• Phil Tanny
    We might compare the "does God exist" debate to a children’s merry-go-round.

    A merry-go-round creates the compelling illusion of movement with entertaining blinking lights and carnival music, but upon closer inspection we see that the merry-go-round is actually traveling eternally round and round in a very small circle. That is, it’s going nowhere.

    We can see the God debate merry-go-round to nowhere in action through a process of reason which presents the very same challenge in an even handed manner to both theism and atheism.

    Challenging Theism:

    A theist might say something like, “It very clearly says ABC in the Holy Book, so that settles the matter.” An atheist can reasonably ask in reply, “Where is the proof that the Holy Book is qualified to deliver credible answers on the subject of ABC?” This is easy, right?


    Observe what is happening here. Instead of arguing against the specific assertion itself, the atheist is moving up a level and challenging the assumption the assertion is based upon (that the holy book is qualified). This is the most efficient way to proceed, because if the theist can not prove the qualifications of their chosen authority then there is no need to debate each and every doctrine which arises from that authority.

    All assertions which are derived from an unproven authority can be discarded in a single sweep of the hand.

    Challenging Atheism:

    Now let’s do the very same thing with atheist assertions.

    The atheist says something like, “God is not logical, there is no evidence, the concept violates the rules of reason, therefore it can’t be true, and so on.” And so we should reasonably ask in reply…


    Where is the proof that rules of human reason created by a single half insane species on a single planet in one of billions of galaxies are binding upon everything everywhere in all of reality, and thus upon any Gods proposed to be contained within?

    That is, just as we challenged the qualifications of the chosen authority of the theist, we now challenge the qualifications of the chosen authority of the atheist. We challenged the theist's belief in the qualifications of their holy book, and challenged the atheist's belief in the qualifications of human reason.

    It's exactly the same process in both cases, leading to the same result, an efficient dismissal of all arguments which are built upon an unproven foundation.

    Intellectual Honesty

    If we apply our challenge fairly in an even handed manner to all parties to the debate, that is, if we're intellectual honest, no party will be able to meet the challenge, because no party can prove the qualifications of their chosen authority to credibly address the very largest of questions.

    Sure, reason is useful for too many tasks to begin to list, and holy books have provided comfort and meaning to billions of people over thousands of years. These are impressive accomplishments in both cases, but neither of these achievements at human scale demonstrate that either reason or holy books are qualified to deliver credible answers on the very largest of questions regarding the most fundamental nature of all of reality, which is typically the scope of God claims and counter claims.


    The point here is that all assertions derived from sources whose qualifications are unproven can be discarded. Instead of going endlessly round and round to nowhere on the God debate merry-go-round for centuries, we have the option to get off the merry-go-round, and resolve the God debate in just minutes.

    All it takes is intellectual honesty, a willingness to subject both the theist and atheist positions to the very same challenge.

    Now What?

    What happens next is that the entire God debate collapses under it’s own bloated weight. This is bad news for those who have a cherished collection of memorized clever arguments that they wish to display. It's super bad news for those who make their living selling such arguments. But it’s good news for anyone conducting a sincere investigation because now a huge pile of pointless distractions are swept off the table, making room for a new inquiry.

    If a person comes to see the God debate this way and thus sets the God debate aside, what’s next? Where can that person go from there? If they are no longer a theist, atheist, or agnostic, if they choose to no longer be part of the God debate system, who are they then?

    What such a person can chose to do is set aside the faith based ideologies of theism and atheism, and become a person of reason. (Yes, I know, the atheist typically sincerely believes that they are a person of reason, but really they just have faith in a different unproven authority than the theist.)

    A Renewed Investigation

    What a person of reason might do is ask the question, why did this God business arise in the first place? What human need gave rise to a belief in Gods, and the desire to debunk such beliefs as well? A person of reason might climb down off the God debate merry-go-round to nowhere, stand back and ask, why did we build this merry-go-round?

    Such a person of reason might conclude that 1) if we can identify the need that drove us to build the God debate merry-go-round, and 2) if we can meet that need somehow, then 3) we will have actually resolved the issue at it’s root, even though we haven’t arrived at a credible answer in regards to the possible existence of Gods.

    If a group of hungry children are demanding “where can we find food, where can we find food???” and we gave them a plate of food, their questions fade away. We haven’t answered their question, but we've resolved the problem.

    And so a fresh investigation starts again with nothing. All we have is our mutual ignorance and our mutual interest. The investigation need not end, but it is now based upon reality instead of fantasy knowings. Now it's based on reason instead of ideology. Isn’t this where philosophers should be trying to go??

    Let's not waste our time challenging assertions within the God debate. We should instead challenge the God debate itself. We can observe the rotting carcass of the endlessly repetitive God debate fall and die, and watch as new green shoots of life spring up out of the ground to take it’s place.


  • Luis Razo
    Thank you for posting this. I think you are right, although I'm not 100% convinced that you've represented the atheist position to the satisfaction of atheists.

    In any case, I would argue that what has given rise to the need for religion, from a fundamental physical perspective, is the principle of least action. One of the world's leading physicists, Juan Maldacena, refers to this principle as the "principle of maximal life". In other words, it's built into our very nature to want to be as long as possible. If this is the case, then it stands to reason that one common ground on which we might build a case for or against God and address the underlying need is to figure out how we can refrain from dying, both individually and as a species.

    In religion, this is referred to as salvation. In the secular world, it is manifest as the desire to avoid extinction and as the desire to extend individual human lives through various means. If we can address this need to "live forever" in a way that is less speculative, we might have the common ground we are looking for.

    I don't have time to engage more here but would be happy to arrange some time to talk via Zoom in the future.

    Thanks again.
  • Phil Tanny
    Welcome Luis, happy to have you here. For the historical record :-) you are the site's second member, a pioneer. The first fellow to join was Nick who just received his doctorate in molecular biology.

    Yes, I'm sure many or most atheists would dispute my description of that perspective. They've been doing so for years, as is their right of course. Those who are sincere about reason can be receptive, those seeking a superior ideology, not so much.

    In other words, it's built into our very nature to want to be as long as possible.Luis Razo Bravo

    Ok, that makes sense. Thanks for introducing that concept. As it happens, just yesterday they posted a great video about our relationship with death on BigThink which you may find interesting.

    If this is the case, then it stands to reason that one common ground on which we might build a case for or against God and address the underlying need is to figure out how we can refrain from dying, both individually and as a species.Luis Razo Bravo

    I'm not sure. A search for some form of immortality would seem to be built upon the belief that life is better than death. I don't see any proof of that, or proof for any death theory. Given that, I wouldn't try to advise anyone else on the subject, but my personal inclination is to trust the system as it is.

    I don't have time to engage more here but would be happy to arrange some time to talk via Zoom in the future.Luis Razo Bravo

    I understand. We aren't on a schedule so happy to hear from you whenever your time permits. It's going to take some time to build this community, but over time I think we'll wind up with an environment more satisfying than Facebook.

    Believe it or not, as incredible at this may seem, :-) I've never zoomed. I'll look in to that. And honestly, I'm a print person, so I'm rather less interesting in person.

    There may be an opportunity for us to work together, given you are working in video and I'm in print. Should it ever interest you, I'd be happy to create a section of this forum dedicated to your YouTube channel and give you control over it. This would seem to create a better place to discuss your videos than YouTube comments. YouTube is great at hosting videos, but the comment sections tend to be far less than great.

    In any case, thanks for stopping by, and I look forward to staying connected by some method or another.

  • Luis Razo
    Thank you, Phil.

    It looks like maybe I was not clear in my comments about the human preference for life over death, which you have apparently doubted. Do you think there is no proof that humans prefer life over death, or is this a case of not understanding the claim?
  • Phil Tanny
    Sorry, Luis, it was me that was unclear. Yes, of course humans prefer life. I just meant there's no proof that life is actually better than death, because we have no proof of what death is. We prefer what we know, and have no way of comparing it to what we don't know.

    The following is perhaps another subject, not sure. As I understand it, just as there is a will to live, there is a corresponding will to die. Not die physically, but psychologically. Many of the activities we most enjoy in life involve a temporary obliteration of the "me". As just one example, when I was young I was an avid surfer. When we're racing down a wave with tons of water arching over our head, there's no room in our mind for all the usual "all about me" thoughts which we are so prone to. "Me" is gone. All that exists psychologically is the real world in that moment. There is a sense in which we are most alive in such moments, and also in a way dead. Life and death are one, so to speak.

    The point here is that if physical death is the end of "me", our experience in life could possibly suggest that outcome is not something to run from, given that we tend to run towards it while living.
  • Phil Tanny
    An Alternative To The God Debate

    In the first article of this thread it was proposed that an alternative to the God debate could be to try to understand the human need that gave rise to that debate, and look for ways to meet that need. To the degree we were to succeed in meeting that need the God question would not be answered, but it could to some degree perhaps be resolved.

    The logic of such a process is that there is no evidence that the God question can be credibly answered, given that all theories for and against the existence of God arise from reference to authorities (reason and holy books) whose qualifications for this particular investigation have not been proven.

    If one sees the endlessly repetitive bankruptcy of the God debate, but still wishes to continue an investigation of some kind, this article proposes a path one might take.

    Where Did The God Idea Come From?

    It seems helpful to reflect that animals, and then primitive humans, had an intimate primal relationship with nature which is beyond the reach of most, or perhaps all, modern humans.

    As one example, the religions of the native peoples of North America seem to be heavily invested in reverence for the natural world.


    In another example, my wife is an avid wildlife rehabber, so I live in a wildlife hospital of sorts. The hundreds of orphaned baby animals she has raised always prefer to be released in to the wild when they're ready, even though they aren't old enough for sex yet, and their accommodations in our house exceed the standards of a five star hotel. When they are strong enough they always choose sleeping out in the rain and running from predators over the pampering protected care my wife provides them. We might ask why these creatures universally choose an option which would seem so counterproductive to their survival.

    The Emergence Of Thought

    In the case of human beings, what undermined and diluted our own primal relationship with reality was the emergence of thought.

    As thought became increasingly dominant in the human experience our focus of attention progressively shifted from the natural world to the realm of abstractions between our ears. What had once been a relationship with nature became ever more a relationship with our thoughts about nature. We traded the real for the symbolic.


    A simple experiment can make the compelling appeal of thought obvious. Find a beautiful quiet spot, make yourself comfortable, and count your breaths. Most of us won't make it to a count of ten before some train of thought or another distracts us and causes us to lose our place in the count.

    It's hard to have an intimate primal relationship with anything that we can't really keep our attention on.

    The Divisive Nature Of Thought

    Once we humans began to increasingly direct our attention at the thoughts in our heads, we became ever more subject to the properties of that medium.

    Let us observe that thought operates by dividing a single unified reality in to conceptual parts. The noun is the easiest example of this. Our identity as "me" is one of those conceptual objects, a dominant one in the modern human experience.

    So while we had once experienced ourselves as one with nature, as thought emerged we were not only distracted from reality, but looking through the lens of thought created the experience of being divided from nature. Nature became one thing, and "me" became another.

    Evidence for the divisive nature of thought can be seen in the way that every philosophy, ideology and religion etc that has ever been invented inevitably subdivides in to competing internal factions. The universality of this subdivision process reveals to us that the source of this division lies deeper than in the content of particular philosophies, but instead in the inherently divisive nature of what we're all made of psychologically, thought.

    Religion To The Rescue?

    As the emergence of thought broke the unity we had once experienced with reality, religions began to emerge in an attempt to restore the lost union. Phrases like "get back to God" can be seen as expressions of this agenda.

    The God concept arose as a method of personalizing reality so as to make it easier for thought distracted humanity to reestablish an emotional connection with nature. We were told that God loves us, and we should love God in return. Various stories were written with the goal of engaging us in this experience of love, of connection, or reestablishing the lost bond with nature which had once come so naturally.

    The primary problem for the well intentioned efforts of religion has been that they typically attempt to heal the divide with reality using the very same medium that caused the divide. Thought.


    Religious thoughts began to proliferate in the form of teachings, doctrines, rules, and interpretations. And then of course we all began arguing about these teachings, a process which further distracted us from the natural world.

    Exploring Beyond The God Debate

    One way to engage the God debate is to continue the competing answers game for many more centuries and in the end wind up where we already are, nowhere.

    Another way to engage the God debate is to investigate the human need which caused us to start the debate in the first place, and attempt to meet that need.

    Let's talk about that next.
  • Phil Tanny
    Recapturing Our Lost Bond With Reality

    In the last post we tried to understand the human need that created the God debate, with the goal of meeting that need so as to resolve the God question. Not answer the God question, make it unnecessary, resolve it. Or at least move in that direction.

    PLEASE NOTE: Nothing written here is intended to argue for or against the existence of a God. I assure you that I don't know the answer to that. The point instead is to try to convert the God debate in to something more useful than debate.

    It was proposed that the source of the God debate is that we lost the primal bond with reality experienced by animals and primitive humans as thought became dominant in the human experience. This development shifted our focus from the real world to mental abstractions, symbols which point to the real world.

    Doing The Homework

    It will prove useful for the reader to carefully observe how much of the time they are focusing their attention not on the real world so much as on their thoughts about the real world.

    As example, as you're driving to work on a road you've traveled many times, observe how much of your attention is on the real world going by outside of your car, and how much of your attention is thinking about the day ahead.

    You're driving along, mostly lost in thought about something or another. And then all of sudden a kid on a bike shoots out in to traffic, and the focus of your attention is immediately shifted out of the symbolic realm between your ears back in to the real world. Once the kid is gone, you return to being lost in thought. This shift of focus back and forth from the real world to the symbolic world is a routine part of our daily human life.

    All the philosophy in the world will not be as helpful as just a few minutes a day observing what our minds are focused on.

    With that in mind...

    An Experiment

    Here's an experiment which may prove helpful.

    Let's observe something, anything, it doesn't matter what. Let's observe our subject as carefully as we can.

    Our goal is not to gather information, understand our subject, or come to any theory or opinion about it. Instead we will just observe, look closely, and take it in. We're observing, just observing, that's all.


    If this experiment is pursued with even a bit of seriousness it should soon become clear that the primary obstacle to close observation is that our attention keeps getting hijacked by our thoughts.

    This is what has happened to the primal bond with reality which earlier humans once enjoyed. The direct relationship with reality was hijacked by thoughts, abstractions which point to reality. As humans evolved we began trading in the real for the symbolic.

    The Second Hand Experience

    So as example, instead of fully taking in a sunrise to the point that it brings tears to our eyes, we think "that's a beautiful sunrise". We experience that thought, instead of experiencing the sunrise directly.

    And because experiencing a thought is a diluted second hand symbolic experience of reality, it doesn't have the power to bring us to tears. Instead, we think "that's nice" and then maybe check our phone to see if we have any new text messages.


    So many times, so many, I've gone to the trouble of showing up on a Florida beach before sunrise to witness the show, only to realize later that I missed most of it because instead of paying attention to the real world, I chose to write some article like this in my head.

    Let's see, which is more glorious? A massive nuclear powered fireball of a star shooting rays of photons across 93 million miles in just 8 minutes? Or Phil's big ideas?

    You can probably answer this one without my help.

    A Plan Of Action

    If you've understood the above, or much more importantly if you've done the homework and experienced it, the plan of action I will propose is probably becoming clear.

    If the God debate is a symptom of our degraded relationship with reality, and if thought is the primary degrading agent...

    It's time to move beyond philosophy.

    But how to do that? I won't be offering "the answer" because there are a million ways to go about this. I'll share some of the ways I move beyond philosophy, and you can share your strategies too if you want by replying to this post.

    In the next post we'll start moving beyond theory and get down to practical business.
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