Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Presence Of God In Our Human Consciousness

Science & Religion


“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.”
—Psalm 19:1, KJV

“All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. It is no mere chance that our older universities developed from clerical schools. Both churches and universities — insofar as they live up to their true function — serve the ennoblement of the individual. They seek to fulfill this great task by spreading moral and cultural understanding, renouncing the use of brute force.
The essential unity of ecclesiastical and secular institutions was lost during the 19th century, to the point of senseless hostility. Yet there was never any doubt as to the striving for culture. No one doubted the sacredness of the goal. It was the approach that was disputed.”

Albert Einstein, “Moral Decay” (1937); 
later published in Out of My Later Years (1950)

The Heavens: There might be a valid reason why so many of us enjoy looking at the night sky, enjoy images of our solar system and beyond, enjoy looking upward and outward. It’s curiosity, to be sure, but it might be much more. Carl Sagan said:  “To be certain of the existence of God and to be certain of the nonexistence of God seem to me to be the confident extremes in a subject so riddled with doubt and uncertainty as to inspire very little confidence indeed.” —Conversations with Carl Sagan (2006), Ed. Tom Head, p. 70.
Photo Credit: Beth Hoeckel
SourceThe Atlantic

One of the best novels of the 19th century (and of the modern era) is Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment (1866). It speaks about the great themes of humanity: love, forgiveness and redemption. It is by all accounts one of the greatest Christian novels ever written. It is easier to apprehend if you have read the Bible. Now, reading the Bible is not the same as understanding it, but it is a good start.

Although I am a man of Jewish upbringing, along with the Jewish Bible, I have read the complete Christian Bible a number of times. I have studied it and I am better for it. I have also read all the works by Dostoevsky, who brought his understanding of the human condition into novel form. His understanding was informed by his Christianity. Dostoevsky was not alone among 19th century Russian writers, nor among writers in general. The search for transcendence was common, and writers of all religions sought to understand the great existential question of Life, even as scientific knowledge was increasing.

But with knowledge comes sorrow, or to put it another way an understanding that knowledge is without end. It is limitless, just as is infinity. Just as humans have problems with mathematical infinity, we have problems living with the idea of infinite knowledge. Which brings me to a personal essay, by Jack Miles, in The Atlantic on why our human belief in God persists. In “Why God Will Not Die” (December 2014), Miles writes about the existential question of coping with the limits of human knowledge:
And how do we cope with that? However we cope with our ignorance, we cannot, by definition, call the coping knowledge. What do we call it? Let’s not give it a name, not even the name religion; the dilemma precedes religion and irreligion alike. But if we can concede that religion is among the ways that humankind has coped with the permanence and imponderability of human ignorance, then we may discover at least a new freedom to conduct comparisons. If we grant that we must all somehow go beyond our knowledge in order to come to enough closure to get on with the living of our lives, then how do religious modes of doing just that compare with irreligious modes? Since the challenge is practical rather than theoretical, the comparison should be of practices and outcomes rather than of theories and premises—yet the hope must be for a reasonable way of coping with the impossibility of our ever living a perfectly rational life.
As I have written before a number of times, science digs deeper and in searching for answers, raises more questions. This is particularly true in theoretical physics and in cosmology. Some very weird stuff, phenomena if you will, is going on. I am sure that scientists will eventually come up with some explanation; I am also sure that this will lead to further questions. And so on.

There remains a great divide between Science and Religion—and a lot of hostility and suspicion directed at the “other side”—but it is chiefly based on ignorance emanating from both camps. There is also uncertainty, much of it. Science’s child, Technology, offers no answer to fundamental existential or epistemological questions; it does however offer a potential but possibly necessary distraction from reality, a temporary relief from the harshness and unpredictability of life. If we are made insignificant, it might as well be a pleasurable insignificance. Even so, no one wants to believe that they are not significant. I like what Einstein said about the purpose of man’s creative forces, whether it be the arts, science or religion. It’s about being ennobled, raised up from the mire, the rubble of broken promises.
 
Some of us might not call ourselves “religious” and we might not regularly attend religious services, but we can still view religion in a positive way, in a positive light and see its purpose as giving some inner meaning, particularly in the midst of “trying” or “difficult” circumstances. Living a perfectly rational life is not possible, and it seems will always be so for humans. It is also true that there is (and continues to remain, even in the most hostile conditions) an abiding presence of God in our human consciousness. The ontological question of God’s existence persists. This is why Atheism is a hard position to hold; it negates the possibility of the existence of God. Doubt, encouraged by human reality, has a way of creeping in.

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For more, go to [TheAtlantic]