The Ontology of Life Versus the Ontology of Death

One of the contrasts that struck me in reading John Haught's book The New Cosmic Story: Inside Our Awakening Universe is how atheism (and by that I mean materialism) traffics in what Hans Jonas calls "the ontology of death."

Following Haught, atheism preaches an ontology of death because, in a purely materialistic view of the cosmos, the ground of being is lifelessness and mindlessness. Primordially, the cosmos was lifeless and mindless, all that existed were elementary particles moving about. Life and mind and all its fruits--goodness, truth, beauty, love--have emerged in the cosmos, but as entropy takes hold all of that is destined to perish, returning the cosmos back to a lifeless, mindless state.

In short, according to atheism the ground of being (ontology) is death (lifeless mindlessness). In this view, life and mind are accidents. Reality is primarily, foundationally lifeless and mindless.

Religion, by contrast, posits an ontology of life. Life and mind are not taken to be accidental but inherent and even primary aspects of existence. This is not to deny the scientific descriptions of cosmic evolution, from Big Bang to the heat death of the universe. But it is the denial that this physical description, by ignoring the ontological significance of life and mind, is complete, comprehensive, or final. Faith posits an ontology of life, that the ground of being throbs with life and mind, quivers with experience, subjectivity, interiority, and consciousness in ways that are not scientifically reducible. Goodness, truth, beauty and love are not cosmic accidents or evolutionary sideshows but are, rather, integral and driving forces of cosmic evolution and development which author the cosmic drama as much as the laws of particle physics.

In short, one way to contrast atheism with religion is in their rival ontological visions.

Atheism preaches an ontology of death, the ground of being is lifeless and mindless, we are traveling from death to death. Life and mind are accidental and of no ultimate cosmic significance.

Religion, by contrast, preaches an ontology of life. The ground of being quivers with life and mind. Goodness, truth, beauty, and love are primary and foundational, woven into the fabric of the cosmos, forces authoring and determining the unfolding cosmic story.

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