My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?…Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too–for the argument depended on saying the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies.1 —C.S. Lewis
Philosophers and scientists, dedicated to spreading the Word of Atheism, find no greater sport than to ponder upon the deficiencies of the universe. Congratulating one another for having transcended the magic spell, they make grand plans to enlighten the gullible ones.
Militant atheists have concluded the best cure for the gullible is to expose and broadcast the inherent flaws of the world we see around us. This is a line of attack known as the argument by negative theology. Eager to settle the war of worldviews in their favour, many evangelical atheists have unleashed the argument with the smug satisfaction of a prizefighter administering his coup de grâce.
And if atheism is to be championed, can the Darwin-toting brigade be far behind? Though Darwinists can hardly agree with one another on the details of their doctrine, they are in complete agreement upon one thing—an omnipotent and benevolent being could not have created the world that we see around us. In an effort to raise public consciousness, Darwinists use the argument by negative theology often. So often that a dispassionate observer could hardly be blamed for thinking that Darwinism is more a diatribe against a theological system than a scientific theory.
In his classic book Mechanistic and Nonmechanistic Science, mathematician Richard L. Thompson summarised the general form of the negative theological argument thus: “God must have certain characteristics, X, and therefore He would have created a certain sort of world. Since the world as we see it is very different from this, it must be that there is no God.”2 (Italics mine) The argument can be further classified into two categories:
Category I: The existence of evil and suffering is incompatible with the idea that the world is created by an omnipotent, benevolent being and seems to be accommodated more readily by Darwin’s view of the world.
Category II: Many features of living organisms would not be designed by a “sensible” God and must therefore have arisen through a process of Darwinian evolution.
Darwin liberally availed himself of such arguments. He wrote that if species have evolved, “we need not marvel at the sting of the bee causing the bee’s own death; at drones being produced in such vast numbers for one single act, and being then slaughtered by their sterile sisters; at the astonishing waste of pollen by our fir trees; at the instinctive hatred of the queen bee for her own fertile daughters; at ichneumonidae [wasps] feeding within the live bodies of caterpillars; and at other such cases.”3
Where Darwin went, generations of biologists, psychologists, and physicists have followed. On the altar of atheism, the argument by negative theology occupies pride of place. Atheists of all stripes and colours have been brought to their knees by its persuasive aura.
When we are born into this world, a rainbow adorns the sky, bugles trumpet joyous sounds, and an unseen voice announces that this world is a theme park where we can fulfill our fantasies.
Did this happen when I was born? Nope, no such luck. I have met many who commiserate with my misery. They too were bereft of such a grand entry.
For atheists’ eager to buttress their cause with the argument by negative theology, such is obviously not the case. Its initial premise: God intends this world to be an exhibition of His finest workmanship, all the while providing us with a life similar to an eternal holiday on Sunshine Coast. It hardly needs to be said that it is a premise that cannot be inferred from studying the characteristics of protozoa under a microscope. It is odd that a group of men and women, united in their conviction that this world has sprung from an indeterminate nothingness and therefore has no objective purpose, still feel compelled to use an argument that assumes what God’s purposes in creating this world would be if He exists.
There really are no atheists in a foxhole.
If atheists are going to use the physical sciences to advance their cause, the requisite demonstration must appeal to something within the “empirical realm” and not to “completely speculative ideas about the purposes of God and the methods He uses to achieve them.”4
The persuasive power of the argument by negative theology is an illusion. Just what makes us so certain that this world is intended to fulfill our expectations of engineering perfection and permanent beatitude?
To be fair, it is quite natural to be an inveterate atheist. That is why we are here.
Souls, so says the Vedic version, live on the edge. Living on the edge implies not so much a predilection for bungee jumping but more a predilection towards imprudent choices. The existence of this predilection is hardly in doubt. This inherent existential weakness is conveyed precisely by the Sanskrit term for souls; tatastha-sakti. Tata means “bank,” as of a river or ocean. Tatastha means “situated on the bank” and sakti means “energy.” Souls are endowed with minute independence. They have the choice to wade into the uncertain depths of the ocean or to remain on the palm-lined sandy shore; they have the choice to dwell within either of two worlds—the material or the spiritual.
The Vedic knowledge-tradition elaborates that souls are minute samples of the Supreme Consciousness, known in Sanskrit by innumerable names, the principal of which is Krishna, which means the “all attractive possessor of infinite energies.” Being conscious, the soul is qualitatively equal to Krishna, but there exists an insurmountable quantitative difference between the individual consciousness of the soul and the all-pervading infinite consciousness of Krishna. All souls are thus simultaneously one with and different from the Supreme Soul, Krishna. Despite the qualitative equality between the soul and Krishna, there always exists quantitative difference. The Vedas do acknowledge individuals who claim to be conscious controllers of the entire universe and whatever lies beyond, but they simply assert that the claim needs to be assessed in other terms, possibly those involving clinical self-delusion.
In their pure and undeluded state, however, being minute parts of Krishna, souls enjoy a relationship of reciprocal loving service with Krishna. For love to have any meaning there must be choice and free will. Since living entities are small samples of Krishna, they possess a minute quantity of that freedom, which Krishna possesses in full. The soul’s dharma, or constitutional nature, is to be connected to Krishna in an eternal loving relationship of service, but impelled by envy, they may exercise their freedom and willingly turn away from that relationship.
Why? You ask.
The answer has been given, among other places, on some London buses, which, in 2008, were imprinted with the slogan: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”5 Conceptualised by the British Humanist Association and supported by none other than the Good Samaritan Richard Dawkins, these slogans were supposedly planned to provoke our thinking prowess.
As the infinitely compassionate benefactor of the individual soul, Krishna manifests the material world to accommodate the desire of those souls, like me, who desire to play God—to assume the position of the independent enjoyer and controller, separate or apart from God. Since this desire is fundamentally irreconcilable with reality (the position of God is already taken), it cannot be fulfilled in the domain of pure consciousness. Sincere and determined applicants for the position may however be accommodated in the domain of matter, where they receive temporary material bodily vehicles to enact their desires. The material energy is known in Sanskrit as maya which means illusion, or magic, or the power that creates illusion. This illusion helps the living entity to identify with matter. Once we do so we forget that we have an eternal relationship with the Supreme and can then enthusiastically embark on our innumerable “God projects.” This then, is one of the reasons why the universe exists—it is a playground for souls seeking to enjoy, separate from the Supreme.
It is a place for atheists to practise their uppercut.
The existence of suffering points above all, to one thing— our subordination to a higher power.
Yes, some billionaire’s plans to build a flotilla of floating hotels on the moon may titillate our fantasies of technological supremacy, but the next tsunami or tornado brings us crashing back to earth.
Yes, the CEO of some bioengineering firm may declare that death is a curable disease, but a disease that cannot be cured makes a mockery of his words.
Yes, some theoretical physicist may speculate how time does not exist, but time will soon consign him, along with his theory, to the far reaches of oblivion.
“Time I am,” Krishna declares in the Bhagavad-gita, “the great destroyer of the worlds.” Only a child easily distracted by the sandcastle he is constructing is relieved from the anxiety of observing the great destroyer at work. All authentic spiritual traditions bequeath a legacy: they contemplate the uncertainty, impermanence, and inevitable deterioration imposed by the vicissitudes of time. This life is tottering like a drop of water on a lotus petal, a Krishna saint has sung. The song extends an invitation to dig deeper into the fabric of reality.
Time, the Vedic texts inform us, is Krishna’s energy, His impersonal form. It’s Krishna’s indirect way of reminding the immovable atheist that he is under a higher power. It is His way of calling to attention that even the most meticulously conceived plan for lasting happiness will remain just that— a plan. However, because the real essence of love is that it is voluntarily given, Krishna does not interfere with our free will, and we can if we so desire, always choose to remain indifferent to the message.
As long as the foolish spirit soul remains attracted to the material body, senses and vital force, his material existence continues to flourish, although it is ultimately meaningless.The living entity who falsely identifies with his body, senses, life air and mind, and who dwells within these coverings, assumes the form of his own materially conditioned qualities and work. He is designated variously in relation to the total material energy, and thus, under the strict control of supreme time, he is forced to run here and there within material existence. Although shadows, echoes and mirages are only illusory reflections of real things, such reflections do cause a semblance of meaningful or comprehensible perception. In the same way, although the identification of the conditioned soul with the material body, mind and ego is illusory, this identification generates fear within him even up to the moment of death. (Shrimad-Bhagavatam 11.28.12, 16 & 5)
But then there is the soul who is wizened and humbled by innumerable failed attempts at staying happy in the sand castle, the soul who is gradually becoming aware of the in-built suffering of the material world, the soul willing to get to the root of it all. For such a soul, Krishna makes arrangements to impart genuine knowledge. He does this primarily through the Vedas. The Vedas are like an instruction manual for the souls in the material world. The Vedas tell us who we are, why the universe exists, and how to fulfill the purpose for which we exist. Krishna disseminates the Vedas throughout the universe, on different planets, and to different species. He does this with the cooperation of enlightened beings, who artfully impart essential truth according to the capacity of the audience and the particulars of the circumstance. Sometimes Krishna Himself descends to revitalise Vedic knowledge which is apt to be lost or misinterpreted with the passage of time.
This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in course of time the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost.
That very ancient science of the relationship with the Supreme is today told by Me to you because you are My devotee as well as My friend and can therefore understand the transcendental mystery of this science.
(Bhagavad-gita 4.2 and 4.3)
This, then, is the real purpose of the material world—to give rebellious souls the facility to gradually heal themselves of their ignorance and come back to a realm free from the debilitating influence of time. In Bhagavad-gita (4.1) Krishna refers to this process of healing as the “imperishable science of yoga”—the timeless process of rediscovering our eternal relationship with the Supreme.
1. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1980), 45-46.
2. Richard L. Thompson, Mechanistic and Nonmechanistic Science: An Investigation Into the Nature Of Consciousness and Form (The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1981), 203.
3. C. Darwin, The Origin of Species (New York: Bantam Books, 1999), 445.
4. See Richard L. Thompson, Mechanistic and Nonmechanistic Science: An Investigation Into the Nature Of Consciousness and Form (The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1981), 202-07.
5. “‘No God’ Slogan for City’s Buses,” BBC News, October 21, 2008. Available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london/ 7681914.stm