Thomas Molnar: Christian Scholar for Our Time
Part III: God, True Reality and Unbelief; Summary
In his works discussed in the past two issues of this journal, Thomas Molnar introduced us to the history and essence of the perennial war between belief in the transcendent, personal, sovereign Creator God of the Bible, and proud, rebellious atheist pantheist unbelief seeking to fashion a "new" reality and a "new," god-like, coalesced mankind of its own imagination. In his philosophical masterpiece, God and the Knowledge of Reality, and in his Theists and Atheists: A Typology of Non-Belief Molnar rounds out his earlier work by showing that non-believers are philosophically sterile because of their fatally flowed theory of knowledge (epistemology).
Christianity, all monotheists, traditional philosophy and ordinary common sense all hold that the world is truly real rather than the product of our own imagination. Even those who think with eastern mystics, Buddhists, Taoists, practitioners of Zen, and other assorted open or latent solipsists that everything we observe is merely an extension or illusion of the self must act as though the air we breathe and the food we eat to live, the earth on which we walk, our own bodies and all things were there. The "appearances" are very much on the side of the theists and the traditional philosophical "realists."
This belief in the truth of the world as real, or acceptance of "Being" lies at the root of the "realist" philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas (1225?-1274), a devout Christian, and his followers, including Molnar. Evaluating Molnar's argument in God and the Knowledge of Reality requires some understanding of Thomistic Realism and its possible shortcomings. In his celebrated five proofs for the existence of God Aquinas reasoned from the true reality of the world to the necessity of God as its "First Cause," "Prime Mover," "maximum grade of being," and ultimate ground/ sustainer. Molnar, too, reasons upward to God from the reality of the world, though at times he has recourse to creation as the foundation of reality. St. Thomas Aquinas accepted creation on the grounds of divine revelation rather than reasoning, a distinction blurred in Molnar.
Aquinas sought to formulate a synthesis between the philosophy of Aristotle and Christianity, departing from Aristotle "only in cases where the Christian creed allowed under no circomstances for a compromise."4 This brought about a tenuous coexistence between "Grace, the higher" (truths known only by revelation) and "Nature, the lower" (truths man can know by himself through reason). Tension between Aristotelian and Christian elements in Thomism existed from the start, and Thomism contributed to the autonomy of philosophy apart from theology. Hence Thomas Aquinas "was regarded by some zealous traditionalists as selling the pass to the enemy."2 This tension is somewhat reflected in Molnar, though he strives to argue in a strictly philosophical manner.
The deepest problem for a would-be Christian philosophy and theory of knowledge taking not biblical creation but the idea of "Being" or reality as its starting point is this. The idea of "Being" can easily accommodate the notion, anathema to Christianity, that all that "is" is divine within one vast pantheistic, monistic whole. For example, the so-called "ontological proof" for the existence of God by St-Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) defines God as "that being than which nothing greater can be conceived to exist," a definition rejected by the Church because it can be understood pantheistically as "the sum of all that exists." A "chain" or gradation of being from the tiniest entity to God is also implicit in this "proof," and in the fourth proof of Aquinas which reasons to God from the gradation of beings to their maximum. This latently pantheistic notion was very influential and widely held from the Middle Ages to our own century, and it harbors belief in some kind of emergent evolution of "Being" by a process. This belief, of course, flatly contradicts biblical creation. Rousas John Rushdoony has well summed up what is involved:
Apart from biblically governed thought, the prevailing concept of being has been that being is one and continuous. God, or the gods, man, and the universe are all aspects of one continuous being; degrees of being may exist, so that a hierarchy of gods as well as a hierarchy of men can be described, but all consist of one, undivided and continuous being. The creation of any new aspect of being is thus not a creation out of nothing [as the Bible teaches], but a creation out of being, in short, a process of being.... the process is static if it flows upward out of history ... into the eternal order. The process is dynamic if it flows forward through history towards a final historic order, or if it merely flows forward as endless process ... In both forms, a cyclic view is possible 3
Thomistic thought also postulates fixed "laws of nature" governing reality, an idea still shared by eighteenth-century deism. Modern evolutionists deny the existence of such fixed lows on the grounds of alleged "scientific fact," outmaneuvering those who continue to reason only from "being" and the "laws of nature" rather than creation as their starting point. We must reason from biblical creation as our first starting point since it accounts for observed fixity in nature on the grounds of the created fixed kinds by God's eternal Word (Genesis 1; John 1:1-5; Col. 1:12-17). The enemy understands this better than many Christians as is obvious from his concerted, furious onslaught against the dissemination of the rapidly accumulating scientific evidence supporting creation. Finally, stopping short of biblical creation by beginning to reason from impersonal "being" rather than the act of the i transcendent, personal, triune God of Scripture can only lead to an impersonal concept of God, a "God of philosophers and learned men" (Pascal) rather than the true God we must personally know to have eternal life (John 17:3). Like St. Paul at Athens when speaking to philosophical inquirers (Acts 17:16-34) we must not shun beginning with their "Unknown God," the Personal, Transcendent God Who made heaven and earth and all things. It is to Molnar's great credit that while primarily speaking as a "realist" philosopher, his faith in creation and creation's God always shines behind and through his work.
Molnar begins his explicit attempt to rescue the philosophical enterprise from pseudo-philosophy by a description of the epistemology of Hegel's pantheist-monist thought:
... the underlying theme ... of Hegelian epistemology ... is coalescence: the soul's absorption in God, the absorption of change in the One, of history in the timeless absolute, of the mind in the world-spirit, the convergence of all human endeavors in the World-State....
Disengagement [from Hegelian monism] must, therefore, begin with the proposal of a different epistemology, one whose ideal is not fusion but distinction.... it is through distinction that we recognize the objective reality of the extramental world (as distinguished from the self) ...
Only in such a way can we constructively criticize the Hegelian concept of fusion ... We may assume, then, that [things as they appear to us] were created; what we may not assume is that they ... are stages in the dialectical unfolding of Absolute Reason. Because if they are such stages, then we must conclude, with Hindu mysticism and other esoteric doctrines, that they are phantoms, traps for the self, while the self is a trap for the World Soul 4
Molnar then turns to the "God-problem," occupying philosophers to this day. He defines it as "the manner in which one conceives the existence of the supreme being, his role in the creation of the world, and his relationship to man."5 He then divides the positions of philosophers into three main categories, "Position A," belief in an inaccessible, remote God, "Position B," belief in an immanent God, and "Position C," which "holds that God is neither remote nor one-with-man, but that he is transcendent and personal 6 A close relationship exists between: Positions A and B.
In the late Middle Ages Positions A and B largely converged in that the intellectual and historical world was reduced to the natural world and its lows, resulting in the monism of the Renaissance. This development prefigured the pantheist-atheist philosophy of Spinoza. Spinoza conceived of "god" as "pure necessity" and equivalent to modern atheism, a fact not lost on Hegel who wrote in praise of Spinoza that "Spinozism is accused of atheism because in it no distinction is made between god and the world. ... God disappears and only nature remains." Hegel also understood that Spinozism might be seen as either atheism or "Acosmism, since ... Spinoza maintains that there is no such thing as the world, it is merely a form of god. This is the eastern view of things, which first found expression in the West in Spinoza."7 Molnar correctly concludes that
If God is distant (atheism, agnosticism), only the world exists; if the world is in God, only God exists (acosmism). In both cases man is the glorified beneficiary: in the first, he remains the highest spiritual entity; in the second, he is the privileged spiritual part of [monistic] reality.... he knows the world in himself.
It is for these advantages that philosophers so often choose A or B.... God as a person, they think, is ... a limitation for man in his search for the absolute intelligibility of being.8
The gnostic-pantheist idealist thinker sees creation itself as the "fall of God" forced upon him and fragmenting his Oneness. This notion was shared by all "Neoplatonic metaphysics from Plotinus to Bergson ... Origen ... John Scotus Erigena, and ... the German Idealists.... The created world [stands]thoroughly condemned in these systems."9 Modern materialist monism, on the other hand, began with Nominalism and the Renaissance which held that God communicated himself only through nature. "From this point of view," Molnar points out, "it makes hardly any difference whether God is conceived as personal or mechanical: the important thing is that although the formulation of God changes, what does not change is the thinker's belief that man is part of God."10
The Renaissance reawakened a magic view of the world, closely connected with the old pagan gnostic pantheism as well as the new materialist scientism. Molnar shows that modern philosophy is like magic in that philosophers are no longer content to observe and explain the world, but rather want to change it according to their subjectivist mental operations within themselves. They imagine that they can thus increase "true knowledge" of the monistic self-realizing world process. But, Molnar says, this does not really happen because the subjectivist philosopher "only shuffles the symbols of transformation, symbols he has mentally fashioned ... [and which] have no point of contact with reality."11'
This subjectivist world view of the modern "materialist magician" (C. S. Lewis) is "promoted by evolutionary theories in the realm of biology and morals."12 An epistemology of stages in human evolutionary history corresponding to the levels of human knowledge is the result, and this is essentially the epistemology of Hegel (see above). Thinkers with this outlook, Molnar concludes, are not interested in the problem of knowledge, but that of monistic fusion of all things within man's mind.
Molnar wants to restore knowledge "as a valid relationship between subject and object as separate entities," and in order to ! do so the human soul must realize "its creatureliness, its nonidentity ~ with God." If no distinctions are set between the self and the: not-self, "the subject is lost in self-contemplation, or, what amounts | to the same, it stares ahead into nothingness."13 An excerpt from; the private notes of Kant, not published until 1920, represents the: opposite stance: "The Idea of that which human reason itself makes out of the World-AII is the active representation of God. Not as a special personality, substance outside me, but as a thought in me."14 This immantentist, quasi-solipsist world view has led to a
increasing disarray of the philosophical enterprise that finds itself in a double trap. The first trap is the suggestion that philosophical problems may be made to disappear when the reality that philosophy is supposed to interpret is ontologically transformed so that the problems vanish from the purview of reality, hence from the horizon of philosophy too. Reality, however, refuses to change, and philosophy remains saddled with all its problems. The second trap is that insofar as the philosopher assumes the magician's role and manipulates the constitution of being, he liquidates the philosophic enterprise, which is then re absorbed in the praxis of the ideal community.15
For Molnar, man's creaturely humility is the only base for valid knowledge before God and God's created reality: " ... knowing implies neither contempt for creaturely reflection ... nor a self produced reality: it implies a finding or discovery of pre-existing things, separately created and distinct from the knower."16 This is nothing else but an epistemology rooted and grounded in biblical creation as its starting point, though Molnar might insist (or perhaps not) that it begins with the reality of "being."
Molnar shows that when viewed from within this creation-centered epistemology the world is not "absurd" as claimed by modern subjectivist thinkers. Philosophy as they conceive of it is at the end of its tether, having bean "systematically impoverished since late scholasticism, Descartes, Spinoza, then decisively since Kant, and down to the contemporary variants of positivism and linguistic analysis, and of ideologies."17 He saves a deadly blow against all these systems for the end of the discussion: "If the soul were one, and oneness, in turn, could only be predicated of Being, ! individualities would indeed collapse in the totality.... there can | be no knowledge between identical or fused entities."18 The very idea of "knowledge" presupposes an "other" to know; parts of a whole cannot validly "know" the whole; and "otherness" is anchored in the creation of all separate, created identities spoken into existence by the sovereign, immutable word of the transcendent, personal Creator God of the Bible. This is Molnar's realist but biblical creation-based epistemology in a nutshell. It is also the mighty, victorious weapon by which he, and all Christian believers, can and must meet our opponents "at the fount of their premises."19
One issue related to the main theme of God and the Knowledge of Reality must be mentioned briefly. It is the distinction between true Christian mystics and false pantheistic pseudo-mystics, a very important matter in Western society today where false mysticism is seducing many. Molnar makes an admirable contribution by his summary of the teaching of the true Christian mystic John Ruysbroeck (1293-1381), who
admitted the reality of things. Consequently, he recognized also that the world is diverse, so that reality is not the monopoly of a primordial One but is fully bestowed on all creatures.... Ruysbroeck condemned those mystics for whom all things are emanations of one essence ... very importantly, he denied that things can become what they are not through a judgment of the intellect ... and through the passage of one genus to another [that is, he denied evolution].
Ruysbroeck [explained] that it is not in the divine essence that the difference between God and man disappears [in moments of ecstatic "mystical union" or special loving closeness to our Lord], but in the (subjective) joy of beatitude. No absorption of the human into the divine essence takes place, the experience remains purely one of faith and love.20 In related passages Molnar emphasizes that the true Christian mystic returns to everyday life from such special moments of marriage-like union with our Lord with his creaturely humility intact, in no way believing himself to be God, and strengthened for love and service to the Church and his fellow men. Molnar's Theists and Atheists: A Typology of Non-Belief emphasizes the essential unity of non-belief, its historical forms, and its reduction of actual reality to suit men's own imaginations. The world view of monism (all that is, is one single whole; there is no transcendent, personal God/ Creator)is held in common by pantheism, materialism and spiritualism. It dates back to pagan antiquity and was or is taught by all non-biblical thought systems, such as the Stoics: "In the third century ... [the Christian apologist] Lactantius argued against this thesis by pointing out that the Stoics intermingle Nature, World, God, Mind, Body, and a work well executed, all as one Being."24 In the same place Molnar also introduces an incontrovertible argument against the reductionism of monistic thought which he later elaborates in detail. It is the argument from the hierarchy in the natural order, akin to St. Thomas Aquinas' fourth proof:
[Non-believing scientists] much prefer a complete absence of intelligibility to the presence of a non-scientific intelligibility. The name of this preference today is "reductionism," the explanation of the superior by the inferior, of the more articulate by the less articulate, the complex phenomenon by its simple components....
But, as Michael Polanyi points out, the operations of a higher level cannot be accounted for by lows governing its particulars on the next lower level. One cannot derive a vocabulary from phonetics, a grammar from vocabulary, a correct use of grammar does not account for good style, and a good style does not supply the contents of a prose text.22
Corroborating this truth are the low in the science of mechanics that no given set of individual boundary conditions can be done in its own terms but only in the terms of a more general set, and also Gödel's theorem stating the same principle for mathematics.23 We cannot explain the higher by the lower but only by the yet higher order; this fact, incidentally, also eliminates all theories postulating evolution from lower to higher complexity. I would add that while the hierarchical order of nature defects "reductionism," it does not do away with monism since the highest order need not be ontologically different from the lower orders, as Aristotle's cosmology containing a "prime mover" as the "highest sphere" in a pantheistic concentric Oneness of being proves.
Molnar points out that pantheism can and does turn into "pan-anthropism," the doctrine that neither God nor the world but man himself, as unified mankind, is the absolute center of all that is. However, modern humanism is unlike its pagan version in that Christianity
changed the ancient (and archaic) concept of cycles to a linear concept of time.... Christianity and its God who is dynamic and forward-looking (providence) and historically active although by no means immanent, envisage two levels on which tensions are made conscious and are (or are not) solved: the individual and history. The modern, neo-pagan humanist finds this duality intolerable and works for the coincidence of the two planes.24
All monistic unbelief is a "reductionism," the reduction of the Many to the One. Molnar captures this truth, and its counterpart, the "inflationist" tendency of atheism: " ... atheism either reduces (life to atoms, spirit to matter, religion to fear or the priests' tricks) or inflates (man to divine proportions, god to super-god, mind to noosphere."25 Christianity, unique among all faiths, can do justice to both the Many and the One, because both the Many and the One are ontologically equivalent already in the Personal Trinity of the Christian Godhead.
Molnar delivers telling blows against modern evolutionism. He quotes Ernst Haeckel, Darwin's chief German popularizer, precursor of Nazism, and a militant monist-pantheist-atheist, who wrote that "the world exists thanks to itself and its internal force. The pantheist proposition that god and the world are one, is a polite detour signalling to the Lord his dismissal."26 Molnar's argument from the absence of any ´'materia prima" in the cosmos is original, ingenious, and well worth using more widely in defense of biblical creation:
... if matter were all and explained by itself all further complexifications, science would have to find somewhere the materia prima, unstructured, unorganized, in a state of chaos as it is described by the ancient cosmogonic myths. This is not the case, matter is everywhere in an organized state, informed by something that is not matter.27
Many other excellent points are made in Molnar's work which could not be adequately presented here for lack of space. His most valuable contribution to Christian scholarship is his proof from historical sources that the perennial enmity against the God and Creator of Scripture bears many names and faces but is the same: fallen man's desire to be god himself, "knowing" good and evil by his own "monistic" imagination. Molnar also shows by many invincible proofs and sure evidences that man's utopian rebellion is vain and must inevitably fail.
Molnar's work, exhibiting a prodigious depth of historical and philosophical scholarship and acuity, solidly undergirds the biblical Christian world view. It is most relevant and instructive for the defense of the faith "once delivered to the saints" today. Praise God for raising up this dedicated, outspoken, superbly informed Christian scholar and teacher for our edification "in such a time as this."
1 Stanley L. Jaki, Science and Creation (New York: Science History Publications, 1974), p. 225.
2 Frederick Copleston, S.J., A History of Philosophy, Vol. I, Part II (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co. Image Books, February 1962), p. 152. Copleston's entire discussion of Thomism and Aristotelianism is relevant, pp.144-155.
3 Rousas John Rushdoony, The One and the Many (Fairfax, VA: Thoburn Press, 1978), p. 36.
4 Thomas Molnar, God and the Knowledge of Reality (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1973), xiv-xv.
5 Ibid., p.3.
6 Ibid., p.5.
7 Quoted in Thomas Molnar, Theists and Atheists: A Typology of Non-Belief (The Hague: Mouton Publishers, 1980), p.17 (hereafter cited as Molnar, Theists and Atheists). Georgii V. Plekhanov (1856-1918), the philosophical '´Father of Russian Marxism," considered modern Marxism materialist monism "to be closely affiliated to the outlook of Spinoza. "This Spinozism,' he wrote, "freed from its theological lumber by Feuerbach, was the philosophy which Marx and Engels adopted when they broke away from idealism.... the Spinozism of Marx and Engels was materialism in its most modern form." Samuel H. Baron, Plekhanov (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1963), n. p. 291.
8 Molnar, Theists and Atheists, p.17.
9 Molnar, God and the Knowledge of Reality, pp. 28, 29.
10 Ibid., p. 45.
11 Ibid., pp. 98-99.
12 Ibid., p.108.
13 ibid., pp.141, 142.
14 Quoted ibid., p.166.
15 Ibid., pp.201-202.
16 Ibid., p.209.
17 Ibid., p.223.
18 Ibid., pp.225-226.
19 Ibid., p.227.
20 Ibid., pp.206-207.
21 Moinar, Theists and Athelsts, p.9.
22 Ibid., pp. 40, 41
23 See Stanley L. Jaki, The Rood of Science and the Ways to God (Chicago The University of Chicago Press, 1978), pp.291-292 and n.59, p.444. Also see Ernest Nagel and James R. Newman, Gödel's Proof (New York University Press, Eighth Printing 1973).
24 Molnar, Theists and Atheists, p.86.
25 Ibid., p. 187.
26 Ibid., p.26. Also see Ellen Myers, "Monistic Evolutionism as a Pseudo-Paradigm," Creation Social Science and Humanities Quarterly, v.2 (Winter 1982), pp. 20-22. 27 Molnar, Thelsts and Atheists, p. 38.