In the world of logic, the hardest thing to prove is a negative. About the only way you can do it is to prove that some opposite is true. For instance: Imagine you need to prove that at a certain time and place you were not sticking up the local grocery. You could (perhaps) prove that you were somewhere else at the time (hopefully amidst a crowd of reliable witnesses). Or you could demonstrate that the person in the videotape is 5′ 4″ whereas you are 5’9″. You could point out that the skin color or sex is not the same as yours. As a last resort (as in all good TV dramas), you could identify the real culprit and trick out a confession.
Point is, all of these methods prove it wasn’t you by proving the truth of a contrary. Direct proofs of negatives are few and far between (at the moment, I can think of none). This makes those challenges to disprove the existence of something invisible both unanswerable and pretty dumb.
— Prove there are no such things as angels. Go on, I dare. you!
— Or… Prove there is no such thing as God. Go ahead, just prove it!
A certified waste of time which demonstrates, to my mind anyway, that atheism is as great an act of faith in the unprovable as a belief in God will ever be.
In fact, more so. For theism allows at least the possibility of proof. Assuming that God exists, then some mystical or transcendent moment may come along to give a fortunate mortal some direct experience of God. For that one person, then, God becomes an empirical event. For that one person, God exists as a fact. Obviously, no such encounter is possible with the non-existent.
Some might quibble with the word empirical. Yet human history is rife with those who are reported have gone beyond the merely physical and encountered and ineffable something. The nature of such mystical experiences seems to vary fairly wildly. Some seem Apollonian, some Dionysian. Some seem to achieve a highly personal encounter. Others report a mystical awakening to Truth.
But within the differences there are consistencies. I would suggest that a little research into those consistencies might be profitable.
But first, a small diatribe.
One of my pet peeves is to hear some so-called scientist blithely dismiss human experiences as “merely anecdotal.” It is certainly fair to say that unscientific observations should not be accepted as equally scientifically valid a properly designed and conducted research. It is NOT fair or reasonable to simply dismiss such evidence before turning to such more useful topics as grants and tenure.
The stars, constellations and eclipses were accurately reported and predicted long before the Scientific Method was ever devised. Despite this crippling lack, there really are stars, constellations and eclipses and they do appear as forecast. Native peoples all over the world used herbs, roots and barks to treat their ills. Despite the “anecdotal” nature of reports of their usefulness, aspirin, quinine and a host of other medications actually work. “Anecdotal” reports should stimulate research, not dismissal.
I would argue that we can make a general rule: If there are generations of human experience agree in pointing to something, the odds are pretty good there is some truth hiding inside whatever mumbo-jumbo our ancestors might have wrapped it in. Beliefs that manage to persist through the ups and downs of human history must contain some reality (as well as some utility). They are empiric, in the largest sense.
Amongst all the divergences, we can find much that is consistent within the reports of mystical encounters with the transcendent. The first is the most frustrating: That which is encountered is universally reported as being so far beyond our narrow reality as to be beyond normal description. To try to confine it to normal words, to shape it into nouns, verbs and adjectives, is to not merely lose the Truth, but to actually falsify it. The ineffable is also inexpressible.
Another consistency is a kind of benevolence. Whatever is discovered, those who find it do not recoil in horror. Instead, they are uniformly happy. More than that, a surprising number come back with an inner power and clarity that total strangers are drawn to them on sight.
Exactly what all this is really about in day to day terms is certainly moot. A great deal of papyrus, vellum, parchment and paper have been wasted explaining and explaining away such events. The world’s great religions seemed to based upon at least one such event. And most of them have created cosmologies and eschatologies to explain the consequences to us mere mortals. Clearly, exactly what the implications of any one such experience, filtered through human interpretations, are open to bizarrely differing opinions.
This much can be said with certainty: The human animal has, from his earliest known beginnings, sought something outside this world to make it all make sense. That some number of those seekers have experienced a mystical something that has transformed them in some unmistakable fashion. That many have been able to gather some students around them that were, in turn, able to experience the transcendent for themselves. The reports of these are too numerous to dismiss.
By looking for the consistent, this much more can be drawn from those reports:
1) That there is some sort of transcendent reality beyond the physical world as we apprehend it.
2) That a part of this transcendency can be experienced as a being.
3) That this being is essentially beatific.
4) That this transcendent reality seems to exist outside the realm of time and space as we know them. In that sense, it is immortal.
4) That whatever part of us that can experience this transcendent reality seems able to partake, at least in a limited way, in the transcendent being and be transformed by it.
Does this then imply eternal life? Beats the heck out of me. Not being a mystic myself, I can only try to read the reports and glean from them the real import of the human spiritual experience. The most that I think we can say is that there are consistent signs that when we die the story may not be over. Which, as research projects go, is pretty good results.