Life, the Universe, and Everything

Everything we know is rooted in experience.
If this is a simple conclusion, I can only say that it is easy to forget. In the midst of arguing over philosophy and science, religion and worldview, there creeps in an assumption that some ways of knowing are completely divorced from direct personal experience.

Experience Precedes EverythingThere is no exception. We may say that we accept something, not due to experience, but due to science. But why should we accept science unless it reflected experience? The person born without any functional sensory organs has neither a concept of the physical world nor a rational reason to believe in one.
This is not to say that experience cannot be misunderstood. Certainly, there are contradictions between the content of our lives and the content of our dreams. In such a case, we must either call one to be false, or believe that the two experiences occurred on different planes of existence. Depending on how one defines the terms, either approach could be used in the case of dreams.

All this is to say that I see no reason to discredit my experience of moral truth, of beauty, or of meaning in life simply because they are not scientific. My sensory experience is not confirmed by science; rather, science is confirmed by it.
So far, so good. The controversy is in seeking to explain the existence of such things. Personally, I know of no theory which covers the experience of reality more completely or elegantly than certain forms of theism. The concept of God makes sense out of such a (when I think about it) strange combination of experiences.

Many object, of course. Lately, it has been the fashion to respond that materialism can explain the psychological reasons why I might come to believe in these things. This may or may not be true, but is beside the point. Materialism can explain none of these things as extant. It does no more to explain the existence of the universe than the existence of objective moral values. It gets out of the latter only by denying their existence, and is left simply to avoid the question of the former.
There seems no more reason to deny that morals exist, however, than to deny that the universe exists. Both are experienced, and, when I am done pondering cartesian questions, I am prone to trust my experience over a possibility asserted without support.

Roots of MoralityOthers object that these things can be accepted as brute facts without need for an explanation. I suppose that this is true, in the same sense that one can accept “things fall” as a brute fact without bothering about a theory of gravity. Clearly, this does nothing to undermine the credibility of any explanation. On the contrary, it becomes immediately obvious that an argument based on avoiding thought is both weak and, in some sense, dishonest.

The most astonishing of currently fashionable responses to this argument, however, is the demand for an explanation of God himself. This is a variation on the “who designed the designer” argument. It strikes me as obvious that one need not explain a thing in order to realize that it explains something else. Indeed, demanding an explanation of the explanation leads immediately to an infinite regress. And an objection that works equally well for all explanations, regardless of content, is no objection at all.

Rather, it seems that, in all forms of experience, we are left with the fact that finite and contingent reality (which is the whole of our experience) is based on absolute, infinite reality. It is both intuitive and rationally inescapable that all experience with reality points to something greater: the physical universe to immense power, moral truths to ultimate good, beauty to sublimity, and meaning to divine purpose.

One can escape this only by demanding, based on one’s own worldview, that some category of these experiences is invalid. So long as one realizes that this claim is arbitrary, one is allowed it. For my part, I am inclined instead to believe that our experiences are of something real. It follows from this that they do point, in their own finite and meandering way, to something far greater than any of us can now imagine.

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6 responses to “Life, the Universe, and Everything

  • c emerson

    > It is both intuitive and rationally inescapable that all experience with reality points to something greater:
    – the physical universe to immense power,
    – moral truths to ultimate good,
    – beauty to sublimity, and
    – meaning to divine purpose.

    I hope you repost this post or the quoted part, anyway. It surprises me that I haven’t run across this succinct a summary before on other theist blogs (perhaps it is there and I just haven’t seen this combination before).

    Needless to say it is clear that many may disagree with this being “inescapable” or that experience really points to “something greater”, but good show anyway. I’ve addressed a ‘big picture’ approach (as merely a starting point) on my own blog Ideas are Physical in a post titled, “The Genesis Model _ Is Space = God?” at

    http://www.ideasarephysical.net/2013/03/the-genesis-model-is-space-god.html?m=1

    I hope I haven’t already given you that link.

    My point here is this: I think a rather powerful argument can be made that the foundation of the natural laws for this universe may well be the ‘eternal’ natural laws for this universe by themselves. But even if so, the existence of moral truths, beauty and meaning all must be adequately explained. I am in the search for how modern atheism deals with those three items, vis a vis theism.

    I’ve already indicated that I think moral objectivity can be dealt with, but beauty and meaning may be best explained by an intelligent force or being. Good post.

    • Debilis

      I’ve been pondering over this as well, and wish I had more answers. I personally find these things to be very telling areas of reality, but can’t seem to make the final connection. Nor do most seem interested (meaning I tend to keep these thoughts to myself).

      But, I’m glad you left the comment. I’ll have to read the linked post, and otherwise get back to the subject.

      Best to you out there.

    • c emerson

      Thanks for the dialogue. I suspect we are on the same page that science, by its very (intended) structure, is not designed to answer a question for which there is no empirical or observational data of an experimentally repeatable form. That is why it is a logical error, imo, for a disputant (Dawkins, Coyne, etc) to argue from science against the existence of God. At least the lack of evidence as evidence of the negative is highly debatable. But if so, it seems it would behoove theists to focus more clearly on what questions religions do answer (or endeavor to answer). In this regard, “choice itself” becomes an important element for discussion and debate. Feel free to post or not post on either of my blogs anytime.

    • Debilis

      I’d love to get to more of your blogs, actually (trying desperately to keep up with responses just now).

      I think you make a good point here. I definitely take issue with those who seem to think that religion answers scientific questions (i.e. young-earth creationists). If Dawkins makes the error of misunderstanding the purpose of religion, Christians share a lot of the blame for this.

      I’ll have to think on that, and start writing more to this issue…

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