On the Limitlessness of Human Intelligence
I'm still combing through the arkive, although not very diligently. The main thing I'm trying to do is delete reposts, since the later version are the more definitive. I've also been reposting things that had few comments at the time in order to give them a "second chance." As I mentioned last week, the absence of comments may be the most important comment. Who knows. Anyway, here's one from several years back. As always, it is edited and rethought from the ground up and then back down again.
There are several ways to end up being what I call an obligatory atheist. Like every other human capacity -- from math to music to hitting a baseball -- the ability to intuit the divine runs along a spectrum. Frankly, there are a few people for whom the realm of the sacred really seems to be a closed book. You can’t do much for them, but then, they don't tend to be the militant sort of atheist. They just let it go.
On the other hand, a larger percentage of atheists seem to have been traumatized by exposure to a dysfunctional version of religion as a child. They are the ones who can get more angry, obnoxious and militant.
The third and largest segment of the atheist population consists of the “not smart enough” who are nevertheless extremely proud of their intellect. This in itself is a contradiction, for they have great faith in the intellect’s ability to know reality, and yet, place an arbitrary limit on what it may know -- even what "reality" consists of. The placement of this limit is obviously not a result of logic or reason. It is actually more of a religions inclination brought in through the back doors of perception, for it is an absolute statement about what the human mind may or may not know.
And once you are in the realm of the absolute, you are reflecting one of the inevitable attributes of the Divine. Obviously, no relative being can know anything of the absolute. But man is defined by being "condemned to the absolute," so to speak. In the absence of the absolute, he could not think, reason, exert free will, or make moral choices. Therefore, to deny the transcendent absolute is first and foremost an act of great moral and intellectual cowardice -- and usually narcissistic duplicity as well, for such individuals covertly worship their own personal version of the absolute, which reduces to their own corrupt and worthless ego.
The effectiveness of one’s “thinking in" (not about) God -- that is, thinking metaphysically -- always depends upon two factors, neither of which falls strictly within the realm of profane rationalism. First, there is the profundity of the intelligence involved. Obviously there are plenty of smart people walking around. College campuses are full of clever folkers. But they are hardly profound or deep thinkers.
For example, there are presumably thousands of musicologists with Ph.D.s, but who would pretend that their words are remotely as deep or profound as one of Beethoven’s late string quartets, or could approach the transcendent funkmanship of one of James Jamerson's bass runs ?
How do we even recognize depth -- or funkmanship -- and what is it? It clearly exists, and yet, it is well beyond the ability of any rational system to define it in any operational terms or to capture its meaning.
This is why I don’t enjoy debating or arguing with people who disagree with me, for it ultimately comes down to the fact that I perceive something and they don’t. To argue over this is analogous to telling someone that what they see with their own eyes cannot be trusted, because vision is just light waves transformed into an image in the brain. For me to argue with a troll is to pretend that blindness is just another variety of vision. In fact, I agree with them: God does not exist. For them.
This is hardly any kind of self-glorification, for I would not presume to get into an argument with Van Gogh about what he saw with his eyes or Albert Pujols over how large the baseball looks as it's approaching the plate. I’d rather just enjoy the depth of the former's vision and artistry of the latter's hitting. But if you don’t believe in depth of artistic vision, then a Van Gogh is no better than a Thomas Kinkade purchased on QVC. And it goes without saying that Albert Pujols has the supernatural ability to slow down time and increase the size of the baseball, even if we don't.
The second thing that limits the mere rationalist is an arbitrary restriction on what is taken as evidence. The rationalist limits himself to empirical phenomena (or something reducible to it). But this limitation is not something that can be justified by reason. Rather, it is a prelogical, a priori assumption.
The religious metaphysician is not hindered in this manner. He does not arbitrarily stop at the external senses, but considers other sources of information, most notably, divine revelation, the testimony of the saints and sages, and one’s own personal experience. The rationalist merely defines these realms out of existence, and as a result, is unable to reason about God at all.
Or we can say that his reasoning will be limited to mundane facts of common experience, not to that which transcends them. He will simply project onto God his own distorted and highly limited understanding, like a two-dimensional circle pronouncing on the nonexistence of spheres. Of course spheres do not exist for such a person. They can prove it with ironclad logic -- thus proving only the closed circularity of their logic.
This is what happens when reason (ratio) detaches itself from the intellect (nous), which is the realm of pure, unencumbered intelligence. Properly understood, reason is a tool of the intellect, not vice versa. One of the defining lies of our dork age is that our intelligence is inherently limited, so that the realm of ultimate issues must be left to faith alone. Who said that intelligence is limited? If so, how do we know that that statement is not equally relative and limited? Who said that human beings are intelligent enough to pronounce on the limitations of intelligence?
Either intelligence is in principle unlimited, or else it is arbitrary, relative, and illusory, incapable of saying anything with certitude. But the shallow contemporary thinker wants it both ways: the omnipotent ability to know where to place an absolute line between what is knowable and what is not.
The realm of religion is not so much “thought” as it is seen, heard, and touched. Therefore, it is as absurd to argue against these sensory modalities as it is to argue in court that an eye witnesses testimony is not to be trusted until we can first prove that vision exists.
Have you ever been “touched” by the depth of a musical performance? What can the rationalist say about such an experience? He can listen to the performance. Nothing happens. There! Proved it! Music cannot convey spiritual truth! The crude rationalist merely confuses truth with method.
But reason is not autonomous, and cannot reason without data being supplied from elsewhere. As Schuon writes, “Just as it is impossible to reason about a country of which one has no knowledge, so also it is impossible to reason about suprasensory realities without drawing upon the data which pertain to them, and which are supplied, on the one hand, by Revelation and traditional symbolism, and, on the other, by intellective contemplation, when the latter is within reach of the intelligence. The chief reproach to be leveled against modern philosophy and science is that they venture directly or indirectly on to planes which are beyond their compass, and that they operate without regard to indispensable data...”
Rationalists believe that, unlike the theist, they start from "zero,” without any dogma or metaphysics at all. The Catholic philosopher Stanley Jaki compares it to baseball. Secular philosophers always begin at first base, but offer nothing in their philosophy that can justify how they have arrived there.
But we all know that even Albert Pujols cannot steal first base. Rather, you must earn your way there (although Pujols is sometimes given the gift of first base in order to prevent him from taking four). Thus, the rationalist or materialist begins at first base with the gratuitous dogma that nothing exists except our perceptions filtered through our preconceptual logical categories. But from where did this premise arrive? It is not a sensory perception filtered through a logical category. Rather, it is metaphysical dogma.
I had this very conversation with an eminent historian a few years back, an absolute relativist through marriage. In order to communicate at all, we speak across a truly cavernous divide. I actually enjoy it, although he seems to quickly become exasperated. He insists that there is no such thing as metaphysics, and that knowledge (he would never say “truth”) is merely a property of sentences. Either a sentence can be justified or it cannot. I insisted that it was impossible to make a nontrivial statement about the world without an implicit metaphysic, usually a bad one. He impatiently said, “Okay,” pointing to the remnants of our dinner. “The lasagna was good. Where’s the metaphysics in that?”
“So let me get this straight,” I said. “Are you dividing the world into a realm of objects and subjects that can obtain truthful information about them?”
That was the first time someone ever called me “vulgar” without my having uttered a profanity. But what could he say? The lasagna existed. And it was good. Far be it from me to try to talk someone out of their religious beliefs.