Posted by: gcarkner | August 24, 2014

Rethinking Our Search for Divine Evidence

Philosopher Dr. Paul K. Moser of Loyola University Rethinks Our Search for God

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Philosophy raises some really pertinent questions about the current approach to the debate on the evidence for God’s existence, that is, a God worth worshipping, a morally superior God. Dawkins et al want God to be a clown, to dance or juggle before atheistic scrutiny. They make a mockery of genuine spiritual  search and do great damage, not least to their own integrity. Here are some tough and insightful questions raised by Paul Moser a bright philosopher at Loyola University in Chicago.

Are we willing to consider a morally demanding definition of God as part of our quest for the elusive divine?

What if God would be perfectly loving even in offering to humans any divine self-manifestation and corresponding evidence of divine reality?

How might one’s lacking evidence of divine reality then concern primarily one’s own moral character and attitudes before God rather than the actual availability of such extant evidence? We know from the history of science that a lack of openness, or the wrong approach or methodology, or an inadequate theory, can hamper the advancement of knowledge. Think of the recent breakthrough discovery of gravitational waves–predicted by Einstein 100 years ago. You have to know what you are looking for, and also reduce the noise or the distraction in your observation/listening, says Bill Unrau of UBC Physics in a February 24 lecture.

Recommended Reading: The Evidence for God: Religious Knowledge Reexamined by Paul K. Moser (Cambridge University Press, 2010)

Cognitive Barrier  Today’s cynic has trouble reading or registering this divine love language. Many late moderns have a problem believing in such a love, such spiritual fuel. Read some of the blog posts on Nihilism. Those proud and cynical skeptics want to treat evidence of agape love and evidence for God like a laboratory investigation. It cannot work. They cannot see the sign in the Advent, cannot discern the import of the storyline of the woman at the well. They cannot understand why scholars would travel the globe to investigate such signs, or why thousands would gather to partake of this bread, this pedagogy. There is no feeling of wonder at the Advent miracle, no wonder at the carpenter’s compassion for the marginalized. Handicapped by moral blockage, or blinded by science, our cynic cannot perceive or receive divine love prima facie.

Instead, the cynic settles for absence (nihilism) and misses divine presence. We might reflect, “Are many of us looking for God in all the wrong places, using the wrong filters and then carelessly claiming that he is irrelevant to our human aspirations?” Do we have the wrong research methodology, or dysfunctional interpretive tools? Has dogmatic rationalism closed our minds to something significant? We can see distant galaxies with our space telescopes but we are blind when God walks among us. He is off our radar because we do not know what we are looking for.

Cognitive Hope As a counterpoint to the skeptic’s dismay and mental block, Loyola philosopher Paul K. Moser reframes the investigation: “Are we humans in a position on our own to answer the question of whether God exists, without our being morally challenged by God?” (P.K. Moser, 2009, pp. 49-64). Revelation of this sort involves encounter: divine cognitive grace engaging stony, resistant hearts and skeptical minds. What kind of person will actually discover God, feel divine presence, experience the holy communion of agape? Courage, humility and perseverance may help keep the trail warm and the investigation interesting. There is no magic cognitive bullet to answer all our questions, but there may be a better overall approach to improve our sensory perceptions.

In fact, evidence for the God of agape love is no scientific sport where we treat him as a laboratory commodity. Rather, it requires the seeker to undergo personal examination. Pride blocks the road to insight in this case. Dr. Moser informs us that we need the right motivation of the heart (inner self) to deal properly with the hidden God. We need healing from our cynicism in order to see and perceive, discern and decipher, to appreciate and apprehend. These investigations are not just about the first cause or the evidence of a designer in a fine-tuned universe, or a demiurge monkeying with the works. Love itself sets the parameters for discovery and the rules of engagement. Mystery challenges matter’s dominance.

When does data become discovery or epiphany? What if the fundamentals are not cosmos, nebulae and galaxies, matter and energy, forces, time, space and motion, protons and electrons, but rather love, joy, peace and goodness, I-Thou relationship, purity of inner self. What if taking responsibility for our neighbour is one of the most fundamental principles of life, even more fundamental than the law of gravity? Brilliant intellectual D. Stephen Long captures this:

Only on the basis of an ontology of love can gift be understood. Because love, and not pure reason, is the basic structure of being, the failure of human reason to achieve infinite desires is not negative but positive. Thus we do not need to negate reason in order to believe, but rather to supplement and intensify it. We receive knowledge as a gift. … Gift, another name for the Holy Spirit, is the fullness of being, the perfection that surrounds us with an inevitable desire for truth, goodness and beauty. It illumines our lives. (D. S. Long, 2009, p. 159)

For Wittgenstein, truth is not a matter of detachment, but engagement, the kind of engagement that love entails and that requires judgments based on qualitative contrasts…. Wittgenstein’s appeal to love depends on something more akin to ‘virtue epistemology’. Love is not opposed to truth; they are both necessary virtues for knowledge. You cannot know what you do not love; you cannot love what you do not know. (Ibid. pp. 300-1)

James Houston notes that this is how American reformer Jonathan Edwards perceived (quoted by J.M. Houston, 2006, p. 145):

Edward’s universe is essentially a universe of personal relationships. Reality is a communication of affections, ultimately of God’s love and creatures’ responses. Material things are transitory and ephemeral. Their meanings are found in their relation to the loves at the center of reality. Although they are transitory, they can have great eternal significance if they are recognized for what they are, signs or expressions of God’s love.

Agape love is for atheists, agnostics and nihilists as well as believers. God will show up for those who stop their cynical rant and attend more carefully to his positive gestures and initiatives. Then the investigation will go through a radical recalibration. The way we attend to the details makes all the difference. His agape love directed at the human conscience is an invitational call to an existential depth within us; late moderns will be capable of experiencing disclosure in the midst of transformation. Agape offers an enlightening grace that shines divine light on inner depths and motivations. Moser poses the critical question: “Are we sincerely attending to the divine call via conscience and experienced agape in a way that leads us before the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus?” This may involve a virtual paradigm shift.

~Gord Carkner

You may also be interested in John Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?; or Philip Yancey’s Reaching for the Invisible God; or David Bentley Hart’s  The Experience of God ( a great critique of naturalism and a rethink of how we use the language for  God).

Dr. Paul K. Moser. Philosoher, Loyola

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