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What Can We Truly Know?


romansh
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For me a lot of the debate and how we discuss Progressive Christianity (and its relatives) to me seems to be missing something.

 

As a self described agnostic, I find I sometimes go hopelessly to solipsistic thought processes to maintain that agnosticism. Just recently Burl implied I should maintain an open mind on the supernatural. And I responded do I have sit on the fulcrum of this particular teeter-totter. The issue I think is not whether I am conflicted about the supernatural, but the fact that end of the day I and others will come down on one side or the other.

 

Do I believe in telekinesis, clairvoyance, ghosts, the afterlife and supernatural stuff in general? The answer here is no. The reasons (why)? Realistically I suspect it is my indoctrination. The people I have lived my life with have not been believers in these things and I suppose I have not experienced events that would have convinced me otherwise. Plus my training has given me a great respect for thermodynamics. But notice I did not say I disbelieve.

 

We don't get something for nothing

 

Here is how I approach life in general ... what can we determine from existence by observation. For me the scientific method is a helpful predictor of determining outcomes. I find the model I develop for myself overlaps at least with certain interpretations of various religious texts. .. While interesting I can't help thinking so what?

 

While some interpretation of ancient texts might give us some insights into our existence today, there is a huge amount of modern day texts that do so as well. And here I don't mean modern religious interpretations.

 

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For me the scientific method is a helpful predictor of determining outcomes.

 

While some interpretation of ancient texts might give us some insights into our existence today, there is a huge amount of modern day texts that do so as well. And here I don't mean modern religious interpretations.

 

 

Both of these statements resonate with me as well, Rom. Perhaps contrary to some religious notions, I believe that we live in a 'real' universe, not an illusion. This doesn't imply that we "know" what the actual building blocks of this universe are, for we are still exploring and it seems that the further down we go, the stranger things become. Nevertheless, I find that, pragmatically, I still live in a Newtonian world and arrange my life accordingly. In such a world, I agree that the scientific method is our most helpful predictor of determining outcomes. What this results in, IMO, is knowledge based not upon certainty, but upon probabilities. Is it certain that the sun will rise tomorrow (from our perspective)? No. But it is highly probable. Why? Because we understand something of the nuclear processes and of how our solar system works. Plus the sun has a long track record of being reliable in this regard. But we don't rely on the old myth of a god pulling it across the sky in his chariot. Though I'm not a scientist, I think science advances by testing probabilities to see which outcomes are the most probable.

 

Often, religious discussion center around possibilities, not probabilities. Is it possible that angels and demons exist? Is it possible, given the way physiology works, that Jesus came back alive after being dead for three days? Is it probable? If it is possible, then how do we explain it given our current understanding of physiology and how life/death works?

 

Now, if we are going to throw current science aside (nature) and appeal to a possible super-natural event, then, essentially, anything goes. Angels, demons, unicorns, leprechauns, fairies, teapots in order around Jupiter can all exist, and I'm not being sarcastic. If we discard the laws of nature and call Jesus' resurrection a supernatural event, then we can certainly say that it is possible. Why? Because supernatural claims are in no way bound by science, nature, or evidence. In fact, faith often claims that any desire for evidence is sinful. So when something is claimed to be supernatural, it, by definition, places itself outside the realm of nature where reason, rationality, common sense, science, and evidence come to bear. It is like claiming that there are creatures that live in 6 dimensions. Any discussion of said creatures is meaningless because we ourselves live in only 4 dimensions. We have no experiences or language to relate to them. The best we could do is to consider possibilities (not probabilities). Where religion errs, IMO, is in insisting that possibilities are facts.

 

For me, the "modern texts" are, in many ways, good science fiction. Good scifi blends science with imagination and considers both possibilities and probabilities. It addresses human concerns and our human future. It often has admonitions and warnings, even about the misuse of science as the only way forward. Some of the best scifi I've read have nary an alien in it. Though it is not text, consider the positive message found in Star Trek about exploration, diversity, unity, self-sacrifice, and what it means to be human (even for aliens). And it does this (most of the time anyway) by trying to stay somewhat within the bounds of science or probable science. It seldom appeals to angels or demons or gods (in a literal sense). But it does appeal to the parts of human nature that resonate with these mythical (IMO) entities.

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BTW, there is also a "knowing" that is more about the experiences that we have rather than ideas or truth-claims that we hold to in our heads. What I "know" about my wife far exceeds the facts that I might be able to ramble off about her. I have had the experience of living with her for 27 years and this allows me to "know" her in ways that I could never get from a resume or even from an autobiography. So do I truly "know" her? Good question. There are parts of her known only to herself and I suspect it should be that way. We never know ourselves completely. And others never know us completely. But the experiences that we have in "knowing" one another certainly make life meaningful and rewarding, if not at least interesting.

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I think we are all agnostics in that we simply don't know, one way or the other, what the truth is (for lack of a better way of putting it). And then come the decision.

 

I believe people, as we do here on the site - read, dialogue, debate, study, think (to greater or lesser degrees) on the many subjects that fall under 'religion,' including the most basic subject of all - who or what or is God (and what am I?). One can read and reason only so far but ultimately one decides: to accept and 'give oneself over' or not, i.e. to simply say, for whatever reasons, no, I don't buy it. Both are completely valid and honest responses. And, I believe both are belief statements, as we cannot definitively know or prove which stance is true. There is Truth, in that it can't be both, has to be either/or but we can never know 'this side of the grave.

 

One of my favorite quotes was from Chesterton ends with this: "the man who signs himself with the cross of Christ goes gaily through the dark." It is no less dark than for other men (other believers, atheists, agnostics), it is just that the believer 'knows' the ground on which she stands. But I must quickly add that this knowing is still through faith, there is no proof.

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What can we truly know? With know defined as "be aware of through observation, inquiry, or information" and factoring in the qualifier "truely" (to the fullest degree). Probably not much. :lol:

Leave out the truly and one could say that which we observe or as a result of inquiry or available information. With the word truly i must be honest and claim ignorance.

 

Joseph

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Hi Joseph, Bill and Thomas

 

I get what you are saying here ... and agree to varying degrees with your various points.

 

I too would say we cannot truly know or be absolutely certain. Now I have sufficient certainty I some things that I bet my life on them. Like going through a traffic light on green. Having said that there are places I would not take that bet so casually ... like Tehran.

 

We don't live in a Newtonian universe, but it is such a good approximation for most things that we generally take it for granted. Our GPSs are a living demonstration of the falsification of a Newtonian world. But in my everyday life I can successfully use Newtonian simplifications even though I have enough evidence to demonstrate they are fundamentally false.

 

The universe is not an illusion, I definitely agree. But our perception of it is appears to be illusory. As I type, I have my red kitchen chair in front of me as a reminder. Anyone with a smattering of physics will understand that to think of the chair actually being "red" is likely nonsense. Another classical example look at the yellow smileys .... :):):) .... there is no yellow there ... it is all in our minds.

 

Having said all this ... by and large for most things where action is required I am forced take sides. Comedown on theism or non theism?

 

Also I think we really should be skeptical of our experience ... I would recommend Leonard Mlodinow's book ... "Subliminal". Our experience is only so powerful in that for the most part we are so unaware of the workings of our mind.

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And then there's the Book of Rumsfeld 3:17 - "The message is that there are no "knowns." There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don't know." :)

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Being color blind I sometimes see a red chair as brown. I feel I vacillate between being a wave and a particle so to incorporate both I see Christianity, science, Buddhism and other beliefs as myths, not necessary as false but ways to throw light on the journey. The candle of Christianity I use and use science to explain the phenomena that Christ was trying to describe, other religions also throw light on the infinite, its patterns and laws that I observe. I have thrown out the law maker and see God as an Infinite Subtle Energy I call consciousness. If beliefs are myths to help us form images then there is no better or best, just different.

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"Science, on balance, gives arguments for theism."

 

This may well be his opinion, but in Elaine Ecklund's book, "Science vs Religion: What Scientists Really Think", she found that 38% of natural scientists are atheists and that 31% of social scientists are atheists, for a total of 69% of scientists who are not theists. "Catholic Answers" cites that 93% of scientists do not believe in God, at least in a theistic way. So I find Prof. Louis' statement to be uninformed. Besides, he confesses to be a Christian, not someone neutral like an agnostic. That means he has a horse in the race and, most likely, a presuppositional bias.

Edited by BillM
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"Science, on balance, gives arguments for theism."

 

This may well be his opinion, but in Elaine Ecklund's book, "Science vs Religion: What Scientists Really Think", she found that 38% of natural scientists are atheists and that 31% of social scientists are atheists, for a total of 69% of scientists who are not theists. . .

It is mathematically incorrect to add up percentages in that manner.

 

It is also irrelevant. Dr. Louis was sketching a "T" chart of arguments for and against, not quoting a survey of self-labeling. He claims the number of logical scientific arguments for theism exceeds the number of logical scientific arguments against.

 

If you feel compelled to take issue with that particular statement, you would need to draw up his T chart and make your own additions.

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Okay, Burl, I'll address this another way. Supernatural theism holds that God is above or transcendent to nature (what we can know with our senses, what we can know with our intelligences, logic, scientific methods, etc.). As soon as supernatural theism makes this claim, it is claiming that we can know nothing about God because God, for theism, is not part of the natural universe. Science is the study of the natural realm. Therefore, science can know nothing whatsoever of a supernatural realm. This is why you cannot prove angels, demons, or God through scientific means. Once an appeal to the supernatural is made (which theism is based in), science is barred (due to the characteristics of the supernatural). Faith, even by the Bible's definition, is confidence not in what IS, but in what is hoped for. It is, in an odd twist of logic, evidence for the unseen (which implies that the other senses are off-limits also). Therefore, faith is opposed to science because they do not operate by the same principles. They are, for all practical purposes, two entirely different languages with no Rosetta Stone.

 

Science operates by forming a hypothesis and then testing that hypothesis. If the hypothesis if then suspected to be true, the hypothesis and the test(s) are open for peer review by the trained scientific community.

 

Faith "operates" by making a statement or a claim that cannot be tested. For instance, the Bible claims that Jesus came back to life after three days. There is no way to test this claim. It can't even be said to be a historical event. Yes, it can be believed in (like angels and demons), but not tested. It also tends to be the characteristic of faith claims that they are not open to review or revision. Despite claims to the contrary, the supernatural cannot be tested because if it does exist, it exists in a different realm or reality than the natural realm that is our habitat. Some Christians would assert that, yes, this is true, but that God can (and has) supernaturally "intervened" into the natural realm. These interventions are usually called "miracles." If they were legitimate, then as soon as the "intervention" crossed from the supernatural realm into our natural realm, it would then be natural, no longer supernatural, no longer a miracle. But this is NOT what theists claim. They claim that the supernatural can exist in the natural realm BUT that because it is supernatural, it cannot be verified or tested. You can't have it both ways (unless you are Shirley McClaine).

 

Many Christians do claim that the supernatural realm is right here alongside the natural realm. But that claim is FAITH, not SCIENCE. If we don't understand that, then we don't understand either.

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Bill, you are obviously uncomfortable with the video of Dr. Louis' colloquium.

 

You are ignoring Dr. Louis ideas and substituting your own.

 

As a starting place, I suggest starting with Louis' analogy of faith and marriage. We can ask the first person to find to marry us, which is blindly stupid. Or we can analyze everyone until we can determine our perfect partner with certainty, which means we will stay single forever. So we analyze, get opinions from others whose judgment we respect and make an informed but uncertain choice.

 

After being married a while, we realize there is data about our spouse we never would have been able to observe without having made that choice. I imagine our meditators relate to this, as there seems to be something ineffable they experience during meditation that non-meditators cannot concieve of.

Edited by Burl
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Burl, please don't assume to know what my responses are to things unless I tell you. To be honest, I only watched the last 15 minutes of the video. Once I found out (in the beginning) that he is an orthodox Christian, I knew that he would slant things in a pro-Christian direction. Most modern Christians do not want to be perceived as anti-science, so OF COURSE he is going to say that faith is compatible with science. This thread is NOT about Dr. Louis' video. It is about what we can truly know, to the best of our ability. And I've stated, quite simply, that the God of theism is, by definition, unknowable.

 

Humor me while I offer another example of the problem of faith vs. science:

 

Let's say that I told you that the god, Thor, is right here beside me as I type this. I know he is. But I'm quick to add that because he is in a different realm, you can't see him. You can't touch him. You can't hear him. You can't smell him. And if you do speak to him, you most likely will not get an audible reply. Nevertheless, I have faith that he is right here. So much so that I tell you that if you don't also believe that Thor is right here with me, despite the lack of evidence, he will beat you over the head with his hammer for all eternity. I claim that, through faith, I know that Thor is right here. And I also claim that Thor's presence with me is compatible with science, that he is real. Would you have any reason whatsoever to say that you knew this to be true also?

Edited by BillM
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I imagine our meditators relate to this, as there seems to be something ineffable they experience during meditation that non-meditators cannot concieve of.

 

Yes, I would agree with this. Those with a mystical bent do, in fact, claim to have experiences that are ineffable, that go beyond words and descriptions. I'm no authority on mysticism, but the kind that I think deserves serious consideration is the kind where the mystic does not "lord it over" others, or look down on those who have not had the same experiences, or who think that they are mediators. The kinds of mystics I'm drawn to are those who, metaphorically, simply say, "Come and see!"

 

Seeing as these experiences may not be directly testable by science, how much weight should be given to them as "truth claims"? Are they true only for the one having the experience? Or are they universal truth? Should we trust the revelations of others?

 

Scientists have said that we most likely know only about 4% of the knowledge available to us. I don't know where they get this figure from. What I do know is that the rate of gaining new knowledge is increasing exponentially. But we certainly don't know everything. I admit that. My wife admits that about me. :)

 

Yet this in no way means that I give credence to supernatural claims that, in most cases, have no evidence whatsoever or violate what little knowledge of our universe we do know. As a progressive, I don't believe that the way forward is to go back. I have had epilepsy since I was about 20-years-old. Despite Jesus' teaching on the subject, I never tried to get supernatural demons exorcised. But I do take Depakote which has prevented me from having seizures for about 6 years now. I don't attribute my "healing" to God or to supernatural forces. I attribute it to the science of medicine and understanding, as limited as it is, something of how the neurons in the brain work. I have no faith whatsoever that prayer has healed me from epilepsy. It is medicines that keep my demons at bay. :)

Edited by BillM
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"Science without Religion Is Lame, Religion without Science Is Blind" Einstein

 

I have been meditating for almost 50 years and I do not have supernatural visions or inclinations more than anyone else. I feel other people have similar experiences as I do accessed in another way, which is good because meditation has made me a better person and a better Christian than I was before I started to meditate.

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...and Einstein's religion:

"I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."

 

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Bill I feel you are sincere and your path is different than mine, but we are in the same place, planet earth. I feel I have a personal relationship with a personal God because it is hard to communicate with an abstract energy that is all encompassing. I guess it is my way to detox and relate to the abstract experience in my meditation.

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If you folks don't watch the video you will not understand the references. It is not a presentation it is a Q&A with Strathmore faculty and students. It is non-linear. The first 45 min are prepared questions. The last 15 min are informal questions which attendees developed during the colloquium.

 

The first bit has a lot about physics and mentions how we are all made of stardust. Romansh said that recently, and that quote is what prompted me to post the video in his thread.

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Burl thank you for the video. Construct, deconstruct and then construct or organize, deorganize and organize again. It looks like many on this forum came here from a construction that they formed about life then there was a deconstruction because the box was not big enough or could not explain everything and now they are reconstructing again with different tools.Dr. Louis seems to be happy with a small box and is trying to sell a God or god outside of nature pulling the strings with the argument of Divine purpose that he would expect God to give value to our life. That did not prove his point with the statistics that Christianity has killed more people than other religions or atheism. We can say others are using religion for their hate, racism and sexist values as in our election today, but he couldn't explain that or evil. One of the questions was what don't you like about Christian faith and the moderator changed it, but he didn't address the issue, which is again happening today as Christianity seems to supporting issues that are not Christian. We need the courage to speak with what is wrong with our faith so it can be reconstructed personally and socially. Christianity is not the end point it is the process just like evolution so needs to reorganize from time to time. I liked what he said about science, but then he went on that science was not an equal partner in the marriage, which is why the church divorced itself from science before. It seems he can't explain evil and is okay with the civil war of opposites. It would be nice if he looked at science to show that opposites are dancing and not fighting good against bad.

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Soma, yes, my path is a bit different. I know that you are sincere also and I respect your path. IMO, you are a fine example (as are a few others here) of the kind of mysticism that doesn't try to force everyone into the same mold. So I appreciate you and respect you in that. In fact, given the opportunity, I would love to spend some real face-to-face time with you to hear your journey more fully.

 

For better or worse, my path has moved me past theism. I no longer believe that God is a being out there who controls the world. If others do (and there are many, many who do -- they are usually called Christians - ha ha!), that is fine as long as they don't try to force other into their mold. And PC was a bit influential in my path in this direction when it decided to drop "God language" from the 8 Points. Being human, I, of course, have a personal relationship with the Universe. But I don't call it God, at least not in the way most Christians would interpret God.

 

I suspect, as I have for a while now, that I'm probably not a Progressive Christian. And I know that there needs to be room for theists here on this message board. Christianity is, by most definitions, theistic. So it is probably best if I clam up. :) My wife agrees with that also.

Edited by BillM
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What can we truly know?

 

One last comment and then I will indeed clam up.

 

At the heart of supernatural theism is the belief in a personal God who cares about each person and will answer their prayers.

 

Given the amount of suffering and needless death in the world, I don't find it convincing that God cares about each person. Here in the United States where we have 3 hots and a cot each day (and usually much more), it is relatively easy to believe in a caring, loving God. But in Haiti where entire cities are torn apart by earthquakes, it is a bit more difficult to convince those people that God loves each and every one of them. Where suffering is almost a daily way of life, the doctrine of a caring God stands in stark contrast to struggling to survive for just one more day. Where disease and death reign, it is hard to convince people that the kingdom of God is among them.

 

A 24-million-dollar study on the efficacy of prayer was done a few years back. There were 3 groups of heart-surgery patients, all with similar prognosis. The first group was not in any way prayed for. The second group was prayed for by evangelical Christians but the group was not told that they were being prayed for. The third group was prayed for by evangelical Christian but this group was told that they were being prayed for. The results? All 3 groups did almost the same in recovering. In fact, the group that knew that they were being prayed for did a bit worse in recovery. Those involved in the study think it was due to the stress of knowing that they were expected to recover in order to live up to the efficacy of prayer and the notion that God is a prayer-answering deity. There is, scientifically, no evidence that prayer changes anything in the natural world. All we really have are anecdotal claims from Christians who count the once-in-a-blue-moon hits but ignore the everyday misses.

 

On a more personal note, there was no personal, caring God there for me the night Moriah died. During the car accident, her tiny brain was pushed into her fragmented skull into the rear of the front seat. If there was a personal, caring God there, he could have surely whispered to the driver responsible to stop face-timing on his phone and to put his mind on the road. He could have easily caused the SUV to hit the car in another location that would have spared Moriah's life, or even to miss the car entirely. He could have surrounded the car with angels that Christmas Eve so that nothing bad would happen. He could have granted their prayers for "traveling mercies." Perhaps the demons were stronger that night? Perhaps the personal God was punishing me for no longer being a "Bible-believing Christian"? Perhaps the accident somehow escaped his all-seeing eye because he was caught up in the euphoria of hearing all of the Christmas carols being sung to him from people all around the world proclaiming peace on earth and good-will toward men?

 

I don't know.

 

But I feel no peace from this theistic God. I feel no good-will towards me. To me, an invisible God and a non-existent God look very much the same. To me, the God of Christianity doesn't care and doesn't answer prayers. But that is me and my journey. I'm sure others have had different experiences. Two billion Christians couldn't be wrong, could they?

 

Thanks for listening. I will now zip my lip. :ph34r:

Edited by BillM
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Bill,

Just to share my 2 cents,

 

No matter what happens to me , whether judged as good or bad or fortunate or unfortunate by others, i am of the view or opinion by a subtle "knowing" that nothing can separate me from the love or presence of God which to me is not a person yet is as personal to me and all as one can get even when my awareness of this was lacking.

 

Joseph

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Back to 'what we can truly know', a subject more philosophical than religious.

 

Louis' points out that as long as one observes as an outsider or skeptic knowledge is limited. One must experience to have access to significant datasets.

 

Reading about meditation can inform one, but after one practices it more data becomes available which was not previously accessible.

 

One understands that childbirth is painful, but only those who go through the experience really understand.

 

We know racism is crippling , but only those who have experienced it really know why.

 

Parenthood is something most people consider, but until one is actually a parent they don't realize how pervasive a change it makes in one's psychology.

 

The tragic death of a child or grandchild is universally understood to be suffering, but Bill and Romansh have experiential knowledge that is simply not available to the rest of us.

 

We can read all the car reviews in the world, but we must buy the car and drive it for a while before the additional experiential data sinks in.

 

Theism is no different. If one starts from an attitude of belief, new data starts to become apparent. Life becomes more beautiful, interconnected and poetic. There is an increase in gratitude and a new richness in life. Suffering eases more quickly, people become more attracted to you and you to them.

 

One cannot know what they cannot observe, and often one's decisions limit what they are able to observe.

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