Monday, July 28, 2008
Berkeley (1685-1753 A.D.)
By Richard E. Noble
If belief in God is “to the right” and atheism “to the left” then the Reverend Berkeley must be considered as far to the right as it is possible to go.
Berkeley's thinking goes something like this: if matter is admitted; then God must be matter; God is not matter; therefore matter does not exist.
To Berkeley matter exists only in our minds or imaginations through perception. Now you see it; now you don't. He actually went so far as to say that “real” things are not really there. For example a tree is only a tree because someone is looking at it. And the proof is that if that person closes his eyes the tree disappears. But why then, the critic asks, if with my eyes still closed I walk towards the supposed tree, do I bump into it? That is because someone else is still perceiving that tree, answers Berkeley. But what if nobody is watching that tree? Have no fear, God is always watching, says the Reverend.
Well, there you go. Existence is in the eye of the beholder.
The first question that came to challenge the Reverend was, Well then, who's watching God? Or, since God can't be perceived, does that mean that He isn't? The Reverend wanted to silence the atheists, once and for all, but as you can see, he simply gave them more wood for their fires.
I wonder, if things aren't really there but take their existence from my perception, could I carry this one step further and through the power of my imagination could I bring things into existence that aren't really there and have never been?
I think this is the key to the Reverend Berkeley's philosophy. They say he only drank Tar water, but he was Irish. Like my father, and everyone else Irish that I have ever known, I'll bet the Reverend was spiking the Tar water with a little Irish whiskey. And walking home some nights he probably saw his share of pink elephants, leprechauns, little people, and Tinker Bells. He closed his eyes and they all disappeared, and then reappeared, and then disappeared etc.
Many people before me have asked, "Is he kidding or what?"
But the fact was that he was a professor at some big university in Dublin, and he wrote some very confusing books that nobody could understand, so everybody concluded that he must be smart.
We still have this problem with a lot of intellectuals today. But as the Reverend Berkeley has so aptly pointed out ... appearances can truly be deceiving.