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.
I agree with you 100% on all of this – nicely stated!
Hey, thanks! Glad you liked it.
Okay. I understand and agree with one of your major points, which is that this man claims to be a scientist and yet says he’s proven a theory while ignoring other — truly scientific — possibilities. Check. It makes it more difficult to take him seriously.
Though I am a little confused about your second point — the fact that science and faith have to be separate entities. True, by definition, “faith” has to be separate because its implication is blind. Faith means you’re supposed to believe in something regardless of factual information. But Faith — when it comes to the idea of believing that there might be life after death (whether you believe in a higher state of consciousness, a Self separate from the physical mind, a soul, or God and Heaven and all that jazz) doesn’t necessarily have to be separate, does it? I mean, can’t someone set out with a hypothesis that one of these things exists and seek to prove it scientifically?
But maybe you were only talking about the first kind of “faith” — the literal definition of the word…
I guess they don’t have to be separate, but my point is that, in my opinion, we’re better off keeping them separate, because when people try to overlap them is when we start having issues.
Yes, someone could set out to prove their Faith scientifically, but when they do, they simply have to stick to the standards held by science. They can’t make up their own set of rules. And in that case, there has been zero scientific evidence of any sort of afterlife or higher being or higher plane. Any “evidence” or “proof” that has been provided up to this point is due to faulty science or simple fallacious logic.
On the flip side, I also believe it’s inappropriate to say that, because there is no scientific evidence for God, God therefore does not exist (i.e., atheism). Because to me, Faith means that you don’t need to prove the existence of God.
So, personally, this is how I think the conversation should go:
Faith: “I believe that God exists.”
Science: “Prove it.”
Faith: “I can’t. But I don’t need to. It’s my faith.”
End of conversation.
It goes beyond keeping faith and science away from each other. It’s really about keeping faith away from everything.
Our modern world is only possible because of science, it is inherently connected to just about every aspect of our lives.
At the same time, an important tenet of both of the world’s two biggest faiths is for believers to try and convert those who don’t share their faith.
If the faithful kept their faith to themselves, without ever affecting anyone or anything else, I’d have no quarrel. But it is impossible for them to do so, they’d be disobeying their own faith if they did.
This is why, as an American infidel, I’m often irate about what some Christians do but can’t recall ever getting mad at a Jain or Shinto believer. I don’t hate faith, and I don’t hate the faithful; I hate when the faithful try imposing their beliefs on others – and for some it is imperative they try.
Hate the sin, not the sinner.
(Just because I’m an infidel doesn’t mean I think a faith can’t have any good ideas!)
As much as I agree with you, you seem to be missing a few points. If a person believes in a creator, why would he/she believe in the creator being limited instead of limitless and almighty? That would contradict supremacy. If a person believes in an almighty being greater than himself and the universe, greater than to be the son or father of anyone and greater than to be like any living thing, then why would he/she believe that “science” – which is limited in the face of this limitless creator with limitless knowledge – be enough to prove this creator’s existence? That’s like trying to assign a number to infinity. Like you said, you either believe or you don’t. You can’t believe in a holy deity if you think science is greater. Belief, like you said is a matter of being unable to prove but so is disbelief. The difference between the two being, with one you admit to your inability and surrender to greatness and in the other your brain ignores its defeat and defies its own logic… that’s when many people blindly try to base everything on one theory which is no longer “scientifically” valid out of fear of newer scientific theories. PBS multiverse documentary is an example of this clinching to the old in science. James Le Fanu talks about this as well.
So, in the end, it’s just a whole Schrodinger’s Cat paradox? He may or may not exist?
In general, there are two fundamental categories that have (currently) deterred humankind from scientifically proving God(s) does or does not exist:
1. Lack of data
2. Lack of technology to gather/observe/experiment/quantify the data.
To address point one, scientific proof requires that data exists which can be processed to a reasonable conclusion as proof through using the Scientific Method. Peer review must also be engaged in order to complete an agreed upon consensus and conclusion at some point within the scientific community…if that point can be achieved at all. To date, not enough the various types of data needed have been found though some argue that some data does exist. Lack of extensive data (and data types) makes it impossible to reasonably verify anything in any area of scientific endeavor. This could change over time (with new technologies) but so far, it has not happened…which leads us to point number two.
To the second point, if God(s) exists, one would reasonable assume it is not simply a time-like creature such as humans. It might be space/time-like including other possibilities such as existing in multiple-dimensions. Other unknown qualities of such a being might also be present along with additional characteristics that are completely incomprehensible to us. If these additional attributes characterize God(s), humans would be hard pressed to develop technologies to detect data in these realms (such as multi-dimensions). This would, of course, severely hamper data gathering to process towards any reasonable conclusion. For instance, if an entity is four-dimensional, we will only be able to detect it in our three dimensional existence. This would omit data to rationally include in the data processing to fully understand it’s qualities. We might have some idea the entity exists, but we would really have no idea of its true nature. Thus, science could not come to an agreed conclusion as to proof. Theory and hypothesis would be all we would have to go on even though we might have some idea that this entity was out there.
To Arno’s question regarding Schrodinger’s cat, it’s not quite the same as the cat was theorized to be dead AND alive simultaneously rather than dear OR alive. So could a God(s) be dead and alive at the same time. Who knows? That would seem to be even more difficult for science to prove than the fundamental question of whether God(s) exists or not.
I believe in one God. I don’t belive in God being in human form. I belive like the immam Jafar Alsadiq is thought to have said, who you’d find with some reading was the teacher of AlJebr and many early physicists & Astronomers, that even the ant, oblivious to us in her own little world likes to imagine God in her form because she knows no better. God is beyond our rudimental senosry reasoning. I believe in the thousands of angels I can not see that are said to be made of light and are not humans with wings as depicted in murals. I believe these things to be of advanced quantum reasoning well beyond our years but to have been described the way they have been described, 100’s of years before we existed with our theories of relativity, our silly string, possible multiverses, and many dimensions, is utmost humbling to say the least.
Well then, why all the wasted time proving God doesn’t exist? Enjoy your life here, when you leave this earth, we’ll see who is correct, right? So why bother? You have a bug up your read end about Christians, right? Though I’m not a Christian, I do believe they are on the right track, but I cannot avoid my nasty attitude when confronted with a know it all such as yourself, so stupid lets see how confident you are when you hear the words “Depart from me you who work iniquity(sin, in case you didn’t know), I never knew you”. Enjoy! You have the IQ of a parasite in the pocket of a gnat.