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ATHEIST FOUNDATION OF AUSTRALIA INC
DOES GOD EXIST?
by David Nicholls
It is in need of pointing out that this question has been asked since the time of our first conscious awareness. Even though it varies in how it is asked, no other notion is anywhere near as universally represented in the thoughts of humans.
The glaring conclusion to this ubiquitous enquiry is definitive proof that the answer is not forthcoming by normal observation. If it were, then billions of humans would have no need of asking it. Many thousands of peoples and races have made up answers to satisfy our inherent need-to-know mentally. These answers vary to such a degree, that their only commonality is in the acceptance without evidence, of the existence of a supernatural realm.
Can billions of humans be wrong in drawing conclusions based on nothing but suspect ancient stories and “feelings” that there is indeed a “God”?
Before we answer this question, it must be remembered that the superstitious nature of humans has had us believing in many un-evidenced propositions. To name but a few, - visits by extraterrestrial life, the existence of ghosts, water divining, the reality of witches and so on and so forth. Until relatively recently, some of us believed in a Flat Earth and a 6000-year-old Universe. Many prominent persons accepted it as true that Fairies were real and that communication with the dead and astral travel were possible.
There is no doubt at all that humanity has a penchant for accepting unreasonable propositions as a matter of course. There is no proof, excepting “feelings”, to support any of the above.
“Hold on!” I hear you say, most of those people were and are ‘nutters’ and not mainstream representation. This criticism can be disregarded if it is considered that until the time of Darwin, it was commonly accepted in Western philosophy, that the Earth was created by a “God” as depicted in the Bible. This creation event was only some thousands of years past. Even though humanity was surrounded by the evidence disputing such a grand thought, it was not recognised. Why was this so?
The explanation is quite simple and has it origins in a William of the village of Ockham in Surrey (England) in about 1285. William of Ockham was a controversial theologian who clashed with the Pope of the day, John XXII, on various matters involving papal powers, etc. William valued the idea of parsimony (economic use of thoughts and ideas) and eventually a rule was developed that was known as Ockham’s razor. It stated, “Plurality should not be assumed without necessity”, or, “keep it simple”. The latter phrase in itself is a demonstration of the principle. The most likely explanation is more often than not, the correct one. In William’s day therefore, the simple answer to, “was the Earth created 6000 ago”, was “yes”. There was no science enough to alter that conclusion and thus it was accepted.
Ironically, William’s rule is now one of the cornerstones of science, and without it, knowledge would be burdened with all kinds of Para-normal and wild assumptive intrusion, enough to make scientific endeavour, as we know it, impossible.
St Anselm and ontological proof.
Returning to the idea of a “God”, St. Anselm (1033 – 1109) wrote the discourse (Proslogium), which was accepted in the 18th century as the ontological (the science of being) argument for the existence of God. It alleged the greatest being that can be thought of is “God”. Moreover, a greater thought is that this “God” actually exists.
The ontological argument is no longer accepted, as lesser thoughts such as the existence of Unicorns or any other imaginary concept is not proven just by being able to think of them. The simplest explanation, or using Ockham’s razor, is that these are only thoughts.
Let us now use Ockham’s razor on the other pillars that support the “God” exists notion:
The argument of design.
The Universe, as far as all science knows, works using the four forces of nature with no variance having ever been reliably observed or recorded. Within this framework, the intricacy of quantum physics has particles not acting in accord with common-sense predictability. A velocity or position can be calculated, but not both at the same time. This demonstrates a propensity for a deeper meaning to nature than is yet understood. To conclude now that “God” created the Universe, is akin to our forebears stating that the Earth was 6000 years old in their time. The simplest explanation is that nature is not yet fully explained and to bring a “God” into the equation only creates undue complexity.
Scientific discovery has dispelled the flat earth theory, the earth as the centre of the universe, a young earth, miracles etc. and has changed our view of ourselves whilst pushing “God” further and further into a position of less importance in the running of the cosmos. Why should we now stop and say that this “God” is just over the horizon, when we already know that that horizon is melting in the light of new scientific unearthing.
It is only coincidence that we live now, as it was for those when belief had humans placed at the centre of the universe. It is against the ideal of scientific enterprise to stop suddenly and to say that all that is unknown beyond this point in history is attributable to a “God”. William of Ockham would agree with this position.
A great number of people “feel” that there is a “God”. Once again, using Ockham’s razor, most feelings related to the supernatural are effectively explained by childhood indoctrination. This is irrefutably supported by observation of other cultures. However, there are people who actually experience powerful perceptions of connection to a “higher plane”.
These feelings are expressions of the way we think and can be altered by damage to the neuronic structure, physical exertion, religious fervour, by inadequate nutrition, by heat/cold and by drugs and other toxins. The brain can modify in function if we have a cold or flu, genetic flaw or if we are in pain and possibly for many other reasons.
Brains are in a continual state of change of sequence of firings. If, for example, too much carbon dioxide invades the hypothalamus, the result can be what is known as a mystical or religious experience and other effects. People can really believe they are in contact with a higher plane when this happens, and that higher plane parallels the existing cultural expectations of the location of that person. Bertrand Russell, famous Atheist, philosopher, writer and all round good guy could bring this condition on at will, once when he was riding his pushbike. LSD and other drugs can give similar effects.
It is not that long ago that the association between epilepsy and experiencing visions was unknown. Joan of Arc suffered from Temporal Lobe epilepsy, and she fought and died for her illusions. This is another example of the intricate workings of the brain.
The following extract is of interest along these lines:
From "Beginning the World" by Karen Armstrong - former nun.
"My neurologist once told me that people with temporal lobe epilepsy are very often intensely religious. Certainly just before I have a grand mal fit I have a 'vision' of such peace, joy and significance that I can only call it God. What does this say about the whole nature of religious vision? Certain episodes in the lives of the saints have acquired a new meaning for me. When Theresa of Avila had her three-day vision of hell, was she simply having a temporal lobe attack? The horrors she saw are similar to those I have experienced, but in her case informed by the religious imagery of her time. Like other saints who have 'seen' hell she describes an appalling stench, which is part of an epileptic aura. Is it possible that the feeling I have had all my life that something - God, perhaps? - is just over the horizon, something unimaginable but almost tangibly present, is simply the result of an electrical irregularity in my brain? It is a question that can't yet be answered, unless it be that God, if He exists, could have created us with that capacity for Him, glimpsed at only when the brain is convulsed. What I can say, however, is that if my 'visions' have sometimes let me into 'Hell' they have also given me possible intimations of a Heaven, which I would not have been without."
The question has to be asked, what relationship to a higher plane is one that is culturally dependant and only happens when the brain is interfered with in some manner? A further question; is it fair play by a higher entity or whatever, to only allow this to happen to a minority of people with abnormalities of, or with the induction of, foreign matter into the brain? A further question is, would some entity expect that we should take any notice of them and follow the Joan of Arc’s to our deaths?
It would be prudent at the least to suspect these reported “otherworldly” adventures”. Some people may well think they are real, but we should know better than believing them to be any more than the brain responding to inputs beyond what can be classed as normal.
I would add here, the evidence seems to be overwhelming that hallucination is a common occurrence, and using Ockham’s razor, the most likely cause is not a higher plane. Of course, we can never know for sure, but a higher plane would not expect the rest of us to accept that everyone who has a brain surge to be in direct contact with it. If people believe they have made contact, then so be it. Conversely, if the other mentioned explanations are not considered and evaluated to be a possible cause, then their story should be automatically accepted as incredulous.
Subjectivity and objectivity.
The convenient stance that all or part of consciousness is subjective (existing in the mind), allows humans to believe in anything they wish. The belief in “God” can be one of those desires. It is not too contentious to suggest that objective thought (external to the mind), although easily overridden by repetitious and authoritative fantasy, is the way we interpret external stimuli.
Other culture examination exposes human capacity for self-delusion in this area of our nature.
We have now arrived at subjective and objective interpretation by the brain. The way we all perceive the world can be classed as “subjective consciousness”, but I would add in haste, it is the only “subjective consciousness” we have to work with. What we know about any given object is really only imagery in the mind. Can such a mental picture be relied upon?
Let us say the object is a dead and rotting animal. The eyes can see it. The nose can smell it, we may be able to hear the blowflies buzzing around it, and we could feel it and we could taste it, if wished. Five different senses telling us the same message cannot be lightly dismissed.
Those five senses are our survival technique and if they are sending our brain incorrect messages, our lives can be placed in jeopardy. The commonality of human experience in everyday occurrence does give weight towards our senses perceiving an objective reality in common. That is fairly convincing evidence to those that value the power of reason.
We must use this reasoning power to make reasonable assertions about our own existence, the existence of others and all else. This we have been doing ever since scrambling down from an arboreal way of life. (Maybe even before this) If this “subjective” reasoning can be objectively quantified as creating more harm than good, then it must be altered. It must be brought into line with that which our senses are telling us.
Ockham’s razor is not at variance in these matters, indeed, a mish-mash of ideas will develop if this imperative suffers a non-too strict adherence. A resulting capacity to complicate thinking processes can then produce a “God”, but it is only one of internal construct.
The already mentioned, Bertrand Russell, summed up the aforesaid very concisely: “To save the world requires faith and courage: faith in reason, and courage to proclaim what reason shows to be true.”
Many derive a large support for the belief in a “God” from the New Testament. The story of Jesus as the Son of “God” is the lynchpin of Christianity.
However, there are no eyewitness accounts to the supposed life of Jesus. It appears that the four known Gospels were taken from the accounts of Paul. Paul never met Jesus. There is no credible ex-Bible supporting evidence for the miraculous events of this period. It is all very suspicious hearsay, full of inconsistency and inaccuracy mixed with made-up astounding occurrences not recorded elsewhere. The alleged proceedings took place in a time of total superstition when ‘messiah’s’ were a dime a dozen. The people were scientifically ignorant and prone to harsh Roman rule and were in need of reprise from their situation. Imagine for a moment if on the touted death of Jesus, the dead Saints rose from their graves and mixed with the population. The Romans would have their version of the CIA investigate this wonder in an effort to make their armies invincible to death. Why have we not read about this in history? Walking on water and feeding the multitudes etc. would have evoked the same result.
It was not until the second Council of Nicaea in 325 CE (Common Era) that Jesus was declared divine and this done by force of vote by the murderous Constantine. The interference to the Gospels was a result, with many being left out to promote an image that was acceptable to the authorities. Since then, the Bible has been altered to suit in similar fashion. This is to be expected, and again Ockham’s razor is in total harmony.
The entirety above can be recognised in other societies but hidden in our own. Such is the power of selective imagination, stirred on by self-interest, mortal-fear and childhood indoctrination.
The requirement of absolute proof that “God” does not exist, as evidence that she/he/it does, is a spurious religiously based argument. If reasoned thinking moves away from conclusions drawn from the highest probability, it enters the domain of wishful thinking where any proposition can be accepted.
A full and proper knowledge of human nature coupled with the evidence of science and history, are in complete and unambiguous accord that the answer to the question: “Does “God” exist”, is a definitive – “no”.
Keith S. Cornish, President, Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc
Bertrand Russell, The Prospects of Industrial Civilization
Principia Cybernetica Web
Dave Beckett, University of Kent at Canterbury, UK.
Donald E. Simanek
Karen Armstrong - former nun, Beginning the World
Bertrand Russell, Television documentary on lucid dreaming
Chris McGowan, In the Beginning
Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, The Malleus Maleficarum
Horace Freeland Judson, The Search for Solutions
Encyclopedia of World Mythology
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