RE2b(iii) Challenges to the argument from religious experience 2 – the finite and the infinite

The second challenge to the idea of religious experience concerns the idea of the finite experiencing the infinite.  How can finite beings such as humans, that is, limited beings, experience an infinite being such as God?


Experiences of any kind deal with out perceptions, what we perceive.  These perceptions are mediated.  This means that when we perceive an object, what we are perceiving is the information mediated to us, that is, transferred to us through the medium of the senses.  Take the example of the bumble bee again.  We can see it shape and colours, we can hear the sound it makes, we may be able to smell the flower on which it lands.  All of these are our senses giving us information.  Most philosophers would argue that we don’t perceive the bee directly, what we perceive is what our senses tell us.  I don’t perceive the bee, I perceive what it looks like and what it sounds like.  This is what we call mediated perception.

Now when it comes to bees, there isn’t much of a problem.  I can see it and hear so it is not at all difficult for my brain to realise what I perceiving – a bee.  That is because the bee is finite.  It is small and limited.  The information I am receiving from my senses is very limited.  My brain can cope with this amount of sensory information and can process it all to realise what it is I am perceiving.  The bee, as it were, only gives off a certain, limited, finite amount of sensory detail.  So we would say that the bee is manifest in a set of sense data – colours, shapes, sounds, that is, the bee is made up of these colours, shapes and sounds.  I know if I see a yellow and black buoying insect on a flower, it is a bee.

But what about God?  If God is infinite, then how can I perceive God?  How can God be manifest through sense data?  How can God be a collection shapes and sounds?  When I experience something the size of a bee, I get a bee amount of information and my brain can cope.  When I experience something much larger, such as a mountain, I get a mountain of sense data.  it occurred to perceive it all, but I can do it.  Surely then, if I experience an infinite God, there would be an infinite amount of sense data and there is no way I would be able to process that.

In other words, how can it even be possible for a finite being such as myself to experience an infinite being such as God?

The galaxy we live in is finite, but it is still so big it is difficult for us to really grasp it fully.  So when it comes to something infinite, it is simply not possible for me to experience it all.  So when the argument from religious experience claims that religious experiences really are experiences of God, we might reply by saying that this is not possible because a finite being cannot experience an infinite being.

And clearly, if P2 is not possible, the argument is significantly weakened.

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