The words subjective and objective carry with them a lot of meaning. We can define the term subjective as “something that someone else experiences that I don’t” or “something that someone else experiences that I can’t” or even “something that is not real”. The last one, on the issue of God is a circular argument, which says “God is not real, so what you experience is not real, therefore there is no God.” At least in theory, God could still exist if people drew untrue conclusions from experiences and then attributed them falsely to Him. We will dismiss that circular definition. There is a considerable difference between the other two definitions. If we say that a subjective experience is something that “I don’t experience”, we could broaden that definition to events, such as going to
All believers in God argue that the Deity they revere is powerful enough to make Himself known in an impacting, objective way; there is no God too weak to manifest Himself with remarkable objectivity. So if God does exist, He has the power to make Himself known to the entire world. However, this leaves believers with a difficult question to answer: If God exists, why doesn’t He more regularly use public, objective results? Those who do not believe in God may interpret this as proof that God doesn’t exist-- He does not manifest Himself because He does not exist. But another approach would be to explore why God, if He does exist, might use personal, and thereby often called “subjective”, experiences to reveal Himself; in the terms of this experiment, it is to explore why He might give us an objective method with subjective results.
So, if God could manifest Himself unto all in an objective way, why hasn’t He? For one, having a piece of evidence that one can hold in the hand with a proof that God exists (assuming that one could have such proof) would make believing in God an issue akin to believing that the earth orbits the sun, using machines and calculations to assert our claim. We know the earth orbits the sun, and believing otherwise would be foolish, and with that comes no real growth other than another fact logged away. I don’t presume to know the mind of God; but I think His non-use of objectivity may have to do with the fact that believing and having faith are, for whatever His reasons, things that He wishes we develop. There must be something of worth that comes to the individual cultivating a belief in God that is important to Him.
The power in the experiment of belief is that it is possible for every individual and that it teaches individually—by a tutor, as it were. A tutor, in this case God, will stay at our pace as we learn, giving us what we are able to take, when we are able to take it.
Take the example of God being concerned about us behaving ethically. If we believe God is just and He is concerned that we are ethical (i.e. righteous, loving, selfless, diligent, or how ever defined), He will judge our level of ethics based on what we know, just as children are punished to levels of severity according to their incremental knowledge of right and wrong. The experiment of belief is intended to allow us to know a little bit at a time about God, His existence, and what He would like us to become. If we knew, objectively, in one shebang all of that information, we would be held responsible for behaving perfectly ethically in thought, word, and deed, for we would know without a doubt that God does exist and that such-and-such is what He expects of us.
But instead, if He allows us to know and to learn incrementally, as this experiment of belief provides, He can judge us according to what we have received up to that point. Because He is just, He would also require that we put forth effort to seek more knowledge, for otherwise we would be ignoring opportunities for learning. While God is merciful towards those with incomplete understandings of His will (which surely includes all of us, to some degree or another), at the same time, willful ignorance of what God hopes of us and of His existence will not be as protective from God’s judgment. I say this because I know of people who chose not to try this “experiment”, not because they think it won’t work, but because they don’t want the responsibility of discovering that God expects them to be more ethical or “righteous” in the terms that they see some believers define. Since all are entitled to their belief, we, as humans, are expected to allow all men to live and pay homage whatsoever they choose, may it be God, various gods, science, money, sports, or nothing at all. However, I return to my original point: if God were to manifest himself objectively, there may be many, who perhaps would not have developed the kind of ethical living (however God may define it) to correctly live as He would instruct.
That is why the “experiment” that I am outlining is intrinsically sound: if God exists and wanted to make Himself known to the masses in an objective way, He could. If God exists and does not want to make Himself known in a great objective way because there is something about personal experience that is important to Him, He will confirm such to an individual. The experiment itself is objective: you can try it. However, if we are looking for results of the experiment to be measurable and quantifiable, we may find that the results lead to something that cannot be quantified. Such it is with God: He stands immeasurable, incalculable, and unquantifiable, for our intents and purposes. Only personal experience can measure the immeasurable. And if we make the claim that these personal experiences are, as a group, completely subjective, we don’t change the claim that personal experiences are the means by which the individual can know about God according to Him.
A common reply would be, “That is all too convenient. It’s too convenient just to say, ‘God cannot be objectively measured,’ because then there is no proof or denial.” If one’s purpose for believing in God was merely to rationalize His existence, then yes, this would be an easy claim. But I assure you that believers, whose goal is to know God and search for Him, are saying, “This is all too inconvenient. It would be so much simpler if God would just make Himself manifest to everyone.” Believers are not just looking for a scapegoat for their personal experience with the Divine. The inward searching for God is a process for those who believe, requiring dedication to that experiment of belief. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the more time we spend experimenting, the more likely we are to produce confident results. That commitment is not convenient.
I recognize that the goal for some is to refute the belief systems of those who believe in God. One cannot refute them by merely dismissing their experiences because they are not experienced by another, especially when I am suggesting that there is a way that all can believe. Though not a perfect analogy, can you say to a man who loves his son, “You do not love your son,” merely because you do not yourself experience it? No, and if he did love his son, what would be the units of measurement? Again, this has a level of ineffability, but that doesn’t mean that because he cannot quantify it, it is not so, or because it’s anecdotal, it isn’t reliable. We are left to either believe or dismiss his experiences on our own rationale—or, and this is my whole point, perhaps our own experiences of giving and receiving love would help us to understand, identify with, and believe the man, despite our lack of having the exact same experience.
These thoughts are in no way refuting the importance of objectivity. Much of our advancement as a species has come through measurable, more universally accepted objective results. As far as social policy, fiscal progress, science, engineering, business and many other applications in life, the most reasonable method of finding knowledge is all objective, quantitative and qualitative. Is this to say that God can’t help us on these issues? Of course He can, and I believe He has. But since there are things that are both important and unquantifiable, the “experiment” of belief becomes the logical standpoint. Besides, all objective results, including the whole of science, get to inexplicable or subjective assumptions when you boil it down.
I give you an example: why does a computer work? Because we have engineered transistors from semiconductive material to process logical operations. Why do these semiconductors allow us to operate? Because as you apply voltage to adjacent semiconductors with different conductivities, electrons’ behavior (electric current) will change dramatically. Why will the behavior change dramatically? Because we’ve observed these changes in the past. But why does the behavior change? Well, it’s in part due to the fact that sometimes an electron acts as a particle and sometimes it acts as a wave. Why is that? We don’t know. We base our calculations of electrons on these assumptions, that it has mass and also can act as a wave, but these are our best guess as to what’s going on with an electron. We have mathematical models that help us understand the behavior, but our mathematical models cannot tell us the “essence” of quantum mechanics yet or exactly what it is. As Sir Arthur Eddington said, “Something unknown is doing we don’t know what.” Down at the very bottom of all scientific assumptions we reach a point we have to accept subjectivity, because we have nothing objective. We just have to say “We don’t know what an electron really is. We will assume such and such, because our experiences have led us to believe that.” We have no real objective data; we just have to make the best use of things we’ve experienced and keep searching for more understanding. Yet, although we cannot completely quantify, or even explain, what the essence of an electron is, we can use electrons in powerful ways because we have experimented and observed how they act. Similarly, though we may not be able to quantify God or how He reveals Himself to us, we can learn in powerful ways by experimenting, observing, and experiencing how He acts in our lives.
That lengthy exposition said, there is no room in personal experience to not be open-minded and tolerant of other belief-systems. If God does exist and does value those results of personal experience, it should be respected on all levels. Thank you for your thoughtful response, as one who values science and empiricism and recognizes the intrinsic scientific difficulty with subjectivity. I’m sorry that the analogy doesn’t hold on all levels; alas, it is only an analogy.
There will be many posts in the future about these questions, for as a believer, I have had to come to terms with many difficult questions regarding believing in God. As I had to seriously ask myself these things, I hope that my blog will evoke some thoughts as well in the readership, and, if nothing more, the acceptance of people with belief systems in God as being a viable solution for finding meaning in this life.