Peter B Todd...
Over the next few Monday's we hope to bring you a series of commentaries preparing the ground for a series of videotaped conversations between four writers, Peter Todd, Eugene Stockton, David Tacey and Kevin Treston who have been exploring fresh ways of thinking and talking about the Numinous and Theology/Spirituality today. The reality today is that the religious paradigms that have played such a huge part in the evolution of civilised life and the creation of human culture are all under pressure. The pressure comes from the neo-atheists on the one side who want to write God and the Numinous totally out of the picture; from the fundamentalists at the other extreme of the spectrum who want to frog-march humanity back to some kind of theological and liturgical dark cave; and somewhere in the middle are a plethora of ideas that challenge our traditional theologies because of what is being "revealed" to humankind of the "Mind of God" through our discoveries in the hard and soft sciences, and even about how our own brains and emotions work. Today we present a summary of one of the key arguments in Peter Todd's book The Individuation of God: Integrating Science and Religion.
An overview of Peter Todd's book
by Brian Coyne
Peter Todd's book "The Individuation of God: Integrating Science and Religion" is the product of a life-long involvement in trying to understand the workings of the human mind as a psychologist and researcher in the linkages between disease and the mind. Added to this was a near death experience in the middle of the last decade that has had an important additional influence. His book mounts a series of arguments, partly seeking to refute the position of the neo-Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, and partly a response to religious fundamentalism, and offers insights, some of which are possibly ground-breaking, into how our understanding of this important dimension to life, the spiritual or numinous, might be better integrated with the insights humankind is gaining today in the fields of fundamental science and our insights coming from the study of our own minds, emotions and physiology. In this edited section from his book which we present today he argues that our view of life coming from classical physics and our traditional theologies has tended to view our evolution as a purely biological or an 'evolution of matter' kind of process. It's purely been viewed as an evolution of the 'hardware of life' if you like and we have neglected that there has possibly been a massive evolution going on in the 'software of life' to borrow two terms from our contemporary world of thought. Part of Peter's research has been into the transmission of medical viruses. He proposes (in his extended argument – not today's excerpt) that modern superbugs that are posing such a threat in hospitals today by finding ways to defeat all our antibiotics discovered the power of nano-computing long before us. By extension the very genes, cells and molecules that make up our own bodies might also be using similar power in our own evolution. He argues that these insights, which we are gaining from the realms of medicine, microbiology and quantum physics also have huge implications for our understanding of the relationship all of us have to this massive mystery that we perceive envelopes us and we label as the numinous or spiritual side of life. It might sound really weird to a lot of people now, but our modern aeroplanes, computers, iPhones and spaceships to Mars might have seemed like a fantasy to our grandparents or great grandparents. In another hundred years time will it be accepted as general knowledge that the Divine or God or this Mystery or Spirit that resides at the Beginning, the End and the Heart of our lives speaks to us through some form of nano-computing, or other forms of communication and relationship that we human beings have not yet discovered?
What follows is an edited extract from Chapter 4 of Peter Todd's book: "Consciousness as an Organising Principle"...
Richard Dawkins' rejection of theism is facilitated by a fundamental confusion in genetics and molecular biology. This is the confusion between what Paul Davies in his book "Does Quantum Physics Play a Non-Trivial Role in Life" [2004, p70] has described as the hardware or structural aspects of molecules and those which pertain to their software and are informational in nature. In biology the informational molecules are RNA and DNA, which have been considered from a predominantly classical or externalist perspective since the discovery of DNA by Watson and Crick in 1953. As Roger Penrose, Davies, and others have pointed out, although quantum mechanics has been considered crucial to the structure of these molecules, it has been disregarded with respect to their information processing role. This neglect has resulted in the marginalization of any serious exploration of an internalist view of matter and of life. If it were found that biological systems do process information quantum mechanically, they would gain a marked advantage in speed and power, an advantage within the paradigm of natural selection.
Paul Davies, AM [born 22 April 1946] suggests there is confusion between the hardware and software of molecules. Davies is an English physicist, writer and broadcaster, a professor at Arizona State University as well as the Director of BEYOND: Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science. He is affiliated with the Institute for Quantum Studies at Chapman University in California. He has held previous academic appointments at the University of Cambridge, University College London, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, University of Adelaide and Macquarie University. His research interests are in the fields of cosmology, quantum field theory, and astrobiology.
Elucidating this internalist-ecological perspective, for instance by considering the contributions of Matsuno, McFadden, and Al-Khalili, might be sufficient to suggest that the quantum revolution in physics must eventually be mirrored in biology. McFadden and Al-Khalili in their 1999 book "A Quantum Mechanical Model of Adapative Mutation", for instance, have outlined a quantum mechanical model of adaptive mutation in direct challenge to neo-Darwinism. They applied this model to the understanding of multiple drug resistance in Mycobacterium tuberculosis and, while acquiring some preliminary supportive data, were unable to pursue the research due to a lack of funds [personal communication with McFadden, Tuesday, August 14, 2007, concerning possible quantum mechanical effects on the emergence of drug resistance]. According to McFadden and AlKhalili, living cells could act as biological quantum computers with a capacity to explore multiple mutational states simultaneously and select those states which "provide the greatest advantage" [ibid, p210].
Such revolutionary science could mean a paradigm shift in the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution itself, whereby mind as active information would be given its proper place, rather than being ignored or dismissed. To reject this science could be construed as a perverse refusal to look at the inconvenient truth of Richard Feynman's dictum that whatever technology humans invent, nature has already discovered, for example, quantum computing being exploited by biosystems. Matsuno's question was "Who got there first, biosystems or Richard Feynman?" ["Is There a Biology of Quantum Information" 2000, p39].
It is very convenient for eliminative materialists and skeptics like Dawkins to cling to conscious or unconscious investments in classical physics in their treatment of the phenomena of life and consciousness. As Isaac Newton discovered to his dismay, the mathematical laws of classical physics permit dispensing with any theological concept of God as a causal agency external to the universe composed of heavenly bodies in motion. Newton not only became depressed, at least partly because of this scientific "revelation" which apparently rendered God superfluous as I have already noted; he also managed to obtain for himself an exemption from ordination as a minister of the Church of England, which at the time was a condition of appointment to a professorial chair at Cambridge.
Dawkins has granted himself a similar dispensation by writing on the basis of two potent emotional investments: one is an investment in classical, mechanistic physics rather than post-relativity and quantum physics, the other is in strict neo-Darwinism and the religion of chance in the evolution of species. In so doing, the anomaly of mind can either be postponed for later consideration under the heading of memetics or simply ignored as the purely linguistic problem, which philosopher Bertrand Russell considered it to be.
In the post-quantum mechanical era, such indulgences are both scientifically slothful and deceitful, because quantum laws demand an internalist understanding of matter and in particular of life and biosystems. Dawkins in his book "The God Delusion" [2006, p154] imputes such deceit or self-deception to Teilhard de Chardin, as noted earlier. The real deception, however, belongs to Dawkins himself, who can argue persuasively for his "God Delusion" only by willfully ignoring the implications for evolution of the probable quantum mechanical underpinnings of the origins of life and mutation as well as consciousness. The Kuhnian anomaly for dogmatic neo-Darwinism, for instance, is of mutation perhaps being determined by quantum rather than classical laws as well as existing in nonrandom or adaptive forms.
I discussed this anomaly already earlier in my book [in Chapter 3], exploring Hiley and Pylkkanen's (2005) idea of mind as "active information" at the quantum level ["Can Mind Affect Matter via Active Information", 2005, Mind and Matter 3(2)L7-27]. Dawkins' deception, I am arguing, is his intelligent design of the illusion that the numinous can be considered only within the outdated and outmoded frameworks in both physics and biology. His God had already been eliminated as a superfluous entity by Newton and is not even a distant cousin to notions of the transcendent, which reflect knowledge of the "within" of matter, as Teilhard de Chardin has put it in The Phenomenon of Man , or of mind as this phenomenon has been understood in quantum physics and contemporary neuroscience as well as depth psychology. Dawkins' argument is rooted in a defective, simplistic, and outmoded understanding of theology.
It is to more sophisticated modes of conceptualizing God that I shall now turn, mindful that such definitions of God as "the ground of all being" and as somehow immanent (implicate) in evolution emerged during the twentieth century in works as diverse as those of Martin Buber, Hans Küng, and John Shelby Spong, who tried to liberate the Christian Gospels from archaic literalism and anthropomorphism. Teilhard de Chardin's unorthodox incarnational theology implied some form of unfolding of the numinous from within matter itself, in a manner that in retrospect seems to me to be remarkably compatible with the quantum mechanical notions which I have been exploring.
For Teilhard de Chardin, the incarnation of God in the historic figure of Christ is itself an evolutionary "emergent" phenomenon, not necessarily the intervention of a remote God. His theology is of a revelation to humanity of the divinity to be awakened and realized in human beings, responsible for the future of the noosphere (the envelope of meaning and consciousness which enfolds the earth) and of cultural evolution. This is a radically different concept of the continuing incarnation of God, but one which grasps Christ as immanent and among us as well as transcendent and expressing a numinous archetype.
Teilhard de Chardin's silencing by a pre-Vatican II Catholic Church might well have been due to his emphasis upon the immanence of his God in Christogenesis and an apparent downplaying of a version of transcendence that retains residues of an external Creator still moulded in anthropomorphic imagery and a pre-Copernican immutable cosmos. The theme that in cultural evolution God becomes human in order for humanity to participate in God is one that I shall develop further in outlining a theology appropriate to the Third Millennium, illuminated by both quantum physics and the depth psychological understanding of the unconscious and the archetypes [Explored in detail in Chapter 6 of my book]. In his prosecution of the case for a God delusion, Dawkins is not only bound by the articles of faith encoded in classical physics and neo-Darwinism; he seems to hope that theologically naive readers will not perceive the illusion he himself is creating under the guise of demolishing intelligent design and replacing it with a concept of natural selection, which as a theory of almost everything including cosmology and multiple universes conducive to the emergence of sentient beings ["The God Delusion", 2006, 146] explains practically nothing at all about the origins of life and consciousness or the numinosity to be found in humanity itself.
Peter Todd. Submitted to Catholica 09 Oct 2013.
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
©2013Peter B Todd
Kanangra Walls has been called the most beautiful place in Australia. I make no excuse in adding my voice to such claims. For almost half a century I have returned to Kanangra time and again – either just to mooch around its glorious lookouts, or to explore its great flanking precipices and canyons.