Philosopher's Enigma, The

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160 pages, 6" x 9", prelude, bibliography, index

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Philosopher's Enigma, The

God, Body and Soul

Watson, Richard A.

The atheists Daniel Dennett in Breaking the Spell and Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion talk down to believers. Sam Harris in The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation insults believers outright. All three assume that believers are not very bright. Their approach is not productive of much understanding.

In The Philosopher’s Enigma, Richard Watson explains to believers in temperate and readable prose why he and many others are not believers. His discussion is based on strict Augustinianism, the foundation of seriously argued Christianity. God is hidden – that is, the concept of God is unintelligible – as discussed at length by Leszek Kolakowski in his Religion If There Is No God (St. Augustine’s Press) – in the sense that there are no known rational arguments for God’s existence. Moreover, Augustine argues that finite human beings cannot understand God’s infinite perfections.

Augustine concludes that God has omniscient knowledge of every human being’s behavior, which after all, is predetermined by God prior to His creation of the world. Most difficult to accept, as Calvin later stresses, is the inference that because humans do not determine their own behavior, God predetermines who is saved and who is damned with no reference to this behavior.

A foundation of Christianity is that because of the Fall of Man, we are all sinners, and thus there is no reason why God should pick this person for salvation and that one for damnation. But most Christians believe that faith, God’s grace, Jesus’ sacrifice, being born again, and in particular, good works, can earn one salvation. But Augustine and later Calvin see no evidence for these views. Even if, or perhaps even because, God gives a sinner the grace to be good – a person’s good works do not assure salvation. After all, even before God created the world, God predetermined the behavior of every human being. Thus because humans cannot determine their own behavior, they cannot be saved or damned with reference to this behavior.

A major difficulty in understanding and accepting the story of the Creation, then, is that even though God determines Adam’s behavior, God punishes Adam for disobedience by decreeing that all Adam’s progeny will be born sinners. Watson begins his book with the steel-trap objections made by his daughter, when she was seven years old, as he read the Bible to her. To the story of the Garden, she objected: “But God made Adam! God made Adam sin! God is not fair!” She slid off his lap, and he had to bribe her to return.

In The Philosopher’s Enigma, Watson also discusses in detail the concepts of the soul, angels, ghosts, mind, and body. He argues that the classic Cartesian mind/body problem of how an immaterial mind or soul and a material body can interact will eventually be superseded by a concept of a human being according to which, even though a person’s body/mind is bound by physical laws, it still makes its own considered decisions, and to that extent a human being is free. And because the mind/body is one entity, there is no problem about two different things – a mind and a body-interacting.

Watson concludes that this means there is no such thing as a disembodied mind or soul, and so no such things as angels and ghosts that could help or harm you. Basing this discussion in the context of contemporary neurophilosophy, his conclusions about the relationships of mind/soul follow those of Kolakowski in being reminiscent of Spinoza.

Richard A. Watson is a well-known scholar of Descartes and Cartesianism. Among other books, he has published The Breakdown of Cartesian Metaphysics, Representational Ideas from Plato to Patricia Churchland, Cogito Ergo Sum: The Life of René Descartes, and Descartes’s Ballet: His Doctrine of the Will and His Political Philosophy (St. Augustine’s Press). He has also published three philosophical novels, most notably Niagara.