Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Thought Experiment

I saw the Atheists & Agnostics Society set up outside the Hub the other day, and it sparked me. I understand questioning the veracity of various religions, being turned off by televangelists and "faith healers" and psychics, and even doubting the existence of God. However, I have come to the opinion that in this society where we have replaced worship of God with the worship of Man and Science, we have become pseudo-philosophical at best when it comes to the issue of God.

In deifying reason, we have ceased to become adequately familiar with it, and with it, wisdom.

So I invite you to walk a little while with me, let me pose some mental pictures for you, see what you think.

Supposition 1: The two vitally human acts are knowing and loving.

Allow me to clarify some terms so that we're clear as to exactly what I'm saying here.

First, Aristotle identified three "levels" of life: Plant, Animal, Human. Things like digestion, respiration in the lungs, sleeping, these are things we share with plants. Movement, instincts, direct sensory faculties (the 5 sense), these we share with animalia. There is a 3rd level, something which sets us apart from plantae & animalia, which is our humanity, our human vitality.

Second, by knowing, I mean acts of intellection, reasoning, cognitive processes which go beyond even what we see in the animal world. Humans, not animals, built the Model T and the World Wide Web.

Third, by loving, I don't mean the mere emotion of love (powerful as it may be), but rather the act of will which is a choice, decision, or act. It is not mere intellect, and not merely following through from the fruit of reason, but rather the way in which a human is able to take the input of intellect, memory, and instinct, and make a choice. As an example, take amusement parks. Roller coasters are thrilling because against reason & instinct, we make an act of will to conquer the height (and our fear) for the sake of conquering it.

So, then, what I mean in supposition 1 is simply that what sets us apart from the rest of life, what makes us human, or is at least specially human, is our capacity to know, intellect and reason, and our capacity to love, choose, and decide.

For the duration of this post I will refer to the intellect and will, the mind and heart, or knowing and loving as faculties, and the degree to which we have formed our faculties as our capability. Our current capability is not necessarily indicative of what our actual capacity for these acts of intellection and will are.

Also, for the time being, I don't care where these faculties come from. For all I care, they could simply be advanced brain chemistry. Their mechanism is not important to this foray.

Supposition 2: To comprehend a thing fully, one's intellectual capacity must be greater than the thing being thought of.

What is 2 + 2? 4, of course. There is no doubt in your mind as to the truth of the statement, "2 + 2 = 4." If you had to describe why this were the case, you could explain that you understand the concepts of 2, 4, addition, and equality. What I am positing is that your intellect is greater than any of those concepts, and is therefore able to fully encompass them.

In a sense, one could say that your intellect is capable of arithmetic, certainly has a capacity for intellect. Your intellect is greater than arithmetic, encompasses it, is able to see it for what it is.

How about calculus? What is the integral with respect to x of 3x^2 dx, from 0 to 5? It's 125 of course. However, while at one point in my life (i.e. at the end of AP Calculus, when I scored a 5/5 on the AP test), I could have rattled that off. Now, I had to look it up (though I was able to understand why it was 125).

So, the intellect can be formed, can grow, and can mature. My capability may or may not be indicative of my capacity. I have a capacity for calculus, but I have been lazy in my mathematics, and am no longer fully capable of it as I was. However, since I have the capacity, I am capable of understanding calculus, encompassing it with my intellect.

Supposition 3: Humans, insofar as they are physical, are finite beings.

This should pretty much go without saying. We are born at a particular time, and we die at another particular time. Observationally, therefore, there is a finite span of time within which we live. We live in a finite material universe, essentially a part of it. We grow - sometimes by steps, and sometimes by leaps and bounds - but always it is a finite progression. We are not infinite.

Supposition 4: If God exists as he is typically understood philosophically - omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent - then he is "bigger" than us.

Of course, by bigger than us, I also mean bigger than our intellects. A truly infinite God - for that matter anything truly infinite - must by necessity be beyond the capacity (not just the capability) of any finite intellect. That must therefore mean that he is truly beyond our total comprehension. We can know things about him, but full understanding is not possible, not by our own power.

Conclusion: We've got it all wrong about God.

It's truth time. We need to be honest. I'm not just looking at atheists and agnostics here, I'm looking at Christians, Jews, Muslims, and everyone else who is talking about God in the sense presented above.

Too often we are looking for a God we can understand. We are looking for a concept that fits in a nice little box in our heads, that we can "wrap our heads around."

We don't want to be shocked.

We don't want to be challenged.

We don't want to be anything less than the highest thing in the universe.

If our criteria for rejection of God is that we cannot understand Him, then we have misunderstood the essential truth of Who it is we are looking for.

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