There is a venerable idea that the existence of God can be proved. It is common to both believers and, somewhat strangely, even to “new atheists” such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and many others. The new atheists, of course, have not found God. But they say their minds are open and they only await proof. The problem with this proposition, however, is that it demands that religion play only on the rationalist/reductionist field that (the atheists claim) is the only valid way of truth finding – in a phrase, science’s way. But this kind of inquiry is misapplied to the discovery of spiritual information because it demands that nonmaterial, transcosmic categories are – or at least, should be – somehow inherent in science’s world of quantifiable material objects and processes. This is a category error, a confusion of reality-levels. It’s like trying to find car parts in bins designated only for (say) oranges.
But be that as it may, is there a way that atheists and believers may “find God” if God is not to be found as an object “out there” among the myriad objects in the universe that are graspable by scientific inquiry? There may be a solution, and it has to do with a commonality in the means of knowledge acquisition shared by both science and spirituality.
The young American philosopher Ken Wilber, developing Saint Bonaventure’s theology, claims that, while addressing two different reality-levels, the means of knowledge acquisition in both science and spirituality are strikingly similar. In order to know something, according to Wilber-Bonaventure, we must perform a three-stage inquiry directed at validating or invalidating any proposition.
Start with the proposition that Jupiter has moons, or that Spirit has certain aspects. Looking at Jupiter will not reveal its moons because they are not visible to the naked eye: for this, a lens (a telescope) is needed. And looking for Spirit will not reveal it either, because Spirit too is not visible to the naked eye (or to normative “secular” experience): for this, as well, a lens is needed (meditative technologies). Just as we need a special lens to see Jupiter’s moons, so too we need a special lens to view Spirit.
The telescope is an extension of our “eye of flesh,” the physical eye. Meditative technologies utilise our “eye of contemplation” or “the eye of spirit.” Just as Jupiter’s normally-invisible moons are observable through a telescope, so too Spirit or God, normally “invisible” to our experience, are observable through a specialized “eye.” The only difference is that, while telescopes are readily available, our spiritual “eye” is dormant and must be “opened” and trained. But technologies exist to rehabilitate this forgotten means of perception.
The three-stage inquiry begins with Injunction: “If you want to know THIS, then do THIS.” If you want to confirm or disconfirm the existence of Jupiter’s moons, then look through the appropriate lens. If you want to confirm or disconfirm Spirit, then look through the appropriate lens.
The second stage is Experiment: acquire a working lens, look through it, and record your observations.
The third stage is Confirmation/Disconfirmation and Sharing Conclusions with others who have adequately performed stages One and Two. In science this is called peer review. Spiritual systems have various names for it, pertinent to their respective traditions.
Just as Jupiter’s moons cannot be observed without the lens called a telescope, Spirit cannot be seen without the lens called “meditative technologies” (or the Eye of Spirit or the Eye of Contemplation). To uphold the reality of Jupiter’s moons – or of Spirit – without having looked through the level-appropriate lens is invalid and irresponsible. (This is why the new atheists should be ignored until they have performed for themselves the three-stage investigation. The same holds true of believers who make claims about God or Spirit without having used the Eye of Contemplation.) For claims to be valid, the injunction must be correctly performed, the appropriate lenses utilized, the experiment made, and the conclusion finally shared with the community of those who have adequately performed all three steps.
The guiding principle here can be shown through the example of a physicist who has never studied mathematics: there’s no good reason to listen to such a person, because s/he has obviously never performed the entire Injunction. Nor, by the same token, is there a good reason to listen to a religionist who has never opened and applied his or her “eye” of contemplation or consulted and used the contemplative techniques.
And particularly (in view of the major thrust of this blog) there’s no good reason to heed an atheist who has never looked through the contemplative lens. It is no excuse to say that by definition atheists don’t believe in the spiritual eye. That’s an even worse equivocation than made by the astronomers of Galileo’s day who refused to look through his telescope. At least they knew he had a telescope. But all too many of the new atheists deny the existence of the telescope itself – that is, they deny that human beings even possess a spiritual eye, and/or the validity of the spiritual technologies . In so doing, they have given up any right to expound on spiritual matters. There are probably many more kinds of spiritual lenses than there are telescopes and microscopes, and these specialized perceptive aids are available to everyone, including atheists. Dawkins and his confreres can only plead ignorance, but in view of the plethora of available means, their plea doesn’t ring true.
In brief: Do you want to see Jupiter’s moons? Look through a telescope. Do you want to experience Spirit? Look through one / or many / of the lenses provided by the traditions. If you deny Jupiter’s moons but refuse to look through a telescope – and if you deny Spirit but refuse to look through the available lenses – you have in both cases disqualified yourself from meaningful comment.