Not the internet, the Wild Wild West. Yesterday I just managed to introduce the subject and I’m not sure it merits such a build-up. Atheists on the warpath speak of science as if it offers solid, indisputable truths, and they see their mission in bringing these truths to us, the obtuse ones.
It works great with simple things like flat Earth or evolution, I mean who can deny, by looking at historical evidence, that various species appeared at different times, gradually becoming more and more complex.
We will deny it but that’s because we don’t value historical evidence very much, but even among us there’s a considerable doubt whether there was no evolution at all. Śrīla Prabhupāda once emphatically said that Lord Brahmā created all species at once, there’s no evolution. Others propose that Viṣṇu’s incarnations as fish, tortoise, boar, dwarf etc are examples of evolution, that He introduced life forms into the universe no one had known before.
I don’t know how to reconcile these ideas. Lord Brahmā might have created all the species at once – if we look at it from our point in history. The beginning of Lord Brahmā’s life is so far away and we had an untold number of creation/destruction cycles since then. Next time the Earth gets destroyed or flooded it will have to be repopulated and to scientists it will look like evolution, but not to Lord Brahmā himself because he doesn’t have to create all these species again. In our small time frame these species are always there, in a sense that design is always there, they are just waiting to be rebuilt.
Anyway, evolution as a gradual appearance/manifestation of species is accepted, even by us when we engage in debates with non-devotees on their own turf. It’s just too big of a challenge to take up in most of the cases and we’d rather focus on something smaller and more interesting at that particular moment.
The problem for atheist we can pick on, however, is when they talk about something far less certain, something discussed by those who want to push science forward, and it’s a jungle out there.
Atheists talk about emergence of life from dead matter as a sure thing, for example, but actual science on this is very controversial.
At this point wikipedia lists about a dozen theories of abiogenesis, as it’s called. Most of them contradict the others and there’s no agreement between scientists there. New theories are being added all the time and I’m not sure they all make it wikipedia.
Stanley Miller, the scientist who first zapped electricity through “primordial soup” and discovered that the process can produce complex molecules needed for life, is dismissive of all the alternatives. He did his experiment more than sixty years ago and he thought that in twenty five years scientists would surely know how life began. We are thirty five years past that, Miller himself is dead, and his theory is almost hopeless – or there wouldn’t be so many alternatives to it.
Atheists are also absolutely sure of evolutionary biology and they relentlessly promote what is known as neo-Darwinism (“neo” to add genes to original Darwin’s theory). This neo-Darwinism, however, emerged more than half a century ago and has been challenged many times since. Science moved past that already, or rather individual scientists who gradually gather more and more following. Their theories might not be accepted by neo-Darwinist orthodoxy but they are exciting enough to attract more and more people to trying them out.
One such theory is Gaia. Actually, it’s not a single theory but a unifying concept. There are many theories with many names under this umbrella, sometimes a small or capital “t” in Gaia theory can make all the difference – these people are very sensitive to being mislabeled.
Gaia is a Greek goddess of the Earth, which is not a good name if you want to convince atheists, and the idea is that life on earth lives in constant interaction with physical environment, which is bloody obvious but is an anathema to Darwinists who insist only on natural selection as a driver for evolution. They don’t want to talk about living beings affecting the environment which, in turn, should direct evolutionary process, which would become conscious rather than natural.
Another theory in this vein is neo-Lamarckism. Lamarck was a French scientist who preceded Darwin and who argued that giraffes got long necks because they were stretching them for a long time to reach the topmost leaves on the trees. Lamarckism was solidly rejected but now it’s making a comeback, ever since scientists discovered a mechanism for living beings to manipulate their genes. Not genetic makeup per se but which genes get activated, which leads to higher probability of mutations (as a tribute to Darwin).
This mechanism is a no-brainer now, it exists, they are only filling in the details, as Richard Dawkins love to say about Darwinism itself. It forms the basis for Chopra’s claim of consciousness driven evolution in the debate with Dawkins I wrote about nearly a month ago.
Not all of the new theories are anti-Darwinian, though. In fact, all of them must pay tribute to Darwin or else they’ll get bundled with creationism and their authors will never be able to publish or get a job again. Stephen Gould, for example, proposed a theory of punctuated equilibrium back in the seventies where he argued against Darwinian gradual process of speciation. Originally, he declared that his theory was an alternative to Darwin’s but then he got dragged into testifying in court by creationists who wanted to prove that Darwinism is just one of the many theories and there are accepted alternatives. Gould couldn’t possibly grant them victory and so he changed his label from “alternative” to “complementary” to Darwin’s.
The fact of the matter is, however, that Darwinism does not answer lots of questions to everyone’s satisfaction and science is ready to move past it, complement it, improve it – whatever they want to call it. That’s where frontiers of science nowadays are, and while they are all post-Darwin in some sense, they can’t agree with each other on anything.
Gaia is still viewed by many as pseudoscience but adherents of some saner versions of it are adamant that it’s an unfair characterization. A lot of what they say makes total sense, much of it is bloody obvious, as I said, and Gaia is very strong politically in environmental drive against global warming.
One argument against Gaia’s theory that the Earth is a living organism itself is that living organisms reproduce while the Earth doesn’t. Fine, but then there’s panspermia theory of origin of life which postulate that life could have been brought to Earth from outer space, which means that the Earth IS somebody’s offspring, and it will probably eject some micro-organisms capable of starting life elsewhere in the universe itself.
And it so happens that one proponent of this panspermia theory is Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins fellow popularizer of science. Isn’t it ironic how one of them can completely undermine the other? Dawkins insist that Darwinism is universal, that it works on all other planets just the same, but Gaia theory convincingly argues that natural selection is an incomplete explanation of how evolution happens even down here, and panspermia tells us that we have to look for original evolution and its mechanisms elsewhere in the universe, so Dawkins is left with no leg to stand on.
Perhaps biggest enemies of atheists are not us but their fellow scientists who constantly push frontiers of science farther and farther away. Atheists hope that scientific advancement would validate their mechanistic view of the world but it just doesn’t happen, it rather goes in the opposite direction, at least for now. Instead of physics controlling biology it’s biology that controls physics nowadays. Consciousness shapes matter and works in symbiosis with it – Gaia, and it increasingly doesn’t look like consciousness is a property of matter as atheists hoped to prove. And there’s no scientific consensus on anything new.
Perhaps we should go jujitsu on atheism and let them invest their energy into their own ruin – make them argue science until science proves that they are wrong, and leave us alone.