08 April 2009


If someone were to ask me, being real serious here, asking the hard-hitting question: What possible reason could a marginally rational intellect have for believing in an afterlife? the first thing that would enter my mind is this:

Because I want to go back in time and see dinosaurs.

Now, I understand that my wanting something to be true doesn't make it true -- well, actually I don't know that. Maybe it's the only reason anything ever exists. But I understand that often when trying to relate spiritual things, it's helpful to be a lot more obscure and mystical. If it's not difficult to understand, then no one will take it seriously.

I think I read in this book once that the great spiritual/religious truths were so simple that nobody would respect them, so the wise ensured them being passed on by telling parables and stories rather than being blunt.

Basically, I figure it's absurd to try to prove non-scientific stuff by scientific means. I'm not sure if this is something Kant addressed in his Critique of Pure Reason or not, because so far the only part of that I've understood is this part:
Deficiency in judgment is properly that which is called stupidity; and for such a thing we know no remedy. A dull or narrow-minded person, to whom nothing is wanting but a proper degree of understanding, may be improved by tuition, even so far as to deserve the epithet of learned. But as such persons frequently labor under a deficiency in the faculty of judgement, it is not uncommon to find men extremely learned, who in the application of their science betray to a lamentable degree this irremediable want.
Of the "faculty of judgement" Kant says: 
Thus, it is evident, that the understanding is capable of being instructed by rules, but that the judgement is a peculiar talent, which does not, and cannot require tuition, but only exercise. This faculty is therefore the specific quality of the so-called mother-wit, the want of which no scholastic discipline can compensate. For although education may furnish, and, as it were, ingraft upon a limited understanding rules borrowed from other minds, yet the power of employing these rules correctly must belong to the pupil himself; and no rule which we can prescribe to him with this purpose, is, in the deficiency of this gift of nature, secure from misuse.
Knowledge of the rules does not mean one knows how to apply them, which reminds me of another quote I enjoy, this time from The Count of Monte Cristo: while Dantès is wrongfully imprisoned, Abbé Faria begins his mentorship of Dantès:
'Two years!' said Dantès. 'Do you think I could learn all this in two years?'

'In their application, no; but the principles, yes. Learning does not make one learned: there are those who have knowledge and those who have understanding. The first requires memory, the second philosophy.'

'But can't one learn philosophy?'

'Philosophy cannot be taught. Philosophy is the union of all acquired knowledge and the genius that applies it: philosophy is the shining cloud upon which Christ set His foot to go up into heaven.'
And there you have it. Lots of quotes from people smarter than me, and something about dinosaurs! Even if I'm a bit facetious, I can't help but to feel those citations in such close proximity say something. Every once in a while bits of information floating in my head bump up against each other and the combination seems to say something new.


gustavolk-swagen said...

I wouldn't mind believing in an after-life, either, if it meant I could go back in time and just spend my time doing whatever, you know?

Dave said...

Exactly. I have to experience it all. I figure that's what makes God omniscient -- experiencing everything simultaneously. Plus, think of all the mind-bending thrills of intergalactic travel, traveling through time -- new understanding of time. There's no logical reason to believe in it, but why wouldn't I want to anyway? Nihilism is so Twentieth-Century. ;)

Peter McCombs said...

Why should any reasonable person believe in anything that has not been experienced first-hand by the empirical senses?

Because there can be logical reasons to believe in something even without primary evidence, contrary to what secular humanists and others who preach strange forms of empiricism want you to think. Reason is not tied exclusively to objective facts supposedly derived from a scientific method. Indeed, logic itself is an abstract thing.

Most of us have never done the primary research for a fraction of the "reasonable" beliefs we hold. Most of us don't even know, from our own first-hand experience, that the world is round. Yet, we would not call this an irrational belief.

We believe because we have not the means, or possibly the time, or perhaps the interest, to find out for ourselves. So we take the word of others, including the bits of evidence they can produce for us, on good faith. The faith we have in "reasonable things" is not a religious faith, unless we are like the man who bases his worldview and moral principles only on "reasonable things."

Nor does the religious belief of most religious people (weasel words, I know; but I am speculating with a degree of certainty) amount to mere whim. It is a belief born of need, or perhaps of senses beyond the objective. We have these senses, do we not?

Dave said...

I can't help but to think if I understood Kant better I could contribute better to the discussion -- it seems he addresses just what you say.

But you're right -- it all goes back to "Cogito, ergo sum" and what else can be ascertained beyond that?

I think my post was generally trying to say that reason alone is not enough without the application of judgment or philosophy. Where does such a thing even come from?

Peter McCombs said...

People want to see the whole picture. If a painting is covered by a bit of curtain, we want to push that aside and have a look.

The fossil record begins to paint a type of picture for us, and we long to see the hidden lives of dinosaurs.

The past and the future are foreign lands. We want to make sense of them.

It's all part of the search for meaning, being able to see something that is whole. It brings closure that the mind wants to have.

The human mind, or spirit if you will, seems to belong to another place where time itself is contemplated from without. How would it be to have past and future history open to our view, nothing hidden from our sight?

That is why we seek spiritual things. I think it's part of what you are getting at.

Dave said...

Yes! Seeing the whole picture, and this is a sort of omniscience, becoming more than just aware, but becoming everything that is and knowing how it all connects.

I think it brings a new potency to the concept that a lot of friction in life is the disparity between what I want and what is: or, the inability to see the bigger picture.

You can't see something you refuse to acknowledge.