Another Success—Wilmette Institute’s Twentieth-Anniversary Web Talk Featuring Ian Kluge Discussing “Baha'i Proofs for God”
Feb 8, 2015
The Wilmette Institute’s second twentieth-anniversary Web Talk featuring Ian Kluge discussing “Bahá’í Proofs for God” was another success with an audience of 101 listeners. In fact, the first two Web Talks have prompted so much interest that Wilmette Institute staff are looking into the possibility of paying to expand the number of listeners who can log into future talks. Ian Kluge chose to talk about “Bahá’í Proofs for God,” which provided a sneak preview of a topic he is covering in his Wilmette Institute course The Bahá’í Faith and Philosophy, which began on February 10 and concludes on March 30. After a brief introduction by Dr. Robert H. Stockman, the Director of the Wilmette Institute, Kluge opened his forty-five minute talk with an explanation of his four goals: (1) showing that belief in God can be rational and logically coherent and is not necessarily a product of uncritical religious dogmatism or ignorance; (2) proving that proofs of God in the Bahá’í writings are logically valid and defensible; (3) updating explanations for some traditional proofs that are still valid but easy to discount in their original form; and (4) persuading people to engage in philosophic studies of the Bahá’í writings, including correlations with other systems of thought as promoted by Shoghi Effendi. Kluge admitted that he had “a lot to cover.” Before launching into Bahá’í proofs for God, Kluge noted that one cannot prove what God is, but one can prove that He does exist, citing a passage from Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (p. 46): “The existence of the Divine Being hath been clearly established on the basis of logical proofs, but the reality of the Godhead is beyond the grasp of the mind.” To make his philosophical talk easier to follow and understand, Kluge used PowerPoint slides for each point he made and for each passage from the Bahá’í writings he quoted (most of them from the writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá). He also carefully explained philosophical terms, such an “untenable,” “logical” proofs, “self-refuting,” “changing the subject,” and “category mistake.” In addition, Kluge discussed the importance of reason in the Bahá’í Faith, citing a number of statements by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, including one from The Promulgation of Universal Peace (p. 231), in which He states that without reason “the heart finds no rest . . . , and real faith is impossible.” Kluge also stopped to correct the misconception of what Shoghi Effendi meant by things that begin in end in words (often misapplied to philosophy), when, in fact, he said that “Philosophy . . . is certainly not one of the sciences that begins and ends in words,” adding that philosophy is “a sound branch of learning” (a letter to an individual, 15 February 1947). Kluge posed two questions essential to understanding proofs for God. The first was “What do the Bahá’í writing say about logic?” The answer is quite a lot. For those who wished to examine the topic more thoroughly, Kluge provided references to two long papers he had written on the topic. The second question was “What do we mean by ‘God’?” This, Kluge said, is where the rubber hits the road and where arguments often degenerate into confusion. We do not mean, he said, a personal God, but rather the “God of the philosophers” or an entity characterized by being beyond time, being absolutely independent of anything else, not existing in time and space or localized by time and space or conditioned by time, immune from change or influence, omnipotent, and omniscient. Such an understanding, Kluge noted, gives one a brand-new perspective on God. Then Kluge began to discuss eight arguments for proving the existence of God: (1) The “Prime Mover” Argument; (2) The Argument for Contingency; (3) The Argument from Sufficient Reason; (4) The Proof from Nothingness; (5) The Argument from Form and Law; (6) The Argument from Design; (7) The Argument from Degrees; and (8) The Ontological Argument. Some of the arguments Kluge discussed in detail with many passages from the writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá; some he glossed over quickly in order to leave time for questions from the audience. In his conclusion, Kluge pointed out that belief in a supernatural entity—God—is rational and coherent and does not depend on faith in revelation to be valid; that the arguments for God’s existence found in the Bahá’í writings are logically valid (but, whether someone finds them persuasive is a separate matter); and that the fact that nature does not and cannot logically explain itself within the framework of the scientific method, makes the existence of a supernatural ground-of-being a logical necessity. For more than half an hour, Kluge answered some twelve questions, giving lucid answers to some and inviting those who asked more complicated answers to e-mail him for more detailed answers (firstname.lastname@example.org). If you missed Ian Kluge’s talk on “The Bahá’í Proofs for God” or want to listen to it again, click here. If you would like to print out a copy of the PowerPoint slides that Kluge used in his talk, click here. This writer who managed to get three degrees without taking a course in philosophy found that having a hard copy of the PowerPoint slides in hand was very helpful. The next Wilmette Institute twentieth-anniversary Web Talk is scheduled for Sunday, March 1, at 2 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. The speaker will be Dr. Anne Perry, who will discuss “Where Spirit Intersects Art.” For information on the remaining ten talks, you will find them listed on the Wilmette Institute’s website, http://wilmetteinstitute.org, under the Web Talk tab.