Tuesday, February 7, 2006

In Defense of God (He Needs It)

I've stumbled upon another case of serendipity! Recently, I've been thinking a lot about the differences between substance/form and process as it relates to religion and philosophy. Religion seeks to delineate the former, while philosophy is far more concerned with the latter. For me, this goes a long way toward explaining why religions talk of God[s] and philosophies don't.

I'm not the only person thinking about such things. Over at A Musing Taoist, Qalmlea's most recent post discusses the same subject.
Asking me whether Tao exists is equally idiotic. How might I respond? Verbally, I would likely say "Mu." In person, I would probably pick up a glass and drop it on the floor. Or take a match and set a book on fire. Or wave a flag in the air. Or hit the questioner with a stick. If the questioner doesn’t understand, the question was doubly idiotic.
As I'm contemplating Qalmlea's words, I happen to begin reading a new book I recently purchased, The Tao is Silent by Raymond Smullyan. In chapter 3, Smullyan writes,
I might make a similar comment about the Taoists. Since the Taoists make no claim that the Tao exists, it saves them a world of trouble in trying to prove that the Tao exists. This is really Chinese common sense at its highest!

Just compare the sdituation with the history of Western religious thought! Good heavens, the amount of debates, battles, bloodshed and torture over the question of whether God does or does not exist!
You see, God is some sort of entity. It is an entity that people believe they can have an intimate relationship with. Such an entity necessarily has some kind of form, albeit a form we can't readily comprehend.

And this is the precise point where the problem arises. Substance and/or form is the kind of thing that causes people to demand proof of existence. Is it or is it not real?

And, of course, since God is not matter, the question cannot be sufficiently answered. There is no way a human can PROVE God exists. Any person can point to what they believe represent the manifestations of God, but that's not the same thing as proving He, in fact, is real.

As Taoism is a philosophy, not a religion, this kind of question never pops up. While religion is wholly concerned with defining an entity, Taoism is concerned with a process. And, as we all know, a process isn't a substance at all.

For example, a person can't hold photosynthesis in their hands. It is not form or substance. It's the description of a set of ordered circumstances that leads to the workings of green plants. Likewise, the Tao is not a substance, but the process of life. The only way a person could say that Tao doesn't exist is to say that nothing exists. And, as soon as someone came up with that formulation, it would be disproved by the very fact they had created the formulation, in the first place.

In essence, the reality or non-reality of God must be defended, while the reality of Tao (note: Tao itself is a made up word) cannot.

Tao just is.


  1. Indeed. Exactly the reason I becaomse a Taoist. It explained to me the processes around me. And being an engineer involved in process management, it made perfect sense to me.

  2. Yes: Tao just is. But one other point: Tao is both being and non-being. Thus, it is more than the "process of life." It is the "process of life," but it also encompasses non-being. We might then be able to say that Tao both exists and does not exist (which would obviously be rejected by rationalist philosophers).

  3. Sorry, that previous comment was from me: Sam.

  4. Sam,
    Good point. Could we say that Tao is process, not the process of something, but just process itself? The process of being, non-being and everything inbetween?

  5. Why not say it is always both process and substance together and now. Why even make the distinction between "process" and "substance"? Chuang Tzu: "Those who divide things cannot see."


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