Friday, May 27, 2011

Is There a God? -- Is There Mind?

One of the more profound proposals in Dawkins’ The God Delusion is the following:

“…any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution” (p. 31, italics original).

From our observable experience, the only beings that are capable of design are those that are embodied and have neurological faculties such as physical brains. Without neurological physiology, design does not exist; without a body and a brain, the mind ceases to exist. Mind, though not reducible to mere matter is, no doubt, an emergent product of matter. In our experience as humans, in our empirical study of the cosmos, no exceptions to the mind-matter continuum can be pinned down, none. Anyone that presumes that mind exists without brain cannot assert this with the backing of empiricism and the scientific method.

In my recent reading of Keith Ward’s Why There Almost Certainly is a God I came upon a divergent expansion of Dawkins’ proposal stated above. Let me quote:

“The question of God is the question of whether conscious mind can exist without any physical body… Arguments for the existence of God are arguments claiming to show that not all minds arise from matter. There is at least one mind that is prior to all matter…” (p. 19).

I apologize to the unconvinced reader not for the fact that I am presuming the following to be true, but I am sorry for the educational system and the religious leaders who have fed you with lies, to believe that the soul is an immaterial part of your humanity, a part that survives beyond death. Mind and consciousness are late developments in the universe—the product of billions of years of physical cosmic processes that have resulted in the raw materials for life and the product of millions of years of biological evolution that led to the development of physical brains and higher-level thought and self-awareness. You have mind, you are reading, you are thinking and self-aware not as the result of a direct divine fiat miracle but because of the dysteleological process of evolution that brought the unlikelihood of you into conscious being.

We know, we observe, we can experience no mind or consciousness that is not a part of and the result of this process of naturalistic evolution. To assert that there is a God is to assert that mind, one mind is an exception to the rule. One mind (though indeed God would be more than mind though not less than) is an exception to the process of conscious existence. This is what it means to propose that there is a God outside of time and matter, it is to posit the existence of mind before matter and outside of the necessary process to produce mind from matter: evolution.

Now, this does not mean there isn’t a God or a Mind; however, if there is such a Mind, it is highly unlikely that it is an exception to every other reality that we know and experience. This Mind must itself be emergent, a product of evolution. In this regard I am an unquestionable theist through the paradigm of radically emergent theism in which God is a property that emerges from self-aware minds or from the noosphere. This is the only God that I can relate to, one that is herself made from the same fabric, the same matter, that produces Mind and consciousness. This is a God, who like myself, is not static but in process, changing. This is a God who can become what we want her to be. And, unlike the wooden ideologies of fundamentalism, she can become whatever we want her to be. Her fullness is contingent on a humanity that takes the reigns of its own potential, a humanity that will not wait for the intervention of a Sovereign God who is himself an exception to existence and morality, who is unaccountable to reality and ethics, and who will never show.


Jamie G. said...

Peter... great post, bro!

Good stuff. This is not a criticism, but it is evident that you've got a good handle on the Western philosophical approach.

If you ever get some time, check out some of the Eastern philosophical writings, especially in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. I'm not as familiar with the Hindi approach, but the Tibetans, especially HH the Dalai Lama has written extensively on the subject. He even has a yearly conference with the world's most leading scientists on cognitive research. Check out his Mind and Life Institute.

Before I lost most of my interest in Buddhism (not because I disagreed with it, but it began to become very tedious.. I prefer the simplicity of philosophical Taoism), I became interested in Dzogchen, at least it's philosophical approach (akin to Western Idealism) though I considered myself more in the radical rebellion of Zen to words and concepts (though I also enjoyed the more mystical practices of Shingon).

Anyways, lots of great stuff from the eastern perspective. I have more to say from another angle, but I'll make it a separate comment.

Jamie G. said...

Anyways, part of what I am drawn to in the philosophical Taoist approach (of which Zen is the love child of with Buddhism)is that it posits the essence of the Universe as that which cannot be described... simply called the Tao. The difference, and why I prefer it, is that the Tao is not anthropomorphized. There is no need for a Great Personality... no Great Mind... (although to be honest, I throw a little of my own metaphysical idealism in there)... Taoist approach (again, philosophically, not from the traditional religious sense found in Chinese ritual practice) finds no need to claim Mind. In fact, in the opening words of the Tao Te Ching, Taoism's equivalent of the Bible, says that which can be named is not the eternal Tao... yet, and I love the paradox, one can ask not, "what is Tao," but rather, "what isn't the Tao", meaning that all is Tao, and all manifestations are an expression of Tao.

Throw in the concepts of yin yang, wu wei, te, etc., and you got my version of a solid metaphysical construct. The key for me is simplicity and minimalism.

All around good stuff, thanks bro!

Jamie G. said...

A short interesting read giving an example of the writings of a Dzogchen master giving Mind from an idealistic approach with Buddhist nomenclature.

Jamie G. said...

Oops... forgot the link:

Anonymous said...


Peter said...

Hey Jamie,

I am surprised to learn that you have diverged from Buddhism. I am not sure if surprised is the word, but, either way, I find your route interesting. I have likewise found Buddhism appealing, but it so often seemed so foreign to me that it was hard to wrap my mind around.

I will check out the paper. It's been a busy weekend without much access to the computer, and my phone won't the article. So...soon!

Later my friend!

Jamie G. said...

I don't see myself jumping from "Ism" to "Ism" as much as that I see my spiritual path as not an Ism... my path is uniquely my own... if anything, I subscribe to Jamie-ism... but not even that... in Zen/Taoist parlance, the universe is unfolding in me as it should, no need to follow anything.

So, it wasn't that I abandoned Buddhism, but more like found the "moon", using a Zen aphorism.

In fact, where, when you asked, "Is there Mind?", a Zen master may simply hit you with his stick. To understand what just happened is to awaken. Is the answer getting hit with a stick? Yes, and no... which sounds utterly paradoxical... but that's the fun of Zen practice.

How is Taoism different? For me Zen has seemed to take a turn toward institutional rote answers... you kind of have to check out the history of Zen practice, especially in Japan under master Hakuin... Zen lost it's free-form child-like simplicity... seeing the world for what it is, as it is being experienced.

In other words, a spirituality experienced right here in the present, with no need for conceptualization... smelling and experiencing a flower without the need to dissect its essence.

For me the taoist concepts, of which Zen is rooted in, provide just enough framework for me to conceptualize reality... one of which fits with my already won conclusions and experiences... but there really is no need to call me a taoist.

This is fun!