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Discussion 10 to Meditation 832
The possibility of knowing something that amounts to less than the “whole subject”.

by: Clay Chesney

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I heartily agree with Darwin that “the whole subject of God is beyond the scope of man’s intellect”, but that isn’t to say we can’t know something that amounts to less than the “whole subject”.   We do admit the possibility that a supreme being (SB)might exist, and it seems to me that the question of whether it might be possible to settle the issue one way or another is not such a difficult one;  yes it would be possible if God exists, and no it wouldn’t  if God doesn’t  exist.   

If we hear a voice in our head claiming to be God, the proper response is to question our sanity or at least to ask if there is something amiss in our brain functions.  But what if the message really is from God?  This possibility is implicit in our recognition that an omnipotent supreme being might exist.  

Having thought over this internal message, we could persist in our refusal to believe, or alternatively we could respond in one of several other ways:

1) if the message includes some persuasive argument, such as prophetic statements that later come to pass,  we might be lead to believe in the SB,

 2) we might believe simply because we want to believe

3) the SB, being omnipotent, could override our free will and compel us to believe.  

In each of these cases, the issue has been resolved on a personal level; the message did in fact come from the SB and we accepted it as such, which means we know of the existence of the SB.  If we reject the message we do not know of the existence of God, and if it wasn’t from the SB then we don’t know of the existence of God even if we think we do.

This is not a matter of “proof”.   It only requires the intervention of the SB and the acceptance by the listener.   Normally, the chances of convincing other people that God is talking to you would be close to nil, but it seemed to work for Moses.

I had hoped that God would come a callin’ on me by now, but he hasn’t seen fit to do so.  And I don’t believe anyone else who says that he’s talked to them, so I’ve given up on that avenue.  I’m really not much interested in the SB because he doesn’t seem interested in me and, as Darwin said, the whole concept is pretty much incomprehensible.  Questions on the supernatural are much more amenable to testing and examination and they provide a lot more food for thought. 

I don’t think that testing whether something is supernatural has any bearing on whether we can know of its existence or not.  The test is directly for existence, not nature vs. supernature.  Psi tests have been conducted by scientists in the lab for many years on such things as mind reading, clairvoyance and precognition, with the clear understanding that, if they exist, these are supernatural phenomena.   The results have been dreadfully negative, but the fact that they are tested at all indicates that a lot of scientists think they are subject to the same investigation as natural phenomena.  I saw an article recently imploring the psi researchers to either refine their methods to better resolve the question, or to give it up and move on.   As the test failures mount through the years, the probability of the reality of those claims becomes more remote, even though it might be impossible to prove that they don’t exist and finally drive that probability to zero.  

So what do we do with the dwindling possibility that is left?  The answer can go either of two ways, both of which are reasonable in the face of the intractable uncertainty of the issue.  It depends on who we are.  We make the answer fit the world we want to live in. 

Many people are not able to tolerate never- ending uncertainty.  Long-term unfinished business feels like lead on the soul and makes us want to close accounts and move on.   The urge to conclude an issue and get rid of nagging questions eventually becomes overwhelming.  JT finds his certainty in the belief that we cannot know the existence of a SB, and why not?   Putting the problem to rest is an eminently practical way to deal with a question that defies resolution but where the evidence points in one direction.  We do it all the time.

  But there is another disposition on this.  It consists of two things.  One is the principle of refraining from drawing conclusions unless we need to.  I think that one of most destructive habits of humans is the compulsion to make decisions on everything.     We see intentions where there are none, we are willing to decide important political issues while knowing next to nothing about the issues, we judge people at first glance, and we shut out multitudes of possibilities in the rush to form opinions.  Our culture actively encourages us in that direction.    Agnostics have taken an important step away from this tendency, but it is something a little different than skepticism.     

The other thing is that small possibilities can hold great hopes.  I like the idea that there might be something beyond the mundane world we know, that life might ultimately have meaning after all, that hidden just outside our view are unknown possibilities, and that we might be able to become more than our limited thoughts have made of us.  That possibility makes my life better.

We believe one thing or another.  It depends on who we are.  I see no logic to shut out the possibility of something beyond the world we know, or of finding that world.  But I will have to say that the opposite opinion has much to recommend it.