God Is As Real As You
Time to awaken from the atheism delusion
What is midnight-gloom
To unenlightened souls shines wakeful day
To his clear gaze; what seems as wakeful day
Is known for night, thick night of ignorance,
To his true-seeing eyes.
Such is the Saint!
– Bhagavad Gita, chapter 2
Long ago, in a land lost to the mists of time, which we only know as early 21st century Western Civilization, there was some sort of great conniption, or a tempest in a teacup, depending on who you ask. Whichever it was, definitely some sort of kerfuffle occurred, and it was called New Atheism.
These peeps, and others, were (are) quite serious about doing away with God, writing books like The End of Faith, The God Delusion, God Is Not Great etc. Why were they so keen on this? Dawkins says:
...I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.
We must not preserve the myth of God – it was a useful crutch, but we’ve outgrown it
And so on. Basically religion, any religion, is obsolete, false, and evil, all at the same time. Be that as it may, here I am more interested in the main lines of attack used to disprove the existence of God. I recall three big ones.
Dragon in a Garage
This one comes from none other than Carl Sagan (pdf). Go read it if you want, it’s short. The gist of it is someone claims there is an invisible dragon living in their garage. When someone else asks for evidence, for example, detecting the dragon’s firebreathing via an infrared sensor, they just say the invisible fire is heatless. What about footprints? Leaves no footprints. And so on, until it is quite clear there is no way to physically detect the dragon. Which is the point: how on earth could it make sense to believe in an invisible undetectable dragon (i.e. God)?
Teapot in Space
Another one comes from Bertrand Russell:
...nobody can prove that there is not between the Earth and Mars a china teapot revolving in an elliptical orbit, but nobody thinks this sufficiently likely to be taken into account in practice. I think the Christian God just as unlikely.
Which is quite correct. It would be absurd to have to prove there isn’t such a teapot orbiting around the Sun.
God of the Gaps
Lastly, this one means looking at something science hasn’t quite got a handle on (e.g. abiogenesis, the Grand Unified Theory) and declaring God did it. Yes, it is very silly to fall back to such an argument.
This is all well and good, leaving God thoroughly dead and the atheist happily atheisting. But for a catch:
All three of the arguments make you out to be just as fictitious as God.
Just who are you anyway? You can point to your body, but nobody thinks they have died if the body gets modified by, say, amputation or aging. You can point to your brain, but that view has problems outlined in the article I just linked. In fact, just like with the invisible dragon in the garage, when we look at your brain to find you, we see nothing. You are the invisible dragon in the garage of the brain.
Like with Russell’s teapot, we also don’t need to postulate you are in there somewhere: neuroscientific and biological accounts of the body make the whole thing seem like some flesh automaton. No need for some sort of pilot to it.
“But wait!” you might gasp. “It’s not like neuroscience is complete! That experiment only works under very narrow constraints!”
Ah, but that is a God of the Gaps argument, a You of the Gaps if you will. Science will perhaps unravel that just like it did everything else.
The weapons that kill God work just as well to kill both you and mankind entire. Sorry, secular humanists! This would be quite a pickle if we only had the Abrahamic religions at our disposal.
Hinduism and Buddhism
A very interesting thing about both Hinduism and Buddhism, specially in contrast with the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), is that they are consciousness centric religions. In Hinduism, we have the Atman, the universal Self, distinct from ego, as “the ultimate essence of the universe” as well as the assertion that:
Cosmology and psychology are indistinguishable, and [the Upanishads] state that the core of every person’s Self is not the body, nor the mind, nor the ego, but Ātman.
I am especially fond of how the Ashtavakra Gita puts it:
You are the one witness of everything and are always completely free. The cause of your bondage is that you see the witness as something other than this. 1.7
Since you have been bitten by the black snake, the opinion about yourself that “I am the doer,” drink the antidote of faith in the fact that “I am not the doer,” and be happy. 1.8
Burn down the forest of ignorance with the fire of the understanding that “I am the one pure awareness,” and be happy and free from distress. 1.9
That in which all this — imagined like the snake in a rope — appears: that joy, supreme joy, and awareness is what you are, so be happy. 1.10
If one thinks of oneself as free, one is free, and if one thinks of oneself as bound, one is bound. Here this saying is true, “Thinking makes it so.” 1.11
Your real nature is as the one perfect, free, and actionless consciousness, the all-pervading witness — unattached to anything, desireless and at peace. It is from illusion that you seem to be involved in samsara. 1.12
Similarly, Buddhism, though superficially clashing with Hinduism when the doctrine of Anatta is misinterpreted, is saying the same truth as Hinduism, touching the same elephant, as becomes apparent in the following sutta:
There is, bhikkhus, a not-born, a not-brought-to-being, a not-made, a not-conditioned. If, bhikkhus, there were no not-born, not-brought-to-being, not-made, not-conditioned, no escape would be discerned from what is born, brought-to-being, made, conditioned. But since there is a not-born, a not-brought-to-being, a not-made, a not-conditioned, therefore an escape is discerned from what is born, brought-to-being, made, conditioned.
This sutta is rather unusual, in that the Buddha usually preferred to teach through apophasis, and this one is very direct.
What is wonderful about this is how neatly it dovetails with the hard problem of consciousness, which was hinted at in the previous section. Simply put, the problem is about just how consciousness comes to be. Some believe neuroscience can unravel that mystery, some don’t. Some even reject the problem entirely by rejecting the existence of consciousness, this view being an excellent example of something I dub Philosophers Will Argue About Anything, or PWAAA (pronounced like this).
The hard problem of consciousness is the end of the line for materialism/physicalism (the view that only physical stuff exists) and therefore secularism, because materialism is the base of secularism. At least it is so for me, the hard problem having ended my 19 year long atheist phase. The hard problem is the hole through which spirituality re-enters the world, through which the world and humanity re-sacralizes at the 11th hour, much like this. It is no God of the Gaps: when we talk of consciousness, we have no phenomenon to point to to begin with, hence the Problem! I have seen no argument that convinced me physicalism can still be true in face of the Problem, and meanwhile, two major and well-developed religions are centered on the Problem!
But of course, the objection arises that there is plenty evidence that the brain affects the mind. Surely this vindicates materialism? Else, how does one square the circle of brain damage causing a man to mistake his wife for a hat, or causing aphasia?
Who told you circles are not square?
Hinduism and Buddhism (all religions really) are non-dual at their core. Non-dualism is the assertion that, contra appearances, there are no real distinctions between you, the world, and the things in it. You can focus you attention really hard on the physical (the square) and learn lots about the physical, or you can focus your attention on the spiritual (the circle) and learn lots about that. You can also do both. At one point, like Odin, we traded in one of our eyes for a certain wisdom: we decided to dismiss the circle as a delusion and focus all our effort into learning about squares. No more. We can no longer pretend our Godkilling weapons don’t kill us just as effectively, and yet, against all materialist reason, we continue to exist.
We have nothing to lose here, but delusion. Embrace the truth that God is as real as you, and that you are most definitely real. Surely you are not the only Gap-dweller?
The ending of a world can only ever be the end of a dream. Only victory awaits at the end of night.
And please remember to subscribe if you want to usher in Satya Yuga!
Very well-thought-out essay.
> Some even reject the problem entirely by rejecting the existence of consciousness
I believe you are referring to illusionism?
I mostly reject illusionism too, though I wouldn't rule out that people who claim not to be conscious are, in fact, not conscious.
> Embrace the truth that God is as real as you
This doesn't logically follow from anything above it.
I suspect that all consciousness is essentially the same thing, with the only important difference between two units of consciousness being its physical housing. Thus, the differences in ability, knowledge and personality between "Einstein", "me", "you" and "'you-with-brain-damage" lies entirely in differences between these four brains, not differences between the consciousnesses within them. Let's call this "Prop 1".
But the word "God", which you left without a definition, is widely understood as being "higher" in some sense. But if Prop 1 is correct, there is no consciousness that is "higher", and thus no God.
God is also widely understood as being extremely powerful and extremely knowledgeable, but the only evidence of such beings are in old stories. But all the old stories of different religions (including native Americans, African tribes and so on) disagree with each other and are incompatible with each other. I see no basis for concluding that any specific one of the stories is correct, but even if we could somehow know that a true religion exists, that doesn't seem useful or meaningful without knowing which specific religion was true.
(We may also reasonably suppose that somewhere out in the universe there are extremely powerful and knowledgeable being(s), beings capable of wondrous creations, which, however, don't even know Earth exists. Let's call this "Prop Stargate Season 9". Calling such a being "God", however, seems like a pointless exercise.)
Now, generally, people who believe in God believe in a specific God, e.g. they'll believe in one form of Christian god, and importantly, also *disbelieve* in all the African, Native American, and ancient Greek Gods. Given this reality, there is an *implicit* motte-and-bailey fallacy here. You are defending a motte, something like "there is at least one God, in some very loose sense of the word God". But anyone reading this essay (and maybe you yourself) will, in practice, use it as a way of affirming their faith in the bailey ("Christian God is real but the ancient Greek Gods are myth").
As a former Christian I have a simple reason for rejecting my religion: those who created it were liars. But that's another story.