Sunday, February 23, 2014

God and Light

There are a lot of similarities between God and light, so it's no wonder that the association is a strong one from antiquity on.  Both are responsible for us knowing things, both seem to be everywhere (or nearly so), both are mysterious, and so forth.  Here is perhaps another similarity:

It's a common misconception that we perceive light--but we don't, at least we don't perceive light in any straightforward or ordinary way.  I can perceive a chair or my dog with my sensory faculties (I can touch my dog or see my dog or heaven forbid taste my dog) but none of the above holds for light.  Some say we can see light, but that too seems false.  Light, we're told, is a particle-wave duality; light consists of photons.  None of this we perceive.  Like God, light is invisible.

So how do we know that there is light?  One answer would be that we infer the existence of light from things that we do see.  We notice that some things are more visible than others when they are nearer to fire.  We notice that when the moon itself is more visible, other things are as well.  Considerations like these perhaps lead us to reason to the conclusion that there is this thing, light, that exists.

But I have my doubts that this is the way things ordinarily go.  I don't ever recall reasoning in this sort of way to the conclusion that there is light.  If there was an inference to the conclusion, it was a subconscious one.  It seems to me that I either (a) came to believe that there was light by way of testimony--by my mom or dad telling me that there is this thing, light, or (b) my belief was innate or (c) it was produced by no ordinary evidential process or faculty but arose from some subconscious process.

And it seems to me that the same is true with people and God.  Most do not arrive at belief in God by way of argument or reasoning.  For most, the belief is formed in the basic sort of way.  There is some evidence from cognitive science that this is the case.  According to some studies, most small children (even with atheist parents) seem to believe in God or something like God.  We seem to come predisposed for theistic belief.  So too, infants seems to believe in things like gravity, that physical objects are impenetrable, and so forth.  Perhaps infants come into the world with the belief that there is both God and light.

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