Monday, 13 June 2011

Chris Port Blog #273. Providence: The Lazarus Taxon

© Chris Port, June 2011 

A friend sent me this article for comment today as she saw it and 'thought of me...' 

The Growth of Atheism and What it Means for Our Future 

Me: Hmm. This article is full of errors and non-sequiturs (as, indeed, am I) ;)

1) I think he means 'whether' rather than 'weather' (although rainy Bank Holidays are a tempting meteorological proof for the non-existence of God).

2) His claim that 'an atheist population can become more scientifically advanced' is tenuous. The ostensibly theistic/agnostic West consistently outperformed the ostensibly atheist Soviet Bloc in science and technology. The reason for this has nothing to do with religion but everything to do with dogma (which is actually the same underlying phenomenon transposed from the supernatural to the natural)

3) I'm not sure that Evolution can (or should) be 'promoted' from a scientific theory to a physical law.

While there is overwhelming evidence for the theory's validity on Earth, there is no evidence at all for its repetition anywhere else in the universe. I see no reason why it shouldn't be universal, but who knows what other factors may come into play?

The process of evolution is so complex and variable that the theory cannot be reduced to a simple formula (to the best of my knowledge). Thus it is not a 'simple' law.

Unlike other scientific laws, evolution is not absolute (unaffected by the rest of the universe). In fact, it is almost completely the other way around. The key point about evolution is that it IS affected by other factors. Evolution is not separate from interference. It IS interference.

Evolution is non-homogenous and asymmetric. I don't think that it's time-reversible either. If you reversed time, organisms would still tend to become more complex rather than more simple.

4) When religion and state were less secularized, religious authorities were guilty of gagging scientific heresy (see Galileo). However, in the West at least, this has not been the case for centuries. Religion and science have held an uneasy truce based on compartmentalization (you look after the body and we'll look after the soul). If Creationists objected to the laws of thermodynamics on the grounds that God could do what he liked, I don't think that they would get much of a hearing in the courts or the media (apart from ridicule).

Not all ethical objections to laissez-faire scientific research and application are based on religious doctrine. I am troubled by issues such as abortion and cloning not because of religious belief but because of 'slippery slope' arguments.

4) If religion were to be outlawed globally by the UN tomorrow, I doubt that this would dissipate prejudice. See “Unfortunately, some people are just dickheads”. World Peace and the ‘Dickhead’ Objection… Q.E.D.

Is stupidity a consequence of religion, or is religion a consequence of stupidity? Which came first, the rulebooks or the rules? Stupidity may just be a 'fact' of life, possibly even a 'law'. Like life, stupidity will always find a way...

K: My thought has always been that if individuals feel that they need a religion to make themselves feel better then that's fabulous. I guess I'm agnostic but I wouldn't want to convert anyone else to doubt and ambivalence. Whatever floats people's boats.

Me: It's a commendably tolerant attitude, K. However, the ascendant neo-positivists (including Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens et al) are burning down such 'sitting fences'. This is not gratuitous arson however. They are trying to create a firebreak between Enlightenment values and what they see as the approaching firestorm of religious fundamentalism (a long predicted backlash to materialism and postmodernism). The geopolitical arguments are complex but, in summary, ideological forces are coalescing and polarizing in a manner analogous to the rise of totalitarianism in the 1930s. The uniforms and languages have changed, and warfare has become more economic and asymmetric, but 'something is coming' I'm afraid. My own agenda is to try and create meeting places and shared language games rather than firebreaks. However, while the likes of Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens are admirably logical and lucid, other more craven forces are not. Speaking up has become a 'dangerous game'. When did that happen in the 'free' world? :( 

K: It's always been the same. Many in positions of power, religion or politic based, have spoken of religious tolerance but I don't believe that it really exists. "The Other" will always have the ability to undermine most, supposedley, high minded individuals. "Not in my backyard" mentality is the sadness of most people.

Me: I won’t get stuck into the ‘nature versus nurture’ debate here - apart from saying that art (philosophy in action) tells us several interesting things about human beings:

1) “Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose” (the more things change, the more they stay the same).

2) Paradoxically, things and people change all the time.

3) Evolution is not synonymous with progress. Things can (and sometimes do) just keep getting worse until things are no more.

4) The key lesson to be learned from evolution is ‘survival through diversity’.

5) Globalization and standardization have created very big ‘back yards’. These days, when people talk about ‘not in my backyard’ they actually mean ‘not in my hemisphere’ or ‘not in my economic system’. The logical conclusion of globalization will soon be ‘not on my planet’.

6) Marxism (as a critique rather than a solution) seems to be an awkward Lazarus taxon ( reappearing in the fossil record after consumerism. The capitalist demand for constant economic growth is not environmentally sustainable and will probably lead to mass extinction.

7) World War Three may already have broken out with nobody showing up. American defence contractor analysts are hypothesizing that the economic ‘Pearl Harbour’ may have been back in 2007…

Analysis of Twenty-First Century Risks in Light of the Recent Market Collapse

Pentagon preps for economic warfare

How U.S. Economic Warfare Provoked Japan’s Attack on Pearl Harbor

Rhizomatic Warfare “... War is coming. A whole new kind of war. And we're going to lose...”

The Post-Postmodern World - O scared new world that has such people in it!

8) None of the above should be considered grounds for despair. Human beings evolved from the debris of previous cataclysms. We have survived many subsequent catastrophes. If there is such a concept as ‘human nature’, it is probably our hardwired ability to abstract, adapt and improve.

Equilibrium is now impossible without culling over half the world’s population and enslaving most of the survivors in a return to agricultural feudalism (e.g. 1975 and the Khmer Rouge imposed ‘Year Zero’). Global capitalism’s killing fields would make the last Holocaust look like a cottage industry. It would be terrifyingly easy to murder over a billion people these days by targeting their food supplies. Civilization is always only three meals away from barbarism.

The adaptive hope of the world is education. Having spent 20 years studying the quality of our 'officer corps' in business and education I can tell you this: unless they’re purged, we’ve had it. If people don’t want to listen, perhaps they ‘deserve’ to die out. This sounds an awful thing to say, but it would be an even more awful thing to watch.

The Malthusian mathematics may already be inevitable (see Uneasy dreams. The Titanic again... but stubborn ‘faith’ sometimes sees human beings through to the other side. The best thing is for everybody to do whatever they’re good at (in my case, iconoclasm of ALL the dogmas) and trust to… providence :)

From a previous post. Hope for the future. Excellent animation of an excellent speech by Sir Ken Robinson to the excellent RSA on "Changing Education Paradigms" (what an excellent idea!).

"How do we educate our children to take their place in the economies of the 21st century given that we can't anticipate what the economy will look like at the end of next week?"

I frequently used to raise this very question as 'Co-ordinator of Learning Initiatives'. Although nobody seemed to be very sure what that job actually entailed (apart from taking jobsworth paperwork away from jobsworth management so they could develop even more meaningless biznobabble improvement plans). Thinking about it (always a risky activity in our current education system) I assumed that it might be something to do with anticipating future trends and making sure that faculty curricula were well prepared to meet them. Apparently this was "over-complicating" things and I should have just stuck to tick boxing obsolete platitudes that wouldn't help a fly get a job on a turd...

RSA Home page
"Ideas and actions for a 21st century enlightenment"

"Arts Funding, Austerity and the Big Society:
Remaking the case for the arts?"
by John Knell and Matthew Taylor,
RSA Essay 4, February 2011 

All new edition of Out of Our Minds

I would have scored 'genius level' on "How many uses can you think of for a paper clip?" (See the second true story on "What's the silliest thing you've done at work (and did you have Free Will when you did it)?" at


  1. See also The Guardian, Sunday 12 June 2011
    IMF cyber-attack led by hackers seeking 'privileged information'

    "Experts suspect source of targeted attack to be nation state as reports suggest IMF systems have been under attack for months"

  2. On the 'redefinition' of God...