People sometimes ask me if I am still a mysterian, as if perhaps the growth of neuroscience has given me pause; they fail to grasp the depth of mystery I sense in the problem. The more we know of the brain, the less it looks like a device for creating consciousness: it’s just a big collection of biological cells and a blur of electrical activity – all machine and no ghost…
I have come to think that mystery is quite pervasive, even in the hardest of sciences. Physics is a hotbed of mystery: space, time, matter and motion – none of it is free of mysterious elements.
The puzzles of quantum theory are just a symptom of this widespread lack of understanding (I discuss this in my latest book, Basic Structures of Reality). The human intellect grasps the natural world obliquely and glancingly, using mathematics to construct abstract representations of concrete phenomena, but what the ultimate nature of things really is remains obscure and hidden.
How everything fits together is particularly elusive, perhaps reflecting the disparate cognitive faculties we bring to bear on the world (the senses, introspection, mathematical description). We are far from obtaining a unified theory of all being and there is no guarantee that such a theory is accessible by finite human intelligence…
The “mysterianism” I advocate is really nothing more than the acknowledgment that human intelligence is a local, contingent, temporal, practical and expendable feature of life on earth – an incremental adaptation based on earlier forms of intelligence that no one would regard as faintly omniscient. The current state of the philosophy of mind, from my point of view, is just a reflection of one evolutionary time-slice of a particular bipedal species on a particular humid planet at this fleeting moment in cosmic history – as is everything else about the human animal. There is more ignorance in it than knowledge.
The poet and philosopher Rubem Alves writes about the idea of writing a story or a novel with just one word. Could it be done? What word would he choose? Which words has the power to tell the whole story?
Of a singular word Emily Dickinson wrote, “I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and look at it, until it begins to shine.”
And Samuel Beckett spoke about the “literature of the unword,” which I would argue is the story of silence, or the story of nothing, or the story of chaos, or the story of the formless and void, which Scripture affirms is Christ, not only the maker of all things, but also the author, and the holder. Essentially Christ is reality, chaos, and silence. Christ is the story. Christ is the one word.
And when we tell our stories we’re essentially telling His. Mysteriously the stories are one and the same. We could even say our stories are the transubstantiation of the Gospel. For in it Christ is mysteriously present–he is with, over, under, and in our stories.
Which is why our stories (our lives) are so important, because all stories, fiction or real, poetic or musical, painted or drawn or built are the flesh and blood of humanity’s chaos, of the Spirit’s breath, of God’s kingdom here and now.
Why do we look to world events, to presidents, and new trends when the silence of the new heaven and new earth are right in front of us? That is the saddest story. That is the tragedy. For some cry out, “God I want to be closer to you!” without ever realizing they’re as close as they’ll ever be.
The philosopher Peter Singer writes that Christians have failed to come up with a satisfying answer as to why God allows suffering (here). I think most Christians base the fact that there is suffering on the effects of sin stemming from the original sin. Singer believes the original sin was about wanting knowledge. I believe it was about pride. Singer debated with Dinesh D’Souza at Biola University. The points that Singer says D’Souza made were neither satisfying for me either.
Watch the debate here.
TK also thought D’Souza’s argument was weak (here).
I thought Philip Yancey did a good job of discussing the problem of pain in his book.