Do we need God? / Food Futures
Cover: Tanhayee from Seeker, The Art of Sohan Qadri
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Sambodh (detail), painting by Sohan Qadri from Seeker:
Five arguments for the existence of God.
RECENTLY THERE HAS been a spate of books about God from scientists responding to the debate over intelligent design. These books raise a chorus of scepticism about the existence of God. Science stands for rational thought; faith, for superstition and unreason. The latest bestseller in this vein is Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion.
Dawkins has written extensively on evolution, holds a chair at Oxford University, and speaks out against any possibility that God is real. He makes many points to support his claim that religion is nonsense and that there isn’t a shred of rational proof for God, miracles or the soul. Since this is such an important issue, I want to argue against him point by point.
DAWKINS STATES, “SCIENCE is the only valid way to gain knowledge. Nothing about God is needed to explain the world. Eventually science will uncover all mysteries. Those that it can’t explain don’t exist.”
This is the bedrock of Dawkins’ argument, as it is of most sceptics and scientific atheists. Yet there’s no doubt that with current advances in genetics and brain research, scientists have more confidence than ever that mysteries are being unravelled as never before. By the same token, something as primitive as faith in God looks more and more pointless and misguided. At best God is a matter of personal belief; at worst, a superstition that blocks progress.
The unfairness of this argument is that it squeezes God into a corner. Dawkins makes it an ‘us versus them’ issue. Either you are for science (that is, reason, progress, modernism, optimism about the future) or you are for religion (that is, unreason, reactionary resistance to progress, clinging to mysteries that only God can solve). He goes so far as to tar with the same brush as extreme religious fanatics
anyone who believes in God. Sadly, the media often follow his lead, erasing the truth, which is that many scientists are religious and many of the greatest scientists (including Newton and
Einstein) probed deep into the existence of God. Not to mention the obvious fact that you don’t have to go to church, or even belong to a religion, to find God plausible.
But let’s leave Dawkins’ heated rhetoric aside. Is science the only route to knowledge? Obviously not. I know that my mother loved me all her life, as I love my own children. I feel genius in great works of art. I have seen medical cures that science can’t explain, some seemingly triggered by faith. I know that I am conscious and have a self, even though Dawkins – along with many arch-materialists – doesn’t
believe that consciousness is real or that the self is anything but a chemical illusion created in the brain. The world in general has meaning; deep meaning at times. This cannot be dismissed as a delusion, an artifact of chemicals.
For thousands of years human beings have been obsessed by beauty, truth, love, honour, altruism, courage, social relationships, art and God. They all go together as subjective experiences; if God is the delusion, then so is truth or beauty. God stands for the perfection of both, and even if you think truth and beauty (along with love, justice, forgiveness, compassion and other divine qualities) can never be perfect, to say that they are fantasies makes no sense.
Science knows about objective reality: the matter that our five senses detect. But the mind goes beyond the five senses. In fact, insofar as brain research can locate centres of activity that light up whenever a person feels love or pleasure, these subjective states leave objective traces behind that make them more real, not less. In the same way, the brain lights up when a person feels inspired or close to God; therefore, we may be getting closer to the connection between inner and outer states.
DAWKINS MAKES ANOTHER sweeping claim: “God is unnecessary. Science can explain Nature without any help from supernatural causes like God. There is no need for a Creator.”
To many people this argument sounds convincing because they believe in science and find God hard to believe in. But Dawkins has pulled the same trick that he resorts to over and over. This is the either-or trick. Either you think there is a personal God, a superhuman Creator who made the world according to the Book of
Genesis, or there is no God at all.
This assumption is false on several grounds. The most basic one is that God isn’t a person. In a certain strain of fundamentalist Christianity God looks and acts human, and creating the world in six days is taken literally. But God isn’t a person in any strain of Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Confucianism, the branch of Hinduism known as Vedanta, and many denominations of Christianity – God is not a person in the Gospel of John in the New Testament. Therefore, reducing God to a Sunday school picture and claiming that the Book of Genesis – or creationism in general – competes with science isn’t accurate. Einstein pointed out that he didn’t believe in a personal God but was fascinated by how an orderly universe and its physical laws came about.
Nor is it fair to present God as a Creator standing somewhere outside the universe. Dawkins ridicules this notion by saying that such a God didn’t need to create the cosmos through the Big Bang and billions of years of evolution. Such a God could have created it whole and perfect to begin with. Thus if we observe evolution at work – as of course we do – then God is irrelevant and unnecessary.
This attempt to second-guess God again reduces God to a person who thinks like a human being and would carry out creation the way a smart scientist would. God is universal, existing at all times and places, pervading creation both inside the envelope of space-time and outside it. To use a word like ‘He’ has no validity in fact: we are forced into it by how language works. A better word would be ‘the All’, which in Sanskrit is ‘Brahman’, and ‘Allah’ in Islam. Not every language is stuck with ‘He’ or ‘She’.
The real debate is between two worldviews:
a) The universe is random. It operates entirely through physical laws. There is no evidence of innate
b) The universe contains design. Physical laws generate new forms that display intention. Intelligence is all-pervasive.
The second worldview can be called religious, but it’s a trap to say that only a Christian God explains intelligence in the universe. There is room for a new paradigm that preserves all the achievements of science – as upheld by the first worldview – while giving the universe meaning and significance.
ONE OF THE reasons that Dawkins’ book has touched a nerve is that many scientists are outraged by the religious tide in world affairs. Using theology as a shield, politicians are undermining the whole rational structure of scientific progress. This brings us to another major point for Dawkins: “The universe is a complex machine whose workings are steadily being demystified by science. Any other way of viewing the world is superstitious and reactionary.”
What is so strange about this argument is that Dawkins himself is totally reactionary. His defence of a material universe revealing its secrets ignores the total overthrow of materialism in modern physics. There is no world of solid objects; space-time itself depends upon shaping forces beyond both space and time. Arch-materialism is just as superstitious as religion. Someone like Dawkins still believes there are solid objects randomly colliding to haphazardly form more and more complex objects, until over the course of billions of years the universe produced human DNA with its billions of genetic bits.
What’s wrong with this argument is that if you trace DNA down to its individual atoms, each is more than 99.9% empty space. If you take an individual electron, it has no fixed position in either time or space. Rather, ghostly vibrations wink in and out of the universe thousands of times per second, and what lies beyond the boundary of the five senses holds enormous mysteries.
Enough mysteries, in fact, to be consistent with God. I don’t mean a personal God, or a mythic one, or any God with a human face. Set aside all images of God. What we observe once we get over the superstition of materialism is that random chance is one of the worst ways to explain how the universe evolved. Why?
• The various constants in nature, such as gravity and the speed of light, are too precisely fitted with each other for this to happen by chance.
• If any one of six constants had been off by less than a millionth of 1%, the material universe couldn’t exist.
• Events at opposite ends of the universe are paired with each other, so that a change in the spin of one electron immediately produces a twin effect in another electron. This ability to communicate instantly across millions of light years cannot be explained by materialism. It defies all notions of cause and effect. It defies chance.
• Every electron in the universe exists as a wave function that is everywhere at once. When this wave function collapses, we observe a specific isolated electron. Before the wave collapses, however, matter is non-local.
The ability of objects and events to be everywhere at once seems like an attribute of God-omnipresence. The ability of electrons separated by millions of light years to ‘talk’ to each other seems like another attribute of God-omniscience. This doesn’t mean that God explains the universe. It means that there may be governing forces at work which allow the existence of universal consciousness. The self-aware universe is a plausible theory.
If the universe is self-aware, it would explain the formation of a self-replicating molecule like DNA far more elegantly than the clumsy, crude mechanism of random chance. As the astronomer Fred Hoyle declared (Hoyle was one of the first to seize on the notion of an expanding universe in the 1950s), the probability that random chance created life is roughly the same as the probability that a hurricane could blow through a junkyard and create a Boeing 707.
At a certain point we must leave Dawkins behind, since he is riding a hobby-horse. Without screaming that the sky is falling down, one can say that two broad rivers of human experience have run into each other. One river carries science and objective observation of the world. The other river carries subjective experience and our craving for meaning, beauty, love and truth.
There is no reason why these two rivers need to be separated, and what we are seeing is a merging. Within a generation there will be accepted theories that integrate the world ‘out there’ with the world ‘in here’.
THIS BRINGS US to another of Dawkins’ major points: “The universe is neither intelligent nor conscious. Science doesn’t need those ingredients to explain Nature and its workings. Starting with atoms and molecules governed by strict physical laws, we will eventually explain everything.”
This argument has to be made in a very loud voice with total conviction to sound plausible. Dawkins holds that humans are conscious because chemicals randomly collide in the brain to produce a phantom we ignorantly call the mind. This is a fashionable view and in fact is the logical outcome of arch-materialism. Where else could mind come from if not molecules, assuming that molecules are the basis of the brain and therefore of reality itself?
Common sense finds it hard to take this argument seriously, because it leads to nonsense. The brain contains an enormous amount of water and salt. Are we to assume that water is intelligent, or salt is conscious? If they aren’t, then we must assume that throwing water and salt together – along with about six other basic building blocks of organic chemicals – suddenly makes them intelligent. The bald fact is that Dawkins defends an absurd position because he can’t make the leap to a different set of assumptions, such as:
• Consciousness is part of existence. It wasn’t created by molecules
• Intelligence is an aspect of consciousness
• Intelligence grows as life grows. Both evolve from within
• The universe evolved along intelligent lines.
The instant the word ‘intelligent’ comes up, sceptics rush in to shout that one is defending intelligent design, which is a stalking-horse for creationism, which is a stalking-horse for fundamentalist Christianity, which is a stalking-horse for Jesus as the one and only son of God. Such is the heated climate of debate at the moment.
However, if consciousness is innate in the universe, so is intelligence. That absolutely has nothing to do with God sitting on a throne in heaven creating Adam and Eve. If we remain sane and clear-headed, the reason to assume that consciousness exists is simple. There’s no other way to account for it. Without a doubt there is enormous design, complexity, organisation and interconnectedness everywhere in Nature. You can either say, “I see it; let me explain it,” or you can say “Ignore it; it’s just a byproduct of randomness.”
Consciousness isn’t just plausible as part of Nature; it’s totally necessary.
SCIENCE HAS PROGRESSED through experiments that convince people about the truth of what results. If it’s true that consciousness is everywhere in Nature, there needs to be an experiment to prove it. Dawkins claims that no such experiments exist and therefore no proof of either consciousness or intelligence. Life proceeds by chance, survival and adaptation. That’s the creed of Darwin, and there’s no need to alter it. This can be stated as another major point: “Consciousness is a byproduct of matter.”
There are many philosophical ways to disprove that statement, but since science believes in experiments, here is one. It’s a thought experiment.
Think of a yellow flower. Can you see it? If so, then the experiment has been successfully completed. When you see a flower in your mind, there is no flower inside your brain. That seems simple enough. But where is that flower? There’s no picture of it in your brain, because your brain contains no light. How about the colour yellow? Is there a patch of yellow inside your brain? Obviously not.
Yet you assume – as do all who fall for the superstition of materialism – that flowers and the colour yellow exist ‘out there’ in the world. In fact, they do not. The entire experience of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell is created
in consciousness. Molecules don’t assemble in your head to make the sound of a trumpet blaring in a brass band. The brain is silent. So where does the world of sights and sounds come from? Materialists cannot offer any reasonable explanation. The fact is that an enormous gap exists between any physical, measurable event and our perception.
That’s why Dawkins can never find God. He’s looking in the wrong place. The physical world can’t deliver God. One must look inside consciousness itself to find what God is about. If God is a universal intelligence, that will turn out to be a fact. It
won’t be superstition.
When you get to the primal
state of the universe, what is it? A universal field that encloses all matter and energy. This field is
everywhere, but it also localises itself. A molecule in the brain is one expression of the field; so is a thought. The field turns out to be the common ground of both the inner and outer world. When Einstein said that he wanted to know the mind of God, he was pointing us towards the field, which science continues to explore.
Fortunately, as the two rivers begin to merge, we won’t be plagued by either the superstition of religion or the superstition of materialism. We will begin to link brain and mind through new concepts that will explain how the colour yellow exists in our brain as the same phenomenon as a yellow flower in the meadow. Both are experiences in consciousness.
That covers the basic refutation of the anti-God argument. It doesn’t prove God by any means; much less does it degrade science. The damage that anti-God rhetoric does is to cloud reality. In reality there is ample room for both God and science.
Part Two of this article, to be published in the July/August issue of Resurgence, discusses how evolution fits into this new paradigm.