Who's Minting the Mind?
"Some 500,000 hardcover copies are in print of Richard Dawkins's 'The God Delusion' (2006); 296,000 copies of Christopher Hitchens's 'God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything' (2007); 185,000 copies of Sam Harris's 'Letter to a Christian Nation' (2006); 64,100 copies of Daniel C. Dennett's 'Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon'; and 60,000 copies of Victor J. Stenger's 'God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God Does not Exist' (2007)."
I'm sure I could write a more convincing and entertaining book than these five. Let's say I sell half a million copies. I live pretty simply, so I could retire and use the proceeds to spend the rest of my life laying in the hammock in the back yard, reading mystical theology and thinking about God.
But I just don't see how any logical person can arrive at atheism. To be fully craptized into the faith, I would have to pretend to be so ignorant -- such a metaphysical rube -- that I don't know that I could be very convincing. If you're going to be an atheist, you obviously have to be passionate, even hysterical, since cold logic won't get you very far. I was noticing this the other day with the amazon reviews of Michael Behe's new book, The Edge of Evolution. It seems that it's impossible for the Darwinian fundamentalists to express their objection to Behe's ideas without all the strident hysteria. It really is as if he is a scientific heretic. Burn him!
One of my favorite Western philosophers is the much misunderstood Schopenhauer. In a way, I don't think he has been surpassed -- or can be surpassed -- because he takes reason as far as it can go, which is to the noumenon, the ultimate unknowable reality (O) behind appearances (he used the singular "noumenon" rather than "noumena," because he understood that whatever else it was, it had to be one, which I will explain later). Schopenhauer realized that science does not -- cannot -- disclose the noumenon, only the phenomena which are its expression.
I have so little time this morning that I'll probably end up oversimplifying, but here goes....
Schopenhauer wrote that "the solution to the riddle of the world is only possible through the proper connection of outer with inner experience." He begins with Kant's idea that the human body and brain are by definition limited to dealing with an object of possible experience -- which doesn't necessarily have to be a material object. Rather, it can be a work of music, a mathematical equation, a memory. "But whatever these are, the totality of them constitutes the outer limit of what we can have any thought or awareness of."
However -- and this is where the atheists commit their howler -- "it does not follow from this that it is also the outer limit of what exists." Rather, "What is just is, independently of us and the apparatus with which we happen to find ourselves equipped; and we have no grounds whatsoever for believing that reality, the totaltity of what exists, coincides with what we are able to apprehend -- and nor could we ever have any such grounds, for that would involve our being able to see on both sides of a line when that line is, as we have just said, an outer limit." Nevertheless, the intellect has a naive bias toward confusing its abstractions with reality.
Of course, it is always possible that the scientific ideas capable of being hatched in the mind of man just so happen to coincide with ultimate reality. But the chances are so remote that we may dismiss them out of hand. In a way, the atheist is asking us to believe something far more unbelievable than religious revelation, which is that the cosmos reveals its true inner and outer nature to man just by sheer luck.
But as Magee points out, "The only plausible possibility of a reality completely corresponding to our conceptions of it rests on the possibility that reality itself could be mind-like, or could be created by a mind, or by minds." Ironically, it is the atheists and other flatlanders "who most confidently do not believe this... [and] who are most tightly wedded to an epistemological criterion of reality. That is one of the incoherences of their position."
Shopenhauer wrote that the relationship between the noumenon and the phenomenal world is not a causal one. Rather, they are "the same thing understood in different ways." For example, consider the physicist's equations that disclose a mysterious realm of flowing, unbroken wholeness, or "implicate" order "beneath" the explicate world available to our senses. Is the quantum world the "cause" of the familiar Newtonian world of solid bodies moving in space? No, it is not. It is the same reality, only regarded "in a totally different way from the way I normally perceive and think about it. The same object is being apprehended in two ways which are completely different, and yet both are valid -- both, if you like, 'true.'"
Some of Shopenhauer's deepest insights about the nature of ultimate reality came from his great appreciation of art. He believed that "it is the specific function of the arts to convey profound and unique insights that are unamenable to conceptual communication." Although this kind of insight is "not communicable in concepts, it is, nevertheless, communicable.... Even when a great work of art is constructed out of words, as is a poem, play, or novel, it is nevertheless impossible to say in words what it 'means.'" In other words, "the meaning of a work of art is something that the work conveys but cannot state."
If this is true of art, how much more true it is of revelation, including the revelations of the cosmos, of life, and of the human mind itself. Put another way, the existence of man's mind tells us much more about the nature of this cosmos than any of its particular mental content.
To be continued. (All quotes taken from Bryan Magee's very enjoyable Confessions of a Philosopher, although his biography of Schopenhauer is also a great read. Having said that, Magee is not a religious man, in that he stops short of following Schopenauer into the Upanishads and what they reveal about Reality.)