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Paradigm Pondering - Why They Don't Believe

By Albert E. Hughes
March 7th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

We all grapple with this question: what evidence is available to lend credence to Christian Faith? To answer this question, we first have to identify the thought boundaries imposed by materialism and positivism.

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - Habits; good habits, bad habits; time saving habits, time wasting habits; life giving habits, deadly habits.  Paradigms can be among the worst; habitual patterns of thought, half conscious assumptions which define "conventional wisdom" about nature and life.  Paradigms act as mental filters, imposing perceived boundary conditions which often are unreal.  They block critical thinking regarding belief in the spiritual world of the Creator and in His role as a personal Father.

Our secular culture is plagued by a quartet of philosophical paradigms: materialism, positivism, rationalism, and relativism.  These "-isms" were born in the 18th century, culturally matured in the 19th and became endemic in the 20th century; they are deeply embedded in our minds today, limiting the way we think, placing boundaries that may not be real.  None of us are totally immune.  Unexamined, materialism and positivism may lead the unaware to conclude that there is no rational evidence, no basis to believe in unseen Spiritual existence.  (Rationalism and relativism will be examined separately in two future articles.)

We all grapple with this question: what evidence is available to lend credence to Christian Faith?  To answer this question, we first have to identify the thought boundaries imposed by materialism and positivism.

The first boundary of thought we impose on ourselves is to assume that physical matter is the fundamental reality (Materialism: the theory that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality. All being, processes and phenomena can be explained as manifestations or results of matter.)  Nearly everyone operates on the assumption that matter is the fundamental reality.  It works as an everyday practical matter.  But we must examine that assumption (that paradigm.)

Well established, it is, that what we see is not what we get.  What we perceive with all our senses are the effects of zillions of subatomic particles or forces or energy waves (usually defined by their energy states and attractions) buzzing around like bees at the hive.  (Is it not true that when we name some "thing", all we do is label the perceived effects of unseen realities?)  Matter transforms to energy in atomic reactions and energy transforms to matter in the explosive pressure cookers of the cosmos.  All seems to be energy in one form or another.  Seen any energy lately?  Not effects of energy which we perceive, but energy, itself?  I think not!  Bottom line: so far, unseen energy beats matter for the status of fundamental reality!

Materialism is even more obstructive to the search for fundamental reality when coupled to its twin, the assumption that knowledge of reality must be verified by empirical science (positivism: the theory that theology and metaphysics are earlier imperfect modes of knowledge; that positive knowledge is based [only] on natural phenomena, their properties and relations as verified by the empirical sciences.) 

With uncritical acceptance of the paradigm boundaries of materialism and positivism taken together, evidence of all realities must be verified by scientific methods.  We never say that, but that is the result of our paradigm bound thinking. 

Restrained by positivism, we assume real knowledge must be verified by scientific methods which require observable and repeatable evidence so that independent scientists can repeat the same experiments and arrive at the same conclusions; a consensus regarding some aspect of reality.  That approach has been quite successful in advancing our understanding of the physical (created) world, but empirical science is not up to the search for a spiritual, Creator world.  (Empirical: capable of being verified or disproven by observation or experiment.)  Who can "observe or experiment" on Spirit?  Who can verify or discount a world of Spirit with observable and repeatable experimentation?

Positivism finesses evidence of an unseen/ un-seeable Creator existing beyond time, space, matter and energy, dwelling only on evidence from the created, which cannot satisfy.   So!  Many question the reality of unseen Spirit, but let's be fair!  If unseen energy is detected only by its effects, should we not try to detect unseen Spirit by its (His?) effects?! 

There is a different type of evidence revealing effects of the unseen spiritual world of Christian Faith: anecdotal accounts of non-repeatable individual observation and experience.  But we tend to dismiss this type of evidence; it is outside of our paradigm boundaries: it cannot be observed, repeated and experimented upon. 

Personal, non-repeatable experiences rendered in anecdotal accounts are evidence; (such accounts certainly are accepted in court as evidence!) given credence as they correlate with many other individual stories as we learn where to look.  Every anecdote is like a statistical data point.  Collect enough of them and common experiences of God emerge.  Conclusions about the reality of God shift from subjective hope toward objective clarity as we recognize Spirit by its effects!

There are countless correlating anecdotes relating effects of Spirit written since Abraham, more than 4,000 years ago.  They are throughout Judeo-Christian Scripture, the writings of Saints, works of the Church and works of many others. 

Should you dismiss religious works out of hand, there are a number of other sources.  You should read philosopher/ psychologist William James, PhD's Varieties of Religious Experience, published in 1902.  James presents around 500 pages of anecdotes and analyses based on accounts from the 19th century. 

Or read psychologist Karl Jung, PhD's discussions in several works regarding "synchronicity" which he defined as "meaningful coincidence."  He was referring to "coincidental" events impossible to expect, but which do occur and have specific invitational and actionable meaning for one or more present individuals; implying an unseen, communicating Mind at work. 

There are other works available (at the price of your search) that raise the question of spiritual existence, even suggestions that the fundamental reality may be the unseen life principle!  (i.e. Spirit?!)  Could Spirit beat energy as a credible candidate for fundamental reality?  Could it be that the Father of Jesus Christ is the fundamental reality?

On the other hand, those committed to materialism and positivism, secure in their paradigm boundaries, may never perceive all to be found in our unseen world.

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Lt Col Hughes, USAF (Ret), M.S., M.M. is the author of Paradise Commander, available at Amazon.com.  "Paradigm Pondering-Why They Don't Believe" is the first of three exploratory articles.  Look for "Paradox Proposal-the Narrow Gate to Spirit" and "Obey is a Four Letter Word", coming soon

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