It has been said that science and religion can never collaborate because science deals only with the physical world, whereas the soul, and the point at which it intersects the conscious personality, i.e. the spiritual sense, are too arbitrarily defined to be measured in the laboratory.
To make matters worse, the materialists, championed by outspoken critics of religion such as Richard Dawkins, put all biological development down to random mutations and declare the universe a blind and aimless place in which consciousness is a meaningless byproduct. But the cellular processes within the human body reproduce perfectly hundreds of trillions of times from the starting point as a single cell, and manufacture and error check trillions of complicated proteins and assembly devices over the course of a lifetime.
So, what we witness every day, what passes without comment in all living beings (which should be subject to the same physical tendencies as all such processes in the past) shows no sign of random wanderings at all, in fact, quite the reverse: the error checking procedures are so sophisticated that a tiny manufacturing error of a single wrongly placed amino acid can be detected in a device such as connectin which has 26,9216 precisely placed amino acid components, the entire assembly sent back, stamped for disassembly, and the parts recycled. How such an elaborate error detection system, filled with safeguards and protective devices, a system needed to maintain all biological life can itself arise from mistakes, faults, errors and other disasters – a single one of which can bring an intact human being to its knees in agony – seems impossible to imagine.
Much of atheism stems from an understandable enthusiasm to do away with seemingly archaic superstitions, but in haste, expresses some astonishing ignorance: a typical claim in Dawkins’ lectures, echoed even by thinkers such as Christopher Hitchens (perhaps due to the tendency of intellectuals to rely on the accuracy of other specialists) is that the backwards facing retina found in mammals is a poor design, and therefore evidence of random evolution.
As is shown in The Willing Pupil, this claim is completely incorrect: the more intuitively obvious forward-facing arrangement would be hopelssly inadequate in any long-lived organism exposed to sunlight. Another claim is that a few billion years is adequate to develop biological machinery using only random variations: it is hard to believe anyone with any knowledge of mathematics can defend this idea, as is shown in To Be, or Not To Be.
The standard scientific doctrine, only now being slowly and laboriously overturned – despite the resistance of the old guard – is that DNA wanders randomly to such an extent that the entire collection working faultlessly in every life form on Earth has arrived only by trial and error. In reality there are DNA systems which have existed unchanged – to judge from the outer forms which they support and reproduce – for hundreds of millions of years, completly refuting the “random wandering gene” theory.
Natural selection itself has already been discredited as a shaping force, by the scientific establishment: studies of gene sweeps published in Scientific American (October 2010) show it has only acted in cases where an envrionmental pressure remained constant for tens of thousands of years, an exceptionally rare occurrence. The massive store of apparently unused DNA components in every cell, which Richard Dawkins, incredibly, once dismissed as “99% junk”, now appears to hold multiple layers of subtle logic which are only beginning to be unravelled, with serious and long-lasting implications.
As far as religion goes, like all other properties of the mind, the spiritual urge must depend on the brain, and therefore to some extent on genetics. Science is presently attempting to unravel both of these complex systems. The very reason one person feels suited to become a materialist while another becomes a devotee must have a corresponding origin somewhere in biology. The evidence of genius, and also of sociopaths, shows differences in the brain which can only have developed in the womb. In the case of sociopaths, they remain dead to morality and according to specialists, are unresponsive to therapy of any kind. In fact, group therapy can often exacerbate the problem, as sociopaths are able to evaluate the weaknesses of other individuals, and make use of this knowledge to later take advantage. As for genius, the mechanisms are not understood, and nor is it understood why a person of backwards intellect cannot be raised to the level of a normal person, or why a normal man cannot be raised to the level of a genius. The brain remains a sealed compartment, certainly as far as its genetic designs are concerned.
Combative atheism is of course sometimes an excuse for amoral behaviour, or a game of one-upmanship for the insecure. But it is also a natural movement with the very useful purpose of forcing religious forms to account for themselves intellectually. It is no use resorting to Divine support or falling back on faith in ancient scriptures. What is needed is evidence satisfying one who is understandably dismayed that the spiritual lore of mankind relies so frequenty on trust of a very human source: something experience of people tends, if anything, to warn against. There are many sincere atheists who are not insulting about religion but still require explanations: they would accept a spiritual dimension to evolution if it were proved to their satisfaction. For this the superstition or arrogance of the fundamentalist is a hindrance. This is the challenge facing the religious community as a whole, and it is only thanks to the combative atheist – with his extended pallete of colourful insults and witty barbs always to hand – that this phase is now underway.
Despite advances in the subtlety of our instruments, consciousness is at present a mystery. There is only one science of haematology and one of opthamology due to the predictable way these systems function in all members of the race: variations or weaknesses are subject to the same laws, whether of genetics, nutrition, infection, exercise and so on. But the brain is a different case, as so little is known about it that there are literally hundreds of different types of psychology attempting to define its behaviour and deal with its disorders. Each month new scientific findings are published regarding the electrical or chemical behaviour of small components of it but these only add complexity to an already confusing picture, which can never be called an achievement. As a result, nobody is yet competent to analyse such a hugely complex device, which maintains itself without any help from man and, more often, in spite of his interference.
Genius and inspiration are two mysterious functions of the brain indispensible to society’s progress, and yet aside from admitting there must be a genetic origin of some sort, nothing else is known about why the brain should function in some individuals in such an extraordinary way. One writer for Scientific American, trying to shoehorn the observed qualities into a system based on random mutations, even proposed that depression and mental illness were essential tools for genius. Probably in the same way that broken legs are an absolute boon to skiers! The level of confusion is so profound that almost anything passes for wisdom, and in such an environment, it is hardly surprising if the mental deterioration visible in advanced countries is attributed more to bad luck than anything else.
The same confusion also covers the spiritual sense, and therefore religious genius. If we take the brain of a materialist or a devout believer, scientists believe we will find a more or less identical organ, since religion is considered to be simply a conscious choice like many others made in our lifetime. Therefore, in the view of science, the phenomenon of mystical experience where an individual feels they are in contact with a higher intelligence is simply a delusion or wish fulfillment. But as the spiritual sense has accompanied mankind throughout all its history, even Darwinian reasoning supports a sound biological reason behind it. There is therefore no doubt that religion is somehow based on the brain, whose evolution explains the evolving forms of religion. The claim that an absence of religion represents the next step in evolution cannot be correct, as the sudden disappearance of any aspect of the personality present in every society and age, would be more a cause for alarm than anything else.
The idea that religion is tantamount to a scientific illiteracy which the advent of science will eliminate contradicts science’s own claim to be purely a material study on which religion has no bearing. It would therefore be much more logical to view them as two separate, but fundamentally important qualities of the human mind. The argument that religion holds back society is also incorrect, since observation shows that religiosity and genius have a binary nature: peak activity of one is invariably accompanied by the sudden and often unexpected appearance of the other.
In fact, the longest lasting changes to society have been made by religious genius, whereas the shortest lasting and most disastrous have been made by the intellect acting under the banners of oil, land, slavery, money or power. A repressive government acting in a psychopathic way and using religion as a front the way that gangsters might gather in the back of an innocuous restaurant is not a condemnation of religion – or of Italian cuisine – but evidence of the warping effect of money and power, which is witnessed in every sphere of human activity.
Communist Russia, dictators, the world wars, and the disasters of nuclear weapons, the large scale plundering of the planet for natural resources, with devastating results for Nature’s carefully balanced environment, and countries armed to the teeth and Hell-bent on superiority are the result of science and intellect serving the aggressive animal traits and magnifying the damage caused. None of this is in accord with the spiritual scriptures, which urge one to live simply and treat thy neighbour as thyself, a hint from Nature to participate consciously in the gradual evolution away from the instinctive animal traits of the world we emerged from in ages past.
For billions of peaceful inhabitants of the Earth, religion remains a force which is, for some, even more important than life itself. The words of Shankaracharya, Guru Nanak, Moses, Buddha, Christ and Mohammed hold a lasting fascination for the human mind. The scientist attributes this appeal to mass hysteria, religious dictatorship, or in Dawkins’ view, some form of God delusion; in a similar way, before the underlying laws of medical knowledge were known, certain conditions of the body were attributed to imaginary causes, later shown to be the product of the ill-informed, or of charlatans mainly concerned with peddling their wares.
The idea that religion was forced on people by repressive governments is also incorrect, since the religions outlasted those same governments by thousands of years. The idea that religion can be introduced or eliminated by a ruling party is even more inaccurate, since after Communist Russia fell, the outlawed Christianity immediately sprang back into life, despite being forbidden for three or four generations.
There is clear evidence of religion’s part in evolution. For example, the spiritual geniuses of all the major religions emerged within a very short period, evolutionarily speaking, of around 1500 years, indicating that the brain must have reached and preserved some critical point around that level of mankind’s biological evolution. If the brain and nervous system are involved, then the same factors which propel different minds towards inventions, Nobel prizes and literary achievements must also be at work in the case of spiritual genius.
Supporting this idea is the fact that the spiritual experiences of the founders on whose concepts these global religions were later based were achieved at around 33 years of age. We know this is to be the age at which the brain and nervous system achieve maximum efficiency, indicating that spiritual illumination must work in tandem with some still untraced function of this same system. Every religion instinctively places a significance on the brain, depicting as sacred the area around the crown of the head: the halo, the thousand petalled lotus, the seventh “chakra”, the skull cap, the turban and also the forehead marking of the Hindu.
It is to explore the phenomena of spirituality and genius, and their opposites, materialism and insanity, in the context of human consciousness and the world we find ourselves in, that this blog is devoted. I hope that avenues can be found for research into the roots and validity of a phenomenon which despite upheavals and the predictable corruptions of human institutions, has always been an inseparable partner in the development of the human mind, and preserves the lasting spiritual treasures of the race.