Are Gods Truly Unknowable? What’s That Even Mean?

English: Portrait of Johannes Kepler.

English: Portrait of Johannes Kepler. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I once thought any answer to the question of gods was unknowable, taking that as my default position, but after examining that statement, I’m convinced that it’s merely opinion, and here is why:

I’ve always been very suspicious of a logical fallacy, the argument from ignorance, and a related error of confusing the currently unexplained with the utterly inexplicable.

How so?

First, to declare something, anything, no matter how strange to be unexplainable just because we don’t currently have an explanation is premature. Not to mention intellectual cowardice, since it shuts the door on further inquiry.

We may perhaps never find an explanation for something, if from nothing more than a lack of data, as with criminal cases that remain unsolved for years or even decades or centuries after the fact.

That does not justify our declaring anything to be incapable of explanation for all time simply because the trail of evidence has gone cold. We can never be honestly certain that new data or better reasoning won’t turn up which allows us to crack the case, to find answers to the mystery.

I do not put much stock in my beliefs, since my beliefs could be wrong — I don’t identify too closely with them. There’s a lot of trouble that results when defining the self by beliefs — one becomes angry, easily offended, even downright nasty, when others disagree with our beliefs — the content or justification we think we have for those beliefs may be questionable or nonexistent.

Like declaring that something is unexplainable because it’s currently unexplained, it is a claim to knowledge that any given thing is unknowable as well. How do we know something is unknowable? How did we arrive at this conclusion? What basis do we have to authoritatively declare it? I suspect that there are indeed things we may never know. But to say so without even looking is not defensible. It becomes a statement of belief without adequate basis or empirical evidence.

Just as we cannot ever be fully justified to say that we will never explain something without looking first, since there’s always the possibility that new data will turn up later, I do not believe we can fully, justifiably claim that something is forever unknowable, even the God question.

I suspect now that it is an open question if we can know of gods, and know their minds as well, as Johannes Kepler once sought to do in his study of the universe as the last scientific astrologer, to know the mind of God to get closer to Him. He didn’t think the mind of God was ineffable as Pascal so confidently stated in contradiction to his own Wager.

It all depends on how gods are defined. Such a being may actually exist or not. It depends on who or what we call a god and what attributes we give it.

For example:

It seems to me that there are a number of conflicting versions of the God of Abraham, all these concepts conflicting in sometimes important details.

Certainly, the same God who promised a land of milk and honey for His chosen people and hasn’t yet sent the Messiah can’t be the same God who sent a son named Jesus as Messiah to redeem us for our sins, which in turn cannot literally be the same God who never had a son named Jesus and whose greatest prophet is Mohammed.

These concepts, the broadest that can be managed without bringing up sectarian differences, show that they all came from the same source, but are now very different beings, each with differing biographies and demanding different things of their worshippers. And that’s not even considering the thousands of splinter-sects of religions.

Christianity alone has an estimated 41,000 different versions of itself worldwide, and many of these don’t even consider any of the others to be Christian.

How are you going to tell the ancient Romans that Caesar was not a god? If it were possible, would you tell the Babylonians or people of Sumer, or the ancient Egyptians that the king was not a god?

The ancient gods, god-kings, and gods-as-men may no longer be in favor now as then, but the belief in their divinity was just as certainly held then and with just as much justification as that of any gods currently in fashion.

My point is that you cannot shoehorn the concept of God to any one religion, since there’s no objective or fairminded way within any one belief system to do that, and no, using a logical principle like the law of noncontradiction is not the answer: If you are willing to ignore or dismiss contradictions in your own religion and highlight those of others, you can easily use the same principle for any religion you want.

Certainly, there is no one way to define gods to the satisfaction of all, so I will use one proposed by Guy P. Harrison here, one independent of all belief systems, and which I think most fairly and objectively includes all god concepts throughout history:

“A god is defined as anyone or anything that people in any time and place believe to be a god.” (paraphrase).

We cannot declare gods unknowable without declaring too much at any one time. How would we know?

We might in the future find geological evidence of the continent of R’lyeh, lost for millions of years in the Pacific ocean, partly subducted under crustal plates, and find archaeological evidence for the tomb of Cthulhu.

Maybe he wasn’t just a fictional creation of Lovecraft’s, at least if there were any real records describing the Old One before the obviously fictional accounts in Weird Tale stories.

I no longer hold that gods are unknowable, just as I do not hold that anything is forever unexplainable without at least testing the idea first. I do not believe that supernatural beings who allegedly created the universe and who intervene in Earthly affairs exist, but I’m very careful about making any claim without adequate grounding.

Some god-concepts, I think, can be ruled out as unlikely, even logically impossible, but evidence for others may be just around the corner. Maybe. I’ve noticed one thing, though, that the universe I see very much resembles one in which no supernatural divine intercessor exists.

I may be wrong, but that question rests on the evidence alone, NOT what I declare or believe.

(Last Update: 3:38 AM, 2013/07/05, Grammatical Correction/Meaning Unchanged)

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3 thoughts on “Are Gods Truly Unknowable? What’s That Even Mean?

    • I’ve read of otherwise great men of science who’ve said very foolish things in their time, such as that everything worthwhile had been discovered, that there was nothing new left to find out, that certain things, like heavier-than-air flight was impossible, only to be shown gravely wrong by others younger than they.

      But the fact that they were shown wrong shows the value of science, not its weakness. The fact that they were wrong, and better yet, were shown wrong by other scientists shows the strength of its methods…

      Science would very obviously be shown stagnant and dogmatic if it didn’t have built-in ways of detecting of the mistakes of those who do it, so as to correct them and better approach the truth of a question.

      I don’t think that any finding in science is absolutely final or beyond question, even if some ideas are so well established that it would take mountains of evidence to overturn them.

      The authority of any one researcher, no matter how prestigious or intelligent, isn’t worth much by itself.

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