In my last post, I argued that reason and scientific knowledge were not enough to apprehend the entirety of reality. I stated that we as humans can know information based on (1) our senses, (2) our intuition, (3) revelation, and (4) the testimony of others. Of course, our ability to ascertain truth from any of these sources is debatable in and of itself – can we really trust our senses? How many times have we heard someone saying something only to find that we misheard them?
Accordingly, I’ve come to the conclusion that, in all honesty, its impossible for us humans to say something is true with 100 percent certainty. Additionally, people tend to view sensory data and experience reality the way they want and/or expect to. I was once convinced that a particular guy liked me, and therefore I viewed everything he did through this perspective, that I built up a substantial body of evidence that he did, in fact, like me. I was wrong, and upon learning so, I was stunned that my perception of reality had been so far off. However, I learned a valuable lesson: my ordering of data about the world around me rests on presuppositions. To make sense of it all, one needs to begin somewhere, and we are colored by what we believe and see what we want to see.
We can question and challenge anyone’s presuppositions, but without them, a system of knowledge cannot be made. Lesslie Newbigin, in his book, _The Gospel in a Pluralist Society_, pointed out that occasionally, someone will conduct a scientific experiment that demonstrates results that contradict one ore more the presuppositions on which science currently rests. When this happens, scientific journals frequently reject the publication of the experiment’s findings—even if they are sound, because to publish them would make science unintelligible, and would render science unreliable and useless whereas we know it to be terrifically useful to us in many ways. If enough people conduct experiments that challenge current scientific presuppositions, then a paradigm shift can be made, but only a few challenges must be rejected in favor of keeping an intelligible system of knowledge. Therefore, our knowledge—even of scientific things—is pragmatic, but not perfect.
If one reads enough of Pascal, one will find that he comes to a very similar conclusion about the limits of human knowledge. He calls God a “hidden God,” meaning that God gives just enough light (evidence) about Himself to permit people to belief in Him, but not enough light to force people to believe in Him. Because in this life we can never know with 100 percent certainty that God exists, it makes much more sense to believe that He does because it (A) gives us a better experience in this world (living morally, having hope, etc.) and (B) will lead to eternal life and happiness if God in fact does exist. If we don’t believe in God, we lose out on A and possibly B. From Pascal’s perspective, even if statistics are 50% that God exists and 50% that God does not exist, because the stakes are so high, with eternal happiness to lose (if God exists) and nothing to gain (if God does not exist), the only rational choice is to be a theist.
The wager wasn’t Pascal’s only reason for belief; the _Penseés_ are a collection of his disparate thoughts about why he believed in God. He never finished it, but he was collecting them to form a more cohesive work on apologetics for the Christian faith.
So what is the light that God gives us? I discovered much of this for myself when I was going through an intense period of doubt, brought on by the fact that I couldn’t stand to fathom anyone enduring hell for the rest of eternity. Until my own experience with doubt, while I had heard that Christian belief was reasonable and it was important for one to know why one believed, I generally had an unquestioned faith. In third grade, I sensed some dissonance between the Genesis account of creation and the fossil record of dinosaurs, but because I had the presupposition that Christianity was true, I concluded that “day” must mean a period of millions of years. In other words, I found ways to reconcile my faith to what I was learning in the world around me.
When doubt found me, I discovered that two, conflicting worldviews had been with me the whole time: one based on a Christian understanding of reality; the other based on a materialist, logical positivist one. Because I didn’t want anyone to go to hell, unlike what God says happens, the materialist worldview became very attractive to me. How much easier would it be if this is all there is, and people are just gone and lifeless in the ground (rather than being in hell) when they are dead?
All the while, I was very concerned about losing my faith because (A) I was convinced it would be a permanent thing (cf. Heb. 6) and (B) I thought it would lead me to hell. But I didn’t want there to be a hell, so I had to find out if there were any credence to this doctrine or not.
Thus, I began a process of searching for religious truth that would take several months. During it, God revealed Himself to me in remarkable ways, making Him undeniable and impossible for me to doubt His existence. He kept sending me the message over and over, through various media: “Abide in Me.” I would attend church, and the Gospel would be from John 15 – Abide in Me. I would flip open a hymnal at random, and there would bet the song “Abide in Me.” And the image of the vine (which is also from this chapter) kept hitting me from everywhere; one pastor even brought in a real grapevine so that the congregation could pass under it to experience in a very real way that “[He is] the vine and [we] are the branches… Abide in Me.”
Even after all this, I would continue to feel tempted to doubt and reject my faith, and I would “hear” things like, “Read Hebrews 2:18.” “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” In other words, I wasn’t just randomly picking out chapters and verses out of the air; the Christian God was literally giving me direction. At another time, I heard “Hebrews 4:15.” “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” I found numerous passages in the Bible that talked about the various things with which I was concerned, not because I knew where to look, but because I had randomly turned to them.
Of course, those are just some of the experiential aspects of my faith of how God has revealed Himself to me. They continue today; it’s very frequent for me to be given a thought about a certain aspect of my life in God, only to have that same thought confirmed a mere hours later by a reading from _My Utmost for His Highest_ or from a homily at Mass. While it’s possible that coincidences like this are merely random, when there’s a great confluence of “coincidences” like I’ve experienced, I tend to be persuaded by their authenticity.
This personal body of evidence of mine is just part of the reason why I believe; as I was experiencing doubts, I encountered other evidence that can be more readily grasped by other, more universal ways of knowing. I will get into that evidence in my next discursion.