god’S EVERYTHING THAT IS, THEREFORE NOTHING
I’ve always been a seeker after truth, but I fear admitting to it because the super-religious always think my “seeking” means I’m open for their kind of a conversion experience. I’m far beyond a born again emotional manipulation. I’ve had more than one of those in my sixty-six years, and I’m familiar enough with them to know that they are psychological displacements (new synaptical patterns being formed) rather than spiritual or transcendental happenings. They don’t prove a god exists; they just show me that I can experience strong emotional feelings that transform my beliefs which are habituated in the synaptical patterns of my brain.
However, let me add that if a mythological Jesus should turn out to be real and come down out of heaven and show me the wound in his side and give me a snapshot of the pearly gates, I might be open to a conversion experience, but it would be a non-emotional, scientific, rational acceptance rather then a born again one. If definitive scientific evidence for a spiritual world should show itself in the form of something I could touch, taste and smell, I’d be right there to believe. I’m open to a conversion experience of that nature. The other kind? Sorry, “I’ve been there, done that.”
Another thought provoking thing is that the religious always want to say that science is also just a belief, like any belief. Okay, let’s accept their premise. All that I ask is that they use the same idea to undermine their faith. If science is just a belief and not to be given credence above faith, then, also, spiritual life is only a belief and has no more credence than science. But most faith people will not bring their faith into question with the concept of relativity. They just use relativity to undermine scientific findings which undermine religious beliefs. If evangelicals will say that their faith is as doubtful as they think the findings of science are, then I’ll give them a new respect. Until then—get outta here with that!
When I was at another place in my seeking, a woman friend once told me to think about god in a new way. “Why don’t you just believe that god is whatever is,” she suggested.
I found that quite interesting. I could believe in the whole universe as a stand-in concept for the hypothesis of god. In other words, when I was thinking about the universe and everything in it, I was thinking about god. God could be every thought, emotion, discovery, process and piece of scientific knowledge, every thing (animal, vegetable and mineral) within conceptualized human experience. That, of course, easily tied into the Deist idea that god created the universe and, then, withdrew from the creation. The Deist’s only way to find god (think: our most intelligent founders) was through studying the creation with science. Again, that fit, so for awhile, I was a Deist and, sometimes, a pantheist.
Eventually, however, my study of science led me back to atheism, specially the study of consciousness which gives me the truth of how we apprehend reality which shows me that almost everything in the universe is made up. To the brain there’s no difference between an imagined event or thing and a real thing if, indeed, we can speak of any “real thing” outside our perceptions of "it". We, actually, have no idea what lies outside the inputs of our sensory equipment and our own thoughts (i.e. our synaptical patterns) about what's out there. We are truly prisoners within our own senses. Our sensory data is all that we know of the outside world and each sensory machine that is each of us is similar but different.
Reminds me of a character in a novel I wrote when I was in my thirties who thought of himself as a prisoner in a pigeon pooped statue in a park inside of which he lived. He could crawl up and look out his eye holes from time to time. Other than that, he was trapped and helpless. Some of those ideas were pretty true.
Eventually, when we are honest about what we do know about human consciousness, we must admit that our ideas about the “outside” world are mostly concepts, i.e. synaptical patterns, which exist only in our brains. What is out there is almost completely made up of and arrived at by temporary agreements between populations which are constantly being born and dying. This is why reality changes, why an Egyptian in the time of the pharaohs lived in a totally different reality than we Americans of the 21st Century. Different synaptical patterns arise from new realities all the time.
The concrete world is less subject to misinterpretation than is the abstract, immaterial world and imagination. If you and I are talking about “that” specific cliff out there, we’ll both be talking about an almost similar (we can't both occupy exactly the same space) pattern of shadow and light coming into our eyeballs. We might disagree about the shade of color we’re jointly describing, or we might disagree about the deepness of the shade, but we know that we’re each experiencing the same incoming sensations we call “cliff face”. We may be having different feelings about the cliff on any given day, but we’ll agree that there is a cliff out there in the fading light of day. Generally, we’re talking about the same phenomena. You might be bummed out, and I might be ecstatic, but we are both receiving the same information about a cliff being out there which we can talk about.
However, when it comes to the immaterial, abstract world of imagination, then we start to really disagree, which is why we know that god is not the same as the real, concrete world of sensation, because there is so much disagreement about this hypothetical god stuff. We can’t stand side by side and discuss god as a specific phenomena of light and shadow out there in the world beyond our craniums. The hypothesis of god remains outside of the concrete (or somewhat concrete) world which we experience sensually (i.e. with our senses).
God’s a bit of our imagination, we might say, about as real as any character in a fiction piece. This hypothesis of a super being out there somewhere has to take it’s place alongside of the ideas of unicorn and Santa Claus. Whether or not a super being called god exists, it has no more substantiality than either of those. It does have an emotional reality because of all the feeling we tie into it from within ourselves, but so does Santa Claus until we suffer that terrible traumatic moment when we’re told that particular hypothetical being doesn’t exist. Of course, someday, we may discover that there is a Santa Claus after all. Still, we must await more concrete evidence before we can say that.
Therefore, I put the thought of god in a category outside the world of the sensual which any two people can agree exists outside ourselves in the world which both our senses experience. When we both walk to a stone and heft it and agree it’s heavy and there to be experienced, we are in the world of science. The hypothesis of god does not exist in the world of science at all. We can’t both go out and pick up god and agree we’re having the same experience. There’s no weight in the hand we can agree on is god. It has no texture. So I divide the world we share into at least two kinds of existence—the world experienced through the senses and the world of imagination, the made up world which is unavailable to the senses.
A stone is of the first existence, and the god concept of the second. Language is a third reality because words written and spoken are real, in that they come in through the senses of sight and sound, but they are unreal in that they stand in for other things in my brain and are not the thing itself. When I use the word, “cliff”, the word is not the same as the cliff itself, out there, but it can indicate to the guy or gal standing beside me that I want to draw her attention to that “thing” in front of us we jointly call, “cliff”. We can both use the word “unicorn” too, but no unicorn exists in the universe that we know of. We can use the word “justice” also, but no such thing as “justice” actually walks and talks in the universe although we can describe an act or decision or person as being just or unjust.
The idea of god is much more like the idea of justice than it is the idea of a rock which is why I can say that god does not “exist” in the real world. The existence of god is only an idea like the unicorn or justice is an idea. Maybe someday we’ll discover god and heaven in a concrete way, with the same finality that we can both stub our toes on the same rock. Until then, god remains a hypothetical idea which only exists as far as we know in the realm of word reality, of language.
Finally, I still like the idea that god is whatever is that we can agree to stub our toes on. Anything we can’t stub a toe on is only an idea like the idea of a unicorn. God is not what we imagine god is in our thoughts (synapses); they’re cut off from the concrete world and only exist in our imaginations. Looking at the concrete universe through science, we can say that if a god did create it, then, like the Deists, this handiwork of god is the only thing we can know about god.
As we learn more and more with science about the concrete world, we are uncovering what it is that god is not. Any guesses about anything beyond the physical world is only a guess about some power in the Universe bigger than ourselves. We may never know what this hypothetical god’s intentions are, but we may know a god’s real world (if that’s what you want to call it—god’s world), and that real world may be all we’re supposed to know. So we need to keep learning about the physical world, to see if it can tell us anything about a creator, if there is a creator.
An interesting complication to this scientific search for god is that, eventually, we may know all there is to know and then god will disappear because at that point we’ll hold the entire world within our thoughts inside our craniums; we’ll be gods ourselves, equal to the hypothetical god in every way. For now, it’s enough to say that what we do know is not god, and the less you know, the more you believe in god.
"I'm as pure as the driven slush." —Tallulah Bankhead