I seldom publically acknowledge my atheism, as I have always felt that what a person believes in, or doesn’t believe in, is his or her own business. Everyone has the right to believe that which they need to get by day to day – just another choice we’re faced with these days. While I tend to be more vocal on choices like Coke over Pepsi, or liberals over conservatives, I remain a “silent atheist,” one who sees no reason to wave my lack of belief in the face of others as the “bully atheists” do. However, when my mind and heart make an informed choice to believe something, I resent being lumped in with the aforementioned “bully atheists.”
Deepak Chopra – who until today I’d always dismissed as the touchy-feely Guru to the Stars, who’d pen a number of “how to fix your life” books that supply endless fodder for daily Facebook affirmations; the mystic version of the Wayne Dwyers, the Tony Robbins and others on the Rah-Rah-Rah-Babble lecture circuit speaking to the nation of frightened dullards, who somewhere along the way lost their owners manual – today, offered “atheists” a million dollars to explain how a thought is formed. That is just the dollar amount that gets me to shrug off my “secular humanist” bathrobe and climb into the ring.
Now, I have no idea what response Chopra will receive from the atheist community he named in his challenge/publicity stunt – Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and . . . (seriously?) the Amazing Randi (James Randi should be bending spoons on daytime talk shows, but I digress) – I know how I’d respond to that question, but first let me speak to a couple of points that I was unaware of. First and foremost, I was surprised to learn that Chopra was a medical doctor. For me, he’d existed in that pop culture recycle bin right beside Dr. Phil and Dr Laura, but “physician” is listed (last) on his resume. I have to be careful in my wording – that this is merely how I see things, for when the Journal of the American Medical Association criticized Chopra, they were sued for defamation (the case was ultimately dismissed). It’s been my experience that Western medicine has a great respect for the healing power of the mind, as well as belief that a patient’s faith can do wonders. Dr. Chopra’s alternative approach to healing must keep him in a constant state of conflict. The power of the mind vs. the power of God vs. the power of man – must a difficult position for the “Dhanvantari of Heaven and Earth.”
I was also unaware that Chopra left a career in neuroendocrinology, seduced by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – yes, the same guy who invited The Beatles to India – and the transcendental meditation movement, to pursue Ayurvedic medicine – a traditional Hindu medicine that incorporates mind and body in an alternative approach to healing with the power of the mind – leading to countless new age clinics, celebrity patients, and a $80 million net worth. It paints an image akin to Christian Science, Scientology, or good ol’ snake oil salesmen of days past that milked the human need for meaning and spirit in their lives, or as Robert Todd Carroll put it, “a false hope based on an unscientific imagination steeped in mysticism and cheerily dispensed gibberish.” This is last person I would expect to issue challenges to the atheist community. I’m willing to bet that 51% of evangelicals think that Chopra’s a yoga instructor, but I suppose they need all the help they can get.
Better minds than mine or Chopra’s have long pondered the origin of thought. In the 4th century, Hippocrates (the father of medicine) taught that the brain was the seat of man’s intelligence – he was a Pagan, by the way. It was not until the progression of Christianity that theory began to change. While I feel this would best be addressed by neurologists rather than atheists, who would only ever be able to provide a lay man’s perspective; as a writer I can assure Dr. Chopra that the origin of my thoughts come solely from my mind, triggered by experience, memory, senses – and talent; not by any divine (from the Latin Divus meaning “godlike”) inspiration. If there is any “divinity” it stems from the shared experience of being human. Throughout the history of man, words – from Jesus to Gandhi to Bukowski – have been equally inspired. Dr. Chopra once said, “The conscious creates reality.” Cum hoc, ergo propter hoc. If God is real, then ergo God was created by the human conscious. How divine.
So here’s the science, from a simple lay mans point of view. The process is far from simple – and farther from a simple understanding – however, neurologists, biologists, physicians, and psychologists have amassed decades of comprehensive evidence that the physical brain is the producer of intelligence, creative thought, willpower and moral thinking. It becomes basic cause and effect; a physical event in the brain starts with the firing of neurons, as sensory input and neurotransmitters combine to produce cognition, sensation, and awareness. Neurological research has shown us that we no longer have need of ethereal concepts to explain what happens – the implication that thought comes from the “soul” is rejected – as the thought process is determined entirely by physical activity, and is not spiritual, in nature.
As Victor J. Stenger pointed out in God, the Failed Hypothesis (2007), “It’s not just that physical processes in the brain take part in thinking, they seem to be responsible for the deepest thoughts that are supposed to be the province of spirit rather than matter.” This cannot be called “shoddy science,” Dr. Chopra.
For someone who argues that one’s mind, body, and consciousness are inextricably woven into a single process, Chopra already knows the origin of thought and is merely poking the bee hive. Can I show the origin of thought? I believe I have and have the medical community to back me up. So, unless you can prove there is a God and prove me wrong, we’ll both have to wait until we check out of this cheap motel called life. . .but until then, I think you owe me a million bucks, Doc.
Feel free to drop me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll provide the mailing address to send the check.