Intelligent Alien Design? You can’t be serious? Well actually I am. Richard Dawkins, arguably the world’s most famous champion of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, has recently been discussing the possibility that life on Earth could be the result of advanced alien engineering.
Dawkins has said that he still believes that life most likely originated on earth, but he has also said than an alien designed start is an “intriguing possibility”. Intelligent life, he has explained, could have evolved elsewhere in the universe according to modern Darwinian theory, and this intelligent life could have eventually learned to engineer new life, and an engineered seed could then have ended up on earth and subsequently evolved into to all the life found here today.
Dawkins appears quite serious about the possibility of Intelligent Alien Design and has mentioned it on a number of occasions. Take a look at this dialogue taken from a controversial documentary debate called “Expelled”:
BEN STEIN: What do you think is the possibility that Intelligent Design might turn out to be the answer to some issues in genetics or in evolution?
DAWKINS: Well, it could come about in the following way. It could be that at some earlier time, somewhere in the universe, a civilization evolved, probably by some kind of Darwinian means, probably to a very high level of technology, and designed a form of life that they seeded onto perhaps this planet. Now that is a possibility, and an intriguing possibility. And I suppose it’s possible that you might find evidence for that if you look at the details of biochemistry, molecular biology, you might find a signature of some sort of designer.
Why on earth would someone who vehemently argues against the existence of God by quoting Occam’s Razor talk about space aliens designing and seeding life on planet earth???!!! Let’s begin by talking about what bad thinking is and where it come from...
Arguably the world’s top natural scientist today is the Theoretical Physicist and Mathematician Roger Penrose. In the preface and conclusion of his book The Emperors New Mind Penrose talks about how scientific theories can become entangled with our philosophical and emotional sensibilities, and as a result we can become prisoners of our own irrational beliefs. For example, in the great changes of the 1920s, Einstein’s philosophical assumption “god doesn’t play dice with the universe” drove him to fight rather emotionally against quantum physics, much to the amazement of the small clique of brilliant men who worked with him, because on the contrary they felt no internal resistance to the new ideas and instead embraced them rather enthusiastically. And today we talk about that as example of how even the world’s most brilliant thinkers can get caught out by what modern psychologists today often call cognitive-dissonance. More generally we have the two famous observations:
Firstly, natural science does not have either the philosophical emptiness of mathematics nor the transparency of mathematics, making it rather political. For example, Galileo’s excommunication by the Catholic Church is often cited as an example of how natural science has philosophical implications. Church officials worried greatly about the impact Galileo’s new theories would have on public faith, they wanted him to lower his profile and work with them to present his new ideas carefully, for example, ideally perhaps by finding passages in the bible to support his new ideas and even making it look as if traditional biblical analysis was the primary driver and his experimental work was just supporting evidence. Instead the Church ultimately came to perceive him, some say rightly, some say wrongly, as a promoter of a new materialistic way of life which “cares more about the things in the sky and the things in the earth than god”, and which even takes a certain childish delight in attacking old fashioned ideas and upsetting the faithful. Going back to Ancient Greece, philosophers divide the ethical concept of “justice” (Augustine’s temperantia) into what they call an earthly and heavenly part, the first describes a sort of professional respect for one’s workplace seniors and non-interference in other people’s sphere of responsibility, the second describes a sort of putting god first when one’s professional expertise or political responsibilities comes into conflict with theology, and a person who fails at the second is called “impious”, and impiety was the indictment brought against Galileo. In summary, even though Galileo’s work was in theory materialistic not philosophical, we talk about it having philosophical consequences, making it in fact highly political not just technical, and because, his critics say, he failed both to stand up to and submit to advice on these philosophical consequences, he was eventually condemned to hell for “insulting the gods and overturning the divine word order, creating godlessness, barbarism and slavishness in mankind”. In a similar sort of way, several hundred years later, Darwin’s theory sold books and engaged the general public because even though it was not a philosophical theory, still it seemed to say something about philosophy, something that amazed and excited millions of people and changed their outlook on life. For example, Darwin’s theory surely contributed to the popularity of philosophers such as Schopenhauer and Nietzsche who promoted a much less charitable and more pain and competition filled world view. However, in this case, Darwin, unlike Galileo, is widely perceived to have been a scientist who was extremely sensitive to the philosophical implications of his work, for example, he is said to have agonised about both the religious and socioeconomic implications, and he is said to have worked hard to present his theories in a Christian light that would neither shake people’s faith nor change their way of life— even though, of course, ultimately we say he was not really successful in managing that philosophical fallout.
Secondly, because natural science is not necessarily pure and self-contained, but can become entangled with systemic philosophical and emotional sensibilities, there is lots of external pressure on natural scientists to make theories that appeal to popular desires or prevailing consensus, and natural scientists also experience such political pressure internally, and thus become prone to cognitive dissonance. One very famous but relatively harmless form of cognitive dissonance is what people often call the old guard’s resistance to change. A really extreme and even rather immoral example of this is Max Planck’s famous musing “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” Yet people who study the human mind talk about a much more powerful and dangerous form of cognitive dissonance called progressive political correctness. When the old guard hang on, change simply takes a little longer, and the delay can even have a beneficial impact on the up and coming new elite, because it makes them improve their arguments, whether by sharpening their refutations or developing more sympathetic persuasions etc. But when progressive political correctness takes over, the status quo can completely disconnect from reality, and the world can start to revolve around sheep herd like fashions instead of old guard philosophical intuitions or young genius calculations. Politicisation can also have a disastrous impact on the intellectual elite, because what happens is that the political popularity of certain scientific theories can create such a powerful desire to pander to popular fashion that it completely overcomes a scientist’s mind and turns him into a journalistic type thinker.
—But what is journalistic thinking?—
But what is journalistic type thinking? Consider the following Roger Penrose dialogue which ends up in a discussion of the difference between thinking scientifically and journalistically about human nature:
Economist: Do you know what the difference between Walmart’s Toothpaste and Colgate’s toothpaste is?
Economist: Can you tell them apart in a blind tasting?
Economist: Do you know which is better for your health?
Economist: Do you even know what the basic ingredients of toothpaste are?
Penrose: No. Why are you asking me all these ridiculous questions?
Economist: Well when you are buying toothpaste, can you call yourself a rational agent maximizing utility?
Penrose: No, of course not, my expertise is theoretical physics not dentistry.
Economist: Recall that neoliberalism depends on rational expectations and invisible hand, take away rational expectations and it become ridiculous not intelligent.
Penrose: I agree, the toothpaste market appears quite ridiculous.
Economist: So all these toothpaste brands are a waste of time and money, the government could create a monopoly selling a product designed by top dental scientists and produced in single factory leveraging economy of scale, giving people twice the quality of life at half the price by cutting away the rubbish that serves no function and just contributes to economic and environmental waste. Isn’t that amazing, world economic and environmental crisis solved! Of course, before implementing such a policy, we would have to ban public sector strikes so trade unions can’t hijack our rationalised toothpaste manufacture like back in the bad old days of the 1970s. Or instead of state owned enterprises manufacturing our toothpaste in the traditional Russian style, we could commission our toothpaste from existing private corporations in the traditional German style, but taking away their commercial ownership of the product, making them instead into research laboratories and contract manufacturers working like scientists and patriots for the proverbial “German Volk”, not retailers of irrational goods earning obscene profit magins—
Penrose: Margaret Thatcher famously said “Economics is the method, the object is to change the soul”. Do you agree with that?
Penrose: And what it means is that the real object of economic policy is changing the soul, and that’s how Thatcher made economic policy.
Penrose: So if real object of economic policy is changing the soul, and you’re economist, shouldn’t you know about the soul, and shouldn’t you talk about the soul in your arguments?
Economist: It seems so.
Penrose: Where did you mention the soul in your toothpaste argument?
Economist: Well surely the soul would be happier with better cheaper toothpaste?
Penrose: The body would presumably be happier with better cheaper toothpaste, but the soul is not the body.
Economist: I don’t really understand. Can you give an example?
Penrose: Wise economists now realise that Margaret Thatcher’s economic revolution wasn’t successful because laissez-faire always works, but rather because she used those policies to attack the sloth and indolence that had infected British society in the 1970s. So like the Puritan’s tough love strategy, laissez-faire worked because it made ordinary people “get on their bikes”. For example, Thatcher didn’t have the political power to outlaw strikes, nor the power to prevent her incompetent cowardly political colleagues from protecting inefficient industries and outmoded working practices, so she in a sense kicked the kids out of the house to fend for themselves, knowing that would toughen them up. However, as people change and adapt to laissez-faire, so the need for a whole new set of empirical polices may emerge, like the old John Wayne films in which he so often played the upstanding tough little guy fighting against the greedy fancily dressed Boston Lawyer types buying up all the land and cutting off or poisoning everyone’s water. Thus we describe laissez-faire as sometimes good and sometimes bad, indeed the need for it swings back and forth like a pendulum, or think of a sailing boat tacking periodically as it heads up wind. So the economics text book of the Karl Popper style empirical positivist becomes a ridiculous thing because the surface things it talks about have no stability, and if the economy is to be run well we have to find real experts in human nature not kids filled with empirical statistics and equations.
Economist: Yes I get that. Her economic policies were created to instil discipline and enlightenment in the soul, not to make people wealthier in body. And that’s how all wise political leaders work, so we should understand that Great Britain’s gain in wealth was simply a side effect of her making the British people better, not a policy end in of itself. People who aim at wealth directly can end up, for example, like a dreadful Arthur Dailey sort of character, an amateurish money maker doing a bit of this and that. To become a great genius such as yourself you have to aim at scientific mastery and meaningful things like that, not making money. Yes I know, this is way all top people such as yourself and Margaret Thatcher talk, but obviously it goes way over the heads of the money loving masses. It’s also really unfashionable to talk in that way, journalists call it religious-idealistic and preachy-interfering. But I agree that it’s the way serious intellectuals should talk.
Penrose: So I ask again: Where did you mention the soul in your argument?
Economist: Well I talked about irrationality.
Penrose: You did and your argument does have that going for it. But can you say anything more about the soul other than it should be wise?
Economist: Plato said beauty and justice are good things too.
Penrose: And what do they mean?
Economist: Nobody knows.
Penrose: Perhaps, but specifically you don’t know?
Economist: No, I could waffle something up in front of ordinary people, passing off popular opinions as definitions, like the character in Plato’s Greater Hippias who is asked for a definition of beauty and replies “a beautiful girl is beautiful”, but to you I have to admit I have no idea at all how to define them.
Penrose: To be a theoretician such as myself one has to be able to defines ones ideas rigorously, and we theoreticians are ashamed to fall short of that standard. However, to be a practitioner isn’t it enough to simply perceive them?
Economist: Yes that’s true.
Penrose: Well you talked earlier about what you called the traditional Russian state owned enterprise economy. Do you perceive justice in that?
Economist: I don’t think so, according to popular opinion justice is everyone has a right to his opinion group decision making and so forth, Russian central planning looks elitist to me.
Penrose: Well what about beauty? You also talked about the traditional German model full of scientific experts and patriotic manufactures working for the volk. Do you perceive beauty in that?
Economist: I don’t think so, according to popular opinion beauty is soft and sweet, that German volk stuff sounds more scary to me.
Penrose: But you still agree that the object of economics is to change the soul, for example, by making it more just and more beautiful?
Penrose: And what makes the soul more just and beautiful are the just and beautiful, so good economic policy must be just and beautiful?
Economist: Yes. I suppose unjust ugly economic policy could open a few minds, provoking this sort of conversation, but in general it would destroy not enlighten and civilize mankind.
Penrose: So not only are you unable to define justice and beauty scientifically, you can’t even perceive them poetically in any of the economic policies you are suggesting?
Economist: I am afraid not.
Penrose: So you’re not really a scientist are you?
Economist: I suppose they call us “dismal scientists”.
Penrose: Do they call journalists scientists?
Economist: No they call them “sophists”.
Penrose: What does that mean?
Economist: They write articles about justice and beauty and health and fitness even though they have never studied these things like an expert, nor have they worked with an expert putting them into practice. They don’t have any science great or small, they wing their way through life based on popular appearances. In essence, modern journalists are simply people with a knack for writing what appeals to people and therefore sells newspapers.
Penrose: So if you wanted to know whether or not society would be made more healthy by a certain medical procedure, would you ask a doctor or a journalist?
Economist: A doctor of course.
Penrose: And if you wanted to some advice on your marriage, would you go to a marriage councillor or a journalist?
Economist: A marriage councillor of course.
Penrose: But are journalists the best runner ups? I mean if you couldn’t find a doctor or a marriage councillor, would you turn to a journalist because they are well informed about these things, or would you better off asking your wise old next door neighbour for advice?
Economist: I would ask my neighbour. Look, in the past people used to say that the relationship between expertise and journalism should be like the relationship between a man and his dog, a good dog loves and serves his master, and cares gently for the flock according to his orders, and risks its life attacking wolves. For example, if doctors wanted to launch some new vaccination campaign, post war journalists would traditionally herd the people toward it by writing nice articles promoting it, and if anyone dared to oppose their campaign, they would savage them. Being so close to doctors obviously gave journalism some medical substance, but modern journalists completely reject that old fashioned image of the dog serving his master, they joke: the relationship between journalism and power should be like a dog to a lamp post. The upshot is that today we talk about how the profession of medicine is gradually loosing control of public health, and instead medicine is increasingly controlled by the sophist and demagogue led crowd. For example, since the masses are hopelessly mundane and materialistic, journalists today are famous for campaigning for ridiculously little things such as reductions in the average hospital operation wait time, driving doctors mad with distorting shopping lists instead of letting them focus on running their industry rationally. For example, since the masses are risk loving when it comes to lotteries but risk averse when it comes to death, journalists today are famous for writing scare stories about the risks of vaccination, pandering to parental emotions, which are not just publicly harmful but also personally irrational, because in this case what is in the public good is actually in the private good as well, even though there may be some tiny number of fatalities. For example, think about American healthcare, it has been completely hijacked at the economic structural level by journalists and populist congressmen, and the end result is pure insanity.
Penrose: So you are saying that the terrible truth is that: not only are journalists not the best runners up, one would even probably be better off asking almost anyone other than a journalist for advice, because writing whatever sells invariably conflicts with whatever is right?
Penrose: Try to explain why you think truth invariably conflicts with populism.
Economist: Because expertise is somehow sort of fixed to the true, it stops us pursuing popular pleasures and stops us running away from difficulties. So what people want to believe is true at the popular emotional level is invariably in conflict with what appears to the populist to be the boring and difficult expert reality.
Penrose: What about what comes after the theoretician’s truth, namely the practitioner’s implementation. Why is that in conflict with populism?
Economist: Imagine a soldier in Army Boot camp listening to his inner journalist, the journalists is not going bark at him like an Army Sergeant, pushing him to keep running even though he is tired cold and wet, he is going to preach to the weak and mutinous part of him that wants to give up and have a drink. For example, journalists never tell their readers that they are failing because they are weak and need to toughen up, rather what they do is turn politics into a battle between trade unions and businesses or whatever, and the red newspaper for the trade unionists preaches the evils of the businesses, and the blue newspaper for the businessmen preaches the evils of trade unions. But, of course, what the wise statesman running the country is trying to do is precisely the opposite, he is trying to get the trade unionists to trust the businessmen and the businessmen to trust the trade unionists, and to instead concentrate on the uselessness inside themselves, for example getting the readers of the red newspaper for trade unionists to fight against lotus eating and woodenness amongst themselves, and the readers of the blue newspaper businessmen to fight against cycloptic greed and disregard of standards amongst themselves.
Penrose: So when popular journalistic opinion takes over the world, everything gradually goes to hell?
Penrose: So to avoid the toxic and shameful life of the journalistic like thinker, we should get a real job and focus on our work?
Economist: I suppose so, but the things journalists talk about, such as politics and self-development, are potentially the most interesting and real of things, the stuff of the soul not the body, so how can you let go of them? Would you rather you admit to knowing nothing?
Penrose: You mean would I rather admit to knowing nothing about things other than Theoretical Physics? And not knowing nothing would mean winging my way through philosophy and politics and economics on populism like a journalist? Or becoming a judge or a priest who tries to hold back the tide with tradition and precedent, like a man who thinks he can sit on the sea without becoming wet? Or becoming a spreadsheet loving dismal scientist like you economists, business school graduates and technocratic administrators?
Penrose: I would rather know nothing.
Economist: So until such time as you can say properly scientific things about the soul, such as what does justice and beauty mean, and answer famous problems in philosophy such as which is better for which soul and why, Bach’s Harpsichords or Mozart’s Flutes, until that time comes you will have nothing do to with philosophy?
Penrose: That’s right. Until someone comes up with proper definitions and arguments, I will say like Bertrand Russell that philosophy, politics and economics are not sciences, but unlike Bertrand Russell I will not spend my life engaging in them, because I think such unscientific politicking is utterly shameless.
Economist: So you will leave the running of the world to people like me!
Penrose: I am afraid so.
Economist: And how is that working out for you?
Penrose: Well, of course, when I think about it, it hurts a very great deal, because even though I know nothing, it seems to me you lot know even less that nothing. However I try my best not to think about it.
Please Note: The dialogue above is not like the Dawkins dialogue above, it is not a word for word reproduction of an actual conversation, I invented it as an educational device based on Penrose’s writing and Plato’s dialogues.
In Plato’s Philebus, Socrates describes how the world’s best natural scientists are famous for resisting cognitive dissonance by completely cutting themselves off from political pleasures and pains. Think about progressive political correctness, if a scientist cuts himself off from any political and philosophical joy he can not be emasculated by fashionable thinking. In other words, in fear of loosing their minds and becoming witch doctors filled with popular pseudo-scientific fashions, top natural scientists often strive to live completely detached disdainful scientific ivory tower lives, and they look down contemptuously on the rest of mankind who seem to them bewitched children constantly falling in love with supernatural Pied Piper of Hamelin type fools. But in fact Socrates says that although this completely detached harsh life is not without a certain nobility, it falls short of the greatest possible scientific life. For example, although natural scientists criticise arguments based on allegory and psychology, surely such things can also be powerful channel of inspiration, so in the same sort of way we talk about the best martial artists learning to fight on their left and right, surely the greatest natural scientists should learn to argue, in a sense, supernaturally as well as naturally? Anyway, Socrates says the utterly un-indulgent style of thinking of the harsh natural scientist comes from a lack of measure, people who adopt this way of life live in such fear of being sucked into populist madness that they close down an important and useful part of their nature, settling for a life of totally joyless disconnection fearing the only other option is totally shameful mindlessness. Socrates says the greatest scientific minds should instead aspire to a more mixed condition, and in later life such wise and happy thinkers should descend from the light and re-enter the cave of humanity, converting enslaving or destroying the Pied Piper of Hamelin types ravaging the hapless multitude, saving humanity.
—Madness in 1970s Academia—
For example, perhaps the easiest to see example of natural science politicization in modern times is the 1970s nature vs nurture debate. Throughout human history people have believed that men and women are in some way naturally different not just physically but also mentally, but what the difference between them really is remains a mystery, with perhaps only a handful of Ancient Philosophers really claiming to know, and even those few who claim to know refusing to speak openly about about the nature of male and female and instead riddling like oracles (I don’t count Aristotle, he was openly abusive in a narrow-minded and shallow way, unlike Plato and Confucius who made the father and mother or yin and yang into mystical principles central to the construction of the universe). However, in the 1970s it briefly became popular to imagine that men and women are philosophically / psychologically identical by nature and only differ by nurture, and this nurture not nature theory came out of the biology department and was stirred up by the sociology department, and the whole issue quickly became hugely politicised and anyone perceived as a threat to this consensus was attacked and ostracised or even fired from academia. For example, the biologist Frans B. M. de Waal has described how he was subjected to howls of protest when he mentioned the behavioural differences of male and female chimpanzees during a lecture in the mid 1970s, with people refusing to accept his claim that males are more aggressive than females, and instead suggesting he was reading things into his data. This bizarre and ridiculous state of affairs lasted until studies in the early 1980s linked male hormones with aggression, at which point the whole nature vs nurture debate upped and flew away. However, the sudden disappearance of the debate did not heal the broken minds it had created in the biology and sociology department, they just switched quite shamelessly to the next fashionable theory du jour.
So you can think about this whole nature vs nurture debate as a sort of mini flood of madness, a flood that swept away perhaps only a minority of working men, but almost all young university students, also the journalists and tv and film producers, the bourgeoisie and celebrities and politicians, also the biologists and social scientists. However, at the top of the ivory tower, the greatest scientific minds, such as the hard core Theoretical Physicists, living the sort of harsh detached noble life Socrates described, were left completely untouched by the flood because their refusal to partake of popular political philosophy made them immune. You see, like the voices of sirens that dashed sailors on the rocks, the nurture not nature ideology gave people enormous pleasure, so much pleasure in fact that it tore scientists away from rational thinking and turned them into mindless fashionistas who read whatever they wanted in their data and ignored everyone else’s data, claming anyone who disagreed with them was not just biased, but even actually evil! But image now an Immanuel Kant like scientist inside this mad 1970s world, Kant was not the sort of man of wrote best selling books, he hated the attention his adoring fans tried to pile upon him, and he took pride in writing in what the thought was an utterly rigorous scientific style that only a handful of people in the world could cope with. We would expect such as hash way of life to make him completely immune to the siren song and preserve the fire in his mind, thus such a man could never be sucked into the hellish snake pit of bad thinking progressive political correctness.
—Paradigm Change in Academia Today—
Consequently, when the world is suffering from such a flood of political madness, and when the politicised scientific theories partake of Theoretical Physics, you will find that if you track down the worlds top man in Theoretical Physics, namely today Roger Penrose, and ask him whether or not he agrees with some opinion on Theoretic Physics— which is not only hugely popular with the public, but also widely believed not just by almost all the worlds journalists, but also even the vast majority of the scientific community— he will probably say they are all hopelessly wrong.
It gets even worse, in the conclusion of his book Roger Penrose talks about how sometimes even young children can somehow sense that a certain fashionable theory widely believed by the elite is utterly ridiculous. Isn’t that an amazing thing? It reminds us of course of those strange stories in the Bible about those who declare they know nothing and open their hearts like children being saved while all the adults around them are destroyed, a story which seems to be a sort of herd-of-ordinary-people’s salvation Ark equivalent to the legend of heroic Jason taking to sea in the Argo and fighting off the cliquish harpies plaguing poor Phineus.
Anyhow, all this, of course, explains why Penrose choose the book title The Emperors New Mind, and how it relates to the famous story about The Child Who Cried The Emperor Is Wearing No Clothes, and why even though Penrose is the word’s top natural scientist today, you will find many stupid and disgraceful articles on the internet which call him not the King of Theoretical Physics, but rather a dope talking nonsense, and all the attention is lavished on more popular figures such as his disabled colleague Stephen Hawkins.
Now ask yourself the question: if there is a sort of schism developing in the scientific community, with world experts such as Roger Penrose on one side, and the “status hungry scientific bourgeoisie” and “lonely geeky personality disorder types” and “promiscuous popular journalistic types” on the other, where specifically should we look for the cracking ground and emerging earthquakes?
I hope you worked the answer out for yourself, it is of course quite obvious: In neuroscience and evolutionary biology, which are course packed with philosophical and emotional connections to human value systems and moral sensibilities. We will talk evolutionary biology in moment, let’s talk for a moment about neuroscience.
The majority today believe that the human mind is what we call Turing Machine Compatible, and this is an enormously powerful argument in favour of the liberal atheistic post-modern world view. It’s also a very fashionable journalistic theory because the masses are excited and terrified and pleasured by stories about artificial intelligence destroying humanity, so academics are constantly tempted to leave the lonely ivory tower and enjoy their five minutes of fame writing about immanent breakthroughs spelling doom for civilization.
Yet Roger Penrose not only refutes the Turing Machine Compatible Consciousness Hypothesis with Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, he goes on to talk about lots of other problems with artificial intelligence, and he ultimately concludes that not only is there no good reason to believe in in the hypothesis, also all sophisticated reasoning contradicts it.
I am not going to explain Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem here (if you want to read about it, and it is interesting, I suggest you borrow Penrose’s book, because it is not well explained at Wikipedia etc), instead let’s consider two of the other arguments:
A Turing Machine is mechanical determinable, so if the Turing Machine Hypothesis is correct, our minds must be mechanical determinable. What do we mean by that? In the late 1800s, before the discovery of quantum physics, philosophers used to argue whether or not free will can exist, because according to the mechanical materialistic determinism of that time, whatever will happen must happen. Recall the famous idea that since all change is caused simply by particles colliding into one another, the future depends on nothing more than the position and velocity of the particles that are in motion at any moment in time, so everything is predetermined. This way of thinking came about because whereas Descartes separated the mind and body, and said the mechanical laws of physics only govern the body, and the mind or soul lives apart in a non-physical non-mechanical world and somehow communicates with the body, by the late 1800s scientists instead considered the mind to be nothing but body.
But if the mind, not just the body, is governed by the laws of physics, and the laws of physics are mechanical materialistic deterministic, thinking becomes only an effect of particles in motion, and the fate of all those particles is, and always has been, and forever will be, precisely determined by their position and properties, so there is no free will, we are not souls we are more like robots created by physical forces, we simply imagine ourselves to think as the particles of the universe move along their predetermined path, so our intuitive sense of consciousness and creativity and free will is all an illusion, in reality we are just something like shadowy artefacts of the universe’s great program that were predestined to say things such as “I think therefore I am” at the moment we said it. Stop for a minute and contemplate this argument, it is quite amazing and quite fun in a nerdy science fiction like way.
Now, of course, this conclusion stuck sensible philosophers back in the 19th Century as shamefully naive and absurd, so they were forced to find a way out it as follows: whilst on the one hand they accepted that the brain is a physical thing, and they said physical things are governed by soulless laws of physics, on the other hand they were forced to hypothesise that some form of physical change in the brain lies outside the physical laws, positing in effect some sort of deus ex machina process that supernaturally violates the laws of physics which must exist at least to some extent in order to allow consciousness and free will to re-enter the otherwise completely material universe. This then was the late 1800s state of philosophy, namely the laws of physics are not universally true, for if they were universally true there would be no place for soul in the universe, but in fact the presence of soul is intuitively obvious, thus there must be some deus ex machina like override of the laws of particle physics in brain, allowing mind, in the brain at least, to be the master of matter instead of the slave of matter.
Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and Niels Bohr’s Copenhagen Interpretation did away with this paradox of mindlessness because not only is nature not mechanical, but, critically, by the Copenhagen Interpretation, the wavefunction collapse depends on the subjective act of measurement, so physics is not longer left alone as the only source of motion, rather a Descartes like separation of mind and body reappears, and to understand the universe we have to marry the powers of the physicists of the body and the philosophers of the mind.
So do you see the point? The Turing Machine Hypothesis turns all this on its head, because it is an inherently un-quantum like mindless mechanical machine, so it returns us to the ridiculous choice between soullessness and deus ex machina magic. The quantum computers scientists are working on today do not solve the problem, although they have some fancy features that can make them faster that ordinary computers for some tasks, they are still Turing Machines that do not include any of the subjective connection to consciousness that Niels Bohr talked about.
Perhaps it worth adding here a brief description of the difference between soul and body. The Ancient Greeks said the soul differs and is superior to the body by the three critical ideas of movement, sensation and incorporeality (Aristotle 405b). By movement it is meant that the machines made by engineers are commissioned by politicians, meaning the originating movement is in the soul not the body, but engineering science does not study these movements only how to make the machines they commission, and engineering is therefore a subordinate art. By sensation it is meant that the machines made by engineers move the soul with perceptions of human experiences such as bravery and triumph, but again these sensations fall outside engineering. By incorporeality it is meant that the material is just a sort of a image of the world of the world of ideas, making the game of life possible, so the real substance of life is incorporeal, but again this falls outside engineering.
[Footnote: Contrary to popular opinion, Aristotle was not an empiricist, as the Neo-Platonists constantly pointed out, he teaches the same sorts of mystical incorporeal ideas as Plato. As Aristotle makes clear in the Nicomachean Ethics 1.6, he objects to Plato’s Theory of Forms mainly because he says trying to talk about a single idea of things like the good just ties you up in knots, we should study it spun out into multiple categorical ideas. He has a point, but Plato clearly understood the complexities and, for example, talks about having to capture the good in three ideas not one at the end of his Philebus, and in the Laws he talks about it as ten not just three ideas, and he uses this ten fold schema more secretly in other places. In the Metaphysics N.2 Aristotle complains about the “old fashioned” way of teaching philosophy promoted by Parmenides and adopted by Plato which gets students thinking about everything being one or nothing, and only leads students onto relatives through the sorts of tortuous contradictory and circling round and round arguments Plato’s Socratic dialogues are so famous for. Aristotle instead lays everything out right from the start, which makes Plato’s theory of forms, even as simply a deepening device, damaging to his style of teaching. The Neo-Platonists mainly read Plato, but used Aristotle to get clues, for example at one point in Plato’s Laws he starts talking about the line-surface-volume and makes clear that it is a major idea in his philosophy, but even though the ideas must be buried in many dialogues, there is no other reference to those actual words anywhere in Plato as far as I aware, so without Aristotle or some kind of Obi Wan Kenobi like divine intervention nobody studying Plato could ever could figure it out. Philosophers in those times used lots of such jargonised metaphorical words which are very hard for us to recover today because so little material from those times has survived.]
What is the second argument?
Consider, for example, the concept of greater and smaller. Computer programmers call the greater and smaller operators, and every time they create classes, such as the class of real numbers, or even classes of apples and oranges, they implement such operators in code because the computer does not know what these words mean naturally and yet they are vital to everything. An intelligent computer would need an idea of the greater and smaller so that every time it though up a class it would have a greater than and smaller than operator without having to ask a human being to fetch one from his intuition and implement it. But greater and smaller are not concepts in Boolean Algebra, instead Boolean Algebra only allows the implementation of greater and smaller in whatever can be modelled with Boolean Algebra. As Kant would say, the greater and smaller are a priori concepts in human thinking that exist prior to the empirical objects that manifest them, and these a priori ideas are not like the simple transparent a posteriori empirical rules empiricists use to model them, they simply are what they are.
What we are talking about now is Mathematical Platonism. According to Mathematical Platonism abstract mathematical entities exist, and they are independent of all our rational activities. Mathematical Platonism enjoys widespread support and is frequently considered the default metaphysical position with respect to mathematics, however its implications for Turning Machines and even the nature of mathematics are poorly understood. Again what we are saying now is that the greater and smaller is one of the many examples of Platonic a priori mathematical entities that exist at a purely cognitive essential level prior to any definition of them in any bodily model, body meaning something with properties such as quantity, quality, position, power etc. And again what we are saying is that because a Turning Machine is built from only one incredibly simple mathematical entity, if thinking involves other mathematical entities it will never be able to think.
The end result is the unfashionable old fashioned realization that a computer really is just a computer, even though we have done some exciting things with computers that wow many people they are still nothing more than glorified calculators, and human thinking is far more enigmatic, and specifically we are able to think because we have intuitive ideas of a priori ideas that allow us to come up with definitions of things like the greater and smaller in everything even without teaching or being able to define the idea of the greater and smaller itself. How can we describe this human thinking process? We say it seems to us that human mind is able to think creatively because whatever comes into being seems to come into being with an associated concept of the greater and smaller which our human brains seem to magically resolve, at least to some extent, even when we are tiny children who know nothing. Why don’t we realise this? Plato says it is because we are living in a dream like state looking at the world through our thoughts rather than looking at out thoughts themselves, so although we naturally talk about greater and smaller and lots of other fundamental ideas, we are not conscious of their true meaning, they just seem to emanate for us naturally from our unconscious giving us a greater and smaller entangled in context not prior to context. So when mathematicians solve problems, they are using these entities inductively and instinctively, then translating what they see back into the simpler world of agreed definitions in the same sort of way we talk about chess players thinking at both an intuitive aesthetic level and a transparent empirical level, and this is why, for example, Srinivasa Ramanujan was able to do mathematics even without being able rearrange formulas. Neural Networks do not solve the problem, even if they are capable of learning empirically what the greater and smaller might mean for something, they can not learn what the greater and smaller are a priori. Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem is often dismissed by fans of Artificial intelligence as a bizarre one off paradox, but we are saying now is that thinking involves lots of mystical entities which are far more complex than the Boolean Algebra the fans of artificial intelligence claim everything comes down to today, and these entities are far stranger things than people imagine and underpin not just mathematics but language in general, indeed to understand them is to understand the very fabric of everything.
Of course these ideas are hard to understand, but what Penrose explains is that what is not hard is working out that people do not know and are instead merely opining, and then when someone is opining, working out whether they they are opining on the basis of experience or faith or clueless desire. Understand that by thinking about the Emperor wearing no clothes fairytale as follows: The reason the child realised the Emperor was wearing no clothes is that even though nobody could see the invisible clothes, the people in question were not like the farmer who says I have no idea what is in this magic water but it makes my crops grow (mindless empirical experience), nor like the faithful flock who say god can not be understood by the likes of me but according to the wise he exists so I believe in him (faith), rather they were like the badly educated modern liberal arts set who all claim to see and understand the Emperor’s clothes, yet when the child listened to their accounts he found them simpleminded, conflicting and confused, yet still full of self-confidence, making him realise that all the witnesses were fantasists (clueless desire). I.e. it was not that the child knew the clothes were a lie because he could not see them, that’s an absurd interpretation of the tale because there are many things children can’t see, it is that the child could see that what everyone was saying they were seeing did not exist because it was both so naive (artlessly simple, appealing even to children) he would have been able to see it if it did exist, and also so hopelessly self-contradictory (half the people claimed the invisible clothes were red the other half blue etc) that it could not be true!
We are explaining now why Penrose ultimately concludes that the prevailing scientific consensus is so cartoonish that even when he was a child he could see it was political witch-doctoring not science. It is not that things like Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem and Mathematical Platonism are child’s play, even Penrose didn’t understand these things as a child, rather it is that when he read stories about Artificial Intelligence and Neuroscience as a child, he realised that their theories were not at all like Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem and Mathematical Platonism, instead of going way over his head and making him feel like a child, he could see their theories had been made for children such as himself, indeed ultimately the modern argument for Artificial Intelligence comes down to nothing more than “look children, we can make these amazing machines, therefore everything must be a machine”, which is as ridiculous as the French Revolutionary idea that because we now know about cannons we now know about god (hence the beheading of priests and turning of Notre-Dame into a Deist temple).
And once we have understood this childish state of play, we can understand what Penrose complains about now, namely he says in effect: when I was a child I could see your toys were absurd, now I am old and I am coming to understand complex things such as Gödel’s Incompleteness, and I try write about them in my books, but you complain you find them unconvincing and cling hold of your old ideas, but what you don’t understand is that you don’t actually have any old ideas to cling hold of, there is no reason for you not to believe me because you actually know nothing and your whole so called scientific consensus is an illusion built from artless simple mindedness and held together by revolting journalistic like emotions. In other words, the seismically shocking news is that Roger Penrose claims the scientific community since the 1960s & 1970s has become as dopey as it was back in 1600s when Thomas Hobbes published his ridiculous book leviathan which imagined a mechanical machine composed of wheels and levers ruling over humanity as a King, calculating in a mechanical algorithmic way based on uncontroversial empirical inputs how to distribute food and drink and so forth, like an awkward nerd smoking sci-fi drugs who has no understanding of philosophy or psychology whatsoever (and for that many commentators called him a great philosopher!).
Does Penrose have any alternative ideas of his own in neuroscience? Yes, he talks tentatively about quantum consciousness, which is the idea that our minds are not self contained algorithmic processes, but rather holistic nebulous things entangled with all other minds, so, as Penrose explains in the last chapter, we are perhaps something like sparks of consciousness surfing around in a vast sea of consciousness, explaining perhaps strange things such as the universal archetypal images of Carl Jung’s collective unconscious. Again, modern computers depend on operations such as If X then Y or If Not X then Z, and everything in a computer is completely known. But at the heart of quantum physics entangled entities exchange information without perfect information. For example, when we look at the moon, it somehow appears for us, furthermore what appears is a conjunction of the moon and our consciousness according to the Copenhagen Interpretation, so the information exchange is far richer than you would think, so it not at all clear that if you could feed the surface appearance you become consciously aware of during the exchange into a computer the code would be able to work out that it is a moon. For example, when a baby looks at a cat, it seems to pick up on vastly more information than it could possibly get simply from the surface of the cat, as if when it looks at a cat it is somehow interacting with a cognitive entity outside itself only superficially represented as a surface in space, giving even the baby who has never seen a cat before remarkably sophisticated perceptions that cause it laugh or cry etc.
Likewise at the big picture level, the Ancient philosophers who hypothesised the fundamental elements of nature did not come up with ones and zeros, rather the nebulous yin and yang circling each other, and our whole experience of life reflects similar sorts of utterly un-binary like uncertainty and connection. For example, Plato believed in a form of the beautiful which can not be perceived only comprehended intellectually, and which is somehow a creative being not just an adjective, hence the famous expression beauty is beautiful. And Plato says it is because of this beautiful being that we perceive things as beautiful even though we do not know what beauty is, without either the beautiful itself whirling away up in heaven, or our ability to connect to it inside our our minds down on earth, the idea of beauty would simply cease in us, and we would be no more moved by a beautiful building or a beautiful song than an animal. Thus for Plato beauty does not exist in the brain in a sort of Turing Machine Compatible way, rather it exists in a sort of thinking living version of Carl Jung’s collective unconscious that we partake of in our own minds to varying degrees. Bertrand Russell called such ideas mystical mumbo-jumbo, but Penrose is saying that such strange things are exactly what we should expect with quantum physics, and the whole idea of the Turing Machine is as antediluvian as Newtonian mechanics.
What we are talking about now is the strange and speculative new world of quantum mysticism, but it’s not a world many journalists or geeks or scientific bourgeoisie currently connect to, on the contrary they seem to sort of sense it out there and hate it with a passion because it conflicts with everything they think they know, rather it’s a rarefied world inhabited by only a few great men such as Penrose. So, as Socrates might say stingingly, all the people in the world apart from Roger Penrose who think they know something about the human mind actually know nothing, and the vast number who claim to think that the human mind is a computer and artificial intelligence is right around the corner not only wrongly think they know what they don’t know, even their opinion about what they don’t know is completely wrong because they have fallen in love with popular opinion instead of Penrose opinion, and when they attack Penrose for not sharing their opinion and claim he is the one who doesn’t know and they are the ones who do know, they commit an injustice.
But what about the subject of this article, namely evolutionary biology? As with neuroscience above, top thinkers are indeed increasingly turning away from the popular evolutionary biology consensus and saying simply:
Scientists actually have absolutely no idea what caused life on Earth to originate, evolve and develop consciousness.
In other words, whilst Richard Dawkins is still selling a record number of pro-Darwinian books to the public, in the upper echelons of the scientific community support for evolution is undoubtedly in decline. There are several major problems with Darwin’s Evolution but for the sake of brevity I will detail here only the most popular one. Some notes on other problems can be found at this footnote.
At the heart of Darwin’s Theory is random change and natural selection. Computer Scientists have been experimenting with Genetic Algorithms for a long time now, and its clear they have enormous limitations. A computer program to play chess, for example, looks several moves ahead and chooses the move that will lead to the strongest position in the future. The power of a chess playing computer is determined by the number of moves it can look ahead. Any modern computer can beat the average human chess player, but it took a massive supercomputer to beat Kasparov in 1997. As the computer looks further into the future the number of combinations it must analyse increases exponentially. Chess playing algorithms regularly make short term sacrifices for longer term goals. Genetic Algorithms, however, can not do this because they are concerned only with the strength of the next generation. Computer scientists say genetic algorithms require a more or less monotonic path to the good, they are not as easily trapped by local minima and maxima as Newton’s method of optimization because they are chaotic not calculated, but they can’t head in the wrong direction for significant periods of time like a Chess Computer because what determines whether a mutation lives or dies is its viability in the moment not its viability in the future. It does not matter how large the population or the length of time, genetic algorithms just can not solve Chess problems.
Indeed genetic algorithms are also unable to build structures which are only useful once they are complete and requires a complex series of meanwhile wasteful steps. For example, imagine yourself needing to cross a river, just walking around waiting for something that feels like progress to come into your life won’t get you across that river, instead you have to come up with a plan and then work on making it happen, and if you imagine yourself with a wife and family, you can imagine them getting bored and depressed camping out of the same bit of land while you hammer away day after day building your bridge, and to stop them leaving you would have to convince them that you really do have a future, one day this bridge will be built and you can cross it and move on. But if you were married to a genetic algorithm, you would have to keep her locked up if you had a lot of work to do, because she would live in the now with no sense of the future, so instead of waiting for you to build your bridge, sooner or later she would bump into another man who felt more like he was going somewhere, and take off with him.
Of course, this enormous problem has always bemused maths and engineering types, but biologists are famous for waving it away— however, recent scientific advances in microbiology have been changing that. Since the discovery of DNA Biologists have been gradually learning that the basic cellular unit underlying all known life on Earth is mind bogglingly complex. Far more complex than the latest Intel CPU for example. It’s so highly mechanised with concepts such as hardware and software that many at the forefront of microbiology believe a genetic algorithm could not possibly have produced it. Time does not help, its technical structure, they say, simply exceeds what genetic algorithms are capable of ever producing. So the realization of the microscopic complexity of the cellular unit, which began dawning in the 1950s, is building toward a sort of Copernican revolution in biological science, and the revolutionaries tend to be theoretical physicists and microbiologists, and the defenders of the status quo tend to be ordinary biologists specialising in the habitat and lifestyle of chimps and chimpanzees etc.
Indeed so controversial has the theory of evolution now become that the famous philosopher Anthony Flew, who for many decades flew the flag for atheism, recently declared himself a believer in, well, something. In Feb 2008 (about 7 years after rumours of his ‘conversion’ first surfaced) he said at interview:
FLEW: I think that the most impressive arguments for God’s existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries. I’ve never been much impressed by the kalam cosmological argument, and I don’t think it has gotten any stronger recently. However, I think the argument to Intelligent Design is enormously stronger than it was when I first met it.
HABERMAS: So of the major theistic arguments, such as the cosmological, teleological, moral, and ontological, the only really impressive ones that you take to be decisive are the scientific forms of teleology? [teleology is the philosophical study of design in nature]
FLEW: Absolutely. It seems to me that Richard Dawkins constantly overlooks the fact that... the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design.
On hearing of Flew’s ‘conversion’, Dawkins, with characteristic aggression and psychological venom, condemned his old friend’s volte-face as the “senile” thinking of an old man. Nevertheless, deep down and away from the public eye, perhaps Dawkins is beginning to believe that Anthony Flew and other critics have a strong case.
—Signature of a designer—
BEN STEIN: What do you think is the possibility that Intelligent Design might turn out to be the answer to some issues in genetics or in evolution?
DAWKINS: Well, it could come about in the following way. It could be that at some earlier time, somewhere in the universe, a civilization evolved, probably by some kind of Darwinian means, probably to a very high level of technology, and designed a form of life that they seeded onto perhaps this planet. Now that is a possibility, and an intriguing possibility. And I suppose it’s possible that you might find evidence for that if you look at the details of biochemistry, molecular biology, you might find a signature of some sort of designer.
We said deep down and away from the public eye, perhaps Dawkins is beginning to believe that Anthony Flew and other critics have a strong case. Indeed what else can he have meant by: “I suppose it’s possible that you might find evidence for that [Intelligent Design] if you look at the details of biochemistry, molecular biology, you might find a signature of some sort of designer”.
What Dawkins means by the “signature of some sort of designer” in the “details of molecular biology” is the idea that microbiologists might find, or have found, a level of complexity in the basic cellular unit underlying all life on Earth which is completely incompatible with Genetic Algorithms. If an intelligent alien came across a human satellite floating through space he would immediately recognise it as a machine not a living thing. But imagine humanity designing a satellite so complex it could reproduce itself. Imagine an intelligent alien coming across a satellite which had been ‘born’ in space, which had never been touched by human hand. Even in this hypothetical case, the alien could see that an intelligent designer had made the satellite possible if he noticed in the details of its construction certain types of structure which can not evolve under the monotonically improving random mutations of Darwinian theory. Does Dawkins believe that elite scientists are now beginning to reach the same conclusion concerning the life on Earth? Is is not clear how speculative Dawkin’s sentence “you might find evidence for that if you look at the details” is, but clearly he does not really think Flew’s design point is at all “senile”.
Dawkins didn’t invent the Alien Design theory himself. During the 1960s the molecular biologist Francis Crick who won the Nobel Prize for discovering DNA in 1953 became concerned with the origins of life. Crick believed the DNA molecule was too complex to have evolved in a Darwinian way, and must have been intelligently designed. In 1973 he, along with Leslie Orgel, proposed the theory of “directed panspermia” which is the alien design and seeding of Earthly life. Crick was criticised as a militant atheist whose inability to explain the origin of life had driven him to make speculative and unscientific conclusions. Crick dropped the theory and later said he may have been overly pessimistic about the chances of abiogenesis on Earth. Alien Design then mostly disappeared from the radar, now Dawkins appears to be reviving it.
Dawkins once said Darwin enabled the intellectual atheist to sleep at night, now the Alien Design theory can step into the breach. Even if Darwin doesn’t work on earth, Dawkins can now sleep soundly dreaming of godless evolution elsewhere followed by alien design. What’s more, no one can ever prove him wrong, the goal posts, so to speak, have been moved to outer space where the opposition can never reach them. He could point out that today’s earth scientists are experimenting with making new life. If godless evolution does work, intelligent engineered life seems an inevitable outcome, and to that life it would appear as if god had made it. It’s a shame we have no evidence of aliens, advanced or otherwise. Still, they could be so far away we haven’t noticed, or they could have died out long ago. Nevertheless, no matter how well these ideas would work in Hollywood, or how many books they might sell, this is science fiction, not science fact.
—The enormous irrationality of the human race—
This brings me perfectly to my favourite quote on evolution. It’s from Michael Denton’s book “Evolution A Theory in Crisis” which, incidentally, is a famous book about the subject (footnote). I love this quote because, leaving aside the implications for the existence of God, it sums up what I find so fascinating about the wrongness of Darwin’s Theory- it’s one of my favourite topics- the enormous irrationality of the human race.
The truth is that despite the prestige of evolutionary theory and the tremendous intellectual effort directed towards reducing living systems to the confines of Darwinian though, nature refuses to be imprisoned. In the final analysis we still know very little about how new forms of life arise. The “mystery of mysteries” is still as largely enigmatic as it was when Darwin set sail on the Beagle.
Ultimately the Darwinian theory of Evolution is no more nor less than the great cosmological myth of the twentieth century. Like the Genesis based cosmology which it replaced, and like the creation myths of ancient man, it satisfies the same deep psychological need for an all embracing explanation for the origin of the world which has motivated all cosmogenic myth makes of the past, from the shamans of primitive people to the ideologues of the medieval church.
—In search of Really Rigorous Argument—
Can we disprove the theory of evolution really rigorously? I can see two ways...
Argument One: The Bridge Problem
It seems to me that we can bring evolution down to what philosophers call the bridge problem. Can genetic algorithms cross a bridge? Does every constructive cause cross a bridge?
It is not in fact a new problem, Plato’s Laws Book X contains two proofs of the existence and relevance of the gods, the first begins at 889a, the second at 899e. The first argument opens approximately as follows:
Some people maintain that the elements owe their existence to nature and chance... They talk about substances moving at random, each impelled by virtue of its own inherent properties... They call art the brain-child of living creatures which arose later by chance... They do not believe all this was caused by a deity engaging in artful planning... We must disprove this, but it’s an extremely tricky argument, and we old men must be careful not to be taken in by its freshness and novelty, so that it eludes our grasp and makes us look like ridiculous fools...
The second argument opens approximately as follows:
We have proved in our earlier augment that the cosmos owes its existence to intelligence not chance and, as Thales put it, everything is full of gods; now let’s turn our attention to the man who believes in the gods, but thinks they do not concern themselves with human affairs.
My splendid fellow, we will say, there are two causes for this impiety of yours:
(1) the apparent good fortune of scoundrels and criminals in private and public life, in reality successful reprobates do not lead a blessed life at all, this illusion is created by the popular poets who constantly invest wickedness with a pernicious glamour in their comedies and tragedies. [no justice?]
(2) the apparent necessity of ghastly acts of secret impiety if one is to rise from humble beginnings to supreme power, sometimes the idealist is traumatised by his perception of the evils of the system and the impossibility of true unadulterated good triumphing, yet this is another illusion. [no beauty?]
The result, friend, is that you’re torn by the evil condition of the world on the one hand, and the faultless goodness of the gods on the other, and this has brought you to your present predicament in which you believe that the gods exist, but also that they despise and neglect human affairs. Yet this my friend is a dreadful disease, and we need to cure you of it…
So the second of Plato’s arguments is a more sophisticated take on the
famous modern “Problem of Evil”, and it attacks believers in quasi-atheistic
theories of a non-interventionist god such as that promoted by Epicurus in
ancient times and Spinoza in modern times. For example, Albert Einstein
said: “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony
of the world, not in a God Who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings
of mankind.” Einstein, like many other top theoretical physicists, did not
believe the universe could have arisen by chance, but he could not reconcile
the sufferings of the Jews and other atrocities with a god who cares about
mankind, making him a quasi-atheistic believer in a non-interventionist god.
For example, Schopenhauer once said one often comes across soft headed
Christians who meekly and optimistically claim that the problem of evil is
overstated because the world is full of love and joy, to which he rather
powerfully replied: “A quick test of the assertion that enjoyment outweighs
pain in this world, or that they are at any rate balanced, would be to
compare the feelings of an animal engaged in eating another with those of
the animal being eaten.” But in fact, that is just manipulative rhetoric
designed to flip ordinary minds, it is not proper argument, as Plato
explains, we need to think about undeserved and pointless suffering, eg
Richard Dawkins famously says that if god exists he is clearly a
bloodthirsty madman, though like a ventriloquist’s puppet he then
contradicts himself by calling nature a perfect incubator of evolution
culminating in the marvels of the human mind.
A proper refutation of the problem of evil goes beyond the scope of this article, but we can perhaps say a few words about the topic. The suffering of the Jews in WW2 was an act of man not god, and men have free will, so we would have to talk about the consequences of it for Germany in the sorts of way Plato talks about above to make a case for it disproving god. Instead let’s take on a seemingly more powerful modern argument, namely deformed children born, people say, by an act of god not man. Ancient Philosophers such as Plato believed in reincarnation, but the problem is not hard to solve even inside Christianity. The sins of the fathers are visited on their sons, we are not born clean, we are born in original sin. Thus terrible acts of god should be expected, we are born sinners who by punishment become better, the only issue is the apparent unfairness of the non-homogeneity. But if society is sick, there will appear apparent randomness, because not everyone is equally sick and we can’t see who is sick and who is not, thus just as disease breaks out in seemingly random parts of a diseased body, so suffering will not be homogenous; nevertheless we should add that this does not mean that were there is greater suffering there is necessarily greater shame, for if we are to suffer god might ask some brave souls to volunteer like good soldiers going war, and because good comes of bad, so those who suffer may in fact be doing better than those who do not. People will say this is the sort of superstitious argument made by Priests during the plague, namely the plague was caused by the gods not materialism, but if the Priests had been better at philosophy they might have cured the problem by their reasoning. The filthy chaotic conditions of cities at that time were an abomination, and improving them was the solution to the problem. People will say that all this is absurd, materialism was the still cause of the plague, but I am saying it is clear to the more sophisticated thinker that materialism was simply the vehicle, and such arguments do not create a contradiction between medicine and philosophy, indeed if our medicine were terrible we would deserve to be send down some new diseases to improve it. Here is another famous problem I quite like: There is nothing good about mosquitoes, a good god would not have created them. Can you solve it? Indigenous people develop a high degree of resistance, mosquitoes primarily discourage migration. Alexander The Great said if it hadn’t been for mosquitoes and cholera he could have conquered the world, likewise the British Empire was dramatically slowed by such local environmental factors. Mosquitoes are good then, they act as a natural firewall which protects the weak from the strong, and if you think about it carefully, our modern conquest of them would make another Alexander much more dangerous, because in the future one dictator could sweep across the entire world. What about Schopenhauer’s dog eat dog animals? They don’t have a soul, and as for human beings, the pains of the body are surely far less significant for the soul that we think— that’s why Plato, being more sophisticated, ignores our modern pain based arguments for the non-existence of god and focuses on apparent flaws in the form of the good which would make us less not more virtuous. One last problem: History is a nightmare from which are trying to escape some say. Plato’s Greater Hippias opens with the question: who were wiser, the moderns or the ancients? The sophist says the moderns, but of course he is wrong, history is full of wisdom and beauty, we are the ones living the nightmare. I am saying the so called problem of evil is an illusion caused by ridiculous journalistic style argument, anyone who is trapped by the problem of evil is intellectually and spiritually unift. Anyway, let get back on track...
The first of Plato’s arguments is an ancient version of the bridge problem, but frankly it’s hopelessly short and cryptic and just winks winks nods nods about ten kinds of motions one of which is the cause of all the others. However, we can group it together with Aristotle’s First Cause and the Kalām Cosmological Argument and Charles Sanders Peirce’s “Tychism”, and Jung-Pauli’s “Synchronicity”. Peirce argued that evolutionary biology and even the consolidation of the matter in the universe into suns and planets is not at all what you would expect from Brownian Motion, and whenever you try to hypothesise how such a state of affairs could have come about you are forced to hypothesise miraculous chance collisions as the cause, but really it’s quite ridiculous to suppose that these miraculous collisions are the true cause, rather they are clearly effects of some invisible hand of god guiding all creation. And from this idea Peirce predicted that as science progressed, the prevailing mechanistic deterministic world view of his day would give way to an uncertain probabilistic world view. He worked that out by thinking about how an invisible hand of god could work, and he said the idea of the laws of physics breaking down at a very microscopic level exposing a deus ex machina is distasteful, yet this precisely what would have to happen in a mechanistic deterministic word, and so instead we should look for microscopic mechanistic failure, and if you think about it that has to happen by way of some sort of uncertainty under which the precise qualities of matter can not be determined, giving rise to what appear to be unpredictable possibilities, allowing the invisible hand of god to perform its miracles seamlessly. Thus we say Charles Sanders Peirce predicted the invention of quantum physics based on a sort of supernatural philosophising many years before Heisenberg came up with the first quantum physics formula based on conventional scientific observation and thinking. Jung and Pauli’s synchronicity went further, it began with the strange theory of acuasal parallelism, and ended up like the Thales idea that everything is full of gods which Plato mentions above. That’s because Jung and Pauli ultimately hypothesised that quantum phenomena are manifestations of meaningful ideas, so instead of the Peirce idea of miraculous collisions being caused by the invisible hand of god, matter simply and spontaneously arranges itself to enable whatever people are thinking about, like the action on stage manifesting the playwrights moral fable. Thus, for example, just as the poetic playwright stages the sun setting a dramatic red on the castle walls as the knife is plunged into the king by the traitor, which mystics call an example of “as above so below”; and just as the playwright gives the brutish traitor brutish looks, which mystics call an example of “as within so without”; so Jung and Pauli ultimately hypothesised that real life is filled with apparent meaningful coincidences between nature and mind because we are living in a “waking dream”.
For those who are interested, Plato’s Theatetus describes these strange quantum consciousness everything is full of gods ideas in more detail. The dialogue starts with a description of what Socrates calls flux theory, and according to flux theory matter is not dead, it the manifestation of consciousness created out of the conjunction between observer and maker, so the person who drinks wine is making a connection to the person who made that wine, and the upshot of this is that nothing has any stability but is rather vibrating and throbbing both through time and space, and that lower level part of it which touches everyone physically at a shared level and which we call physical matter is only a sort of empty token pointer to higher concepts because everyone who tastes the wine has different experiences, though in general the well made wine tastes sweet to the healthy and bitter to the unhealthy, and politics is all about making such things, thus speaking allegorically, this is how we keep the fire alive in humanity and never allow the sun to stop.
—The Bridge Problem In Detail—
But let’s focus very minutely now on a proof of this central idea: genetic algorithms can not be the first cause because all constructive causes have to cross a bridge yet genetic algorithms are incapable of doing so.
It’s a problem which people typically find enormously easy to understand on the one hand, yet enormously hard to be convinced by on the other. Why is it so hard to grasp? Because, I think, it’s rather the opposite of the cognitive dissonance problems we talked about earlier, it’s a bit like a pure mathematics problem that people feel disconnected from, and so it seems to them to somehow fall flat rather than sinking in. However, my background is mathematics, computer programming, algorithmic financial trading models, and Ancient Greek philosophy— so I am perfectly qualified to explain this problem to you.
Let me begin my explanation of the bridge problem by way of a human nature analogy:
Imagine a child alone in a kitchen who knows there is a pot of Haagen Dazs Ice Cream in the refrigerator. If the child eats this ice cream it will get short term pleasure, but in the long term that choice will bring it pain because its teeth will rot. But the calculation of the long term value of the Haagen Dazs requires the specialized knowledge of the natural science doctor, all the child really knows in of itself in a semimetal existential sort of way is that Haagen Dazs is delicious.
So what stops the child eating the ice cream? Habit not reason. For example, when the mother was bringing up the child she slapped it whenever it went into the refrigerator without permission, and this slapping set up a behavioural pattern, which the child becomes conscious of as it gets older, and which it even learns to call a “law”, and the law is that it must eat only what it is given, it is not allowed to take charge of its own diet by opening the refrigerator and eating whatever it pleases whenever it pleases.
But now imagine the child subject to some sort of random process that alters the child’s habit or compliance with law or thinking. Because the child doesn’t have the ability to compute the long term value of the Haagen Dazs, which it couldn’t get unless you hypothesize an impossibly large mutation that turns the child into a dental expert; and because it experiences Haagen Dazs as pleasure in a short term way, which is what we call the natural-selection choice, shaking up its behaviour in a Darwinian way always results in an ignorant harmful not wise beneficial outcome.
People often make the first cause argument hopelessly complicated by talking about whether or not a genetic algorithm could have built an eye, or whether or not the eye must have been built by a designer. But what I am trying to do here with this example is get you to think about the really simple idea that every evolutionary movement involves making an un-natural intelligent choice, and devolutionary movements involve random natural choices.
So this Haagen Dazs example seems to me to really sum up what we mean by intelligence in nature— namely something that involves free will and two choices, the mindless accidental choice, and the intelligent un-accidental choice. If Haagen Dazs was both short term pleasurable and long term good, then the need for intelligence would disappear and we would be good as easily as ball roll down hill. And I am saying that this is never the case, that all constructive causes require doing precisely what does not come naturally, yet a genetic algorithm does only what comes naturally. What about the fact that diseases become immune to antibiotics or peppered moths become darker in dark places? I say this is all natural selection can do, it is like rock falling off a mountain, or seeds blowing in the wind, it has no intelligence or constructive power, rather intelligence and constructive power are what overcome such process making the world less not more disordered.
And perhaps you think what I am saying here falls sort of a proof, but it is an extremely convincing hypothesis about the nature of the universe, and if you accept it then everything falls into place and the argument is won. So I am saying that the very simplest possible definition of intelligence is not giving into what seems best to the body in the short term, but rather calculating will be best in the future. And I am saying that no only do all complex things need intelligence to come into being, but also the whole universe is constructed like a games of snakes and ladders in which intelligent calculations lift you up and natural selection sends you down, so genetic algorithms can not be the first cause of anything constructive ranging from bringing up children to making a eye.
So we can think of the universe as a sort of “no pain, no gain” game in which natural selection, being blind, always opens the pleasurable door with the bad things behind it instead of the painful door with the good things behind it. However, I am not saying that it isn’t possible for pleasure and good or pain and bad to match up if you give intelligence a chance to effect an change in what is pleasurable or painful.
For example, the mother who beats her child for going into the fridge in fact creates an alignment between pain and bad that keep the child on the straight and narrow. For example, if we put Roger Penrose in the ring with Pied Piper of Hamelin, the former would beat the latter senseless, and the cheering crowd who naturally love the sight of bloody competitions would fall in love with the former instead of latter, and this would create an alignment between pleasure and good. In both these cases then intelligence is a sort of puppet master who sets up the instinctive child and emotional crowd up to dance correctly. But I am saying that if you didn’t beat the child or hold that competition, the child would eat ice cream and the people would love the Pied Piper of Hamelin, because these slavish choices are the natural ball rolling down the hill choices that stand perfectly opposed to the masterful choices. For example, because Penrose is hard to read and the Pied Piper is easy to read, if you just throw Penrose and Piper nuts to the monkeys in a Darwinian way, the Penrose eaters will be in the minority, and Piper nuts will be become the most fashionable food in the Zoo, and the Zoo will change itself to reflect Piper’s philosophy instead of Penrose’s philosophy. So if we are talking about unthinking monkeys, intelligence is what rigs the competition, whether it is by promoting noble lies or holding Olympics, at first manipulating the monkey’s into having right opinion instead of wrong opinion, eventually even turning the monkey’s into human beings. On the other hand, monkeys can’t become men by the mindless mutations and natural selections of Darwinian evolution, on the contrary that would only create, speaking playfully and allegorically, a sort of devolution that would turn men into monkeys or monkeys into fish.
—Ancient Greek Chaos—
In Ancient Greek mythology the universe came out of “chaos”, and chaos was described allegorically as a gap with a chasm underneath it, and in order to cross this chasm you need to reason; and reasoning is going against what you would naturally do under ignorance instead of intelligence, and going against what you would naturally do under randomness instead of planning; so reasoning is doing things such as detaching from natural urges, and choosing wise men to lead the community, and joining together as team, and allocating tasks and passing laws, building a bridge that gets you to your destination in the long term; and the Ancient Greeks called all this the game of life invented by the god. Thus the Ancient Greek word chaos described what modern philosophers call the “bridge problem”, and it is a more sophisticated version of the modern natural science term “entropy”, more sophisticated because entropy has no sense of intelligence, it is just a measurement of so called matter.
Here is another way to look it: Think about a flock of birds flying from the Antarctica to Africa. The birds fly in a v-shape, the birds at the front of the v-shape experience the greatest drag, the birds at the back the least, and consequently the birds constantly change positions in order to distribute the task across the flock. But now think like an Ancient Greek philosopher about the consciousness of the flock. Or imagine yourself as a computer programmer trying to model it. Either you model the flock as one collective mind distributed across the many birds, or you model the flock as many minds instinctively programmed to give their all, bringing you back to one perfect flock. For example, imagine waving a magic wand over one of these birds and giving it a bit of human consciousness. Human beings are neither completely collective nor completely instinctive, unlike a flock of birds, they think about themselves and exercise free will. Therefore once you waved this magic wand the bird you made more human wouldn’t necessarily understand that everyone must share the load equally because you have give it just a bit of intelligence not perfect intelligence, so it’s intelligence would cause it to break the collective pattern. Even if didn’t make that intellectual choice consciously, it could make it in an unconscious cognitive dissonance way, for example the bird might imagine itself as sickly and in need of flying along at the back, causing it to break away from its instinctive programming to give its all. Do you understand this? It’s an amazing idea no? So do you see that if you kept waving this magic wand over more and more birds their amazing utopia capable of flying from the Antarctica to Africa would come to end and the birds would start dying and even possibly go extinct?
In more detail, how do we define the forces of chaos? We talked about pleasure and pain vs calculation, but lest we fall into the trap of the harsh natural scientist Socrates described, we should distinguish between the pleasures that transport us into heaven and the pleasures that plunge us off a cliff. What are they? The are of course just what you find when open Pandora’s Box or eat that rotten Apple in the garden of knowledge. They are the terrible and terrifying twin pillars that decorated Bacon’s Novum Organum and which we associate with Atlantis and Hercules. What is that? Obviously the sentimentality behind the progressive political correctness that caused the most obviously overwhelming form of cognitive dissonance we talked about earlier. But what about the other? It’s twin evil sister, existentialism. Think about it, we talked about intelligence choosing what is optimal in the future not the current moment, but to see far into the future you have to hypothesise the goals of humanity, you have look toward justice and beauty and strange ideas such as that, but the idiotic existentialists define the good as material happiness and optimize that, which takes them straight to hell! Thus we say, in the Golden Age the world is run by perfect reason, but gradually the world unravels, reaching a rock un-sustainability when the human race totters on the edge of cataclysm as a result of it’s wanton and meaningless way of life, at which point in time it pulls itself out of the gutter and rediscovers enlightenment.
Argument Two - The Individual Problem
Take a male seal, did you know that all the seals you see basking on beaches are female, and the males never leave the water, and each beach is controlled by one and only one male seal? Furthermore, when a male seal reaches maturity, he takes off and starts swimming round the ocean, looking for beaches with females, and when he finds one he fights the male seal in control of that beach full of females, and if he wins his fight he takes possession of that beach. And here is something amazing, namely when he takes possession of the beach he stops eating and spend all his time mating and fighting, and he consequently looses strength over time, so that after a few months he inevitably ends up being beaten by another male seal, at which point he swims off out to sea again, and starting eating again, building up his strength and going around fighting other male seals.
Of course it’s a strange and crazy life, and as it happens I learnt about from a guide when I visiting the Galapagos Islands, and the more I though about it, the more it contradicted the theory of evolution, and so I had my own eureka moment on the Galapagos which was ironically the opposite of Darwins. But why? Look...
If the theory of evolution is correct, we humans shouldn’t be able to think up improvements that would make an organism more effective, except in times of change when an organism is in the process of changing. Why is that? Because if the theory of evolution is correct, its power to create successful organisms is far in excess of the power of human thinking. Even the simplest organisms dwarf the complexity of our most sophisticated human technology, so if the theory of evolution is correct, evolution is in a sense ‘smarter’ than all the world’s human scientists, and this smartness extends not just to the construction of the organisms, but also to their actions.
So we can not think of a male seal as a highly sophisticated machine, running a simple behavioural program in its little animal mind, which could be easily improved by us big brained humans, instead we have to think of a male seal as a highly sophisticated machine running a highly optimized program. For example, we humans make spoons, but it would be wrong to look at a human spoon and say that because it is simple the humans who made it must have been simple. Simple tasks are optimally solved simply, and a spoon performs a simple task, and that is why the spoon is simple, not because it the humans who made it are simple. Only if you could look at a human soon and see some simple flaw in it, making it a suboptimal creation, would you know that the humans who made it must have been simple.
So if the theory of evolution is correct, it shouldn’t be possible for a young man like me on holiday in the Galapagos to dream up a way to improve the survival skills of a male seal, except of course in times of great change when perhaps it is clear to the man that the climate has changed and the seal is overheating and needs to shed some insulation, but the inertia of evolutionary change has not yet caught up.
However, even the stupidest of us can see that the individual male seal would be better off eating after conquering a beach, because then he could control the beach for most of his lifetime not just a few months. How do we so easily arrive at that realization? We translate the life of the seal over into the world of human nature, and we think about how crazy we humans would have to be to, for example, roam around the streets looking for a house with some females, then knock on the door and fight the man inside, and, once we have won, go into the house and spend our whole time impregnating the women inside and fighting the men who come to door without even eating. We recognise instantly that only a mad man would behave in that way, someone so infinitely hyper masculine that the urge to mate and fight completely subsumes his sense of hunger, creating a completely and utterly unsustainable life.
So at first this argument seems like a direct disproof of evolution. It seems to suggest that instead of a male seal being perfectly optimised for an individually sustainable life Darwin style, a male seal is actually perfectly optimized for some greater natural good Gaia theory style. Gaia theory is all about sustainability of the whole planet together not individual organisms. Today we talk about how Gaia theory contradicts the theory of evolution, even though its original inventor was a futurologist called James Lovelock who initially make the mistake of thinking his global system could evolve by natural selection, imaging that organisms that improve their environment for their survival do better than those that damage their environment. However, others such as W. Ford Doolittle then pointed out that nothing in the genome of individual organisms could provide the feedback mechanisms proposed by Lovelock, and therefore Doolittle declared the Gaia hypothesis unscientific on the basis of it contradicting the theory of evolution. In Richard Dawkins’ 1982 book, The Extended Phenotype, he also stated that for organisms to act in concert would require foresight and planning, which is contrary to the current scientific understanding of evolution, so he also rejects Gaia theory.
In fact, the very smartest minds in Gaia theory (ie the ones you don’t read about on Wikipedia because they are too complicated to follow), talk about one intelligence managing all of nature as a whole, and they say that is why animals appear to us to have no consciousness, namely animals are not really thinking about individual self-interest, rather there is one mind controlling everything and animals are connected to the whole through the magic of quantum science, so you can imagine the brains of animals as antennas plugged into the collective and following a ‘best for the whole’ instinctual program which is uploaded to them when they go to sleep each night, and they say animals just look like super sophisticated machines with tiny minds doing completely dumb things to us completely dumb idiots who, devoid of any natural science vision, idiotically look at them as individuals not a whole. That’s an amazing and shocking though no?!
But then another thought comes to mind, namely the male’s seal’s behaviour is in fact optimal for the seal species because it gives all the males a turn and therefore widens the genetic pool. So the theory of evolution seems to get a reprieve when we say: this male seal behaviour is not for the greater good of nature as a whole, Gaia theory style, but rather for the greater good only of seals.
However, this does not in fact solve the problem, as we will now show. In summary the same problem we had with Gaia theory crops up all over again because Darwin’s evolution operates only to optimize individual survival of the fittest and survival of the fittest individual’s genes, not survival of the whole species or isolated group. Eg we talked about how in Richard Dawkins’ 1982 book, The Extended Phenotype, he stated that for organisms to act in concert would require foresight and planning, which is contrary to the current scientific understanding of evolution. What Richard Dawkins didn’t realise it that this problem reoccurs everywhere, eg even in our example of a male seal we get this same need for acting in concert.
Here is analogy: Suppose that Jack the Englishman starts stealing from his fellow man. Because the English are isolated from the French, Jack does not steal from the French, just his fellow English. But now imagine a war between the English and French. The ability of the English to fight the French we could hypothetically suppose like Adam Smith depends on the total wealth in England vs France. If that were really the case then Jack’s theft would make no difference, because the money is just moving from one place to another. But that is not the case because, as more modern economists like to say, the law of diminishing marginal utility kicks in. We can also express the same principle biologically, namely every individual has about the same need for food, so if one individual stuffs himself at the expense of the group, the gain in strength he gets does not make up for the loss in strength experienced by the others. Thus when Jack the Englishman starts stealing from his fellow man, Jack the Englishman becomes stronger relative to his fellow Englishmen, but the English people become weaker as a whole that the French. Now as the English weaken, the evolutionary pressure between England and France starts to intensify, and English territory contracts and French territory expands, but notice that this group-group pressure does nothing to correct the individual-group cause of the group-group weakening. War between England and France does not kill Jack, it just kills the English, and that’s because Jack’s relative superiority comes from Englishman to Englishman relations.
So we can summarise our analogy as follows: The England vs France conflict will gradually destroy England without correcting the maladaptive Jack who keeps increasing his share of England because the competitive pressure that selects at the group level is different from the competitive pressure that selects between individuals within the group. Now moving back to the biology: because I talked in terms of Jack stealing, you might need to take a moment to transfer the allegory back to the male seal we were talking about, and as you do that notice that it’s not just about the law of diminishing marginal utility, the basic mistake of the evolutionary biologists is to think all the evolutionary forces are the same, for example if you read Dawkins books he talks about survival of the fittest as if it is in a sense one cognitive power operating on the species as a whole, but in reality the survival of the fittest optimization power can be split into orthogonal group-group and individual-individual incommensurables.
So we can summarize the whole argument as follows: First we proved that the theory of evolution is contradicted by suboptimal Darwinian behaviour. Then we defined Darwinian behaviour and demonstrated the existence of suboptimal Darwinian behaviour. Recall Darwinian behaviour is survival of the fittest individual, and the suboptimal Darwinian behaviour we demonstrated was the male seal who does not stop to eat. Then we demonstrated how in fact this suboptimal Darwinian behaviour is vital to the survival of the community. In other words, even though the male seal who stops to eat profits in a Darwinian way, if you measure profit either as the good of the species as a whole, or you measure profit as the good of the male seal’s ancestors in the distant future, then stopping to eat is a loss not a profit. Furthermore, because such potential for individually beneficial but communally destructive behaviour always exists in life as we know it, we have proved that life as we know it depends completely on the non-existence of Darwinian evolution. What does that mean? It means in a Darwinian universe, mutations would constantly make the mistake of benefiting individuals at the expense of the community, preventing the existence of flocks of birds flying together and male seals competing for females. Flying together and competing together can only exist as long as the individuals are part of a whole, without that whole there would be no cognitive framework nor emotional bond. For example, there is no real competition between completely disconnected things, just a sort of chaotic scrap for survival without rules to play by or honour to win, but that is not how male seals compete in our non-Darwinian Universe.
Thus we have comprehensively disproved the Darwinian theory of evolution. Are you shocked? You’re not thinking right if you’re not!
How could biologists have gone so wrong? Plato talks about people who make their mathematical theories from the counting of objects, they do not bother thinking about the objects under investigation themselves, they happily count oranges and apples mixed together. This inability to comprehend incommensurables is also at the heart of the autistic modern economic mantra “greed is good”.
—A message for our friend Richard Dawkins—
Will all this complicated writing make a best seller? I very much doubt it, but if it has convinced a few friends I will be happy enough. To reach the masses one has to hold their hand and lead them with arguments of persuasion not refutation, because they have in general only the power of imaging not construction. So instead of proving god can’t not exist like an invisible philosopher you have to persuade them god does exist like a radiant messiah, and in Plato’s Republic that’s done by the Myth Of Err, which is what we call today an “Out Of Body Near Death Experience”.
Now speaking of Plato’s Myth of Err- which describes heaven for the good, hell for the bad, and reincarnation for the rest- it’s most of all a warning to the elite who rule the world and shape public opinion- because Plato said hell is full of politicians and sophists. In a beautifully synchronistic sort of way, Richard Dawkins tells a moving story that occurred to him in his youth and which has remained in his mind ever since. He said he once saw a University Lecturer explaining a scientific theory he had been working on, and a member of the audience stepped up to the front and comprehensibly disproved his argument by refutation, and the slightly shell shocked but strangely happier lecturer shook his hand and said “thank you my good man for disproving something I have believed all my life”. Dawkins said it summed up for him the difference between what he called science and superstition, or we philosophers might call the Promethean language used by the struggling human beings that walk on the land, and the sometimes beastly and sometimes divine noises made by all god’s other creatures, such as the wonderful fish who swim in the sea.
Think of Anthony Flew, he was another Oxford academic with a life long die hard belief in atheism, but like the wonderful professor in the story, he walked away from his cherished theory when someone refuted him no matter how emotionally attached he was too it. Well in truth, Flew kept his change of mind secret for many years, but like the story in Plato’s Republic about the way old man toss and turn in their sleep at night dreaming of the injustices they committed during their lives, he eventually felt a terrible shame and made a great public admission of his mistake, which almost had a great impact on public opinion.
Imagine on the other hand a professor who refuses to face refutation, he becomes like those proverbial Austrian Economists such as slavish Ludwig von Mises and mad Murray Rothbard, unlike Horatio Nelson he can’t turn a blind eye and thrive, he is forced to defend his position with ever more cliquish simpleminded and zealotous put downs, and like the wicked witch of Oz he becomes immune to fiery logical arguments and can only be killed by dowsing him with a bucket of water, which causes him to shrivel up and disappear shrieking.
Think of the idea that the gods make mad those they wish to destroy, also of Plato’s story in the Theatetus, “But there is one accident to which the unjust man is liable. When it comes to giving and taking an account in a private discussion of the things he disparages; when he is willing to stand his ground like a man for long enough, instead of running away like a coward, then, my friend, an odd thing happens. In the end the things he says do not satisfy even himself; that famous eloquence of his somehow dries up, and he is left looking nothing more than a child.” But think too of Plato’s Myth of Err which describes the terrible fate of sophists who turn away from enlightenment like, as the Bible puts it, strange children whose mouth speaketh vanity and their right hand is the right hand of falsehood.
But let’s not forget Plato’s Menexenus, no matter how worthless a fellow may be when he joins up and fights for the good he is given a glorious eulogy when he dies and sent to Elysium instead of Hades, even if he is old and infirm and has a spent a lifetime spreading poison Flew style. What about the legend of the Trojan Horse? We might say, if you can’t bring yourself to face the truth either for the gods or for the love of fellow men such as ourselves, well then dear Richard why not do it for yourself, think how many tweets you would get if you did a u-turn and said you have woken up and realised unthinking spontaneous evolution is, as Plato puts it, the sort of absurdly improbable explanation for the wonders of the cosmos only those with “an axe to grind against the gods” propose.
Footnote 1 of 3 - “Evolution, A Theory in Crisis”, 1985
The classic book which really started the debate raging within the scientific community. I think the layman should read one or two populist pro-evolution books before Denton’s more involved work. Eg I already mentioned the “Blind Watchmaker” by Dawkins. Wiki is hopeless on evolution- you just get the old fashioned consensus which is vehemently opposed to ID.
Denton (PhD Biochemistry King’s College London, later Medical Doctor & Microbiologist) did a great job but I think he misunderstands pleiotropy. Surely it’s precisely our failure to build pleiotropic like features that hinders our progress in genetic algorithms and AI. For example, you can’t create a better jumbo jet by making a random change to the empirical plans because it would obviously crash. But if we try to imagine DNA as not describing physical form like an architectural blueprint, but rather some kind of transcendent psychodynamic Platonic Form, well then random change would make more sense. Obviously pleiotropy suggests this is how DNA works, and I am not saying it does anything to swing the debate, but it isn’t one of the many holes in the consensus as Denton suggests.
Footnote 2 of 3 - Problems with Evolution
(*) Homogeneous Fossil Records (A modern take on Darwin’s Missing Link). If creature A evolved into creature B by the process of small random change then, if we had a time machine, we could go back and examine the skeletons to watch the evolutionary process occurring. It would be hard to classify the skeletons exactly, some would be mostly A, some mostly B, some in between etc. Of course we don’t have any time machines and must therefore rely on the hugely imperfect fossil record. However, even after all these years the fossil record still looks completely homogeneous not heterogeneous. Although we can see some changes occurring within some species (eg the gradual development of the modern horse from the fox-sized, forest-dwelling Hyracotherium) it’s really not enough. The 1972 theory of punctuated equilibrium argued that the degree of gradualism championed by Charles Darwin was virtually nonexistent in the fossil record, and that stasis dominates the history of most fossil species. The theory hypothesised that evolutionary changes could occur fairly rapidly after, for example, climatic change and finding the records from this relatively short transitional time period is therefore less likely. Although this theory improved the mathematics, the problem has not gone away and just keeps getting worse as more and more homogeneous records turn up.
(*) Computer Scientists have found Genetic Algorithms Failing. We talked about this problem above but I am including it again here for completeness. Remember the problem of finding the roots of n degree polynomials using numerical algorithms? The algorithms get suck in local maxima/minima. Genetic Algorithms have the same problem - all small changes have a negative impact. If that makes no sense: Try to imagine a bridge developing under Darwin’s Theory. Until you can walk across the bridge the wasted structure detracts rather than add to its success, yet the bridge is far too complex to be built in a single generation. Now if Genetic Algorithms can’t even build a simple bridge how could they possible build the human eye? Biologists sometimes struggle with this argument, but for hard core scientists with mental discipline it completely undermines the entire theory.
(*) Related to the question above but more popular with the life scientists: All life on planet earth is proven to have evolved from a single cellular ancestor (all cells have common physical and chemical systems and identical molecular handedness which is a random property). Yet there is no explanation of how such a hugely complex ’device’ could have come into existence. No simpler forms of life have ever been found but they would have had to exist. This argument is currently getting a lot of attention because in the past biologists just waved the original cell into existence with stories about some lightning and some soup, but now they are really marvelling at how absolutely mind bogglingly complex cells really are. Forget all the rest, many say, how on earth could a random gradual change have ever produced a device like this even in a zillion years? It’s so highly mechanised with concepts such as hardware and software that many find it impossible to believe that it has not been ’designed’. You have to do a bit of studying to appreciate the scale of this problem, but it’s huge.
(*) Also related to the above some instinctive animal behaviour appears too complex to have arisen according to random genetic mutation. Remember that animal behaviour is determined mostly by instinct rather than by education. From “The Blind Watchmaker” by Dawkins we have this description of how Beavers evolved to build big dams instinctively: “when mutation affects this particular part of the brain’s wiring it has a specific effect on behaviour. It causes [perhaps] the beaver to hold its head higher out of the water while swimming with a log in its jaws. This makes it less likely that mud attached to the log will wash off during the journey. This increases the stickiness of the log, which in turn means that, when the beaver thrusts it into the dam, the log is more likely to stay there. This will tend to apply to all logs placed by this beaver... makes the lodge more secure against predators... increases number of offspring successfully raised... eventually becomes the norm.” With a wave of the hand he thus explains the evolution of complex instinctive animal behaviour, but many find this improbable. Rupert Sheldrake has suggested a novel theory by which behaviour could be passed between generations without recourse to random genetic change. Although his controversial theory solves this and the following point, it does not solve all the problems here. I quite like this problem, but it’s not that popular.
(*) Many biological structures must have evolved independently in different species and yet show improbable similarities for a random process. The famous example of the Octopus and Man having similar eyes but no common sighted ancestor. This problem has been kicking around forever, but its a hard one to analyse since biologists actually have so little idea about what came from what or how.
(*) The failure to observe species change in the world today. Scientists have tried to exploit the short life cycle of Drosophila to reproduce evolution in laboratory but without success. Due to population growth there are more humans alive today that every before in history, if a few Cro-Magnons could evolve into modern humans surely we should see more mutation in our enormous population today. The changes we do see today, eg people getting taller, are small and do not even appear to have a link with natural selection. Likewise enormous populations of domestic animals and breeding programs that encourage change have produced lots of new types of dog but no proper species change. Real world examples of evolution, such as London’s Peppered Moths and Darwin’s Finches, although much celebrated, are very unimpressive. These points have also faded into the background as the battle over the original cell rages.
(*) Molecular Equidistance and the failure of biologists to build Phylogenetic Trees etc (don’t worry I won’t even try and explain these pretty recent and involved arguments)
Footnote 3 of 3 - My New Cosmogenic Myth inspired by the Dawkins
Alien Design Theory
Once upon a time Aliens planted an engineered seed cell on earth which gave rise to all life here. Now every living cell on earth contains a communication system which allows the Aliens to control them from their spaceship which remains hidden but still close by. This communication system also accounts for the occasional incidences of telepathy known to occur from time to time between some humans. The creatures the aliens guided into existence on earth reflected psychological forces. For example, the slow moving turtle sporting a totally impractical huge shell on it’s back was not designed for maximum efficiency. Instead the turtle embodies a stubborn, grumpy and short sighted love of home and solitude.
In a stroke of pure genius the Aliens found a way to embody a number of different vital psychological forces even within each species. By creating the active, or male, and passive, or female, duality they captured a variety of ideas including power-love, intellect-emotion, idealism-materialism, master-slave. The Aliens were rightly proud of this invention because they themselves were sexless.
Eventually they developed a single supreme intelligent species for this world which is of course the human. Because the inside and outside are all linked, the humans naturally became less hairy and more fragile as their minds developed. The active male naturally came with a phallus, and the passive female with the opposite. These humans were in fact the only real reason the Aliens embarked on this long process in the first place. Because the humans had self awareness they could gradually break free of their lowly nature and collective. Gradually the humans are moving from primitive tribal people barely much more advanced than the monkeys that once gave birth to them, toward hugely sophisticated and rational self aware spiritual beings who transcend earthly instincts, emotions and sexual physicality. Today most humans are still a very long way from that ultimate goal, but the pace will pick up dramatically in the mid 21 Century when the Chinese begin making wide scale changes to their offspring using genetic engineering. Once the humans have completely perfected themselves and achieved total power over life on earth they will have become like the Aliens themselves. They will have completed their long quest to turn a hellish little world into a paradise fits for gods. At this point they will then be ready to join their equals up in space.
Until that time comes the Aliens keep themselves mostly hidden so the humans have to find the path to enlightenment themselves. The humans masses have, on the whole, almost no idea of what they are and where they are going. However, a few lucky ones with superior powers enjoy a degree of contact. The world the Aliens created for the humans was no paradise but rather a “dog eat dog” Darwinian place. Pain, competition, constant change and pragmatism would, the Aliens reasoned, provide for a much more effective education. The human wretches of today often wonder why anything would condemn them to such a sorry life, but like children at school, they can’t see the final outcome nor understand the timescales their parents work in. At this early stage their little human lives are worth almost nothing to the enlightened Aliens, only the endpoint of their evolution matters to them. An eternal paradise will come to the humans one day, and the thousands of years of struggle will pale into insignificance.
After a few tens of thousands of years the Aliens think we have made reasonable progress, especially in Germany, but our theories on evolution are, they tell me, laughable :-)