Saturday, March 13, 2010

Signals of Transcendence - Peter Berger 1969

A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural
In 1969, Peter Berger published a book entitled, Rumors of Angels (a recommended read from my philosophy professor, Doug Groothuis, at Denver Seminary). In the third chapter, he presents five inductive arguments for God's existence. He labels these signals of transcendence:

1. An argument from humanity's propensity to establish order (cf. Gen 1:26-28). The human desire to have order reflect an intimate connection to an Order-er in the Universe. If there is no transcendent Order-er outside this world, Berger writes, “the nightmare of chaos, not the transitory safety of order, would be the final reality of the human situation” (70).
2. An argument from humanity's desire for and manifestation of play (72-75). Even Nietzsche recognized that “All joy wills eternity—wills deep, deep eternity” (73, cf. Ecc. 3:11). Play in the face of an ugly world is our attempt to mock the transient state of depravity via our deep longing for eternal joy.
3. An argument based on an innate move toward hope despite living in a world of despair (75-81). Berger writes, “The profoundest manifestations of hope are to be found in gestures of courage undertaken in defiance of death” (77). Then adds, "In a world where man is surrounded by death on all sides, he continues to be a being who says ‘no!’ to death—and through this ‘no’ is brought to faith in another world, the reality of which would validate his hope as something other than an illusion.”
4. An argument from damnation (81-86). Berger explains, "This refers to experiences in which our sense of what is humanly permissible is so fundamentally outraged that the only adequate response to the offense as well as to the offender seems to be a curse of supernatural dimensions" (81). Sometimes human justice is insufficient for certain crimes. Our embedded sense of morality requires an arbiter whose ability to pronounce judgment allows for sentences beyond the grave. For instance, could there have been an earthly punishment sufficient for the heinous activity of the WWII Nazis? “There are certain deeds that cry out to heaven . . . “these deeds are not only evil, but monstrously evil” (82). “Just as certain gestures can be interpreted as anticipations of redemption, so other gestures can be viewed as anticipations of hell” (84).
5. An argument from humor (86ff) – “By laughing at the imprisonment of the human spirit, humor implies that this imprisonment is not final but will be overcome, and by this implication provides yet another signal of transcendence—in this instance in the form of an intimation of redemption” (88).
I find these compelling; do you?


Tim said...

I think they are very compelling... The apologetic that gets me the most is the desire for justice in every human heart. Kids start so young complaining about fairness... and you can continue the argument from here.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, no, I don't find them very compelling - at least in pointing towards God. Each of these could point to an evolutionary explanation. The trouble is that they prove nothing - they can be taken as arguments for God or arguments for evolution, e.g.:

Order = safety = preservation of our genes.
Play = mockery leads to an avoidance of despair, which would otherwise lead to misery and possibly suicide.
Hope = same as above.
Damnation / desire to condemn = boundaries mean safety, etc.
Humor = same as above.

Bill Davis said...

I found your site as the first one when I “signals of transcendence." I am fascinated that but two postings have occurred to your question in 7 years. My comment: I missed all these signals but my attention to the supernatural was demanded by personal events which had to be scripted by God--at least in 30 year hindsight. God acted directly in my life to lead me to Jesus after decades of being a secularized Christian. I have never shared these events in writing to anyone. I would if someone wanted to hear them. Thank you for your post!