March 12, 2009

...And My Wife


Anonymous said...

Witty but fuzzy. Proving God's existence through empirical evidence is like trying to measure water temperature with a ruler or measure the truth on bathroom scales. Logic and reason require all the facts and then the facts need to be interpreted correctly. Logic and empirical assessment will never resolve issues of God's existence. To think they should is comical. God is known in the heart of a person...and yes the heart can be deceived, no question. And yes again, there is a lot of pseudo-spiritual tripe around. This isn't a cop-out, unless of course you're committed to the belief that (1)everything must have a naturalistic explanation and (2)that we humans have the capacity to independently assess data objectively, with clinical distance. You'll never even get to know your own wife that way...

Yes, I must be one of them too.

Burt Likko said...

Fair enough, Kim. So if God is known through an emotional rather than an empirical experience, and I've never in my life felt the emotion of God's presence, AND logic and empirical assessment are insufficient to resolve the issue, then is it safe for me to use the absence of evidence as evidence of absence?

Anonymous said...

Three things come to mind Transplanted Lawyer. Firstly, I don't think that our emotions are the means by which we know God, although we can register God emotionally if he chooses to have himself experienced that way. Nor do I think that we register or know God essentially through our mind, although what we think is very important for obvious reasons. I believe that our knowing of God runs deeper than our thoughts, it has to do with our spirit. Our minds have to do with understanding rather than knowing. Without relational knowing, our minds can take happy walks in al sorts of justifiable directions.
Secondly, the seeming absence of experience of God in our lives can be due to several things. It may be that we haven't given him serious attention. That can be for all sorts of reasons. It may be that we didn't acknowledge him when he whispered, it may not have suited us at the time. It may well be that God knows us better than we do and he knows when to speak and when to hold his tongue.
Thirdly, absence of evidence could mean lots of things. We tend to use it as we will.
(Thanks for responding so quickly.)I'm off to hit the sack. Have a good day.

DaveBuck said...

Kim, still, we must admit that absence of evidence still supports another conclusion; the possibility that there are no deities.

This is a rationale argument that works with the other things the comedian mentioned (astrology, psychics, and homeopathic medicine). I could add bigfoot to the list. I can add Loki or Archangel Ariel. We can't seem to find evidence that they are true, so it's rational to remain skeptical. Don't you agree?

Are you sure logic and empirical assessment cannot assist with deciding if gods and angels and such exist? These methods at least can tell us if any evidence exists.

Finally, do you think we can use "spiritual" assessment to determine whether Vishnu is real vs Yahweh or Thor or Isis or Krishna? How do religious people assess which gods are real and which are not to be believed?

Anonymous said...

Well Dave, I'll address your comments in order.
1. Yes of course absence of evidence can support the possibility that there are no deities. My concern is that it is presented as the only really valid alternative. If my wife isn't speaking to me over a period of time it doesn't mean that she doesn't exist, it usually means that there is something seriously wrong.

2. Yes you can add God to the Tooth Fairy List if it suits you. You might add my brother to that list as well because you have no empirical evidence that he exists, and probalby never will have. I'm a strong believer in being rational and using reason where it is helpful. I also think that a position of skepticism is valid until something convinces you otherwise. My concern is that empirical evidence and logic are sometimes used as if they produce some definitive answer, which they don't, when it comes to the issue of an individual coming to a knowledge of God. When you say that we can't find evidence that "they" are true, I would say that evidence doesn't prove anything, it is simply used to support a position. An event, in and of itself, doesn't reveal anything. Meaning is given to it, it all depends on whether the meaning is correct. How do we know it is correct? There is knowledge we can get by our own attempts to actively and empirically analyse and measure, but there is also knowledge that comes through the revelation from a person. If God is true, and if God does desire to be known, then we have a basis on which we can at first tentatively hope in knowing beyond the evidence of our eyes and our own rational logic.

3. No. Empirical evidence and logic will not be adequate as a tool for coming to a knowing of God. And you know, Im really glad about that. It means that knowledge of God isn't the domain of the intellectual elite. Anyone can know him. Logic can be helpful to test if something is consistent. For example, if God were to say that he would come to us unconditionally every Tuesday night disguised as a pink balloon then we could empirically test that and use logic to come to some kind of position about the truth of the statement. If God is known spiritually, that is, in the heart, then there is a whole bunch of so called evidence based on empirical method and logic that doesn't "crack it" as valid evidence.

4. Finally, in response to your final comment, there is no neat answer. People from all sorts of religious backgrounds are often fully convinced in their own hearts that they are right. (And convinced athiests are similar.) That tells us that being sincerely convinced of something doesn't make it true. Yes, God is spiritually discerned and is known in our spririt. How do we know who it is we are experiencing? All I can say is that God is able to make himself known. He is self revealing. When he reveals he does so convincingly over time. When I first became aware of him coming after me (in my late teens) I suddenly became aware that the one who I was relating to had a certain familiarity about him, as if he had been around the whole time, except I hadn't acknowledged him earlier. I know that this sounds subjective but in fact the awareness of God ends up being based on God's objective ability to reveal rather than on my capacity to subjectively work him out. If we find ourselves leaning to the position that we can somehow work God out without depending on him to reveal himself then we are probably going about things the wrong way.There is one other thing about the issue of discerning spiritually who is true. God led me to Jesus, someone who I could check out both spiritually (that is from deep within myself - from a place pretty close to my conscience)and with my mind. I could read the accounts of his life and teachings and they seemed to jell with what I was discerning in my spirit. The issue of spiritual discernment sounds dodgey to a person who prefers to stay with the safe, quantifiable content that empirical analysis deals with. Strangely, every deep and important relationship involves risk at getting it wrong or being deceived in some way, and something other than mere rationalism.

The large variety of spiritual alternatives doesn't undermine the possibility that the real thing exists. (I still trust in the existence of an authentic Australian dollar despite a plethora of counterfeits.) The important issue is that of whether God can be known. And the next is "by what method?" If we think that we can proudly assess God at a distance using empirical methods then we are setting ourselves up for major disappointment. There needs to be a major shift in our willingness to embrace humility.

The question then becomes, is God willing and able to reveal himself to the human heart? Jesus gives us a definitive "yes! And it doesn't depend on us having some inate capacity to get it right, it relies on God's character, his faithfulness, his mercy and kindness to us. The proud raionalist as well as the proud religious person or the proud pragmatist don't have space in their lives for the mercy and kindness of God", it is too humbling. Such was I, and at times I'm still like that. The second question is - "Would we have room for him if he knocked on our door or would we move him to an apartment down the street at a safe distance?" I suspect a lot of people have a convenient little apartment set up somewhere, both the religious and non-religious alike. I wonder if your wife/partner would have let you know her if she knew that you had an apartment for her all set up.

Burt Likko said...

Kim, you speak of a "spiritual" method of knowing God and distinguish it from both empirical and emotional ways of knowing things. I am very uncertain as to what you mean by "spirit."

In your response to Dave, you suggest that your spirit is "very close" to your "conscience," a word that implies a sense of moral right and wrong to me. In my experience, morality is something derived from both mental and emotional processes. But unfortunately that isn't helpful enough to me to help me understand how a teenager's maturing sense of morality can help you somehow perceive something in a way that is neither empirical nor emotional. If you have any additional insights to offer on that point, I'd be very interested in them.

Thank you for the time you've taken to participate in this discussion, also.

Anonymous said...

These are not easy questions to answer in a way that is completely satisfying for a person who likes to understand how things are. My understanding of things like the nature and function of the human spirit is based on my understanding of the New Testament as well as some deductions based on that. Some of what I say may not be accurate but is my best understanding at this time.

Yes, I do think that we humans have a spirit and that we are not simply biological systems. Having said that I'm not saying that it is a simple thing to dissect and isolate its function. It's a little like pulling the yeast out of a loaf of bread or working out what an egg is by dissecting a cake, (except of course the spirit of a person isn't physical and can therefore not be divided.). By the way, bread and cake is for eating, not dissecting.

The Bible talks about the inner workings of a person in different ways depending on what kinds of issues are being addressed. It doesn't give a neat summary of the workings of a person, we western thinkers tend to have those sorts of agendas. Some times the inner part of a person is described as the heart of the person. This includes our will, emotions, thinking and spiritual functions. Sometimes the word “soul” is used to speak either of the inner person or as an overall descriptor of a person both inner and outer. When a person dies, the spirit leaves the body and continues to exist (no, not as a ghostie)

I would understand the human spirit as that part of us that when related to by God is enabled to respond and relate back to God. It is there that we have the potential to “know” Him rather than simply have some understanding about him. It is there that we can experience intimacy with God, spirit to Spirit.

Now here is the bit people sometimes don't like. The Biblical understanding of the spirit is such that a person can be described as spiritually dead while at the same time being physically alive. This state of being spiritually dead has to do with a state of being separated from God. Deadness in a person is firstly a relational issue. In turn, being alive has to do with living in union with God's Spirit. The reason I mention this is that the spirit of a person is designed for relationship with God. It is not properly functional until it has God with it. This tells us that real life, as opposed to simple biological life is about God. He is the source of real life. This, by the way is why Jesus said to Nicodemus (John Chapter 3) that he needed to be born again from above by the Spirit and why becoming a Christian is described as a new birth. It suggests a new relation being birthed as well as a new life. What we normally understand as having life contrasts with the life that God is and the life he provides in the same way that death and life contrast.

I think that the bible talks about the conscience in at least two ways.

Firstly it talks about it as that part of the inner person that registers a sense of rightness or wrongness, what people sometimes call morality. This sense is often registered by us as either a sense of guilt or a sense of being justified in our behaiviour or thoughts. I think a helpful analogy is the idea of a set of scales. The scales measure weight, but their reading depends on how they have been set. Their accuracy depends on whether they have been accurately adjusted. I suspect that people generally have their consciences set by two things, by a mixture, their socialization and the Spirit of God. Prior to entering into relationship with God, our conscience is adjusted to that which we have picked up from around us – our significant others, our culture etc. It is then effected by what we commit ourselves to. Our own will can effect the accuracy of our conscience. Consequently, a mass murderer can sleep comfortably or I can change channels away from the images of the starving of Africa or my neighbours needs while I'm engaged with the priority of a new mobile phone.

I think how we operate biologically can effect the setting and registering of our conscience in as much as the conscience is effected by its external environment which in turn is effected by the thinking capacity of the person. Consequently, when it comes to the mystery of the developing teenage brain a good conscience is developed over time with much patience and sweat on the part of the parents, and even then it is not guaranteed. As you would know the teenage brain is in a state of construction, it's emotional sector is not well connected to what are called the higher order functions of the frontal lobe. Consequently, how a teenager functions is quite different from that of a mature adult. Regardless of this, the Spirit of God can still communicate to the spirit of the person, it just means that the teenager might be guided or swayed by his or her emotions or at times wonky thinking instead. I've got a couple of teens and whenever I pontificate about this sort of thing there is a part of me that says “shut your mouth Kim”. I say it with fear and trembling. I think the issue of a teenager discerning from their spirit is just a more concentrated or overt example of the kinds of issues that everyone faces. Can people under the influence of sleep deprivation or drugs and alcohol hear from God? I think so – but it isn't usually a great time to speak to them because of the effect on their biological functions. How we respond to what we've heard from God can be effected by our biological condition.

This bit is my opinion - (In traditional societies, what we call teenagers are often under the strong guidance of either the men or the women of the culture.They often participate in traditional coming of age ceremonies where they make strong commitments to adhere to time honoured values and behaviours often in keeping with traditional gender roles. I think God's intention was that the culture would reflect his character, the laws of the culture reflecting concepts like kindness, justice, mercy and truth. I think societies bring up their own and in this way the “random” teenage brain has social parameters and a context in which to operate, guided by a strong commitment to respect those they are learning from. This is so very different to much of our experience in the western world.)

The other way that the Bible talks about the conscience is in the context of its functioning once God has come into union with the person's spirit. .
1.The Spirit of God adjusts the conscience in keeping with the character of God. This is a life time process, which is one reason why some people who claim to be Christians can have some major flaws, as we all do. Consequently the conscience changes over time as the person submits to and trusts God and the things that God is saying. Where a person decides to be stubbornly opposed to God, the conscience becomes seared, that is, damaged, insensitive to the voice of God.
2.Prior to God entering a person the human conscience tends to function in keeping with rules, values and what we call morality, dos and don'ts. When a person comes alive to God the conscience starts to operate as it was initially intended, in a relational way, toward God, with God as its reference point. Concepts and standards start to stop being a legal thing (rules, guilt and judgement) and become a relational thing. Rightness and wrongness are no longer understood as things that pertain to a moral code or standard but rather are understood and known as having to do with who God is and the practice of relating to him with trust. I think a good marriage reflects this. Any husband knows that our behaviour toward our wives is not legal and about standards but rather about relationship.
3.Consequently two people can have different moral standards and both have clear consciences before God, as they decide to trust him and live with Him. God is much more interested in a person trusting him and relating to him than he is in them getting everything right. Over time the Spirit of God speaks to a person and the person comes to know the mind of God on an issue in his or her spirit. People's consciences can differ and in the mean time we're encouraged to love and forgive and avoid judging, for this is in keeping with what God is like and what he is establishing on the inside.
4.Because the spirit of a person is designed for relating with God the Bible talks about the person who is in union with God as one who knows things by and from the Spirit. The Spirit of God makes known the thoughts of God. Consequently, there are times when we will know something without having a well thought-out understanding of it. We will just say that "we know because we know". This of course sounds very arrogant, unfair and subjective to the outsider and impossible to assess, therfore easily dismissed. My only answer to that is that truly knowing things from God requires the relationship with God. You can not know the things of God secondhand. Coming to a knowledge of things that are true, in contrast with empirically assessed facts, is a relational issue and was always supposed to be, in that God is Truth, and Life is only found in union with him.
5.Two last points, the Bible talks about the spirit of a person registering how God feels and also expressing feeling. My only conclusion is that some emotions have a biological source which are effected by chemistry and our own thoughts while some emotions have their source in the spirit of a person. How that works I know not! In turn, there are thoughts and ideas that we get from others and other thoughts that we generate ourselves. In contrast with these are the thoughts that come from the Spirit to our spirit. At this point our spirit genuinely knows something. It may only be later that the understanding comes to the mind. When we hear the truth, spoken or read, we recognise it, that is, if we have already received it from the Spirit of God. When we hear truth the reason we know it is truth is because it has been revealed to us by the Spirit. Sometimes this happens simultaneously.

I'm sorry to sound condescending (that isn't my intention at all) but some of the things that I'm saying are not going to sound convincing to you, I don't mean the things that I've communicated badly, but the things that God hasn't said to you through your spirit yet. (By the way, I strongly suspect that God has spoken to you plenty of times because he cares for you and the people youhave contact with.) Having said that, there are plenty of things I don't know for the same reason. As you well know, the things I've said have probably brought up more questions than answers and I haven't necessarily addressed your comments directly. I hope this long winded epic is a bit helpful. To tell the truth, Displaced Lawyer, I'm not interested in winning (or losing) a debate. I really don't have all the answers, I'm muddling along like every one else. I'm more concerned that you and others hear things that are in keeping with the truth and that you'd become open to who God is. Without that, it is all just talk...and there is no end of that. Have a good day.

Burt Likko said...

Thanks for the extensive comment and your effort to try to illuminate the issue of "spirit." There's no "debate" here as far as I'm concerned; the point is to share information and thoughts, not to win or lose. Alas, I'm afraid I'm not as illuminated as I'm sure you had hoped I might be; however, do not assume that this is your fault. Thanks again for the effort you've put in to the subject.