explored the psychological state of "feeling safe in the hands of God."

From his mid-20s on, Wittgenstein referred to God regularly. In his Notebook of 1916, he writes that "to believe in God means to see that life has a meaning." In Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922), Wittgenstein contends that "God does not reveal himself in the world." Wittgenstein's God is beyond human understanding. In Culture and Value (University of Chicago Press, 1980), Wittgenstein remarks that it is a mistake to "try and give some sort of philosophical justification for Christian beliefs." ....

"Christianity is not a doctrine," he writes, then elaborates: "Christianity is not based on a historical truth; rather, it gives us a (historical) narrative and says: now believe! But not, believe this narrative with the belief appropriate to a historical narrative—rather: believe through thick and thin." Wittgenstein acknowledges the emotional intensity involved: "If I am to be really saved—then I need certainty ... and this certainty is faith. And faith is faith in what my heart, my soul needs, with its passions ... not my abstract mind."

After World War II, Wittgenstein apparently stuck to such views. In 1948, he distinguishes "religious faith" from "superstition," writing that the first is a "trusting," while the second is a "false science." On the matter of evidence for God, Wittgenstein offers a characteristically shrewd angle in 1950: "A proof of God's existence should really be something by which one could convince oneself of God's existence. But I think that believers who have provided such proofs ... would never have come to believe through such proofs." .... [more]
Cosmology, Cambridge Style: Wittgenstein, Toulmin, and Hawking - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education