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What’s wrong with Hindu pantheism?

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.

Published: 9 September 2017

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