HOW TO THINK ABOUT GOD: A Guide for the 20th Century Pagan by Mortimer J. Adler

HOW TO THINK ABOUT GOD: A Guide for the 20th Century Pagan

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A curiously dry little exercise in what used to be called natural theology. The pagans Adler wants to guide are people like himself: philosophically inclined individuals who cannot accept traditional religious monotheism, but who have an open mind about the possibility of some sort of ultimate principle. The problem is that Adler treats this highly interesting question in such a coldly technical, old-fashoned idiom that many theological amateurs will be frightened away. His central thesis is an answer to Leibniz' (and more recently Heidegger's) question, ""Why is there something rather than nothing?"" Theists have often inferred the existence of God from the contingent nature of the world: there must be a necessary Being to create and sustain all the other non-necessary beings. Adler rejects this conventional formulation of the cosmological argument, because it is based on an outmoded Aristotelian notion that the continued existence of things (e.g., us) requires continuous support from an efficient cause. In his view the cosmos, not the individual, is radically contingent and needs a supernatural cause to ""exnihilate"" it. In other words, a merely possible universe lacks a sufficient reason for existing. And so, Adler concludes, there are reasonable grounds for believing that there is a God. He stresses that such belief enjoys only a very relative certainty and throws all apodictic demonstrations of God's existence out of court. He spends a lot of time--which some readers may consider wasted--discussing and refuting Anselm's ontological argument. The God he ends up with is not necessarily a creator (Adler assumes the world had no beginning) and suffers in general from the sort of pernicious anemia afflicting most purely philosophical deities. Adler says he would like to help bridge the abyss between his supreme supernatural cause and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but as an honest ""pagan"" he can do little in that direction. Trenchantly written, intellectually convincing, but unfortunately vulnerable to that devastating common-sense rejoinder, ""So what?

Pub Date: March 1st, 1980
ISBN: 0020160224
Publisher: Macmillan