I argue God with the Atheists
I was an atheist for almost half my life.
When I was an atheist the concept that God could exist was impossible to me, because the cosmology I accepted as evidently true precluded the existence of such a being.
One of the authors who most influenced me in this view was George H. Smith, author of Atheism: The Case Against God. Judging by 258 reviews of this book on Amazon.com, this is a popular book on the subject, and judging that seven out of ten Amazon.com readers’ reviews are four or five stars, I’m not the only person who has regarded this as an important and compelling book on the subject. I knew George personally when we both lived in Southern California in the 1970′s and 1980′s, and I considered George a friend.
It’s easy to be friends with someone you agree with. Disagreements are the test of whether a friendship is real. It’s possible to be friends with someone who has profoundly different ideas if that person is generally congenial and if one has respect for their mind and character. It becomes impossible when congeniality is replaced with rudeness and one has contempt for the other. This isn’t just true for friendships. How many marriages have broken up because one spouse’s good regard for the other has turned to contempt?
I maintain Google alerts to send me email whenever there’s online discussion of my works, my projects, or my web presence. On December 11th Google sent me an email that a discussion had been started on the website “Objectivist Living” with the title, “Is J. Neil Schulman justified (logically) in believing in God?”
In the same queue was an even earlier email from David M. Brown, a fellow libertarian novelist and long-time correspondent, suggesting I participate in the discussion.
I’ve since published a chapter-by-chapter transcript of that audiobook for free reading — retitled I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith — beginning here.
The dedication of my book is:
To Charles Darwin, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, and Ayn Rand
If They Still Know Anything, They Know Whether I’m Right
You can find the Objectivist Living discussion on whether or not I’m a complete whack job here.
I quickly discovered that George H. Smith was participating in the discussion when the second comment was his. George wrote, “Does God ever have nightmares? Yes, according to Neil’s account, and they last for ‘the better part of a day.’”
So much for the respect necessary to maintain a friendship. Buh bye, George.
What distinguishes my approach to God from others is that I’ve never abandoned my view that one should not accept the existence of anything on faith. Nor religious dogma. Nor scripture. Like anything else, I always have viewed existence of God as a fact that needs to be verified or negated. One can negate something by showing how the concept is impossible. But once a proposed existent survives the intellectual challenge that the very idea is impossible, one is still left with the problem of what constitutes sufficient reason to regard it as real.
For someone who is not put off by suspending rational analysis in favor of accepting the truth of a proposition by faith, this is not a problem.
For a rationalist it is.
I was a rationalist when I was an atheist. I’m a rationalist still. What overcame my skepticism were personal experiences that challenged my cosmology, my epistemological premises, my concept of what the nature of God is, and my view of the nature of man and his place in existence, itself.
Yet I did this without abandoning my reliance on any of the axioms or rules of logic that Ayn Rand used to dismiss the concept of God. I thought George H. Smith would have some respect for that.
I was wrong. It just annoyed him all the worse.
The discussion has now gone on for several weeks and now comprises over 22 long web pages.
I’m not going to participate anymore. I’d just be repeating myself.
But for the hearty, curious, and patient, I do recommend reading it, and possibly even continuing the discussion in my absence.
I’ve satisfied myself that I met the gauntlet thrown down at me. Beyond that, some third party not Me and not Them will have to decide whether I’m justified (logically) in believing in God … and whether my challenge to the atheists is deserving of any intellectual respect.
Summation: Objectivist Living Discussion — “Is J. Neil Schulman justified (logically) in believing in God?”
by J Neil Schulman on Saturday, January 15, 2011 at 3:47pm ·
I think the title of this thread asks the wrong question, or at least one which requires other subjects to be addressed long before we ask whether I’m logically justified in “believing” in God.
Here are questions that have been debated in this thread, but I think which have not been resolved to anyone’s satisfaction. These are the premises upon which the question of my logic must rest.
Are there any axioms of existence or known scientific laws which preclude existence comprising multiple continua, some of which are designed, rather than the whole of existence being a single undesigned universe?
Is there any conclusive proof that human consciousness is solely a product of evolutionary biology, or could human consciousness precede evolutionary biology?
Is the human brain a generator of human consciousness, or merely a modulator of it?
Is human consciousness of an identity and nature that it can escape the termination of a human brain?
Could the “afterlife” be an actual physical destination for a human’s conscious identity located in another continuum?
In the event where a phenomenal experience presents itself as paranormal or supernatural, is there anything other than an unproved assumption of impossibility that necessitates interpreting such an experience as unreal?
I repeat that I’m unable to present evidence of the reality of my paranormal experience of a person I’ve identified as God to anyone else.
Nonetheless, my experience has caused me to examine each of these questions and reach my own answers.
I suggest exploring each of these questions with epistemological and scientific rigor is no less of a requirement for anyone else who wishes to assert flat conclusions about the nature of existence and human consciousness.
If one agrees with Richard Dawkins, as I do, that concluding God’s existence should not rely on an act of faith, but should survive a rational thinker’s potent skepticism, one comes to consider Dawkins’ central argument against the existence of God as the creator of our universe.
Dawkins submits to us that the complexity of our universe requires a long chain of prior events to become so complex.
Dawkins further submits that beings capable of creative design are not at the beginning of such a long chain of events but follow such a chain of events.
Dawkins sees human beings as being the result of a long chain of prior events, and sees us as creative designers. So, Dawkins and those who regard God as a creative designer are at least in agreement that such preconditions for a creative designer to exist can be satisfied, since here we are. But could a creative designer create an artifact as complex as an entire universe?
Dawkins submits that for a creative designer to have designed the universe, the creative designer, himself, would have had to have undergone a long chain of events prior to the creation of the universe.
If we regard the universe we perceive as the totality of that which exists, Dawkins has ended the discussion by reducing the thesis of a creator of the universe to absurdity, and his denial of the very possibility of a universe-creating God is justified.
But if a cosmology is possible in which that which we regard as our universe is not the whole of that which exists but is merely a part of existence, the paradox vanishes followed close order by the absurdity of the proposition that the universe could be a created artifact.
The Hebrews identify God in their scripture as being Eternal — as having always existed. If there exists a being with this trait, we can derive from that premise:
1) An eternal being would have sufficient time to develop his intellect, imagination, and other prerequisites of creative design;
2) Such a being would have time to learn a great deal, try out different philosophies, paradigms, methods, and so forth.
The possibility of the Eternal Hebrew God, so long as God’s existence is something additional to the universe as we regard it — that existence is more than that which we regard as The Universe — therefore survives Dawkins’ challenge to our reason.
Dawkins is free to demand a proof that such a being exists, but if, like existence itself, consciousness is a property of existence itself — then like existence, itself, there is no basis to demand a proof for that which would be the self-evident foundation for all further proofs.
We would not therefore be looking for proof of God in the sense of a mathematician deriving one, or in the sense of a scientist conducting experiments to test a thesis, but in the sense of seeing if we encounter such a being who can present us with experiences sufficient to satisfy our doubts.
Dawkins has not had such experiences. I have. Dawkins hasn’t convinced me that my conclusion that my skepticism was sufficiently satisfied was irrational. Unless Richard Dawkins has experiences that personally convince him that his skepticism has been satisfied, it is reasonable for him to continue disbelieving in God until he has experiences satisfactory to his reason.
But Richard Dawkins demand for reason to be applied to the question of God existence is, itself, quite godly, seeing as how to create a universe as complex as the one we find ourselves in one would require a being who is himself a scientist.
J. Neil Schulman, author
I Met God
This article is Copyright © 2007, 2010, 2011 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.
Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Libertarian Ideals from the 2011 Anthem Film Festival! My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available free on the web linked from the official movie website. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!