After two centuries of the tug-of-war between science and religion, it’s clear science occupies the dominant position. It has passed the “So what?” test, meaning that science as applied to practical daily life has been immensely more important to modern people than God. This has given atheism, both casual and militant, the upper hand. As much as belief in God has deep human significance, he (or she) doesn’t pass the “So what?” test. If you put a video camera on the shoulders of an atheist and a believer, without knowing which was which, it’s hard to claim that the believer will have a better life because of his belief. Atheism therefore looks like just as good a choice.
I’ve always felt that this lopsided advantage we automatically give to science, and therefore to atheism, is unfair. In a new book, The Future of God, I turn the tables, proving as best I can that God isn’t just a humane, comforting, or moral choice but the most practical source of well-being. This will certainly come as surprising news to millions of the faithful who have been leading divided lives. Their practical affairs are secular, taking advantage of technological advances, while in their hearts they leave a privileged space for God. Rarely do we hear that God is actually more rational than science and more practical than technology.
To accomplish this turn-around, first the playing field needs to be leveled. A few basic assumptions need to be cleared up. Let me do that in abbreviated form, since I don’t have space to elaborate at length, as I do in the book.
- Science isn’t by definition anti-religious.
- Atheists have a point when they accuse organized religion of a litany of gross failings, including crusades, jihads, and the Inquisition. But religions are human institutions prone to every human failing. Religious history is about us, not about whether God exists.
- God can be approached without resorting to the cultural mythology of a humanized Father and Mother watching over us from Heaven. Atheists largely attack this myth, but smashing a myth doesn’t mean you’ve smashed reality.
- There is a rich tradition, both East and West, of an impersonal God. This God is the source of consciousness and all that we associate with consciousness: self-awareness, intelligence, creativity, evolution, etc.
- The experience of God is found inside our own consciousness, not “out there” in a supernatural realm.
Militant atheists like Richard Dawkins seem convincing when they cloak themselves in rationality and science while portraying God in terms of irrationality and superstition. This makes for nice rhetoric, pitting an absolutely good side against an absolutely bad one, but Dawkins and his crowd know little about spirituality and less about consciousness. Everything they say, once you winnow out the freight of arrogance, dismissiveness, false representation, chop logic, and bad faith (there’s a lot to discard, believe me), the basis for modern atheism is a materialistic belief that nothing except physical objects and processes can be real. This stance is known as “naive realism,” and it has served atheists well because we all live our lives as naive realists.
That is, we believe the information brought to us by the five senses. What we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell can be treated, for all practical purposes, as reliably real. We navigate through the day using the mind at its common-sense level. Emotions, both positive and negative, influence us all the time, even if we wish they wouldn’t. The world “in here,” a domain of introspection and unseen forces, is largely unexplored.
The problem with naive realism is that, although workable, it’s not scientifically valid and it can’t possibly lead to God. This is where the level playing field comes in with a vengeance. On the one hand quantum physics has totally dismantled the validity of the five senses when it comes to understanding the “real” reality that defies not just our eyes and ears but our common sense and our reliance on such appearances as linear time and three-dimensional space. On the other hand, the mystery of the “real” reality is intimately tied to understanding our own consciousness. This double whammy more or less flattens Dawkins-style atheism intellectually, which is why science and consciousness have become strange bedfellows if you are bamboozled into believing that atheism is more valid than spirituality.
In truth, all experiences are subjective, including the experience of doing science. Before we can be completely sure of any fact, science must account for something more basic: How do we know the world? What is the connection between objectivity and subjectivity? What is consciousness to begin with? At first blush these questions don’t seem to pass the “So what?” test. They appear to belong in the ivory towers of the academy. But if you do nothing more than accept the new level playing field that now prevails, immense practical consequences result. Again, let me abbreviate the main points.
- If all experience is subjective, going inward is a valid means of exploring reality.
- In this exploration, new levels of consciousness reveal themselves.
- At deeper levels of consciousness, perception changes radically.
- As perception changes, so does reality itself, since nothing is real for us beyond what we can perceive in some way.
- The conjunction of the individual mind with the source of consciousness is where God lives.
In short, God is a journey in consciousness, and because that’s so, whatever benefit we gain from being conscious is increased once we obtain direct access to God. Needless to say, atheists don’t even begin such a journey, because they dismiss it outright in advance. But the benefits of being more conscious will appeal to any rational person. If there is indeed a source of creativity, intelligence, power, love, truth–pick any divine attribute you want–the choice between God and atheism suddenly becomes radically revised. Atheism becomes the choice not to look into God, to passively accept second-hand opinions about the non-existence of God, and to judge spirituality worthless without question. As my example of putting a video camera on the shoulder of an atheist and a believer showed, there’s no reason to doubt that being an unbeliever can lead to a satisfying practical life.
But the video camera doesn’t show the inner effect of expanding one’s awareness, and I would venture–as argued at length in the book–that God brings the highest state of well-being no matter how you define the term. As the great quantum pioneer Max Planck observed, there is no getting behind consciousness. The mystery of realty can only be solved there. Which means that the mystery of personal realty, yours and mine, can only be solved there, too. This is the strongest incentive to find God, and the possibility that God will have a future that’s crucial to human happiness and survival.
Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers. He serves as the founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing. His latest book is The Future of God