Day/Night Language and Public/Private Revelation
Day and Night Experience / Day and Night Language
Human experience is necessarily mediated in symbolic language: words really do create worlds. It is thus vital to remind ourselves from time to time of two complementary sides of the one coin of our reality. On one side there is the realm of what’s so: the facts; what is objectively real; what is publicly, measurably true. Let’s call this side of reality our “day experience.” We communicate about it using “day language,” or normal, everyday discourse. The other side of our experiential coin — what I call “night experience,” communicated through “night language” — is the realm of symbols, interpretation, and meaning: What does it mean? How shall we interpret the facts? This side of our experience is subjectively real, like a dream, but not objectively real.
Problems arise when we fail to distinguish the factual, objectively real side of reality from the meaningful, subjectively realistic side — that is, when we mistake our interpretations and meanings for what’s so. They are not the same. Facts are delimited; interpretations are manifold.
We cannot solve the problems posed by night-language disagreements by jettisoning that face of reality. We need both day and night expression in order to have a meaningful experience of life. The important thing is to get the order right. When we seek clarity on the measurable facts first (which is the very mission of science), the night language stories and expressions of meaning that derive from those facts can enrich our lives — and reduce conflict with others who hold different interpretations of the same set of agreed-upon facts.
Private and Public Revelation
We are at a turning point in human history. Catalyzing this transformation is our modern method by which we collectively access increasing knowledge about the nature of reality. New (and revised) truths no longer spring fully formed from the traditional fount of private revelation. Rather, they are hatched and nurtured and challenged in the public arena of science. This is the realm of what I call public revelation.
In contrast, by private revelation I’m referring to claims about the nature of reality based only on personal experiences — some of which, of course, can be very compelling. Unfortunately, revelations enshrined in sacred texts occurred to people in the past and cannot be empirically verified today. Such claims cannot be proven or disproved because they are deeply subjective, one-person, one-time occurrences, obscured by the passage of time. Accordingly, private revelations must either be believed or not believed. When private revelations reside at the core of religious understandings, people are left with no choice but to believe or not. Thus, private revelation produces religious believers and unbelievers. Public revelation produces religious knowers.
Thanks to what is generally referred to as the scientific method, assisted by the wonders of modern technologies (themselves a gift of the scientific endeavor), public revelation emerges via a process whereby claims about the nature of reality based on measurable data are proposed, tested, and modified in light of evidence and concerted attempts to disprove such claims. Such a process typically results in a shared understanding that goes beyond belief to broadly shared knowledge that can be considered, for all practical purposes, factual. From this perspective, the history of humanity can be seen as a fascinating story of how Reality has progressively revealed the nature of itself to human beings, which is tied to how we acquire, share, store, and reconsider knowledge. The discovery of facts through science is one very powerful and inspiring way to encounter God directly. Thus, facts are God’s native tongue.
It is through the now-global community of scientists, working together, challenging one another’s findings, assisted by the miracles of technology, and standing on the shoulders of giants (but never blinded by the greatness of past accomplishments) — it is through this wondrous human endeavor that God’s Word is still being revealed. It is through this ever-expectant, yet ever-ready-to-be-humbled, stance of inquiry that God’s Word is discerned as bigger, as more wondrous, as more this-world relevant than could have possibly been comprehended in any time past.