1723 was a turning point in Christian Wolff's career. Until then, he had spent relatively uneventful life as a professor in the university of Halle, writing immensely popular text books on nearly everything. In the conservative atmosphere of German philosophy, Wolff's philosophy was not universally appreciated, and accusations of atheist tendencies were made by his pietist competitors – rather unexpected of a philosopher who had dedicated a significant portion of his major work to God.
Slander is one thing, but the rumours were starting to worry Friedrich Wilhelm I, the king of Prussia. King was a collector, not of stamps or coins, but of big men, which were conscripted by king's officers, by hook or by crook. Story goes that king Friedrich Wilhem was rather worried about the supposed fatalism of Wolff's philosophy. If all events followed strict necessity, the men in king's collection would not be accountable for what they did – especially if they happened to desert the army. Fearing of the fate of his personal toys, if such terrible ideas would spread, king promptly decided to dismantle Wolff's professorship. Fortunately Wolff quickly landed on a new position at the university of Marburg.
The controversy around Wolff's philosophy continued for a while, and it is on this context that we have to evaluate Johann Joachim Lange's breathtakingly titled Caussa Dei et religionis naturalis adversus atheismum, et, quae eum gignit, aut promovet, pseudophilosophiam veterum et recentiorum, praesertim Stoicam et Spinozianam, e genuinis verae philosophia principiis methodo demonstrativa adserta. We have already met Lange's pietistically oriented philosophy and his attitudes towards atheism should come as no surprise – atheism is wrong, contradictory and against morality.
The dislike of Spinoza and his geometrical method was a common theme for more religious thinkers. Indeed, Lange begins by explicitly noting that the use of mathematical method without any guidance might lead one to atheism – if one did not listen to the warnings of common sense, one could stubbornly follow a train of thought leading to absurd conclusions. One can detect a clear sarcasm in Lange's choice of presenting the book in the very same geometrical style of definitions, axioms and propositions to be proved – particularly as some of the axioms and postulates he chooses are later proven as propositions. This is not a foundationalist attempt of building the whole edifice on an unshakable basis, but a coherentist attempt to show how all the jigsaw pieces fit in to form a larger picture.
The structure of the book is thus twofold. First, Lange moves from certain common sense assumptions to the existence of God. Here the mediating link is provided by the notorious cosmological proof. But Lange is not satisfied to use it once, but repeats the same form over and over again with different topics. A soul of the human being cannot be material, thus, it must have been fashioned by God, but the same goes for human body and the whole human race, and indeed, the whole material universe, which just cannot be grounded in nothing.
The pivotal point in the deductions is human liberty. Lange's cosmological proofs that apply to material universe hinge on the results of empirical science and the supposed finite age of the Earth, but the proofs concerning human soul are based on the inshakeable conviction that human soul is free and able to control matter and therefore is irreducible to mere matter. Furthermore, the assumption of human liberty is also behind Lange's improved Cartesian proof. While Descartes used the presence of the idea of God in human mind as a justification of God's existence, Lange tries to deintellectualise this argument – human mind is primarily will and not cognition, but because in our will we have an impulse to know God, this impulse must come from a higher source.
Secondly, Lange then uses the supposedly established existence of God as a justification of further propositions, which include also the fact of human liberty – one of the supposed axioms of Lange. Lange's proof of human liberty hinges on God's role as a judge that will evaluate the worth of every human being. Lange points out that such evaluation would be meaningless, unless the evaluated persons have a liberty to choose their own actions – thus, God must have created human beings as free agents.
It is obvious that human liberty is then crucial to Lange. Without it most of the proofs for God's existence would fall down – or at least they wouldn't lead to a sort of God that Lange is looking for, but to a fatalistic world soul. Indeed, it appears that when Lange is attacking atheism, his true target is the deterministic and mechanistic worldview of new philosophy. Human liberty is the highest ground of human existence and those who dare to deny it are miserable people, because they contradict the natural certainty of their own freedom. The topic of human liberty is also where Lange's grudge against Wolffian philosophy becomes clear. Wolff's endorsement of Leibnizian pre-established harmony breaks the required connection between the soul and the body: soul only appears to control body, which is actually moving according to its own laws.
One could even say that the battle against atheism has always been a battle for human liberty. Nowadays hardcore atheists feel great pleasure in pointing out faults in creation science. Yet, the kernel of a religion is not constituted by any dogmas, but by rituals and cults. Denial of God appears to leave no room for an objective meaning of life and hence deprives world of all magic. Even pantheism is suspected, because it reeks of closet atheism.
So much for Lange, next time I'll take a look at a philosophical dispute for the first time in this blog.