I’ll steal once again from Lewis, and take his illustration of a beam of light in a dark shed: If we step into our shed, we can look AT the beam and see a ray of light streaming by us. However, we can also step into the ray and look ALONG the beam as we look AT blue sky, waving trees and green leaves outside the shed. Likewise, we can say the experience of knowing is a looking ALONG affections, perceptions and concepts AT given objects. This means, however, that – assuming we’re conscious -- every time we step out of a “beam” we are stepping into another, and that, by the mental equivalent of a sleight of hand we can forget, ignore or mistake the fact that we are knowing for the known; or, to square with our illustration, we can neglect the beam of light along which we see -- solely for the trees.
There’s a relevant application of this observation to atheism, and any type of naturalism; for I think the current atheism/naturalism which is gaining some minor popularity is the offspring of a rotten philosophical heritage which, by the same mental slight of hand, insists that because it cannot see it’s own eyes, then it simply won’t believe that eyes exist; consequently it’s focus neglects the inner reality of our conscious existence and, at best, only allows this reality in so far as it looks AT the world it wants to see. It’s a remarkable irony that atheist “humanists” are far less impressed by the nature of humans than certain religious theists, who hold that man is actually fallen from his original stature and is in dire need of God to save him: It seems that when man is not made in the image of God, he is not even perceived in the image of man; when man has not fallen from the image of God, he falls, instead, from the image of man.
Much recent science tells us what realist philosophers have long maintained: that the universe is not spatially infinite, nor infinite in time. The universe outside our minds, though vast and enormously beautiful and intriguing, does not possess the ultimate property that our minds which grasp, that is, encompass, the universe actually do. The universe is not infinite, yet our minds, which possess the idea, in some way exceed its finitude. Therefore, we can really speak of two universes; and though it’s proper to speak of a universe outside our minds, it is not precisely correct to speak of that second universe inside our minds; it’s accurate, rather, to call it the universe of our minds. The outside universe -- the object seen through the lens of, say, the science of astronomy, with it’s beautiful nebula, like colorful cobwebs scattered about the farthest corners of unnamed galaxies; and with it’s curious ability to capture the past and brand it into the heavens even for the naked eye to behold; that wonderful, awe inspiring universe is truly remarkable – yet that universe with all it’s glory and majesty remains incomparable, a non-rival, to the miracle of the human mind. Indeed, for, unlike the universe of the mind, that universe has yet to birth a single concept by which it can grasp itself. Further, the human mind, with it’s ability to conceive a universal idea within it’s mystical and immaterial womb thus reveals the additional capacity to furnish a higher point of reference for the grammar of “spiritual realities” over and above the limited vocabulary to which the materialist would confine us -- though we must be leery of a new occasion inviting us to the opposite error -- idealism.
We may have long ago abandoned Plato and his theory of Forms, which posits universals shining above the sense world in some immaterial realm, and which, he maintained, are the actual knowledge of each individual mind; but is it any less miraculous and threatening to the materialist for us to note that each individual mind is furnished with it’s own immaterial, universal forms, thus a vast multitude of minds -- that is, a vast multitude of immaterial realms, “shines” above the spatiotemporal sense world? Perhaps not, perhaps we’ll be granted so much; even so, it may be asked, isn’t it ultimately just an academic exercise to insist we keep within our purview experienced and verifiable facts like, for instance, the fact that our minds contain concepts which are infinite (universal), yet which we know vary from each other -- like a triangle and a square? Why do such observations, along with other such concepts as the permanent “I” of Kant, and even the discovery of an (immaterial) intellectual stratosphere as inescapably ablaze with the idea of God as the land of the never-setting sun with light; why does the beam of light I’m asking us to step out of and examine, which includes these and other vast implications, have any practical importance for us? Or, to phrase it conversely, why is the true academic exercise the one taken up by the view, be it atheist or not, which steps into (what I somewhat hesitate to call) the epistemological light and pretends to forget all of its properties, including its very existence?