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Faith By Reason Contents




Chapter 4 ~ Methodology

THERE are many ways to seek God, though seeking God shouldn’t be necessary since there’s no reason for God to hide.

One way is through authorities, the sacred writings and institutions of the world’s religions. Although many have similarities they often disagree, even within themselves. Without an objective evaluation technique there’s no reliable way to decide what portions of any of them to believe.

While authors of scripture are often regarded as inspired, as humans not even the best-intentioned are free of their own prejudices and epistemic limitations, let alone error-proof. Deity, existent or not, has no stenographers.

(Grandmother told me that before the moon landing one of her neighbors was insistent we’d never make it, convinced that a God who didn’t allow a Tower of Babel wouldn’t allow us to attain such height. Guess that friend never made it to the top of the Empire State Building.)

Another way of seeking the ultimate is direct religious experience. This can encompass anything from a simple feeling of oneness, or mystical communion, to a personal encounter with a divine entity, called a theophany, or more generally (especially if comprising a sudden insight) an epiphany.

Again there’s no way of determining if we’re experiencing more than a pleasant emotion, phantasm of the mind, or something else less than divine, without a basis in logic.

Philosophic Reasoning

That leaves us with a third option, the philosophic reasoning of natural theology— determining whether reflective observation (or observant reflection) can direct our belief vis-à-vis the divine mystery. To this end metaphysicians have a number of tricks in their bag:

Ontological argument— the trickiest of the bunch, offering in a number of variations so-called proofs for the existence of God, such as—

God, existent or not, can be conceived such that nothing greater can be conceived. Either such a God exists only in our mind or in our mind and as extramental reality, but if existent in mind alone then we can conceive such that greater can be conceived, namely that exists both in mind and reality. Since the mind-alone option is incoherent, God must exist.

In this argument the premise to be demonstrated is covertly assumed; more importantly, it’s hard to believe that just mentally conceiving something brings it into a state of existence beyond cognition (e.g. you could develop a mental image of a lover, yet still find yourself alone on weekends).

The above argument was reworked into a second variation— a God that can be conceived such that nothing greater can be conceived can’t be conceived not to exist because nonexistence reduces the concept to less than greatest, so such a God must exist. As in the first argument we're covertly bringing an idea into reality. This brings us to our next trick—

Teleological argument— positing deity to explain the apparent workings of things in nature toward logical or purposeful goals, also known as the analogical argument (a deific designer conceives the world much as a human designer conceives a machine) or as the design argument, since it posits the existence of an intelligent architect of the world.

Its efficacy is compromised by evolutionary explanations (evidencing trial-and-error rather than conscious design) the frequent unfairness of life, and the power of evil— speaking of which, it’s ironic how much of the most intense malevolence has been and still is fueled by misappropriated religious zeal. So on to—

Cosmological argument— recognizing that the existence of the universe is seen to demand a primal cause or basis, with deity defined as uncaused and postulated as the means by which everything (us of course, yard sales, and even Freecycle groups) has come about.

This is dependent on the assumption that noncreation (inert nothingness) is inherent, which may or may not be true and may or may not be false.

The aforementioned are considered the classic proofs. There’s also:

Inverse forms— while not claiming positive existential evidence, attempting to maintain room for deity through arguments against disproof.

Because most intellectual endeavors, from art to science, are reducible only so far before arriving at the totally unexplainable (in the case of science, basic natural laws) it seems reasonable that existence itself is similarly limited in its comprehensibility, before an uncaused deity is reached.

Similarly as long as there are dark corners of the universe— things we do not know— a negative can’t be proved. Therefore no one can positively say deity does not exist.

(Nor for that matter Santa Claus. Actually Santa Claus positively does exist— the town of Santa Claus, Indiana. People from all over have been there, especially Hoosiers.)

But even at best inverse forms delineate a woefully-uncomprehensive God-of-the-Gaps.

Core Concept

Since all of these strategies are more or less problematic, let’s begin instead by constructing a core concept of what we mean when we talk about deity. We can then look at how our model fits with Rudolf, the red-nosed reality, making adjustments accordingly.

The paradox of theology cautions that while God may be outside the constraint of natural law and not reducible by scientific means, if there’s not at least one aspect capable of being rendered relevant to our existence, the mere idea of God— not to mention steeples— would be for all practical purposes meaningless.

A way around this difficulty, as suggested earlier, is via the two categories, transcendence and immanence:

Any aspects of deity that are totally inaccessible, we’ll call transcendent, and continue to so designate for such duration as they do not manifest themselves in our existence; these aspects— being of an unknown nature— may or may not be subject to natural laws.

That leaves, designated as immanent, those aspects of deity that have been and/or are accessible to us, conforming to natural laws in order to be attainable by us at all, since at least we— if not deity— operate by these principles.

(The reason we here choose to exclude future experience from immanence is because of the relative difficulty of travel autonomy through time as opposed to space, even without carry-ons.)

This approach doesn’t necessarily entail multiple gods for multiple aspects, even though there may be multiples, any more than multiple aspects of other things in our daily lives (e.g. Italian restaurants) necessarily entail multiples of those things (more types of Italian food).

Returning to the analogy with fire: just as combustion concealed in a furnace can output effects as diverse as heat, smoke, and noise (one transcendent and three immanent aspects— all, while patently different, manifestations of a single entity) so can one deity manifest in various ways, particularly toward unifying ends. But whoa—

I’m getting ahead of myself. A big head of myself.

Faith By Reason Contents
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© 1999-2007 Warren Farr — revised 9/18