Monday, July 17, 2017

The Cloud of Unknowing

I’ve read The Cloud of Unknowing numerous times since I first encountered Ira Progoff’s translation of this classic guide to spiritual experience written in the 14th century. The book occupies a special place among other spiritual classics in my library.  I have always found the title fascinating for I think it describes our human perplexity in all matters of life.  We just don’t know anything for sure!  Absolute proof, says A. N. Whitehead, is not given to finite minds. We live under the cloud of unknowing anything for sure.

Some will say that natural science provides certainty and absolute proof, but this, as Elton Trueblood writes, “is simply one of the superstitions of our age.  We have, of course, high probability, but that is a different matter.”  Blaise Pascal asked his fellow scientists, “Who has demonstrated that there will be a tomorrow, and that we shall die?”  He knew that all science depends upon assumptions which are incapable of proof. 

This lack of certainty doesn’t mean that we give up the effort to believe—whether we are considering the existence of God or the existence of atoms.  We can’t support anything perfectly, but we can gather significant evidence (the primary criterion and standard of evaluation of scientific theory is evidence, not proof).  Somewhere I read this quip, “Proofs are not the currency of science.”  The oft-stated phrase “God cannot be proved” suggests that reason (and evidence) have nothing to do with one's belief in the existence of God—it is simply a matter of faith.  We could also say,  “Global Warming cannot be proved,” or “the existence of atoms cannot be proved.” It is all a matter of what you believe (where you place your faith).  There is evidence for the existence of God, there is evidence of global warming, and evidence for the existence of atoms.  Whether we accept or believe the evidence available to us is another matter.  We do not possess, as finite beings, absolute proof or certainty about anything.

Aegean Paradise--a little Venice in Greece

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