Reg Naulty, Canberra Regional Meeting

Reg Naulty2A man went to a concert, and was greatly moved by a beautiful piece of music. He wanted to understand the magic of the music. So he pulled the music apart note by note, and studied each note separately. He measured the length of the notes, their pitch, and the means of their production. He did this for a long time, but never found the magic of the music. Indeed, the music seemed to be lost.

The moral of the parable? The method of investigation has to be appropriate to the object under investigation, and to the circumstances in which it occurs.

We have now reached a situation where it seems that the success of scientific modes of investigation puts other methods in doubt. It is often felt that all they can deliver are opinions. However, other methods of investigation may be appropriate to other subject matters.

What makes scientists suspicious, are claims surrounded by controversy. That doesn`t happen in science, it is claimed. Scientific methods yield unanimity. That is not completely true; take climate change, for example. But, it will be replied, that is exceptional. In science, there isn`t the chronic controversy of the kind which surround religious claims like the existence of God. Scientists are bemused by such controversies: why don`t people just wait for the evidence?

There are a number of replies, but the one I wish to advance is that in religion, not many people do what has to be done to obtain the evidence. Well, what do you have to do ? Pascal gave one answer: God reveals himself only to those who seek him with all their heart.

Did we really have to wait as long as Pascal (1623-1662) to find that out? No, we didn`t. Jeremiah knew about it in around 550 BC “When you seek me with all your heart, you will find me, says the Lord” (Jer. 29. 13-14) Well, why didn`t people do it? The short answer is that not everyone knew about it, or they were too busy doing something else.

How do you seek God with all your heart? Wholehearted prayer is one way. Unfortunately, many people are incapable of that, some, because they couldn`t get interested in it, and others, simply because they couldn`t put their heart into it. However, if they really were interested in prayer, they could try meditating first. Then, pray from the silence. Another, less wise measure, is to wait. If things turn out badly enough, prayer comes easily – when one is wheeled into an operating theatre, for example. A crisis can be an opportunity.

What form does the revelation take in the Jeremiah method? Usually an inward experience. For Pascal it was one of fire, which he responded to with joy. Why did Pascal connect that experience with God? One cannot speak for him, of course, but in similar experiences it is the fascination and majesty with which the experience comes, that makes the person having it to place it beyond nature.

There is a variant of the Jeremiah-Pascal procedure attributed to Socrates by Xenophon:

If you make the experiment of doing services to the gods to see whether they will be willing to advise you about events concealed from human foresight…you will discover that the divine nature is so infinitely great and potent that it can see and hear everything, and be present everywhere, at the same time, and take care of everything at the same time.[1]

Note that there seems to be a difference between what the Jeremiah-Pascal method is for, and what Socrates` is for. Theirs was for a revelation of God, his is a method of being advised by God about events which are to happen, and when we learn that, it will become clear to us that God knows everything, is everywhere, and cares for everything, or in other words, is a Providence.

Right now, in Australia and elsewhere, there are any number of people who serve God by doing good in a huge variety of ways. Do they find out what Socrates apparently did? It doesn`t seem so. What should they do? They should speak to someone, to a spiritually minded psychologist, for example.

Very large claims are made about God, e.g., that He made this universe composed of millions of galaxies. The evidence derived from our methods does not reach that far. They indicated that there is someone beyond nature who cares for us and who has knowledge of the future that we do not. To go further we must appeal to reason e.g., to the argument that the systematic interconnections exhibited everywhere in nature are too clever to be an accident.

The methods of science can only take us so far. To go further, we need others.


[1] Xenophon. Memoirs of Socrates. Trans. Hugh Tredennick. Penguin. Ringwood. Australia. 1970.Pp.56-7

Share This