In order to learn anything, we have to be willing to surrender what our current conceptions of that subject are, starting afresh. This process is usually easier in a school setting, where we oftentimes have little preconceived notion about the things we are learning. But in the instance that we meet someone and receive a horrible first impression, even if they really are a great person, it is a difficult change to try to see that person for who they are. It requires our willingness to realize we were wrong, or at least acknowledge the possibility of being wrong, in order to eventually be right about that person.
Based on experiences and what we have been taught, we all have preconceived notions about God’s existence. We must give everyone the benefit of the doubt: we’ve all experienced life differently, we may see things differently, and we’re doing the best we can to understand what we’ve experienced. Nevertheless, if there is a right or a wrong answer concerning God’s existence, we need to each be willing to clean our plates of all the intellectual horseradish and vinegar we’ve been eating when a right answer may require us to savor more sublime and subtle flavors. Just as it is with learning something new, we must start on a clean plate, with no residues tainting our palate.
The existence of God is either true or false. It cannot be half-true (“He sometimes exists.”) or relatively-true (“He exists for that person, but not for
I acknowledge that there are many who are ignorant or prone to superstition who readily look to God for hope, perhaps in part because they have very little hope in this life. Sometimes it is difficult for non-believers to accept their belief system as convincing, given their lack of intellectually sophisticated rationales for believing. Notwithstanding, of the billions that do believe in God, if just one actually finds out that the answer to this yes/no question is really “yes”—not a spiritual understanding based on superstition or gullibility, but actual knowledge from a source of truth—then God would exist for all those who haven’t found out whether or not He exists: including the educated and the successful.
But like the clean plate analogy, if what the one believer says is right, we may have a lot of our own predetermined responses to flush out in our learning process. Truly, there have been many successful and educated people that have used the one tool and found out for themselves the answer to that age-old question.
In a previous entry, I mentioned the idea that the only tool used by people who claim that God exists is belief. That is the method and the tool used by those who say they know. As we explored, there is no science or philosophy that can prove or disprove His existence. So we’re stuck with belief as the tool, and we need to continue to use it until we’ve successfully cleaned all our preconceived notions and have received definitive results.
When a scientist comes from an experiment with controversial results, the first thing other scientists and scholars want to know is: how’d he or she do it? The method must be repeatable and testable. No matter how smart we are, we cannot overturn someone else’s results unless we can perform the exact same experiment to obtain irrefutably contrasting data. Deciding not to do an experiment because one already assumes to know the answer is similar to when Einstein, arguably one of the smartest humans ever, dismissed de Broglie’s particle-wave theory without doing the experiments himself. Even though Einstein was educated, his gut-response having not performed the experiment himself led him to be incorrect.
Thus it is with God. The only way to overturn the results of one who has known God is to perform the same experiment. It is everyone’s opportunity to dismiss or perform the experiment, and those of us who have never performed it cannot discount those that have, and vice versa. To refute someone without knowing for oneself exhibits one of the symptoms of closed-mindedness: claiming to have understanding, but never trying to understand. There must always be respect from both sides.
Please entertain this thought, derived from Pascal’s famous wager. We can act as if God exists or we can act as if He doesn’t exist. If He doesn’t exist, the only thing we might lose could be a few hedonic pleasures; some argue that we wouldn’t lose anything. However, if He does exist, acting like He doesn’t exist could be a serious problem, depending on our notion of punishment from Him. But acting like He exists, when He indeed does, would be the greatest investment of our time imaginable.
It is worth our time, no matter our previous experiences, to constantly be willing to surrender our preconceived notions of God, using the tool of belief to discover whether or not He exists. Again, it is the only tool used by those who have claimed to have come to a real knowledge.