God, Knowledge, and the Fuzzy Zone
The way you set things up makes a lot of difference. The outcome, and how you get there are greatly influenced when you define things a certain way.
First, let’s define God. Big topic, but that’s where we will start. God is all. Everything. A bundle of every superlative, as far as imagination stretches, and beyond. In math terms, God is infinite; the known world is finite. In logic terms, God is and is beyond the set of knowable things. In Cartesian terms, God is the whole graph, in whatever dimensions.
Why do I do it that way? I have heard “God is love.” And I have heard, “God is different things to different people.” I’ve heard all kinds of things, and I choose God is all. Perhaps it will make more sense soon.
There is one large subset within God, and that is All We Know. Now from a human perspective, this is one huge category, including popular wisdom, everything on the internet (verified or not!), all of science and technology, every college course, every book and letter, everything we have designed, built and created, and things we sense and “just know,” like jazz music. But to compare God and All We Know is like comparing a the desert to a grain of sand, or a galaxy to a molecule. If God is the whole graph, then the size of the Known points within the graph matters little. The smaller set is simply insignificant, negligible.
But we are captive in the world we know, and we have to be happy there, we have no choice. It is true that the size of All We Know is growing, and perhaps it is growing exponentially. After all, facts are built on facts, and computers are getting smarter, faster and smaller all the time. And humanity is smarter (and more numerous) than ever. Still, compared to God, this expansion only matters slightly.
There is a third area, and this is the area in which most of us love to spend our time and energy. The Fuzzy Zone that lies on the border between God and All We Know. Here lies scientific experimentation, art, aesthetics, speculation, magic, theology, wishes. Here is the excitement and a place to enjoy playing.
Why should anyone care about all of this? Well, there is a beauty to this setup. It helps answer many questions. Let’s try a few out.
Where is God when disaster strikes? Everywhere, but his involvement is unknown. We wish, we hope God is benevolent and caring, but the answer to that is beyond the realm of what we know. Some of us claim to know answers to questions like this (their claims are documented, this we know), but actual knowledge does not provide an answer. So we must look toward the Unknown for answers, which are certainly less reliable than the Known.
And many questions about the nature of God are beyond All We Know, simply unanswerable. There is nothing wrong with this truism, we desperately want to know, we want a God that loves us.
Is science reliable? To answer this, we need to look at what we consider to be reliable knowledge, and how science works. Science is, essentially, a search for patterns. Some science is absolutely reliable. Take the patterns found by Isaac Newton about mass, acceleration, and gravity. Basic math problems provide very reliable results in our daily lives. These patterns become less reliable at more extremes of size and time, and have led us to discover more subtle patterns such as relativity. As the sun rises each day, that is a reliable pattern. We observe more, and learn how it is the sun appears to rise, as the earth rotates.
Scientific patterns in observable occurrences has shown us about electricity, gravity, and physics. All of this has led to fantastic technology like rockets, jets, televisions and phones. Another scientific “fact” comes to us when we look for patterns related to eating spinach and the incidence of cancer; people who ate green leafy vegetables got cancer less, that is the pattern. The application (technology) of the pattern is, if you want to avoid cancer, eat more spinach. We carry out science every day, informally, whenever we notice patterns and say things like, “Oh, you always say that!” or, “Seems to be raining a lot lately.” The science gets more formal when we keep track of the patterns and share the results. And much of cutting-edge science is later revised, as it delves into the Fuzzy Zone, not yet Known.
Science works by making observations, finding patterns, and sharing discoveries. When patterns are shown to be not reliable, the scientific community (and the public at large) must share this news. So, we can accept science as an ever changing and growing body of knowledge. There is a spectrum to our certainty of knowledge. I just categorize it in three zones: Known, Fuzzy and Unknown.
Defining God as All, and What We Know as a super-small subset of God gets us out of several intellectual jams. We make no claims about the nature of God, the afterlife, or judgments about any religion or doctrinal claims. Many thorny issues become less important, such as, What does God know? How does God act? What is God like? If we don’t know it, then we admit it.
How we know things relates to our understanding of God. So much of What We Know is secure. These are the things that are backed up by sensory observations, and are more secure when repeated (patterns, science!). Of course, God is in the realm of faith, or the Unknown. Not so ironically, religion is essentially the work of helping us feel more secure; about matters such as our worries, ethics, and death.
So when we set things up so that, as Paul Simon said, “The information’s unavailable to the mortal man,” this allows us to look for comfort in what we can and can’t know. Perhaps all of this is obvious. However, keeping in mind that there is vast uncertainty in our world, what is known is infinitesimally small compared to what is unknown. That’s just the way it is.
To set up things is to step back and gain perspective, to view things from a distance, leading to freedom with less worry. In short, take confidence in What We Know, and be at peace with that, be excited about Knowing More, and marvel (but don’t fret) at What We Don’t Know.
This format might be described as agnostic, that God’s interaction with humanity is limited. Not necessarily! Doctrinal statements about God are in the realm of the unknown. One can say whatever they want about God; in this format, since these are all unverifiable, speculation of such things is really a vain activity – too far into the Unknown – so say whatever you want! When I hear talk about the nature of God, it is not entirely a waste of my time, though. Frequently there are references in these comments to things that are within the Known or Fuzzy realm, and offer some sort of good insight for life.
Religion now becomes fascinating study. Every religious writing is a historical document, loaded with a writer’s intent, the cultural context, and how the work has affected the people. Not to mention how religion teaches Truths in terms of ethics, wisdom, and personal comfort.