Tom Gilson

Though It Is Not Impossible to See God…

There’s a potential false conclusion to steer clear of as you read Edward Tingley’s article, “The Skeptical Inquirer,” on which I blogged yesterday. He refers to Blaise Pascal’s statement that God cannot be known through the senses. One might suppose that he is saying that it is impossible to perceive God in any way. Whatever Tingley and Pascal might say to that, I would put it this way: While it is not impossible to see God, it is possible not to see God.

I was thinking about this on my drive home from the office, on the Colonial National Parkway between Williamsburg and Yorktown, Virginia. The drive begins in a forest of tall pines, dogwoods, oak, and maple trees, and continues along the York River, a place of unusual calm and beauty. I could certainly see God in that (his workings, that is, or better yet, his artistry). I can see him in the members of my family, and hear him in the birds singing as I sit on the back porch now.

Psalm 19:1 says “the Heavens declare the glory of God.” Romans 1:19-20 adds that

what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.

And yet many do not see God there.

The same could be said for the historical evidences for God in Jesus Christ. There is ample evidence for the life of Christ in history; see Craig Blomberg’s article on this, for example. As for his death and resurrection, it’s marvelously explanatory. It makes sense of the generally agreed facts surrounding the events, and it explains the remarkable turn history took following Jesus’ (by ordinary standards) relatively obscure life. It lays the foundation for answers such as no other system of thought can provide for deep existential questions regarding the human condition, and what is to be done about it.

Yet many can see the same questions and consider the same answers, and not see God.

The classic philosophical arguments for God, likewise, explain conundrums like consciousness, reason, purpose, the existence of the universe, and more. They, too, are persuasive arguments for the reality of God.

I and many others see God there, yet still others do not.

Though it is not impossible to see God, it is possible not to see him. This, I think is the point to be taken home from Tingley’s and Pascal’s skepticism regarding finding God through the senses. Evidence can be interpreted in multiple ways, so in the end, though the senses can speak to the question of God, they cannot decide it.

Tingley’s important reminder for us is that they cannot decide against God any more than they can definitively decide for God. Those who seek a final conclusion on the matter must look elsewhere. Pascal suggests the heart as one place to look. It’s a suggestion worthy of real reflection.

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4 thoughts on “Though It Is Not Impossible to See God…

  1. He quotes Pascal saying that God cannot be known through the senses. One might suppose that he is saying that it is impossible to perceive God in any way.

    In a roundabout way we’ve had this discussion with Paul and DL several times. One of DL’s conclusions (assumptions?) is that intuitions must be tested against the physical senses. Sounds reasonable. You collect factual data – all taken from your senses – and you evaluate the data. But wait! Data doesn’t interpret itself so you layout all the logically possible interpretations and then decide which is the best interpretation to explain reality. How do we determine what “best” means here? That can be a tough question to answer.

    Does ‘best’ mean the most statistically likely to occur? Maybe, but then again, maybe not. Sometimes the situation is too complex or too infrequent. This much we know – we know high probability doesn’t *guarantee* the correct interpretation.  We know this from experience. 

    Regardless of how we decide, the fact remains that our physical senses were of no use beyond collecting the initial data.

  2. Great post.

    If it is through the heart that one ultimately comes to see God, then what value is the empirical arguments for and logical proofs of God apart from their rhetorical power?

    Something like McDowell’s Evidence that Demands and Verdict, in this sense, is the marshaling of lots of empirical evidence in support of a heartfelt conviction.  The evidence, ultimately, does not and cannot prove God’s existence or the validity of one’s faith.  Rather, gathering evidence and presenting it to an audience is a rhetorical effort that works to persuade the audience to identify with the storyline.

    It’s fascinating to me that we can disagree so vehemently and then, seemingly out of the blue, you write a post like this that I generally agree with.

  3. I forgot to add the problem of determining *which* statistical metric to apply to the situation – thus further compounding the problem, and further emphasizing the fact that physical senses can’t help us answer these kind of questions.

  4. Thank you for that encouragement, Jacob. Yes, this agreement is rather remarkable! That doesn’t mean we are tracking with each other on things like historical apologetics, which I see as having great value in the pursuit of the actual truth. But that’s a topic for another day.

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