What can be known?

Posted on March 2, 2008. Filed under: Philosophy, Science, Spirituality |

There is much discussion about whether a faith-based or science based view of reality is correct. While many of us embrace some combination of the two, there are others who take a mainly empirical or mainly religious view of life. My position is that there are two basic ways of looking at reality, but not the faith vs. science ones we hear about most.
The two are: (a) We can’t know something to be true or not true. Or, (b) we can know, either by evidence or by faith. The Scientific Method and Religious Belief both share characteristics of the second, namely, that we can know something to be true.
Faith-based knowledge contends that a Supreme Being(s) or God, by grace, can allow us to know what is true. Our job is to “believe when next we doubt”. Scientific, or empirically based knowledge, on the other hand, is gained by what can be observed or experienced through the five senses, or with equipment as extensions of eyes, ears or noses. Devices have enabled humans to observe phenomena which had been hitherto considered in the realm of the unseen, or paranormal. For instance when scientists began to use microscopes and developed germ theory, infectious diseases which had been considered as consequences of a curse or spontaneous generation were then found to have a sound scientific cause.

I will put it to you that there is no cause—of anything—other than our own conscious manipulation of time, space and matter in order to explore creation and expand our understanding. We each feed knowledge into the whole. We are none of us as individual as we like to assume, but we’re extremely valuable as individuals to the whole because of the unique perspective and balance we bring to the entirety. I take this position using the tools of observation, meditation, reading and listening. I reserve the right to change my mind, and I wouldn’t want to impose my belief system on anyone else. In fact, I believe that “belief systems” themselves are conscious creations, and have no more intrinsic validity then, say a sculpture. The art I produce may represent a way of being or seeing that I currently embrace. It may evoke strong emotions or feelings of “oneness” in others, but, chemical analysis of the piece would show only the properties of clay.

So there are two camps: “It Can be Known” or “It Cannot be Known“. Position #2 might be considered “Agnostic”. I’m comfortable with that unless it’s used exclusively as a religious term. Agnostic comes from the Greek word agnosis, which means “not knowing”. I am agnostic as well regarding science, or history, or even the arts. I believe in the wonder of scientific discovery but I also engage in spiritual practices. Both of these are valuable to me because they allow me to explore my reality. I follow scientific and spiritual developments “for their own sake”, as it were. In this I have some good company. This discussion about Emanationism references Theosophy, Sufism, Buddhism, and such fantasy adventures as Dungeons and Dragons and Lord of the Rings. With Middle Earth containing philosophy to incorporate into a worldview, life is good!

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11 Responses to “What can be known?”

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You can guess my view on this subject by observing which book I opened when you in a previous post talked about opening the nearest book. (The Bible happened to be the book closest to where I was sitting at the moment, but it’s also a book that I believe is the word of God.)

I’d be interested in an elaboration of your thoughts, though. I don’t think I understand what you’re saying.

Rikard, thanks so much for your interest and your openmindedness. You may be right, my first guess, if I had no other information after what you’d answered in the book meme post would be that you are a bible-believing Christian. However, I know people who have bibles for other reasons, such as family tradition, literary interest, or as part of a larger spiritual literature library. So, I wouldn’t want to label you based on that one book which had been near you at the time. 🙂 I appreciate your willingness to share that about yourself.

As for expounding further on my own position, I am in resonance with many of the principles put forth in the article on emanationism, such as: All is one; everything emanates from Allness, or Source; and that God does not have to be sentient and aware as a separate entity, but rather acts through us, as us, and by extension, through all creation.

So, I would agree with you that the Bible is the word of God, and that’s why I own three of them myself and consult them as sources of inspiration. I don’t, however believe that the traditional bible is the only word of God, and I find inspiration through many religious teachings as well as in science and the arts. As I’ve said in other posts, like this one, my background is multi-cultural, and I’ve found myself unable to find spiritual satisfaction in one particular religion. I do believe that all belief systems which foster our connection with the Divine and give our lives meaning are to be honored.

I hope this answers your questions, and I’m open to further discussion. I very much value your inquiry! 😀

Muse, my first comment is “Amen!”

I love this post both because it mirrors so very well my own view of the Universe and because it brings up interesting points to ponder. Can’t believe that in all my reading I’ve never heard of Emanationism! Got some more reading to do…

I particularly like the second paragraph. Lots of quotable sentences in that one! Had I written this paragraph, one of the few differences might have been in the first sentence. I might have added the word creation (e.g. “other than our own conscious creation and manipulation of time…”). For me it makes sense that if we are all part of a universal singularity (a belief as fundamental to me as breathing) that we all have the creative power of the Divine. Part of the fun of being alive is learning how to fully embrace that “truth” and to learn how to play with it so that we have even more creative and exciting things to “write home” to the singularity about.

In thinking about the “can” vs. “can’t” dichotomy you’ve set up around knowingness, I would tend to agree with you there too, but only up to a point. It seems that the kind of knowingness you are addressing is about that which is outside of us. (And, yes, I understand that if we’re all ONE that there really isn’t such a thing as “outside.” But as long as we’re incarnate we’re living with the explicit illusion of that separation.) I wonder if there isn’t a third equally valid camp that is simply “I Know,” which comes entirely from within us and relies neither on evidence nor faith.

I’d love to know what inspired this post. Read something interesting lately, or just feeling generally philosophical? Either way, thanks!


That’s to me a very alien way of thinking, but I think I sort of understand it now.

Hello Joyful Sarah, and thanks, so much, for your feedback and encouragement. I like what you said about adding the word “creation” into the “manipulating time and space” etc. phrase. That makes sense to me, since the manipulation is a creative act, and I would think springs forth from divine manipulation. I will tell you a secret…{shhhh} I had not heard of emanationism, either, until beginning this post. I wanted to be sure I had correct definitions of gnosis and agnosis, and in that process came upon the wikipedia article. It immediately clicked with me, especially since it contained some elements of other philosophies I’d studied and embraced from time to time.

I also appreciate the comment you made about a third way, and a knowingness which comes not from evidence or faith. I believe such a thing is possible, and, probably desirable. At this point, as an aspect of the overall emanation from allness or divine, it’s difficult for me to imagine “knowing” — for sure. This may be a semantic issue, though. I do receive inner guidance all the time, and when I’m willing to follow it, my joyful path is furthered. So, in a sense, I could say I “know” a course is correct. Being the pragmatic relativist that I am, though, I’m usually able to throw in a disclaimer. 😕

As for what inspired this post, well I’d been itching to post for a while about the apparent deep chasm that often appears in the news between the religious/belief camp and the atheist/science camp. The other night, while I was brushing my teeth (!), it just came to me that the two factions have more in common than not, that both see “reality” as that which can be known and understood, they just approach it with a different set of tools. And thus, the post was born. Thank you so much for your thoughtful contributions to this discussion!!! 😀

Rikard, I can certainly appreciate the alienness of this world view to many. I rejoice that we can talk about it. I deeply respect and honor who you are.

This is a great post Muse. Tonight I’m trying to catch up with your posts.

I’ve come to the conclusion that we can never really know the truth in its fully pure way since it is always filtered through who we are (beliefs, experiences, family life, etc.) at a particular point in time. My views have certainly shifted over the years due to changes in my perspective and understanding, but I have never thought anything that I truly believed to be a known at any point in time was wrong. It was true as experienced and perceived through my filters at that particular point in time. Today my perspective and understanding on any given truth is different from what it was say a year ago because I have changed.

Once again, a very good post.

Thanks for catching up with me, Richard 🙂 , and for your supportive words! Very good point you made on how our past views are never “wrong”, just where we were at the time. Your use of the word “filters” in conjunction with this is most helpful. I thank you for giving me that point to ponder.

My background is also multicultural and I was raised and even fully educated to be a Christian fundamentalist praise and worship leader. My mother was a conservative Christian and my father was a Charismatic Christian.

My conservative church family were and are staid and sober sided literal interpreters of scripture. They were were focused on the Rapture and their pope was the “flawed” King James version. This church family was and still remains hung up on their belief in “election” and, denial of the manifestation of spiritual gifts in the here and now. They were and are worship leaders, pastors, and missionaries who believe outward displays of joyful charismatic worship are distasteful, not necessarily “of God” and disdained dance as being sexually inspired by immature Christians who were not allowing the Holy Spirit to do his work in them.

My charismatic church family were likewise literal interpreters of scripture who were and are focused on the use of spiritual gifts and the Second Coming. They upheld the Pentecost and were joyful worshipers who held their hands high and moved their bodies to praise and worship music. They were and still are worship leaders, pastors, and missionaries who believe that evidence of the infilling of the Holy Spirit is manifest in the outward display of speaking in tongues, holy laughter, prophetic utterances, and other spiritual gifts. They believe that conservative Christians have quenched the Holy Spirit within them by remaining hung up on the letter of the Word and not allowing the Holy Spirit to do his work within them.

At a very early age I knew the Christian path was not my path however, the grip that parents have on me extended until I left home. Luckily I had a great great and a great grandmother who both refused to legally marry their Christian husbands and who continued to walk the Red Path. Their entire philosophy based on the revelation of the Creator acting through Nature was mine without doubt. Thanks to them I was able to escape the blatant hypocrisy and mean spirited ignorance of Christians who sought to mould me and make me into a little image of themselves, while hurling prayers at me as if they were weapons.

Time passed and following my period of Shamanic teaching, I spent 5 years studying and practicing Buddhism and exploring Sufism.

Like yourself I derive no satisfaction from any one belief system. When I seek inspiration and guidance with an open mind and empty heart full of light, I find it.

Om Mani Peme Hung

[MusEditions: penultimate sentence of original comment amended per commenter’s request]

That’s quite a story, brightfeather! I thank you for sharing it. What a blessing that you were able to find your own way with such an upbringing. Very interesting how the elder women in your family held to their own traditions. I find your background fascinating, and your journey inspiring. My own religious background was more laid-back, for which I’m grateful. Although some of my family has been disappointed, or just confused by my meanderings, they pretty much just accept their odd-ball family member. I have explored some of the traditions you mentioned, and am just getting familiar with some shamanic practices. Your last sentence is beautiful. “Empty heart full of light” —what a lovely and appropriate image. Om Shanti.

We all know it is just a matter to remember who we are as creator..

Good post MoonMuse..


Thank you, CV Même, I like how you put that: “who we are as creator”.

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