Materialism has an irresistible logic. How do we know something is real unless another person can independently verify it? Real stuff must be objectively represent-able. Measurability is the acid test for reality. Atoms and galaxies pass the test but mind doesn’t. Mind is a mere shadow cast by the complexity of brain chemistry.
There are serious objections. Even the most mundane of experience is not the same as its description. Some of our feelings cannot be described in words at all. Reality appears to have a component that cannot be captured in objective descriptions.
That is all fine, the materialist would say. How do you prove such personal experience is real? How is your ‘spiritual experience’ different from mere hallucination? Can you point out the reality of your claims to a skeptic and convince him?
This is a very deep question – Are there real stuff that are truly beyond science? Does nature include aspects that cannot be understood objectively? This is answered in one of the following ways:
1. Yes. Nature has aspects that are beyond science (one must have faith in a supernatural God).
2. No. Science can completely explain nature, given enough time and resources.
3. We will never know, but all that is knowable is what comes to us through science and there is no point in speculating what lies beyond.
4. Yes. Nature has aspects beyond objective description. These are accessible to man through direct experience and there is nothing supernatural about it.
I have always felt the presence of unexplainable in my experience. It’s only my subjective feeling, yet too real to be ignored. How can I establish the reality of my ‘purely subjective’ experience?
Let us see how far we can go with the materialist position – measurable or quantifiable things alone are real. There is no mind stuff. What we call mind is an epiphenomenon, an echo of the chemical noise in the neurons. Yet there is one thing undeniable- the fact that we have all these knowledge. How did man come to have knowledge? What is the mechanism of knowing? Vision is associated with eyes and a complex mechanism involving cornea, lens, retina, optic nerves and vision neurons. Is there a similar mechanism for knowing?
‘Knowing’ has something to do with mind. But wait for a moment – we have ruled out mind as a mere echo. ‘Knowing’ has something to do with brain. Human brain must have a unique knowledge producing mechanism. Let us treat it as a black box. The gears and valves are hidden for the moment, but its output is real, objective knowledge.
How can this black box be studied?
Man alone, of all creatures, possess objective knowledge. How did man come have such knowledge? Where did this black box come from? Remember we are attempting to (objectively) know the mechanism of objectivity. One possibility is to look into its evolutionary history (I suspect this is the only way to avoid the trap of self-referencing. History offers another level of objectivity in this unique case of knower trying to know itself).
Evolution forms the background to understand everything related to living things – including knowledge. Do we see a history of knowledge in evolution? Other bodily functions such as vision have a history. Human eyes evolved from primitive light sensitive cells. How about the knowledge producing black box?
We have our theories of knowing, but such theories always begin with human civilizations. Our history of knowledge is the history of rationality. We find it unimaginable that reality can be effectively tackled without “getting out” and forming an objective view, yet this is how life flourished for 3.5 billion years. There are colors invisible to our eyes and sounds inaudible our ears. Is there knowledge beyond our black box?
An evolutionary worldview must have place for pre-rational modes of comprehension. A series of ‘tools of comprehension’ must have emerged in nature. Rational mind is the latest addition to this collection. If man is the product of a 3.5 billion year long evolutionary process, he cannot claim superiority for his ‘knowing’. It is just one of the ways to comprehend certain aspects of reality. On the other hand, ‘Science is the only way to knowledge’ sits much more comfortably with creationism. A world created by God is consistent with comprehension beginning with human beings.
We need to have an epistemology going all the way back to the first living cell. Direct experience and intuition should be recognized as valid modes of comprehension, supplementing rationality. This could be the way to a truly religious worldview.