Thursday, February 23, 2012

Does God's Trnascendent Nature Prevent Us From Understanding Anything AT All About God?

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On the blog article I wrote: "demand for evidence of God unfair and misplaced"
the blog piece itself.

StewPiD MoNkEy had some questions for the comment section:

StEwPiD_MoNkEy
said...

Metacroc,
Hello again. Had to have a name change due to copy right laws. But any way, there is a slight problem with your logic. You say, "God is beyond our understanding." In the third paragraph yet later you go on to say, "God wants the search". Which one is it? Since you are bringing up epistemology, this question is directly towards the subject. If your God is "beyond you understanding", then how can u state what he/it wants? The whole concept of being in gods mind directly states that he is non material (how you get to a mind that does not have a brain based in matter is another story). Since by your standards he is non material there is no seperating what he is from that he is. If one aspect of your God is unknowable, then all aspects are unknowable. So to claim to know anything about your God, i. e. He wants u to search, is to claim knowledge of the unknowable. This negates its unknowable status. If its known then your God should be quantifiable. How do you reconcile this glaring contradiction?

Let's break it down:

"God is beyond our understanding." In the third paragraph yet later you go on to say, "God wants the search". Which one is it?
Both. God does not ask us to understand him, he asks us to seek and find him. What we are finding is a personal relationship with the source of our being and our place in being. We can know experimentally things we don't understand intellectually. I don't know that much about how a tv works, how my computer works, even how the lights work, other than the average amount of surface knowledge that most people possess. Yet I use all of these things. In terms of relationship I know and like or love various people who do I don't understand psychologically. Of cousre there is a certain degree of understanding that comes from experiencing the reality of a person or of God. In terms of God experience that is called the "noetic quality" of religious experience. That's not really what is being talked about when we say God is beyond our understanding. noetic qualtiies are part of the sense of hte numinous which is basic aspect of religious experience. That's the sense people get that the experience of the divine imparts some of kind of knowledge. It's not scientific or intellectual knowledge. The sort of thing one gains from the noetic aspects of religoius experience is the intuitive sense that life has meaning and that God loves us.

StEwPiD_MoNkEy said...
Since you are bringing up epistemology, this question is directly towards the subject. If your God is "beyond you understanding", then how can u state what he/it wants?
He can tell us. The noetic qulaities also impart a degree of knowledge of this sort. We know form the sense of love that comes with the sense of the numinous that God wants to have a love relationship with us. In addition to this, in the Christian tradition, we believe that Jesus was modeling God's character for us and Jesus tells us this.

StEwPiD_MoNkEy said...

The whole concept of being in gods mind directly states that he is non material (how you get to a mind that does not have a brain based in matter is another story).

Not necessarily. I have things in my mind and I'm material. Yet I accept that God is not material. In fact I suggest that the divide bewteen material and spiritual is illusory. In my view, taking my ques form German philosophers, spirit is mind. In fact while most people focus on the definition of the Greek term for spirit, pnuma, as "wind" or "breath" most overlook the fact that "mind" is also part of the definition. In fact matter breaks down as well. Matter is energy, and mind is energy. There may be a point at which the two meet. We don't really know what energy is. If you look at the things science says about it, energy is made up of sub atomic particles. What are particles? They are not little balls like the models of atoms suggest, they are "charges." So atoms and subatomic particls are made up of little bitty atoms, so to speak. They are all charges and those charges are made up of more charges. If we ask "what is a charge" the answer really in literal is "more charges." Matter is just a different form of energy and it's not all that clear what energy is. If reductinoists are right and mind is just an organized matrix of electrical charge than it seems that mind and energy are really pretty much the same substance. That suggests that matter and spirit meet at a certain conjunction.


StEwPiD_MoNkEy said...

Since by your standards he is non material there is no seperating what he is from that he is.

That's a tautological statement and it's true of everything.

StEwPiD_MoNkEy said...

If one aspect of your God is unknowable, then all aspects are unknowable.
Conclusion not in evidence. It's also contradicted by any number of empirical instances. For example if I don't know what the submerge part of an ice berg holds that doesn't mean that I don't understand the part that's above water. If I don't know what caused the big bang that doesn't mean I don't undersatnd certain aspects of the expansion. If I don't know some details of a friend's past I can still have a basic understanding of that friend's psychological make up.

StEwPiD_MoNkEy said...

So to claim to know anything about your God, i. e. He wants u to search, is to claim knowledge of the unknowable. This negates its unknowable status. If its known then your God should be quantifiable. How do you reconcile this glaring contradiction?

At this point you are just making a pedantic error. Once its' been explained to you the different senses in which the terms are used (such as "to know" fore example) it should be clear two different senses are involved. The Eastern Orthodox chruch makes the distinction between the unknowable nature of God through conventional means, and the personal or spiritual recourse to experiential knowledge of God. This distinction is preserved in apaphatic theology, the practice of only say what God is not, and that of mystical union where one understands through experience but speaks metahoricallly about it.

Eastern Orthodox Church. Timothy Ware wrote a fine book, The Orthodox Church that does a good job of introducing Western Christians to the Eastern Church.[1]

Ware explains the great schism and how the gulf between east and west continued to grow. He wants to explain the ways in which the east contributed to the gulf. He says that nothing was so radical as the scholastic “revolution” but he lists as the eastern counterpart the Hesychast controversy (pg2). 14th century Byzantium. This involved God’s nature and the method of prayer. To explain the controversy he goes back to history of eastern mystical theology, back to Clement of Alexandria (early third century) and Origen (mid 3d). The Cappadocians, especially Gregory of Nyssa and also Evagrius, a monk in the Egyptian desert (d399) developed the ideas of Clement and Origen. This entire tradition depended upon an apophatic approach, especially as developed by Clement and Gregory. God is beyond our understanding. We cannot speak accurately about God because we can’t understand God and we don’t know if our experiences of God are so very encompassing or just fragmentary. Therefore, the mystics of the Eastern Church use negative language of God rather than positive. That is to say they concern themselves with what God is not, rather than what God is.[i2] (63)

“The true knowledge and vision of God consists in this—in seeing that he is invisible, because what we seek lies beyond all knowledge, being wholly separated by the darkness of incomprehensibility.” –Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses, 11, 163 (377A).

The Height of Negative theology is reached in the works of Dionysius the Areopagite. (unknown writer lived in Syria toward the end of the fifth century). Saint Maximus the Confessor (662) compassed a commentary on these writings and assured their place in the Eastern Church. [3]

He is also an influence on the west, as Ware points out, as Aquinas quotes him heavily in Summa Theologica. The concept of God as Being itself is ratified by Vatican II and is a major premise of modern Catholic doctrine.[4]



[1] Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, New York: Penguin books, 1963 (1993 edition).

[2] Ibid. 63

[3] Ibid. quotes John of Damascus from On the Orthodox Faith 1,4 (P.G. Xciv, 800b

[4] Jean-Luc Marion, God without Being. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, Thomas A. Carlson Trans. 1991 (original language publication 1982). xxii.

8 comments:

Ron Krumpos said...

What we know about God is far exceeded by what we do not know. In a brief summary:

Scriptures, theologians and many religious leaders tell us what the divine is by listing grandiose attributes. Most mystics worship personal aspects of the divine, but they also speak of what it is not. Many of them said that the divine essence is nothing, i.e. no thing, that it is immanent in all things, yet it is transcendent to everything. Mystics consider this seeming paradox to be a positive negation.

Avidya, non-knowledge in Sanskrit, is used in Buddhism for our “spiritual ignorance” of the true nature of Reality. Bila kaif, without knowing how in Arabic, is Islam’s term for “without comparison” to describe Allah. Ein Sof, without end in Hebrew, is the “infinite beyond description” in the Kabbalah. Neti, neti, not this, not this in Sanskrit, refers to “unreality of appearances” to define Brahman. In via negativa, the way of negation in Latin, God is “not open to observation or description.”

Mysticism emphasizes spiritual knowing, which is not rational and is independent of reason, logic or images. Da`at is Hebrew for “the secret sphere of knowledge on the cosmic tree.” Gnosis is Greek for the “intuitive apprehension of spiritual truths.” Jnana is Sanskrit for “knowledge of the way” to approach Brahman. Ma`rifa in Arabic is “knowledge of the inner truth.” Panna in Pali is “direct awareness”; perfect wisdom. These modes of suprarational knowing, perhaps described as complete intuitive insight, are not divine oneness; they are actualizing our inherent abilities to come closer to the goal.

(quoted from "the greatest achievement in life," my free ebook on comparative mysticism)

Kristen said...

This tendency to think in binaries (unknowable/knowable) is part of our Western mindset, passed down all the way from Aristotle. But though binaries can be useful, they can also be quite limiting as a way to understand reality. Either God is completely knowable, or God is totally unknowable. This binary leaves no room for the things you've described, Metacrock, such as different kinds or levels of knowledge, or the possibility that the truth might be somewhere between the two binaries (God is knowable in some ways and not in others, or some aspects of God are knowable, but not other aspects).

Metacrock said...

Ron:
Mysticism emphasizes spiritual knowing, which is not rational and is independent of reason, logic or images. Da`at is Hebrew for “the secret sphere of knowledge on the cosmic tree.” Gnosis is Greek for the “intuitive apprehension of spiritual truths.” Jnana is Sanskrit for “knowledge of the way” to approach Brahman. Ma`rifa in Arabic is “knowledge of the inner truth.” Panna in Pali is “direct awareness”; perfect wisdom. These modes of suprarational knowing, perhaps described as complete intuitive insight, are not divine oneness; they are actualizing our inherent abilities to come closer to the goal.

Paradox of thought, mystical experience is ofen codified and pressed into doctrine then it becomes more than fresh experience. That's just an occupational hazard of being human and communicating by word of mouth.

Ultimately a commitment to any sort of theologian tradition is part of the package that comes with the leap, it's further leap of the leap of faith. It's important to be in a tradition for many reasons. the important thing is not to be rigid about it.

I think we can some things. Knowledge is just a crap shoot.

Metacrock said...

Say Kristen, I think binary opposition are universal. The east has plenty of them: yin and yang, dark and light, good and evil (Persian dualism) and so on.

Metacrock said...

what I find amusing is that the first thing people say when I ay God is beyond our understanding is "so what is God like?"

Kristen said...

"I think binary opposition are universal. The east has plenty of them: yin and yang, dark and light, good and evil (Persian dualism) and so on."

Metacrock, that's a good point, but I think the east handles them differently than Aristotelian logic does. Eastern thought sees the binaries in balance, each contributing to the whole, whereas Aristotelian thought sees them in terms of A/Not A, B/Not B, and so on, with "A" positive and "Not A" negative. Aristotle considered the female to be a defective version of the male, for instance, and he thought of society in terms of Greeks/Barbarians. I'm sure you know all this; but I do think it still affects our thinking today. Western thought finds it hard to say "God is unknowable/God is knowable" can both exist as different aspects of the same truth. It's either one or the other. Does that clarify what I mean?

Ron Krumpos said...

Perhaps a simple (and quick) reply to "what is God like?" would be Love. Let them define that!

Metacrock said...

Metacrock, that's a good point, but I think the east handles them differently than Aristotelian logic does. Eastern thought sees the binaries in balance, each contributing to the whole, whereas Aristotelian thought sees them in terms of A/Not A, B/Not B, and so on, with "A" positive and "Not A" negative. Aristotle considered the female to be a defective version of the male, for instance, and he thought of society in terms of Greeks/Barbarians. I'm sure you know all this; but I do think it still affects our thinking today. Western thought finds it hard to say "God is unknowable/God is knowable" can both exist as different aspects of the same truth. It's either one or the other. Does that clarify what I mean?

good point. the Derridian binary op, that's the way the West deals with it alright. Of cousre when atheists think they have any thing to answer with the jump on it and don't think it though deeply. SOME atheists!