A Shrewmatic Guide

 

To Richard Dawkins’'

 

The God Delusion

 

 

 

 Shrucius Sparkatus 

 

 

 

© 2008 The Big Shrew

 

 

"Natural selection ... is a cumulative one-way street to improvement."  Richard Dawkins. (169)

 

Shrew-like preface

All the ideas, arguments and propositions in this article (hereinafter referred to as A Shrewmatic Guide) were directly inspired by reading Richard Dawkins’' The God Delusion. The bracketed numbers in A Shrewmatic Guide refer to page numbers in the paperback edition of The God Delusion (Transworld Publishers 2006). As a consequence of the limitations placed upon it in The God Delusion,  the term “"God”" is used with quotation marks. The first section - Part 1: Theme - of  A Shrewmatic Guide is concerned specifically with the argument concluding the first half of The God Delusion. Other, more general topics raised in the second half of The God Delusion (as well as the ideas and theories alluded to in Part 1 of A Shrewmatic Guide) will be developed and expanded upon in the Variations which form the second section of A Shrewmatic Guide.

 

Everything that follows - everything in A Shrewmatic Guide - is predicated on a fundamental Vedic principle: consciousness is the only reality. Consciousness is the cause of every effect, the origin of everything that exists, ever did exist, ever could have existed, or ever will exist and could ever possibly exist. It is responsible for big bangs, multiverses, tables and chairs, non-tables and non-chairs, classical physics, quantum mechanics, pi-times-the-radius-squared, time and space, all other dimensions or possible dimensions, black holes, etc.. Further, in the Variations which follow, it will be will demonstrated that the Vedic, consciousness-first, explanation of existence is the only one that fits all the facts of existence that have, thus far, been observed and recorded. 

 

Sketchbook

 

 

"He that sketcheth, nibbleth." Shrucius Traesus.

 

Before considering the two chief flaws in Dawkins’' argument and in the basic assumptions that underpin his thesis, I want to pick up and nibble a few morsels that he dropped as he trudged single-mindedly along, eyes never averted from his final destination: the vilification of all religion.

 

(52). “there exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us…. God, in the sense defined, is a delusion…”

 

 

Even I, a theist, would have to concede that “"God", in the sense defined” - by Dawkins - “is a delusion”. Dawkins claims not to be interested in aiming at an easy target, and yet, “"God”", in the sense defined here, is an incredibly narrow, superficial and easy target. The claim belies the act and sets the tenor for just about everything that follows. From the outset, Dawkins carefully positions the goalposts so  that he can score every time. 

 

(51-54). It is significant that Dawkins mentions Hinduism only in passing and spends no time at all examining the religious and spiritual beliefs of northern India and Tibet. Many regard this area as the spiritual heartland of all humanity, and the place from where all religion originates - and (it has been credibly claimed) where Jesus spent some of the eighteen years of his life not covered by the New Testament. Again, Dawkins makes a point of not attacking the vindictive Old Testament “"God”", or the “old bearded man sitting on a cloud”, but he does manage throughout his book assiduously to avoid the most difficult target: the nature of consciousness. And this in a book whose stated aim is raising consciousness!

(35-41). By page 41 the firm impression is of someone attempting to explore and explain away his own discomfort with the fact that many of his fellow scientists don’t have a problem with “"God”" - who don’t see any of the propositions of the physical sciences as being incompatible or inconsistent with the belief in the existence of a primal, conscious intelligence.

(320). "“The truths of evolution.... are so engrossingly fascinating and beautiful; how truly tragic to die having missed out on all that!”" But here’s one theist at least who hasn’t missed out on all that! Neither, presumably, have Dawkins’' fellow scientists who are also theists. There is of course the alternative explanation: perhaps it is Dawkins who is missing out on something.

(56)." “...it is just shamelessly invented”." Religion belongs to that vast area of human experience that is not describable using the languages of science. Indeed, because of its subject matter, religion may justly be considered, in this sense at least, the ultimate art. All art - come to that, the whole of Western Culture - is just shamelessly invented.

(108)." “... Gasking didn’t really prove that God does not exist. By the same token, Anselm didn’t prove that he does”." It is a marvel that for century after century the cleverest people seem drawn to this very silly and consistently futile debate. It’s high time to put it to rest: there is no intellectual proof for the existence or the non-existence of “"God”". If such a proof existed at all, the mind of man - known to have cogitated its way around the surface of this planet for millions of years - would have discovered and expressed it by now! 

(112-117). To dismiss what are commonly termed “"supernatural"” experiences as hallucinations is neither reasonable nor logical: the evidence for the existence of the so-called “paranormal” may be anecdotal but it is overwhelming, and until it can be explained and incorporated into the main body of scientific thinking, no theoretical hypothesis ought to be discarded on the grounds that it seems irrational or unlikely.

 

 

 (149). One faintly annoying feature of Dawkins’ book is the continual and gushing praise for Darwin, at first childlike and charming, but after a while nauseating. Do we know for certain, for example, “"he was drawing his opponents towards him so that his punch, when it came, struck the harder"? Or is Dawkins being gushing after the event? One suspects Dawkins is being gushing after the event, and that Darwin - who seems to have been a genuine and modest man - had no desire to punch anyone, literally or metaphorically.

(26). “"But the atheists are a lot more numerous, especially among the educated elite, than many realise .”" The implication here, clearly, is: Educated people are more capable than the rest of the population of seeing what a silly thing religion is. 

(323). "“I’'m hostile to religion because of what it did to Kurt Wise. And if it did that to a Harvard-educated geologist, just think what it can do to others less gifted and less well armed.”" The intention is unmistakable and unequivocal, and reveals a colossal conceit. Dawkins invites us to concur with his assumption that - compared to “others” - a Harvard-educated geologist is more “gifted” and “well-armed” than " others". But who has the right, or the authority, or the wisdom to claim that a Harvard-educated geologist is more “gifted” or more “well-armed” than any other adult individual - say, someone who has had little or no formal education at all? This just about sums up the whole atheist-humanist standpoint, and it is both ironic and highly significant that these two sentences occur on the same page - almost in the same breath - as a reference to 1984’'s Winston Smith. Dawkins’' attitude is precisely that of the Big Brother mentality. He is saying, in effect: I am the scientist, I am highly trained and educated; therefore my opinions must carry more weight than those of a non-scientist. The assumption that a higher education indicates a higher intelligence is, for many people, deeply offensive and typifies the supercilious arrogance not infrequently to be found in certain quarters of the scientific community. If it is true that religion hasn’'t done “"God”" any favours, it is equally true that Dawkins’ attitude isn’'t doing science any favours either.

 

 

 

Part 1: THEME

 

 

 

Dawkins’ proposal is: "any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution." (52)

The counter-proposition of A Shrewmatic Guide is: natural selection is a machine, an engine that is being driven by a creative, intelligent force: consciousness. 

Aided by statistical propositions derived from the anthropic principle, the subtext of The God Delusion is Charles Darwin’'s theory of evolution by natural selection. This is the main platform on which Dawkins constructs his argument leading to the statement: “"God almost certainly does not exist"”. As well as being a Catholic, I also practise Transcendental Meditation, and it is the Vedic tradition that will provide the basis of this article. The Christian tradition could have done as well, but the average (secular) Western reader’s' anti-Christian bias is now so established that it is unlikely they would bother reading beyond this paragraph.

 

 

The Vedic tradition, with all its strange arts and sciences, is a vast subject. Fortunately, for present purposes it is only necessary to explain two fundamentals: Sat-Chit-Ananda - Eternal Bliss-Consciousness, and pragya aparadh - the fundamental mistake of the intellect.

Sat-Chit-Ananda – - Eternal Bliss-Consciousness - is the first truth, the truth from which all other truths are generated. Everything that is layered on top of this - our bodies, our thoughts, the universe, literally everything - is all a passing, transitory phantasm, literally a trick of the light. It looks banal when written down, but this simple truth lies at the heart of all religion. In the world, in the midst of the fever of intellectual activity and sensual stimulation, driving our cars, doing our jobs, pursuing relationships, we forget who - or, more accurately, what - we really are. We forget, in fact, everything that is really important. Which brings us to pragya aparadh.

Pragya aparadh is the fundamental mistake of the intellect; specifically, the identification of the self with the object. In its simplest guise, it could be represented as: I am my car; I am my job; I am my house, and so on. The correction of this would be: I am Sat-Chit-Ananda, therefore: I am not my car; I am not my job; I am not my house. But it’s the broader interpretation that is of interest in the present context. This might be given as: My senses tell me that I am living in a limited, material world: I am, therefore, a limited, material being. The correction of this would be: All that exists is Sat-Chit-Ananda; therefore, the limited material world - including me and my senses –- is a manifestation of a literally infinitely bigger reality. From this fundamental mistake all other mistakes follow, the first-fruit being denial of Sat-Chit-Ananda. One could say that the first fact of life is consciousness; the first folly of life is denial of the first fact. 

 

One characteristic of the Vedic view should be carefully noted before proceeding, as it has cosmological implications which will become obvious later. The causative force - Sat-Chit-Ananda - while driving all motion and change is itself changeless. The significance of this is that it is consistent with the principle observable feature of the universal constants, namely, their constancy. 

 

 

Statistics, luck and chance

 

 

"In the end, even the flip of a coin is determined by how fast its spinning, and how long it takes to hit the ground. The ultimate symbol of chance isn't random at all: it only appears that way." (Marcus De Soutoy. The Code.)

 

The remainder of Part 1 willI examine the two assumptions underpinning Dawkins’' argument - that statistics can be employed to explain the existence of the fundamental forces of nature, and that the functioning of natural selection presents a different case for consideration from other natural functions and phenomena ( including, especially, the origin of life) - and how the argument from improbability provides a false context for both theist and atheist alike.

Napoleon Bonaparte, considering taking on a new General, listened while the man’s background, experience, abilities and skills were reeled off. “"Yes, yes" -” Napoleon interjected, “- "but is he lucky?”"

The God Delusion seems to make no distinction between “luck” and “chance”. It’'s necessary, at this point, to make a workmanlike distinction between the two. Luck belongs entirely to the self-aware world of human beings. Many (not only emperors!) regard it as a real phenomenon. Chance, on the other hand, is the name often given to the apparent operation of luck in the inanimate world; it is an illusion driven by the false assumption that the appearance of extreme complexity obviates the need to defer to the principle of predictability in respect of the laws and constants of the physical universe.

I have not counted the number of times Dawkins uses words like “improbable”, or “statistical”, or how many times these words are accompanied by grandiose adjectives, but it’s a lot! Dawkins uses statistics like a magic wand, waving it here there and yonder, hoping, presumably, that it will conjure the answers to all questions and the solutions to all problems, and (most importantly) that it will make the metaphysical, spiritual and philosophical questions simply disappear.  

 

The words probable and improbable pass easily in and out of conversation, and certainly with no thought for their origin or significance. But these words and the ideas they represent derive from one of the most powerful analytical tools yet devised; statistics - the theory of probability.

The history of statistics in modern times goes back to the end of the eighteenth century. Its earliest use was in connection with the study of populations, large groups of people, and of the economic, sanitary and other conditions pertaining to these groups. As science began delving ever more deeply into areas of theoretical speculation on both the macrocosmic and the microcosmic scale, its usefulness attracted the attention of physicists. The elevation of statistics to the level of a virtual science is a phenomenon of modern times. So pervasive - indeed invasive - has statistics become that we have all but conferred upon it the materialistic equivalent of religious significance. We have fallen into a tacit assumption that because the statistical way of looking at the world is so powerful and useful there must be no area of thought it cannot illuminate. But this assumption is wrong, and the unwillingness of Dawkins and his followers to acknowledge this highlights one of the main flaws in any science-based atheist argument that attempts to employ it.

 

Satistics. Fairies or theories?

 

 

"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe there are fairies at the bottom of it too?" (Douglas Adams)

Controversy and debate assume the character of the times. Our times have been dominated by lightning advances in science and technology. Inevitably, given this climate, our natural curiosity has led us down many an exotic or whimsical by-way of enquiry, theory and postulation. However one may scoff at the idea of fairies at the bottom of it, from the enchanted garden itself there seems no escape… - and the most unlikely frog can become a prince! In the absence of certainty, statistics -­­ whether in the advanced mathematical or the common anecdotal sense - has become the modern magic wand: take an idea (it can be as preposterous as you like) tap it three times and it becomes a theory. 

 

There are hundreds of ways of applying statistics, but they can be broadly gathered, in ascending order of complexity, under three categories of what might be termed mechanical statistics.  First, there is the everyday use encountered in the pub or at the bookies. The second type, more mathematical, involves making inferences about big things or systems based on accurate data obtained from smaller samples. The third type, which is used in physics, astrophysics and cosmology, produces results so remarkable and accurate that it seems to be regarded - particularly by its practitioners - almost as an independent science in its own right. Close encounters with this third kind are rare owing to its being far beyond the understanding of anyone not possessing a degree in physics or mathematics. Fortunately for the rest of us, The God Delusion defers in the main to a much more general application of statistics - somewhere between the first and second categories. The role of probability in quantum  theory, on the other hand, imparts a significance to statistics of an altogether different order from that being considered  here (that is to say, in The God Delusion). This significance will be explored, nevertheless, in the Variations which follow, for, if the first three categories can be described as mechanical, then the fourth deserves to be described as mystical, if not miraculous.

One of the principle features of (mechanical) statistics - whatever area of enquiry or analysis it is applied to - is that it is concerned with the prediction of probable outcomes pertaining to numbers (often large) and movements of things or groups of things, or comparisons between these things or groups. It does not attempt to describe the intrinsic properties pertaining to the quality of a thing’s actual existence - whether we are considering an object or collection of objects, or the laws of motion and change observed as affecting those objects and their relativistic states, i.e., relative motion or rest, growth or decay, and so forth.

 

Jumping off the roof of a high building, for example, would cause one to accelerate towards the centre of the earth. Many factors would come into play in determining one's final resting place on the ground: any forward motion imparted to the body, atmospheric conditions, collisions with birds or open windows, type of clothing, body movements such as flapping of arms, even the influence of shouts of encouragement or abuse - " I will always love you", or" die, you bastard - I hope it hurts!", interventions form the angelic host, etc.. Statistics would apply to many of these, wholly or in part, and would be a necessary component in a final calculation. One factor, however, is not susceptible to statistical scrutiny, and that is the impelling force itself, gravity. On the surface of our planet, with minor variations due to the flattening at the poles, centrifugal force at the equator, the varying effects of the pull of the sun and the moon, the rate of acceleration is just over 32 feet-per-second-squared. (If the earth were perfectly spherical, did not rotate, and there were no other massive objects nearby, the rate of acceleration would be perfectly uniform across the entire surface.) Acceleration due to gravity is a force of nature whose existence cannot be analysed statistically.

Again, considering the familiar case of the casting of a die, the only difference between dropping it one millimetre and casting it a hundred, a thousand, a million yards is the number of movements it makes. The die, cast a million yards, makes what appears to be an impossibly complex series of movements. Unable to say for certain what will happen, a statistically informed guess must be made: the probability of accurately predicting which number will end up topside is one-in-six. But the die and the laws of motion which appear to affect it know nothing of our incomprehension and statistical guesswork. Nor does our incomprehension and statistical guesswork say anything about the die and its movements. At no point during its flight do the laws of physics not apply. Every movement is locked into a fixed course, so that, given a known starting position, the question of which side ends up facing skywards is predetermined.

The brain is constantly creating perceptions which appeal to common-sense but which are, in fact, illusions. We live with statistics. In fact, we couldn’t live without it. But however well it serves us day-to-day it can only provide inferences about the functioning of natural laws. An example of the seductiveness of false assumptions as drivers of illusions concerns the perception of time. All objects in the physical universe change; these changes register on the senses; our senses pass these observations to our brains; our brains collate this material as data; from this data  is constructed the sensation commonly called “the "passage of time”". Thanks to Einstein’'s special theory of relativity it is now accepted that no matter how well our everyday sense of the passage of time seems to work, it is deceiving us. Our brains are creating for us an artificial sense of time which we need in order to function day-to-day. The sensation of time, like chance, is an illusion. Whether observed or not, the relative rates of change and motion for all objects in the universe is not a matter for arbitrary comparison. All rates of change and motion are measured against - governed by - a single benchmark: the speed of light - the rate at which electromagnetic energy propagates. This rate is invariable, or constant, which is to say, it is always the same irrespective of any relative state of motion or rest in the source which is generating it. The universe is not aware of “the passage of time, nor of any statistical prediction or the numerical value of the constant.

Time-dilation provides a good example of how our lives are lived day-to-day quite happily in virtual ignorance of a fact which, on face value, seems totally at odds with common sense. It is true that the effect of time-dilation is extremely small when encountered at the speeds we ordinarily move at, but it exists nonetheless. The point to be made is that though the higher principle does not necessarily impact on the physical motions and mental assumptions of our workaday lives, we know it exists and is constantly at work. 

Assumptions are fed by (sometimes based on) the limitations of perceptions. The sense of awe that is felt, of stupefaction, when contemplating the seemingly impossible complexity of the natural world is a construction purely of the intellect. It does not indicate the presence of an external law or principle actually existing in nature. 

 

Hang on Shrew! - what about quantum mechanics?

 

"The atoms or elementary particles themselves are not real; they form a world of potentialities or possibilities rather than one of things or facts." (Werner Heisenberg)
 

Quantum mechanics is unique among modern sciences in that it is at one and the same time least understood and the most important.  It also has, uniquely, profound philosophical and spiritual overtones - surely one of the reasons it is not explored, even in the broadest laymans terms, in The God Delusion. Given that the Vedic definition of consciousness is, at least in part, that it is the imaterial field of infinite possibilities from which all that exists is being constantly generated, quantum mechanicsis the  one Western scientific theory to have emerged over the past 500 years that chimes most resonantly with this consciousness-first view, and may yet provide the ultimate proof and vindication of such a non-mechanistic explanation for the true origin of physical existence. 

 

Such "things" as can be said to exist at the subatomic scale cannot, apparently, be fixed in time or space. You never can be sure exactly where or when they'll turn up. Even worse, these "things" sometimes seem to behave like  particles, and sometimes like waves; they can even be both at the same time, and be in two " places" at once! Our normal  sense of "thingness" doesn't work at a subatomic level - the level at which "things" come into existence. All that really exists is is a wave/particle mystery, and it is this which is responsible for tables and chairs, suns, moons, galaxies. Confused? Dont worry, you're in highly estemed company! Quantum mechanics is literally unbelievable. Richard Feynman: "Nobody understand quantum mechanics. If you think you do, then you don’t". 

But this fundamental state of no-"thingness" has had a consequence: thingness. - the "thing" world which does function by operational principles that can be subjected to precise mathematical scrutiny - even when it appears so complex that it can't - the  place in which we observers of things live and breathe and the context in and from which we concieve and view everything, including the idea of non-existence. 

This most fascinating of all fascinations of the modern world will be explored in the variations to follow, where we shall marvel at the explosive consequences of adding to the fundamental state of infinite consciousness the ultimate catalist, the final Vedic ingredient: ecstasy.

 

Statistics. Anthropic principles

 

 “… ‘"'tis my faith that every flower enjoys the air it breathes.”"  (Lines Written in Early Spring. Wordsworth) 

 

I want to preface the remainder of this section with the story of the lost keys - a tale so powerful that scarcely a day goes by when I don’t call it to mind. As Dawkins began winding up his argument it was particularly apposite. (176-180) It comes from the Sufi tradition, but for my money it’s right up there with the parables of the New Testament. I like it because it is so applicable to so many human situations. It beautifully illustrates the limitations and inadequacy of the human intellect, our capacity for stupidity and credulity, and - apropos the present context - our willingness to follow like sheep a line of debate or logical argument without questioning the validity of the propositions upon which it is based.

One hot afternoon, Albert was returning home from work when he saw his friend, Max, down on his hands and knees searching for something in the dirt.

 

 

"“Hello!”" Albert called to his friend, “"What are you looking for?”"

 

 

 "“I’'m looking for my keys."” replied Max.

 

 

“ "I'’ll help you look.”" said Albert, and he too got down on the ground. Shortly after this, a friend of Albert’s passed by: “"Hello!”" he said, “"what are you doing down there in the dirt and the heat?”"

 

 

"“My friend has lost his keys.”" replied Albert.

 

 

"“OK”", said the friend, “"I’ll give you a hand.”"

 

 

Within a short time the whole village was on its hand and knees, grubbing around in the dirt and the heat, getting nowhere. All of a sudden, somebody stood up and said in a loud voice: “"Wait a minute! Whose keys are we looking for?”" Max looked up, “"Mine!"” he said.

 

 

"“Where did you have them last?”"

 

 

"“Indoors”." replied Max.

 

"Then why are we looking out here?”"

 

 

"“Well”," said Max, "“there’s more light out here!”"

 

 

There are many versions and interpretations of the anthropic principle, and many scientists tend to hold all of them at arms length, but then scientists of what can justly be called the post-religious, secular age have been legendarily sceptical about any theory which could be used to impute special significance to the existence of humans.

Two features all versions have in common – and which most scientists seem willing to accept – are the singular nature of the existence of advanced life on earth, and the fine-tuning aspect of the universal constants, the so-called “Goldilocks” numbers. The point of departure lies in the interpretation of the significance (if any) of these numbers. The two main versions of the anthropic principle are known as the weak version and the strong version respectively. Dawkins’ planetary version is similar to the weak version and uses statistical analysis to account for how life and, eventually, humans evolved here on planet earth. It’s a convincing argument, and the theists have rather backed themselves into a tight corner. Having gone down the probability by-way, they have to accept the consequences. Once you have opened a discussion about the origin of life using ideas of probability and improbability, the anthropic principle –- at least the weak version –- wins the day. An improbable origin of life certainly negates the need to invoke a "“God”" - whether active or lazy, a good designer or a bad one, and Dawkins’ logic here is pretty much irrefutable. But that, needless to say, is not the end of it. Logic can remain irrefutable though its basis is false.

However, it is the strong version that theists usually latch onto, the version which extends the apparent significance of the Goldilocks numbers out onto a cosmological scale and introduces the idea: must! According the the Strong anthropic principle, the universe must produce life at some point in its development. The cosmological implications of the strong anthropic principle can be weird and lead into some bizarre and fantastical areas of speculation. To continue  rationally, it is necessary to abandon the fantastic and consider what is really known, what is unknown, and any assumptions we may have made about what we have done with our keys!

Cosmologists talk of billions of years. A year, of course, is 365 days; a day is the time-span described by the rotation of the earth on its axis. The time-scales we use in our everyday lives make the time-span of, say, a billion years appear very large indeed. It is in connection with such numbers applied to time that we often use words and phrases like “staggering”, “impossibly large”, “mind-boggling” and so forth. But, as in the case of numbers applied to sizes and quantities of spatial objects, these are artificial judgements that we create from our limited understanding; they do not - any more than the concepts or probability and improbability - indicate the actual presence of intrinsic qualities in the things we observe. The supposition that the universe possesses any qualities that we should feel obliged to describe as “stupefying” or in any other similar way is not based on scientific knowledge, and is, in fact, irrational. A billion-billion may appear big and significant, but it is, in truth, just a number. If  the universe makes us feel small, that - as "god" might say - is our problem! The universe has no fingers; it doesn’t count, think, question, or analyze. It’s a machine obeying laws.

But why call the numbers discerned in the principles of universal creation “"Goldilocks”" numbers? Why call them anything at all? Such epithets, like Dawkins’' grandiose adjectives, are irrelevant and serve only to muddy the waters. If we get rid of the numbers altogether and simply call the things these numbers represent what they really are, operational principles, the waters become much clearer.

 

 

 

Don't know that

 

The first thing to notice is how little is really known, and how little of what is known can really be depended on. For example, there is a very high probabilty that tomorrow morning the sun will rise in the east, not the west. But going back a long way in time it is not possible to be so certain the sun rose in the east and not in the west, nor, going forwards a long way in time, is it possible to be certain the sun will rise in the east and not in the west.  At present, the direction of the moon's path around our common centre of gravity is prograde, but we can't be certain it was ever thus, or that it will remain so. Wedon't  even know where our moon came from. Was Venus' rotation always retrograde? What about its future? 

There is no Mount Improbable explaining where the laws of physics came from. Given this as the real context, unless statistics becomes the fabled "theory of everything", it will continue to do the job it has always  done, plug up gaps in our knowledge, what we don't know. And  its results,  no matter accurate or remarkable, can never be more than inferences. Why? Becaue that is the definition of what statistics was designed to do: make inferences - inferences about motions and relationships in time and space, not about the existence of the forces and constants of nature which are the cause of those motions and relationships.

 

But, as noted, this is not the way  statistics is employed in The God Delusion!  If a  physicists version of mount improbable did exist, Dawkins would be guilty of doing precisely what he accuses the creationists of doing with the evolutionary version: he goes round to the vertical face and in a single leap ascends to the summit, from where it is, apparently, clear to see that statistics and the anthropic principle are all that are needed to unveil the secret of existence itself - not only of life on earth, but all possible life everywhere, and not only in our universe, but in all other possible universes! Not surprisingly - mixed in with the now familiar staggeringly improbable, stupefyingly improbable  - his argument at this point is littered with unsupported assumptions, muddle and speculation. Its codswallop. And it becomes more codswallopian as it progresses towards its climax. But then, how could it not?... 165 suppose the origin of life... 166 if we now import some new assumptions... all very interesting, but a misuse and misrepresentation of both statistics and the anthropic principle. 

Nature’'s operating principles have been shown to work according to mathematical laws, but the operating principles themselves are not aware of these laws any more than lottery balls are aware they are spherically shaped objects with numbers printed on them. They exist; they function: that is all anyone has the right to say about them. 

 

Know that

 

Shrewmatic point 1). It'’s a pity that Maurice Maeterlinck’'s treatise The Supreme Law is no longer in print. In a saner world it would be compulsory reading in all colleges and universities offering courses in physics and mathematics. The Supreme Law is a meditation on the phenomenon of gravitational attraction, as traced through the work and writing of all the major figures in the history of astronomy and physics from the Greeks onwards, including Plutarch, Kepler, Copernicus, Newton, Laplace, right the way through to Minkowski, Eddington and Einstein. Finally, in the concluding pages, Maeterlinck contemplates the significance of what must surely be the most notable discovery of nature yet made: the mathematical square. What is it about this functional principle that causes it to turn up again and again in the world of natural creation? Why is it so ubiquitous? What is it about the way the universe constructs itself, what device or governor of formation does the universal creative engine employ that when examined mathematically it will exhibit at some point somewhere the characteristic fingerprint of a number multiplied by itself? 

 

Shrewmatic point 2). An astable multivibrator is an electronic circuit that can be put to hundreds of uses. Basically its an arrangement of transistors, capacitors and resistors which can switch the circuit on and off at a rate which is dependant on the values chosen for the resistors and capacitors. Given the same value components the circuit will switch on and off at the same rate on the surface of the earth and on the surface of the moon. That's just the way electronic circuits behave.

 

Shrewmatic point 3). When introducing four-part harmony to students I usually begin by explaining the acoustical properties of a vibrating string or column of air. It's the best way of demonstrating the reasoning behind good practise in the spacing of chord parts. The existence of harmonic partials is a phenomenon of nature upon which statistics sheds no light whatever. If I could transport my students to Mars, or a planet in another part of the Galaxy and perform the same demonstration, given the same atmospheric conditions the result would be the same - not uncannily similar, but precisely the same. Why? Because that, old shrews, is the way the universe really works. If you don't believe it, go to Mars and try it!

 

The mathematical square, astable multivibrators, and the acoustical properies of a vibrating string: three examples of how the natural world really works, and of the difference between what can be inferred and what is known.

A notable implication of the weak anthropic principle is that the universe is not chaotic in how it functions, but well-ordered. If it were not well ordered we wouldn't be here observing the fact that it is well ordered. Indeed, the idea of chaos cannot be conceived except from the context of order, in much the same way that tonality is the prerequisite for atonality, not vice versa. To exist at all, the universe must be highly organized, and since - miracles excepted - there is no rational reason to suppose that it does not function as a single, unified mechanism, (the belief which continues to inspire science to seek the Grand Theory of Everything) the organizing force must be extant throughout all time and space, from the sub-atomic to the cosmic, and from the beginning of time to the end. It may look a mess at times, but we know - for certain  - that it isn’t. 

 

Be fruitful, and multiply! 

 

"The evolution of life is a completely different case from the origin of life...." (167)

"... although Darwinism may not be directly relevant to the inanimate world - cosmology, for example - it raises our consciousness in areas outside its original territory of biology”." (139) It certainly does raise one’'s consciousness, but consider an alternative consciousness-raiser to the one intended in The God Delusion: that although Darwinism may not be directly relevant to the inanimate world, the inanimate world is definitely relevant to Darwinism. No natural function, simple or sophisticated, animate or inanimate, biological or non-biological, large or small, ancient or modern, can either initiate or continue independently of the laws of physics. The laws of physics are the lowest common denomminator for all functions, for everything that has come into existence or continues to exist. 

The second objection requires the simple rational premise that the exception of a second case can only be valid if the first case has been shown to be true. In this instance the argument from improbability is a false premise:  since the origin of life was not a matter of chance or probability, the exception of evolution as a "different case" must be disallowed. 

 

Evolutionary biologists - notably Dawkins and his followers - love to wag the finger at Fred Hoyle's Boeing 747. Originally, the 747 allegory was a statistically inspired reflection on the improbability of advanced organic life. But the application of probability/improbability to the consideration of absolutes creates a false context. Both Hoyle and his detractors are looking in the garden, not in the house. The real point about the 747 is not where it came from or how long it took to evolve, but the fact of its existence. Billions of years of whirlwind activity over the scrapyard has resulted not in aother meaningless pile of junk, but a sophisticated machine. The degree, the level, of sophistication given the simplicity of its starting point, may well inspire expression like "staggeringly improbable", but given the impossibility of chance in the functioning of natures operating principles, the present stage of sophistication was inevitable. Theres nothing "staggering" about it. The infelexibility of the operating principles determines there never was any other outcome than the one we now witness: the 747. (A point, ironically, alluded to in The God Delusion (173) in the context of refuting the "Divine knob-twiddler" argument). In other words, because nature doesn't think or make decisions but simply obeys orders, it must be obeying one order above all othersbecome sophisticated! 

Coming at this from the other end and using the goalposts as positioned in The God Delusion will inevitably bring us to the same brick wall. Allowing, for a moment, that natural selection operates in some way independently, that it marches off to the beat of its own drum, it is impossible to avoid confronting the single most dominant observed feature of its effect, that it is ..."a cumulative one way street to improvement"(169). Since nothing can either exist or function without the laws of physics, those laws must contain some intrinsic property - a supreme law, like Maeterlinck's mathematical square - such that when they manifest in biological organisms, the result will bias towards progression, not regression, adaptation not non-adaptation, survival of life not relinquishing of life, evolution not devolution. A supreme law, in other words, which causes existence to evolve ever more sophisticated manifestations of itself. 

Whichever way one comes at it,  evolution can't  be a " completely different case" from  the origin of life or from any other natural function, and therefore cannot be allowed as a component in the argument as presented in The God Delusion.
 

Vedic Interlude 

 

One windy afternoon at Reculver, a tiny fly settled on the book I was reading. It was facing the wind and its wings were slightly opened. Curious as to what the fly would do, I gently rotated the book through 180 degrees so that the direction of the wind reversed relative to the fly’s position. As the book rotated, the fly gradually closed its wings. This was a conscious act - a reaction to an external influence. It may not have been a self-aware act, but it was conscious. It is pure arrogance to assume that consciousness only deserves the name if it is self-aware. The truth is that life is not limited to so-called "“living”" things, but pervades all things and all the spaces in and between them. The fact that the fly does not possess an advanced nervous system, advanced brain, hands, access to writing materials, and cannot write a poem entitled: Ode to the West Wind, does not mean that it is not conscious, only that it cannot express its consciousness in a more sophisticated way than closing its wings.

 

Shrewmatic conclusion

 

 

1) There is no chance in the non-human  "thing" world, only operational principles. An operational principle does not cast dice to decide what to do, nor sit down in an armchair with a calculator to work out the statistical probability of whether or not to function.

 

2) The well ordered universe is the only "version" that can propel itself sufficiently far through a succession of events, - "through time" - to produce complex life. And since nothing can function without the laws of physics, evolution cannot be allowed as an exception to the way the rest of the natural world functions. 

Take Any number - it can be as long as you like - multiply it by zero: the result will be zero. The first section of The God Delusion concludes with a long argument leading to the conclusion: "'god' almost certainly does not exist". But the assumptions on which the argument is based are the equivalent of zero. The result , therefore, must be the equivalent of zero. While this does not prove that the statement "'god' almost certainly does not exist" is false, it does imply that any conclusion or statement based on the argument used in The God Delusion is going to be, almost certainly, untrue. Put another way, if it ever turns out to be true that "god" almost certainly doesn't exist, it will not be for the reasons given in The God Delusion.

The Vedic view might be given thus:

 

The multiplicity of life which exists now is the product of evolution. Evolution is being driven by natural selection - the means by which it slowly ascends Mount Improbable. The ascent of Mount Improbable is being accomplished - with the absolute precision of the mathematical square - using laws and principles that lock every movement and change into a fixed outcome. And this whole process is being driven by a creative impulse emanating from a single source, Sat-Chit-Ananda

The alternative (Vedic) view of evolution may not prove that “"God”" probably exists, ( it is not, in any case, a probabilistic argument) but it does provide a logical explanation for existence which, while not excluding “"God”"  includes the laws of physics and natural selection. 

 

 

 

 

 

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