About ten years ago, a friend of mine who I went to church with, decided that he would major in Philosophy, and that he would not believe in such things as "God" until he could logically deduct His existence. But first, he claimed that he had to deduct his own existence, and then the rest of the universe's existence. I tried to point out to him that philosophers for thousands of years have failed to accomplish any such deductions, and that in case of the remote chance that he did deduct the existence of God in this life, he probably would have spent most of his life outside of any direct relationship with Him while trying to deduct His/Her/Its existence. The "fruits" of his quest would be short-lived, at least for this life. He ignored this thought, along with my suggestion that his decision was probably due to recently being painfully jilted by a former girlfriend. Is my friend's road the best road to take in reaching such facts? Can we find out all the important "truths" regarding God, the universe, and our own existence down this or any other path?
Let me show you how far off we are philosophically from being certain of any "truth." As human beings, our day to day experiences seem to be limited to what we perceive though our physical senses. One of my past mentors, Eleanor Bregand, had a strange and unique experience during a surgery, where her brain was actually conscious, but completely disconnected from sight, smell, taste, hearing, and feeling. She was literally out of touch with everything outside of herself physically (except for the presence of God, but that is more for another topic). Her experience showed her that we are completely dependent upon what our senses tell us is "out there," including our own human body. We take this so much for granted, that most of us miss how profound this is. Getting data from our senses is not basically different than getting second-hand information from somebody else. Your eyes "tell" the brain what it sees by sending electric signals to the brain, kind of like e-mail. Your ears "tell" you what it hears in a similar way, and so on with all the rest of the senses. You have no choice. You are forced to trust your senses. To make matters worse, you must not only trust your senses, but your sense's ability to properly send correct information, that the transmission lines (nerves) are functioning properly. And maybe most importantly, we have to trust that our brain is functioning properly in receiving and reconstructing the data into meaningful information. In theory, if scientists could accurately feed artificially coded information to the brain in place of the senses, they could literally create a virtual reality that would be experienced as real as what we call reality (This is the basis of the recent movie, The Matrix). Hopefully, from what we think we know about ourselves, it seems clear that knowing ANYTHING requires faith in what we have been "told," so to speak.
This is where I see most philosophers get derailed in their quest for truth. They are not intellectually willing to accept what they sense. They try to pretend as if they normally live in an idealistic, sense-deprived environment like my mentor above was in for a very short time, and then try and prove to themselves by their own thought processes and logic that what is BEYOND their consciousness exists. I don't want to play the philosophy game too long right here, but I think that it is important to make at least a few points about this derailment. Outside of Philosophy majors, I suspect most of us cannot help but laugh at anyone who has to "prove" to themselves logically that what they experience through their five senses truly exists. How can we help our "reality-challenged" fellow humans get back on track?
Here's one way that might help. How are we able to tell the difference between our dreams while asleep, and memories of actual events? At this point, you may have to deal with a philosopher that says we might "exist" in a dream within a dream without ever "waking." Well, you should still be able to work with that. By definition, reality consists of logical consistency and practicality, starting from any given logical point, and moving outward to eventually include the totality of all existing things. Logical consistency would be basically seeing "cause and effect," where one thing occurring causes something else to happen that makes logical sense, and would have the same results if the first thing occurred again (scientists call this experimental repeatability). Practicality (the theorist's nightmare) would be something observed that serves a purpose and is possibly useful. Everything that is observable must be logically consistent and practical, not only with themselves, but with every other possible combination of all things. Of course, such a complete test of reality is impossible for us limited humans, yet it is normally sufficient to only do a limited amount of accurate testing. We do that testing nearly every time we awake from a dream. Upon waking, we begin to compare what we consider is "reality" from our waking state to what we just dreamed. Sometimes it takes just an instant to figure out that it was "just a dream." Sometimes we need to do a lot more comparison before we are sure that our "dream" did not actually happen in reality. At least twice in my life, while I was dreaming, I realized that I was dreaming. How did I figure that out? In both of the dreams, I noticed that something occurred that was not logically possible. I was then able to "wake" at these points. Regarding the "dream within a dream" problem, you can try and direct the philosopher to always attempt to move toward a "dream" state that is MORE logically consistent and practical, and that this would eventually lead to an actual "waking" state. Oh, by the way. Don't torment these philosophers by pointing out the obvious fact that they are in fact trusting in their senses by actually having a conversation with you, reacting to stimuli allegedly received through their senses.
By now, it should be obvious to the reader that I have been equating the word "reality" to the word "truth." My Webster's New Riverside Dictionary does the same. Therefore by definition, if there is such a thing as reality, then there is such a thing as truth, since they are both the same. Should I stop here before any more readers fall asleep? No. Go get a cup of coffee and come right back, if you THINK you have any coffee. I need to deal with at least a few other questions. One is, is all "truth" limited to only what we detect through our senses?
Common sense (assuming that is what I have) seems to say no, of course not, to that last question. Much of our "truth" is gained more indirectly, such as through scientific measuring devices like thermometers, scales, spectrum analyzers, etc. We have learned to trust the measurements theses devices tell us. We can confirm the validity of their measurements by testing the equipment itself, such as by doing manual calibrations. We daily extend our knowledge of truth even further than that when we decide to trust the measurements taken by other scientists. Most of the time, we simply put our trust in data we get from less "scientific" sources, such as teachers, books, the media, and even web pages like mine. How can we trust all these sources of indirect information? We constantly apply to the data (in varying degrees) the logical consistency and practicality tests. Typically, as we gain more trust in some given data, we gain more trust in the data-giver. Is it possible to gain TOO MUCH (or TOO LITTLE) trust of the data-giver? This occurs if one accepts (or rejects) the information given by the data-givers without making enough confirmation tests. The problem is, as humans, we are all naturally biased, and tend to accept data and conclusions that ONLY fit within our own comfortable views, regardless of whether they are mostly "scientific," "religious," or something else. If you have not read my related article, The Myth of Being Open-Minded, I suggest you do that right after reading this article.
It should have become rather clear by now to the reader that "truth" is not only what we sense and experience through our senses, but it includes much of what others have gathered for us. How strange or wild can this "truth" be before we know that it cannot be trusted?
It has been said that "truth is stranger than fiction." If scientists can honestly accept extremely strange theories, many that do not pass most people's personal common sense tests like Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, it seems as if there is NO LIMIT to how wild or strange truth might be. By the way, as a student of both Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, I have a number of scientific problems with both these theories (both just happen to be by definition mostly untestable, for example). I would encourage the reader to now consider the possibility that truth (reality) can include wild and strange things such as "God."
If we are to consider the truth (reality) of "God," then we need to at least basically define what "God" is. Most would agree that if "God" created the entire universe, he would have to be rather large, or omnipresent. Also, "God" would have to be very strong and have great ability, or in other words, be omnipotent. To be able to know how to include all the amazing complexity into the universe at all size levels and include all possible network connections (all things working together), "God" would have to be rather smart, or omniscient. This Being would also have to be very old, or eternal. Couple the idea that God is omnipresent and eternal seems to suggest that God exists outside of space and time. Are there any "data-givers" in the world who claim to have truth (reality) about such a Being? Of course. Many religions, it seems.
At this point, I will spare the reader from an exhaustive comparison of religions. I would suggest the reader apply logical consistency and practicality tests to the various religious bits of information coming from their "data-givers." Does a specific group claim that their "God" is omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, thus outside the confines of space and time, according to their religion? These religions would be your prime candidates to test. Check out their data sources (sacred texts, etc.). Do they agree with the data-givers claims, or do they have to have ANOTHER SOURCE of data to interpret it (tinker with the evidence)? At this point, you may be able to screen out a few religions, such as those based on the Greek gods who were very limited in their characteristics, or the Mormon church who has made over three thousand CHANGES to the book of Mormon since it was first printed in 1830. One must of course begin to apply even more strict parameters to screen out the other unlikely "God" candidates. So many "Gods," so little time.
There are almost countless ways to begin to narrow down our candidates from here. A great number of people are not willing to even consider ANY candidates, but it seems clear to me that anyone who is not willing to honestly and carefully try to see if God fits reality at least once in their life is being extremely dishonest with themselves regarding the possibilities of what all truth (reality) ultimately consists of. Let us be careful to not rule out possible truth (reality) simply because the consideration might be uncomfortable, take effort to consider, be strange, or not fit our current biases.
Personally, you should find these tests to be helpful: 1-- Is there a religion that includes valid descriptions about what we know FOR SURE about the world around us, and facts about human nature? I personally think that this question is very rarely applied properly by most people. Too many of us are extremely quick in making snap judgments, due to current popular "scientific" theories that we happen to hold, thus missing the possibility that certain theories actually do fit what we know and experience. 2-- Since we see so much pain and suffering in this world, is there a religion that not only confirms the existence of pain and suffering, but has an explanation for it and provides a remedy? 3-- Has the remedy worked in any way for anyone yet? Notice that my last two questions assume that "God" would be loving enough to not have been the cause of the pain and suffering, and also be the One to provide the remedy for our pain. I do not think that assuming God is loving is a bad parameter to test, especially when even atheists demand that "God" must be loving if He/She/It existed (intellectually speaking, why does God have to be "loving" to exist?).
Some invalid tests: 1-- Asking "God" to strike you dead if He/She existed. It is kind of hard to make many thoughtful conclusions (in this life) if you are dead, so I doubt that "God" would oblige this test. 2-- Picking a "God" Who would approve of all of my behaviors as being OK. Who thinks that they do not have at least one bad behavior? That is a rhetorical question. 3-- Choosing a "God" who only loves the richest, smartest, most knowledgeable, or most beautiful people in the world. This seems to be a rather popular God that many "religious" people wish existed, especially since it would be a God who would not get much credit for anything in their lives. 4-- Seeking a "God" who has the most goodies to offer as the main criteria (who plays "Santa Claus" the best). Those in our "American" culture might have to think longest about the last one, since many here seem to believe that God rewards those who are greediest.
Let me possibly save you a lot of time, and help you narrow your search down to one religion to consider for the moment. As a model for testing, I suggest that you consider a religion that has been too quickly passed over by most for any actual testing, namely, Christianity. This religion has stood the test of time regarding historical, archeological, scientific, psychological, medical, artistic, and legal testing (to name a few). Granted, the Bible was not written in any of those specific formats, and a large portion of it seems clearly beyond testability at this time (ex: Heaven and Hell). Yet, the Bible leaves itself open in so many places for scrutiny, and it is at those points which we ought to test this religion. Jesus Himself said (John 3:12)-- "If I have told you earthly (testable) things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly (untestable) things? Yes, I added the words testable and untestable, but the context around the verse affirm my amplification of the passage. If we are confident that we can trust all the testable things in the Bible, then it appears that we have good reason to be able to trust the untestable parts also.
To supply you with the massive volumes of evidence showing that the Bible is valid regarding various "earthly" tests would be not only beyond the scope of this article, but it would also be beyond my time (and web space) to provide even a decent portion to you. If you do a web search, I am certain you will find more evidence than you will ever have time to read. I will eventually add links to such sites as I some day take time (if I ever get time) to find them. I also suggest that you look up one or more of the following books: Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell (Vols 1 and 2), Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible by John W. Haley, The Bible as History by Werner Keller, 10 Reasons to Trust the Bible by Don Stewart, Answers to Tough Questions Skeptics Ask About the Christian Faith by Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, The Fingerprint of God by Grant R. Jeffrey, The Origin of the Bible edited by Philip Wesley Comfort, and Cosmic Codes - Hidden Messages From the Edge of Eternity by Chuck Missler. For those hung up with evolution, I suggest reading In the Minds of Men - Darwin and the New World Order by Ian T. Taylor (deals with more details and arguments than most evolutionists ever think of). If you are hung up with the reality of the big world-wide flood in the Bible, read The Genesis Flood by John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and Henry M. Morris. If you read all of this material, you would have to be more ridiculously stubborn about believing than the stereotypical skeptic that is always included in horror movies. These books will provide more than ample "testing" for you to consider in regards to the evidence in support of the divine authorship of the Bible.
I find it interesting how many people become Christians during their attempts in trying to disprove the Bible using their own area of expertise. One such fellow was the famous professor Simon Greenleaf of Harvard Law School, who was the great 19th century authority on common-law evidence. Mr. Greenleaf wrote a set of texts that were designed to teach students the proper way to use legal techniques in order to discover what is truth gleaned from the testimony of witnesses. He was also well-known for being very anti-Christian, and attacked them verbally quite often. A few of his own Christian students suggested to professor Greenleaf that he apply his legal techniques to the four gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, to see if their "testimonies" about Jesus would stand the rigors of his tests. Mr. Greenleaf agreed, thinking that this would be a perfect opportunity to prove Christianity wrong once and for all. Not only was Mr. Greenleaf unsuccessful in destroying the testimony of the four gospels, but he was amazed at how PERFECT their four separate testimonies were according to his rules, that he wrote a book about his findings. Simon Greenleaf concluded; "It was therefore impossible that they could have persisted in affirming the truths they have narrated, had not Jesus actually risen from the dead, and had they not known this fact as certainly as they knew any other fact. Mr. Greenleaf wrote about his findings in The Testimony of the Evangelists.
Many people believe that the Bible teaches blind faith, but that is far from true. The Bible contains a number of challenges to the reader to test it to see if its words are true. Here are but a few of those challenges: Isaiah 1:18; Psalms 34:8; John 21:24-25; Acts 17:11; James 1:5.
Some people think that "truth" will always be obvious, as if we already naturally know it. Outside of "religious" subjects, this approach to truth would be considered ridiculous. There would therefore be no need for any schools or teachers. The Bible considers this concept ridiculous even within religion. Proverbs 14:12-- There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. Jeremiah 17:9-10-- The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings. Jeremiah 10:23-24 O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps. O LORD, correct me, but with justice; not in Your anger, lest You bring me to nothing. The Bible clearly teaches that we must look outside of ourselves to gain any truth. It never said to simply turn off our brains. Yet, the Bible does expect us to have faith in the untestable parts of it once we have confirmed that its testable parts are trustworthy.
Faith is much more than holding a mere intellectual opinion. If Satan exists (I believe he does), then even Satan would definitely believe in God, since he has access to viewing both God and Heaven according to the Bible (Revelation 12:7-10). Faith has to do with putting one's trust in something or someone. You might "believe" that a certain roller coaster is safe to ride. You may even know every engineering detail about it. But none of this is the same as "trusting" it enough to actually take a ride in it. Faith is taking the data of what you know for sure, and then extrapolating out to what you cannot test, and then choose to trust in this untestable data. The Bible defines it like this (Hebrews 11:1)-- Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Most of us have had the humorous (or not so humorous) experience of seeing what happens to people after they go to college. So many of them seem to have lost all their "common sense." Many things that most of us take for granted as being true are all of a sudden now being intellectually "shot down" by such people, who will use some of the strangest and most convoluted arguments. For example, I once endured having to hear the "scientific" arguments regarding why all of us are living INSIDE of the earth right now. Most of us could say, even a three-year old child knows that this is wrong.
Speaking of children, it is interesting that all of the most profound and religious concepts about the world and God have been discussed by children BEFORE they even reached the third grade! If you don't believe me, ask just about any early elementary school teacher (such as my wife). Children have a wonderful way of cutting through all our pseudo-intellectual smoke screens that block us adults from even the most obvious facts of reality. You might have fun asking a number of young children whether or not God exists, and their reason for believing or not believing. You will most likely get better and more-to-the-point reasons to believe in God than you will get here from me. It is no wonder that the Bible says this: (Mark 10:13-16)-- Then they brought young children to Him (Jesus), that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. "Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it." And He took them up in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them. By the way, remember who the hero was in The Emperor's New Clothes story?
As far as I know, my friend I mentioned at the start of this article is still on his same "intellectual" road.
Last thought (Hebrews 11:6)-- But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.