TELEOLOGY – POST SCRIPT – GOD AGAIN? (CONT’D)

Let’s attempt the scientific method to prove or disprove the existence of deity. Science, particularly physics, often starts with a ‘thought experiment’- the application of logic and visualization to a question leading to a hypothesis. The next step is to determine what evidence would count as supportive followed by relevant observations and/or experiment. It concludes with an analysis as to whether the hypothesis is confirmed or refuted.

Consider Einstein’s theory of relativity which  began as a thought experiment imagining the experience of being inside and outside a train moving at or near the speed of light. He visualized the consequences and developed equations which led to his theory of relativity and the equivalence of matter and energy. Empirical proof came from the gravitational effect on starlight detected during an eclipse and from the explosion of an atomic bomb.

Let’s apply this method to the question of why is there anything rather than nothing and the  corollary, whether events in the universe trace back to a first event. Logic, in this case common sense, tells us something cannot come from nothing and no series of cause and effect goes back forever. We are led to the hypothesis that there must be some thing or things which did not come from nothing (i.e. had always existed) and directly or indirectly caused all subsequent events. Traditionally God is the singular designee.

Now what empirical evidence would confirm or refute this hypothesis? There appear to be three possibilities: (1) trace back the history of the universe to its origin, (2) identify a class of things that do not come from other things and also cause events, and (3) find indirect evidence of the thing or things which serve as the initiating and ever-existing cause.

The first  leads us to the generally accepted big bang theory which postulates an infinitely small and dense singularity. This tends to substantiate the existence of God if the axiom that something cannot come from nothing is correct, unless the singularity had itself always existed. It seems curious however that an always existing singularity would “explode” into time hence effectively ceasing to exist.

The second is more difficult. We have no problem finding things which do not come from something else – a perfect circle, numbers such as 2 or π, natural laws, nothingness, darkness, etc. – but none seem to be causal in the usual sense. Most are ideas while the remainder are inert.

Thirdly, indirect substantiation is problematic. We have supposed evidence of this type for God – mystical experience, revelation, answers to prayer, miracles, and even the appearance of God (in at least two traditions –Hinduism and  Christianity), but they are either subjective or suspect. It remains unclear or even impossible to specify what would count as proof of an experience of God as ever-existing and causative of the universe.

However the scientific argument against an ever-existing first cause depends on equally speculative mathematics describing the spontaneous appearance of the singularity due to quantum flux or the physicist leap to the multiverse. The position of science like that of theology appears irrefutable – that is no argument or evidence counts to their proponents as proof of the opposing position. My conclusion then is God cannot be demonstrated nor disproved definitively via argument or science. Agnosticism, and not atheism, seems to be the most rational position in the absence of faith or subjective warrants.

 

1See post titled God – A Personal Synthesis Parts I-III, dated 3/18/19, 3/20/19, and 3/22, 19 on this site.

2 Paul Tillich’s notion of God.

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TELEOLOGY – POST SCRIPT – GOD AGAIN?

“It is a perversion of language to assign any law as the efficient, operative cause of any thing. A law presupposes an agent, for it is only the mode of according to which an agent proceeds; it implies a power, for it is the order according to which that power acts. Without this agent, without this power, which are both distinct from itself, the law does nothing, is nothing.” – William Paley, Natural Theology.

Having just completed the section on teleology, it seems fitting to take another stab at the case for the existence of God. My goal here is to attempt to establish divine existence beyond the mere a priori or syllogistic ‘proof’ of God by definition as (1) whatever may be the origin of the universe1 or (2) the totality of being2. Perhaps a more powerful argument emerges from assembling all of our prior reasoning and distilling from them the most compelling arguments. I will of course take the opposite tack of trying to disprove definitively His existence. The outline of arguments for and against examined on this site follows:

For:

1)   Logical – (a) Aquinas’ five ways, (b) higher complexity deriving from less complexity, and (c) the implausiblity of an infinite chain of events and/or of something coming from nothing.  

2) Explanatory – (a) the existence of anything – inference to the best explanation, (b) the immaterial and abstract – natural laws, mathematics, ideas, (c) the overly fine-tuned universe, (d) life, and (e) consciousness

3) Empirical – (a) majority opinion, (b) Kant’s moral argument, (c) faith and its strength – especially the self-sacrifice of martyrs and saints, (d) Kierkegaard’s subjective truth, (e) Pascal’s wager, (f) comforting effect of belief, and (g) James’ will to believe.

4) Flaws in alternate theories – (a) quantum flux relies on dubious premises and speculative mathematics, and (b) the laws of physics usually favor the probable (uninhabitable universe) over the improbable (infinitesimal odds of a universe compatible with life).

Against:

1)  Logical inconsistencies of an all-powerful deity and of necessary existence.

2) Argument from evil.

3) Flaws in arguments for deity.

4) Irrefutability – (a) God explains nothing or cannot count as an explanation if God cannot be disproven, (b) God himself cannot be explained.

5) Science works elegantly without necessity of a deity

We also may want to address miracles, revelation, and God’s appearance on Earth as mitigating factors that encourage prudent belief. Next time I will produce a narrative of both sides hoping to land on the most tenable position.

 

(continued next post)

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SYNOPSIS ON THE QUESTION OF GOD (CONT’D)

In the last post, we began our summary by noting the inconclusiveness of  logical and subjective arguments for and against the existence of God, and revisiting our synthesis based on the question of why there is something instead of nothing, relationship with God, concerns regarding established religions, and the possibility of pantheism.

In the latter case of pantheism, there remains for us the hope that the universe may be the physical manifestation of a conscious being. If the human brain with its compact complexity has consciousness, perhaps the far more complex universe has consciousness not immediately apparent to us. In that case, the ultimate or totality of being of the Upanishads and Tillich, has a consciousness intertwined with its physical nature as occurs in humans. However, unlike us, it is indestructible as demonstrated by the laws of Thermodynamics and hence eternal. But perhaps it is also timeless as it includes facets (i.e. immaterial reality and its consciousness) beyond the physical universe where space-time is instantiated. In that case, our best means to understand God’s nature is by a combination of inspection (science) and introspection (meditation).

The philosopher, Daniel Robinson, in his lecture God-Really? expresses beautifully the choice between atheism and theism. He deploys pragmatism on the line of “inference to the best explanation- why is reality lawful, not lawless? A designer is the most logical explanation.” And then proceeds:

“One might ask …what one would chose as between a dead cosmos of meaningless statistical possibilities and one alive with promise and nurturing of hope. Now I would regard it as simply curmudgeonly to choose the former. Let me say it again we have these two choices,…we can choose to believe that the universe is a place of dead matter describable in purely statistical terms and having no point. There are arguments to that effect. But there are also warrants by way of Thomas Aquinas and many other arguments…for believing that the design feature, the nomic necessity, all of those things that allow one to negotiate space and time…offer ample evidence of design, intention, plan, intelligence. Remember that the Greek word, logos, can be translated as reason; it can be translated as a legal case. If two people are having a legal dispute in ancient Athens we would express the point of the dispute as its logos. And so the biblical phrase might have been translated not ‘In the beginning was the Word,’ but ‘In the beginning was the point of it all.’ There are good arguments for assuming the whole thing has a point, and that that point points ultimately to a divine and providential source. So that’s another conceivable scheme that we might entertain as to what the universe is all about. I choose that one. And so ‘God- really?’ Well, yeah –really.”

It is extremely tempting to follow Leibniz, Einstein, Becker, and Robinson. It is both more reasonable and more propitious to attribute the origin of everything to God as designer rather than austere chance. It corresponds better with the human disposition and offers more in terms of purpose, ethical foundation, contentment, and apotheosis… But the final decision remains to each alone.

 

1From A Conversation with Ernest Becker, Psychology Today, April 1974. Sam Keen interviewed Becker, the author of The Denial of Death, on his death bed.

2Robinson, Daniel R., The Great Ideas of Philosophy, Lecture 60: God-Really?. The Teaching Company, 2004.

 

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SYNOPSIS ON THE QUESTION OF GOD

“I would add the qualification that I believe in God…the most immediate thing I feel is relieved of the burden of responsibility for my own life, putting it back where it belongs, giving it back to whoever or whatever hatched me. I feel a great sense of relief and trust that eggs are not hatched in vain.” –Ernest Becker1

In the last seven sections, I have delineated an overview of the basic issues related to the question of God. Logical proofs of God’s existence or non-existence prove unconvincing, although existential proofs incline to belief since arguments against His existence are in fact logical attacks on his traditional characteristics rather than existence per se.

Subjective warrants for the belief in God such as spiritual or mystical experiences are also unpersuasive (other than to the one who experiences them), but incline to belief as they are not counterbalanced by  an opposite. That is, other than passing feelings of a meaningless of life or the universe, it seems peculiar to assert the experience of God’s nonexistence.

In Truth in Religion, Mortimer Adler claims that philosophy demonstrates the existence of a ‘single supreme being as the indispensable, creative, or exnihilating cause of the cosmos.’ My analysis shows a careful synthesis of the logical and scientific answers to Leibniz’s question of why there is something rather than nothing leads one to the best answer that God, defined as the origin of the universe, does in fact exist. However traditional characteristics attributed to God appear to be at best metaphorical, although they can be reformulated as I did in the Table 3 in the Appendix or abandoned by applying the via negativa.

Once established, belief in God opens the door to interaction through prayer and advanced experience of the divine through meditation and contemplation. Historical practitioners describe these latter experiences as blissful and life-altering. One may want to investigate these further if the goal is the maximally meaningful life.

Religion however represents a philosophical challenge; especially as the truth of each is unverifiable and excludes the truth of the others. Religions depend on faith, often attributed to divine grace, which is contrary to justification by pure human reasoning. They result is a restrictive and questionable formulaic philosophy which may fail the need of an individual for planning a meaningful life.

This leads some to the alternatives of atheism and agnosticism, which remain difficult to defend if the preceding philosophical analysis is correct. However, that analysis does permit deism or pantheism. The latter appears to be the belief of Albert Einstein when he says: “I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the harmony of all being, not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and actions of men.”

(continued next post)

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GOD – A PERSONAL SYNTHESIS – PART III

“He is neither number nor order; not greatness nor smallness; nor equality nor inequality; nor similarity nor dissimilarity; neither is He still, nor moving, nor at rest; neither has He power nor is power, nor is light; neither does He live nor is He life; neither is He essence, nor eternity, nor time; nor is He subject to intelligible contact; nor is he science  nor truth, nor a king, nor wisdom; neither one nor oneness, nor godhead nor goodness; nor is he spirit according to our understanding, nor a son, nor a father ; nor anything else known to us…” – Dionysius, the Aeropagite 1

Given the conclusion that God, defined as the origin of the universe, does exist in one of the three forms, an inevitable question follows: is each of them compatible with the traditional idea of God and purported relationship of man to Him?   Let’s examine the traditional characteristics attributed to God which include:

1.   Eternal or timeless and necessarily existent

    2.   Highest or ultimate being

    3.  Changeless

    4.   Unitary

    5.   Omniscient (all-knowing)

    6.   Omnipotent (all-powerful)

    7.   Omni-benevolent (all-good)

    8.   Personal

    9.   Creative

Table 3 in the  appendix is my table of these traditional characteristics applied to the three possible forms of God. In general, I see no philosophical necessity for any of these terms to be absolute in the anthropomorphic sense that leads to logical inconsistency. For instance, omniscient need not mean a mind knowing what will happen in advance, but instead that all material and immaterial knowledge is held within the confines of the entity which constitutes God. Applying human parameters to the characteristics to God appears arbitrary or naive. Rather it should be the aim of man to understand as precisely as possible the characteristics of God as they manifest in  such a distinct being.

The medieval philosopher, Maimonides, in his book, The Guide for the Perplexed, points this out, arguing that biblical passages about God’s traits and behavior are metaphorical not literal, which I believe should be the approach to reconciling traditional descriptions of God’s features and actions. More importantly curiosity to understand and relate to God does not require a complete knowledge of divine properties.

Some early mystical Western  theologians take this further arguing that God can only be known by the via negativa. By this they mean, God is better understood as unlike common human experience, for instance, God is neither material nor immaterial. In this view, God’s qualities are not adjectives like those that apply to man – i.e. moral or immoral, mortal or immortal, personal or non-personal – but above or beyond such attributes. God cannot be seen by the eyes or known by the intellect, but only through a mystical transcendence. While this relies on a component of faith, the philosopher can reasonably assert that an entity comprising all being including the part unknown to man can only be imprecisely described in human terms.

This leaves the difficult issue of deciding whether purported spiritual and mystical experiences are in fact an experience of the divine. If and when these occur, each of us will have to determine how closely they fulfill our comprehension of God as origin of the universe. If the universe is either identical to God or is one of His manifestations, spiritual experiences seem to be a prefatory but vivid experience of the divine.

1Abhayananda, Swami, History of Mysticism, Atma Books, Olympia Washington. ISBN 0-914557-09-2,  pages 157-158

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GOD – A PERSONAL SYNTHESIS – PART II

“Both religion and science need for their activities the belief in God, and moreover God stands for the former in the beginning, and for the latter at the end of the whole thinking. For the former, God represents the basis, for the latter – the crown of any reasoning concerning the world-view.”- Max Planck,  physicist and Nobel laureate

At the end of the day, we must decide which alternative seems most likely:

1.  An eternal but unexplained quantum flux led to a multiplicity of universes out of nothingness – at least one of which by chance permits the existence of life in general and ourselves specifically.

2.  The universe itself is eternal, notwithstanding scientific evidence of an origin in the big bang.

3.  There is an eternal agent, unexplained and unverifiable, which created or originated the universe.

Alternatively stated, if we define God as the origin of the universe, then God is either (1) the quantum flux or its cause, (2) the universe (or multiverse) itself, or (3) an eternal, unexplained, and unverifiable creator. For now, each reader will have to come to terms with these choices. It seems to me that each is reasonable and for the near future at least unprovable.

Up till now we have been talking about the origin of the material universe. Of course reality has a non-material nature as well, for example: mathematics, physical laws, ideas, imagination, abstract qualities such as beauty and justice, musical and literary composition, and perhaps consciousness. Traditionally God is not just the cause of the material universe, but also the source of the immaterial – via a property called by some in the West, logos  and some in the East, TaoOne of the weaknesses of scientific conceptions of the origin of the universe is that the immaterial remains unexplained or merely a fabrication of the human mind. But it seems a stretch to argue that the number π which does not exist in nature can be attributed solely to the human mind.

If we then revert back to the original question, “Why is there anything at all?”; for whichever cause we choose- the operative concept is necessary existence – a philosophical term that means a thing must exist by virtue of its own essence.  As Kant taught us, the word necessary is a category used by the human mind contrasted with possible and impossible. So to solidify this argument I would add that we should understand necessity uniquely in this instance, that is, any eternal being contains is in its essence the quality of necessary existence. Or in other words, an eternal being is by definition necessarily existent.

This leads us to a final conclusion – God does exist as the eternal and necessary ‘being’ that explains the universe, either the universe or multiverse itself or a creator impenetrable by current scientific means.

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GOD – A PERSONAL SYNTHESIS – PART I

“Why is there something rather than nothing?” – Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

We now reach the difficult point of choosing a personal understanding of God’s existence, nature, and relationship to man.

It seems best to me to  transpose the question from a proof of God’s existence to a choice of the answer to the perplexing question of why there is something rather than nothing. Here are all the possible answers as I see it:

1.  The question is nonsensical.

2.  I don’t know.

3.  There just is.

4.  It cannot be known.

5.  Something may come from nothing.

6.  Something has always existed.

Each person will have to choose one of these answers, and since none is certain, it may be best to challenge each. First, is the question nonsensical? Logical positivists like A. J. Ayer certainly felt so but if this version of the question is the problem, we can change it to the simpler version,  “What caused there to be anything?” Most of us understand the words in the question with no difficulty, so the only conflict I can see is that the word “anything” implies a multitude in which case the cause of each may be different. On the other hand it seems unreasonable or disingenuous to argue that the search for the origin of all of the subatomic particles and energy that make up the universe is nonsensical when cosmology and physics continue to do exactly that.

Answers 2, 3 and 4 are essentially corollaries of each other, and may justify a need for more study or reflection, but also appear to be inconsistent with  modern scientific efforts as well.

Answers 5 and 6 seem to be the best choices for consideration by the earnest philosopher. That something can come from nothing appears to be illogical, but modern quantum science suggests that in a quantum flux, from time to time there will appear particles of matter and antimatter – hence something can come from “nothing.” This solution  leads to three problems:

(1) Where did the quantum flux come from?  (Isn’t the quantum flux something?)

(2) How can matter be created “from time to time” when time is a part of the fabric of space that would not yet exist?

(3) Statistically, the quantum flux would require an unimaginably large number of episodes of formation of matter before creating the singularity that led to our universe, thus requiring a massive if not infinite number of quantum events and resultant structures – which seems far more complex and less credible than an act of intentional creation .

Of course the possibility of an eternal creator has difficulties as well – there is the issue of explaining the nature or basis of the creator (presumably God) . There is no scientific justification for such an entity, and it defies investigation or scrutiny. The advantage of this choice is its simplicity as an explanation and the lack of requirement for the multitude of unknown universes.

The last possibility that the universe itself is eternal reality appears inconsistent with the fairly well-accepted theory of its origin in the big bang.

 

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ALTERNATIVE BELIEF REGARDING GOD (CONTINUED)

Pantheism is the belief that everything that exists constitutes a unity and that this all-inclusive unity is divine. It appears to be the position of some ancient Greek philosophers (the Eleatic school), the Vedas of India, several 18th century German idealists including Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, but was perhaps developed most impressively by Baruch Spinoza. He argues that the structure of the universe involves only one substance (not a multiplicity) – which is ‘God’ and ‘Nature.’ God is the immanent cause of the world and divine by virtue of being the source of the infinite, uncaused and eternal. Opponents note that there does not appear to be a unity of things except in the predicate of existing, but existence is not a genus. Also the traditional concepts of divinity cannot be demonstrated by virtue of simple causality or duration.3

Finally there is the naturalistic reformulation of religion where one believes there is no supernatural reality, but one can substitute it with worship of nature meaning either (1) man’s prior achievements and ability – known as religious humanism, or (2) nonhuman nature. August Comte, the famous 19th century Positivist, following the former approach developed a religion modeled on Roman Catholicism, but based on service to humanity as the noblest ideal and universal love as the highest happiness. John Dewey embraced a less structured religious humanism where God can be seen as “the unity of all ideal ends arousing us to desire and action.”

Alternatively, Julian Huxley proposed ‘Evolutionary Naturalism’ where the universe is seen as an indefinitely extending creative process and man serves as the chief agent in this process on Earth. Opponents including atheists such as Russell and Sartre counter that these views of religion makes no factual judgments at all, that man is a pallid substitute for God, and that they reflect a lingering attachment to traditional religion.4

This completes our brief review of the arguments and positions considered by most philosophers on the question of God. As in many philosophical areas, there is no certainty, but the importance of religious experience and the need for an ethical approach to ultimate reality will require a choice or even a decision not to choose. Personal reflection may incline you to one or another choice, but if not, the next three posts offer my formulation based on years of cogitation.

 

1Runes, Dagobert D., Dictionary of Philosophy. Philosophical Library, New York, 1960, p.26.

2Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972.   Volume 1, pages 56-59.

3Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972.   Volume 6, page 31-35.

4Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972.   Volume 7, page  145-147.

 

 

 

 

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ALTERNATIVE BELIEF REGARDING GOD

“Reason does not prove to us that God exists, but neither does it prove that he cannot exist.” – Miguel de Unamuno

Many people on reflection do not come to a traditional belief in God. There are a variety of alternatives which we will now discuss.

The first is Atheism, which actually has two meanings: (1) the belief that there is no God, and (2) the belief there is no personal God.1 The historical use of the term is the second meaning while modern proponents typically are using the literal (first) meaning.  Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, and Jean Paul Sartre are among the most famous atheist philosophers. Buddha also appeared to deny the existence of God.

Atheism does not rest on proof, but rather the assumption that it is unnecessary or irrational to postulate the existence of God when there is no direct evidence or proof of God’s existence; and the universe can be explained without resorting to the supernatural. This creates a logical inconsistency as it requires a different faith – that overall reality requires no explanation if each part or event can be explained and that the spontaneous appearance of the universe or an infinite regress in cause is possible.

Agnosticism is the belief that it is impossible for man to attain knowledge of God or that we do not know whether there is a God or not. It dates back to the skeptics of antiquity, was implied by Confucius in The Analects, and was argued vigorously by David Hume, but the term was coined by T.H. Huxley in the 19th century who based it on the theory that the human mind is too limited to know God.

Theoretically this leaves space for faith without knowledge of God, though this is not usual with Agnostics. However here two is an inconsistency:  since the Agnostic grants the existence of two types of reality – the knowable reality of human experience; and an unknowable reality beyond the human mind – the proposition of a deity is in fact a reasonable consequence of the latter (that is a divine mind that apprehends what is unknowable to the human mind).

Nonetheless, the inability of philosophy or theology to develop a generally accepted demonstration of the existence of God is a powerful argument in favor the agnostic position.

(continued next post)

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RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD – PART III

“[In the highest degree of contemplation] the Soul not only becomes happy by the gift of philosophy, but since, so to speak, it becomes God, it becomes happiness itself.” – Marsilio Ficino

Beyond common prayer and incidental spiritual experience is the highest level of relationship to God or ultimate reality through meditation and contemplation. These forms of mystical undertaking are one of the reasons some believe in God, but are also methods proposed by great spiritualists to connect with the divine.

Meditation is the term used in Eastern philosophy for the process of “concentrating to the utmost degree our latent mental power… training the mind, especially attention and the will, so that we can set forth from the surface level of consciousness and journey into the very depths.” Therein we discover that we are not the body or the mind, and find through a “transcendental mode of knowing.” that we are a consciousness with an unbounded connection to the universe.1 For Hindus and Buddhists, the goal is enlightenment and Moksha or release from the cycle of reincarnation (samsara). However this form of meditation is not aimed specifically at interacting with God.

For Christians and other religions, meditation can progress to contemplation.  Thomas Merton, a twentieth century Trappist monk,  defines it as “the union of our mind and will with God in an act of pure love that brings us into obscure contact with Him as He really is.”It is  “an awakening, enlightenment and the amazing intuitive grasp by which love gains certitude of God’s creative and dynamic intervention in our daily life.”3

Preliminary steps according to Merton are self-discipline and asceticism, detachment from exterior matters and goods, escape from the ‘false self,’ humility, and selfless love for others. The process is one of multiple steps including solitude, silence, emptying of the mind, and prayer for your own discovery. There is a darkness, unknowing, or wilderness before the light of God’s infusion. A spiritual guide may help one avoid the many pitfalls and confusion that results during the ascent.

Paul Tillich is perhaps less mystical when he refers to “contemplating the mystery of the divine ground, considering the infinity of the divine life, intuiting the marvel of the divine creativity, adoring the inexhaustible meaning of the divine self-manifestation – all these experiences are related to God without involving an explicit ego-thou relation.”4

You may wonder whether a philosophy site should discuss a specific religious act like contemplation of the divine which defies scientific or philosophical validation. My justification is the vital place of meditation and contemplation in the history of philosophy. Virtually every Eastern tradition identifies meditation as the means to peace, enlightenment or nirvana. The contemplative life is Aristotle’s ideal of eudaimonia, that is, human flourishing. Pythagoras, Plotinus, Spinoza, and other Western philosophers seem to practice a form of meditation, and the great works of Marcus Aurelius and Descartes are known as Meditations. Christian philosophers like St. Augustine, St. Aquinas, and Merton, and Christian mystics such as Meister Eckhart, St. John of the Cross, and St. Teresa of Avila, experienced an indescribable union with the divine. Sufis, such as Mawlana Jalal-al Din Rumi, also describe such a union as breathtaking and life-changing. This supreme of human experiences, if real, must be a consideration in any program of a meaningful life, at least for those who believe in God.

 1Easwaran, Eknath, Meditation.Nilgiri Press, 1991. ISBN 0-915132-66-4, pgs. 8-28.

2Merton, Thomas, New Seeds of Contemplation. New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2007. ISBN 978-0-8112-1724-8, pg. 214.

3Ibid. pg. 4.

4Tillich, Systematic Theology Vol 1 pg. 289.

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