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Certainty of faith in a deity beggars belief

30 January 2016 216 views No Comment

‘Mind Beyond Matter

By Gavin Rowland
Burdock Books, 349pp, $30

As a devout atheist I’ve always been puzzled about why people believe in God. At the same time many of my God-believing friends are equally puzzled that I don’t believe in a deity that influences personal lives and world events.

I’ve never been at all clear about the notion of God, and in ‘Mind Beyond Matter’ clarity is not Gavin Rowland’s strong point either, with his writing style tending towards the opaque. But perhaps this lack of clear expression is not all that surprising in a book subtitled ‘How the Non-Material Self Can Explain the Phenomenon of Consciousness and Complete Our Understanding of Reality.. What a mouthful!

‘Mind Beyond Matter’ especially concentrates on what is sometimes termed “the cosmology of consciousness and explores what the author regards as the differences between brain and mind, matter and energy.

In particular, he deals with all that is non-material in human and other existence. As I ploughed through Rowland’s often confusing exegesis (which occasionally borders on diatribe) about mind and reality, science and psychology, and religion and science, I was reminded of two books I highlighted to my students when, believe it or not, I taught a course in biblical studies at a high school in Melbourne. The first book was ‘Freedom and the Spirit’ by Nikolai Berdyaev, the Russian existentialist philosopher, theologian, biographer of Dostoevsky and friend of Lenin. The second was ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature’ by the American psychologist and philosopher William James.

As it happens, while Rowland extensively cites and quotes the latter in his book, Berdyaev doesn’t rate a mention. Too opaque, perhaps.

In a revealing section of Rowland’s book, ­titled “Is God in Charge of Everything?, he writes quite sensibly: “Of course, since the very foundation of scientific reasoning is based on the interpretation of evidence, one should not be surprised that many of our scientists have become prejudiced against the leap of faith required to propose a spiritual or non-material aspect to reality.

Well past the middle of ‘Mind Beyond Matter’, Rowland states that “God may not be omnipotent, and therefore not have a divine plan set out in every detail (including our every supposedly free action) for all eternity.

But at the very end of the book Rowland summarises his argument thus: “God may not have complete mastery over every outcome … Rogue influences outside God’s control may at times knock the course of events off target.

He concludes: “In terms of God’s global aims, however, such as demonstrating the true nature of reality to humanity and the creation of a better world on Earth, the outcome is never in doubt.

To sceptics like myself, such certainty beggars belief. But in reading books of the ilk of ‘Mind Beyond Matter’, a considerable suspension of disbelief is required.

So, in such a spirit, we might concede that for the likes of Rowland (a mental health specialist), Albert Einstein might have been right on the money when he wrote: “Not everything that counts can be counted. Not everything that can be counted counts.

In the light of the above, even atheists and agnostics might find something to savour in ‘Mind Beyond Matter’, which is usefully indexed and contains 35 pages of endnotes and references, many of them unusual and arcane — at least to this writer’s rational-empirical, humanist mind.

Ross Fitzgerald is the author of 38 books, including his memoir ‘My Name is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey.’

The Weekend Australian, January 30 – 31, 2016, review, Books, p 22.

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