A E Taylor was a British Idealist philosopher noted for his knowledge and scholarship of Plato and for his writings on moral philosophy, metaphysics and the philosophy of religion. British Idealism was a response to the perceived collapse of the empiricism of Locke and Hume and in opposition to materialism and utilitarianism. It embraced Kant's attempt to integrate a priori and a posteriori theories to create a unified epistemology arguing that while all knowledge begins with experience it does not mean that it all arises from experience. British Idealism adopted a modified concept of the Absolute but argued for the role of reason in understanding it. Hence reality was a combination of thought and object in unity which made metaphysics integral to philosophy. This was rejected by analytical philosophers who came to dominate twentieth century British philosophy.
Taylor wrote "Does God Exist?" in 1939 just before the outbreak of the Second World War but only published it in 1945 when the conflict had ended. Taylor acknowledges that belief in God is based on faith not logic. He accepts that religion depends on revelation by God of his own nature but argues that no one can expect to receive communication from God unless one believes God exists. Taylor's intention was not to create faith but to defend it "against the specious bad reasoning of its assailants."
He demonstrates the influence of Greek philosophy and Hebrew scriptures on the meaning of Christianity. The Greek's concept of God was that of supreme and perfect intelligence while the Hebrews developed ideas of a supreme and righteous will. In addition, the former expressed itself "in the presence of intelligible order and system throughout nature" and in the idea "that there is both an immutable law of right and wrong and a divine guidance in the course of events to an issue acceptable to the moral conscience." Hume's skeptical criticism of these assertions obviated the need for causation. Taylor noted that exponents of the "new physics" i.e. quantum mechanics, were advocating the "principle of indeterminancy" in a way which implied that some events occur at random, cannot be predicted and are, in essence, incoherent.
Nietzsche was an early proponent of the idea that science proved the non-existence of God. Taylor dismisses this as an illogical conclusion based on an unfounded hypothesis. Science has not disproved the existence of God. What science has done is to provide explanations of reality which have been erroneously explained by theistic interpretations in the past. There is nothing in science that, per se, proves anything about the existence or otherwise of God. A true theory of anything must be adequate and coherent.
Taylor's criticism (which remains valid sixtyfive years later) is of scientists presenting bad metaphysics as if they are talking about science. In contemporary terms claims that "science proves atheism is true" is an example of bad metaphysics because the statement is not self-evident and no proof is given or attempted. There is, Taylor points out, a huge difference between saying there is no satisactory evidence that human personality survives death and claiming human personality cannot survive death. In addition, the scientific method, is not free from supposition and what is often presented as scientific fact is actually a transcipt of experience. Science presupposes knowledge which was not discovered by using the scientific method leaving science as "a heap of perceptions succeeding one another". Hence Taylor concludes that "the determination to recognise no knowledge but "scientific" knowledge has destroyed knowledge itself."
Taylor takes this further, providing a critique of Sir James Frazer's Golden Bough which claimed a scientific explanation of religious beliefs and practices, describing Frazer's interpretations as "highly speculative". To Taylor's mind much of what is claimed as rationalism is actually irrational. He states "if all we knew about the actual world we only what we can learn in the physical or chemical laboratory, so far as I can see, atheism might conceivably be true." Yet human beings are not just a "bag of salts with a little water," nor are they governed by conditioned reflexes but have the capacity to "contrive, plan and intend, succeed and fail."
The weakness of natural causation in materialist philosophy is that it relies on creation without a creator while assuming the mechanics of adaptation to future needs. Such an improbability can only be removed by the presence of mind as a determining factor in the course of events. Neo-Darwinism does not offer an explanation of the "prospective contrivance" in nature but, consciously or unconsciously, assumes its reality. In effect, scientists who invoke lack of evidence for the existence of God define knowledge as that which is established by the scientific method whereas knowledge itself extends beyond the philosophical materialism associated with modern science.
Taylor launches a withering attack on the rationalist intelligentsia, who accept that in the dark ages a Christian might be intelligent but ill-informed, but argue that in the modern world such as person "must be definitely either dishonest or stupid". This viewpoint requires a judgement on the part of rationalists based on their own subjective philosophy. Taylor points out "that to be a Christian involves an exercise of faith and faith of any kind always means a voluntary assent to something about which you cannot prove that it is impossible that you should be mistaken." To hold views based on faith is reasonable and defensible.
Taylor concludes "the worst that can be said of the religious and theistic view of the universe is that while it is coherent in itself and, if true, would provide an adequate foundation for our best hopes for mankind, it cannot be demonstrated to be true." By way of contrast secularism "goes beyond anything we can logically prove." Nothing has happened in the last half century to alter that conclusion. Although scarce, copies of this book can still be found via Amazon. It's well worth the effort for this five star production.Read more ›