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The Intro Course – How Do We Know If It’s True? (By Fergus Ryan)

8 May 2014

This week we started The Intro Course which is all about asking the big questions of life. Week 1 was all to do with meaning and finding the meaning of life. Week 2 is going to be about truth and how can we know anything at all and I am delighted to say that Fergus Ryan will be speaking.

Fergus is a man who wears many hats – husband, father, grandfather, (ex)pilot, (ex)church leader, professional artist and a (wannabe?) philosopher and theologian. I have known him for just over 2 years now and have learnt lots from him and enjoy every discussion I have with him (in every conversation we agree on about 20-70% of what we are talking about, which is why I so enjoy talking to him).

Anyway, do check out his website and Facebook page to find out more about him.  Here is a short synopsis of what we will be looking at next Wednesday, 14th May, at 6.30pm in the upstairs room of the Harbour Master Pub.

I miss the days when we could have good old old-fashioned arguments about which view of reality was really the truth—things like the meaning of being alive at all, about hope and love, and what is truly good or bad, and whether there is another dimension of existence after we die, or the reason for evil in the world, or whether there is a personal intelligence behind everything, a god of some kind. And how would you find out all this stuff?

Things have changed, though, and now whatever anyone thinks is their truth, it’s true for them. Now that really is a very big change indeed, and it changes the meaning of the word ‘true’! On the one hand it’s made us more tolerant of the views of others—everyone’s view is OK, but only so long as they don’t claim that what they think is actually true! Then they’re, well… wrong! The ‘idea’ of God may help some people, but that doesn’t say anything about whether it’s true or not.

Like I said, ‘true’ used to mean something like ‘the way it really is’. Like ‘God’, for example; or ‘no god’. So the big question then is how do you know anything at all? There have always been two ways of going about it. The first idea is that truth is sort of built into us, it’s innate, a sort of collective memory of reality, inside us. We just know things in our knower, like triangles are triangular. The other, more familiar way of knowing, is that we experience reality outside us; we can measure it, just like science does.

So how would we go about deciding whether the existence of God is a fact? There have been many arguments put forth for God’s existence, some quite good, others less so, and perhaps they help us get up the ladder some distance. But they aren’t proofs in the usual sense, because God is not a thing you can put in a laboratory and analyse. The methods of scientific analysis are simply not calibrated to demonstrate whether a non-material ultimate personality like God exists, even if he does. Just as a thermometer can’t measure hope, or a ruler beauty, or a microscope meaning. Yet these things exist. Science can say a lot about what is materially real, but it’s not a theory of everything. Love and meaning and hope and beauty and goodness is an awful lot not to be able to say anything about!

Christianity does not arise, as many think, from some philosophical or pseudo-scientific proofs for the existence of God. In fact the apostle Paul says quite the opposite, that God saw to it, in his wisdom, that mankind, in its wisdom, could never find God! Get that. Philosophy may be helpful in considering the case for a God, but it is not an instrument calibrated to introduce you to God himself. Personally. Relationally. The Christian claim is much more direct: God came down the ‘ladder’ looking for us, and appeared in our history as Jesus. He did this, the message goes, because we are of ultimate worth, of inestimable value. He came for relationship, to give us back our sense of magnificence, to restore us to our true destiny. Just saying this doesn’t make it true, of course, but it’s definitely a game changer in the conversation about what is true. The question is totally different now. Was Jesus Christ really God coming looking for us? Is he looking for us now? And what if he finds us, or we him? If that’s true, everything, absolutely everything, is different.

Hopefully I’ll see you on Wednesday, with a pint in hand, to discuss how can we know anything at all…and how could we know whether God existed!


One Comment leave one →
  1. 8 May 2014 5:04 pm

    Is this a Course you do: “Asking the Big questions of Life”?
    You said: ‘The ‘idea’ of God may help some people, but that doesn’t say anything about whether it’s true or not.’
    I know that, as a young Christian I certainly had the ‘idea’ of God, but now I know that God is my Father through relationship I have given up trying to convince God is true. Great subject for a Post Steve.

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