Evolution – Smevolution!
God & Science:
Does God Exist? Follow Me and I’ll Show You.
Revised 25 August 2017
“Though human reason is, strictly speaking, truly capable by its own natural power and light of attaining to a true and certain knowledge of the one personal God, who watches over and controls the world by his providence, and of the natural law written in our hearts by the Creator…”
“Human intelligence is surely already capable of finding a response to the question of origins. The existence of God the Creator can be known with certainty through his works, by the light of human reason …”
“The biblical and Judeo-Christian faith has always been convinced, not only that we can and should believe in a Creator, but also that we are able to understand a great deal about the Creator with our human reason.”
“In defending the ability of human reason to know God, the Church is expressing her confidence in the possibility of speaking about him to all men and with all men, and therefore of dialogue with other religions, with philosophy and science, as well as with unbelievers and atheists.”
Classical Arguments for God’s Existence
Classic Philosophy Reformulated as Scientific Theory?
Many devout Christian/Catholics may be tempted to say at this point, “OK, fine. Intelligent design theory has finally come into its own in science. The logic is clear enough; the scientific data even quite startling in its implications. Common sense is certainly on its side. But can’t we really go that further step beyond affirming intelligent design in general terms to affirm God as the most likely designer, as did many of the great philosophers? Can’t the classical philosophical arguments for God’s existence, the argument from direct religious experience, St. Anselm’s argument from necessary existence, William Paley’s design inference, and St. Thomas Aquinas’ first cause argument, be properly restated as convincing scientific theories? Perhaps surprisingly, the short answer is, in some cases, yes, the classic arguments for God’s existence can be reformulated as successful scientific theories, though perhaps not all.
To reformulate philosophical argument forms into scientific ones, and to know that the result really qualifies as science, we must first know what science is and what it is not. We must know how the charter of science has been defined, and what its rules and methods are.
While there is much variation among the disciplines in how scientific method is employed, and some disagreement on the charter of science itself, this is not an impossible task. Scientific method is not a complex matter as such, but there is the complication that the charter of science has never been formally and explicitly nailed down. Everyone believes that he or she knows what it is, but no authoritative academic council has ever definitively said what it is.
There is more than one kind of science: strict laboratory science, historical science, and social science. The methods, procedures, and standards of each type of science differ radically from those of the others, and the approaches within each of the various disciplines unavoidably vary to facilitate their unique objectives and subject matter. Obviously, the methods of chemistry (hopefully) don’t match those of psychiatry exactly; sociology doesn’t match physics; history doesn’t match mathematics; and so on.
Before looking at the specific arguments, and before addressing the general nature of scientific evidence, scientific arguments, and scientific theory evaluation, let’s take a moment to ask a few obvious and intuitive questions in order to get a better feel for why our title question is even legitimate. Perhaps the most obvious question is “Why doesn’t the testimony of the fully 4 billion people who now belong to a major religion (roughly two thirds of all the people on Earth) count as scientific evidence for God’s existence?” To dismiss them all as neurotic would seem to be scientifically untenable.
While it is true that consensus alone never makes truth, we are compelled to acknowledge that such a large consensus is at least a default indication of sanity. There has never been a psychological study that indicated two thirds of the population were not sane.
Witness testimony from the sane adds corroborative value anywhere else in science, politics, and law. Yes, the world may be crazy in general (this thesis becomes harder to oppose every day), but to have 4 billion people going crazy in the same way at the same time entails such a low statistical probability that science cannot defend such a thing without producing direct clinical evidence that these people are in fact neurotic independent of the sole fact that they believe in God. Of course, there is no such evidence to be found on that kind of scale because, on average, believers act no more irrationally than nonbelievers. There are religious fanatics, yes, but there are also, non-religious fanatics.
Witness testimony is a valid form of evidence for many of the scientific disciplines. Why is it automatically suspect when the testimony is about religious experience? Witness testimony counts in astronomy and history, especially where redundantly corroborated by multiple testimonies. It certainly counts in law. It even counts in natural science anywhere observations must be made by lone investigators, or a very few acting in close concert.
Witness testimony is not a perfect form of evidence, of course, but neither are photographs or microscope images perfect evidence. There can be flaws in the lenses, small foreign particle debris, dirty slides, altered photos, etc. Nothing humans do in this world is, in fact, perfectly reliable. There are no perfect forms of evidence. All forms of evidence have this general vulnerability to corruption in common; they must be scrutinized to make sure flaws of various kinds haven’t crept in. And all the forms of evidence ultimately depend upon human reliability at some point in the collection, processing, and interpretation.
Thus, the requirement to vet specific increments of evidence for reliability does not invalidate personal testimony as legitimate evidence. The manner in which science vets different kinds of evidence for reliability varies, but, forensic science at least has some standard techniques to vet witness testimony in order to increase reliability (separating multiple witnesses before hearing their testimony then comparing stories, legal background checks, character assessments, polygraph tests, verifying education levels and professional backgrounds, looking for conflicting motives, etc.)
Not everyone’s religious testimony will be of equal value, of course. Just as neurotics approach gambling, drugs, or drink as a psychological escape mechanism, humans can approach religion for the wrong reason. Even sports and hobbies can take on a neurotically exaggerated role in life. This simple fact is by now all too well known to us: sick people can make a neurosis out of anything—witness the headlines. However, when they do, it doesn’t disprove the valid version of the life experience they have distorted into a neurosis. Eating disorders do not disprove the validity of eating!
Not all drinks and drugs are psychological crutches. Similarly, Freud’s findings of a need for religious belief in some of the psychologically ill did not demonstrate that all religion is false in the healthy.
And, certainly, to want or need to believe something is not to disprove it. We all want to believe that Mom will have dinner ready at 5:30 after a hard day of school or work. Does that mean dinner is merely an imaginary creation of our need to eat? No; dinner is real. Early Native American populations exploring the American Southwest may frequently have become hot and exhausted and fervently hoped they would find a refreshing river or stream prior to the end of the days march. Their need to find a stream did not make the real streams in the region imaginary.
Freud does not suggest that the child’s need for the parent makes the parent an imaginary creation. Similarly, the human need to find refreshment in a blissful afterlife following the too often relentless sufferings of this world does not prove that afterlife unreal.
Thus, there is a very common sense case for accepting the validity of religious testimony, particularly when 4 billion people are offering that testimony. Having established that much, established that forming a scientific case for God is not obviously ridiculous on at least one line of evidence, witness testimony, let us move on and take a closer look at how one might use that testimony as the foundation for a formal heuristic model of human religious behavior.
Heuristic models in science, mainly used in psychology, are models that are accepted because they offer the best explanation available. With heuristic models, because they can’t directly be proved to be true, their credibility depends upon the world acting as if they were true. The possibility that the world is actually different from the assumptions of the model is allowed for, but since we can’t verify the assumptions directly (as in human psychology), the heuristic model’s tenets are provisionally posited as being true pending the demonstration that some other model offers a better explanation.
My argument for God’s existence here in Part 2 will be posed as a scientific theory of the heuristic model form. That theory will posit God’s existence as being the best explanation available for the known data. In other words, the world acts as if God exists. This is true not just in the sense of human religious behavior, but also because the scientific data and logical arguments we presented in Part 1 establish a strong case for an intelligent designer of life and the universe, and because no other intelligent designer (other than Satan) has applied for the job. Looking purely at the data from the physical (non-living) universe does not require us to insist that the intelligent designer is God, but adding human religious behavior to the data considered, yields a strong probability that the intelligent designer is God.
Spiritual Perception & The Heuristic Model of Religious Experience
In many ways, the problem of proving God’s existence is a false dilemma. Historically we have tried much too hard at it. Instead of striving for deductive proofs as the classic philosophers did, we should have gone about it exactly as we would for proving Uncle Bob’s existence, Aunt Helen’s, or anyone else’s: we should have personally gone looking for God to see if he was there. Via logic alone, or conceptual argument, prior to going and looking, man cannot prove the existence of anything, or anyone, let alone God.
Why have we made God an exception to our procedure for proving the existence of persons or things? There is one known exception to this rule, but it is not God; it is our in-laws. The existence of in-laws can be derived from the logical import of Murphy’s Law alone. We all know Murphy’s Law to be true: “If something can go wrong, it will.” We needn’t go look for our in-laws; we just know they’ll be there.☺
Seriously though, the question of the existence of anything, or anyone, is simply a matter for perceptual confirmation—you have to go look: perception, observation, or encounter; that is how we prove the existence of a person. The proof of God’s existence must be treated the same way. It is not logically necessary that there be a God any more than that there be a President Kennedy, a Michelangelo, or a grocer on the corner. We simply have to go look to see if they are really there.
But if direct personal encounter is the correct way to find God, then testimony of such encounters must be the core of “proofs” for God’s existence. Enter the heuristic psychological model of evidence. In support of the theory that God is the designer of our world we have reliable reports that God has manifested himself in a variety of directly and indirectly observable ways, and presented himself to the subjective spiritual awareness of billions of rational people.
Religious people have not empirically observed God as in hard natural science, but in many cases they report that they have directly encountered God. Their subjective experience argues for God’s existence as strongly as it does for the existence of, for example, Freud’s id, ego, and superego. These things cannot be empirically observed either. Their existence is supported by heuristic evidence, meaning, people speak and act as if they existed.
In this sense, the theory of a Judeo-Christian-Islamic God (JCIG) is more closely tied to direct experience and better evidenced than either the current versions of extra-dimensional theories in physics or the theory of accidental evolution (for which we have no credible evidence of any kind).
JCIG theory explains the well-established traditions and professional knowledgebase of the Church and the testimony and behavior of billions of reliable witnesses who affirm that they have encountered God. Which model offers the best explanation of our subjective experience and observable religious behavior, atheistic materialism or JCIG? Obviously JCIG offers the best heuristic explanatory model because the large majority of people act as if it were true.
The theoretical constructs of the science of psychology are said to be corroborated when people act as if they are true. Observed behavior is a type of evidence for the theoretical models of psychology. So why doesn’t it count the same here in our quest to determine who is the most likely candidate for the intelligent designer of our world? Is it because science only admits the physical? No; psychology and psychiatry admit the nonphysical where it serves as the best explanation. Jung’s archetypes are not physical; Freud’s id, ego, and superego are not physical, etc.
Including God as the explanation for religious behavior and religious witness contradicts nothing in scientific method if we allow that the entire range of all the scientific disciplines including the social sciences and psychology/psychiatry are valid. In fact it almost seems like a joke to ask, “Should we allow God as the explanation for religious behavior?” Excluding testimony and other human behavioral evidence for God is not consistent with what science does elsewhere with heuristic models.
Why include a concept that cannot be directly confirmed, like God in a scientific theory, when we don’t have to? The answer is, we do have to, if we want a satisfactory explanation of human experience and behavior, just as we need psychological constructs such as the id, ego, and superego if we are to explain human behavior in the sciences of psychology and psychiatry. I am not arguing that Freudian psychiatry is the best overall approach to human psychology; it’s just an example. We need models of the human psyche; they don’t necessarily have to be Freud’s models.
Explanatory power of the subject matter and logical and methodological consistency (consistency with what we are doing in the other sciences and in law), that is the reason we need the heuristic concept of God in the social sciences. People of faith might want to add another reason: adding God to psychology stands to increase the healing rate, probably dramatically.
The explanatory power element is pretty obvious, but the methodological consistency problem, while less obvious, is not a trivial point. The personal testimony of the very same people who bear religious witness is elsewhere deemed legally sufficient to warrant taking a man’s life in a murder trial. The legitimacy of their testimony is not deemed ridiculous in court.
Consider the following situation. A dozen material witnesses walk out of court after testifying against a murderer, who was assigned the death penalty largely upon the weight given the testimony of these witnesses. They are interviewed by a news anchor and described, to affirming nods all around, as credible witnesses. The TV audience agrees that it was a just and fair sentence.
Court adjourns. Now, the very same dozen citizens go down the street a scant three blocks to attend a church service. An hour later they come out and testify that they all had a personal encounter with God. The TV network has hung around for the court discussion, so they inadvertently catch the religious testimony while digging for more legal case material. All of a sudden a talking head on retainer by the TV network, who happens to be a Marxist agent of influence, pops up on a split screen calling them all nuts. He/she (the TV commentator) is a PhD, after all, the author of many popular books. So what he or she says must be true…right?
Immediately 95% of the brain-dead TV viewing audience (that’s us) brands the religious testimony of those twelve witnesses unreliable and incoherent! “The poor souls are obviously deluded…neurotic. We all know religion is a dangerous, obsolete superstition, the scourge of civilization—witness the Crusades, Jihad, etc.” At least we think we know it while the PhDs are telling us on TV.
Why does testimony from the very same people all of a sudden bear no evidential weight when their testimony is for God? The defendant in the murder trial remains just as dead based upon their earlier credible testimony. Is this logically consistent or even rational: now you are credible now you are not? No; it’s an embarrassment to rational thought, and political bias against religion is the only explanation for it.
This whole thing about condemning religion as a neurosis without a clinical diagnosis of each individual is laughably politicized, hypocritical, and self-contradictory; it certainly isn’t science. In the absence of a clinical diagnosis of neurosis/psychosis or in the absence of overt indications of hallucinations, antisocial behavior, or irrational behavior, a person’s testimony is as reliable in the religious context as it is anywhere else.
The same people who challenge religious testimony without looking to independently verify the credibility of the source never challenge a person who says they have not had a religious experience. They never challenge someone who says that they have searched for God for decades without finding him. He or she is not crazy for spending fifty fruitless years searching without any hint of impending success, but someone who spends a few months in the Catholic instruction program and has an authentic religious encounter while receiving the Holy Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation is automatically nuts. That’s crazy!
The folks who spent fifty years scouring the Earth randomly for God (without thinking to join God’s Church or to follow God’s published guidance on how to find him) are automatically considered heroic, poetic, humanistic searchers. But believers who go directly to the authoritative source, the Church, and do find God are considered charlatans or self-deceived neurotics. It’s all a bunch of politically engineered nonsense! It’s a Marxist-Communist scam aimed at increasing materialism in the general population.
There are contradictions and irrationalities built into the atheist approach to the question of evidence for God. Those “poetic heroes” who say they have searched for God but didn’t find him must be presuming they have the ability to recognize God when the encounter takes place, else why bother to search? But if man has the ability to recognize God when he is encountered, why automatically discredit 4 billion people who say they have found God?
The only other alternative situation for atheists is that they haven’t bothered to look for God because they don’t think we have the capability to recognize God when we encounter him. But in that case they should not be atheist at all but agnostics! The atheist position actually invokes a contradiction, one way or the other. If humanity has the ability to recognize God when they encounter him there is no reason to doubt Jewish, Christian, and Moslem testimony about such encounters. If humanity does not have the ability to recognize God or to encounter him then there is no reason to infer God’s nonexistence from lack of encounter.
There are only two ways (to my knowledge) to avoid this overt contradiction: 1) assert that 4 billion people are all neurotic self-deceivers when the only basis for that classification is that they disagree with the atheist regarding religion; or 2) assert that the atheist searchers are the only ones who deserve to find God (and they couldn’t find him) and the 4 billion religious believers are do not deserve to find God (and they are therefore deceiving themselves about finding him). Those two positions are not self-contradictory, but they are intellectual and scientific nonsense. The contradictions in the atheist position regarding human religious experience therefore remain unresolved.
“OK,” you may admit. “There are some inconsistencies in our society’s approach to religious testimony. But what about the great philosopher, A. J. Ayer? Didn’t he prove that religious language has no meaning? Doesn’t Ayer’s analysis as an expert analytical philosopher in and of itself justify dismissing all religious witness as having no evidential value? Even if the people are sane, isn’t it true that all religious language is incoherent, semantically empty, and therefore useless as evidence?” No, is the answer all the way across.
Should we grant Ayer’s claim that a statement about an encounter with God can have no meaning just because it has no empiric referent or empiric entailments? No. If we did we would also have to deny the reality of all of our emotions, as well as our moral and artistic experience. Although much of religious language concerning the internal religious experience may not have empirically confirmable referents, religious behaviors are empirically describable. Those behaviors are largely consistent, and the enormous numbers of them serve as a solid foundation for a heuristic model that supports the belief in God’s existence.
At the end of the day Ayer is just wrong in tying meaning to empiric referents in such a strict way as to exclude talk about God or gods. We know very well what a speaker means when he or she uses the word ‘God.’ Empiric reference is not required for meaning, but even if we granted that it was, we could describe many of the actions of God in empiric terms—they just wouldn’t be provable as God’s actions. The statements, however, would not be incoherent and meaningless, just yet to be proved true or false.
Modern theories of extra dimensions in physics have no direct empiric referents to correspond with the posited 5th-16th dimensions, yet we know what a dimension is in general concept. Modern theories in physics have posited as many as ten or more dimensions, while not saying much more about them than that they solve certain mathematical problems in scientific descriptions of physical event processes that arise in their absence. There are no direct observations of these dimensions. At least as of the moment of these theories’ initial debut there was no direct empiric evidence for them. Despite having no direct empiric referents, these theories of extra dimensions were not considered incoherent or meaningless.
The physical world behaves as if certain extra dimensions were there, and that is enough to give coherence and meaning to the language. Not all of the theories that have been proposed about extra dimensions can be true at the same time, so some of them must be false. But that does not mean the language used to describe the theory is meaningless.
The concept of a very large and powerful personal being, a god, is not semantically vacuous or incoherent in and of itself. Making God infinite doesn’t make religious language incoherent any more than using talk of a potentially infinite universe in physics and cosmology makes physics incoherent. Merely transferring an infinite being’s residence to the spiritual dimension (which dimension can purportedly have effects on the physical dimensions) does not make the concept of God any more incoherent or meaningless than the physicists’ talk of extra dimensions.
Ayer can say, “Well, we have direct experience of four dimensions, three physical dimensions and time, from which to derive understanding of other hypothetical dimensions, but we have no direct experience of the supernatural dimension.” But that is only a circular argument that presumes, against the testimony of 4 billion people, that there has been no human experience of the supernatural dimension. What Ayer’s claims, and similar claims by other empiricists and atheists, reduce to is an unwarranted question-begging assumption of materialism.
Why would we invent a meaningless religious language? We could just mumble and groan, or something; speak gibberish in a form that doesn’t use proper words, etc. If religious language were meaningless, why would the language be so consistent, the rules that govern its use so strict? Why would PhD-level theologians write hundreds of thousands of articles on theology, all carefully peer-reviewed by academic experts? If the language was meaningless, why would people of faith affirm when asked that, yes, they do understand all, or at least part, of a speaker’s statements of religious sentiments and experience?
If we were just inventing religion to fulfill a psychological need, why work so hard at it? Common sense is not on the side of Ayer and the empiricists on the question of the meaninglessness of religious language. This is ironic, considering the empiricists are otherwise the most down to earth school of philosophy.
Our own familiar four dimensions offer a counterexample to Ayer as well. We can’t directly point to time, although it pervades nearly everything we do, yet we understand it, at least well enough to accomplish practical tasks. One is tempted to say that everyday people understand time; it is only the philosophers who do not. In that sense, the analogy between time and God is very close.
For people of faith the same is true. People of intense religious faith spend an awful lot of time with God. They sense the reality of the personal being they are communing with; they frequently share a moment of personal experience with God. They therefore know who God is with high confidence. It is only the philosophers and scientists who frequently seem not to get it (some do, of course).
On the common sense level, religious language is not meaningless. It is grounded in real experiences held in common by two or more speakers. We humans make meaningful statements all the time that have no empiric referent or entailments. When we talk about our romantic feelings and friendships, and talk about poetic sentiments of human emotion, these statements are all meaningful. Some might say they are the most meaningful things we do say.
At the end of the day after hours of heady talk about empiricism inspiring us to false hopes of making life more neatly manageable, a subjective referent for a statement remains a meaningful referent. This is at least true in cases where the listener has had a similar subjective experience to tag to the language of the speaker. While there is more room for error in reference to subjective experience, the language is not incoherent.
When we say “I have strong feelings of patriotism,” we are coherently referencing the feeling of patriotism, and anyone who has ever felt patriotic fervor knows what we mean. With talk of romantic love, artistic beauty, and musical inspiration it’s the same thing. The language has coherence and meaning given only that the listener has had similar experience to the speaker.
The same is true of our talk of religion. Religious language is not incoherent in principle or in itself. It is only temporarily incoherent to those persons who have not had religious experience, like talk of patriotism might be temporarily incoherent to a person born and raised on an island with no national or tribal identity. There were no enemies there, no strangers, no “us” against “them.” “What is patriotism?” After another twenty years post-immigration to the U.S., spanning three wars and several major terrorist events, the same individual finally gets it: “Yes, I am a patriot!”
Consider St. Paul’s words in Romans 5:5 and 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 (NABR).
“This hope is not deceptive, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given us…. Remember it is God himself who assures us all, and you, of our standing in Christ, and has anointed us, marking us with his seal and giving us the pledge, the Spirit, that we carry in our hearts.”
When God himself places his love in our hearts, it is a noteworthy and singular experience. When one person who has had this grace refers to it in speaking to another who has also been blessed in the same manner, it is a clear and coherent communication. There is no doubt about the meaning.
The only way around this objection is to say that the event of receiving divine love as a gift of grace simply didn’t happen; it was only imagined. But how does one establish that without begging the question concerning the larger debate about the reality of God? (To “beg the question” in philosophical jargon means to assume a position without giving any proof.)
It can be shown that religious language is often coherent, even under the assumption of materialism. In events (presumably rare) where such a grace from God are a self-imposed deception or hallucination, the person affirming an unreal spiritual gift will be mistaken about the authenticity of their experience, but they will understand the language used to describe the experience. This is not incoherence; it is error, or dishonesty, at least subconscious dishonesty.
One may think that Ayer’s position is supported by another famous philosopher, Charles Peirce, who claimed that all metaphysical talk was “gibberish.” But Peirce did not equate “religious” with “metaphysical.” Religious language was meaningful for Peirce because it was grounded in real, direct experience, while abstract metaphysical theories in philosophy were not so grounded.
And Peirce did not think metaphysical language was incoherent in principle so much as in practice. Metaphysical theories in Peirce’s experience were either untestable or the metaphysical terminology was never linked to anything real, but merely went in circles. Thus, there was nothing to be gained from doing metaphysics minus something in direct experience that anchored the concepts and gave evidence for their reality.
Peirce apparently believed that, were these errors to be corrected in metaphysical theory, that is, if the terms were tied to real experience and the theories made testable, what we would end up with would be claims genuinely admissible into natural or social science. So, Ayer is not supported by Peirce, who is saying something entirely different.
People can at times talk incoherently, but just because they are having a discourse in a given topical area like metaphysics or religion doesn’t automatically make their speech incoherent. It is the lack of clear definitions of new terms and concepts and the lack of a means to uniquely tie down the referents of words that causes the problem in Peirce’s view. Subjective or abstract referents are not automatically a problem for Peirce; it is the lack of an identifiable referent at all that is the problem.
What I am proposing in this section is, one might say, a heuristic version of Peirce’s concept of a valid metaphysic. As a consequence of being empirically supported, albeit, in this case indirectly and heuristically supported, the metaphysical JCIG theory gains both linguistic coherence and indirect empiric testability. It can then be legitimately moved into the realm of science.
We must take care not to confuse “empirically supportable” with “empirically provable.” True, we cannot empirically prove God’s existence, but we can give empiric support for it in the sense of explanatory heuristic models. This is not a fatal limitation for JCIG theory because the same limitation is typical of the larger part of science, both social science and natural science. Most of science’s claims and theories are never fully proved; they are only convincingly supported.
To grant Ayer’s position is simply to become a materialist or a physical reductionist, to say that statements of all of our internal experiences such as faith, love, loyalty, religion, and patriotism have no meaning at all. There can be no intellectual justification for arbitrarily truncating human experience to fit a worldview adopted for reasons of personal preference as opposed to evidence. As Charles Peirce taught us, trustworthy epistemologies must be validated by reference to direct experience. Re-interpreting direct experience, or denying it completely, by reference to a worldview preferred for purely psychological reasons does not lead to knowledge but self-deception.
Nothing could be more ill-advised. Physical reductionism is not just wrong: it is propaganda for a dangerous political pogrom—and it is a spiritual illness as well. Reductionism denies our direct experience; it denies much of what is both real and important in our lives. It denies the larger core of that which makes us who we are: a higher moral and spiritual species.
Reductionism is epistemological and spiritual suicide/genocide. It denies that the heart, mind, spirit, and intuition are valid ways of knowing and experiencing life in addition to the five senses. I am not talking ESP here, but the very core of human emotional, artistic, moral, and religious experience. Reductionism and materialism deny what a healthy human being knows by direct means of cognition. Science is not the only aspect of human experience that is genuine. If that were true, all the humans that lived for the first 1,500 years of civilization would have had no genuine experience at all.
We know we love our family; we know we are committed to freedom and the U. S. Constitution; we know that our tender grief, empathy, and sorrow for a small child run over by a car in front of us is more than a label for a set of behaviors; we know these things. As Peirce affirmed, love is real, and so is our direct experience of the divine love of God when we are granted the grace to have it.
Love has no direct empiric referent, yet to say “I love” or “I am in love” is to say something meaningful. To report a direct encounter with a God who is the transcendent source of love, that is, to report the experience of divine love is even more meaningful; it just can’t be empirically proved. Why have we allowed Marxists and atheists to move the burden of proof onto us to prove what we already know? It is foolish to step into the intellectual trap of attempting the impossible task of using their materialistic standard of evidence to prove the reality of the immaterial. The materialists are merely offering us a stacked deck. It’s, a setup, a trap--and it’s time we stepped out of it.
Can we empirically prove that we love a family member or a fiancée? No. Does that mean our love is not real? No. Our love is real; it just can’t be empirically proved (unless we share half our lottery winnings with our fiancée). Love is as real as anything we know, and it is the best and highest of all that we know on the purely human level. An experience of God is similar, but higher yet. Religious language is as meaningful as any of our other absolutely valid subjective experiences.
One may object that although Ayer was technically incorrect about religious language being meaningless, he was still onto something important because God will always be largely mysterious to us. Science cannot manipulate a mystery, therefore we can’t use science to support claims for the existence of God. While it is true that much mystery will always attend to God, to say that something is largely mysterious is not to say that it is fully meaningless or that it is completely intractable to science, especially where use of heuristic models is validly employed.
To say that “I bumped into something in the dark” is mysterious, but it is not meaningless. Recent theories of physics, even at the first moment of their inception, were not adjudged meaningless because they posited 10, 26, or more dimensions of which we can have no direct empiric evidence (since humans only directly experience three physical dimensions plus time). Those extra dimensions were almost 100% mysterious at the inception of the multi-dimensional theory (and still are to most of us); they merely filled a mathematical niche in a formula. While mysterious, they were still tractable to science, and they remained legitimate candidates for eventually the best explanation of the physical foundations of our universe.
Despite the large element of mystery we understand, if only vaguely, what the physicists are saying about extra dimensions. What they are saying is not meaningless, only incomplete. God, for those who make an effort to look into religion at all, is much less mysterious than extra dimensional theories in physics. He is Father; he is Creator; he is counselor; he is priestly intercessor, and many other things well within the bounds of our conceptual understanding—and not only in abstract conceptual theory, but in our living experience. So, religious language, at least in most cases, is far from being meaningless.
“OK,” you may be willing to concede, “religious talk is not meaningless, and heuristic explanatory models are fine, especially in psychology. And perhaps they do corroborate belief in God’s existence. But what about the claims for there being a faculty of direct spiritual perception? Isn’t that all a bunch of new age hooey? How can we perceive the existence of anything nonphysical and invisible?!”
Any blind person can tell you that everything physical, except color and light itself, can be perceived in an evidentiary way exclusive of sight. So, not only does this invisibility thing beg the question, it’s just a tomfool thing to say. Invisibility is not evidence for the nonexistence of anything. Try going to the bathroom without a flashlight in the middle of the night in a household with young children. Unseen things will turn up everywhere—beware the stairs!
The invisibility objection is bogus for four perfectly good reasons: (1) God is not invisible to the heart; (2) God is not always invisible to the eye; he can be seen when he chooses to be seen; (3) invisible things can be confirmed to exist with other forms of perception; and (4) it’s perfectly understandable that he who is all good, all powerful, and perfect would at times restrict our access to him until we purify ourselves, and that he would otherwise not be disposed to come running at our beck and call.
We all believe in the existence of many things that are (normally or frequently) invisible to the eye: gravity, electricity, wind, atoms, etc.—we don’t see them, we only see their effects. We have reliable testimony and indirect or theoretical evidence that they exist, or we perceive them through means other than the unaided eye. We can feel wind, gravity, and electricity (if we are not careful). We can use an electron microscope to view inside living cells and see the structure of large molecules down to the atomic level.
It is important to note that, with these invisible things, we can still find them if we earnestly go looking for them. We simply have to use the right instrument. It’s the same with God: we will find him if we look with the right instrument. According to God’s Word, the Holy Bible, the correct instrument is the heart. Powerful contact with God can also occur when he comes looking for you, as Saint Paul discovered on the road to Damascus.
In addition, quite a few people have actually seen God. Yes, of course they did not see the fullness of God, but they did have visual contact. In other words, he’s not invisible at all; he’s just reclusive, and too big and too extra-dimensional for our eyes to capture his boundaries. Being infinite, of course, God has no boundaries to capture.
According to the Bible, the Lord God and his angels from Heaven have the ability to either incarnate, to assume a perceivable pseudo-physical form that is indistinguishable from the physical (cf. the archangel Raphael in the Old Testament book of Tobit), or to reveal their radiant gloriously luminous form directly (unfortunately Satan can do this too). They can also give indirect but perceivable physical signs, e.g., wiping out the larger part of the entire Assyrian army in one night.
God’s appearance in the person of his son Jesus was in fully visible form, and Jesus was genuinely physical. Jesus was also transfigured on Mt. Tabor into a glorious radiant being seen by several of the apostles. In addition, Moses and Aaron saw God along with Nadab, Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel on Mount Sinai. (Exodus 24, NAB) God led many thousands of the Israelites out of Egypt, going before them in a pillar of the cloud in the day and a column of fire at night. He appeared to Moses in a miraculously burning bush and passed by while Elijah was hiding in a crag of the mountain. I am not asking the reader here to accept religious authority as support for my scientific theory that God exists (JCIG); I am citing the biblical accounts as human eye-witness reports that corroborate my argument that talk of God and other things usually invisible is not meaningless just because those things are usually invisible.
God is only “invisible” or unseen, when he chooses to be. Logically, since God is the source of all things and all energy, one could justifiably speculate that, when God, the creator of this world, chooses to manifest himself in this world, he would turn out to be he who is the most visible of all: pure radiant power and light itself. The extant scriptural descriptions are, in fact, very much like that.
The skeptic’s error is to start out looking with the wrong instrument, the eyes or the mind, and a mind already locked into the materialist worldview. We must look with our hearts. God does not require us to contradict the evidence of the eyes and the mind, but they are not fully sufficient for this task. The heart is where the faculty of direct spiritual perception resides. We discover that there is a God through the use of reason, but we only encounter that God by using our heart. “ ‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29:13; Deuteronomy 4:29) “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8).
God exists in the spiritual dimension, and our heart is the portal to that dimension. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminded us of this: “The organ for seeing God is the heart.” Thus, those who have sought a deductive proof of God’s existence through the years were simply trying too hard. Although they could have found evidence for God’s existence with reason, and even science (and many did), to gain the certainty conveyed via direct spiritual perception, what they should have done was to sit down, quiet their minds, and look into their hearts where the Lord God resides: “Be still and know that I am God!” (Psalms 46:11 NABRE)
God is love (1 John 4:7-10). If we center ourselves in love, we will find God. God has to shine the light of grace on us before we can receive the direct knowledge of his existence by spiritual perception, but he will offer that grace so long as we are willing to accept it. If we grow close to him, humbly seeking his forgiveness and instruction, he will come close to us. (James 4:8) Sounds like I am preaching here, but I am really talking epistemology: how to gain knowledge through spiritual discernment. The gift of spiritual perception/discernment is a grace given by God, and the way we merit God’s grace is to practice love.
And we should not consider it so odd that God does not appear on demand from his own subordinate creation. The fact that he who is supreme authority elects to restrict and control public access fits perfectly with the behavior patterns of our own earthly leaders, who are much lesser authorities. Science cannot control and reproduce spiritual events at will for the simple reason that God is our superior; he makes the rules and he calls the shots. He decides who has access to him, and when. This is a very natural circumstance. University professors do not disbelieve in the existence of the president of their university because they cannot produce access to him on demand. The president is their superior. They cannot control access to him or her; he controls access—or his secretary does (who may seem like God).
Professors have to ask to meet their president, and we have to ask to meet God...politely, and often patiently. Skeptics reject this answer out of hand despite the fact that, in every other situation in life, this is precisely the norm: we have to ask permission to meet our superiors. Once again, we have made God the only exception in our thinking about how we encounter persons.
It’s quite natural that God doesn’t show up on demand when we decide to doubt his existence--especially not then. But the testimony of those millions who have met God should still count as evidence. When new staff arrive at the university do they doubt reports that the president of the college exists? No, they take the word of those who have already met him or her. Personal testimony by otherwise known to be reliable persons simply counts as evidence—except in this one application, where God is concerned. This is just another Marxist-atheist trap, deftly created by individuals with high IQs who are good at manipulating words. Why is God the only exception to our rules of evidence from witness testimony?
What’s the big deal? Even so staunch a critic of religion as the famous philosopher David Hume allows that reliable personal testimony counts as evidence for God. Richard Swinburne poses this same truth in what has been called the “principle of credulity.” Under this principle, in the absence of known countervailing factors, if it seems to an otherwise reliable person that another entity is present, then that entity is probably present. The Credulity Principle doesn’t generate absolute proof, but it does serve as reasonably corroborative evidence, generating a substantial probability that the entity being affirmed is or was actually present even if unseen.
True, there are, in a sense, negative witness reports from atheists who claim they have searched high and low and can’t find God, but there is a difference in epistemological weight in favor of witness affirmations over witness denials in the context of corroborating a person’s existence. For Mrs. Brown to say that “I have not met Mr. Smith, who you say lives two doors down” is not to give positive evidence against Mr. Smith’s existence. But if Mrs. Brown’s says “I have met Mr. Smith,” it is positive evidence for his existence. In the first case, Smith’s existence is compatible with the negative witness testimony; Mrs. Brown and Mr. Smith may have gone shopping and walked their dogs at different times. There is the possibility that Mr. Smith is intentionally avoiding Mrs. Brown, and there could be many other reasons they haven’t met. But an actual meeting firmly establishes the existence of Mr. Smith.
Could God be avoiding the atheists? Count on it! He says as much in the scripture.
Because he is found by those who do not test him,
and manifests himself to those who do not disbelieve him.
(Wisdom 1:2 NABRE)
God wants all disbelievers to be saved, and he continues to work behind the scenes to that end. However, he is not going to reward disbelief and disrespect with the extraordinary grace of a “direct” encounter with God.
God’s restricting our access to him naturally results in a relatively limited number of encounters (limited only by people’s faith, however). The scarcity of encounters with God may be more reliably taken as evidence for our personal foul-ups, our sins, and our failure to make an honest effort to find God in our hearts than for God’s nonexistence. Nonetheless, given the affection, compassion and mercy God has shown his human children over the centuries, it would be more correct to say that only the public encounters with God are scarce—the number of private encounters with God is actually enormous.
So the answer to the core question is that yes God can be perceived, so long as he consents to facilitate the perception. It is like a father or mother telling ghost stories to the children in a darkened room during a storm and occasionally acceding to the children’s request to turn the light on. The parent is always visible in theory, in the sense of being an object capable of being seen under the right conditions, but they have to grant the request to turn on the light before they actually are seen.
There are other similarities. When the child politely asks for the light with respect, they get it, and when they rudely or arrogantly demand, they don’t get it.
In addition to the well-known instances where God has been seen, God can and does often “touch us” with blessings. These can have unmistakable physical manifestations, including healing of very serious illnesses.
How does all of this impact the overall question of how science interfaces with belief in God? Let’s stick with the ghost stories analogy for a moment. If the children hearing the ghost stories in the darkened room during the storm decide to do an elementary school-level “scientific” study of the flashing light in the room (before Dad reveals that it is his flashlight), will the study stand any real chance of success if Dad elects not to cooperate? No. Dad is in control of the light and therefore any mission of discovery is fully at his mercy.
One might say that, “Real adult scientists could discover the truth, if given authority over the household premises and the privilege to search the occupants, etc.” This is true but it breaks the analogy to God who is the highest power and authority. His premises are quite a bit larger. You can’t serve a search warrant on God. If God doesn’t consent to show someone that it is his “flashlight,” then our best scientists are just stuck.
“So science can never confirm God then?” some may rush to conclude. No; that’s the wrong conclusion. It may be that science will in fact never confirm God’s existence, but in pure theory it remains possible that they could. To see that as a real possibility we have to stop asking the wrong question. The right question is, “What happens epistemologically when God does consent to turn on the flashlight?”
Situations having publicly observable indications might occur that would justify a rational belief that a being qualifying under society’s current conception of God was the source of those observations. The instantaneous reordering of our planetary systems without ill effect, for example, should it occur concurrently with a sonorous voice from the sky saying “Check out the new map of the universe. I did that!” would be accepted by most rational thinkers as a prima facie case for God (not absolute proof, but rationally corroborative evidence). The conclusion that “God did that” could at least fall under the umbrella of forensic science, if none of the other disciplines.
There are therefore possible situations where a case can be made for God as a plausible heuristic theory of science, not fully provable, but nonetheless our best explanation. Science would not be able to confirm that the being who claimed to have reordered the galaxies was either infinite or eternal, but science cannot confirm that anything else is infinite or eternal either, including our universe. Theories of an infinite universe are not considered unscientific or incoherent in principle just because the infinite aspect cannot be directly proved.
If such an even actually occurred, very few people, including scientists, would deny that we had received scientifically acceptable corroborative evidence for some huge being, either extra-dimensional or supernatural. It wouldn’t be absolute proof of God’s existence, but it would fall into the scientific category of corroborative evidence.
How would we get further evidence to support a theory about which being of the potentially enormous list of theoretically possible beings it was? Let’s return to the situation of the children listening to ghost stories told by their dad in the dark. If the school science teacher queries the children about their investigation of the light, the exchange might end with, “OK, you proved it was a flashlight in the hand of a man, but how did you establish the identity of the man holding the light?” “Come on now,” the kids might well respond, “can’t you trust us to know our own father!?”
And so it is with the faculty of spiritual perception and encounters with God. Sometimes you just know it is your Father (in Heaven) that you have encountered. It is a bonafide direct experience and, as America’s great philosopher, Charles Peirce said, we should never deny our direct experience. If a close friend or family member grabs our hand in the dark, we often know who it is without seeing them. Some things you just know.
It is perhaps more accurate to say that the ability of spiritual perception belongs more to God than to humans, for that is its origin. We cannot manufacture the gift of spiritual perception ourselves; it has to be given to us. But at times it clearly has been given to us.
Richard Bücke, one of the classic modern authors on religious experience, thinks mystics at least have such abilities. He has written an entire book full of nothing else but accounts of people describing glorious encounters with God (Note: Bücke’s implied theology may be wrong in places). The Catholic Church thinks so as well. The writings of the Church are replete with the saints’ encounters with God, angels, and the martyrs in Heaven.
My thesis here is, therefore, the same: people do. They do have the faculty of spiritual perception, but in varying degrees among different people and with variations occurring over time due to (in addition to God’s freely elected grace) such factors as age, experience, theological background and personal formation in the faith. The unfortunate human habit of falling in and out of communion with God due to sin is another factor that effects the state of grace and the extent of spiritual gifts a person may manifest in a given moment.
I therefore argue, as most persons of faith already know, that there is a faculty of spiritual perception and that we who have it have every right to trust its results, not so much, perhaps, in the details but certainly in the primary themes and larger brushstrokes. The gift of spiritual perception does not make us infallible. While broadening our range of perception, it doesn’t always increase our accuracy of perception.
I maintain that this spiritual faculty produces bonafide evidence for God because God’s holiness and divinity are both unique and perceivable characteristics attributable only to God. They are attributes found nowhere else but with God, except in the host of Heaven in a lesser derivative fashion. Other unique features of God that may present themselves to persons with varying gifts of spiritual perception are divine grace, divine love, divine goodness, divine justice, divine mercy, divine transcendence, divine faithfulness, and divine wisdom.
Just as children recognize a greater wisdom and legitimate authority in their parents, we have the innate ability to recognize God when he interacts with us through these attributes of divinity that are unique to him. A casual survey of literature and our own experience indicates that the presence of the faculty of spiritual perception in the population at large is mixed, the same as with sight or hearing. Some people have good spiritual perception, some don’t. Some people have it at some point in their lives, and not at others. It all depends upon God’s grace, but the gift is real when it occurs. Rain doesn’t fall on everyone in every place at every time either, but no one doubts that rain is real—and we quickly miss it when it doesn’t fall.
Should we conclude that God doesn’t exist because the reports are not unanimous? No, no more than we would, say, for our own Uncle Bob in a similar situation. What would Uncle Bob’s status be in the minds of people in town who have mixed gifts of sight and hearing? A blind person won’t see him; a deaf person won’t hear him. Does that mean he doesn’t exist? Of course not.
Those who argue that God’s existence has not been firmly established on a sound evidentiary basis, are committed to saying the complete nonsense that Uncle Bob doesn’t exist just because a blind man went looking for him and didn’t see him; or because a deaf woman tried to speak to him and didn’t hear any reply; or because Bob chose to hide from some people for a time due to their negativity, etc. In most case the problem was that those who failed to discover Uncle Bob weren’t using all the faculties at their disposal.
The blind man could have spoken to Bob, and the deaf woman could have seen him if she had stepped around the corner of the garden wall from where she was calling. Moral of the story: first, you have to have spiritual perception, and then you have to make an effort to use it. The same goes for common sense.
In the case of not finding God, failed searchers typically aren’t sufficiently vesting themselves in the process of spiritual growth to generate a viable faculty of spiritual perception, or for reasons known only to God they don’t presently merit God’s acknowledgment of their effort so that he consents to “turn the light on.” By “vesting in spiritual growth” I don’t mean séances and the occult. God wants us to have good hearts full of light, not dark, spooky ones.
By interviewing the devout of all religions and examining the records of the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, and the other great faiths, by looking at the history of those who have made a special effort to practice their faith in God, it can easily be established that events of spiritual perception are genuine and frequently occur. The validity of this faculty of spiritual perception is confirmed daily by thousands upon thousands of reliable people—potentially billions if they are living right.
Once again, to understand difficult issues we have to ask the right question. Here the right question is not “Can we know religious truths by the same methods as scientific truths?” but rather, “Can we know religious truths via any reliable means to a level of certitude that reliably enhances our understanding of the larger world of human experience?” The epistemological methods of science and religion are different, a different perceptual mechanism is used, but the level of certitude is at times just as great. At times we can know spiritual truths to even greater levels of certitude than we know scientific truths, though at other times we know them with less certitude.
Naturally enough, spiritual perception is unlike the five senses in some ways because it does different kinds of things. On the other hand, the five senses are also different from each other. One cannot see colors with hearing, or hear sounds with sight. We don’t doubt hearing or vision for that reason. In the case of seeing our in-laws, for example, when no sound is present we just consider it a good day. ☺
But, seriously, we understand sight is designed to do one thing, and hearing something else. It is the same with the faculty of spiritual perception. We should not throw out otherwise reliable reports involving the use of spiritual perception because they have not been confirmed by one of our other faculties.
We can advance our understanding of spiritual perception by further comparing it to the five senses on four points.
1. Why do we believe our eyes and ears to begin with (they are not infallible)?
2. How does the evidence for spiritual perception differ from the evidence for the five senses?
3. What sorts of things are perceived with spiritual perception?
4. How do you verify questionable spiritual perceptions?
In other words, let’s respond to the objection, “You claim that spiritual perception works, then exactly how does it work?” (Or even, “How can it possibly work?”)
To respond to this objection, let’s begin by asking why we believe our eyes or ears in the first place? Answer: They get results. And, now in modern times, science can demonstrate the mechanics of how the bodily organs associated with them function. Further, thousands of people in the world community of the sighted and hearing-enabled give consistent reports about their use. Ultimately, at a basic intuitive level, we just know the sense organs were put there for their respective purposes. They are integral parts of us, and we instinctively know what they are to be used for.
Spiritual perception is no different. One might object that, “No, there are differences, two of them: we are not born with spiritual perception, and, at present, we cannot explain the mechanics of a body part that is associated with its use.” On closer inspection, however, these apparent differences go away.
We know there are some people born without the use of their eyes or ears (later corrected in some cases), so that circumstance applies to the five senses as well as to spiritual perception. To be born without a major faculty or ability and to then acquire it later in life is not so novel a concept. We are all born stupid, emotionally immature, and physically uncoordinated—though very, very cute. In fact, most of our important capabilities are developed sometime later in life. Vision itself, is not very well developed at birth—and we can’t even feed ourselves. Therefore, you can throw out the objection that because we are not all born with the faculty of spiritual perception, it can’t be real.
Since babies are the most blessed among us, it is also far from clear that we are not born with spiritual perception. Infants are visibly closer to God, whose spirit is love, than most adults. Their gift may not be well-articulated in intellectual terms, but IQ isn’t the primary tool used to understand the important spiritual truths of life—the heart is the primary tool.
Within the Christian paradigm, at least, we can defend against the concern that we are not all born with spiritual perception on other grounds as well, i.e., there is a reason for it. Because of the original sin, the sins of our ancestors, we are, through inheritance, born in sin, separated from God at birth. Being unreconciled to him, and therefore having little of the spirit in our lives at that point (prior to Baptism), we may have no notable spiritual faculties for the purposes of this discussion beyond the loving heart of a child and the bare existence of the soul itself.
Baptism of the child initially remedies the separation from God produced by the sins of our ancestors, and restores the foundation for receipt of spiritual gifts and faculties. The initial gifts of the Holy Spirit imbued at Baptism, though not insignificant by any means, are later joined by greater gifts at Confirmation in the Church. If serious sin follows later in life, separation from God ensues and spiritual gifts may again be lost. Reconciliation with God is then required through repentance of the sins involved via a contrite confession. There is also the possibility that we may lose spiritual gifts for reasons known only to God. These reasons may have nothing to do with our sins or faults. Recall the assertion by St. Paul that most if not all spiritual gifts are temporary (he doesn’t explain why).
God may give us additional spiritual gifts at various points along our journey of faith after Baptism and Confirmation. One can ask God outright for the spiritual gifts that would be proper for him or her, and should. Matthew 7:7 NAB “Ask and you will receive.”
Unbeknownst to many, the daily bread we ask for in the “Our Father,” the “Lord’s Prayer,” is also bread from Heaven, spiritual nourishment comprised of a multitude of spiritual gifts; it is not just food and material necessities. In fact, since God has promised in the Bible to provide for our daily needs, we need not ask for physical things at all. This argues that God is teaching us to primarily ask for spiritual gifts in prayer.
The specific gifts of the Holy Spirit are not the same for everyone. Christ is the Head and we are the various parts of his mystical body. However, the person of faith, reborn of the spirit through Baptism, will frequently possess some general faculty of spiritual perception.
(1 John 3:23-24)
God’s commandments are these: that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and that we love one another as he told us to.
Whoever keeps his commandments lives in God and God lives in him. We know that he lives in us by the Spirit that he has given us.
God’s dispensing spiritual gifts to his various human children at different times is not so odd a thing as to ground fatal criticism of the validity of spiritual perception. Within the Christian paradigm it is a simple matter of common sense: believe in God and you receive gifts; practice love and you receive gifts; and keep the commandments and you receive gifts.
In situations in the physical world where parents dispense gifts to children the close correspondence among members of a group present in the same place and time is also missing. Why? Because parents choose to give different children different gifts at different times based upon what seems most suitable and beneficial to the child, all things considered (including punishment or disciplinary restrictions).
For those who rush to reject the reality of the faculty of spiritual perception simply because it smacks of religion, and for no other reason, logical or evidential, i.e., reject it automatically, I remind you that it is not good philosophy or good science to reject anything automatically. Such behavior reveals a prejudice, not a logical thought process.
We should give the hypothesis of spiritual perception and the larger JCIG theory serious consideration, as we would any other claim, study it and see how well it can be supported. Therefore, I ask your patience as we move through this fundamental background material. It seems like I am preaching here by citing biblical references. However, my intent is to pose the Christian paradigm as one of various possible explanatory models that demonstrate that the faculty of spiritual perception is a genuine part of human experience and an epistemological tool that can support the scientific theory that God exists.
The only way for atheists to counter the evidential value of the overwhelming personal testimony of 4 billion God-fearing believers is to say that the testimony can’t be valid because no coherent model can be offered of an epistemological means for humans to gain the awareness of God that these witnesses say they have. My purpose in discussing and describing the Christian model through biblical quotes is therefore not to introduce religious authority as grounds for a scientific argument. My purpose is to argue that the faculty of spiritual perception is a plausible reality for many people, and that coherent models that explain its variable presence and less than universal application are available. The Christian paradigm is one of those models. Let’s move back then to a more formal philosophical and scientific argument structure.
So, what about the second point, that we cannot demonstrate the physical bodily mechanics associated with spiritual perception? Materialistic science assumes that all of our mental states correlate to a brain state, so, by science’s own assumptions they can, in theory, find the bodily processes that are associated with the events of spiritual perception. However, science has seldom looked to find that correlation—until recently.
As of 2006 the first exploratory work in this area has now been done. A new study from the University of Montreal appearing in the scientific journal Neuroscience Letters (Volume 405, Issue 3, 25 September 2006) indicates that as many as twelve different regions of the brain are activated during a mystical experience. It is not so odd that nearly all of the brain would be involved, considering that God is so much “bigger” than we are, and that the truths God teaches us are intended to be grasped with the whole person.
The BBC, referring to the University of Montreal study, reports that:
Father Stephen Wang, a Catholic priest teaching at Allen Hall Seminary in London, said: "These brain studies can give us fascinating insights into how the human body and mind and spirit inter-connect, but they should not make us think that prayer and religious experience are just an activity in the brain.
“True Christian mysticism is an encounter with the living God. We meet him in the depths of our souls.
“It is an experience that goes far beyond the normal boundaries of human psychology and consciousness.”
Dr. Mario Beauregard, the lead researcher at Montreal said this regarding the study: “This does not diminish the meaning and value of such an experience and neither does it confirm or disconfirm the existence of God.” Beauregard elaborates these findings in his newly published book, The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of the Soul.
Spiritual experience would then seem not to be a simple matter of a one to one correspondence between spiritual stimuli and a single transaction occurring in a minute area of the brain. Rather, a much more complex physiological process is involved.
To pin down the physical processes that correlate to spiritual perception more precisely, science will have to develop monitoring and observation techniques more sophisticated than those currently available. Even when those improved techniques are available, experiments might not garner great multitudes of volunteers, however: “How about you, or you? We’d sure like to know the answers to these questions, and your family will be well taken care of…just in case of…well, you know…[cough!]—anyway, just sign here to waiver all liability of the hospital and we can get started. We’ll do our best, you can be sure of that. Good. Now, let’s just go ahead and get that skull cap off…like so…attach a few wires… and just look at all those pretty lights!”
Humor aside, science has every reason to expect that such a demonstration of the brain areas and functions associated with spiritual perception can, in theory, be done. The ability to do it is implied by our current scientific assumptions. But we must keep in mind that having a mental, emotional, or spiritual experience correlate to a physical state of the body or brain does not thereby reduce the experience to nothing more than the physical component. It may simply reflect the way the spirit is bonded with the body, which entails that spiritual experience be reflected in corresponding bodily events.
Every valid perception of real entities in the world, chairs, cars, dogs, homes etc., has correlated brain states. These brain states could, in theory, be artificially reproduced to create hallucinations of the same objects. But the fact that our perceptual processes involve the intermediate facilitation of a brain that can be spoofed does not mean that everything is a spoof. Our perceptions are not all illusions. What we are perceiving, or think we are, is typically, though not always, real.
Correlating a particular brain state with the perception of God or other things spiritual, even a state known to be artificially inducible, no more brings the reality of God into question than does correlating a brain state with perception of a car or a dog bring the reality of cars and dogs into question. The validity of spiritual perception, therefore, is not impugned by the ability to correlate it to brain activity or by the possibility of artificially inducing a mystical or meditative religious state of mind. This is acknowledged in a recent Scientific American article by David Biello concerning scientific research into the brain states associated with religious experience, Searching for God in the Brain.
True, at the present time we can’t identify a single physical organ that correlates with the faculty of spiritual perception in the manner in which the eye correlates with sight. We can’t lay the organ on a lab table, dissect it, and explain its mechanics. We can’t say “this is why it works, because this is how it works.” But there has been a time in our history when we could not do that for the eye or the ear either. During those times, people still used their eyes and ears and trusted the result.
Of course, for those of us with spiritual perception the mind-body problem has long since gone away. Our encounters with spiritual persons prove the reality of the spiritual dimension. Interactions between such spiritual beings and we who are in part physical, interactions that at times have direct effects on our bodies, demonstrate the possibility of the spiritual and physical interacting. Healings, blessings, and demonic attacks all can have noticeable effects on the body. We who have had such encounters know dualism is true; we just don’t know how to prove it to those who have not had similar experiences.
Encounters with God are not cases of getting a sneak peek at what is happening in heaven, as if spying through a ship’s porthole without the captain’s permission; they are events of gift giving initiated by God. We are not allowed to peek into heaven on our own initiative. So the consistent correspondence between our making an effort to see or hear and a successful perception that normally occurs with physical sense perception is not to be reasonably expected with the faculty of spiritual perception.
One might attempt a further criticism of spiritual perception by saying that, with the five senses, their use is consistent with a structured body of accumulated knowledge, in this case scientific knowledge. But at a general conceptual level, the same is true of spiritual perception. The Church’s vast theological heritage and deposit of faith give extensive corroboration of the validity of spiritual perception (if one has time for study and the patience to find the references). The rich theology and traditions of the Church are replete with ecumenical councils, centuries of writings of the saints and Church Fathers, papal encyclicals and addresses, biblical commentaries, Canon Law, the Catechism, and the Holy Bible.
All these resources are woven into a knowledgebase called the deposit of faith. While every attempt is made to make the deposit of faith fully accessible to persons with varying levels of education, for our purpose here it is true to say that the deposit of faith constitutes a genuinely professional expert knowledgebase. This deposit is constantly updated and polished under the watchful authoritative eye of the Bishops by not only professional academic theologians, but by Church councils, conferences, and committees. Unbeknownst to many, the bishops and theologians of the Church validate and protect the truths of the faith with a rigor that rivals the care taken by scientists in applying the scientific method.
Spiritual Perception Part 2: Squirrelly Veterinarians
“OK,” you may be willing to concede, “so a plausible case can be made for the reality of so-called ‘spiritual’ experience. But how does one know precisely what is being experienced. Why can’t we write it all off as Jung’s collective unconscious and leave it there, a partial mystery that emerges from brains states. This kind of phenomenon doesn’t have to be immaterial or spiritual at all; it certainly doesn’t have to be a personal infinite and eternal God?”
I think the answer is that the entire integrated knowledgebase of collective Church experience, taken as a whole, forces us to move to a JCIG view of reality based upon the pure rational weight of the evidence. JCIG is more explanatory than “emergence.” “Emergence” is another one of those magical inventions of materialists, like “cumulative selection.” “Emergence” has no coherent scientific meaning at all. It’s just a word signifying a mysterious event that, should we view it the way materialists would prefer, would either translate to an overt contradiction, viz. “purely material objects can produce immaterial events,” or force us to dismiss all our meaningful subjective experience of love, art, morality, and patriotism as illusions.
JCIG theory provides a more well-defined conceptual framework than Jung’s approach, and avoids the contradictions of emergence theory. JCIG theory encounters its own difficulties, but it scores much better on scientific theory evaluation criteria than Jungian theory or physical reductionism with emergence theory.
Objections can also be made to JCIG theory of course. One of the technical problems philosophers have had trouble with for centuries in trying to prove God’s existence has to do with giving a full definition or a set of criteria that might be used to describe or identify God. If we happened to encounter God on the street, how would we know it was God whom we had met? Perhaps it would be obvious if he chose to put on a dramatic display of supernatural signs. But, even then, does that prove him God, or just a magician able to do powerful signs?
How, in fact, could it be established that the being we had encountered was actually God? Having a full definition of God would do it. We could then simply refer to the definition and compare it to the person we had met. But we have no such definition. Even if we could sketch out an outline of the defining parameters of God, we couldn’t reach to the infinite values of those parameters. Using such a system we might be justified in concluding we had encountered something that was God-like, but we couldn’t know with certainty that it was indeed God.
How can anyone or anything fully understand that which is greater than they who are attempting to understand it? How can we finite humans fully grasp, fully understand, fully explain, or fully define something/someone that is in fact infinite? Could we, in theory, ever achieve a full definition of God?
I submit to you that the answer is “No.” This is a logical impossibility, true simply by definition of the terms ‘greater’ and ‘lesser’ as applied to beings whose minds are limited in their capacity to grasp ideas commensurate to their own level of existence.
We may be the species at the top of the epistemological food chain here on Earth, but when it comes to God we are stuck in the pee-wee league. In addition to receiving a major demotion in regards to self-concept we can only go so far on our own initiative towards knowledge of God. The larger concepts pertaining to an infinitely greater being can find no room on the thin mental storage shelves of the lesser minds we humans wield. Those concepts are too big and too different; no proper home can be found for them.
God can do things we can’t understand, go places we can’t go, operate in ranges and dimensions we cannot extend to. To define God fully we would have to vastly expand our minds, and, since God is more essentially the spirit of love than anything else, our hearts. God can do that expansion for us, and sometimes temporarily does do it in mystical experience, but that doesn’t help science get a handle on the question. Science can’t deal with the heart. Science requires replication of events and fully objective perceptions. Temporary and selective divinely bestowed events of subjective cognition are not going to work as a foundation for a scientific understanding of God.
Still, we can know that we have encountered someone unique when we encounter God. Identifying a set of unique attributes for God permits positive identification of God during encounters without our having achieved a full definition of God. This is true despite the fact that we will never know everything about God or be able to subject God to the direct confirmation of science. Let’s take a concrete example, a squirrel.
An injured squirrel encountering a human veterinarian knows it has encountered something, a being certainly, perhaps even a human being. But what kind of human being? Does it know it has encountered a veterinarian, per se: literally a degreed, scientifically trained, veterinarian? Can it know that? Can a squirrel fully comprehend the concept of ‘veterinarian’ so that when it goes ‘home’ it can somehow communicate to its squirrel friends the equivalent of “Hey, guess what? I encountered a veterinarian today. How about that boys!” No, not fully: the mind and conceptual capability of the squirrel is inadequate to the task.
The squirrel can make some progress, though, even fairly significant progress. Over time, and following repeated encounters, he or she may come to distinguish those kinds of things a veterinarian does that other beings and other humans do not do. The squirrel then creates a place in his or her rodent mind and heart for such persons. The squirrel may get as far as grasping that it has encountered an ally and a healer is some primitive way—especially after repeated incidents.
But even then does the squirrel fully know that he has encountered a veterinarian at the highest level of what there actually is to know on the subject? No, of course not. The squirrel still doesn’t get it. She doesn’t understand science; she doesn’t understand human beings as self-conscious, rational thinkers. She can’t grasp the details of sophisticated medical technology, and so on—but she does now know that it is an entity with a unique experiential tag that serves as a user ID or conceptual mug shot. “Oh yeah, that’s the guy! He’s the one that always does the healings that none of the other creatures do.” The squirrel can’t define a vet, but she knows one when she encounters one in the role of medical patient. The squirrel at that point can reliably identify a veterinarian, though she still cannot define one.
Similarly, despite our inability to establish a full definition of God, there remains a real hope for establishing some less comprehensive criteria that would nonetheless be sufficient to identify him. This is a crucial step in our scientific argument for the existence of God because having the capability to identify God would be enough to provide a basis for presenting conclusive evidence for his existence.
One doesn’t have to fully define something to be able to identify it. When the United States or the Soviet Union got their first glimpse of the opposing sides’ latest missile systems, SS-27, Minuteman, whatever, they didn’t know everything about what was inside the missiles, but they soon knew enough to identify the new systems and confirm their existence.
To allow a positive ID of God the requirements are the same as for identifying anything else. What is required is to find something truly unique, something that pertains to no one else but God. We would then be able to know it was God when we had met a being having this unique attribute.
We need, of course, not just some unique characteristic or attribute, but one that is within humanity’s ability both to perceive. To ‘prove’ God’s existence one then need merely give sufficient evidence to establish that one or more of his unique attributes had been perceived—not all of him, which would be too much for us, but only something unique which would point to him and nothing else. I argue that, given the validity of the faculty of spiritual perception, this much can be done.
Let’s take the squirrel story a little further. How much of her experiential criterion for the veterinarian’s existence is the squirrel able to communicate to others? What happens when the squirrel, recently treated by the vet, is healed of her injuries and released back into her own community? Let’s assume for the sake of discussion that squirrels can talk, other things remaining the same. What sort of interactions might occur on the subject of her encounter with the veterinarian?
Squirrel #1: “Well, what exactly was it?”
Squirrel #2: “Something different, higher.”
“Higher? In what way?”
“I was injured, and he healed me. I think he cares about us.”
“That’s not possible. You’re nuts.”
“No, no it’s real; it happened. My leg is healed, see for yourself. In fact, your leg is hurt too. Maybe you should go meet him.”
“Leg’s heal all the time. I’m not going to see him until you prove it to me.”
Another squirrel, says, “I just got ran over on the road. I’m hurt. I wish you could prove it. I need help, and quick.”
After exhausting all the alternatives in her mind, the former patient just throws up her paws (and tail) and says, “Follow me and I’ll show you.”
In the case of God, as with the squirrels, it turns out to be impossible to explain even that much which we do have under our conceptual belts, a partial experience-based definition, unless the person we are speaking to has had the same experience. They understand “all-powerful” and “omniscient,” but, without direct experience of God or another heavenly being, not “holy” and “divine.” Our language of the holy and divine is literally meaningless to them, though it is not meaningless to us.
Mrs. Squirrel finds herself frustrated by the same communications gap. But, as time passes, several injured squirrels go out, meet the veterinarian, and return healed. Some detailed reports are given of the shots, the splints, veterinarian hospital food, the knife, the medicine, etc.—all from the limited perspective and mindset of a squirrel, mind you, but detailed and reliable reports nonetheless. They now have a reasonably clear set of criteria with which to identify a veterinarian from their own frame of reference and range of experience.
The squirrels can’t fully explain, define, or understand the vet, but they can identify him. He’s not a dog, cat, crow, or chipmunk; he isn’t even a typical human. He is the being which does these kinds of things: temporarily restricts you’re freedom, causes you some painful experiences, gives you the best food every day, has a nice caring touch, handles certain special kinds of objects, heals you completely, makes you feel wonderful, then sets you free to live a happy life again. Sound familiar? It should; this is precisely what we know about God and what we see him doing via the priest acting in persona Christi at each and every Holy Mass or Church service! The “best food” in this case is spiritual, but that is the best food.
God’s healing, giving, and blessing behaviors are some of the attributes that serve to uniquely identify him to human beings. God’s holiness is another uniquely identifying characteristic that is perceivable to humans by the mechanism of spiritual perception, especially at Mass/church service. Divine love is another. Just as color can be perceived by sight, divine love and holiness can be perceived by spiritual perception, perceived in the human heart.
On this basis alone, one knows God as God when he is present. Others who have had these same perceptions verify our experience and there is even a community of technical experts, bishops and theologians, who further explain and certify the underlying truths, much as scientists do for sight or hearing. It many ways, at a fundamental level, our confirmation of spiritual truths employs the same kind of confirmation process used by science: direct perception supported by a conceptual model, an expert knowledgebase, and a scholastic discipline.
Our squirrels would be fools at this point to deny the existence of the veterinarian simply because they don’t know everything there is to know about him. They have sufficient grounds to believe in his existence and they can pick him out of a crowd. And it is mightily important to them at times that they can pick him out of a crowd. Their healing and even ultimate survival depends upon it. But, can they prove the vet exists to another who hasn’t had the same experience: no. They can only ‘say’, “Follow me and I’ll show you.” When the new squirrel meets the vet and is also healed, then they too know the vet is real.
The situation with humans and God is the same as with the squirrels and the vet, even to the point of our being reticent to visit the “doctor.” As we begin to learn the faith we first find our freedom somewhat restricted (by the Ten Commandments). We have some painful experiences associated with the spiritual healing process (acute moral awareness and the pangs of guilt at confession). As we begin to actively seek the Kingdom of God we discover that God is very actively caring for us and providing our daily bread as he promised in the scripture. Over time, we are fully healed through divine forgiveness, conversion, and rebirth and then set free to be happy. Forever afterwards, we will always be able to pick God out of the crowd as he who does these uniquely wonderful things; and what he does has become mightily important to our lives.
The squirrels “in the know” have found out something both unique and significant about the veterinarian. They can pick him out of a crowd by the things he does. This is important to understand in discussing the history of arguments about God’s existence because it is often said that since we can’t fully understand God, we shouldn’t talk about him at all, i.e., our attempts are all doomed to be useless and incoherent, having no uniquely specific or even coherently understandable referent. The situation with the squirrels shows such claims to be blatantly false. The squirrels know who they are referring to because what he does is unique: hawks don’t do it; bears don’t do it; most humans don’t do it; only veterinarians do it—and it is mightily important to their lives. They can now ‘discuss’ the vet coherently within the subgroup of those who have met him, although the discussion will lose its meaning outside that group.
Group-limited linguistic coherence is not unique to religious experience; it applies to sports, technical professions, complex hobbies, almost everything at some point in relation to some people. Group-limited linguistic coherence applies anywhere a specific set of experiences and private knowledgebase is required to provide the meaningful referents for a subset of language. Children don’t have the experiences of adults; visitors from a foreign culture don’t have the experiences of the natives, etc. If we were to throw out all concepts that might conceivably be affected by experience group coherence we wouldn’t have anything left!
The materialist scientists and philosophers who have ridiculed religion all these years have always known this (or should have); they just don’t accept our word that we believers, all 4 billion strong of us, have “met the veterinarian.” Following Freud, they think we are all “nuts,” wishful thinking neurotics with a compulsive need to believe in an afterlife. Considering that Freud heartily recommended the Gestapo, I think there are plausible grounds to assert that he was neurotic!
But the sciences of psychology and statistical mathematics are both strongly against the materialists here. What are the odds that two thirds of the entire world’s population is suffering from the same neurosis at the same time, and not showing any other symptoms of illness beyond being religious? Are we, the “squirrels” who have met the vet, being rational in our belief? Yes. Are, they, the “squirrels” who have not met the vet being rational in their disbelief? Perhaps not. The relative merits of the thinking of one small cluster of squirrels may be roughly equal to that of another cluster, but humans have the intellectual capacity to evaluate the evidential weight of consistent testimony from 4 thousand million intelligent beings who have no known motive to lie.
The squirrel analogy gives us a major advancement toward establishing JCIG as a plausible scientific theory: the ability to identify God as God when we experience him. We can establish a set of unique and perceivable attributes God has that no one else has—not a complete set, but a unique set. Combine this with a statistical inductive argument from the testimony of 4 billion people concerning their having met a being in their direct experience who has the unique attributes ascribable to God and JCIG theory becomes at least as scientifically legitimate as Jungian psychology. Squirrels in the know shouldn’t pretend veterinarians don’t exist out of fear of ridicule from nonbelievers, and we people of faith shouldn’t pretend God doesn’t exist either for fear of ridicule by materialists in science.
We should note this important difference between God and a veterinarian: all things are possible to God, though not to the veterinarian—all things. God (our creator) can, if he chooses, reveal himself to us. At the same time he can increase our capacity to grasp the meaning of what he has revealed, if only temporarily in a mystical beatific vision. (CCC 1028) In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 52) teaches that God intends to do exactly that.
Let’s plug that concept back into the squirrel story. In “Squirrelsville,” this situation would be comparable to, say, a genetic engineering experiment where some of the squirrels are altered to increase their brain capacity and function. Three of four of the squirrels with expanded brain capacity now play the stock market each quarter and have happily progressed to become major shareholders in Mixed Nuts & Sunflower Seed Corp.
Still, the squirrel’s expanded capacity for perception and ‘understanding’ that has comes about as a result of the experiment is only communicable between those squirrels having similar genetic and physical alterations. The others won’t get it, so to speak. The others won’t understand why security guards drive off all the outsider squirrels when the corporate truck arrives at the park for regular deliveries. Twice a week like clockwork those same five odd geeky squirrels with reading glasses and cell phone-connected mini-computers enter the security van to eat their fill, emerging in an hour or two several pounds heavier.
Miscellaneous Objections Against Spiritual Perception
A faculty doesn’t have to be universally present in the population to represent a valid human capability. We don’t doubt sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell because we happen to be temporarily lacking in one or more of those gift ourselves, or because reports from others in the community are mixed. We understand that different people have different abilities, but these abilities when present function in a generally reliable way.
It’s no different with spiritual perception. If many people consistently report the results of their spiritual perception, and it is as functional within the community of those who have it as the five senses are in the communities of those who have them, we have no grounds for rejecting the one, while accepting the others. Imperfections, flaws, mistakes, hallucinations and intentional obstructions, are all common to the five senses and spiritual perception. We don’t reject the five senses for such flaws, so we shouldn’t reject spiritual perception on that basis either. That doesn’t make spiritual perception a tool of natural science, but it does make it an instrument of obtaining genuine knowledge through direct experience.
If we are to accept the flagrant prejudices of the materialists, we may as well define science as accepting only reports from four senses, not five, excluding the evidence of sight. You will no doubt say, oh that would just be arbitrary and unjustified. But that is my point about excluding valid experience gained through spiritual perception as evidence for God’s existence.
Why do the members of our blind and deaf communities have a vastly better track record of trusting those with sight or hearing than atheists and agnostics have of trusting the community of the faithful? Because the topic of the five physical senses is not a politically loaded subject; it doesn’t affect the political war between atheistic Marxism and the God-fearing democratic West.
Spiritual perception, you might be surprised to learn, can at times admit of public (though not empiric) verifiability. This occurred, for example, at Fatima, Portugal in 1917 where St. Mary appeared to the three shepherd children and later a much larger group. Not everyone at Fatima who claimed to be perceiving supernatural events “saw” precisely the same thing. At Fatima, the event itself may have been a complex mixture of multiple private revelations (different gifts from God), spiritual perceptions and discernments generally, and a genuine public miracle, in addition to some counterfeit experiences perpetrated by demonic spirits. It would require a lot of close study to sort it all out.
My thesis is that, because spiritual perception is designed to be used to perceive God’s gifts, the fact that we aren’t all given the same gift at the same time does not invalidate the faculty or exclude the possibility that multiple persons are at times given the same gift at the same time. They can at least perceive that God or a heavenly being is present—and sometimes, as in the case of exorcisms, a being not so heavenly is present.
The epistemological value of spiritual perception is thus not impugned by the fact that shared “public” perceptions with multiple confirmations are infrequent and hard to sort out. The fact that they are theoretically possible is enough to validate the faculty as of some epistemological value. The frequent lack of public confirmation of spiritual perceptions has more to do with the nature of the event than the nature of the faculty. Back when there were only a few quality microscopes available to science the observations made were not invalidated by the fact that only one person could observe the studied specimen at the same time and that few scientists among the much greater number interested in the question could make the observation.
Sense perceptions are neither always publicly confirmable nor fully consistent. Some people are colorblind and see green in place of red and vice versa; some don’t have sight at a given moment; some may have an injury that distorts their vision; mirages occur, and distortions by fog and water vapor that affect some perspectives more than others, etc. Some individuals may simply not be looking in the direction of the object seen by others in the vicinity. This latter situation is usually the case in missed opportunities for spiritual perception: while some people are looking up at higher spiritual ground many others are locked onto more mundane concerns down here on Earth—or worse, practicing witchcraft.
By its very nature, spiritual perception invokes the occurrence of a lot more situations of this kind where the opportunity for multiple simultaneous observations is limited. Spiritual gifts tend to be given to those who are looking in the right direction for the right reasons. The faculty of spiritual perception is easily atrophied through lack of use, much like our physiques disintegrate when we don’t exercise. It can also be distorted by any of a plethora of spiritual illnesses.
Sense perception yields some variation among simultaneous observers, though not nearly as much as spiritual perception. In a given event no two individuals are going to see exactly the same thing using the five senses owing to minor differences in their perceptual mechanisms, brain injuries, drugs in the body, exhaustion, or even wishful thinking. This range of variation is well known but does not impugn the reliability of sense perception generally.
As the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant noted, we always interpret what we see with our eyes through the filters of our culture, our language, and our personal experience. Add to this the imperfections in each person’s sense organs and we see that no two persons ever truly know what the other is seeing with certainty, at least as regards the details. Police detectives will tell you that witnesses to the same crime don’t always report precisely the same observations.
There is also the matter of mentally processing what you have seen, and then recalling it with accuracy. The bottom line is that the combined system of sense perception and mental processing that underlies empiric science produces some variability, and some error. It is not the perfect reliability of human sense organs and mental processing systems that gives near certainty to our scientific knowledge, but the combination of cross verification between different observers, use of scientific instruments to aid and cross-check observations, and the repeatability of an observation. Thus, the mere presence of some variability does not make spiritual perception necessarily less reliable than human perception via the sense organs. We just need sufficient practical wisdom and experience with the subject to know when to trust it, where it doesn’t legitimately apply, how to spot frauds, etc.
Although spiritual perception by its nature involves a much higher frequency of variability in spiritual experience, there is still a solid core of faith-based spiritual experience that is strongly consistent. (Satanists probably think their experience in the black arts is consistent, but I suspect the truth is very different.) With spiritual perception we can learn, as we do with sense perception, in which circumstances the event context naturally drives variation based upon the presence of countervailing factors that preclude consistency; we can learn when to trust or not to trust a spiritual perception based upon indications of fraud or deceit, etc.
Despite the presence of much variability in spiritual experience, exceptions do occur, especially when the faithful sit down to eat together or go in to worship together in church. During both of these events, reports of spiritual perceptions will tend to be very consistent. We all tend to feel the blessing at the beginning and end of our meals and the holy presence of the love of God during the church service. The degree to which we are blessed will vary according to the amount of faith a person has at the time, and specific spiritual gifts will be different for each person, but the general awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit will be a very consistent element in these events.
All things considered, the spiritual perception faculty should not be considered impugned by the appearance of inconsistent results any more than sense perception is impugned by inconsistent individual experiences as long as the results are explainable by differences in event context, individual capabilities and perspectives, distorting factors, environmental conditions, state of health, state of mind, educational development, fraudulent intent, etc. Variations in spiritual experience can be explained by all of these things in addition to the very simple precept that a good parent is not going to give identical gifts at the same moment to children of different ages at different points in development, exhibiting different types of behavior, deserving of different rewards or punishments, and so on. Given the known variability in the parameters that affect religious experiences, spiritual perception is, in its essence, no more inconsistent than the five senses (actually less so); it is merely operating in a more variable environment.
The Catholic Church has a well-developed professional knowledgebase on the subject of spiritual perception, and many well-documented and publicly verifiable cases of interaction with spiritual persons. It is well established that greater compassion, greater holiness, and greater purity tends to yield greater spiritual gifts.
The ability of the empiric method of science to proceed fully depends upon the assumption that the majority of people performing scientific work have the intention to tell the truth about what they have perceived and have the ability to competently interpret their experience. Fortunately, the success of science so far demonstrates that this assumption is true. Once we make that same assumption that human witness is generally honest and the witnesses capable of rationally interpreting their experience, we have every reason to grant the reality of spiritual perception based upon the testimony of enormous masses of people otherwise held to be credible.
We are not speaking here of some rare fluke type event. There are untold billions of historical incidents of spiritual perceptions. There are close to a billion Catholics at present and a similar number of Protestant Christians. Add another two billion for the Jewish, Moslem and other religious faiths. All believers receive significant spiritual gifts at baptism, conversion, confirmation, and many other significant religious events. Catholics, for example, are especially blessed with gifts while participating in the Holy Sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist. Devout believers are alsp periodically blessed by God, their guardian angels, and by their patron saints during worship services, in prayer, and when performing charitable works and good deeds. These blessings are often palpable events, undeniable moments of spiritual awareness.
There are reliable historical records of frequent events of supernatural visions, divine visitations, inexplicable healings, and other miracles. If one discounts all these events as psychological manifestations prior to investigation, science’s assumption that typical human observers are honest, rational, physiologically sound, and otherwise reliable reporters of their experiences, goes away. The reliability of human science goes with it.
If humanity doubted the honesty of the average human being and the capability of human beings to competently grasp the meaning of their direct experience we would have had no basis to engage in science or to undertake methodical investigations of anything at all. There would have been no basis upon which to expect a reliable result from the processing of scientific observations.
Conversely, the fact that science’s success has confirmed its methods also serves to confirm the basic reliability and honesty of human beings when they report on their direct experience. As a matter of historical fact, the human beings that have performed science (most of them also religious) have shown themselves by science’s results to have been reliable witnesses.
Granted, the addition of rigorous validation techniques and scientific method adds much reliability to the raw perceptions of the five senses. However, the Church has a correspondingly rigorous professionally maintained set of validation procedures employed to guarantee the veracity of the core truths of the faith, and to authenticate proposed miracles. Over time, these professional validation measures take all or most of the opportunity for drawing false conclusions out of the process of spiritual perception. The Church’s validation procedures may take longer than the scientific method does for routine investigations, but they have the same result: high confidence in the result—and there is nothing routine about most religious encounter experience.
Thus, I stand on my assertion that on a conceptual level sense perception and spiritual perception are fundamentally similar in terms of epistemological justification. They have both been overwhelmingly validated through the centuries. There are, of course, huge differences in subject matter, but the epistemological foundations are very similar, depending as they do on rigorous methodology and massively cross-corroborated elements of a professionally maintained knowledgebase.
True, there is the glaring difference of science being concerned with objective direct experience and religion subjective direct experience. But is this difference in the extent to which the empiric method can be applied alone sufficient reason to reject the entire realm of religious truth? No. The difference is a natural consequence of the respective subject matters being different.
If a photographer cannot see far off with the macro lens on the camera she is using, she has the good sense to change to the telephoto lens, the sense to use the right tool for the job. Similarly, we should not throw out the validity of the “telephoto lens” of religious faith just because we can’t do science with it. We should accept the truths offered by both scientific observation and religious experience and be glad to have them both.
Let that suffice to cover the first two questions: we believe in our five senses simply because they work, and, despite differences in method, there is no significant difference in evidential value between the evidence for the validity of the five senses and the evidence for spiritual perception at the most fundamental level of epistemological theory.
Now let’s briefly consider the third and fourth questions: what sorts of things are perceived with spiritual perception, and how can such perceptions be verified?
There are at least five classes of things that can be perceived with spiritual perception:
spiritual persons (angels, saints, God)
spiritual “objects” (God’s temple in Heaven, visionary renditions of objects, etc.)
spiritual and moral events, that is, events having significant implications concerning right and wrong or good and evil; prophetic manifestations in world events; angelic or demonic intervention into human affairs, etc.
spiritual qualities of persons: holiness, goodness, virtues, evil
spiritual truths, which include the core tenets of the faith, teaching principles, and moral guidelines
Taking the Catholic metaphysic as an example, the class of spiritual persons is comprised of God the Father Almighty, Jesus Christ his son and our Savior, the Holy Spirit, angels, demons (fallen angels), saints and martyrs, and the souls of the faithful departed who have died and gone to Heaven, Hell or Purgatory (the departed are not routinely contacted, however). The throne of God in Heaven and the tongues of fire of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost are examples of spiritual objects.
Spiritual and moral perception allow us to notice corresponding aspects of world events. Moral perception is taken here as a subcategory of spiritual perception. This is not to say that human beings could have no moral awareness at all without God’s spiritual gifts, but to affirm that God’s spiritual gifts do drive their own form of moral awareness.
Not everyone has precisely the same gifts for these kinds of perceptions, but we are, in theory, capable of receiving the same gifts through personal growth and the grace of God. Most of us can at least see a startlingly good or evil situation for what it is. We can see that some people act morally better than others at a given moment in time, and that some people see morally better than others at a given moment in time. The morally gifted can see the good or evil in a situation (moral events) more sharply while some of the rest of us may at times overlook subtle elements of a moral situation and stumble into an impropriety, even while being otherwise prepared to act for the good and the right when we can see it. Sometimes the elements we miss aren’t so subtle.
Kindergarten and Sunday-school teachers for example, are a likely group to have enhanced spiritual perception regarding the moral value of events. They must remain constantly on the lookout for a chance to both protect and instruct a young child.
Noticing the prophetic signs of the end of this world and impending judgment is another common application of the gift of spiritual perception. So is a general or specific awareness of demonic or angelic forces at work in the world around us.
Spiritual qualities are easy enough to understand. We all take for granted that in some cases at least we can tell the difference between a good and an (hopefully temporarily) evil person. We will grant, even if we are not very good at it, that others have the faculty of discerning the goodness or evilness of a person, and of discerning the presence of specific virtues. Kindness, generosity, charity, honesty, etc., are all spiritual qualities (the virtues) that can be perceived, as are their opposites, the vices. “Know them by their fruit.” Most people have a reasonably good sense of who has which of these qualities just from meeting a person briefly, without knowing life histories or observing specific behaviors.
Spiritual truths include the primary tenets of religious faith. For the Christian faith these include God as creator, Christ as savior, and the Ten Commandments, which through Christ have now been written on the hearts of people of faith. All the moral and religious truths of the Christian Bible and other great religious works, such as the Torah, Tanakh, and the Koran, are truths that can, at least with a modicum of instructional formation, be perceived with spiritual perception.
Biblical precepts as well as secular precepts of more general spiritual wisdom can be perceived in the same manner: “charity covers a multitude of sins;” “ask and you will receive;” “do unto others as you would have them do unto you;” “love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself,” and so on.
A similar inventory of spiritual truths is available to spiritual perception for members of the other valid religious faiths, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism, etc. It is interesting to note that the spiritual truths of the different faiths turn out to be remarkably similar. Such truths, then, in addition to spiritual beings, spiritual qualities, and spiritual objects, comprise the inventory of things available to spiritual perception.
Now we come to the last of the four questions we asked as a guide to clarifying the nature of spiritual perception: how do you verify questionable spiritual perceptions? How do you resolve differences of spiritual perception?
There are limits regarding how far we can verify spiritual perceptions, but verification is not always possible for physical perceptions either. For empiric observations in science verification is available in theory, but not always in practice. The same is true of spiritual perception. The point here is not to perform a precise comparative scoring of spiritual perception against the five senses assisted by natural science, but only to say that at times verification of spiritual perceptions is possible.
Not all contacts with spiritual beings are subtle. If God or one of his heavenly servants wants your attention they will get it. The same is true for demons. They are hugely powerful and will at times do flagrant physical and spiritual attacks and obstructions. They will also impersonate God and the good angels in such powerful ways that humans may not be able to tell the difference.
Angels and saints may otherwise convey a direct awareness of their presence and personae, a presence that we humans can easily differentiate from our own selves. Some of these encounters are glaringly obvious, though they can also be subtle and quiet.
The only question with the appearance of spiritual beings is not whether there is one present, but which side is he/she/it on. Only the bishops and the priests they delegate their authority to have the spiritual gifts requisite to answering this question (Christ’s authority over demons), but they are available to help us when the question comes up. The method of resolving a question about more subtle forms of spiritual experience is the same: consult the bishop whose authority gives him sufficient reach and “vision” into the problem to resolve the question, or the local priest who is the bishop’s delegate in such matters.
A method available to resolve differences of opinion regarding spiritual truths is to consult the Holy Bible, the Torah, the Tanakh, or the Koran in conjunction with the Church’s accumulated “Deposit of Faith,” or to consult the Catholic bishops who have apostolic teaching authority, including the Pope. The authoritative teachings of the Church are consolidated into what is called the magisterium. The magisterium is a sure and trustworthy guide, though only a small but still substantial and critically important part of it is literally infallible. The infallible part, naturally, is the most trustworthy, and in itself covers the requirement for a means to verify the most important spiritual perceptions.
The standard method of resolving questions about spiritual truths outside the infallible core teachings on faith and morals is to request a priest or bishop to render an interpretation of the magisterium on an issue after making a reasonable effort to find the answer in scripture, the Catechism, decrees of the popes and ecumenical Church councils, writings of the Church Fathers, or the lives of the saints.
My purpose is not to preach the Catholic faith but to make a point about epistemology. Having a professionally managed knowledgebase and a set of standardized procedures for verification renders otherwise subtle and elusive spiritual faculties coherent and useable, at least for mainstream Church-driven applications. Spiritual perceptions can therefore yield truth in predefined, systematic and verifiable ways.
True, there are many people who engage in spiritual activities that do not submit to the Church’s authority, and so these methods of dispute resolution are not available to them. But the fact that not everyone submits their questions to science for resolution does not invalidate the scientific method. One can also do sloppy science, but the scientific method is not invalidated because someone fails to practice it with proper discipline.
Yes, much of the spiritual realm remains mysterious and mystical, but not all. Enough is coherent that we can at least establish that we have a spirit; that we have a God; and that at times and within limits we may be privileged to interact with a spiritual community of saintly and angelic persons.
I should note here what has become obvious to many experienced members of the Church: an event involving the rare but blessedly real presence of God and his angels and saints is truly unmistakable. The holiness, the righteousness, the sense of reverence, the authority, the peace, love and joy clearly mark an event or encounter as being of God. Such encounters are a blessing, and they feel like one.
Satan and his demons do offer close counterfeits. They will attempt to impersonate even holy encounters with God and his angels and saints. They have deceived most of us in the Church in our early days of the faith, and more than once, but further experience reveals that the counterfeit falls far short of the real thing. Once one has experienced a genuinely holy moment, that’s it; future deceptions are only momentary and, by comparison, unconvincing. But even the demonic counterfeits give unmistakable evidence of the reality of the supernatural dimension as such.
How do you detect the counterfeit? Demons can make impressive events of light and sound, crystal clear visions, and powerful biochemical or mental hallucinations, but there is no love in them (there might be lots of lust however, so watch out). By contrast what one perceives in an encounter with God or the host of Heaven is love first and foremost, to the point of being the overwhelmingly dominant element of the encounter if not the entirety of it. Having once experienced the presence of divine love and genuine holiness, you will know when it is missing. Prior to having had such a blessing, of course, deception remains much more possible due to the absence of a known standard of reference.
Spiritual truths may be expressed symbolically and therefore need interpretation, translation, or exposition. There is an established academic discipline to do these tasks using rigorous methods, although universal agreement isn’t always achieved even among scholars. The lack of universal agreement in all situations, however, makes theology no different than some of the disciplines of science.
Differences of opinion on prophetic questions will obviously occur more frequently than on topics of basic theology. Many of the prophetic questions remain unresolved, but, to the extent that anyone in fact knows or can determine the answer, they can be reliably answered by study of the scriptures and reference to the deposit of faith and the magisterium. Many questions in science remain unresolved as well, even very fundamental ones.
The fact that some questions of the faith are complex or vague enough to require resolution over long periods of time is not so odd. Physics has been struggling with grand unification theory for some time now, but that doesn’t mean the whole enterprise is incoherent. The Church’s admitted ignorance and humility on certain questions does not so radically distance its methods from those of science. Einstein and his colleagues in theoretical physics did not always immediately come to agreement on complex and obtuse issues minus periods of further study, analysis and deep contemplation, and in some cases they never did come to agreement, notably about how to integrate quantum physics and relativity theory into a single theory of physics.
In review, I have argued that, although the methods for concrete application of spiritual and empiric perception are very different, we have exactly the same sort of fundamental epistemological justification for the reliability of spiritual perception as we have for the use of the five senses:
2. Consensus among reliable witnesses that it works
3. Consistency with an accumulated body of technical knowledge managed by professionals
4. Intuitive understanding of its purpose
5. A well-delineated and understood scope of application
6. Methods of confirmation and means to resolve disputes concerning questionable perceptions and differences of opinion
Given the validity of spiritual perception generally and the reinforcement provided by the Church’s knowledgebase and academically rigorous approach to consistency and validation, we are as entitled to believe in God as we are in any other person we know of but haven’t had direct physical contact with—more so, given that we have direct spiritual contact with God in many cases. This doesn’t mean that spiritual perception is a tool of science as such, but it does mean that personal testimony about spiritual experience should count as reliable evidence.
When evaluating alternative explanatory models of our world, such as the competing atheistic-materialist model, which asserts the accidental evolution of life, and the JCIG model, which affirms evolution assisted by intelligent design, we should give substantial weight to witness testimony from people of faith. The epistemological foundations for spiritual perception are fundamentally as sound as for science. There is no reason beyond political prejudice to consider the 4 billion people who believe in God to all be so neurotic in their beliefs as to be unreliable witnesses.
That essentially covers what has traditionally been called the argument for God’s existence from religious experience. By refocusing the discussion on the epistemological validity of spiritual perception and the construction of a heuristic explanatory model of human religious behavior, similar to what psychological theorists do in the science of psychology, we see that this classic argument for God’s existence from religious experience can be reformulated as a scientific theory, what I call JCIG theory. JCIG theory is a heuristic model, but so are the classic theories of human psychology heuristic models. Let’s move on, then, to the other classical philosophical arguments for God’s existence.
Next up: William Paley’s Watchmaker Argument and its modern reformulations. After Paley we will look at St. Thomas Aquinas’ first cause argument; and, in the postscript, St. Anselm’s concept of necessary existence.
William Paley’s Design Argument Updated
William Paley became famous for saying a watch implies a watchmaker. The argument is powerfully elegant in that simple original form. Expanding Paley’s argument to facilitate its applications to things whose origin remains unknown (like biological systems) yields something like this.
The living world exhibits sophisticated functional machines, complex interactive systems, intricate patterns, and fine art. Therefore, there must, at a minimum, be a designer of those biological systems and mechanisms, and possibly a designer of the larger world that contains them. This is true because, as Paley argued, a machine implies its maker.
This reformulation of Paley is linguistically less eloquent and therefore psychologically less powerful. However, a mathematical analysis of living systems shows the complexity of life to be far beyond that of a watch. In comparison to what we now know of the nearly incomprehensible intricacies of microbiology and genetics, what Paley and the design theorists of his generation were calling complexity turns out to be simplicity itself. After going through all this biological complexity I think even I could build a watch! Seems simple by comparison.
Despite a decades-long parade of neo-Darwinian propaganda, Paley’s design argument remains unrefuted. A watch still implies a watchmaker, and the evidence for design in biology continues to pile up at an astounding rate. No one on either side of the early evolution debate, Paley, Darwin, Wallace, Mivart, or any of the other experts of their day, knew or even suspected the immense biological complexity science has since discovered. If the design argument was convincing then, how much more so should it be today?
The problem in finalizing the evolution debate in favor of God, or an intelligent designer of some other kind, consists not so much in establishing that a watch implies a watchmaker, or that the biological systems of life look like very impressive machines (it does, and they do), but in demonstrating the applicability of Paley’s argument to biological evolution specifically.
The neo-Darwinists would have us deny the applicability of Paley to biology, making evolution the sole exception to the rule because of, you guessed it, “cumulative selection.” As discussed in Part 1, the concept of cumulative selection, in terms of mathematical validity, is nothing more than a place holder for unexplained magic. The sum of the parts must still equal the whole. Properly computed improbabilities for the accidental evolution of the tree of life cannot be reduced by simply breaking the total into historical parts while chanting such nonsense as “Look! It became easier for nature to build life as life came closer to being built.”
Given that cumulative selection fails to save the otherwise visibly ridiculous theory of accidental evolution, Paley’s argument can no longer be dismissed as an intellectually quaint relic of our religious past, inapplicable to the complex machines and systems of biology. The argument from design now seems as valid in biology as it has always been held to be for watches and other products of mechanical engineering, more so really, since we now know that living systems are much more complex than any machine we have ever built.
Mathematician William Dembski has infused new life into Paley’s argument by demonstrating that an accidental process could not have made the living ultra-complex machines of biology prior to exhausting trillions of times the time and physical resources available in evolutionary history. Microbiologist Michael Behe adds further impetus to the modern design argument by explaining that biological systems have very specific and precise functional designs comprised of closely matched interactive parts. They error check and repair themselves. They are also guided by an information blueprint coded into DNA that is indistinguishable from a computer language. Why then aren’t the systems of biology considered by evolutionary theorists to be machines that qualify under Paley’s watchmaker argument? If it quacks like a duck….
In addition to claiming that living systems are an exception to Paley’s argument due to cumulative selection, there are a few other objections that the Darwinists raise to the design argument, such as the wandering path of evolution, imperfections in the process, and the presence of evil in our world.
The objection that a wandering path can’t be guaranteed to arrive at its destination is very much minimalized by the fact that the designer is most likely God who could foresee precisely where the path will arrive. It’s pretty hard to argue the impotency of a wandering path in this case when the wandering just so happened to accomplish against all odds precisely what nature needed for a sophisticated and finely tuned interdependent living ecosystem. Ironically, when Darwinists first raised these objections, nearly all the improved and unimproved roads of the civilized and uncivilized worlds did precisely that: wander before arriving at their destinations.
Since nature is precisely where people tend to wander for the sheer pleasure of enjoying the fantastic beauty of natural creations, it is not so counter-intuitive that the Creator might have allowed himself to do much the same thing in the process of creating. An artist can at times have fun exploring even within a work in progress. Although some great artists were no doubt very methodical in their approach, a gifted artist’s painting technique or a world-class architect’s approach to design is not always going to reflect the dull straight line, mechanical mindset of engineers and machinists.
And it is no longer at all clear that the path of evolution did wander to an extent that it differs radically from other processes of intelligent creation. The math says that evolution couldn’t have diverged much from a direct straight-line approach. There was insufficient time and material available to build machines of that complexity otherwise. Add in the artistic license factor, the perfect foresight of God, and the fact that God doesn’t have to meet a time schedule, and there is no reason to view any so-called wanderings in the evolutionary path as indicating the absence of intelligent design.
The neo-Darwinists other objections to the intelligent design of life, that the process of life’s creation is imperfect and that there is suffering and evil in the world, are addressed at length in the appendix on 100 fallacies of neo-Darwinian evolution (currently removed from the Internet for revision). We can quickly dispense with them here by citing the Christian worldview as one counterexample of a world where the existence of imperfections, suffering and evil does not disprove intelligent design.
In the Christian worldview humans were given paradise to start. We then fell out of favor with God through rebellion and sin. We were kicked out of paradise, and this world was cursed with imperfections as a deserved punishment. We were given the chance to be redeemed and regain paradise in the perfect world that will follow this one. In short, the fact that a misbehaving child incurs punishment does not disprove the existence of an intelligent and caring parent.
Some readers way want to add their own objection to extending Paley’s design argument to biology: that they intuitively have real trouble considering anything soft and gooey as a machine. Some may have intuitively felt that the gooey substances of life simply were not tractable to an intelligent construction process. There is a certain amount of intuitive force to this objection, for on the surface it would appear that only an accident could do anything with squishy, gooey, slimy building materials (Need a lunch break?). How does one hold a slimy squishy nail in place long enough to set it with the hammer? How in fact can it be set?
While human mechanical instincts do argue against squishy machines, recent developments in the biosciences have shown those kinds of intuitions to be incorrect. It can be done. Scientists have now begun to create biotic machines out of the same stuff of which life is made. It is possible to make gooey machines. One just has to better understand the materials in terms of their affinity to interact in consistent ways proscribed by natural law.
Another objection might be that we don’t have the history of life’s production in the same way that we have the histories for our computers, televisions, and automobiles. That is true, but, some things are visibly machines whether we know their history, place, date, and manner of manufacture or not. If a new type of car shows up in the middle of the Sahara Desert or at the bottom of the Grand Canyon we don’t assume it was constructed by accident just because we cannot identify the manufacturer. That car is just visibly a machine.
Do we know everything about life’s creation? No, of course not, but after all we have seen in this discussion so far, where should the burden of proof lie on this question? With those who say that living organisms and their subsystems are machines or with those who say they are not?
The intellectual trick that neo-Darwinists have so far gotten away with in grand style is to convince the public that the default answer to any question about biological design must always be that accident is responsible until fully proven otherwise. Not so. Why should accident be the default explanation for things visibly qualifying as complex machinery (or for anything else except a chaotic mess)?
If a glistening red Ferrari sports car shows up on a deserted tropical island are we supposed to default to the assumption that it grew from a palm tree until definitely proved otherwise? Of course not. And the machines of life are vastly more complex than a sports car. Sports cars don’t repair themselves or reproduce themselves.
Suffice it to say that the palm tree did not produce the sports car. An accident has less chance of doing it than the palm tree. Accident has never been demonstrated to be capable of making any “machine” more complex than a roughly hewn teeter-totter, a shaky one-plank bridge, or a loosely tied rope swing. And those simple creations do not endure; they do not carefully check themselves for errors and scrupulously maintain and repair their system architecture; they don’t use hundreds of thousands of lines of computer code for reference in building and maintaining their design.
When Charles Darwin wrote Origin of Species in 1859 accident was an acceptable default explanation of life because we weren’t then aware of all the fantastically complex biological machines involved. But has accident been a rational or intuitive default explanation for life since, let’s say, around 1975-80 when modern genetics and microbiology started pouring on the complexity data?
Well let’s see. We have the DNA code that comprises the basic blueprint of life; the brain; the developmental genome; the genetic translation system; the genetic transcription system; the gene regulation system; the epigenetic gene silencing and activation system; the DNA error-checking and repair systems; and the microscopic buzz of activity equivalent to a small city that takes place inside each of the trillions of microscopic cells in our bodies every hour of every day, doing some 2 million actions per minute. The detailed descriptions of the minutest portion of any cellular subsystem in the body are typically more intricate than most of our industrial machines, and there are systems of systems within systems nine or ten levels deep…. Sounds like an accident to me, doesn’t it to you? Please….Science has to be able to do better than this.
Having fully shirked the natural burden of proof and explanation and artificially forced it back upon their opponents through sheer politics of majority consensus, neo-Darwinists continue to ask us to believe without proof that the enormously complex living designs of nature just so happen to be the one exception to two rules that govern our all the rest of our experience: 1) accidents don’t make machines; and 2) we always know machines when we see them.
They ask us to accept that the one exception to these rules, life, just so happens to be more complex than any machine we have ever built. According to the neo-Darwinists, accident does not make the easy stuff, only the supremely difficult. You ever get the feeling someone is “pulling your leg?”
And, if your other leg is free…many neo-Darwinists say something like this…
Now wait just a minute; you have it all wrong. We are not claiming our world started in chaos as pure accident or disorder. The universe is known to have been highly ordered, near perfectly homogenous, in fact. What happened was that something occurred to break the symmetry of certain elements in the homogenous soup of matter and energy that followed the Big Bang. Then things just sort of fell together in precisely the right way. A vast, but random, chain reaction of events followed. For some (unknown) reason a near perfectly and very simply ordered universe fell into a not fully chaotic, but just “on the edge of chaos” kind of “random” configuration. It remained there just long enough to allow accidental recombinations of the elements that, in the oddest stroke of luck, created not only the planetary systems but also the astronomically complex forms of life on Earth.
The creation of life required another huge burst of good luck during the Cambrian explosion to have accidentally achieved most of the major body forms of the tree of life (and their enormously complex internal cellular and genetic systems) in a short 5-10 million years, but…well, shit happens! Anything’s possible with an accidental process and a large amount of time, right? Nature has paid for that good run of the cards ever since. Hardly any major life form evolution at all has occurred since the Cambrian. Some minor evolutionary alterations have been noted, however, and this is all the justification we feel our theory of accidental evolution requires because, if the world were accidental, and if it happened just this way, that’s all the justification there would be to find.
That is the neo-Darwinist view of things. While that general event scenario, or something very much like it, is what appears to have happened, this is true only if one first takes the accidental claim out of it. There are two things very wrong with this description of events when used as a defense of neo-Darwinian (accidental) evolution:
1. It is not neo-Darwinian evolution that is described here because the event process is not an accidental process at its foundation. The universe starts with a high degree of homogenous order (it is not chaos), loses symmetry and moves only very partially toward chaos, and then inexplicably moves back to very complex order, achieving highly complex life forms. Through all of this development the interactions of matter and energy are closely guided by natural law. It is not fully random, and according to the enormous computable bias for life in physics and chemistry, hardly random at all in the sense of a chaotic unguided mixing bowl. Mathematical probability theory assures us that to achieve the complex machinery of life in the available time the initially highly-informed combinations of matter and energy must have unfolded, not accidentally, but in close accordance with natural law, and must have had life-favoring information packed into the matter, energy, and natural laws at the start. In other words, the symmetry breaking unlocked information comprising a heavy bias for life that was already present. This is not the description of an accident.
Some of the intermediate steps in the unfolding of our universe may be mildly random, but they are closely constrained by natural law and directionally pushed by the very highly ordered matter and energy that flowed into them. The output options from such a process are not unlimited, and in fact appear to be such that life on Earth becomes inevitable over long periods of time. Thus, there is nothing truly accidental at the foundation of the unfolding of our universe and the life forms within it, and so the process is not a neo-Darwinian process, which requires accident assisted only by natural selection.
2. Merely providing a general description of the way our universe unfolded does not equate to providing an explanation of why it unfolded the way it did. What current cosmology describes, if viewed as an accident, has a statistical probability close to nil (zero), far beyond the scientific threshold of credibility. The mere fact that science cannot yet fully explain an event process in nature does not mean the process must have accident at its foundation. Accident is never our default explanation for complex systems.
Yes, there are some accidents in the world, but accident is not the cause of the world. Where random elements occur at intermediate points in any process they may be productively “harnessed” or integrated into the overall function and purpose of the larger system—or they can just be ignored as not significant to the ultimate result. There is no reason to conclude there is complete lack of purpose in such a system.
If the neo-Darwinists want to say something stronger, namely, that random elements genuinely comprise the foundation of our world, and that our world is just a fluke accident resulting from a predominantly chaotic inception and development, they are just wrong. That kind of system does not match what we know about the origin of our universe or the natural laws and constants that drive its physical and biological mechanics.
The neo-Darwinists reach for our trousers yet again when they ask us to ignore the fact that neo-Darwinian theory is not testable (as all scientific theories must be). They say that all the tests one might pose for their theory of accidental evolution that could practicably be carried out do not fairly represent the theory and that the tests that do represent the theory are too impractical to perform.
This dilemma results, they say, not from the fact that their theory is wrong, but merely because evolution doesn’t happen in brief spans of time. True, it has taken millions of years for life to evolve. Any test of macroevolution would have to be carried out over millions of years. And, yes, it is impractical for science to carry out such a test.
But the secret to exposing this false dilemma lies entirely in the wording. What has occurred in this discussion is a substitution of “basic evolution” for “accidental evolution.” Neo-Darwinists would like us to believe that the absence of practical tests for basic evolution should not detract from the credibility of their theory of accidental evolution, which in fact does have some fair and practical tests.
Thus, the “Please excuse me from the requirement of testability” tactic only succeeds so far. It does work to a large extent for basic evolution, but it doesn’t work for accidental evolution. We must always keep in mind that the neo-Darwinian theory includes an accidental worldview.
The underlying concept of an accident creating complex biotic machines on a scale requisite to achieving the known evolutionary timeline can be tested using standard probability theory. It is also possible to compute the resource requirements in terms of time and physical particles for the accidental evolution of life. The theory of accidental evolution fails both the probability and resource exhaustion tests. It has also failed laboratory tests for the creation of simple life forms.
In his 2003 offering, Life’s Solution, noted evolutionist Simon Conway Morris asserts that human life was inevitable given the nature of our universe. In other words, (and this is my conclusion, not that of Morris) it appears that the designer wanted this category of watch, one based upon amino acids, proteins, and RNA/DNA, not just any clunky old animated contraption whatsoever. Geneticist Dr. Michael Denton convincingly argues that the achievement of life as we know it, at least in general terms, appears to be intended by nature to the exclusion of any radically different alternative. This is consistent with the fact that we don’t see an enormous junkyard full of largely failed physical machine designs smothering the surface of the Earth as the math would require had life been created by an accidental, random mixing bowl type exploratory process.
Dembski, Davison, Behe, Morris, Meyer, Denton, Ross, Gish, Fox, Gee, Ohno, Margulis and other noted scientists (not all of these scientists are intelligent design theory proponents) have recently demonstrated the presence of mind to stand back a bit from the trees to note some clearly nonrandom aspects of the forest. They avoid assuming the unsupported and overly simplistic model of accidental evolution. This has allowed them to discover important patterns and themes in the larger process of natural history, such as convergence, symbiosis, self-organization, resource exhaustion, probability thresholds, pre-existent forms for protein construction in natural law, irreducible complexity, fossil record disconnects between the phyla, and the epistemological limitations of deep time.
Viewing evolution from a larger open vista perspective such as these avaunt garde thinkers have afforded us, facilitates our discovering the blatant failings of the accidental world model. Even in the twenty-first century it is still startling to see what gifted scientists can do when they shrug off the politicized preconceptions of their society and do fully objective science. (I don’t think any of these particular scientists ever did politics in lieu of science, however.)
For the past few decades the neo-Darwinists have been stubbornly dragging their rhetorical heels in an attempt to delay the inevitable discrediting of the accidental worldview, and the materialistic politic that goes with it. They have sponsored a tactic that one might call the “silent transition.” The “silent transition” strategy amounts to a, “Whatever happens with the new data, don’t tell the public!” approach. You may laugh, but in very large part this approach has worked for them. The accidental worldview has now been jettisoned from much of professional science—but who in the public sector knows it!?
Evolution textbook writers have, for many decades now, admitted that the “random mutations” that actually produced evolutionary change are not truly accidental in the sense of chaotic, only unbiased towards the fitness of particular organisms in their environmental niches. If the driving force of evolution were truly chaotic we wouldn’t have a tree of life at all.
Pure accident has no home in science at all at this point in time. Science can neither replicate the biological machines of life in the lab under random conditions nor observe a random process generating new forms of living machines in nature. The accidental theory of evolution has in fact failed on eleven separate tests:
2. Resource exhaustion
3. Mathematical bias for life well beyond an accidental or random parameter
4. Direct observation that nature is not a random fractal producing mixing bowl
5. Chicken & egg problem for abiogenesis: it takes life to produce many of the key proteins of life, which explains the failure of science to produce life in the lab
6. Thousands of mutagenesis studies have produced no support for the accidental thesis
7. Randomly produced biotic and abiotic machines and machine components are not seen to be continuously produced by nature en masse as required by an accidental evolutionary process
8. Irreducible complexity of numerous biological systems (satisfies Darwin’s own criterion for the refutation of his theory)
9. The fossil record doesn’t match an accidental process
10. Direct perception of design or artificiality: we are entitled to a design inference when we see computer programming-controlled systems in biology
11. Failure to identify any biomechanical route that could produce the necessary events of macroevolution within the historical timeline from random event processes. (Science doesn’t know the biomechanics of macroevolution.)
Paley’s design argument can no longer be dismissed as a naïve religious belief. It has become a strongly supported and coherent scientific theory. It is in fact a good scientific theory that has survived substantial testing. Life is now scientifically demonstrable to be something an accident could not have produced in the time available.
Nonetheless, modern critics of design, citing Darwin, Hume, and other antiquarians who never had the chance to see inside the cell or learn of the complexity of the genomes, assert (erroneously) that Paley’s argument has long been demonstrated false. This is absolutely not so. In light of modern microbiology, genetics, physics, and cosmology, the watchmaker argument not only remains alive and well, but readily converts to a coherent scientific theory, a theory that applies to the evolution of life.
If, as neo-Darwinists say, Paley’s work contains no more force and merit than the musings of an elementary school child, why are there more than 4,000 books in the current book list at Amazon and Borders bookstores referencing his life and work? What we have seen in exploring the strong scientific evidence for intelligent design and the eleven failed tests of accidental evolution is that the materialist-atheist-Darwinist camp has been far too casual in dismissing Paley over the years.
Immanuel Kant, as great a thinker as the world has produced, said the design argument was the one argument for God that we must always treat with respect. Yet the neo-Darwinists ridicule it as having less merit than the blunder of a child. True, we have to remove Paley’s religious convictions from the discussion of the design argument to convert it to an acceptably scientific form, but that is a simple matter of hitting the delete key in our word processor, or doing the equivalent in our imagination.
Let’s be clear about what is driving what in the logical process of the modern design argument. Given the scientific evidence we have seen, it is the raw evidence for design in science that is now suggesting the existence of God or some other intelligent designer. In the olden days it was partly a matter of religious conviction driving unwarranted conclusions from inadequate and conflicted data. That is no longer the case. Science has made astounding discoveries since Paley and Darwin’s day—and accident is not what science has discovered.
To be fair to Paley as a thinker, although he was a man of faith, his design argument did not, even then, require faith for support; it could stand on its own intellectual feet. Paley just happened to be a staunch believer in God, and so he added the religious element to his argument for design.
The structure of Paley’s original design argument in its standard deductive form, though of course much simpler than modern ID theory in science, was a valid and sound argument. It went something along these lines:
Premise 1: All things that exhibit complex functions, sophisticated structured patterns, and closely matched parts constitute a mechanism.
Premise 2: All mechanisms in human experience have intelligent designers.
Premise 3: Nature (the Earth, or the Universe), and Earth’s life forms especially, exhibit sophisticated structured patterns, and highly specified complex functionality, closely matched parts, etc.
Conclusion: It is highly probable that nature and life have an intelligent designer.
The first thing we should note is that religious authority is not required to support this argument. It is also apparent at first glance that the argument is valid, i.e., the conclusion must be true if the premises are true. That doesn’t mean the premises are true, however, just that they are logically related to the conclusion.
Premise 2 we can see to be true by reflecting on our own personal experience and the experience of society through history. It is non-controversial.
Premise 3 is very well supported. All of modern biology, biochemistry, and genetic science goes to support premise 3 to the extent of making it an unassailable fact of modern science. We can’t use Darwin to support premise 3. Whatever the reason, Darwin did not see indications of purpose or design in nature. On the other hand, even Richard Dawkins admits that nature looks as if it were designed. In any case, we don’t need the support of either Darwin or Dawkins for premise 3; functional complexity is a well-established fact of biology.
At a glance, even the inanimate parts of nature, especially the nonliving components of the ecosystem seem to qualify here, and certainly living organisms exhibit functional design characteristics. The Earth’s ecosystem itself is a sophisticated, interrelated, highly tuned, structured system of living and non-living subsystems—clearly functional, i.e., configured to promote the survival of animal life. We are still learning to appreciate the precision with which these systems are tuned to life given the recent advance of global warming and the infelicitous perturbations in those systems now predicted that will threaten, first our comfort, then our survival…all from a few degrees difference in average temperature.
All of our scientific observations to date confirm that nature has intricate functionality and sophisticated structured patterns. No negative observation has been made, no counterexample presented. Any biology, biochemistry, or genetics text will confirm the intricacy of the mechanisms of nature.
Professor Michael Behe has gone to a great deal of trouble, writing two excellent books, to teach us that the facts of biology, many only recently discovered, show the accidental gradualistic model of neo-Darwinian evolution to be inadequate as an explanation of the origin and development of complex biological systems. Behe has taken the first steps towards a biomechanical definition of what it is that we intuitively know we are seeing in biological designs when we ascribe intelligent design to such systems. He terms this, “irreducible complexity.” Behe’s work goes a long way in support of premise 3. Stephen Meyer’s description of the computer programming language-like biological information structures in DNA lends further support to premise 3.
It is premise 1, therefore, that carries the highest burden of potential challenge in this argument. Mathematician William Dembski has gone to great lengths to help both the layman and professional scientist to see that there is an objective threshold of complex, specified, design-driving information that justifiably triggers the intelligent design inference that is the essence of premise 1. Dembski’s argument is primarily mathematical, but systems analysis and common sense also support premise 1.
One effect of the new works in intelligent design theory is to make explicit in scientific terms the often subconsciously perceived criterion that ordinary people employ every day when they make a design inference. Modern ID authors have succeeded in pulling the classic design argument into the realm of science. They demonstrate that the term “intelligent design” can be consistently and rigorously applied to biological machines via use of a scientific analysis. The design inference criterion may be somewhat flexible in varying from situation to situation, but it remains a scientific criterion.
In everyday life, people agree in amazing fashion as to what qualifies as intelligently designed and what does not. According to Dembski, this amazing consistency occurs because we are actually seeing something there, in intelligently designed objects and systems, something objective and perceivable that qualifies on a known, if only subconscious, criterion used nearly universally by human beings. Among the endless patterns of complexly arranged parts that millions of different intelligently designed artifacts and machines display there is something they all seem to have in common: a perceivable attribute (perhaps one of several alternatively qualifying attributes) that signify intelligent design to the human mind.
Whether the various attributes of design we detect ultimately derive from a threshold of complexity, from patterns of meaningful information, from specificity of function, precision of form, estimates of improbability, or awareness of purpose (or from some combination of these) is irrelevant to the question of whether we can recognize intelligently designed artifacts or not. The design inference does not have to be based upon a simple, unitary criterion. An either-or criterion with multiple options also works.
One might object that design inferences are not scientifically rigorous because we cannot yet specify with precision where the ID threshold is in each of its practical applications for each of these various criteria. But this is not a requirement for other valid inferences that we make from visual perceptions. They don’t have to be precisely quantified; they can be go/no go, pass/fail, etc. We can see that a wall is too high to climb over, or a puddle to wide to jump without being able to give the height of the wall or width of the puddle to centimeter accuracy. We remain confident that a meaningful threshold has nonetheless been crossed.
So it is with the design inference. We know it when we see it without being able to give our reasons in precise mathematical terms, and are nearly always correct in the design inferences we make. This lends enormous statistical/inductive support to premise 1.
The fact that there are several alternative methods available to compute the presence or absence of intelligent design complicates the decision process but does not invalidate the decision. Sheer complexity might be enough in one instance, while a combination of precisely fashioned parts with somewhat less complexity would justify the design inference somewhere else. Unmistakable artificiality present in an otherwise very simple design structure would also be a sufficient indication of intelligent origin, etc. This latter method is the one presently employed by astronomers in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).
While there is admittedly an unavoidable linguistic dilemma in trying to claim that an element of naturally occurring systems, such as living creatures, is “artificial,” all of the signs the ID authors have pointed to in the complex systems of biology are nonrandom and sufficiently complex that if the equivalent were translated into graphic symbols, blueprints, natural language, computer language, or mathematics and sent to Earth from space they would be acknowledged as originating in an intelligent source. Linguistic conundrums aside, the occurrence of Boolean logic circuits and the equivalent of computer programming language in biological systems legitimately raises the question of artificiality.
The inference to intelligent origin can be valid despite the fact that science has yet to complete a thorough exposition of all of the possible applications of the design inference, which are many and varied. People will make mistakes regarding design inferences, of course, but, the methods people commonly use to infer intelligent design are generally reliable, notwithstanding the fact that they are often subconscious. We all make math errors, yet we know the basic mathematical operations are valid. Thus, error and variation in human applications of the design inference do not invalidate the criteria used to make the inference.
We typically don’t take the trouble to make the mechanics of our design inferences explicit in our conscious thinking. But lack of awareness of logic does not entail the absence of logic. In the case of the design inference, William Dembski has revealed the presence of an epistemologically valid computational logic underlying the design inference. His analysis reveals that the design inference is as valid as any pattern matching inference we make. It is, of course, also a matter of simple common sense.
Suppose, for example, Sgt. Joe Smith, a retired Air Force noncommissioned officer, gets a job at the CIA or the NRO identifying objects in photographs taken by aerial reconnaissance or satellite imagery. He does this five days a week for twenty years until one day, as a now expert interpreter, he sees a system of canals on Mars reflected in some new NASA photographs that have come his way. The canals are formed so that they spell out a perfect rendition of “E=MC2.”
Now, enter the neo-Darwinists’ supposedly fatal objection to Paley’s watchmaker argument: the design inference doesn’t apply to natural objects. Joe was out a bit late with some old friends last night. Aspirins and coffee haven’t fully resolved the fog…but yet…that image still says “man-made” to him—at least, “intelligently made.” He has to face the truth. What he is seeing is an intelligently designed object—he just knows it.
In addition to the innate ability to recognize intelligent design that we all have, over the years Joe’s mind has abstracted certain general features from specific equipment and structures, so that as few as three blurry rectangles in a given juxtaposition discovered in certain remote desert areas would indicate a terrorist training camp with confidence. This is a valid mental operation—five really: pattern extraction, pattern matching, recognition of the meaning of context, elimination of competing alternatives, and subconscious probability computations. Nothing mysterious going on here at all—just common sense, logic, math and specialized background knowledge.
Darwinists do precisely the same thing when they say that the DNA sequences of two “relatives” on the tree of life are not an exact match, but, that, within the context of Darwinian theory, they are close enough to safely conclude inheritance. And when the jawbones of some intermediate fossils in a sequence of twenty conflict somewhat with the overall pattern, the remaining similarities are enough for Darwinists to confidently place these creatures on the same branch of the tree of life—despite their differences. Patterns don’t have to be identical to be properly considered instances of the same concept.
But this pattern, “E=MC2,” is so flagrantly unambiguous that a child could see it. No training needed, no experience, no long years of research, no nothing: these canals are intelligently designed.
“I’d better show this to the boss,” Joe mumbles to his partner, and then carries the pictures to the big corner office down the hall. “Hey boss, check this out. I found signs of intelligence on Mars.”
“But the design inference doesn’t apply to natural objects, Joe. Don’t you read Dawkins?”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot.”
Never argue with the boss; rule #1. Nonetheless Joe is already reconsidering as he walks away. Turning around, he taps on the boss’s door and steps back in.
“What would the odds be against achieving this by accident?”
“The design inference doesn’t apply to natural objects, Joe.”
On the way out Joe notices a wad of paper only slightly resembling an airplane on the floor.
“Here boss, it was on the floor.”
“Oh, yeah, my kid just left with his Mom; he must have made this. His fourth birthday tomorrow.”
Joe’s boss awkwardly tosses the crumpled sheet forward and it tumbles just as awkwardly to the floor. “Look at that baby fly, Joe. That kid is really somethin’ ”
“Right boss; a future engineer without a doubt. I’ll be getting back to work now.”
With any luck we are all asking ourselves the same questions Joe is asking himself on the way back to his office: “Why doesn’t the design inference apply to natural objects?”
Did Joe make a valid inference? Of course. Can the design inference apply to natural objects? Yes. We humans can make canal systems into patterns; sculpt flower beds into Bible verses; plant a stand of trees to conform to geometric shapes; design golf courses and lakes that do the same; do rudimentary genetic engineering on simple creatures; make simple computational devices from biotic components, etc. Natural objects can be the raw materials of intelligently designed constructions.
We are looking for intelligent signs from other civilizations in outer space and targeting thousands of viable candidate stellar systems some of which might contain advanced civilizations that could do much greater things with organic or biotic engineering than we presently can do—perhaps even construct androids. Accident is so rarely capable of doing such a thing that the accidental explanation is all but dismissible. The probabilities were heavily on Joe’s side.
In the example, Joe has seen five symbols in a stationary pattern, albeit symbols having a known meaning. The human genome is 3,000,000,000 nucleotides—with a known meaning. Much of what was once considered useless repetitions and junk in this genome has now been discovered to have a function. If Joe were to see the equivalent of full biological complexity on Mars it would equate not to “E=MC2,” but to the full history of science, or a multi-media showing of War and Peace replete with a cast of thousands.
And, consider this. The evolutionary argument itself strongly supports the reliability of the design inference that neo-Darwinian evolutionists are all rushing to deny. There were tens of thousands of years within which both natural selection and behavioral conditioning would have worked to hone a conditioned response for accurate recognition of intelligently designed objects in our human ancestors. The ability to recognize a useful tool or weapon, perhaps one that had yet to be used by the finder’s tribe, one particularly strong or well made, could impart a significant advantage for survival. This would be especially true under the strong environmental pressures of low food supply or frequent attack by large predators: tools and weapons can be fully decisive when it comes to survival.
Such a valuable faculty would be selected for continuance by natural selection, preserved and polished over millenniums while humans and prehumans gathered discarded tools or weapons from other clans, tribes, civilizations, or individuals, when plundering enemy campsites, etc. Other things being equal, those with the most high-tech tools and weapons win.
All comprehensive versions of evolutionary theory say that such critical advantages to survival are preserved by natural selection. Behaviorist psychological data tells us that any behavior offering survival and dominance would be quickly learned by the conditioning effect of a heavily rewarded response. So, why do neo-Darwinists distrust our design inferences when both their own theory and behavioral psychology (even more materialist than Freud) favor those inferences being accurate?
Our confidence level for premise 1 is therefore very high based upon the amount of inductive evidence for the reliability of the design inference and based upon our belief that the selective forces of evolution would have endowed us with the innate ability to recognize intelligent design when we see it. Adding William Dembski’s strong scientific case that there are objective attributes to intelligently designed objects that the human mind can discern gives us convincing purely scientific support for premise 1.
We have now examined the support for all three of the premises of a fleshed-out non-religious version of Paley’s design argument. Our conclusion is that Paley’s argument is both valid and sound, and can be converted to scientific theory without problems. We don’t have a purely deductive conclusion that life is the result of intelligent design, but we have a firmly supported conclusion that it is highly probable that life is the result of intelligent design. That’s the way science works.
Combining this updated version of Paley’s argument for intelligent design that is built exclusively upon evidence and logic acceptable to science with the argument for God’s existence from religious experience already discussed (which was formulated as a heuristic theory of science) gives us a well-supported scientific theory for God's existence.
The argument from design as currently posed by intelligent design theory is not only science, but stands to potentially advance the explanation of life well beyond what Darwinian evolution can hope to offer. Adding God to ID theory as I do in this part of the book doesn’t so much add a further element of mystery that wasn’t already present, as add a further element of explanation.
Putting God’s name on the Big Bang and the origin of life does not violate the charter of science any more than saying there was an unexplained violation of the laws of physics from which all physical matter and energy has sprung, an unexplained accident so improbable as to be considered literally impossible. Isn’t that the definition of “miracle,” after all: a radical violation of the laws of nature? The neo-Darwinian-materialist approach to science leaves us with an event satisfying the definition of miracle at the beginning of things. My approach with JCIG theory just adds an element of intellectual integrity in having the courage to buck materialist politics and openly put God’s name on it.
With JCIG theory at least we gain a plausible explanation of why powerful natural laws would have instantaneously sprung into existence from an anomalous event that itself violated those laws, as opposed to the masses of physical elements remaining in chaos for very extended or indefinite periods of time. The key point to remember here is that the charter of science only rules out using God or spiritual forces as intermediate causes in scientific explanation. The charter of science does not rule out naming God as a likely first cause where an anomalous mystery otherwise insoluble by science is already present.
If we can find a more concrete explanation of ultimate origins that out-performs God in explanatory power, fine. But where no such better alternative exists, given that God explains important things we can’t otherwise explain, like the religious behavior of 4 billion people of faith, science can allow the conclusion of God’s existence as a permissible explanatory heuristic hypothesis.
In terms of epistemological integrity, what is the difference between hypothesizing a supernatural God that a well-supported heuristic model says interacts with humans every day (which the materialists in science insist on ruling out) and hypothesizing extradimensional aliens from dimensions so radically different that they can never be confirmed by science (which the same materialists in science don’t rule out)? None that I can see.
So, why the inconsistency? Once again, materialist politics seem to be the problem. Demons and angels are the only alternative explanation for UFO-alien abduction experience and materialists don’t want to admit anything that points to God. (See the commentary on my UFO web site for more on alien abduction.)
As long as the sciences of sociology and psychology have an interest in achieving the best available explanation of human religious behaviors and subjective human experience of love, morality, patriotism, romance, and the arts (none of which admit physical reductionism), there is nothing in the charter of science itself that says that science cannot calculate the relative explanatory power of 3-dimensional physical-emergent phenomena hybrid heuristic models, physical-unconfirmed extra-dimensional hybrid heuristic models, and physical-supernatural hybrid heuristic models. For the purpose of heuristic explanatory models there is no essential difference between the supernatural and extra physical dimensions that cannot be directly confirmed. The concept of emergent phenomena that materialists use to explain human subjective experience, including conscious awareness itself, without recourse to the soul or spirit remains an undefined idea that can’t be tested, if not an incoherent one. In its present state of development the theory that consciousness and higher level human experience somehow mysteriously emerges from purely physical events adds nothing to the explanation of human experience except a mysterious undefined word.
True, scientists have to take care to keep angels, ghosts, and demons out of physical event mechanics. However, explaining human subjective experience and overt religious behavior by reference to God does not cause sociology and psychology the problems that putting demons into molecular interactions causes physics, chemistry, and medical science. The heuristic models presently in use in psychology already posit the existence of nonphysical things that cannot be directly confirmed but which do add explanatory power.
The same applies to the Big Bang. As long as we have no means of converting the Big Bang event from an anomaly intractable to physical mechanical explanation, it does no harm to scientific integrity to use God as a tentative hypothetical best explanation.
To reference God only in heuristic social science models of human religious behavior, and in natural science heuristic models as the intelligent designer of life and ultimate originator of the universe (when better cosmological explanations are lacking), does not impugn the integrity or reliability of science in the slightest. It only adds a great deal of explanation where there previously was none. It also precludes our having to deny the fact that we know intelligent design when we see it.
As a considerable bonus it resolves the dilemma of our having to either deny the validity of the leading theories of evolutionary science or visit a psychiatrist if we wish to acknowledge the reality of our God in those precious moments when he blesses us with his presence. It also gives long overdue acknowledgement to the merits of Charles Peirce’s direct experience-based epistemology.
Remember when Allen Funt of the television series Candid Camera use to hide and secretly manipulate the physical environment of unsuspecting citizens (victims) in bizarre ways? The victims of his practical jokes were baffled, but only for a brief moment. They ultimately came around to a rational point of view, suspecting a setup. They soon rejected total mystery, remembering that Allen and his TV cameras were out there stalking the planet, and went looking around the corner and in the attic for an affectionate old guy commonly known to be the cause of such things. In those cases, it was a guy with a hidden camera, Allen Funt.
Candid Camera reveals that people intuitively acknowledge that fully unexplained physical phenomena are less acceptable to the human psyche than hidden beings, especially hidden beings with an established track record. With billions of well-educated and morally upright citizens testifying to the reality of God through history, God similarly qualifies as a properly evidenced hidden being whose existence explains our religious experience a whole lot better than complete mystery (or mass neurosis). It’s just common sense.
Human religious behavior, direct evidence of design in biology, and the high improbability of accidental evolution are not the only reasons to add God to our scientific theories. Adding God explains something else that we cannot otherwise explain: the development of ordered structures in the universe. The NASA website on Big Bang Cosmology indicates that science has no definite answer as to how the structure of the galaxies came into existence after the Big Bang.
However, we do have an idea of how much order our universe contains. According to famous mathematical physicist, Sir Roger Penrose, the Big Bang event was precise to the magnitude of 10 to the power of 10123. 10123 is only the exponent! (Also see Structure in the universe, Fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation, and Inflation Theory.
(Note: The figure from Penrose appearing in Part 1 at Table 1, 10-300, was his calculation representing the improbability that our world would have its particularly life-friendly constants in physics and associated natural laws. The much larger number we see here has to do with something different, namely how much specified order is/was present in the totality of the physical elements, structures, and forces of our universe. In concept, not all of that order need be prerequisite to the creation of our tree of life. However, given that the determinants of some of the key components of life now trace down to the atomic level, it may be an open question as to how much of that order was in fact relevant to the creation of life.)
The classic argument from design, converted to a scientific theory, with the argument from religious experience added, lends a great deal of support to a scientific theory for God’s existence. When we try to answer the big questions of ultimate origins of our world, and the origin of life and complex design in biology, JCIG is an explanatory goldmine compared to the alternatives. The only alternatives are to say that our world and the life within it are one big accident, or to throw up our hands and say “That’s just the way the world is; there is no further explanation.”
The First Cause: A Cosmological Argument
St. Thomas Aquinas, a great philosopher and theologian, has an interesting argument for God’s existence. We must look at, not only because practically everyone has heard of it, but because it appears to literally succeed. I am going to refer to it here as the “first cause” argument, while actually combining three of his arguments into one: necessary existence, prime mover, and first cause.
Those three arguments all invoke the same (valid) logic that any contingent object/event or chain or series of contingent (non-eternal) objects or events must have a beginning in order to come into being at all. Otherwise we are left with an infinite regression having no starting point. Without a beginning the chain has no ontological grounding, and the events in that chain cannot exist.
This is true based upon the meaning of the word ‘contingent’ and upon the dependent nature of contingent things. Contingent things are dependent upon prior things for their existence. Minus the existence of those prior things the contingent things would not exist. Something eternal or non-contingent is therefore needed to ground any chain of contingent events and objects, to serve as a starting point.
As far as the present state of scientific theory in cosmology goes, all physical chains of causation flow right back to the Big Bang. At the Big Bang we see an enormous, all-encompassing anomaly that violates the laws of physics and therefore to all appearances is itself supernatural, though scientists will not allow themselves to use that word. Nonetheless, the objective data on the Big Bang strongly suggest that there was a supernatural first cause.
Establishing what the first cause must be specifically, however, is not as simple as Aquinas makes it out to be with his dismissive “and this all men call God.” Though, in theory, there could be eternal things that were not God, God is the only thing (other than his angels and human souls) in our present human conceptual inventory that is eternal. Within that conceptual inventory, God is certainly the best candidate for creator of our world, since humans, while having an immortal soul, don’t have the ability to create entire worlds.
Angels conceivably could create worlds, but angels are defined as servants of God. In philosophy and theology, then, God is pretty much it when it comes to plausible candidates for being the creator of our world and the eternal first cause that got the chain of contingent events started. When someone else applies for the job, fine. But until then the probabilities point to God.
What Aquinas says is not untrue; men as a matter of fact have historically called the first cause “God,” and there is nothing else in our culture’s conceptual inventories that can adequately function as creator of worlds. Well, we do have the concept of super-powerful space aliens now who might create worlds, but they are also held to be contingent beings, and so they don’t solve Aquinas’ infinite regress problem. They might explain the existence of some worlds, but we still have to explain the existence of the space aliens.
Perhaps we should give Aquinas a little more credit. If we can pose an argument from religious experience, perhaps we should allow that a master philosopher and theologian—and a saint—can pose one too. Aquinas may not have intended to be dismissive as much as succinct with his comment “and this all men call God.” Expanded, the comment may have meant “and the direct religious experience of a majority of persons in our society has infused our culture with the habit of referring to the first cause as God.”
So, how do we know that the eternal first cause/creator is the God of the Jewish, Christian, and Moslem religions? Aquinas answer may well have been our own: the argument from religious experience. The best heuristic explanatory model we can construct in sociology and psychology, which is based upon the argument from religious experience, points to the Judeo-Christian-Moslem God. A model positing the existence of this God explains the behavior of by the far most human beings. The Hindu religion offers a fairly competitive model. It posits the existence of millions of lesser gods, plus one or two primary and most powerful gods, with at least one of them having enormous creative power.
The Hindu gods can equally resolve Aquinas’ infinite regress of contingent things problem. The Hindu Gods serve the same explanatory function as the Judeo-Christian-Moslem God for human social behavior, just for less people—though not a small amount of people by any means, perhaps a billion adherents. The thesis of the existence of the Hindu gods gains less evidential support from a worldwide heuristic sociological model, however, because the Hindu religion only has a significant role in the societies of India and one small nation in South America.
Since, in theory, one out of four people can be right on a given question and three out of four wrong, the Hindu heuristic model theory remains a real contender for the explanation of our world; it just scores somewhat less well in terms of probability and explanatory power worldwide than the Judeo-Christian-Moslem model theory. There are over a billion atheists/agnostics as well, but their worldview can’t solve Aquinas’ infinite regress problem, other than by saying the universe itself is eternal. This works OK philosophically because one inexplicable eternal entity is philosophically as good as another, but not so well in terms of current science.
Our current cosmological theory, given its affirmation of the Big Bang event, suggests that our world is not eternal. Another problem with the secular model is entropy, or at least the observed rate of entropy. Assuming the universe to be eternal, infinitely old, raises difficulties science is unable to explain away, such as what is on the other side of the Big Bang and why the rate of entropic decay that we see in our world did not hold on the other side of the Big Bang where, given infinite time, it would have reduced all matter and energy to a fully chaotic randomized form of energy that could not have produced the ordered structures of our world.
Thus, a supernatural beginning for our world arising from an eternal source offers the best heuristic explanatory model in cosmology, and adding God as that eternal source best explains our religious, moral, artistic, patriotic and other higher experiences. We need not definitively choose between the Judeo-Christian-Moslem and Hindu models for the purpose of acknowledging the superior explanatory power of the theistic model generally, we can merely allow that humanity has to date authentically though imperfectly encountered its God(s), and is still growing in its pursuit of full religious knowledge.
Much of my attempt to reformulate Aquinas’ argument for God as a good scientific theory here hinges on Big Bang theory, but Big Bang theory rests very securely on four huge pillars of science, all of them primary scientific icons: 1) Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity; 2) Edwin Hubble’s observation that the universe is expanding; 3) the relative abundance of light elements such as helium, deuterium, and lithium explained by George Gamow as being the product of the intensely hot nuclear reactions occurring in the first few minutes following the Big Bang; and 4) the cosmic background radiation discovered in 1965 by Penzias and Wilson, assumed to be the afterglow of the Big Bang.
St. Thomas, of course, is one of the foremost thinkers in the history of the Catholic Church as well as the history of philosophy. His version of the first cause is the Judeo-Christian-Islamic version: God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, is his first cause. Aquinas’ version of the first cause argument tells us why the big bang is not traceable further: God did it and he is not composed of physical or material substance. This prevents the instruments of science from proceeding further.
According to the big bang theory, prior to the first 10-43rd fraction of the first second of this world’s existence (Planck time) natural law did not exist. Therefore, whatever was at the source of this world’s beginning prior to that first fraction of a second was apparently not physical because all physical things comport to natural law. Nor did time itself as we know it exist beyond that threshold. In a very real sense, then, science’s own view of the Big Bang suggests the antecedent phenomenon that precedes the first moment of Planck time in our world was supernatural in that it was timeless and beyond natural law.
Big Bang theory, properly understood, refutes the primary theoretical assumption of most modern scientists: materialism. This is not so difficult to see. All material things exist in space and time by definition, but normal space/time did not exist on the other side of the Big Bang.
Multiverse theory opens up the possibility that perhaps a part or even all of the biological design problem was solved in other universes and then the information component requisite to life’s solution was somehow injected into our universe from outside. While this is theoretically possible and would explain a great deal of what we cannot explain about the jumps in evolution, interjecting all or the larger part of the design information to produce life into our world from another world makes the creation of life in this world non-accidental; it produces a form of orthogenesis or directed evolution. To arbitrarily make the assumption that intelligent design had nothing to do with the production of the design information that was injected into our universe from another merely begs the question of accident vs. intelligent design; it does not answer it.
To salvage the accidental worldview in this scenario, scientists would have to go into that other universe, or collection of universes, that produced the design information and demonstrate that the origin of the design information was random/accidental. But, ignoring the problems inherent in advancing science even to the extent that it could explore another world that was identical to our own in terms of natural laws and forms of matter and energy, a world that randomly produces a design blueprint for our tree of life is not likely to be identical to our own. We don’t live in a random or chaotic world. In a world where things are truly random in the sense of chaotic, science is not possible.
Such a world would also have to be enormous to contain the resources required to achieve life’s blueprint by accident. In addition to the huge practical problems of size and crossing over inter-universe barriers, neo-Darwinists and accidental world materialists encounter a “Catch-22” kind of dilemma here: either the other world can be seen to be not random and therefore won’t prove an accidental worldview, or our science won’t be able to operate in the random world because the natural laws that make our science possible don't hold in a random/chaotic world.
Science therefore won’t be able to confirm either that useable design information came from that world or that such a world had sufficient resources to plausibly generate the requisite design information. There is therefore no way science can prove an accidental world-friendly multiverse thesis of the kind. Organized worlds with laws similar to our own we can explore; chaotic worlds with no natural laws we cannot explore.
A world having natural laws similar to our own could not generate order from pure chaos because our laws of thermodynamics state that no order can come from pure chaos, which is called “entropy.” If the state of the other world is not pure chaos then the presence of order in that universe still has to be explained just as it does in our universe. If the other universe has different natural laws that permit the origination of order and design information from pure chaos in a true random mixing bowl kind of concept our science would be unable to confirm the event because the different natural laws governing that other world would preclude our science from being able to function there. Thus, multiverse theory cannot help the neo-Darwinists or the accidental world materialists counter intelligent design theory.
Our discussion to this point then supports five important conclusions that can serve as premises for the larger argument that JCIG theory is a good scientific theory:
1. The design argument can be reformulated into a properly scientific theory.
2. The Big Bang theory suggests that purely physical entities cannot explain the universe.
3. St. Thomas Aquinas’ first cause argument succeeds in showing that purely physical entities cannot explain the universe.
4. The arguments for God’s existence that are grounded in spiritual perception and religious experience can be posed as heuristic model type scientific theories, similar to some accepted theories in psychology/psychiatry.
5. The JCIG theoretical model, (Judeo Christian Islamic God) theory, is the most explanatory version of intelligent design and first cause theories. It scores higher across the board in social science, psychology, and cosmology, offering greater explanatory power than competing theories.
God is good science! JCIG theory doesn’t become infallible because it hypothesizes God’s existence; it is merely a matter of scoring higher on theory evaluation criteria. The case I present here doesn’t show JCIG theory to be necessarily true, but it is shown to be our most explanatory theory, all things considered.
But, many readers will want to object, “Science just can’t do that. Scientific theories can’t have God as a hypothesis, and scientific arguments can’t have God as a conclusion: it’s just not allowed!” Well…all I can say is, bear with me for a few more lines of justification.
Restricting evidence to the objectively verifiable empirical realm is a good rule because it provides the opportunity for the precision, rigorous control, and public verifiability that science requires to proceed securely and rapidly. However, in the Design Revolution, William Dembski reminds us that we cannot properly limit the conclusions of our investigations to the physical in the same way that we limit evidence. To limit the conclusions of an investigation is to presume the results before doing the investigation and therefore to prejudice the outcome.
Where the evidence points we must follow. This is true even when the evidence suggests things invisible or “immaterial.” Scientists shouldn’t be afraid of the dark. They are not afraid of the mystery prior to the Big Bang; why are they only afraid of the dark when it points to God? The Bible says to fear God, but science’s obsessive avoidance of any reference to God in cosmological theory is not what is meant.
Scientists should be willing to go where the evidence leads them. In his new book Science Discovers God, zoologist Ariel Roth agrees:
Some scientists will immediately insist that science cannot consider God, because it and God represent separate realms of thought. Unfortunately, such a view imposes a narrow outlook on science that limits its ability to find all truth…. If science hopes to provide meaningful and truthful answers to our deepest questions, it needs to get out of the prison of secularism in which it has now trapped itself….It is interesting that the pioneers of modern science, such as Kepler, Galileo, Bole, Pascal, Linne, and Newton, all included the concept of God in their scientific outlook.
Science’s current cosmological theory, the Big Bang, has the entire universe springing out of a nonphysical “dimension” or a “singularity,” if you will. The Big Bang coincides strikingly with the creation stories of the world’s religions. Pope Pius XII enthusiastically proclaimed that Big Bang theory constitutes nothing less than scientific proof of the creation story, and so it does appear.
Some thinkers, including the authors of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (see the quotes that introduce this part of the book) and American philosopher Charles Peirce, hold that through some capacity of our rational intellect humans can see evidence for God in his creation more or less directly, even before formal academic disciplines of science and philosophy have their say.
We see evidence for God every day in the design and glory of his creation, in well-documented and rigorously-scrutinized religious experience, in billions of reliable reports of spiritual perception, in verified miracles, in exorcisms, in other encounters with the supernatural, and in the overwhelming evidence against an accidental process being able to create complex machines and systems of any kind. For science to not only ignore evidence of this magnitude, but to dismiss it flippantly, reveals a clear prejudice.
The operational integrity of science is not negatively affected by admitting God as a valid scientific hypothesis. Scientific method itself remains unaffected. Admitting God as first cause and designer doesn’t require us to give up microscopes, atomic physics, controlled experiments, and medical science; it doesn’t require us to return to medieval alchemy, leeches, and turpentine. It just gives us a better explanation of our world. We have to be able to get past materialist politics to correctly distinguish between statements that are religion and statements that are science and merely suggest that God might exist by pure logical inference from legitimate scientific data.
This book argues that both the related scientific data and the valid logical inferences are there for anyone to use who can get past materialistic prejudice. Given the data and logic presented here, our conclusion is that, while Allen Funt may be responsible for some of the mysteries of life, God is responsible for a great many more.
For those who still aren’t convinced, perhaps the best I can do is respond, as the squirrel did: “Follow me, and I’ll show you…at the Church.” Like the old church signs say: CH…CH—what’s missing? UR.
No, I am still not preaching. I am inviting you to experience the validity of the argument from religious experience firsthand. Epistemological integrity requires that we not deny our own direct experience.
St. Anselm’s Necessary Existence: Valid Logic or Logical Fallacy?
Now we come to what is logically the weakest of the four classic arguments for God, but also the most inspiring: St. Anselm’s argument from necessary existence. St. Anselm offers what is classified as an ontological argument for the existence of God. I left it out of the main case for JCIG above because I consider Anselm’s argument not to have succeeded in the original a priori form in which it apparently was offered. Independent of a supporting argument for the reality of spiritual perception, or again, the argument from religious experience, I think Anselm’s argument fails.
Anselm’s approach, nonetheless, remains intrinsically very interesting. Despite whatever logical failings it may have on the surface, taking a look below the surface may teach us something important: that we can perceive the necessary existence of God if we personally make an effort to look in his direction. Given spiritual perception as a faculty available to the one who is evaluating the argument, the argument does succeed. This is because the truth of the premises can then be established via use of spiritual perception.
The following version of St. Anselm’s argument from Proslogium is forceful because substituting the definition of God given in premise 1 into the term’s use in premise 2 appears to establish that any denial of God’s existence will create a literal contradiction, undeniable proof of God by reductio ad absurdum (reducing any statements to the contrary to absurdities).
(1) God is that than which no greater can be conceived.
(2) If God does not exist then there is something greater than God that can be conceived (namely the same conceptual entity that does exist)
(3) God exists.
Elegant and simple—but unfortunately, invalid.
Now I am going to say something strange: Anselm’s classic argument failed to prove God’s existence, but Anselm himself did not fail to prove God’s existence by use of the argument. Anselm’s classic argument taken as a standalone linguistic statement is invalid because St. Anselm seems to have simply defined the word ‘greatest’ to include existence. By virtue of doing this we have not discovered God in the real world; we have merely discovered the words ‘God,’ ‘greatness,’ and ‘existence’ in St. Anselm’s private dictionary.
Such a tactic involves the invalid procedure of arbitrarily moving existence, which is a contingent property established by direct experience (a posteriori), into the realm of things that can be true by virtue of the meaning of words alone (a priori). One can’t define something into existence via the mere use of words. If we could, we would have to admit that there are cows with automobile carburetors for stomachs, trains that lay ostrich eggs, elephants that fly, and so on ad infinitum
Using St. Anselm’s linguistic form of argument, defining a word, any word that refers to an object whose existence is contingent, to include existence, leads to obvious absurdities. If one invents a new word, adds it to the dictionary, and defines the word to include existence, does it mean the thing referenced by the word must exist? No. Language alone cannot produce the existence of contingent physical objects.
The late and beloved Professor Larry Colter (Illinois Wesleyan University and University of Evansville) provides us with a creative example of a case where the dictionary argument fails to prove existence and leads to absurdities. We could invent the word ‘radiocorn’ and define it as a unicorn with yellow and purple spots and a transistor radio in its rump, and then define radiocorns as having existence. But, does that mean such an odd unicorn exists? Could we then go find one? No. We would only find radiocorns in our newly revised dictionary, not in the real world. Thus, although we may have defined ‘God’ in our dictionaries to include existence; it is still possible that he won’t be out there in reality.
The “great” creatures of mythology and other literary inventions need not be found in the real world: unicorns, dragons, wizards, and so on. We can find them in science fiction trilogies, on pinball machines, and in movies and computer games, but that’s it. Not all words have referents in the real world—and they need not have one just because someone had the imagination to invent the word.
Using what, on the surface, appears to be Anselm’s logic, all possible things could become actual things merely on the basis of someone having the imagination to invent a word. We may therefore safely conclude with Professor Colter that a merely linguistic definition of the word ‘God’ that includes existence as part of the meaning of the word ‘greatness’ and ‘greatness” as part of the meaning of the word ‘God’, is insufficient to prove God’s existence outside the dictionary.
On the surface then, St. Anselm’s classic ontological argument commits the obvious fallacy of trying to define something into existence—it fails as a purely a priori or deductive proof. But let us now attempt a defense of Anselm’s use of his argument to prove God’s existence, not as a valid logical form, but as an instrument that points people considering the argument at God and produces religious encounters with God via contemplative mystical experience.
We should stop to consider that St. Anselm was an archbishop, a very profound and learned man. It is therefore likely that more was going on in St. Anselm’s mind (and heart) than just these few lines of text hastily extracted by philosophers from his larger writings. As one of the consummate philosophers and theologians of the ages, one suspects that he would probably have passed one of Professor Colter’s philosophy exams (not everyone did).
What kind of alternate approach might work, then? I suggest that we “flesh out” the summary form of St. Anselm’s argument a bit by placing it into the fuller context of all his writings, within the context of his whole person and devout life. Then, perhaps, we can form an accurate picture of what the argument truly represents. It may be an argument predicated on the hidden premise of the argument from religious experience (which would give the argument form the missing validity), and then again it may be an instrument, not an argument at all. It may be an instrument that Anselm used to direct the focus of people contemplating the argument towards God.
Given Anselm’s saintly life, it seems to me that it would be more correct to say that St. Anselm was claiming “God exists because I perceive that he must,” rather than “God exists solely because we define the word ‘God’ that way in the present socio-historical context.” In other words, it’s spiritual perception/religious experience again, but in this case it may perhaps be a very precise and dramatic form of religious experience.
Anselm might respond to Professor Colter something like this: “Now wait just one minute Colter, we don’t arbitrarily define dogs to have four legs; we look at them first, see that they have four legs, and then we construct our definition based upon what we have seen. The devout are privileged to have seen this about God; via spiritual perception they have ‘seen’ that he possesses necessary existence.”
Thus, what appears to be an arbitrary definition, may have been intended to require that the definition first be grounded in a veridical perception, though the perception be not an empiric one, but spiritual. W. V. O. Quine and the empiricists probably would not allow this, but the American philosopher Charles Peirce and the pope would allow it.
Granted the credibility of my alternative read here hangs on the question of should we be generous enough to allow that Anselm’s use of “conceive” implies an act of, not just pure imagination, but also an act of perceiving something directly about God. Anselm does not explicitly mention a direct spiritual perception as grounding his definition of God in terms of what we can or cannot conceive. Of course, he has not referred to a dictionary as such, but his use of “conceive” produces the same kind of fallacy. Just because he can’t conceive of great beings that don’t exist doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t, or that we have to use the word “great” the way he uses it. There doesn’t have to be a greatest being at all; this is, as are all other questions of existence, a contingent question. Our world could just be minus a greatest being. The most beautiful thing we can conceive of doesn’t have to exist, and the greatest being we can conceive of doesn’t have to exist either.
Professor Colter’s response would likely be that, although the modality of asserting God’s necessary existence as a perceived fact saves Anselm from the radiocorn fallacy, by presenting no evidence for the first premise Anselm only has a valid logical form, not a fully sound argument. We are stuck here between two populations: empiricists who don’t allow for spiritual perceptions to ground knowledge at all, and thinkers like Charles Peirce, who maintain a broader epistemology and do allow for direct spiritual perceptions.
What I think Anselm actually did in the event of contemplating this approach to proving God’s existence is to very courageously blaze an entirely new trail in epistemology, a trail that allows for a third category of truth. There are the a priori truths of logic, math, and language routinely available to all humans; there are the a posteriori truths of science contingent upon empiric observation, also routinely available to all humans; and there are higher truths that God can convey to us through his initiative that are not otherwise available to human cognition minus a selective and rare act of God’s beneficent grace.
These third category truths, such as the divine axiom that God must exist, are genuine necessary truths; we can call them divine truths. However, that category of truth is only available to beings in the divine realm and those humans to which such beings extend a divine insight. Human Earth science and philosophy can do nothing with these truths beyond registering the testimony of otherwise credible individuals who claim to be privy to them.
I think Anselm was celebrating a magnificent discovery. He was celebrating an event of expanded cognition made available through an act of divine grace. That grace had revealed to him the divine semantic entailments of nothing less than the very name of God: the great “I Am Who Am.” This name, even to non-theologians, clearly suggests necessary existence. In that moment of private divine revelation, Anselm knew that God’s existence is necessary. He may have used his argument to point people at that divine truth by inviting them to contemplate the definition of God, which turns their focus to a contemplation of God and may produce a moment of divine encounter within which the truth of the premise is made manifest.
Such divine truths are inscrutable and intractable to science. They cannot be proved a priori by language and logic alone, but they are truths available to (divinely assisted) human cognition nonetheless. Humanity should not deny any truths given to their direct perception, and we should certainly not deny the greater truths in deference to the lesser truths.
Having said all of that, I still have problems with Anselm’s wording. However, anyone can make a mistake. In the struggle to capture a mystical insight into a third category of nothing less than divine truth Anselm seems to have fumbled the formulation of the true logical structure of what was occurring. That is a fairly understandable mistake considering that he was straddling two worlds, our contingent physical world and the divine. He was trying to import a divine truth into human language where we have made no room for it, and the result was a partially misstated argument, but a pointing instrument that frequently succeeded in proving God’s existence to one person at a time.
Am I being to generous with Anselm? Maybe; maybe not—we do no less for the other literary and philosophical authors. The traditional charter and standard approach of literary criticism is to place the author’s thesis into the full context of the entirety of his or her works and beliefs, including the larger context of the socio-historical cultural milieu of his or her life.
As an archbishop and a saint, Anselm’s life certainly yielded many fundamental spiritual perceptions, including this direct awareness of the greatness and necessary existence of God. Therefore, despite the fact that a cursory glance at the layout of his necessary existence argument in Proslogium suggests that Anselm intended to offer only a Socratic-like derivation of God’s existence based upon “tricks” of language and logic principles alone, his devout life fully entitles us to ascribe to him the more defensible alternative form that is grounded in spiritual perception.
This would only being doing justice to Anselm. There was no way to fully express in human terms the divine truth he had perceived through the grace of God. At the same time, the truth was too immensely valuable to back away from. So Anselm tried to express it, and to some extent failed. Whereas my discussion here may not fail logically or linguistically, it does fail to ascend to the heights of God’s awesome glory and dignity, whereas Anselm’s words make a much closer approach.
As a bishop and pastor of the flock of the faithful and an evangelist to potential converts (as opposed to being just a philosopher looking at logical forms of arguments for God’s existence) it makes perfect sense that Anselm would not be content to merely say “religious experience poses one of the arguments for God’s existence.” Instead Anselm created an instrument that proactively moved people towards a religious experience. What do we do when we read the first premise? We start thinking about God and his awe-inspiring greatness. This can, and no doubt often does, lead people to moments of divine encounter and mystical communion with God.
In that sense, although Anselm’s argument did not constitute a valid logical form, it did constitute an authentic pointer to the reality of God’s existence. If it leads people to the third category of truth whereby they also perceive God’s necessary existence, then it succeeds as a method of proving God’s existence, though not as an argument for God’s existence. As a pastor it would seem far better to Anselm to proactively lead people to God than to merely remark that it is theoretically possible to find God via religious experience.
Am I wrong to be so generous in interpreting St. Anselm? Books abound praising such presumed profundities as Nietzsche, Sartre, Husserl, Heidegger, Marx, Whitman, and Machiavelli. Commentators go to exorbitant lengths to make sense out of sentences that would, minus Herculean salvage efforts, clearly be incoherent, shallow, or outright mistaken on the surface. Christian philosophers, of course, less often meet with equal charity in the exposition of their works.
While the methods and mindsets of analytical philosophers typically prohibit their being this generous, literary critics and commentators have traditionally been fairly generous. This is particularly true of poets and novelists where critics have often gone to great lengths to place specific lines of an author’s work into the larger context and conceptual framework of the total writings, cultural background, historical timeframe, etc. This procedure is, in fact, nothing less than an axiom of literary criticism.
Beyond generous interpretation, we might do well to remember that poetic truths have been traditionally admitted into a third category beyond logic and science. Perhaps Anselm was pointing us to yet a fourth category, closely akin to poetic truth: divine truth accessible through mystical communion.
What may have happened in our historical approach to interpreting Anselm is that we trapped him in the arena of analytical philosophy, based upon our habit of dealing with Aristotle, Aquinas’ and others there. His argument may in fact be better placed among those grounded in mystical ecstasy and poetic truth. Anselm may have been a sneaky but good-hearted pastor who tricked us into reading his logically invalid argument knowing it would tend to produce divine encounter experiences.
There is little doubt that Anselm himself, through a glorious divine grace, had perceived God, perceived his existence, perceived his perfection, and perceived that there is no alternative, no possibility for his nonexistence. I think we have to give Anselm that much. Nonetheless, he didn’t perceive this in the dictionary but via religious contemplation. So, in that sense his philosophical argument does fail. However, his personal effort to communicate the truth about God’s existence doesn’t necessarily fail. His first premise basically tricks us into doing a moment of religious contemplation. For those who find God in that moment, Anselm has given them proof of God’s existence.
Why should we doubt the reality of that grace of divine insight that some blessed people like Anselm have received? Martyrs and those threatened by persecution have historically had such extreme confidence in their spiritual perceptions as to literally stake their lives upon them, enduring torture and death in confident expectation of meeting God in the afterlife. Is spiritual perception more likely to be a mistaken fantasy or a valid faculty if thousands of martyrs refused to deny it under horrible torture even unto death? Would you hold onto a fantasy under torture if denying it could save you such an ordeal? I wouldn’t. Those martyrs knew that God was real, and so did St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury.
Pointing can be a method of proof. A family who lives near a zoo may say to their excited four year old, “Prove to me that there is a polar bear in our back yard.” The child points out the window, and, for those who look, there it is! Anselm’s “proof” continues to successfully point people to the reality of God’s existence today. Bad argument; good proof; good pastor pretending to be a bad intellectual.
What About St. Augustine’s Ways of Knowing God?
Donald X. Burt at Villanova University has an excellent discussion of Augustine's ways of knowing God that is better than any treatment I could provide. The chapter title is "AUGUSTINE'S WORLD: An Introduction to His Speculative Philosophy" and can be found on the Internet at http://www41.homepage.villanova.edu/donald.burt/world/10.htm.
Suffice it to say here that the three ways of knowing God that St. Augustine affirms, direct vision (mystical experience), belief in the testimony of others, and argument from perceived facts about the universe, correspond closely to what we have already discussed. Augustine’s approach snaps very readily into our existing discussion of converting classic philosophical arguments for God’s existence into scientific theory.
“Philosophy, in one of its functions, is the critic of cosmologies. It is its function to harmonise, refashion, and justify divergent intuitions as to the nature of things. It has to insist on the scrutiny of the ultimate ideas, and on the retention of the whole of the evidence in shaping our cosmological scheme.”
Alfred North Whitehead
Science and the Modern World
Full Text Holy Bible (from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website)
Full Online Catechism of the Catholic Church (from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website)
Compendium to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (from the Vatican website--an abbreviated summary of the Catechism's main points)
 Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York: Doubleday, 1995), no. 37.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 286.
 Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, Chance or Purpose? (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007), 18.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 39.
 Appendix #11 further addresses the need to finalize the charter of science once and for all to avoid further error and confusion.
 Tradition has it that Murphy’s law states, “If anything can go wrong, it will.” As newcomers to the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base California are informed, Murphy was a young Air Force lieutenant serving as a flight test engineer in the early days of rocket sleds, land speed records, and breaking the sound barrier. The mentality of meticulously checking for and ruling out any possible opportunity for something to go wrong has been fully integrated into Air Force safety consciousness and attention to technical detail ever since. Due to lack of equally scrupulous attention to the rules of logical thinking, and no political will to enforce high standards for logic on politically sensitive topics within the academic community, the spurious and politically motivated arguments frequently given to support the accidental theory of evolution constitute a huge embarrassment to science and philosophy, which through several centuries of modern history have otherwise largely managed to maintain very high standards of integrity. There are other areas in modern science and philosophy that occasionally reflect similar problems. Almost without exception, when such garbage gets published it shows conceptual links to some social political philosophy or another, specifically, atheism, materialism, Marxism, Communism, or nihilism. Contrary to what many people might want to believe, the reality is that science and philosophy have not managed to keep themselves free of political bias and corruption.
Joseph D. Lykken, “The Super-strange World of Superstrings and Extra
Dimensions,” in Dale W. Jacobs, ed., 2005 Science Year: The World Book
Annual Science Supplement (
 Charles S. Peirce, “Pragmaticism,” in E. D. Klemke, ed., Contemporary Analytic and Linguistic Philosophies (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1983), 71-77.
 Exodus 24:9 NAB; Exodus 13:21-22 NAB; Exodus 3:2-6 NAB.
 Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 92. 1 Corinthians 2:11-16 affirms the existence of such a perceptual faculty of the spirit.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 153, 154.
 See the Philosophy of Religion Web site article on the Credulity Principle at http://www.philosophyofreligion.info/theistic-proofs/the-argument-from-religious-experience/the-principle-of-credulity/. Accessed 2 Dec 2009.
 See Cosmic Consciousness, by Richard M. Bücke, The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. See also the writings of the saints and the Fathers of the Church available on the Internet at http://www.newadvent.org. Although personal testimonies of mystical encounters in Cosmic Consciousness are very inspiring, the theology Richard Maurice Bücke presents is (according to Catholic theology) very wrong. It denies the reality of the personal God of the Bible, denies the personal being, Satan, who is our enemy, denies the biblical concept of sin, and makes God a pantheistic entity diffused throughout this creation and existing nowhere else. Christ is reduced to a non-divine human being, the acceptance of whom as savior is not essential for eternal salvation. Bücke’s theology might be termed scientific humanism or materialistic socialism, where the religious sense is merely an emergent phenomenon from the purely natural realm. This is unfortunate, as his personal studies of the mystical encounters of enlightened individuals are very powerful, and almost certainly genuine religious experience.
 A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy: the Attributes of God: Their Meaning in the Christian Life (New York: HarperCollins, Publishers, 1961).
 Spiritual perception, at least of the average layman, does not necessarily extend to revealing religious doctrine or dogma, but merely direct encounter with God, angels, or saints (and, lest we forget, not all angels are good or honest).
 Mario Beauregard and Denyse O’Leary. The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of the Soul (New York: HarperOne, 2007).
 David Biello, “Searching for God in the Brain,” Scientific American, vol. 18, no, 5 (2007).
 For a good modern introduction to the mind-body/dualism problem, see Stephen P. Stich and Ted A. Warfield, eds. The Blackwell Guide to Philosophy of Mind. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003.
William Paley, Natural Theology (
 Michael Denton, Nature’s Destiny (New York: The Free Press, 1998).
 See Appendix 5 for a further discussion of this topic.
 Appendix 8 addresses the relationship between SETI and ID logics in depth.
 Initially, researchers felt that roughly half the human genome was “junk,” but the percentage of junk DNA has been shrinking incrementally each year since as science discovers more and more of how the genome works. It now seems likely that very little if any of the human genome is junk.
 Charles Peirce was the area of specialization of my secondary mentor in philosophy, Professor Donald Koehn. Ironically I have, many years after graduation, arrived at Donald Koehn’s epistemology by using Professor Larry Colter’s analytical methods. Colter, my primary mentor, seemed to have an empiricist epistemology.
 Juan Garcia-Bellido, “The Origin of Matter and Structure in the Universe,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Series A., vol. 357, no. 1763 (1999): 3237-3257.
 Roger Penrose, The Emperor’s New Mind (New York: Penguin Books, 1991), 344. I recommend Roger Penrose’s lectures to the reader for future enjoyment. I had the pleasure to hear Professor Penrose speak at Indiana University the “other year,” in a small lecture hall. Despite being one of the most notable intellects on the planet, Penrose turns out to be a very humble and personable guy.
 Ariel A. Roth, Science Discovers God: Seven Convincing Lines of Evidence for His Existence (Hagerstown, MD: Autumn House Publishing, 2008), 8.
 For a description of such bad old days in the history of science, see David C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992).
 Also see the discussion at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy Web site, http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/o/ont-arg.htm and the Stanford University Encyclopedia of Philosophy Web site at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ontological-arguments/.
 The late Dr. Larry Colter, Dept. of Philosophy & Religion, University of Evansville, is the original source of the “radiocorn” argument against the validity of linguistic creation, presented circa 1973 at Illinois Wesleyan University where he was Philosophy Department Chairman.
 There is a technical version of Anselm’s argument that has gotten a lot of mileage in the community of modern academic philosophers that couches Anselm’s logic in terms of possible worlds theory. The argument says that if a God with necessary existence is at least possible then it exists in at least one possible world. And, if something fully necessary exists in at least one possible world then it must exist in all possible worlds. I do not subscribe to this version of the argument because it seems to me to embody a number of obvious errors. First, it seems to be a plain non sequitur. Nothing in the premise entails the conclusion. Second, it allows for something fully necessary to be a member of the class of entities in a world that is up front posited to be merely possible. Something that is merely possible cannot contain anything that is fully necessary. Third, this form of argument is proven invalid by reductio ad absurdum. The same argument can be made for any object/entity, not just God. It entails that anything we can imagine, just like the radiocorn, and attach necessary existence to it in our imagination, must then exist based upon possible worlds theory. The fourth and final objection to this version of Anselm is that it indirectly makes existence a non-contingent property of things that can be proved by logic alone.
 Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1925), ix-x.