Wednesday 24 August 2016

Why do we ask for, or need, 'proof' of the existence of God? Past, Present and Future... Rudolf Steiner

Before the fifteenth century, men did not speak in indefinite terms as was current later, and this very indefiniteness was untruthful. When speaking of intuitions, of moral intuitions he spoke of that which rose up in his inner being, of which he had a picture as real as the world of Nature when he opened his eyes in the morning. 

Outside he saw Nature around him, the plants and the clouds; when he looked into his inner being, there arose the Spiritual, the Moral as it was given to him. 

The further we go back in evolution the more we find that the rising tip of an inner realm into human experience was a matter of course...

 In the days when speech, from being an inner reality was lapsing into untruthfulness, proof for the existence of God came into evidence. Had anyone during the first centuries of Christianity spoken about proofs for the existence of God, as Anselm of Canterbury, people would not have known what was meant. In earlier times they would have known still less!

For in the second or third century before Christ, to speak of proofs for the existence of God would have been as if someone sitting there in the first row were to stand up and I were to say: “Mr. X stands there,” and someone in the room were to assert “No, that must first be proved!” 

What man experienced as the divine was a Being of full reality standing before his soul. He was endowed with the faculty of perception for what he called divine; this God appears primitive and incomplete in the eyes of modern man... 

The men of that age had no desire to hear about proofs, for that would have seemed absurd. Man began to “prove” the existence of the divine when he had lost it, when it was no longer perceived by inner, spiritual perception.

So - Man began with a direct, obvious, common sense experience of the divine in life. Then, by stages went into a state of mind (in which we still dwell, in the modern West) where we not only fail to perceive the divine, but deny its reality and even deny its possibility.

This process of becoming cut-off from the divine bears a significant resemblence to the phase of adolescence, when the individual Man becomes cut-off from his family and the mythic world of childhood, and finds himself utterly, existentially, alone - unable to believe in the reality of anything outside of his own mind.

This is, however, supposed to be a phase - a necessary phase in the development of full self-consciousness and autonmy - but a phase and not a lasting state. 

The phase of adolescence is, like the phase of being cut-off from direct apprehension of the divine, needs to be and is meant to be no more than a 'moment', a minima or 'dead-centre' between the main possibilities of child like absorption-in the divine world, and an adult state of a loving relationship-with the diivine world.

Modern Man is stuck in the phase of being cut-off from the divine, and has been stuck for so long that he has begun to doubt not just the reality of the world outside the mind but the mind itself, so all reality begins to dissolve into nihilism.

Therefore the great need, the first step - here and now - is not for 'proof' of God but for experience of the divine - acknowledged as divine.

From that first step may come understanding of the nature of the divine - but first we need to know the divine is real; know this by personal experience. 


gary said...

Bruce, have you thought of collecting your blog posts in a book? Perhaps categorized by general themes?

I have recently become a father and I would love to have a hard copy of Bruce Charltons notions on my bookshelf for my children to read when the time comes.

I think what you write deserves to be preserved for posterity, and I don't say that lightly.

Albrecht said...

In the West for the last 2000 years or so our concept of God has mostly been taken from the Bible. Our knowledge about God and nature from the Bible is quite specific, perhaps more so than Steiner would allow. For instance we are told in Exodus 20:18, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." So, witches and witchcraft are real, not merely as metaphors or spiritual tendencies but in the Shakespearean sense. W.E.H. Lecky observes in The Rise and Influence of Rationalism in Europe (1865), the decline of this belief over many centuries was spontaneous and popular and was, until fairly recently, never endorsed by the authorities (Erasmus himself was a believer). Why this decline? Maybe because it gradually dawned on people that it is humbug the upshot of which is gratuitous cruelty and persecution. (It is hard to imagine any other reasonable response than hyper-vigilance, up to and including tortures and interrogations, given the truth of the proposition, "Witches exist.") All of which is to say that an important component of Western man's structure of belief concerning God, and a fact taught clearly in Scripture, over a long period of time simply evaporated.

I think a similar process has been at work concerning other parts of that structure of belief. It would seem, then, at least as far as the Bible is concerned, that our "moral intuitions" are, in fact, not always "as real as the world of Nature." Well, so much for the Bible, if not for Steiner's God.

Bruce Charlton said...

@gary - Thank you.

So far I have published four books derived mostly from this blog - which are now free online or can be bought:



I'm not sure of your core point here, but our knowledge is based upon true intuitions (including moral intuitions) of divine origin - the original ones which we have by virtue of being primordial eternal intelligences, and more as a consequence of being God's children and by revelation (including the Bible, insofar as it is correct and we are understanding it properly - but not by reading/ quoting the Bible one verse at a time!).

wrt to witch-craft or magic - clearly it is real, and like most technologies it is neither good nor bad as such, but its virtue depends on the motivation for use etc.

(Most 20th century and modern practitioners of magic are anti-Christian and pro- the sexual revolution and often explicitly seeking power; that doesn't at all mean that all are wholly of bad intent, but the well of modern magic is indeed poisoned by bad intentions - including most of the leading advocates.)

From my general understanding of information theory or indeed philosophy, we could only have valid knowledge of reality if some valid knowledge was built-into us as a basis (the blank slate will remain forever blank, and no true knowledge can arise from expediency such as natural selection) - So there is no question but that IF morality is real in any way, THEN we really must have true moral intuitions.

Discovering them, expressing them concisely and having them understood is another matter!

BTW: The period of persecution of witches/ magic etc was almost wholly confined to the 17th century - so would count as a mere fad. The medieval period was in general comfortable with magic and tolerant so long as it wasn't set against the prevaiing form of Christianity. CS Lewis wrote quite a lot about this.

Nicholas Fulford said...

Modern Man is stuck in the phase of being cut-off from the divine, and has been stuck for so long that he has begun to doubt not just the reality of the world outside the mind but the mind itself, so all reality begins to dissolve into nihilism.

Therefore the great need, the first step - here and now - is not for 'proof' of God but for experience of the divine - acknowledged as divine.

From that first step may come understanding of the nature of the divine - but first we need to know the divine is real; know this by personal experience. 

I know this is going to be an awkward reply, but so be it.

The sense of alienation that permeates are age is proof of a fundamental disconnect between the rationalized world by which we frame and map existence and the primal potency that permeates and extends through the natural world. Any person who can see and hear and feel has a sense of that which gives rise to the forms of life which evolve as the universe unfolds that exquisite and essential impetus to become.

Is-ness instantiated itself into the expression and the expression is the mirror that unfolds the is-ness. The is-ness is sufficient and the projection in time is an unfolding of faces that are a means of reflection made possible only through time. It is not unlike the relationship between a fractal equation and an instantiation and unfolding of that fractal equation. Iteration allows the qualities of the equation to be made manifest even as the equation defines the base and limits of what is possible to be expressed via iteration.

Man’s alienation is that he abstracts himself from the direct apprehension of what it is to be and become, and then substitutes simulacra and simulations for the direct experience of being at its most direct and visceral levels. When a man performs a bait and switch to relate to the simulacra as the real, he takes the life out of his life, and by that means loses all meaning and vitality. Substituting for what has no substitute, he is like Dostoyevsky’s Golyadkin in the novella, “The Double”, and goes mad trying to repair and resolve his fractured/fragmented being.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Mormons like to compare the apprehension of God to tasting salt. You know from direct experience what salt tastes like, even though you could never explain it to anyone. But of course all that we experience directly is saltiness -- an indefinable quale which in and of itself tells us nothing about the objective world. That the experience of saltiness usually indicates the presence of a particular mineral, and that that mineral has various other properties in addition to saltiness, is an ordinary empirical inference, not a direct apprehension.

When I was a Mormon, I approached "spiritual experiences" in the same spirit. There was a particular quale (called by Mormons "burning in the bosom") which I experienced from time to time, and by analyzing the conditions under which it did and did not occur, I could infer that it indicated contact with God. But further experience began to render that inference less and less defensible, and so in the end I abandoned it. (In fact the inference had never been terribly well grounded in the first place.)

Many, many people I have talked to, though, insist that there is no element of inference in their apprehension of God. They claim to experience God himself directly -- not saltiness, but salt. I can't make head or tail of this claim, since I can find nothing in my own psychology which is at all analogous -- unless perhaps their experience is something like memory?

Do you, Bruce, have a direct apprehension of God's existence and characteristics? Can you think of any analogy that might help someone born God-blind understand what that might be like?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wm - Yes, I do.

It could be described as direct knowing, rather than any kind of sensation.

The distinction was clarified for me by Steiner (by synchronicity, I wrote about this in today's post).