..Holy War against Science:
Natural Evolution vs Creationism and Intelligent Design
Chris King Genotype 0.0.6 PDF
Correspondence between opposition to evolution and opposition to environmental protection in US religious groups
shows negative attitudes to both are broadly correlated with religious fundamentalism,
leading to inability, resistance and refusal to protect the generations of life (Click to enlarge)..
Creationism and its reincarnation in the notion of intelligent design is a stark and evil religious fallacy that is a manifest threat to our survival as a species. It is not something we can just debate politely about, as if it is an alternative to evolutionary science. It needs the same devoted vigilance that its proponents bring to the table to enable all their deceits to be exposed. Correcting it as a heresy of the truth is critical to our coming of age as responsible beings in the universe. Despite the pretences of its supporters to reasoned argument, creationism is a deadly religious sin of the worst kind, because it disables us from respecting the universe and nature and paralyses us from learning to take full responsibility for our actions at a time when human impact is pushing the planet to a tipping point, threatening human survival and the survival of the diversity of life on Earth.
The belief in creationism and its pretentious apotheosis - intelligent design - comes from two short chapters in Genesis. In the first, the 'Elohim (God in the plural) make woman and man female and male in "after our likeness", at the end of a six day act to adorn the flat Earth with an imposing firmament, or dome, in which the stars, are placed. It is a charming and precious literary achievement, despite impossibly creating the plants before the sun and moon, rendering all scientific credibility defunct. As a creation myth it is exquisite. As a description of nature it is fit only for those with little or no scientific knowledge, as people were at the time it was written. To extrapolate it to a literal divine statement in this day and age, when we are no longer seeing through a glass darkly and the covers have truly been thrown off reality, is a travesty of common sense, a subversion of integrity and a dangerous error, which even the founders who wrote these passages would never have envisaged or accepted.
Sabbatical creation (Amram Ebgi and unknown postcard) defies the natural order. Although light is created before the stars, consistent with the cosmic background, the plants are impossibly created before the Sun, moon and stars. The firmament of the heavens is "raqiya" a beaten hemispherical bowl, dividing waters above and below, in which the stars are fixed. Earth is a flat domain created by bunching the waters under heaven to one place. Night and day happen before the sun is placed in the heavens. The fishes and whales and the birds are created a day before the land animals and long after the plants.
These vestigial passages - Eden and the Sabbatical Creation - are the only basis for creation - the bed rock around which the entire scientific description of nature and the universe dsicoverd in the millennia since crumbles in the face of Christians who are determined to fly in the face of the evidence, in violation of their own responsibilities to replenish the Earth, and instead claim God made it all, either by simple verbal command "let there be light and there was light", or as an artisan in much the same way we make tools, clocks and other machines.
The Fall (Brothers Limbourg)
The second story, which is equally transient, portrays a now lone God Yahweh who breathes life into Adam in the Garden and sets in train a tragic sexually-biased falling out in which the femme fatale Eve, generated only as an after-thought to keep Adam company, persuades him to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil thinking it to make one wise and they are cast into the wilderness by a flaming sword doomed with mortality and the pain of childbirth, lest they eat of the Tree of Life and become as the Gods.
Gods arise in history as sometimes protective and often vengeful father figures stemming from a time when we were gatherer-hunters dwarfed by the forces of nature and the vagaries of fate. We still are, but now we have assumed the powers of transformation and destruction of life on the planet, we have to take stock as active agents in the fate of the Earth and its biosphere. As civilizations became larger, Gods acquired a status of moral demiurges, cursing us for transgressions as a means to keep larger societies dominant by avoiding internecine strife. Ultimately the entire course of history became coralled into a moral dystopia culminating in genocidal tumult in the apocalypse.
From the earlier Gods, who in creation myths shaped the world into being, we arrived at civic Gods of the great agricultural civilizations, standing in Sumeria's long shadow, and then to the abstract God of the Jews acting in history. There was no fundamental difference between iconic deities and the old Hebrew god. Deities such as Isis or Dionysus had personae who were understood to have abstract dimensions, whose iconic form was only a physical representation, just as Jesus and Mary are embodied in Christian churches. The Hebrew God was in the time of the kings worshipped among the congregation of the mighty as just one of many deities and was always a jealous God, fulminating with vengeful emotions like any paranoid male leader in the face of the the Bride Israel whoring herself by also engaging in the religious practices of the pagan nations, such as the Queen of Heaven, who Jeremiah acknowledged the people of Jerusalem worshipped in peace.
God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods (Psalm 82).
But we will certainly do whatever has gone out of our own mouth, to burn incense to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we have done, we and our fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, were well-off, and saw no trouble. But since we stopped burning incense to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine (Jeremiah 44).
An earlier form of the war of light against dark: Marduk slaying Tiamat the primal chaos Goddess
illustrates the rise of patriarchal dominance over the old order of the planter Queen.
This God acting in history has also had the editorial benefit of a millennium-long time-warp constructed by the Yahwistic Jews in Babylonian exile. The pictures of the ancient God El Shaddai of Abraham, Jacob's god at Bethel worshipped as a stone, and the punitive God who condemned Moses to die on Mount Nebo for striking the rock at Meribah to release the waters, rather than speaking in Jehovah's name, have been glossed over and made part of the Yahwistic orthodoxy, so they look to us as more abstract, articulate and credible than civic gods like Marduk or Ishtar, whose parodies echo on in human form in the Book of Esther. Ironically the name Nebo also refers to the Babylonian God of wisdom and writing. Christians far from the time and space of these events confidently look at the old Gods as more primitive than the Hebrew deity, but this is a false perspective because the God acting in history is a gloss crafted in the exile with the benefit of hindsight of later civilizations, decrying the kings who worshipped other gods and extolling young Josiah, whose short reign was terminated by Babylonian captivity.
Cyrus the Great showing Ahura Mazda's winged form found at his capital Pasargadae (580-529 BC). Cyrus was all things to all Gods. In addition to being anointed by the Lord in Isaiah for restoring the Temple and returning the Jews, the Cylinder of Cyrus below written in ancient Akkadian states that he was appointed by Marduk to liberate the Babylonians.
Ultimately this view would culminate in the the end-of-days visions of Zoroaster in which Ahura Mazda, the spirit of light and clarity, would defeat the spirit of ignorance Angra Mainyu in a fire of cleansing which determined the apocalyptic visions of later Jewish and Christian eschatology in the war of light and dark of God and Satan. Christian prophecy, far from being kosher Isrealite God fare, is thus Persian in its very essence.
Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him;
and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut (Isaiah 45).
By the time of Jesus, we have a transformation of the jealous Hebrew deity into Abba, the Father God of Jesus, supposedly compassionate and forgiving, despite sacrificing his only begotten Son, in a filicide more akin to the slaying of Mot by Ba'al of the Canaanites than any Hebrew notion. In the New Testament, this God Abba was also engaged in a pitched battle with Satan - in a cosmic war of dark and light which set the stage for Jesus to be tempted for forty days and nights to throw himself from the pinnacles of the temple, and to be anointed to his doom so that he could return in power but never did, in a progression to the horrific visions of cosmic triage of Revelation laying waste to the entire cosmos on favour of the fantasy of the heavenly Jerusalem.
The Old Testament and New Testament Gods one violently jealous and the other sacrificially homicidal ostensibly to save us all from ourselves, are the only two valid archetypes of god in the holy book of the Bible. Forget agape, brotherly love, the fundamental goodness of God, Christian charity and all the later contrivances of Christianity to put a beneficent face on its own essentially violent foundations and continuing mortality in martyrdom, Crusade and inquisition.
When we finally come to the so called Age of Enlightenment, notions of God have progressed out of sight, to become every kind of contrived fantasy the intelligent mind of man can envisage. Everyone, from the first contrivances of the Trinity in the Nicene creed, through Augustine's claiming original sin having rejected his own Manichaeism, the mystical insights of Meister Eckhardt and Marguerite Porete, in "Mirror to the Simple Mind" who was the first to be burned at the stake in an auto-da-fe, the stern protestantism of Calvin and Luther, the divine cosmolgy of Dante Alighieri, Isaac Newton's espousal of the Arian heresy, to Rene Descartes and many others, eventually including Charles Darwin, reshaped our idea of god from an archaic Logos issuing the universe by simple command to an intriguing juggler behind the scenes, who could somehow pull the marionette strings of reality to guide the universe in His desired direction, by manipulating laws of nature discovered and confirmed by careful experiment. We thus have every kind of notion, defending the Old and New Testament gods, from elaborate sleights of hand seeking discrepancies in the scientifc description to prove by philosophical sophistry why God must exist by teleological, ontological or other arguments, none of which are consistent with the character of the original Biblical deity.
Darwin himself set out on the voyage of the Beagleas a traditional Christian believer and only when faced first hand with the evidence of evolution and the profound 'injustices' of nature in the raw, ended up casting himself as an agnostic:
"But I had gradually come, by this time, to see that the Old Testament from its manifestly false history of the world, with the Tower of Babel, rainbow as a sign, etc., etc., and from its attributing to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos, or the beliefs of any barbarian".
"I may say that the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God; but whether this is an argument of real value, I have never been able to decide. I am aware that if we admit a first cause, the mind still craves to know whence it came from and how it arose. Nor can I overlook the difficulty from the immense amount of suffering through the world. I am, also, induced to defer to a certain extent to the judgment of many able men who have fully believed in God; but here again I see how poor an argument this is."
The fossil evience and the genetic evidence both clearly point to chimpanzees, Neanderthalls and humans
sharing a common descent, with a dgree of interbreeding between Neanderthals and humans.
These modern notions of God are no more consistent with the Biblical deity than a host of New Age notions, from crystals to light-weavers. They are cobbled together by an unswerving affirmative belief in the Bible as the "word of God" combined with entirely fanciful notions of a god crafted to get around the obstacle courses of nature, cosmology and logic, just as the God of the exilic Jews was crafted to be more credible than the older gods of the Nations.
When there was just some scattered geological evidence from fossils, and the variety of Darwin's Galapagos finches to support the notion of evolution, one could understand some Christians claiming evolution was just a theory and that believing that the flat Earth was made 4000 years ago was as plausible as the billions of years the geological and cosmological record confirms. They could be excused for denying that man, who had been ordained dominion over nature by God could have descended from mere apes. But now we have entered the genetic age, we have manifold traces of the process of evolution laid bare in documentary proof in the letters of the DNA sequences of diverse species, from slime moulds, through fruit flies to apes, Neanderthals and Homo sapiens.
Human evolution again has fossil evidence consistent with the genetic evidence. Left: Fulton cave drawing c1000 BC celebrating a girl's rite of menarche, Drakensberg Mountains. The same rite has been documentd in current times. Right: Mitochondrial evolution tree of the African Eve, with a split in the San maternal genomes corresponding to two groups being separated from 150,000 until 70,000 years ago, confirming their exceedingly ancient history. Lower inset: The discovery of carvings on a snake-shaped rock along with 70,000-year-old spearheads from a cave in the Tsodilo Hills of Botswana, a mecca of sorts for the local San people, who call it the Mountain of the Gods.
But what we find is that, completely unassuaged by the accumulating consistent evidence from nature and the cosmic description, Christian creationists and intelligent designers continue to pretend that evolution is just an unsubstantiated theoryand that scientific principles require equal respect and educational time for a continuing attempt to deny the entire evidence demonstrated by the universe - all in the face of these two short chapters of Genesis which have hardly a trace of credibility, any more than the creation myths of our founding cultures such as the San Bushmen, with a 150,000 year genetic and cultural history, who also invoked creator deities disconcertingly similar to the Elohim of Genesis:
≠Gao!na, the !Kung Great God, using one of his seven divine names, created himself: "I am Hishe. I am unknown, a stranger. No one can command me. I am a bad thing. I follow my own path." Then ≠Gao!na created a Lesser God who lives in the western sky where the sun sets; and after this two wives for himself and for the Lesser God. ≠Gao!na, tallest of the Bushmen, was in his earthly existence a great magician and trickster with supernatural powers, capable of assuming the form of an animal, a stone or anything else he wished, and who changed people into animals and brought the dead back to life. But as the Great God who lives beside a huge tree in the eastern sky, he is the source and custodian of all things. He created the earth with holes in it where water could collect and water, the sky and rain both the gentle 'female' rain and the fierce 'male' rain thunder and lightning, the sun, moon, stars and wind. He created all the plants that grow on the earth. He created the animals and painted their individual colours and markings, and gave them all names. Then came human beings, and he put life into them; and gave to them all the weapons and implements they now have, and he implanted in them the knowledge of how to take all these things for themselves. Thus their hunting and gathering way of life was ordained from the very beginning and ≠Gao!na ordained that when they died they should become spirits, //Gerais, who would live in the sky with him and serve him. He set the pattern of life for all things, each in accordance with its own rules."
We now find intelligent designers, some of whom are actual Christian scientists who should have a better sense of conscience and accountability, indulging in all manner of deceits, setting up websites pretending to be scientific assessments of evolution, claiming on pseudo-scientific grounds that, despite the genetic and cosmological evidence, one can find "irreducible complexities" in the record, and errors of logic that mean that life has "clear" evidence of divine design and that no blind groping of evolution could possibly have generated the living world we see before us. In each case, from the camera eye through the ATPase to the conscious brain, these claims are fallacious. The camera eye has clear evolutionary intermediates in partially focusing pit eyes, the ATPase is a combination of two components, each of which had previous functions, for example as a helicase, and the conscious brain has multple evolutionary pathways going back to single-celled eucaryotes.
Left: Evolutionary tree of serotonin receptors shows they evolved before the lines leading to arthropods, vertebrates and molluscs separated. Single-celled amoebae also have serotonin receptors showing they emerged before multicellular organisms. Right: The human brain's heptahelical receptors including serotonin and other neurotransmitters including opiates and dopamine, smell receptors lower left and the rhodopsin receptors in the eye show a clear evolutionary tree of divergence captured in a single species and in each of us as individuals, as our brains have complexified from amphioxus to Homo sapiens.
The claims made against evolution and biogenesis are a deceitful and malign process in exactly the way the divided universe of God and the devil sees the deadly sins as evil. It is not just an aberration that we can turn a blind eye to, because it saps our capacity to cherish and replenish the Earth and to protect the generations of life in a time of great need. It is a product of existential immaturity, where we cast off our destiny and the consequences of our actions to parental - largely paternal - beings, who ensure the chaotic universe around us is ordered, so that our lives are made meaningful, even in the face of manifest natural injustice, misfortune, accident and disease. This prevents us taking responsibility for our actions, which now affect the fate of all life on the planet. It spawns a false vision that evolution is just a degrading meaningless process of chance which could never generate conscious life, or any form of salvation.
I want to turn this view around, because it is a false and evil view, just as spawning a religion that claims a God in cosmic war with the Devil is intrinsically evil, because it predisposes to cosmic violence rather than enlightenment. It is a lie that leads to endless conflict and an apocalyptic end-of-days, in which nature and the generations of life, rather than being protected as the stewards humanity should be under the covenant of Genesis, are instead to be discarded in a triage of all life in the Day of Judgment of Revelation. Not only is it a lie, but it is a lie pretending to be truer than the truth of nature and the universe, which saps us of our personal responsibility to make sure we leave the world in a better place before we pass on.
To turn the tables on this diabolical, heinous miscarriage of justice, I want to point to how the universe actually puts us in this position. We are told Abba is the forgiving Father God. We are told that al-Llah is the merciful and compassionate. Both these claims are the claims of belief systems which imbue the deity with an emotional personality. They are simply projections of human nature. God cannot be jealous or compassionate without having the persona of a mammalian emotional brain.
The Compassionate Sentient Universe
I am going to make the same claim about the natural universe - that it is compassionate and ultimately desirous of us reaching the point of becoming guardians of the generations of life on this planet as protectors rather than exploiters and destroyers of the natural condition in the domination of an imaginary God. I say compassionate as if the universe has a personality, like the persona religious people attribute to God, so we need to see how my claim pans out in actual detail scientifically.
We understand the universe originated in a big-bang, in which its expansion began and the laws of nature - strong and weak nuclear, gravity and electromagnetism broke symmetry. I say "originated" because we don't know it was generated externally, self-generated or emerged from a symmetry. In some ways the beginning might be just like the south pole, with all the time lines coming together like the lines of longitude do. In other ways, this universe might just be a bubble that stopped inflating in an endlessly inflating fractal cosmos. But the key is that our universe gained the laws of nature we have and those laws enable biogenesis as a cosmological interactive phenomenon (see the chapter Cosmology and Quantum Reality).
We can see the biogenic predisposition of the universe from the gas clouds in cosmic nebulae and around young stars, which display precursors of life from the cyanide and formaldehyde in the Orion nebula with newly forming star systems to the amino acid glycine around other stars, the variety of amino acids and nucleotides and their precursors on comets and carbonaceous meteorites and from primitive earth simulations in the laboratory, all of which point to the formation of life based on RNA as both catalyst and genetic molecule. We even have a chemical garden nursery on a cosmological footing in terms of the "lost city" sea vents that come from a reaction of alkaline olivine with the mildly acid oceans, concentrating these chemicals, and from the evidence of life on Earth within a short cosmological time of the oceans cooling enough to support it (see the chapter Biocosmology).
Mandala of Evolution (Dion Wright), Tree of Life (Chris King).
We are now also able to map both the geological record of life on earth and the genetic record of its mutational evolution in great detail, all of which confirms that life has diversified in bursts associated with changing planetary conditions, radiating into the climax diversity we see today. This process is not just blind groping. Tissues are themselves a cosmological expression of the fractal complexity of the forces of nature in interaction. Evolution is not just random but modular and networked. Symbiosis is as much a hallmark of evolution as is competitive survival of the fittest through natural and sexual selection, just as every cell in our bodies is a symbiosis of information genes from our ancestor archaea and enzymatic genes coming from our symbiotic mitochondria, the bacterial power house of our respiration energy, so the earliest organisms shared their genetic information amid a high degree of horizontal transfer of genetic information via viruses and sexual processes culminating in the dyadic sex critical to organismic variety and survival we see today (See the chapter Tree of Life).
Sex provides an almost endless variety of individuals that are not deleterious mutants but viable members of their species because recombination provides new genetic combinations preserving the integrity of the parental genomes in a new complement essential to disease resistance and the rapid acquiring of beneficial characteristics through selective sexual sweeps, as is considered to be the case with language and culture. In contrast to the implication that woman sinned in Eden leading to the Fall from grace dooming us to sexual mortality, we can exist as complex sentient organisms only through the evolutionary diversity which recombinational sex has provided. In effect we are mortal because we have become diverse. We can't have it both ways and have a sense of belonging and family without a finite life span as individuals (See the chapter Sexual Biology).
This brings us to the enigma of consciousness and the role we play in the universe as sentient beings. It is very likely that subjective consciousness is a manifestation of the quantum weirdness that we have found entangles phenomena at the quantum level that is a form of environmental computation that evolved in chaotically excitable nervous systems because it enabled organisms to anticipate and escape threats from predators. It is precisely this sense of anticipating impending threats that consciousness is superbly good at and it has all kinds of implications for intentional will and whether we are just chemical machines or active sentient beings changing the course of history of the universe (See the chapter Space, Time and Consciousness).
This is also a paradox for religion because we are told that we have free will despite original sin and that the whole purpose of the universe is that we obey God's commands so we will go to heaven, despite God having set us all up like clockwork in the first place. No mention is made of the fact that, as sexual beings, we are all different, genetically, intellectually and emotionally, so this supposed creation is not fixed and if it were, we wouldn't be individual sexual beings, all witnessing it from each of our own idiosyncratic points of view. Of course creationists and intellectual design proponents always have spurious arguments to justify their contradictory world view just as they can finesse the need for God into every crevice of the natural world, but that is just prevarication in the face of reality.
So we find that the biogenic process of the universe leads through evolutionary diversification to sentient conscious organisms that experience the existential condition, ponder the nature of conscious existence, discover new cosmic wonders, being capable of both altruism and expedience amid a spectrum of emotions from love and compassion through jealousy and greed to anger and hatred, contempt and disgust. It is this spectrum of emotions we attribute to God and it is these we also claim are the source of our deadly sins, but the key is that they take us far beyond the confines of genetic altruism to emotions that can compassionately unite an entire population.
It is this we see is the compassionate nature of the biogenic universe to engender ourselves as compassionate guardians of the generations of life on our planet, the eyes and ears of the sentient universe discovering itself by incarnation, if we can only come to terms of acceptance of our existential condition as mature entities and take the personal responsibility to protect the planet and its generations of life while we are here in the mortal coil.
Religion and the notion of creation are the fantasies of early childhood humanity blown grotesque and morally oppressive with urban civilization. Updating Paul's words we have:
When we were children, we spoke as a child, we understood as a child, we thought as a child: but when we become of age, we need to put away childish things.
For then we saw through a glass, darkly; but now face to face: then we knew in part; but now we shall know even as also we are known.
We can no longer afford to see through a glass darkly in terms of creation, apocalypse and the Day of Judgment, for the future of the generations of life depends on cherishing and replenishing the Earth, as true guardians of unfolding conscious diversity. This is not, and is not to be, the end of the road, so the fixed visions of creation and the genocidal triages of Revelation are a dark and violent scorched earth curse on our psyche and on the future of the biosphere and our own survival.
Holy War Against Science
Left: WMAP image of the cosmic background radiation, gives the echo of the cosmic fireball at the point light separated from matter when the plasma of charged particles first coalesced into atoms. It provides evidence that our universe had an explosive beginning, but it doesn't suggest the God created it, nor that this is evidence for 'let there be light'. Right: The biota occupy the cosmic equator through a major central epoch of the universe's evolution and thus form a cosmological manifestation of the interactive culmination of the four forces of nature.
Our idea of the universe and our own relationship with it as biological organisms has been profoundly transformed by the scientific revolution. We now know that the universe has an explosive beginning some 12 billion years ago in which the cosmological processes of the universe at large are complemented by differentiation of the four fundamental wave-particle forces of nature. At the same time we know, despite its relatively fragile nature on the cosmic scale that life is the supreme manifestation of interactive complexity of the four forces of nature on a cosmic footing. Life thus has a unique status in cosmic terms and occurs on Earth over an epoch of 3.5 billion years, spanning nearly a third of cosmic history.
The investigative process of science has its basis in the skeptical principle: in which a theory or idea becomes accepted only if it withstands disproof through validation in every natural situation which might refute it, rather than the untested assumptions of spiritual faith, which asserts that belief in God is essential, and lack of faith is betrayal. Affirmative belief has meant that the cherished and often simplified assumptions of religious cosmologies have gone unquestioned for fear of retaliation, if not for the simple lack of critical scrutiny.
Ideas that the earth is flat, overlaid by heavens in which the astronomical bodies are set, as if on some gigantic hemispherical ceiling by God have proved to be simply folk myths, fantastic tales having no credibility in the harsh light of careful experiment. Vested religious interests have tried to silence this discovery process, fpr example endeavoring to excommunicate Galileo for correctly discovering that the Earth orbits around the Sun, rather than being fixed in the centre of the universe, around which all other objects revolve. However these efforts have over time eventually proved in vain because the natural evidence is there for all to see, once we discover how to ask the right question.
Despite the overwhelming detail and consistency of the scientific revolution, which has by the turn of the third millennium unveiled the dynamics of the universe at large, reached the doors of the theory of everything unifying the cosmological forces of nature, unleashed nuclear holocaust, and not only laid bare the genetic code, but decoded the human genome as well, the fact that religion is based on affirmative belief rather than skeptical inquiry has led to a situation of stand-off, where key aspects of the scientific description, such as the genetic evolution of life, continue to be rejected by religious believers, who frequently interpose over the scientific description the same simplistic scriptural accounts.
An attempt to overlay the Sabbatical creation on the inflationary cosmology, based on the WMAP observations being 'let there be light" followed by a dark era before the galaxies formed ignores the manifest inconsistencies and uses the scientific discoveries to retro-fit the six-day creation to observed events - faith interposed over fact. The idea that the sabbatical account is an inspired reflection of a divine intervention seen through a glass darkly millennia before these discoveries raises more questions than it solves.
A key area still to be finally resolved in the lab is the exact path by which life began on Earth. However, far from indicating God made RNA and then DNA to support his life plan, the accumulating evidence indicates that planets are commonplace features of stellar systems and that those in the 'goldilocks zone' where liquid water exists are by no means uncommon. Rather than being an impossible contrivance of vanishing probabilities requiring God to intervene, the molecular precursors of life and of nucleic acids themselves may have an origin in the first gas clouds forming solar systems, and have showered on the early Earth in abundant proportions.
Right: HCN and HCHO form major constituents of gas clouds in star-forming regions of the Orion nebula. Left: HCN is capable of polymerizing in association with other molecules to form both the pyrimidine (U, C) and purine (A, G) bases of nucleic acids. HCHO is likewise capable of generating a variety of sugars including ribose. Above: ATP the monomeric ribonucleotide unit, which forms the archetype of both energy source and structural unit of RNA, along with the other bases G,C and U enabling complementary replication, is a co-pentamer of HCN and HCHO. Both purines and pyrimidines have also been discovered in the Murchison meteorite.
Central to the debate between religion and science is the issue of evolution and whether life is too complex and wonderful to have been crafted by the blind groping of evolution, rather than divine creation, or its new guise, 'intelligent design'. Because evolution is a process which happens over relatively long time-scales, Christian fundamentalists have attempted to portray it as merely a conjecture, despite the fact that some evolutionary process are very rapid, and genetic sequencing, has laid bare the historical record of untold evolutionary transformations and relationships, which provide evidence so detailed, that the denial of it forms the dark side of affirmative belief - a holy war against the manifest truth.
By claiming that evolution is simply a theory which has arguments for it and arguments against it, creationists falsely imply there is no real experimental confirmation of any of the evolutionary links between species which make the diversity of life a sensible and meaningful process. If the biota were designed by God why are there parasites and diseases, some of which have altogether diabolical manifestations? It is these diseases, from influenza, through HIV to tuberculosis which show the most obvious signs of rapid evolutionary adaption. Why are there carnivorous predators if killing is deemed a sin? There is of course an answer in the ecosystem. If there were no lions the gazelles would go into boom and bust and likely die in a famine of their own making. Thus what seems like the rule of tooth and claw actually maintains climax diversity. Of course not all diseases have a beneficent role, but again they are part of the climax diversity of life. One can't have life resplendent without the niches of parasites and disease and more than one can prevent the accidents of genetic or physical events.
Two arguments typical of intelligent design advocates are irreducible complexity and specified complexity, both of which manifestly fail the scientific test of skeptical inquiry. Irreducible complexity claims that complex biological systems could not have evolved because removing any one component makes the whole system fail. This is a fallacy because it is only intelligently designed systems which suffer from this flaw. A living system can arrive at a situation of irreducible complexity by evolution from systems which are not irreducible, either because they have redundancies which are later pruned out by natural selection, or through natural stability structures evolving to become genetically coded irreducible systems. For example key metabolic pathways such as the citric acid cycle are likely to have evolved from natural polycarboxylic acid pools by genetic takeover, resulting in an efficient cycle which later looks irreducible. Other systems touted as evidence for irreducible intelligent design such as the camera eye are clearly not irreducible at all and have obvious evolutionary intermediates.
Naturally occurring eyes show all forms of intermediates (a) in the formation of the camera eye, from simple pits to pinhole cameras, illustrated (d) for molluscs alone. The mouse gene pax-6 necessary in the development of the vertebrate camera eye (b) will induce an ectopic compound eye (c) on the leg of a fruit fly, showing the same genetic processes are involved in development of both types of eye, implyin a common evolutionary ancestor. The pax genes extend all the way from jelly fish to humans implying a common origin very early in metazoan evolution.
The camera eye has often been cited as something that could not have evolved by stages, because its functionality only exists in its completeness of design. However there are diverse examples of pinhole camera pit eyes forming all the intermediate stages of formation of a camera eye. Moreover eyes diverse as the insect compound eye and the vertebrate camera eye use homologous genes to trigger their development, showing that eyes which appear to be founded on radically different principles have a common genetic origin.
Other examples, such as the rotary bacterial flagellum, which might seem to have to be designed in one step entirety can also be easily explained through transfer of functionality from genes which first evolved to fill other roles, as genes making up the rotary assembly have been shown to have sequence homology with related genes having other functions such as helicases which unwind nucleic acid double helices. Thus one of the creative aspects of evolution is its capacity to bring together adventitious combinations of existing or modified genes or gene modules in new integrated functionalities.
Two molecular complexes incorrectly claimed to have irreducible complexity. Left: The ATP-synthase which produces ATP from ADP using the H+ gradient across the membrane, actually consists of two juxtaposed units, one comprising a rotary motor which has functional homology with helicases (a hexameric helicase is in the inset upper centre), essential for nucleic acid replication, which use rotary action to unwind double helices. The rotary bacterial flagellum also has functional homologies with helicases. Right: The ribosome, perhaps the most complex molecular mechanism in the cell, responsible for translating DNA sequences into proteins, likewise consists of two major RNA units, the smaller of which ratchets along an mRNA and is again functioning as a more primive RNA helicase from the early RNA era before DNA. Both are clearly functionally reducible and hence manifestly not irreducibly complex.
Specified complexity is another scientifically false notion that complex structures, which are not simply random, have to be instructed by a design specification to exist. This is manifestly false and fails to understand critical properties of chaos and the fractal complexity of structures which emerge from edge of chaos dynamics. Molecular matter is complex largely because of the unique complexity of the way the four forces of nature broke symmetry in the big bang at the origin of the universe. As a result of this symmetry-breaking, quarks bind together in threes to form neutrons and protons which in turn bind tightly together to form atomic nuclei with neutral and positive charges, resulting in a complex semi-periodic series of some 100 electrically polarized atoms with orbital electrons capable of forming molecular orbitals and hence chemical bonds.
The capacity for chemical bonding does not stop with the ionic and covalent bonds of ball and stick mechanical molecules, but continues unresolved in a string of weaker cooperative H-bonds, hydrophobic, polar and van der Waal interactions resulting in the complex folding and global cooperativity of large protein and RNA molecules. This process is a quantum fractal and continues in upward scales, from molecular complexes, through organelles to cells and finally tissues, organs such as the brain and whole organisms. If the complexity comes from design, it is the design of the forces of nature we need to look at, to understand why tissues are capable of becoming complex when encoded by the genetic information in living evolving organisms. But this design in turn may come from universal symmetries such as those in the standard model of physics and its extensions to TOEs, or theories of everything.
Living organisms exist as complex structures only because the universe is based on non-linear interaction of the forces of nature. Tissues are fractal molecular structures in a manner similar to the way the non linear dynamics makes the Mandelbrot set arguably the most complex known object in mathematics.
It also needs to be understood that intelligence itself - something possessed by whole brains of intact organisms to aid their survival is not necessarily the best or most fertile basis to generate new viable forms. The entire landscape of life, both in terms of genetic sequences and the folded domains of proteins, consists of modular structures. Higher organism genes are divided into functional subunit exons separated by non-coding introns. This provides not just for random mutations of the code but for functional shuffling of active subdomains to form new combinations. The introns likewise allow for complex RNA-based dynamic modular regulation of whole batteries of genes in ways which can result in new phenotypic and regulatory pathways. Furthermore our genomes are littered with the remains of transposable elements and viruses, which in addition to causing deleterious events, can facilitate new forms of regulation and horizontally transfer whole genes between species in a way which enables useful genes to find themselves in completely new places, where their effects can combine in new ways. Indeed the evidence is now becoming clearer that the tree of life of higher organism evolution emerged from a tangled web in which genes are freely passed between species enabling life to exist in almost any extreme environment. There is also manifest evidence that the genomes of higher organisms have arisen from multiple symbiotic events bringing together diverse metabolic systems.
What is almost entirely misunderstood by the intelligent design movement is that, far from being random mutation, evolution is the most rapid generator of complex form in the universe because it is a massively parallel quantum molecular computer based on parallel nucleic acid replication. It can't be reasonably compared to any naive probability process based on random events, because the extreme degree of parallel exploration of the space of possibilities makes genetic algorithms the most efficient computational process in the universe. For all its elegant structure, and even consciousness, even super-intelligent design is cumbersome, clunky and completely unsuited to generate new life forms.
The fact that evolution doesn't have a central computational system like the brain in no way means it lacks the functional capacity to generate new and more complex forms of adaption. In fact a brain-like form of centrally organized designer is nowhere nearly as suited at solving the dispersed adaption problem of discovering new 'degrees of freedom' in ecological and environmental niches as the massively parallel distributed genome is.
(Left) Archaean genetic expansion around 3.3 billion years ago generated most critical genes common to life (David and Alm 2010). (Right) Evidence of ubiquitous horizontal transfer of genes between bacterial species at different trigger levels (Dagan et. al. 2006).
To give a very rough idea of the computing power of the combined bacterial genome alone, taking into account bacterial soil densities (~109g), effective surface area (~1018 cm2), genome sizes (~106), combined reproduction and mutation rates (~10-3/s) gives a combined presentation rate of new combinations of up to 1030 bits per second, roughly 1012 times greater than the current fastest computer at 33 petaflops or about 1017 bit ops per second. Corresponding rates for complex life forms would be much lower, at around 1017 per second because they are fewer in total number and have lower reproduction rates, but they are still vying with the computation rates of the fastest supercomputer on earth.
An even higher figure has been given by Ladenmark et al. (doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1002168.t001). Using information on the typical mass per cell for each domain and group and the genome size, estimate the total amount of DNA in the biosphere to be 5.3 x 1031 (±3.6 x 1031) megabases (Mb) of DNA (Table 1). This quantity corresponds to approximately 5 x 1010 tonnes of DNA, assuming that 978 Mb of DNA is equivalent to one picogram. Assuming the commonly used density for DNA of 1.7 g/cm3, then this DNA is equivalent to the volume of approximately 1 billion standard (6.1 x 2.44 x 2.44 m) shipping containers. The DNA is incorporated within approximately 2 x 1012 tonnes of biomass and approximately 5 x 1030 living cells, the latter dominated by prokaryotes. By analogy, it would require 1021 computers with the mean storage capacity of the world’s four most powerful supercomputers (Tianhe-2, Titan, Sequoia, and K computer) to store this information. If all the DNA in the biosphere was being transcribed at reported rates, taking an estimated transcription rate of 30 bases per second, then the potential computational power of the biosphere would be approximately 1015 yottaNOPS (yotta = 1024), about 1022 times more processing power than the Tianhe-2 supercomputer, which has a processing power of 33.86 peta flops on the order of 105 teraFLOPS (tera = 1012).
Moreover genomes are physically manifest in the right place at the right time, unlike the hypothetical ephemeral external 'intelligent designer', which is nowhere in sight anywhere in the physical universe. The modular architecture of the genome combined with all its symbiotic mobile repetitive elements provides exactly the substrate to enable this open-ended process to generate life's complexity and we can see this in action in any of a host of studies of genetic sequence relationships in evolutionary trees, running from the dawn of life to the relationships between chimps, neanderthals and humans - the transition most abhorred by the religious (See the chapter Tree of Life). .
The Artisans of Creation and the Fallacy of External Design
Supporters of intelligent design suffer from a delusion that emergence and evolution of life are somehow beyond the scope of natural explanation, but they fail to properly apply their theories to rigorous test. The central arena for the viability of such a 'design' hypothesis is development of the organism, not evolution, or the origin of life, for it is in development that we can see biological design in action and arriving at a precise result over time scales we can readily observe, both in the lab, and out in the millpond.
The evolution of intelligent design illustrated in the Buick emblem: The intelligent designer creates each individual de-novo, having only the same general concept. Because there is an external designer following his own predilection, there is no absolute requirement for a new design to depend in any significant way on the form of the predecessor. Both development and evolution are fundamentally a product of the designer only and not the design itself. In successive generations, one Buick shield can become three and then an Eagle. By contrast natural evolutionary change leaves the fingerprint of its variation in the genomes of the ancestors and their descendants. Corporations, operating systems, and technological innovation all follow the feigned 'evolutionary' protocols of intelligent design.
The central model for intelligent design is the watchmaker - that is human craftsmanship of an elegant precision applied on small scales to produce a complex yet stable mechanism. By extrapolation, we are then expected to believe that God, given his much more awesome mysterious powers, could by the same process of design, external to the blind groping of nature, produce something as elegant and complex as a living organism.
The trouble with this idea is that external design works from the top down and the only really complex machines humanity has been able to construct are digital computers, which, while they are capable of delivering a lot of challenge and entertainment, are founded on one very basic notion, that of a Von Neumann architectured Turing machine. There is no mystery of life or consciousness here. All the responses available are fully described by the simple instruction set.
Robotic car assembly illustrates development by intelligent design. The parts above have no capacity for interactive self-assembly, because the process has to be entirely guided by the external intelligent design process. The process of development is instead driven externally on a global basis by robotic machines executing the intelligent design algorithm, or by God as the case may be!
Embryonic development, while ultimately determined at the molecular level by the DNA code, is an emergent interactive process, both resulting in changes at the intracellular level, as cell types specialize, and inter-cellular transformation, in the sequence of interactions between individual cells, and cell layers.
Moreover, development reflects the underlying evolutionary process which made it possible, as shown below. Furthermore evolutionary changes are sequentially dependent in the information possessed by the organism, rather than an external intelligent designer. They are clearly dependent on small transformations of an existing genomic instruction set, so the genetic information of the organism is the key instructor of the process under small discrete changes caused by mutation and rearrangement. By contrast intelligent design is liable to abrupt change, as illustrated in the Buick example, and even when there is a degree of homology, it is merely a conceptual reworking rather than a topological bifurcation.
Left-center: Formation of the neural tube, after gastrulation has already invaginated ectoderm and endoderm, is a self-interactive topological bifurcation. Right: Development of the eye recapitulates the essential bifurcations of the evolutionary process which generated it.
By contrast with machine assembly, embryonic development, from the ovum to the organism, is based on mutual interaction resulting in sequential differentiation and depends on quantum processes such as protein folding which are intractable as classical computational processes. There is absolutely nothing about this process which suggests an external intelligent designer, but rather an internal self-interactive process. This goes all the way to the central nervous system, where there are massive migrations of cells on pre-developed scaffolds in response to growth factor signals expressed by other specific target cell types, as well as massive cell and synapse death to prune the connections to those which are required for effective sentient function and finally chaotic excitation as a dynamic precursor to functionality.
We thus see that, even in the developmental context, where we clearly have an encoded biological design and a process which is elegantly targeted to a specific outcome, there is no hint of a designer except the interaction between the DNA sequences and maternal cytoplasmic inheritance. To suggest that the DNA sequence is God given, rather than a result of selective advantage, in the face of mutability of the process due to the occasional errors of replication resulting from the impossibility of absolute perfection, the interaction of transposable genetic elements and the modular nature of genes and their intervening non-coding sequences now known to have a major role in gene regulation is frankly pissing in the wind.
Relationships between evolution and development: Early embryonic forms of vertebrates all have the long tails and many segments of fishes because they have a deep underlying evolutionary relationship, in which fishes became land animals. The program of development is encoded in our DNA and the evolutionary process reflects the long-term transformations of his program's form and function. Neither development, nor evolution show any of the traits of intelligent design. Both do show the traits of autonomous variation.
The ultimat death knell for the intelligent design hypothesis is the human genome project, and with it the genome projects of related and other species, which lay bare the encoding of the tree of life of the evolutionary process and bring it up to date in real time during the cultural divergence of human groups in the cultural epoch.
The key refutation of the impossibility of generating life from primordial molecules is the exploration of a spontaneous route to replicating RNA.
But the central critical fallacy of intelligent design lies deep in the 'heart' of its own rationale. If we propose an intelligent designer, we have reduced the explanation of the evolution of natural complexity to the ordered constraints imposed by the 'designer'. This is a fallacy because it offers no answer at all as to the creative evolution of the designer's own 'design'. Fair discussion on this issue depends on a complete model of cosmology, so we HAVE to address the evolution of the designer.
But we have no evidence of the nature of the 'designer' to build a cosmology upon. There is no real evidence for God at all in nature. Indeed, Buddhism itself is a clear reaction against the deity-infested tradition of Hinduism, essentially removing all deism while retaining the other aspects of the cosmic mind cosmology. The fact that God and gods vary so much between cultures means they are human inventions. In all other situations where there is a natural basis for something, like the evidence of a 'design', you can actually find it in the geological record.
There is NO evidence whatever for a designer in nature. What intelligent design proponents try to assert is that 'blind', 'random' processes couldn't have done it, so the designer (who conveniently coincides with the monotheistic hypothesis) must have done it by default. This is a double negative, which fails because of the complete failure to describe the design of the designer.
By implication the pejoratives 'blind' and 'random' are based on a false mechanical engineering model of cosmology and are suggesting two things:
This ignores several important aspects of how the universe works, including chaotic sensitivity, self-organized criticality, fractal emergent structures, quantum superposition, tunneling and entanglement and the other side of evolution which is anything but blind and random - selective advantage. It also ignores the modular fractal structure of the genome as an informational oracle.
The real problem is more immediately to do with the failure of the concept of design than the designer Himself. Design is an ordered constraint on boundary conditions that is sufficient to determine the subsequent form of the dynamic. Neither biogenesis, evolution or development fit this static mold.
The concept of intelligent design comes from six root mistakes:
In the real world this idea is drawn from, technology and is designed by humans, so there is no automatic regress into the unknowable, but rather an investigation into our own intelligent sentience.
It is possible to try to achieve a 'best of all possible worlds mysticisim still cryptically conceding a 'creator' by proposing that: "The creator isn't the creator by creating all that is, the creator is more the creator by being all that is".
The physical universe has two complementary perspectives:
However if we propose an eternal omniscient creator, beyond temporal change, we inherit an onus to demonstrate how this looks in the dynamical perspective - that is, how the complexity and sentience of life actually comes about. Does it self-generate naturally as science would attest, or is there someone out there, with the abstract attributes of intelligence and even mammalian emotional love and jealousy, tinkering with the blind groping of nature over evolutionary time, even if not making the whole shebang as a calculatingly flawed cosmic toy factory in the Genesis?
And what about the contradictory issues of free-will and the capacity to sin so elegantly embroidered into the moral guilt cosmology to give humans the capacity to err from God and thus to have to succumb to His divine rewards and punishments later? Given Augustine's notion of original sin, how can we be blamed for our sexual concupiscence, any more than the Lion, whose flawed carnivorous destiny is to helplessly consume the lamb?
You can't have it both ways with a term like 'Creator'. The term doesn't just apply to 'all that there is', which is at once the Tao, the Tantra, Brahman, Buddha nature, the Elysian fields, and this life and the after life as well as the beneficent transcendental Deity rolled into one great reverberating resonance. The term 'creator' and with it 'intelligent designer' is used to describe an external agent transcendent over the laws of nature and the physical universe who creates life (in Eden) and lets it go, only to run down, like a faulty clockwork toy, which doesn't contain the creative principles that brought it into existence in the first place.
Despite the fact that this conflicts entirely with the fossil evidence that living systems have become ever more complex over time, and the meticulous detailed DNA evidence of evolution happening right in front of our eyes, people with a vested psychological interest in God seem to have an obsession with trying to convince themselves that this cosmic emergence process is just blind groping that couldn't possibly have pulled itself up by its own cosmic boot straps.
But Jesus cautioned us: "Don't look at the speck in the others eyes but the plank in ones own". Having to deny the creative potential of nature is not just a plank - it is a fundamental part of the scorched-Earth philosophy of theism that leads to the rape of the planet.
What is needed if one is going to espouse this kind of mystical omniscient theology is to say what it means in terms of active human participation for caring for the living diversity of the planet and restoring the Garden of Eden to its paradisiacal form, otherwise one is simply playing with smoke and mirrors. The acid test is the all too evident capacity of the religiously zealous people of Earth to use themes like the 'Creator' to destroy the Garden of Eden before it has even had a chance to serve its time, for the very reason that it is just a flawed creation of a transcendent God.
On the other hand there are seven features of the evolutionary paradigm which give it its richness and creative capacity and the onus is on intelligent designers to invalidate all of these if they are going to be able to claim "life couldn't have done it".
Genetic evolution is surely the most sophisticated super-computational system in the universe and is easily capable of all the creative manifestations to which intelligent design proponents refer.
The Enigma of Consciousness
The critical gap still existing in the scientific description of reality is the central question of how the brain evokes subjective consciousness. Since religious descriptions, in dealing with a God outside and/or above the mortal coil of the physical universe involve themselves in questions of the afterlife beyond physical death, religions are predominantly descriptions from a conscious sentient perspective, in which the biological and physical aspects of reality are frequently shunned, as part of an inferior, bestial, or degraded condition, at best a mere stepping stone to the heavenly paradise of God.
Recent studies have even shown that a tendency towards intelligent design may be embedded in the way we think. Deborah Kelemen has found that the tendency to favour explanations invoking purpose-seeking yet false explanations of natural phenomena - promiscuous teleology - is shared by both religious and non-religious adults, suggesting that humans are neurobiologically predisposed to be susceptible to 'intelligent design' and creationist explanations (Cognition (DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2009.01.001, Callaway, Ewen "Humans may be primed to believe in creation" New Scientist 2 Mar 2009).
Science thus badly needs to make some progress into the depths of how the brain generates subjective consciousness to avoid being accused of being a purely materialistic description of no real weight in deciding the lofty questions of the fate of sentient existence.
Intelligent design closes in on the designer:
Four views of artificial intelligence (internet)
Coming from the diametrically opposite pole to affirmative belief, there is a purely materialistic claim of intelligent design, applied, not by the religious, but by those who follow a purely mechanistic, cyborg line, in which the human brain is pictured as just another form of computer. In an act of reverse faith, this belief is that artificial intelligence will provide the complete solution to how the brain makes sense of the world. In this description, the notion of subjective consciousness is discarded as a superfluous, non-objective, non-scientific idea, having no replicable correlates on which we can base real experimental evidence, because subjective experience is not an objective verifiable phenomenon at all. The artificial intelligence approach presents another form of intelligent design, for it claims that the only defining characteristics of the brain are its computational structure and function and that, once this is elucidated, there is nothing more to discover.
However, artificial intelligence has proved incapable of making the huge strides it promised. The notable successes have been in games of strategy, where firstly chess and more recently go was won in contests between a computer and the world's ranking masters. Intriguingly the Google algorithm for go was a heuristic one which learned its own strategy over many successive bouts, rather than being programmed from scratch by a human being. However progress has not been so good in areas in which sentient brains excel. An interesting example is optical character recognition, one which computers should really be able to handle, where scanned snippets of old texts called Captchas (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) are used to make sure real humans log onto web sites, eliminating phishing and spamming computers, which are still unable to perform unambiguous character recognition, despite decades of AI research into such areas. For some of these applications, artificial neural nets which make neuron-like linkages adjusting their synaptic weights can provide an alterantive solution pathway.
Organismic consciousness is primarily adapted to immediate anticipation of threats to survival such as being pounced on by a predator and solving these in split-second timing.
The brain is in no way like a digital computer and uses completely different principles, involving waves of excitation, chaotic dynamics, continuous, rather than entirely discrete digital communication, and probably, into the bargain, exotic quantum phenomena. Despite having 1011 neurons and 1015 synapses, the brain is an extraordinarily bad numerical calculator, having a digit span of only about 7. Cultures exist with no linguistic terms for number and there is debate whether there are any hard-wired skills for numeracy in the human brain. Moreover the sorts of problems the conscious brain is best able to solve - anticipating immediate and serious threats to survival in the open environment - are notoriously intractable computational problems which would leave a digital computer being eaten by its tyrannosaurus equivalent because it became catatonic at the crossroads and took too long to compute whether to jump out of the way of the predator.
Top row: Localization of pitch, melody and rhythm perception in music.
Left: Different aspects of language function result in activity in varying regions of the cerebral cortex. Center: Visual processing for color and motion is done separately in parallel. Right: Ocular dominance of one or other eye is distributed dynamically across the visual cortex and varies as a result of cortical plasticity. In blind people these regions may be used for spatial representation using auditory sensation rather than vision. Lower left: Processing in the olfactory cortex distinguishes two odors through global 'holographic' differences in the wave form of the excitation. Lower right: Brain excitations are broad frequency chaotic excitations. Rather than discrete processing, the brain appears to use phase coherence as in a hologram to distinguish the relevant stimuli from the random groundswell of noise.
Neuroscience is beginning to uncover intriguing relationships between how different areas of the cerebral cortex handle sensory and cognitive processes and the subjective consciousness with which they are associated. For example different regions process colour and motion, resulting in pathologies, in which people who have had injuries in particular regions, cannot experience either colour or motion, instead witnessing a grey landscape or a confusing sequence of frozen stills when the coffee is poured. Likewise rhythm, melody and pitch in music, and semantic meaning and articulate expression in language, are processed in distinct regions. Moreover, the allocation of such functionality is capable of plasticity, so that in blind people, visual regions may be involved in auditory spatial processing.
Furthermore, the brain does not depend on digital processing. Although long axons are pulse-coded, sending a spike train at a rate corresponding to the intensity of the stimulus, other neurons have continuous potential changes. Neuron-neuron connections are not entirely electrical, with many different types of chemical neurotransmitters involved, some of which can have profound effects on consciousness. Memory likewise has a major biochemical component involved in delayed recall. The neuron as a cell is far from a trivial discrete component like a transistor or a simple additive unit, with large pyramidal cells having many different types of excitatory and inhibitory synapses and up to 10,000 synaptic connections, many of which are capable of non-linear interactions, resulting in complex dynamics between neurons.
The global nature of brain waves is broad-spectrum, rather than simple resonances, allowing for transitions in and out of chaos, and using holographic type principles of wave phase correlation, to distinguish the critical information being paid attention to from the groundswell of noise. Some researchers also suggest that quantum phenomena may play a role in brain function and that there may be a relationship between quantum uncertainty and quantum entanglement, and the capacity of the conscious brain to anticipate circumstances and possess the attribute of free-will.
Conscious states of the brain do not appear to be associated with any specific brain centre, but rather a function of the higher-level processes distributed over the entire cerebral cortex. Although the conscious brain remains the abyss in the scientific description, brain science is bringing us ever-closer to an understanding and challenging our assumptions, both religious and mechanistic.
In the final section we will explore how the scientific description for morality, might alter our view of morality and spirituality and how it might help us come to terms with a more sustainable paradigm of human participation in safeguarding the future of life on Earth.
Swirling Dragons representing complementary processes
of chaos and order in nature as represented in Taoist texts.
A: The Continuity and Diversity of Life
This section, is an outline of how, in the light of the scientific description of the universe, and what we know from our own subjective experience of reality, we can approach the 'spiritual' significance of our conscious incarnation, in terms of one central purpose, which is safeguarding and enriching the future diversity of life, on Earth, and in the universe at large, while embracing the freedom of the individual to experience the conscious condition creatively and autonomously, to the fullest degree possible.
The principle of the safeguarding and enriching the diversity of life is central, in keeping the relationship between the 'sap and dew' of the physical paramount for the passage of the generations and the diversity of ongoing life, while liberating conscious experience.
B: Complementarity and Symmetry-breaking
This is consistent with the complementary relationship between the yin and yang receptive and creative aspects, of nature and consciousness, in the indescribable Tao, or way, of existence:
The way that can be told is not the eternal way.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.
The named is the mother of ten thousand things.
Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations.
These two spring from the same source but differ in name;
(Tao te Ching - Lao Tsu).
In all of its critical manifestations, the chaos-cosmos is expressed in terms of complements, rather than absolutes. In the existential condition we have the complementarity between subjective consciousness and mateer - our physical embodiment. In the physics of the universe we have the complement between wave and particle aspects of the quantum, and between radiation-forming bosons and mattter-forming fermions. In the biological realm between the female and male sexes, reflected in the complementations between particle-like sperms and an enveloping ovum. In the realm of dynamics, between chaos and order, and in the Prisoners' Dilemma, between cooperation and defection. These complementarities are the key to the ability of the cosmic condition to become manifest.
Associated with complementarity is the idea of symmetry-breaking of the complementarity into polarized aspects, each of which is incomplete without the presence of the other. Thus, while mental phenomena are indivisible and subjective, physical phenomena are both objective and decomposable into the myriad manifestations of the physical world. Again while the wave aspect of reality is continuous and indivisible, the particle aspect is discrete and multiple. And in biology, while the ovum and its excitable membrane are continuous, the many sperm which try to fertilize it are discrete competing motile packets of DNA. This is where the differences between the sexes become most profound.
Top left: Wave-particle complementarity. Top right: Symetry-breaking of the fundamental forces. Bottom: The standard model of physics showing complementarity between bosons and fermions.
In addition, the phenomenon of cosmic symmetry-breaking gives a complex polarization to the forces of nature, in which a single super-force becomes the four polarized forces we experience today, gravity, electromagnetism and the weak and strong (colour) forces; and in this polarization, the large scale structure of the expanding universe comes about, and the ensuing complexity of matter, from fundamental particles, through nucleons, to atomic nuclei, atoms, molecules, molecular complexes and organelles ultimately to tissues and organisms, and hence the flowering of life becomes possible.
Furthermore, symmetry-breaking between the biological sexes in animals, which in mammals gives rise to pregnancy, lactation and the birth and rearing of live young, leads to a central polarity. Human society, with its massive pregnancy and long term parenting is at an extreme of mammalian polarization. The strategic investments of the female and male sex, even though they are very different, the female one based on long-term parental investment, and the male one on fertilization in venture-risk competition, and each may challenge, or even contradict, that of the other. Nevertheless they are complementary, and human survival depends on the combined effect of both. In their perilous and unstable equilibrium, arises the catalytic stimulus for the emergence of human culture, and the explosion of runaway intelligence.
Human spiritual and religious traditions thus need to be founded on respect for the mutual interdependence of the sexes and the integrity of each, without resorting to attitudes of dominance - of mind over body, male over female, or God over Nature.
Human sexual symmetry-breaking at the single celled level (top left) and organismic level (top right).
Symmetry-broken prisoners dilemma matrix (bottom left) and cusp catastrophe (bottom right).
C: Sexuality, Mortality, Diversity and Love
Intrinsic to the complementarity of the Tao of yin and yang is the fact that all life is sexual, and by being sexual, and possessing the endless variety which sexuality enables, sexual life becomes mortal, forsaking the absolute genetic selfishness of parthenogenesis. Fusion sex transmits only half the genes in each parent, rather than the whole genome. This altruism results in the endless variety of sexual beings, each with their own identity and genetic makeup, thus giving each a unique ability to resist epidemic disease, profoundly aiding the survival of the species. Sexuality and sexual transgression is thus not the cause of death, and our downfall from the grace of God, but the very principle which makes life's diversity possible (See the chapter Sexual Biology). .
All life is sexual and sexuality needs to be respected as the interactive foundation of the diversity of life. Bacteria have a form of pan-sexuality using viral and transposable elements, which transfer bacterial genes, and enable conjugation, even between differing species. Fungi have differing forms of conjugation and fusion sexuality which permit up to twenty different sexual mating types, and plants and animals are universally sexual through dyadic fusion sex. Although many plants and a few animal species are capable of vegetative, or parthenogenetic, reproduction, they depend on sex for the the generation of sexual variety whenever environmental stresses occur, occasionally even mating with related species.
The mammalian sexual condition is highly polarized as a result of pregnancy, live-birth and lactation, giving the female a principal reproductive investment in parenting and humans with massive pregnancy and long-term parental care are at an extreme of this polarization. The female reproductive investment strategy of long-term out-front sustainability must not be subjugated to the venture-risk exponentiating reproductive strategy of human males and its association with male attempts to control culture and assert dominance through patriarchal religion.
The evolutionary reproductive sex ratio of Homo sapiens is around 2 females for each reproducing male, but during the agricultural revolution, the loss of Y-chromosome diversity (left) shows this rose to 17 females for each reproducing male, indicating extreme polygyny.
Rather it is female reproductive choice of overt resource-bearing and/or covert genetic male sexual partners, and corresponding male genius in attracting female partners, which is the principal mediator of runaway human intelligence, despite a degree mutual mate choice also occurring in immediate relationship formation and falling-in-love. However, along with this manifest symmetry-breaking also comes a tacit need for acceptance of human polygyny, which, although it is often associated with patriarchal cultures, and male prerogatives, is fundamental to sexual symmetry-breaking. Polygyny is as much a product of female reproductive choice and selection of male suitors as it is an expression of the male strategy of sewing wild oats. Differences in the diversity of the X chromosome and autosomes across cultures, confirm the continuing prevalence of polygyny throughout human evolution, despite the religious ideal of monogamy being asserted in the Christian world on the basis of the Edenic myth of Adam and Eve - a mistaken conclusion, given the earlier relationship in Jewish folklore of Adam with an all-too sexually liberated Lilith, who preferred the Kali-Shiva position.
Sexuality is also the foundation of love, and love of the other, in partnership, parenting, kinship and comradeship. The ability to love is an emergent expression of the fulfillment of the spiritual quest grounded biologically in the altruism implicit in the sexual interconnectedness of all life. The capacity for love is an evolutionary endowment of the emotional repertoire of the mammalian brain, among other emotions, from fear and anger, through hate, to the chaotic unpredictability of humour, which enable us to relate to one another beyond the confines of genetic determinism.
The essential truth here is that, just as mind and body, or conscious spirit and physical form are complementary and symmetry-broken, so nature needs to be sacralized and respected as holy (whole) in completing the conscious, spiritual and religious quest for an unveiling, with the sexual foundation of the Tree of Life's perennial immortality across the generations. Only when nature and sex is respected as sacred in this way can a paradigm of sustainable life culture ensue for humanity, rather than the damnation and misadventure of hell fire and destruction.
Maria Sabina the mushroom shamaness, Flesh of the Gods Teonanactl the magic mushroom, ancient mushroom stone.
D: Consciousness and the Transcendental
From birth to death, the only actual reality we experience is the subjective reality of conscious sentient existence. All our experience of the external world and one another comes about through regularities in our subjective conscious experience of reality. By contrast, our experience of all aspects of the physical universe, and our relationships with other sentient beings, thus come about indirectly as a secondary effect of conscious experience.
Nevertheless we acknowledge that if we cut ourselves we bleed, and if we fall asleep, or are concussed, we may go into an unconscious state. Although we are sentient beings experiencing a subjective reality, we know that our continued survival depends on acceptance of the existence of the physical universe. In this way, subjective consciousness and the objective physical nature of our bodies and the universe around us, (as well as those we love and relate to), are fundamental complementary aspects of the totality of existence.
Despite the belief of many religious people in the existence of God, or gods and goddesses, or the afterlife, the only aspects of the universe we know to possess subjective consciousness of any kind are the biota. It is thus not God, but we ourselves that are uniquely at the sentient crest of the cosmic emergence, perhaps the critical and only way the universe is able experience itself in the conscious condition, giving additional impetus to the importance of the implicitly cosmic nature of sentient consciousness.
By contrast with the undeniability of our own consciousness, religions try to assert the necessity for belief in the godhead - because there is no verifiable evidence for it as such, so an affirmative act of belief, in the absence of real evidence, is necessary. If we are honest with ourselves, we would admit this fails the critical test of integrity in trust, in the same way pyramid schemes, confidence tricks, and other forms of fraud, fail the same test.
Nevertheless, since we do know we are subjectively conscious and that we are mortal beings in the sexual paradigm, we must needs take personal responsibility for this undeniable fact of reality, to leave the world a better place, because any other choice of action, from personal indulgence to psychopathic exploitation, is doomed to meaningless oblivion, in the inevitable event of our demise. This act of taking personal responsibility is the same act that all heroes and heroines, bodhisattvas, messiahs, shamans and sages of the spiritual traditions must take, and it is also the critical step to give our lives real meaning.
The ego is not the enemy of realization, nor is it intrinsically a selfish, grasping, delusory influence, but is an integral part of our mammalian emotional endowment, the dynamic manifestation of the life force, seeking the survival of the organism in the vagaries of a precarious environment. The suffering of the ego, which Buddhism draws attention to, without posing a creator God, is healed, not by renunciation of the world, but by acceptance of the ultimate altruism of sexual mortality, and understanding the fact that the only truly meaningful act we can perform, while alive in this world, is to work to improve the condition of sentient life, and the passage of the future generations of the diversity of life. This compassionate act of redemption is as real in the biological world as it can ever be, seen through a glass darkly, in the world of religious imperative and messianic salvation.
It is the biota in the universe which possess the capacity for sentient consciousness and thus are the crux and crucible and the antennae of cosmic consciousness. It is in the sentient biota that the capacity of the universe to understand itself comes to full climax. Our biological incarnation gives us the unique opportunity to witness and experience the awesome totality of conscious existence while we are alive in the incarnate condition. This free lunch gains its true meaning, and we gain our true peace, in giving back in turn to existence, and those that will follow us when we are gone, a world which is made better and more wholesome through the insights and good works we have performed in this life, to make the world a more bearable, habitable and sustainable sanctuary, for the generations to follow (see chapter The Resplendence Codex).
Rather than attempting to enter into the mysterium tremendum through assumptions and beliefs about supernatural deities, it is better to experience the inner depths of conscious existence first hand, through meditation, through our psychic and psychedelic co-species which have been used as sacraments of spiritual voyage and discovery by virtually every culture which has come upon them. Spiritual experiences gained first hand without any binding assumptions, doctrines or dogmas deserve greater trust and respect than any social system, however grandiose or apparently devoted to the moral welfare of humanity.
There may also be forms of compassionate dis-incarnate consciousness, with which our individual consciousness may co-integrate on the boundary of life and death, but there is no more evidence for reincarnation than there is for a creator God. Moreover, reincarnation of sentient beings, or even the desires and attachments they possess, violates fundamental principles of evolutionary biology, effectively subjugating the diversity of life to a narrow morality of reincarnating sentient beings, in which the evolutionary adaption of 'lesser' species are falsely imagined to carry a purely human social burden, and in which the diversity of living organisms is subjugated to the potentially endless recycling of a few morally corrupt sentient beings.
Nevertheless in eternal space-time, we are all part of the collective conscious process and the lives we lead and have led, when we come to pass away, continue to be an integral part of the ongoing manifestation of consciousness discovering itself in the universe, from alpha to omega, so the fear of death, and hunger for the afterlife, arise from a misplaced desire for the transient temporal, when the sentient universe is eternal in space-time.
This ties back to the cosmological evolution of the universe and the way sentient life becomes possible on the 'cosmic equator' mid-life in the universe's manifestation, where there are mature planets and galaxies, and the complexity of molecular life becomes possible over long evolutionary epochs. Even if biological life cannot survive the extreme conditions of the big-bang, or the heat death, or big crunch, these very extremes are necessary to make possible the kind of cosmic evolution that leads to the complexity of life on the cosmic equator. From the eternal space-time perspective the equator and poles are necessary features of a single, eternal, integrated manifestation, in which life, and sentient life, is as integral and fundamental a manifestation, and in no way futile.
E: The Prisoners' Dilemma and the Red Queen
Intrinsic to the complementary description of reality is the unstable cusp of the strategic prisoners' dilemma game between cooperation and defection, in which there is continual temptation to defect for higher payoffs, despite the relatively secure win-win of mutual cooperation, leading to double jeopardy in mutual defection. This is where all manner of strategies of altruistic punishment, such as 'an eye for an eye', or 'tit-for-tat' as it is called in game theory, come into play.
The strategic interaction between parties is caught on the unstable cusp between these two, so that neither cooperation, nor defection can never entirely eliminated and the rule of order can never be complete. Neither the faithful wife, nor the scarlet whore can be eliminated no matter what dire penalties, such as stoning for adultery, men invent in the name of religion, or God, to assert control over women's sexual choices, because the rarity of either commands a kings bounty. Likewise neither the faithful husband, the philanderer, nor the potentate, can be eliminated from the game entirely.
Moreover, the ecological relationships, both between species and individuals, including those of predator and prey, and parasite and host, are driven by a prisoners' dilemma Red Queen evolutionary race, running while standing still, in which all species need to be sexual to avoid the extinction of an entire parthenogenetic clone line of individuals. Hence sexuality can compensate, in a single generation, for the altruism of contributing only a half of one's genes, by providing the individual variation that limits epidemic catastrophes which would completely wipe out a monoclonal species.
Although predators and parasites exploit their prey and hosts, each are also dependent on the other, to varying degrees, to avoid population boom and bust, and the likely extinctions that result from population explosions to the point of starvation, in the absence of predators and parasites. Parasites also depend on their hosts for their own survival. It is therefore difficult or impossible to define universal moral laws about killing, theft, coveting, adultery, or other forms of violent or non-violent exploitation of one individual, or species, by another, except in terms of its likely effect on the survival, in diversity, of the ecosystem as a whole.
Although the female human makes the principal reproductive investment in parenting, the emergence of human culture, and the flowering of intelligence, is catalyzed by a prisoners' dilemma Red-Queen race between the sexes, in which each has had to run, while standing still, to secure the reproductive favour of the other. Thus any spiritual or religious paths that advocate domination, sequestering or control by one sex over the other, even in the name of their best interests, is in root violation of nature as a cosmic principle.
F: Religion and Oppression
Despite the higher values of compassion, and spiritual virtue, which devout followers place in their beliefs, established religions are social systems designed to shape the lives of their followers by manifest systems of control. Religion, by its very nature, (re-ligio - to bind together, islam - submission) binds the conscious mind from its autonomous freedom, while alive, to explore the depths of the cosmic abyss, which becomes manifest when we enter a state of repose, dream, or psychedelic, natural or mystical communion. Only in such states can we experience the disembodied cosmic 'self', which many people witness in near-death and other white-light experiences.
Those who wish to discover the underlying nature of the cosmic subjective need to free themselves from all religious and scriptural imperatives, all doctrine and dogma, all fear of divine or social retribution, and all compulsions to believe, or obey God's will, and discover for themselves, with as few assumptions as possible, the nature of the abyss within.
Religions attempt to assert themselves, as imperatives, through several totalitarian manoeuvres. Firstly they expect one to believe under pain of taking God or al-Llah in vain if we don't believe. Secondly they assert that it is God's command that we obey him, depriving us of any choice in the matter. Thirdly religions try to convert through evangelical enticements, or coercive practices, like Islam's conversion by the sword. Fourthly religions try to invoke harsh, or even lethal penalties for apostasy, or recanting the faith, making it difficult or impossible to retreat. Fifthly, religions set out moral imperatives that must be followed, which confine the individual into a state of guilt and fear of transgression, and promote societies which punish and expose transgressors. Sixthly religions teach that the priests, mullahs, preachers and gurus know what is best for us all and deny our innate capacity to experience reality for ourselves. In virtually every religion the mystics who would experience spiritual unity in the first person, are repressed, punished or murdered. Seventhly religions of patriarchy set up dire punishments to control female sexual, legal and educative choices, to maintain control over female reproductive choice, and to ensure the expansion of the population of the believers, as part of a utopian aim of planetary control under the rule of God.
Religiosity is also found to have a significant genetic component, which although it may on some occasions trigger mystical experience, favours an individual's psychological need to believe in a higher power ordering their lives, and societies which become dominant over neighbouring cultures by imposing conservative morality, and punishment of defectors. Like the influence of patriarchy, the dominant controlling position of religions over the last four millennia, is liable to result in self-fulfilling genetic selection, undermining the capacity of both individuals and societies to pursue the unfolding of the conscious realm, free from coercive religious imperatives, and utopian designs.
For these reasons religions are the enemy of spiritual illumination, and stringent measures, equally effective to their own contrivances, are needed to keep religion from assuming diabolical control over our lives, and those of future generations.
G: Morality, Criminality and the Social Quality of Life
Morality is an emergent product of uman and animal societies, in which individuals forsake personal advantage over others for the collective benefit of the group. Alexander's theory of the biology of morality asserts that morality arises as a way of reducing intra-social strife to gain greater capacity for inter-social competition and dominance. That is, moral societies can better survive onslaughts from their neighbours, because there is less internal strife caused by personal expedience, exploitation and corruption. The rise of kin altruism, mutualism, and reciprocal altruism in biological societies has a similar basis, which functions also in terms of individual genetic fitness.
There are thus no absolute standards of morality that we must abide by, and no absolute rights and wrongs. We are better served by learning from example from living ecosystems, which are sustainable over evolutionary time scales, even though they contain predators and prey, than allowing ourselves to be forced to commit to cultural moral imperatives which may be unsustainable long-term because they assert values which undermine natural viability. Control of female reproductive choice by violent punishment is an obvious example.
By the same token, attempts to crush criminality by dire, or deterrent, punishment, under the rule of law, is doomed to failure in the prisoners' dilemma game. What may appear as criminality is an integral part of the defection, which the cusp of the game is centered upon, and is legitimate, for example as protest movements, parliamentary opposition, and whistle blowing, if society is to remain free. Criminal defection can be minimized only through investing in a just society, with a high degree of familial and social connectedness, so that violent anti-social behavior has a high cost, in loss of social respect and support, in the local networks of society.
Dire penalties, even public executions, in an unjust, coercive society, simply lead to an arms race of criminal turf wars, and ever more cut throat professional criminal military organizations, which then pose a threat to society, itself as great as the coercive forces of 'order', or utopian religion, attempting to dominate it.
H: The Future of Western Religion
Can the Christian church survive as the central religious tradition of Western society? Is it worth saving and what compromises would have to be made for it to evolve into a genuine description of existential reality consistent with our scientific knowledge of the universe? Could the heritage of the Western tradition be reflowering the evolutionary tree of life and the reunion of female and male in protecting the passage of the generations of humanity and of all life's diversity? Isn't this our true destiny? This would mean a profound change at the very root of religion, about what redemption actually is and what the messianic quest is as a human vision quest in healing the existential condition.
Isn't God the Father and the Son hanging on the Cross seriously going to have to bite the dust? I see this as the only option - do or die. The Second Coming is simply a trap to ensure the continuity of a false teaching in perpetuity. Generally it's better to save the patient than bury a corpse before its truly dead. But only if the patient is still alive and kicking, not a pagan Man-God idol. It is a fallacy - a travesty of reality - to repeat the Nicene Creed, to drink Jesus' flesh and blood as a rite of human sacrifice, or to think of Jesus as the only begotten Son of God who will return on a white horse in the Day of Judgment.
Jesus and his teachings are the act of an individual human genius reinterpreting the diverse religions of his day, from the Essene, Pharisee and Sadducee forms of Judaism, through wandering as a ‘Rabbi’ seeking the lost sheep of Israel, to the frank fertility worship of the countryside and adjacent lands such as resurgent Edomite Nabatea - in the form of his relationship with the women, supported our of their substance, anointed by a woman ostensibly to his doom, a woman whose name would always be spoken wherever his was, and lamented by the women when the men scattered like lost sheep, to his doom and in the heady Dionysian miraculous dread of his deeds.
The capacity of Christianity to spread like wildfire through the pagan world resulted from the cross-cultural nature of his mission integrating the God acting in history traditions of Jewish and Zoroastrian apocalyptic thought contrasting darkly with the chaos of the foolish shepherd wreaking social havoc, and the lavish Tammuz-Adonis like heroic mission of the women, tax collectors and gentiles and of his anointing to his doom.
A true understanding can come only when we neither conflate his image into the sky as a pagan Man-God, nor strip him down to leather thongs, in reducing him to a mere parochial zealot from Keneret but appreciate the paradoxical depths of many of his source sayings, particularly those in Thomas and appreciate the cultural ingenuity underlying his mission even to the point of turning the tables and the very carefully planned crucifixion sequence.
Deifying Jesus as some pagan demi-god without whose blood there is no remission from sin, sacrificed by his filicidal Father as his only begotten Son, while endlessly awaiting the second coming of a feudal commander on a white horse is an insult to his ingenuity, his humanity, and his compassion. As a human innovator, Jesus deserves as major a recognition in advancing the understanding of cultural religious transformation as Albert Einstein has in relativity and quantum theory, but not at the expense of our understanding and relationship with the natural world.
I've wandered India as a Sadhu, taken initiations with renowned Tibetan lamas now long dead, kept the way of the Tao, and partaken from the sources of the worlds most potent visionary power plants from the Amazon jungle to the Mexican deserts. My sacrament of holy communion is a magic mushroom and my covenant of faith is to the diversity of life.
The only doctrine we can afford to trust is first person experience. We are the eyes and ears of the sentient universe, through which it comes to know itself, no longer through a glass darkly, but face to face, knowing also as we are known. Now it's over to us to do the good thing and make the guardianship of the universe and its conscious life forms a living reality.