Deepak Chopra and Intent

Deepak Chopra and Intent

How Richard Dawkins Lost His Battle with God

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When he wrote his 2006 best-seller, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins expected to accomplish two aims that have proved to be remarkable failures. The first aim was social. He wanted to attract a horde of doubters, fence-sitters, and agnostics to gather their courage and join the atheist ranks. This never happened. There has been a quiet, steady decline in church attendance for at least fifty years in the US and Western Europe, and recently a noticeable bump in self-described atheists has occurred. At the same time, around 10% of declared atheists go to church, usually for reasons of community or for their children.


What has decidedly not happened is the success of Dawkins’ agenda. As a militant movement, his brand of noisy public atheism remains a splinter group. It has had no effect on national politics, laws, the judicial system, education, etc. Whether a person believes in God or not remains a largely private matter. As for Dawkins himself, he has become an embarrassment to the atheist movement, largely for his cranky, arrogant tweets–the godless don’t want to be seen with him anymore.


But the second aim of The God Delusion was more important, because it attempted to show scientifically that God was a near impossibility. Here Dawkins felt secure, if not invincible.  But his scientific arguments have crumbled around him, as I’ve detailed in a new book, The Future of God, which I hope will lay militant atheism to rest on rational grounds, not traditional religious ones, while at the same time giving new life to a viable spiritual path. It’s the anti-God Delusion book I feel must be presented so that people don’t fall into a kind of passive unbelief for want of a better way.


So, how did science fail Dawkins? It was the other way around. Relying on his great hero, Charles Darwin, he intended to use evolution to bludgeon everything religion stands for. Dawkins’s worldview is rigidly either/or, black and white. If you are on the side of science, you stand for reason, logic, hard facts, verifiable data, skepticism, and the scientific method.  If you believe that God exists, you are automatically irrational, credulous, superstitious, ignorant about science, and probably unable to think logically. Dawkins backs up this either/or position with noisy polemics that have a strong media appeal but little backing from scientists (he himself hasn’t been a practicing scientist for decades).


Dawkins’s setup is to propose “the God hypothesis,” a supposedly scientific theory that can be tested, like the hypothesis that gravity exists, in order to test its validity. Unfortunately for him, actual scientific hypotheses are subjected to experiments, measurements, data, peer review, and replicated results. He offers none of these. In reality, there can be an hypothesis (like superstrings or the multiverse) that seem to be credible on mathematical grounds but which cannot be subjected to experiment. This, however, would serve if anything to help God out. He can’t be subjected to experimentation, but disbelief has no data, measurements, or experimental conclusions on its side, either.  The playing field is even on that score.


Dawkins must retreat to showing that God is a near impossibility. Since he can’t prove with scientific rigor that God doesn’t exist, it seems almost as powerful to reduce the chance that he exists as close to zero as possible. Here is where Dawkins’s sense of invincibility rests, and he trots out a host of arguments. His main one is that creation follows Darwinian lines rather than the creation story in the Book of Genesis. Darwin himself was quite reluctant to use this tactic, but we can set that aside. The argument that God is disproved by evolution places the question on the wrong level.


Let’s say that thousands of people claim to have seen a ghost. Their experience isn’t disproved by arguing that the universe is made of atoms and molecules, rendering non-physical entities impossible. The actual experience of seeing a ghost must be met on its own terms. The same holds true for the millions of people across the centuries who claim to have an experience of God, heaven, the soul, the afterlife, and so on. Telling them that life evolved from one-celled microorganisms doesn’t say anything about their experience, which is why Dawkins, a canny propagandist, resorts to disdain and ridicule to demolish religious belief, adding a healthy dose of accusations against the evils produced by organized religion (which are undeniable but again don’t address people’s genuine spiritual experiences).


Yet the nub of the matter, the real reason Dawkins is turning into a footnote in the history of science, is his stubborn insistence on naive realism. This is an extreme form of realism, claiming that what the senses see, hear, touch, taste, and smell is the measure of reality and the only valid way to conduct science–Dawkins used his book for young adults,  The Magic of Reality, to drive naive realism home. But even someone with a passing acquaintance of relativity and quantum physics knows that the five senses are absolutely not the foundation of modern science–exactly the opposite.


Your eyes tell you that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Your sense of touch tells you that physical objects are solid, stable, and fixed. Clocks tell you that time moves in a straight line. Dawkins doesn’t care or perhaps even understand the profound implications of why these reports from the senses are wrong. Without Darwin he would have no science at all, yet meanwhile naive realism has been totally demolished. And one of the cornerstones of Darwinian theory, that mind and intelligence took billions of years to evolve before finally reaching their apex in the human brain, is being seriously doubted.


There is currently a wholesale attempt to solve the “hard problem,” the problem of how mind came into existence and how that relates to the brain. The brain certainly serves as our interface with reality. But no one has the slightest idea, on the basis of traditional materialistic science, how the brain’s electrical and chemical activity produces the three-dimensional world we perceive. The brain contains no light or sound; it is totally dark and silent. It has no photographic images in it. It has no provable way of looking into the past or future, since all of its activity takes place in the present.


The mystery of the brain’s interface with reality has led to an open-ended discussion of the hard problem, and a number of prominent theorists now believe that consciousness, or mind, exists in the universe at large, that it is the very basis of everything in spacetime. This is the real God hypothesis–the existence of cosmic mind woven into the very fabric of nature–not Dawkins’s trumped-up attack on the God of conventional religion.


I am not saying that science is moving closer to God, only that the possibility of a conscious universe is very real in scientific terms. On that basis, the very things Dawkins defends so vociferously–reason, logic, data, experimentation–can be applied to reality beyond the five senses. In the future as science expands to in this direction, God will have to be redefined to fit a new conception of reality. No one can predict where the hard problem will lead. However, it most certainly will abandon naive realism. Dawkins has already isolated himself from serious thinking, either in science or spirituality. He’s wound up being a fundamentalist of anti-belief and a crank whose science is more primitive that the religionists he lives to destroy.


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 

How to Make God Love You

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Although the modern controversy over God centers on the famous headline from Time magazine, “Is God Dead?” this isn’t really the key question. By definition, God can’t be dead, because “dead” implies that God was alive, and once alive, an immortal being can’t die. Yet defining God as immortal or loving or omnipotent–all the attributes assigned to the deity–solves nothing. We might as well define God as purple. All divine attributes are human projections.


The real issue, then, is how to bring these attributes into the world. If you were taught as a child that God is love, you won’t discover the truth of this teaching until God is love for you.  For me, turning God into a personal experience is the only way for him (or her) to be viable. I lay out the whole argument in a new book, The Future of God.  In this post there’s only room enough to deal with one attribute, love. Does God love you?


A committed atheist will assert that this question has no meaning, since we are talking about a mythical creature. But the vast majority of people are not atheists, and their answer will fall into one of three categories.

I hope that God loves me.

I have faith that God loves me.

I know that God loves me.


To cut through the morass of theology and dogma that surrounds organized religion, I think this template works. If you hope that God loves you, the connection between your life and the reality of God is very tenuous. If you have faith that God loves you, the connection is stronger, but at those times when very bad things happen to you, or to your family and friends, faith is tested by doubt. You have to hold on tight to your assumption that God exists and cares for you. God only becomes totally viable if you know that he loves you, the way you know that fire burns and chocolate tastes nice.


Showing someone how to evolve from hope to faith to knowledge is the whole point of the spiritual path. We are not born knowing God, which isn’t a fatal flaw. Babies aren’t born knowing how to read, either. The brain is completely trainable, and there is no reason that it cannot be trained using the same elements that apply when learning how to read:


–A teacher who already knows what you want to learn.

–Motivation to enter the learning process.

–Lessons that impart what you want to learn.

–Repeated experience as these lessons sink in.


I realize that this course of action sounds cut and dried compared to the inspiration that uplifts us in spiritual life, but the bald fact is that all experience must be processed by the brain, whether it’s an experience of watching television or feeling the presence of your soul. Leaving aside one’s skepticism, the experience of God’s love is real. We have thousands upon thousands of first-hand accounts, enough to motivate us to aspire to the same experience. It’s a matter of filling in all the requirements.


Teacher: If you are serious about entering the spiritual path, you need a teacher who is in a higher state of consciousness, however you want to define it. They have had the experience you want to have. Verifying this can be tricky. Just because someone sets up as a guru or an enlightened being doesn’t mean that they are appropriate teachers. But higher consciousness exists, and it isn’t rare. If you do some sensible investigation, listening to a prospective teacher and talking to their students, you will be able to sort out what feels right. Reading books is a good supplement, because the transmission of spiritual knowledge that comes from the world’s wisdom traditions can be invaluable.


Motivation: “It would be nice if God loved me” isn’t a strong enough motivation. Nor is “I’m so miserable, I need God to love me.” What you are looking for is deeper knowledge about reality. The only lasting motivation comes from actually going beyond everyday reality, which is a known quantity. To reach a deeper level of reality requires you to go inside and find those levels in yourself.  Meditation and other contemplative practices are the time-honored way to go beyond the everyday world of appearances.


Lessons: Once you go inward, you will experience that your mind becomes more centered, calmer, and less overshadowed by thought. But this new found state can be either passive or active. It’s passive if you dip into it, feel better, and then go away. It’s active if you begin to identify this new place as your true self. Then the qualities of deeper reality begin to come to the surface and affect your daily life. Love is one of these qualities. Lessons in love aren’t the same as falling in love. By analogy, let’s say that someone asks you, “Did you notice how many people smile if you look at them and smile first?” It’s likely that you haven’t noticed this, or not recently. You have a choice now to perform an experiment. You can consciously decide to look at people and give them a smile. In the same way, you can test if your consciousness is becoming more loving by doing, saying, and thinking more lovingly.


Repetition: As you test out the experience of being more loving, a feedback loop is being set up in your brain. You are training it to notice something new, and the more it notices, the more sensitive, alert, and perceptive you will become in matters of love. You are on a path known in Sanskrit as Bhakti, the path of devotion. Devotion is entirely about finding love in everything, as a universal quality. Anything universal belongs in the domain of the divine, whether you apply the word God to it or not. It’s enough to know that your experience reveals love in every particle of existence.


I love the devotional poems of Rumi, Kabir, Mirabai, and the other great writers in the Bhakti tradition, but I’m also a realist. To find divine love means coming to grips with reality beyond the emotion of love (or hate) that comes and goes. I must move from hope to faith to knowledge. The journey will take me to unexpected places, some of them difficult to visit. We all harbor memories, beliefs, and old conditioning that block love or even oppose it, that feel bitter and wounded, that want to defend non-love in order not to be hurt again. Yet if love is a universal quality, intrinsic to consciousness itself, no journey is more rewarding. It’s worth the time, effort, and dedication to discover that your true self is love.


Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers including Super Brain, co-authored with Rudi Tanzi, PhD. He serves as the founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing. Coming soon, The Future of God (Harmony, November 11, 2014)

Why God Doesn’t Care What You Do

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In every religion that believes in a personal God, there’s a connection between the divine and the human. A personal God created life, and he (or she) cherishes his creation. No love is more intense than divine love. No anger is more intense than divine wrath. As relationships go, the one with God poses the most difficulties, for an obvious reason. God is invisible and leaves no evidence about his existence in the physical world.


All religions who demand the worship of a personal God must overcome the same obstacle. There are various ways around it. You can ask people to have faith in God, with the promise that the faithful will meet him one day in heaven. You can depict the sufferings of Hell if faith fails. You can examine the triumphs and tragedies of everyday life and say that God is behind them, expressing approval when things go well and disapproval when things go badly. In short, there are many strategies for keeping a personal God viable.


Atheists complain that none of these strategies has a basis in reality. They simply play on human credulity, on our love of myth and superstition. Religion exploits all that is primitive, child-like, and irrational in human nature. If you subscribe to this view–and most modern people at least flirt with it–then unbelief is the same as progress. In the vast Darwinian scheme of evolution, atheists see themselves at the cutting edge of the curve while the devout bring up the rear. In the not too distant future, they will simply be anachronisms on the verge of extinction.


I don’t remotely subscribe to this view, and in a forthcoming book, The Future of God, I do my best to dismantle it piece by piece.  Keeping up with the vitriol and chop logic of militant atheists would require constant vigilance, however. As soon as Richard Dawkins’s message of “religion is the root of all evil” loses shock value, there is Sam Harris on HBO declaring that Islam originated with all its present bad tendencies–jihad, intolerance, mistreatment of women, and conversion through violence–already present in the cradle. What’s needed isn’t a blow-by-blow opposition to atheism but a revision of God.


One can’t explain such a revision in a single post, but here’s a crucial element. A personal God shouldn’t be seen as human. The atheists have a point when they say that believers are projecting their own psychology on the God they worship. On Earth we have fathers and mothers, so God is projected as the ultimate parent. On Earth we care for the people we relate to, therefore God must be caring for everyone. To humanize God comes so naturally, it’s hard to conceive of an alternative.


What if God doesn’t care, not out of indifference, callousness, or malice (doubters worry about all of these) but out of an infinite capacity to accept. If God is infinite, by definition nothing is foreign to him. Nor is there any reason to separate divine reality from everyday reality. God permeates both. If that’s the case, then God is doing something much better than caring for us. He is the source of everything and remains present in everything.


Love and care aren’t present in everything. To think so would be delusional. The world is filled with sorrow, pain, and suffering. It occurs to all of us that we must deal with that on our own. God didn’t intervene in the Holocaust or the famine in China under Mao that wiped out countless millions. On this basis alone we have to discard the traditional image of a loving parent sitting above the clouds watching over us.


Instead, God can be lived as the source of life in its most valuable but hidden qualities. The first of these is consciousness, the existence of mind. The second is our love and compassion for each other. We can care for one another without looking to divine intervention. The third is creativity, the ability to renew existence through invention, discovery, and beauty.  The fourth is evolution, the capacity to grow into higher levels of perception, understanding, and self-awareness. These qualities have their source in God, or a cosmic mind. I’m not stating an article of faith. Each person can undertake an inward journey back to the source, and in doing that, the reality of God becomes more and more evident.


In this conception God becomes far more personal than the projection of a loving parent. You discover the God within, which allows for the merging of yourself with a divine Self that is also you, but on a higher plane. I don’t mean the plane of Heaven. “Higher” points to a state of being that transcends the conflict and confusion of our present existence. By going beyond you don’t escape earthly life or wish it away. If God is real, going beyond means that you find your true self at the level of being, and this true self in turn transforms who you are, here and now.


In a word, the personal God has a future only if we are willing to transform who we are. The longing for transformation is universal–no one is satisfied with the mixture of pleasure and pain, success and failure, love and hate, peace and violence that defines life in separation. Seeking God will occupy the human mind for as long as it takes to resolve our dual nature, the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other. So in saying that God doesn’t care what you do, one door is shut while another is open. A God who sustains existence from the level of pure Being will transform life in a way that the old image of God never could.


Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers including Super Brain, co-authored with Rudi Tanzi, PhD. He serves as the founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing. Coming soon, The Future of God (Harmony, November 11, 2014)

“I am the master of my fate”: A New Take on Free Will

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Back when schoolchildren regularly read uplifting poetry, there was a famous Victorian poem that affirmed the human birthright of free will. It was “Invictus,” by W. E. Henley and began:

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

The sentiment being expressed is more than empty piousness. Henley had grown up in poverty, and when he was 29 one of his legs had to be amputated as a consequence of tuberculosis. The other leg was saved only after many surgeries, and while he was recovering, Henley was inspired to write his poem, which ended on a triumphant note: “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”


On many grounds this anthem to free will can be refuted.  There is no proof you have a soul, if you are a materialist. There is ample proof, on the other hand, that deterministic forces are at work inside us. A generation ago human behavior was largely attributed to genes, although the fashion today is to claim that the brain is the major controller of what we think, say, and do. The average person finds the free will vs. determinism debate totally academic–in everyday life we all proceed as if our choices and decisions are our own.  This has created a serious mismatch between experience and theory, because science, after all, is supposed to settle difficult questions with data, experiments, and facts.


The free will camp has been short of data and facts for a long time, but no more. Instead of working out the problem of free will largely by logical reasoning (which rarely succeeds, since your opponent calls upon the opposite logic), supporters of free will can point to genetics and neuroscience, the very areas that strongly suggest that determinism is at work. This sounds like a paradox. How can genes both control us and allow for free choice? How can the brain produce thought but also be affected by thinking?


Here is where a new view of free will is needed. The paradox is real. Genes determine the color of your hair and eyes, but thanks to the emerging science of epigenetics, we now know that genes are also fluid, malleable, and in fact responsive to everything we experience in the world. The same is true of the brain. Its processes follow strict laws of physics and chemistry, yet neurons, synapses, and brain circuitry are open to change simply by the way we lead our lives.


Suddenly the free will vs. determinism debate is no longer theoretical. The two extremes are complementary; opposites coexist and cooperate.  Consider how you control the temperature in your house. Once the thermostat is set, the house’s heating system must follow its fixed instructions. But you can alter these instructions by turning the thermostat up and down. In the same way, if you eat a charbroiled steak for dinner, your digestive tract will follow fixed physiological processes, but you can choose to eat salmon instead. In turn, the brain that makes this choice can be conditioned by habit (there are people who only eat meat and potatoes, and that’s that) or it can be influenced by new thinking (after reading an article about the benefits of eating fish, for example).


So the real issue, which overturns the old dichotomy between free will and determinism, is how to find the switches that control genes and neurons. A flood of research findings is emerging around this.  Quite recently, for example, an article in the New York Times posed the startling question, “What if Age Is Nothing but a Mind-Set?”   the focus of the article was the pioneering work of Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer, who as far back as 1981 was testing the possibility that aging has a major mental component. (The notion is actually ancient in origin. The medieval Indian philosopher and sage Adi Shankara declared that people grow old and die because they see other people grow old and die.)


In 1981 Langer took eight men in their seventies, all in good health but exhibiting signs of age, and immersed them for five days in an environment that was like time travel going back to 1959, including the music and television of the period, along with the movies and events in the news.  The men were told to act as if they were their younger selves, because Langer had already done experiments in which memory loss in the elderly could sometimes be reversed by giving subjects an incentive to remember. In other words, the mind was being motivated to affect the body.


Before entering the time-capsule environment, the men were tested on various markers of aging such as grip strength, dexterity, and how well they could hear and see. At the end of the five days, the group improved on seven out of eight measures, including better vision, a startling finding. They looked younger as assessed by outside judges. Thirty-three years ago Prof. Langer was proceeding more or less intuitively, without the knowledge into gene expression and neuroplasticity that we can turn to today.  Mental causes need to have a parallel in physiology, and now it has been proven that they do.


What is the limit to free will as mediated by genes and neurons? This is a thorny question. Since 1981, there has been a massive change in attitude towards aging, so that 75, which seemed very old three decades ago, is the new 55. Collective consciousness combined with medical advances made the “new old age” a reality. But aging eventually must set in, progress, and lead to death. The battle between free will and determinism cannot be definitely declared a truce.


Yet on the whole evolution is winning out over entropy, which would have stunned scientists in the past, and even more stunning, the force that pushing evolution forward is a conscious choice. If the lines “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul” sound completely outdated in their language, Henley’s declaration of free will is turning into cutting-edge science. We should proceed with the following principles in mind:


  1. Mind comes before brain.
  2. Mental choices originate the messages that change organs, tissues, and cells.
  3. The body is fluid and dynamic, not fixed and determined.
  4. Genes express whatever a person desires. They operate through switches that the mind can access.
  5. The mind-body system is a feedback loop where input and output have many determinants, including lifestyle, environment, behavior, beliefs, and past conditioning.
  6. Through self-care, a higher state of well-being is attainable. Self-care makes daily use of the mind-body feedback loop.
  7. Ultimately, the evolution of future humanity depends on internal balance (homeostasis) that is balanced with the whole ecology of the planet.


What these principles have in common is their emphasis on individual choice as the key to conscious evolution. Without knowing how much of your destiny you can master, it’s best to assume that your potential for mastery is much greater than anyone now supposes.



Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers including Super Brain, co-authored with Rudi Tanzi, PhD. He serves as the founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing. Coming soon, The Future of God (Harmony, November 11, 2014)

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