Sunday, April 20, 2014

Science Can't 'Disprove' God - But It Doesn't Have To

"The modern scientist is not so naïve as to deny God because he cannot be found in a telescope, or the soul because it cannot be revealed by the scalpel. He has merely noted that the idea of God is logically unnecessary. It does not help him to explain anything or to make verifiable predictions"- Alan Watts, in  'The Wisdom of Uncertainty'

Alan Watts' words above are timely on this Easter Sunday, and possibly might incite more thoughtful Christians to consider the question of the existence of God, as well as the concept of emergence. In fact, in a recent article : Science Doesn't Disprove God: Where Richard Dawkins and the New Atheists Go Wrong, author Amir D. Aczel considers these questions and declares Dawkins and the New Atheists far far from disproof of any divine Being on account of their over simplified narrative.

While Aczel touches on evolution, his primary focus is on consciousness, which admittedly has been over-simplified by too many atheists (new or old) and with the quality of emergence denied. Referencing the work of Daniel Dennett, for example, Aczel writes:

"Dennett and his collaborators consider the human mind from two problematic viewpoints: looking at the brain as a kind of computer, and looking at the brain as the result of animal evolution. The human brain is far more than a computer: computers have no consciousness. And to think of the brain as simply something that has evolved out of animal ganglia and primitive brains is also a mistake: there is a giant leap from the brain of a monkey or a dog to the brain of a human being."

This is correct, and I already gave the example of Michio Kaku being a victim of a similar brand of reductionist thinking in his own model of mind:

Therein I pointed out the inherent problem in all New Atheist thinking (also highlighted by Aczel), whether of Kaku, Victor Stenger or Richard Dawkins:

Monistic physicalism in its most rudimentary form can be summarized by Victor Stenger’s comment (cf. God and the Folly of Faith, 155) :

It does not matter whether you are trying to measure a particle property or a wave property. You always measure particles. Here is the point that most people fail to understand: Quantum mechanics is just a statistical theory like statistical mechanics, fundamentally reducible to particle behavior.

In other words, all are victims of a form of scientism which interjects a kind of scientific "dogma", i.e. all of nature must be reduced to the particulate and mechanisms based on it.   This is why Aczel is led to next state:
Neither approach explains Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, Picasso’s Guernica, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, or the palaces on Venice’s Grand Canal. Neither do they explain Einstein’s general theory of relativity or Freud’s invention of psychoanalysis. Both the mechanistic and animalistic views of the brain fall flat in their attempts to explain any of these great historic achievements of the human mind.
By 'either approach' he means simplistic "rat-o-morphic" evolution (the human brain is just a more complex version of the rat's or lemur's), or the notion that human consciousness can simply be reduced to computerized components.  In neither case is emergence allowed, or tolerated. For example, Stenger is on record as criticizing one of the foremost physicists (and a 1977 Physics Nobel Prize winner), Philip Anderson, for his challenge to ardent reductionism, appearing in an article in Science with the title ‘More is Different’.  Basically, Anderson had the courage to question the indiscriminate extrapolation of reductionism to all phenomena by his peers. Stenger  then took umbrage noting: [1]:

the fact we cannot derive these emergent principles from particle physics  does not prove that everything cannot be just a collection of particles.

This is true, but only to the extent reductionism has been consciously chosen as the best way to not only analyze problems, but also interpret them. It is in the interpretations that the real problems inhere. For example, David Bohm’s holistic physics as wonderfully outlined in his Wholeness and the Implicate Order, is a majestic work that discloses all that fundamental quantum mechanics can do in exposing our eyes and other senses to higher dimensions – not taken into account. 

Anyway, this hyper-reductionist narrative pushed by the likes of Dennett, Dawkins and others is what prompts Aczel to remark:

An alternative explanation is that God gave us the mental abilities and that extra something we use in making decisions and in creating great works of art, sublime music, magnificent architecture, beautiful literature, and science and mathematics. Our incredible brains can do all these things because they contain some ingredients that science has not yet found or explained and whose origin remains one of the deepest mysteries in all of science.
The problem here is that "God" is not really an alternative explanation. It's what we call employing an argument from ignorance or invoking a "god of the gaps". So because Aczel can't fathom a scientific explanation he goes right to the supernaturalist one (assuming he believes, like most believers, "God" is a supernatural Being).
But as I pointed out in my recent book, Beyond Atheism, Beyond God, this isn't needed. Emergence, then, is enabled by the simple expedient of integrating quantum mechanics into brain function, as physicist Henry Stapp has insisted (but which most reductionists don't accept, or the New Atheists who embrace reductionism).   Stapp has pointedly noted that uncertainty principle limitations applied to calcium ion capture near synapses shows they (calcium ions) must be represented by a probability function. (Stapp, Henry, P.: 1993, Mind, Matter and Quantum Mechanics, Springer-Verlag, p. 42.)

More specifically, the dimension of the associated calcium ion wavepacket scales many times larger than the calcium ion itself. This nullifies the use of classical trajectories or classical mechanics to trace the path of the ions.  It thereby opens the door to quantum mechanics.  Once quantum inputs are permitted, the emergence of all the phenomenal human traits Aczel references can manifest, and no supernatural cause is required. Explanations thereby remain entirely in the physical realm.

By the use of such a full integration the late David Bohm provided a putative basis for a holistic quantum consciousness which he referred to as the Holomovement. This was done by positing a hyper-dimensional reality (e.g. 5- dimensional) in which mind was enfolded as part of an implicate order. To enable a unified mental field within this higher dimensionality, Bohm appealed to hidden variables obeying Heisenberg  uncertainty relations such that:

(d p)( d q) > h/ 2π

where p, q denote two hidden variables  underlying a sub-quantal scale indeterminacy relation. From this (leaving out lots of details) he developed an agent to assist in the nonlocal action of distal variables, and called it the "quantum potential", defined:

VQ=   {-ħ2/ 2m} [Ñ R]2 / R

for a wave function, U = R exp(iS/ħ)

where R,S are real.

If one then fully applies Bohm's Holomovement model to physical reality it is possible to show the relation of explicated individual forms to the universal aggregate  (or Holomovement) - which might be depicted:




The relation is holographic in the sense that each of the individual forms contains the information of the whole holographic field. The Dirac Ether is equivalent to Bohm's Implicate Order, or what he calls the holomovement, and is a pure frequency domain. If one imparts to it a universal consciousness (as Bohm does) it would also be the "Universal Mind". The difference from the  "God" that Aczel references is that this Universal Mind is impersonal and physical, as opposed to personal and supernatural.   Meanwhile, the ripples on Bohm's Dirac sea are the distinct material forms perceived as separate entities in the universe because we are generally unaware of the implicate order.  But - to the extent we become aware, whether by learning the applicable quantum mechanics, or using meditation - yes, we emerge as conscious forms manifesting the Whole.

Emergence of the type Aczel describes is enabled and indeed demanded by the relationship between the relatively localized ensembles of energy (in individuals or explicate forms) and the vastly larger whole which contains vast energy in each cubic centimeter of space.

At the same time the use of the word "God" becomes unnecessary, redundant. Since logically "God" can't be extracted as a separate entity from the oceanic reality i.e. which enfolds all the explicate forms, it makes no sense to call the word out or use it. You can't separate it out any more than a wave from the ocean. By extension, it makes zero sense for atheists to joust at it, because they are inveighing against a redundancy, a superfluous verbal construct. They effectively become like Don Quixote tilting at windmills of their own mind.

Once all and sundry agree the word "God" is only a regulative ideal of the mind, a verbal symbol to represent a concept that can't be really processed or extracted (differentiated) as a separate reality, then we move away from false onto-theology and useless polarizations - say between "believers" and "unbelievers".

In this context, Aczel is wrong for failing to see the futility of marking out "God"  separately via language and assuming one needs it  as a separate supernatural cause to account for emergence and all the wondrous talents humans  disclose.   The New Atheists and all the reductionist scientists are wrong for being mesmerized by their over-simplistic (explicate) particulate models which prevent them, or more accurately - blind them - from perceiving oceanic reality that binds the cosmos at its most fundamental level.  The simple expedient of integrating quantum mechanics into brain function would obviate this, but they won't hear of it - and hence this dogmatic refusal becomes scientism.

Physicist Bernard d'Espagnat advises caution for all those who'd willy -nilly hitch their wheels of reality to it: (In Search of Reality, p. 56):

If scientism were correct, or more precisely, if the view of the world it proposes so forcefully, that of a world ultimately consisting of myriads of small localized objects merely endowed with quasi-local properties were correct, then such an evolution of our mentality would admittedly be excellent. It is always good for man to know the truth! But on the other hand, if the ultimate vision of the world which scientism proposes is false, if its conceptual bases are mistaken, then this development is – on the contrary –quite unfortunate.

He continues by noting that in his estimation the presumptions of “common scientism” are false and he bases this not on subjective opinion but on specific scientific facts, e.g. the nonlocality disclosed in the (1983) Aspect experiment, and the existence of de Broglie waves as revealed by the Davisson -Germer experiment.

Aczel ends his essay thus:

Symbolic thinking allowed human beings to create amazing art many thousands of years ago. It brought us language, science, art and everything that makes us uniquely human. Neither computers nor animals can do any of these things. So the emergence of consciousness and symbolic thinking remain one of the most formidable hurdles in the path of atheism. We have no good explanation of how consciousness and symbolic thinking came about. These may well be described as divine gifts.

Or, we may more logically and rationally describe them as natural, physical offshoots of assimilating consistent quantum mechanics into brain dynamics. For those atheists (like me) who have already done this, neither consciousness or symbolic thinking pose a hurdle, and we don't buy the trope that "there is no good explanation of how they came about".  While not every nuance or particular  facet can be explicated, we do have a general idea - predicated on the quantum-based models of mind proposed by David Bohm and  Henry Stapp.  Also the singular one I advanced in my recent book, combining aspects of both Bohm's and Stapp's models.  The fact a reasonable physical conjecture exists, avoids the fallacy of ignotum per ignotius  which Aczel falls victim to.

The reader can make up his own mind, but s/he needs to be aware that there does exist a path, a rational way,  between the extremes of supernaturalism and reducing the cosmos to a mere assembly of particles and humans to animated meat.


In other words, there does exist a progressive atheism that has moved beyond the myopic version now on offer from the "New Atheists."


[1] Stenger, God and the Folly of Faith, 208


1 comment:

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