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Sunday, Aug 12 2012 11:04 PM

Humans just aren't equipped to answer certain questions

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    Brik McDill

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By BRIK McDILL

"I believe in the incomprehensibility of God." -- Honore de Balzac (1799-1850)

Through time immemorial, the God question has been asked, although it took awhile until human inquiry reached a certain critical mass of sophistication and philosophers and theologians systematically approached it. The framing took its most classic Western form under Thomas Aquinas, a 13th-century Italian Dominican monk, who with others offered these five proofs:

* There must be a first cause.

* There must be an unmoved mover.

* The idea of perfection presumes an all-perfect being.

* The idea of contingency: If God didn't exist, neither would we. We exist, therefore God does, too.

* The idea from teleology: Everything has a purpose. We have intelligent purpose and act toward ends. If intelligent purpose exists, it must start from the original source.

These proofs have been elaborated upon and been the source of devotion, inspiration and controversy ever since.

Why the controversy? Let's look at the human brain itself. What's its purpose? It developed over eons to be a questioning, organizing multineuronal instrument whose function is to arrange all inputs and outputs in the service of individual adaptation and survival. How does the brain do this? It organizes all inputs into meaningful arrangements of, among other things, time, sequence, space, size, shape, patterns, causation, personal meaning, pleasure and comfort seeking, and pain and death avoidance. The most vexing of the brain's thought forms is looking for meaning in existence. And it's that which drives us all toward religion and to postulate that there has to be a God.

But, the God question itself cannot escape these organizing, thinking forms, which leads inquiry to a number of tautological dead ends. Each of the five proofs above and the scores deriving from them have been shown to be impossibly circular, each proof coming from another and leading to the next, then looping back to the first, in a circle without end. The arguments of first cause and unmoved mover don't answer any questions; they just move the question to another point in that circle.

And that's a problem with not just the argument; it's a problem with the way our brains are built. The brain, try as it might, cannot escape these deeply embedded thinking forms (think of them as hard-wired apps). The human mind simply cannot wrap itself around certain ideas like infinite space continuing into a borderless something into which our universe is expanding with exponentially increasing speed. Nor can it wrap itself around the idea of time without beginning or end; or of a multiplicity of universes co-existing simultaneously next to, around and within each other; or that matter doesn't exist at all, but is an artifact of packets of energy bumping crazily around under the mysterious laws of quantum mechanics; that light is both a wave and a particle; that time, matter, space are relative and elastic; that time is reversible and can flow forward and backward (but wait a minute: time is irreversible and like an arrow flies only forward); that a quantum change in one part of the universe has its instant effect on another. (Not even Einstein himself could understand the last one and could only call it "really spooky.")

Can't get your brain around these things? Don't worry, you're in very good company. Your brain cannot figure this stuff out. No one can. While the brain has adaptation and survival apps aplenty, it's as though the brain has no apps for these kinds of puzzles. It's all contrary to the way our brain bundles its information and does its job. Same with the God question.

If we humans did not have certain embedded thinking apps, we would not be able to make even the most rudimentary safety and survival sense of our surroundings, and would have perished long ago, taking our app-deficient brains with us. But we had the apps we needed, and survived the dangers of the day. We survived to pass on our biological selves to our offspring, who survived as well. So here we are, possessors of the most miraculous instrument of adaptation and survival, but which utterly collapses under the complexity of questions it has no apps to process.

No one has any ultimate answers. So let's not get tangled up in questions the mind cannot fathom. Let's just understand, appreciate and celebrate the instrument we have as it is, and seek our own answers where we can find them. And humbly let the God question ultimately answer itself.

Brik McDill, Ph.D., of Tehachapi has spent 40 years in private practice in clinical and forensic psychology.

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