Does the Argument from Mind Prove God?
Published on November 1st, 2009 | by Harmonist staff28
By J. P. Moreland
Finite conscious minds such as the ones we possess provide evidence of a divine mind as their creator. If we limit our worldview options to theism (the belief that there is a personal God) and naturalism (the belief that the physical, material world is all there is), it is hard to see how human minds could result from the rearrangement of brute matter. It is much easier to see how a conscious being could produce the finite conscious minds we possess. In my last article, I explained why evolutionary theory enjoys a level of intellectual acceptance that goes far beyond what the evidence warrants. In this article, I will argue that, even if evolutionary theory is someday able to adequately explain the origins of the human brain, it will remain fundamentally unable to explain the existence of the human mind. As we shall see, human consciousness is a serious threat to the plausibility of evolutionary theory.
The nonphysical, immaterial nature of mind I will refer to states of mind, or states of consciousness, as “mental states.” Common mental states include sensations, thoughts, beliefs, desires and volitions.1
Mental states may be caused by physical states, and physical states may be caused by mental states. A feeling of pain (mental state) may be caused by being stuck with a pin (physical state), and one’s arm going up (physical state) may be caused by an intention to vote (mental state). But just because A causes B, that does not mean that A is the same thing as B! Fire causes smoke, but fire is not smoke itself. Being stuck by a pin causes pain, but being stuck by a pin is not pain itself. A desire to vote causes one’s arm to go up, but that desire is different than the arm’s going up. The fact that a state of one’s mind can affect physical states and the fact that physical states can affect the state of one’s mind do not mean that corresponding mental and physical states are identical to each other. In fact, they are fundamentally different.
We know that mental states are in no sense physical (i.e. part of the physical, material world) because they possess four features not owned by physical states.2
First, there is a raw qualitative feel—a “what it is like to have it”—to a mental state. For example, pain hurts. A physical state may cause pain, but the physical state itself can be completely described in the vocabulary of physics and chemistry, or in the commonsense vocabulary of the physical world. Being hurtful, however, is not describable in the vocabulary of any of these.
Second, many mental states have intentionality—“ofness” or “aboutness”—which is directed towards an object. A thought, for instance, is about the moon. But no physical state is about anything. The brain is a physical object, but a brain state cannot be about the moon any more than a rock or a cloud can be about the moon. Only a state of mind can be about the moon.
Third, mental states are internal, private and immediately accessible to the subject having them. A scientist can know more about my brain than I do. But I have direct knowledge of my mind which is not available to anyone else.
Fourth, mental states fail to have crucial features that characterize physical states. Unlike physical states, they have no spatial extension (it doesn’t make sense to ask how tall or wide someone’s thoughts are) and they have no location either (which is why it doesn’t make sense to ask where someone’s thoughts are). In general, mental states cannot be described using physical language.
The inability of evolutionary theory to explain the existence of mind
Given that mental states (states of mind) are immaterial and not physical, there are at least two reasons why evolutionary theory cannot explain their existence.
Something from nothing
According to evolutionary theory, before consciousness appeared, the universe contained nothing but matter and energy. The naturalistic story of the cosmos’ evolution involves the rearrangement of the atomic parts of this matter into increasingly more complex structures according to natural law. Matter is brute mechanical, physical stuff. Consciousness, however, is immaterial and nonphysical. Physical reactions do not seem capable of generating consciousness. Some say the physical reactions that occur in the brain are capable of producing consciousness, yet brains seem too similar to other parts of the body (both brains and bodies are collections of cells totally describable in physical terms). How can like causes produce radically different effects? Though evolutionary theory can handle the appearance of the physical brain, the appearance of the nonphysical mind is utterly unpredictable and inexplicable. Thus the emergence of minds and consciousness seems to be a case of getting something from nothing.
The inadequacy of evolutionary explanations
Naturalists claim that evolutionary explanations can be offered for the appearance of all organisms and their parts. In principle, an evolutionary account could be given for increasingly complex physical structures that constitute different organisms. One of the driving forces behind Charles Darwin’s exposition of evolution was the belief that all mental phenomena could be explained as features of physical objects. However, if minds and consciousness exist, they would be beyond the explanatory scope of evolutionary theory, and this would threaten the theory’s plausibility.
Of course, theists think that minds and consciousness do, in fact, exist. But because naturalistic forms of evolution have proven incapable of explaining minds and consciousness, their existence has been rejected by naturalists.
The naturalist’s question begging rejection of mind
According to naturalist Paul Churchland:
The important point about the standard evolutionary story is that the human species and all of its features are the wholly physical outcome of a purely physical process. … If this is the correct account of our origins, then there seems neither need, nor room, to fit any nonphysical substances or properties [such as minds and mental states] into our theoretical account of ourselves. We are creatures of matter. And we should learn to live with that fact.3
Here, Churchland claims that, since we are merely the result of an entirely physical process (that of evolutionary theory), which works on wholly physical materials, we are wholly physical beings. But if, by saying “there seems neither need, nor room, to fit any nonphysical substances or properties into our theoretical account of ourselves,” Churchland is saying that naturalistic evolutionary theory can adequately explain the nature of man, his argument clearly begs the question. This can be seen in the following outline of Churchland’s argument:
(1) If we are merely the result of naturalistic, evolutionary processes, we are wholly physical beings. (2) We are merely the result of naturalistic, evolutionary processes. (3) Therefore, we are wholly physical beings.
Naturalists like Churchland accept premise (2). But why should we accept it? Those who think consciousness and mind are real do not. They argue:
(4) If we are merely the result of naturalistic, evolutionary processes, then we are wholly physical beings. (5) We possess nonphysical conscious minds, so we are not wholly physical beings. (6) Therefore, we are not merely the result of naturalistic, evolutionary processes.
Naturalists argue for (3) on the basis of (2), but (5) and (6) show us that the truth of (2) assumes the truth of (3). Put another way, nobody will not think that (2) is true unless they already think that (3) is true—but (3) is exactly the point in question. The naturalist’s argument assumes the very thing it’s trying to prove.
As we saw above, the existence of minds and consciousness would threaten evolutionary theory’s plausibility. The naturalistic explanation of the nature of man, however, begs the question by simply assuming that we are wholly physical beings. It gives us no reason to think that minds and consciousness do not exist.
The real issue, then, is the evidence for and against the immaterial, nonphysical nature of minds and consciousness. If the evidence is good, then we should embrace the idea that mental states and physical states are essentially different and that evolutionary theory cannot account for the former. But we have seen that the evidence is good. Mental states possess four features not owned by physical states, and evolutionary theory seems fundamentally incapable of explaining the existence of mental states. This means not only that the evolutionary argument fails but also that there will never be a complete naturalistic account of the nature and origin of human consciousness.
It will not do to claim that consciousness simply “emerged” from matter when it reached a certain level of complexity because “emergence” is merely a label for (rather than an explanation of) the phenomena being explained. Since we are made in God’s image, there should be something about us that can’t be adequately explained without postulating God’s existence. And that is the case with mind and consciousness. Their reality supports the falsity of naturalism and the truth of theism.
This article is available online at boundless.org.
- This argument will assume a commonsense understanding of sensations, thoughts, beliefs, desires and volitions. For those unclear on these terms:
- A sensation is a state of awareness or sentience, a mode of consciousness — for example, a conscious awareness of sound, color, or pain. Some sensations are experiences of things outside me like a tree or table. Others are awarenesses of other states within me like pains or itches. Emotions are types of sensations.
- A thought is a mental content that can be expressed in an entire sentence. A thought is the mental content of a statement. Some thoughts logically entail other thoughts. For example “All dogs are mammals” entails “This dog is a mammal.” If the former is true, the latter must be true. Some thoughts don’t entail other thoughts, but merely provide evidence for them. For example, certain thoughts about evidence in a court case provide evidence for the thought that a person is guilty — “He said he would kill him” provides evidence for the thought “He is the murderer.”
- A belief is a person’s view, accepted to varying degrees of strength, of how things really are. If a person has a belief (e.g., someone believes that it is raining), then that belief serves as the basis for the person’s tendency or readiness to act as if the thing believed were really so (e.g., she gets an umbrella). At any given time, one can have many beliefs that are not currently being contemplated.
- A desire is a certain inclination to do, have, or experience certain things. Desires are either conscious or such that they can be made conscious through certain activities, for example, through therapy.
- An volition is a act of will or choice, an exercise of power, an endeavoring to do a certain thing, usually for the sake of some purpose or end.
- Since the publication of this article, J. P. Moreland has added a fifth nonphysical feature to mental states: “ They require a subjective ontology—namely, mental states are necessarily owned by the first person sentient subjects who have them.” [↩]
- Paul Churchland, Matter and Consciousness. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1984. [↩]
This is a compelling argument against naturalism. In particular, the qualities of mind as differentiated from matter seem difficult to get around; to just say such qualities “arise” from matter won’t do, because then the question becomes how could qualities that don’t exist in one substance come from that very substance?
I just read today something that I think is relevant here. In T.K.V. Desikachar’s commentary on Yoga-sutra 1.5 he says “What is the mind? Patanjali defines it as the activities that occupy it. It cannot be perceived except in terms of these activities.” Sutra 1.6 then names the five activities: comprehension (pramana), misapprehension (viparyaya), imagination (vikalpa), sleep (nidra), and memory (smrti). While not analogous to the four qualities mentioned in the article the same idea is there, i.e., that the mind possesses distinct qualities that gross matter does not.
Citta Hari, what you are saying has been the error of this argument for consciousness for some time. Mind may not be a substance at all but a series of processes that result from brain matter. As such it is not a substance arising from a substance but a process resulting from matter in the way the nervous system produces sensation or the tongue produces taste in relation to the brain. ‘Mind’ or ‘consciousness’ is sensation, attention to sensation, memory, and in more evolved creatures language (expression of thought) a self-reflexive awareness (making playing with thought or imagination possible).
This is why the field of artificial intelligence is so huge now. We are interested/concerned that if we can create a machine (computer) that can do all these things (sense, attend, remember, communicate thought, and ultimately reflect upon those processes) it is ultimately ‘conscious’ in the same way we are. There would be no identifiably different quality to that artificial being’s mind. There is evidence that evolution produces particular functions deemed ‘conscious’ or ‘mental’. For example, our self-reflexive processes are a result of frontal lobe development built upon more basic brain structures and their processes. Our particularly complex system of memory and retrieval is the same. And even if other animals had these same ‘mental’ mechanisms, they lack the language skills with which to communicate about them (language also makes complex narrative memory possible). We do know that language and memory are intricately reliant upon frontal lobe functioning… and these are two dimensions of consciousness that we often presume when using the word.
But there is also evidence for downward causation (mind causes physical action) and thus logical inference for substance dualism (mind is not physical). Here is some evidence for downward causation for those interested:
Moreland, the author of this article knows what he is talking about. His most recent book Consciousness and the Existence of God is based on the argument in this article and is worth reading. Here is what some have said about it:
I have not read this argument, however it seems to me that we have plenty of evidence of conscious entities that are physical and partially conscious entities (meaning they lack qualities that we associate with human consciousness) that are physical. In both these cases both consciousness and matter exist simultaneously and we can turn contemporary scientific explanations on their head and assume consciousness precedes physicality. However, there is also an excess of matter that exhibits no consciousness in a manner that can be ascertained. In these cases we would not only have to presume consciousness as preceding physicality (like in the case above), we would also have to presume consciousness in the absence of evidence for consciousness claiming some form of design/creation argument and god. This seems like a bit of a stretch in relation to non-conscious matter.
Given that there is certainly matter and there is consciousness identifiably correlated with a very slight portion of that matter, and a lot of matter that is not seemingly conscious in some sense, we are just asking: Why is there something rather than nothing? An admittedly profound question… but one for which the answer, “God” seems to me premature and impulsive (as much as it is compelling to us all).
I think you need to read a up on substance dualism in science. The link I posted is useful and Moreland’s book as well. Furthermore you repeatedly err (in my opinion) on the side of identifying naturalism with science, when in fact it is nothing more than a metaphysical position. More and more scientists and philosophers are admitting this today.
For example, here is an excerpt from a speech delivered to the American Association for the Advancement of Science by Michael Ruse:
I hesitate to post this comment here. It is long and it is the conclusion to the paper in the link I posted earlier on this thread. But I will do it over a couple of posts, as it is significant and will perhaps be read more if posted here rather than expecting readers to go through the entire research article. Basically the author presents credible evidence for the revolutionary idea (ha ha, we are reminded of Narasingha Deva Gosai’s article on the merits of ancient India with regard to her early scientific findings) that mind is ontologically different from brain. The specific evidence is of course detailed in the body of the paper, “Mind Really Does Matter.” And this really matters to us if we are to participate meaningfully in the kind of discourse that is presently shaping our society.
The results of the neuroimaging studies reviewed here call in question the psychophysical identity theory and epiphenomen- alism. For the psychophysical identity theory, mental processes (including intentional ones) are identical with neural processes (Feigl, 1958). For epiphenomenalism, mental processes are causally inert epiphenomena (side-effects or by-products) of neural processes. These findings also challenge eliminative materialism (or eliminativism). According to this view, mental processes and functions (e.g., consciousness, intentions, desires, beliefs, self) can be reduced entirely to brain processes. These mental processes and functions are pre-scientific concepts that belong to unsophisticated ideas of how the brain works (sometimes called ‘‘folk psychology’’). Eliminative materialism further proposes that all common language or ‘‘folk psychology’’ descriptions of mental experience should be eliminated and replaced by descriptions using neuroscientific language (Churchland, 1981). For these materialist views (psychophysical identity theory, epiphenomenalism, elimina- tive materialism), physically describable brain mechanisms represent the core and final explanatory vehicle for every kind of psychologically described data. These views are extremely counter-intuitive since our most basic experience teaches us that our choice of perspective about how we apprehend our mental states makes a huge difference in how we respond to them (Schwartz et al., 2005). With regard to this issue, we agree with Glannon (2002) that the tendency of modern neuroscience and biological psychiatry toward neurobiological reductionism, i.e., the reduction of persons to their brains (a form of ‘‘neuralanthropomorphism’’), is ill-advised and socially hazardous.
We must keep in mind that the whole human person, not merely a part of a brain, thinks, feels, or believes. Indeed, the human person cannot be reduced to neural processes and it is difficult to understand a whole person without understanding the socio- cultural context in which the person lives.
Mind and brain are integrated and interdependent (Lewis, 1994). Nevertheless, the findings of the neuroimaging studies reviewed in this article strongly suggest that mentalistic variables (e.g., consciousness, metacognition, volition, beliefs, hopes) and their intentional content (the first-person perspec- tive) are neither identical with nor reducible to brain processes (e.g., propagation of a nerve impulse, vesicular liberation of a neurotransmitter) (the third-person perspective). . . . The findings of the studies examined here also suggest that mental processes/events do exert a causal influence on brain plasticity and the various levels of brain functioning (e.g., molecular, cellular, neural circuit). Indeed, by changing our mind we are changing our brain (Paquette et al., 2003). Therefore, mental variables have to be considered as much as neurophysiological variables to reach an adequate understanding of the neural underpinnings of human behavior. The high explanatory and predictive value of agentic factors, such as beliefs, goals, aspirations, desires, and expectations (Bandura, 2001), cogently supports the interactionist view that the contents of subjective experience can causally influence physiological processes/events in the brain.
II would tend to differ with this part of the post in terms of the author’s sense that causal closure is a requirement for doing science. He does an interesting job of staying within causal closure by citing quantum mechanics and the Von Neumann interpretation of quantum physics, but my point here is that the idea of the necessity of causal closure is questionable. And here is a short and readable explanation of why this could be seen as so.
The most widely held objection to interactionism is that it is not compatible with the causal closure of the physical world. This metaphysical assumption implies that mind cannot exert any causal influence on the physical world (Chalmers, 2003). Yet, orthodox quantum theory is supportive of interactionism. For instance, in the von Neumann interpretation of quantum physics, the whole physical world, which comprises the body and brain of the agent, is described in the mathematical language of quantum mechanics. In this formulation the phenomenal evidence coming from subjective reports is treated as data pertaining to the psychologically described component of the agent, whereas the data from objective measurements made upon that agent, are treated as conditions on the physically described component of the agent. The apparent causal connection manifested between the psychological and physical components is explained by the causal connections between these components that are specified by the quantum laws (Schwartz et al., 2005).
To interpret these results of all the neuroimaging studies reviewed in this article, we need a hypothesis that accounts for the relationship between mental activity and brain activity. The Psychoneural Translation Hypothesis (or PTH) is such a hypothesis. It posits that the mind (the psychological world, the first-person perspective) and the brain (which is part of the ‘‘physical’’ world, the third-person perspective) represent two epistemologically and ontologically distinct domains that can interact because they are complementary aspects of the same underlying reality. According to the PTH, mind (including consciousness) represents an irreducible and fundamental aspect of our world. Furthermore, the PTH postulates that conscious and unconscious mental processes/events, which are neurally grounded, are selectively translated, based on a specific code, into neural processes/events at the various levels of brain organization (biophysical, molecular, chemical, neural circuits). In turn, the resulting neural processes/events are translated into processes and events in other physiological systems, such as the immune or endocrine system (the communication between the mind, the brain, and the other physiological systems constitute a psychosomatic network). Metaphorically, we could say that mentalese (the language of the mind) is translated into neuronese (the language of the brain). For example, fearful thoughts increase the secretion of adrenaline, but happy thoughts increase the secretion of endorphins. This informational transduction mechanism, which has emerged throughout the evolution of the human species, allows mental processes to causally influence brain activity in a specific manner.
With the emergence of self-consciousness, self-agency, and self-regulatory metacognitive capacities, evolution has enabled humans to consciously and voluntarily shape the functioning of their brains. These advanced capacities allow humans to be driven not only by survival and reproduction but also by complex sets of insights, goals, and beliefs. For instance, the ethical values associated with a given spiritual tradition help certain individuals to keep in check their emotional impulses and to behave in an altruistic fashion. In such cases, moral conscience replaces innate programming as behavioral regulator, and ethical behaviors constitute an emancipation from ‘‘selfish’’ genes and the primitive dictates of the mammalian brain. Such freedom is responsible for the fact that, despite the homogeneity of the human genome across human societies, we find fighting cultures that value and foster aggression whereas in pacific cultures, aggression is negatively perceived and almost non-existent (Alland, 1972; Sanday, 1981).
Jnana is a very sexy lady for sure, but let’s pray that the Bhaktas will always steer clear of jnana and the avaishnavas that speak, promote and propagate jnana.
Jnana is not an ornament of the Vaishnava. Jnana is the tattered rags of mental speculation and should be left in the dumpster of non-Vaishnava rubbish along with the other garbage of mental speculation.
Sweetness does not exist outside the teachings of the suddha-bhaktas known as the authentic Gaudiya acharyas.
Eating the philosophical remnants of the jnanis is the downfall of the devotee who seeks knowledge as an ornament of self-aggrandizement.
Actually the persons I have cited on this thread and the author of the article are theists committed to establishing on scientific turf that has so much credibility today that there is a difference between the body and the soul and that the soul’s purpose is to love God. They also seek to expose the mayaya pahrita jnana of scientific materialism (naturalism). They are of course scientists, and as Prabhupada recommends, they are using their position in science to glorify God. I differ from them theologically, but otherwise find their efforts noble. And as I mentioned, discussions surrounding the topics they are concerned with are shaping the world we live in. I think that Gaudiya Vaisnavas should be part of that discussion, even when it involves learning a few new things. Still I realize that not every devote will find interest in this discussion, nor it is necessary that they do in order to advance in bhakti. I apologize in advance if I gave the impression that understanding the topics herein was required reading. It’s not, but it has value for representing our precepts to educated people and for changing the world.
Understood, but “theists” are some of the most rabid non-devotees on the planet. Being a “theist” and a non-devotee at the same time is a very hard concept for some of us to swallow.
Some of the most demoniac people (non-Krishna bhaktas) I have ever met are “theists” whose “God” is the figment of their imagination that has nothing to do with the actual God of Vaishnava theology.
“Theists” that are opposed to the supremacy of Krishna are no better than Ravana or Hiranyakashipu.
Some of the the most hateful and virulent people in society today are theists.
Being a “theist” and being a Krishna-bhakta are two different things and many “theists” are actually just asuras hiding behind the ultimate facade of theism.
If they aren’t KRISHNA-BHAKTA they are not real theists.
And some devotees of Krishna are really only disciples of Kali-yuga in disguise. But at any rate, I am approaching this from the perspective of the saragrahi (essence seeking) Vaisnava Thakura Bhaktivinoda speaks so beautifully about, and I think that for outreach and the overall good at this stage that is a good strategy. And of course I look forward to discussing my differences in theology with such persons at some point in the future should they/we be successful on this particular front. Then again, if I were approaching it from the perspective of bhava, that would be another thing. Funny how that works.
wow. religion can be scary.
If they aren’t KRISHNA-BHAKTA they are not real theists.
If Krsna Bhakta mean towing the ideas that you cite 100 times on this websites, then I will run from devotees more than atheists. I find devotees as scary as the non-devotees you are talking about.
Yes using Occam’s razor, science has repeatedly avoided the mind/matter duality, especially since the late 20th century. That is because for the most part they are very successful in finding areas of brains responsible for mental and physical disorders. Perhaps something may change is there enough pressure from the theistic scientists.
Wow, I had kind of thought that bhakti included jnana, you know, you can get jnana through bhakti but not vice versa. So bhakti is the completion and fulfillment of jnana. I don’t remember Krsna ever saying that jnana was bad, just that it was incomplete and not the ultimate goal.
It would be hard to be a good Vaisnava if you weren’t allowed to learn anything about your bhakti or about the society in which you live. I guess we should throw out the Nectar of Devotion (a scientific approach to delineating the emotional, social and psychological manifestations of bhakti); most of the Vedas; all books on psychology, sociology, biology, physics, mathematics, chemistry, and medicine. I suppose we should condemn Prabhupada for studying pharmacology while we’re at it – didn’t he know that jnana is irrelevant and evil? Oh, and I hope you don’t get sick and need a doctor – those atheistic karmis will certainly besmirch your pure bhakti by trying to foist their jnana based medicines on you. You may also want to give up your cell phone and computer, because they were produced by atheists using sciences outside of gaudiya-vaisnavism, so obviously the fruit of their labor is also contaminated and belongs in the “dumpster of non-Vaisnava rubbish.” I really can’t believe that Prabhupada allowed the use of tape recorders, light bulbs, and microphones in his temples, or that he rode in mechanical airplanes. Why didn’t he just wait for Garuda to fly him around? Wouldn’t that be the only Vaisnava approved way to travel?
I can’t argue with Beauregard’s collection of data. I can put forth an argument against his conclusion.
Using the placebo effect as an example – Beauregard cites a study that showed “Placebo reduced the brain responses in a number of brain regions known to be implicated in the subjective experience of pain, such as the rACC, anterior insula, and thalamus.” Beauregard’s conclusion is that the non-physical “mind” influenced the level of neuronal signals. An alternative explanation could be that placebo actually reflects neural anticipation of a learned response, or perhaps activation of a neural memory of a previous event. The subjects learned that application of a cream reduced perceived pain. Therefore, when the cream was applied again, neurons down-regulated their response due to the association of the sensations of cream being applied with a decrease in perceived pain. The result of either hypothesis is the same – decreased activation of pain centers. The experiment does not rule out the possibility of physical modulation of other neural pathways secondary to sensory perception of events.
It is good that there are some intellectuals who are capable of trying to demonstrate the theistic perspective scientifically, but the only thing it demonstrates to me is that science has become so elitist is has left most of us mere mortals way behind. I recognise most of the English words, but it might as well be written in a foreign language. Is discovering the truth such a sophisticated intellectual exercise?
It makes me wonder whether debating the “scientific evidence” for theism is a waste of time. It just encourages them and justifies their viewpoint that knowledge is only discovered by the objective scientific method.
Spiritual experience is the most potent proof for religious people. This can’t be objectively proved, but on a personal level it also cannot be denied. The same is true for the existence of mind and consciousness – no matter what science has to say about it – we can feel their existence directly.
Is it even possible to objectively prove the existence or non-existence of God? Can we bind the Supreme Controller with the force of the intellect? Can a blind man see the sun?
Every area of study has its own language which appears foreign to those less well-versed in it. My comfort zone is biological science, and it’s pretty easy for me to read through this particular paper we’re discussing. Ask me to read an essay on Gaudiya Vaisnavism, and I’m lost! Swami wrote an article a couple of weeks ago and I had to spend a good hour trying to find the meanings of the terms and verses that to him are plain as day.
I don’t think science is trying to be any more elitist than we are – it just happens that in order to efficiently and clearly talk about their studies, there are certain words and constructs they have to use that aren’t found in day to day conversation. It would be the same as us saying, “I have to finish my japa before the pratara bhoga offering so that afterward I can help my gurudeva prepare for his Srimad Bhagavatam lecture.” An outsider would think we’re being elitist because we’re using all these fancy Sanskrit words that they can’t understand!
If we all had illuminating spiritual experiences, then you’re right that we would not need to pursue such sophisticated intellectual exercises. I will go first in saying that I have not. So for me, lacking spiritual experience, investing my intelligence in such exercises relating to Krsna is helpful. And for me, it is a much more challenging exercise to try and understand Vaisnava texts and commentaries. For me, using science to talk about theology is actually clearer and less confusing. So we all need different approaches, and find nourishment where we can. I’m sure you could whup my butt in a philosophical debate.
Everything you say is very reasonable and I am not suggesting that we discard science or logical analysis – only pointing out the limit of its usefulness. I also understand theology better when it is phrased in scientific language although my capacity to understand science is very limited.
You say you have no illuminating spiritual experience, but you must have. Spiritual experience is kind of a tautology because even our material experiences are just like negative spiritual experiences. Experience is a personal experiment; it is when we personally encounter something, and so by definition spiritual. It is felt by each of us directly and can’t be objectively proved or illuminated. If we love someone, we feel this directly and no amount of scientific proof will be able to convince us that it isn’t true.
All our experiences added up are much the same thing as our faith. So you must have some experience and therefore some faith – Otherwise what has drawn you towards Hari Krishna and this website? Even the atheists are basing their conclusions on faith. Faith is subtle, like water to a fish, or space-time to us, it forms the background and foundation of all our experience.
The intellect doesn’t ultimately give us spiritual knowledge although it might seem that way. It can give material knowledge, but spiritual knowledge is spiritual so it possesses free will. It can come to you or not. If it comes to you it does so at its own choosing and also in response to your choice to search for it. It is really the act of ‘sincerely’ searching – no matter where or how we search – that holds the key to illuminating the spiritual reality.
Pranama to you. Referring to your second and third paragraphs above I can see what you are saying in that in one sense our experience forms our faith. I agree with your point that there can be no objective proof for spiritual experience. But when you say “All our experiences added up are much the same thing as our faith” I think you are perhaps missing the distinction between prakrta-sraddha (worldly faith) and aprakrta-sraddha (transcendent faith). Faith in bhakti and any subsequent spiritual experience comes to us from outside the realm of matter through the guru-parampara. Prior to coming in contact with the spiritual current as it descends through the parampara our personal encounters with the phenomenal world cannot by definition be spiritual because then mercy would have no meaning. The baddha-jiva would be able to transcend matter of her own volition, but we know this is not the case. In reality the baddha-jiva does not even know that there is a distinction between matter and consciousness, and so grace is required to make her aware of this basic truth as well as her ultimate prospect(prema).
I’m not sure what you mean by this, in particular “negative spiritual experiences.” Could you clarify?
I think experiences are like the scenes that are painted onto the canvas of consciousness. They colour our consciousness. You can’t have experience without consciousness – the two are inseperable. Since consciousness is spiritual, any experience we have must also be spiritual.
Material experiences are negative because they are shades of unconsciousness – like consciousness asleep. They are also negative because the suffering associated with our material experience will eventually bring us to search for the spiritual. It brings us to the point of asking – Why am I suffering?
The distinction you make about faith is interesting. Are you saying faith in bhakti is something we are given whether we want it or not? What part do you think our volition plays in this?
1. In the Gita we find that the soul remains aloof from matter in all circumstances. The canvas you refer to is not consciousness proper, it is subtle matter(i.e., mental/emotional system) which stores impressions within a given life and from one lifetime to the next. Consciousness and experience are inseparable, true, but I think the argument could be made that if the soul is asleep to its true nature as consciousness and is identified with matter then any experience it has is in reality material, despite the experiencer being spiritual. In other words, material consciousness on the part of the soul begets material experience, which we refer to as samsara.
2. Asking why we are suffering moves us in the direction of finding our true nature but cannot be said to be spiritual experience in the true sense. Asking “Why am I suffering?” is worlds apart from internal realization of oneself as an eternal conscious being, and universes apart from participation in lila.
3. I’m not saying that faith in bhakti is given to us whether we want it or not. The gift is offered, but we don’t have to accept it.
Ah, but it is said that while Sri Caitanya gave bhakti to those who asked for it, Nityananda gave it to those who said they did not want it. If bhakti comes to us through ajnata-sukriti, then at least in this sense she comes of her own volition regardless of ours. Still, people do seem to reject the gift, at least for sometime.
In my initial draft I went into ajnata-sukrti but I canned it in favor of the more straightforward explanation since it seems to make it sound like the jiva has no free will in relation to bhakti.
I agree that material experience is worlds apart from spiritual experience, but this seems to me the same thing as saying that it is negative. You can make a sharp distinction between material and spiritual consciousness as like being awake and asleep, but there are gradations even in unconsciousness and especially in the process of waking up. First we may be completely unconscious and then we are dreaming, then when we first wake up we wonder whether the dream was real, then we remember we were dreaming, then we remember where we are, then what day it is, then what we are supposed to be doing today, then we jump out of bed and start running for the bus!
So how can we make such a sharp distinction between all these experiences? All human beings live in that hazy place somewhere between awake and asleep and in that territory it is difficult to draw a sharp line between them.
I also think there are gradations of spiritual experience – we shouldn’t expect it to be “Oh joy, now I understand everything.” Obviously if someone had such an illuminating spiritual experience, this would probably be all the proof they needed and any intellectual scientific analysis becomes irrelevant. They would know for sure that the other world exists and the only question left for them is – How can I connect with it?
So I don’t think it’s our scientific analysis of the subject that creates our faith and draws us to one particular religion or metaphysical conclusion. Otherwise how would you explain that while we all have access to the same scientific information, some people conclude it all adds up to atheism and some to theism? If we call that thing faith, then what is it that determines the nature of this faith? My experience is that faith is somehow a part of you – you can’t shake it off even if you try.
As for not having to accept this gift – I can’t seem to make any sharp distinction there either. My desire and God’s desire seem intertwined in such a way that you cannot totally separate them. In any relationship two people are by definition necessary, and when love is the foundation of the relationship, the other persons desire becomes your desire. Their happiness contributes to your happiness.
Maybe Lord Nityananda can’t stand to see Krishna and you not speaking to each other – so He initiates the dialogue knowing that once you get to know each other better . . .
Indeed, there is a gradation from purely selfish consciousness wherein the soul is identified wholly with matter, to gaining theoretical knowledge of transcendence, to getting glimpses of oneself as consciousness, to having steady perception of that, to getting glimpses of life in transcendence, to experiencing oneself in relation to one’s maker, etc. It was this gradation I was referring to when I said “Asking “Why am I suffering?” is worlds apart from internal realization of oneself as an eternal conscious being, and universes apart from participation in lila.” In my opinion what you refer to as “negative spiritual experience” like asking why we are suffering could be considered spiritual only in the most generous, indirect sense. I see such things as moving in the direction of spiritual, which is no doubt essential, but not spiritual proper. I prefer to go by the Gita, which places the bar a bit higher in its definition of what spiritual is.
I agree wholly that faith does not arise out of scientific analysis, and never said it does. Gaudiya Vedanta accounts for theistic vs. atheistic leanings with the ideas of karma and sukrti. You also asked what determines the nature of one’s faith; the answer is the company we keep. Faith in relation to matter comes out of our association with the gunas, and faith in bhakti comes to us from the transcendent realm–from a person who has that faith.
Returning to the question of volition, the statement you made about your desire and God’s desire being intertwined is I think on the right track. I have heard it said that when Krsna wants to liberate a particular jiva from samsara then he arranges for that soul to meet a bhakta. In the Caitanya-caritamrta Krsnadasa Kaviraja says the jiva becomes lucky–bhagyavan–and is given the seed of the creeper of bhakti by Krsna and the guru. Generally this luck is considered to begin with ajnata-sukrti–pious acts performed unknowingly. We do not choose when, where, or how bhakti comes to us; as Swami said above she comes to us of her own volition regardless of ours. Our free will comes into play with whether or not (or perhaps even better stated, when) we will cultivate the seed.