Yes, my new fellow blogging friend and critic, “Godless Poutine” of My Secret Atheist Blog, this is for you. You found this comment confusing, and lacking in cogency.
If reason is real, then it is as inconceivable that the Big Bang is the primordial beginning of the universe as it is inconceivable that a circle can be squared. That is — it is impossible.
You said you are still waiting for an argument. OK, fair enough, let me explain, borrowing the apologetics of the late Frank Sheed, the theologian with impeccable communication skills famous for engaging the public on the street corners of New York City.* There is an oft-missed distinction between what is conceivable and what is imaginable, and it has to do with the senses and the intellect. Mr. Sheed’s book Theology and Sanity has a brief section near the beginning about “How imagination can hinder intellect.” Here you go: Part I, Chapter 2, Section (i).
O Wild Imagination!
It is tough work for the intellect to function, he says, as it has to compete with the imagination. What are these two things? Well, the imagination is limited to the senses. We can only imagine what we might see, smell, taste, touch, or hear. We can make mental pictures of material things that we have sensed. We can imagine a chocolate cake. We can imagine a horse. We can imagine a hug. We can even imagine hugging a chocolate horse, whether we believe it is exists or not. It is, still, imaginable. Ergo, the atheist erroneous comparison that belief in God is akin to belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the imaginary god upon which the atheists heap their scorn and ridicule. Very sophisticated.
This picture-making power of the mind can take over the other powers of the mind and affect the will, like a tempted two-year old in a toy store full of shiny playthings. He may decide, as an act of will, that he wants to behave as Mommy tells him and not plunder the place, but then his imagination conjures up a picture of all the wonderful things to be done with the new toys, and the resolve to exercise restraint disappears. Similar conversations occur in the mind of the college boy walking into a bar full of beer and women wearing jeans-that-fit-just-so; a dieter catching a whiff of piping hot lasagna bubbling in the pan and begging to be sampled (or devoured); or a gambler filling his eyes with glittering slot machines and enticing blackjack tables surrounded by wealthy-looking opportunists. Imagine the possibilities!
To be sure, it takes work to discipline the imagination, but it must be done so the intellect can do its work. If it is our intent to set out on an abstract train of thought, we must learn to control the imagination lest it wreak havoc on the intellect. To decide what the intellect can accept and what it cannot, we need to be able to think beyond the material world, beyond what is sensed. Mathematicians did not discover integers and theorems because they gleefully gawked, sniffed, caressed, savored, or tapped a foot to them. Material things could have inspired the intellect, but for the intellect to conduct its mission, it had to move beyond the sensory, material world, and not be distracted by its apparitions. That these two words have become interchangeable today is an example of how the ability to think has decayed.
Imaginable vs. Conceivable
Modern dictionaries will likely show these words to be synonymous; however, the Latin roots are consistent with Mr. Sheed’s analysis. “Imagine” comes from imāgināre which means to form a mental image of, and “conceive” comes from concipĕre which means to take all together, as in synthesize.
As said, if something is imaginable, we can form a mental picture of it. Pictures are of the material world, so imagination is limited to that realm, and many atheists in fact claim that the material is all there is. But what about such concepts as justice and love? The mind cannot form a picture of those things because our senses cannot experience them; we cannot imagine them, we can only conceive of them. We can see a just man, we can hear a loving adoration (as adjectives) but we cannot see justice itself or love itself (the nouns). So do they not exist?
The point is, the reality of any abstract, spiritual statement must be examined by the intellect. If an abstract statement is rejected, it is rejected on the basis of a contradiction in terms. We do not ask, “Is it imaginable?” anymore than we should ask what color air is because air is beyond the sense of sight. We ask, “Is it conceivable?” Abstractions can only be conceived or synthesized in the mind; they are beyond all the senses.
To return to the opening line that confused Godless Poutine, that is why I said it is “inconceivable” that a four-sided circle can exist. To ask whether such a thing can exist is literally meaningless. It is also meaningless to ask whether reason, an abstraction, sprang from the unreasonable. It is a contradiction in terms to the instructed intellect. It is inconceivable. That is — it is impossible that reason evolved materially from the Big Bang.
This does present a problem for atheism. To say abstractions exist is to admit the intellect exists, and to admit the intellect exists, is dangerously close to admitting the soul exists. And to admit the soul exists…[Stop looking up in the sky, you won't find God there.] More on that later.
Atheism requires nothing more than a wild imagination. Thinking about God, as any other abstraction, requires more than that; it requires the imagination to be confronted, and sat dutifully in its proper place, appreciated for its limitations, so the intellect can do its own job. This is the path of mental maturity, or as Frank Sheed says — to sanity. Ahem.
*You also seemed to take issue with my referencing the people I reference as some sort of “secret code that only smart Catholics seem to comprehend.” Actually, it is just a matter of propriety in avoiding plagiarism, standard protocol in a writer’s world. It’s a way of attributing to individuals the rightful products of their intellects, i.e. intellectual property.
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