Faith, Reason, Leaping & Falling

Parallel Sidewalks in Pest along the Danube river

I came to the conclusion in college that a person cannot reason his way to knowledge of God. I don’t remember all of the details that led me to this conclusion, but the conclusion was solidified for me in a lecture given by a professor on Western Civilization featuring Thomas Aquinas.

This lecture was given every year by this professor and eagerly anticipated by students at my college, which is why I attended it. As I remember the premise of the lecture, my memory of it being simplified now so many years later, science and reason can and does lead one to God. I determined then, and I believe now, that this is not true.

Not that science, reason and faith are incompatible. It’s just that science and human reason are not adequate for the task. Just as God must, necessarily, be Other than the material universe, we who are limited to the senses that are part and parcel of the material universe are limited in our ability to “see” and know anything beyond it.

The material universe consists of and is limited to the space/time continuum. By definition, God (if He exists) is Other than the space/time continuum. He is “outside” of space time. He is timeless and immaterial. Our science and our minds exist in space time and are limited to it and by it as a first principal.

In my way of thinking, a God who exists outside of this material world (our immediate environment) would have to reveal Himself to creatures such as ourselves. We could not “ascend” to Him.

Yet this is not to say that we can’t know anything of God. If such a God were to reveal Himself to us, we could know Him, but would we recognize the significance of that revelation? Jesus claimed to be a direct revelation from God. John, the apostle, said, “He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him.” (John 1:10)

Is Jesus who he claimed to be?

I was influenced in reaching the conclusion I came to in college about the value of science and reason in this endeavor, no doubt, by Immanuel Kant and Soren Kierkegaard. They came to the opposite position of Aquinas. They essentially say it is impossible for a finite being such as ourselves to reason or discover our way to God. There will always be a gap in our knowledge that we will never be able to close by the reason and evidence that is available to us.

This made more sense to me. There will always be a gap between a finite being and an infinite being.

Continue reading “Faith, Reason, Leaping & Falling”

Limitations in Science and Logic and the Leap of Faith

Science and reason and the measures available to finite beings can take finite beings only so far in determining the existence of a non-finite God.

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I recently had a short exchange with a friend who is an atheist over an article I wrote about science and faith. He is intimating familiar with the world of science, his father being a scientist, and he making a living on scientific principles.

He found my article and analysis of atheism and science to be colored by my faith. And, of course it is, just as his view of religion and science is colored by his atheism. We all start with basic assumptions, and they color the world as we see it, the atheist no less than the theist.

He views God as a fiction. I view God as reality, transcending all the reality I think I know. We couldn’t be more opposed in our views of the world, though our different views do not mean we cannot be friends and learn from one another.

I suggested to him that both theism and atheism are rational conclusions, but the conclusions depend on the starting places. These ideas come from philosophy, and specifically from Immanuel Kant and Søren Kierkegaard.

Kant, in particular, set up syllogisms that were logically airtight. One syllogism proved the existence of God, and the other syllogism proved the nonexistence. He showed that both atheism and theism can both by logically “proven”. Syllogisms reaching both conclusions can hold up logically. The only difference is the starting premises.

To put it more simply: if you start with a premise that assumes God, a logical syllogism can be constructed that proves the existence of God. If you start with a premise that assumes no God, a logical syllogism can be constructed that proves the nonexistence of God. This is an oversimplification, but it makes the point.

How, then, does a person resolve the tension between these diametrically opposite conclusions? Logic cannot suggest an answer to this conundrum because logic can only operate on the basis of premises, and the premises with which we start make all the difference.

If we could determine which premise is correct, we would be well on our way, but it turns out that this is easier said than done. What then?

Science doesn’t help us either. Science is, by definition, the study of the natural world. God is, by definition, “other” than (“outside” from) the natural world.  Science can take us back to nanoseconds after the Big Bang, but we can peer no further into our past. We can’t see the very beginning, and we can’t see beyond it.

We can’t see through the lens of science and our senses beyond this natural world, and this leads many, like my friend, to conclude that nothing exists beyond the natural world. It’s a fair conclusion, to be frank.

But it’s a bit short sighted. Why we do presume that our mental faculties, finite and limited as they are, have the capability of determining the measure of all reality that we did not create?

How do we know if there is anything beyond the natural world? How do we know if there is a God?

Continue reading “Limitations in Science and Logic and the Leap of Faith”