Few people are convinced by rational arguments for or against the existence of God. Atheists assume that the burden of proof is on the believers: “You say there is a God – prove it!”, but of course they can’t. It is impossible to prove the existence of God beyond all reasonable doubt the way you might prove a scientific theory, because God clearly does not exist is the way material objects exist. But neither can atheists prove that there is no God.
However, there is no reason why the burden of proof should be on the theists. Human beings have lived for millennia with an explicit or implicit belief in the existence of God or some kind of spiritual dimension to life. For most people throughout history, this has been an integral part of their experience of the world. Only fairly recently has atheism seriously challenged this worldview. For believers the existence of God is self-evident and is not in need of external proof, so for them the burden of proof is on the atheist.
In the absence of incontrovertible proofs either way, we have to make do with arguments based on plausibility and probability (if we limit ourselves to a rational arguments about the existence of the material universe that is). Which is more likely, given what we know about the universe, a purely contingent, naturalistic universe or one dependent for its existence on something beyond the natural order, ie. “God”?
I won’t go into all the details here, but the problems a naturalistic explanation of the universe must overcome include some seemingly insurmountable ones. In short order: 1. The origin of the universe. How can something come out of nothing? 2. The fine-tuning of the universe. Why are all the physical constants in the universe so perfectly “fine-tuned” for life? 3. The origin of life. How can organic cellular life spontaneously arise in a pre-biotic environment? 4. The hard problem of consciousness. What is consciousness and how can it be created from non-conscious elements? 5. The problem of reliable rationality and value. How can human minds apprehend truth, goodness and beauty? How can we make any claims at all about the nature of reality if our brains are merely the products of natural selection and random mutations. 6. The phenomenology of spiritual experience. Is it reasonable to discount the accounts of millions of people in all times and places who claim to have direct apprehensions of divinity? Particularly if this is correlated with positive attitudes and behaviours such as compassion and altruism?
Scientists and mathematicians have calculated the probability of the fine-tuning of the universe and the emergence of life on Earth through physical processes and chance alone. The numbers they have come up with are mind-bogglingly small, small enough to qualify as “basically impossible”. For example, the probability that the universe expanded at just the right rate at the Big Bang for life to be possible is estimated at 1 in 10 to the power of 55 (ie. 10 followed by 55 zeros). The only way to account for this infinite improbability is to postulate an infinite number of universes. Then one universe (lucky us!) that is capable of supporting life would be statistically possible. But of course there is no scientific evidence for a near infinity of universes.
Materialists, in order to preserve their materialist worldview, must posit an infinite multi-verse. What they have done is to make a god out of Matter.
To all intents and purposes, here on Earth we live according to a basically dualistic understanding of reality: “matter” and “mind”, “form” and “consciousness”, “body” and “soul”. We might not fully understand how these two different realms interact, but we act as if they are real. It is a working and workable hypothesis, which we unconsciously take for granted in our day-to-day lives. The theist explanation of reality as a whole takes one side of the duality (mind or consciousness) and raises it to infinity. This is what is generally meant by the word “God” – infinite consciousness. In philosophy, this is called Idealism, which is basically the opposite of Materialism.
For transcendental Idealists and theists, both the form and consciousness of all individual sentient beings are contained within a larger sea of consciousness. In Kashmir Shaivism, this is expressed as the triune God, “Parashiva”, “Shiva”, “Shakti”. Parashiva is the transcendent God (infinite consciousness), Shiva is the embodied consciousness (soul) and Shakti is the manifest form (matter/energy).
The only way to prevent the atheist worldview from collapsing under the weight of infinite improbability is to assume an infinity of universes, in other words, infinite matter. So atheism has its own trinity which rivals the theist one. Instead of infinite consciousness, we have infinite matter. We can also express the atheist Materialist trinity in terms borrowed from Shaivism, as “Parashakti”, “Shakti”, “Shiva”, with Shiva (soul or local consciousness) demoted to the status of epi-phenomenon.
We cannot prove either hypothesis. But which seems more plausible? Which is easier to imagine and contemplate? Infinite consciousness or infinite matter? When we do imagine and contemplate, we are of course experiencing states of consciousness, not matter. As we reach beyond ourselves in the attempt to understand, we may even forget about our bodies and our surroundings, so that as we introspect and meditate on the ultimate nature of reality, we naturally move towards an experience or intimation of infinite consciousness, not infinite matter. On the other hand, it is perfectly possible to imagine that everything, including consciousness and imagination, is the product of material processes.
However, it seems that our “intrinsic nature” is in fact consciousness, as Bertrand Russel argued. It is the subjective first-person experience of being. So we naturally feel at home in consciousness (some more than others of course). And it is difficult to draw a boundary around consciousness, since it is not a physical object and doesn’t have any spatial qualities. Therefore the idea of infinite consciousness is not much of a leap.
It is possible to imagine an infinite expanse of space containing infinite matter, but this is a counter-intuitive, unnatural thought, since matter is defined by physical limits. Something can be very big, but it can’t be infinitely big. Infinite matter seems like a logical contradiction. It also doesn’t feel like home. It is difficult to imagine feeling at home as physical organisms in an infinitely extended physical universe, the way we feel at home as conscious beings held in infinite consciousness.
The materialist would have to concede that there is no meaning or purpose in the existence of his multi-verse. There just happens to be infinite and eternal stuff lying around for no particular reason. If one asks “how?” or “why?” all he can do is shrug his shoulders and say, “It just is”.
The theist also has to accept that the ultimate nature of reality is shrouded in mystery. Infinite consciousness is by definition beyond the limits of our finite minds. But it is a more optimistic mystery. Beyond the limits of our knowledge, and even beyond the limits of our brief lives, there is not the eternal darkness and death of infinite matter but eternal life, light and consciousness.