A material materialist says: I see this, I see that, I measure this, I measure that, I pontificate about this, I pontificate about that, and never stops for a moment to ask herself: "Who is the 'I' that is doing all this seeing and measuring and pontificating?"
This doesn't mean that there aren't material materialists who are extremely introspective. Many material materialists are Freudians or belong to other schools of Freudian related thinking. They look in at their mental life rather than out at the physical world around them. They say: I feel this, I think that, I react this way, I react that way, and what I am is a diagnosis. They look in but not far enough. They never ask themselves who is it that is doing all this thinking and feeling and reacting. Who is it that has this diagnosis? If they could answer that question they would be well on their way to real mental health for themselves and their patients, because the mind is only a tool of the self and you cannot mend and clean and sharpen your tools if you don't realize that they are tools. If you think that what you are is merely a particular set and arrangement of tools, then you have no place to go to from which you can mend and clean and rearrange them. When you realize that you are not your tools, but the self, which is wondrous before it ever even uses any tools; that the tools are not you, but are there for you, to help you define and organize and facilitate your experience in this world; that the tools may be in need of repair but you, the perfect self, are not; then you can calmly begin to go about the task of repairing and cleaning and reorganizing them.
It also does not mean that there aren't material materialists who are extremely intelligent biologists. Many material materialists are Darwinians or belong to schools of Darwinian related thinking. Thanks to modern methods of optics and sophisticated means of measurement, these biologists are able to describe the workings of living bodies in staggering detail; to unfold previously unseen worlds of unfathomable precision and complexity. Yet they never ask: who is using all this fabulous equipment? Who is the beneficiary of all this mental and physical and optical and auditory and metabolic and genetic and homeostatic machinery? If they could answer that question, then their understanding about why we have all this equipment and how all this equipment came to be here, would change dramatically (hint: it would have nothing to do with Darwin).
It also doesn't mean that there aren't material materialists who are extremely compassionate. Many material materialists are Marxists or belong to schools of Marxist thought. They believe that what we are is what we have and they are plagued at the thought that so many have so little and so few have so much. They try by persuasion and sometimes by force to impose a more equitable distribution of material goods so that people have roughly the same amount. Yet no matter how hard they try, how well meaning they are, when someone is forced, against their will, into a position of sharing, they will resent it. To control these resentful people a harsh and punitive system of order must be set up. This system does nothing but fuel the fires of resentment and eventually the resentful ones will find a way to rerig the system, no matter how the system is set up, so that they will once again manage to have an inordinate proportion of things and deprive others of their fair share. If these people would understand who they are and who other people are, they would have a deeply founded respect for all life, human and otherwise, and would live out an equitable system that was not imposed but came naturally from within, based on mutual respect and understanding of the fascinating ways in which we are all different and the transcendent way in which we are all exactly the same.
Then there are material spiritualists. A material spiritualist is like a professional baseball player who, early in his career, hits a grand slam home run. This was the most thrilling, ecstatic moment of his life. So he asks himself, "What did I do that caused me to have that amazing experience?" He remembers that he had gone to bed early the night before and that he had attended batting practice every day the previous week. So he resolves that in the future he will always go to bed early before a big game and try to never miss a batting practice. He also remembers that on that big day he wore briefs instead of boxer shorts and that he had a large breakfast of four fried eggs and four strips of bacon. So, every game day, for the rest of his professional career, and every day, when his career was over, that he wanted something really special to happen to him, he wore briefs and ate four fried eggs and four strips of bacon. Although he never hit another grand slam home run, he did have a successful professional career, but he always wondered why he was plagued with persistent jock itch. And he did not have time to wonder why he died before he was fifty years old from a sudden heart attack.
What Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and other professional atheists fail to realize is that the religions that they rail against are not based on superstition. They may be surrounded by superstition, by rituals and archaic admonitions, but they are based on, centered on, a deeply profound experience. Just like the ball player who tries to recapture his experience by ritualizing the trappings of it, some of those rituals being helpful and some of them not, religionists have tried to legislate the trappings of spiritual experience thinking that that would guarantee their recurrence. But just like the ball player, your ability to hit another home run or to have another profound spiritual experience does not depend on the breakfast you ate, or the underwear you are wearing or the church, or the mosque or the synagogue that you happened to be sitting in when you had your first experience. Spiritual experience can happen at any moment and in any location. The Divine transcends time and space. The Divine is always within you and without you. The more you ritualize the experience, the more you limit yourself from having another one, because you feel that either you have broken a rule which makes you unworthy of having a spiritual experience or that the setting is not exactly right for this to occur. These ideas just blind you to the fact that the Divine is right here at this very moment; allowing you to do whatever it is that you want to do, allowing you to perceive whatever it is that you want to perceive, and allowing you to feel your connection to the Divine the moment you are willing to temporarily put aside your material desires, no matter where you are, and settle in on the self, which is the gateway to the Divine. (If there are any material materialists who are still reading this post, please send me a comment and explain to me how you are instantly able to do whatever it is that you want to do at every moment of your waking existence; how your desires are instantly translated into incalculable and unfathomably precise cascades of molecules and electrical charges that allow you to do and say exactly what it is that you want to do and say, without Divine assistance. And don't tell me that we just haven't found the answer yet. Material materialists haven't even started looking, because this process begins with a desire, which is not an observable phenomena. Material materialists never consider unobservable phenomena so they never get to the origin of anything.)
Do you really think that these major religions would last for thousands of years; that anything would last for thousands of years, if it didn't deliver a profound experience? Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and their ilk have obviously never experienced this experience, so they shout themselves hoarse and use, what they think, is the greatest, most passionate, eloquent oratory, to rescue people from their religions. What these three cannot grasp is that the people that they are admonishing have had and are having an experience which is not in the realm of their admonisher's understanding. So they rail on, but to no avail. Their words have absolutely no effect. All that religious people hear when they listen to these harangues is anger, arrogance and a sense of superiority. It is this sense of superiority, superiority over the unwashed masses that don't share their materialist beliefs, that is so especially unappealing to any religious person, or any person who has had any spiritual experience at all. No one wants to trade in the love and connection that they have felt for a higher power and shared with their fellow believers, for the isolating superiority and arrogance, based on a myopic misunderstanding of the powers of Darwinian evolution, that these three exhibit.
Spiritual spiritualists, or mystics, are people that realize that who they are is consciousness; that although each being experiences the world through a body that is physically, chemically, genetically and organizationally unique, the consciousness that is experiencing the world through your body/mind and the consciousness that is experiencing the world through my body/mind and the consciousness that is experiencing the world through your pet's body/mind is exactly the same consciousness; the same consciousness having very different sets of experiences. And God, the Cosmic Consciousness, the Infinite, the Atman, is consciousness not bound to a particular body/mind. The Cosmic Consciousness transcends time and space and occupies every nook and cranny of this universe. It is closer than our breath and further than the reach of our most sophisticated telescopes and measuring devices.
Our minds and bodies are organized to allow us to pursue and fulfill desires; whether these desires be selfish or altruistic, emotional or intellectual, driven by biological needs or driven by passions that we have brought with us to this life time from past experience. The desire to pursue desires, to live a dramatic life filled with the pain of frustration and the joy of satisfaction, is why we choose to be born.
Why would anyone do this? Why would we choose to leave the Infinite world of boundless love, unlimited intelligence and unity, for a limited life focussed on the pursuit of a particular set of desires? For the same reason that we make any choice. Whatever choice you make eliminates all the other choices you could have made; and that choice becomes the context of all the experiences that you will have within a certain period of time. Let's say you decide to go to XU instead of X State. At that point in time, as a high school senior, all you know of XU or XState are things you've read about in brochures or what you experienced on a brief campus visit. But once you choose to go to XU, then XU becomes the context of most of the experiences you will have for the next four years. Most of your relationships will be with fellow XU students. Most of your mentors will be XU professors or graduate students. Most of your food will come from XU dining facilities, etc. XU will be the source of most of the emotional issues that you will deal with, most of the intellectual issues that you will ponder and most of the physical experiences, pleasurable and painful, that you will have for the next four years. Going to XU means that during that time that you will not attend any other university in the universe, that you will not be in the army, travel abroad, work at MacDonalds, or any other possibility. The only way that you could keep all your options open would be by doing absolutely nothing and not realizing any of them.
Here's one more example. Let's say you choose to go to a movie. Now once you are actually in the movie you have chosen to enter the imaginary world of that movie and leave your own reality completely behind. So the movie theater is dark and the screen is lit. This allows you to put all your focus on the screen and not on what is going on in the audience. Every time you are reminded that you are a member of an audience watching a movie; every time someone crinkles a cellophane candy wrapper, or makes a loud comment, or gets up to walk past you, this is an annoying distraction; annoying because it distracts you from the imaginary reality that you were involved in. If you are too distracted throughout the movie, say because the words and the picture are slightly out of sync, or there is continual noise coming from outside the theater, or you have a persistent backache or headache, or any thing at all that continues to remind you that the imaginary world of the movie that you are watching is not real, that you are really in a theater, that you are really not just a consciousness, but a consciousness with a body that has aches and pains and a life that has worries and obligations, all of these distractions make it impossible to fully enter into the imaginary world of the movie and experience the highs and lows of it, the frustrations and satisfactions that the actors and the director and the script writer had hoped that you would experience.
We have this amazing ability to get so completely involved and focussed on the moment at hand that we literally, at that moment, forget everything else that we know about the past and the future. There are people in my family who have seen the same movie ten times. If you asked them they could tell you almost every line of that movie, every plot point, every detail of how it begins and how it ends. But when they are watching it, even for the eleventh time, they get so involved in the present moment that the "unexpected' plot twist hits them with the same emotional impact that it did the first time. And they would have it no other way. If I distracted them while they were watching their favorite movie for the eleventh time they would be just as annoyed as they would have been if I had distracted them when they were watching it for the first time. They choose to shut out everything else so that they can get more fully and dramatically involved in that movie. And this is precisely what life, and choosing to be born, is all about. To experience the wonder, the curiosity, the freshness and excitement of life, we choose to separate ourselves from everything else that we know. Learning is a process of gradually gaining access to some of the knowledge that we already knew and chose to forget.
Also, for the mystic, the material world is there, but it has no ultimate physical reality. It has consistency; it has laws that we can and do discover; but matter is ultimately illusory; an illusion that we (the unitary consciousness, the cosmic consciousness) have agreed to create and share. (Please see post: PARTICLE FEVER).
The Intelligent Design movement focusses on the origin of life and the macroevolutionary changes that have occurred and are clearly represented in the fossil record. They explore with enormous dilligence and intelligence how all the common scientific explanations of origin and macroevolutionary change, especially neo-Darwinism and its off shoots, do not come anywhere close to a satisfactory explanation because these things originate in either intelligence, but an intelligence that is beyond our comprehension, or some other unobservable cause. So Intelligent Design defines itself as a branch of historical science which focusses on the fossil record of past organisms and the study of the mechanics of present organisms to deduce what kind of cause would have the power to create the bewildering level of complexity and synchronicity in organisms, including bacterial organisms that were there at the very inception of life, that we are able to observe.
Intelligent designers, at least some of them, are cognizant of contemporary mysteries of life as well. In Darwin's Doubt, Stephen C. Meyer says the following,"At present no one has any idea how our thoughts-the decisions and choices that occur in our conscious minds-affect our material brains, nerves, and muscles, going on to instantiate our will in the material world of objects. However, we know that is exactly what our thoughts do. We have no mechanistic explanation for the mystery of consciousness, nor what is called the 'mind-body problem'-the enigma of how thought affects the material state of our brains, bodies, and the world that we affect with them. Yet there is no doubt that we can-as the result of events in our conscious minds called decisions or choices-'will into existence' information-rich arrangements of matter or otherwise affect material states in the world."
Yes, not just the materialization of thoughts and decisions, but our intentions at each moment, whether they produce a real world artifact or just our moment to moment behavior, is utterly mysterious. And the corrolary to that mystery, is the mystery of perception. How do we translate patterns of electrical signals, whatever those patterns and algorithms are, into the actual experience of seeing and smelling and tasting and remembering? Those patterns may be located in different parts of the brain, but what does that explain really? If anything it makes it even more mysterious. Why would a pattern of electrons, the same electrons, located in one area, lead to a visualization while another pattern of electrons, the same electrons, lead to the recalling of a memory or the taste sensations of a delicious meal?
If intelligent design would expand its area of inquiry beyond past occurrences (origin of life and macroevolutionary change) and into the contemporary and ever present mysteries of the instantiation of intention into behavior and human creation and the translation of electronic brain patterns into our actual experience; then the argument about the essential mysterious and awesome nature of life would not only center around the way that historical events may or may not have happened, but also around the most contemporaneous questions, such as "How am I managing to write these words?" and "How are you managing to read them?" How would a pompous neo-Darwinist, who has supposedly figured everything out about life, explain to an interrogator how he is able to articulate the thoughts that, thanks to cascades of many millions of molecules and chemical interactions that he personally did not put into motion, are now pouring out of his mouth?
To these material materialists who ask, "What is there left for God to do?" I would love to respond with, "Nothing but make possible for you to experience your moment to moment existence."
Again, I welcome your comments.