Tuesday, March 24, 2009


The murder of God by proving his non-existence has long been a major sport for human beings. The fact that we are still at it thousands of years after its first recorded exponents started having their fun suggests two things:

1     1)  proving this negative is very important to many people,

2     2) we’re very bad at it, because despite heroic efforts we’re still at it.

Of course, the god in question, i.e. the god who has been the object of murderous intention, has not always been the same god despite his bearing the same name (linguistic differences can be ignored for the moment). He’s been changing constantly. One could almost say that he’s been adapting! The assassins of various gods, however, became more organised with the emergence of the monotheistic God (who will henceforth be dignified with his capital letters) and very much more organised again, once the monotheistic God looked like supplanting all others.

The killing of God is nowadays big business and there are many organisations spending large quantities of cash on their various contracts with various hit-people. But it remains obvious to all that the would-be victim of these attacks by hired assassins is looking healthier than ever and seems not only to survive every attempt on his life, but to emerge transformed and more robust after each attack.

The stock weapons in the assassins’ arsenal have for many years been these:

1) alleged scientific evidence that God’s existence is impossible since there is no room for Him in the universe, except in the gaps in our knowledge and we are busily filling these; 

2) the moral case that His existence is incompatible with the horror that is prevalent in the biosphere and in human affairs; 

3)various forms of entertaining ridicule involving witty apercus, or just plain abuse derived from 1 and 2

But many people have tired somewhat of the weary old materialistic-deterministic-mechanistic theories that supposedly leave no room for the action of a God nor yet for a ghost in the machine; and the assassins have begun to develop new lines of attack. The latest in these are: 

1) the theory that the human God-obsession is all down to a little gizmo in the brain that tricks us into thinking that we need Him, or that He is close to us, or whatever obsession it is that keeps us interested in Him (just like the little gizmo that tricks us into thinking that objects of sexual desire are intrinsically desirable). 

2) the theory that the almost miraculous and protean creativity of the biosphere may look as if it is the work of a Creator, but actually, it’s just the result of a mathematical quirk of the universe – one more! – definable in Boolean logic, that makes the types of order we see in the biosphere inevitable as emergent complexity.

But one has to ask this question: when the God-haters demonstrate their thesis, will that stop the God-lovers? Will the human race be any better off if we prove that God is just an excited neural network and that life is a mathematical inevitability? Will the lovers of God not simply retort that the gizmo in the brain and the maths are down to God anyway?

Why can we not see that the theist-atheist conflict is just another of nature’s dualities? This would be a useful thing to notice because other opposites in nature’s dualities have these features:

1) natural opposites are not in symmetrical opposition, 

2) these opposites attract.

The theists are indulging in poetry because poetry can be ultimately more satisfying than many other things, sex and nutrition included (that also arise from other little brain gizmos). The atheists, by contrast are irritated at the theists’ sissy pleasures and want to spoil them like mischievous little boys everywhere. The atheists think that the theists are into explanations; but they are not. They don’t care for them. Explanations are means of control and work with respect to things close at hand. The atheists think that because explanations work on things close at hand, they work on everything. In this, they are like the individual who, seeing that he can climb trees with a ladder, imagines that he can get to the moon with a very long one. Or they are like the bloke who, on being met searching for his keys under a street light and asked just where he dropped them, replied, “over there, but I can’t see anything in the dark.”

But suppose that one day the atheists suddenly get what they want and the theists say, “O.K, the game’s up; God doesn’t exist; He’s just an excited neural circuit!” What will they do then? They'll suddenly be out of a job. They’ll have to then prove that belief in the rational or mathematical comprehensibility of the universe is also born from a little brain-gizmo, for this belief is vulnerable to the same arguments.

But hey, this is to take the whole game too seriously! Why can we not simply see that the atheist-theist debate is part of the universal dialectic in human culture and that it is this dialectic that maintains the energic potential that keeps the whole thing going? It is an exciting clash of language-games, to use Wittgenstein’s phrase. The atheist-theist debate is just one aspect of the complete polarisation of human affairs without which there would be no difference in potential and no gradient down which our energies can flow.

Among the sillier beliefs around today is the one that holds that the debate can be resolved one way or the other. Whichever way it were resolved it would give us dogmatic bigots and totalitarians of the mind who are always of the same ilk, be they religious, scientific, political or whatever. Fortunately it has about as much chance of being resolved as a magnet has of resolving its internal conflict.

And what of agnostics? Are they really only sitting on the fence? Or could it be that some of them at least know something that those who claim definitive knowledge don’t?

Sunday, March 15, 2009



Friday, March 13, 2009


Human knowledge is not what we think it is. We think of it as ‘truth’, but it is largely a fourfold confusion: abstract with concrete and general with particular.

The ego thrives on repetition and longs to be master of it, particularly of the repetition of pleasures. It searches tirelessly for the ‘universal’ and the ‘necessary’, since it believes that these two are features of the universe and not merely features of discourse. It believes implicitly in universality and necessity, because it can only conceive of grasping and then controlling what repeats itself predictably. The ego longs to be complete master of its own destiny, to be in a position to eliminate its pains and guarantee its pleasures forever.

The ego fancies that it is experiencing reality apart from itself, passively and as a pure observer devoid of properties of its own. This is of course a serious mistake because the ego constructs its experience as much as it receives it. Of course, there are events that one can distinguish from the ego. But for the ego, all events without exception are absolutely distinct from it; and this is not the case. The ego is part of the interconnected complex of events that we call ‘the universe’ and as such under their continuous influence. For the ego, events (the ‘non-me’) are ‘outside’ and it (the ‘me’) is ‘inside’ watching them. This is not so. The events are to a considerable extent shaped by interpretations; and the interpretations are constructions erected by the ego in order to maintain a certain mode of existence. Knowledge is not the exclusive possession of the ego, it is a feature of every level of the universe; but, to borrow an idea from Bohm, it is general and concrete: it is information. The electron is accompanied by a wave of potential that carries information about every system with which it interacts and ultimately about the universe as a whole. And more complex entities likewise operate according to complex waves of information concerning the systems of which they are parts and ultimately about the whole. Bohm calls this information ‘concrete general knowledge’. Human beings, too, are potentially so governed. ‘Potentially’, because they have the ability to interfere with the concrete general by means of language, by means of the ‘abstract’.  General concrete knowledge could be viewed as an aspect of the universal intelligence of which the ego is a part. This may well be the origin of what is called ‘intuition’. Neither the individual, nor the group has any ultimate control over the general concrete.


Apart from the general concrete, there is then what Bohm calls the ‘general abstract’, which is language. The vital thing to understand with respect to these different species of knowledge is that the general abstract is very frequently mistaken for the general concrete. What this means is that the abstract concept is put in the place of the event. Thus similar types of event are grouped under the same abstract concept; and once so grouped, they are treated as if they were identical. This is what we call ‘induction’. This is essentially the way the abstracting power of language works. We have words that designate abstract categories for events in which we have detected similarities. Now events are particulars and no two events are the same, for they are different events, despite the apparent similarities. But the ego imposes the same abstract category upon different events and pronounces them to be the ‘same’ event, literally the same event. Repetition means ‘the reproduction of the same event’. The ego believes that it espies repetitions of this sort everywhere in the world. From this perception of repetitions, the ego comes to the conclusion that fundamentally, the whole of reality is a matter of repetitions of one sort or another.


At that point, the ego then jumps to the inevitable conclusion: the essence of reality is a single repetition. Nouns designate ‘objects’, verbs ‘actions’, prepositions ‘relations’ etc. That is to say words capture repeated items that are the same as each other in some fundamental sense that is more important than any differences that one may detect. The ego believes that it captures repetitions of this sort everywhere in the world of particulars. The universal concepts that the ego uses, serve to denote this repetition in reality. Thus, there will always be the universal ‘tree’. There will always be the universal ‘oak’. There will always be the universals ‘leaf’, ‘branch’, ‘trunk’, ‘root’ and so on. From this categorisation and classification by means of language, the ego comes to the notion that what is repeated is universal. It then goes on to announce that what is universal is necessary, the result of laws that cannot be broken. It is only a small step from that notion to the grand conclusion that there is a single universal called ‘the universe’ and that that is a repetition of the essential characteristics of all that is, namely the laws of nature, and that those characteristics are necessary, that is, they have to happen. This means, simply, that the ‘laws of nature’ coincide in some ill-understood way with the ‘laws of thought’. The ego does not know quite in what way they coincide and prefers not to think about this subject. But the long-term ambition of the rational ego is not only to discover the ultimate laws of nature, but also to demonstrate that those laws are logically necessary. The demonstration that those laws are logically necessary would then be the final step in the ego’s achievement of control. What the ego does not realise is that this entire drift in its inner processes is the result of combinations of ideas that are altogether illegitimate. There is nothing to guarantee that the logical laws of discourse that so impress the ego should not also be falsifying and distorting its picture of reality. The ego wants to believe that logic governs both mind and world; but it does not pause to reflect that it may be deluding itself and indulging in a pipe-dream.


Let us admit that there is a universe, and that within that universe, events (even so-called ‘things’ are events) appear to repeat themselves: suns rise, seasons come and go, plants and animals (which humans group under single abstract concepts) appear and die and reappear, men and women appear to live lives that have fundamentally similar characteristics and so on. We can admit all of that and yet deny that what we have here is in any way a series of repetitions. But the impulse of the human animal is to call them repetitions and put a name to what they deem to be a repetition. Thus we arrive at all the concepts of our language, at those concepts that are universals and at those concepts that are sub-categories of the universal. But it should be evident to us – whereas for the most part it is not – that there is a clear difference between the word, the abstract universal, and the event, the concrete, particular event that we connect with a similar, though distinct event, by means of the abstract universal. It should be evident to us because we connect the most disparate things to one universal by means of the concept ‘like’. Resemblance can never imply repetition, let alone identity. Identity means that when two items are pronounced to be identical we do not have two but only one. This problem arises from the fact that the abstract concept is always identical with itself and two identical abstract concepts are one. Two concrete events grouped under one abstract concept, however, remain two, though the differences that guarantee their separateness are ignored and even the similarities are extensively determined by our inability to detect the differences.


The concrete general is the information that assures stability in the processes of nature and order in the universal flow; but this stability is not repetition, it is the generation of similarity mixed with difference. Only the difference, however, is ‘real’ i.e. concrete, for the flow of the universe makes its configuration entirely fresh from one moment to the next; the similarity is the result of the comparisons made by our memory and is purely abstract. No two events or entities are ever identical, for if they were they would be one and not two. Events are similar; and that similarity is an inner relatedness that the mind grasps intuitively, just as it grasps family resemblances. The abstract concept, the word, denotes an exact repetition, an identical reconstruction of events or entities. ‘Identical’ means ‘indistinguishably the same’ i.e., there is literally no difference at all between the first and all subsequent repetitions. Thus fundamentally, in the notion of repetition, we are not dealing with separate events, but with a single event. The ego desires that everything that repeats itself be repeated necessarily, because it wants every apparent separate event of a given category to be indistinguishable from every other instance of that event.


That this is patently not the case is seen from the fact that we group clearly different events under the same universal – e.g. ‘tree’ – and then begin to fine tune the universality of our concepts with qualifying adjectives, that in turn become nouns, ‘beech-tree’, ‘oak-tree’, ‘ash-tree’ and so on. So the ego imagines that in pursuing this fine tuning to every finer levels of detail, it will come on the ultimate repetitions, the ultimate ‘things’ that constitute reality, the fundamental ‘particles’. Insofar as we follow the dictates of the ego, we fail to realise that this search is motivated by a delusion and we fail to notice that the search will always throw up examples of what it is a search for, because reality, the concrete, is perceived through the lens of the abstract; and the abstract is thereby mistaken for the concrete. In the concrete, there are only particulars. It was this insight and the absurdity of the identical particle view that brought Leibniz to his theory of monads, i.e. to the belief that the ultimate constituents of the universe are unique, mindlike particulars (‘monads’) of vastly varying complexity, and not identical objects.


If we could experience molecules, atoms, sub-atomic particles, strings, or whatever, directly, we would perceive them as similar particulars upon which we would then impose the abstract category and pronounce them all the same. Since we cannot experience such particles directly, we feel entitled to pronounce them all the same anyway, even to the extent of regarding them as abstract points. Every particle of a given class is identical with every other in the same class, there is no distinction. We fail to notice in this pronouncement that this belief commits us to the view that there is not a multiplicity of particles of one type, but only one, for indiscernibles are identical and identical means precisely that: literally the same and not plural but singular. So the designation ‘electron’ is not a universal, after all, any more than ‘tree’; it is a particular just as ‘Albert Einstein’ is a particular. So we have a paradox: the universal is the particular. How can every supposed ‘individual’ electron, ‘actually’ be the same individual? The possibility that there are no universal properties not being acceptable, what is the resolution of this paradox?


The answer to this is found in the ego’s constant confusion of the abstract general with the concrete general. The abstract general is a repetition, the concrete general is not. Of course the abstract general is able to pronounce its constructions to be the same, to be identical, for there is only one construction applied to different cases. But the ego, despite its wishes, cannot pronounce the concrete general to be composed of identical items or events, because the universe repeats nothing, neither electron, nor snowflake nor man. It rather changes seamlessly and constantly, exhibiting stabilities that are not repetitions, but rather, like the flame, dynamic systems of stable change. There is a linguistic sense in which all flames or all clouds are the same; but no-one would dream of pronouncing one flame or cloud to be a repetition of another. It is the same with sub-atomic particles: what appear to be repetitions are not; the differences simply escape us because of the grossness of our sensory-cognitive apparatus. The universe is a perpetually unique configuration and upon this constantly unique configuration, the ego imposes its repetitions, its universals and its ‘necessity’. There is nothing wrong with abstract knowledge; it enables all our technology. The only thing wrong is the confusion of the abstract with the concrete.


The confusion is evident in our technology. Our technological inventions are instantiations, we think, of the abstract principles of the world. But this is not so. They are instantiations of the abstractions of the mind; and both are made by us. The abstract motor-car or moon-rocket will go on functioning perfectly for all eternity. The individual, concrete motor-car or moon-rocket breaks down or wears out or otherwise malfunctions as concrete factors begin to operate that we had not included in the abstract model. We deal with this tension between the abstract technological item and the concrete by means of ‘improvement’. That is to say, we increase the power of the abstraction to encompass more and more detail. We imagine that we are homing in on the reality and will arrive at it one day; whereas in actual fact, we are simply including more and more abstract detail in the abstraction.


Realities are realities and words are words and the former will never be the equivalent of the latter, function like the latter or be manipulable like the latter. In the course of ‘improvement’ the technological item gets further and further away from its starting point and becomes obviously what it always was, namely a new concrete in its own right, in which we begin to espy new ‘universals’ and new ‘necessities’. What has happened is that the cosmos as a whole has changed, a new reality has appeared. There is no repetition here at all, only the process of constant creative innovation. The abstract general grows out of the concrete general; and we manipulate the world with its aid.


We could call our access to the concrete general ‘immediate awareness’, but that would not exhaust all of the features of the concrete general. The concrete general includes every aspect of our immediate awareness that is largely ‘unconscious’ to the ego but that nevertheless governs how the ego perceives. The abstract general is the reflection of a particular aspect of the concrete general encoded in various media. It is an aspect of the collective consciousness of the moment that becomes frozen into a particular configuration of the particular medium in which it is encoded. It is temporary and artificial consensus (which means ‘sensing together’). This is a vital process by means of which the concrete general is differentiated, made more complex and rendered active. Nevertheless to overlook the distinction between the concrete general and the abstract general is to commit a cardinal category error that is heavy with portentous consequences, such as dogmatism and persecution. The fundamental difference between the two is this: the abstract (reason) repeats itself, the concrete (nature) does not.


The ego is an aspect of the concrete general and yet it abstracts itself from this by means of the abstract general. The ego does something remarkable in this: it views itself as both distinct from and the same as the abstract general. When it views itself as the same as the abstract general, it pronounces itself to be determined, as it would have to, since it is no more than the sum of its repetitions. Yet it abstracts itself from this abstraction by considering itself to be without properties, a pure no-thing and by that strategy it is able to lift itself from the cycle of repetitions and therefore from the realm of determinism. This ‘doublethink’ is the means by which the individual ego preserves its free will while insisting on the determinism of all things. The ego is a unique particular that has no universal, no necessity attached to it. The illogicality of this procedure is preserved intact and overlooked because all egos do the same thing. Nevertheless, it is the concrete general that governs the whole process after all. The ego is a function of this concrete general and an inseparable part of the universal process. There is in fact no such stable thing as ‘definitive abstract knowledge’. There is only the concrete general and the concrete particular and the concrete general generates the concrete particular, whether it be electron or man. There is only the universal process of order, i.e. relative and temporary stability, generated from what is not order, not temporal and not stable. The universal light that contains the information for all possible actuality actualises itself first in the paradoxical wave-particle. From that first actualisation follow all the other actualisations collectively known as the universe, but the connection between the universe as actualisation and the universal unactualized light is never lost.


Humanity is a function of the concrete general. This function is the true human knowledge. This knowledge is not a function of humanity. Only the abstract general is a function of humanity. The whole of nature is co-ordinated by an information content that is a kind of knowledge. The animals cannot function without knowledge. They use inductive generalisations just as we do. The difference between human and non-human animals is that the former have linguistic concepts which are a means of making conscious aspects of the concrete general. We have concepts, but reality determines those concepts and not the concepts’ reality. Concepts reflect something of reality, but they also distort it. The most serious distortions come from the repetitious nature of the concepts. Nature’s ‘repetitions’ are either strikingly different or so subtly different that the difference is undetectable by us, but they are different. There are no mechanisms in nature, for mechanisms are ideal abstract machines that correspond to nothing in nature.


Poor old Nietzsche was totally confused on the subject of repetition. He concluded from the philosophy of mechanism – and quite rightly so – that if the universe is a gigantic machine, then it has to repeat itself an infinite number of times. And yet he was apparently committed to the notion of Heraklitean flux, according to which everything flows and nothing remains the same from one moment to the next. If the universe is a machine, then the change is only apparent and nothing changes for the repetition is a form of changelessness. But he was unable to see that our concepts do not determine reality, reality determines our concepts. We are misled by the regularity of nature which is not repetition to imagine that nature repeats herself. From this we develop universal, necessities and mechanisms. In fact there is nothing of the sort in nature. So the lesson is this: we must hold our mechanisms lightly for if we do not, they end up possessing us, we become literally ‘possessed’ and therefore mad.


The problem of change remains, however, if we do away with our mechanisms and with the notion that nature repeats herself. It would seem that something must remain stable if change is to be coherent and not merely random. The question then arises, what guarantees the stability within the flux of nature if it is not repetition, let’s say, of rules? The answer to this must be found in the extent to which nature is a totality and functions as a totality, a complete, intelligent whole and not a collection of separate insensate things. Nature changes as a whole and the parts change as the whole changes. The distinction between the parts and the whole must in the end be false and unsustainable. So what guarantees the coherence of the whole is not the rigid mechanism, the repetition, it is the intrinsic coherence of the whole. But if the essence of the whole is change, what guarantees its coherence if not a mechanism? Why does the whole not simply degenerate into chaos if its order is not founded in repetition? The answer to this must be in the information-content of the whole, which is equivalent to the intelligence of the whole. It is the information-content of the parts that relates them to the whole and ensures that they change as it changes. We say the ‘intelligence’ of the whole rather than the ‘information-content’ of the whole, because the phrase ‘information-content’ implies to us something abstract and static, whereas the universe is concrete and dynamic.  The essence of the whole is change, coordinated change; and that sort of coordination, if it is not the result of the repetition of identical processes can only be guaranteed by what we call ‘intelligence’. The whole has to be intelligent, since its coordinating power is greater than any particular rules that may apply to any one particular snap-shot of its ceaseless change. Of course, this intelligence could not be like human intelligence, for human intelligence is governed by the system in which it has relevance and purpose, i.e. in the biosphere of this planet. The notion of an intelligence that governs the entire universe is a conception that must be purely ideal and ultimately incomprehensible to us. But since all parts of the universe are coordinated, analogies with our own intelligence are not necessarily misleading.


So here we have the unity in the quarternity of foreworld, hindworld, midworld and hyperworld, the connection between the four worlds of matter, mind, language and the mysterious totality that generates it all. We have also the connection with the ego and with universal intelligence. Within this overall scheme of things, there clearly cannot be some absolute ‘truth’ that we can write down in the language of men. There can only be the ultimate truth of the entire dynamic information-content of the entire universe and its ceaseless change; and that would seem to be beyond our grasp. Our abstract knowledge, that the ego sees as knowledge tout court is a function of the background knowledge of the universe itself. Every system in the universe is governed by its own particular knowledge and the human race is no exception. We are determined by our knowledge, by the collective consciousness of the species and we express a tiny proportion of that knowledge in language. We then elevate that linguistic knowledge to some sort of absolute validity and get ourselves into a serious muddle.


As Heraklitus knew, one can only enunciate a so-called ‘truth’ if one at the same time asserts its opposite. Reality is paradoxical like that and based upon a tension of opposites. The truth about the universe itself is the active information-content of the universe as a whole and this includes all the information about all the tensions, ambiguities, dualities and paradoxes that are intrinsic to a process that is fundamentally in conflict with itself. The nature of reality is conflict. That is why it changes ceaselessly. To think therefore that we are going to capture the entire truth about the entire cosmos in a definitive body of propositions in some human language is to be the naive victims of a massive delusion. The theory of determinism, since its character arises in abstract knowledge, is nonsensical. It is clearly time we ditched this particular delusion and evolved a more realistic understanding of our knowledge: it is always provisional and could never be otherwise.


Our human knowledge, our abstract general, sits within a vast web of mostly inchoate, mostly unarticulated attitudes, emotions, habits, tendencies that form the tacit background to all our action and that are our stake in the concrete general. Our abstract knowledge acts upon this background and is in turn acted upon by it. The relation is two-way, but the abstract knowledge is the lesser partner. We need to understand that we function as whole beings, whether we like it or not. It is time that we decided to function consciously as whole beings rather than deluding ourselves into believing that we function on the basis of our abstract knowledge alone.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009



You haf too much Ego in your Cosmos  (Kipling: Betran and Bimi)


            Why should we suppose that order that we can grasp emerges out of order that we can also grasp? This is the assumption of scientific inquiry; but is it a reasonable one? Why should we not contemplate what appears to be the case, namely that order that we can grasp emerges out of what for our cognitive powers is chaos. The possibility that what for us is chaos might be a species of order we cannot grasp is perhaps mysterious; but even more mysterious is our supposition that order emerges with logical necessity from an order we understand. Our cognitive powers have evolved within a distinct context and for definite survival purposes. It is therefore not reasonable to suppose that these powers are adapted to all kinds of understanding. As Kipling appreciated, it is the control-freakery of the ego that drives human beings to such assumptions. The ego assumes that knowledge of the order of the universe is not in any way dependent upon it as subject, that it is simply ‘out there’ to be read off by the ego’s supposedly all-comprehending rationality. But the order of the universe inheres neither in the object nor in the subject; it is in both at once, since it is dynamic and ever-changing order; and knowledge is a sub-species of order that arises out of the dynamic interplay of subject and object. Whatever we say order is, it isn’t. It isn’t what we say  it is, because in the saying of what we think it is, we have merely framed a symbol in some language or other of the ordering process; and the order of language is not the order of nature. Order in nature is dynamic, whereas the order of our language is static. The order of nature is a matter of ‘that which is being ordered’ and not some clanking mechanical stability – indistinguishable from stasis – that repeats itself for all time like Nietzsche’s creepy ‘Eternal Return of the Same’. Why we humans should imagine that our rational ego has automatic access to every species of order in nature eludes me.


Determinism is that theory which maintains that since every event is caused, and since every cause has to give rise to the effect to which it is linked, every event just has to happen because of the immutable effect of causal history. This ‘just has to happen’ means that the end of any process is in a sense present in its beginning and merely unrolls like the film coming off the spool in the cinema. You may have an illusion of things happening, unpredictably, but actually every event just had to follow, necessarily, on every other in the way they did, exactly as the conclusion of a deductive argument follows necessarily from the premises. There was no possibility of anything else happening despite the illusion of open-endedness in the events – just like a film. Unlike a film, however, the universe, according to the mechanical-deterministic view can not be re-wound: there is an ‘arrow of time’ always pointing from past to future and mechanism cannot explain why this is so. Mechanism cannot explain why if cause gives rise to effect, effect could not give rise to cause.


Mechanism is the view that if every event is determined by previous events, as effect is determined by a necessary connection between cause and effect, then the whole of the universe runs like a huge clock with each event bringing about the next according to some basic set of rules that we refer to as ‘the laws of nature’. The entire universe is therefore gripped in an iron necessity from which it can not escape. It runs on like a perpetual motion device because the total sum of energy within it is conserved, none is lost, none is gained. Of course, once the universe was conceived as a closed system, the events in it became problematic, because the energy, while being conserved, clearly was ‘used’ in some sense and appeared to be used to wind up systems into more highly ordered, information-rich configurations in order then to let them run down again. It seemed obvious that the tendency of systems as a whole was to lose order and information. The tendency of energy was to ‘run down’ that is to say to be degraded into a less useful form. Thus the laws of thermodynamics seemed to suggest that the universe was not simply a machine, it was a machine that from some initial ‘wound up’ state, was running more slowly all the time, losing heat, losing energy and doomed to grind to a halt when all its energy had finally been degraded to uselessness. This naturally created the mystery of how the universe acquired its energy in the first place and thus the theory of the Big Bang, came on the scene very opportunely. This primeval explosion wound up the universal clock, and from that point on (except for local wind-ups such as life, bought at the cost of universal wind-down) it has been running down. This vision of reality is pretty gloomy, but the scientists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – and even some that are still active today – took lugubrious pleasure in asserting that such a view of things was completely necessary, it just had to happen that way. The universe would eventually turn into a dark, motionless cinder.


The conviction that the universe was a collection of little things, each of which interacted according to a few mechanical rules with the others, thus ‘causing’ all the phenomena in the world, and the rigour of the mathematical models used to impose this view on the universe, suggested an iron inevitability about the whole process and this crushing dogma was used with great enthusiasm to defeat any person or group of persons who dared to suggest that the universe had quite different properties. Any view of things that did not see reality as a collection of bits and bobs flying around and losing their pep in the process was frowned upon and pooh-poohed with majestic scorn. The models would be wheeled out, the mathematics polished off and the poor metaphysician or spirit-seer would be treated to a demonstration of the impossibility, in terms of the machine, of his or her vision.  ‘You can’t prove your metaphysics’ these majestic authorities would intone, quite forgetting that proof is anyway impossible outside of purely formal systems. Since the only entities in the universe were allegedly particles of matter, and since the only principle of their activity was cause and effect, the only possibility for such a universal machine was to run on until it wore itself out and settled into frozen immobility. Gods, spirits, minds, and all mindlike things such as intentions, plans, wishes, purposes, were mere illusions, mere phantoms generated by the heat of the machine. Anyone who took seriously such supposed entities was a child or a simple-minded romantic. The mind itself that dreamed up these things was, of course, material and merely a tiny cog in the machine and would perish along with everything else. So all the metaphysical dreams entertained by the human family from time immemorial were merely so many insubstantial clouds, worse than mere fantasy, they were mere nothing.


Now it doesn’t take much time to understand that this vision begs many questions. We’ll leave on one side the difficult question of what caused the Big Bang, why we have the particular laws of nature and initial conditions of the universe we do have, or why the universe should be at all comprehensible by us (themselves notoriously difficult issues for the mechanist). Let’s look at one logical question and one physical question.


If one is a sceptic about gods and minds and other non-material, ‘metaphysical’ entities, then one quickly sees that such scepticism applies equally well to the just as metaphysical notion of ‘cause’ which is the linchpin of the entire mechanistic ideology. Demolish the notion of cause, show it to exist only in the mind of its creators, and you have demolished the universal machine, because you demolish the possibility of using the notion of ‘cause’ in deductive argument. And this is exactly what happened in eighteenth century philosophy. The great Empiricist sceptic David Hume, though atheistic and anti-metaphysical in the extreme, and otherwise rather enthusiastic about universal mechanism, realised nevertheless to his consternation that the concept of a cause on which mechanism relied was itself a metaphysical idea and that therefore the ideology was not as ‘necessary’ or ‘proven’ as its defenders claimed, but at best a theory based upon ingrained but convenient habits of mind. He reasoned that though we see great regularity in nature and repeatedly see certain events preceding other events and certain events following other events, as though the first events necessarily give rise to the second and as though the second could not have come about if it had not been for the first, we are nevertheless not able to assert that the first events ‘cause’ the second, because the correlation is one of habit on our part and we are unable by empirical means to spot any ‘cause’ – that is to say necessary connection – when we look for it. We cannot say, as we wish to, that causes have to give rise to effects, because we have no guarantee of this other than our expectation, i.e. our habits of mind. There is no reason why the whole system should not change overnight and surprise us. So mechanism is based on an unproven metaphysical belief in causality and on the use made of that metaphysical belief in deductive arguments as if it were logically necessary. The ‘necessity’ of causal determinism comes from the logical necessity of the deductions and not from the world. But the deductive arguments conceal the total lack of necessity in the connection between cause and effect by presenting the connection as a logical one. Once again, a theory arose from the confusion of the properties of our discourse with those of the world.


But by the twentieth century, this purely philosophical and logical argument against the principle of universal necessary causation, had been supplemented by discoveries in physics that suggested that at the finest-grained level of matter, our idea of a cause, as being one event that necessarily gives rise to another, no longer applied. It seemed that at the level of sub-atomic particles, certain events such as particle decay, could not be seen in the traditional causal way. They seemed to be events that had no cause, or at least no cause that we could understand, even in principle. This suggested in turn that at the sub-atomic level, since all matter was composed of sub-atomic particles, the principle of causality did not necessarily apply at that level. This in turn suggested (as did Hume’s idea) that the principle of causality was only a feature of our view of the world and not of the world itself. With this, the whole edifice of mechanism began to totter.


It seems inevitable now to concede that mechanism, as an ideology, is dead and gone. And along with it go all the gleefully gloomy doctrines of soullessness, meaninglessness and brute materiality. Mechanism has been despatched by irrefutable logic: no-one has ever been able to solve Hume’s problem. And it has been despatched by the most rigorous of sciences – physics – and by the Uncertainty Principle. So it looks easy enough to abandon. The strange thing is that the whole mechanistic-materialistic-deterministic model is proving a very robust and resistant set of beliefs. It is a tough old meme. People are wedded to it as though their lives depended upon it. Perhaps they do. It is still the prevailing ideology in the minds of most scientists (perhaps with the exception of physicists) and it is particularly deep-rooted in the biological sciences. It is also pretty prominent in philosophy. The question is, why are people so keen on a view of the world that has now become untenable? The answer to this question requires a little imaginative peek into the past at the development of the ego and the thing-ideology. We have already described briefly in an earlier post how this ideology develops in early childhood according to a tendency of our brains and is then reinforced by socialisation and language. It would appear that the mechanistic model is also required emotionally by the ego for its own protection. That is why it finds it so difficult to give it up.


When hominids developed into human beings, the world was still a very tough place for the newcomer on the planet. Two sets of abilities guaranteed our survival: our ability to identify and classify separate things and parts of things was one; our deep and intricate sense of self and its correspondingly powerful instinct for self-preservation was the other.


The first of these abilities allowed us to know our environment in ever-increasing detail, to separate the nice from the nasty, the useful from the worthless, the helpful from the harmful, the beneficial from the dangerous. We decomposed everything we encountered to parts, and rather than simply running from those things that threatened and approaching those things that promised sustenance, we learned to hone and refine our notions of what was good for us and what was bad by careful observation and discrimination. Thus we were able to bring into our purview ever more aspects of our environment as we identified the nice and nasty bits and learned to manipulate both to our ends. The practice of discrimination and analysis became second nature to us and guaranteed that our burgeoning intelligence, linked, to our growing linguistic skill, began to snowball into a highly detailed and compendious acquaintance with our environment. Discriminations piled on discriminations and as we collected these, we needed words to designate them. This business of decomposing the phenomena of our world and giving the pieces names became one of our principal activities and the motor of our further evolution. With the names came the conviction that each name designated and defined (and thus controlled) a separate and circumscribed thing. Of course it did nothing of the sort, but it is easy to see, as the power of words over our minds grew greater, how the belief arose.


The growing facility with tool-making perhaps, the growing repertoire of named items in our acquaintance with our environment, the growing power of our abstractions, went along with an imaginative ability to picture that environment as mere possibility or futurity. We developed the capacity of imaginative representation, anticipation and postulation and linked this to the symbolic representation of our language. The two together allowed midworld, the world of symbolic representations and imaginative anticipations, to balloon inside our heads. We acquired what felt like an inner theatre of planning, speculation, imaginative ruse, outwitting and with this we were able to assess, understand and run intelligent rings around the instinct-impelled opposition, and even around the less gifted hominids with whom we shared the environment.  This sense of self and this ability for discriminatory control turned Cro-Magnon, our ancestor into a hunter-gather-warrior of formidable power. The instinct for self-preservation grew in power as the language-equipped self grew in complexity; and with this empowerment came a taste for more power and more control. Thus the ego burst upon the scene and its abilities gave rise to the exponential development of culture and ultimately to the development of mechanistic science.


These sets of abilities were our greatest capital and they enabled all the cultural and technological developments that have propelled man over the past ten thousand years from earth-bound enslavement to the environment to mastery of the material world and possible colonisation of the cosmos. But we must ask ourselves the question whether abilities suited to the lifestyle of a hunter-gatherer are really the right basis for an omniscient grasp and control of the cosmos. Do we have any good reason to suppose these abilities are intrinsically any more world-encompassing than the cognitive apparatus of a snail? They are certainly more capacious than those of a snail; but that does not mean they are all-embracing. Many aspects of our nature are turning out to be unsuitable to the creatures we have now become. Take the production of adrenaline. We now have our fight and flight reflexes excited to fever-pitch by our daily lives in circumstances where they are of no conceivable use. The result is that we have bodies that are pumped up by stress to do either one of these things and minds that tell us to sit still. This false fit between our intellect and the homeostatic mechanisms of the body produces a variety of illnesses, not least of which is clinical depression.


So it is entirely appropriate to question our decomposing, discriminating intellect and our massively self-protective ego. Since it appears that our devotion to mechanistic views of the world is completely misguided, we should look carefully at our devotion to them and make determined efforts to outgrow them. The reason for this is that they impose a carapace upon our minds that threatens to imprison us both internally and externally. This feeling of imprisonment is wholly unnecessary, but it nevertheless produces real effects upon our minds that are in their inner core revolted by the repetitive sameness to which mechanism condemns us. Mechanistic views of the cosmos and of ourselves have outlived their usefulness and should be demoted to the level of mere heuristic conventions. Their dominance of our lives is in danger of congealing every aspect of our existence into sterile dogmatism and totalitarian control. All we need to break the bewitchment of our minds by mechanistic models is to see that they arise from instinctive predispositions of the sensory-cognitive apparatus and can, along with many other prejudices imposed upon us by our brains, be elucidated and laid aside.


The decomposing zeal that leads us to take everything to pieces to see how it works and to use its parts for our purposes is the instinctual basis of the thing-ideology. The thing-ideology and its philosophical counterpart, reductionism, simply push the logic of the decomposing and discriminating tendency to its ultimate end. What those who defend such methods fail to understand, however, is that they represent more a handicap of the human intellect than a road to some final truth. To a creature intent on analysis of every item in its environment, it seems natural to chop everything up into smaller and smaller bits until the ultimate bits (the ultimate ‘things’) have been arrived at. So that is what we did, when we acquired the ability to look deep into the structure of matter. The trouble with this procedure was that we were so intent on doing what we do best and so enthusiastic about the results in terms of prediction and technology, that we convinced ourselves that our method was identical with the inner nature of the universe. We began to draw all sorts of inferences from the thing-ideology, inferences to which we had no right in fact. We began to say things like this: ‘If the universe is composed only of things and if they fly around according to mechanical laws, then there is simply no room for anything else. There is therefore no room for gods, angels, demons, spooks, spirits, souls, minds, selves or any of the other intangibles.’ Thus we got rid of God, who had after all been bothering us as a competitor a bit too much for a bit too long. We got rid of the spirits and demons that terrified us at night.


The trouble is that by the same logic, we got rid of ourselves. We got rid of our minds. Or at least those who defended the ideology of a mindless, soulless universe (the inevitable correlate of the thing-ideology) got rid of the minds of others while secretly believing in and privileging their own. A kind of deep intellectual dishonesty arose which led very intelligent people to indulge in all sorts of mental gymnastics and distortions in order to deny the existence of the mind. For example, a fatuous psychological theory called ‘behaviourism’ arose which studiously avoided using any words such as ‘mind’, ‘feeling’, ‘thought’, ‘intention’, ‘purpose’ or the like that might suggest belief in any other dimension to human beings than the physical. The behaviourists used only their ‘politically correct’ language of conditioning and that of observable behaviour. It massively begged the question of observation, the question of who or what was doing the observing, whether an account could be given of observation in terms of observed behaviour and the like. The whole thing was an idiotic exercise in denying what was obvious to unprejudiced people, namely that the mind existed, had its own level of description, its own dimensionality, and could not be reduced to anything else. But behaviourism was not alone in this; many of the social sciences indulged in the same kind of dogmatic avoidance, equivalent to averting the eyes from the huge elephant in the room.


But this banishment of the mind from the world was deeply unsettling for human beings who are notoriously attached to their minds, since these are inseparable from the famous sense of self that proved such an advantage in the struggle for survival. They are also inseparable from the ego. The self felt under attack from itself. The rational ego simply exempted itself (somewhat irrationally) from the arguments, protecting itself by refusing to attribute to itself any properties at all. The method of analysis and decomposition in terms of physical things and the mechanical models left no room for the mind and the self thus became detached from the world it observed. This was fine for a while, particularly if you had at the back of your mind all the cultural paraphernalia of centuries to anchor your soul. But as people thought more and more about the thing-ideology, and the machine-ideology they realised that these made them alienated. They no longer understood themselves. There seemed no place for them in the universe. They seemed anomalous. They seemed not to fit. Thus they began to feel profoundly unsettled. Here they were with all these inner states and yet they didn’t believe they could exist. In the past, the gods had guaranteed some sense to these inner states. Now they just seemed to be a useless burden, passions without any possible object. This was the reason why the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre called man a ‘useless passion’. It seemed to us that we were simply absurd creatures, equipped with minds that demanded sense or meaning in a mechanical universe devoid of both. And naturally we were very unsettled by this. Once you polarise your nature into machine and inexplicable ‘ghost’ inhabiting it, it is easy to pronounce the ghost as having no place in the machine. We never thought, throughout this period, to imagine that though there could clearly be no ghost in the machine, there remained the possibility that there was no machine either.


At the same time, as all this mind-abolishing stuff, the thing-ideology with its concentration on reducing everything to atoms made the human being him- and herself feel like an atom, a circumscribed chunk of something, eternally cut off and separate from every other chunk. The self began to view itself as an object and a fragment. But in these circumstances, since everything else in the world was a mere object, including other people, the self increasingly acquired the tendency to favour itself and to treat every other entity in its experience as a thing. The fear now was not only of disappearing in a world of objects, but also of being constantly under attack from every other object. In a world of objects, the self is unique. Now one does not have necessarily to believe that one is the only self in the world, but certain minds began to be so overwhelmed by this object-universe, so overwhelmed by the crushing sense of smallness, inadequacy and powerless, so convinced that the method of describing things in machine language was the only approach to reality, that the thing-ideology became linked in the minds of many men of science with the urge to gain, first, complete intellectual control over the universe of objects in order, secondly, to achieve one day complete physical control over it.


This almost psychotic vision was of course the desire to be god. Having abolished God and any possibility of God, the unhoused man, the rootless, disconnected, alienated man had to protect himself somehow. The only protection that seemed left was that of absolute control. Thus the science of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries became closely associated with the ideal of absolute and absolutely certain and complete knowledge of the physical world, seen as a collection of objects. The scientific ego was to enthrone itself over this mechanical world of objects and manipulate it according to its desires, just like the ‘omniscient daemon’ that the Comte de Laplace fantasised about.


Unfortunately the dominance of this general complex of discordant and essentially nonsensical beliefs began to take its toll. The scientific ego found certainty slipping out of its grasp with the developments in physics, but the damage had been done in terms of popular culture and popular conceptions of the world. The thing-ideology and the atomisation of the self, the fragmentation of the world and of life in the world, the objectification, the ‘thingification’ of the human being and the resulting egoism – all these things began to be deeply woven into the warp and woof of our civilisation. The scientific ego remained, outside of physics, the snatcher after godhood that it had become. The ego became the only authority in the universe. Scientific materialism and decisions based upon it became the only possible human reasons for action. Disastrous policies were pushed through, disastrous inventions allowed to proliferate, disastrous ideological variations of the thing-ideology (e.g. Soviet Communism) were allowed to take control. The result now is a corroded planet, an alienated population, a directionless politics, a majority living in misery, an egoistic intellectual authority and a complete lack of any ability to treat human beings as human beings rather than economic units to be manipulated and used in the service of some gigantic mechanical addition to the universal machine.


This lamentable state of affairs is the direct result of the doctrines of determinism and mechanism. It is the result of raising what is a mere method of approach to the environment to the level of absolute ontological truth about the entire universe. The dogma of materialistic mechanism having become the exclusive approach to reality became a prison for our minds. How we could have been so stupid as to make this blunder is a matter that makes the jaw drop with amazement. When one reflects that it is the human ego that is driving the whole system, then things become a little more comprehensible. But they do not become any more forgivable. One rather suspects that it is too late to make any changes to the thing-ideology and the deterministic-materialistic-mechanistic world view that goes with it and produces all the abuses of the modern world. It is too deeply rooted and we have deprived ourselves of any alternative.


But an attempt must be made nonetheless in the interests of those ethical and spiritual concerns that are the very essence of our humanity. 


Seen Rod Liddle's documentary The Trouble with Atheism? It's one of the best short assessments of the contemporary atheist movement of its kind. If you're interested, here are the links to the seven snippets on You Tube.

1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i20vLIgBt4M&NR=1

2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEPSY9FSYMY&feature=related

3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-xBu8y-Ao4&feature=related

4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuqT97evBfE&feature=related

5: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-W54UQP3Hr8&feature=related

6: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5qE8-79buI&feature=related

7: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1v0xpz6qtJc&feature=related

Sunday, March 1, 2009



One often hears from people who want to find areas of conflict between science and religion that religious folk always make an appeal to a ‘God of the gaps’ in their defence of their religious view of the world. It is most frequently the militant atheist types who use the argument; and they use it to pour scorn on the efforts of religious folk to maintain that there can ultimately be no conflict between the religious view of the world and the non-religious. According to the atheists, the religious take comfort from scientific ignorance and from the incompleteness of scientific knowledge to locate God in the areas of ignorance. So for example, we don’t know how the classical world arises out of the quantum world, ergo that must be where God operates within nature. Or we don’t know how the mind interfaces with the brain, so that’s where God operates. But, say the atheists, these gaps in our knowledge are provisional since science makes advances all the time. So locating God in the gaps in our knowledge is a precarious business because as scientific knowledge progresses, the space left for God to do his business in grows less and less. The image in the minds of people who make such remarks appears to be of a universe in which there are areas of darkness that are progressively being illuminated by the searchlight of science; and soon all these areas of darkness will be brilliantly lit; so God will disappear.

This may be a comforting doctrine for those who have much emotion invested in God’s non-existence, and so a vested interest in assuring that his room for manoeuvre is reduced to nothing; but it has nothing to do with an individual’s faith in God. The reason for this is found in the difference between closed questions and open questions in human knowledge and in the distinction between what is unknown because we haven’t yet got around to clearing up our ignorance and what is unknown because it is in principle unknowable. Science deals for the most part with closed questions, that is to say, questions the answers to which we know how to go about getting. These questions arise within an environment of discourse that we could call a ‘paradigm’ and the ignorance towards which the closed questions are directed is ignorance that we know can be eliminated in principle, even though in actual fact we can’t eliminate it just yet. So for example, the question of life in the universe is a closed question for we know how to go about answering it: we just have to go to the planets that are out there and take a look. The trouble is that those planets are a long way away and the difficulties of going to them so far insurmountable. Nevertheless, a simple thought-experiment leads us to understand that such questions are answerable. There is no ‘in principle’ unknowability about the presence of life (as we know it) in the universe apart from life on earth. Though even here a caveat has to be made: there might even be life forms both on earth and in the universe at large that we would not recognise as life. But this speculation leads us on to the general idea of ‘in principle’ unknowability.

‘In principle’ unknowability is not simply a matter of gaps in our knowledge; it is rather a question of our cognitive inadequacy: as human beings we are equipped to know certain kinds of things by the methods of science, but not others. The methods of science (largely refined common sense) are principally those of observation by means of the senses, precise measurement and precise description by means of rigorous logical languages. But it is simply silly to believe that these methods can get at every single aspect of reality bar none. We as humans evolved within a distinct context; and our cognitive powers evolved largely for the purposes of our survival. It would therefore be very surprising if our methods of inquiry and the knowledge accumulated by such methods were universally applicable. Immanuel Kant was the first great philosopher to explore in depth our inability to know certain things, but science has uncovered all kinds of ‘in principle’ unknowabilities in the world. There is the unknowability of quantum processes: though we can understand that the classical world arises as a statistical probability out of the quantum realm of reality we cannot say how this happens and there appears to be no way in which we can understand it. There is, moreover, no point in saying, “well, we’re working on it”, because our common sense is not equipped to gain the understanding required. The same unknowability occurs in our understanding of so-called ‘chaotic’ systems, where ‘chaotic’ means not just ‘disordered’ but rather showing a species of order involving far too many variables for us to be able to sort out, even with the vastest of super-computers. These species of unknowabilities are not just gaps in our knowledge, they are indications to us that we can only go so far with our cognitive capacities and beyond that lies territory that we may not rationally enter.

Now for the atheists, the idea of cognitive no-go areas in the universe is usually considered as a threat or a challenge. If it is considered as a threat, its existence is denied with loud declarations of good humanistic principles and assertions to the effect that what we can’t know is irrelevant; if it is considered as a challenge, it is approached with loud declarations of optimistic, humanistic intent: ‘We’re working on it and it’s only a matter of time before we get it.’ For the religious, by contrast, the notion that some aspects of the universe are unknown and unknowable is quite in order. The religious usually accept that the counsels of God are mysterious to humans in their present state and simply have to be trusted until progress to higher levels of being is obtained. The atheists regard this as craven pusillanimity or obscurantist mystification. But the essential difference between the religious and the atheists is to be found in their attitudes to this issue: to the unknowabilities of the world. The religious consider the knowable world to arise from the unknowable, i.e. from the inscrutable activity of the divine; and they are quite happy, for the present, to trust that inscrutable activity, secure in their convictions 1) that humans will never understand it while they are human, 2) that things will become clearer as one progresses to higher forms of existence, just as the universe is more comprehensible to us than to chimps, and 3) that God, the providential Creator is not going to have malicious intentions towards his creatures.

Now, however question-begging the non-religious may consider these beliefs to be, answers to them are not forthcoming by use of the methods of science. That is the whole point about the religious: they are content to trust an agency they do not understand by normal commonsense methods as the ultimate organiser of the universe. The non-religious, by contrast, are determined to understand everything by means of their own efforts and to eliminate all areas of unknowability from their consciousness, precisely by the use of these methods. So the conflict between the theists and the atheists is really a matter of temperament and not of the possession on one side or the other of perfect access to the best sort of knowledge. The religious believe that areas of unknowability can be illuminated by the experience of ‘revelation’. The atheists largely pooh-pooh this notion and insist that the methods of science are adequate to all explanation. But both have an attitude to our current ignorance that is largely determined by their understanding of the applicability or non-applicability of cognitive powers and methods of inquiry. The non-religious for the most part are convinced of the universal applicability of scientific methods and their inevitable success in answering all questions; the religious, more sceptical on this matter, are not.

So if attitudes towards the unknowable and towards the suitable methods for eliminating such a thing are what divide atheist and theists, does that mean that their arguments are simply about words? This may be the case. The theists call ‘God’ what the atheists call ‘nature’; but God and nature can legitimately be considered to be the same. And both atheists and theists are capable of being overawed and lost in wonder at the contemplation of the spectacle of the world. And if you wonder at something, that’s because there’s something about it you don’t understand; for what is entirely understood does not excite wonder. So what are the incidental differences between the atheists and the theists? These seems to concern the degree to which humans can after all say something about those things that they cannot in principle know by experience of the senses and common sense: this is what we mean by ‘metaphysics’. The religious have all sorts of views concerning the progression of human lives towards a higher life that some imagine as an ‘afterlife’ others just as a life in different dimensions. The religious believe that they can trust the unknowable to provide the underpinning for all the fundamental intuitions and longings of the human race concerning the ‘soul’ and consider also that actions while in human shape can profoundly influence the lot of the ‘soul’ as it progresses to its higher form of existence. The religious also believe that certain events within the known and knowable world have a ‘sacred’ quality, which means that they have significance beyond their empirical features and contain important truths concerning the entire lot of humanity and individual ‘souls’.

The atheists, by contrast, flatly deny that their life can in any way continue after the dissolution of the body. They deny it because there is no empirical evidence for it, even though they understand that there could not be such evidence. They deny that there is any higher form of life than the human, though they have no reason to deny this except to say again that there is no empirical evidence for its existence. But how could there be? To be convinced of the reality of a higher life, you have to experience it by other means that via the senses. The atheists totally deny, moreover, that any empirically identifiable and describable event could have any other significance than that which is immediately or subsequently evident to the senses. There are of course many other differences between the religious and the atheists, but looking at these, one has to say again that they look suspiciously like differences of temperament. Both the theists and the atheists have their ‘gaps’, but their attitude to them is at variance.

For the non-religious, the aim is to eliminate all gaps because gaps are threatening or challenging. For the religious the gaps are not gaps but frontiers of what is humanly graspable. For the atheists the hope that sustains them is that the gaps will be plugged and soon all will be known and controlled. For the religious, what is unknowable is precisely what religion is concerned with, for it is in those areas that understanding will constitute progression to a higher existence. Far from being known in a scientific sense and controlled in an egotistical way, the areas of unknowability are the areas of divine counsels and it is from them that ‘salvation’ comes, i.e. the ability to progress to higher levels of existence. So when it comes down to it, the atheist wants to know everything by means of the methods at the disposal of his conscious ego and wants to control everything by means of this knowledge. The theist does not want to know everything, but prefers to be known and be guided by a higher power. It thus looks as if it is a question of attitudes to one’s ego that are the decisive issue in the temperamental difference between the religious and the atheists. Is this an enormous difference? The religious person cannot acknowledge that the atheist’s assessment of the situation could be the right one because he or she does not believe that the atheist’s hope of total ego understanding is either possible or desirable; this is their dominant philosophical position concerning epistemology. The atheists by contrast have to concede that the religious could after all be right, since the existence of God is only made impossible by the methods of enquiry used by science – methods called ‘naturalistic – and these simply cannot be exhaustive, partly because they are always developing and partly because they are limited by human characteristics.

But there is one last difference between atheists and theists that needs stressing, though we have no space to explore it in detail, and it is this: for the atheist, the human ego is a strange anomaly a ‘meaningless passion’ to use Sartre’s phrase, a freak who has capacities, wishes and longings that put it apart from the animal kingdom and from the rest of nature. For the theist, by contrast, humanity is part of nature, integrated into it, created and catered for by it. Who is right on this subject is impossible to prove; but the percentage of people who feel at home in the universe, created and supported by it, as compared to the percentage of people who feel supported by their rational ego alone, is a crucial ratio. It is this ratio that probably determined the past of religion and will probably determine its future as well.