Ultimately, Richard Dawkins can fight with religion all he wants and it will be only a sideshow. He is a color commentator sitting in the bleachers, not a player in the game. Skepticism offers critiques, not discoveries. Ironically, this is a shared fate with religion, which has ceased to play a progressive and vital role in modern society. The two are locked in a sterile embrace. So how can a new conception of God change this situation? The answer centers on the last point from Dawkins in our discussion.
7. The universe is full of wonder and mystery, but these will be solved, one at a time, until science has a complete understanding. In this way the entire supernatural tradition--and God himself--will be erased.
This is a powerful and optimistic claim that seems plausible in an age of heady discoveries in physics and biology. The famous Theory of Everything draws closer to fulfillment than ever. In fact, science has become even more ambitious. The original Theory of Everything belonged solely to physics. It had no intention of explaining the evolution of life. But with the completion of the human genome project, life will also cease to be a mystery, so Dawkins assures us. Every mechanism hidden inside DNA will be mastered and used for human good.
It's hard for materialists not to thump their chests, as Dawkins so brazenly does. Unfortunately, the Theory of Everything has hit a brick wall. Quantum physics lacks the power to cross the border into the invisible world that lies beyond subatomic particles, the so-called virtual domain. Not only is this the realm of 'dark matter' and 'dark energy'--mysterious shadows of the matter and energy we see around us--but all possible universes also lie across the same boundary, as well as the "zero point" where space and time are born.
Genetics seems to be riding higher, but behind the display of public triumph, biology has not solved the existence of mind, and therefore the same obstacle faces both fields. An invisible world lies sealed off from investigation, leaving us to trace its footprints and echoes. MRIs and CAT scans are impressive but limited. As someone once commented, brain research is like putting a stethoscope to the outside of the Astrodome and trying to figure out the rules of football. Dawkins finds consciousness (as well as quantum physics) totally irrelevant, a comment on his own intellectual limitations rather than reality. If God is going to become viable again, he will have to be a God who solves some key mysteries in the virtual domain:
--What separates life from inert matter?
--What part does the observer play in creating reality?
--How does the infinite quantum field organize and govern every event in the universe?
--How does chaos relate to order? Are they enemies or secret allies?
--How did evolution overcome entropy, the ceaseless march of the physical universe toward chaos and the deep freezer of "heat death"?
--Why is the universe so amazingly hospitable to human life?
This last question is the most pressing one, for both believers and non-believers. To claim that the swirling, chaotic quantum soup that erupted from the Big Bang evolved into human life by random chance is only believable because science has no urgent need to find a credible alternative. As long as a scientist stands outside nature with his nose pressed against the glass like a child peering through a bakery shop window (to borrow an image from the noted physicist John Wheeler) we get a false picture of the cosmos. The only advantage of isolating yourself in this way is that it fits the scientific method. But no matter how many rats run through the maze, it's futile to pretend that we are outside the experiment. The truth is completely different:
--We are imbedded in the universe. What we observe is ourselves reflected back at us.
--Every sight, sound, texture, taste, and smell is the product of an observer. As the observer changes, so do all these qualities.
--We perceive imagination, beauty, creativity, etc. in ourselves and thus we see the same in Nature. Every attribute of the human mind is imbedded in the universe.
Why can you remember your birthday and the face of someone you love? Because DNA can remember how to produce generations of human beings. Why does DNA remember? There's the mystery. We can link memory as a human attribute to chemical memory. But when we ask where chemicals learned to remember, science is baffled. Dissecting DNA is one thing. Asking the "why" of DNA is another.
Dawkins feels that why is a foolish, probably meaningless question, totally devoid of scientific interest. So be it. But why is the single most important question humans ask, particularly when it comes to ourselves. Ultimately we want to know who we are and our purpose for being here. Dawkins doesn't seem to have any doubt about who he is: he's the evolutionary byproduct of chemical forces, physical laws, random events, natural selection, competition, adaptation, and survival. So is an amoeba. Sadly, this reductionist picture of human life is devoid of meaning. It's merely a map of how a physical machine called the body came to be built. Such knowledge is like knowing everything about a computer except how to plug it in.
What if memory is an attribute of Nature itself? All around us we see memory at work. The insulin that functions in primitive organisms retains the same function in higher mammals. The chemical reaction that propels a butterfly's wings to beat is duplicated to make human heart cells beat. Once we take seriously the notion that we are inside the bake shop, not standing outside with our noses pressed up against the glass, it becomes obvious that memory isn't a separate, isolated attribute.
Nature is constantly remembering. Nature is constantly creating, exercising imagination, discovering quantum leaps. When hydrogen and oxygen combined, the result wasn't another inert gas. It was water, and water represents a huge imaginative leap on the part of the universe. The reason one can say this with confidence is simple: if the universe didn't have imagination, neither would we. That's what it means to be imbedded in the field. Nothing we know about ourselves can be separated from what Nature displays.
Which finally, at long last, breathes new life into God. Dawkins is absolutely right to declare a requiem service over the God of organized religion and to warn us about the dangers of superstition, dogma, and pseudo-science. (Too bad he isn't wise enough to heed the words of a right-wing fundamentalist on CNN: "As long as you hate us, we're not going away.") But what Dawkins tragically misses holds far more optimism for the future than he ever could: the universe is renewing itself through us. Science is God explaining God to God using a human nervous system. Or as one wit put it, God created scientists to prove that he doesn't exist--and failed.
There is nothing outside the field. It displays omnipresence and omnipotence, being all-pervasive and containing all matter and energy. Soon science will come to terms with the presence of consciousness in the field (advanced systems theory as well as information theory is hard at work already) and we will add omniscience to the list. This new God will be the source of mind. Its ability to orchestrate evolution will make sense because it must. Humans cannot have any knowledge except knowledge of ourselves. Every facet of the cosmos is a mirror. The fact that the chemical reaction driving a butterfly's wings also keeps you and me alive is no accident--it's part of a design.
Contrary to what Dawkins thinks, this design isn't a blueprint or a diagram set down by a fictitious God. It's a vital, ever-evolving, imaginative, dramatic process. Strangely enough, so is human existence. The similarity isn't a coincidence--there is nothing we call human that isn't, quite literally, transcendent. Beyond the physical world lies the womb of creation, and whether we call it God is irrelevant. We came from a source, we are forever in contact with our source, and we are constantly returning to our source. This is the real mystery of existence that Dawkins trivializes with his over-heated skepticism. Far more profound are the words of T.S. Eliot:
And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled.
In the final post on this topic I will address some of the responses I have recieved to this subject.
Some responders have problems with a sentence from this post: "When hydrogen and oxygen combined, the result wasn't another inert gas. " I meant, of course, another inert gas like radon or neon. If I thought that oxygen and hydrogen were inert gases, I wouldn't have stated that they combine, since by definition inert gases can't combine. They have no free electron(s) in their outer orbits with which to combine.
This discussion will be more productive if we all grant each other the respect we would like to receive.