Some comments on “Belief”
THE IDEA OF “GOD”.
A characteristic of the human race which distinguishes it from other
forms of life on this planet is that of consciousness and particularly of
self-consciousness. This consciousness is defined as ‘intellect’ which, in
turn is defined as “The faculty of the mind by which one knows, understands,
or reasons as distinct from that by which one feels or wills”. Intellect, or
intelligence, coupled with the ability to make rational communication with
others of the species, means that man can think about himself(1) , compare
himself and his experiences with his fellows and participate in shared
experiences which were he alone and incommunicado, he would be unable to do.
At the same time, this ability makes the individual aware that he is in
himself a distinct ‘unit’. He is enclosed in a body which is not, and cannot
be, shared by others, neither those of his own kind, nor of any other. This
enclosure cannot be exchanged . All experience of ‘life’ must be experienced
from within an enclosure which, compared with the size of the planet, much
less the universe, is microscopically small.
By the application of intellect during the process of his evolution, man
has become increasingly aware, not only of his abilities and his potential,
but also of his deficiencies. Whereas the human brain is a marvellous organ,
capable of storing memories and experiences and applying them to the
multitude of situations in which it may find itself, it is not infinite in
these capabilities. The fact that it can be described as a ‘marvellous
organ’ is a comment on the limitation of one’s own brain(2). It is limited
in size, and therefore in capacity, by the dimensions of its host body; and
it is limited in range by the same. Some human brains have accompanied their
host-bodies as far as the moon, but that is all – so far.
Most of the individual’s ‘knowledge’ is obtained, not from direct
experience, but is derived from communication with others. Communication
with other brains is limited by the methods of communication. Speech,
language, gesture, writing, art, sound effects….one could go on listing the
means of communication which man has invented and developed over the years.
However astonishing these may be, it remains that they are all limited, if
only because they need the operation of brains of limited size and ability
to be invented and used. We can only share what others choose to communicate
to us. We cannot plumb the depths of each others’ thought , however closely
bonded we are – perhaps just as well! The intelligent man will accept that
whereas communication enables experience to be shared, it is the
complementary nature of individuals’ knowledge and experience which makes up
the corpus of human knowledge and wisdom. I do not need to be fully aware of
the metallurgy of piano wire before I can play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata,
nor do I need to be able to play it before I can appreciate its beauty, but
someone else has had to master and apply knowledge and technique in order
that I may have the experience.
The intelligent awareness both of capacity and inadequacy leads man to
deduce from his own observation and experience that whereas many sensory
experiences can be rationalised with an observable connection between cause
and effect, there are many which cannot . There are many phenomena and many
experiences which an individual cannot understand, either from inability or
lack of opportunity. For many of these we are able to take another
individual’s word and reported experience to build up as part of our brain’s
memory, a corpus of empirical axioms by which our behaviour is regulated.
This process, combined with direct sensual experience comprises our
It follows, nevertheless, that limited as it is by the restrictions set
out previously, that the brain is not adequate for omniscience. There will
always be observable phenomena which cannot be completely analysed and
logically related to sense and experience. The history of the development of
human intellect has been long in terms of the human life-span, but very
short in geological terms and even shorter in cosmological ones. The
evidence shown by this history demonstrates how human intellect has been
able to absorb an ever increasing amount of knowledge and to apply this to
explain and rationalise external phenomena. At the sane time, the
acquisition of knowledge has not reduced the quantity of incomprehensible
phenomena, but has produced more.
1. Throughout this article, “man”, “mankind”, “himself” etc. are used to
distinguish the species, not one of its contained sexes.
2. To describe something as “marvellous” implies lack of full
7th October 2002 23:08
© The Estate of William John Green, 2004