The Dawkins Delusion

The evidence for evolution is overwhelming. BUT, the mechanics are not solely, and probably not mainly Darwinian. (And certainly not NeoDarwinian). The field has been siezed by populists, whos belief systems masquerade as science. Richard Dawkins is the current example.

The problem is that the study of evolution is only partially open to the scientific method. It has much in common with history, spiced with population genetics. There are few facts and much interpretation. I specialised in Vertebrate Evolution at Cambride in the mid 1970’s. I can remember the sense of release (from the physcial sciences), because almost any theory could be justified by one’s interpretation of the evidence.

I remember the excitement of the publication of the Selfish Gene. I was an acolyte and saw this as advancing the truths of sociobiology.

But since then the accumulation of evidence has washed away the foundations of these ideas, but the establishment look the other way. This is shameful, and it isn’t science.

A couple of examples …

  • Neodarwinism predicts gradual progressive change which does not lead to increasing complexity. Since the 1970’s there has been an enormous increase in fossil discovery, all of which evidences sudden emergence of new forms followed by millions of years of equilibrium. Further, that the direction of evolution has always been toward increased complexity.
  • The whole premise of Darwinism is the “survival of the fittest”. That is that it is driven by competition. The gene pool alters (gradually, generation by generation) driven by the success in breeding or otherwise of the bodies for which they code. Darwin, that first populist, ridiculed Lamarck’s theory that the body affected the genes  (giraffe stretches neck, genes altered to express this in next generation). Darwin also drove out the theories of Kropotkin and Meretchkovsky who believed that cooperation and mutual aid were important drivers of evolution. Now there are hectares  of evidence both for Lamarckian  and Kropotkian evolutionary mechanisms:  indeed in all probability our human bodies comprise an agglomeration of different creatures  -even our mitochondria and ghe maternally transmitted genes probably originated as bacteria.

Why do Dawkins et al still defend the outdated neodarwinian fallacy? Largely of course its to maintain their careers and material power and wealth. They founded a theory on conviction and  have ignored these inconvenient truths.

Steven Weinberg, honest atheist

I am interested in the philosophy and beliefs of the great scientists. Einstein, Bohr, Pauli, Schrodinger, Heisenberg. It strikes me that in almost every case they are led to a wonder at the harmony and structure underlying existence. What a refreshing contrast to the childish un-scientific preaching of Dawkins (all religion is “child abuse”).

Speaking at the “Beyond Belief” symposium in 2006 Steven Weinberg (Nobel Prize for his electroweak theory) was quoted as saying  “the world needs to wake up from its long nightmare of religious belief”. He is an avowed atheist, but since he’s a proper scientist he also said:

“I have to admit that, even when physicists will have gone as ar as they can go, when we have a final theory, we will not have a completely satisfying picture of the world, because we will still be left with the question ‘why?’

The Psychological make up of an Atheist

There is mounting evidence of the growth in western societies of three mind-sets:

narcissism, materialism and atheism

It seems to me that materialism and atheism are twin sides of the same coin, essentially an “I-It” rather than “I-Thou” existentialism according to Martin Buber.  I have wondered for some time what causes someone to become a militant-proselytising materialist atheist. After all the implication of their dogma, if true, of is nihilism, depression. No reason, no free-will. Why exist at all. As one atheist puts it – we would simply be the scum on the side of the universe. If that is what they truly believe – then why-oh-why do they want (I ask myself) to convert all others to their cause. It seems to me that Dennet, Dawkins et al have a NEED to convert. What is the psychological well-spring of their neediness?

I had wondered, looking at Dawkins life, whether it was a kind of Oedipus complex. Kill your father. Even Freud speculated as to that as the need behind atheism. However having read about the epidemic of narcissism I think that this instead  is the link or cause for materialist-atheism. I am told that narcissistic behaviour stems from a lack of love, or sense of love during childhood. This leads to an in-turning – deriving love from one-self – and denying the need for or existence of love elsewhere. Is it not possible, even probable then, that this mind-state would need to make itself the centre of all and deny that love elsewhere exists? Aggressively. In order to preserve it’s centred universe.

If then the rise of narcissism and materialism/atheism are linked – which is the cause and which the effect? Perhaps neither – and both are a product of some other factor.

Worth considering.

As a post-script – in reading around for this blog I found this from the militant atheist philosopher Daniel Dennett.

“I adopt the apparently dogmatic rule that dualism is to be avoided at all costs. It is not that I think I can give a knock-down proof that dualism, in all its forms, is false or incoherent, but that, given the way that dualism wallows in mystery, accepting dualism is giving up“.

Giving up? On what? The possibility of God, a reason for existence. Why would that a problem to be avoided or considered? Is the language not that of a narcissist – if you don’t agree with me you must be “wallowing in mystery”.

How depressing that a “philosopher” starts with a dogma of denial and then seeks to justify that with logic. Dogma isn’t philosophy. It’s dogma.

Do atheists own rationality?

I was told yesterday that someone follows my blog (thank you, we all have some narcissism!). I was told that he was amazed that anyone with intelligence could believe in God. He apparently describes himself as an atheist.

I’ve been pondering this.

It seems to me that at the heart of this view is the sense of superiority that atheists can have, that they “own” intelligence. Allied to that is their view that somehow intelligence “disproves God”. I assume here that they mean rationality, as opposed to emotional intelligence.

This argument is close to me because as an evolutionary biologist at Cambridge I had this argument flow past me in waves. Indeed I spent a large part of life summoning up the courage to confront the possibility of there being nothing, no purpose, no God. I concluded after several years of living in this space that in fact it is atheism that is illogical. Having got that out of the way – but not until my 40’s – I have finally been able to relax into the rich world of the living purposeful connection that is meaningful life.

Here’s why I don’t believe in no-God.

First, let us remove rationality from the frame. Nothing can be proved. There is no external premise or starting point from which a logic chain can reach any kind of “proof”. It seems rather (read “Godel Escher Bach” or “The Science Delusion by Rupert Sheldrake) that the universe and time comprise an infinity of nested loops. Don’t believe me, rather refer to Heisenberg (Uncertainty Principle) and Godel (Incompleteness Theorum).

Ok. So in any case logic and rationality takes you nowhere certain. You can’t either prove or disprove God or no-God. If you find a Richard Dawkins or anyone else try to convince you otherwise – simply refer to Heisenberg and Godel – and tell them they are acting as evangelists not scientists, so they should preface all their statements with “I believe”.

So, then my personal beliefs. Well, firstly I get as far, logically, as saying there is “being”, or rather there is “something”. I wouldn’t go as far as “my” being – ie cogito ergo sum, because I think that presumes what “I” am. It does seem axiomatic to me that existence exists though. I used to run the argument that time is also axiomatic and that therefore you could define God as that which began being – one of those beautiful iterative proofs you get in mathematics (inductive reasoning). On that basis I used to “prove” God. This then turned the argument about God – into one of semantics. On that basis I would say that atheism is less logical that theism – because a theist “believes” in his/her version of God, whereas for atheism to work they would have to disprove every version of God.

Anyway, I’m not so convinced about time anymore – except as an illusion that frames what we perceive as reality. I do think, though, that God and existence tie together logically. Believe in existence and God is there. Our disagreements should be fought on definitions – “God sitting on a cloud”, “God as personalised”, “God as the numbers like speed of light that define existence”, “God as relatedness, connection”.

For me then, personally, which is the richer way to live? Surely enriched and joyful reality lies in our connectedness, in the shared smile, in the sharing of sorrow. That’s certainly becoming my deepening experience.

In any event – I can state definitely that I do NOT believe that atheism has rationality or intelligence on it’s side…

Mystical Ellipticism

Why are all the great thinkers difficult to understand, at least with our mind? Perhaps because reality is so difficult for us to perceive – as through a glass darkly. That wouldn’t be surprising I guess. Our brain is evolved to help our bodies survive in jungles. We don’t see polarised light as bees do. The point is – it’s not some kind of perfect instrument designed to understand the outer reaches and meaning of creation. Neither does it have complete sensory input.

At least for me, those who have most changed my life all point to reality in relation. That is to say – reality existing in the magnetism between two points. As opposed to reality in the points themselves,

Carl Jung, for instance, in his search for integration between opposites “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed”. Martin Buber sets out his form of existentialism entirely against a backdrop of relationship – his “philosophy of dialogue” with it’s primary words I-Thou and I-It. Teilhard de Chardin saw the process of evolution (powered by love) toward a shared consciousness. Alfred North Whitehead saw the whole of reality as process.

All of these elliptical thinkers seem to expose facets of the same underlying truth. It’s connection that matters, not matter that connects.

And yet..

For the Dawkins of this world it’s so simple. Matter. Of Fact. Simple(s). Nothing there but things. Science, thought and our brains have solutions. Death comes and there is nothing beyond. Love, kindness, a shared smile – all just twitchings of the material – set in the one-way street of time.(It’s not what science shows, but there you are .. better read Rupert Sheldrake on the subject.)

The writings of Buddha, the parables of Christ, the music of Bach. Complex – difficult. Mystical. Elliptical.

Conversion or conversation?

I have a set of beliefs. So do you. Nothing can be proven, so who is right? Beliefs that oppose can not be settled with logic, never mind violence. Perhaps they can be integrated, but that’s another matter.

I have two questions about prosyletisation – the attempt actively to convert someone to one’s belief.

Firstly, does prosyletisation or evangelism work? Does anyone who is preached at truly change their beliefs because of that preaching?  Certainly it doesn’t work for me – either when I’m preaching or when I’m being preached down to. (I say preached down to, because it seems to me that there is an arrogance implied in attempted conversion).

It seems to me that much “conversion” works by attracting vulnerable people into a new “group”, with a new identity – be it Christian, Humanist, Atheist, Buddhist or Muslim. I’m not convinced that this is the same as a true change in beliefs.

Personally, what influences me are example and dialogue. I often wonder about the motivations about those who seek actively to convert. (What, for instance, underlies the aggression of  Dawkins’ missionary work?)

My second question is this. Is it right to prosylatise? Returning to my opening statement. I have a set of beliefs. So do you. Mine add up to a system of living that generally brings me joy. Is it not a responsibility to share these with others. Indeed is it not a form of cowardice to hide one’s beliefs in the name of respect for the opinion of others? On the other hand, what gives me the right to prioritise my beliefs over yours? Dialogue and example yes, but I wonder whether an active directed attempt to convert YOU to MY beliefs is really ethical?

To convert or converse – that is the question.

 

Spirit Levels

I was in a pub in Edinburgh yesterday. It was packed, shoulder to shoulder. We were all intent on following the British and Irish Lions in their final rugby match against Australia. At the end “we” won via a series of sensational tries.

We were, of course, intent on the television screens around the pub. I was lifted into a space and life shared with that group in that pub as each try was scored and we all cheered. We became something separate – the momentary “we” was new and different from the collection of individuals normally described as we.. I was struck by the sense of one-ness. Looking at the people, rather than the screen – we shared the same rapturous expression – but on each of our individual faces.

This is, I believe, what we are drawn to as the joyful solution to the pain and loneliness of living and dying. We can become something different and shared; living in common and on a different spirit level. As that happens we lose our sense of self, our individuality and our ego, and become something qualitatively different. (See God as emergent property, or epiphenomenon).

Whilst I have, at least to my own satisfaction, proved God. It is a proof that touches my mind rather than my real self. It turns out that rational knowledge of the existence of God is a poor friend with which to confront death and loss. In my 40’s I lived through existential angst, a dark night of the soul. I had been fed since childhood with the comfort of the knowledge of God and my friend and brother, Jesus Christ. I had though been trained as a scientist. Richard Dawkins had been something of a hero (I majored in verebrate evolution at Cambridge) and as we know he preaches that Science somehow disproves God. Who was right – my loving mother or an angry scientist? So, I decided to live in non-belief and confront that question from a premise and experience of an atheist. It turned out for me that atheism is a belief system, with internal logic and no proof beyond the opening statement. I know that now. Atheists open with the axiom – there is no God – and from that premise (and ignoring all awkward facts along the way) go on after some verbal and logical gymnastics to restate it as THERE IS NO GOD. It’s nothing more than a circus trick, and it’s only possible because NO premise can be logically proved or disproved. (Gödel, Heisenberg). Given a premise and some logic rules you can “prove” the premise. Well I can do that from the statement there is God, and to be absolutely frank it’s infinitely more likely. Here…

Let God be that which came before existence.
Time and existence exist.
Therefore God exists.

QED.

(By the way – who wrote those penetrating words in the Anglican service which define God as.. existing beyond time, both source and final purpose. Was that really written in the 16th century?)

So, it has has been a surprise and a relief to see through the ill-logic, one might say intellectual conceit, of materialists; and to move from the lonely existentialism of Sartres to the connected existentialism of Martin Buber. To perceive Whitehead’s rationale of our life in process at the ever moving edge of spiritual present as we crystalise the past out of the future.

But understanding is not the trick. It is in the moments of loss-of-self into the commonwealth of spirit in which there is intimation of immortality. The loss of our-self into the crowd in the pub, the shared smile, the surge of love for wife/mother/brother/friend/child, the rapture of connection with the countryside. Those are tangible glimpses of the next spirit level.

I have recently conceived of the moment of dying as a “fading to joy”, losing one’s identity into God. I now see that a better expression would be “surprised by joy”. Has that been used before?