Sunday, January 31, 2010

Can we even know about God?

There is one objection that threatens to destroy this blog before it even gets off the ground. I have stated my purpose as being "the pursuit of knowledge, particularly of the spiritual variety, and...learning what it means to love God with one's mind." However, I am not ignorant of the fact that there are those (including some reading this post) who would deny that knowledge of God is even possible. If they are right, then my efforts here--and indeed the efforts of Christians in general--are essentially futile. As such, it is only fitting that I devote my first (real) post to this objection.

There are several reasons that I believe that knowledge of God is possible. The first is by experience. As you will see in the "Featured Video" on this page, belief in God can be accurately compared to belief in other minds. Aside from the three solipsists in the world (those who believe that only they exist), most of us think without any particularly compelling argument that we are not alone in the world and that those beings that we communicate with daily are in fact real. For those of us who have experienced God, this is reason enough for belief and, I believe, even knowledge. After all, if you begin telling me about your friend George, I do not interrupt and demand that you provide some evidence to me that George really exists before you continue. However, I realize that this experience-based belief, while sufficient for the individual, is not enough for the skeptic. But don't fret; this isn't the only basis for knowledge of God.

The second way we can have knowledge of God is by what John Calvin called the sensus divinitatis. This is basically the innate perception of God had by all humans by virtue of being human. Christians hold that humanity was created 'in the image of God' and with the express purpose of being in relationship with Him. As such, there is a universal aspect to humanity--call it an existential longing, a 'God-shaped void,' whatever--which recognizes the need for something more than self, something transcendent.

Maybe you are saying, "But I don't have this 'divine sense.' What about me?" Well, we also believe that this sense can be suppressed. There are many ways to do this, but they essentially all boil down to a rejection of God's will in favor of your own. Still not convinced? That's alright; there are several other avenues to knowledge of God. But they'll have to wait until next time...


  1. I like where this (perhaps your first series?) is going! I'm looking forward to seeing how you transition between the knowledge that there is a God and that one can have at least some understanding of God.

  2. To go along with the "sensus divinitatis" way of knowing God, C.S. Lewis says it like this:

    "If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world."

    He doesn't talk specifically about knowing God, but about being created to live in Heaven... meaning with God, in a relationship with Him forever.

  3. If you truly want pursuit of knowledge, you would read non-fiction, and truly open your mind. You can know. It takes logic, reason, time, and careful skeptical studying.

  4. Cw1925: Agreed. But I don't really see the relevance of your comment to one's personal experience of the divine. Mind explaining?

  5. Kyle, Thanx again for inviting me to participate. Im hoping I can give you and your other followers an idea why non-beleivers arent persuaded by apologetics, and not just of the christian variety. I dont have any agenda to convert anyone to non-belief, I could care less what someone believes and it's their business. It is my agenda to promote the New Enlightenment: that reason and tolerance developed from scientific and historical knowledge that all human beings (of any faith or culture) can share will continue to improve our lot in place of supernaturalism, claims to revelation and religious dogma. Believe what you wanna believe, just keep it out of the public sphere. I'd like all religionists (Catholic, Protestant Christian, Mormon, Muslim, Scientologist, Buddhist, Hindu, etc.)to be more like the Amish. Feel free to avoid what you dont like (abortion, gays,stem cell research, empowered women, pornography, etc.) just leave the rest of us alone. If you dont like gays, dont hang around 'em or marry them in your church, dont use stem cell therapies when we come up with them down the road, follow St. Paul's admonitions and restrict womens behavior to whatever degree you prefer...but leave the rest of us alone. We dont want sharia law, nor have to adopt some Christian sects' morals (restrictions on birth control, porn, restrictions on women's behavior). The Amish may not like electricity (much) or internal combustion engines, but they dont try to legislate those things away from the rest of us. We'd like ALL religions to keep their practices to themselves. Treat women, gays, all other religions and non-believers equally in the public sphere. I know this goes the against the grain of most religons, not just evangelicals who have a duty to spread the "good news", but Catholics and their anti-abortion, anti-birth control promotion, Mormon and Jehovah Witness proselytizing, Islamic desire for worldwide sharia law and so forth. Separation of church and state keeps us all free to practice whatever religion you want (or not) and keeps any sect from getting the upper hand and persecuting the others.
    enuf said on that, I dont have any delusions or desires to change your faith, I hope to help you understand why so many humans dont by into religious ideas, and for this blog mainly the Christian apologetics you'll be posting.

  6. "Can we even know about God" comments: Plantinga's video. Wow. He opens with how it "seems" to him to be true that their must be a god when he sees trees or a mountaintop, really? this from a philosopher?
    I dont doubt his subjective experience, but it is useless for persuasion. Some people think they've seen ghosts or Elvis and their subjective experiences are incredibly porweful and as real to them as Plantinga's, but that doesnt make them true. There's no external validity to that. But you knew that, that's what apologetics is all about. You can line up devout Isalmic Imams and they'll tell you how it seems to them that not just some Creator deity must totally for real, but their very prcise vision of Allah, who in no way resembles the christian god or any other.."seeming" aint enuf Kyle, as you pointed out so well in a later blog.
    Subjective experience is not compelling and anyone should interrupt you and ask for evidence when you assume your felling of god is just like another mind. Someone wont interrupt you when you speak of George because they've experienced that George or other Georges or other people, entities similar to George. There's at least 4.5 billion other people on this planet who have not met your god or anything, anyone like him, so it's not like discussing a known to exist entity. That argument doesnt work, not k just for non-n believers but other believers as well.

  7. "sensus divinitatus" Calvin made it up. Gave it a cool Latin neurological type name, but it doesnt exist. Id run into Plantingas use of it some years ago. I was informed I was cognitively deficient in that mine wasnt working properly as an explanantion for my lack of faith. Sounds as pretentious and arrogant as I whenI first heard it Sounds like Lane Craig's approach to my brain blocking the holy spirit. This one is really unconvincing. We may through contiued study of humans find that the "transcendental or existential longing" is universal to all humans. But that would not link us up to Calvin's or Plantinga's conception of the Christian god. As you've pointed out it takes revelation for that, a whole 'nother discussion. And remember Calvin didnt do any experiments or sytematic observations to come up with his construct, he just dreamed it up one day and said "yup it's gotta be true", As with all religious thinking all over the globe, you can make up whatever you want...and this from a guy who had his rivals beheaded.

  8. Bill: Thanks a ton for your comments man. I'm so glad that this blog seems to be gaining interest, especially from non-believers like yourself.

    No offense here, but there isn't a whole lot in your 3 comments that is relevant and that I haven't already somehow responded to within the posts. Several times, you said something like, "As you pointed out later..." or "You already know...," etc. So for efficiency, I'm just gonna ignore those points. If you think that I failed to mention something that needs more attention, feel free to point it out. On to the salient points then.

    It seems you may have misunderstood Plantinga's 'other minds' argument. It is not intended to be in any way persuasive or offensive. Perhaps I should have been more clear about this. I even thought of blogging about the various purposes of apologetics (offense, defense, etc) first. Maybe I'll do this soon. All Plantinga and I and many other Christian theists are saying is that in an explanatory sense, our experience of God is much like one's experience of other minds. Of course we do not expect this to convince anyone to change their mind about God; it is merely an attempt to relate our experience of God to those who do not have one, and also to respond to criticisms that this experience is somehow intrinsically unreasonable. If it is in fact unreasonable, then it will be so for reasons other than that it is often assumed accurate without 'evidence,' for indeed we all believe in the consciousness of other people in the same way. That is really all this argument, if you want to call it that, is intended to show, and I think (along with many philosophers) that it does so quite well. When understood correctly, it becomes clear that how many people have this experience is really quite irrelevant.

    Calvin's idea is simply a handy way of explaining from a Christian perspective what nearly every human in history has known in an immediate way. I am not a Calvinist and so have no interest in defending him any further than this. You say,

    "We may through contiued study of humans find that the "transcendental or existential longing" is universal to all humans. But that would not link us up to Calvin's or Plantinga's conception of the Christian god."

    Of course not. But it wouldn't be somehow necessarily contradictory with it either. We each have our presuppositions and we will inevitably continue to interpret whatever evidence is found in light of those presuppositions. The question is, which set of presuppositions makes the most sense of the most data. This will almost definitely be the subject of a future post, though. (I feel like I say that a lot, but this blog is still in its infancy, after all.)

    You also say, "As with all religious thinking all over the globe, you can make up whatever you want..."

    Let's be nice now. You know I don't believe or practice this, nor do I charge the atheist with doing it (unless of course it's clear that she has). No need for straw men; there's plenty to argue about without them.