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What’s wrong with Hindu pantheism?

Published: 9 September 2017 (GMT+10)

Chris C. from Greece writes in, wondering how we would respond to Hindu monism/pantheism, also known as ‘Advaita’. CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds with comments interspersed.

8th Century AD Indian philosopher Adi Shakara was the first to properly systematize the pantheistic Advaita tradition in Hinduism.
Do you have any article debunking Hinduism’s monism (Advaita) using LOGICAL arguments?

All I found doing a research was an article about a movie called Avatar and a page from another site which denies monism with the phrase “the Bible says”.

Advaita Hinduism was first really systematized by the 8th century AD Indian philosopher Adi Shankara. Its basic claim is that Atman (roughly equivalent to ‘soul’ or ‘self’) is identical with the all-encompassing, transcendent reality Brahman. As such, Advaita Hinduism is essentially pantheism. Therefore, any refutation of pantheism applies to Advaita Hinduism.

Well, “the Bible says” is not a logical argument.

The logical argument goes like this:

  1. The Bible is inerrant
  2. The Bible rejects Hindu monism
  3. Therefore, Hindu monism is false

It’s a logically valid argument. I would also say that it’s sound; not only does the conclusion follow from the premises, but the premises are true. But the first premise may be very difficult to substantiate in a dialogue between a Christian and non-Christian, so it may not be a very effective apologetic argument (especially by itself). But in a Christian context, the argument will have more purchase, since Christians are far more likely to already be convinced that the Bible is inerrant.

If God is the Absolute and is not created or destroyed, then you agree with Hinduistic monism, against atheists who ask “Who created God”?

Yes, we agree that God is uncreated and indestructible. But we also think that the world is real and really distinct from God. After all, I’m me, not God—I came into being about 35 years ago, but God is eternal. I sin, but God is impeccable. And I’m certainly not all-knowing or all-powerful!

The swan is an important motif in Advaita.

And I know that I exist. Even if I doubt my existence, I have to presuppose my existence in order to doubt it. Therefore, doubting my existence is self-refuting.

Moreover, though God is uncreated and eternal, and thus had no beginning, the universe had a beginning (see Physicists: The universe had a beginning, Did God create time?, Process theism and creatio ex nihilo, If God created the universe, then who created God?, and Doubt your doubts!). Clearly, if the universe had a beginning, it could not be God, since God cannot both have a beginning and have no beginning. Therefore, the universe is not God.

At its heart, pantheism (which Advaita is a variety of) claims that I don’t exist as a distinct entity, but rather I am God, just like everything else is. Advaita reaches this conclusion by pushing the fallibility of sense perception to an unwarranted skeptical extreme—just because I might mistake a rope for a snake in a dark room doesn’t mean that I’m fundamentally misguided about the idea that I’m a distinct being from the rope!

1) But when you talk about a personal masculine god who is angry because the people don’t glorify him, how is this the Absolute?

What is the appropriate response to the Absolute? God is not angry at those who refuse to glorify Him because He’s insecure, but because He knows that the only way for us to truly flourish as human beings is to orient ourselves primarily toward the ultimate good, which is Himself.

And Advaita says Will and Lust exist only in the world of time, space, necessity because Will and Lust are caused. So

2) How the Absolute had the will to create this mortal, decaying, complex, interdependent world, since it was Absolute and Full?

Are will and desire necessarily temporal? God desiring and willing His own goodness neither consumes time nor is intrinsically oriented towards the future; it’s oriented towards how He actually is. As such, God can desire and will His own goodness timelessly, meaning that He can have timeless desires and volitions. Moreover, He could have freely desired and willed to refrain from creating anything in a timeless manner, since God exists timelessly apart from any creation. As such, free will and desire for the timeless God is certainly possible. And if it’s possible, Advaita is thereby refuted. See How does God relate to time? for more information, as well as our resource Christianity for Skeptics.

Helpful Resources

Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
US $17.00
Soft Cover
Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
US $10.00
eReader (.epub)
Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
US $10.00
Kindle (.mobi)

Readers’ comments

Terry W.
"2. The Bible rejects Hindu monism"

While I don't disagree with your logic and premises, and am fairly certain that I could derive from the Bible a rejection of Hindu monism if I were more familiar with it (or on the fly in a long enough discussion where it was brought up and described well enough), there is no specific rejection of Hindu monism in the Bible. Unless you can provide a book chapter:verse reference to one. A better description as to how the Bible rejects Hindu monism (or a link to one) would be quite helpful under these circumstances.

A technical note for M.K.: It looks like your keyboard may have accidentally switched to another language mode (often in Canada, keyboards include Canadian French, which has the exact same effect on apostophes as I see in your comment. It used to drive me nuts and I think I even smashed a keyboard.) To fix it in Windows 7 (and this should provide clues as to how in Windows 10 if you're on that), open Control Panel, in which is "Region and Language" (in category "Clock, Region and Language" if you're using category view in the Control Panel). Once there, go to tab "Keyboard and Languages", click on "Change keyboards..." That has a "Language Bar" tab, which allows you to make it "Docked in the Taskbar". This allows you to change it back to your preferred language in a couple of seconds should it go wandering. I've found no other way to get it there, especially not right-clicking on the Taskbar itself and selecting "Properties" from the context menu. That would make way too much sense.
Shaun Doyle
My intent wasn't to provide a justification for that argument; it was just to show that a logical argument from Scripture against Hindu monism can be constructed. And obviously, I'm not saying there's a specific statement in the Bible I can point to that says "Thus says the LORD, 'Hindu monism is false.'" I'm saying that the depiction of God's relation to the world in Scripture consistently conflicts with Hindu monism. In defence of that, I offer my articles Did God create time? and Process theism.
Hans B.
The premise of the topic is an interesting one.
Perhaps it could be summed up as:
What makes one religion / belief system more valid than another?
The answer is a simple one though complex in totality.
If I were to have a child as a Christian father I would encourage my child, that no matter what they believe, to be certain that proof if its reality is established.
Proof of claims.
Do they actually exist and are manifest in the world round about us?
Scientific claims.
Prophecy claims.
Relationship claims.
Miracle claims.
Morality claims.
Because I know once these proof of claims are investigated all other belief systems besides Christianity are utterly bankrupt and my child will be edified and led to Jesus.
M. K.
This philosophy strikingly reminds me of the serpent in the Book of Genesis, who said we could be like God, or even better than God, and don´t have to obey him. In a certain sense, the serpent´s teaching is that we are our own God.
ken B.
During a major Hindu annual festival in Nepal the sacrifice of goats, buffalo and birds numbers in the tens of thousands. Where did this practice of blood sacrifice originate? To the Hindu it has been in place from 'time immemorial' .ie they don't know when or why it began. However, from God's word we know that the first killing of an animal in Genesis 3 was because of mans sin. Adam and Eve witnessed the first blood sacrifice. Is it any wonder then that the practice has passed down through their descendants generation by generation, across most of the cultures of the world.
The tragedy is that so many people are still unaware of the one prefect, adequate sacrifice of Jesus; the one sacrifice that eliminates the need for any other.

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