Evidence for God?
Posted by Simon Parke, 02 October 2017, 7.53am
Enough is enough.
Professor Keith Ward has been provoked into action.
And it isn’t Trump, Brexit or the prospect of the English Ashes team leaving without Ben Stokes.
No, he has been stirred by the persuasive rhetoric of the New Atheists – Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Hawking - whose materialist conclusions, (gorging on the low fruit ridiculous religion along the way) are now the societal norm.
So here’s the case – or rather, a case - carefully argued, for the other side.
His book The Evidence for God is a face-off, a conversation, between the materialist and idealist positions.
So this isn’t a bible study, it doesn’t feature - but a journey through the philosophical and scientific war zone that is religious belief.
And we’re invited into a state of humility as we enter this wordy debate.
As the Chinese spiritual classic, the Tao Te Ching says, ‘The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.’
In other words, as soon as we try and put God into words, we have lost God.
But for now, given that books rather rely on them, words must be allowed to take us at least into the foothills of the search.
Materialism does not allow for the search, of course; it will not credit the spiritual search with any validity, as it doesn’t recognise mind or consciousness.
‘No consciousness, no search.’
For materialists, reality consists of nothing but the accidental collision of sub-atomic particles.
‘We human beings…are ourselves mere collections of fundamental particles,’ says Stephen Hawking.
Idealists, on the other hand, think that matter could not exist without mind or consciousness…which Ward also calls, ‘spirit’.
This doesn’t mean that all idealists believe in a god; far from it.
But leaving aside their origin, idealists allow the existence of mind and thoughts, feelings and consciousness as true human experience.
And Ward contends that such an understanding gives a more complete explanation of the universe.
A stalemate is quickly arrived at in such debates, because no one’s evidence is conclusive. Neither side has a knock-out punch in terms of data.
The disagreement is around what evidence I choose to give weight to; and what evidence I blank from my consciousness.
This is where the choices are made.
And we do blank evidence, because we all start from somewhere. As the philosopher Thomas Nagel says, no one has ‘a view from nowhere.’
We all start somewhere, with a particular place in history and in geography, and a perspective gleaned from our early lives.
So value-free assessments are hard to come by. No one is neutral, as Ward points out - neither Dawkins, Hawking nor himself.
Or indeed me.
So clean facts are scarce, and interpreted facts thrive.
Stephen Hawking, for instance, observes the remarkable balance of existence on this planet; noting that if conditions were even slightly altered, existence would not be possible.
It might sound like an argument for intelligent design, for a god even, and many use it as such; but with Hawking, it is no such thing.
He merely claims that are so many universes (10 to the power of 500, which is quite a lot) that it is probable that one planet at least will achieve such miraculous equilibrium.
So in materialist eyes, we are no miracle; just a mathematical probability.
This is a good hit.
For me, the most telling evidence for a god is the existence of altruism and our capacity to appreciate beauty.
But Hawking would simply say they are both a mathematical probability.
We look at the same world, the same facts – whether natural selection, neuroscience or the Big Bang - but experience them differently.
So while the brilliant Darwinian insights concerning cruel and competitive selection stand, the selfish gene et al; so does the extraordinary fact that these variations have produced increasingly complex integrated organic systems and led to consciousness, increased intelligence and a sense of moral freedom.
So which truth to give weight to?
‘All knowledge begins with experience’ said the 18th century philosophers and this is true.
But how we experience things, says Ward, how we receive our sensory impressions, depends on our inner health – as the disciplines of psychotherapy and mindfulness show…or so the idealists would say.
The human mind needs to learn the art of experience, says Ward, wandering off the philosophical and scientific piste a little, but to good effect.
Buddhism, for instance, talks of the three fires of greed, hatred and ignorance.
To see good, you must be liberated from these three fires; you must be non-attached, compassionate and wise. Otherwise, your seeing will be delusional. (Equally challenging to both believer and atheist alike.)
It isn’t about that happens; it is about how we experience what happens.
Ward argues that evidence in the world for spirit, mind and consciousness is telling evidence for a beautiful mind being behind this unfolding universe.
There is much philosophical debate in the book around the nature of evidence. Your proof is my unwarranted assumption etc.
But when it comes to evidence for God, we are not disembodied calculators; feelings are a factor, experience is a factor.
Ward talks of his own spiritual awakening, an experience he brings to the academic debate and to the weighting of evidence.
It may be that if you feel you have experienced God, then the science isn’t going to make much difference.
Will trumps evidence in many walks of life, whether its religion, politics or psychological health.
If we have the will to believe something, then no absurdity is too absurd; and no evidence to the contrary so large, it cannot be ignored.
But there is much science in the book, a lot of ‘quantum vacuums’ and the mind-bogglingly creative DNA strings.
We also enjoy the remarkable insights of natural selection, as both materialists and idealists go in search of the Holy Grail that is ‘The Theory of Everything’.
Everyone wants it, no one has found it.
The thing is, there are large black holes in everyone’s theories.
We’ll still have them, of course.
You’ll have your theory, your sense of things, (if you’re a ‘theory’ sort of person, that is,) mined from your particular and limited consciousness.
But for materialists and idealists alike, says Ward, it is good to stay open, to stay listening, despite the temptation to run for the hills of certainty and the cheap
pleasure of an argument supposedly won.
Because, he says, should a beautiful mind exist, it is not a closed system, but an open mind, endlessly creating new possibilities in the universe.
Today’s universe is not the same as yesterday’s…
So how do you feel as you look around at the world?
Do you sense a benign sense of progress, miraculous development across billions of years into human consciousness; an unfolding energy towards ultimate resolution?
This is Ward’s sense.
Or do you feel that, if this is progress; if this is a beautiful mind working things out through billions of years – Trump, North Korea, war, absurd starvation - well, disintegration doesn’t bear thinking about.
Ward believes this is all adding up to something, beyond the veil of death.
Hawking believes its one huge accident and death is assuredly the end.
Same evidence, different conclusions.
What does your experience say?
‘The Evidence for God’ is published by DLT.