Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Human Knowledge’

As humankind continues its exploration of earth and the universe it becomes more and more evident that our knowledge is infinitesimal compared to what actually lays before us.  Put in more simple terms, the more knowledge we acquire about the physical universe the more we realize what we do not know.  Our discovers, as wonderful and brilliant as they are, do not bring us any closer to an end of knowledge but only open the doors to other vast horizons of the unknown.

As we look out into space and get a clearer picture of distant galaxies, suns and their planets the more we realize that we really know nothing about what lies out there.  At the same time, the smaller we break down our physical world from atomic to sub-atomic particles the more we realize that we know nothing of what lies beyond our limits of present knowledge.  What lies beyond our human learning and knowledge is all mystery.  It is discoverable but it is still mystery.  It is the mystery of it all that attracts our desire to learn more about it all.

What scientists used to label as “simple cell” life forms is now recognized as highly complex organisms.  Looking inside their inner-working has revealed a whole world of biological machines within biological machines.  What scientists used to label as absolute and universal “laws of the universe” are now suspended in light of discovering places, times and mechanism in which those “laws” do not apply at all.  Science and math in recent years has taken us to places beyond human knowledge and understanding and left us with only theoretical questions marks instead of factual periods or exclamation points.  The more we learn, the more we learn what we do not know.

This becomes a problem for those who depend upon a world view that can be weighed, measured and calculated.  Scientific materialists (those who believe that all that exists – reality – is only physical material and that there is no metaphysical reality – a reality beyond the physical) either have to suspend their belief in an understandable material universe or they have to admit that human discovery will always be a finite enterprise.  As such, they dismiss mystery – the metaphysical – in their world as anomalies and focus, instead, upon what they do know and what they can explain.  There is no “mystery” in their universe, only the unexplained.  If this is the case, then they will always and forever have to live with the realm of the “unexplained.”

I really enjoy learning and reading about all the human discoveries.  I always find it fascinating.  I celebrate the discoveries that humanity has made about the universe and the world in which we live.  The journey of human discovery and the explosion of human knowledge in the last century have truly been mind-boggling.  The flexibility of humans to adjust and learn based upon new discoveries truly is amazing.  We are always learning and relearning.

At the same time, I celebrate the mysteries of the world in which we live and the universe in which it is set.  These mysteries point me to a metaphysical reality that will always be beyond human knowledge and discovery.  The complexity and the order of creation in its vastness and in its minuteness point me to something or a Someone that is larger and far more complex than what our human minds can understand.  I believe that mystery will always be a part of our human existence – however you want to discuss it or label it.

At the beginning of the Renaissance, philosophers then were coming to grips with the advancement of human knowledge and understanding about creation.  Ideas and theories about the make up of the earth, the universe, the human body and the relationship of all these things together were quickly changing.  Even then, some were beginning to realize that human knowledge and discovery would always have its limits.

Olympic National Wilderness Area - Ozette Camp Area

Olympic National Wilderness Area - Ozette Camp Area ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Nicholas of Cusa was one such famous philosopher during his time.  He is largely unknown today except in schools dedicated to his body of work or students of philosophy.  He was born in Kues, Germany (thus his name) in 1401 and died in 1464.  He played an important part in Christian philosophy and was an important historical figure of the church.  He was also well known for his contributions to theology, mathematics, science, and the arts thus making him a true “Renaissance man.”

After all of his astronomical learning, voracious reading and deep thoughts on every then known subject, he came to the conclusion of what he called “learned ignorance” or docta ignorantia.  This is the notion that the purpose of knowledge is to learn how inadequate all learning is when seeking to explain the unexplainable or the mysterious and so, God.  (His writings are still available today and prove to be some pretty thick reading.)  In other words, he came to the conclusion that greater knowledge will only lead to an understanding of how great one’s ignorance really is in face of the vast unknown.

In fact, in his view God was “the coincidence of opposites” or coincidentia oppositorum.  God is the ultimate Maximum and ultimate Minimum all at the same time; He embraces everything all at once.  From the smallest fabric of the physical universe to its utter outer reaches, God is in, over and above it all.  He is the mysteria that places before the human search for knowledge and understanding what is paradox and unexplainable.  Thus, the only way to explain “God” is in ultimate negative terms = in-finite and in-comprehensible and in-effable.  Thus, just as God is an infinite potential, so the universe is an infinite potential too.

Nicholas of Cusa’s philosophy has been picked up and celebrated by a diverse range of world views from Buddhists to Animists to post-modernists.  Nicholas’ rejection of scholasticism as the “end all” for human knowledge and discovery is one reason.  This leads to a rejection of scientific materialism as well.  Another reason for their embracement of Nicholas is the affinity they have with his explanation and allowance for mystery or the divine in creation.  In fact, most of the world would be more in line with Nicholas of Cusa’s thinking than otherwise.

I make no claims to be a “renaissance man.”  However, I do read very widely and follow my studies wherever they lead me at a time. My curiosity has led me on many interesting paths of thinking and questioning.  Likewise, my undergraduate and graduate degrees with a heavy emphasis in theology and philosophy have caused me to focus on the big questions of life and existence.  As such, while I don’t agree with everything Nicholas of Cusa wrote, I cannot but help appreciate his view.  I find that it is not too dissimilar from one of the smartest men who ever lived, King Solomon.  Solomon pretty much came to the same conclusion that Nicholas did several thousand years ahead of time.

As humankind continues its search of knowledge and understanding, I do not believe we will ever come to the end of learning.  It is as infinite as God is infinite.  As such, it is also discoverable in the same way God is discoverable.  There is a place where the rational ends.  What is needed is the supra-rational.  Like Nicholas of Cusa, we may learn more today if we would be willing to move away from the Aristotelian-Scholasticism that has captured academic inquiry and human knowledge for the past 300 years and embrace a more Platonic approach which better allows for and explains the metaphysical realities we seem to struggle with and want to deny.

In all of our human learning and research, it may be time to admit to docta ignorantia – the science of ignorance.  It just may be that until we are ready and willing to admit that what we have learned so far has only highlighted our ignorance that we will not be able to lock the secrets of the universe around us.  Either way, the truth remains that there is so much more “out there” and there is something or Someone out there that defies explanation.  Whether humankind plumbs the depths of the sea and tiniest organisms or reaches to the farthest heavens, one thing remains certain: all we’ll learn is how ignorant we really are.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Healing Haiti

Another catastrophic disaster hits a part of our world.  It is something that we never get used to witnessing via newspapers, news magazines, television news cycles, or internet pictures and videos.  The suffering is overwhelming.  The feeling of uselessness from our living room chairs suffocating.  Some of us pray.  Some of us give to our charities of choice hoping that our dollar will go where it is needed most.  All of us wonder, why?

There is a human propensity to try and make sense of our world; especially when struck with natural disasters.  In some ways, we deal better with blatant human evil that reeks suffering and destruction.  The “why” is answered for us.  We see the results of twisted evil human nature every day.  We recognize evil in one another.  When it spills over into our lives, we at least have some semblance of a reason for our suffering; there are mean, evil, wicked people in the world that cause pain and suffering.  However, what reason do we have when it is impersonal “Mother Nature”?

Natural disasters catch us in a web of meaninglessness like Victor Hugo’s fly in the spider web of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  There is no one to blame.  It is just how nature works.  It is “the circle of life” at work in our world.  Death and birth continue on in an unfeeling, meaningless cycle.  There is no rhyme or reason.  Whether tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, disease or cancer, nature takes its course in all our lives.  Even if we live our lives without succumbing to disease or accident, we will end our days in a “natural” death.  We are the products of natural courses at work in the world.  We are also subject to the work of natural courses in our world.

In our modern, scientific age we like to arrogantly think that we can control or predict nature.  And, while our ability at prediction has gotten better, we are constantly and painfully reminded that nature is full of surprises for us.  We are far from reaching the limits of human knowledge.  We are constantly discovering what we do not know.  After all, that is part of the mystery of human science and discovery:  We do not know what we do not know!

Nevertheless, there are still those who like to attempt to negate the mystery of creation by offering a “cause and effect” answer for every event.  The recent example of Pat Robertson’s explanation for the disaster in Haiti is a great (or perhaps, better, tragic) example of this pernicious human trait.  He claims the mythical legend of Haitians making a pact with the devil to be free from French rule is the cause of Haiti’s troubled history as well as present disaster.  Not surprisingly, his comments have created an uproar.  Unfortunately, he has had a history of “foot in the mouth” disease.  His reason for the tragedy of the Twin Towers on 9/11 and New Orleans destruction from Hurricane Katrina’s?  American abortions.

All such attempts at explain or come up with a “cause” for disasters in the world will always be controversial.  It may very well be an effort in futility as well.  When biblical Job suffered the loss of everything through one disaster after another, his well-meaning friends attempted to come up with a reason or cause.  It was the very same one that Pat Robertson uses.  It is the result of sin.  While personal sin has its consequences, it is not always the case.  In fact, God brags about Job’s righteousness.  In the end, Job’s friends get a rebuke from the Creator for their lame attempt to explain what God was trying to do in the world and in Job’s life.

While Job’s friends wanted to find some personal sin for the cause of Job’s sufferings, Job wanted to blame God.  He assumed that he deserved God’s total and complete protection from every trouble.  He attempts an in-your-face chest bump with God.  God puts Job in his place simply by pointing out that the Creator does not need the advice of his creation on how the universe should run.  The courses of nature were established by God without Job and his “wisdom”.  In the face of God’s creation and grandeur, Job does the wise thing.  He shuts up.  Oh, that our modern day commentators and wisemen of God’s ways would do the same thing!

In Jesus’ day, there were two tragedies that captured the attention and heart of the country.  First, apparently, an evil ruler brutalized and massacred some people in Galilee (Luke 13:1 – 5).  Second, a tower in Siloam fell down and killed some people in a tragic accident.  One was a tragedy by human evil.  The other was a tragedy of meaningless accident.  Jesus exposed the futile human attempt to explain these events by blaming human sinful conditions by asking, “Do you think they [the ones who suffered and died in these events] were sinners more than anyone else?”  Jesus’ answer is in the emphatic.  “Absolutely not!”

Jesus offers us no explanation for these disasters.  He seems to be content to let the mystery of the “why” to rest upon his listeners and us.  Instead, he does offer a universal explanation for humans everywhere and in every age.  “Unless you repent, you too will perish.”  Huh?  At first his answer – or explanation – comes across very cryptic.

Jesus does offer us a parable.  He tells of an owner of a fig tree who finds it not bearing fruit.  He wishes to cut it down but at the intervention of his arborist decides to give it another chance.  This story, like a laser beam, is aimed at Israel.  However, it speaks to us all too.  God delights in showing mercy.  He is not put off by “giving more time” to those who are due judgment.  Jesus’ point to his listeners is that we are all due judgment!  Therefore, we all had better discern our spiritual condition and turn to God.  Jesus uses the tragic stories of his day to point out that the sudden demise of these people should remind us all of our frail condition and existence.  It should remind us all to look to our own spiritual conditions instead of looking to point fingers and blame such events on someone’s sin.

Red and White Rose, Bush House Gardens, Salem, Oregon, 2009

Fire and Ice Rose, Bush House Gardens, Salem, Oregon, 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Haiti’s suffering should be a reminder for us all.  We all have our own “pact with the devil”.  If Haiti’s suffering is the result of such a pact then we are all under the same judgment and deserve the same, no less.  Likewise, we are all at the mercy of the natural forces at work in God’s creation – floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, disease and cancer.  These strike the righteous and the unrighteous.  There were many believers in Jesus who died in the earthquake and many who continue to suffer today.  Are we more righteous than they because we were not there and did not experience it?  I think not.

Instead of wondering why, it is perhaps more constructive to take a personal spiritual inventory and ask ourselves, “If something like that were to befall upon me today, am I spiritually ready to go into eternity and meet God?”  This would help us far more than sitting in the seat of self-righteousness and pronouncing judgment upon the sin in the lives of others.  It only makes us as useless as Job’s comforters and deserving of similar rebukes from God and the suffering Jobs.

Instead of looking for a cause for such suffering, it is perhaps more constructive to approach these situations with the same attitude that Jesus did on similar occasions.  When faced with overwhelming human suffering around him, Jesus did not attempt to explain the reason for human suffering.  He, instead, looked for ways in which God could be glorified in such circumstances.  This was the case of a man blind from birth (John 9:1 – 5).  The disciples, so like us today, wanted to know the cause or reason for this person’s suffering.  “Rabbi.  Who sinned?  This man or his parents so that he was born blind?”  Jesus’ astonishing answer is that it was not because of sin.  Instead, “This happened so that the work of God could be displayed in his life…we must do the work of him who sent me.”  Could it be the same with Haiti?

Perhaps the best response to Haiti is not looking for reasons or causes.  Perhaps the best response is, instead, to ask, “How can we do the work of God in this situation?”  On this side of eternity, we might not know all the answers and reasons.  However, we do know that God has a work he wants to do.  Perhaps the best response to such tragedies is to seek to do God’s work of healing and restoration.  In the end, God is not going to quiz us with, “Did you come up with a plausible explanation of why this happened to them?”  Instead, he’s going to want to know, “How did you do my work in the midst of such sufferingDid you bring healing to Haiti?”

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: