Reality and Appearance:
How do I know I am not dreaming?
The very fact that we can ask the question indicates that we are capable of predicating thought, that we can think reflectively, that we can reason toward a conclusion, if only we have a premise. "I think; therefore, I am," said Descartes. The law of non-contradiction represents essential thought, and the awareness of this rational thought process proves that we exist as a thinker and knower. Then the next question we face is whether there is an external world that exists independent of our thought. Bertrand Russell argued that when we discover that others besides ourselves engage in perception, and that their perceptions frequently coincide with our own, then we begin to realize that there is an external world which exists beyond our perception of it.
Russell's argument can be illustrated as follows: We all can personally attest to the sourness of a lemon or the relative sweetness of a sweet potato when the latter is compared to a common white potato. In fact so strong is the common association of sourness with the lemon that we speak of a lemon to illustrate the "sour" purchase of a vehicle. When we return the defective automobile to the dealer and call it a "lemon," the dealer does not scratch his head as if he cannot make the association between the auto and the word "lemon." He knows exactly what we mean. As for the sweet potato, the very name "sweet potato" makes it obvious that there is a commonality of perception with respect to the taste of this rhizome. In both cases, therefore--the lemon and the sweet potato--commonality of perception reinforces individual perception and points to an objective external reality beyond our individual taste buds. An acknowledgment of the commonality of perception in both instances is also an acknowledgment of commonality with respect to the construction of our taste buds. We are all equipped, generally speaking, with similar, if not identical, taste buds. Our taste buds function in such a way as to enable us reach a consensus on the essential attributes of the lemon and the sweet potato. We do not need to engage in protracted debate concerning the meaning of the words "lemon" or "sour" or "sweet potato."
What we have just done, with the aid of a lemon and a sweet potato, is prove the existence of an objective external world beyond our mere perception of it. And we have illustrated the argument of Bertrand Russell. Even atheists can teach us things! When an atheist speaks the truth, it is just as true as would be the case if the same truth were spoke by a theist! But the illustration takes us beyond Russell's mere affirmation of the external material world to a Common Perceiver, or, more precisely, to a supernatural Mind that is the foundation of all perception and all rational thought, indeed to a Supreme Being who is the foundation of all reality, whether visible or invisible. For without a supernatural Perceiver behind human perception, all human perception and predication would cease.
Human rationality depends on a world of rationality and an eternal rational principle that forms the basis of it. Unless an eternal, supernatural Mind thinks and exists, no mortal could predicate in the natural world what Descartes predicated when he said, "I think; therefore, I exist." To be sure, the natural context of human perceivers proves the objective existence of the lemon and the sweet potato (and the entire material world) beyond the parameters of an individual psyche. How much more would the supernatural context of an eternal Mind (if somehow mortals could come to a knowledge of it) prove the objective existence of a realm that transcends what human minds can only imperfectly conceive of with their finite minds! If Deity has revealed His thoughts and those thoughts could be found and read in a Book, such knowledge, were it to be internalized, would surely be foundational for mortal men and would stabilize their thinking and acting in a skeptical world.
But while the existence of the supernatural Mind or Supreme Being seems clearly to follow from human predication and rational reflection, why are not all human beings, and philosophers in particular, in unanimous agreement on this conclusion? And why do not all cherish that Book? Since the unanimity on these issues does not match the unanimity concerning the lemon and the sweet potato, does this mean that the conclusion is less certain?
To get at the answer to these question, we must first admit that, even in the case of the lemon or the sweet potato, there could be particular rare exceptions which might seem to challenge the unanimity, and hence, the conclusion. Conceivably, certain individuals could have defective taste buds. Perhaps due to a congenital defect, or an injury brought on by natural causes, a person would not be able properly to assess the true nature of a lemon or a sweet potato, or to distinguish between sweetness or sourness. In his case, sweetness might taste like sourness, and vice versa. But that would not alter, in the least, the objective reality of the lemon or the sweetness of the sweet potato. It would only make us pity the poor man for his abnormal taste buds.
If such an exception to general unanimity in the case of the lemon or sweet potato is conceivable, it is equally conceivable that a lack of unanimity concerning God's existence could be traceable to defective moral and spiritual "taste buds." Given the reality of depraved human behavior observable in human society, it is more than conceivable--it is indeed probable--no, undeniable, that men's consciences could become seared or rendered insensitive to moral and spiritual reality or truth. This would result in their calling good evil and evil good, as reflected in recent changes in laws which govern public speech in Sweden and Canada. Certain passages in the Bible which are less than flattering concerning deviant sexual behavior are currently regarded as "hate literature," and the one who chooses to read such biblical passages in public is now subject to 1-4 years of imprisonment in Canada.
Who could deny, therefore, the existence
of an internal human motive which, though often carefully concealed, nevertheless
causes men to suppress the truth about God because of the moral and
social consequences of facing it squarely and openly before their peers?
This would be analogous to a nine or ten-year-old boy's suppression of the
truth concerning the beauty or fragrance of a rose out of fear that his
buddies might make fun of him. Boys at that age tend to consider
roses a "girl thing," and, as they see it, it is simply not "cool"
for them to have anything to do with girls.
To put it another way, sound conclusions depend upon the ability of the one stating the argument to begin with true premises. A man with a moral or spiritual disability (i.e., a wounded soul) usually finds it difficult, if not impossible, to begin with a true premise regarding the testimony of the natural world to the Creator, or even to acknowledge the existence of a universal moral law. Consequently, he and others like him are unable to arrive at a true conclusion regarding the existence of God.
If it were not for this truth-suppression factor that prevents men from acknowledging true premises, the conclusion of an inductive inquiry into the matter of God's existence would be as unanimous as the conclusion of a simple inductive inquiry into the nature of a lemon or sweet potato. If this abnormal bias of the heart could be removed by some remedy of Deity, the unanimity of such a conclusion of inductive inquiry regarding God's existence would far exceed the conclusion of any other human inquiry. In fact, it would exceed it to the extent that the worth of the Creator far exceeds the worth of created things, such as lemons and sweet potatos and humankind. Such a remedy would be worth far more wealth than ever accumulated by all of humankind in all ages. For the unanimity of the acclamation of God resulting from such a remedy, would be of such a proportion that the earth would be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea. Earth's inhabitants, in that case, would not only have the objective knowledge that God exists, but the personal knowledge of God Himself. And this would perfectly cohere with the picture that the ancient Hebrew prophets have given of the time when God's purpose among men will have been consummated--a time when purer motives of the heart will prevail.