Thursday, February 12, 2009

Proof of "God"

Recently, I was reading a very reasonable and well thought out debate on proof that God exists and whether or not there is such proof or if it is even possible to prove that God exists. For me, the main problem with questions of "proof" of any concept is that there is an assumption that humans are equipped to experience any given entity or material and their inability to experience it means it does not exist. In particular, if we can't see, smell, feel, hear, or taste it or invent a mechanism that can translate a phenomenon into data which we can apply one of those senses to, we say it cannot be proven. This is the unavoidable flaw when science tries to "prove" metaphysical concepts. It is limited to what our meat sacks can comprehend, and we're hardly the best instruments. If "God" is out there, we may be no more capable of comprehending it than a tree is capable of having a conversation with us.

The other problem is that people are constantly framing "God" concepts in their own image, and I don't just mean the psychological concepts like judging people or issuing rules to run their lives. There may indeed be some sort of greater entity that set the universe in motion and is monitoring every action that goes on, but that doesn't mean it is paternalistic or concerns itself with what goes on in our lives beyond some sort of perception that changes of some sort are occurring. Whatever "God" is does not have to be some single entity looking after our welfare. It could simply be something that spawns energy or reorganizes it or has some sort of imperative to see matter and energy manipulated into different patterns or frequencies. If that is so, it doesn't mean that that entity has no interest in our improving ourselves or our world, but rather that our achievements mentally, emotionally, or spiritually bring about that entity's desired changes to energy or matter.

We can't prove it, but I think there is far less value in proof than in thinking more expansively about the concepts and what they mean to our lives than in seeking proof. If there is any "proof" to be had, it won't come as a result of prognostication and fulfillment of a prediction, scientific research, or personal experience. It'll come from an analysis of trends and looking for a certain pattern of interaction both in the way civilizations and people change across thousands of years and by studying the interaction of matter and energy on an atomic level.


Anonymous said...

This is deep Orchid! Could we just call this "faith"?

Orchid64 said...

"Faith" is a highly problematic word at the best of times. It carries with it connotations of blindness, ignorance, rigidity and the subscription to a set notion. What I propose is not a matter of faith so much as encouraging malleability in considering the mechanisms which set the universe in motion and may be interested in its progression.

The concept of agnosticism used to suit this idea, though even that term is limited. Unfortunately, "agnostic" has been usurped by cowardly atheists who are too frightened to admit to themselves that there is no God and too insecure about how others will perceive them if they admit they feel there may be one.

I don't feel I have "faith" as I have no rigid ideas, but I also believe that excluding the possibility of some greater order behind the existence of all things is a highly limited and pointless way of viewing things. I'm interested in pondering questions, not finding answers. I'm not interested in proof so much as speculation based on what humans generally think, feel, and experience.

I don't think this can actually boil down to any sort of "faith", though I guess the point could be argued. I wish there were a good term to describe what I mean, but language fails at this point. I think atheism is as much a psychological defense mechanism as religion and, while I can't be certain, I think the truth is somewhere outside the box we live in. I could certainly be wrong and it could very much be that the end of the line is the end of the line, but I think just concluding that is a very limited way of viewing the universe and all life which does nothing to expand our knowledge, minds, hearts or souls.

Thanks for commenting! :-)

Sharon said...

The term most commonly used for this by myself (and a few others) is Spiritual. It has no real connotations of faith, but does indicated a belief in something beyond that which exists beyond the normal five senses.

Orchid64 said...

While I agree that "spiritual" comes close, it often carries the connotation of being rather "airy fairy" or vague for the masses who think that it sounds "new agey" and that only hippies and weirdos say things like that.

Of course, you understand these things better than others. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your response orchid, I think spiritual comes close but it does have a "new age", what about transcendent faith/feelings?

Wally Wood said...

It seems to me that to "prove" anything exists—-basket balls, electricity, germs, black holes, fairies, God—-there has to be some agreement first as to the characteristics of what it is you are trying to prove. Then there has to be some agreement as to what is acceptable as evidence.

I've never seen electricity or a germ, but I am willing to accept that they exist based on what happens when I turn on a light or have an infected finger. By definition, no one will ever see a black hole, but postulating one seems to explain certain observations.

The trouble with the God of the Judio/Christian tradition is that there is no evidence. There's the Bible, but that is not evidence in any meaningful sense. There are people's speculations and personal experiences that they attribute to a God, but those are not evidence either.

I realized a long time ago that all knowledge is provisional.
Anything I know can be thrown into doubt by new evidence. Until then, I'm afraid I cannot accept "God."

Orchid64 said...

Wally: I reject the premise that all that exists is limited to what humans can perceive. I think both logic and the history of science have shown that our perceptions are not only not all there is, but very faulty in their interpretations of what they can perceive. That is not to say that science lacks value, as it does have great value, but it's important to keep its limits and our own sensory ones in mind. Science is not objective understanding. It's a tool that helps us to approach objective understanding, but absolute objective understanding is like the speed of light. We can approach it, but never reach it.

I have no interest in other people "accepting" God. I don't care what they believe. I certainly don't "accept" any God concept that the vast majority of people hold and have no firm comprehension of what "God" might be. However, I see no point on closing the door on the question when clearly the concept and experiences related to spirituality have existed throughout most of the history of mankind. To blithely dismiss the question of something that looms so large with (equally unprovable) psychological theories (people are afraid of death, people want to explain random unfortunate events, people need to feel someone is looking out for them) is not only condescending, but speaks to an intellectual rigidity which does not serve us well.

I believe that atheism is simply a mindset that people reach to help them approach life in a particular fashion just as religion is a mindset formed to approach life in a particular fashion. Both the atheist and religious person are choosing the same absolutist answer to bring a certain psychological order to their lives and to resolve the question in their minds "once and for all."

If you want to frame reality as that which only your senses can observe then you might want to scrutinize more closely how much you accept on faith already in your life (and I don't mean things like believing electricity exists). Love, for instance, cannot be proven. Only the manifestations of it can be measured and "proven", yet most people have faith that the feeling exists. If you accept that the manifestations of various feelings are evidence of the feeling, then you are one step closer to faith of some sort. Either that, or you have the option to believe that the bonds between you and your loved ones are nothing more than biochemical responses of an animal which manifest themselves in various external responses. Your relationships would then boil down to the responses of biological machines to one another and have no more depth or meaning than that. Your connections to those you love boil down to giant sequences of meaningless stimulus-response pairings.

Everyone has the freedom to believe what they want to. I have no interest in convincing anyone, but I have a great interest in rolling the questions around and paying attention to what is going on. All humans eat because they require food to survive. All humans have sex because they have biological functions which compel them to satisfy urges which in turn perpetuate the species. All humans sleep, though we do not know for certain yet why it is necessary (and this is actually part of something very important in my opinion). However, humans do not need concepts of spirituality or religion, yet so many have it (at least 80% of the planet on average according to information I recently read). Approaching the question of why this is so without bias (and most of the time science and psychology approach the question with a definite bias against any sort of "proof" of God) is one of interest to me. Notions of the collective unconscious and mental energy and the effects it may have are of particular interest to me. If it's not of interest to you, then that's okay, too.

Wally Wood said...

Orchid, Thank you for such a thoughtful response to something I'm afraid I mostly tossed off. A couple thoughts:

All we know of the world outside our minds is through our perceptions; we cannot get outside our senses, get some extra-sensory knowledge directly. The first problem is that our senses can be mistaken (that's how magic works).

Inside our minds, we make connections, add meaning, see relationships, invent language, etc. The second problem then is that the sense data is accurate, but the connections, meaning, relationships are mistaken. I.e., I'm sick (accurate), I pray (accurate), I get well (accurate), God answered my prayers (?).

From what I've read in the past couple years, it seems that humans are hard-wired to believe certain things but not others. For example, there's wide belief in an all-powerful God, but no belief in an all-powerful God who does not work on Wednesdays.

Finally, I think you can prove "love" exists, just as you can prove that "sadness," "anger," "joy," and "fear" exist. It is both the word we apply to a certain state or condition and the state itself. You can always misuse the word—apply it to the wrong state—and you can always misidentify the state (I think I'm in love when I'm really in lust), but those problems of attribution, not failures of proof.

I don't think we're that far apart, and I hope you find this as stimulating as I do.

Orchid64 said...

The problem is that what we know through perception is not accurate, not by a long shot. People hear, smell, feel, and see things that are absolutely real but are not there. A hallucination to the person experiencing it is absolutely real. It's not ghostly or in any way less solid than a real perceptual experience. We can even stimulate brain areas to cause people to have experiences which they perceive as real, but which are not.

Also, no two people experience sensory existence in the same way, nor do they label or "attribute" things in the same way. All reporting on a sensation is subjective and all senses are not equal on all people. I taste differently than anyone else does. My husband and I can eat the same food and he tastes something entirely different. We hear differently and see differently. These are not really reliable ways to measure reality.

Feelings cannot be proven to exist. The biology can be measured and we can ask people what they feel, but asking someone something and having them place a label on it does not prove anything. We can only prove that a biochemical process occurs. We can't even prove that two humans consider "love" to be the same thing. There are people who feel loved if they are abused and those who don't feel loved unless they are left alone when they want to be. We can only prove the experience chemically is the same, not in any other way because it is a subjective state.

What you are saying is that only what can be measured exists, even when we can't measure everything, but I don't think that is anywhere near the way we live our lives. Have you ever been in a room and another person was nearby, but not making a sound but you could sense their presence? Maybe you haven't, but I have, and I didn't hear or see anything. Animals sense magnetic fields in the earth and are guided by them (or so scientists believe), but we believe we cannot sense energy in this way because we have no instrumentation to measure it? My father can unfailingly find water by dousing. Are you saying he's just incredibly lucky? We can't measure the means by which some experiences occur. We can note the frequency with which they occur. Sometimes seeing the action and patterns again and again is the start of discovery, but we have to first realize and accept that a pattern exists.

People such as yourself are comfortable attributing all such patterns as chance, coincidence, or superstitious behavior 100% of the time. While I'm am very willing to attribute some perceptions and experiences to those factors, I'm not willing to say that of all of them. I studied psychology and I worked with people who had psychotic breaks. I know how easily people condition themselves to believe whatever validates their mindset and how faulty our sense are. I also understand the need to be rigid about proof, but I think there is a point where you put yourself in a box if you boil everything down to what science and the senses can prove at this point in time and fail to note larger patterns, trends, and actions.

A case in point is random electronic events generator around the time of 9-11. The data acquired during that time (where stark patterns occurred where random data should have occurred) suggests that people were aware that something big was about to happen before it happened. This lends support to the idea of global consciousness. Can we absolutely "prove" it? No, but that doesn't mean that something isn't happening. Unless you are open to other possibilities (as a person and a scientist), you won't even begin to look for such things because you're too busy measuring how many times people blink or how often dopamine is released by a receptor because that's nicely and tidily quantifiable and global consciousness is not.

The study I reference is written about here:

How does this lead back to God? Well, you can't prove or disapprove something if you don't know what it is or what its affect or agenda might be. There may be an effect of an overseeing entity (and there may not be), but we'll never find the answer if we ask the wrong questions or aren't looking at the right things. As long as we follow convention about what "God" is (generally the Judeo-Christian notions), then we'll never find anything because clearly that entity does not manifest itself overtly (or does no exist). But, that doesn't mean there is no "God" necessarily.