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Theology and Christian Faith

God and Nothingness:  Thinking God out of Existence?
(And What About the Afterlife?)

Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

Here's a theory I came up with during my English final. I never really believed in God before this, but this theory was probably the icing on the cake. My Theory is that the reason we have felt the need to believe in the after-life, and hence God, is because our brain is incapable of conceiving of ceasing to exist, essentially become ... nothingness.

Because of this our minds were forced to come up with the only theory that is probable to it, the theory that there IS life after death and that we will always continue.

To prove this theory, there is a very simple exercise you can conduct right now. Okay, clear your mind of everything, try and think of nothingess -- of not being able to see, think, breathe, hear, feel emotions and sensations. Some of you with more mental control and prowess will manage this, BUT you are actually not really thinking of nothingness, because you see even as you think of nothingness, you are thinking.  Therefore you are not actually imagining nothingness.

On this I base my theory.

Interesting. Others have also focused on the capacity for self-consciousness to explain the concept of spiritual entities, life after death or a supreme being.

What it Actually Proves
As you describe your exercises here, I perceive a logical fallacy in the jump you make to the conclusion. What the exercise actually shows is only that it is difficult to conceive of nothing. It does not say anything about the existence or non-existence of God. What your exercise indicates is that it is hard not to think.  This is all it proves.

It does not prove the existence or non-existence of anything beyond the individual doing the exercise. It proves that that individual can think, and may or may not be able to conceive of nothingness.  It is not certain that it even proves that it is hard to conceive of nothingness.  

God and Nothingness
Even if it might prove that it is impossible to conceive of nothingness, how would that prove that God does not exist?  Is God nothingness?  The fact that I can conceive of God, does not mean God exists.  The fact that I can conceive that God might not exist does not keep him from existing.  In short, what I can think does not determine how reality actually is.

This exercise does not even prove that there is life after death.  But how does nothingness relate to life after death?  You have determined that because you cannot think of nothingness, there is no life after death.  

On the other hand, some have argued, however, that it might indicate the possibility of life after death, since it can be imagined.  This viewpoint would argue that it makes more sense to say something like this. Since I cannot conceive of nothingness, then that indicates there is something, rather than nothing.  

My Mind and the Universe
One possible fallacy is that the objective reality of the universe is limited to what the human mind may conceive or be unable to conceive. We have no evidence that thnking something does make it so or prevent it from being so. That is, there is no objective connection between what may be imagined and what might exist.

In other words, what may be thought does not seem to be the cause or prevention of what might be out there beyond us. What one might think about life after death is in fact unverifiable scientifically, and thus invalid as a basis for definitive conclusions relating to anything about the true nature of the universe.

In the logical sense, there is the further limitation of logic that we have no way to determine if any one person is "attuned" or has access to the ultimate reality of the universe.  We may reach a logical contradiction in trying to prove that, in fact, if one claims that there is no ultimate reality simply because they have been able to think and conceive of the nature of the ultimate reality.

To put it another way, just because someone can think it does not make it so.  Thinking there is no unity to reality does not mean there is no unity to reality. This is described in various ways in the discussions of the problem of solipsism, the limitation of one person to get outside their own mind. So we must define carefully the grounds on which we may or may not claim existence or non-existence of certain realities.

Experience and Personal Perception
Related to this is personal experience: Can I definitively conclude that something does NOT exist simply because I have not experienced it? No, it might be that I simply have not yet had the experience, and that when I do, then I can understand and agree with those who report such an experience, or reality, or concept, etc.

It takes only one instance of experience to make a claim valid. No number of lacks of such experience can qualify as knowledge that such reality or experience is not true.

You Cannot Get into Someone Else's Head
One reason why this is so is that one's thoughts are internal, and are perceived directly only by the one perceiving. Thus any one person's conceptions, thoughts, ideas and logic are inaccessible to any other human.  We exchange indications of each other's thoughts indirectly as we attempt to mediate and interpret these through words, actions, discussions, etc.

Life After Death and the Existence of God
Finally, I can't see what connection there is between life after death and the existence of God. It seems perfectly possible to me that God could exist whether or not there is life after death. So conceiving or not conceiving of nothingness does not seem to prove one or the other.

I think there are logical arguments that might be applied, but not based on personal mental experience. This makes one individual the center of the universe. It is patently untrue that any one of us is the center of the universe, or that any one of us could conceive of the total picture. It is at this level of reflection that reason is applied to provide some understanding of an ultimate nature of the universe which could cover or include everything that exists.)

Keep thinking. One thing theorizing does is provide internal proof (to the person doing the thinking) that they are alive. Because it seems your experiment has confirmed that it is impossible not to think.

Rebuttal Question:
Well I would have liked a stronger basis for my theory and some stronger proof, but it's kinda hard when you only have an hour and a half, to write a rough and good copy.   Have you also noticed that people always refuse to believe things even if they have solid irrefutable evidence? Look at all those cases of people returning from the dead, instead of putting faith into what this person experienced and therefore actually knows the truth, we claim them to be liars and refuse to face the truth.

Answer 2:
Thanks for the explanation.  I understand the limitations of time for such an assignment.  Even in business and professional life we deal with that.

The factors and experiences you mention are indeed important and fascinating.  I read all I can on near-death experiences and other para-normal events.  However, this still is unrelated to the questions you address in your experiment, and the logic you apply to the factors there.

It is just that your experiment does not tell us anything about anyone's near-death or afterlife experience, or about the real nature of the metaphysical character of the external world, God or anything else.  It just tells us what one person may report about what he/she might or might not be thinking about.  

That does not tell us anything about the relationship of that thought, that imagination or the reported perception of that thought (or non-thought!) to the world outside that mind.  

Further it depends on the perception of that one person about what that one mind is experiencing, and the testimony involves limitations of language, perception, etc.  This is a logical problem, not a problem of fact or reality.  

Philosophically, this involves what is referred to as Epistemology (the question of how we know and learn) and Metaphysics (the actual nature of existence outside personal or physical perception).  These are very complex sets of questions, inlcuding the very nature of mind and consciousness.

There are additional and different factors involved that your experiment does not take into account.

Invalid Conclusion
I am just saying that what your experiment involved and dealt with is different from the factors involved in the conclusion you drew.  The factors your experiment dealt with do not relate to the conclusion you drew.  Your conclusion involves other factors you did not address.

It would be good to continue to investigate this question and experiment further.  Thanks for the dialogue.


Originally written on an internet discussion group in November 2000.
Finalized article posted 12 September 2005

Copyright © Orville Boyd Jenkins 2005
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.
Email:  orville@jenkins.nu
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