Answering the Skeptics
from Back To Godhead Magazine #24-05, 1989
by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
After I lectured recently to a class of philosophy students, an articulate young man raised his doubts. “I can’t see the difference between what you said and what the atheists say,” he said. “How do you mystics, who maintain the absolute incomprehensibility of the Deity, differ from skeptics and atheists who assert that the first cause is unknown and unintelligible?”
I replied that the Absolute Truth is not absolutely incomprehensible. He is often defined in a negative way, because the nondevotional mentality cannot find Him in the material world, yet He is knowable to some extent through devotional service. Atheists claim that God cannot be known by human beings, and that therefore there is no God. But the theist says that God is so great that He cannot be known by us unless He reveals Himself. And even then we can never know Him in full.
My reply didn’t silence the skeptical student. He said, “I don’t know if you’re aware of what Immanuel Kant had to say about this. He said that all these arguments for the existence of God are illusory. Their defect is that they are attempts to understand or justify the existence of God based on phenomena that we encounter in space and time. But if you give an example within space and time—such as the argument that a creation requires a creator—and then extend it to realities lying beyond these phenomena, then it is contradictory. What do you have to say to that?”
I replied, “The basis of your doubt, or Kant’s, is that the Supreme Being is beyond the grasp of our finite minds. We also say that. But that doesn’t prove Him nonexistent. You must investigate all methods of knowledge before you say that God can never be understood. We Krishna conscious theists respect the natural theistic explanation of God. Yes, the mysterious and complicated nature of the universe does suggest a superior intelligence or designer. But explanations such as this are only partial. The ultimate knowledge of God comes by revelation, through scripture and from persons who are realized in God consciousness.”
Our classroom discussion did not go much beyond this. but later I began to think more about the problems raised by skeptics. It seems that Hume. Kant, and their agnostic successors often reject an idea of God that is really an inadequate one. They seem to think of Him either as a meddler who sometimes makes miracles happen, or as some very, very distant Deity who has no connection with people or the universe. Fortunately, this is not the God we learn of in Krishna consciousness.
As the atheists’ concept of God is defective, so is their idea of knowledge of God. The Supreme Being is not an object that can be studied like an ordinary fact or object. Lord Krishna is called Adhokshaja, “beyond material conception.” He actively resists all attempts to measure Him. Therefore any valid approach to knowledge of Krishna must involve communion with Him. We can’t, for example, understand our next-door neighbor if we treat him only as an object to be studied. So we have to enter into a relationship with Krishna, and then He might allow Himself to be known to us.
One reason the skeptics are so influential is that even the believers are often unclear in their conception of God. For example. God is often presented in a one-sided way. Sometimes a theologian or scripture, while stressing that God is transcendental to the world, doesn’t give us much hope that He is also very much within the world. Another one-sided version of the Deity is that He is all-powerful but without a humanlike compassion for suffering. And still another problem: Some think that if God is personal. He must be a fallible person and therefore not worthy of our worship. Such impersonal speculations can never satisfy a sincerely religious quest. Yet despite secularism and confusion in theism, the conception of God in Krishna consciousness is purnam, complete and satisfying.
Lord Chaitanya’s teachings of acintya-bhedabheda- tattva (God as inconceivably, simultaneously one with and yet different from His creation) is the culmination of centuries of Vaishnava thought. In describing Sri Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Caitanya and His followers draw from the essence of all the Vedic scriptures, especially from Bhagavad-gita and Srimad- Bhagavatam. Thus we learn of the Supreme Personality of Godhead as “two-sided,” or complete. As Maha- Vishnu. He is greater than the greatest and as the Supersoul, He is smaller than the smallest. He is transcendental to the material world and the modes of nature, and yet by His energies (which are nondifferent from Him). He exists within every particle of matter. He also comes to this material world—in the forms of His incarnations and His representatives, who teach the compassionate message of liberation and love of God.
Sri Krishna is a person; yet He is not a person in any limited sense. According to Srimad-Bhagavatam. His personality is neither anthropomorphic nor mythical. He possesses very attractive characteristics that make Him approachable and lovable. Lord Krishna s lovable or intimate nature does not, however, detract from His inconceivable greatness as the source of all the material and spiritual worlds.
Lord Brahma, the most learned person in the universe, partly appreciated the completeness of Krishna in His prayers in the Tenth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam:
You are very affectionate toward Your devotees. But in spite of Your affection for me, I cannot estimate the potency of Your activities. If I cannot estimate the spiritual potency of Your childlike body, then what can I understand about Your transcendental pastimes?
Lord Brahma goes on to say that the inconceivable Supreme Personality of Godhead cannot be understood by any kind of speculation, but only by hearing about Him from authorized scriptures and realized devotees. Srila Jiva Goswami has also informed us that unless we accept the inconceivable potency of God, it is not possible for us to understand Him at all. But anyone who can understand a little about the transcendental pastimes, appearance, and disappearance of the Supreme Lord becomes eligible to enter the kingdom of God after quitting the material body.
As we go on hearing and appreciating the complete nature of the science of God, we also understand better why Srila Prabhupada wanted this knowledge distributed. In an age when God has become mostly irrelevant or the vague Deity of ill- informed believers, descriptions of Lord Krishna, the complete Personality of Godhead, achieve victory for pure theism.