This forum was closed on October 1st, 2010. However, the archives are open to the public and filled with vast amounts of good reading and information for you to enjoy. If you wish to meet some Wardrobians, please visit the Into the Wardrobe Facebook group.

How can we know there is a God?

How can we know there is a God?

Postby postodave » 08 Feb 2009, 01:03

I'm doing a presentation on the theme 'How can we know there is a God?' as part of the intro we're doing for a lent course at the FE College where I work. I'd welcome any constructive criticism.
Here are the notes I'm going to put up.
Page 1.
Kinds of Knowing
Empirical evidence – what we know through our senses – but we still have to interpret what we sense.
Proof – A proof depends on premise which must come from somewhere else – ultimately not from logical proof.
Induction – I observe that A follows B – e.g. I put my hand in the fire it gets burned. I conclude this will always happen – but how do we get from some to all?
Hypothesis– explanatory guess.
Type 1. entity hypothesis. Must be falsifiable Why? – cannot affirm but can deny consequent – found chiefly in natural science
Type 2. Perspectival theory – how to view everything – found chiefly in philosophy or as world view
Intuition or self evident knowledge – things we see as true – eg 1 + 1 = 2. Law of identity. Axiom of equals. Existence of other minds. We know there is a God through direct experience.

Page 2
Some General Points
We do not have to know how we know in order to know
Wittgenstein – to say we need to know how we know in order to know is like saying we have to be able to spell the word spelling before we can spell any other word
Os Guiness – there is more to knowing than knowing will ever know.
Epistemology is not what we do so we can know it is what we do so we can understand what we have done in knowing
We can still truly know even if we are mistaken about how we know
We know science works – we are sure it is a way of knowing. But how does it work – Many different theories.
2+2=4 – No one disputes that but there are many theories about what kind of truth that is and how we know it. Is it something we can observe, an induction, a hypothesis, something we can prove or do we know it by intuition.

page 3
Knowing God
Empirical knowledge – People say seeing is believing. It can prompt a rethink but it moves us away from purely empirical to hypothesis. Accounts of miracle in scripture seem to have a strong element of self evidence
Proof – there is an analogy between proving 1+1=2 and proving God. The people who back in the middle ages started proving God existed never really doubted. Rather they were trying to establish knowledge on a new basis.
Induction – Have been experiments to proove prayer but iIf it works what have you proved?
Hypothesis. God is not an entity – creation cannot be falsified. Cannot offer alternative explanation in detail – Fundamentalists are wrong. But can give rise to a perspectival hypothesis. Can ask does the world make sense if I look at it like this. This is really what is happening in the groups over the next few weeks.
Self Evident Knowledge or Intuition – The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of said Pascal. He says that knowing God is a matter of knowing with the heart – but he does not mean emotions – this is the same way we know the first principles of maths and logic. We know there is a God by direct experience.
So I drew my sword and got ready
But the lamb ran away with the crown
postodave
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 816
Joined: Oct 2004

Re: How can we know there is a God?

Postby agingjb » 08 Feb 2009, 09:26

George MacDonald wrote in one of the "Curdie" books:

"But if you want me to know you again, ma'am, for certain sure,'
said Curdie, 'could you not give me some sign, or tell me something
about you that never changes - or some other way to know you, or
thing to know you by?

No, Curdie; that would be to keep you from knowing me. You must
know me in quite another way from that. It would not be the least
use to you or me either if I were to make you know me in that way.
It would be but to know the sign of Me - not to know me myself. it
would be no better than if I were to take this emerald out of my
crown and give it to you to take home with you, and you were to
call it me, and talk to it as if it heard and saw and loved you.
Much good that would do you, Curdie! No; you must do what you can
to know me, and if you do, you will."


which may or may not be relevant.
agingjb
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 100
Joined: Sep 2008

Re: How can we know there is a God?

Postby postodave » 08 Feb 2009, 14:19

I think Macdonald is talking about interpersonal knowing which I would see as a type of self-evident knowing. I have not gone into this because it would complicate matters but it is relevant because God is a thou who reveals himself not an it we can discover. Once you have the concept of self evident knowledge you can make distinctions of types of self-evident knowledge and the I-thou I-it type distinction would probably be the major one. Perhaps I should specifically give both types as I have with theoretical knowledge. Thanks that is a good idea, I'll see if I have room to work it in. Trouble is Buber is so obscure I'll have to simplify him.

But is this what the passage from Macdonald means to you?
So I drew my sword and got ready
But the lamb ran away with the crown
postodave
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 816
Joined: Oct 2004

Re: How can we know there is a God?

Postby agingjb » 09 Feb 2009, 09:21

I'm not sure I can give a useful answer here, but:

Apart from some special domains (like mathematics) I have a difficulty with certainty. I encounter a lot of it, in politics, philosophy, ethics, the arts, and, most of all, in religious belief. But the certainties I encounter are pretty much mutually incompatible and contradictory.

Virtually everything that I have seen asserted as incontravertibly true must be false. That is not to deny that, somewhere, there is truth.

So I suppose that I feel that, although I may have opinions about which I feel fairly secure, it is best, having no special insights, if I do not add to the inexhaustible fund of certainty. Others, of course, are far better placed than me.

The MacDonald quote seems to capture this, in a way.
agingjb
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 100
Joined: Sep 2008

Re: How can we know there is a God?

Postby friendofbill » 09 Feb 2009, 16:24

Postodave's obseervation that "God is a thou who reveals himself not an it we can discover" is the whole thing in a nutshell. It seems to me that the idea embodied in the question "How can I know God?" is stating from the wrong end.

Some light on this comes from Thomas Merton: "God utters me likea word containing a partial thought of himself. A word will never be able to comprehend the voice that utters it. But if I am true to the concept that God utters in me, if I am true to the thought of him I was meant to embody, I shall be full of His actuality and find Him everywhere in myself, and find myself nowhere. I shall be lost in Him; that is, i shall find myself. I shall be 'saved.'"

Is it not the idea that there is a "path" or "way" that leads to God responsible for all the chaos of denominations and religions on earth today? Merton suggests that it is not we who seek God, but God Who seeks us, and that the only "way" to know God is to be found by Him and allow Him to take possession. If we are looking for God, we are looking for an "other." Merton goes on to say, "...there is no 'what' that can be called God. There is 'no such thng' as God because God is neither a 'what' nor a 'thing,' but a pure 'Who.' He is the 'Thou' before whom our inmost 'I' springs into awareness. He is the I Am before Whom with our own most personal and inalienable voice we echo, 'I am.'"

Perhaps that is why we are advised: "Be still and know that I am God."

Pax Domini
Art
friendofbill
 
Posts: 51
Joined: Dec 2008
Location: Florida

Re: How can we know there is a God?

Postby mitchellmckain » 09 Feb 2009, 18:45

I don't know about the OP but postodave, agingjb and friendofbill have all said or quoted such excellent things which echo so much of my own thinking there is little I can say but thanks for sharing. There is that wonderful quote from MacDonald, postodave's comment "God is a thou who reveals himself not an it we can discover", and friendofbill's question, "Is it not the idea that there is a "path" or "way" that leads to God responsible for all the chaos of denominations and religions on earth today?" I share agingjb's "difficulty with certainty" but I suppose I can add to postodave's attempt to plumb/capture the meaning of MacDonald's quote by saying that we only know a person in a personal relationship. This is the thought that immediately comes to mind when I read the question that is the title of this thread: "How can we know there is a God?" I immediately think of all the persons in the world and ask how do we know that any particular one of them exists? We can certainly believe what people say about them, we can believe the images and recording brought to us by various media just as many of us see the hand and heart of God in images of nature (in the heavens and among the living things of the earth) or the writings of scripture, but these are only the basis of speculations and impressions. If we truly want to know someone for who they really are, we have to meet them and get to know them in an interpersonal relationship.

But back to the OP I am reminded of Charles Sander's Pierce's "Neglected argument for the Reality of God", where I see him relating these very ideas of a personal relationship to "kind of" scientific methodology, and so I strongly recommend reading that to see if that helps. This living our lives in personal relationship to God, Pierce claims has some points of similarity to a scientific test of an hypothesis. Anyway that is all that I shall say of it and let you read it for yourself.

http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/A_Neglect ... ity_of_God
mitchellmckain
 
Posts: 481
Joined: Jul 2007

Re: How can we know there is a God?

Postby postodave » 09 Feb 2009, 19:25

Hi Agingjb
Apart from some special domains (like mathematics) I have a difficulty with certainty. I encounter a lot of it, in politics, philosophy, ethics, the arts, and, most of all, in religious belief. But the certainties I encounter are pretty much mutually incompatible and contradictory.

Virtually everything that I have seen asserted as incontravertibly true must be false. That is not to deny that, somewhere, there is truth.

You have identified two domains which you would regard as having certainties the first is mathematics and the second (implicitly) is logic because you have assumed that two contradictory claims cannot both be true. Now How do you know basic mathematical and logical truths are true? How do you know that the law of non-contradiction applies or that 1 + 1 = 2. If you say that you have seen it demonstrated that 1 +1 = 2 (as though this were a kind of induction) I will say how do you know 1 million + 1 million = 2 million or even 1 googolplex + 1 googolplex = 2 googolplex. If you say that I am just using a formula that must apply to anything I will ask if you are equally sure infinity + infinity = 2 infinities. At the most basic level I would say you know these to be true because you experience them as self-evident. My argument would be that we know there is a God in the same way and for those who know him with the same kind of certainty. Now of course I could be wrong about 1 + 1 or the law of non-contradiction or God but that does not mean I do not know unless the word know applies to nothing at all.

So I suppose that I feel that, although I may have opinions about which I feel fairly secure, it is best, having no special insights, if I do not add to the inexhaustible fund of certainty. Others, of course, are far better placed than me.


No one is better placed really we all know what we know - none of us are infallible but we all know some things.

The MacDonald quote seems to capture this, in a way.


Macdonald is a true romantic. I am fairly sure he was not in the piece you quote putting a case against certainty but against that kind of insistence on objective truth that makes some very important kinds of knowing impossible. Have you ever come across Martin Buber's I and Thou?

I must read more of Merton. I am sure I am growing more mystical as I get older. I hope so really.

Mitch I'll follow your link; it sounds interesting. I really will work the whole I-thou I-it thing into what I say. I feel it could be vital. I have to go I've got Pizza with Jalapeño and olives for tea.
So I drew my sword and got ready
But the lamb ran away with the crown
postodave
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 816
Joined: Oct 2004

Re: How can we know there is a God?

Postby Coyote Goodfellow » 10 Feb 2009, 04:37

Several people have talked about mathematics, and I'll tell you something I have been thinking about in reference to the existence of G-d.

0 does not exist. However, a system which allows a reference to 0, like like our numeric system, is demonstrably superior to one like Roman numerals, which does not allow reference to a 0. (Nothing against Roman numerals of course). You could not build skyscrapers without a zero, and the type of mathematical calculations that makes possible. Zero is the pivot point, the origen of our mathematical system.
Even though zero does not exist, it is a property of the system, and a system which allows reference to zero is demonstrably superior to one which does not.

And that is sort of how I feel about G-d. You don't necessarily need to demonstrate the existence of that one element. Many people have made hypotheses and tested the system--thus all the people who find faith completely compatible with skyscrapers, automobiles, and the rest of the modern world.
"I don't care if it is wrong," said one of the moles. "I'd do it again."
"Hush, hush" said the other animals.
User avatar
Coyote Goodfellow
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 164
Joined: Sep 2006
Location: Foshan, China

Re: How can we know there is a God?

Postby postodave » 10 Feb 2009, 10:02

I should have guessed this would happen.
0 does not exist
It depends what you mean by exist. It is far easier to define 0 than exist. It seems to me to be the easiest number to define. Frege defines 0 as the class of classes that has the same number of members as there are objects not identical to themselves. Now that class may be empty but that does not mean it is non existent. Of course there could be other ways of defining 0 and class theory ultimately fails but it seems to me to work well as far as defining 0 goes. Am I wrong?
So I drew my sword and got ready
But the lamb ran away with the crown
postodave
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 816
Joined: Oct 2004

Re: How can we know there is a God?

Postby agingjb » 10 Feb 2009, 10:36

I mentioned mathematics as a area within which certainty might be found; a limited exception to the slogan "certainty leads nowhere".

I shall refrain from an extended essay on maths and its philosophy (touching on transfinite arithmetic, Godel, Cohen, the ontology of the numbers (including zero, which is an acceptable answer to "how many")), because it's not relevant here (and anyway I'm not competent to do more than point at the literature) .

But, having some (but not enough) insight into the complexities of mathematics, I would suppose that theology would be, in some respects, incomparably more profound.
agingjb
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 100
Joined: Sep 2008

Re: How can we know there is a God?

Postby postodave » 10 Feb 2009, 19:26

Hi aginggb - I'm sure I'm even less competent but the whole area is facinating. In any case the question for me is whether their is such a thing as intuitive knowing - and if there are analogies between knowing 1+1=2 and knowing there is a God.

I just wonder in what sense 0 can be said not to exist and 1 to exist. Whether class theory is right or not I'm sure there is a category error in there somehwere.
So I drew my sword and got ready
But the lamb ran away with the crown
postodave
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 816
Joined: Oct 2004

Re: How can we know there is a God?

Postby Coyote Goodfellow » 11 Feb 2009, 05:50

postodave wrote
I just wonder in what sense 0 can be said not to exist and 1 to exist. Whether class theory is right or not I'm sure there is a category error in there somehwere.


Well both of them are numbers, both are names for quantities, so if you choose that as your system, then they both exist as elements within that system. The name exists, the concept, the signifier.

But 0 is by definition an absence, a lack, an emptiness--a name for something which does not exist. There is some difference between 0 and all the other numbers.
So you can choose a way of looking at things by which you say 0 exists.

But my larger point is that referring to something which is predictable but not tangible can make a system for describing tangible things more powerful. 1 is are presence, 0 is an absence. But mathematics becomes more valid when it allows reference to an absence, and not merely presences.
"I don't care if it is wrong," said one of the moles. "I'd do it again."
"Hush, hush" said the other animals.
User avatar
Coyote Goodfellow
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 164
Joined: Sep 2006
Location: Foshan, China

Re: How can we know there is a God?

Postby postodave » 14 Feb 2009, 12:43

There have been religious systems predicated on the absence of God at least as we normally understand that word. The Sea of Faith school in the Anglican Church would be one example, the secular theology of Harvey Cox might be another. Apparently just before he died Paul Tillich had a meeting with Cox. Cox suggested to Tillich that what he had always experienced as the presence of God was really the absence of God. Now people had been suggesting for years that Tillich's brand of theism was really a form of atheism but this time the argument seems to have struck home and Tillich was alarmed. His wife says this shock contributed to his dying shortly afterwards. Personally I take Tillich's point here that a theology without God, what Cupitt calls non-theistic Christianity is bit of dead end.

Anyway I can see that zero is intangible but then so are all the other numbers. I can see 1 of something but I can never just see one.
So I drew my sword and got ready
But the lamb ran away with the crown
postodave
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 816
Joined: Oct 2004

Re: How can we know there is a God?

Postby AllanS » 14 Feb 2009, 22:21

I know things like pleasure and pain, though I certainly can't define them. I couldn't communicate this knowledge to an alien who has had no experience of such things. I can only say "Pain is nasty", or "Pain hurts." ie. Pain is painful. I can tell you that I feel pain when various nerves are stimulated and various chemicals slosh about in the brain, but unless you also have had a direct experience of pain, all such talk would be meaningless. The nervous impulses, the chemicals, are not the experience.

In chemistry, we have elements that aren't made of simpler atoms. Perhaps we also have elemental experiences that can't be broken into simpler experiences.

I think it's the same with God. Faith is a gift. Unless God opens our eyes, we will never see. To the blind, all God-talk will be meaningless. The most sane prayer of all is this: God, if you exist, if you are good, open my blind eyes. Believers need to pray this prayer as earnestly as anyone. What makes me so sure my God is not a mere idol, a human construct? (Pretty likely, I reckon.) It reminds me of Moses. The thing he most desired was to see the face of God... not some proof of God, but a direct experience.
“And turn their grief into song?" he replied. "That would be a gracious act and a good beginning."

Quid and Harmony: a fund-raising project for the Fistula Hospital, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. www.smithysbook.com
User avatar
AllanS
 
Posts: 1093
Joined: Jul 2004
Location: Hobart Tasmania

Re: How can we know there is a God?

Postby Coyote Goodfellow » 15 Feb 2009, 04:39

Postodave wrote
Anyway I can see that zero is intangible but then so are all the other numbers. I can see 1 of something but I can never just see one.

Right, numbers are all Names for things, and therefore intangible. But Zero is a Name for absence.

I haven't read enough of Tillich or Cox to know their perspectives--but it's interesting that reading the same theology one could see it as being about presence and the other as being about absence. That strikes me as the type of disagreement people always come to, and I think that probably shows how difficult it is for people to agree on naming and categories.

So maybe we can't get any further than recreating the difference of opinion between Tillich and Cox--but here's my attempt
There used to be mathematical systems without zero. But most people would agree that adding a zero makes a mathematical system more powerful--and better able to make calculations about 3 apples, and 100 foot tall building and 33 year old men.

AllanS's point about the communicability of experience is valid too. I don't know that any of us could communicate our experience of God in a way that a convinced atheist wouldn't sneer at. I don't think there is any proof which will pass the tests of some one rigorously inclined to doubt (like that Scottish guy in That Hideous Strength).

I personally have not seen the face of God. But my faith is based more on the validity of other parts the system where I do have experience. A mathematical system which includes a zero, is more powerful than one which doesn't. Zero does exist in many ways, but while you can see 2 apples, you cannot see 0 apples. Similarly, thinkers, such as Lewis, who allow reference to a God, create what for me seem to be more powerful and reliable descriptions of reality, than those who don't--even than theologians who try to diminish the importance of God. Of course this is also because most of Lewis' writing focuses on the things which are seen, 2 apples--the unseen is central to his system but it is not what he spends most of his time talking about. That is what I see as a connection between mathematics and theology--though it would be interesting to have some one like Stanley's perspective.
"I don't care if it is wrong," said one of the moles. "I'd do it again."
"Hush, hush" said the other animals.
User avatar
Coyote Goodfellow
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 164
Joined: Sep 2006
Location: Foshan, China

Next

Return to Religion, Science, and Philosophy

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered members and 1 guest