Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Physics Of Christianity (4): Demons, Satan & Hell

As we wrap up our examination of Frank Tipler's Physics of Christianity, we will look at his controversial concepts of demons, Satan and Hell. In the orthodox version of Christianity, as accepted by fundies and many others, all of these are real and represent either actual personifications of evil (not merely representations) or an actual afterlife option where the remorseless sinners and "unsaved" suffer for eternity.

When introducing his concept of demons, Tipler writes (p. 136):

"When I am asked, 'Do you really believe in demons", I reply, 'Do I really believe in computer viruses? Yes, I most certainly do!'"

From there he goes on to clarify that yes, "demons exist" but they "should be thought of as computer viruses running on the computer that is the human brain".

At first, this sounds preposterous, but for anyone who has actually battled computer viruses on his own computer, including trying to isolate them or rid his machine of them, it isn't so outrageous. On my old (Windows 98) machine, I'd often be confronted by a computer which had its functions totally seized beyond my control. I'd watch haplessly as it performed mayhem on my open programs, gobbled up disk space, and rendered it nearly junk to be tossed out. (Note: I still have this old computer, btw, and often use old Windows 3.1 astronomy programs on it, which obviously won't work on my Vista machine).

Did I? No, I didn't! I performed the closest thing to what one may call an "exorcism". In this case, I brought up the hard disk control panel disclosing all programs running-operating, and thereby identified the renegade "demons" (the way an old time priest like Father Damien in 'The Exorcist' might identify a possessing demon in Regan) and then proceeded with "the ritual". That entailed actually going into the computer registry, finding the code for the "demons" within - and deleting each one by one.

In one case, I actually performed such a ritual in front of my brother-in-law, then visiting from Trinidad 6 years ago. He stared open-mouthed as I brought up the computer's registry, then tracked down each "demon" worm, trojan or virus and killed them ....or exorcised them, one by one! Of course, I don't recommend anyone just attempt this nonchalantly! The reason? You delete the wrong code line and you basically permanently put your computer on ice!

Thus, for me, Tipler's identification of a "demon" with a computer virus in the brain is not absurd at all. In many ways the brain is a higher order processing machine, though many of us don't tend to think of it as such. But it is close to being a "biological computer" with memory files (stored in the hippocampus) as well as higher order processing capabilities (in the neocortex).

As Tipler aptly notes, a computer infected by a virus still employs its basic operating system, and this is something anyone trying to rid his machine of a virus discovers. The virus simply co-opts and uses the OS to do its own nefarious work!

Tipler writes (p. 137):

"In human brains, the equivalents of computer viruses are called multiple personality disorders(MPD) or, in recent times, dissociate identity disorders. People with this mental disease appear to have several personalities in the same body."

And, of course, these disorders reflect the ancient theme of "demonic possession". Often, for example, at least one manifesting personality among several will be malignant or evil, and even dedicated to the person's destruction- say sexually or via drugs, alcohol. What is needed is radical psythotherapy and often drugs (or ECT) to evict the "demons". In this way, the treatement(s) clear the brain neuron paths like my deletion of virus programs in the computer registry cleared the computer.

Tipler goes on to note:

"All reports by Christians who claim to have cast demons out of 'possessed people' are consistent with the demons being manifestations of MPD".

Now, what of "Satan"? Tipler again (ibid.):

"Christianity, of course, claims that there is a chief demon - Satan - who is the master of the lesser demons. ....I shall suggest that such an entity does indeed exist, but that he is a computer virus not in our brains but in our DNA and indeed the DNA of most metazoans. He can manifest in our brains only by generating evil behaviors...."

What Tipler is asserting, is that "Satan" as this evil genetic entity, entered the realm of the living when the first multi-celled animalia (metazoa) emerged, which are distinct from the single-celled protozoa, no longer included as part of the animal kingdom.

One could say, from Tipler's logic, a kind of "garden of Eden" existed before the rise of the metazoans in the Cambrian Explosion. All that existed hitherto were innocuous single-celled organisms that lacked nervous systems, and hence felt no pain. In addition, these organisms were able to gather sustenance without forcibly preying on each other - at least according to Tipler. As he notes (p. 189):

"Applying force - evil- became possible with the evolution of the metazoans. Information was now coded in relationships between cells, as in the nercvous system of chordates.....death and pain entered the world and with them the possibility for moral evil. A metazoan could impose its will on other organisms. One way would be to eat these other organisms. The information coded in the eaten organism would disppear and be replaced by information coded in the eater"

Tipler then goes on to show examples of the multitude of ways in which humans impose their will on other organisms, whether for food, clothing or whatever. Thus, Tipler is asserting that the use of force to obtain eats, or clothing or shelter is a form of moral evil, since it is done without the volition of the beasts preyed upon - whether fish for food, the alligator for shoes, or the yak or other animals to insulate a yurt to keep out the cold.

Now, here is where it becomes intriguing and is a little matter that Tipler sidesteps: for how does one reconcile the moral evil of the metazoans that he invokes with the biblical command of the God of the Bible (cf. Genesis: 1: 28):

"And God said unto them: 'Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the Earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the Earth".

Is not that very dominion specifically the SAME as the forcible co-option of other less aggressive animals by the metazoans? Is the God of the Bible not therefore guilty of ordering moral evil of the form Tipler expresses? Is He not indeed, encouraging the "Satanic" dynamic of the metazoans? May he not be recognizing that he himself placed the Satanic DNA into the metazoans in the first place, else he'd not have issued this command? (More on this later!)

Tipler avoids this, and as we see him eagerly quote and cite many other biblical passages to do with his proposal, he leaves this one out. One is forced to argue, therefore, that the "Satan" arising in humans is not simply the metazoic "survival of the fittest" but another more subtle dynamic. In earlier blogs I touched on this dynamic, associated with the inherent defects of the brain (all passed on genetically) and do so again.

In human brain evolution, the paleocortex sits evolutionarily beneath the more evolved mesocortex and neocortex, the latter of which crafts concepts and language. One clever person has compared this tri-partite brain structure to a car design welding a Lamborghini to a Model T Ford chassis, with a 1957 Chevy engine to power the Lamborghini. If an automotive engineer can conceive of such a hybrid beast, I'd be interested to know exactly how he thinks it would run. My guess is, not very well and actually inimical to the driver's welfare!

The preceding brain structural defect, at root, is explicated by the prominence of the drives of the primitive reticular formation (the most ancient brain region) on general human choices and actions. The existence of this formation is made worse by the fact that essentially separate circuits exist between it and the reasoning neocortex. This means that they can act disjunctively and engender all manner of evil. "Satan" alive and well, but living in the brain!

Further, given the preceding brain structural defect, there is much evidence that the aggregate of human behavior will get progressively worse as the complexity inherent in technological and globalized societies increases, but brain evolution is unable to keep pace with it. Basically, we are a species with the capability of making nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles – but with brains burdened by a swatch of reptilian tendencies. All of which are passed on to our offspring via genetics each time we procreate.

Indeed, the mixed brain design, in terms of adaptability to technological society, is already theorized as one major cause of depression and mental illness in such societies (e.g. The Noonday Demon, Chapter 11, ‘Evolution’, p 401). The behavior resulting from this hybrid brain is bound to be morally mixed, reflecting the fact that we literally have three “brains” contending for emergence in one cranium. Behavior will therefore range from the most selfless acts (not to mention creative masterpieces) to savagery, carnal lust run amuck and addictions that paralyze purpose.

At a lesser level of comparative evil, what one finds emerging with this "Satanic" brain chassis is selfish genetic imperatives run amuck. On the local level, the genetic imperative means one protects his family first in the event of disaster. The welfare of others is secondary, given limitations of time and resources. "It is my family’s genes that must prevail". To the extent they do, epigenetic morality is satisfied. A certain pool of genes has increased its survival value.

In the larger societal sense and deformed to an extreme, the epigenetic imperative leads to horrors such as the Holocaust, where Jews were depicted as inimical genetic “aliens” to “true Germans” and the German Fatherland. (In a trip to Germany in 1985, I still found a number of WWII era Germans who accepted this.) And hence could be dispensed with as serious threats, once their own humanity was removed. Likewise, the genetic imperative running amuck explains the Rwandan genocide, where Tutsis could be dispensed with as the “genetic aliens” to the REAL Rwandans, the Hutus.

Examining these genocides at the detached, objective level one cannot but help notice the analogies with ant (or bee) species that invade the habitats (e.g. hives) of others, kill them, make off with their queens and seize their resources.

Interestingly, some authors turn these concepts back on themselves and arrive at mind-boggling conclusions. The authors of the book ‘Mean Genes” for example, make the case that genetic imperatives often drive the most fundamental (epigenetic) morality. The hybrid brain in this sense is merely the facilitator of the genes’ imperatives. Perhaps there is a method behind the “madness” of the brain’s disjunctive function: To aid and abet a primal, epigenetic morality.

But when one reconciles all the terms and differences, it is clear that what Tipler means when he claims "Satan" is a computer virus in our DNA, is nothing more than the epigentic primal morality described above - which leaves room for only limited compassion, and altriusm. Of course, from time to time special beings rise above that imperative - Guatama Buddha, and Yeshua come to mind- but for most of us this greater Self never emerges. Like St. Augustine in his Confessions, we continually ponder why that "which we ought not do, we do, and that we ought do, we do not".

Well, because of the "Satan" in our DNA!

Lloyd Graham in the last chapter of his book, ‘Deceptions and Myths of the Bible’, 1979, notes:

"Satan is matter and its energies and the (Temptation of Jesus in the desert) story is but a mythologist’s way of telling us…that in the inanimate world matter and energy dominate….The only consciousness here is the epigenetic and this is – as yet- wholly incapable of controlling violent forces. This explains why our imaginary God of love and mercy allows these forces to destroy us”.

Thus, unlike Tipler, Graham is not prepared to overlook the "dominion" edict. He ties it to the epigentic morality. Graham’s depiction of the material and epigenetic god is one embedded in carnal lusts, revenge and avarice – so how can humanity be any different?As Graham earlier notes (p. 272):

Man owes God nothing, not even thanks. Whatever is, exists because of necessity and not divine sufferance. And whatever exists suffers because of nondivine Causation. Our world is full of suffering, tragedy, disease, disaster, pain; we demand a better reason than religion has to offer.”

Perhaps for this reason, Graham insists that it is the de facto “creations” – humankind- who are the genuine authors of workable morality (“dynamic justness” not moral justice) not the claimed “Maker”.Religious scholar Elaine Pagels makes much the same point in her book, ‘The Gnostic Gospels’ pointing out that the Gnostics regarded the biblical deity as a degenerate sub- being which they called “demiurgos”.

What do we have when all these threads are tied together? Well, that the "computer virus Satan" in our DNA is one with the God ordaining the dominion of lesser creatures (by Man) in Genesis. In other words, it is this epigenetic god or demiurgos that is approving of the moral evil "by force" employed by the metazoans.

The beauty of atheism is that it dispenses with both demiurgos (the petulant genetic “evil god”) and “Satan”, and atheists emerge as grown up enough to assume responsibility for their own actions, rather than whining that “the devil made me do it” or worse, projecting Satanic motives and attributes onto fellow beings. (We know where that sort of demonization leads!) We know the real “Devil” inheres in those untamed genetic imperatives, and we also know that to the extent we are self-aware – we can often defeat the more parochial and self-serving tendencies and sometimes aspire to greatness. Leap-frogging and circumventing our human limits.Thereby we can avoid blaming every major human tragedy and back step on some imagined supernatural “dark force” permeating existence and just waiting to catch us unawares.

Finally, what about "Hell"? Interestingly it is conspicuous by its absence in Tipler's current book!
Thus, to learn what Tipler ever wrote about it, one must go to his earlier Physics of Immortality, and find on page 251 that "Hell" is designated only for those who are "irretrievably evil" and make no choice to change even when their resurrection looms. In this case, they merit "Hell" which is:

"Permanent death......some theologians have defined Hell to be this condition of permanent death".

But for those not irretrievably evil, the Omega Point (God) guides the resurrectee through a 'zero sum finite dual game with perfect information (like chess)'.. As the resurrectee "beats" the Omega Point in each iteration and gets closer to mastering his virtual perfection, he becomes eligible for permanent ecstasy in virtual or subjective time". Of course, this long slow process of gaming is tortuous, which is why Tipler calls it "purgatory".

Why this and not the fundie version of a damning deity? To quote Tipler (p. 253):

"The almost never-ending game ("purgatory") is the real exists because the Omega Point refuses to abandon a human no matter how evil. Hell's existence would be a testimony to the literally infinite love of the Omega Point."

In other words, if Tipler is correct, and there also is a God, it will more likely be of this type than the epigenetic brute demiurgos worshipped by the fundies.

So, we have nada to fret over in any case!

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