For almost six years I've been asking true believers of various faiths if they can provide any demonstrable evidence that God exists. (Any "God," personal or impersonal, monistic or dualistic, I'm not particular.)
Not surprisingly -- given the still ongoing vigorous debate concerning this subject after some 10,000 years of recorded human history -- I've never gotten a convincing answer.
But this doesn't stop the religious from believing in God.
Often I hear, "I just know that God exists. Don't ask me for proof. I just know." OK, I'll respond, good for you. But your subjective experience is only true for you, so don't expect me or anyone else to give credence to your belief given that it has such a flimsy basis.
Over on the Philosophy of Religion web site, this argument for the existence of God from subjective experience comes in for some well-deserved criticism.
It may be that I cannot prove to you that I had a religious experience, or even describe that experience to you, and so that my experience cannot count for you as evidence of God’s existence; for me, though, who knows that the experience is real and who does not need to describe it in order to understand it, my experience may provide a basis for rational belief.
Verifying one’s own religious experiences, however, can be just as problematic as verifying someone else’s. Thomas Hobbes asked what the difference is between saying “God spoke to me in a dream” and saying “I dreamt that God spoke to me.”
The problem is that religious experiences are merely mental events, and there is therefore no logical problem with our having these experiences without the world being as they represent it to be. We could just as readily doubt our own religious experiences, asking “Was I hallucinating?”, “Am I putting my own interpretation onto something mundane?”, “Was it something I ate?”, as anyone else’s. It seems, therefore, that we can never be sure enough of a religious experience to prove anything objective about the world.
However, there's another approach that some true believers like to take in an attempt to get around this obvious lack of demonstrable objective evidence for God. They cast God as the ultimate subject, the "I" behind all other senses of I-ness, the all-pervading consciousness which makes awareness of all sorts possible.
Elizabeth West, a Christian Buddhist, heads in this philosophical direction in her "Emptiness and God." I read her piece quickly, noting approvingly that after she quoted Ken Wilber, West wrote, "This is probably enough of Ken Wilber to digest in one go." Amen to that. That's often how I feel when I read Wilber also.
West uses quotes from Wilber, Ramana, Tillich, and others in an attempt to elucidate the notion of God as Absolute Subjectivity, the "witness" behind our thoughts, perceptions, and other contents of consciousness.
Well, that's an interesting idea.
However, I don't see how it (1) bears any resemblance to the God that billions of religious devotees from all sorts of faiths believe in, or (2) has any practical relevance to anything, being merely an abstract philosophical concept.
After all, let's consider what subjectivity means in everyday life. It's the inner side of us, as contrasted with the outer side that other people recognize.
Sartre and other existentialists speak of how I am an object to my wife, while she is an object to me. I know myself from the inside, but I can only know her from the outside, so to speak. And the same is true for her. We struggle to express our innermost feelings, knowing that what we know subjectively never can be adequately expressed objectively -- in words, actions, expressions, whatever.
Still, for every subject, for each human being, there is a corresponding object: his or her outward physical manifestation. Never is there a disassociated blob of pure subjectivity floating around, an "I" without any objective characteristics.
Each and every subjective experience that I or anyone else has is associated with something objectively real. Even dreams, which are highly subjective, take place in the physical brain, as do so-called "mystical" experiences -- since if the mystic is alive, he or she lives as (or at least through) a human brain.
So what would it mean for God to be Absolute Subjectivity? My short answer: nothing. This is a meaningless notion.
We have no experience of absolute subjectivity. There is no reason to believe that it exists, or is possible to exist. How could anyone experience a state of absolute subjectivity and know that such a state exists? For this to happen there would have to be awareness of a subjective state, which is dualistic, not "absolute."
I've read many books by Buddhist, Vedanta, Zen, and other sorts of practitioners that claim some sort of ultimate "I" exists. Consciousness with no content. Subjectivity without a subject. Awareness absent anyone being aware.
They all ring false, some more than others. For it simply isn't possible to experience a state of Absolute Subjectivity. You'd never know it if it was present, and if you knew it was present, that couldn't be it.
Same applies to God.
If God is Absolute Subjectivity, you'd never know if God was present, and if you knew God was present, that wouldn't be God.
So if there aren't any objective signs of God, and there can't be any signs of a purely subjective God, where does this leave us?
With no God. Or rather, no God that can be known.
Which is pretty darn similar to saying, "with no God." I'm fine with that, because reality is better than fantasy. I'm under no illusion, though, that the true believers of the world are going to give up their illusions.