Thursday, March 15, 2007

The last of Chopra 'debunking' The God Delusion

This is the last in Deepak Chopra's refutation of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. In this episode, he attempts to refute Dawkins' assertion that:

The evolution of life can be explained completely without intruding (introducing?) the notion of an intelligent designer.

One of the few he gets correct. He writes:

"This point would seem to be a slam dunk, since Darwin's theory--and those that have sprung from it--is purely physical. Evolution proceeds, according to Darwin, through environmental stresses that put pressure on a species to survive. A sudden change in climate, the appearance of new predators, a drastic drop in the water supply are all examples of such stresses. Some creatures will adapt better than others. This is measured by whether a population of animals increases or decreases. Thus adaptation comes down to reproduction. If an animal exhibits changes that increase its chance of passing those changes on to its offspring, evolution moves forward. If, however, a mutation occurs that lowers the chance for reproduction, obviously it can't be passed on, and as a result other species survive in the endless competition for food, territory, and mating rights. This whole scheme, which has been validated thousands of times over, excludes God. Random mutations have nothing to do with a designer. The rise and fall of species shows no intelligent plan. Even the idea of progress is over simplified. Evolution doesn't automatically make a species bigger, stronger, more intelligent, or more beautiful. Blue-green algae, for example, is one of the most primitive forms of life, yet it fits its niche in the environment perfectly well today, just as it has for billions of years. The fact that an orchid seems more beautiful to our eyes and a redwood tree more majestic doesn't mean God created that beauty and majesty. Or that nature intended those qualities in any way."

He gets a lot of this right for once, except that it is not animal populations that are a measure of Evolution, but gene population and propogation.

"Yet the triumph of materialism in explaining the formation of life is grossly flawed. Dawkins realizes that there are enormous gaps in evolutionary theory, but he keeps assuring us that these will be filled in over time. Genetics, like evolution itself, proceeds by increments, and we mustn't leap to embrace an intelligent designer just because so many things around us seem, well, intelligently designed."

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Chopra, if he believed in the Christian God, would be a poster boy for the Discovery Institute, with the brains to match.
"The fact that the world appears to be so perfectly knit, so stunningly precise down to the millionths of a degree, so beautiful, and in the end so meaningful to anyone who can appreciate these qualities, is a problem for materialists. For centuries one of the strongest proofs of God has been the inference that nothing less than a supreme being could have created life. Unfortunately for Dawkins, refuting this claim isn't nearly as easy as he thinks."

Really? Explaining the balance of ecosystems is a total triumph for Evolution! No species evolves in a vacuum. For instance, for gazelles to escape predators such as lions they natural selection can select for gazelles with longer legs. There is a limit to this, as longer legs mean a longer drop to the ground for gazelle young at birth, etc. The lion species' evolution is sensitive to this, and selection for those characteristics which will allow them to keep up with gazelles. This trickle-down effect makes Reaganomics look like child's play. The evolution of every species is interconnected with every other species. Equilibrium is never achieved, but is always strived for in the gene pools. Simulations have demonstrated the validity of the principles of Natural Selection over and over, and have been corroborated through observation.

In the same way we find the quantum world strange because we evolved in a world dominated by Classical Mechanics, we find it difficult to understand Evolution (the fact, not the Theory) because we did not evolve in a world where these changes are rapid on a human time scale. The fact that we have understood Evolution is a testament to the human ability for logic and reason. It is easy to see how people can succumb to the Argument of Personal Incredulity, but once such emotional 'arguments' are set aside and the evidence looked at for what it is, there are no reasonable arguments against Evolution.

Scientists still study the finches of the Galapagos. It's a wonderful natural laboratory. Beak size varies from year to year. These are small changes, to be sure, but significant. It all depends on food availability, the size and hardness of the seeds which form the birds' diet, etc. I can almost hear the naysayers now. But that's just adaptation! As if there is a difference between micro- and macroevolution other than in magnitude. Sheesh.

If over the centuries that interference from some god was required to create life is the strongest of arguments for the existence of God, then it comes up short and needs to be discarded. I can only assume that he is thinking of Paley's watchmaker. That idea was debunked long ago by David Hume. While abiogenesis lies outside the purview of Evolution, a large body of work on the subject has shown how life might have originated. If it was so impossible, then we would not be able to do even that. So, yes, it is easy to refute the existence of God.

"God, on the other hand, is merely inferred. He's an invisible supposition, and who needs one when we have fossils? The flaw here is subtle, for Dawkins is imagining God in advance and then claiming that what he imagines has little chance of existing. That's perfectly true, but why should God be what Dawkins imagines--a superhuman Creator making life the way a watchmaker makes a watch?" Here we go back to misunderstanding the target of The God Delusion. Dawkins is quite specific about refuting an Abrahamic god in his book. True, Dawkins does not believe in the existence of any god, but to debunk Chopra's vision of god would require another book. "Let's say God is closer to being a field of consciousness that pervades the universe. Let's say that this field keeps creating new forms within itself. These forms swirl and mix with each other, finding more combinations and complexities as time unfolds." Huh? First, Chopra arbitrarily invokes some 'field of consciousness' (Isn't that word 'field' cool? It makes it sound like he knows what he is talking about…). He offers no substantiation. He's already shunned random chance (another strawman of Evolution), but is willing to invoke it here just because it suits him? Again, Chopra's ideas are self-inconsistent. "Such a God couldn't be imagined because a field is infinite, and there's nowhere it isn't. Thus trying to talk about God is like a fish trying to talk about wetness. A fish is immersed in wetness; it has nothing to compare water to, and the same is true of consciousness. We are conscious and intelligent, and it does no good to talk about the probability of not being conscious and intelligent." We exist in air, yet we feel the wind. We can detect air, water, whatever. We can detect all manner of fields for which our senses are not attuned. If such a field of consciousness exists it could be detected as well. Not only has such a field never been detected, Physics has not even postulated it. Unsubstantiated garbage; all a house of cards built in the clouds.

"We are in God as a fish is in water. Dawkins doesn't take this argument seriously (he imagines that he can entirely dismiss geniuses on the order of Plato, Socrates, Hegel, Kant, Newton, and Einstein simply because they aren't up on the current issue of Scientific American, as he is). In the past, thinkers saw intelligence and consciousness all around them, and they set out to explain their source, which some called God. It's not necessary to use such a word. But it is necessary to find the source." Is Chopra saying that we should not adjust our views in the face of new evidence? It's easy to see intelligence and consciousness all around us, but does that mean that it is so? When we take a closer look at the universe we see the opposite. We see no direction, but complexity and order generated by a set of rules which are themselves a product of gauge symmetry. He attempts to support his position by dropping a few names. Big deal. Stephen Hawking knows more about the origins of the universe than you or I will ever know, Deepak, yet he sees no reason to invoke God. And it really pisses me off when people try to tell me that Einstein was religious; he was a pantheist at most. He most certainly did not believe in a personal god, nor did he believe the univese was self-aware. Thinkers in the past saw intelligence and consciousness all around them because they had no better alternative to this belief. We have much more information to make use of now. It's called advancement.

"Are information fields real, as some theorists believe? Such a field might preserve information the way energy fields preserve energy; in fact, the entire universe may be based upon the evolution of information. (there's not the slightest doubt that the universe has an invisible source outside space and time.)" Really? This last sentence would be news to Physicists. There is absolutely nothing in current models to suggest that even speaking about anything outside of space and time has any meaning. And if anyone out there has any idea what the hell an information field is, send me a link please. My only idea of what he is talking about is something akin to the Gaia hypothesis, which is just more unsubstantiated spiritual garbage. It's all 'if's and 'maybe's, yet their appearance in this setting is acceptable to him because it suits him. It's not acceptable to me.

"Dawkins falls prey, not to the delusion of God, but to the delusion of an all-mighty chance acting mindlessly through matter. He cannot admit the possibility of an ordering force in Nature." Why should he? No such thing ordering force is needed in explaining anything, let alone been detected. Invoking such a thing is completely arbitrary. "Therefore, he has no ability to discover the precursors of the human mind, which is ultimately the greatest triumph of evolutionary biology, not DNA. Until we have a credible explanation for mind, it's pointless to argue about God as if we understand what's at stake. Religion and science are both operating with incomplete concepts." If that's the case, Deepak, why do you keep blathering on as if you have some insider knowledge? You don't. I'll stick to logic and reason, my conclusions supported by empirical evidence (as if there is any other kind). I'll leave the superstitious crap to you. "The entire universe is experienced only through consciousness, and even though consciousness is invisible and non-material, it's the elephant in the room so far as evolutionary theory is concerned. This is a huge topic, of course. It's difficult threading one's way through the battlefield, with fundamentalists firing smoke on one side and skeptics arrogantly defending the scientific status quo on the other, but earth-shaking issues are at stake. When we understand both intelligence and design, a quantum leap in evolutionary theory will be possible." I'm sorry, Deepak. Intelligent design in Science is dead, not that it was ever actually alive. Whether you like it or not, the Theory of Evolution has been extremely successful in explaining even the rise of consciousness. It does not have the gaps that you believe it has. The underlying principles of Natural Selection are pretty much set. It's only details that are being argued over in scientific circles, and believe me, your ears will never burn. You're not even a blip.

So, what has Chopra presented? I could almost respect Chopra's position if he was a pantheist as Einstein probably was. But he doesn't stop there. He believes, offering no evidence in support, that the universe is intelligent and self-aware. Apart from this, there is little difference between his empty vision of intelligent design and that of creationists. In essence, he posits 'god-did-it'. God-did-it offers nothing explanatory. Like all creationists, instead of actually answering the question of the universe's and our existence, he just creates a new one; begging the question, as it were, to which he has no answer. He's smart enough to dump the idea of a personal god, but still too lazy to look for real answers. He provides no positive evidence for his own position and makes easily refuted negative arguments against a caricature of materialism. In essence he offers nothing but unsubstantiated garbage, exactly the type of voodoo that would appeal to what Sapolsky referred to in his
speech to the Freedom from Religion Foundation as 'schizotypal personalities'. Richard Dawkins is in a completely different league than you, Deepak.

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