Proving (sort of) that no-god has a plan for my life, on Friday the mailman delivered two ungodly packages that I’d been anticipating for quite a while: Victor Stenger’s new book, “God: The Failed Hypothesis,” and the free DVD, “The God Who Wasn’t There,” I got for sending myself to hell via the blasphemy challenge.
Back in August I wrote about an advance description of Stenger’s book that led me to pre-order it. Good decision. I’m several chapters into “God: The Failed Hypothesis” and am enjoying a physicist’s scientific demolishing of the God hypothesis.
Stenger’s central thesis is that if God exists, there should be evident signs in the material world.
My analysis will be based on the contention that God should be detectable by scientific means simply by virtue of the fact that he is supposed to play such a central role in the operation of the universe and the lives of humans.
I’ll write more about the lack of evidence for God after I’ve finished the book. From what I’ve already read, though, it’s clear that Stenger has his evidentiary ducks in a row and succeeds in knocking down God’s presence in the physical universe.
But who is the God being debunked? For Stenger it is the Judeo-Christan-Islamic God, which gets a capital “G” in the book to differentiate this hypothesized divinity from other possible gods.
Here’s Stenger's listing of the attributes of the God that there is no scientific evidence for:
1. God is the creator and preserver of the universe.
2. God is the architect of the structure of the universe and the author of the laws of nature.
3. God steps in whenever he wishes to change the course of events, which may include violating his own laws as, for example, in response to human entreaties.
4. God is the creator and preserver of life and humanity, where human beings are special in relation to other life-forms.
5. God has endowed humans with immaterial, eternal souls that exist independent of their bodies and carry the essence of a person’s character and selfhood.
6. God is the source of morality and other human values such as freedom, justice, and democracy.
7. God has revealed truths in scriptures and by communicating directly to select individuals throughout history.
8. God does not deliberately hide from any human being who is open to finding evidence for his presence.
When I reached page 41 and read these attributes of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God (which sounded pretty accurate to me), I thought, “Hmmmm. This sure sounds like the God of Sant Mat also.”
Sant Mat (which means “teachings of the saints”) is usually thought of as an Eastern religion, since its roots are in Sikhism and Hinduism. The branch of Sant Mat that I joined in 1971, Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), is headquartered in India, where most initiates live.
Yet the eight attributes of God listed by Stenger describe the divinity worshipped by Sant Mat almost as well as they depict the Christian God.
This reflects the fact that some Eastern religious practices assume a personal dualistic God who stands apart from the cosmos, while some Western mystics (such as Meister Eckhart and Plotinus) wholeheartedly embrace a monistic godhead, the One.
When I signed on with Sant Mat, I was attracted to what I thought was an alternative to the anthropomorphic Judeo-Christian-Islamic God who looks down upon the world and chooses to intervene in human affairs when he feels like it, saving some souls and condemning others.
Eventually, however, I saw the similarities between this seemingly “Eastern” mystic path and the traditional monotheistic religions. RSSB was big on pointing out that the guru who led the organization was the living counterpart of dead and gone Jesus, a messenger from God who serves as a link between fallen humanity and the highest divinity.
Well, as I frequently say: maybe. But now I lean toward Stenger, who writes:
The scientific argument against the existence of God will be a modified form of the lack-of-evidence argument:
1. Hypothesize a God who plays an important role in the universe.
2. Assume that God has specific attributes that should provide objective evidence for his existence.
3. Look for such evidence with an open mind.
4. If such evidence is found, conclude that God may exist.
5. If such objective evidence is not found, conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that a God with these properties does not exist.
There are different god models, though. The personal dualistic God hypothesized by Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Sant Mat is one divine option; the universal non-duality of Buddhism, Taoism, and Neoplatonism is another possibility—one that fits much more comfortably with a scientific worldview.
In my book about Plotinus, a Greek mystic philosopher, this passage had a ring of truth for me as soon as I wrote it. It still does.
Some people believe that they have a personal relationship with God. Thinking like Plotinus, we might ask them: “Does this mean that God is a person? Or does it mean that you are a person?” Perhaps it is possible for my relationship with the One to be markedly different from the One’s relationship with me, because I am a minute part of creation and the One is the whole of creation.