Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Wisdom of (John) Wisdom

The question of religious belief and its rationality is one that will certainly continue for a long time. It is my belief that Religion deals with questions of 'why', that are, by definition, out of the reach of empirical tests, the domain of Science. The difference is aptly described by John Wisdom (Proceedings of an Aristotelian Society, LXV):

Two people return to their long neglected garden and find among the weeds a few of the old plants surprisingly vigorous. One says to the other "It must be that a gardener has been coming and doing something about these plants." Upon inquiry they find that no neighbor has ever seen anyone at work in their garden. The first man says to the other "He must have worked while people slept." The other says "No, someone would have heard him and besides, anybody who cared about the plants would have kept down these weeds." The first man says "Look at the way these are arranged. There is purpose and a feeling for beauty here. I believe that someone comes, someone invisible to mortal eyes. I believe that the more carefully we look the more we shall find confirmation of this."

They examine the garden ever so carefully and sometimes they come on new things suggesting the contrary and even that a malicious person has been at work. Besides examining the garden carefully they also study what happens to gardens left without attention. Each learns all the other learns about this and about the garden. Consequently, when after all this, one says "I still believe a gardener comes" while the other says "I don't".

Their different words now reflect no difference as to what they have found in the garden, no difference as to what they would find in the garden if they looked further, and no difference about how fast untended gardens fall into disorder. At this stage, in this context, the gardener hypothesis has ceased to be experimental; the difference between one who accepts and one who rejects it is now not a matter of the one expecting something the other does not expect.

What is the difference between them? The one says "A gardener comes unseen and unheard. He is manifested only in his works with shich we are all familiar." The other says "There is no gardener." And with this difference in what the say about the gardener goes a difference in how they feel toward the garden, in spite of the fact that neither expects anything of it which the other does not expect.

It all comes down ultimately to will. I cannot 'prove' spiritual matters for proof does not operate in the realm of "why or what" but in the realm of "how" (the realm of Science). Therefore ultimately one cannot solely use facts or data to decide whether or not to live a life believing in God. He must rely on his experience. If so, it all comes down to willing oneself to allow experience to help one see God and not brush those experiences off as chance or something irrelevant. This is the idea of "Free Will" in its muted yet most glorious lyric: truly giving Man the opportunity to will himself to do right.