“I don’t want to believe. I want to know.”
― Carl Sagan
My present understanding of God has taken years of deep thought to form. It’s far from perfect. It’s constantly evolving, being shaped by various experiences and discussions. It is very hard to put this understanding into words. Nevertheless, here is an honest attempt.
This understanding revolves around probability. ‘Maybe’ and ‘maybe not’ being the key words. God may, or may not exist. One can never be too sure either way. I start with a 50 50 probability of the existence of God because there isn’t any evidence/supporting factor/negating factor pointing otherwise. It could either be a 50 50 probability or an unknown probability. Since it is an unknown probability, I might as well make it 50 50 as I don’t know which side to support more. Since one can’t be sure, supporting both equally seems to be the logical answer to me, till I have reason to think otherwise. This may seem philosophically wrong at many levels and if one feels so, the 50 50 probability can also be looked at as an unknown probability, which again leads us to 50 50 by the deduction described above. It’s hard to explain. In case this didn’t make sense, read this para again, I’m sure you’ll get it! I call this the regressive probability paradox. 😛
God may just be the longest surviving superstition and this one could well be immortal due to the apparent limitations of our knowledge and consciousness. So it stops being a superstition and becomes an excellent concept until proven unnecessary. If everything is analysed strictly through the prism of logic, many things (but strictly not all, yet) as we see it (or don’t see it) begin falling into place.
I feel the concept of God could be an attempt by humans (who are a minuscule part of the ‘big picture’ by the way) to embody what they can’t explain. What I mean by the word God is the mask that is given to the uncertainties and unknowns in the universe, by man. It will exist as long as these things remain unsolved. For man’s peace of mind, he has to attribute these to something, hence the concept of God. That’s why an early God was the Sun God Ra in Egyptian History. They couldn’t explain the sun, so it became a God. Gradually, most things that man couldn’t explain were attributed to God and his will. Rain, wind, solar eclipses, floods, birth, death and what not were all attributed to the will of God. Once upon a time, superstitions ruled the roost and were called beliefs. We call those ‘beliefs’ superstitions in hindsight because we have attained a better understanding of the world now. This evolution of thought needs to carry on for what seems an eternity for us to realize that God was indeed a superstition. It isn’t going to happen anytime even in the extremely distant future and is nearly impossible to happen. I’ll explain how at a later stage.
In my present understanding of God, I too follow the same basic premise of the ancient people. Whatever humanity doesn’t know yet, I consider it to have something to do with God. I know what the Sun is. A star. Hence, the sun isn’t a God anymore to a rational, scientific mind. I know how winds are formed and how they work, hence wind isn’t a God anymore. I know how solar eclipses work, hence that isn’t God at work. This could someday be extrapolated to discount the entire notion of God.
“Think for yourself, question authority.
Throughout human history as our species has faced the frightening, terrorizing fact that we do not know who we are or where we are going in this ocean of chaos.
It has been the authorities the political, the religious, the educational authorities. Who attempted to comfort us by giving us order, rules, regulations.
Informing, forming in our mind their view of reality. To think for yourself you must question authority and learn how to put yourself in a state of vulnerable, open mindedness, chaotic, confused vulnerability to inform yourself.”
However, to answer those very frightening and terrorizing questions, many religions tell us God created it all for a purpose and we are just actors playing out his script. Well, maybe. I am not entirely discounting that side. What many people ought to realize is that, maybe not. I am not here to disprove any possibility or to prove anybody wrong. You may be right. But you need to be humble/brave enough to accept that you may be wrong too.
One thing that cannot be denied is evolution. Hats off to Charles Darwin! His theories completely derailed creationist notions of our universe’s existence in many minds. We humans, are at the end of a long chain of evolution. And we sure aren’t done yet. We share a common ancestry with apes and they share theirs with other more primitive creatures that learnt to live out of water. Dolphins are our likely ancestors. Yes, I believe life started in water because that’s where all the various elements could combine at the very start when all that existed on Earth was elements like nitrogen, oxygen, etc. That led to the formation of compounds due to various conditions, like heat, pressure, etc which in turn led to the formation of more complex compounds like proteins, DNA etc. It eventually led to formation of the first, simplest life forms that were molecular in nature. Evolution took off from there to bring us where we are now, billions of years later. This pretty much answers where we came from as far as life on Earth is concerned. The question is, how did the first atom in the universe come into ‘existence’? That’s unanswered. Big bang is still just a very appealing and interesting concept that isn’t concrete enough yet to believe completely. It could be true. But could be false just as well. This question of how it all started has a bit of the God factor in my mind it as it is unknown. I attribute that to be an act of God for the time being. When that gets answered (in God 😛 knows how many years/centuries/millennia), my version of God would have another thing taken out of it’s domain!
An interesting insight is provided in Jainism by Ācārya Jinasena in Mahāpurāna, which rejects creationist thought. “Some foolish men declare that creator made the world. The doctrine that the world was created is ill advised and should be rejected. If God created the world, where was he before the creation? If you say he was transcendent then and needed no support, where is he now? How could God have made this world without any raw material? If you say that he made this first, and then the world, you are faced with an endless regression. If you declare that this raw material arose naturally you fall into another fallacy, For the whole universe might thus have been its own creator, and have arisen quite naturally. If God created the world by an act of his own will, without any raw material, then it is just his will and nothing else — and who will believe this silly nonsense? If he is ever perfect and complete, how could the will to create have arisen in him? If, on the other hand, he is not perfect, he could no more create the universe than a potter could. If he is form-less, action-less and all-embracing, how could he have created the world? Such a soul, devoid of all modality, would have no desire to create anything. If he is perfect, he does not strive for the three aims of man, so what advantage would he gain by creating the universe? If you say that he created to no purpose because it was his nature to do so, then God is pointless. If he created in some kind of sport, it was the sport of a foolish child, leading to trouble. If he created because of the karma of embodied beings [acquired in a previous creation] He is not the Almighty Lord, but subordinate to something else If out of love for living beings and need of them he made the world, why did he not make creation wholly blissful free from misfortune? If he were transcendent he would not create, for he would be free: Nor if involved in transmigration, for then he would not be almighty. Thus the doctrine that the world was created by God makes no sense at all, And God commits great sin in slaying the children whom he himself created. If you say that he slays only to destroy evil beings, why did he create such beings in the first place? Good men should combat the believer in divine creation, maddened by an evil doctrine. Know that the world is uncreated, as time itself is, without beginning or end, and is based on the principles, life and rest. Uncreated and indestructible, it endures under the compulsion of its own nature.” Well, that’s an interesting school of thought brought to my notice recently by a friend which has gotten me thinking. But how can one be sure? A universe with no beginning and no end does seem like such a tempting possibility, though it creates more questions than answers. That is yet another probability! At the surface, I feel the finding that galaxies are all constantly moving away from each other (as explained in the constantly expanding universe, part of the Big Bang Theory) somewhat contradicts this one by suggesting a beginning of the universe. But one cannot be too sure about the universal accuracy of this finding as we haven’t attained the level of knowledge yet to apply laws to the entire universe. We haven’t seen even a small part of the universe yet, let alone studied it. I need to think more about this one.. Moving on,
Whether we have a soul or not is unknown. The thing inside us keeping us alive is the electric spark in our heart that makes it beat. How does it beat? With the energy of the food we eat. Does there HAVE to be a soul? No, not at all. We may have just made the whole thing up! Our actions are determined by the state of our mind, which in turn depends on the kind of environment our minds have developed in. No matter how noble a ‘soul’ a person holds, if he/she is brought up in an ignoble environment, she/he is bound to have an ignoble personality. If they develop in a dark room, they are bound to be blind and so on. Our personalities are a sub-conscious manifestation of our environment.
After we die, what happens is unknown. Maybe our soul gets freed of its mortal shell. That’s a nice one to think about. But maybe nothing happens. Maybe all that happens is we disintegrate into the elements we were made out of in the first place. Our consciousness just ends then and there and nothing further happens. Maybe death is that simple and we have unnecessarily over-thought about it and put it on a pedestal due to our innate fear of it. God knows. 😛
So, I still do have a kind of belief in God, as it embodies every question I can’t think or even imagine an answer to. Believing in God is healthy as it helps one live with the unanswered questions and so brings peace of mind by satisfying our questioning minds. For instance, we needed the creationist view till we could explain evolution beyond reasonable doubt. Our minds are so evolved that it is open to questioning everything. There is no limit to our inquisitiveness. As we keep finding answers to our questions, we will keep finding newer questions. We have consciousness, but we don’t know its limit. It’s probably limitless. What we consider as the highest level of thinking maybe peanuts for a future human race or another alien race, whose consciousness may be much broader than ours. There is no end to this serial conceptual panopticon.
Hence, no matter how far we get with answering our questions, there will always remain an unknown for as far as my limited human foresight can see. Our progress towards answering all of them is like approaching infinity with our level of thought. (attempting to define dx–>1/0 for the mathematically inclined) We will probably never attain 100% knowledge of the universe to be able to define it accurately. It’s almost like defining the value of infinity. But if and when we do it (which seems kind of infinitely impossible in our present state of mind and will take an almost infinite amount of time, millions of years of endeavour probably), I feel the concept of God will cease to make sense to us anymore and we ourselves shall become God as we will have the answers to everything possible. What could we attribute to God after attaining such an impossibly high level of awareness and knowledge? Knowing every, single thing in the universe. Being able to accurately define the universe. Just imagine. Impossible right? All we can do for now is endeavour towards that infinite knowledge step by step and expand our consciousness as far as possible, as I like to believe that nothing is impossible for mankind. All it takes is time and effort. Both, in near infinite amounts in this case! We also have infinite hope in too us. That’s what makes us so special. The belief that we can aspire for absolutely anything. Even an infinitely tough task. After all, since infinite is undefined, there is a Godly aura around it too! For now.. 😉 😛
If I tried to define my position using conventional labels, I could say I’m an agnostic atheist (though I was naive enough to believe my views were original till I came across the wiki page on this. 😉 No denying, my bubble did burst!). Not in every sense though. It’s only due to my existence in this age and time. I would love to be atheist but my desire for scientific evidence stops me at the doorstep. I do believe, in the infinite future, atheism will undoubtedly be the world belief. So I’m an agnostic for now, who would love to be proven an atheist. But like I explained, that’s got to wait a long, long time! The closest (not exact) I could get to my version in conventional definitions is explained on this wiki page on agnostic atheism. Or is it Possibilianism? Heck, I find Absurdism very appealing as well! Defining one’s views in conventional terms is more confusing than I’d previously thought as I am (we are) still a work in progress! 😛 🙂 Peace.
(not necessarily) Related articles for further reading
- Science and the Indian Tradition: When Einstein Met Tagore (www.brainpickings.org) ~ A true gem of an extract from discussions between Einstein and Tagore which is one of the most stimulating, intellectually riveting conversations in history, exploring the age-old friction between science and religion.
- Against all gods (maasaiboys.wordpress.com) ~ Lovely piece on atheism.
- Is God limited? (openobserver.wordpress.com) ~ Lovely view on theism.
- If A Creator of the Universe Exists It Isn’t A God (wealthshare.wordpress.com) ~ Nice arguments, most of which i support.
- C.S. Lewis’ Milk Jug: Apologetics and the Retreat into Epistemology (adversusapologetica.wordpress.com) ~ My response to this awesome last blog, glorifying atheism was this:– (and I add it here as it too brought some clarity in my thought.. Since my views are still evolving, I want to learn from such objective thinkers)
I found your method of logical deduction very appealing. I aspire to think as objectively as that. Everything has to be looked at purely through logic, and I like that. What I found to be on similar lines in our blogs and not similar per se was the logical approach you have used to disprove the existence of God. What you have used are philosophical means. I like them and would like to agree but my mind is unable to discount the other possibility due to our lack of scientific progress/certainty. What you have proven philosophically is what I predict to be proven scientifically one day. That day is very very far away and is sort of hypothetical, but it would lead to the whole world understanding what you believe now. Also, I agree with you that ‘I don’t know’ is an honest man’s answer to questions he doesn’t know the answer to. But the thing is, most people have attributed it to God since time immemorial. I am not justifying this tendency, merely acknowledging it. It is the only justification I can even think of agreeing with because I know that as the scientific evidence piles up, this notion is going to die a slow and painful death. My version in my post predicts a slow and gradual progression towards your post. Why I didn’t proclaim atheism loud and clear is because at this stage of scientific knowledge, I feel only 99.99% sure. Even that 0.01% doubt stops me. Philosophically, of course, one can make up for the 0.01% but I would prefer science to demolish the notion of God, not philosophy.. Because then I can unabashedly be 100% sure without having to explain it to people. That’s a personal choice, which I don’t intend to debate/argue over or try imposing on others.