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Open letter to Richard Dawkins - Part 1

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  • Open letter to Richard Dawkins - Part 1

    Dear Mr. Dawkins:

    I want to congratulate you on your book The God Delusion, and to thank you for its writing. While I have had my own manuscript of that book for many years, mine is now in full color thanks to your effort, with only a relatively few pages remaining to be colored. Aside from the considerable entertainment that your book provides, eliciting as it does a range of merriment from gleeful chuckle to irrepressible guffaw, and aside from the clarity and profundity of the ideas presented in it, its literary value alone makes it well worth the read. Words can hardly express my appreciation for your understanding of the Queen's English.

    Still, I cannot help but wish that you had gone a bit further, carried the ball all the way to the goal line, so to speak. While handing god his pink slip is a noble and necessary first step, equally important to saying what is not is saying what is. Please allow me to explain the several matters of my disquiet, and to ask your indulgence in suspending whatever personal and professional objection you might have with regard to them, so that you can hear them and give them the consideration that I believe they do merit. In brief, I wish to propose the following additional shocks to the human psyche.

    My first proposition is simply that the widely held assumption that the human organism, or any other organism, is possessed of "free will" is equally delusional as belief in "god", belief in "the supernatural" of whatever stripe, belief in theology in general, and belief in anything with respect to which there is insufficient evidence to support a rational hypothesis for that belief. Based on the evidence and argument presented by Geoff Simons in his two books, Is Man a Robot? (as you might have anticipated, the title is rhetorical) and The Biology of Computer Life (in which he advances the plausible argument that computers are an evolving life form), added to a plethora of insight and discussion within the disciplines of organic chemistry, genetics, microbiology, and heuristics far too vast in its extent and scope to recount here, I wish to press the point that we are automatons. Everything that we think, feel and do at every point of our existence within the continuum of space-time we cannot think, feel or do otherwise, as all that we think, feel and do is directly and inexorably the result of our instantaneous system state (system requirements + system information) and the instantaneous forces acting upon us at each point of that continuum. We are dancers dancing to a probabilistic reality that drives us. I can find no room for "free will" within the context of that reality.

    My second proposition is that "life" is equivalent to "non-life", that what we have within the realm of our existence is a continuum of systems, each functioning according to its structure. The scientific community has amassed considerable understanding of the process of abiogenesis, including a robust, albeit incomplete understanding of the mechanism of protein synthesis. If it is true, as I believe that it almost unquestionably is, that the entities which we are accustomed and prejudiced to describe as "living" have developed from hydrocarbon molecules catalyzed and mediated by metals in an unbroken natural process of myriad infinitesimally graded steps, exactly where in that process is the bright line of demarcation between "life" and "non-life". A healthy regard for common sense seems to require that no such line of demarcation exists, and that "life" and "non-life" are one and the same, that our functional ability is owing to our physical structure, completely apart from any imagined quality of our being that is "life". We are the apparent product of an evolutionary process that permeates the entirety of the universe and that, under requisite physical conditions, unfailingly dictates a progression from oil slicks on water to skyscrapers, or some analog of that progression. The bottom line here is that our ancestors were organic molecules and metallic ions that no one would, should or could describe as "living". "Life" is simply a result, the manifestation over time of an increasingly complex hierarchy of molecular bonding and interaction, as Dow Chemical would have it, "better living through chemistry". Jackson Browne said it another way:

    “Into a dancer you have grown from a seed that someone else has sown.
    So, do the steps that you’ve been shown by everyone you’ve ever known
    until the dance becomes your very own.
    No matter how close to yours another’s steps have grown,
    In the end there is one dance you’ll do alone.”

    Let me say, nevertheless, that I appreciate completely and concur with your invocation of the anthropic principle as an effective failsafe in the argument that you have made. Clearly there are gaps in the present understanding of abiogenesis and the emergence of eukaryotes as a precursor to the explosion of animal species on our planet that postdate the prokaryotic microbes. The anthropic principal does have the power to negotiate those significant and seemingly singular leaps on the road to "life" and speciation here. Still, my faith in the power of scientific inquiry to roll back unknowns causes me to suspect that there will be ultimately no need for invocation of the anthropic principle, that what we do not understand today we will understand tomorrow. Had we, for example, a better understanding of human chemistry, Dr. Barney Clark might have survived with his Jarvic heart to die of old age. The fact that he survived long enough to joke with family, friends and members of the press is proof enough of the principle that every component of human anatomy is replaceable with its artifactual equivalent. Nothing stands in the way of that other than the technology with which to do it. And, having done it, we will be the Creator. Works for me! I doubt that very many mystics will find refuge in that idea. Yes, my faith is very strong indeed, so strong that it compels me to propose the following General Theorem of Existence: