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by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor.  [October 7, 2003]




[]  Atheists Ayn Rand and George Smith were wrong -- God exists! -- announced libertarian sci-fi writer J. Neil Schulman at Los Angeles's Karl Hess Club on September 15, 2003 -- and the Weekly Universe was there!

Schulman bases his startling bombshell announcement on both logic and on his own astounding paranormal experiences -- including what he calls his "Vulcan mind-meld with God"!


* Up From Atheism


Schulman told rapt Karl Hess Club attendees that to understand where he's coming from, he had to describe his background.  "A lot of people become atheists because they dislike their religious upbringing," said Schulman.  "They find it oppressive and authoritarian, and all the things that make us into libertarians.  I didn't have that.  I came from a family in which my grandparents were religious, but my parents weren't.

"I went through a bar mitzvah in the most cynical, materialistic way possible.  I did it because I was told it would please my grandparents, and I would get a big party and a lot of gifts.  It was a strict quid pro quo.  I go through this year of Hebrew school and Hebrew lessons, all of which I despised, and at the end there's a big party and the checkbooks come out.  And the checkbooks did come out, and went into an account which, sometime around when I was eighteen, I blew on a trip to the St. Thomas Virgin Islands.

"The day after my bar mitzvah, I thanked God that I was done with it.  And I was as confirmed in my atheism by my bar mitzvah to appreciate the language there.  It was my confirmation in atheism."


* C. L. Lewis


But Schulman was also an early fan of Christian author C. S. Lewis!  "I maintained a lack of interest in matters theological and Biblical for most of my childhood.  The only break in it was that C.S. Lewis conned me into exposing me to a sort of a Christian cosmology, the Chronicles of Narnia.  I've heard a lot of Christian families talk about how transparent the Chronicles of Narnia was as Christian apologetics.

"Well, coming from a Jewish background, I didn't have a clue.  If I did have a clue, I wouldn't have read them.  I was a complete bigot.  I came from a background in which Christians were something alien and not particularly attractive."

Even so, Schulman admits to later attending monthly meetings of the C.S. Lewis Society and being exposed to "a lot of theistic and theological concepts."


* Robert Heinlein


Libertarian sci-fi scribe Robert Heinlein (author of Starship Troopers, a work embroiled in post 9-11 controversy) put another crack Schulman's atheism when, upon being interviewed by Schulman in 1973, Heinlein called himself an agnostic.  "He said he used the same word as Huxley," said Schulman.  "That he took no position either way.  It was possible, but he did not weight atheism any more than he weighted the possibility of the existence of God.

"That was a more important seed within me, Heinlein's doubt of doubt, than anything Lewis did.  All Lewis did was paint an attractive picture to me of a fantasy universe, which I regarded as a fantasy universe.  It had no metaphysical weight for me, as Ayn Rand had metaphysical weight for me."


* Vulcan Mind-Meld With God


Amazingly, despite his atheism, Schulman revealed that he possesses astonishing clairvoyance!  "I'd always had events in my life which were sort of paranormal," he said.  "I never associated that with theology or religion, [and] I don't know how much they would hold up to scientific scrutiny, but [I've had] foreknowledge of events, where I knew things were gonna happen -- and they did! And it happened frequently enough that I was able to recognize the feeling of foreknowledge, and it became an identifiable something within me."

Even so, Schulman added, "I struggled mightily in my thirties against believing in God.  I did not want to believe in God, because the concept seemed illogical, and illogical was as much of a curse word for me as it was for Spock.  Highly illogical.  That ended it as far as I was concerned."

Schulman's atheistic certitude ended on February 18, 1997, when the most astonishing paranormal experience of his life occurred: his "Vulcan mind-meld with God"!  Schulman was lying in bed, recovering from an illness, when he believes that God, or the "universal consciousness", or whatever one calls it, entered his mind and communed with him!

"For a period of some hours I had some sort of mind-thing happen," said Schulman.  "This incident began around noon with my lying down in bed, but I got up instantly when the mind-meld began, and the entire experience for the rest of the day, into the evening, took place with me out of bed, up and around, going to a meeting with a lawyer, etc.

"A fantasy, a psychotic break with reality, or a mystical experience, depending on how pejorative one wants to be.  But none of this is has any weight for anybody but me.  I cannot offer you objective evidence."



* A Logical Case for God


Because of his "Vulcan" desire for logic, and because he cannot prove his mystical experiences to others, Schulman has conceived of a logical case for the existence of God!

Says Schulman, neither Rand nor Smith (author of Atheism: The Case Against God) even tried to disprove the existence of God!  "Both start with the assumption that the existence of God is a fact not in evidence [which would require a rebuttal].  Their assumption is that you are adding something to existence [with] the concept of God.  They start with, what would be the definition of God and what would satisfy this definition?  Are there contradictions in the definition?  Then they say, having gotten past all of this, we're gonna to take up the question: Is there any evidence to the existence of God?

"[But] I do not see the existence or nonexistence of God as something which should be subjected to proof," said Schulman, "because I start with a different question.  I would say that we start with the question: What is the nature of existence?

"We know certain things about existence which are axiomatic, such as existence exists. But that doesn't tell us what the nature of existence is. Science attempts to draw cosmological pictures.  Stephen Hawking describes a universe as a four dimensional hypersphere with a Big Bang at one end and a Big Crunch at the other end.  Others talk about Steady State, or unbound universes, or bound universes.

"If we start with the axiom that existence exists, why do we assume existence is unconscious, unvolitional, unself-reflective?  Why is it not equally possible that existence is a conscious entity?  That the totality of that which exists is conscious and volitional, able to make choices, has a personality?  And if this were so, I think the word god that us come to us through our mythology is as good a label to stick on the consciousness aspect of existence as anything else. 

"I also don't assume that we are limited to one particular universe in the sense that Hawking would talk about it.  Hawking.talks about time being an aspect that exists only within a closed space-time continuum.  And that outside of it, if you can think of there being an outside, there would not be such a thing as time."

But Schulman believes it's equally plausible to postulate many universes existing as independent bubbles, either simultaneously or consecutively.  "The paradigm which I would put forward is a 50/50 rather than 100/0. And that, that which exists might be also coterminously conscious."

"I am merely talking about a paradigm shift, a different way of viewing something.  It doesn't require evidence because the question of existence leaves us with a mystery.  We know that we exist.  We know that we're conscious.  And we know we live in a communal enough existence that we're able to communicate with each other (unless you're a solipsist)."

"So we know that conscious entities can exist.  Now this is significant, because it's a local phenomenon.  Beings like us exist in one species that we're capable of communicating with at any significant level, and that's our own.  So we have one example.  And it's hard to draw a line from one data point.

"To postulate a second data point, an additional consciousness, we can use different words, but pretty much they all mean the same thing, whether we talk about aliens, or use earlier mythology when we talk about angels or gods.  It all comes down to a being, or beings, other than homo sapiens. 

"I have come to regard mythology almost like institutional knowledge, institutional history.  History is a recent phenomenon, because writing and literacy for our species is only a couple of thousand years old, and our species has been around a lot longer.  There is a long period before history where our only institutional knowledge is our mythology, some of which has been transmitted orally for a long time, then written down.  A lot of our religion seems to be based on this institutional knowledge. 

"And so we have concepts that come down to us from our mythology, such as God, angels, gods, forces.  This doesn't mean that I regard it as being history, because it isn't.  But it's something.  And it's better than nothing.  I think that they should be considered among the explanations that we consider for trying to figure out the universe that we're in."


* Mythology & Morality


But to consider human mythologies does not mean to blindly followany particular book or Scripture.  Said Schulman, "I look at the religious code of Leviticus, and it makes the IRS code seem benevolent and decent by comparison.  This group of religious fanatics, walking around with their God in a box, with this priest craft, with these cockamamie rules, were as close to clinically insane as possible.  They were out of their f*cking minds!"

Schulman also disputes the notion of Hell.  "Eternal punishment is a very human concept.  I don't think that anybody who's actually eternal would come up with an idea of eternal punishment.  It takes somebody who's only been around 50 or 60 years to think of something that dumb. 

"To me, religion is a human approximation of certain experiences, of certain encounters, of some of what you're talking about when you talk about a connecting with some sort of sea of consciousness, whether or not you want to assign personality and volition and self-awareness to this consciousness."

Schulman believes that one can derive a moral code without the Bible, relying on Natural Law.  "I keep hearing from Neocons and the Christian Right that all of our concepts of morality come from the Bible, and that without them we cannot have morality.  I disagree.  Ayn Rand thoroughly disproved that for me, and I still agree with her on this.

"In the same way that C.S. Lewis talks about the universal morality as the tao, and the same way that Ayn Rand talks about morality deriving from the Law of Identity, [I think] that by the nature of what we are, we must act certain ways.

"It is logical to be able to derive the ought from the is.  To be able to derive the should from the identity of what we are.  And that moral code is something we can derive general principles from, and then the specific applications from, in a more or less reasonable way, without reference to religious documents.  I think that it is possible to derive the usefulness of not murdering, and not stealing, and various things like that.


* God the Gamer


Having assumed a logically 50/50 possibility of for the existence of a conscious universe -- whose conscious aspect may be termed "God" -- Schulman speculated on the nature of God's mind -- and His intent for humanity!

Schulman once asked a radio talk show: "If you could talk with God and ask him one question about Himself, what would you ask?"

The host responded that he wouldn't ask God anything.

"This was astonishing to me," said Schulman.  "This person went to religious services on a weekly basis.  I'm thinking, he goes through all this struggle, religiously observant, and he's not even interested in the person he's worshiping?

"What may be different about me is that I was curious about God.  If existence is conscious, what would the personality be?  What would the interests be?  I started playing Einstein-like thought experiments with the idea of a conscious existence, and I came to the conclusion that the first imperative would be to avoid going crazy.

"Just as we have our biological imperatives, a being who's conscious and eternal, job number one is to be interesting enough not to go crazy.  And starting with that, the idea of creation suddenly makes a lot of sense!

"And, of course, that is the introduction we're given to God in Jewish, and later Christian, theology: God the Creator."

But Schulman adds that the Biblical story of Creation drove him "crazy" as an atheist, and still does.  "The concept of creation out of nothingness, creation ex nihila, seems to me to be dumb as shit.  I reject it.  Maybe He was starting with subatomic probabilities, or something like that.  Almost nothing.  But there has to be something, with some sort of nature, to start with.

"If what God creates means a change of form, in the same way that a composer takes notes and rearranges them [into] Beethoven's Ninth, well, harmony existed before.  The potential always existed.  It is the arrangement which is new, which is creation.  Creation in that sense is not making something out of nothing, but taking that which exists and rearranging it.

"That aspect of God the Creator I found potentially interesting.  That God might split off part of existence into closed universes, in the sense that Hawking talks about.  Closed universes sort of like bubbles in a sea of God, in the sea of existence.  I'm using God and existence almost the same way right now, except that I'm using God to mean the conscious aspect of it."

Once God creates a universe, Schulman believes that He would limit his meddling.  "The whole point being for God to create other conscious minds out of his control.  To create bubbles of non-God, with non-God minds inside, might be the ultimate game.

"It's like The Matrix [recently embroiled in an online controversy].  God as a gamer.  Gaming to keep from getting bored and going crazy.  God as the ultimate person who's in it for aesthetics, for companionship, for the shock of the new.  We were created to be independent of God.  He doesn't have to be alone anymore.

"I see this consciousness as not only widely present, but also having a distinct personality and a sense of humor and a very human perspective.  Because I think at this point, the entity has taken on human form to see what it is, and likes it.  And may even consider it more interesting than what he was before.  I think he's now a game player in the sense of that being human was possibly the most interesting thing he ever did.

"It stands pantheism on its head.  The idea that God is everywhere has a limitation.  God is everywhere -- but not here."  Schulman points to his head.  "And what I think happened to me, on February 18, 1997, is that the not-here became here for a while.  It opened up, and I was able to connect with that which is usually not-here, but was there then.  There was a merging of identity, and in a sense my identity was subsumed into the identity of the other for a while."

"Not only does it turn pantheism on its head, it turns existentialism on its head.  Existentialism says that reality exists, and reality sucks.  Life's a bitch and then you die.  How about turning it on its head?  Life's a bitch and then you don't die?  That's interesting. What if after you go through all this shit, you get to do something better?  What if life is kindergarten?  What if it's a test?  What if it's not The All?

"I know what this must sound like to an atheist, because I was an atheist for long time.  It sounds like horseshit.  Useless spinning.  Okay, I'm a science fiction/fantasy writer, that's what I do.  But I take it seriously, because it matches up with my experience.  It matches up with my romanticism and sense of optimism."

Despite his mystical experiences, Schulman concedes that, logically, a conscious aspect to existence is only a 50/50 proposition.  "Is it true?  I don't know.  It's a paradigm.  It describes something which may or may not exist, and it's useful or not.  Any theoretical paradigm is useful or not, depending on what people can do with it.  What I was able to do with it is write a novel [Escape From Heaven], so it was useful to me."

Libertarianism has long drawn a disproportionate number of atheists, and one Karl Hess Club attendee challenged Schulman, stating that his sci-fi writing background predisposed him to a belief in God.

Quoting Wittgenstein, the attendee said, "The universe is not made out of atoms.  The universe is made out of stories," adding, "I think what human beings are trying to do is impose sense on the facts around us, and one of the easiest ways to do that, given our imagination, is weave it into stories.  I think anybody who is a storyteller by persuasion, there is a tendency to impose a story to make events come into something coherent."

Schulman replied that the atheist who denies a conscious universe is also imposing a story.  "Why is it that if I [suggest] that the universe is conscious, it's because I want it to be that way, rather than the atheist who denies it because he doesn't want it to be that way?  Why is there any ontological weight to one rather than the other?

"That we presume [God] only because we want to tell stories, because we have some need for it, excuse me, but that's Freudian horseshit! I'm sick of people coming up to people who think that there is more than that which we observe on a day to day basis, and say, Well you simply have a hunger for a story, a hunger for meaning.

"My response is contemptuous at this point, because of the arrogance of it.  You don't want to believe it, fine.  But understand that we're both standing in the same number one position.  All we know for sure is that we are conscious and we exist.  How we got here is a matter of some speculation and debate.  I have convictions from my experience, which I can't share with anyone, because it was my experience.

"But I refuse to assume that there is something that I have to prove, that there is some weight to the unconscious inanimate universe, rather than the conscious animate universe.  They're equally on the same level playing field.  Don't tell me one side or the other is in a first position, where it gets to define the game, and say the burden of proof is on you.  I find it hubristic for the atheist to assume that their paradigm has the assumption of being in first place."

Another attendee suggested that Occam's Razor (which favors the simplest hypothesis to any problem) grants first position to atheism.

"Occam's Razor cannot slice itself," Schulman replied.  "Occam's Razor says least hypothesis.  But a conscious universe has the same number of elements as an unconscious universe.  Either a universe is conscious or a universe is unconscious.  There's no way to slice that with Occam's Razor."

"I think the most simple solution is unconscious," relied the attendee.

"Wrong," said Schulman.  "All we are asking is what is the nature of existence?  You're acting as if consciousness is an additional element, but it wouldn't be.  If the universe is conscious, then that is its nature.  That is its unity."

Another attendee, defending Schulman, said that because people were "raised to be Darwinians," they carry an "unconscious assumption" that consciousness is only achieved after long effort of evolution, as opposed to something that's simply there or not there.


* God the Libertarian


Another Hess Club attendee asked Schulman why this was relevant to libertarianism?  Schulman replied that his paradigm supports the notion that God too is a libertarian.  "We observe that we are individuals with our own brains.  We may cooperate or force one another, but each of our minds is its own volitional entity.  Now, if we're created by God, then he created us to be individuals. Therefore God is a libertarian."

And in typical libertarian fashion, God expects us to use the minds He gave us.  "Religion and God are two different things," said Schulman.  "I think religion has very little use for God, and God has even less use for religion.  What I'm talking about is not necessarily Scriptural.

"I consider Scripture to be enlightening and useful for teaching, but not binding. Some of the stuff in there is nice, some of it is nasty. Some of it's right, some it's wrong. Some of it's history. Some of it's mythology. Some of it's genealogy. Some of it is politics. We have to use our own minds to figure it out -- and I think that was also the purpose of it."

"To regard it all as equally revealed seems to me lazy. To regard it as insignificant seems to me equally lazy. To regard it as all crap is lazy. To regard it as all infallible is lazy. It's a resource. Maybe one of our most valuable resources. But you gotta think. You gotta study. How much of it applied to a particular time and place, how much of it is universal, how much of it is an encoded computer program? How much of it is Bible Code?

"I think at a certain point you gotta close the book and go back to your own experience of the world. I don't think there is any book, including that one, which can replace our own encounter with the world."

Schulman refutes the notion of an Unknowable God. "That is the first religious concept which I reject, the unknowability and irrationality and ineffability of God. I think that God himself wants us to be able to know Him. And will teach us if we'll simply open our minds."

J. Neil Schulman's September 15 presentation before the Karl Hess Club marked the 79th birthday of his mother!

Mrs. Schulman was feted during the proceedings with a slice of key lime pie -- her favorite!

J. Neil Schulman's sf novels include the Prometheus Award winning The Rainbow Cadenza.  An audio transcript of his Karl Hess Club appearance is available at his publishing company (80 minutes).  On September 20, 2003, he discussed God with Jack Landman on CyberCity Internet Radio (95 minutes).

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