THANKS SO MUCH FOR YOUR CAREFUL and THOUGHTFUL letter!
I always find serious interactions to be incredibility helpful in my own spiritual journey, and your letter is no exception! (it actually was especially helpful in delimiting a MAJOR aspect of the issue for me)...
see my comments below in [ ]...
From XXXXX Tue Oct 3 18:41:42 1995
Date: Tue, 03 Oct 95 13:13:42 cst
Subject: Tough Questions
[its just 'glenn', friend]
First, let me apologize for sending you uninvited e-mail.
If you prefer that inputs be made through the Think Tank, I
will comply in the future. Let me know. I am a novice at
[no problem at all...this method is fine, and in this case, even preferable...]
Thank you for your response (first 50K) to my question. I
have read it carefully and have the following comments and
questions to expand this topic.
[its still VERY VERY rough--I will probably be refining it soon, maybe even before writing the 2nd half...]
Openness to "beyond-ness"
You have done an excellent job of defining terms (e.g.,
linguistic extension). I would like some definitions of
openness and beyond-ness.
To me, openness is the withholding of judgment (continued
perception or input gathering). But at some point, one must
stop perception and proceed to judgment to form a
conclusion. If one remains eternally open (usually in the
name of fairness), then one never arrives at judgment and
consequently one never "learns" anything (assuming that
judgment results in learning, of course). But another
aspect of openness is to be able to re-open an issue after a
judgment; that is, to resume perception after a judgment.
Would you agree, disagree, or state your own definition of
[absolutely agree...I meant it in the sense of 'suspend judgment'...and although I did NOT get to the 'end of the process' in Part two (or Three, eek?!), it is there that I will have to wrestle with the issue of at what point are we justified and/or responsible to 'make a decision' concerning the data and arguments presented at the door...]
[needless to say, that section will be a challenge, because the 'fuzzy' elements involved in ALL such judgments--science, interpersonal, legal--will also be present in THIS realm as well...the old 'do I have enough data to make a decision?' and 'what degree of confidence can I have in that decision?' questions will need a close look...]
Beyond-ness is a rather fuzzy word (and I know you intended
it to be so for the moment). However, I feel the need to
get some working definition. Others have used words like
metaphysics, the spiritual world, heaven, alternate reality,
etc. The one with the clearest definition is metaphysics.
It means, literally, beyond physics. So does your
beyond-ness mean beyond physics or beyond physical reality?
This definition bothers me because as a scientist-type, it
places "information" or "truth" in this arena literally
beyond my physical, sensual, 3-dimensional, temporal grasp.
I am limited by my 5 senses, 3 spatial dimensions, and time.
And metaphysics means beyond the grasp of these. So if this
is the definition, then I am "locked out" from the very
start. How can we define beyond-ness so that I can still
feel as if I am able to encounter it, experience it, explore
it? To me, this ties in with your statement that if one of
the persons at the door say that their truths are beyond
validation, that you simply do not evaluate it. Case
closed. Next door-person. That is what beyond-ness does to
me. Can you help me here?
[maybe...I AM using beyondness for that category of 'reality' that I AM 'cut off from' as per the limitations you mention above, but NOT necessarily excluding 'information' about it from the discussion. What I mean by this is that IF there is 'something beyond' THEN I am excluded (almost methodologically) from experiencing it in a sensory sense. However, INFORMATION about said entity need not be restricted (prima facie) to that of immediate sensation of its 'being/essence'. (For example, INFORMATION about the beyond COULD be conveyed via the linguistic extensions--at varying levels of precision.)
[I personally agree with the basic agnostic position that STARTING from our sensory-skills inventory, we can NEVER 'probe' (and correspondingly 'know by manipulation/observation') anything 'beyond'...its a contradiction in terms. The limits of our apparatus of the senses for direct experience of 'beyond' goes beyond simply lack of resolution--it is totally inappropriate (like trying to weigh justice or do a spectrograph on a moral decision).
[This in itself, in my opinion, is the contribution of agnosticism...Given this restriction of data to that obtained from immediate sensory experience of some 'other', we cannot in good conscience 'make a decision' for OR against some alleged 'existence' of a 'beyond'.
[As an aside, and since I gather you are familiar with physics, I HAVE to comment on the current developments in particle physics relative to 'virtual particles'. I find this SO incredible, that the allegedly rigorous world of physics (although the modern physicist KNOWS how absurd it is to consider her domain 'rigorous' anymore!), resorts to theories of 'non-existent' particles (in the very sense of 'beyond' above--non-detectable, etc.) to explain observed events. The saying 'and then a photon materializes out of nothing...' sounds STRIKINGLY SIMILAR to 'and then a miracle occurs...'. The whole notion of "a Nothing, literally teeming with virtual particles" able to influence the 'material world' by particles 'materializing out of nothing' without ANY predictability, any plausible interface mechanisms, I find to be so structurally similar to a "Beyond" which/who 'acts in space, time, and history' in select instances...hmmm, maybe Sartre was on to something in his 'Being and Nothingness'...;>)
[But let me be careful to note the limitations of this sensory-experience method I have just considered. I have been talking about experience that is both 1)immediate and 2)atomistic.
[By this I mean that the sensory apparatus is being used in a PURELY pre-cognitive/non-cognitive fashion (e.g. feeling heat, seeing redness) and that it is being used on individual percepts (the point of contact is at the 'sense organ' level--BEFORE an integrating pattern-construction process is invoked in, say, the cerebral cortex).
[Now, when I step back and ask about how pervasive is this method of knowing, I am consistently amazed at how little of our experiences, theories, beliefs, etc. are based upon this. (I literally question whether or not it 'exists'--I am beginning to think that it cannot be defined/described in detail terms, and that it is, at best, an abstractive subset of 'real' knowing. We know from cognitive science, epistemology, and linguistics, that 1) we NEVER perceive something as a 'raw datum'--it is ALWAYS part of an incoming pattern (gestalt) and is ALWAYS 'processed' BY integration (and NOT BEFORE integration). This integration 'fuses' the incoming data with the data of our PREVIOUS experiences into an integrated whole. In other words, all of our experience is relative to a base, and relative to a context.) Thus, there is NO raw, pure, and prior experience.
[In the scientific arena, we see this everyday. It is commonplace in the philosophy of science to accept the 'theory-ladenness' of all data, and the context/integrative functions of a 'paradigm' are well known. My point in this is simply to argue that 'immediate, atomistic sense experience' may not only be an INSIGNIFICANT part of 'real knowledge' but MAY ALSO be 'non-existent' or vacuous in content.
[Getting closer back to the subject, consider language processing through auditory senses. The amount of data in a acoustic signal carrying ordinary language exceeds the resolution of the auditory nerves by AT LEAST an order of magnitude! (see Garman, Psycholinguistics, Cambridge: 1990, pp. 56ff). There are less than 30k fibers in the auditory nerve, that somehow encodes 300k+ differentiable tones. In Garman's somewhat pedantic words "It is not easy to be clear about how this state of affairs is achieved"! (he goes on to discuss various possible proposed encoding schemes, none of which come close to reaching the 'content' level obtained.
[In other words, the pure 'sense data' cannot account for what actually gets 'inside'...the old 'then a miracle occurs' cartoon.
[We have related issues with visual perception, especially in the case of reading written language. We know from research (Garman, above, pp.70f; also Encyclopedia of Language) that a "good deal of text processing goes on PRIOR to the form perception of characters"!
[And with this last point, I can transition back to the subject matter. As counter-intuitive as this is (and, at the same time, as well-documented as this is!), I find myself assigning an almost negligible role to immediate sense perception. It IS part of language process (not a precursor to it) and part of pattern recognition (not a precursor to it), and thus it is an element in a whole itself. (Hence, my doubts about whether it is a 'stand alone' part as opposed to some arbitrary, functional ad-hoc 'grouping' that does NOT exist in isolation--but ONLY has significance as part of a larger pattern/process.)
[So...with direct, sensory experience of ANYTHING being either impossible or unintelligible (and how much MORE that of something 'beyond'), how could their be some way to 'encounter it, experience it, explore it'?
[there are two approaches to this issue of 'bridging' between the 'here' and the 'Beyond', BOTH of which I agree with, but ONE of which I find more 'palatable' to the western-skeptical side of me.]
[THE FIRST APPROACH attempts to 'relativize' the problem, by finding something 'beyond-like' WITHIN our ordinary experience. This might be called a semi-mystical approach, which from my perspective, MIGHT generate some DIRECT experience of a Beyond, but which would probably have limited communicable content, sharability, intersubjectively-verifiable content.
[This approach argues that our experience of consciousness and/or 'other minds' fits the description of irreducible 'beyondness', and that this faculty(?) of humans allows them to experience directly (not mediated through the senses) other "BEYONDness". Under this approach, you don't have a non-beyond trying to encounter a beyond; you have TWO "beyonds"--a little beyond and a BIG BEYOND in encounter (even apart from mediating events out here in history).
[There are a couple of things to note about this argument. First, you have to buy into the idea that 'consciousness' (and any terminological equivalencies, loosely speaking) are NOT 'totally reducible without remainder' to brain physiology--that is exists with some kind of transcendence or 'otherness'. Whereas 40-50 years ago, this position would have been unthinkable, and whereas even now the major position is a fuzzy-kind of epiphenomenalism, there is a SURPRISING number of eminent scientists, from interdisciplinary areas, that are re-thinking this issue and showing either openness or outright advocacy of a borderline-dualist position. The first three issues of "The Journal of Consciousness Studies" was a real eye-opener for me in this area. These scientists--cognitive, neurobiologists, mathematicians, psychologists,etc--have made some serious proposals, cases, and arguments for more 'beyond-ness' in understanding our folk-notion of the 'person'.
[The second thing that should be noted is that a shared 'beyondness' among humans would offer possible 'explanations' for that subset of parapsychological data that has been shown to be rigorous and reproducible (e.g. a person who is being 'stared at' by another, without being aware they are being stared at, experiences a measurable rise in body temperature.)
[The third thing about this to note is that our personal encounters of 'other minds' MIGHT form a paradigm for understanding little beyond/BIG beyond encounters.
[The idea here is that we never actually 'experience' a human person himself/herself...we ONLY experience 'isolated' sensory input' (to the extent such things 'exist'--see above discussion). Somehow, rationally or otherwise, we 'connect the dots' and experience a consciousness--as mediated through the sensory experiences. We see the pattern BEHIND the 'data', that gives meaning to the data themselves.
[For example, if we experience auditory sensations that correspond to the pronunciation of the sentence "I am your friend--I mean you no harm", we can only interpret those signals SEMANTICALLY by PRESUPPOSING a 'meaner' behind those signals--in such a way as to unify the discrete data into a semantic whole. The auditory sensations were not in themselves 'semantic', but, as a pattern, functioned as a 'carrier' of semantic/communicative intent from a conscious 'mean-er'. One simply CANNOT isolate a single data bit and say 'no meaning here'...if that were an appropriate method, we never WOULD experience ANY communications between minds.
[If, (this approach advances) we experience human consciousness through MEDIATION experiences, then this paradigm MIGHT be the way we experience a 'consciousness from BEYOND'---by 'connecting' bits of mediated experience into a meaningful whole. In other words, if a 'beyond' could somehow write a message in the sand, then we COULD thereby experience "IT" in a way similar (if not identical) with the way we experience human consciousness.
[For me, this changes the NATURE of the question considerably. For instead of now focusing all of my attention on the 'How' could a 'beyond' interface into this universe, I can concentrate on the 'historical residue' of mediated communication. In other words, I can SEARCH for evidences of attempts at communication (instead of disqualifying the possibility due to my lack of understanding of any possible interface mechanisms). As you note below, the understanding of the interface MAY be later understandable--right now I don't have to understand IT, in order to understand the CONTENT of some revelation (just as I don't have to understand how the auditory information channel works, to be able to understand the sentence 'I am your friend--I mean you no harm').
[So, the FIRST APPROACH was to say 'we have a little beyond in us' and therefore we CAN experience the BIG BEYOND directly (unmediated), and towards the end of the above discussion I crossed over into the SECOND APPROACH--that all experiences of the BEYOND are mediated through the 'carriers of experience'--patterns.
[This second approach seems to me to be much more in line with ordinary experience--that personal 'encounter' is ALWAYS mediated, and therefore to meet 'God' is essentially no different than meeting a human person.
[Consider the following range of mediated personal encounter:
[I have sketched out the wide range of possible mechanisms of personal encounter and relationship--without even including the rather obvious ones that we all experience. What I want to point out here is that EACH OF THESE does/can/might FACILITATE/MEDIATE personal 'encounter' with another consciousness--to the point that I could honestly say "I really KNOW X".
[Now, one issue that comes up here is the difference between knowing "ABOUT X" and knowing "X itself". In other words, in the scenario about the grandmother above, I would find it difficult to say that I 'knew her dad' as opposed to 'I knew enough ABOUT her dad to be able to predict his actions'. There would not be any 'encounter' (1st person-1st person). On the other hand, the case with the invisible roommate would be considered 'encounter' for there is some level of interaction--albeit perhaps cryptic, perhaps non-discursive.
[And, in the case of the historical 'weirdo' (the 2nd example), even if I knew everything 'about this figure', IF I could not detect an 'interaction' in the patterns of MY experience, then it probably wouldn't count as 'encounter'. (Notice: all I have to do is to 'detect it'--NOT 'defend it' to others; as long as I am both HONEST and SELF-CRITICAL as I 'look' at the pattern.)
[The obvious issue here is the 'judgment' as to the presence of a communicative pattern. Authentication of the existence/non-existence of a pattern is a NOTORIOUSLY inter-subjective experience. As I discuss in my piece on the "Linguistic Wall"--either you see the pattern or you don't; either the Magic Eye poster 'works for you' or it doesn't. All I can do is 'point to it' in trying to share a pattern I experience with you.
[So, for those who read the words of a religious figure and say that they 'sense' the presence of that figure with them AS THEY READ those words, I cannot judge that case. They claim to have 'seen a pattern' (mediating consciousness-consciousness encounter) that I am excluded from. They may have, and they may not have. In the case where the pattern is seen in the experiences of a religious life, answered prayer, changed character, etc.--it MUST be in basic correlation with the message associated with that historical 'weirdo'. For example, if the figure promised that all who prayed to him twice daily would give up SPAM, and I professed to be a follower of said character, it would be 'odd' if I claimed that the pattern I SAW in my experiences communicated 'EAT MORE SPAM' as an order from said religious figure. In this case, the communicative 'content' was NOT connected with the original communicative 'content' and hence, the LINK would be suspect.
[SO, for me, BOTH cases have some merit to them, but I 'like' the second one better because it has some 'external data' that I can at least LOOK AT. Since SOME of the communication will be in the public arena, the mediating elements allow some 'intersubjective' verification, perhaps. In any event, BOTH approaches give us some ideas as to how we could 'encounter' a BEYOND, WITHOUT requiring some immediate, sensory, non-semantic 'contact' with some 'essence'--some probing past the limits of our known space-time universe. [NOTICE CAREFULLY--this ONLY APPLIES if the Beyond has enough consciousness to initiate and execute a communicative program. If the BEYOND was some mindless something--a force, a rock, even 'pure consciousness' (instead of 'a consciousness'), then WE WOULD BE stuck with having to 'probe it' --a contradiction of the limitations of our universe, our selves, our apparatus. "Communication" entails a 'communicator'.
[Also notice, that this notion is SEPARATE from the issue of HOW a Beyond could 'make marks in space-time sand'. The interface question may be beyond us (in terms of certainty--many people have advanced theories, guesses, etc.--but ALL are probably outside of verification possibilities). The point is that the task of searching for and processing patterns in history that MIGHT BE COMMUNICATION is a task WE CAN DO--it falls within our standard skill-sets (e.g. overhearing/attending to a single dinner conversation at a noisy dinner party.), AS OPPOSED TO figuring out 'what a beyond nature would be like' and how it could interface with the non-beyond.
Your "general approach" to the problem of discerning truth
I like your approach, which I will summarize (from your
document) as follows:
1 Be open; hear them out.
2 Realize that I do not know everything.
3 Realize that I have been wrong in the past.
4 Look for the truth before I decide if I like the truth.
5 Apply the evaluation criteria (discussed later in your paper).
We are in full agreement here. It was comforting to find
another person who had reached the same conclusions as I.
So many people will not acknowledge all or part of the 5
[Which parts do you find others leave out?
The three questions for the door-people
I like your questions. I have two more questions that I
have had to ask myself before I even decided to be open to
beyond-ness and look for truth. They are:
1 Why should I be interested in finding the truth in the
[Do you see this as essentially different from my question to them as to 'what they have to offer me'? Finding truth MIGHT BE one of the 'offers', but escape from eternal indigestion might be one I would be interested in--IN SPITE of my desire for truth?
2 What value do I place on truth and why?
[I think I agree with you here, but I wonder if the whole process is not also one in which I am asking THEM to tell me WHY I should value truth? (The offer thing again).
[But in any event, you bring in the self-issues more explicitly than I do so far...
I admit that I have no "strictly logical" reason for seeking
the truth. And I shudder at the thought that there may be
"something inside" of me (god? or god-instinct?) that is
subliminally or instinctually drawing me to search for
truth. I shudder because this would be "unscientific" and I
am a scientific person. (Yes, I guess I am saying that, for
now, science is my religion and I can't explain why.)
[I think this is a mark of honesty and insight on your part. SO MANY people are unaware of their 'tacit religious commitments'! Let me make some 'assorted' observations on this.
[1. I have a somewhat low view of 'strictly logical'. I find that such an almost trivially small part of science (and especially life!) falls into this category, as to render it irrelevant to issues of truth.
["the strictly logical" applies ONLY to the field of logic proper, with extensions therefrom into calculus. It is not "strictly" used in general science, linguistics, or in most of math. Logic, per se, deals with FORM not CONTENT. The classic difference between VALIDITY and SOUNDNESS in logic testifies to that. For example, in logic the following argument is 'strictly logical':
If any instance of the emotion of envy is condensed to a solid state, then all flowers can speak fluent French.
My emotion of envy yesterday has been condensed to a solid state.
Therefore , this tulip can speak fluent French.
[This is 'strictly logical'--but it is also 'strictly ABSURD'!
["Strictly logical" SEEMS, however, to mean something more like "reasonable, to the degree that the process would be generally defensible to a peer group with similar education, outlook, backgrounds as myself". This raises, of course, the community-aspect of all 'reasonable judgments'--which we will avoid in this letter, if possible. ;'>)
[2. The 'something inside' remark is simply the admission that science operates in a context ANYWAY. In other words, the motives, goals, ethics, etc. of SCIENCE is not 'part of' the scientific method. The scientific method is simply an operational tool, that is useful ONLY IN CERTAIN CONTEXTS--honesty, variable minimization, shared information, etc.
[In this sense, the vast majority of things NEEDED by science (e.g rent on the lab, industrial supply of pencils to record results, etc.) are OUTSIDE the 'scope' of science, but are not thereby rendered 'illogical' or 'mystical'! We just have to have a more precise (and historically accurate) understanding of what we mean by 'science'.
[3. The shudder due to being a 'scientific person' fails into that same category. You are probably also a 'carnivorous' person, but that doesn't contradict your 'scientific' attribute. You just have to recognize the 'scope of reference'. You are probably NOT scientific about tying your shoes each morning--you probably do that "unconsciously"--and "unconsciously" is hardly a 'scientific' approach to ANYTHING!!!
[4. Even the 'science as a religion' remark is probably more a case of imprecision than anything else. Science DOES have an integrative function (like 'religion'). It DOES impart various levels of 'certainty/confidence' in conclusions (like 'religion'). It HOWEVER, does NOT pronounce on 'values' (by its deliberate restriction of its subject matter and methods)--(unlike 'religion'). And it does not invest itself with significance (an obviously circular function!)--unlike religion (at least that of "western religion"--that valued the events of history and creation very highly because of the creation-act; (cf. the Judeo-Christian ethical basis for Newtonian science--"thinking God's thoughts after Him...")) The 'problems' always surface when we try to make 'science' work in areas OUTSIDE of its defined limits. For example, science could NEVER tells us (via experimentation) whether heroin should be outlawed (one has to make an 'guideless jump' from medical implications, economic impacts, etc. to ETHICAL issues and FINALLY jump to LEGAL considerations). It could never tell us (with certainty) whether a specific child Joe would respond more warmly to a red lollipop or a blue one (the problem of covering laws and probabilities). It could never tell us whether 'white lies' had survival value for the human race over time (its predictive limits).
[Its operational benefits in a subset of our lives is undenied. To extend it beyond its intended area is indeed a religious move (and cannot be defending from WITHIN science, of course). But it must be noted that the vast majority of our knowledge (including most of our scientific knowledge), was transmitted to us via non-scientific means (i.e. teaching!).
[5. It can be argued (and has been by many) that the reason we accord 'science' (esp. the physical sciences) quasi-religious authority is because of the success of it in predictive ventures. It has granted us 1) the illusion of certainty and orderliness (until the quantum thing ripped this apart) and 2) the hope that ALL reality would be someday be integrated under it (since we saw gains in the unification of physical science) (until we realized that the more 'unified' our views were, the less they applied to 'reality' and the more they became just 'models' and 'language' --a la Feynman)...
[Yet the deeper and farther we go (at least into particle physics) the more 'metaphysical' we get! I have always been intrigued by the 'implicate order' of Bohm, the theories of physicists that human observer consciousness COLLAPSES the wavefunction in the act of observation (i.e. Neumann and Wigner), the Eastern mysticism models of the paired-slit experiment implications for "supraluminal communication" (e.g. "The Dancing Wu-Li Masters"!) etc.
[6. It is strange that the whole cultural shift to what is call 'post-modernism' indicates that the general populace has SOMEHOW come to accept the limitation of science as to its ACTUAL DOMAIN--that its competence is restricted to a subset of our experience (and a dwindling subset at that).
Your general evaluation criteria
Looking through my notes on your paper, I find among the
evaluation criteria such words as:
cognitive, linguistic, critical, Western, comprehensibility,
structured, resolvable, information, support, ground, and so
Of course, this makes me, a scientist-type, happy. I want
to be able to evaluate the door-people's claims using
Western, rational, logical, scientific, empirical methods.
I have often accused "religious-types" of hiding behind a
curtain of secrecy, beyond-ness, miracles, mysteries, and
such. This is the crux of the problem - how to select and
apply the evaluation criteria.
Repeat: HOW TO SELECT AND APPLY THE EVALUATION CRITERIA.
That has been my problem for the past 24 years. Solve this
one for me, and I'm home free!
And now, your ASSUMPTIONS
You are ASSUMING that rational criteria are the correct way
to discern truth. And you admit that this is a HUGE
ASSUMPTION. I have struggled with this for years. It is
the assumption that I WANT to make, but it is one that I
have no RATIONAL reason to make. So how do we KNOW that
this is the right way? I feel a catch-22 coming on.
[I 'want' to assume this too, but what I am trying to do is to 'ground that' somehow. The approach I take is to find out if the CONTRARY is somehow 'self-stultifying' or self-refuting.
[In other words, if I can somehow show that "being rational" is a simple necessity in life; and that the OPPOSITE is somehow 'contradictory' and therefore 'nonsensical', then I have shown that being "rational" is not SIMPLY the "best way" but that it is the "ONLY way". (That is, that the opposite "non-rational" is meaningless or a reductio-ad-absurdam in praxis.)
[A simple example of this is the old Aristotelian argument that no one can argue against the law of non-contradiction, since to argue AGAINST it, you have to USE it. So, even though I could not construct a knock-down argument FOR the principle, the fact that no one can even ARGUE against it, means I must accept it as the "ONLY WAY" (not just "ONE POSSIBLE WAY").
[Similarly, when someone at the door tells me that I have to 'process' their religious claims 'non-rationally' (meaning, perhaps, without the use of my mind), I cannot make any sense of this. Their words must be processed--the sentences, the implications, the contrasts, the context--ALL of this requires my mind (indeed, I cannot cut my mind off ANYWAY--it doesn't do any good to tell me to stop thinking!).
[But you probably get the idea by now...but the rub comes with the definition of 'rational'. What I MEAN by that is that I process it LINGUISTICALLY (not "strictly logically"). "Reason" IS a part of language-processing, but it is REASON as a method/process--NOT as a set of arbitrary criteria at this point.
[In other words, REASON (as a method/process) can tell me that the person may be stating a contradiction. But I will NOT let it arbitrarily decide that entities that move faster than light CANNOT exist (REASON as a set of assumptions).
[So, when I speak of 'rational' I simply mean that I must intake statements cognitively and linguistically, and that ANY religious propositions that say I cannot do that, ARE UN-PROCESSABLE by definition. They are not even a 'position' if I cannot process them and understand the claims themselves.
The Comprehensible and The Incomprehensible
I'm reading between the lines a little, but I get the
distinct impression that you are nearly equating
comprehensibility with truth (a criteria for truth - of
course, not everything that is comprehensible is true).
Specifically, you say that if it is incomprehensible, then
it cannot possibly be true. Thus rationality is a
REQUIREMENT for truth.
Again, I'd LOVE to believe this, but how do we KNOW?
[Two things here...
[1. (minor thing): I am saying that if it is incomprehensible, then I cannot KNOW it is true, and that I cannot likewise even BELIEVE it (we believe propositions--which we understand at least enough to know what the contrary is!). I am NOT saying that comprehensibility is the SOLE criteria of truth, but I am saying that 'incomprehensible truth' is something not for mortals in this universe. God may know these things, and we MIGHT someday, but as we exist today, we could not BELIEVE, KNOW, argue, teach, apply to our lives and moral situations, anything that would fall into such 'incomprehensible truth. Again, I think it is grounded in the self-stultification approach I outlined above (and have written about in more detail in the Foolosophy section, under Self-Reflexivity)...
[2. (major thing): I tend to expect that whatever kind of God shows up out of the process will be 'responsible' in some way, for the production of my rational faculties. And, since all of the claims of these religious types at my door are STATED and PROCESSED 'rationally' (whether I want to or NOT!), I tend to expect that this 'god' might expect me to 'use' said faculties to PROCESS HIS/HER/ITS/THEIR communication in history (its a pattern thing, remember?). And finally, if this God ends up being something/one/ones that I establish an interactive relationship with, I would expect said deity to be a god of MY WHOLE PERSON (including my mind). So, even though I recognize that these expectations are NOT in themselves show-stopper criteria, I WILL tend to pay more attention to those systems that deal with me AS I AM--a conscious, emoting, deciding, conflicted, confused, limited being; as opposed to those religions that say I have to 'stop thinking' (e.g. amputate the head/stop using language!) in order to relate to the beyond.
Poles and Paradigms
I "warmed up" to your example of the particle and wave
paradigms of light. But as a scientist-type, I believe that
such paradoxes are merely a reflection of our temporarily
incomplete knowledge or understanding of the subject. Some
day, some brilliant Einstein-type will have an ah! ha!
experience and we will have a new paradigm that enables us
to "see" how light can be both a particle and a wave. (Slap!
Wow! I shuda had a V8!) I apply this to religious
paradoxes as well, such as your problem regarding God's
control versus our free will. Perhaps some day we will find
a way to integrate these into a well-knit explanation and
not have to "switch poles."
[Possibly so...I personally think field theories have the potential in physics, but we simply substitute one ambiguity for another in this way.
[As to the religious paradoxes, you might be right. Many issues in this life confront us with subsets of the data; we may be afforded much MORE data, much BETTER data, and/or BETTER interpretive grids either later in this life, on the 'other side' of death, or maybe even in later stages of religious 'purity' or something...
[In any event, I am in agreement with what I THINK you are saying; the presence of interface problems/questions CANNOT be allowed to stop the investigation (subject to comprehensibility, to a certain extent.)...
[Remember also, we have a similar interface problem with the classical-quantum interface...it has remained altogether inscrutable to date.
Summary of your Specific Evaluation Criteria
Let me quote a couple of your sentences:
"...claim that a god spoke into history ...revelation was
recorded linguistically... some type of 'marks' that the
revelation was from god... generally comprehensible...
reasons why a sane, honest, open-minded person would
"...the ambiguity can be reduced considerably over time,
through pattern identification, assumption questioning and
interpretive context 'testing.'"
What I still don't quite understand is how you arrived at
this list of criteria. Some are vague, some are
assumptions, and some seen quite iffy to me, a (you got it)
[sorry about that...I didn't mean to throw you off the track there...I was VERY unclear in that section...These last three things are NOT criteria per se, but ways of interacting with alleged revelations, in order to reduce the ambiguity in the 'content' of the revelation--PRIOR TO the process of assessing the communication. And these are nothing more than simple hermenutical and/or literary techniques for filtering out 'noise' in the signal.
[This is a far as I can get on this this week...to be continued...glenn