With or without God as your premise, serve.

For a longgggggg period in humanity’s collective history faith, tradition, superstition, and religious belief determined our approaches to understanding the universe, society, and ourselves. Over the centuries our greatest assumptions about reality, existence, and truth have been progressively whittled away by more exact scientific approaches and technological advancements. The pendulum is now swiftly swinging in the opposite direction: humanity has grown more suspicious of religion, placing all its faith in Science.

What happens now?

Well, to me it seems like God is being deducted out of the grand equation. Richard Dawkins makes the ultimate logical argument against the possible existence of God by concluding that God is improbable, and far too complex to work as a respectable theory.

Thanks Richard.

I want to explain something to the non-scientific folk out there. From a scientific standpoint, the existence of God is considered a theory. Therefore, when approaching this “theory,” Scientists base their arguments on the following assumptions:

  • Consistent (internally & externally)
  • Parsimonious (sparing in proposed entities, explanations)
  • Useful (describes & explains observed phenomena)
  • Empirically Testable & Falsifiable
  • Based upon Controlled, Repeated Experiments
  • Correctable & Dynamic (changes are made with new data)
  • Progressive (achieves all that previous theories have and more)
  • Tentative (admits that it might not be correct, does not assert certainty)

I swiped this list from this site, which I suggest for further elaboration. The Wikipedia entry on Scientific Theory quotes Stephen Hawking who describes the essentials of a good theory in the following statement:

“A theory is a good theory if it satisfies two requirements: It must accurately describe a large class of observations on the basis of a model that contains only a few arbitrary elements, and it must make definite predictions about the results of future observations…Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis; you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory. On the other hand, you can disprove a theory by finding even a single observation that disagrees with the predictions of the theory.”

The entry goes on to explain that “the ‘unprovable but falsifiable’ nature of theories is a necessary consequence of using inductive logic.” Basically, what this all means is that the theory of God is out of the question because it is far from parsimonious, it is not falsifiable by any measure, and it is not tentative. So you can go ahead and waste your time trying to argue with the empirical purists who continue to press forward on the frontlines of the scientific community, but your wasting your time. They’re just as uncompromising in their assumptions as religious fundamentalists are of their superstitions and irrational conclusions.

As a Baha’i who spends a lot of time amongst academics, I often find myself in the uncomfortable position of agreeing and disagreeing with the “anti-religious” sentiment at the same time. Further, since my field of study is Psychology, my colleagues and classmates often believe that I’m suffering from a bad case of “cognitive dissonance.” Unfortunately, my attempts at explaining that their suspicions and animosity towards religion are reconciled through the Revelation of Bahá’u’llàh often fall on deaf ears.

It seems to me that a large portion of…well, at least Western society…has chosen to abandon religion altogether in their quest for truth. Many have even abandoned the quest for truth altogether taking, instead, the hopeless and disinterested road of apathetic hedonism.

Bahá’u’llàh reveals that the greatest of all oppressions is when a human soul is yearning for the truth, yearning for the knowledge of God, but does not know where to go for it and from whom to seek it. Yet, as someone who longs to convey the teachings of Bahá’u’llàh to others, I feel an even greater oppression from yearning to teach, and not finding a receptive ear to deliver the Message to.

But not all scientists have lost Faith. On the contrary, many still hold strong religious convictions and apply their belief in the Unkowable to their investigation of truth. In fact, the whole argument that increased education results in decreased religiousness has been challenged by recent studies.

Of course, religious history has done a lot to stain the good name of Faith. Particularly, humanity’s collective experience with autocrats and opportunists who claimed to act, speak, and give blessings on behalf of God while at the same time taking advantage of a hopeful populace has left many skeptical and frustrated. Even today, ministers stand at alters and gurus don their colored scarves proclaiming the primacy of unconditional love with the condition of exclusive affiliation. Certainly, many of these so-called “faiths” have had to change course over the recent years because of an increasing public awareness that no human can hold absolute authority over the spiritual path.  Ironically, many of these newly transformed faiths have employed unifying principles that bear a remarkable resemblance to Bahá’u’llàh’s revelation. Alas, I digress…

The point of this post is to offer the scientific community an approach to investigating truth that does not contradict the classical assumptions of good scientific research. But first, we must do away with the neo-Abrahamic conception of God, i.e., the humanlike corporeal grandfather that interferes with everything and lacks the attributes worthy of “His” station. God was always the Creator, the All-Knowing, the Self-Subsisting, the All-Merciful, the All-Bountiful, the Omniscient, and the Omnipotent. All the divine texts attest to these titles in some form or another. Yes, it’s important that we establish, not what God is, but what God is not.

I’m not going to do that for you, but here’s an article that offers the Baha’i conception of God, for your pleasure.

Based on this idea that God is “Unknowable,” we can now tie together the investigation of truth with the theory of God. If God is unknowable than it is futile to apply methods of scientific inquiry to understanding the truth of Its (see here for my post on stupid English pronouns) existence. Hence, I don’t care if you’re a Hawkin’ or a Dawkin,’ you are not justified in drawing conclusions that end with “therefore, God does not exist,” because it is not a conclusion that can be drawn (in all fairness, I don’t believe that either of those fine gentlemen would ever draw such uninformed conclusions, so peace my brothers).

So where does God fit into the empirical equation? Well, God is a premise; rather, God is my premise. You may not agree with my premise, so you can certainly challenge it, but I am under no obligation to change it. I believe in the existence of an Unknowable Creator; therefore, I approach my life with the attitude that there are threads such as purpose, meaning, duty, destiny, truth, justice, virtue and sacredness that are woven into the fabric of creation as much as gravity, thermodynamics, and electromagnetism. I also believe that the human experience is an eternal one that reaches far beyond our corporeal existence. Finally, because God is my premise, I believe that there are elements of our reality that cannot be explained using the conventional methods of science and logic. There are experiences that are personal, and are intended for our own reflection rather than for peer review.

Most importantly, if my “premise” is “I believe in God,” then my conclusion should be “therefore, I will serve the needs of humanity.” From my own internal conception of spirituality, belief in the unknowable should naturally be followed by an attitude of humility and servitude.  Instead, what I see are endless debates between those who “believe” and those who do not, an endless war of words where both fronts are aiming for intellectual superiority over the other.

And while these celebrities contest the existence of something unknowable from religious and scientific pulpits, billions of people around the world who could only dream of an Oxford education continue to pray for help — from any source.

So, let’s focus on service to humanity, whatever your premise…

 

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3 thoughts on “With or without God as your premise, serve.

  1. Emad! Didn’t know you had a blog, good thing Amgad posted this on G+. I feel like in some way this is meant at me, but I’m self-centered like that.

    Enjoyed reading this post, you write well. One thought at the end – how does belief in God (as distinct from a religious persuasion) affect _how_ one serves?

    1. Psh! Didn’t know I had a blog…and to think we serve on the same anti-zombie apocalypse team!

      This definitely wasn’t directed at you in any way, although the fact that you took it so personally is interesting. But I think only you can interpret that.

      Your question is really interesting and I think there are two ways of looking at it:

      1. Someone who holds strong religious beliefs would quote their Revelation as saying that there exists a supernatural cosmic feedback loop where sincere belief in God opens a channel through which God’s “bounties,” “blessings,” and “grace” can flow. Serving in God’s Cause (combined with prayer and fasting) maximizes the flow of this channel, and also creates a spiritual sensitivity in the individual that guides them through their service.

      2. A less belief-dependent view would state that believing in an omnipotent, omniscient, All-loving, and All-merciful Creator would serve as a premise for interpreting crisis and victory. For instance, you endeavor completely fails, but instead of viewing this as a crisis a believer would rationalize it as a “God-given test that creates an opportunity for learning.” On the other hand, a victory or success would be considered as a “confirmation of God.”

      In both cases, belief in God exists as a premise for interpreting life events, which helps to frame ones service positively and productively.

      Now, I know that I use my belief in God as a premise for interpreting life events; however, I also believe that when I increase my devotion to God through prayer, fasting, and service (which I suck at in all three respects) that God’s “love” guides me through my endeavors. Perhaps it’s like Apple warranty: God’s involvement is dictated by the degree to which we want Him (it?) to be involved? I don’t know. Lots of speculation here I think.

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