God’s Sparking Plug
By a curious coincidence a firing of the Great Sparking Plug at CERN, known to most of us as the Hadron Collider, after which scientists announced the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, occurred on the third day of the month of the Olympics, which puts the lakeshore site on the same footing as Delphi, the sacred Pan Hellenic sanctuary whose priestesses foretold the future, and from where the original games were conceived. The ceremonies included a ritual slaying of Python, the Dragon who protected the navel (the omphalos) of the earth, followed by games after which young boys would climb laurel trees to cut branches for the victors’ brows. These days we call such branches the Nobel Prize. As for the modern navel of the earth at CERN you only have to glance at the terrifying jaws of the particle accelerator to understand why people are so in awe of it. When it was first revealed many feared it would create a black hole and swallow time.
They were relieved to be told the news is good and instead of time falling down a gravity plughole, a God particle, the Higgs Boson, had been found. The ordinary believer may have no idea what a Higgs Boson is, but his priests tell him its sparking entrails are satisfactory. Soon, as the seer Stephen Hawking prophesied in his strange electrical speech, we will know the Mind of God. ‘While in a trance the Pythia (at Delphi) “raved” – probably a form of ecstatic speech – and her ravings were ‘translated’ by the priests of the temple into elegant hexameters.’
This is scientism, a religious cult that has grown up over the last two hundred years. It has nothing to do whatsoever with science, or the scientists at CERN. They now have a better understanding of a particle, the Higgs Boson and its field. It explains how the universe has mass. This prodigious technical feat explains neither who we are, the nature of consciousness nor the purpose of creation. It is unlikely that many scientists at CERN believe it will. The difference between science and scientism is that scientists are curious about the nature of matter, but not anxious about it. They go where the facts take them.
Followers of scientism, on the other hand, the universal religion of the modern liberal mind, are very anxious it should fit their preconception of universal progress and the triumph of the European enlightenment. If it doesn’t it is not science. The last two centuries have seen the latter intensify their ambition to place man at the centre of the universe. Modern followers of Darwin declare that no creator can better evolution’s most striking success, man, while the doctrine of materialism affirms that the universe from which evolution sprang is blind, unconscious and without purpose. If the universe is blind, unconscious and without purpose, what are we humans doing in it? We are made of stardust, the carbon atoms of our bodies were created by the explosion of stars, so why is the universe which has been around a lot longer, and millions of times more complex, not conscious?
Such nonsense is dismissed by rationalists as teleology, the sin of ascribing a purpose to nature. Consciousness is an epiphenomenon, an hallucination peculiar to man. Animals may have a primitive version of it, so may plants, but it is not essential. Everybody has driven home without being aware of the journey, and without killing anybody. When did you last think about running downstairs? It is why studies of telepathy are, while not completely and absolutely taboo in science, expected to have only one outcome: they must be shown to be false. Proving telepathy’s existence would give credence to the idea that the material world is sentient; that there are thoughts out there. Mention telepathy in a university common room and you will hear the chairs moving away from you. Scientists have wives, children and mortgages to think about. The money for 95 per cent of all science research comes from government departments run by progressive liberals.
Nevertheless, the distinguished biochemist and cell biologist, once researcher of the Royal Society and Fellow of Clare College, Rupert Sheldrake says there is good statistical evidence for telepathy’s existence. The author this year of a book attacking scientism, The Science Delusion, in 1981 he received the high distinction of being the subject of an editorial in Nature suggesting his first book A New Science of Life Web should be burned and he be ‘condemned in exactly the language that the pope used to condemn Galileo, and for the same reason. It is heresy.’ Such is the open mindedness of the scientific establishment. Yet we are all, says Sheldrake, familiar with thinking about somebody who a few moments later telephones. ‘Ah, I was just thinking about you’, you say, then forget it in the ensuing conversation. Other forms of telepathy are dogs who know the moment the master decides to come home, even if he is still in his office; and some cats, who, long before the cat basket is got out or the word ‘vet’ mentioned, vanish. Their owners can even go to the extreme of phoning the vet from their offices but it makes no difference. The cats still know.
You only have to open your internet connection and tap out a remembered Shakespeare sonnet to realise that thoughts, even of the dead, can be transformed into invisible waves that pass through walls, and are able to reach the other side of the globe in a fraction of a second. They can travel even further. By now the first analogue radio transmissions from earth from the last century will be reaching out to stars. Other examples are the instantaneous, co-ordinated and purposeful movements of entire flocks of birds or shoals of fish; and from the particle world, quantum entanglement, the ability of two particles, however far apart, even at the opposite ends of the universe, to know each other’s exact position and configuration. While the particle physics example is accepted by scientism’s believers – on evidence that can only be gained by an understanding of the most abstruse mathematics – the remaining phenomena are dismissed as anecdotal.
They are anything but. Science always starts as anecdote, from Archimedes leaping from his bath to Fleming returning from a late summer holiday to notice that a culture of staphylococci he had left on his bench was killed wherever it touched a fungus called penicillin contaminating the plate. Sheldrake has investigated telepathy extensively, as have others, and using statistical tools familiar to all scientists, including those working on the Hadron Collider, has come up with what appears to be solid statistical evidence for its existence. He is a reputable scientist, but his stories of what happens when he puts his findings to the scientific world, related on his website along with his findings, are instructive.
Like medieval priests coming across a denial of the actuality of the Virgin Birth, devotees of scientism instantly block their ears to any idea that the material world might be conscious, crying ‘paranormal, fake, Californian’. Invited to look at the evidence they refuse or in some cases falsify their own findings. The most common statement is, ‘I don’t need to look into this. I know it is untrue.’ A similar stuffing of ears takes place to criticisms of neo-Darwinism. Out of the latter conflict arises the figure of the chief priest of scientism, Richard Dawkins, clearly more anxious about the one true faith than even the most Fahrenheit of his followers. He has made a nonsense of Darwin’s beautiful thought by turning it into an hysterical witch hunt against theists. However it is unlikely, if, as scientists admit, 98 per cent of the universe is unknown and at present unknowable, that Darwin’s theory will stand the test of time.
The morphology of animals, their intricate shapes, and the speed at which proteins form into a pre-existing pattern, far faster than the theory would allow, suggest that there are other forces at work besides blind selection. More recently, biologists think that colonies such as wasps and bees may be single organisms, each member acting as a specialised cell: for example the hive’s female workers who give up having offspring to look after the royal babies, while others become foragers, guards, larder wasps and so on. Why should members of a colony co-operate if Archbishop Dawkins’ selfish gene rules? Is the division of labour within a hive just a matter of complex exchange between various sense receptors, or are they, like us, yet another exception to the rule that all animals are merely reactive machines, and that something else unites them? Lewis Thomas, in 1971, writing of an ant colony said: ‘it is an intelligence, a kind of live computer, with crawling bits for its wits.’
Sheldrake goes even further and asks if the sun, an electromagnetic engine of unfathomable complexity – a description equally applying to our brains – is conscious. It is a mad idea, isn’t it? But if somebody asked you in 1500 if the population of a small provincial town could one day take to the air and fly around the world in 24 hours in a box driven by liquid wood what would you have said? Such questions do no disservice to Darwin nor are they statements of belief in the supernatural. All scientific theories fail in the end when the theory no longer fit the facts, it is how they are defined. Even Newton’s fell to Einstein. But religions have longer lives and do more damage than scientific theories. The cult of scientism is a stumbling block not only to the public understanding of science, in which absurdly Dawkins held a chair, but for the advance of science itself.