Home » Intelligent Design » The Dawkins Delusion a.k.a. The God Delusion

The Dawkins Delusion a.k.a. The God Delusion

A more apt title for Dawkins’ tome, based on his essay describing it, would be The Dawkins Delusion.

More pap from it:

If, as Francis Crick and Leslie Orgel once playfully speculated, life on this planet was deliberately seeded by a payload of bacteria in the nose cone of a rocket, we still need an explanation for the intelligent aliens who dispatched the rocket.

Playfully? Let’s see about that.

Francis Crick Remembered:
Life on a Meteor Ride

‘Directed Panspermia’ suggests that life may be distributed by an advanced extraterrestrial civilization. Crick and Orgel argued that DNA encapsulated within small grains could be fired in all directions by such a civilization in order to spread life within the universe. Their abstract in the 1973 Icarus paper reads:

“It now seems unlikely that extraterrestrial living organisms could have reached the earth either as spores driven by the radiation pressure from another star or as living organisms imbedded in a meteorite. As an alternative to these nineteenth-century mechanisms, we have considered Directed Panspermia, the theory that organisms were deliberately transmitted to the earth by intelligent beings on another planet. We conclude that it is possible that life reached the earth in this way, but that the scientific evidence is inadequate at the present time to say anything about the probability. We draw attention to the kinds of evidence that might throw additional light on the topic.

Crick and Orgel further expanded on this idea in their 1981 book, ‘Life Itself.’. They believed there was little chance that microorganisms could be transported between planets and across interstellar distances by random accident. But a technological civilization could direct panspermia by stocking a spacecraft with a genetic starter kit. They suggested that a large sample of different microorganisms with minimal nutritional needs could survive the long journey between worlds.

Many scientists are critical of the Panspermia hypothesis, because it does not try to answer the question of how life first originated. Instead, it passes the responsibility on to another place and another time, offering at best a partial solution to the question.

Crick and Orgel suggested that Directed Panspermia might help resolve some mysteries about life’s biochemistry. For instance, it could be the reason why the biological systems of Earth are dependent on molybdenum, when the chemically similar metals chromium and nickel are far more abundant. They suggested that the seeds for life on Earth could have originated from a location far richer in molybdenum.

Other scientists have noted, however, that in seawater molybdenum is more abundant than either chromium or nickel.

Coming full circle to his groundbreaking discovery of DNA’s structure, Crick wondered, if life began in the great “primeval soup” suggested by the Miller/Urey experiment, why there wouldn’t be a multitude of genetic materials among the different life forms. Instead, all life on Earth shares the same basic DNA structure.

Crick and Orgel wrote in their book ‘Life Itself,’ “an honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.”

This doesn’t sound very “playful” to me. Crick and Orgel were as serious as a heart attack. I wonder if Crick would have classified Richard Dawkins as “an honest man”? If I seem to be giving Orgel short shrift it’s probably because I’m personally acquainted with Francis Crick’s son Michael who I collaborated with on an online multiplayer computer game design in the recent past.

  • Delicious
  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • RSS Feed

29 Responses to The Dawkins Delusion a.k.a. The God Delusion

  1. I think you are nitpicking on Dawkins choice of words, rather than really examining whether his ideas have merit. After his point is still quite valid – if an alien species did bring bacteria to earth, we do have to ask: how was that done?

  2. This is actually an arguement I use often in debate when I argue against the existance of God. So far, used unsuccessfully due to the rather vaguely-defined nature of said God.

    It is easy enough to convince someone when I refer to aliens creating life. The obvious question then is ‘where did the aliens come from?’ and so the idea of directed panspermia (Oh, people do love those long words) is often refered to informally as the ‘bootstraps theory.’ It is equivilent to trying to life yourself by your own bootstraps. The theory doesn’t answer the question of the origin of life at all – it only moves it.

    It would seem obvious, at that point, to substitute God in place of the alient. Unfortunatly, as soon as I get God involved, excuses appear. The most common I see are suggestions that either God has always existed and so needs to origin, or that God exists outside of time and so, again, needs no origin. Xe soon aquires a new title, the ‘uncaused cause.’

    This is rather an annoyance to me, but serves only to strengthen my own atheistic convictions: Declareing that God is beyond the realm of time sounds uncannily familiar to another mythical character with a reputation for delivering gifts to over a billion houses in one night.

    I have yet to convince one person with the arguement: In every case, the debate degenerates into metaphysical ramblings on the nature of time. The problem with supernatural things is that you cant argue that they violate the laws of physics, causality, or even common-sense – they have the magical property that they can be redefined to be beyond any rational arguement.

  3. I’ve just checked Pandas Thumb to see if they have posted anything on Dawkins wayward claims. They are dead against scientists being misrepresented, conflating science and metaphysics, etc, etc. Or so I have been led to believe.

    Nothing yet. Funny, they are usually quite quick on this…

  4. Come to think of it… what are the chances of seeing a review of The God Delusion on PT by, say, Nick Matzke?

  5. if an alien species did bring bacteria to earth, we do have to ask: how was that done?

    The Voyager spacecraft, like Elvis, has left the building for parts unknown. Also like Elvis it probably has some microbes hitching a ride on it. It’s not a huge step to purposely preserve microbes for the long haul and target the payload to a soft landing on a young earth-like world around another star. Indeed, the next generation of telescopes vying for funding are geared towards being able to resolve earth-size planets around stars and get spectroscopic analysis of their surface environment. If you ask me this is strong evidence that the evolution of a technologic species able to continue the cycle of life beyond the hospitable lifetime of any given planet was planned in advance. I would point out that this is in complete accord with Davison’s conviction that man is the terminal product of evolution. All that remains is for us to fulfill our mission or die trying.

  6. raven

    Naturalism contains all that exists within the observable universe. The consensus in cosmology is that there is more to the universe than what we are limited in seeing by the light speed barrier. Thus the supernatural is confirmed as much as it can be confirmed at this time.

  7. antg

    I’m not holding my breath waiting for the thumbsters to castigate Dawkins for removing the embarrassing essay I’m finding so entertaining. Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place… they either acknowledge the embarrassing essay by their bright shining star or be righteously branded as double standard bearing hypocrites (DSBH).

    I’ll have to work this into my now famous characterization of the them as the “Church Burnin’ Ebola Boys” (CBEB). Any ideas on how to modify it to reflect this?

  8. We won’t have time to die trying to leave the earth for points unkown. This is it folks. Try to render this planet habitable once again instead of trying to find another one to screw up.

    “A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable.”
    John A. Davison

  9. Dr. Davison: Who needs a hug today?

  10. Heh, that’s what I was thinking yesterday…all Dawkins really needs is a hug.

  11. I have yet to convince one person with the arguement: In every case, the debate degenerates into metaphysical ramblings on the nature of time. The problem with supernatural things is that you cant argue that they violate the laws of physics, causality, or even common-sense – they have the magical property that they can be redefined to be beyond any rational arguement.

    Comment by SuricouRaven — September 28, 2006 @ 10:30 am

    Mmmmm, is not what you just defined the supernatural which is beyond the natural of this universe? The problem seems worse in your favor because to argue that they break such said laws you have to first establish what those laws are binding on and from whence they came.

    IMHO : Cause and Effect are always needed within the known universe, such things cannot be said for those outside of it. Nothing creating something is beyond rational, it’s impossible!

  12. Crick wondered, if life began in the great “primeval soup” suggested by the Miller/Urey experiment, why there wouldn’t be a multitude of genetic materials among the different life forms. Instead, all life on Earth shares the same basic DNA structure.

    By this we can see that Darwinism does NOT predict biological universals, contrary to what we hear today.
    Francis Crick adds:

    Such an astonishing degree of [biochemical] uniformity was hardly suspected as little as forty years ago” F. Crick, 1981, “Life Itself”, page 47

    However, biological universals fit perfectly with Message Theory, since it serves as a unifying principle.

  13. John Singleton,

    You said, “I think you are nitpicking on Dawkins choice of words, rather than really examining whether his ideas have merit.”

    No it is not nitpicking, Dawkins choice of words is important. Dawkins knows that Crick is making an intelligent design argument when he says that life came from aliens, so Dawkins attempts to minimize the seriousness of Crick’s assertion by calling it a “playful” specultation.

  14. Considering that non-intelligent mechanisms could cause panspermia (e.g. a meteorite strikes an inhabited planet and lifts large amounts of matter into “space” in several directions), I have a hard time understanding why panspermia would be any sort of evidence of intelligent design. Sure, it could have been “directed” panspermia, but inventing a catch-phrase is hardly evidence.

  15. More about panspermia:

    Francis Crick’s concept of [directed] panspermia is [the] theory…that life was seeded on earth by an extraterrestrial civilization aeons ago, when primordial earth had the conditions favorable for the development of life. The idea of panspermia was first put forward by Lord Kelvin; he suggested that life came to planet Earth on the back of a meteorite. Crick’s version, presented in his book Life Itself, was formed in collaboration with Leslie Orgel, a biochemist at the Salk Institute, and was in large part an intellectual exercise that grew out of an international meeting on the topic of communication with extraterrestrial intelligence held in the Armenian Republic in 1971.

    Many people believed that Crick had cracked the scientific limb he had been out on when he seriously presented his panspermia ideas, but this winner of the Nobel Prize felt the concept should be fully explored as an alternative to life evolving from the primordial chemistry of ancient earth — an explanation that Crick seriously doubted and considered improbable because of the numerous conditions and complex sequence of events that had to be met before it could happen.

    The Omni Space Almanac (1987) by Neil McAleer.

    A few years ago I received a letter from him [Crick] saying, “I am still interested in the idea of Directed Panspermia. Our slogan was ‘Bugs can go further.’ ” By this he means that there is every reason to expect spores to play an essential role in the propagation of life in the universe just as they do in the propagation of life on Earth. Spores are the natural way to package biological and genetic information for rapid transit over interstellar distances. Panspermia is an old theory, originally proposed by the chemist Svante Arrhenius… Arrhenius imagined the whole universe filled with spores of life. Directed Panspermia is panspermia plus intelligence, the universe filled with spores deliberately aimed toward habitats favorable to life’s spread and survival.

    Directed panspermia is only a hypothesis on the wilder fringe of speculation, not quite science and not quite science fiction. It belongs with Newton’s celestial zoo in the borderland where science and mythology meet…

    When this new science has grown mature enough to differentiate itself clearly from the surrounding farrago of myth and fiction, it might call itself “cosmic ecology,” the science of life in interaction with the cosmos as a whole. Cosmic ecology would look to the future rather than to the past for its subject matter, and would admit life and intelligence on an equal footing with general relativity as factors influencing the evolution of the universe…

    – Freeman Dyson in Infinite in All Directions (1988, from lectures written in 1985)

  16. We won’t have time to die trying to leave the earth for points unkown. This is it folks. Try to render this planet habitable once again instead of trying to find another one to screw up.

    Do we have a choice of whether or not to try? If you’re *really* a hardcore determinist then you must believe it doesn’t matter because the outcome is already written in granite. Why bother getting out of bed in the morning if free will is an illusion? Just go with the flow, man. Burn up those fossil fuels like there’s no tomorrow. If you do it’s your unalterable destiny and if you don’t it’s still your unalterable destiny. No need to think about anything. It’s already been thought out for you and nothing you think can change anything. Hardcore determinism is depressing. Life has no meaning whatsoever absent free will.

  17. SuricouRaven,

    But if you do not have a God who is without origin, then how do you accept that matter is without origin? No matter how you work it, something exists without origin.

  18. Hawks

    In the interest of furthering your education I pulled your comment out of banned land.

    Considering that non-intelligent mechanisms could cause panspermia (e.g. a meteorite strikes an inhabited planet and lifts large amounts of matter into “space” in several directions), I have a hard time understanding why panspermia would be any sort of evidence of intelligent design. Sure, it could have been “directed” panspermia, but inventing a catch-phrase is hardly evidence.

    H.J. Melosh. 2003. “Exchange of Meteorites (and Life?) Between Stellar Systems.” Astrobiology 3:207.

    http://www.lpl.arizona.edu/~jm.....permia.pdf

    It is unlikely that a single meteorite of extrasolar origin
    has ever reached the surface of the Earth.

    —Carl Sagan, 1972 (cited in Crick and Orgel, 1973)

    We have shown that over the course of
    post–heavy bombardment Solar System history
    only one or two rocks from the surface of one of
    the terrestrial planets may have been temporarily
    captured into another stellar system. This figure
    would be increased early in Solar System history
    when cratering rates were perhaps a factor of
    1,000 larger than at present and when the Sun may
    have been closer to other stars in its birth cluster.
    However, when the probability of 1 in 10,000 that
    the captured meteorite actually strikes a terrestrial
    planet is factored in, it seems unlikely that any
    rock ejected from a terrestrial planet in our Solar
    System has ever reached a terrestrial planet in another
    solar system. This conclusion validates the
    quote from Carl Sagan that opened this paper. It
    is also in good agreement with the fact that no hyperbolic
    meteorites or comets have ever been observed.
    The spaces between the stars are immense,
    and the probability of exchanging material with
    another stellar system is correspondingly tiny.

    In other words, there ain’t a chance in hell a microbe arrived here by accident from another solar system. Because life appeared on earth so early in our solar system’s history it isn’t any more likely to have originated elsewhere in our solar system as on earth. So the only plausible panspermia is directed panspermia. QED

  19. One thing we have to give credit to the “panspermianists”; their arguements put more knails in the coffin of abiogenesis. If hardline materialists/evolutionists are seeking elsewhere for the origin of life (except looking for God), and moving away from the religious belief that nature did its own creating, what does that tell you about all those abiogenetic scenarions still being proposed from time to time all over the globe? If they themselves have a hard time accepting it, why should we? Why should we have it taught in public schools using our money?

  20. 20

    #16 by DaveScot

    Yes indeed I am a hard core determinist just as Einstein was. What you forget is that we don’t know is what is going to happen next. Nobody does. I would like to think that Homo sapiens (literally wise man) would wake up and save himself from autodestruction. I don’t regard that as very likely judging from what I see going on around me. I don’t think anyone else does either.

    I sincerely hope that the cosmic “prescribed” program includes the realization that we are committing suicide and that we have the good sense to reverse our policies before it is too late.

    Let us pray to the God or Gods of our choice.

    “A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable.”
    John A. Davison

  21. Now, was my finding of the below essay, John Davison, by chance or by “design”? We began a dialog on Phi in another post; a Google search led me to this website and an excellent rebuttal to Dawkins. Obviously, totally random. :)

    I will cite what I found of interest, because the write lets Dawkins have it with both barrels.

    My own belief, which I found the writer echoes, is Dawkins confusion of God with human religion and his Utopian hope that the absence of belief in God will lead to “Paradise” on earth.

    Let’s accept, as an oxymoronic “thought experiment”, that Darwin was right !

    Then based on evolution, and being frail organisms without teeth and claws, human beings are the most violent species in the known Universe.

    The cruelty of individuals and the governments made up of individual human beings will not cease were Dawkins accepted as the Messiah of atheisim!

    Now, for the link and an excerpt:

    http://evolutionoftruth.com/evo/rdawkins.htm

    “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”
    —Socrates

    “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation. ” HERBERT SPENCER

    Half truths make the best lies

    Half truths, however, make the best lies. Do Dawkins’ views really represent those of an open-minded scientist, or are they really just the rationalizations of a passionate atheist who can only see the world in one way?

    Consider, for instance, some quotes from his books:

    “It is a telling fact that, the world over, the vast majority of children follow the religion of their parents rather than any of the other available religions.”

    “It is the genes that, for their own good, are manipulating the bodies they ride about in. The individual organism is a survival machine for its genes.”

    “Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have a chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do.”

    “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design.”

    “Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous–indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.”

    When carried to their logical conclusions, Dawkins’ statements lead you right back to God.

    Are these statements of scientific fact, or are they simply the viewpoints of one who starts with a preconception that God does not exist and then sets out to justify his beliefs?

    Can you scientifically determine the existence of God based on the percentage of who people follow the religion of their parents? An equally telling fact is that while there are differences, the common teaching of all the major religions is that there is but one God, our Creator, whose greatest command for us is that we love Him and one another. Of course by Dawkins’ own logic, it would also be a telling fact that those raised among atheists would likely follow in those footsteps as well, begging the question of how Dawkins’ own background was a factor in predetermining his beliefs.

    Does a universe that produced sentient beings capable of creative thought, art, music, love and pondering their own existence really exhibit “precisely the properties we should expect of no design,” or would a universe with no design more likely be nothing but lifeless matter? Are conclusions such as this the product of of science and reason or simply an atheistic rationalization?

    If Dawkins concludes that nature itself lacks all design or purpose, is it consistent to then conclude that genes, which are part of nature, have “selfish” purpose while man, also a part of nature, does not? He states that the gene must survive and that it doesn’t care which life form is used to accomplish this goal. Humans are no better than rats. A dismal view, to say the least, but does reason let you stop there or are we just looking at a half truth concocted to support a particular viewpoint of life? Why not say instead that matter itself doesn’t care whether it exists as hydrogen or uranium atoms, organic or inorganic molecules, as long as it continues to exist? Why not go one step further yet to say that all that really counts is the infinite source of energy from which all matter itself came and to ponder ITS purpose rather than that of supposedly “selfish” genes? If Dawkins would take his thinking to its logical conclusion he might be well on the road to finding the God he so passionately wants to prove does not exist.

    Consider the other rationalizations that Dawkins present in his books to support his views:

    In one instance, Dawkins tries to demonstrate that God is unnecessary by developing computer programs which apply random changes to pre-defined forms, saying this mimics the evolution of life. By the very act of “programming” and defining the rules, however, he is playing the role of God in his own creations, yet he fails to realize that fact, and fails to even question if another intelligent being might have played the same role in our own creation.

    In another instance, Dawkins shows how strings of random letters with no meaning can be “mutated” one by one into a Shakespearean phrase, as supposed evidence of what happened to DNA in the evolution of life. This model falls short of real life processes, however, in which only intermediate steps with completely defined and meaningful life functions survive to reproduce the next variation. Dawkins never even accounts for the origin of the incredibly complicated process of reproduction, which he assumes in his model to have just happened on its own.

    Atheism masquerading as science?

    Dawkins writes logically, but he writes only to support his own personal beliefs and never really engages the alternate hypothesis, as any good scientist should. If you don’t share his ideologies, the weaknesses and shortcomings in his logic become very apparent. He uses his position as a scientist, however, to add credibility to an overriding, and highly charged, personal agenda of atheism and secular humanism.

    By contrast, greater scientists such as Einstein and Hawking, even though they may not speak of faith in a personal God, still express a deep sense of wonder and awe for our existence. For others yet, such Von Braun, the universe itself is undeniable evidence of their God and Savior. Dawkins writings though reveal someone who thinks he has it all figured out and that anyone who doesn’t see it his way is ignorant, using terms like “cowardly flabbiness of the intellect” to describe those with other views. As noted by Richter, a man never discloses his own character so clearly as when he describes another’s. If you read Dawkins, look beyond the clever logic to the heart, character and motives of the man and there you will gain understandings into life that go far beyond the mere text of his writings.

    Religion is not God

    Dawkins strikes out against religion, but note his target. Religion is not God, and experiencing religion is not the same as experiencing God. Religion is a human social institution and its failings do not prove or disprove the existence of God. They just demonstrate shortcomings in mankind that pervade all human institutions, from government to sports to marriage.

    Does Dawkins show any recognition or understanding of the spiritual experiences of knowing God that change a life to one of love and service or does he just strike out against the worst parts of religion: the ritual, hypocrisy, anger and self-righteousness? Read any one of the gospels and you’ll find that Jesus Christ strikes out against the very same things! (Matthew 23, for example) Christ, however, completes the picture with the insight that true worship of God is none of these, but instead is a relationship of love with God as a person.

    Use Dawkins’ logic on religion and you might as well also throw out science just because there are some scientists who fall short of the disciplines of science, abuse science to justify their own selfish agendas and similarly damage and mislead others in the process.

  22. Oh, to clarify, without “teeth and claws” I meant on the order of any other predator; thus, to survive, humans must be more “violent”. I don’t agree with that thought, but there you have it. However, I did admire the above “rebuttal” of “Dawkinism”!

    Well, perhaps Dawkins will offer himself as an argument against “intelligent design”? Actually, I suspect “free will” is demonstrated by Dawkins’ beliefs and choices.

    For those who want to learn more about “Phi”, here’s the link:

    http://goldennumber.net/

  23. 23

    In his own words – “I have a product to sell.” I told you he was a snake oil salesman didn’t I.? Of course I did. Don’t you folks ever listen? Apparently not. Invite him to participate here so you can have the have the pleasure of being snubbed by him.

    Dawkins is to neo-Darwinism what Paul Kammerer was to Lamarckism, the quintessential charlatan.

    I love it so!

    “A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable.”
    John A. Davison

  24. Maybe I too am wasting my time here, but this is a new review of Dawkins, highly critical. It appears Wiki is updating links to new reviews.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_God_Delusion

    From today’s Sunday Times:

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2102-2375182.html

    EXCERPT

    The Sunday Times October 01, 2006

    Religion

    A question of respect
    REVIEWED BY JOHN CORNWELL
    THE GOD DELUSION
    by Richard Dawkins

    Bantam Press £20 pp406

    Not long before he died, Graham Greene told me in an interview of his nagging doubts about God, sin, angels and Satan. When I asked him why he continued to regard himself as a Catholic, he replied: “Because I’ve reached a stage where I doubt my doubt.”

    Richard Dawkins, Charles Simonyi professor of the understanding of science at Oxford, appears equally haunted by religion, but doubt is not an option. It is his conviction that faith has been the principal source of violence and suffering throughout history. The world, in his view, would be a lot better off without it. That is the theme of The God Delusion — one which could not be more apt for our time — and he pulls out all the stops to demonstrate the force of his thesis in this passionate new book.

    # # # # #

    Dawkins then challenges the God of the Gaps — the idea that there are bits missing in scientific theories that might adequately be filled by a creator. Next on to the “Darwinian Imperative”, the explanation for life on this planet, the existence of human beings, and the phenomena of human behaviour, including religion itself, our consciousness and our ability to wonder whence we came. Against this background he eloquently and soundly puts paid to the arguments of the creationists who would introduce the finger of God into the science of evolution.

    So far, no surprises. The truly controversial thrust comes in a chapter titled: “How moderation in faith fosters fanaticism”. Here Dawkins abandons what I took to be his principal target, religious fundamentalism, to indict religion even in its most moderate forms. “What is so hard for us to understand,” he writes of suicide bombers, “is that…these people actually believe what they say they believe. The take-home message is that we should blame religion itself, not religious extremism — as though that were some kind of terrible perversion for real decent religion.” But the notion that faith is a kind of on-off, all- or-nothing switch is surely fallacious. Most religionists, and perhaps many agnostics and atheists, struggle, like Graham Greene, with their convictions throughout a lifetime. Yet given his starkly simplistic version of the act of faith, Dawkins sees no point in discussing the critical borders where religion morphs from benign phenomenon into malefic basket case.

    This is a pity, since his entire thesis becomes a counsel of despair rather than a quest for solutions. It is not surprising that Dawkins fails to grasp the complexity of belief, still less the operation of religious imagination, since there is hardly a serious work of philosophy of religion cited in his extensive bibliography, save for Richard Swinburne — himself an oddity among orthodox theologians. In parallel with Dawkins’s notion of faith, which appears to be sourced mainly from Voltaire’s knockabout Philosophical Dictionary, there is a remarkable absence of social and political realism; it gives the impression of a voice crying in a wilderness of his own making.

  25. From The Observer – the wit and wisdom of Richard Dawkins (kidding)!

    This article also makes it clear that “big bang” cosmology may be used to support atheistic tenets.

    I will just provide a link and avoid any inflamatory opinion, except I will quote from today’s review of in The Times, and I do agree:

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2102-2375182.html

    If there is a dangerous delusion in the world, it is not so much moderate religion, as Dawkins would have it, but fundamentalism in all its forms — ideological, scientific and religious — as the imposition of dogma that brooks neither doubt nor respect for disagreement.

    Now, as to the interview and essay in The Observer, with the link, and no comments from me; draw your own conclusions. Feel free to Google (while Googling is still legal) Paul Davies and read his Templeton speech. Yawn!

    http://observer.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,1873989,00.html

    Masters of the universe

    What is the purpose of existence? Is there an afterlife? Is there anyone else out there? It’s not every day we confront the big questions about life, the universe and everything. But, seizing on our increased interest in this search for meaning, three of our finest thinkers – scientist Richard Dawkins, cosmologist Paul Davies and playwright Michael Frayn – are getting to grips with these existential dilemmas in their new books.

    Could Tim Adams find the answers?

    Excerpt from article:

    I went to see Richard Dawkins to talk about some of this at his home in Oxford. He may believe life lacks purpose, but in person he could hardly be more purposeful. He sits in his garden in his shorts in the late summer sun and talks about how he acquired wonder, about his father’s wild flower obsession, and about the follies and dangers of organised religion, the substance of his book.

    Dawkins, you could argue, has done more than anyone alive to advance our understanding of life by popularising the idea of natural selection at the level of genetics (most notably in The Selfish Gene). He is so determinedly rational that he seems lately to have made it his mission to eradicate human irrationality of every kind. Following his recent TV series debunking religion, and this book, he is about to embark on a Channel 4 series demolishing ‘New Age claptrap’. I’m interested to know how it feels to pursue that mission. Isn’t it a thankless task going over these Enlightenment arguments and finding that mumbo jumbo is still advancing in the world?

    ‘Well, it is in a way,’ he says. ‘But it is also supremely necessary. I had an eye on the American audience in particular with The God Delusion….’

    It sometimes seems, though, that he has made it his mission to take all the mystery out of things: is that fair?

    ‘You are probably right that I have that reputation but it is a very unfair reputation. It’s just that I think there is enough real mystery in the universe that we don’t need to manufacture any more.’

    We talk a little about Douglas Adams, who is the dedicatee of his book. He suggests that as well as great jokes there was ‘an awful lot of advanced recondite science in his books’. I wonder whether he thought that a cosmic joke is one reasonable explanation for why we are all here wondering about why we are all here. ‘Well,’ he says, ‘with the more mysterious aspects of modern physics, for example, just to laugh is certainly one possible response.’

    I have a sense that some of the urgency in his denunciation of God and the faithful – and he can’t see any difference among the Abrahamic religions (‘They are all as bad as each other’) or much between fundamentalists and ordinary believers – increases with his advancing years, that he becomes angrier about religion as he gets older. He denies this, quite strongly, and also disputes that his motivation is a creeping sense of mortality.

    ‘You have to make a distinction,’ he says, ‘between the process of dying and being dead. I belong to the species homo sapiens which means I can’t go to the vet and be put down, so the process of dying could be very painful. But the fact of being dead is less alarming to me, though I would be disappointed to die early. I like to quote Mark Twain: “I do not fear death, in view of the fact that I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”‘

    One of the likeable things about Dawkins is that he lives with a profoundly developed sense of his species’s insignificance, yet he does not falter at all in his efforts to try to work everything out. I wonder, when the full implications of his version of a ‘blind watchmaker’s’ universe are widely felt, whether he believes that everyone will display his kind of optimism?

    ‘Well, you think it should have sunk in already,’ he says. ‘One way of expressing it is to look at the most momentous event in human history that you can think of, the death of Christ, say; if the news of that had started being broadcast out at the speed of light 2,000 years ago it is just pathetic the distance it would have travelled. It would have been just this tiny, tiny little ripple in this great space. But, having said that, we may not be insignificant in terms of our uniqueness. It is possible that there is no other life in the universe. That goes flat contrary to Copernicus, Galileo, Einstein who have taught us to downplay our own tiny corner of the universe. The principle of mediocrity suggests that there is nothing very special about where we are, and who we are, but that is counteracted by the anthropic principle. If there is only one instance of life in the entire universe then it has to be here.’

    Is that what he believes?

    ‘I think both views are exciting,’ he says. ‘I like the idea of life teeming all over the universe and on the other hand I also see the force of the idea that we are unique. If life really did only arise once then the idea of life, specifically the idea of the first self-replicating molecule, would have to be so staggeringly rare that any pretension by chemists to try to replicate it would be doomed to failure.’

    When he thinks of that first spark of life, I say, I wonder what comes into his mind?

    ‘It’s not a spark,’ he says, quickly. ‘It’s not like electricity or a bubbling gel of vitality, it is more like information technology that has got going by random luck. If you think of human life first replicating into two cells in each there is a complete set of chromosomes bearing prodigious quantities of digital information built up over 4 billion years of rewriting and editing. That is actually much more wonderful than a spark.’

    I suggest that sometimes, though, for all the volumes of science and philosophy it seems that human knowledge can be captured in odd lines from Shakespeare. ‘What a piece of work is man … And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?’ and so on. Which side of that quote does he fall on?

    ‘Well I wouldn’t necessarily make man distinct from any other species. I think I would say what a piece of work is life, what a piece of work is DNA, and if you take man in particular, yes, that’s a good order of magnitude, and within that order of magnitude what a piece of work is Shakespeare …’

    Speaking to Dawkins you have the sense that religion has become a persistent kind of affront to him. When I put this to Paul Davies on the phone in Arizona, where he now works, he suggests that part of that is no doubt a fact of Dawkins’s discipline: ‘Biologists have a particular problem with the crazy Intelligent Design people [the 'American Taliban' as Dawkins has it, who persist in believing that nature is the work of a Creator] because the argument goes to the core of their subject, and it has become so politicised that it has to be constantly shot down.’ Davies is not sure about the wisdom of such books as The God Delusion, however. ‘It can sometimes look shrill and defensive to try to refute religion point by point,’ he says. ‘I tend to turn it around and just say, “Tell me why I should believe in the Bible, a book of poetry which we know was put together by committee in the third century?”‘

    Despite this, Davies can see a point where scientific theory of the universe and religious faith might meet, though he draws a very clear distinction between what he calls religious practice and religious philosophy. He is happy to sit down and talk with professors of theology, or accept the highly lucrative Templeton Prize (to Dawkins’s scorn) which seeks to reward ‘research or discoveries about spiritual realities’.

    But, he says, he has no need of religion himself, beyond his sense of life-affirming laws: ‘Sentient beings have a certain meaning and that lies in interpreting the observable world,’ he says. ‘And for me that is purpose enough. We have a partial understanding at least of how it all works. We are not the pinnacle of creation but neither are we completely insignificant either.’

    I wonder whether the greater his understanding of the universe becomes the smaller he feels?

    ‘Not really,’ he suggests, ‘because the universe is expanding in both directions. We are poised somewhere between the very, very large and the very, very small.’

    He agrees with Dawkins that perhaps the biggest question currently facing science is whether life is easy to make or something extremely difficult, a one-in-a-billion-billion chance. Both men believe it possible that a form of life will be created in the laboratory in the next few years. By temperament Davies would like to believe that the universe is teeming with life, but of course he possesses no evidence that it is. ‘Rather than looking for life on Mars,’ he believes, ‘we might be better off looking for evidence of a second or subsequent genesis on earth with the help of gene mapping.’

  26. 26

    Panspermia is hardly original with Francis Crick. It was first proposed by Svante Arrhenius, the Swedish physical chemist early in the last century. There is not a shred of evidence for it any more than there is that lfe exists anywhere else except here on earth. I have always regaded it as science fiction myself.

    A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable.”
    John A. Davison

  27. I hate to inflict this upon readers, but here is Paul Davies’ Templeton Prize address, an excerpt, which makes my point that belief in the “big bang” is not necessarily conducive to theism.

    Feel free to comment; I am always interested in intelligent observations.

    http://aca.mq.edu.au/PaulDavies/prize_address.htm

    EXCERPT

    So where is God in this story? Not especially in the big bang that starts the universe off, nor meddling fitfully in the physical processes that generate life and consciousness. I would rather that nature can take care of itself. The idea of a God who is just another force or agency at work in nature, moving atoms here and there in competition with physical forces, is profoundly uninspiring. To me, the true miracle of nature is to be found in the ingenious and unswerving lawfulness of the cosmos, a lawfulness that permits complex order to emerge from chaos, life to emerge from inanimate matter, and consciousness to emerge from life, without the need for the occasional supernatural prod; a lawfulness that produces beings who not only ask great questions of existence, but who, through science and other methods of enquiry, are even beginning to find answers.

    You might be tempted to suppose that any old rag-bag of laws would produce a complex universe of some sort, with attendant inhabitants convinced of their own specialness. Not so. It turns out that randomly-selected laws lead almost inevitably either to unrelieved chaos or boring and uneventful simplicity. Our own universe is poised exquisitely between these unpalatable alternatives, offering a potent mix of freedom and discipline, a sort of restrained creativity. The laws do not tie down physical systems so rigidly that they can accomplish little, nor are they a recipe for cosmic anarchy. Instead, they encourage matter and energy to develop along pathways of evolution that lead to novel variety, what Freeman Dyson has called the principle of maximum diversity: that in some sense we live in the most interesting possible universe.

    Scientists have recently identified a regime dubbed “the edge of chaos”, a description that certainly characterises living organisms, where innovation and novelty combine with coherence and cooperation. The edge of chaos seems to imply the sort of lawful freedom I have just described. Mathematical studies suggest that to engineer such a state of affairs requires laws of a very special form. If we could twiddle a knob and change the existing laws, even very slightly, the chances are that the universe as we know it would fall apart, descending into chaos. Certainly the existence of life as we know it, and even of less elaborate systems such as stable stars, would be threatened by just the tiniest change in the strengths of the fundamental forces, for example. The laws that characterize our actual universe, as opposed to an infinite number of alternative possible universes, seem almost contrived – fine-tuned some commentators have claimed – so that life and consciousness may emerge. To quote Dyson again: it is almost as if “the universe knew we were coming”. I can’t prove to you that that is design, but whatever it is it is certainly very clever!

    Now some of my colleagues embrace the same scientific facts as I, but deny any deeper significance. They shrug aside the breathtaking ingenuity of the laws of physics, the extraordinary felicity of nature, and the surprising intelligibility of the physical world, accepting these things as a package of marvels that just happens to be. But I cannot do this. To me, the contrived nature of physical existence is just too fantastic for me to take on board as simply “given”. It points forcefully to a deeper underlying meaning to existence. Some call it purpose, some design. These loaded words, which derive from human categories, capture only imperfectly what it is that the universe is about . But, that it is about something, I have absolutely no doubt.

    Where do we human beings fit into this great cosmic scheme? Can we gaze out into the cosmos, as did our remote ancestors, and declare: “God made all this for us!” Well, I think not. Are we then but an accident of nature, the freakish outcome of blind and purposeless forces, an incidental by-product of a mindless, mechanistic universe? I reject that too. The emergence of life and consciousness, I maintain, are written into the laws of the universe in a very basic way. True, the actual physical form and general mental make-up of homo sapiens contains many accidental features of no particular significance. If the universe were re-run a second time, there would be no solar system, no Earth and no people. But the emergence of life and consciousness somewhere and somewhen in the cosmos is, I believe, assured by the underlying laws of nature. The origin of life and consciousness were not interventionist miracles, but nor were they stupendously improbable accidents. They were, I believe, part of the natural outworking of the laws of nature, and as such our existence as conscious enquiring beings springs ultimately from the bedrock of physical existence – those ingenious, felicitous laws. That is the sense in which I have written in my book The Mind of God : “We are truly meant to be here”. I mean “we” in the sense of conscious beings, not homo sapiens specifically. Thus although we are not at the centre of the universe, human existence does have a powerful wider significance. Whatever the universe as a whole may be about, the scientific evidence suggests that we, in some limited yet ultimately still profound way, are an integral part of its purpose.

    How can we test these ideas scientifically? One of the great challenges to science is to understand the nature of consciousness in general and human consciousness in particular. We still haven’t a clue how mind and matter are related, nor what process led to the emergence of mind from matter in the first place. This is an area of research that is attracting considerable attention at present, and for my part I intend to pursue my own research in this field. I expect that when we do come to understand how consciousness fits into the physical universe, my contention that mind is an emergent and in principle predictable product of the laws of the universe will be borne out.

    Secondly, if I am right that the universe is fundamentally creative in a pervasive and continuing manner, and that the laws of nature encourage matter and energy to self-organize and self-complexify to the point that life and consciousness emerge naturally, then there will be a universal trend or directionality towards the emergence of greater complexity and diversity. We might then expect life and consciousness to exist throughout the universe. That is why I attach such importance to the search for extraterrestrial organisms, be they bacteria on Mars, or advanced technological communities on the other side of the galaxy. The search may prove hopeless – the distances and numbers are certainly daunting – but it is a glorious quest. If we are alone in the universe, if the Earth is the only life-bearing planet among countless trillions, then the choice is stark. Either we are the product of a unique supernatural event in a universe of profligate overprovision, or else an accident of mind-numbing improbability and irrelevance. On the other hand, if life and mind are universal phenomena, if they are written into nature at its deepest level, then the case for an ultimate purpose to existence would be compelling.

    Finally, let me turn to the theme of the Templeton Prize itself: progress in religion. It is often pointed out that people are increasingly turning away from the established religions. However, it remains as true as ever that ordinary men and women yearn for some sort of deeper meaning to their lives. Our secular age has led many people to feel demoralised and disillusioned, alienated from nature, regarding their existence as a pointless charade in an indifferent, even hostile, universe, a meaningless three score years and ten on a remote planet wandering amid the vastness of an uncaring cosmos. Many of our social ills can be traced to the bleak world view that three hundred years of mechanistic thought have imposed on us, a world view in which human beings are presented as irrelevant observers of nature rather than an integral part of the natural order. Some may indeed recoil from this philosophy and find comfort in ancient wisdom and revered texts that place mankind at the pinnacle of creation and the centre of the universe. Others choose to put their faith in so-called New Age mysticism.

    I would like to suggest an alternative. We have to find a framework of ideas that provides people with some broader context to their lives than just the daily round, a framework that links them to each other, to nature and to the wider universe in a meaningful way, that yields a common set of principles around which peoples of all cultures can make ethical decisions, yet remains honest in the face of scientific knowledge; indeed, that celebrates that knowledge alongside other human insights and inspirations. The scientific enterprise as I have presented it to you today may not return human beings to the centre of the universe, it may reject the notion of miracles other than the miracle of nature itself, but it doesn’t make human beings irrelevant either. A universe in which the emergence of life and consciousness is seen, not as a freak set of events, but fundamental to its lawlike workings, is a universe that can truly be called our home.

  28. 28

    Davies is often cited as a Christian scientist, but he says he’s not affiliated with any religion. His God is a weak, pitiful joke who can do nothing and is worthy of no praise, let alone worship. I often ask myself why on earth Christians ever quote him or use him as a resource, since it’s obvious his God is not the God of Christianity.

  29. For Jason the Greek, and anyone else reading:

    Just in – The Spectator review today of Dawkins The God Delusion . You have to register to read the review, but I’ll provide the link and an excerpt. I have quoted Charles Moore, i.e., this essay:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opi.....do0801.xml

    Now, on to his review, and as I just did, he quotes Shakespeare:

    http://www.spectator.co.uk/the.....ness.thtml

    There are many things in this entertaining book which should certainly give religious people pause. Dawkins makes powerful attacks on the shiftiness of many religious apologists, and gives good examples of the sheer absurdity of some deference to religious belief. Did you know, for instance, that in the United States the Reverend Green in Cluedo has been renamed ‘Mr Green’? His points about the abuse of power by religious leaders are not new, but that does not make them less telling.

    Because Dawkins is an evangelical, however, he never does his opponents the justice of taking their position seriously. Just as the televangelist takes disagreement as showing sin, so Dawkins, as his book’s title states, speaks of belief in God as a ‘delusion’. This may be an appropriate word for those who died in the Jonestown massacre, but it simply does not tell you anything worth knowing about John Henry Newman, or George Herbert, or Thomas Aquinas.

    If Dawkins really wants readers like myself to check into the atheist equivalent of the Priory for what he calls ‘recovery’, he must first of all understand the condition which he seeks to relieve. He doesn’t. One of the things which sends him into paroxysms of fury, for example, is the idea that children should be brought up in a particular faith. He thinks that this turns them into ‘demented parrots’ and may make them suicide bombers. It is wrong to speak of a ‘Catholic child’, he says, or a ‘Muslim child’, because such a child can give no real consent. One should speak only of ‘a child of Catholic parents’.

    The reason that Dawkins is so angry about this is that he conceives religion simply as a set of opinions: opinions, to be of value, must be genuinely, personally held, and children are not ready for this. (Actually, I don’t agree even with this: children can and must develop their opinions, and can and should be guided, though not coerced, in them by parents, and I bet Dawkins in practice thinks the same.) But religion is not, at root, a question of opinions. It is the collective (and personal) attempt to live life according to a belief about everything. The whole of each human life, from conception, is therefore part of it. Most, though not all, Christians hold that God’s grace is channelled through the sacraments, and that the sacrament of baptism makes a child a Christian — i.e. a member of Christ’s family, not a person with a set of views. It is the spiritual equivalent both of the polio vaccine and the birth certificate, and it would therefore be unnecessarily risky to withhold it. Dawkins would think this all rubbish, of course, but he ought to acknowledge that ‘brainwashing’ need not be involved. Most churches have a later rite (confirmation) which depends on the free assent to beliefs given by people judged old enough for that assent to be real.

    Similarly, the story of the Fall of Man excites Dawkins’s contempt because he thinks the punishment of Adam and Eve incredibly ‘vindictive’ for the minor offence of what he calls ‘scrumping’. That wasn’t the offence: it was disobedience of the one prohibition God had given them, the eating of the fruit which bestowed the knowledge of good and evil that would lead to death. Dawkins should acknowledge the internal logic of what he does not believe. If the tree guaranteed all life, then the intrusion of death by man’s wilfulness was indeed the ultimate wrong.

    It is interesting, however, that Dawkins’s devotion to Darwin’s theory of natural selection produces in him a simulacrum of religious belief. He describes the pity we feel for the unfortunate and the desire we feel for members of the opposite sex even when we cannot have children with them as ‘misfirings, Darwinian mistakes: blessed, precious mistakes’. This is the Dawkins version of the ‘felix culpa’ of Adam and Eve, ‘felix’ because it led to Christ’s incarnation as a man, and to his saving death and resurrection.

    And what Darwin called the ‘daily and hourly scrutinising’ carried out always and everywhere by natural selection ‘working … at the improvement of each organic being’ is expressed just as absolutely, and just as much in terms of intention (though Dawkins denies this), as is any statement about the purposes of the all-seeing God. Darwin was a very great man, but Darwinism can turn into a Victorian faith as dated as the Clapham Sect.

    It is important for Dawkins to deny a real distinction between ‘moderate’ religion and fundamentalist extremism. He needs the cannabis-leads-on-to-heroin argument so beloved of schoolmasters. Yes, there are lots of nice religious moderates, but they set children off on the slippery slope, he says. This reveals his misunderstanding of what he attacks. The difference between moderates and bigots in religion is just as vital as is the difference between liberals and fascists in politics. Moderates (inadequate word, but I haven’t got another) see man’s relationship to his creator differently from fanatics. Their religious belief in man’s sinfulness leads them to humility: how can fallen man, with his partial understanding of everything, kill in the name of God and thus arrogate Godlike powers to himself? The fanatic’s attitude is different not in degree, but in kind: God tells him to kill, he believes, and so he must.

    Dawkins appears not to accept this distinction, and it leads him to the most extraordinary omission in his book — the failure to discuss, beyond a couple of perfunctory, derisive mentions, the belief in divine love. Such a belief, which is at the heart of Christianity, does not, in itself, refute atheism. But it does explain the other aspects of faith which Dawkins barely notices — the lives devoted to teaching, medicine, care for the poor, the visiting of prisoners, the abandonment of material things, the creation of beauty, the dying that others might live — which a pathologist inspecting the corpse of religion might see as even more marked than the cruelties inflicted in its name. To ignore it is Hamlet without the prince, or rather, Lear without Cordelia.

Leave a Reply