In the fall of 2006, mind-body and consciousness expert and author Deepak Chopra, M.D. debated the existence of God with atheist author Richard Dawkins on British television. In this six-part series, Chopra takes on Dawkins in even more detail, specifically addressing each major God-related claim by Dawkins, whose books include "The God Delusion," "The Selfish Gene," and "Unweaving the Rainbow." -- Ed.
That Dawkins is serving as point man for a broad sense of outrage among scientists who want religion to stay out of the laboratory is admirable. But that is a social issue. The deeper issue is whether God has anything to offer to science. Dawkins emphatically thinks there is no practical use for God, the soul, transcendence, or any other so-called spiritual concept in his field, which is evolutionary biology. This brings us to another main point.
6. The evolution of life can be explained completely without intruding (introducing?) the notion of an intelligent designer.
This point would seem to be a slam dunk, since Darwin's theory--and those that have sprung from it--is purely physical. Evolution proceeds, according to Darwin, through environmental stresses that put pressure on a species to survive. A sudden change in climate, the appearance of new predators, a drastic drop in the water supply are all examples of such stresses. Some creatures will adapt better than others. This is measured by whether a population of animals increases or decreases. Thus adaptation comes down to reproduction. If an animal exhibits changes that increase its chance of passing those changes on to its offspring, evolution moves forward. If, however, a mutation occurs that lowers the chance for reproduction, obviously it can't be passed on, and as a result other species survive in the endless competition for food, territory, and mating rights.
This whole scheme, which has been validated thousands of times over, excludes God. Random mutations have nothing to do with a designer. The rise and fall of species shows no intelligent plan. Even the idea of progress is over simplified. Evolution doesn't automatically make a species bigger, stronger, more intelligent, or more beautiful. Blue-green algae, for example, is one of the most primitive forms of life, yet it fits its niche in the environment perfectly well today, just as it has for billions of years. The fact that an orchid seems more beautiful to our eyes and a redwood tree more majestic doesn't mean God created that beauty and majesty. Or that nature intended those qualities in any way.
Yet the triumph of materialism in explaining the formation of life is grossly flawed. Dawkins realizes that there are enormous gaps in evolutionary theory, but he keeps assuring us that these will be filled in over time. Genetics, like evolution itself, proceeds by increments, and we mustn't leap to embrace an intelligent designer just because so many things around us seem, well, intelligently designed.
The fact that the world appears to be so perfectly knit, so stunningly precise down to the millionths of a degree, so beautiful, and in the end so meaningful to anyone who can appreciate these qualities, is a problem for materialists. For centuries one of the strongest proofs of God has been the inference that nothing less than a supreme being could have created life. Unfortunately for Dawkins, refuting this claim isn't nearly as easy as he thinks.
To begin with, he tries to claim probability for his side, saying that the odds against a Creator God are too slim to be credible, whereas the odds for Darwin's theory exist right before our eyes. Could it really be true that blue-green algae evolved, one tiny step at a time, until every single tree, flower, fern, and grass grew from it (not to mention every animal)? The odds seem impossibly small, but the fossil record proves that they came true.
God, on the other hand, is merely inferred. He's an invisible supposition, and who needs one when we have fossils? The flaw here is subtle, for Dawkins is imagining God in advance and then claiming that what he imagines has little chance of existing. That's perfectly true, but why should God be what Dawkins imagines--a superhuman Creator making life the way a watchmaker makes a watch? Let's say God is closer to being a field of consciousness that pervades the universe. Let's say that this field keeps creating new forms within itself. These forms swirl and mix with each other, finding more combinations and complexities as time unfolds. Such a God couldn't be imagined because a field is infinite, and there's nowhere it isn't. Thus trying to talk about God is like a fish trying to talk about wetness. A fish is immersed in wetness; it has nothing to compare water to, and the same is true of consciousness. We are conscious and intelligent, and it does no good to talk about the probability of not being conscious and intelligent.
We are in God as a fish is in water. Dawkins doesn't take this argument seriously (he imagines that he can entirely dismiss geniuses on the order of Plato, Socrates, Hegel, Kant, Newton, and Einstein simply because they aren't up on the current issue of Scientific American, as he is). In the past, thinkers saw intelligence and consciousness all around them, and they set out to explain their source, which some called God. It's not necessary to use such a word. But it is necessary to find the source.
Dawkins, along with other arch materialists, dismiss such a search. Are information fields real, as some theorists believe? Such a field might preserve information the way energy fields preserve energy; in fact, the entire universe may be based upon the evolution of information. (there's not the slightest doubt that the universe has an invisible source outside space and time.) A field that can create something new and then remember it would explain the persistence of incredibly fragile molecules like DNA, which by any odds should have disintegrated long ago under the pressure of entropy, not to mention the vicissitudes of heat, wind, sunlight, radiation, and random mistakes through mutation.
Dawkins falls prey, not to the delusion of God, but to the delusion of an all-mighty chance acting mindlessly through matter. He cannot admit the possibility of an ordering force in Nature. Therefore, he has no ability to discover the precursors of the human mind, which is ultimately the greatest triumph of evolutionary biology, not DNA. Until we have a credible explanation for mind, it's pointless to argue about God as if we understand what's at stake. Religion and science are both operating with incomplete concepts.
The entire universe is experienced only through consciousness, and even though consciousness is invisible and non-material, it's the elephant in the room so far as evolutionary theory is concerned. This is a huge topic, of course. It's difficult threading one's way through the battlefield, with fundamentalists firing smoke on one side and skeptics arrogantly defending the scientific status quo on the other, but earth-shaking issues are at stake. When we understand both intelligence and design, a quantum leap in evolutionary theory will be possible.
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