The recent increased interest in Intelligent Design as a competitor to Evolution reminded me of this article first posted in 2003. From the SynEARTH Archives. … Recently, two popular scientists have written in support of athesism. They are Richard Dawkins, FRS, Charles Simonyi professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford University, and Daniel C. Dennett, professor of philosophy at Tufts University. The following excerpts are reposted from Edge.
Language can help to shape the way we think about the world. Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett welcome an attempt to raise consciousness about atheism by co-opting a word with cheerful associations.
The Future Looks Bright
A triumph of consciousness-raising has been the homosexual hijacking of the word “gay”. I used to mourn the loss of gay in (what I still think of as) its true sense. But on the bright side (wait for it) gay has inspired a new imitator, which is the climax of this article. Gay is succinct, uplifting, positive: an “up” word, where homosexual is a down word, and queer, faggot and pooftah are insults. Those of us who subscribe to no religion; those of us whose view of the universe is natural rather than supernatural; those of us who rejoice in the real and scorn the false comfort of the unreal, we need a word of our own, a word like “gay”. You can say “I am an atheist” but at best it sounds stuffy (like “I am a homosexual”) and at worst it inflames prejudice (like “I am a homosexual”).
Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell, of Sacramento, California, have set out to coin a new word, a new “gay”. Like gay, it should be a noun hijacked from an adjective, with its original meaning changed but not too much. Like gay, it should be catchy: a potentially prolific meme. Like gay, it should be positive, warm, cheerful, bright.
Bright? Yes, bright. Bright is the word, the new noun. I am a bright. You are a bright. She is a bright. We are the brights. Isn’t it about time you came out as a bright? Is he a bright? I can’t imagine falling for a woman who was not a bright. The Celebrity Athesist website suggests numerous intellectuals and other famous people are brights. Brights constitute 60% of American scientists, and a stunning 93% of those scientists good enough to be elected to the elite National Academy of Sciences (equivalent to Fellows of the Royal Society) are brights. …[MORE]
The Bright Stuff
The time has come for us brights to come out of the closet. What is a bright? A bright is a person with a naturalist as opposed to a supernaturalist world view. We brights don’t believe in ghosts or elves or the Easter Bunny— or God. We disagree about many things, and hold a variety of views about morality, politics and the meaning of life, but we share a disbelief in black magic—and life after death.
The term “bright” is a recent coinage by two brights in Sacramento, Calif., who thought our social group—which has a history stretching back to the Enlightenment, if not before—could stand an image-buffing and that a fresh name might help. Don’t confuse the noun with the adjective: “I’m a bright” is not a boast but a proud avowal of an inquisitive world view.
You may well be a bright. If not, you certainly deal with brights daily. That’s because we are all around you: we’re doctors, nurses, police officers, schoolteachers, crossing guards and men and women serving in the military. We are your sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters. Our colleges and universities teem with brights. Among scientists, we are a commanding majority. Wanting to preserve and transmit a great culture, we even teach Sunday school and Hebrew classes. Many of the nation’s clergy members are closet brights, I suspect. We are, in fact, the moral backbone of the nation: brights take their civic duties seriously precisely because they don’t trust God to save humanity from its follies.
As an adult white married male with financial security, I am not in the habit of considering myself a member of any minority in need of protection. If anybody is in the driver’s seat, I’ve thought, it’s people like me. But now I’m beginning to feel some heat, and although it’s not uncomfortable yet, I’ve come to realize it’s time to sound the alarm. …[MORE]
The Denial of God and Purpose
Timothy Wilken, MD
The words ‘evolution’ and ‘Darwin’ are powerful polarizing triggers even in today’s (2003) so called modern world. This has been primarily because Darwin’s theory of evolution and the evolutionary science that developed from it seem at first glance to refute the Holy Bible’s narrative of God’s creation of Heaven and Earth and to threaten one’s belief in God. Scientist Michael Behe writing in 1996:
From the time it was first proposed, some scientists have clashed with some theologians over Darwin’s theory of evolution. Although many scientists and theologians thought that Darwinian evolution could be reconciled rather easily with the basic beliefs of most religions, publicity always focuses on conflict. The tone was probably set for good when Anglican bishop Samuel Wilberforce debated Thomas Henry Huxley, a scientist and strong advocate of evolution, about a year after Darwin’s seminal book was published. It was reported that the bishop—a good theologian but poor biologist—ended his speech by asking, I beg to know, is it through his grandfather or grandmother that Huxley claims his descent from a monkey? Huxley muttered something like, The Lord has delivered him into my hands, and proceeded to give the audience and the bishop an erudite biology lesson. At the end of his exposition Huxley declared that he didn’t know whether it was through his grandmother or grandfather that he was related to an ape, but that he would rather be descended from simians than be a man possessed of the gift of reason and see it used as the bishop had used it that day. Ladies fainted, scientists cheered, and reporters ran to print the headline: War Between Science and Theology.
The event in America that defined the public perception of the relationship of science to theology was the Scopes trial. In 1925 John Scopes, a high school biology teacher in the tiny town of Dayton, Tennessee, volunteered to be arrested for violating a previously unenforced state law forbidding the teaching of evolution. The involvement of high-profile lawyer Clarence Darrow for the defense and three-time losing presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution guaranteed the media circus that ensued. Although Scopes’s team lost at trial, his conviction was overturned on a technicality. More importantly, the publicity set a tone of antagonism between religion and science.
The Scopes trial and the Huxley-Wilberforce debate happened long ago, but more recent events have kept the conflict simmering. Over the past several decades groups that, for religious reasons, believe that the earth is relatively young (on the order of ten thousand years) have tried to have their viewpoint taught to their children in public schools. The sociological and political factors involved in the situation are quite complex—a powerful mix of such potentially divisive topics as religious freedom, parental rights, government control of education, and state versus federal rights—and are made all the more emotional because the fight is over children.
Because the age of the earth can be inferred from physical measurements, many scientists quite naturally felt that the religious groups had entered their area of expertise and called them to account. When the groups offered physical evidence that they said supported a young earth, scientists hooted it down as incompetent and biased. Tempers flared on both sides, and much ill will was built up. Some of the ill will has been institutionalized; for example, an organization called the National Center for Science Education was set up a dozen years ago-when several states were passing laws congenial to creationism—to battle creationists whenever they try to influence public school policy.
These and numerous other examples of historical events in which scientists have clashed with religious groups are real and cause real emotional reactions. They make some well-meaning people think that a demilitarized zone should be maintained between the two, with no fraternization allowed. However, the importance of the historical clashes for actual scientific understanding of the development of life is essentially zero. (1)
If we are going to heal ourselves and solve our human crisis, we must not fall into the ‘evolution versus creationism’ trap. This is just another example of ‘either/or thinking’ and ‘mixing levels of organization’. Many humans including a number of otherwise good scientists are presently caught up in this trap.
One false assumption that results from this trap is the belief that science must explain everything about life and its origins. After all if ‘God’ is the alternative explanation for all in universe. Then our ‘either/or’ thinking requires that for ‘evolutionary science’ to be true, it too must explain all in universe. However recall from the science section that to explain ‘ALL ’ in universe is very large task indeed.
Evolutionary science (2003) does explain a great deal and many of its aspects have been scientifically corroborated. However, Darwin offered no explanation for the origin of life. And, evolutionary science (2003) while explaining how simple organisms can become more complex organisms, and how organisms have adapted to better fit their environments, has not provided a clear step by step explanation for the beginnings of life nor provided proven explanations for the development of complex organs like the human eye.
When scientific theory does not answer a question placed to it, one of two conditions may exist. First, the theory is incomplete and when more is discovered and the theory expanded, it will better answer the question. Or, two the theory may be wrong and there exists an alternative explanation that better answers the question.
I believe that the first condition exists here. I believe that evolutionary science (2003) is young and like many young theories it is still incomplete. For example, it clearly needs integration with synergic science. And, I believe when and as we discover more, we will come to understand life and evolution better, and I predict we will then develop better answers to these important questions.
However, there are a number of humans including some very good scientists who believe the second condition exists here. They believe that an alternative explanation exists that better explains life.
Michael Behe argues for intelligent design as a better explanation for life:
The impotence of Darwinian theory in accounting for the molecular basis of life is evident not only from the analyses in this book, but also from the complete absence in the professional scientific literature of any detailed models by which complex biochemical systems could have been produced. In the face of the enormous complexity that modern biochemistry has uncovered in the cell, the scientific community is paralyzed. No one at Harvard University, no one at the National Institutes of Health, no member of the National Academy of Sciences, no Nobel prize winner—no one at all can give a detailed account of how the cilium, or vision, or blood clotting, or any complex biochemical process might have developed in a Darwinian fashion. But we are here. Plants and animals are here. The complex systems are here. All these things got here somehow: if not in a Darwinian fashion, then how?
Over the past four decades modern biochemistry has uncovered the secrets of the cell. The progress has been hard won. It has required tens of thousands of people to dedicate the better parts of their lives to the tedious work of the laboratory. Graduate students in untied tennis shoes scraping around the lab late on Saturday night; postdoctoral associates working fourteen hours a day seven days a week; professors ignoring their children in order to polish and repolish grant proposals, hoping to shake a little money loose from politicians with larger constituencies to feed — these are the people that make scientific research move forward. The knowledge we now have of life at the molecular level has been stitched together from innumerable experiments in which proteins were purified, genes cloned, electron micrographs taken, cells cultured, structures determined, sequences compared, parameters varied, and controls done. Papers were published, results checked, reviews written, blind alleys searched, and new leads fleshed out.
The result of these cumulative efforts to investigate the cell — to investigate life at the molecular level — is a loud, clear, piercing cry of design! The result is so unambiguous and so significant that it must be ranked as one of the greatest achievements in the history of science. The discovery rivals those of Newton and Einstein, Lavoisier and Schrˆdinger, Pasteur, and Darwin. The observation of the intelligent design of life is as momentous as the observation that the earth goes around the sun or that disease is caused by bacteria or that radiation is emitted in quanta. The magnitude of the victory, gained at such great cost through sustained effort over the course of decades, would be expected to send champagne corks flying in labs around the world. This triumph of science should evoke cries of Eureka! from ten thousand throats, should occasion much hand-slapping and high-fiving, and perhaps even be an excuse to take a day off.
But no bottles have been uncorked, no hands slapped. Instead, a curious, embarrassed silence surrounds the stark complexity of the cell. When the subject comes up in public, feet start to shuffle, and breathing gets a bit labored. In private people are a bit more relaxed; many explicitly admit the obvious but then stare at the ground, shake their heads, and let it go at that.
Why does the scientific community not greedily embrace its startling discovery? Why is the observation of design handled with intellectual gloves? The dilemma is that while one side of the coin is labeled intelligent design, the other side might be labeled God. (2)
Behe argues that intelligent design is necessary to any satisfactory explanation for the complexities of molecular biology. Design has also been offered by many others as the only satisfactory explanation for complex biological organs like the human eye.
The arguments for design presented by Behe and other advocates usually involve three issues: 1) Complexity—The probability that life could originate by chance, or that the complexity of molecular biology or the human eye can be explained by random chance is enormously unlikely. 2) Intelligence—There is evidence for intelligence in the form of controlled choice which can be found in all life forms—plants, animals, and humans—which cannot be explained by random choice. And, 3) Purpose—There is evidence of purpose in the form of goal seeking behavior which is found in all forms of life and which cannot be explained by random chance.
Complexity, intelligence, and purpose are all strong arguments against random chance. Therefore evolution stands refuted, and the only alternative offered to explain life is design.
However, all these arguments at least in part presume that Darwinian theory and evolutionary science is based on random chance. Is Darwinian theory and evolutionary science based on random chance?
Evolution Does Not Equal Random Chance
British scientist Richard Dawkins, one of world’s leading experts on evolutionary biology, discusses this presumption in his 1996 book Climbing Mount Improbable:
One of Britain’s most famous physical scientists, Sir Fred Hoyle frequently expresses a similar view with respect to large molecules such as enzymes, whose inherent ‘improbability’—that is the probability that they’d spontaneously come into existence by chance—is easier to calculate than that of eyes. Enzymes work in cells rather like exceedingly numerous machine tools for molecular mass production. Their efficacy depends upon their three dimensional shape, their share depends upon their coiling behaviour, and their coiling behaviour depends upon the sequence of amino acids which link up in a chain to make them. This exact sequence is directly controlled by genes and it really matters. Could it come about by chance?
Hoyle says no, and he is right. There is a fixed number of amino acids available, twenty. A typical enzyme is a chain of several hundred links drawn from the twenty. An elementary calculation shows that the probability that any particular sequence of, say 100, amino acids will spontaneously form is one in 20 x 20 x 20 … 100 times, or 1 in 20100, This is an inconceivably large number, far greater than the number of fundamental particles in the entire universe. Sir Fred, bending over backwards (unnecessarily, as we shall see) to be fair to those whom he sees as his Darwinian opponents, generously shortens the odds to 1 in 2020. A more modest number to be sure, but still a horrifyingly low probability. His co-author and fellow astrophysicist, Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe, has quoted him as saying that the spontaneous formation by ‘chance’ of a working enzyme is like a hurricane blowing through a junkyard and spontaneously having the luck to put together a Boeing 747. What Hoyle and Wickramasinghe miss is that Darwinism is not a theory of random chance. It is a theory of random mutation plus non-random cumulative natural selection, Why, I wonder, is it so hard for even sophisticated scientists to grasp this simple point?
Darwin himself had to contend with an earlier generation of physical scientists crying ‘chance’ as the alleged fatal flaw in his theory. William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, was perhaps the greatest physicist of his day and Darwin’s most distinguished scientific opponent. Among his many achievements he calculated the age of the Earth based on rates of cooling, assuming that it had once been a part of the ‘fires’ of the Sun. He concluded that the Earth was some tens of millions of years old. Modern estimates put the age up in the thousands of millions of years, it is no discredit to Lord Kelvin that his estimate was one hundredth part of the right answer. Dating methods using radioactive decay were not available in his time, and nuclear fusion, the true ‘fire’ of the Sun, was unknown, so his cooling calculation was doomed from the start. What is less forgivable was his lofty dismissing, ‘as a physicist’, of Darwin’s biological evidence: the earth wasn’t old enough; there hadn’t been enough time for the Darwinian process of evolution to have achieved the results we see around us; the evidence of biology must simply be wrong, trumped by the superior evidence of physics. Darwin might just as well have retorted (he didn’t) that the biological evidence clearly indicates evolution, therefore there must have been time for evolution to occur, therefore the physicist’s evidence must be wrong!
To return to the point about ‘chance’, Lord Kelvin used the prestigious platform of his Presidential Address to the British Association to quote, with approval, the words of another distinguished physical scientist, Sir John Herschel, who also, by the way, referred to Darwinism as ‘The Law of Higgledy-Piggledy’:We can no more accept the principle of arbitrary and casual variation and natural selection as a sufficient account, per se, of the past and present organic world, than we can receive the Laputan method of composing books (pushed ‡ I’outrance) as a sufficient one for Shakespeare and the Principia.Herschel’s allusion was to Gulliver’s Travels in which Swift had mocked the Laputan method of writing books by combining words at random. Herschel and Kelvin, Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, my anonymously quoted physical scientists and any number of Jehovah’s Witness tracts all make the mistake of treating Darwinian natural selection as though it were tantamount to Laputan authorship. To this day, and in quarters where they should know better, Darwinism is widely regarded as a theory of ‘chance’.
It is grindingly, creakingly, crashingly obvious that, if Darwinism were really a theory of chance, it couldn’t work. You don’t need to be a mathematician or physicist to calculate that an eye or a haemoglobin molecule would take from here to infinity to self-assemble by sheer higgledy-piggledy luck. Far from being a difficulty peculiar to Darwinism, the astronomic improbability of eyes and knees, enzymes and elbow joints and the other living wonders is precisely the problem that any theory of life must solve, and that Darwinism uniquely does solve. It solves it by breaking the improbability up into small, manageable parts, smearing out the luck needed, going round the back of Mount Improbable and crawling up the gentle slopes, inch by million-year inch. Only God would essay the mad task of leaping up the precipice in a single bound. And if we postulate him as our cosmic designer we are left in exactly the same position as when we started. Any Designer capable of constructing the dazzling array of living things would have to be intelligent and complicated beyond all imagining. And complicated is just another word for improbable—and therefore demanding of explanation. A theologian who ripostes that his god is sublimely simple has (not very) neatly evaded the issue, for a sufficiently simple god, whatever other virtues he might have, would be too simple to be capable of designing a universe (to say nothing of forgiving sins, answering prayers, blessing unions, transubstantiating wine, and the many other achievements variously expected of him). You cannot have it both ways. Either your god is capable of designing worlds and doing all the other godlike things, in which case he needs an explanation in his own right. Or he is not, in which case he cannot provide an explanation. God should be seen by Fred Hoyle as the ultimate Boeing 747.
The height of Mount Improbable stands for the combination of perfection and improbability that is epitomized in eyes and enzyme molecules (and gods capable of designing them). To say that an object like an eye or a protein molecule is improbable means something rather precise. The object is made of a large number of parts arranged in a very special way. The number of possible ways in which those parts could have been arranged is exceedingly large. In the case of a protein molecule we can actually calculate that large number. Isaac Asimov did it for the particular protein haemoglobin, and called it the Haemoglobin Number. It has 190 noughts. That is the number of ways of rearranging the bits of haemoglobin such that the result would not be haemoglobin. In the case of the eye we can’t do the equivalent calculation without fabricating lots of assumptions, but we can intuitively see that it is going to come to another stupefyingly large number. The actual, observed arrangement of parts is improbable in the sense that it is only one arrangement among trillions of possible arrangements.
Now, there is an uninteresting sense in which, with hindsight, any particular arrangement of parts is just as improbable as any other. Even a junkyard is as improbable, with hindsight, as a 747, for its parts could have been arranged in so many other ways. The trouble is, most of those ways would also be junkyards. This is where the idea of quality comes in. The vast majority of arrangements of the parts of a Boeing junkyard would not fly. A small minority would. Of all the trillions of possible arrangements of the parts of an eye, only a tiny minority would see. The human eye forms a sharp image on a retina, corrected for spherical and chromatic aberration; automatically stops down or up with an iris diaphragm to keep the internal light intensity relatively constant in the face of large fluctuations in external light intensity; automatically changes the focal length of the lens depending upon whether the object being looked at is near or far; sorts out colour by comparing the firing rates of three different kinds of light-sensitive cell. Almost all random scramblings of the parts of an eye would fail to achieve any of these delicate and difficult tasks. There is something very special about the particular arrangement that exists. All particular arrangements are as improbable as each other. But of all particular arrangements, those that aren’t useful hugely outnumber those that are. Useful devices are improbable and need a special explanation. R. A. Fisher, the great mathematical geneticist and founder of the modern science of statistics, put the point in 1930, in his usual meticulous style (I never met him, but one can almost hear his fastidiously correct dictation to his long-suffering wife):An organism is regarded as adapted to a particular situation, or to the totality of situations which constitute its environment, only in so far as we can imagine an assemblage of slightly different situations, or environments, to which the animal would on the whole be less well adapted; and equally only in so far as we can imagine an assemblage of slightly different organic forms, which would be less well adapted to that environment.Eyes, ears and hearts, the wing of a vulture, the web of a spider, these all impress us by their obvious perfection of engineering no matter where we see them: we don’t need to have them presented to us in their natural surroundings to see that they are good for some purpose and that, if their parts were rearranged or altered in almost any way, they would be worse. They have ‘improbable perfection’ written all over them. An engineer can recognize them as the kind of thing that he would design, if called upon to solve a particular problem.
This is another way of saying that objects such as these cannot be explained as coming into existence by chance. As we have seen, to invoke chance, on its own, as an explanation, is equivalent to vaulting from the bottom to the top of Mount Improbable’s steepest cliff in one bound, And what corresponds to inching up the kindly, grassy slopes on the other side of the mountain! It is the slow, cumulative, one-step-at-a-time, non-random survival of random variants that Darwin called natural selection, The metaphor of Mount Improbable dramatizes the mistake of the sceptics quoted at the beginning of this chapter, Where they went wrong was to keep their eyes fixed on the vertical precipice and its dramatic height. They assumed that the sheer cliff was the only way up to the summit on which are perched eyes and protein molecules and other supremely improbable arrangements of parts. It was Darwin’s great achievement to discover the gentle gradients winding up the other side of the mountain.
But is this one of those rare cases where it is really true that there is no smoke without fire? Darwinism is widely misunderstood as a theory of pure chance. Mustn’t it have done something to provoke this canard? Well, yes, there is something behind the misunderstood rumour, a feeble basis to the distortion. One stage in the Darwinian process is indeed a chance process—mutation, Mutation is the process by which fresh genetic variation is offered up for selection and it is usually described as random. But Darwinians make the fuss that they do about the ‘randomness’ of mutation only in order to contrast it to the non-randomness of selection, the other side of the process. It is not necessary that mutation should be random in order for natural selection to work. Selection can still do its work whether mutation is directed or not. Emphasizing that mutation ran be random is our way of calling attention to the crucial fact that, by contrast, selection is sublimely and quintessentially non-random. It is ironic that this emphasis on the contrast between mutation and the non-randomness of selection has led people to think that the whole theory is a theory of chance. (3)
When we find complexity, intelligence and purpose in a human made tool or artifact, we speak with great assurance that a human designer of that tool or artifact exists. And, that the complexity, intelligence and purpose that we find in our tool or artifact represents the complexity, intelligence and purpose of the human designer. And when we look for evidence of a human designer, we find it. We find the design plans for the tool or the blueprints for the artifact. We find the workshop of the designer or maybe his studio. And often, we find the designer himself perhaps even in the act of designing.
However, while we find complexity, intelligence and purpose in our examination of universe — in our examination of heaven and earth — in our examination of life and human — we have not found evidence of a designer of universe — evidence of a designer of heaven and earth — evidence of a designer of life and humanity — we just haven’t found it.
Our failure to find a designer or even evidence of designer is not proof that no designer exists or even that there is no evidence of design. However, we have found complexity, intelligence and purpose and this by itself is highly meaningful to the human mind.
Humanity has used the term God to represent ‘that’ in universe that is larger than ourselves. We have used the term God to represent ‘that’ which is the source of Universe — ‘that’ which is the source of Heaven and Earth — ‘that’ which is the source of Life and Humanity.
I make no argument against the existence of God. I am in full belief that there exists ‘that’ in universe that is larger than ourselves. I am in full belief that there is a ‘source’. And I also call that source God. Let us agree then that the source of Universe — the source of Heaven and Earth — the source of Life and Humanity — is God. This agreement does not require that we define or describe God in anyway.
Evolution Does Not Prove a Godless Universe
Scientists in 2003 are as human as their fellow inhabitants of the planet, and most are just as ignorant of synergy. Sensitivity to both-and thinking requires knowledge of synergy. This is why many scientists make mistakes of ‘either/or’ thinking. They are just as caught up in the ‘evolution versus creationism’ trap. Their failure to find evidence of a designer and their desire to be ‘good’ scientists — true to their intellect — compels them to deny God. Therefore they miss the fact that to explain universe will require both God and evolution.
So let us agree to end this false argument of ‘evolution versus creationism’. Let us further agree that humanity — individual or collective — scientific or religious has no ability to limit God as to what mechanism or mechanisms the act of creation or the workings of the universe will take. The mechanisms that we discover through the careful use of the scientific method will by definition be God’s mechanisms.
Synergic Evolution —One of God’s Mechanisms
In our earlier discussions we found that life’s power is to create syntropy. This ability to ever increase order, organization, pattern, and form is a defining characteristic of life. Life evolves towards ever-increasing syntropy — ever increasing order — ever increasing organization, form, pattern, and heterogeneity.
Young’s Theory of Process explains that this transition is from simple process to complex process — from light to particles, from particles to atoms, from atoms to molecules, from molecules to plants, from plants to animals, and from animals to humans. This process of synergic evolution then is another of the defining characteristics of life. This brings us to a new definition of evolution:
Evolution—def—> The transition of process from a state of lower syntropy—order, organization, pattern, and form to a state of higher syntropy—order, organization, pattern and form.
Science in 2003 has discovered that evolution is synergic. Then the purpose of life is to evolve. To transition from a state of lower syntropy to a state of higher syntropy. Life advances through actions both small and large. And purpose is the driving force behind all actions. So purpose is found everywhere in both both small and large amounts.
Unfortunately, today many humans hold the belief that evolutionary science has refuted the very concept of ‘purpose’ in Universe. And, a universe without purpose is perhaps even more pernicious than a universe without God.
However, evolution does not prove a purposeless Universe.
Recall from our earlier discussions that reductionistic science focuses on ‘parts’, energy, and entropy. Remember entropy is the trend towards disorder that dominates the simpler processes of light, particles, atoms, and simple molecules. Reductionistic science is insensitive to ‘wholes’, synergy and syntropy. Syntropy is the trend towards order that dominates the more complex processes of complex molecules, plants, animals, and humans. Remember further that while entropy dominates simpler processes syntropy is found at every level of process. And while syntropy dominates complex processes, entropy is found at every level of process.
Reductionistic science focuses on ‘parts’ and not on ‘wholes’. Purpose is found in the ‘wholes’ and not in the ‘parts’. Reductionistic science is blind to purpose.
Evolution is a synergic phenomenon, however it was discovered and first described by Darwin, Wallace, Spencer, and Huxley. These classical scientists were of course time-binders and also bound in time. They lived and thought in the 19th century when reductionistic science ruled.
The belief that purpose cannot be found in universe is a reductionistic error that persists even today among many evolutionary scientists. Young writing in 1976 commented:
Process is defined as a series of actions or operations taken to reach an end, therefore process projects a goal. The notion of purpose or teleology is forbidden in science, among biologists especially, who, while they must be strongly tempted to invoke it at every turn, avoid it as reformed alcoholic avoids a drink. (4)
Richard Dawkins is perhaps one of today’s (2003) best living scientists. However, he is ignorant of synergy, and so makes the mistake of ‘either/or’ thinking. He is caught up in the ‘evolution versus creationism’ trap. His failure to find evidence of a designer and his desire to be a ‘good’ scientist—true to his intellect—compels him to deny God. It should therefore come as no surprise that he is an avowed atheist. However, if we step carefully to avoid his mistakes, he has much to teach us. I will quote extensively from his writings a little later, but first lets examine what he has to say about purpose:
Charles Darwin lost his faith with the help of a wasp: I cannot persuade myself, Darwin wrote, that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars. … The macabre habits of the Ichneumonidae are shared by their cousins the digger wasps. … A female digger wasp not only lays her egg in a caterpillar (or grasshopper or bee) so that her larva can feed on it but, according to Fabre and others, she carefully guides her sting into each ganglion of the prey’s central nervous system, so as to paralyze it but not kill it. This way, the meat keeps fresh. It is not known whether the paralysis acts as a general anesthetic, or if it is like curare in just freezing the victim’s ability to move. If the latter, the prey might be aware of being eaten alive from inside but unable to move a muscle to do anything about it. This sounds savagely cruel but, as we shall see, 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.
We humans have purpose on the brain. We find it hard to look at anything without wondering what it is for, what the motive for it is, or the purpose behind it. When the obsession with purpose becomes pathological it is called paranoia — reading malevolent purpose into what is actually random bad luck. But this is just an exaggerated form of a nearly universal delusion. Show us almost any object or process, and it is hard for us to resist the Why question — the What is it for? question.
The desire to see purpose everywhere is a natural one in an animal that lives surrounded by machines, works of art, tools and other designed artifacts: an animal, moreover, whose waking thoughts are dominated by it own personal goals. A car, a tin opener, a screw driver and a pitchfork all legitimately warrant the What is it for? question. Our pagan forebears would have asked the same question about thunder, eclipses, rocks, and streams. Today we pride ourselves on having shaken off such primitive animism. If a rock in a stream happens to serve as a convenient stepping-stone, we regard its usefulness as an accidental bonus, not a true purpose. But the old temptation comes back with a vengeance when tragedy strikes — indeed, the very word strikes is an animistic echo: Why, oh why, did the cancer/earthquake/hurricane have to strike my child? And the same temptation is often positively relished when the topic is the origin of all things or the fundamental laws of physics, culminating in the vacuous existential question Why is there something rather than nothing? …
The mere fact that it is possible to frame a question does not make it legitimate or sensible to do so. There are many things about which you can ask, What is its temperature? or What color is it? but you may not ask the temperature question or the color question of, say, jealousy or prayer. Similarly, you are right to ask the Why question of a bicycle’s mudguards or the Kariba Dam, but at the very least you have no right to assume that the Why question deserves an answer when posed about a boulder, a misfortune, Mt. Everest or the universe. Questions can be simply inappropriate, however heartfelt their framing.
Somewhere between windscreen wipers and tin openers on the one hand and rocks and the universe on the other lie living creatures. Living bodies and their organs are objects that, unlike rocks, seem to have purpose written all over them. Notoriously, of course, the apparent purposefulness of living bodies has dominated the classic Argument from Design, invoked by theologians from Aquinas to William Paley to modern scientific creationists.
The true process that has endowed wings and eyes, beaks, nesting instincts and everything else about life with the strong illusion of purposeful design is now well understood. It is Darwinian natural selection. Our understanding of this has come astonishingly recently, in the last century and a half. Before Darwin, even educated people who had abandoned Why questions for rocks, streams and eclipses still implicitly accepted the legitimacy of the Why question where living creatures were concerned. Now only the scientifically illiterate do. But only conceals the unpalatable truth that we are still talking about an absolute majority.
Actually, Darwinians do frame a kind of Why question about living things, but they do so in a special, metaphorical sense. Why do birds sing, and what are wings, for? Such questions would be accepted as a shorthand by modern Darwinians and would be given sensible answers in terms of the natural selection of bird ancestors. The illusion of purpose is so powerful that biologists themselves use the assumption of good design as a working tool. Zoologist and Nobel laureate Karl von Frisch discovered, in the teeth of strong orthodox opinion to the contrary, that some insects have true color vision. His clinching experiments were stimulated by the simple observation that bee-pollinated flowers go to great trouble to manufacture colored pigments. Why would they do this if bees were color-blind? The metaphor of purpose—more precisely, the assumption that Darwinian selection is involved—is here being used to make a strong inference about the world. It would have been quite wrong for von Frisch to have said, Flowers are colored, therefore bees must have color vision. But it was right for him to say, as he did, Flowers are colored, therefore it is at least worth my while working hard at some new experiments to test the hypothesis that they have color vision. What he found when he looked into the matter in detail was that bees have good color vision but the spectrum they see is shifted relative to ours. They can’t see red light (they might give the name infra yellow to what we call red). But they can see into the range of shorter wavelengths we call ultraviolet, and they see ultraviolet as a distinct color, sometimes called bee purple.
When he realized that bees see in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum, von Frisch again did some reasoning using the metaphor of purpose. What, he asked himself, do bees use their ultraviolet sense for? His thoughts returned full circle—to flowers. Although we can’t see ultraviolet light, we can make photographic film that is sensitive to it, and we can make filters that are transparent to ultraviolet light but cut out visible light. Acting on his hunch, von Frisch took some ultraviolet photographs of flowers. To his delight, he saw patterns of spots and stripes that no human eye had ever seen before. Flowers that to us look white or yellow are in fact decorated with ultraviolet patterns, which often serve as runway markers to guide the bees to the nectaries. The assumption of apparent purpose had paid off once again: flowers, if they were well designed, would exploit the fact that bees can see ultraviolet wavelengths.
When he was an old man, von Frisch’s famous earlier work on the dance of the bees—was called into question by an American biologist named Adrian Wenner. Fortunately, von Frisch lived long enough to see his work vindicated by another American, James L. Gould, now at Princeton, in one of the most brilliantly conceived experiments of all biology. I’ll briefly tell the story, because it is relevant to my point about the power of the as if designed assumption.
Karl von Frisch had made the epoch discovery that honeybees tell each other the whereabouts of flowers by means of a carefully coded dance. If the food is very close to the hive, they do the round dance, This just excites other bees, and they rush out and search in the vicinity of the hive, not particularly remarkable. But very remarkable is what happens when the food is farther away from the hive. The forager who has discovered the food performs the so-called waggle dance, and its form and timing tell the other bees both the compass direction and the distance from the hive of the food.
Wenner and his colleagues did not deny that the dance happens. They did not even deny that it contains all the information von Frisch said it did. What they did deny is that other bees read the dance. Yes, Wenner said, it is true that the direction of the straight run of the waggle dance relative to the vertical is related to the direction of food relative to the sun. But no, other bees don’t receive this information from the dance. Yes, it is true that the rates of various things in the dance can be read as information about the distance of food. But there is no good evidence that the other bees read the information. They could be ignoring it. Von Frisch’s evidence, the skeptics said, was flawed, and when they repeated his experiments with proper controls (that is, by taking care of alternative means by which bees might find food), the experiments no longer supported von Frisch’s dance-language hypothesis.
This was where Jim Gould came into the story with his exquisitely ingenious experiments. Gould exploited a long-known fact about honeybees. Although they usually dance in the dark, relying on their gravity sense to detect differences between the direction of the dance and the straight-up direction in the vertical plane that stands as token for the sun’s direction in the horizontal plane, they will effortlessly switch to a possibly more ancestral way of doing things if you turn on a light inside the hive. They then forget all about gravity and use the lightbulb as their token sun, allowing it to determine the angle of the dance directly. Fortunately, no misunderstandings arise when the dancer switches her allegiance from gravity to the lightbulb. The other bees reading the dance switch their allegiance in the same way, so the dance still carries the same meaning: the other bees still head off looking for food in the direction the dancer intended.
Now for Jim Gould’s masterstroke. He painted a dancing bee’s eyes over with black shellac, so that she couldn’t see the lightbulb. She therefore danced using the normal gravity convention. But the other bees following her dance, not being blindfolded, could see the lightbulb. They interpreted the dance as if the gravity convention had been dropped and replaced by the lightbulb sun convention. The dance followers measured the angle of the dance relative to the light, whereas the dancer herself was aligning it relative to gravity. Gould was, in effect, forcing the dancing bee to lie about the direction of the food. Not just lie in a general sense, but lie in a particular direction that Gould could precisely manipulate. He did the experiment not with just one blindfolded bee, of course, but with a proper statistical sample of bees and variously manipulated angles. And it worked. Von Frisch’s original dance-language hypothesis was triumphantly vindicated.
I didn’t tell this story for fun. I wanted to make a point about the negative as well as the positive aspects of the assumption of good design. When I first read the skeptical papers of Wenner and his colleagues, I was openly derisive. And this was not a good thing to be, even though Wenner eventually turned out to be wrong. My derision was based entirely on the good design assumption. Wenner was not, after all, denying that the dance happened, nor that it embodied all the information von Frisch had claimed about the distance and direction of food. Wenner simply denied that the other bees read the information. And this was too much for me and many other Darwinian biologists to stomach. The dance was so complicated, so richly contrived, so finely tuned to its apparent purpose of informing other bees of the distance and direction of food. This fine tuning could not have come about, in our view, other than by natural selection. In a way, we fell into the same trap as creationists do when they contemplate the wonders of life. The dance simply had to be doing something useful, and this presumably meant helping foragers to find food. Moreover, those very aspects of the dance that were so finely tuned—the relationship of its angle and speed to the direction and distance of food—had to be doing something useful too. Therefore, in our view, Wenner just had to be wrong. So confident was I that, even if I had been ingenious enough to think of Gould’s blindfold experiment (which I certainly wasn’t), I would not have bothered to do it.
Gould not only was ingenious enough to think of the experiment but he also bothered to do it, because he was not seduced by the ‘good design’ assumption. It is a fine tightrope we are walking, however, because I suspect that Gould—like von Frisch before him, in his color research—had enough of the ‘good design’ assumption in his head to believe that his remarkable experiment had a respectable chance of success and was therefore worth spending time and effort on. (5)
And, so we see that like many evolutionary scientists Dawkins adds the denial of purpose to his denial of God. Dawkins and company are indeed walking a fine tightrope. He begins the preceding discussion with strong denial of purpose, but then almost immediately finds it necessary to qualify his denial with a number of permited exceptions to the exclusion of purpose. His reductionistic bias forces him to lock the front door to purpose, but expediency requires that he let it in the back door in a special, metaphorical sense. (6) Young could have been describing Dawkins when he said: The notion of purpose or teleology is forbidden in science, among biologists especially, who, while they must be strongly tempted to invoke it at every turn, avoid it as reformed alcoholic avoids a drink. (7)
So we see that even today 2003, Dawkins like many evolutionary biologists is under the influence of the reductionistic bias and cannot acknowledge the role of purpose in universe, and yet he invokes it at every turn, but hides it by speaking of ‘good‘ design rather than ‘purposeful‘ design.
We cannot criticize Dawkins for invoking purpose. Evolution cannot be explained without it. However, his need to deny and hide purpose is a scientific mistake resulting from his ignorance of synergy and his commitment to the reductionistic bias. Recall reductionistic science focuses on ‘parts’ and not on ‘wholes’. Purpose is found in the ‘wholes’ and not in the ‘parts’. Reductionistic science is blind to purpose.
When evolutionary scientists do allow themselves to speak of purpose they are never speaking of big purpose—the ultimate purpose for the universe or the goal of Nature, or the Why of life, or the Why of humanity. To do so might require an acknowledgement of ‘God’. So when they speak of purpose—it is always of little purpose. By this I mean they are willing to admit purpose in their special, metaphorical sense. Why do birds sing, and what are wings, for? They are willing to admit purpose to explain eyes, beaks, nesting instincts, color vision in bees, and the communication dance of the bees. (8)
Synergic science focuses on ‘wholes’. And purpose is found in wholes. Synergy scientist Arthur Young lets purpose in the front door. He found purpose begins within the first stage of process — light and is found as well at all other stages of process — particles, atoms, molecules, plants, animals, and humans.
Recall from my earlier discussion of action in the basics section. We can view universe as action — universe as dynamic. Action implies motion, movement, animation — by definition process.
Now recall action, is always accompanied by two other phenomena—the reaction, and the resultant. Recall further that actions can not and do not occur in isolation. If they impinge on the environment or on others, they will effect or impact on the environment — they will effect or impact on others. The environment or other reacts at the beginning of the action. And the effect or impact on the environment or other at the end of the action produces a resultant.
Process is then action-reaction-resultant. Now recall that process is either random or controlled, and actions, reactions and resultants are also either random or controlled.
Imagine you are throwing a ball. There is a target on the wall at the end of the room. Now lets imagine you are just throwing randomly. You have no intention to hit the target. You are not avoiding the target. You are ignoring it. Perhaps to keep yourself honest you cover your eyes with a blindfold. When we analyze your throws we will discover that the few times the ball struck the target would be no more frequent then the times the ball struck any other area of equal size on the wall. This finding would correspond to the probability of a random event. This is what we would expect if you had no purpose.
Now lets imagine you are throwing a ball, and this time you are throwing with the goal of hitting the target. Your eyes are not covered and it is your intention to hit the target every time if possible. When we analyze your throws this time we discover that the ball is striking the target more frequently then it is striking other areas of equal size. This finding would correspond to the probability of a controlled event. This is what we would expect if you had purpose.
There is nothing mysterious about purpose. We can easily detect it by simply examining process to determine if a non-random pattern exists. Non-random pattern is evidence of control. Evidence of control is by definition goal seeking behavior, and that by definition requires purpose.
How do you determine if a non-random event has occurred?
This is a question that requires temporal intelligence. Events by definition occur over time. Only Time-binding intelligence can analyze process. We humans see purpose everywhere not because we are surrounded by machines, works of art, tools and other designed artifacts and not because our waking thoughts are dominated by our own personal goals. (9) But because we humans are time aware — we humans are the only class of life capable of detecting purpose.
Understanding purpose also requires perspective. Imagine you live along a road. Everyday you observe a blond man drive an automobile past your house at about 8:00 am. Later in the day the same man drives past your house again, but this time in the opposite direction and always at about 5:00 pm. This happens nearly everyday Monday through Friday. You can see that this behavior represents a non-random event. There is a regular pattern here. There is order here. You know that this pattern of behavior represents purposeful behavior. But from this perspective you can’t discover what that purpose is. You cannot answer the question, Why does the blond man drive past your house?
Now imagine one day a friend of yours picks you up in his helicopter. You are now able to observe the same man in his automobile from a different perspective. With your new ability to observe from above and to follow the man in his automobile, you soon discover that he is traveling from a nearby residence in the morning to a factory in the next town, and from that factory in the evening back to the nearby residence.
With your new perspective you can determine the purpose of the behavior that was hidden from you when you watched the road only from your house. The ability to determine purpose is dependent upon the perspective available during observation.
The history of scientific advancement can now be seen in many ways to be the result of improving perspective. The invention of telescopes and microscopes gave the observer new perspective from which to view process.
Science has no answer to the the questions of who or why universe. Science has made no attempt to define or describe the source of Universe. Science seeks rather to understand how the universe works — to understand the mechanism that the source uses to create Heaven and Earth — to create Life and Human — to create the Universe itself.
Neuroscientist William H. Calvin writing in 1996 discusses the scientific how as used to try to understand human intelligence:
Answering the how questions is often our closest approach to answering a why question. Just remember that the answers to how mechanisms come in two extreme forms, which are sometimes known as proximate and ultimate causation. Even the pros sometimes get them mixed up, only to discover that they’ve been arguing about two sides of the same coin, so I suspect that a few words of background are needed here.
When you ask, How does that work? You sometimes mean how in a short-term, mechanical sense — how does something work in one person, right now. But sometimes you mean how in a long-term transformational sense — involving a series of animal populations that change during species evolution. The physiological mechanisms underlying intelligent behavior are the proximate how; the prehistoric mechanisms that evolved our present brains are the other kind of how. You can sometimes explain in one sense without even touching upon the other sense of how. Such a false sense of completeness is, of course, a good way to get blindsided.
Furthermore, there are different levels of explanation in both cases. Physiological how questions can be asked at a number of different levels of organization. Both consciousness and intelligence are at the high end of our mental life, but they are frequently confused with more elementary mental processes — with what we use to recognize a friend or tie a shoelace. Such simpler neural mechanisms are, of course, likely to be the foundations from which our abilities to handle logic and metaphor evolved.
Evolutionary how questions also have a number of levels of explanation: just saying that a mutation did it isn’t likely to be a useful answer to an evolutionary question involving whole populations. Both physiological and evolutionary answers at multiple levels are needed if we are to understand our own intelligence in any detail. They might even help us appreciate how an artificial or an exotic intelligence could evolve — as opposed to creation from top-down design. (10)
Is Dawkins right in his belief that it is a vacuous existential question to ask why? Is he right when he says, Before Darwin, even educated people who had abandoned Why questions for rocks, streams and eclipses still implicitly accepted the legitimacy of the Why question where living creatures were concerned. Now only the scientifically illiterate do. But only conceals the unpalatable truth that we are still talking about an absolute majority? (11)
Is Dawkins right that there is no big purpose? That nature, universe, life, and humanity have no purpose? Perhaps the absolute majority of scientifically illiterate humanity are wiser than trained evolutionary biologists when it comes to understanding purpose.
Contrary to Dawkins, I believe that it is completely legitimate to ask the Why questions. I believe there is big purpose in the universe. However, we may not yet have the necessary perspective to answer the big questions. Why Nature? Why Universe? Why life? Or, why humanity? But the lack of the necessary perspective to answer those questions does not mean that Nature, Universe, life, and humanity are without purpose.
While we humans are time-binders, and the only class of life that asks or answers questions, we have not been asking and answering questions for very long.
Modern humanity—Homo sapien sapien—only appeared on Earth 90,000 years ago, and the most ancient human civilization known began only 5500 years ago. Gutenberg only invented the printing press 543 years ago. And, the Wright brothers invented the airplane less than 100 years ago. We have only had the personal computer for 25 years. If we represented the 3.4 billion years that life has existed on Earth by a yearly calender with the beginning of life occurring on January 1st, then humanity does not appear until one minute before midnight on December 31st.
So while we humans may not yet be able to answer the big Why questions, this fact in no way invalidates those questions. We may need a better perspective. We may even have to get off the planet and explore the Universe before we have the necessary perspective to answer the big questions.
Why life…? And, why humanity?
Levels of Purpose
Purpose works at many levels. In my example of throwing the ball without intending to hit the target, we could say at the level of the target there was no purpose, but at level of just throwing the ball there was purpose.
Once you start looking for purpose you will find that like syntropy — it is everywhere in universe. Simple processes have simple purposes. Complex processes have complex purposes. Purpose simply implies a ‘goal’. Purposeful behavior is just goal seeking behavior.
Reductionistic science — the science of the ‘part’ has been responsible for most of the past advances in human knowledge. However it is an incomplete picture of universe. Reductionistic science suffers from an ignorance of the ‘whole’ — from an ignorance of synergy. This ignorance produces errors of ‘either/or thinking’ and ‘mixing levels of organization’. As we review the current thinking of evolutionary biology, we must step carefully to avoid these errors.
Do not view my comments as critical of Dawkins and Dennett. That is not my intention. If I had lived their lives and had their life experiences, I would most sincerely believe as they do. I am writing later, and I have the benefit of the synergic perspective.
However, it must be clear to the reader, I am not a bright. Although much of what humans call religion today is nonsense, I do believe that there exists ‘that’ in universe that is larger than ourselves. I am also in belief that there is a ‘source’ to the complexity, intelligence and purpose that we find everywhere in our examination of living universe. And, I am comfortable to call that source God. So while I share Dennet’s disbelief in ghosts, elves, the Easter Bunny, black magic and life after death, I do believe in God. And, while I do consider myself to hold a naturalist as opposed to a supernaturalist world view, I find God and Purpose quite at home in my view of Nature.
1) Michael J Behe, DARWIN’S BLACK BOX—The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, New York, 1996
2) Michael J Behe, DARWIN’S BLACK BOX, 1996, ibid
3) Richard Dawkins, Climbing Mount Improbable, W. W. Norton & Company, New York-London, 1996
4) Arthur Young, The Reflexive Universe, Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1976
5) Richard Dawkins, RIVER OUT OF EDEN—A Darwinian View Of Life, BasicBooks, New York, 1995
6) Richard Dawkins, RIVER OUT OF EDEN—A Darwinian View Of Life, 1995, ibid
7) Arthur Young, The Reflexive Universe, 1976, ibid
8) Richard Dawkins, RIVER OUT OF EDEN—A Darwinian View Of Life, 1995, ibid
9) Richard Dawkins, RIVER OUT OF EDEN—A Darwinian View Of Life, 1995, ibid
10) William H. Calvin, HOW BRAINS THINK—Evolving Intelligence, Then and Now, BasicBooks/HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1996
11) Richard Dawkins, RIVER OUT OF EDEN—A Darwinian View Of Life, 1995, ibid