Humility | How to Hold Knowledge

Sorry? Nothing has intrinsic meaning, i.e. of itself, period. And my life is full of meaning. Saw the seven hundred million year old man again today. During our church leadership day. All most meaningful.

I speak for truth Mervyn.

Because somebody has to.

Perceptions of ‘the truth’ are frequently impaired, even by ‘rationality’.

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Oh I think there can be much meaning that slips by me and by extension any one individual as well. But I don’t take my own experience as the authoritative measure of what is meaningful. There can be a poem or painting or a play that just doesn’t ignite anything in me and yet they may have meaning for others. Furthermore there can be meaning which I sense in something but can’t put my finger on. Meaning can be directly apprehended before you understand the basis or are in any position to defend, explain or elaborate on.

People have two natures. Only one of them is primarily rational. In fact the other is more essential for human flourishing even though you can never reduce it to something simple enough to argue for successfully to anyone no matter their interest or receptivity. Religious meaning is in that boat. It isn’t simple enough to model with an equation or test in a lab or make a rational argument for. Now I’m not a one tradition sort of guy and I find attempts to ‘prove’ the unique adequacy of any one tradition tedious. But I don’t conclude from that they have no intrinsic meaning or value to those who say they find meaning there. But I know what it’s like to find oneself buoyed by non rational truths which resist simple explanation. Many philosophic and literary truths are in the same boat. You can only recognize such truths with sufficient familiarity with the necessary traditions and practices. Does that mean one must cultivate familiarity with all such things in order to determine which truths are most important? Of course not. Why assume there is any single gradient by which all human truths can be measured? The thing is we ourselves are the measure of what has meaning for us but it would be silly to insist that only what can be measured and verified by objective standards can even be considered. I know you have aesthetic tastes and interests so must already know this. Just because YEC presents itself as bad science doesn’t mean that anything concerned with theology or the sacred must be equally tainted. That would be a category error.

I was reading something related in Iain McGilchrist’s newest book, The Matter With Things, which I share here not because I think his name should carry special authority. Rather I just find his explanations more eloquent and I find this part at least rings true in my experience.

No-one expects me to say how I know that my understanding of Hamlet is more or less true, either. As a critic of Hamlet I state what I see: people either ‘click’ with what I say – get an insight from it – or don’t. They either feel that I (and now they) know more about Hamlet, or they don’t. This is not to give a single crumb of comfort to the ‘my view is as good as yours’ types. There are, very clearly, better and worse interpretations.

I believe philosophy is like that. With the best will in the world, on both sides, I can’t make you see what I experience as the truth. I can never convince you of a point of view unless you already, at some level, get it. As Friedrich Waismann put it,

We cannot constrain anyone who is unwilling to follow the new direction of a question; we can only extend the field of vision of the asker, loosen his prejudices, guide his gaze in a new direction: but all this can be achieved only with his consent.

The truth is not arrived at ultimately by argument alone, though discussion plays a valuable role along the way in dispelling misconceptions … : in the end every individual must choose what carries conviction, commands allegiance. The experience of understanding involves a shift from what seems initially chaotic or formless, to a coherent stable form or picture, a Gestalt – or from an existing Gestalt to a new and better one, that seems richer than the one it replaces.

Edited to draw @Kendel over to see I have begun to learn to share highlights from my Kindle and might be able to pass that on if you’re interested.

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God does not evolve and the truth about him does not change by anyone’s consent, nor can it be constrained by anyone’s dissent. It can be learned, but only with the humility of a little child wanting to learn, not childish petulance.

All theology that blames is evil. Any political economy that doesn’t comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable is evil. If any philosopher, dramatist, artist, writer, preacher can show me their part in social justice, I will follow them. Nothing else out there has any meaning. Apart from the courage of the Ukrainian people of course. The work of carers. Social workers. Aid workers. Workers. Parents. Teachers.

Rationality does not blame or try and guilt trip people for being born into whatever degree of privilege they may have.

A ziggurat built of progressively new and improved Gestalten will still not reach God and its builders will still be confounded.

I watched less than two minutes of this, from 1:12:23, ‘The God question’, to 1:14:14 – that was enough:

God is not mechanistic, he’s Personal, and he cannot be found by the ponderings of an unbelieving polymath. There is evidence of his one of his M.O.s, among other things.

Good for you for even looking at that much. I guess you disagree with him about God being relational in nature or, unlike him, you prefer a concept of an engineering God.

Which part don’t you understand? God is not built from anything, let alone our imaginations and fantasies. Are you familiar with the term aseity (McGilchrist apparently is not, or has rejected it out of hand).

But the understanding and conception of God, which people have, is built from all kinds of things including imagination and fantasy. That is what MarkD has always concerned Himself with in his efforts as an atheist to understand the belief people have in God. And it looks to me like Iain McGilchrist is speaking to much the same thing as a psychiatrist, philosopher, and scholar – trying to understand how people think and believe – certainly not about what Christians believe.

It is possible for a believer to participate in that dialogue just as it is possible for a believer to study the biological theory of evolution. Being a Christian doesn’t mean one can never leave the church building to be a part of the scientific study of things. And there is no reason to take this as an attack on faith and religion any more than evolution must be seen as such an attack. On the contrary, it is more likely to dispel the rhetoric of some atheists that religion is pathological.

This doesn’t mean there is no cause to criticize what Iain McGilchrist has to say. But I can understand markD’s difficulty in understanding how what you have said even connects to what Iain says in the video. Where does Iain say that God is mechanical? Frankly, my impression is that you simply do not approve of the inquiry and discussion, much in the same way creationists appear to not approve of a scientific inquiry into the origin of the species. This is not to say that I have no skepticism about whether such an inquiry can really explain all religious experience. But has such a claim even been made?


Very well said. I agree that Iain does not make Christianity’s case but he does a lot to make the case for honoring spiritual traditions that have withstood the rest of time as having demonstrated their adequacy to meet essential human needs. I guess Dale is uninterested in any tide that lifts the Christian boat unless it only lifts that boat. But Iain is an agnostic and not motivated to put his finger on the scale to please any particular group.

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God himself does not change. Christians believe that our knowledge and understanding of God is objective knowledge that he has revealed to us through the Bible, not that we always get it right.

That certainly is true of the world, the nonchristian world, that is. Panentheism or any other materialistic ‘deductions’ or dreamings certainly fit that case, not to mention other nonchristian beliefs that do not a priori dismiss the existence of the supernatural.

It is demonstrably true of the “Christian world” as well, since Christian ideas of God vary a great deal. The Bible is used by non-Christian groups for a range of ideas of God which are even more varied.

No doubt many Christians imagine they have the one true understanding of God. LOL That among other things is coming from their imagination.

What about my understanding of God??? Well of course I think I am right – otherwise I wouldn’t believe so. But I wouldn’t bet my salvation on it. And since Jesus said that is exactly what we are doing when we judge others, that is something I am careful to avoid – a line which I try not to cross with my convictions. Thus the blind men with an elephant metaphor is apt, and I know I am as much a blind guide as everyone else.

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You seem to be saying that God and truth about him is unknowable, and what we think about him is strictly subjective.

I do not believe that we cannot have knowledge of God. But, I believe in an infinite God. So any knowledge we have of Him is 0% of the whole. Getting to know God requires an eternity. The only knowledge I consider objective is a consequence of the space-time mathematical laws of nature – by which that knowledge can be demonstrated. So the only knowledge we have of God is subjective (you cannot put God under a microscope) and relative to ourselves (the portion of an infinite God that finite beings are capable of understanding). It doesn’t mean that knowledge is incorrect but only that we can have no reasonable expectation that other people should agree.

On the other hand, there is one respect in which God is more knowable than people are. God is good. His love is pure. And He is consistent. There is no conflict within regarding His goodness and love. And in this way God is more knowable than we are. On the other hand, His knowledge of reality is vastly superior to our own and His love and goodness will be according to that superior understanding of reality. This can make His love and goodness hard for us to see – like a child screaming that his parents hate him because they do not give him what he wants.

On what basis do you believe that? I understand Muslims to believe he can be deceptive.

The basis for this is highly subjective and very much has to do with my own choices about what kind of person I choose to be and what kind of life I choose to live. I simply do not find any other God to be worth believing in. Atheism is a viable option for me.

But I do think this is consistent with what I read in the Bible.

The Bible seems to agree with this. His overriding concern is for our well being. And like most parents if He judges a lie to serve our best interests then I think it is possible – especially since it seems quite likely to me that the whole and exact truth may well be beyond our capability to understand anyway.

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Again, that pretty much sounds like you are saying that God is not objectively knowable?

Mystery and mysterious apply, as do words in the Bible translated as ‘inscrutable’ with reference to one attribute of God or another. (That does not contradict his knowability in other respects.)