It’s all over the internets and you wouldn’t love me anymore if I didn’t give my two cents on the whole thing.
The parents of a man who killed himself after being picked on in school for being a conservative, republican Christian who was “doing well” in Biology class, despite following the cult of Intelligent Design, have blamed Richard Dawkins’ book ‘The God Delusion’ for his death. [More]
A particular chapter in the book is receiving the strongest criticism—albeit most vocally from the worldnetdaily.com—not exactly known for their journalistic integrity when it comes to matters of scientific truth, versus religious fiction.
The chapter in question deals with what Richard Feynman often called the inconceivable nature of nature—the ordinary chemicals and enzymes which, when left to rankle for a couple of hundred million years, on our planet at least, evolved into me and you, the trees, the birds—everything!
A copy of the best selling book owned by the deceased was bookmarked on a section towards the end, which challenges the arrogant certainties of fundamentalist Christians using objective, unfalsifiable, deductive logic (widely mistaken by creationists as merely the author’s subjective opinion) to explain how, while we might like to think of ourselves as capable of knowing all that can be known, we are in fact only capable of understanding a very small part of the total system, before mathematical reasoning is the only way to distinguish between what we would like to be the truth and what is actually, provably true.
What more evidence could you wish for that religious extremism of any kind is child abuse by any other name to say that, far from the following passage being inspirational, it is actually the cause of a very vulnerable young man’s death? What kind of deluded fool do you have to have allowed yourself to have become, to actively preach against logic and reason?
How—I simply ask you, my sexually attractive readers—could ANYONE read the following passage of text, taken from Dawkins’ book, and not be inspired to live the rest of their all-too-short, precariously improbably lives, happily free of the tyranny of religious non-thinking, with its false promises and evil lies?
There is another fatty acid, capric acid, which is just like the other two except that it has yet two more carbon atoms in its main chain. A dog that had never met capric acid would perhaps have no more trouble imagining its smell than we would have trouble imagining a trumpet playing one note higher than we have heard a trumpet play before. It seems to me entirely reasonable to guess that a dog, or a rhinoceros, might treat mixtures of smells as harmonious chords. Perhaps there are discords. Probably not melodies, for melodies are built up of notes that start or stopabruptly with accurate timing, unlike smells. Or perhaps dogs and rhinos smell in colour. The argument would be the same as for the bats.
Once again, the perceptions that we call colours are tools used by our brains to label important distinctions in the outside world. Perceived hues – what philosophers call qualia – have no intrinsic connection with lights of particular wavelengths. They are internal labels that are available to the brain, when it constructs its model of external reality, to make distinctions that are especially salient to the animal concerned. In our case, or that of a bird, that means light of different wavelengths. In a bat’s case, I have speculated, it light be surfaces of different echoic properties or textures, perhaps red for shiny, blue for velvety, green for abrasive. And in a dog’s or a rhino’s case, why should it not be smells? The power to imagine the alien world of a bat or a rhino, a pond skater or a mole, a bacterium or a bark beetle, is one of the privileges science grants us when it tugs at the black cloth of our burka and shows us the wider range of what is out there for our delight.
The metaphor of Middle World – of the intermediate range of phenomena that the narrow slit in our burka permits us to see – applies to yet other scales or ‘spectrums’. We can construct a scale of improbabilities, with a similarly narrow window through which our intuition and imagination are capable of going. At one extreme of the spectrum of improbabilities are those would-be events that we call impossible. Miracles are events that are extremely improbable. A statue of a madonna could wave its hand at us. The atoms that make up its crystalline structure are all vibrating back and forth. Because there are so many of them, and because there is no agreed preference in their direction of motion, the hand, as we see it in Middle World, stays rock steady. But the jiggling atoms in the hand could all just happen to move in the same direction at the same time. And again. And again . . . In this case the hand would move, and we’d see it waving at us. It could happen, but the odds against are so great that, if you had set out writing the number at the origin of the universe, you still would not have written enough zeroes to this day. The power to calculate such odds – the power to
quantify the near-impossible rather than just throw up our hands in despair – is another example of the liberating benefactions of science to the human spirit.
Evolution in Middle World has ill equipped us to handle very improbable events. But in the vastness of astronomical space, or geological time, events that seem impossible in Middle World turn out to be inevitable. Science flings open the narrow window through which we are accustomed to viewing the spectrum of possibilities. We are liberated by calculation and reason to visit regions of possibility that had once seemed out of bounds or inhabited by dragons. We have already made use of this widening of the window in Chapter 4, where we considered the improbability of the origin of life and how even a near-impossible chemical event must come to pass given enough planet years to play with; and where we considered the spectrum of possible universes, each with its own set of laws and constants, and the anthropic necessity of finding ourselves in one of the minority of friendly places.
How should we interpret Haldane’s ‘queerer than we can suppose’? Queerer than can, in principle, be supposed? Or just queerer than we can suppose, given the limitation of our brains’ evolutionary apprenticeship in Middle World? Could we, by training and practice, emancipate ourselves from Middle World, tear off our black burka, and achieve some sort of intuitive – as well as just mathematical – understanding of the very small, the very large, and the very fast? I genuinely don’t know the answer, but I am thrilled to be alive at a time when humanity is pushing against the limits of understanding. Even better, we may eventually discover that there are no limits.
[Thanks to ryansound.blogspot.com]