Saturday, October 10, 2009

Within You or Without You?

I have begun to search for the way to best formulate a certain assumption that seems to run through much of the theist/atheist debate. (For convenience, let us construe "atheism" widely here. Atheists are those who believe theists irrational.) I've landed on a name. I call it "The Teapot Model". Bertrand Russell argued that the God-hypothesis was much like the hypothesis that a teapot orbits the sun. It is possibly true, he said. But he insisted that, though possibly true, it could not be known true, for no evidence could be given in its favor. Thus, he concluded, the God-hypothesis was deeply irrational.

One might respond to Russell in many ways. One might say that we do have good evidence of God's existence. One might say that God, if real, is so radically unlike a teapot that to assume we must come to know them in the same way is deeply mistaken. I have some sympathy for both responses. (Of the two, the second seems closer to the heart of the matter.) But to me they've always seemed to fall short of the mark.

The issue is this: the God-hypothesis would have us assume that God is an object that stands outside us and whose existence can be known only by inference from what is clear either to sense or to intellect. I reject this assumption.

I am not alone in this. Much Christian theology rejects it. God, we are told, is He in whom we have our being. We are with Him, but not as two who stand side by side. We are through Him, and Him through us. Thus we are not ours alone. God is in us, and at every moment He sustains us. Every iota of what is good in us - and all that truly is is good - is Him. When conscience speaks, it is the voice of God. When we love, the love we share is God.

God is not over and above. (Perhaps we should say that God is not over and above only, for though in us He is no exhausted by his presence in us. We are finite, He infinite.) Rather He is within, and thus is to be found within.

Thus God is not to be discovered as the teapot would be discovered if in fact it were there. The believers relation to God is not that of knower to an external object known. This is why I find atheism a bit ridiculous. I've had a number of moments in my life where the presence of God within me has become quite clear. Even now as I sit with the noise of traffic around me, cold and alone, and still feel that presence. It is a hint, a whisper. It is as motion caught in the corner of the eye. Attention is mostly elsewhere, but a fraction is upon it, and I know that He is there.

When someone tells me there is no God, it seems to as if I have been told that there is no sun or moon. Perhaps I do not see them now, or see them only faintly. But I know they are there.

Perhaps it would be better to say that it seems to me as if I have been told that I have never felt love, or regret. Of course I have, I would reply. I feel them now. They are here before me, with me. I cannot doubt them. S0 too I cannot doubt that God exists. He is here with me now.

So I say to the atheist: God is within you (and without you too in all creation). Do you feel the tug of conscience? That is God. Do you love someone? That is God.

Do not ask me then to marshal evidence in favor of God as He were some variety of exotic particle that could be made to show itself were conditions just so. Do no demand miracles. Do not demand proofs. Search yourself. There is within you a power upon which you depend, a power upon which all depend. Do not close your eyes to it.


Hesiodos said...

What if one's experience of God is that he has become hidden? Like Mother Theresa's private revelations to her confessor that she had not felt God's presence for decades, or of St. John of the Cross and his description of the dark night of the soul (although admittedly this led to the intense union of the soul with God, according to St. John).

This has been my personal experience. God seemed present for several decades, then was gone. It became evident to me that I had been practicing self deception. Indeed, how could one argue that is not so, as either I was deceiving myself then or are doing so now. I ended up looking outside myself for verification, and found little reason to assume a benevolent, omnipotent omnipresent and eternal God and Father. Instead the question of Epicurus seemed to be an answer for me: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?”

The naturalist as well seems to provide mechanistic explanations of phenomena in nature and in myself which seem to remove the need for extra natural entities.

So I cannot at this time agree with the argument to look within for the answer. Within lies an uncertain witness and the unresolved tangles of personal psychology which look like realities to me but fade when the sun rises like mist.

Hesiodos said...

Sorry for the clunky grammar- long day at work yesterday and short night of sleep following.

Franklin Mason said...

You of course raise the problem of evil. I would answer that God is of course able to prevent evil; and He wishes (as He must) that there be no evil. But this does not imply that He will act to prevent all evil. For it might be true that there is some great good that can be achieved only if evil is permitted. (I would say that this great good is soul maturation, but other theists need not agree with me on this. They only need say that some great good, whatever in fact it is, can be achieved only if evil is permitted for a time.)

Second point: perhaps we should discuss what precisely is meant by "religious experience". I don't mean by this just an emotion, or an emotional color to other experiences. It has cognitive dimensions, and moral too. I hold that whenever I feel moral obligation, or remorse, this is a way in which God is present. So too when I look out on the world and see that it depends upon God's power at every moment of its existence, this too is an experience of God.

Last point: I don't see how a world in which only natural, mechantistic causes act can be explanatorily complete. For all such causes would seem to me to be contingent in character; and thus they cannot explain why they themselves exist or continue to act as they do.

Hesiodos said...

It would seem that all we observe have contingent causes. Besides God as the Prime Mover I have seen secular explanations which seem to try to address the question you raise. One does so by trying to change the terms in order to say that God is such and such an entity, why couldn't the Universe itself be such and such an entity. I have also read of how the universe could arise spontaneously out of quantum forces and dissipate into timeless oblivion again, and so not really need a prime mover. The weak anthropic principle is brought out to explain the seemingly unlikely combination of things necessary to have a Universe like the one we observe- the principle being that the Universe has to be this way in order to have observers who can comment on it in the first place, so of course this is the sort of universe we would see.

Frankly, I also don't find this entirely satisfactory. Aristotle has a lot more going for him than moderns seem willing to credit him as a rule. But not having all the answers should not be a license to say "God did it" as if that answered the question. I really don't think it does.

Your other comments about religious experience reinforce my impression that you are positing a kind of personal suppositional approach to understanding God. In order to be and think there must be a God, I exist and think, therefore there is a God. Do I have that right? I still think this approach can be addressed empirically.

Thanks for taking the time to Blog on your thoughts.


Franklin Mason said...

You seem to suggest that the Universe can play the explanatory role that the theist wihses to reserve for God. I doubt that this is possible. The Universe and the laws that operate within it seem to be contingent. They might have been otherwise. They might not have been at all.

But if this is so, we cannot suppose that they can explain why there is a universe or why it is as it is.

Now, I do understand the complaint that God cannot play this role either. For example Hume argues that no entity can exist necesarily, and it would seem that if there is to be an explanation of contingency, that explanation must lie in necessity. I for one find no absurdity in the idea of a necessary being; and I would say that by definition God is that being. God is the name we give to that being which, in virtue of its necessity, is able to explain the existence of that which is contingent.

Your comment about the personal suppositional approach seems on target. I hadn't quite put it that way to myself, but it does seem apt.