Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Dilemma of Finiteness

The Dilemma of Finiteness

In order for the mind (us) to decide and choose the most favorable course of action we must assess the environment via the senses (sight, hearing, smelling etc). But this assumes 3 things.

1.      The mind is unlimited in its ability to make a complete and accurate assessment of what is out there in order to make that right choice.

2.     We are only material and the observable material world is the only reality we need to explore. Therefore our physical senses are all that is needed to make an accurate assessment.

3.     There are several possible choices that may be beneficial instead of only one “best choice” in any given decision made (i.e. there are no absolutes). Therefore making the “right” choice is not necessary or even possible. So just make the most of it (if it feels good do it) and do the best you can. This in essence is at the heart of existentialism. 

However regarding the first assumption, our mind (you or I) is finite. We are not all knowing, all seeing, or everywhere present at the same time. So how can we, with our mind unaided, know with certainty we are pursuing what is the most favorable option. We can not. There may be reality/truth out there needed (and available) to determine the most favorable course to pursue, that we do not have access to via our limited senses, which contradicts the course we have chosen. Due to our finiteness, we can not make that determination unaided i.e. alone.

(Admittedly I am assuming (presupposing) two things. There are absolutes i.e. the universe has design and operates best when operating according to that design. If we operate outside of that design we do not function properly. Also, there is someone other than us that has infinite, absolute and perfect knowledge. Since we do not have this, we must confide in whoever has this to know it ourselves. But we all must start somewhere precisely because we are finite. Every system posits certain presuppositions. I simply choose to start with belief that there is a God and therefore design and by definition He is the first cause of all things. But I don't take that position out of the air. I think there is objective evidence to back it, more so than not...which is an entirely different discussion. One I allude to throughout many of my posts and touch on some here. I might blog on this more at some point) 

Also because we are spiritually inert (though some deny that we even have a spiritual dimension to our being. For more on this separate discussion click here) and are only left to depend on our physical senses and the physical world/universe to observe (or so we believe), we dismiss potentially a whole realm of reality that may exist and be crucial i.e. the metaphysical or reality beyond the physical. It’s the admission that we are spiritual and not just physical as well as being spiritually inert that we, in our postmodern world, have a hard time acknowledging. 

If we are a product of time plus chance, there is no absolute right or best way (except maybe "survival of the fittest" has resulted in some sort of consistency in how things operate. However evolution is always progressing so in this sense it can't be absolute). This is the assumption we are only material and there is no other reality. But if we are the product of design, there is a designer who made things to operate according to design i.e. a specific purpose. That includes you and I.

Some go to the other end of the spectrum and say we are only spiritual and the material world is basically an allusion. This in essence is Neoplatonism. This is a separate issue not addressed in this post. We have not written on this yet but plan to in the near future. 

I propose there are 3 significant realities many by and large deny that we must acknowledge if we are to make an accurate assessment of what is truth and therefore the best course of action to take (At least practically if not intellectually).

1.      We are finite (few will deny we are physically unable to travel a million light years and back in the blink of an eye. Some may argue this is an unrealistic standard, however this is actually as close as we can get to what God claims of himself i.e. omnipresence. If there is such a being, than this would be the standard by which we define being finite or infinite). 
2.     We are not just material. There is more to reality then just the material world e.g. what is love and where does it come from.
3.     We are created, not a product of chance and therefore are designed with a purpose.

Since we are finite (something few would deny by the definition I have offered) and not just material (at least I am posing this for consideration) and assuming (for sake of discussion) we are also the product of creation/design, yet do not acknowledge these things, our understanding of the world can not be rooted in reality. If so, this prevents us from making an accurate assessment of what is best (i.e. what is true). In other words we believe we can unaided (as if we are infinite) make an accurate assessment of what is the best course of action to take, and that belief itself hinders us from making an accurate assessment. To say it another way, if we believe there is nothing outside of or beyond the physical we won't look or consider there is anything beyond the physical for the realities that might be there that are vital to making an accurate assessment of things/truth.

Because man is finite, he must always operate out of trust i.e. no one, including the atheist lives without faith; without trusting something or someone in order to function in the world with some level of direction, meaning and purpose (whether that is subjective and created meaning as with existentialism or objective meaning).

Yet, if we believe we are a product of time plus chance, there is no absolute purpose or meaning to our existence (objectively anyway. We have to create meaning, which is the essence of existentialism). 

Also if we believe we can make an accurate assessment of reality on our own, we will not be open to or interested in looking outside of ourselves for information that may be vital to making that accurate assessment and will therefore be unable to make the best choice i.e. a choice rooted in the reality of who we are and the world we find ourselves in.

So we have a dilemma. In order to know with certainty we are pursuing what is the most favorable course of action we must assess all possible options. To make that assessment we must have access to all possible facts/reality i.e. we must have infinite knowledge of all realms, spiritual as well as physical. This requires our being everywhere, at all times in all realms, with an infinite capacity to take in all that we observe at any (or even every) given moment.

But how can we if we are finite? We can not be everywhere to assess everything in order to know with absolute certainty we are pursuing the best course. Nor can we be certain in our current state that the material universe is all there is, so what do we do? We must trust. When all is said and done, no matter what view you take, you must place your faith in something or someone, whether that be in yourself (with your limited ability to observe), other finite men/women or a supreme Creator i.e. God, who by definition knows everything, is everywhere present and is obviously powerful. He did after all make everything.

Since all of us are finite we can never know for sure if we are making an accurate assessment of things and therefore whether our trust in ourselves or our fellow finite humans will lead to an accurate understanding of reality. We must look outside ourselves and depend on another. No matter which direction we go, we must trust by mere fact that we are not infinite but limited. Either we trust in ourselves and there is no reality out there that contradicts our conclusions (and hope we have it right) or we must find someone else we decide to trust in, count on etc.

Of course the best person to count on would be someone who does have complete knowledge (unlike us) of every possible reality (who must be everywhere present to do so) and has complete understanding of who we are (all knowing) and what is best for us and is totally committed (all loving) to what is best for us as well as the complete ability to give us what is best (all powerful). Only than would we have any possibility of finding the truth or the best course to take. 
Side note: Christ also experienced this dilemma of being limited during His incarnation. He didn’t have infinite knowledge or power to know or take the best course of action (at least not solely within himself as a man. He did have access to all of this in his Father however). For the first time, He had to completely depend on someone other then Himself. He had to depend on His Father in a way He never experienced before. But what was different about Christ compared to us or even Adam was in each instance He trusted His Fathers assessment and direction completely, even to the point of letting it kill him (how God would be loving and good in doing this is another discussion that has to do with man's rebellion. For more on that discussion click here and here). He believed His Father always directed Him with complete love, wisdom and power on the best possible course to take. And His trust proved to be well placed. When it was all said and done, He was resurrected to new life by His Father.
The only way the mind can know for sure what is the most favorable course to take is to seek the direction and help of someone who, unlike us, does have infinite knowledge not only about what is out there but about us. Someone who knows what it is we most need that is most favorable to our well being, as well as the ability to obtain or provide it. We normally assume that person is us, but how can it be in light of our limited ability. 

The irony is many unbelievers assert the belief that there is nothing beyond this life i.e. we don't live forever, we come to an end, we are finite. While at the same time taking a position that a finite mind can somehow come to a place of absolute certainty (i.e. requiring infinite knowledge) i.e. the finite can make an infinite determination unaided by the infinite. So we contradict ourselves. We believe we are finite in saying life ends once we die while at the same time making this assertion that requires infinite knowledge. 

Even when the agnostic says we can not know anything with certainly, he or she is making an absolute statement i.e. a statement of certainty. Maybe we can in fact know enough to know we are living based on truth/reality. It's just not knowledge we can arrive at and determine unaided. Nevertheless this too is a position of faith (in someone outside of ourselves). Only the object has changed. 

Vital to our trust in someone else is knowing they care about us and have our best interest at heart at all times and in all circumstances as well as the ability to provide that best (usually we believe this is us). And who would know better then the infinite Creator who made us. But if we do not acknowledge or believe there is such a being, we are alone to sort things out and can only hope we get it right at best. Otherwise there simply is no point to existence at all.

A Shift…but related

This raises even more basic questions. Why do we choose or feel the necessity to choose at all. What is the end we are seeking in our choosing? Why do we even seek anything and what exactly is it we are seeking? What is it about us that drives us to seek and choose one direction over another.

If we are a product of time and chance (the atheistic evolutionist model), there is no explanation or point to our existence much less these longings for meaning/purpose i.e. our coming into existence was an accident at best and not deliberate, intentional or with purpose, therefore it is meaningless. 

Yet everything about us says the opposite and cries out for understanding of why we exist (Is this not the primary quest of science or space exploration). 

What is love, for example and why do we enjoy loving and being loved. Where does that come from if we are a product of time and chance?

We are "haunted" by the question of why are we here. But why are we even haunted? 

There is something about our makeup that cries out for meaning and purpose. In fact studies have show that a newborns growth is stunted both physically and emotionally (and even death can occur) if an infant does not receive adequate attention (i.e. emotional support) through physical contact. Not unlike it would also physically suffer if it didn't have basic physical needs meet, such as food, shelter, water and air. Certainly an infant isn't this way due to an errant or misplaced belief system. This occurs before they have completely developed cognitively. This occurs on an "emotional" or dare I say spiritual level and not an intellectual/rational level. 

This drive for meaning and the desire to choose or to understand what is the best course of action belies the assertion that we are merely physical and a product of time plus change. It belies the assertion that life is meaningless and pointless. Where does this longing and drive for meaning come from?

Simply stated the best explanation for why we seek these things is because we are not a product of time and chance as the atheistic, evolutionist model suggests but we are the product of a real and personal being who created us to have a real and personal relationship (i.e. love) by and with him. And this is a being who not only made everything but on whom everything depends on for their day to day existence and operation. This means this being is of infinite value for without Him nothing would be that is; no air, no sun, no earth, no plants, no animals or no breath, no eyes, ears, touch, taste or smell to enjoy these external things. No loved ones, no love, no relationships. In short no “us” or anything else that we enjoy.

Some reject this notion of a Supreme Being/Creator outright and most reject it practically i.e. the majority live as if this is not true even when they give lip service to it (as is the case with a majority of those who self identify as Christians). However if they do reject this idea of a Creator, they again are left with the uncertainly of why they exist.

They also must deal with the enigma of why they even care about why they exist. Why do we feel this gnawing need to answer the question at all? (Of course many never even consider this question with any seriousness until they are facing the prospect of their life ending). 

If we are an accident i.e. the product of time and chance, we shouldn't even be asking the question much less wondering or caring what the answer is. The very desire to know the answer to the question betrays the assertion that we are the result of impersonal time and chance or that we just are for a time and eventually cease to be. That’s it. There is no point to our existence, therefore stop asking the question and just either get on with your meaningless and pointless life the best you can or end it.

This is at the heart of existentialism. Since there is no meaning objectively i.e. there is nothing “out there” that explains or gives meaning to our existence, we are only left to create meaning subjectively. However, this again begs the question. Why do we feel the need to find and create meaning at all, so much so that we must create it when it doesn’t objectively exist according to our belief system? This is also why some existentialist suggest suicide is the only logical conclusion to their understanding of themselves and the world. There is no actual point to our existence, so why keep existing/living. We all die anyway so why prolong the misery; just end it.

But isn’t it ironic that our need for meaning is such that once one concludes there isn’t any; we feel compelled to end our life to put us out of the pain of a meaningless and pointless existence. Why do we feel pain at all? Where does pain come from? That very compulsion to find meaning and avoid pain contradicts the conclusion that life is pointless and meaningless and screams we are designed to have meaning and if we can’t get it, then we feel compelled to just end our lives.

For a further discussion of pain you may find the following worthwhile. 

Glossary of basic terms and concepts touched on above:

 - a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:
1.      "What is there?"
2.     "What is it like?"

Ontology - the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence, or reality. It is part of the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics, that
addresses questions concerning what entities exist or can be said to exist.

Cosmology - the philosophical study to understand the origin, progression, structure, and ultimate fate of the Universe at large and of us as individuals.

Epistemology - the study of knowledge

·        What is knowledge?
·        How is knowledge acquired?
·        To what extent is it possible for a given subject or entity to be known?

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Grace to you
Jim Deal