DF 45 - Darwin, Dawkins, Delusions & for good measure, Infinity
I started writing this letter back in February when I was enjoying a break in Portugal. I made a few notes that had some potential in the category mildly interesting, but something was holding me back. Could it have been the fresh air and daily walks along the empty Algarvean beach - where I regularly get lost in contemplation - or could it have been my epiphany?
For the delay and the epiphany I credit Professor Richard Dawkins (D) - the fundamental scientist - and his crusade against all religion, in which he waves the flag for Darwin. Did I say waves the flag? It's more than that; he has drawn a sword, lit a fuse and poisoned the chalice in a dissertation of such conviction that it is almost impossible to understand how anyone could be brave enough to believe in anything other that the logic of this very clever man.
How do you argue logically against Natural Selection in favour of Intelligent Design - or Creationism as it was so unfashionably known last week? Many do, but D gleefully shreds them to pieces in his new book The God Delusion.
So I won't try, because I believe that D is missing the point.
If logic is the system - or principles - of reasoning, applicable to a branch of knowledge or study, then you would reasonably expect the logician to lay out all the ingredients before working on his thesis. Wanting a result, D carefully selected his weapons to fight the concept of God as represented by the great religions. Because of this, great lumps are missing from his armoury. He is so enraptured by The Science Delusion that he has failed to challenge the essence of belief or love, even though it seems to support the science he loves and believes in so much. So, I wonder why he hasn't attempted to bring the human spirit itself into his arbitrary debate.
D is concerned merely with the supremacy of Science over Religion. He applies death by a thousand cuts to the latter but is too far-sighted to see the truth around him; so close it must hurt like a swarm of bees, because it won't go away, no matter how frantically he waves his stick.
I know as well as anything can be known that the Human Spirit exists, because I've got one - so has D - and it might as well, for the sake of argument, be called God.
So, if you don't mind, I'd like to deal - on his terms - with the missing elements from D's rant.
Charles Darwin's explanations regarding the evolutionary process seem to be perfectly reasonable for the time being, so why not see how they work in Richard Dawkins' memetic world; memes, he suggests, can define the other side of things; the other side being those bits not easily explained by physical self-selection, or survival of the fittest if you prefer; Mother Nature - red in tooth and claw.
D asserts - with the confidence of an evangelist - there's not enough evidence to support the idea of God. Anyone who does - he says dismissively - is a fool!
Professor Richard Dawkins refers to Flatland - another epiphany for me - but only to illustrate the world as envisaged by the unenlightened. He pointedly fails to grab the opportunity to show Abbott's great titillation.
Edwin Abbott Abbott - to give him his full name - was a good teacher. In his book Flatland (1884) he showed us that sometimes we don't see things as they are, because extra dimensional objects (or concepts) are beyond our comprehension. In order to recognise a sphere for what it is in Flatland - a perceived and sainted circle in a two dimensional world - we have to jiggle it up and down a bit to create some perspective. I'd say that both religion and science need a bit of jiggling right now.
Dawkins spends an awfully long time attacking religious extremists. Devoting lengthy, well-supported - but unnecessary - passages refuting the evidence of those Christians who are convinced the world is only 6,000 years old. It's hard to see that bubble as anything other than the antithesis of fundamental scientists or theoretical physicists, who have determined that there was nothing before the big bang. Both ideas seem to be extremely unlikely, and - because of their limitations - in total contradiction of my Theory of Infinity.
At school one day when I was eight years old I heard the word Infinity. It was hard for me to grasp such an abstract concept, as I lived in a clearly defined world where everything had a beginning and an end. However the word - infinity - was challenging, so I thought it through, lying in bed one summer's evening. My room was bounded by walls, ceiling and floor, but there was a window and a door. That's where it started; I flew out of the window past the surprised demons that were always tapping on the panes. The street had an end, but shared it with the beginning of another; all the roads led somewhere, except for the blind alleys.
Ah, we're an island I thought, that's where it stops; England - as I knew it then, ended at the coast. But what lies across the ocean? Alright let's admit we live on a planet and that's it. But you only have to look up - or is it down? No, it's out; you only have to look out to see the galaxy through which we hurtle. And beyond that a universe yet undiscovered. So I grabbed a good supply of familiar materials and built a fine brick wall around the universe, way beyond anything then known, and fell into a contented sleep, knowing that all things ended somewhere and whoever thought up the foolish notion of infinity was obviously an irresponsible romantic.
It can't have been long before I sat bolt upright in a terrible sweat. What's behind the bricks? What lies behind my universal wall? More bricks!! More bricks!! A squillion more bricks!!!!!???
That was my last attempt at holding it all together before I surrendered to Infinity.
Infinity = Universe (all known things) x Abbottsphere (Other Dimensions - physical and metaphysical - that we can't imagine, but about which some of us are free to think).
So, I = (U x A), as an equation it's not very scientific - or godly - but serves its purpose for the time being.
Because of the glaring contradictions that encourage rational thinkers to distance themselves from the needs and benefits of a conventional spiritual club, and in complete support of D, I would say Big Religion is a tempting and deserving target for analysis. But - if he has his way - what's to become of the poor lost souls and spirits that would be deprived of their structure by that little devil Dawkins, as he destroys their very foundations with a mighty bolt from Mount Pythagoras? The towers would tilt with the burden of their cant, and then collapse under their own weight. As a defence mechanism against D, maybe the great Religions should bite the progressive bullet, and test our faith a little less, whilst feeding our souls a healthier diet. In other words, evolve or die - as they say in Darwinian circles - or Heaven might turn out to be a dead end, and Paradise a walled garden.
Using science and dodgy logic Dawkins is pulling hard against the extremes of Religion; so hard that the fabric of belief - joining him and his target - has been stretched to a point where there is a little light to be seen through the thinning material - the flaws are showing.
Whether God created the Universe within recent memory, or when scientific evidence suggests, is really only a matter of opinion. The opinions differ amongst theologians and adherents to the various creeds. Different religions have different perspectives and because the truth is as bent as light I am keen - as ever - to explore it.
What have I got to say that's different to anything that's been said before?
Probably nothing, but - important to me - it's a thing called balance:
I don't have science on my side, although in the chaotic laboratory of quantum theory it may be that I am as qualified as anyone else. Before I carry on - I'll keep it brief - I'm going to lay out some relevant credentials so you can see where I'm coming from. It wasn't until I wrote them down that I discovered some unusual balances in my life that have given me a fair perch and non-partisan view of the battlefield, where God and Dawkins struggle for supremacy.
I grew up in London during the worst of the recent (sic) troubles in Northern Ireland, so became used to - but never complacent about - the two Christian sides blowing the bejaysus out of each other - I used to call it Godswallop.
My father was from Govan in Glasgow, politically left wing and the union shop steward at his factory in Hounslow. My mother was a moderate right winger from a family of Victorian conservatives, a school teacher. Each was a classic product of their environment and I loved them both. The occasional political debates were always the same. They resulted in frustration, and suppressed anger when supremacy was denied. A cold atmosphere descended on our home and impasse was tacitly agreed - until the next time.
The opposing ideologies were much more clearly defined than today in modern Britain, and so it was easy to understand the passion behind the arguments. As a child it was difficult for me to see my parents at odds over their ingrained beliefs, the origins of which were almost forgotten; I wanted them to agree on everything. However I was fascinated and listened carefully to the cut and thrust; from where I stood it seemed that they came out equal, but I realised later that equality was a desired result, and so my judgement was tainted; or was it? Could this have been God's way of bringing us together or was it part of an evolutionary process? Religion and Science were the only two options and they were mutually exclusive. There was no intertwining, no helical process. Dawkins' memes were not behaving - yet - like genes.
We lived on a council estate - subsidised housing provided for the working and lower middle classes. Such terms were much more dignified and unifying than being simply poor. And yet my mother somehow managed to scrape together enough money to pay the school fees for me to attend Hounslow College - so that I could benefit from having a private education and learn to understand the difference between a slap and a beating. This anomalous situation created some difficulties. I was the only kid on the council estate walking to a different school, wearing a navy blazer with bright blue vertical stripes - visible from space - and a similarly patterned long peaked cap. Needless to say I was the twice-a-day target for some pretty serious harassment, because I didn't fit in. The same applied in reverse at school where I was the only student living on the reservation. This resulted in a lot of torn clothing, raw knuckles and bloody noses - not all mine, as I got the hang of it.
With adolescence I started to take confirmation classes at The Church of The Good Shepherd, under the instruction of the priest there, Father Stubbs. He was a charismatic figure in a hybrid C of E, Anglo-Catholic church. There was some swinging of the incense during Mass and I enjoyed my first experience of congregational euphoria. I believe I actually flew home from church one Sunday morning; my spirit having been so uplifted.
But all too soon came the day that my enquiring mind struggled with the concept - or otherwise - of the virgin birth, and other miracles. 'Have faith my son' said the good Father. It seemed to me that I was being asked to separate my thinking from my spirit, in an act of blind faith; if I was to continue with my devotions.
Later in life I played Jesus Christ - in JC Superstar - and then Charles Darwin - in The Evolution.
So, all I want to illustrate is that I've experienced both sides of the coin in ways that make me twitch my head at any object of interest, before I take a peck at it.
Moving on then…
Stephen Hawking stated enigmatically that before the big bang there was nothing. I think he was referring to our singular universal event, in which case it's hard to disagree with him. But I have spent fifty-odd years gnawing upon the infinite bone, and so naturally enough found that to be a remarkable thing to say. We're not meant to take the theoretical physicist seriously when he says 'before the big bang there was nothing'. But, I suppose, on the road to understanding Infinity, you have to start somewhere.
In his book, D refers to Mark Twain's observation - 'I didn't exist for billions of years before I was born - without suffering the slightest inconvenience' (para). He - Twain - appears to be saying that if he had a soul then it lived and died in his mortal span.
If that was the case, then what effect did his life have upon humanity? Quit a lot I'd say, at least in the way his words have rippled through the times. But were they his words?
Were they his words - his words alone? And are these mine?
Many of us feel the touch of our ancestors. We know Twain affected many other souls before and since his passing, and his spirit lives on - whether he's inconvenienced by that is not on record. However, he didn't just happen; he was born with a legacy. Whether it was a direct-line inheritance - like a born genius - or through secondary influences, by way of his mortal environment - or both - is another interesting question.
As he lay dying in my arms, my friend Martin's last words were…see you next time around mate. Martin wasn't religious, probably didn't give it much thought for most of his life; went to church when required - for social grace - but he felt that his spirit was going somewhere. I doubt he ever thought about from where it had come.
It's hard to believe that an after-life can exist without a before-life. If you want to believe in a religion that offers you heaven or paradise or eternal spiritual damnation - either up there or down below (No Laughing in Heaven - Wordography No. 4), then according to the laws (sic) of Infinity - or Evolution - but not Creationism, then some pre-life experience must have happened to prepare you for your brief period of wearing clothes - ordinarily about three score years and ten, depending upon era and territory.
As surely as Euclid's parallel lines came off the rails when reaching into the 20th century, then so will my Infinity come to an end - or at least a puzzled halt - when it arrives at the door of a new reality
So where does God in all his forms come into all this? My Dad's bigger than your Dad!!!
Should we talk about your God or my God - your version or mine? And would that be, for example, Christian or Muslim? Catholic or Protestant? Sunni or Shia? Maybe God is Darwinian in character; first you get a struggle for the survival of a creed, and then a determination for supremacy.
And that - supremacy - is the key word in D's missing factor; resulting in logical failure. Here, I'm taking an overview of the battle between both sets of extremists that lobby on behalf of Supreme God or Supreme Science; not thinking so much about the seemingly irreconcilable stand-offs but seeing the fertile zone between the combatants that is really a no-go area - so there I go! I think Science (genetic) and God (memetic) are irrevocably intertwined. Memes (those selfish memes) are Dawkins extra-physical genes - he applies the theory of evolution to the human psyche but seems to have reached a stumbling block…because he can't find where it started - no fossilised souls. Ha! It's not that simple Prof.
The human soul is not much referred to in science because we take it for granted. It's an elusive little blighter though; no brain or heart surgeon has ever seen one during an operation, but every witch doctor has. Religion has been with us since witch doctors took it upon themselves to care for our souls, leaving our tribal leaders to deal with affairs of state.
The trouble is that most religions are very old and consequently have little relevance to modern life. The great religions continue to offer fear and hope in varying doses, guilt and redemption; to quote Dawkins all for a God whose existence lacks evidence of any kind.
No evidence? Where on earth has he been looking - certainly not right under his nose. Just as scientists struggle to find the dark matter that accounts for a great amount of missing energy that is needed to fill the equation that might explain the expansion of the universe - because they are looking in the wrong place - they refuse dogmatically to recognise the evidence they claim is non-existent or non-scientific - merely empirical? Pah!. The problem again is that they - Dawkins boldly in particular - are looking in the wrong place and applying the wrong hypothesis.
D is not helped in his confusion by religious organisations, the more dominant of which broadly claim their specific God - jealous or otherwise - to have intelligently designed the Universe. That tenet must have seemed valid when the Universe was a small flat thing, above which was heaven and below which was hell. But we've moved on from there; to be fair though, some religions have tried to keep pace with discovery, and survived most changing realities, because of the needs of the flock. Those needs can be summarised in general terms…A sense of belonging and a sense of purpose.
A sense of belonging and a sense of purpose - what most of us desire, don't you think?
The trouble is that each strand of our helical existence in the spiritual - memetic - wave is pursuing a singular and opposing target - bloody-minded religion and bloody-minded science - and never the Twain shall meet.
Religion does a good job giving us a sense of belonging, but normally we are expected to serve God's purpose. Whereas the reverse could be true for Science, under the aegis of which our sense of purpose is greatly stimulated, but the thrill of it all is exclusive to excitable eggheads.
Like the arguments put forward by my parents, the positions seem irreconcilable, but in fact they both have a lot going for them. Looking through the new transparencies of the overstretched fulcrum, I'd say more than fifty per cent, which indicates a degree of overlap. I get the feeling (is feeling a science? No, it's a sphere) that if each faction dropped the more extreme parts of its line of feeling then we might focus on an overlap that gives birth to something interesting and - for the time being at least - a workable reality, so - through pressure or the lack of it - the linear version becomes a simple two-dimensional chevron and takes a new direction.
How do ideas develop? Children don't just come up with their certainties. Contrary to the statement made a couple of years ago by a famous - although I can't remember her name - educationalist…'We should learn from our Children'. Now that really is Political Correctness at its most bewildering. It prompts me to wonder what Charles Darwin would have thought of our UK Inheritance Tax. Those with an IQ over 120 must forfeit 40 percent from the next generation?
Now there's an example of memes at work - social engineering to enforce a belief, based upon an inherited sense of injustice! Gordon Brown - our larcenous UK Chancellor and imminent PM - feels that it's a good thing for one third of society to rely upon state benefits. He would redistribute every penny until - for a moment at least - everyone had the same size house and contents - enforced by the inspectorate - the same amount of cash, attended the same school and voted forever Labour. That moment - hopefully never reached - would spell stagnancy; the void would be filled with something powerful and dynamic, and consequently, goodnight Gordon - dream on.
My ideas aren't those of my mother and father, but the balance of their arguments did give me a broad basis upon which to assess the value of future input from school, church and society at large. I built a bank of information, constantly adding in each department until I was able to grasp the picture, take a position and file it. Any of those files would be - and still are - opened and updated, when new information arrived.
This early learning curve was the springboard of my mortal journey, later enhanced in many forms by the guidance of ancestral spirits. Does that sound weird, or cranky? I suppose it might be scary if you're locked into a mainstream bog. Ah well…
When I reached the age of twenty I knew everything - but now I know better.
I know some people that have rebelled against their family values and chosen a radical path, but most of them have stayed true to the mould; shaping their memetic agenda with small conservative steps.
You don't have to be an alpha-male or the female equivalent to find a way of advancing your line in the battle for supremacy, because who knows, you may have a prodigal son or grand-daughter. So, for the sake of survival, alliances are useful; if you find a leader or group that serves your purpose then why not attach yourself for a while until your progeny is ready to challenge the ideological blood line.
So, traditions are handed down: Folklore was the conduit before the written word, and was probably more accurate than our history books; they tend to represent the winners or dominant beliefs. My old Encyclopaedia Britannica delivers a paucity of information on the subject Apartheid. Astonished by the minimal nature of such a huge topic I searched the index - nothing. Baffled for a moment, I found my way to the front page and there was the answer…Encyclopaedia Britannica - published in London, New York and Cape Town. Ah!
UK Governments have swung from left to right during my lifetime, but now both the major parties are centrist - or populist should I say - and you can see the loss of momentum and lack of focus caused by a slowing of the pendulum. External forces too have played their part; The EU shifted much power from Westminster and consequently the UK is being stretched in many ways, without the gravity of core societal fabric to counter the effect.
It seems to me that many scientific flags are mirrored - or perhaps inspired by - human behaviour. Newton's 3rd law - for example - is only slightly less accurate in the negative sense than say, for every action in the Middle East there is an equal and totally over-the-bloody-top reaction.
Don't worry, the Fleet is in place.
As recent events have shown there is a marked difference between those in the constant struggle for international supremacy who play the game of Monopoly, and those who play Chess. It's an irresistible analogy; if you've ever played both games then you'll appreciate the mind set is quite different for each. So what parts do these games play in our lives, or guide the strategies of great leaders. They didn't invent them, or the war games played at Sandhurst and West Point.
I can't imagine that a soul goes to heaven - or moves on - as an act of termination. It goes there - or to hell if you like - as an evolved version of the one that arrived seventy years earlier, with what was once called - by scientists too, at the time - the miracle of fertilized life; to rejoin its ancestors and guide - from a considered distance - its progeny in the evolution of one branch of the human spirit species.
It's a healthy process of natural selection - our spirits need refreshment and our time on Earth is a period of transmutation for the purpose of developing this micro-intelligence to the point where our bodies will no longer be required. That fits quite conveniently with my theory of Infinity, because it's a tidy box; outside of which there are plenty of stimulating options and inside of which exists a workable framework to which the enmities can cling, and ponder for a while.
Suppose - for one ridiculous moment - the Religions - in a great step for mankind -dropped their claims that a super-intelligence called God created the Universe, and - in an equally inspired and unlikely flash of abandon - Science - with a great spirit of adventure - admitted there must have been something before the big bang. Then we could get on very well with our lives; happy in the knowledge that God lay within us all, and joined in the belief that something must have gone before, and thus removing, from life on Earth, at least one of the difficulties attached to existence on a tribal basis - loyalty to your chosen God.
You don't need religion to have moral standards, but you do need God. God does not really need religion; I would think She - why not a she? - is a bit miffed that our miserable grumbling species has evolved to supremacy amongst the mammals on this very special planet. She would have noticed a tendency towards the worship of silly things and an even sillier inclination to deify them according to local convenience. This practice was most notably employed by the invading Romans in Britain, when - to keep the locals happy - they introduced Christianity by subtly shifting the important holy-dates (holidays) to coincide with the existing Pagan festivals.
The evolving spirituality of the species developed - through religion - quite naturally in different ways and areas, bending to accommodate the local culture and then fiercely protecting its position in society; normally operating alongside the secular leaders who enjoyed the symbiotic benefits of power-sharing exercises, but sometimes reigning supreme by invoking the wrath of God, through Jihad or Inquisition, Bible Bashing or Koran Thuggery. All in Her name - the one True God - supported by evidence implanted in the formative minds of children, alongside other fairy tales. She must have been as angry as Dawkins, who makes this point more eloquently and at greater length than me.
It doesn't matter if She did create the Multiverses; it's enough to know that Her knowledge passeth all understanding, whilst recognising that we possess an untapped element in our existence. Our souls have been trained or constrained under the strict local supervision of our vicar, priest, mullah or rabbi in the purpose-built venues where we go to worship our God in the sure knowledge that the Maestro at the pulpit is speaking with the ultimate authority. Really?
Blind faith is enslaving our souls. Consider telepathy as a natural extension of empathy. Quite possible if you cut out the Middle Woman - this is getting too clumsy - Middle Man; if we continue to be suffocated by the dogma and leave our intelligence at the chapel door.
As ever - in the memetic helix - with all this hope there must be an added and balanced portion of fear. You could describe it as the antagonistic process, so essential to our wellbeing. Otherwise we will surely fail to deliver and end up back where we started, or worse, because there'd be nothing to fight over in the cause of Supremacy.
So here is the almost inevitable message of doom. Just for a moment stop and think about the scale of events since the first witch doctors appeared on the scene, which was probably not too long after we homos got erectus and sapiens, and there weren't many of us. Then move slowly forward until say the birth of Christ approximately two millennia ago when the human population was said to be around 600.000. It took until the late nineteenth century to reach a billion. In the hundred and few years since then the human population of Earth has accelerated to over six billion, and by 2025 it will be eight billion. You don't have to be Richard Dawkins to realise that this exponential growth rate is unsustainable. Study the inhabitation forecasts for one hundred years from now and feel your knees tremble in fear. If the traditional constraints - famine, drought, disease and war - don't work because of God or Science, then - without a common enemy - the seemingly inescapable process of Mutually Assured Destruction will restart and the planet will be relieved of the need to be saved; relieved even more for this pestilence called humanity to be eradicated, wouldn't you say; how doomy is that!!. And whether it is the work of God or Science will be a question for no-one to ask or answer. This because we shall be extinct before maturity, the here-after will become detached from the here-before and our ancestors - gods - will become separated from their destiny.
Of course if you believe in Infinity then there is no beginning or end to the whole, just beginnings and endings of items and events like bedrooms, individual lifetimes and Abbottonian spheres. So we live in hope, which springs eternal in our souls. Familiar words, but the hope lessens as we become every day more hopelessly embroiled in the glue of intellectual argument beset by erroneous postulations on the one hand and deeply entrenched dogma on the other. If both are wrong then what do we do - how can we survive? It seems that the Gods are conspiring to end it all; we are still killing ourselves in the name of the one real God. This is where Dawkins gets it right, although - as we used to say about Alvin Toffler's Future Shock - he is merely overstating the bleeding obvious.
The human spirit needs to be engaged and uplifted en masse to escape the mundane nature of our existence. This is why religion - to the great annoyance of D - has thrived since time metaphorically began. It feels good, it feels great. But why should we have to put logical but unanswerable questions to our clergy? And yet answer they always do, however those answers defy intelligent thinking and demand blind faith.
Just because some of the less aggressive churches are failing doesn't mean that we are losing our spirituality; as evidenced by the growing search for adaptable ancient faiths, customised to modern needs. And let's not forget the shared standards and morality of each society. We are none of us perfect by any means and that vulnerability could draw us together if we could see our Gods more progressively and intelligently.
Evolve or die - listen up religion and science back off; you have common cause.
Is it just me or does anyone else think that the likelihood of finding another transitory physical species like us - out there in the sky - is less likely than connecting in other ways? We are seeing stars that don't exist - they burned out millions of light years before we got a look at them - yet we are planning to escape our modest galaxy in little machines that travel slower than light. I know, we were once scared of falling off the edge of the flat Earth, but we should know better by now.
They say we have to travel faster than light if we're going to get anywhere and - so far - there are only a couple of ways to do that.
Science: Transmutation is being worked on, but it will be a messy business before they get it right, and the pioneers will find it difficult unless they discover a Stargate, or - more likely - prove Einstein wrong.
Religion: Heaven beckons for many believers, as an onward journey for the soul, but that destiny is unsatisfactory without the balance of spiritual history and also for many that may not want to share eternity with the present incumbents. However, we are already on a spiritual journey, it is merely unfocused because of the struggle for supremacy or survival during our adolescence on Earth.
I'm not quite there yet, but on the face of it
Sense of belonging = God
We actually need both.
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