Empirical evidence for spiritual truth?

How do I find empirical evidence for spiritual truth? I believe we can take our lead from the philosophy of science – the formulation and testing of a hypothesis through repeated, environmently controlled, evidence. Whatever worldview you might have, either you believe in God, no God, or aliens from a higher dimension, you need empirical, and at best repeatable, evidence that something is true and real. Take an example from daily life: it doesn’t matter what your worldview is, if someone runs in to tell you your car has been stolen, you’ll check it out for yourself (empirical evidence) before you believe it. Sometimes you have to do a double or triple take at your empty parking spot, stand in the empty space and let it sink in slowly, but the whole time, you are trying to get all the evidence you can before jumping to a conclusion.

For those of us that agree that there is a spiritual dimension to our existance, we must by logical conclusion believe in spiritual truth. What constitutes empirical, repeatable evidence that proves something to be spiritually true or false? In the physical dimension, it is by careful observation, hopefully in a controlled environment where it can be repeated, but all the time through our senses, right? How about the spiritual dimension? Through the careful observation using our spiritual senses, right? If the spiritual dimension exists, and it stands to reason that in that dimension there is truth, then it also further seems reasonable to assume that we will be able to use our senses to carefully observe what is true and what is not, right? After all, is it not through this ambigious sense that we continually find proof of its existance and therefore continually believe in it? So in our spiritual books, we had better find the language of the process of careful observation and scrutiny regarding understanding the truth claims it sets forth… right? Otherwise our spiritual books indoctrinate rather than initiate a rational interaction between the divine and the human being.

Finding the right proceedure or method to sense and detect truth in the spiritual realm is similar to the scientist choosing which instrument to use to observe phenonoma in the physical one. Not all phenonoma in the physical dimension can be detected with the naked eye — so it seems to be true that the same reality of the limitation of our senses would occur in the spiritual dimension as well. If we have not learned to see well or honed the practice of careful observation in the physical dimension, does that mean that things outside the limits of our observation cannot exist? Of course not. The same is true of the spiritual. If we are not good at understanding the spiritual dimension and what is true and what is not in it, it doesn’t mean that truth in spades does not exist out there somewhere. We need learn how to sense it, test it, and prove it to be true, then add it to our minds as spiritual truth and let reason run with it. This isn’t easy – it probably will take our whole lives as pilgrims to reach a child’s level of doing it.

    2 Responses to “Empirical evidence for spiritual truth?”

    1. John Remy

      I have a tendency to view the spiritual as subjective, and the empirical, observable world as objective. One of the things that I find problematic is that people often take a subjective, spiritual experience (e.g., “God has revealed to me that the Mormon Church is his One True Church”) and assume that this reflects objective reality.

      After reading this (and, ironically, Harris) I agree that beneath every spiritual experience is something measureable and repeatable (though my feeling is that what’s there will tell us more about us than the universe).

      Mormonism has a strong rational, empirical bent to it. There’s an oft-repeated scripture in the Book of Mormon that challenges the reader to take its words and plant them like a seed and to water and nourish it with prayer and to see what fruit it bears. Part of my loss of conviction in Mormonism was based on the failure of that experiment.

      Just some random thoughts–nothing coherent. 🙂

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    2. Jonathan
      Author Comment

      John- wow… 3 small paragraphs packed full of such deep thinking that it would take me probably 20 pages to respond 🙂 I’ll try not to. I’ll toss around some ideas on the subject too…

      I guess I have always thought of truth, either physical or spiritual, as objective. The phrase “subjective truth” has always seemed self-contradictory – if it is subjective, it isn’t true (except in the case of a subjective sub-set of morality). If it can be successfully proven that spiritual truth by nature is subjective, then that would mean that it is not true. When I read Harris, I was pleasently surprised by his belief that spiritual truth could be measurable and repeatable. I like what he thought was repeatable though – not something grand or complicated, but something very fundamental – meditating and recieving an “I” unfocused perspective. I have always thought spiritual truth is repeatable, but only on a micro-scale like Harris’s example. One repeatable experience I have is hearing God speak to me (not an audible voice) (micro-scale), and never on a macro scale, such as God told me the Protestant Baptist Christian Church is the One True Church ® (I like how Miko said it :)). This is actually a good clarification of what I mean in this post. The kind of spiritual truth I am thinking of is the type that is measureable and repeatable – “basic” spiritual truth, or “building blocks” or “fundamentals” or “elements” or something of the like.

      It is also my belief that once you have obtained a critical mass of these spiritual truth building blocks, you can begin to put the pieces together and form the beginnings of a simple spiritual worldview. Harris has definately encountered two of those building blocks… a need to stop focusing on the “I,” and a need to constantly remind oneself to stop focusing on the “I.” How profoundly true! But why just stop there? There are literally millions of other building blocks just waiting once these are believed. Discovering one leads to others, which in turn lead to still others. Each one, though, must be repeatable and measurable. This is where other more spiritual folks have paved the way for us already. Many of these building blocks are found in bits and pieces in almost every religion and spiritual worldview out there. It appears that all spiritual wordviews begin to deviate somewhat in the next levels up – in the interpretation of the building blocks.

      One thing I am trying to do on this weblog is systematically begin assembling building blocks of this type – and I am starting where Harris is starting – trying to understand my own inner nature. My inner self is my laboratory. Here I continually observe the behavior of my will, my self-destructive nature, and my conscience. When I see measureable, repeatable patterns, I began to formulate spiritual truths about my own spiritual makup. I believe humanity to be so amazingly made (we are multi-dimensionals beings after all) that there MUST be a purpose in our design. By understanding how I was designed, I can begin to understand the One who made me. This is of course wild thinking, but I’ll give it a shot. 🙂

      I really appreciate your honesty regarding your struggle with faith that you talk about in your last paragraph. This is sadly what Harris lacks in his own work (which sounds like its for his own protection) that would have made his book more human and real to me. I like to understand the struggle it took for a person to reach a certain place in their spiritual lives. I don’t think most churches I attended in my lifetime would have been so rational or empirical about things as your church was. But it appears, if I’m not mistaken, that you haven’t given up on the spiritual life yet, and are detecting enough hints of fruit to continue to search — I’ll I can say is keep going! As much as you are willing, please continue to share with the rest of us your progress. Just your thoughts in this comment alone are enough to keep my mind busy for a very long time.

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