Luc Ferry in his book A Brief History of Thought offers a scathing criticism of materialists and those who follow the philosopher Nietzsche's lead by saying there is no such thing as transcendence. In a nutshell, Ferry calls them hypocrites. No one lives as if there are no universal rules. No one lives as if there is no transcendence. Everyone has some sort of belief in the common good. Everyone.
Ferry is no intellectual light weight, and his criticisms go beyond just this one. I encourage folks to read this tome of Ferry's even though he does not cross into belief in God. Though he finds the Christian narrative very, very appealing, Ferry wants to work out his own salvation. This is his choice.
Yet, his argument about transcendence is very important I think. Everyone lives as if there is a transcendent reality. Everyone lives asking, "What should I do?" Everyone lives as if there is a frame of ethics which supersede individuals, cultures, and nations. C.S. Lewis did some fascinating research finding that nearly every civilized culture has some form of the Golden Rule within it. Why?
Lewis makes his case in this fashion: if there is such a thing as natural law--a higher morality, then there must be a law giver. Hence God exists. While a powerful argument, it is not absolute. Folks can argue, and they do that the discovery of such laws might be humankind's evolution and discovery of what is needed for a fully functional human society. Evolution has produced the Golden Rule; it is not given by God.
The criticism is duly noted, but this does not make the Golden Rule transcendent. In fact, it lessens the universality of the rule. For if evolution decreed that the Golden Rule is necessary for civilization now, evolution could easily lead us to disperse the Golden Rule if it gets in the way of the survival of the species or our own personal survival. After all, evolution is governed not by any transcendence which tells us what we should do, but it is governed by natural selection and genetic mutation. The Golden Rule is necessary for survival now, but what if it becomes a hindrance in the future? Evolution would say, discard it!!!
Those who believe in transcendence would not discard the rule so easily. In fact, they would continue to hold onto it despite any pressure to discard it because it is a universal law. And if Ferry is correct, even evolutionists who are convinced the Golden Rule came about by evolution would continue to hold onto it even if evolution tries to pull us away from it. (I personally believe this is already the case, for in evolution, the weakest members of any species--sans humankind--are dispatched by nature rather quickly. Only human beings care for their physically and mentally ill. Only humans disrupt the natural process in this manner--including many evolutionists.)
The question in my book is: can someone claim there is no transcendence and then act as if there is? This kind of life, in my opinion, would eventually lead to a mental break down. There is just no integrity in it. Perhaps this is why Nietzsche went insane when he saw a man beating a poor horse. Perhaps he felt compassion for this animal, and yet he had absolutely nothing to fall back upon to say why this abuse was wrong. One cannot have one's cake and eat it too.
Ferry argues in his book there is indeed transcendence although his argument and mine diverge at this point. If you would like to read his, I again encourage you to read his thoughts. Mine is a little less philosophical at this point and a little more realistic. If everyone acts as if there is transcendence and has acted as if there is transcendence, then there is transcendence. It's not scientifically air tight. It's not measurable. It just is. Kind of like love. It just is.
But how do we know that this transcendence is God? How do we know this transcendence is personal?
Well, today's blog is long enough. Perhaps tomorrow.