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Is Reality Really Real?

Updated on June 3, 2020

Christian philosophers think the world is real. Atheist philosophers are not so sure. There are exceptions to this grand generalization, but it is often true.

Thomas Aquinas

G. K. Chesterton thought that “Thomism is the philosophy of common sense”. Chesterton added that Aquinas “seems fairly certain that the difference between chalk and cheese, or pigs and pelicans, is not a mere illusion, or dazzle of our bewildered mind blinded by a single light; but is pretty much what we all feel it to be. It may be said that this is mere common sense; the common sense that pigs are pigs; to that extent related to the earthbound Aristotelian common sense; to a human and even a heathen common sense.”

Thomist philosopher Etienne Gilson wrote in his Thomist Realism and the Critique of Knowledge that before Descartes, for more than twenty centuries, the existence of the external world was considered “the very model of those self-evident facts that only a madman would ever dream of doubting”.

Thomas Aquinas wrote in his Commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima: “The senses in the act of sensing are always truthful; they cannot err about their proper objects.” St. Thomas also considers the matter in Whether there is falsity in the senses? and The mode and order of understanding.


Divine Illumination

Aquinas & Perception

Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Reid

The 18th century Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid wrote in his 1764 An Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense “The sceptic asks me: Why do you believe in the existence of the external object that you perceive? Reply: This belief, sir, is not made by me; it came from the mint of nature; it bears her image and official stamp, and, if it isn’t right that’s not my fault; I took it on trust, without suspicion. Sceptic: Reason is the only judge of truth, and you ought to rid yourself of every opinion and every belief that isn’t based on reason. Reply: Why, sir, should I trust the faculty of •reason more than that of •perception? They came out of the same workshop and were made by the same craftsman; and if he puts one piece of false ware into my hands, what’s to stop him from putting another?” Reid added: It appears equally obvious that this connection between our sensations and the conception of and belief in things existing outside us can’t be produced by habit, experience, upbringing or any ·other· force in human nature that has been admitted by philosophers. At the same time, it is a fact that such sensations are invariably connected with the conception of and belief in external things. Thus, by all the rules of sound reasoning we must conclude that this connection is the effect of our constitution, and ought to be considered as a basic force in human nature until we find some more general force of which it is a special case.”

Rene Descartes

While much of Cartesian philosophy is problematic, Descartes did accept the world as real. Descartes tells us in his Third Meditation “To begin with, I recognize that it is impossible that God should ever deceive me. For in every case of trickery or deception some imperfection is to be found; and although the ability to deceive appears to be an indication of cleverness or power, the will to deceive is undoubtedly evidence of malice or weakness, and so cannot apply to God.” Later on Descartes wrote: This is because every clear and distinct perception is undoubtedly something, and hence cannot come from nothing, but must necessarily have God for its author. Its author, I say, is God, who is supremely perfect, and who cannot be a deceiver on pain of contradiction; hence the perception is undoubtedly true.

Marin Mersenne also argued against the skeptics.

Gabriel Marcel

Christian existentialist Gabriel Marcel believed "that the objects of our experience are real, and can be known objectively by all in conceptual knowledge just as they are in themselves."

While Christian philosophers often see communion between man and the natural world (we were made for each other), atheist philosophers are more likely to see conflict.

An Objection

Surely positivists & materialists & the like think the physical world is real, they believe the physical world is the only realty. They are entirely immersed in the physical world. However, these positivists and materialists pursue a philosophic project notable for its failure.

Even A. J Ayer, one of the brightest lights of logical positivism, acknowledged the failure of the movement: A. J. Ayer Interview on Logical Positivism & Its Legacy

See also: Logical Positivism & the New Atheists

Scientists vs. Postmodernists

Friedrich Nietzsche

The celebrated German seer Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed: “There are no facts, only interpretations.” He wrote in The Will to Power that interpretation is all there is and interpretation “is a form of the will to power”.

Nietzsche and postmodernism

The postmoderns believe that metanarratives are dead (except for that metanarrative). We cannot make definitive statements about reality.

Jean Baudrillard

According to Baudrillard’s 1981 Simulacra and Simulation, simulation threatens the difference between "true" and "false", between "real" and "imaginary". In our technologically advanced, media saturated societies we have copies without the original (which Baudrillard calls the hyperreal).

Poseur Messiah
Poseur Messiah | Source

Michel Foucault

Though kept busy by sadomasochistic frolicking – the theater of cruelty celebrated in San Francisco’s homosexual bathhouses – Foucault found time to philosophize. Foucault thought that “emancipating truth from every system of power” “would be a chimera”. Foucault added: “The important thing here, I believe, is that truth isn't outside power, or lacking in power: contrary to a myth whose history and functions would repay further study, truth isn't the reward of free spirits, the child of protracted solitude, nor the privilege of those who have succeeded in liberating themselves. Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. And it includes regular effects of power.” He also wrote of a regime of truth: 'Truth' is linked in a circular relation with systems of power which produce and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which extend it. A 'regime' of truth.” In Foucault’s mind we are unable to access universal truth. We have lost our hold on reality.

Atheist thinkers lock their followers in a House of Mirrors – they will never know what is real and what is not and there is no escape.

Boltzmann Brains

In desperation, atheists have embraced the multiverse, an infinite assembly of randomly ordered universes. But Boltzmann Brains are far more likely and thus atheists are left floating in the void in a state of embarrassment.

See: Invasion of the Boltzmann Brains

Nick Bostrom

According to Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom one of the following statements is very likely to be true:

  1. The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage is very close to zero;
  2. The fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running ancestor-simulations is very close to zero;
  3. The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is very close to one.

Christians are less likely to conclude they are living in a simulation because they think:

  1. The universe is wonderful. We don’t need to create other universes.
  2. The human mind is discerning. We know when we are being swindled.
  3. The human mind is subtle. It is difficult to simulate.
  4. God will help us find our way.

The Foundation of Science

Devotees of Scientism have trouble building a foundation for their belief system. The Duhem-Quine Thesis states that one can make any theory compatible with any empirical observation by the addition of sufficient ad hoc hypotheses. Skeptics like David Hume have trouble establishing causality. See Section 5 of his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.

Conversely, Father Stanley Jaki has stated that science was born of Christianity.

Article about St. Thomas, Hume, and causality

Why is the universe governed by equations which many scientists describe as beautiful?

Pessimism regarding the human condition (reductionism and a debilitating scepticism) leads nowhere.

Optimism leads us to God, just as God leads us to optimism.

Mach, Musil, and dehumanization:

See also: Christ the Great Divide


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    • The0NatureBoy profile image

      Elijah A Alexander Jr 

      2 years ago from Washington DC

      My experiences obtained by "objectively observing and participating to produce different results then reasoning with them for communicating the findings to others" suggests "reality is real" while one must determine the "actuality". Actuality is "the union of the physical senses different perceptions united to bring understanding of a condition."

      Example. One's sense perception when man put our feet in cold water on hot days brings what is called "chill bumps" and when we put them in hot water on a cold day we sweat. Ignoring the temperature of the atmosphere we say "it is cold" when our feet hit the cold water and "it's hot" with our feet in hot water.

      Are those the facts?


      Without adding the atmosphere's temperature the sensation is real and what happened. Reasoning questions the sensations being one thing and the conditions the opposite so "what's the actuality".

      Once we enter the hot day's cold water we become comfortable with it although preferring the warmth: our sweating in a cold atmosphere with feet in hot water feels warm only for a short time and, if we remained in it, we would become cold and shivering. Since most people haven't done hot water for long they don't recognize the actuality. The feet are the body's thermostat, they close the pores touching cold and opens them touching hot making the sensation be the revealer of what actually transpired.


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