Rationalism, faith and Etienne Vermeersch

20-02-2022 (Own translation of the Dutch article in this section)

People who call themselves “scientists” or, more modestly, practitioners of one or more scientific disciplines, often assume that there are no inexplicable mysteries. In their view, matters of faith are classified as ‘irrational’.

Yet there is a serious fallacy in their anti-religious attitude, which renders their rationalist view implausible. Their rejection of inexplicable things is based on the law that says that every fact has a cause. That is, in other words, their basic law, and most people largely agree with that, since all explicable facts confirm this law and we are therefore entitled to believe that sooner or later the still unexplained mysteries, such as miracles and creation, can or will be explained.

The fundamental problem of rationalism is that it cannot or will not consistently extend its own basis of  thought. After all, if there must necessarily always be a cause for everything, then this can only lead to two basic conclusions. Either there is an ultimate cause which in itself has no cause and therefore has always been, or reality continuously describes a large circular motion, in which what we tend to consider as the first cause is in fact the result of the supposed “last effect” (e.g., a “big-bang” resulting from the total implosion of the universe). There is also another version that claims that reality itself is infinite, but that is only a variation of this last explanation, in which the time cycle would be infinitely  large.

However, this so-called rationalist alternative is seriously flawed, because of an equally rationalistic remark that immediately arises. So where does the whole circular movement come from? Because in a consistent rational pattern of thinking it must of course also have a cause in itself. Some will then try to get around this problem by stating that this circle is part of an even greater circular motion, etc… They do not realize that they are irrevocably on the path of an infinite series of causes and effects, which in themselves remain scientifically inexplicable. They thus replace, if necessary, the intellectual inexplicability of a creative God (whose existence they de facto exclude as the ultimate cause), by an infinite series of cosmological events that are equally inexplicable, but in which they “believe” or which they find “more logical”, but without arguments or evidence for this.

The conclusion we can draw from this is that the whole so-called “rationalist” worldview is not based on consistent scientificity, but on the psychologically motivated premise that everything, including the ultimate cause, must be intelligible by the human brain. However, this implies that the “ultimate cause” must be subject to the laws of nature known to man. Consequently, it must have a cause of its own and is not ultimate. In this way, the overconfident “scientific rationalism” ends up in a vicious circle of thought, whose center (or new deity) is the human ratio (supported if possible by a series of supercomputers).

The question “Have you seen God yet?” with which unbelievers want to overwhelm their believing fellow man is indicative of this short-sightedness. One can just as well ask a man born blind, “Have you seen your father yet?”. After all, we are all born blind before God. Only through faith can we come to know God. This belief in God is actually more rational, logical and consistent than the so-called “scientific discourse”, with which philosophers such as Prof.  Etienne Vermeersch (1) wants to ridicule religious expressions in general and Christianity in particular  .

This philosopher of science wants to “call God to account, if He exists”. That’s another example of perverted scientific thinking. After all, if God exists, then God is the cause of Etienne’s existence, and it is logically He who decides whether His creature lives up to His expectations and not vice versa. To God, this boastful philosopher is like a talking computer telling its designer he probably doesn’t exist, but that otherwise he has a bone to pick with him because his colleague computers don’t work properly and his environment leaves much to be desired. That statement is then based on a built-in automatism that assumes that one’s own standards, generated by his working memory, are the only correct ones. Of course, we would laugh at such a computer, for he has neither the competence for such statements nor the means to put them into action. By himself  alone, he cannot determine what a good or bad computer is and what the right environment is. Only the designer himself or an external, well-trained user can do that.

Among our billions of fellow human beings, of course, there is a percentage that we cannot label as “good”. But we shouldn’t blame God for this. He has written down the right standards in the hearts of men and has placed in them the urge to know Him and His will. But, as ex-Jesuit Etienne Vermeersch must know very well, He also gave man a free will to follow or not to follow this program. This free will distinguishes Etienne Vermeersch and his fellow human beings from computers or robots. From this arises not only good, but also evil. However, if one does not want to acknowledge the existence of God, then free will becomes very unlikely, or one must assume that people are beings who – out of nowhere – can and may play for God for a while on their own account and thus determine good and evil for themselves. Etienne Vermeersch actually relegates man  by his statements to a computer-controlled robot in a reality that makes no sense, or that can only have arisen from a macabre divine  brain.

An authentic Christian consistently lives in a very different complex reality. Not one in which all is bright and sunny, but one in which he turns in faith to his Maker and seeks to accomplish his will. Not only does he believe, but his common sense also tells him that if every human being followed this path, our world would constantly improve. That road doesn’t pass the incinerators in which our fellow human beings murdered in the womb end up, partly because there are already more than enough difficult robotic competitors populating the earth (as our skeptic professor emeritus consciously or unconsciously claims).  On the way of the gospel, on the other hand, the weakest are helped first, including the unborn and the mothers in need. Every new person is seen as a brother or sister and as a potential contribution to better share, lighten or even eliminate the burden and not as a fellow consumer more, with an ecological footprint that is too large in advance.

Love of life is characteristic of every Christian. He sees with his believing eyes what a rationalist cannot or will not see: that life is all purposeful intelligence, full of mysteries and incredible creativity (2). Such a view of natural reality does not fit into atheistic thinking, which is reductive and materialistic. Rationalist thinkers frantically try to find an ungodly explanation for the existence of things, but the questions of how and why these life forms are imbued with intelligence are carefully avoided. After all, this does not fit into their own cherished form of intelligence, which is curtailed as it deliberately ignores a major portion of the truths derivable from natural reality. The existence of observable things without an ultimate cause can still be included in such a world of thinking in a forced way. But there is no explanation at all for the existence of purposeful intelligence. There remain only fallacies or blinkers to circumvent or ignore this problem. After all, purposefulness and fundamental meaninglessness are difficult to reconcile, even for the high-quality thinking machine that Etienne received from God.


(1) Etienne Vermeersch (1934-2019) was professor of philosophy and ethics, moral philosopher, honorary vice-rector of Ghent University. He was also known as a classical philologist, skeptic, and opinion maker. He was one of the main pioneers of the legalization of abortion and euthanasia in Belgium.

(2) It cannot be ignored that all life forms seek to maintain themselves with purposefull intelligence. In our section “Creative Eevolution” we discuss this in more detail.

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