I saw Richard Dawkins—famous atheist—meet Brandon Flowers—famous singer and known Mormon—on a talk show the other day. There seemed to be an attempt to make Brandon’s faith vs. Dawkins dogmatic atheism the focus of the show. However, Brandon took an excuse to jump out of the conversation very early on and didn’t really engage Dawkins.
Got me wondering what I’d say to Dawkins if I were in the same situation. The debate of theism vs. atheism is a hard one for me to engage in. My years as a Buddhist left me with a very non-dualist concept of these issues—meaning I don’t really frame “God” in the terms of “existing” or “not existing.” I think of God in much more Jungian terms as a phenomenon linked to human experience, which firmly places him/her/it outside the realm of the physical sciences and into the realm of psychological science where “does it exist?” isn’t really a pertinent question.
The physical sciences would clearly explain to you that you yourself do not exist. What is understood as “you” is a collection of chemical and electrical impulses shaped by the process of natural selection and the surrounding environment that generate responses to the environment, including other biological entities around you, in the collection of cells that are your body. This, of course, is at some level very true, if not more than likely true at every level. Even if you believe in a supernatural soul, you can’t plausibly deny that hormones and physical motivators are at play in shaping your reactions and ultimately “you.”
However, the physical sciences fall far short of understanding “you” from the perspective of there actually being a “you.” This is where psychology, philosophy, anthropology, etc., come in. To a psychologist, knowing that all actions of the human psyche are based in chemical and electrical events within the brain only helps when it is evident that these chemicals are “out of balance” and can then be rectified by balancing agents such as Lexapro or Prozac. Viewing the brain from an electro-chemical standpoint is not necessarily helpful, however, for counseling someone through coping with the death of a loved one or dealing with the stress of a new job. For those situations, “you” often must be treated as a “person” or a “soul,” if you will, that is trying to find peace and balance in itself. While there may not be a physical “soul” per se, it is the experience of this soul that you and those around you are having that is pertinent to the study and treatment of the condition wanting to be corrected or worked through.
That’s the same way I view “God.” Yes, the vast majority—one day possibly all—of phenomena and physical laws occurring on and governing both animate and inanimate objects on Earth can be explained by investigation using the methods of physical science. Those physical sciences explain the conditions humans find themselves in, though, and not the human condition itself. Most historians, anthropologist, and psychologists will tell you that “God” is very much a piece of the universal human experience. If our individual souls are the collected results of the physical reactions within our brains and bodies, then God could arguably be the collective “soul” of the physical reactions within the realm of human experience. Taken from perspectives similar to what I’ve described above, arguments that “God” does not exist are typically semantic in nature and ultimately detrimental to understanding our world from a cognitive viewpoint.
All this is not to say that I do not believe in an “actual” God, anymore than it is to say that I do not believe in an “actual” you. It is to say that I cannot ignore God any more than I can ignore you based only on the good possibility that both are figments of my mind’s work to integrate my body’s experiences into a collection of reactionary history to predict preferred and possible reactions for and of myself and others.
Make sense? Yeah…I was afraid of that.
OK. Here’s one last go. This analogy is an oldy but a goody for delving into topics like this—music! Music ultimately is easily explained by the physical sciences. How a tuba vibrates the air, how those vibrations affect your ear, how your brain receives those signals, and what it does with them are all within the realm of the physical sciences to understand and explain. But breaking music down with physical science does almost nothing to explain music. Though all the pieces are natural, there is something more than natural to the whole that must be looked at from a different perspective in order to be fully studied. Demanding that music only be looked at from a physical perspective robs it of some very important key component that makes music what it is. And yet all that is not to say that there is anything more to music than what there is.