In the debate over religion and atheism, the question digging deepest into the essence of the argument is, “is there a God?” The believer points to the ingenuity of biological machinery and the odds against life existing in any form at all, as evidence for some kind of creator. The atheist claims that as there is no physical proof of the actual creator, then no logical being can rely on its existence, and that the lack of God’s intercession to save innocent people in times of crisis proves either the absence of God, or that God does not particularly care what happens to his creation – in either case, rendering religious faith useless for any practical purpose.
To try to separate a believer from their faith, or to ridicule their whole belief system shows a surprising insensitivity – a similar state of mind to the one which produced the forced conversions of the past. By an ironic twist of fate, the atheist thus draws himself nearer to the intractable mindset of a fundamentalist. It also shows, despite an avowed logical search for truth, a surprising inability to grasp the real nature of the problem. There is a fundamental dimension of the human mind which the faithful have voluntarily explored and enlarged, through habitual patterns of thought, but which the dogmatic atheist has allowed to shrivel away, cutting him off from a specific enhancement of his own talents and perceptions.
Because their attention is so often drawn to noisy or violent fundamentalism, they believe this disturbed state of mind represents the natural progression of religious character. What they overlook is that this disturbance of the mind naturally proceeds from a feeling of superiority and a hunger for power, and not from spirituality. The same distortions can be seen among those in business and politics, the rich and famous, and even in the arts or among men of letters who have long abandoned any solidarity with their fellow man. The warping of the mind can be found in the over ambitious and the arrogant, and once a basic hygeine of the brain is abandoned, corruption follows naturally, just as infections and corruptions of the natural order of the body arise when simple hygiene is abandoned. This strange mental state grows worse in proportion to the isolation from the needs of the human race of which they are a part. In the atmosphere of confusion and suspicion that most discussions about the existence of God take place, it is not surprising that no convincing arguments are presented. Those who attend the discussions between prominent atheists and religious advocates are hearing the same thing over and over again, and even those who attend simply for entertainment, or the pleasure of feeling united with a superior point of view may one day tire of the charade, unless a quantum step is made soon.
The first question which must be answered by believer and disbeliever alike is, in what kind of God do you either believe, or disbelieve? Any sane person would find the concept of an old man, bearded and in sandals, competent to monitor and alter the fate of billions of people – providing parking spaces for the virtuous and marital woes for the sinner – incompatible with common sense. A deity who jealously sets one group of believers against another, and demands uncritical worship under pain of eternal damnation after having bestowed the same living beings with an intellect whose purpose is to doubt, probe and question, would embody the worst of human evils. Such a concept could only emerge from a troubled and distorted human mind.
The concepts of God which exist in the major religions of the world today were formed somewhere between 1,500 and 3,500 years ago, when human understanding was at a far lower stage than today. The belief that the Sun and the Heavens revolved around the Earth, that illnesses and plagues were the result of evil spirits, and that the weather depended on sacrifices were samples of a logic which showed itself to be, at those times, in an ill informed state. It might seem strange that a humanist like Jesus never felt the need to speak out against primitive hygiene, social inequality, slavery, or even public executions, as all these backwards traits were commonplace in his day. But it was the logical, not the mystical mind, which brought an end to the horrors of primitive life by the application of research. In ancient times, the advanced thinkers, and even the individuals to whom many now attribute divinity or enlightenment, were as limited in their day to day perspective as were ordinary people.
This alone shows that mystical experience is a separate sense from the intellect. The mystical sense, to have any useful function, must mark the point at which the brain begins to grasp the scale and complexity of reality, a point beyond which the intellect would be unable to cope with the huge amount of raw information, made available in a completely different form. The intellect is the essential tool for everyday life. It has made inroads in evey conceivable direction. But at a certain point in all these directions, it encounters a bewildering complexity which suddenly changes the whole nature of the investigation and slows progress to a crawl. For example, it was once assumed that matter was composed of small particles of a simple composition. As atoms were unravelled, it was discovered that more and more layers existed, some of which had incredible properties which made their activity incomprehensible: particles could become linked over vast distances, appear and disappear over tiny periods of time, be composed of even smaller particles, or be practically undetectable and only exist theoretically. The names “strange”, “beauty” and “charm” given to some of these particles reflect their intangible qualities. It is strange that these unfathomable layers should support a surface which, to us, seems comprised of such perfectly explicable causation that faith in the robustness of the intellect naturally grows from our experience of it – only to completely vanish when the enquiry seemed almost complete, leaving us stranded.
When the helical structure of DNA was discovered, Watson and Crick loudly, and prematurely, declared: “we have found the secret of life, and it is simple chemistry.” But as the investigation continued, the humble cell became a factory of stupendously complicated machinery acting with a speed and precision which beggars belief. The brain, another frontier of research, was once thought to be relatively simple, in that it was compartmentalised with various dedicated functions. But recent inroads show it to have layers of unprecendented complexity which confound even the sharpest minds. The Universe itself was thought at one stage to be a modestly sized collection of dead matter. But as the intellect probed its depths it made the incredible discovery that most of it must occupy other dimensions where our senses are clearly useless, and where even our laws of physics might not apply at all. Even the visible portion grows more elaborate and surprising as our telescopes peer into the distance, and into the past. The ecosystem and regulating mechanisms of our own planet have thrown up mysteries: strange, unearthly lifeforms discovered under miles of ocean living completely without sunlight, others said to survive using arsenic as part of their cellular mechanism. Even the behaviour of the ecosystem in front of us every day is cause for dissent and throws up surprises such as global warming.
Our understandings of complicated physics are explained to some extent by equations. But this is a second-hand way to perceive reality, just as William James declared a table of wavelengths to be superior in accuracy but a useless mechanism for interpreting a rainbow compared to the simple sense of sight which humanity possesses. Unarguably correct, these mechanical interpretations negate the experience itself. It seems humans are not designed to see things this way.
In the mystic, a different sense begins to operate: not to solve the everyday problems which face the intellect, but to deal with more fundamental issues of our own nature and existence and our relation to a collossal Universe. Full colour binocular vision is not detrimental to the sense of touch, nor does it replace it. The two senses are complementary, each with its own power and context. The intellect and the mystical vision are natural partners in the investigation of life, and each lends a useful dimension to the other; any mind containing both elements in any appreciable degree left a beneficial mark on history – whether in fields of politics, physics, art or even motor racing. This backdrop makes the mutual antagonism of modern times hard to understand.
The mystical sense is not the intellect, just as sight is not sound and inspiration is not memorisation. It was once supposed that drugs could give rise to mystical experience: the drawback was that the intellect was disorientated and reality rendered so incoherent by the experience, that in some cases the individual became a danger to his own self. A guitarist friend of mine once took acid, and got lost in the bathroom. He had to be prevented, by his sober friends, from jumping out of the window. So much for the wisdom and the enlightening effect of drugs.
In the mystical vision, the intellect is as active and as keenly aware of what is being witnessed as in any other situation. His experience becomes a source of fascination to others, and his words imbued with depth and power, even though the experience is so out of the ordinary and removed from the normal human experience of the world, that the mystic is often lost for words. The ancient Indian ascetics used the phrase, “neti, neti” which means “not this, not this” to describe what they witnessed. There is little doubt that the experience is overwhelming: Dr Richard Maurice Bucke, the Canadian doctor who lived in the late 19th century, felt that the few moments he experienced of “cosmic consciousness” was enough to overturn a lifetime of experience and open a new understanding of what the world really was, beyond its physical form. Gopi Krishna, the late Hindu mystic of Kashmir, said the the experience showed him the cosmos as if it were a huge screen, on which all of life was projected by consciousness, but which remained untouched by the drama unfolding on it. If Jesus had such an experience, it is not surprising that he felt he was face to face with God, even though such a thing would be impossible, given the completely different scales of consciousness that would be involved. Its status as the next natural evolutionary step for mankind would explain the intuitive enthusiasm the mass of mankind has for mstical experience, no matter how imperfectly the religious documents have been presented. The original experience still has the ring of truth and resonates inside a normal human mind.
There have to be solid reasons for the widespread appeal of spiritual and religious ideas, and if so, there must also be a biological root, and a biological benefit to a life led in harmony with scriptural teachings. What is needed is a renewal of interest, and a purging of ancient superstitions, from which all other fields of human endeavour have benefited in the last two or three hundred years. Religion has been the sole exception to this rule, and the falling from favour of ancient forms shows the degree of advancement of the human mind. The intellectual is still intrigued by the discussions between the religious and the atheist, as evidenced by the growing crowds which these debates still draw. One would scarcely expect to see such intelligent audiences attend a debate about whether the Earth is flat.
It should not be surprising that differing cultures interpreted the experience of cosmic consciousness in different ways. The brain is absolutely the determiner of how such an experience is interpreted. The sense of unity, of oneness with the cosmos is clear; the sense of ecstasy and joy at being part of an unbounded cosmic whole. This expansion of awareness is expressed in many ways – Jesus said, “in my Father’s house are many mansions,” and at another time, “I have other flocks ye know not of” - and the state is variously described as Nirvana, Paradise, Heaven or Samadhi. It is because of its significance to human evolution that this experience has remained so central to human thinking. As more advanced minds and intellects experience the same thing today and in the future, no doubt ever greater descriptions will be handed down to mankind. But the brain’s role is so central to the experience that all influences on it must be considered, and an evaluation as to whether the current emphasis on accumulating material goods helps or hinders the brain’s natural path of growth.
While fields such as medicine, meteorology, and astronomy have been transformed by progressive thinkers in the intervening centuries, the field of religion, to which people turn regarding the question of God, has remained static and failed to keep pace with the advancing intellectual capacity of mankind. This is partly due to the arrogance of religious leaders unwilling to share their power, who declared their creeds untouchable by logic and their prophets infallible, despite their clearly being human in many respects. It is also due to the disinterest of scientists in a subject apparently showing no possibility of experimental proof. And yet religion formed a core element of the human personality for thousands of years which logically makes it worthy of serious interest, and not the subject of scathing critiques such as The God Delusion. In fact, The God Delusion only points out flaws in the human institutions of religion, and never delves deeper into the far more central issue of mystical experience and the lives of the original founders, on whose words, remarkably, these global movements were based.
Dawkins does not mention that religious genius tended to appear around the age of 33, the time at which the brain and nervous system become mature. This fact alone indicates a biological and therefore partly genetic root, removing it immediately from the intangible, and placing it in the field of the demonstrable. Worse than this, Dawkins ignores completely the evolutionary aspect of religion: in all his ranting about religious failings, he never mentions that the major religions of the world appeared in a very short space of time, evolutionarily speaking, and remained intact for thousands of years, outlasting governments and entire civilisations. This is made more remarkable by the fact that these religions have not been updated or revised in thousands of years. Why? The question is never seriously considered.
What other aspects of the biological creature known as man have been retained throughout all this time, aside from hunger, thirst, and the reproductive urge? Whatever biological development allowed spiritual ideas to form in the human mind was a permanent change, for the trends continue to this day. Their absence can even be considered an abnormality. Yet in Dawkins’ book this intriguing state of affairs passes completely without comment, and like the origin of the Universe and the designs of all biological machinery, is attributed to – in his view – nothing whatsoever. How can such a hopeless, random philosophy lead to belief in cause and effect? Despite the elaborate explanations the entire Dawkinian outlook stands on nothing.
The lasting appeal of religion indicates there is something within it appealing not to logic, but a deeper and more long-lasting trait within the human mind. The very fact that religion has survived in varying forms over so many cultures and ages, and is even present in advanced minds such as Einstein’s, shows that even by Darwinian theory there must be sound biological reasons. Therefore, attempting to discredit and remove all thoughts of religion, all faith in the urgings of the scriptures, without first searching for even rudimentary evidence of a biological benefit somewhere either in the brain or the genetic condition of the offspring can only be called reckless. That all these factors could be overlooked by Dawkins, supposedly an impartial expert in evolution, can only indicate a blind spot of which he must be completely unaware.
If we propose the idea of an omnipotent God, it could not be possible for any event to take place of which God is not aware, or could not have foreseen, or for which no precautionary device was in place from the start. The first indicator to the mind of a God must be the nature of the Universe itself.
There are estimated to be 10 to the power 24 stars in the Universe: that is, 10 followed by 24 zeroes. This fantastical number – a conservative guess – may even be three times too low due to recent ideas about brown dwarf stars. But, if each star was a modest grain of sand, 1mm across, there would be enough sand to cover this entire planet Earth – oceans, continents and poles – to a depth of one metre. There would be enough sand left over to cover a further sixteen planet Earths to the same depth.
If there is no reason to believe our solar system is exceptional in any way, circling most of these stars will be planets, and in most such systems there will be life forms of some kind. Since the Universe has been in existence for 14 billion years, and our Earth less than a third of that, many forms of life might be significantly more advanced than ours. On Earth we see life forms coping with extreme heat, extreme cold, immense undersea pressures, navigating the planet, building complex structures (as in the case of bees, ants or termites), exhibiting highly complex biological machinery which enables them to walk upside down on glass ceilings, spray acid, release bursts of undersea light, create intricate, ingeniously designed webs, see in the dark, change colour, detect microscopic amounts of stimulus, and so on. Some can even change gender depending on the prevailing balance of males and females. What exactly is orchestrating such behaviour, if the intelligence required for these feats is not built somehow into the wiring of these tiny brains?
If our star were a grain of sand in our hand, the next nearest star would be another grain of sand six and a half kilometres away. In our galaxy alone, there are perhaps 100 billion stars (a carpet of sand 1m deep, covering a floor ten metres wide and ten meters long – the footprint of a small house) each around the same distance apart. The total size and scale is impossible to grasp, but it’s well worth a try:
So much for distance: but as far as time goes, if the history of Earth was represented by the height of the Empire State Building, the period in which man has existed more or less in the form he is now would be represented not by the height of the uppermost story, or even the thickness of its ceiling, but the thickness of the layer of paint on the roof. Such is the incredibly modest nature of our era as a self-aware species circling around an unremarkable star. Unless unable to form a sensible idea about the age and size of the Universe, even Richard Dawkins can never assume humanity has ascended to the highest level attainable. In fact it would be more realistic to assume we are probably only one rung above the animal, the very first rung of intelligent life on what might be from our perspective an almost infinitely high ladder, whose uppermost rungs disappear completely from sight. How then can he be certain about the state of the rest of the Universe, and the intelligence of the life forms it may hold? To express such certainty at this primitive stage seems laughable.
Apart from distance and time, the Universe we are aware of represents at most ten percent of the matter which we know exists from observing the gravitational behaviour of galaxies. So even apart from this space and time, already impossible to grasp, we must consider other dimensions comprised of some mysterious arrangements of matter not detectable by our senses, not understood by us, and possibly containing inhabitants perfectly adapted to the dimension in which they live – and as there is no reason to suppose our galaxy is so much different than all the others – not millions of light years away, but all around us.
We feel reasonably sure we can detect most of what goes on, at least in our own dimension. But even this is not true. As Richard Hammond pointed out in the television show Invisible Worlds, if the visible spectrum of light were represented by a single octave on a piano keyboard in front of us, and if the full spectrum of electromagnetic waves, of which light is one form, were represented by the full keyboard, the piano would need to stretch all the way to the sun, 93 million miles distant. Some of this activity can be detected by our instruments, but almost all of it is invisible to us. Even much of the matter in our dimension eludes us: at this moment, half a million neutrinos are passing through every square inch of your body: these particles are so small that they can pass through the entire planet without touching anything.
And what exactly is the nature of the mass of which we can detect, and are constructed? We have no real idea. At its root, this matter is another form of energy. When examined closely, its solidity disappears, and the laws of physics on our level of existence no longer apply. In fact, if the quarks and gluons which form the protons in each atom were to be visible as the tiniest speck, the atom itself would need to be the size of this planet. The sheer scale and complexity are impossible to imagine successfully, no matter which direction we turn.
The intellect is often pointed to with confidence as the arbiter of what is real and what is not; Dawkins claims that, unlike him, the religious do not use this resource nearly enough. But the human intellect is actually so restricted in scope, that if presented with a screen on which moving dots slowly appear and then disappear, it can accurately count up to the point at which seven or eight are displayed. Once this number increases to nine or ten, the intellect loses track completely.
But what about the biology of the cells comprising our own bodies, the complexities of which large numbers of the greatest intellects on Earth have been devoted to unravelling for more than half a century? At the moment, the motive power behind the 400 trillion cells in our body is a total mystery to us. Nobody can decide how the computational requirements of the DNA coding and duplication system could possibly have begun. Thinkers such as Dawkins write continually about random mutations and witless forces being the only source of this biological machinery, and yet consciousness, which is relegated by the materialists to the least important level in the Universe, is the single element required to determine everything else, and to form the very same theories with which the materialists undermine its own importance.
All we know for sure is that six feet of a molecule carrying a stupendous quantity of information is contained in an area too small to be visible to the naked eye, and somehow took shape during the tiniest sliver of time, on a Universal scale. All this information, the machinery to assemble and disassemble it, and the fuel which enables these machines to run exists inside every cell and works without any interference from man’s intellect. And all, according to Dawkins, happened by accident, was improved by accident, and survived only because of the mating habits of the creatures formed on another level of existence altogether, billions of times bigger, all totally unaware of, and helpless to affect, the activity of these micro-machines.
If the cell were the size of a man, the DNA would stretch 200 kilometres, all carefully coiled, re-coiled, and coiled again in a bewildering set of tightly co-ordinated procedures hard to grasp. A full unravelling of 200 km of material would be so well organised that a full copy could be made within hours in a strictly limited space by co-ordinated sets of machines barely 2mm across, spinning at 10,000 rpm untwisting, decoding, copying, error checking, re-building and re-connecting this astounding chain of information in utterly perfect synchronisation. And elsewhere inside this limited space at least 100,000 tiny creatures with “motor protein” feet walk along specially constructed pathways to deliver bags of assembled protein molecules – devices so complex that they defy understanding, and which, if a single atom is incorrectly placed, ruin its ability to function altogether. The contents of these machines are released at the cell wall, and a hidden mechanism checks each one before releasing them into the body’s transport system. Any incorrectly assembled components are stamped as failures, and sent back to the place of creation, where they are disassembled. By what force? By what information? We have no idea. This is no random process: it shows a staggering complexity. No matter which time-honoured phrase we use:
“..the jury is still out as to how this process functions..”
“..the exact nature of these processes is a hotly debated area at present..”
“..more research is needed to fully understand the exact mechanism..”
…we must admit that, at present, nobody grasps the complexity of this atomic factory, or can fathom how such a world could grow and maintain itself inside our own bodies, without any meddling from man.
All of these devices use a fuel so extraordinarily efficient that after releasing its energy in the various motors and assembly systems, it breaks down into its component parts to be re-assembled by special motors, with zero wastage. There is perhaps 8 grams of this fuel in the human body, but such is the cell’s reliance on it that the entire body weight of a human being is turned over in this cellular fuel each and every day. The processes of a single cell are currently beyond the wildest stretch of the imagination in co-ordination and complexity, and it is openly admitted that no human mind anywhere on Earth completely grasps its astounding behaviour.
And what of consciousness itself? The very thing which Dawkins is certain can never exist apart from the biological machinery we are familiar with? At present, we are unable to detect consciousness, even aided with all our technology. We cannot even define it in biological terms. It is a complete mystery. Even if we were surrounded by it from birth to death, on every side, we would be completely unaware of it. We have no idea how it forms in the womb, or how the brain comes to arrive, intact and functioning at birth, without any help from us apart from leaving it alone. How exactly can consciousness, if it has no material quality, ever be joined to the physical atoms of which the body and brain are comprised? It would be far more realistic to assume that it might be an element itself, which can be entangled with matter in some way. Otherwise, it could never form part of a device made of atoms. But because this introduces a host of further questions, it is never considered a valid proposal.
If consciousness is merely an illusion formed by dead matter, as the materialists claim, without any underlying and consistent nature of its own, how can we rely on it to navigate this bewildering Universe, and search for truth in equations and conceptual models which need to be superior in quality to the dead matter which they propose to describe?
Composed of an atomic world which we do not understand, a biology which we can’t fully unravel, an origin even Francis Crick admits is a very long way from being explained; limited to four dimensions in a Universe which must have dozens, in an evolutionary state barely one step above the animal, and with senses perceiving only the barest fraction of the Universe and above all, using a consciousness we understand nothing about, and governed by an intellect which can cope with barely a handful of simultaneous events, how can a human being frame even the very faintest idea of the intelligence and perception required by a God – to retain a simultaneous awareness of every part of this vast, bewildering, endless and multi-dimensional Cosmos?
The sensory apparatus, intellect and present state of knowledge of Richard Dawkins do not exceed mankind’s in any fundamental way, in that they are insufficient to form even the faintest approximate idea of what he is so certain about. In fact, his completely atheistic mind represents an exception from the norm, when the entire human race is taken into account. It is impossible to take such an arrogance seriously: it would be wiser to keep an open mind, and discard the idea of a laboratory proof which can only measure the tiniest, almost negligible sliver of reality. The intellect and physical senses simply do not work on a Universal scale. The eyes, our most precious sensory tool, are too meagre to even withstand the light of a modest star; they would be struck blind even from a distance of tens of millions of miles.
The forms of religion at least frame our conscious existence inside the perspective of a much wider one; imperfect and ancient though these forms may be at present, they represent a much more probable reality. Their long-lasting presence throughout all the ages which history records shows there is something fundamental within the normal human mind which gravitates to the idea of a greater and more powerful consciousness than our own. The scale, complexity and age of the universe, the spiritual aspect of all religions, the concept of the soul, and the experiences of mystics all point to the same conclusion. Whatever form this consciousness takes, though neccessarily far beyond ours in power and range at present, our concepts of it will continue to grow in proportion to the capacity of the human mind. At present, humanity might only faintly resemble it, yet is also formed from it, just as sunlight does not belong to the room which it illuminates, but to the infinitely more intense splendour of a sun millions of miles away: above scorn, above blindness, indifferent to mockery, and unharmed by all the traumas and conflict we create for ourselves on Earth.