GONE WITH THE WIND

A selection of pearls of Darwinian wisdom which contradict his earlier fascination with and admiration of Paley’s “Natural Theology” and his watchmaker argument – all of which should have made “Intelligent Design” unthinkable :

“The old argument of a design in nature, which in the past seemed to me so conclusive, falls apart, now that the law of Natural Selection has been discovered.”

“It seems there is no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection than in the direction in which the wind blows.  Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws.”

“This universe, immense and marvellous, including man with his capacity to look deep into the past and far into the future, is the result of blind chance and of necessity.”

“The mystery of the beginning of everything is insoluble for us, and as far as I am concerned I must satisfy myself with remaining agnostic.”

“I cannot see, as banally as others do, evidence of design and benevolence around us.  It seems to me that there is too much misery in the world.”

Intelligent Designists, eat your heart out !

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

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WONDER – FULL , CRAZY WORLD

Scientists tell us that there are in the Universe no less than 125,000,000,000 galaxies and 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars capable of being surrounded by countless planets containing potentially some form of life.  However all but one of the 4,055 “exoplanets” already discovered – as of September 12, 2019 – are far too close to their suns, and therefore too hot,  to support any form of life.  Anyhow, even at 32,000 kms/hour, it would take us 142,000 years to get to the nearest one (4.24 light-years away).

This is not belief.  This is fact.  One has to wonder, if God produced all this, what on earth (!) – or what, for His sake (?) – He had in mind.  To me, it looks like a pointless, random, uncontrolled, unexplainable, meaningless multiplication of matter.  Whether or not we are the only (supposedly) intelligent life-forms in this incredible Universe here on this tiny, perhaps unique, planet, it seems highly unlikely, to say the least, that this is the product of “Intelligent Design”.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

LOOKING BACK , LOOKING AHEAD

Now in my eighties, in the twilight of my years, I ask myself what I have done with my life.  From unlikely beginnings in Kogarah, a suburb of Sydney, Australia, I find it difficult or at least surprising to recognize where I am today (literally, in my beach-house in S-W France !), what I have done, what I own, what I think and believe, and above all the family my wife and I created.  What I have become is light-years from what I could have expected – had I ever attempted the equivalent of the projection the Beatles made in their early twenties (“When I’m Sixty-Four”), back at the end of my High School education at Marist Brothers Kogarah, when I was … fifteen !

Our personal future, fortunately, is the Great Unknown ( “you wouldn’t want to know”, as they say at Randwick Racecourse).  While some things are foreseeable,  others are more than improbable (like my becoming – had I remained a priest – Pope Frank the First, or what in fact I became when I abandoned the priesthood).  The one certitude about our personal future is that it will end in death.  But life itself will one day disappear, along with the solar system, when the Sun implodes five billion years from now, if we have not succeeded in destroying life on our planet long before then.  I find it hard to believe in a God who would have set a time-limit not only to our personal but collective existence.  What sort of a God do believers believe in ?

People who buy “I.D.”, “Intelligent Design”, apparently have little trouble with this.  But I wonder whether they would really want to spend eternity in the presence of such a divine despot, not to say mythical maniac, who from the beginning supposedly planned such an Armageddon, such an Apocalypse.  They waste their time and their lives believing and promulgating such nonsense.  It is a pity I have to waste mine in exposing their credulity.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

GARDENS AND GOD

I have a garden.  It is not the Garden of Eden, although a famous French novelist, Honoré de Balzac, described the town in which I live most of the year, and, more importantly, in which he lived for a while, as his “terrestrial paradise”.  My garden is, in fact,  a small, French backyard, set in a vast park – formerly the domain of a château – complemented, of course, by the indispensable Australian BBQ.  I love its serenity and silence, broken only by birdsong.

Gardens, especially at dawn and at twilight, in total, absolute silence, promote reflection.  In late June, before I flew South (like the geese later in the year) to enjoy four months here “On Zeee Beeech”, I spent an evening in my garden until 9:30 p.m., wondering about the origin, if not the purpose, of all this beauty.  As the Sun sets behind the trees at the bottom of my garden, God becomes almost believable.  Nature, evolution, could have settled for less, and been content with a minimum of variety and color.  But, it, they, added a divine touch : the lavish splendor of countless species of flowers.

Roses, begonias, jasmin, celosia, geraniums, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, apple and cherry blossom, forsythia, tulips, dahlias make my modest garden a thing of beauty and a joy forever.  Whodunit ?  Did … God ?

I used to think so.  Which is why I respect those who still do.  I was lucky enough to “withdraw” from, to renounce dependence on, the opium of religious belief that has plagued, and still plagues, humankind.  I cannot blame believers for continuing to believe.  But I will keep trying to get them to see that the beauty and color of gardens are Nature’s, not God’s, way of assuring the survival of the species that make them up.  Beauty is a gift of Evolution, not of God.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

THE GIRL WITH THE GOLDEN HAIR

Goldilocks is not just a member of the cast of our childhood stories.  She is the code-name for an intriguing scientific phenomenon.  Daddy Bear’s porridge was too hot.  Mummy Bear’s porridge was too cold.  But  Goldilocks found that Baby Bear’s was just right.  We and our Universe would not be here, or anywhere, had not Nature got it exactly right.  A smidgin too much gravity, or any one of the other three fundamental factors (the weak and the strong nuclear force and electromagnetism), or a tad too little, and we would not be here to talk about the Goldilocks Effect.

This is supposed to be the irrefutable proof of Intelligent Design.  It might have been, so long as you ignore the scientific evidence of the trial and error which are the warp and woof of Evolution (“Get it right the first time, you dope !”).  What got it … eventually (!) “just right” ?  Martin Jenkins, in his article “The Argument from Design as Proof of Intelligent Designer”, “Philosophical Pathways”, issue 128, 2007, put it succinctly : “We are the lucky strike in the cosmic game of dice – no god or deliberate design is necessary.”

                                              RIDENDA      RELIGIO

WHICH WAY IS SOUTH ?

So what makes those European birds avoid the Winter of their Discontent ?  Magnetic fields, they say.  O.K. – here we go again : Intelligent Design ?  Sorry, I’m afraid not.  But it sure looks like it.  Until you examine a little more closely the data of hit-and-miss Evolution, Natural Selection and the extraordinary good fortune which all of us, including the geese, have had in being auto-programmed to make sure our species survives.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

TIME – OUT : ” MOSES ON THE MOUNTAIN “

A prolific, gifted, Belgian atheist writer, ALBAN  DOPPEE, has kindly agreed to share with us the following gem, to give us a break from heavy stuff like Darwin and Intelligent Design. Derision is Doppée’s speciality.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

“I have a special soft-spot for Moses, that agile centenarian who was a prodigious promoter of mountain-climbing  –  without ice-picks, ropes or spikes  –  several times conqueror of Mount Sinaï, wearing his babouche slippers and bearing the Tables of the Law.  Whatever about that, 3000 Israelites died that day.  And Moses handed out medals : ‘You have been consecrated to the service of the Lord, because you had no hesitation in killing even your sons and brothers.  May the Lord grant you today His blessing’.

“We are drowning in absolute delirium !  Moses, the attorney, at first manages to employ his powers of persuasion to convince the Lord not to wipe out (once again !) His ‘creatures’.  But the moment he has come down the mountain, he himself orders the massacre of a good part of his troops, who manifest not the slightest opposition or the slightest resistance.  But their troubles were far from over, the poor slobs !  The next day Moses climbed the mountain once again, not to whistle with a small bunch of eglantines in his hand but to go have a little chat with the Lord.  But there is one item on which the Lord would never budge, in spite of Moses’ insistance : He would never show His face, because ‘no human being can see my face and live’.  Nonetheless Moses was given the benefit of an extraordinary privilege : ‘Here, close by Me, is a rock behind which you can hide.  When I pass by, manifesting My glory, I will keep you hidden in a hole in the rock, covering you with My hand until I have passed by.  Then I will withdraw My hand and you will be able to see Me from behind.’

“How lucky can you get ?  Moses was authorized to see the Lord from behind !  Do you realize, dear reader, the extraordinary privilege this was ?  The Lord showed Moses His bum !  If it had been me, I would’ve pinched it – just an itty-bitty little pinch, mind you, nothing nasty, nothing painful, just to check whether the Lord had a funny bone !

NOT – SO – INTELLIGENT DESIGN

“Hit-and-Miss” would be closer to the mark, if we are to believe the Chairman and Chief Scientist of Rocky Mountain Institute, Amory B. Lovins :

“Some 3.8 billion years of evolution have exposed the design flaws of roughly 99% of nature’s creations – all recalled by the Manufacturer”.  (TIME, October 29, 2007).

Many people so desperately want support, if not proof, for their belief in the existence of an Intelligent Designer, that they prefer to forget, ignore or deny this indisputable fact.  Surely “God” could not be responsible for the creation, or even the evolution, of the tiny percentage of living beings, including ourselves, who muddled through and survived.  Natural Selection is a fact.  “God” and “Intelligent Design” are not.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

” WHAT IS TRUTH ? “

Pontius Pilate may not have been a philosopher but the Gospels do have him asking THE philosophical question.  Epistemology is the study of the concept of truth.  The Roman Procurator whose “Ecce Homo” (“Behold the Man”) would make him immortal in Christian history and iconography, would no doubt never have identified himself as a philosopher, much less as an epistemologist.

But anyone interested in the ultimate questions, the purpose of life, the existence of God as Creator if not as Intelligent Designer, concerned about the so-called science of creation as opposed to Darwin’s scientific thesis of Evolution through Natural Selection, should seriously consider the epistemological question.  Evolution is epistemologically correct, creationism is not.   Science is based on truth, creationism and Intelligent Design are based on unscientific myth.

How do we ascertain truth ?  You tell me that you were cured of cancer at Lourdes.  I, as your friend, am inclined to believe whatever you say.  But in face of such an extraordinary statement, I – though a doubting Thomas – already have a prejudice in your favor (and a bottle of bubbly to celebrate the good news), but I want proof, evidence, facts, the truth.  Are you kidding me, or yourself, or what ?  Don’t just tell me, show me !

Some say that the eye, like the famous bacterial flagellum, is evidence of “irreducible complexity” and therefore of “Intelligent Design”, which demolishes the “theory” of Evolution.  Creationist “science”, they affirm, is just as good as the so-called science of Evolution.  Both, for them, are “scientific”.

The factual, verifiable evidence of fossils leaves no doubt in the view of anyone genuinely in search of the truth, that even complex organisms evolved from an accumulation of relatively simple processes, over immense periods of time.  No need, or reason, therefore to posit an “Intelligent Designer”.

The real difference between Bible-based creationism, the illusion of Intelligent Design and the scientific evidence of Evolution is in the epistemological approach : can you show me evidence, verifiable evidence, of your claim ?  As an eminent Professor of Paleoanthropology and Prehistory at the Collège de France, Pascal Picq, wrote : “The theory of evolution is not an interpretation, it is a scientific paradigm which contains a program of research, while adhesion to Intelligent Design is based only on beliefs” (“Lucy et l’Obscurantisme”, Odile Jacob, Paris, 2007, p. 172).

Truth, someone said, will out.  And the truth, Someone else said, will make us free.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

THE PURPOSE OF LIFE

“Who can explain it, who can tell you why ?  Fools give you reasons; wise men never try.”

The lyrics from the Broadway musical, “South Pacific”, may or may not be true of chance encounters across a crowded room on some enchanted evening.  But religious leaders, from time immemorial, have not hesitated to tell us “why”, to proclaim their certain knowledge, “revealed” to them in various forms by our “Creator”, that our lives have a purpose, a finality, which will be confirmed when … we die.  With variations as complex as the Goldberg, they see life as a brief preparation for an eternal after-life – for better or for worse – a time of trial and testing in this vale of tears for God to judge whether we have the right, and the right stuff, to contemplate His face.

To call such prophets and preachers, shamans and showmen, fools, would – not so long ago – have led to being burned at the stake or hanged, drawn and quartered by the secular arm of the Church, merciless representative of a supposedly merciful God.  Even today certain theocracies decree a fatwa against anyone who would dare to question their authority and certitudes.  (At least the Catholic Church is no longer likely to put my book, “From Illusions to Illumination” on the “Index of Prohibited Books”.  A pity.  My opus could have used the publicity.)

What about the wise men ?  Should they even try to fathom the reason for our personal existence, the purpose of our lives ?  Agnostics, eminent, famous philosophers, or many ordinary people like me, lucky enough to have discovered the real questions and the inanity of the religious answers, content themselves with an honest admission of ignorance.  But we atheists affirm that not only do we not know the purpose of life.  We know there is none.  Trial-and-error evolution is itself the proof of the purposelessness of existence.  There is no Intelligent Design, no plan, no Providence, no future . . .  Bill Bryson put it very simply : “It is a natural human impulse to think of evolution as a long chain of improvements, of a never-ending advance towards largeness and complexity – in a word, towards us.  We flatter ourselves.  Most of the real diversity in evolution has been small-scale …  If you totalled up all the biomass of the planet … microbes would account for at least 80% of all there is …  We large things are just flukes – an interesting side-branch.”  (“A Short History of Nearly Everything”, Black Swan, London, 2004, p. 379).

It is not surprising that all this is not hailed as particularly good news by believers or even non-believers.  But that’s the way it is.  So why bother ?  We didn’t ask to be born, and Woody Allen notwithstanding, we do not really expect God to make an exception in our case, concerning our inevitable demise.  So what’s the point ?  Once you have accepted that there is none – no divine purpose, no plan for our “salvation”, “redemption”, eternal bliss or punishment – you are free to make of your life whatever you like.  You can opt for eat, drink and get smashed, laid, high or whatever, heaven help the hindmost, might is right, the survival of the fittest – or love your neighbor as yourself; become a sadist, a Stalin, a Saddam – or a saint, a Gandhi, a Mandela, a Mother Teresa.  It’s up to you.

I am a realist.  I believe that since there is no preordained purpose for my fleeting existence on earth, I might as well make the most of it.  My life will not have been without meaning if I respect and apply the famous “Carpe diem”, “Seize the day”, of Horace.  (One rarely sees the second line of the couplet : “et quam minimum credula postero”, “and think as little as possible about tomorrow”, because most prefer the positive attitude of seizing present opportunities rather than contemplating the uncertainties and emptiness of the future.)

I woke up in time to renounce clerical celibacy.  I am delighted to have fathered three marvellous children, privileged to have time to enjoy the gift of grandchildren, content that at least the latter part of my life was spent, as a non-religious educator, helping others acquire knowledge and develop skills to enrich their lives.  I retired at age 64, and celebrated the occasion by rewriting Paul McCartney’s “When I’m Sixty-Four” (as “Now I’m Sixty-Four”).  It will never become part of a Broadway musical, but for what it’s worth, it’s what I think :

“When I look back to where I’ve come from, I’m surprised to see My life is divided into four sixteens; I’ve no idea what all this means. Australia, France, the State and now France. Sixteen years by four, Schooling, studying, teaching and working, Now I’m sixty-four.

“I don’t plan to die Until I’m twice as old.  At least I will try.

“When I look forward, sixty-four more, I feel like a kid, So much fun to be had, so much life to live, To travel, write, grow and to give Any help that I can to loved ones.

“I can’t ask for more.  Life is just starting, as I look ahead, Now I’m sixty-four.”

RIDENDA      RELIGIO