God at the Crossroads of Worldviews

Toward a Different Debate about the Existence of God

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Paul Seungoh Chung
  • Notre Dame, IN: 
    University of Notre Dame Press
    , November
     2016.
     304 pages.
     $50.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780268100568.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

God at the Crossroads engages the question of God’s existence within theistic—Roman Catholic and Protestant Rationals—and atheistic—scientific materialism and/or secular humanism—worldviews. The text contains an extensive review of literature that presents continuums of thinking related to epistemology, truth, and history. Most arguments appear to be “incommensurable”—having no common ground, or on the opposite side of a spectrum. Author Paul Seungoh Chung proposes a new way to bridge these conversations, however, it may be unlikely that the other side of that spectrum will assent to a conversion.

Relying on a holistic reading of St. Thomas Aquinas’s demonstration—God’s existence of God by Five Ways—and with support from similar arguments from Alasdair MacIntyre, Chung shows that we can transform the argument for, or against, God’s existence. Chung’s proposed solution is to revise the “context and frame in which such arguments function, and their significance in the debate, will be different” (13). By engaging discussions within common concepts the tension between theist and atheist is “dissolved” (13). He completes the claim that the Thomistic synthesis of Greek and Augustine Catholic thought created a new way of viewing the argument about the existence of God: the reconciliation of ideas resolves differences.

Worldviews are tacit beliefs and, in most cases, may be invisible to the holder. The complexity of historical, ideology, and cultural milieu in which worldviews develop makes asserting the veracity of one worldview over the other nearly, or fully, impossible. Chung contention is that a revised approach is needed.

Chung draws out the concept that modern atheism began after the Reformation, during the sixteenth century. Atheism thus grew out of, and along with, the Protestant claims of autonomy, and the questioning of “ecclesiastical authority” in both Europe and the Americas. During the Enlightenment—and the developing modernity periods—views regarding science led to religious skepticism and humanist declarations that prompted secularized politics and education. The counterreligious claims negate the individual elements in the Five Ways, changing philosophical assumptions about God and humanity, and disputes over the accuracies of Christian scripture. God became either an object of study, or eliminated as superfluous. Today, atheist’s hold that God is a projection of the human psyche. According to Richard Dawkins, the belief is that religion inhibits true human progress and thriving (The God Delusion, Mariner Books, 2006). Atheism asserts that human beings are their own cause. Can there be a reconciliation of these views between theism and modern theism?

For scientific materialism, and by extension atheism, Chung identifies that “the ‘laws of nature’ may function like the word God” (216). These laws reflect a universal, absolute, eternal, and omnipotent—nothing is superior or outside them—reality of material. The properties of nature curiously relate to what the theist attributes to God. For the materialist, real science is venerated while biblical interpretations of science and historical inaccuracy of scripture discount certain Christian claims

There are those that hold that the Bible is not a scientific or historical text, for example John F. Haught’s God and the New Atheism: A Critical Response to Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens (Westminster John Knox Publishing, 2008). Rather, that the Bible reveals the mysteries of God and it is through revelation that the knowledge and character of God is perfected by the Holy Spirit. God creates nature and science. He is outside, around, and through the natural laws of nature. God conserves nature, and calls on all to be in relationship with Him.

The critical question is are we being asked to venerate “the laws of nature” as we venerate God? This presents a fundamental problem. To equate attributes of “the laws of nature” with God is misleading. The properties of the “laws of nature” exist in space-time. God and “the laws of nature” are existentially different. The “laws of nature” are contained within God’s created universe. They are subordinate to His spiritual laws. By definition, God is eternal and universal, His spiritual laws are equally eternal and unchanging in all worlds. Our understanding of “the laws of nature” may change, but God remains the one true constant. Theists believe that there will come a time when this world—the cosmos—will end. Jesus Christ will return to judge all creation, including human beings, according to the actions performed in response to God’s grace (Romans 1 and 2). That said, it may be that all study in philosophy and science are acceptable when viewed within the context of the Gospel. Caught in this disconnect, where are the theist and the atheist?

Chung’s proposal appears to fill this gap. Theists and those with secular worldviews may find common ground within some of his framework while maintaining the principles and dignity of each person. This approach leaves a dialog open, as a time may come for a productive synthesis.

It is possible that theism and atheism are so far apart that there are no crossroads. For example, it seems very unlikely that theists could overcome Friedrich Nietzsche’s supposition that “God is Dead,” or Jean-Paul Sartre’s claim that human beings have the power to create themselves. We may find we cannot agree with strong atheistic arguments that God, and that belief in God, is immoral. Consider Chung’s final statement: “at such a crossroad, arguing about God existence will become the telling of a story—a story of a journey of ourselves and our rivals, in which both sides are invited to see what had been so familiar and prevalent in their past travels in a new, transforming light, one that will illuminate their path forward” (232). The door is open for dialog and community while encouraging charity and love. The interlocutors in this debate are left with love, hope, and dignity.

About the Reviewer(s): 

David C. Martin is an independent Roman Catholic academic with research foci in worldviews, religion, spirituality, social constructionism, and higher education.

Date of Review: 
March 15, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Paul Seungoh Chung is a sessional lecturer at St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto.

Comments

Paul Seungoh Chung

First, I would like to thank David C. Martin for his review; he truly captures the heart of my book with his concluding comments. This is all the more reason why I would have loved to read his view on the aspect of the book his review does not discuss.

If the final statement of the book he quotes is the heart of the book, the book's first statement, "There is something odd in the way we argue about the existence of God" is its main argument. I intended the book's academic contribution to be a critique of how the contemporary rational debate about the "existence" of God largely tended to proceed. It argues against debate's key assumptions: the presumption of atheism, and the notion that atheism (specifically scientific naturalism) is the default view to which the theist posits an additional entity, so that the debate about the existence of God - risking oversimplifcation - can be boiled down to the question, "is the addition of this entity warranted or not?" It is in this context that the scientific naturalist can question whether there is need for God if the laws of nature science discovers can potentially explain everything about the universe.

The book's discussion into incommensurability of arguments, epistemology, truth, history, the concept of worldviews, and so on, are all aimed to increasingly wean our mind off such assumptions that have shaped our view of what it means to argue or disagree about the existence of God. Indeed, even the re-reading of Aquinas was in part a counter to the reading proposed by Antony Flew's in his argument for the presumption of atheism. Thus, if the book did its work by the end of its sixth chapter - which I consider to be the end of the book's main argument - much of the way people have engaged in the rational debate about the existence of God would seem as odd as the way the explorers in the first chapter's parable argued would have seemed intuitively odd to the readers. (This is why I state that the parable is the book's argument.)

Martin's summary of what my book proposes - regarding worldviews, transforming of arguments, reconciliation of ideas, "laws of nature" and God, etc. - thus describes one half of the book: the answer. But, I feel it does so without really discussing the first half - the problem to which the proposal is an answer. Yet, without it, it is much more difficult to clearly articulate why my answer is this particular answer, and the limitation and future direction of this answer - and there are limits as God at the Crossroads of Worldviews is first of three planned books.

Martin raises number of other intersting questions about the book that I must leave unanswered here for the reason of brevity (yes, this was as brief as I can make it!). Instead I would like to again thank him for the review, especially since it is a rare thing for a review to go beyond the book to hear where its heart beats.

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