Last week, microserf posted this comment on the “No Need For God” thread:
Einstein, on his death bed, was asked if he believed in God, he stated that man believes in God because they need to, basically that man created God.
Micro’s comment led me to do something I’ve been meaning to for some time now.
We live in a time when the secular-liberal media is saturated with accounts of famous people who profess(ed) their atheistic or agnostic doubts about the existence of God. The most recent account was of British scientist Stephen Hawking.
Rarely do we hear about the opposite — accounts of equally famous and accomplished people who became believers and were converted.
To redress that lacuna in popular media, I periodically will write a Sunday post on individuals who eventually came home to embrace a belief in their Creator. My first account is of the distinguished American philosopher Mortimer J. Adler (1902-2001).
A philosopher, educator, and prolific author of more than 45 books, Adler is most famous for being the editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and for co-founding, with Robert Hutchins, the Great Books of the Western World program.
I first encountered Adler when I was doing research for a book on Angels. Unlike the contemporary plethora of new agey books on angels, Adler’s Angels and Us (New York: Macmillan, 1982) took seriously and approached the subject as a philosopher.
Adler considered what is often advanced as a conclusive argument against the existence of angels. Since the nineteenth century, doctrinaire materialists have held, as a basic presupposition, that nothing exists but corporeal things. Should that premise be allowed, the existence of noncorporeal beings such as angels would be precluded. As Adler put it, for materialists, “the notion of angels—of minds totally devoid of bodies—is anathema.”
But Adler dismissed the materialist argument as nothing but an elementary fallacy because the argument assumes what it is required to establish. The materialist premise that only corporeal things exist is neither “self-evidently true; nor has any cogent demonstration of its truth ever been advanced.” Given that, the contention that noncorporeal beings do not exist is “as much an act of faith as the religious belief in the reality of angels,” except that the latter is an act of religious faith, whereas the former is “an act of anti-religious faith.”
In the last analysis, the possibility or existence of angels turns on whether God exists for the simple reason that, being divine messengers, angels depend on God for their very creation and existence. Eschewing theology, Adler employed a rational philosophical mode of inquiry to systematically explore that question. In the end, despite his self-identification at the time as a “pagan” (which he defined as an irreligious person who does not worship the God of Christians, Jews, or Muslims), he concluded that “we have reasonable grounds for believing in God, not with certitude, but beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Born a Jew in 1902, Adler was an agnostic for most of his life. Although he held a rational belief in a transcendent supreme being, he insisted that he lacked the gift of grace, finding himself unable to cross what he called the “great gulf between the mind and the heart.”
In his last years, however, he made that transit.
In 1984, bedridden with illness, he sought solace in prayer and finally accepted the grace he had long sought. After a lifetime as a pagan, Adler professed his belief “not just in the God my reason so stoutly affirms . . . but the God . . . on whose grace and love I now joyfully rely.”
Mortimer J. Adler died a Roman Catholic, on June 29, 2001.