In a comment to a recent note of this columnist, a reader questioned my skepticism about metaphysical entities: “What rigorous academic studies do prove the non-existence of God?” –asked this religious and respectful reader.
The scientific method requires the development of positive and measurable evidence to support the formulation and modification of the proposed hypotheses. It is physically impossible to do tests on any creature or thing that are not real. We cannot prove that centaurs–half humans, half horses–ever walked on the face of Earth. Neither the scientific method applies to the verification of the existence of immaterial, intangible and immeasurable forms. Nor can we perform experiments on incorporeal entities.
Regarding the reality or unreality of God, we, the unbeliever agnostics, always say “I don’t know”. Some of us venture to go beyond and reflect on the possibility that God might exist depending on how we define the word. Interpretations of the expression such as “that Infinite All of which man knows himself to be a finite part” (Tolstoy), “the orderly Harmony of what exists” (Spinoza), “the ceaseless Creativity of the universe” (Stuart Kauffman), or “the pure Consciousness that dwells within everything” (Amritanandamayi Devi) would move my neutrality toward an affirmation.
The sectarian deities, on the other hand, that reward their followers and punish infidels, those who intervene in everything that is happening (except in catastrophe prevention), those who incite violence against the unbelievers, and those that proclaim commandments or reveal sacred books to their prophets … Such deities not only tip my scale toward denial but make my answer blunt: Such gods do not exist.
My agnostic position extends to encompass the so-called cosmological argument of Aristotle and Aquinas. According to these philosophers, the assumption of an infinite chain of consecutive causes and effects is absurd and therefore, trillions of years ago nothing existed and, at some point, a First Cause, without a doer or chronological predecessor, must have created whatever there was at the very beginning. Is it an infinite chain of events really absurd? Again, I do not know.
The big bang theory, the accepted model for the origin of the universe, argues that before the big bang there was nothing, not even space or time. As such, for the liberal interpreters of the Torah, the big bang became a confirmation that when God said “Let there be light” (Genesis 1.3), occurred the unprecedented lighting that was the big bang. (In Genesis 1.1, the Lord made heaven and earth)
However, there are now scenarios that open up new possibilities, yet unproven, according to which there would exist some stuff before the first light, and the big bang may have been more the ‘big bounce’ of a previous universe that would have collapsed down to the small dot of infinite density wherefrom the huge explosion ignited. As neither infinite densities nor previous universes that shrank fit in my head, I feel compelled to plead agnostic again and, furthermore, to extrapolate my “I do not know” to all the many other unexplained things and events both current and not yet identified.
Atheist neuroscientist Sam Harris presents the law of gravity, the workings of which scientists know quite well, as a good example of the incomprehensible. Why do bodies attract each other? No idea. Our brain cannot assimilate this and countless other phenomena, and certainly no single mind, not even the brain of the brightest person, will be ever able to discern just the basics of every science. “We do not really understand anything about our physical world at the deepest level,” says astronomer Sten Odenwald.
Sam Harris is one of the contemporary advocates of non-religious spirituality, a trend that has room for agnostics, skeptics and atheists, on one hand, and for the ‘believers’ in the God of Tolstoy, Spinoza, Kauffman or Devi, on the other. If the Supreme Principle of any of these four thinkers is the ‘Real One’, God would be Infinity, Harmony, Creativity or Pure Consciousness, and He would not demand faith or allegiance from us, earthlings, or the inhabitants of other planets (if they existed). Such a God would never reward devotion or punish heresy. And I am quite positive that His reality will never be confirmed or rebutted in a research laboratory.
Atlanta, November 17, 2014