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Science and Faith

God, Heaven and Human Knowledge
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

Is there any proof that there is a heaven?

What do you mean by "proof"?  "Proof" in our age usually refers to empirical proof formats used by science.  This is based on gathering various bits of information, "evidence" which can be verified by "the senses," now supplemented by certain technologies, such as radio telescopes or electron microscopes.

Scientific Method
As for science and the empirical approach to knowledge, keep in mind that "science" and the scientific method are only a few years old in human history.  People have had various ideas from ancient times that are not based upon the limited definitions, claims and procedures of science.

These procedures of science, by definition, cannot claim to prove such concepts as "heaven," since they deal with empirical, physical data, or data which can be detected and reduced to such data.  There is also the problem of just what you mean by the word "heaven."

Science does not claim to prove nor disprove this type of claim or belief.  Some individuals may make the logical error of jumping to an invalid conclusion by claiming that since science or the scientific method have NOT proven such a thing that it therefore does not exist.  More discussion on that later.

Further, reason and deduction are also included in the "scientific method."  The scientific method is just a procedure for gathering information, evidence, or various data, then evaluating them and finally forming some tentative conclusion that might explain the evidence gathered so far.

This "theory" is then tested by gathering various additional data to see if it is still consistent with the previous tentative conclusion.  As new information is gathered which changes the earlier conclusions, the conclusion (theory) is revised.

Negative Proof
The claims some might make based on the lack of scientific evidence is actually the opposite of scientific thought, which would say that no definitive claim can be made until a negative proof has definitely been established.  This is because the scientific method is based on the gathering of evidence.  Thus there is always the possibility that one more bit of data gathered will prove the tentative conclusion wrong.

It takes only one example.  So this would mean it would be definitely possible to prove scientifically that heaven existed, if we could get the right evidence.  On the other hand it would logically never be possible to definitively prove that heaven did NOT exist.  Because it would take only one additional bit of evidence to prove it, that is to finally provide conclusive evidence.

A basic principle of scientific knowledge is that it is never complete.  So any question asked must always include the word "yet:" is there any proof YET that ....  

Of course, the popular concept of "heaven" is not usually thought to be the kind of thing, or type of reality, that is subject to verification by the senses, or technologies we have up to now.  Certain scientists do use the scientific method to investigate the non-empirical, however.

This branch of science is called para-psychology, and supplemented by a variety of technologies and other disciplines of science.  There are many clear correlations of scientific verification for various non-physical phenomena.  Ideas about the spirit work and afterlife are part of this.

But you are talking about a different kind of thing than science commonly even claims to be able to investigate.  Science just does not claim, in general, to deal with the spiritual realm.  So it in effect disqualifies itself from proclaiming any position on such matters.  This has changed somewhat in recent years, as some scientists have attempted to probe and analyze aspects of paranormal belief.

New findings in recent decades in physics have enabled us to detect an additional range of radiations, such as electromagnetic waves at lower and lower power, providing empirical access to previously undetectable presences or powers.  I am not aware of anything definitive that has yet been determined concerning the spirit world, and definitely not of the afterlife, but investigations continue and the gathering of data adds to the total store of resource information.

Thus the question is somewhat irrelevant, since science by definition does not generally make claims about the unseen or unverifiable.  Except for parapsychology, science does not claim to be able to detect "evidence" about things like "heaven," as a rule.

Those who would use reason to discuss probabilities and possibilities have some claim on truth, but again it depends on the internal consistency of logic in the discussions and conclusions.  Reason is also a strong part of modern science, in testing validity of conclusions that may be drawn from any set of data or claims.  Thus reason helps.

But how can anyone claim "proof" for something which by nature is beyond our current perception?

What is Heaven?
Finally, what do you actually mean by the word "heaven"?  This is a vague term which apparently means many things to many people.  It was simply the original English word for sky used in a figurative manner.

If you mean an ongoing existence of the spirit without the body after this life, that is one thing.  Most people believe in some continued existence, but may differ on just what that involves.

The basic source of such a belief is the ancient Indo-European belief, specifically expressed in pagan Greek philosophy, of which we are the direct inheritors in the broad western cultures.  Until recent decades, all Indo-European peoples had a strong cultural belief in a continued existence after death.

If you mean by "heaven" to refer to a realm of unseen bodiless entities, perhaps called spirits, referred to as the "spirit world," this is another matter.  The two concepts are not logically tied together.

But there does seem to be much more circumstantial evidence and anecdotal evidence (personal testimony) that such unseen spirits exist.  Further, this common belief is found virtually worldwide among all humanity.

Western Concepts
A primary exception is the European peoples in the recent two to three centuries, which constitute an aberration in human philosophical history.  In the last half of the 20th century there has been a strong recurrence of belief in the spirit world among European peoples.

This is witnessed by several social phenomena:
- A higher percentage of the US population as active Christian believers in the USA than at any time in the history of the American experiment.  
- A revival of ancient Celtic Druidic and Anglo-Saxon Wiccan practices, and in general the development of an organized religion from various ancient European pagan religions.  
- The development of the New Age movement, developing a synthesis of Judaeo-Christian and Eastern mysticism, particularly Hindu concepts of the soul, including reincarnation.  
- A broader acknowledgement and growth of academic and scientific study of African and Asian magical practices, spiritism, and natural or magical healing methods.  
- The development of parapsychology to investigate reports and occurrences of unexplained phenomena which might indicate activity of spirits (unseen entities).

More could be listed.

Rationalism and Spiritualism
While some have argued against the existence of a "spiritual" (unseen) realm of existence on the basis of "reason," in fact Rationalism is very close in assumptions to Spiritualism (the broad belief in the existence of an unseen present realm, and possible afterlife existence).

Reason is thus the friend of investigation and discovery of truth, whether in the empirical ("scientific" or material) world or in the spiritual or emotional world.  Invalid logical conclusions have been drawn by both scientists and religionists, based on their emotional commitment to certain beliefs.

Folks try to use reason to confirm and defend their assumptions and beliefs.  This is a different level of discussions than the attempt to actually evaluate what we know and what can consistently be claimed from what we know.

Reason also helps to extend knowledge from what has been "proved" (using whatever approaches and procedures are agreed on) to what may be inferred.  This is a part of theorizing.  Analysts can evaluate current knowledge and reason to extended possibilities consistent with this.

Predictability is a major component of the scientific method.  The more data, the more accurate the predictions in extended knowledge based on reason.  But as stated earlier, it takes the discovery of only one unexpected factor to change the formula, and revise the projection.

Quantum Physics and the Unseen
In this regard, Atomic Theory and Quantum Physics projected extensive claims about unseen realities, but few complained.  Development of more sensitive instruments of perception have verified many of the claims of Quantum Physics at the subatomic and astronomical level.  These claims started out of faith claims based on speculations outlined consistently by math formulae.

Currently much of the verification of Atomic Theory is secondary (that is, based on perception of human senses in principle, but beyond the actual perception, as inferences are drawn from rational evaluation of patterns made by controlled destruction of atoms.)

This is a vivid reminder that our inability to perceive or verify a claim is no proof of its falsity.  Reason is very helpful in sorting out claims and predictions, consistency being a guide.  Reason thus supports a critical claim of the Jewish and Christian faiths, the Creator God is consistent and fair.  Consistency is a reference point for noting variation and understand change and causation.

Reason and Parapsychology
Reason is used to theorize an explanation to account for indications currently perceived.  New data about the subatomic level indicates a vitality and instability very similar to life itself in the essence of matter.  Indeed, very much is inferred and claimed about the unseen realities, using consistent scientific methods and reason.

Who is to say technological developments will not enable us to verify more and more of these rational and mathematical claims about the unseen aspects of reality.  Parapsychology takes a similar approach in sorting out claims about the unseen realities some individuals claim to be aware of.

Reality and Perception
The point of this jargon is this:  The fact that you cannot see it does not mean it does not exist.  It just means you cannot see it!  That is a statement about your perception not about what is or might be "out there."

This refocuses us on discovery.  This is the basis of both science and reason and of faith!

Human Limitation
All of this is to say that we are only human, and there is a limit to what we can know and claim.  So the discovery continues.  Ultimate knowledge is beyond our grasp, I should think.

It would seem this is the meaning of the story of "Adam and Eve" (Hebrew words for "Humanity" and "Life").  Being human entails limitations. Could any one person ever know all there is to know?

"Adam" and "Eve" refused to accept their role and limitation as humans.  Is a human God?  They pretended to be God, to know what the Creator knew, to understand the totality as the Source of the Totality knew it.  (The serpent promised them they would "know as God knows".)

This is the sin expressed in the beginning of the Bible.  It deals with the universal tendency of Humanity to deny their humanity, that is their limitations, and to overreach their role and place as part of the Creation.

Absolute Truth
Theories claiming humans can know absolute truth are based on reason.  The claim is a rational ideal.  It overlooks the fact that we can know only to the limit of experience, capabilities and perception.  Thus the term know is a relative term. (See How Do You Know?)

I don't want to try to be God I don't want to re-commit the Original Sin.  I'd like to be a more aware and responsible me!  I confess I am only human, and God alone is God.  It would be scary to have to live by the belief that my life and destiny depended on being right on knowing enough to be certain I knew enough!  To be certain I had not missed something.

NO!  I prefer to live by faith, and continue to learn, in the freedom to let my knowledge expand as it can without fearing my personal value or ultimate destiny depended on my knowledge and the rightness of it!

Knowledge ~ Learning
There are some things beyond our knowledge.  But our learning continues.  I see nothing wrong and everything right with continued learning, with continued gathering of information, with continued analysis and organization of information, with continued development of knowledge, and with continued faith in God beyond what I might know or find out!

The Thrill of Mystery
Further, I would hope the more we learn, the more we would wonder at it all, the more humble the human would become in recognizing the awe of being part of such a grand scheme.  Most of all, I would hope we could acknowledge the latter that we are only a part of it, and the totality is much greater than one of us or all of us together.

This is much of the thrill of discovery of the great mystery which we experience from within the totality of life, and which we can understand a little of to our joy and thrill and awe of what the totality must be.

See related reviews and articles on this site:
Mystical Insights (Julian of Norwich)
Mysticism, the Wound of Knowledge
Practicing the Presence of God
Quantum Physics Experiment Searches for the Soul
Recurring Classic of Western Christian Mysticism
[review] Souls from Science
Related Scenario from a Hindu Worldview Perspective

South African Spirituality

Originally developed from an exchange on an Internet discussion group 13 November 2000.
Updated and posted 09 February 2003
Last edited 31 December 2013

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD

Copyright Orville Boyd Jenkins 2003, 2005
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.
Email: orville@jenkins.nu
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