Touching The Limits Of Knowledge

Topic: Deep Limits

by P.J. Reczek


Lead: Stephanie Burns

This class was led by Stephanie Burns, but before class began Prof. Paul Brockelman recounted some related topics he heard in a lecture shortly before. He said that from a religious dimension there is an irreducible mystery to the universe, and that rather than trying to prove God one encounters God at the limits (of reason). God is experiential rather than hypothetical. After Paul's introduction Stephanie opened with a passage from ROMANS 1:20

"Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made."

Stephanie began the class presentation with a handout. It began with The Limits of Reason. In this she used an example from Paul's book, "We go as far as we can go and then smack right into God." She said in reading scientific and theological text how surprised she is about how little is said with so many words. She believes that religion and god are thought enough as experiential, but rather as something of discussion and not experienced. God is not of religion, rather God is to be experienced. She talked about the experiential factor that surrounds Ultimate Reality

The second topic Stephanie presented was on the Limits of Science. She says that in science's apparent need to know the face of God more intimately, we have to look behind the extent of things, their composition and origins, only to find there is something unquantifiable. We cannot create or quantify the breath of life -- but we can copy and know its form and composition to a point, we can imitate it, but there are limits beyond which science cannot go. We cannot summon life or bring the dead back, and for today, we cannot find the beginning of the creation of the universe, though we look back upon the cosmos and on time itself. We can only go so far and then reach a barrier, a limit beyond which our science cannot take us.

Limits of Experience and Understanding: We reach 'places' in thought that are beyond the limits of our ability to understand or experience. These limit-places have a common thread. We cannot know the 'something' or 'no-thing' in love, birth, and death. The creative force that calls all life and form into being and the evidence around us and within us of a sublime order to life itself 'feels like' the same unknowable ultimate reality or force that established our universe. We experience this sense of commonality more than we know it. Our proof is experiential; sometimes an inner knowing experienced through individual revelation and sometimes though mystic literature. Under this section of the discussion we encountered limit question, such as: Why is there something, why not nothing? Are there limits to scientific understanding itself? Is there a limit to our understanding of the Universe? At this point Stephanie gave way to her paper and let Prof. Brockelman and Prof. Möbius begin a class discussion.

Paul began with the topic of unanswerable and inexplicable. Why in an infinite nothing must there be something, why not no thing? He says that to experience the limits, the mystery, one does not need to believe in God or practice religion. The experience of mystery is what is important. Prof. Möbius brought up the topic of God of the gaps, which notoriously surrounded the topic of evolution. Literalists believe that the theory of evolution is wrong because the Bible says so and that any questions that cannot be answered are attributed to God. In the experience of mystical power there is no entity, there is no it. There is a no thing transcendent beyond definition, mystery. There are mysteries about life, and when you feel them they aren't gaps, they themselves are part of the experience.

In looking at science and religion it is best not to look at them as opponents, but allies that follow different paths. To an atheist mystery is mystery; they don't need God to understand that there is the inexplicable. What happens to many is that the mystery gets confused with dogma and religious practice. One, including the atheist, can discover God by getting rid of religious dogma. Do we need to have a god with a human face? Culturally we are at a point where we are too much into the dogma, not God that is experienced. Mystics talk about their experiences, but never can fully relate these to others or even begin to explain them. There are limits to human understanding and communication. We can experience love, but words can never describe it, yet we try. Paul used a line from a Polish poet Melosh to make a point in class, What good am I all I can do is say how good everything is.

We need to be 'whole people' one in class said. We need to use both halves of our brains, i.e. to study science and the humanities. However, institutionally the two are separated from one another. Is the limit of science and religion that of language? We grasp to explain what we don't understand. In this language, math, and science have evolved. Our destiny is always on the way.