Below is a highly persuasive answer to the question, "Is God real?"
I like the answer a lot, mostly because it is the answer I would have given to the question if I was as neuroscientifically wise as Michael Graziano, author of "Consciousness and the Social Brain," a book I've blogged about here and here.
(Check out my Amazon review of the book.)
Near the end of his book, Graziano asks Does God Exist? Here's extended quotes from that section. Graziano is such a good writer and thinker, I'm wary of paraphrasing this Professor of Neuroscience at Princeton University.
Across all cultures and all religions, universally, people consider God to be a conscious mind. God consciously chooses to make things happen. In physical reality the tree fell, the storm bowled over the house, the man survived the car crash, the woman died prematurely, the earth orbits the sun, the cosmos exists.
For many people these events, big and small, must have a consciousness and an intentionality behind them. God is that consciousness.
Without consciousness, the God concept becomes meaningless. If God is a nonconscious complex process that can create patterns and direct the affairs of the universe, then God obviously and trivially exists. The physical universe itself fits that description.
The critical question is whether consciousness lies behind the events of the universe. If so, then God exists. If not, then God does not exist.
Armed with a theory of what consciousness is and how it is constructed, we can directly address the God question. Are the events in the universe associated with an awareness? If yes, then God. If no, then no God.
According to the attention schema theory, consciousness is information. It is information of a specific type constructed in the brain. It is a quirky, weird product of evolution, like wings, or like eyebrows, or like navels. It is constructed by a brain and attributed to something.
Like beauty, another construct of the brain, consciousness is in the eye of the beholder.
A brain can behold consciousness in others (consciousness type B as I have called it) or behold consciousness in itself (consciousness type A as I have called it). These two types of consciousness have clear differences but are essentially two flavors of the same thing.
The universe has consciousness type B. That consciousness is an informational model constructed in the brains of many (though not all) people and attributed to the collection of all events that are otherwise inexplicable.
The cosmos is conscious in much the same way that anything else is.
Its consciousness is made of the same stuff as our own consciousness -- information instantiated in the hardware platform of the brain. The universe is conscious in the same sense that it is beautiful. It is conscious because brains attribute consciousness to it, and that is the only way that anything is ever conscious.
The universe almost certainly lacks consciousness type A. It lacks any mechanism to construct its own informational models of minds and attribute them to others or to itself.
Does God exist?
In the attention schema theory the question is moot. Or at least, the question is more no than yes, but not entirely one or the other. In the present theory of consciousness, no conscious intentionality preceded the universe. Consciousness is a construct of the brain and thus emerged only with the evolution of the brain.
Consciousness is probably only a few hundred million years old at most, in a universe that is, by the latest estimate I've heard, about 13.75 billion years old. There is no God of a traditional form, no being made of pure thought or will or spirit that created the universe.
...And yet there is another side to the story.
...In this theory, a universal, deistic consciousness does actually exist. It is as real as any other consciousness. If brains attribute consciousness to X, then X is conscious, in the only way that anything is conscious.
If we can say the universe is beautiful and find no difficulty with that claim, even knowing that it is beautiful only as a result of intelligent, emotional, and aesthetic beings perceiving it that way, even knowing that before any complex beings existed the beauty of the universe was undefined, then likewise, the universe has an encompassing God-style consciousness, and it does so as a result of intelligent biological beings constructing it that way, because all consciousness is attribution.
...The spirit world exists but only as information instantiated on the hardware of the brain.
It has a perceptual quality that is hard to ignore, if not a literal reality. In the same way, the deistic consciousness does and doesn't exist. A ventriloquist puppet is and isn't conscious. Spirits are and aren't present. Consciousness can and can't survive the death of the body.