tiistai 27. joulukuuta 2016

Martin Knutzen: Philosophical proof of the truth of Christian religion (1740)

Considering that the interpretation and reinterpretation of religions and especially Christianity will be one of the main hobbies of the post-Kantian German philosophy, it is somewhat surprising to see that religion has played so little role in the discussions of the German philosophy in the beginning of 18th century. True, Christianity has been a clear background of all the philosophers we have dealt with and religious topics like God and immortality of the soul have been discussed especially in works concentrating on natural theology. Still, there has been little discussion of religion itself, barring some remarks of religion as a cult in natural theology and of religious communities in natural law.

Martin Knutzen's Philosophischer Beweiß von der Wahrheit der Christlichen Religion feels then quite a fresh work. Knutzen himself is probably best known as a teacher of Kant, and one might hypothesise that Kant might have been inspired by Knutzen's work. Then again, Knutzen's philosophy of religion has a very different basis from later Kantian and post-Kantian philosophies of religion. It could be called broadly Wolffian in the sense that Knutzen follows the formal trappings of the Wolffian school, with its supposedly strict definitions and proofs.

Knutzen's proof has essentially two steps. The latter step, in which Knutzen tries to show the divine origin and reliability of Bible stories and especially of the account of the resurrection of Jesus, is less interesting, as it relies more on historical interpretation and Bible exegesis than any deep philosophical insights. Yet, it is of interest in the sense that Knutzen outlines different criteria for deciding the truth of various matters. While the metaphysical or ”geometric” truth should be based on nothing else but the nature of things and physical truth should be based on the actual natural laws, a third kind of or moral truth is dependent on the moral nature of human beings – in other words, we can be reasonably sure that some event has occurred if its denial would involve people behaving against their character. Thus, Knuzen cites as evidence for the truth of the gospel that the supposed enemies of Christianity have accepted it as a historical account – it would go against human nature that one would outright accept the stories of your rivals, if one wouldn't already accept them as reliable.

The first step in the proof involves more philosophical speculations. Knutzen notes that all humans are obligated to obey God's commandments, which coincide with the natural law – firstly, following the natural law just means following our own nature, and secondly, as a divinely instituted law it has the further obligating element that it is based on the will of a person responsible for creating us. Furthermore, Knutzen notes as an empirical fact that all human beings break the natural law in some manner, how insignificant it may seem. Importantly, he does not suggest that this empirical fact would require some sort of original sin as an explanation – it is just something that happens and definitely not a destiny of fallen human beings.

Still, because of this tendency to break the natural law, human beings are in debt to God, Knutzen continues, and because their whole existence depends on God, this debt is infinitely great. In fact, it is so great that nothing that human beings could by themselves do would ever be enough for cancelling this debt – not even if they would conduct the rest of their lives according to the tenets of natural law. Because God is also just and must require some sort of recompensation for the sins of human beings, an infinite punishment should be in store for all human beings.

Knutzen thinks that this problem of the infinite guilt of human beings should be the basis of all true religion – a religion that would just repeat all that natural law has to say would be completely futile. He is also convinced that in addition to Christianity no other religion in the world tackles this question (admittedly, he has only limited information on these other religions). Since Christianity is the only answer given to the problem of infinite guilt – in effect, the answer is that a) God has many aspects and that b) in one aspect he took the shape of a human being and by his death paid the infinite debt – it must be the true religion, just as long as we know that this dying person was truly divine (this is supposed to be proven by the second step, since resurrection is for Knutzen a clear sign of divine power).

Although Knutzen's proof is clearly full of holes, it does address an important issue – that people do have the feeling that they have something to pay for – and recognises that this feeling is a basis of lot of religious sentiments. Indeed, we might be able to draw a clear line from Knutzen's proof to the romantic idea of an alienation of human beings.