Gayle and I live close to nature and we hike in the mountains daily with Dakota, our dog. When I walk alone I have a lot of time for contemplation. I’ve always wrestled with ontology, which is a big word that applies to the nature of existence. My Christian faith provides answers, but I like to think beyond that to get a sense of the general context. Walking in the woods and everything I know in this regard always leads me to teleology, another big word that refers to the evidence of design in nature. Design without a Designer makes no sense to me.
I’m sure we’ve all thought about these things at some time or another, but we always come to a point where questions remain unanswered. Our minds are limited. And science is limited in its scope. Science is not the only path to truth. Truth does not exist within our virtual world. To make matters worse, science can also be influenced by a prevailing philosophy. Take man-made global warming or
Darwin’s theory and the so-called
“consensus” of science.
The geocentric view prior to Copernicus was based on scientific consensus that the earth was the center of our solar system. Copernicus changed that with the heliocentric view that the sun was the center of our solar system. He paid a heavy price for going against the science of the day, but this proves that scientific consensus can be wrong. Even the word “consensus” has no place in science, since science is always evolving and should always be challenged.
So “What’s it all about, Alfie?” Philosophers have struggled with that question for centuries. Even this old fool-on-the-hill has wrestled with existential questions for which there are no answers. But what is an “existential question?”
An existential question would be “What is the meaning of life? “What happens when we die?” “What is the purpose of it all?” An existential crisis relates to the stripping away of identities or meaning leaving us with our basic essence as a human being and questions of reality.
I’m not sure I fully grasp the concept and its variety of applications, but here is my understanding of existentialism as a philosophy.
Existentialism emphasizes the isolation of the individual in a hostile and indifferent universe. The individual is a self determining agent in an unexplainable existence with full responsible for the consequence of his decisions. Man creates his own nature through his freedom of choice. In a pure interpretation of this philosophy there is no inherent purpose in life, but this does not normally extend all the way to nihilism.
Perhaps the only existentialist thinker I can relate to is Soren Kierkegaard. I quote him frequently in my posts. A variety of philosophers have put a variety of spins on existentialism, but Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche may have kicked it off, with Karl Japers and Jean-Paul Sartre and others adding additional flavors.
I like Kierkegaard, because he is considered a Christian Existentialist who puts the emphasis on faith to fill the gaps. The term “Christian Existentialist” seems counter intuitive, but to Kierkegaard, the choice of faith is critical. It’s through faith that Kierkegaard chooses Christianity.
The entire Christian perspective, from creation to the resurrection of Jesus, is difficult to fathom through reason. Much seems illogical. Conversely, to think that our existence happened by chance is also unreasonable – at least to me. This is what Kierkegaard would say is where faith obviates the absurdity. He implies that we can’t believe in these things by virtue of reason. This is where faith comes in and Christianity is all about faith.
If we choose faith, which is the foundations of Kierkegaard’s philosophy, we must suspend our reason in order to believe in something higher than reason. You’ve heard the phrase, “the leap of faith.” This idea had its origin with Kierkegaard, but he actually stated it as a “leap to faith.”
So when you get into ontology, the origin of life, the existence of God, the virgin birth of Jesus and his purpose, as well as other things that seem difficult, if not impossible, to understand logically, you are forced to go beyond reason. There is too much that is beyond the reach of science and human understanding. It is at this point that you are required to take that leap to faith.
The point of all this is that we can never find answers through reason to the “existential” questions that plague us. Maybe the universe is not as empty as an existentialist believes it to be, but regardless, there are enough limits to our intellectual understanding to require faith to take us beyond reason. And I believe that ultimate truth is beyond reason. Thus faith.