An Atheist, a Tea Partier & a Yogi Walk into a Gym. ~ Karl Erb

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on Sep 2, 2012
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The Divisive Power of Belief Systems

The Tea-Partier asserts, “I must keep myself fit to be one of God’s soldiers.”

The yogi offers, “This body is my temple, I honor spirit and creation by caring for this temple.”

 The atheist says, “I don’t understand what either of you said, but I know I don’t believe in it.”

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” ~ Albert Einstein


I recently saw an article on CNN’s Belief Blog about some atheist groups launching billboard campaigns criticizing the validity of the “faith” of the presidential candidates.

Their rationale for the campaign was, “Religion is silly and religion has components that are inherently divisive.”

Right on the heels of the Sikh shooting in Texas, I find myself again pondering the divisive power of belief systems.

From the Sikh to the belief that “legitimate rape” does not cause pregnancy, belief and knowledge are misconstrued. Recent beliefs, in the face of evidence to the contrary, have manipulated and corrupted government and civil liberties, like the recent Arizona law declaring pregnancy to begin up to two weeks prior to conception, in the name of “freedom” and “religious freedom.” Seriously.

As a citizen, a lover of science and nature, an empathetic conscious creature, a student of yoga and the vedic texts and an explorer of the essence of being, consciousness and nature, I have been ruminating for some time on how belief systems and the perceptions of “other” are affecting our socio-political fabric. Divisive, adversarial, polemic based belief, and identifying with one group over another is the norm in American politics and culture.

I see a road toward shared, universal values beyond divisions and adversarial psychology; discussing these billboards and the nature of belief is a step on that road. 

Source: via Fred on Pinterest

Irrationality in the name of Reason

While criticizing apparently divisive views, these atheist billboards shouted their inclusive, unifying message by insulting the very foundation of others’ views about themselves and the world. In the name of reason, atheists then declare they don’t believe in a concept that has not deeply or thoroughly been explored by them or communicated to them.

Consistent in recent popular atheist positions, is the emphasis on rationality to legitimize their disbelief in unexplored concepts. By dismissing claims of a few theologies, atheists infer there exists no shared source, no “Creator.”

Atheists gathered in the spring of 2012 for a Reason Rally to join together in the choice to dismiss the unverifiable beliefs of others with political influence.

“We are here to celebrate our belief in reason, science and the power of the human mind,” comedian Paul Provenza said. “We are here to say to elected politicians … that there is a base for them to stand on to stand up to the religious right.

Does one believe in reason?

Reason and knowledge are distinct from belief.

And let’s be clear, standing up to the religious extremists seeking to control government, communications and commerce is not the same as dismissing all those who maintain spiritual values.

I’ve seen a few pieces on atheists in the press these days, which led me to read writings of various voices representing the atheists’ views. They’re particularly fascinating in light of the pervading divisive culture and politics of today. In the articles on atheists and writings by atheists I have explored, calling upon the integrity and undisputed bastion of reason seems to be a recurring thread.

In the name of bringing government back to governing, keeping religious agendas out of government, and bringing “more substance” to government, atheists have entered the fray, urging everyone to convert to their point of view.

To attack an individual politician’s belief system and to claim the action serves to balance religion and government is irrational and inconsistent.

Keeping religious institutions separate from government policies, electoral processes and so on, is not to be confused with disagreeing with a politician’s personal spiritual values or practices.

The atheists’ positions I have seen, and these billboards, mix up these two discussions. So, there are really two separate arguments that the atheist views have been blurring:

1. The role of religion in government.

2. The validity of someone else’s belief system.

In claiming to critique “government being rife with religion” (an unconstitutional development most people in the country would seek to prevent), the atheists attack the belief system of those running for office by simply stating, “Because I don’t believe…”

The billboards and articles don’t address how to mitigate the influence of religious groups on policy decisions, rather they attack and ridicule a politician’s beliefs. By ridiculing a figurehead’s beliefs they are defacto ridiculing all of his group, dismissing and offending a whole segment of society—and doing so in the name of inclusion and reason? These non-thinking attacks incite isolation by divisive labeling and calling for the of taking sides.

One can be critical of too much religion in politics, one can advocate for governance that adheres to the constitutional guidance on Church and State, without taking a stand on anyone else’s unverifiable beliefs.

A discussion on the role of religion or spiritual views in governance can happen without seeking to win others over to one’s own unverifiable belief system; particularly not when one’s subjective belief system is seeking refuge in the skirts of reason.

To infer that reason cannot arrive at a spiritual view does not hold up to scrutiny and can be refuted, and this should be explored, not dismissed. Dismissal without scrutiny is empty and non-thinking. To uncover knowledge, any belief must either be subject to validation or refutation. Then, it becomes knowledge, no longer belief.

Thus, if I don’t “believe” or accept your view of self and creation, then it is up to me to disprove it through reason or to see the inconsistencies in my own held perception. I cannot simply claim disbelief, or raise a red herring of a new unverifiable belief to sway you.

Knowledge and Belief

When discussing the apparent chasm between science and religion, or the nature of what is the essence of nature, we need to be clear when we are talking about belief and when we are talking about understanding or knowledge. Neither Vedanta or the Yoga Sutras are a belief system. Rather, they are a means of knowledge, a pramana (Yoga Sutras 1.7) to understand what we observe about ourselves and the world.

The very title of CNN’s “Belief Blog”asserts a perspective in contrast to reason, observation and deduction.

Once a belief is verified or disproved it is no longer a belief.

If validated though empirical observation or cognitive proof, a belief becomes knowledge. Knowledge is that which cannot be refuted. That gravity exists, I accept. It is not subject to my belief or disbelief, nor can I refute that gravity exists whether or not I understand the cause.

“Knowledge is the grasp of what is. Experience is the direct perceptual participation in an event. Experience can lead to knowledge, but the impression of experience need not be knowledge. Experience has to be assimilated in terms of knowledge. Knowledge includes experience, Knowledge can contradict experience. Knowledge can also resolve the contradictions in experience. Knowledge cannot be contradicted.” ~ Swami Dayananda Saraswati

While the atheists turn to reason to refute, or take issue with, certain interpretations and manifestations of religious doctrine, their arguments only address certain theological assertions. These arguments do not explore or disprove the inference of a causeless cause, known by whatever name—a source, seen or unseen, known or unknown, an origin for laws we observe in creation not of our own making, beyond our control.

That we live in a world with laws not of our making, that we all participate in, cannot be refuted. Thus, for atheists to make the leap that no source exists because certain doctrines of unverifiable belief do not stand up to rational, deductive scrutiny is irrational. In the name of reason, atheists declare disbelief and then seek to convert others to this belief, calling it deduction.

Using reason, empirical study and ways to validate cognitive proofs is always helpful to validate one’s perceptions, especially in evaluating a claim made in the name of reason.

If we are using reason, we should all arrive at the same conclusions.

Humans across the globe and across time and culture come to shared conclusions around properties of gravity, movements of the solar system and such. So, if one belief system invokes reason in order to gain ground with political agendas, we should all pay attention. I propose reason is in fact relevant and necessary to uncover shared values and to arrive at irrefutable deductions that can unify humans, not perpetuate adversarial fragmentation.

Reason keeps our inferences and hypotheses in harmony with what we and others observe in ourselves, nature and the universe. Take evolution for instance, if one chooses to not believe in evolution then one is at odds with what we observe in the fossil record, in radioactivity and on and on. Bill Nye discusses the importance of having hypotheses that are not at odds with what is or with what we observe in ourselves, nature and the universe.

Highly rigorous, honest methods and means of knowledge—like Vedanta, theoretical physics and math—are required to explore these concepts and conclusions. We should be able to discuss inconsistent and irrational religious doctrines that impose social constraints or perpetuate conflict.

Through such discussions we arrive at shared values, universal human values, shared perceptions.

Questioning and debate are not assaults on religious freedoms. Likewise, it is reasonable to support and enforce those freedoms consistently across all faiths, not be selective with just those whose beliefs one shares.

Spirituality and Religion

A key distinction is missed in presenting the atheists’ concerns about religion—the distinction between religion and spirituality.

Here I use religion to describe a defined hierarchy with defined beliefs one must adhere to in order to belong and an institution that seeks to perpetuate said beliefs, often in distinction from another institution’s beliefs. Spirituality I use to describe one’s view of self and creation that may not be a part of an institution and thus, has no body deciding who does or does not belong, nor is there the drive to convert those perceived as “others” to one’s view.

In either case, an unformed, irrational, subjective position on the politician’s beliefs are not among the many checks and balances keeping religion and governance separate.

The error many atheists, academics, theologians, scientists and philosophers make is that spirituality is a matter of belief rather than observation, deduction and reason; reason and spirituality do not inform each other. Beyond belief lies seeing what is, as it is, empirical observation; knowledge is that which cannot be refuted.

Such methods arrive at empirical, shared truths in which we all participate, like gravity and weather; these are not beliefs. Such is the method used in the empirical sciences, theoretical physics, in studies of cognition and so on. Such is the method in the yogic texts like the Upanisads and the Bhagavad Gita, these source teachings offer a method to inquire into self and creation, to inquire into what is.

Beyond Belief, Beyond Tribal

Since we all live in this creation, are all subject to the same laws of nature, the same laws of cause and effect, we should all come to the same conclusion about the nature and origins of self and creation. Like Nye’s comments on evolution, we are all faced with the same evidence. And yet, this one thing we undisputedly share is at the source of so much conflict and polarization of our views on our world and our lives in it. Weird.

Beyond belief lies what is. Beyond perceptions and constructs of us and them is a shared ground of being.

Our belief systems perpetuate our need to belong to one group versus another; to continuously define our sense of self by how we differ from this “other” we have created. This tribalism then perpetuates an adversarial stance between me, my group and the world. Thus, producing a strong drive to protect the belief system at any cost.

As a student of the natural sciences, I was continuously amazed by the order and wonder in nature. Observation, inquiry and deduction were the means of forming my views of the natural world, of creation. So, why not apply observation, inquiry and deduction as the means of knowledge to spirituality, to understanding the very nature of being, creation and creator?

Such is the method of yoga and Vedanta, such is the method in the source texts, the Upanisads and the Bhagavad Gita and the conclusions point to shared understandings with other deductive systems like theoretical physics. Many self styled scholars and theologians confuse study of these texts as a belief system or a religion, this is incorrect.

These texts are a means of inquiring into what is, of validating or refuting our perceptions and experiences.

How can you separate reason from a view of creation? Why would we want to? Likewise, how can we deny, through use of reason, the order, harmony and shared truths we see throughout creation? How can we deny the existence of laws not of our own making? How can we deny an unseen, inferred cause behind all we observe?

Let’s delve into that pursuit together, with open minds.

If someone should be inclined to not inquire, but to turn to unverifiable beliefs, we can still work on shared secular values, universal human values, laws of governance and agreements on the role of religion in government. There is no foundation upon which to discuss unverifiable belief. Let’s not mix up these discussions of governance with questioning of belief.

Swami Vivekananda said:

“Bhakti (devotion, faith, acceptance of laws beyond our control) without Jnana (knowledge which cannot be refuted, deduction, observation, reason, inquiry) is superstition. Jnana without Bhakti is madness.”

In this perceived polarity between knowledge and spiritual devotion also lie the roots of the science versus religion split.

This need not be the case, and in fact, from Einstein to the Dalai Lama many have spoken to the fictional and frivolous nature of this ill conceived perception. From the TV show Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman to the Science and Non-Duality Conference, which I will be speaking at in the fall, people are exploring where observation of the world and acceptance of a unifying unseen cause come together. Such an exploration, done together, uncovers our shared values, shared perceptions and unified understanding, not belief systems to protect and attack.

“Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate kindness and compassion.” ~ Dalai Lama

The implications are inspiring and rich in terms of how we choose to live our socipolitico lives.

So to the atheists I would say, be clear when you are talking about role of religion in government, and don’t mix it with ill formed non-thinking views of something you don’t believe in. If reason is a value, then we should all be able to accept critiques of our views, and thus seek to prove or disprove our conclusions. Otherwise, we will keep talking in circles, creating more cliques and tribes and perpetuate a polarized uncooperative, adversarial and scared society.

Karl is a citizen of the world exploring human empathy, interdependence and values in context of the Nature of Being, and the Essence of Nature. A longtime student of work mythologies, social change, social movements and a yoga student and instructor for almost 30 years, Karl brings the teachings of Swami Dayananda Saraswati in Vedanta into context for our modern daily life on


Editor: Sara McKeown

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27 Responses to “An Atheist, a Tea Partier & a Yogi Walk into a Gym. ~ Karl Erb”

  1. Timmy Robins says:

    Atheism means the absence of belief, it is not a belief system . Saying atheism is a belief system is the first mistake most believers make when they talk about atheism.

    "the atheists attack the belief system of those running for office by simply stating, “Because I don’t believe…”"
    Atheists atack the belief system of those running for office because it influences what they do in politics and because the result of this is laws and/or policy that is not based on facts . Politician's belief systems are irrelevant as long as they leave them home…and like you said , that is clearly not the case. "because I dont believe" is not the problem , because you believe is the problem…religion in politics is the problem. Also , i think atheists use the word reason as: a way of forming conlusions from facts as opposed to forming conclusions from belief like religious people often do when they try to explain the world trough religion.
    Which makes me think you are trying to do the same with vedanta and the sutras…. Are you trying to say vedanta is on an equal footing with science in giving answers on how things work? Because I ve heard that a lot and I think it is just wishful thinking.

    You can say that yoga and vedanta is Science but they are actually not.

    How have vedanta and the yoga sutras been verified in order to label them knowledge as opposed to belief?
    Can vedanta help you understand photosyntesis ?
    Can vedanta make predictions that agree with empirical observation?
    Can vedanta explain how evolution works?
    How is vedanta and yoga not a belief system?

  2. Mark Ledbetter says:

    Lots of good points by both Karl and Timmy. Stimulates thinking. Karl on the power of belief systems hits squarely one of the dominant but relatively ignored drives of humans and human society.

    As for Timmy saying atheism is not a belief system… First thought: interesting idea. Second thought: but OF COURSE atheism is a belief system. Third thought: well, maybe not always, but it is certainly a part of various belief systems when it's not one itself.

    Timmy says yoga is not science. Again, a thought that stimulates thinking. And I have to agree. Science has such authority for educated intelligent people in the modern world that such people almost need to speak of their belief systems as if they are science; if they aren't science, they can't be justified. But hey, something can be right without being science. Science is not a synonym for truth. Rather, it's a technique for getting at the laws that control the physical universe. When we're dealing with human consciousness, we have probably passed the realistic limits of human science. And trying to turn our ethical/religious/philosophical systems into science in order to justify them might be acceding too much value to science. Science is great for some things but not for everything.

  3. Mark Ledbetter says:

    Ok, I'm still pondering this thread. (Love threads and comments that make me do that!) And I'll have to contradict myself. Actually, science CAN get into the nature of human consciousness.

    Karl and Timmy would both seem to be making a pitch for reason and science, though from the opposite side of a divide we name atheism. I'm going to line up with Karl on this one and for good scientific reasons (which is where I contradict my previous comment about human consciousness not being accessible to human science.)

    A couple o' weeks ago, R. Piper put up an intellectually provocative but sadly ignored thread called A Scientific Discovery That Is Bigger Than Einstein's. That hypothetical discovery would be, the nature of consciousness. Since this thread deals with both consciousness and atheism, it may be worth sending, after rewriting for clarity, what I wrote then. Here t'is:

    For those of us raised in the age of science, it's easy to believe that there must be a mechanistic explanation for everything, thus the many modern scientists and philosophers who are atheists. There are, if we keep things simple and essential, only two possible explanations for consciousness.

    1. There is a mechanistic explanation. Consciousness is just an attribute to life that evolved randomly from the interplay of chemicals and physical forces. I.e., it is, in a sense, physical, both created and governed by physical laws.

    2. There is a spiritual explanation. Consciousness is something separate from physicality. It's neither in nor of the body, even if it sometimes seems to be in a body temporarily. Probably has nothing to do with evolution and all the rest.

    If you think about it, BOTH possibilities are completely absurd! And yet, if we restrain ourselves from quibbling about subtle variations in the argument, one of these two absurd possibilities HAS to be right.

    Personally, I believe possibility 2. Near Death studies have pretty conclusively proven that consciousness can and often does separate from the body. The strong implication is that it continues even after death of the body. And if consciousness continues without a body, something, which you could call the source of consciousness, suddenly seems credible, even for those devoted to reason. And calling that something God would be in the ballpark of reasonable terminology.

  4. Scott says:

    "Give a man a fish, and you'll feed him for a day; give him a religion, and he'll starve to death while praying for a fish." — Anonymous

  5. Timmy Robins says:

    Hi Mark 
    Interesting points too. Here's what I think:
    The literal meaning of atheism is the absence of belief . Now, people dont believe for different reasons and people tend to associate different ideas with their lack of belief. A lot of atheists favor certain ideas and behaviors and i guess it could be fairly accurate to say these work like a belief system, meaning by belief system a set af mutually supportive ideas.It is important to point out also that for many people their atheism is not a central part of their lives and many others just dont relate to the kind of ideas and behaviors that prominent atheists [Dawkins, Dennet, etc] endorse. 
     Having said this I think it is correct to say that atheism is not in itself a belief system.

    "Science is not a synonym for truth. Rather, it's a technique for getting at the laws that control the physical universe."
    "Science is great for some things but not for everything."
    I couldnt agree more, it is important to point out what science is and what science is not. I think the purpose of science is to explain why or/and how things in the material world work, plain and simple. Science is not a tool for self knowledge , or for achieving peace of mind or for finding purpose in life, that is what religion , philosophy, etc are for.

    So in my opinion they should never be mixed but there are exceptions and consciousness is one of those exceptions .

  6. Timmy Robins says:


    Consciousness is not longer a mystery for science but a problem to solve. Although the study of consciousness is in its infancy current studies in people with brain damage show that self awareness and consciousness can be afected if certain regions in the brain are injured.

    Also, consciousness can be turned on and off , it is "off" when you are deep asleep, in a coma , when you black out or if you are anesthetized.
    If it is an "entity" that is always present even after we die , how do you explain this?

    I really think the NDE evidence that exists is not solid, i think it is mostly anecdotal , plus, experiences very similar to NDEs and those of presences in a room have been duplicated using magnetic fields applied directly into the head and the so very famous God Helmet. This would suggest that these experiences that are usually interpreted as "spiritual" are originated in the brain too.

    This also suggests that your point No1 is the most probable.
    There is a huge problem with your point No 2 that all spiritualists or dualists have failed to explain and that is: if consciousness is apart from the body how does it interact with the material body , how does it manage to move matter??

    Also the problem with the concept of consciousness continuing without the body is that it violates the laws of physics as all energy has to come from somewhere and all energy is transformed, sometimes into less useful forms.

  7. Timmy Robins says:


    "The strong implication is that it continues even after death of the body. And if consciousness continues without a body, something, which you could call the source of consciousness, suddenly seems credible, even for those devoted to reason. And calling that something God would be in the ballpark of reasonable terminology."

    This implies some sort of "perpetual motion" principle , and honestly if you analize it well , it is extremly hard to believe not to say that it would go against the laws of physics and plain common sense …..not to mention extremly hard to prove in any meaningful way.

    I agree here with karl, if it cant be proven…. It remains as something speculative, hypoyhetical.

  8. Mark Ledbetter says:

    Timmy, thanks for the response. You may be sorry, though. You've opened the door for me to get on my soapbox. And, important though I feel this topic is,I haven't had a chance to climb this particular soapbox more than 6 or 7 times in the last 30 years, so I'm champing at the bit.

    Yes, I completely understand the logical objections. Like I said, the spiritual explanation is simply absurd, as those objections demonstrate. But since the mechanistic explanation is also absurd, being absurd is obviously not a problem here. We have to grant that one of the absurd explanations is correct.

    And you are right that there is lots of purely anecdotal evidence for continuation of consciousness. But there is also scientific evidence. We don't need to focus on anecdotes.

    Dr. Michael Sabom is a great place to start. When the anecdotes first started making the mainstream, he was disgusted. Being a fundamentalist Christian (unusual, to say the least, among NDE researchers!) he was also not too happy about some of the religious implications. So, being a (medical) scientist, he set out to debunk this latest manifestation of junk science. As a cardiologist, he had lots of people to work with. He began interviewing patients who had nearly died, asking NDE experiencers (that there were many was his first surprise) detailed and organized questions. He rather shocked himself by proving (and prove is really not too strong a word) that the anecdotes were essentially right, that consciousness did separate from body. Junk science though collections of anecdotes may have been, NDEs happened as advertised.

    Sabom didn't bother with amazing stories of beings of light etc, the meat of the anecdotes, but just provable and disprovable reports about what experiencers observed while 'out'. They were able to accurately describe in great detail the people, machinery, conversations, unusual things that occured, and procedures from the viewpoint of whatever part of the room their 'consciousness' had gone to. Maybe they were in a far corner where they could only see the backs of people and far sides of the machinery, something impossible even if the eyes had been open and the 'body' awake. One patient reported the death of a relative in a far away hospital, someone who had been healthy and at home when Sabom's patient was being prepped for the op. The patient knew of the death because they had just met while he was being operated on! Of course Dr. Sabom checked and confirmed the details.

    Also, Dr. Melvin Morse (pediatrician dealing with deadly childhood diseases?) has done research on children who, he assumes, haven't been tainted by adult beliefs. One fascinating discovery: the consciousness of children experiencing NDEs are adult. Another interesting facet to NDEs (reported by many researchers), unlike dreams and actually all memories in general, the memories of NDEs don't fade with time. Putting these last two together, I have an anecdote for you. I know a science teacher here in Japan who has never heard of NDE studies. She almost died when she was 6 months old. She left her tiny little body and, with full adult comprehension, watched from above while the physicians working on her. She still remembers it, she told me, as if it were yesterday. How's that for unfading memories and adult comprehension in a child! Her husband, also a science teacher and, like her, a non-believer in God and things spiritual, was stunned into silence by her story.

    Here's one more facet that, to me, is fascinating. NDE-ers often (by no means always) meet a being of light. Some assume it is Jesus, or God, or an angel, or a representative of whatever religion they are from. But, when asked, they report that the being of light never ever identifies itself. Making things easy for us is apparently not part of the plan. This, like most essential NDE characteristics, is completely consistent across all cultures, nations, religions. The "being of light" just does not identify itself. Such consistency should not be happening if the NDE were somehow created by one's own mind out of one's own beliefs and experiences.

    Researchers (as opposed to anecdotalists) have, of course, tried to find correspondences between NDEs and other things in an effort to find some explanation. But, whether or not you have an NDE relates to none of the following: belief or non belief in God, afterlife, or religion; prior knowledge of NDEs, intelligence level; educational level; country or culture; mode of almost dying; ingestion or non-ingestion of drugs or medicines; whether or not you are a 'good person' etc etc. Dr. Morse has found one possible slight correlation between NDE experiencers and child abuse, but that's it.

    Anyway, as P. Piper said on that other thread, this could be an issue more important than Einstein's discovery of relativity. Anyone interested, check out what the scientists say. The anecdotes are great, and for many people more convincing and more accessible. But if you're scientific minded, ya gotta go to the scientists.

    Btw, Timmy, the way you explained and took to the next level my assertion that science is good for some things but not everything was excellent! You nailed it.

  9. Mark Ledbetter says:

    PS, while typing the above, I was wondering if I should use a different word than "see" since seeing is normally tied to the physical body. So just now I checked Amazon and found a book on that. One of the authors is Kenneth Ring, a psych prof at U of Mass. (as I recall). He could fairly be called a scientist. He has a new book (well, new for me, 1999) on the NDEs of blind people. Book name… Mindsight: Near-Death and Out-Of-Body Experiences in the Blind.Here's a bit from the description:

    "This book investigates the astonishing claim that blind persons, including those blind from birth, can actually "see" during near-death or out-of-body episodes. The authors present their findings in scrupulous detail, investigating case histories of blind persons who have actually reported visual experiences under these conditions. There is fascinating evidence that the blind do "see" in these moments, but it is not sight as we think of it. Ring and Cooper suggest a kind of "transcendental sight" they refer to as Mindsight."

    As I recall from long ago readings, regular seeing people also sometimes report that they don't actually "see" during the NDE but "see" is the only word they have for their comprehension, which includes color and all the details that we "see" when we "see."

    Good day to y'all!

  10. Timmy_Robins says:

    Hi Mark , thank you for taking the time to answer.

    I would love to know why you think the mechanistic explanation is absurd.
    If you believe in evolution , and you sound like a reasonable, intelligent person , so I will infer you do ….then it is not that hard to imagine how mind is to brain what digestion is to the stomach , right? Meaning that it is produced by the very complex mass of protein and other chemicals we call the brain.

    Now, there is still a lot to be known (scientifically) about the origins of life , but i think , a little exploration on the history and evolution of life on earth might make the idea of mind
    as a product of the brain even more plausible , specially when you realize that the complexity of organs we see today is the product of tiny , incremental "improvements" that have happened in a period of hundreds of millions of years. Not all animals have a sense of self awareness like ours but they all have what is needed in order to operate in a material world and survive.

    I dont know about you but for me this explanation actually makes a lot of sense…. In fact it makes so much sense to me that it is really hard for me to believe the alternative "hipothesis", that a supernatural force not only animates matter but it also gives it self awareness.

    Having said that , I must say that I also have a hard time believing that this energy continues after the material body dies. What would be the purpose of this? Why not animate rocks too? Why is it there is only life on Earth and not the other planets? In the case of NDEs i do believe they are real but since measuring the soul or this energy is still impossible, I think that the theories that propose they are caused by physiological reactions sound more convincing …still I think it is fair to give you the benefit of doubt. More research is definitely needed.

    So, to summarize I do believe these experiences are real (physiologically) but i think in order to prove beyond all doubt that there is something else to them , there is a lot of explaining needed.

  11. Mark Ledbetter says:

    Hi again,

    To address your questions….

    Why is the mechanistic explanation absurd? Well, it just is!!! (You said I was a reasonable guy but with that succinct rebuttal, I bet you have your doubts, ha ha) But really, it just is. Really. I mean, how do you get consciousness from chemical reactions or mechanical interactions? Has anybody ever proposed a reasonable theory for how that could happen?

    Yes, I know, the incremental changes of evolution have created something that, on first thought, likewise seems close to absurd, i.e. the incredible physical functioning of higher and even not so high organisms. But, unlikely as higher life might seem, we do, in fact, have both evidence and an ironclad theory (is it safe to say proof?) for how it came about, ie evolution. To the best of my knowledge, however, nowhere in the theory of evolution is there a credible explanation for how consciousness arose. I mean, I haven't studied it, but if a truly plausible explanation existed, I think I would have encountered it. Digestion I can get. And metaphors and comparisons can facilitate understanding. But digestion just simply can't be compared to consciousness unless someone wants that particular metaphor to work.

    As to your series of questions on why mind/consciousness continues after death… I couldn't say. But being unable to answer those questions does not detract from the evidence. (Btw, if something continues after death, I doubt it's energy as energy is part of physical system we are intimately aware of, while NDEs seem to be located "somewhere" else.)

    If you're interested, check Sabom for starters. You won't find conclusive proof that consciousness continues after death of the body because none of the experiencers has actually died. They have all been revived. But you WILL find conclusive evidence that mind/consciousness can and sometimes does separate from the body. Again, if you accept that, the rest (life after death, God etc) enters the realm of possibility. If you look at the evidence as presented by real scientists, not collections of anecdotes (which are themselves valuable), there's no reasonable way to avoid the conclusion that the ball of proof is now in the skeptics court.

    NDE researcher's have examined in depth all the proposed physical explanations for the NDE. Certain theories can give an explanation for certain parts of the experience. But explaining the entire experience requires multiple unrelated and possibly contradictory theories. That is certainly not very elegant science, where generally you figure the simple explanation and an all-encompassing theory is more likely to be right. Again, if we're talking about what's likely, the ball is in the skeptics court. Skeptics need, I would think, to do two things: plausibly explain how consciousness could arise from random chemical reactions, and find a more comprehensive mechanical explanation for the NDE. Do those two things, and the ball will be back in this court.

    Btw, only continue if you feel like it. The real evidence is not with me but with NDE researchers. All I can possibly do is prick your interest, I certainly won't be able to convince you. And I will not be convinced without the above-mentioned two conditions being met, something that doesn't seem likely.

    Good talking to you, if this turns out to be the end of this conversation! If not, I may just let you have the last word as, sadly, vacation is soon coming to an end and I have to get back to work.

    G' day!

  12. Karl Erb says:

    No doubt a stimulating topic. The topic at hand is the divisive nature of belief systems, the distinction between belief and knowledge and the role of reason and deduction in understand our selves, creator and creation. I mention a few cases in recent culture and politics where belief has led conflict. There were a couple ideas in one or two early comments that actually had to do with the article, I will try to respond to that.

    Beyond belief is our common ground of Being, shared values and possibly inclusion.

    The billboards posted by the Atheists groups did so claiming religion is divisive. The groups who put up the billboards got threats and pulled them down. I made clear the distinction between advocating the keep church and state separate and ridiculing the belief system of others. This is a key point I sought to address. It is irrational to mix up the two arguments, which the billboards did, sponsored by atheist groups, heralding reason.

    If in fact atheists value reason, then we should be able to reasonably distinguish the two arguments. Likewise we should be able to have a conversation about our shared values. Grounded in shared values as human, and as life on this planet we should be able to broaden our sense of inclusion, not limited to a small group who affirms our unverifiable beliefs. We are empathetic, conscious creatures, humans feel threatened and insecure when their group is threatened. When at home in ourselves, we are more inclined to be compassionate and inclusive.

    I mention Vedanta as a method to pursue knowledge, beyond belief, and I define knowledge with Swami Dayananda's quote, see above. I did not say Vedanta is a science, science is the study of objects of perception, Vedanta includes the study of the subject, the very nature of being and consciousness. Vedanta is in fact a means of knowledge using observation, deduction, reason, logic, and inference to understand our selves, creation and creator. That we observe laws of Nature not of our making is a fact we all live with. Vedanta explores not only the attributes of that causeless cause, but also the attributes and essence of our own being. That Vedanta is not a belief system, but a means of knowledge becomes evident to those who find a traditional and trained teacher and actually pursue the study for some time.

    So Timmy if you are serious about wanting to understand how Vedanta is not a belief system, I recommend going to Swami Dayananda's place in PA, and engaging in dialog. I have posted some brief videos on youtube, called Citta Chats ™ that are brief, but do give a taste of the method. This method cannot be realized in books, and many books do muddy the waters, like a game of telephone.

    If one values reason, then such a study should be welcome, and if truly seeking knowledge, then an open mind is called for when we faced with what the arguments and observations uncover. This article is not an adequate medium to unfold the arguments and proofs, nor did I set out convince, but rather to look towards our shared values, beyond belief.

  13. @karlerbsf says:

    Said another way… what ever system or method one uses to understand oneself and the world should be meaningful and relevant to that person, and should help us all move through the world, each other, society, family, job with less friction and more feelings of adequacy. The approach in Vedanta, as one example, is "Do not accept or reject anything you hear in these classes, but test the principles and exercises in your daily life and see if and how they work, that is if they improve your quality of life and your general outlook." Not a seeking to convince others, or dismiss other views, as do the billboards which this article is responding to. So certainly did not intend to do a comparison, nor seek to "prove" which view is correct; rather I said regardless or view or belief, there is a common ground of shared values.

    The principle of "question, validate and test" is true also for instance of Marshall Rosenberg's method of Non-Violent Communication… try it out, what happens? This method in fact affirms much of what I have learned in Vedanta, and I have found each system reinforces the other, adding context and depth.

  14. Amanda says:

    When people are lost and looking for answers and don't know where to turn to because everything else has failed they say "I am an athiest" I think that Karl has brought some clarification and light to these folks who dont know what to ask or how to ask or who to ask the for answers to. It is just easier to follow the crowd. Reading this article at least makes you question yourself what am I standing for? I totally agree that you have to experiment go outside the box to find yourself through compassion and love. I like your Vedanta approach Karl. Namaste

  15. Timmy_Robins says:

    I think it's quite the opposite, people turn to atheism when they realize religion explains nothing….and for many of them science gives them reliable answers.
    A "soul" that comes from the "creator" or "the whole" is not an explanation for consciousness or being alive. A "creation" made by a creator from nothing is not an explanation for the existence of the material world.

  16. Timmy Robins says:

    Thank you , I ll have the last word then.

    I think the ball Is still in the NDE researchers court as they have not explained consciousness itself . The evidence that the mind separates from the body is still anecdotical as it relies completely on the patients accounts. If consciousness is not energy then they need to explain what is it…and most importantly they need to explain what is that substance that goes on after death. They haven't .

    In studying people with brain damage and with the aid of brain scanning and brain surgery neuroscientists have been able to hipothesize and actually make predictions about how the different layers of consciousness can be affected.
    Although,the complete biological mechanisms of consciousness have not been pinned down It is clear that it is a biologically determined process we evolved that is citical for our survival.

    Different animals have different levels of consciousness but only humans and a few other animals like primates and dolphins have self awareness, what they have in common is a complex brain, this might suggest that the complexity of the brain explains a lot about consciousness.

    This is more than NDE scientists, and religion can explain.

  17. Timmy Robins says:

    Hi Karl,
    I actually agree with you, divisiveness doesn't help but I guess the question is if we can get rid of it? Is it realistic to think that we can create a society where everyone behaves selflessly and with a greater good in mind? In my opinion although we should strive for the best nothing suggests it can be done. We are categorizers by nature …and I am not sure all people share the same values.

  18. @karlerbsf says:

    Timmy I see a logic in what you say, and if we had time for a longer conversation we would likely find that our conclusions arrive at places more similar than not. I do believe that spoken exchange is better suited to arrive at mutual understanding 🙂 That said I will try to address some of what is coming up…

    First I also want to say again, my primary intention was to address the billboards placed by those who called religion divisive, and to show that how this "perspective" was aired was itself divisive, and therefore irrational if one's intention is offer an alternative to divisive views and behaviors. I do realize that the organization posting the billboards does not represent all atheists, nor do the folks at so called "Reason Rally."

    My intention was not to seek to disprove atheism, nor to convince; rather to talk about what moving towards shared values looks like. I should think you agree with much of what was said in the Nye video? And the definition of knowledge in Vedanta as described by Swami Dayananda above "Knowledge is the grasp of what is…"? Meaning whatever method of inquiry we take should mesh with what we observe and experience and understand through reason. As Nye says, it would be hard to be a geologist and decide to "not believe" in the fossil record.

    So to arrive at shared values,at cooperation, at inclusion, beyond unverifiable belief, we do need to use discernment, or in sanskrit for students of yoga, viveka, to apply a certain thoughtfulness and rationality – not cling to "belief" in the face of evidence to the contrary. That's what i wanted to get at… The Dalai Lamas quote at the end sums it up:

    “Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate kindness and compassion.” ~ Dalai Lama

    So I hear in what you are saying, Timmy, the atheist may use the term "I don't belief in a God who…" to state "I don't see enough evidence to support the existence of….", "It doesn't mesh with how I observe the world, natural laws, natural and physical sciences and so on…" … CONTINUED

  19. @karlerbsf says:

    Part Two – continued
    ….. So I hear in what you are saying, Timmy, the atheist may use the term "I don't belief in a God who…" to state "I don't see enough evidence to support the existence of….", "It doesn't mesh with how I observe the world, natural laws, natural and physical sciences and so on…"

    This too is the method used in Vedanta, is embedded in the texts, but more importantly in the teaching methods. And I referred to Vedanta because Yoga has been a study and a tool for my daily life for about 30 years. If I was a physicist, I would have used that model. I refer to the model simply because I know it, not because I think it is the only was in. A room on a third story has many ways in: a ladder, a trampoline, a tree, coming down from the roof… All reach their destination, no one is more true.

    And while this was not the topic of the article, since you brought it up 😉 (luv your honest, receptive participation by the way) So yes your conclusion: "A 'creation' made by a creator from nothing is not an explanation for the existence of the material world" makes sense given what we know of laws of matter and energy. I accept this and agree. This definition of creator is not the conclusion arrived at in the Bhagavad Gita, which is the teachings of the Upanisads, which are the teachings of the Vedas on Being, Nature and Consciousness, what is called Vedanta.

    This is why I say in the article that to assume because some theologies can be refuted rationally if taken literally that reason has no place in spiritual inquiry is incorrect. Vedanta uses observation, inference, deduction, logic, experience, questioning, meditation, thought and action to arrive at an understanding of the nature of our own being and a causeless cause from when we and all creation/universe came. What in english might be called Creator is more akin to Laws of Nature than the creator in your quote; however when we say Laws of Nature we do not include the Nature of Consciousness/Existence/Limitlessness (to english-ize a sanskrit term sat-cit-ananda. And most certainly the idea that something is created from nothing is not entertained, nor arrived at.

    The conclusion is quite different, and I dont' have the savvy, the grace nor the desire to unfold that teaching in this medium, writing online. We do that in person to person discussions over time.

    I have done videos of short discussions, that may give a taste (Search Citta Chats Karl Erb), or Swami Dayananda's recorded discussions, though some jump in the deep end. Because the method in Vedanta is deep, and requires a teacher like Swami Dayananda trained in the logic, the cognitive understanding, the linguistics, grammar and textual context – I did not seek to unfold the method itself, but rather to propose that most theologies do not offer the only possible views, and certainly not the only possible theories arrive at through reason. I sought rather to say that WHATEVER our view, we live in the same world subject to the same laws of nature, subject to the same wants of security, contentment, and to not be harmed – so can that be a road to shared values, empathy, inclusion? Can that be a road to get us out of this polarizing conflicts at all levels of our society?

    Can we do billboards that are not divisive and move us towards cooperation and shared values?

  20. @karlerbsf says:

    Heh Heh, see my next article, I just sent it in… I address this very thing. No doubt there are many obstacles.

  21. @karlerbsf says:

    PS: Find me a person who does not value security, love, happiness, safety, being treated kindly by others and free from harm. See the Dalai Lama quote. In any group with diverse needs, there will always be a shared value or need. This is where start, with empathy, the ability to listen, not to proselytize.

  22. Timmy Robins says:

    Hi Karl,
    First of all I thank you for taking the time to answer. Second, I thank you for clarifying the main ideas in your post as it took me several readings to kind of get what you were trying to say.

    I’ll start by saying that I totally agree with you about the billboards , there are definitely more constructive and productive…and even reasonable ways they could get their message across… There are so many ways society could benefit from their ideas if , like you said, they would only focus on addressing the problem of religion in politics. If they are promoting reason they should use it more intelligently themselves.

    Now, I dont know anything about Vedanta , I’m somewhat familiarized with Buddhism …not an expert though , I dont know if they share some similarities or not but I think one of the goals of practicing the Bhuddist teachings is to achieve an objective view of the world . An objective view of the world embraces the material nature of reality and includes mind.

    I really like your approach , I think it is reasonable. I also think that any spiritual tradition or spiritual approach that recognizes the fact that there is a material reality and that our senses are the tools that connect our inner world with this outer material reality is
    reasonable….and also compatible with science….on the other hand any spiritual approach or tradition that denies this fails to be in touch with the needs of people and thus causes suffering .

    In my opinion needs are the precursors of values and compasion. How can we feel compasion for others if we dont understand they have the same needs we have….need for love, for security … we have the same values because we have the same needs.

    Like I said before, I think Science and religion can coexist as long as religion doesnt deny reality. Even if the day comes when science can explain in detail the biological origins of consciousness, that in itself wont make it less special just like knowing why plants are green doesnt devaluate the beauty of a forest.

    I’m really looking forward to reading your new story !

  23. […] You know that awkward moment when you and a dear friend realize that you’re on completely opposite sides of an issue? […]

  24. @karlerbsf says:

    See new piece on our essential nature…. our compassionate empathetic nature:

  25. […] An Atheist, a Tea Partier & a Yogi Walk into a Gym. ~ Karl Erb […]