Friday, 24 July 2009

Science v Spirituality (3)

This blog entry was going to be just a glance at some of the upcoming topics on my ever growing list of "Things on Which I Would Very Much Like to Opine". That'll have to wait though. I will endeavour to explain ...

I'm a long time fan of Carpool, a weekly web based chat show hosted by TV personality, self confessed wet liberal and jolly nice chap, Robert Llewellyn (Red Dwarf, Scrapheap Challenge). The show has a simple and yet engaging concept in which Robert just gives someone interesting a lift and chats with them on camera. Guests in the passenger seat have included; Ruby Wax, Stephen Fry, Arthur Smith, Michael Eavis, Charlie McDonnell, and each of the Red Dwarf cast; Craig Charles, Danny John Jules and Chris Barrie. You can catch up with any and all of the previous 'casts on Bobby Llewellyn's Carpool website. Anyway, what I mean to say is that it's funny and interesting so that's why I watch it. =P

Now, like myself, Robert dabbles with Twitter and on occasion he "tweets" about his upcoming guests and asks if anyone has a question they'd like him to ask them. A few weeks ago he announced that the CERN scientist and media figure Dr Brian Cox would be on an upcoming show. Thinking that my question might well be overlooked, I nonetheless cast my bread upon the waters. Through Twitter I asked Robert if he would ask Brian the following questions;

"... given that everything (inc time?) was "one" at the moment of the big bang, is there a case for pantheism?"

also, what is Brian Cox' view on the "Unified Field Theory" in relation to Pantheism? ... and can the answer be entertaining hehe."

Obviously that last question wasn't meant be taken entirely seriously. Anyhow, when I watched the released episode last Friday, to my utter surprise (and probably my eternal embarrassment) Dr Cox did in fact read out my first question on the show. Yikes, I thought, as my spoonful of cornflakes froze on it's journey to my still open mouth. Oh the anticipation! The only answer I got though was a look of scornful bemusement on Brian's face (see inset) and a lot of hearty chuckling from Bobby. Now I'm not fragile, I can take the piss out of myself as much as the next guy and I laughed heartily too. I have to say though that in the light of the weird scientific observations that have been made about our universe I feel that my question deserved just a tad more consideration than the implied "Oh dear, nutter alert!"

For instance, Einstein's work indicates that time may be nothing more than "a persistent illusion" (Einstein himself expressed some level of belief in "Spinoza's God", a "God" consisting of the oneness of everything). Furthermore the effects of "quantum entanglement" appear to defy the universal speed limit and our understanding of space and time. Renowned physicist Richard Feynman speculated upon the possibility that our universe may consist of merely one single electron whizzing back and forth through "timelessness". Everett's "many worlds" interpretation suggests at least one extra spatial dimension containing "many" 3 dimensional bubble island universes moving through it. And then there's the retroactive actions of electrons which can be seen in a particular version of the double slit experiment (from Rob Bryanton's blog "Imagining the 10th Dimension"). Oh, you get the idea ... lots and lots of weird stuff has been observed about "time".

Now admittedly I've only got a layman's understanding about these matters. I'm also aware that for the most part the theories I've outlined above are still subject to vigorous debate amongst physicists and yet it seems to me that on the basis of our present understanding it's quite possible that everything that ever was, is or will exist in our universe may be, in actuality, just "one" thing when looked at from the perspective of timelessness. And if we go on to consider that this theoretical "oneness" must then, by logical deduction, include my consciousness (all of it, from my awakening to my death), your consciousness, the consciousness of every person, every living thing that ever has or will walk the Earth, every living thing in the galaxy ... in the whole universe ... ever, then it begs some seriously radical questions and raises some fascinating possibilities.

But it was that word "pantheism" wasn't it? A word bursting with memes and preconceptions about "gods" and creators, praying and religion. It conjures up images of some judgemental entity which is aware of us and with whom we can interact. I guess it was my own fault for using it but when Brian asked me on Twitter to choose a new word I just couldn't come up with one. I still can't. I mean come on, in many ways "theonenessofeverything" sounds even worse than "pantheism"... and nowhere near as snappy.

You see this is part of what I've been trying to get at when I say that I believe Dawkins does significant harm with his
overly strident defence of science. It's very much cool and de rigeur nowadays to mercilessly "pwn" the religious with science and this reinforces an "us and them" and "ne'er the twain shall meet" attitude by insulting, alienating, misunderstanding and unfairly representing theists and, by association, metaphysical thinkers. I believe that this unnecessary chasm of hostility also produces a climate in which any metaphysical speculation is frowned upon and ridiculed too, thus stifling any serious enquiry which might otherwise get undertaken. Apparently, men of science have always shunned anything to do with metaphysics and I think I understand some of the reasons why. Nevertheless, I believe that science would benefit greatly if it could collectively, objectively and neutrally embrace and examine the "metaphysicality" that seems so clearly indicated in our reality. Einstein might have sensed something of this when he said,

"Science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind."

I can't end this blog entry without giving Dr Brian his due respects. After being directed by him via Twitter to his site which hosts quite a number of excellent podcasts about the Large Hadron Collider on the Swiss/French border, I found one in there entitled "Science and Religion" (as opposed to my little series here on science vs spirituality ... see the difference?). In it Brian reveals that he is very much aware of the metaphysical debate and admits a certain sense of wonder at what it all may mean. But I think I can say with considerable certainty that Brian Cox does NOT like the word "pantheism". =P

Twitter links: @bobbyllew, @ProfBrianCox, @CaptainFrantic

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Sidebar Links (4)

For a number of reasons I'm going to take a short break from the whole "Science vs Spirituality" issue. I've just re-loaned "The God Delusion" from the library as it obviously forms a central part in what I'm trying to get across. I intend reading it again so that I have a more fresh and imminent perspective which should allow me to be more poignant in my argument. Also, I've recently (and with reasonable justification) had my own objectivity on this matter impugned whilst I was engaging in some Dawkins bashing on Derren Brown's blog over at "All Your Minds Are Belong To Us". If anyone wants to see me having my arse partially handed to me by "flapjack" then you can click through and see it here. Rest assured that I haven't finished with this blog topic yet, not by a long way.

So, back to the point. I've finally added a positive link in the sidebar over there at last. Whoo! It's not exactly a world saving one necessarily but hey ... who knows? =D

Before singing the praises of this weekly web-radio show, let me just say a little more about why I'm so cautious about committing to singular causes or organisations. It's my experience that as soon as you commit to any one thing (be it an ideology or an organisation) then you generally have to accept everything that comes along with it. I rarely find that I can agree 100% with anything to be honest and this can be problematical ... especially in the world of idealistic revolutionary types. There are always fundamentalists (embarrassingly so in regards to anarchists and politicos unfortunately) who will have nothing to do with you unless you accept hook, line and sinker every single fucking dogma which they will insist on ramming down your throat. In worse case scenarios they will actively attack and ostracise you if you disagree with them, garnering support for themselves from other like-minded fundie asshats. I don't deal with that kind of shit. I don't deal with that very well at all. So to a large extent this is why there is such a famine of links over there. I'm working on that though.

So anyway, The Authority Smashing Hour IS something I can get involved with because basically it's run by some really nice guys. This doesn't mean that I necessarily agree with everything on the show but I can say with clarity that I at least rarely disagree to any great extent with the views put forward. Another great thing about the show is that it is participatory, partially through the live chat room where listeners can comment while the show is on air and also through the comments section after each show (which is archived week by week) where you can offer feedback and even suggestions for future shows and discussions. It's exactly this form of free association which I can most heartily endorse.

As I said, this is made possible only by the inclusive attitudes of the guys who've organised and run the show. If I may refer to them by their YouTube names (click 'em to go to their channels) we have Buddhagem, Chomskyan and Mr1001Nights. Sterling chaps all three of them. If only they weren't so far away across the big pond. I'd love to spend a night getting shit-faced with them over a bottle of Jack Daniels. Or even better, Cuervo Gold Tequila.

I must give fair warning that it's not a show for the politically faint of heart. For one thing, us anarchists tend to almost have our own language. Some of the ideas are also very complex and it can be hard to follow for the uninitiated. But if you have any interest at all in the principals of anarchy, freedom and voluntarism then I'd encourage you to come along and listen with us. Join in with the chat room and have your say or ask any questions you might have. Bring your own Tequila though.

The show goes out over the interwebs every Tuesday night at 11pm BST (or 6pm EST if you live in America). Smash some authority next Tuesday.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Science v Spirituality (2)

Of all Richard Dawkins' many and numerous straw-man arguments, his finest surely has to be his "purple teapot circling Uranus" routine. For those unfamiliar with it, it goes something like this ...

"Agnostics are merely closet atheists. Why, you might just as well be agnostic about the existence of a large purple teapot orbiting Uranus. Lots of love. Dicky Dawkins."

Now, I'm agnostic about the existence of "dark matter", I'm agnostic about the existence of free will, I'm agnostic about human-induced global warming and I'm also agnostic about the existence of the Higgs Boson. I'm also (for the record) agnostic about fairies, unicorns, leprechauns, trolls and purple teapots whizzing around Uranus.

So. Fucking. What?

A literal translation of the word "agnostic" might be expressed as "no knowledge" or "without knowledge". This is integral and central to pure agnosticism, or at least to my understanding and application of it. It's merely a recognition of the fact that, at present, there may well be no meaningful and conclusive knowledge or evidences available to us with which to prove or disprove some things. We might obtain such knowledge tomorrow, or the knowledge may even already exist but hasn't been recognised or applied correctly yet. But unless and until you can show me some hard evidences then I'm afraid that all of your so-called "proofs" are in point of fact merely opinions and "beliefs" ... and I'll remain agnostic thank-you very much. So, I'm agnostic about the existence of a higher being and I'm also agnostic about the existence of extra-terrestrial teapots. Big deal!

Another thing about purple teapots. I really don't give a damn if there is one mindlessly circling Uranus. So what? It's of practically no benefit to me to know if there's one there or not. Does it contain loose tea, or teabags? Does it even have any tea in it at all? How big might it be? Do I give a shit? No. I don't. Much the same goes for fairies, trolls, unicorns and Santa Claus. However, I am most profoundly interested in the possible existence of "God", whatever it may (or may not) be. Does it exist? Is it aware of us? Does it have some purpose, some aim? Do I give a shit? Yes, actually I do. So, we can see that it's quite reasonable and possible to be agnostic about stupid things like purple teapots or ghosts and at the same time be agnostic about important things like the nature of free will or the possible existence of some higher being. The difference lies in whether you actually give a shit about getting an answer or not.

And for another thing ... I have absolutely NO reason to believe that there's a flying teapot out there doing it's thing. I can, however, think of quite a few perfectly reasonable things that may lead me to ask if there's a God or not. Whether there fucking is one or not is irrelevant! I think I'll leave that little argument right there as it plainly speaks for itself.

So ... I repeat, I don't care whether it's about the tooth fairy, the Higgs boson or the Almighty himself. If you have no hard evidence to back up a claim then it's deceitful, closed minded and ultimately downright dangerous to claim that science can provide an unequivocal "answer". Here's a quote from a scientist who I consider to be infinitely more worthy of the respect that Dawkins could only dream of demanding:

"When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong."
Arthur C Clarke.

I hope I've gone some way here to exposing just one of Dicky's straw-man-isms for what it actually is. Questionable. Hollow. Full of piss and wind. Churlishly subjective ...

... and very, very unscientific.


EDIT - 18.06.09 - It has been pointed out to me that the Teapot quote should actually be attributed to Bertrand Russell. Fair enough. However, it's still true to say that Dicky uses and endorses this spurious argument (at least when looked at scientifically) extensively in his "book" so it makes little to no real difference to the point I'm making.

This bits going to sting. It has also been pointed out to me that in my zeal to reveal Dicky's strawman argumentation, I may have committed the very same crime myself. Although I do point out that Dicky rates himself as a 6 (later he said in an interview 6.9) on Dicky Dawkins' Scale of Atheism, I may have not been very fair or specific (I was right, that stings like fuck). My point remains however that the teapot analogy only stands up within the context of belief systems. It is NOT a scientific refutation of the possible existence of a higher being in any way shape or form (stinging a bit less now =P). I consider my moral obligation to fairness and honesty now discharged. *still smarting just a bit*

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Science v Spirituality (1)

Thanks to the likes of Richard "I'm a conceited and fundamentalist twat" Dawkins, anyone who holds any belief in any form of spiritual existence is perceived to be in direct contradiction to that other great deity ... the almighty God of Science. According to Dicky (in his wad of toilet paper entitled "The God Delusion"), by applying the omnipotent scientific method and the omniscient Occam's Razor we can prove ... yes by God, PROVE that atheism is an infallible doctrine. What a knob!

Let's look at the concept of atheism. I've interacted with a number of so-called atheists and it would appear that the vast majority of them don't even understand what the term means. "Atheism" literally means "NO gods". None. Zero. Zilch. Now that's a pretty big claim to make isn't it. I mean here we are, a species that has practically just dragged itself out of the primordial soup and we have people like Dicky with the unmitigated gall to think that we now have the intellectual balls to make such grandiose pronouncements. That's a level of small minded pomposity that even the most fundamental evangelical preacher would struggle to achieve. If you push an atheist hard enough what you'll actually find is someone who merely despises religion, in all it's forms. I don't think they realise that they aren't really atheists at all, they're actually "anti-theists". If only they were honest enough to say so and identify themselves as such I could respect them a whole lot more. Disproving Christian claims is one thing (and so easy to do) but to claim to know that there is NO god whatsoever is a little ... batshit crazy?

Now that whole Occam's Razor thing. I don't think Dicky and his rabid crowd of supporters understands the limits of this basically philosophical "tool". For those who aren't familiar with it, Occam's Razor is a principal which basically states that the most straight forward and uncomplicated solution to any problem is almost certainly the correct solution. What atheists tend to not realise is that you can only apply this principal correctly if you have sufficient knowledge and understanding. To explain, imagine you're back in medieval times and someone told you that the Earth was a globe. Well, you could easily use Occam's Razor to show that this is nonsense. The simplest scenario that matches observation would be that the Earth is flat. Pah ... so much for the glorious and omniscient Occam's Razor.

In my oh-so-important opinion, the only rational stance to take on the question of the existence of any form of "God" or higher being is pure agnosticism. All that means is that at our current state of evolution and development, I believe that it's impossible to know if there is such a higher being or not. Thanks to Dicky though, agnosticism is now considered to be a dirty word used by "pussy atheists". What a great disservice to true science and spirituality this man has done. I'm sure he's the man when it comes to evolutionary biology but when it comes to religion and matters of a spiritual nature the man's a small minded wind bag.

I have a fair bit more to say on this whole issue of "science v spirituality" (and it'll probably involve a whole lot more Dawkins bashing) but in the interests of keeping my entries short(ish) I'll continue with this subject in my next post.

Namaste :P