Nature and teleological principles

I finished Roger Scruton’s The Soul of the World today, and want to share this final excerpt. There’s a lot in this relatively short bit:

Any reasonable monotheism will understand God not merely as transcendental, but as related to the world in the “space of reasons,” rather than in the continuum of causes. He is the answer to the question “why?” asked of the world as a whole. You may well say, with the atheists, that the question has no answer. But if you say this because you think that there are no cogent “why?” questions other than those that seek for causes, then you are merely turning aside from the argument. The teleological foundation of the world is not perceivable to science, or describable in scientific terms. Hence it can be neither proved nor disproved by scientific method. It can be established only through the web of understanding, by showing, as I have tried to show in this book, that accountability lies in our nature. …

I pointed out that the science of the human being, which sees the seat of all activity and thought in the brain, will not find, in the organism that it explores, the thing that we address in the space of reasons. The “I” is transcendental, which does not mean that it exists elsewhere, but that it exists in another way, as music exists in another way from sound, and God in another way from the world. The search for God often seems hopeless; but the usual grounds given for thinking this imply that the search for the other person is hopeless too. Why not say, rather, that we stand here on the edge of a mystery? In these concluding thoughts I want to approach as near as I can to that edge.

The God of the philosophers has been defined in ways that seem to set him entirely outside the sphere in which we exist and where we hope to encounter him. He is the “necessary being,” the “causa sui,” “that than which no greater can be conceived,” the “final cause” of a world “ordered toward” him, and so on. All these expressions define some part of the enormous metaphysical burden that has been placed on God’s shoulders by the philosophical attempts to prove his existence. I don’t say that these attempts are wasted, or that they do not present us with interesting puzzles for which the postulate of God is one among the possible solutions. But the God to whom they point is outside the envelope of causes, while our God-directed thoughts demand an encounter within that envelope, an encounter with the “real presence.” God himself demands this, we believe, since he requires us to enter into a covenant with him. I cannot answer the question how it is possible that one and the same being should be outside space and time, and yet encountered as a subject within space and time. But then I cannot answer the question asked of you and me, how one and the same being can be an organism, and also a free subject who is called to account in the space of reasons. The problem of personal identity suggests that the question may have no answer. Indeed, the unanswerable nature of questions like this is part of what cognitive dualism commits us to. Many monotheistic thinkers, from Tertullian through al-Ghazālī to Kierkegaard and beyond, have suggested that faith flourishes on absurdity, since by embracing absurdity we silence the rational intellect. I say, rather, that faith asks that we learn to live with mysteries, and not to wipe them away—for in wiping them away we may wipe away the face of the world. Christians believe that they can reconcile the transcendent God with the real presence, through the doctrine of the Incarnation. But I regard that doctrine as another story, which does not explain the mystery of God’s presence but merely repeats it.

The laws of physics are laws of cause and effect, which relate complex conditions to the simpler and earlier conditions from which they flow. Teleological principles can therefore leave no discernible mark in the order of nature, as physics describes it. Nevertheless, it is as though we humans orientate ourselves by such principles, rather as some animals orientate themselves by the earth’s magnetic field. In the order of the covenant we are pointed in a certain direction, guided by reasons whose authority is intrinsic to them. If we look for the foundation of these reasons and meanings, we look always beyond the physical horizon, just as we do when we look into the eyes of another person, and ask him “why?”

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