Why You Can’t Prove (Or Disprove) That God Exists
Raise your hand if you’ve ever had one of those uncanny dreams that go something like this:
You’re at home… or work… or school. All of a sudden, the fire alarm goes off, and you see smoke seeping in all around you. You scamper frantically down the hallway. Meanwhile, the fire alarm continues to blare—BLAAA BLAAA BLAAA BLAAA BLAAA. You claw through the thickening fumes, trying to find your way to the door. But then, the fire starts to catch up with you. You’re trapped, and just as the flames engulf you….
You wake up to your alarm clock blaring— BLAAA BLAAA BLAAA BLAAA.
And then, you think to yourself, “Whoa, how did my brain create this elaborate dream that ended exactly with my alarm going off? What kind of freaky synchronicity was that?”
The explanation is quite simple, actually. But I’ll get to that in a bit….
In a recent issue of Newsweek, brain surgeon Eben Alexander describes how a deadly bacterial infection put him in a coma for seven days. During that time, his brain registered zero activity and he was clinically brain-dead. Yet, something amazing happened. As he describes it:
I experienced something so profound that it gave me a scientific reason to believe in consciousness after death….
There is no scientific explanation for the fact that while my body lay in coma, my mind—my conscious, inner self—was alive and well. While the neurons of my cortex were stunned to complete inactivity by the bacteria that had attacked them, my brain-free consciousness journeyed to another, larger dimension of the universe: a dimension I’d never dreamed existed and which the old, pre-coma me would have been more than happy to explain was a simple impossibility.
Dr. Alexander goes on to describe what he saw and uses it as proof that Heaven exists. After all, as he asserts, there is no possible scientific explanation for what he experienced.
To that, I say: “Bullshit.”
There absolutely is a scientific explanation for what happened, and it’s connected to the dream I describe above….
You may already know that the timeline of a dream doesn’t necessarily coincide with the timeline of real life. The passage of five minutes in a dream doesn’t mean that five minutes have elapsed in real life. It certainly doesn’t take repeated viewings of Inception to realize this. After all, how else can we have dreams where days seem to pass when we’re only asleep for a few hours at a time?
So, this is what happens when you wake up to the alarm clock blaring: Your blissfully slumbering brain happens to be in a dream state when the alarm goes off. In the few seconds before you wake up, your brain manufactures a dream to explain what’s happening. Although the dream may last several minutes in dream-time, it lasts only a few seconds in real life. So, you wake up thinking that you had a long dream that led coincidentally to your alarm clock ringing. In reality, though, the entire dream starts when the alarm goes off and lasts until you wake up a few seconds (or minutes, depending on how exhausted or hung over you might be) later.
With that, here are two explanations for what might have happened to Dr. Alexander:
1. In the seconds or minutes that elapsed between his neurons firing back up and him actually waking up, his mind manufactured the trip to Heaven.
2. Dr. Alexander’s brain didn’t shut down right away when he got infected. It slowly succumbed to the bacterial infection. His fading brain manufactured the trip to Heaven in the period of time between him losing consciousness and his brain shutting down completely.
Really, there’s nothing spectacular about either of those explanations. And yet, Dr. Alexander chooses not to acknowledge them.
Of course, skeptics of the skeptics would argue that I can’t prove that my scenarios must have occurred, that I can’t prove that Dr. Alexander did not, in fact, take a weeklong jaunt through the afterlife.
And yes, they would be correct. I can’t prove my explanations. But here’s the issue: When it comes to proving or disproving the existence of Heaven… or God… or A Thing Called Love… or whatever higher plane you believe in, the onus isn’t on me, the skeptic. The onus is on the one who believes in the higher plane.
It’s not up to me to prove that God doesn’t exist. It’s up to the faithful to prove that God exists. Because in science, we have a little concept called parsimony. It’s—fittingly—a simple concept:
In any given scenario, the simplest explanation is the most likely.
So, here are our explanations:
1. During the week that Dr. Alexander was in a coma, he went to Heaven.
2. In the seconds before he woke up, his mind manufactured a trip to Heaven.
3. In the minutes or hours before his brain shut down, his mind manufactured a trip to Heaven.
Which are the simpler explanations?
“But wait,” you say. “This is a matter of faith. When we’re talking about faith, you can’t just shoehorn in scientific principles.”
And again, you would be correct. But here’s where the contradiction occurs: Dr. Alexander isn’t arguing from a perspective of faith. He’s arguing from a perspective of science. He’s not saying, “I believe I saw God.” He’s saying, “Science cannot explain what happened, so therefore, I must have seen God.”
He’s the one invoking science here. And that’s where he’s wrong. Because explanations and proof are not what faith is about. If you are Christian, then you know that Jesus asks you to believe in him. He doesn’t ask you to prove that he exists. In fact, I’d argue that attempting to prove that Jesus—or God, or Heaven—exists is a perversion of Christian principles.
Point being, if you attack this debate from a position of faith, where you say, “I believe in God, and I don’t have to prove to you that God exists,” then I will thump my fist against my chest, raise my arm in the air, and go, “Cool, dude. More power to you.”
However, if you attack this debate from a position of science, where you say, “I can prove that God exists,” then you’d better damned well stick to scientific methods. And unfortunately, that’s when your little Jenga set of pseudo-science comes crashing down.
No, you cannot prove the existence of a higher being. Not because it’s impossible, but because it is your faith. And faith is not something that needs to be “proven.”
To me, faith and science are two separate entities. They don’t contradict each other, and they can certainly co-exist as long as neither side attempts to tread on the other. Most scientists aren’t going to barge into a church and attempt to offer proof that God doesn’t exist. So, it baffles me why people feel the need to enter the realm of science and attempt to prove that God exists. Because that’s what Dr. Alexander has done. And it appalls me that a reputable journal like Newsweek would publish his account when it has so many gaping holes in its—let’s face it—science.
Now, of course, I will admit that there are extremists on the scientific end, as well—extremists who point to the lack of evidence as proof that God does not exist. And that, to me, is an equal and opposite fallacy (a Newtonian Fallacy, if you will). Because that, again, is not what God is all about. God isn’t One to be proven or disproven. God is One to be believed. So yeah, all you condescending scientists? Shut the fuck up, too.
Seriously, folks. If you have your faith, please stick with it. And if you have your science, please stick with it. We can all get along, as long as we remember not to stick our noses all up in each other’s business.
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