Spirit and Flesh – 3
We have established that humanity, over and above the emus, has an innate sense of the spiritual realm, and this is demonstrated by the persistence of religion in human life, among other things. Against the naturalist, we see the impossibility that human life could have been purely physical, because of the ease with which humans engage in abstractions.
In other words, a single kiss from my daughter is the kiss of death for Naturalism. Requiescat in pace.
This frees us to advance: What do we know about the spiritual realm, anyway? What can we know?
Our difficulty is that the physical realm seems so…well, obvious, immediate.* When we want to say something about the physical realm – the sun is shining, the tree is blooming – these things are generally provable by observation. Humans broadly agree about the facts right in front of them, in this sense – we don’t argue with the weatherman about whether it’s raining, nor the traffic reporter, for that matter, who sees down the road and looks upon other roads.
The spiritual realm is not verifiable in the same way. It is not engaged with by means of the physical senses…though, it can be indirectly verified that way. Let us return to that another time.
For now, the grievance of the naturalist is more important than his arguments: If beliefs aren’t scientifically verifiable, then anyone can believe anything they like! How can this rise to the level of knowledge?
That’s true. That’s a good point.
One argument, which we have alluded to already, is that humans have a spiritual sense. It “looks” upon the world and detects certain abstractions, like good and evil, beauty, even truth. The philosopher Alvin Plantinga says we have a “sense of the divine” which justifies our belief in God.
For another argument, we derive from Plato the world of “forms,” which are abstract and ideal molds from which the physical instances are derived. Is there an ideal form of a chair? I don’t know, but there is something remarkable about the ability to make a chair without explicit instructions, as though the idea exists as a universally accessible concrete entity.
Let’s take a third. That is, the natural order appears to be governed by laws, which laws have no physical properties. These laws are often expressed by mathematics, which is the highest point of agreement between the naturalist and the supernaturalist – math works, is practically the most reliable form of knowing that there is.
Whereas the naturalist may agree that mathematics is the language of the Universe, the supernaturalist goes further and says that information does not simply occur, but is articulated by someone or something. Math is preceded by Logos, which gives the Universe structure and predictability and knowability.
And so, we can have knowledge of the spiritual realm by direct experience of it (the spiritual sense), by abstraction from the physical structures to a spiritual ideal, and by observing that the physical realm operates according to non-physical laws, which laws must have their own reality.
Any of these, arguably, is more reliable that the physical world itself as a deliverer of truth. You will find people who claim to have seen the spirit world in a vision or a near death experience. You will find others who hold to the Platonic view of the world. And still others construct reality on a foundation of abstractions – arguably, all of modern science, for a start – and build a monument of knowledge thereupon.
*Who stops to wonder – is this by design?