Arguing with modern day atheists usually goes along the familiar lines, mostly we try to demonstrate deficiencies in their world view. There are reasons for that – we can’t preach glory of the Holy Name to the non-believers and preaching has gone out of the fashion anyway. In some countries there are even laws against proselytizing.
If we are going to engage in any kind of interfaith dialogue we also cannot take the stand that our religion is right and everyone else’s is wrong. If we are going to talk to scientists we can’t bring arguments based on faith into discussion either – if we want to prove existence of God scientifically we have to limit our arguments to those based on rational and logical interpretation of empiric evidence.
It doesn’t mean that because scientists do the same thing we will come to the same conclusions. “Life comes from life” is an observation and also a rational and logical prediction. When scientists argue against religions they often point out to the power of scientific predictions because ability to predict is one of the fundamental requirements of scientific method.
Fine, we say that life comes from life and so, just like Darwin who “predicted” that somewhere in Madagascar there must be an insect with a foot long snout to pollinate orchid hiding nectar at the bottom of a foot long spur, we predict that if you see a living organism it must have come from another living thing and not from dead matter. Not very long ago even Christian scientists believed weird things about mice and bedbugs coming from dirty bedding, as far as I remember from school, apparently “life comes from life” is not a part of Christian theology, but they are not very big on philosophy anyway so we shouldn’t be too hard on them.
Modern scientists, however, insist on abiogenetic origin of life on Earth. They know that abiogenesis has never been observed in nature but insist that it worked at least that one time the first living cell was “born” billions years ago. As a scientific theory it sucks and it surely does not display any powers of prediction, and that’s how we can use logical and rational explanation of empiric observation against them. Beat them on their own turf, so to speak.
There’s one little downside to this approach, though, or maybe it’s not little and maybe there are other side effects lurking in the background, too.
When we accept their rules, or rather try to argue with them within their self imposed limitations, we have to admit that there is no empirical evidence of God’s existence. This is a big, big concession and we don’t usually think of its implications.
Reason for this, of course, is that it’s true – in modern day and age we cannot see not only God but we are also cut off from other “supernatural” phenomena like communicating with demigods or exercising yogic powers. Even ghosts, who are all around us, can’t get through anymore.
It was only a few thousand years ago when appearance of demigods at sacrificial arenas was considered the proof of a successful sacrifice, now we have a hard time using success of a sacrifice to prove that demigods exist. Back then material success was expected and demigods personal entrance was an icing on the cake, now sacrifices are a hit and miss and even in India people are losing their faith in them very quickly. They study western formulas for success instead and rely on western medicine rather than prayers and oblations.
What can we say about it? It’s Kali Yuga, and the last two-three hundred of it that has been reliably recorded is the only thing that modern science knows. They assume that if something hasn’t happened in the recent past (and two-three hundred years is nothing even in their estimation of human history) it couldn’t have happened before and it’s not going to happen in the future.
This is not very logical and creationists attack them for assuming that certain physical constants are actually constants but we need to take it even further, to the area that even Christians would not approve, because Christianity severed connection between nature and divinity right from the start. In their view the world is corrupted and therefore ungodly and so there could not be any other powers running it apart from God himself. They still believe in angels, though, so that’s not very logical either.
I’m afraid we have to concede that we can’t prove existence of demigods anymore and this closes the door on the ascending process of finding Kṛṣṇa – the way Gopa Kumāra looked for Him in Bṛhad Bhagavatāmṛta. This is also the way Kṛṣṇa’s supremacy is gradually established in Śrimad Bhāgavatam – by having all kinds of exalted personalities offer prayers to Viṣṇu and then putting Kṛṣṇa even above Him.
There is also a process for testing avatāras often described by Śrila Prabhupāda, though most of the time it was meant to discredit self-appointed gods. Real God must possess all opulences, display features like omnipotence or omniscience, His body must be forever youthful and so on. Needless to say, this method not useful in debates with scientists. We can only say that both Kṛṣṇa and Lord Caitanya passed the muster but scientists would require a “peer review” that is unavailable now. It was available in Kṛṣṇa’s time, however, because there were enough qualified personalities to approach the Lord and “run the tests”, so to speak.
So, if we discuss the nature of God with scientifically minded persons we have to concede that the world is completely separated from the Lord. We have to concede that it is run strictly by the laws of nature and has no visible connection to supernatural God whatsoever. This is a generally correct description of the world but it’s only partially true because the Supersoul, Lord Hari, is still present within every atom and in the heart of every living entity and He is always in complete control of the observable material energy.
Leaving God out of it is a relatively small loss, though, because the Lord is absolutely independent in this respect and therefore unreliable anyway. Even if He was messing with the world all the time and breaking the laws of nature on every step we still couldn’t predict when and where it was going to happen and He could intentionally avoid being detected every time scientists set up an experiment to catch Him in the act.
Reality is that He might control the world but we can’t call Him witness anymore and it’s not because He is cruel and actually unreliable, it’s that we are not qualified to call Him witness. It’s an indictment against us rather than against Him
This might make our preaching more difficult but it’s the inconvenience we should be ready to accept in return for the opportunity itself, opportunity to preach in the mission of Lord Caitanya.
It would have been so much easier if we, like Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja, could cite Lord Caitanya’s behavior as proof of His divinity, how His body and His limbs would sometimes stretch to almost three meters (five-six cubits, one cubit is a distance between the elbow and the tip of the middle finger), or how His limbs would sometimes retract into His body making Him look like a turtle. This would have been impossible according to modern science but because He was God it was observable at the time.
So we have to hold our tongues back when talking about Mahāprabhu in public, we have to present Him as a “saint” or as a “reformer” and say things like “it is believed that..” Same goes for Kṛṣṇa Himself.
Not a big deal and I hope it won’t stop us from achieving our preaching goals. It shouldn’t make any difference because no matter what we say out loud, people are converted into devotees from the inside and in this Kṛṣṇa never fails even when He stays completely undetected and invisible. He is always with us, we are not Arjuna and so we might lose our little Kurukṣetras but we will still win the war