No matter how evident an atheistic interpretation of the universe may appear, it will never lead to the scientific certainty that God does not exist. No one can carry out experiments on the totality of existence or its preconditions. This brings us in a very straightforward manner to the unsurpassable limits inherent in the ‘human condition’ and in man’s capacity for knowledge qua man, that is, not merely with regard to his present-day circumstances, but in terms of his very essence.”
Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, 85
Reflection – Well, I have blogged this terrain before, more than once (click the atheism tag at the foot of the post for details). So I’m not going to go down the same path again, showing the logical absurdity of the atheist position, the impossibility in atheist materialist positivist terms of actually claiming a ‘knowledge’ of the non-existence of God. Been there, done that, and it’s a little too easy. Shooting fish in a barrel may net you some good eats, but it’s still not very sporting.
Instead, let’s explore what Ratzinger says about these ‘unsurpassable limits inherent in the human condition’. We find ourselves in a strange seeming paradox here. We are, by the normal and most sure processes of knowledge (namely scientific experiment and rigorous logical analysis of immediate experience) unable to penetrate to the most urgent core of human existence and life. What is it all about, really? What is the essence of humanity, really? How, then, are we to live in such a way that serves and is in harmony with this meaning and essence, really?
All of this is profoundly elusive to us, at least in that faculty of the intellect which seems to give us the most certainty. And yet, the urgency of the question remains. Some people, it is true, do not instinctively ‘feel’ the urgency of that question. There will always be those who just shrug off deep questions about life and just crack open another beer (literally or figuratively). Not everyone is of a philosophical bent.
But it seems to me, in answer to that, that it’s not a question of feelings and bents. Objectively, it is a question of fundamental responsibility to ourselves and our neighbor that we have some idea of who and what we are, what reality is about, and how this is to shape our choices and mode of life.
And yet we run up against the ‘unsurpassable limits’ of human knowledge right here, precisely where we most need it, where we need to know how we are to live and what we are to do. It seems to me that this dilemma sets the stage, existentially, experientially, for the granting of revelation from outside our human frame of reference.
At the very least, our experience of limitations to reason and the frustration of a real objective human need that brings to us shows that ‘revelation’ is not something alien or arbitrary or imposed upon us in some artificial way. We need help!
And indeed, when we look back into the history of religion, the notion of revelation or enlightenment pops up everywhere. The Buddha’s enlightenment, Mohammed’s reception of the Koran from the angel Gabriel, Moses and the burning bush and many more—there is a deep sense, a deep intuition in humanity that ultimate truth is received, not achieved, taught and not discovered. Reasoning can precede this revelation and inform our decision to receive it as genuine or reject it as spurious; further reasoning can flow from this revelation and expand on its implications and meaning, but the revelation is necessary nonetheless.