Knowledge of God through revelation and science

@OrCurrentResident: It is up to mankind to figure out what they mean and there is considerable disagreement. In fact most believers do not read their texts in the original language, rather they follow someone’s interpretation as a translation. And finally, isn’t the natural world itself a revelation of its creator? I don’t see how it’s possible to really escape the fallible limits of human knowledge

I have noticed that scientific knowledge is contrasted with what we may speak of God and this may be an interesting topic for discussion. The usual response has been that science deals with objects and requires theory and experimentation and can be self-corrective. Knowledge of God, however, is revealed, and subjective that may appear as a personal opinion. To know about God requires that what is known is comprehended and is the context of a human’s awareness. Knowledge cannot be considered such, if a human being cannot be aware in some manner of what is being known. The usual meaning of ‘God’ is a being with attributes such as, for example, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise, eternal, unlimited by space and time, and so on. Yet it is not possible to point to anything that a human being may know or identify that would fit these attributes. One may point to the universe as infinite in some way, and be satisfied that such an attribute is known, without necessarily having direct knowledge of God. Meaning for a human being, however, requires that it be within and part of the person, otherwise knowledge can only be of an object - such knowledge derives its meaning from sense responses to that object. If a human being cannot obtain meaning within self, then speculation and scepticism result. Meaning, however, may be attributed to an idea that would be intelligently constructed as an idea of god. This would be a synthesis of an idea and the meaning is part of that idea.

The argument may be stated another way. A human being can say ‘God’ and attribute additional words to the term, to be satisfied that the word has been used correctly in that language. Sensibly it is not possible to point to an object called god and then prove that the object is absolute, all-powerful, ever-present, and so on. It is sensible to note the practice of using the word god in our culture and consider ‘a meaning’ as widely accepted.

When considering revelation, even if it is agreed that we avoid considering God as an object for empirical investigation, we cannot reason that revelation may be within a range of natural phenomena accessible to the human senses. We have ruled out objective-based activities such as found in the natural sciences. Revelation cannot be defined in a way that philosophy or science may argue and consider within the ideas of reason. We have testimony from those who have stated that God has revealed Himself to them, and this has been made available to us and recorded as scripture. This revelation to Christians is the forgiveness of sins and salvation through faith in Christ.

The central tenant is that God is the Good, and He enables us to strive to live according to His Goodness. Freedom is the framework for the possibilities of goodness to reason on an individual level (thus singular and multiple possibilities) and on the social level (thus general possibilities). Revelation of God is not coerced, is founded within the goodness of life from God and is comprehended within such goodness. Revelation is presented to human beings within such goodness and revealed things become meaningful. Furthermore, because revelation is comprehended as goodness, it can be argued that this leads to an increase in reasonableness. Revelation is in harmony with reason and removes the antimony in reason and may add to the reasoning aspects of a human being. The possibilities regarding revelation arise from the response of reason, in that each person may respond according to his reason and heart, and because revelation can be comprehended within the framework of life and death, thus within good and bad. Our reasoning shows that God is synonymous with good and life.

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The major problem that is almost never dealt with, discussed or addressed is a common definition of God. Unlike in other disciplines when describing something, there is not a commonly accepted detailed definition for God. This is clear from the many versions of religion within religions. Christianity alone has thousands of variations and these include who God is. This makes it impossible to discuss God in any type of meaningful way (although people do it casually every day from philosophers to the person on the street!)

The related point to the above is that it is actually impossible to to have a clear workable definition of God. This is a subtle but true point. In classical theological discussions in trying to create definitions of God, it is said that God has characteristics such as being omnipotent, omnicient, … This means that in order to determine if something is God we have to determine if the being in question knows everything etc. If not, they don’t fit the definition of God and are therefore not God. But how would we do this? A being could know a great deal, say a googleplex of information and still not be God. Or a googleplex raised to a googleplex. In fact, a being could know more than the conceivable ability to generate knowledge in the entire universe no matter how quickly it could be done by humans. This being could still be finite (not know things) and therefore, still not be God.

The above is the case because the amount of knowledge is potentially infinite and there is no way to determine if something knows an infinite amount of information and therefore no way to determine if a being was God. There is no way to get around this problem because if a being told you it was God, it might not be - either because it was lying, mistaken or actually was but you would have no way to verify and validate. This problem makes it impossible to either affirm or deny the existence of God definitely.

The above problem also has practical implications. Since we have no general detailed definition of God, we can’t be sure that any of the attestations in the Bible (or claimed anywhere else!) are actually God or a result of God. We simply don’t have enough information (and never will!). We can take it by faith, but faith can’t be construed as any type of rational or empirical argument that something was God or caused by God. On both of these (rational and empirical) we are neither warranted or justified in claiming such and such was God or caused as a result of God. Given that only one thing could have been God that caused something, and everything else could also have caused the same something (including what we don’t know we don’t know), it is very unlikely that God caused anything from a pure probability point of view (the probability is approaching zero).

Given the middle knowledge problem of evil, it would also seem that a traditional Christian general definition of God is vanishingly small (because of the complete incompatibility of the omnibenevolence/omniscience/omnipotence attributes of God with the middle knowledge problem of evil) although, as I say above, it is impossible to rule out any general talk of the existence of God. I will leave this discussion of the middle knowledge problem of evil for another day.

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We have the proposition of God as revealed in and by, through Christ. Only. As documented by the apostolic Church. starting with the seven consensual letters of Paul. We then have the sole magisterium of science as the cave wall on which to project that and see what can be known of God. Not much, not very much at all, of the stories the NT writers made up about God, work as knowledge of God.

Discussions of God are based on what the Church has accepted as scripture - this differentiates the way we know, from scientific insights. Stated within the context of your discussion, we would need a theory of everything from science before we can say we have knowledge of nature and the universe.

My approach has been to consider various notions as reasonable, and our subjective responses to matters of faith, the good, our conscience (what we value). We would also consider how reasonable practices may be based on our understanding of scripture (love your neighbor and God).

I suggest there are problems with how we may consider common definitions in science - for example, while I have used a great deal of maths and models dealing with molecular structures, I nevertheless struggle with having a detailed understanding of terms such as energy, a single molecule located where (even though we model such entities every day).

Which church? Is it the RC, a particular Protestant or maybe Orthodox? Or how about an even more ancient version than even the RC, the Coptic?!

Also, which version (or translation or copy) of Scripture? Understanding of Scripture has always been changing throughout the entire history of Christianity within all traditions. Also, it is problematic to leave discussions of God in the hands of fallible human beings unless we give people (such as those at the Councils) some type of superhuman understanding (how would these people not basically have to be godlike to know such things - especially with how little they knew back then on textual criticism, historical analysis, modern science etc. ?). All of this is still based on knowledge (even if revelation is claimed). So we are back to the problem I originally outlined. As I said earlier, if you say it is based somehow on faith, you automatically disqualify any form of reason and/or empirical foundation. Slight of hand equating of faith with reason also don’t work. Although religious groups including RCs are notorious for trying to sneak these types of things in.

Your statement of all or nothing knowledge about the universe is misplaced. Within a Christian way of thinking or worldview this would be correct - I would agree with you on this. However, the modern view in science is not the traditional Christian WV best represented by the RC tradition (at least in my opinion). Modern science is based on the model concept of science. It is based on a rational empirical structure that best fits our prevailing knowledge at a given time. So by nature, it expects that it is incomplete and will be updated and changed on a continuous basis (both in terms of its details (details of current reigning major ideas) and in terms of its major ideas or paradigm changes) It does not claim truth about anything as it did when it was under the influence of Christian theology in the past.

I find that many very intelligent science types who are not well versed in philosophy and theology try to make this argument (or are well versed but from a strictly dogmatic Christian WV that insists that this is the only way to look at it because it is true, which ends up getting us into a circular argument). However, it is a strawman argument within a Christian WV and is basically irrelevant to the modern understanding of science. There is no need to bring theological concepts into an understanding of modern science to try to justify a logical, rational and empirical approach because without these there is no discussion regardless of whether theology is involved or not. So the modern understanding just leaves it out.

The problem with the idea of God is it posits too much. You can say almost anything or claim almost anything with the concept of God and not really ever be shown to be wrong because within a theological WV anything is possible (because with God anything is possible or at least almost anything is possible - Omnibenevolence, for example, prevents all things from being possible for God and causes major problems when theology tries to reconcile it with the problem of pain and evil).

I agree with almost all of what you say. This, however, has no bearing on coherent and consistent definitions of God in the real world. However, it still is impossible to conceive or develop a definition of God because within a theological WV we would have to be God to do so (which is what you were trying to say when you tried to draw a connection to science and knowing when viewed from a Christian WV). The knowing we have today is not the same type of knowing science had in the past when it was under the influence of Christian theology as I described above.

What I recommend to people, as difficult as it is when one has been indoctrinated their whole life (or a sustained period of time) in a particular religion, is to step outside their particular brand of religion and/or Christianity. Apply the same level of skepticism as you would to another group’s religion (honestly consider the best argument against your religion) and then honestly evaluate how good the arguments really are in favor of your religion. What you will find if you are honest is that the evidence is very sparse in favor of your religion and you are overly generous in granting the benefit of the doubt to dubious aspects of your religion (which you never are when evaluating another religion). When it comes to our own religion we display an unusual amount of confirmation bias. The more these ideas are attacked the more we cling to the bias.

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Which church? Is it the RC, a particular Protestant or maybe Orthodox? Or how about an even more ancient version than even the RC, the Coptic?!

Also, which version (or translation or copy) of Scripture? Understanding of Scripture has always been changing throughout the entire history of Christianity within all traditions. Also, it is problematic to leave discussions of God in the hands of fallible human beings unless we give people (such as those at the Councils) some type of superhuman understanding (how would these people not basically have to be godlike to know such things - especially with how little they knew back then on textual criticism, historical analysis, modern science etc. ?). All of this is still based on knowledge (even if revelation is claimed). So we are back to the problem I originally outlined. As I said earlier, if you say it is based somehow on faith, you automatically disqualify any form of reason and/or empirical foundation. Slight of hand equating of faith with reason also don’t work. Although religious groups including RCs are notorious for trying to sneak these types of things in.

Your statement of all or nothing knowledge about the universe is misplaced. Within a Christian way of thinking or worldview this would be correct - I would agree with you on this. However, the modern view in science is not the traditional Christian WV best represented by the RC tradition (at least in my opinion). Modern science is based on the model concept of science. It is based on a rational empirical structure that best fits our prevailing knowledge at a given time. So by nature, it expects that it is incomplete and will be updated and changed on a continuous basis (both in terms of its details (details of current reigning major ideas) and in terms of its major ideas or paradigm changes) It does not claim truth about anything as it did when it was under the influence of Christian theology in the past.

I find that many very intelligent science types who are not well versed in philosophy and theology try to make this argument (or are well versed but from a strictly dogmatic Christian WV that insists that this is the only way to look at it because it is true, which ends up getting us into a circular argument). However, it is a strawman argument within a Christian WV and is basically irrelevant to the modern understanding of science. There is no need to bring theological concepts into an understanding of modern science to try to justify a logical, rational and empirical approach because without these there is no discussion regardless of whether theology is involved or not. So the modern understanding just leaves it out.

The problem with the idea of God is it posits too much. You can say almost anything or claim almost anything with the concept of God and not really ever be shown to be wrong because within a theological WV anything is possible (because with God anything is possible or at least almost anything is possible - Omnibenevolence, for example, prevents all things from being possible for God and causes major problems when theology tries to reconcile it with the problem of pain and evil).

I agree with almost all of what you say. This, however, has no bearing on coherent and consistent definitions of God in the real world. However, it still is impossible to conceive or develop a definition of God because within a theological WV we would have to be God to do so (which is what you were trying to say when you tried to draw a connection to science and knowing when viewed from a Christian WV). The knowing we have today is not the same type of knowing science had in the past when it was under the influence of Christian theology as I described above.

What I recommend to people, as difficult as it is when one has been indoctrinated their whole life (or a sustained period of time) in a particular religion, is to step outside their particular brand of religion and/or Christianity. Apply the same level of skepticism as you would to another group’s religion (honestly consider the best argument against your religion) and then honestly evaluate how good the arguments really are in favor of your religion. What you will find if you are honest is that the evidence is very sparse in favor of your religion and you are overly generous in granting the benefit of the doubt to dubious aspects of your religion (which you never are when evaluating another religion). When it comes to our own religion we display an unusual amount of confirmation bias. The more these ideas are attacked the more we cling to the bias.

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I really liked that paragraph.

Yes, scientists are interested in ideas that can make useful predictions about the natural world. i.e. models. There is no need to claim that the idea is the Truth, just that it’s useful. We routinely use Newton’s Equations rather than Einstein’s because they are simpler and give the right answers in many cases. When we measure a lawn for fertilizer, we use the Flat Earth Theory do LxW . No one does spherical geometry for a lawn.

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I was responding to the notion of a definition of God - if we use the same reasoning for science, we need to propose a theory that defines precisely nature and the universe and scientific insights.

Yes science and scientists understand the limitations and work within them.

Theologians understand human limitations regarding God and our responses to revelation (all of these are subjective and thus individual outlooks would differ).

I cannot understand this:

Since most of the advances in science in the past you refer to have been the result of Christian scientists, I cannot agree with your implication.

If I understand your argument, you seem to pit science against religion, and then contend that when Christians discuss the attributes of God, we fall back on “everything is possible for God” to get out of some difficulties you perceive.

I cannot agree with the broad thrust of your comment. Christians have debated and argued many theological concepts and still do. When I state that our beliefs are subjective, I mean that we must apply our intelligence and reasoning capabilities to obtain a clear understanding, and this requires enquiry, doubt, criticism, experience, and a willingness to seek out and correct error, as well as accepting what we conclude to be true. This is hardly indoctrination.

As to our setting, we are all born within communities and our particular culture/context. I cannot see (if I understand you) why this should be a problem.

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Again I would say - “the concern of Science today is not about truth, as capital “T” truth as it was in the past when the Christian WV dominated the philosophy of Science”. Also, it is not just that scientists understand the limitations and work within them. The whole scientific enterprise is not really predicated anymore on whether such and such is true but rather how well of an explanatory fit exists between a particular scientific model and the empirical data that comes from experiment. I don’t deny that lots of scientists talk this way and may even think this way to a degree because of the previous influence of Christian theology on the philosophy of science. However, today the emphasis is on better models - are they more comprehensive, do they make better predictions, do they explain an ever increasing set of empirical evidence, do they explain phenomena that was not previously explained, do the expanded models makes unexpected predictions that turn out to be true, do the models point towards new major ideas (paradigms) etc. Capital “T” type truth is something Platonic and unchanging (which influenced the development of Christian theology in the early formative era of Christianity), the model concept of today’s science in contrast is something that is ever changing and hopefully evolving into something more comprehensive/coherent/consistent etc.

Many of the advances in the past were by Christian scientists (not of the religious flavor :slight_smile: !) because most people were Christians. Since at least the beginning of the last century, many of the most fundamental advances in science have come from people who were either nominally religious or non-religious. I think of Einstein, other theoretical physicists etc. for example. Today, the majority of scientists in many fields are non-religious. Also, some studies have shown that non-religious scientists have a much higher rate of significant citations than their religious counterparts today (although I’m somewhat skeptical of this type of research because social science can be notorious for struggling with biases in the methodological framework as outlined originally by people like Rom Hare and others). I’m of the opinion that in every age there are brilliant people, whether Christian or otherwise, who do science. Because of their particular genetic and environment influencers, they are ideally suited to make the most significant contributions in their generation to the advancement of science.

Some people have tried to make the argument that because more recent culture was under the influence of a Christian WV, it made it fertile ground for the rise of modern science. Although there may be something to this, the Greeks also made great advances in their science and they were not Christian. Had the Greeks had slightly different views on mathematics (such as on irrational numbers) they may have gone almost as far as modern western civilization in terms of their development of science and technology. Many people credit the rediscovery of classical learning (Greek and Roman), ideas in mathematics from Islam and even possibly knowledge from Chinese science and learning (if you allow for the possibility that the Papacy may have acquired Chinese knowledge in the 15th century) probably influenced the rise of the modern more than anything else.

Again, all of this is a moot point. You are still missing the point of the problem of coming up with a workable definition of God that can be used to determine whether what we might be experiencing is God or God’s working in reality. None of the points you offer deal with this problem.

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Exactly and excellent points!

We don’t tend to use fractal geometry to model many things in science (although it probably would be more accurate to do it that way and often don’t use non-Euclidean geometries) because in most cases we do just fine (as you pointed out) using much simpler methods.

In many cases, not having to get into the complexity and headaches of using tensor calculus related to gravitation/physics is preferred and good enough. Again, as you say, Newton provides an excellent approximation for many ordinary cases and problems.

In the case of God, we don’t have this luxury. Theology forces us by its definition to deal with the most abstract and complex concepts imaginable. I don’t see that we can have it both ways - if God is beyond comprehension (I would more precisely state this as - “If the concept of God is beyond comprehension”) then how can we really define who God is and whether we know that such and such was done by God. I agree, that the “concept of God is beyond comprehension” and for me the implication is that the existence or non-existence of God is impossible to establish. (However, just to be clear, I’m not saying, as the Logical Positivists of the past, that this then necessarily makes the question meaningless).

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To your first point. My concern is not so much for what you say here. There are definitely problems in these points that have been pointed out by people in the past much more knowledgeable and well read than me (including within the greater Christian community).

Probably the simplest way to put it would be that it is impossible to establish the existence or non-existence of God. I agree with the theological observation that if there is a God, God is beyond human comprehension. If this is the case, then it would seem that there is no way to determine whether what any of us experience is God. For example,

Say you have a set of experiences in our life call them X1(X11, X12…X1n). Based on those limited experiences, you believe you have experienced God. However, you are only one person. Perhaps you are wrong. However, you might find a large bunch of other people X2, X3…Xm who have had similar experiences. The finite sum total of your experiences of which at least some will overlap is X1 to Xm (X11, X21, X31… Xm1, X12, X22, X32, … Xm2… etc.). Because of the perceived large finite shared experiences you may feel justified to believe you have experienced God. However, you may just have experienced a being (if it can somehow even be established that you have experienced some sort of being) that is very powerful but still finite. How, can you tell? You can’t, there is no way to know. To make matters worse, there are groups Y1…Ym, Z1 … Zm, … etc. that are also very large who have had similar large number of finite experiences that lead them to a different conclusion about who God is and beliefs you haven’t experienced even though it may be the same God from a different perspective (although this seems unlikely because their experiences don’t seem compatible with yours) or something else. However, they have the same problem as you, no matter how many experiences they have had and how well authenticated they think these experiences are, their experience of what they think is God are still finite. If it is finite, then there is no way to ever establish that their God, your God or anyone else’s God is really a God at all (even if it can somehow be established that there is a real being of some sort interacting with you and others). It may just be a very powerful finite being. How could you differentiate?

The above seems to be an insurmountable problem for a person that wants to believe in what has been traditionally called God. If there is no way to establish that something is God or the actions of a God, than how can one really meaningfully and seriously talk about God except in a purely subjective manner? Remember, if we try to appeal to faith than we are now outside of the empirical and the rational. If we are going to provide evidence in a logical way to establish existence than we are going to have to provide sufficient evidence. But for God this would have to be infinite and this is impossible for finite humans (this problem arises from the traditional way theology, especially Christian theology, defines God). Therefore, it is impossible to ever establish that something is what has been traditionally called God or the actions of this traditional view of God.

Finally, as our knowledge within science has expanded, explanations related to gods have tended to disappear. What was considered to be caused by God or the gods yesterday are today understood as physical processes acting in certain ways because of natural laws (seemingly independent of a God or gods). More and more the natural world seems to have no need of a God or gods as an explanation except perhaps if you see the universe or multiverse or totality of things as God which is not the traditional Christian personal view of God.

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What does the word “concept” mean in such a context? It would seem that if it’s beyond comprehension there would be no concept. Concepts are a contrivance of the human brain.

But more importantly what does “beyond comprehension” mean? Are there too many parts to master? Or is it illogical, like a square circles? And how do we determine this - what is it we comprehend that makes the idea incomprehensible?

Simply, logical contradictions, cannot exist - there are no square circles and no married bachelors.

I think it worth trying to take a closer look at of these ideas…

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The concept of an uncaused intentional entity causing infinite nature from eternity is infinitely less comprehensible than infinitely incomprehensible uncaused eternal infinite nature.

I again state that science cannot seek or find an object that it may define as god. Thus there is little to discuss unless you or others are trying to identify idolatry.

As for the subjective, the only criteria on this is the freedom of the individual; we would consider personhood and intentionality, in that a person would reflect on his/her experiences and outlooks regarding life and community.

I find your reasoning problematic, as it seems to me that you are providing a strangely circular reasoning … I have stated that we cannot locate an object and scientifically determine it is a god. So, if I follow your argument, we cannot subsequently decide that we have experienced god or some powerful being (or phenomena)… so what is it you wish to posit?

My point has been that we receive through language the testimony of human beings who state they have received the Word of God, and from this we are free to come to our conclusions. As Christians we consider the testimony of apostles and saints regarding the life, death and resurrection of Christ, and we have reasoned and examined this testimony, and have come to believe that Christ is the Son of God.

This is as concise as I can make it. This belief has been subjected to enormous examination, criticism, theological reflection, and also experienced in the life of Christians (the Church). My view is that we are all free to examine all of this and come to our own position and belief.

Off course there is a history of Christianity, and Jewish/Christian traditions that we can draw on. For this discussion, I feel it is sufficient to note these facts.

The limitations of human capabilities is understood, be it regarding science, philosophy and theology.

Are you providing a criticism of Christianity, or instead putting forward an argument for atheism (or perhaps both)?

If I may…I dont care to argue forvatheism though i do point to
" science " sometimes as a reason to disbelieve specific claims.
With that in mind, on personal experience with the supreme being-

I read how the Native Americans did such as to fast and chant and
stay awake on an isolated hilltop, until they had a vision, presumably from the great spirit-?

Im sure it worked, any of us would experience something along those lines under such stress.

Whether its just brain chemistry or a real message from beyond is
not for me to say.

What do you think?

I would see this as something alien to my experience (since I am not a Native American) and would try to understand what and why they practiced in this manner. This would rely on the description provided by the Natives, and from this I would reason within my context. eg., if some chemicals were involved? If they followed age old practices and how these were related to beliefs/spirits? and so on. Just how would their visions become messages?, and so on.

All of this delineates me as an outsider, while the Native may or may not wish to communicate his subjective experiences. In all cases, I would reason to a given extent, and than consider my outlook, understanding of science and anthropology, with an ultimate inclusion of my beliefs and outlook.

One may conclude it was all chemistry, and/or upbringing/culture, and/or other factors.

If the Native proposes a supreme being was involved, he would need to describe who and what that being is.

Obviously if we took a well reasoned approach, we would need to put a great deal of effort. In most cases, I think people would dismiss this as alien to their experience and leave it there.

I expect you are right about “alien to experience”.

I talked, years ago to a Mormon missionary who was in China.
There was time to listen, but after a while I asked, " Who could believe such a ridiculous story?" ( not super tactful)

His response was utterly alien to me.
He reported having doubts, but then he prayed hard for many
days, asking if it is true.
Eventually the answer came, while he wasnt thinking about it
a all, with great power and certainty: " Yes, it is all true."

Good enough, a message from God!

Later, worrying what grad school to attend, call it A B, or C.
I stewed and lay awake and really stressed out.

Finally, it came to me, clear and certain. Go to A!

But being me, I kept worrying. After an interval, the same
Message except now it is B!

How do your think that might relate to the topic here?

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