Wednesday, 3 December 2008


Before we get on to Quantum Physics, let's just rewind a moment to Einstein's notion of a 'Cosmic Religion' which Dawkins says 'we can all superficially sign up to'. If one looks at what Einstein actually said (which as we have seen Dawkins probably didn't), unfortunately for him, this vision of the Universe as one enormous harmony before which one stands with awe is exactly how the Mystics of all ages saw it. Einstein acknowledges as much by citing St Francis of Assisi, Democritus and Spinoza as sharing his vision. What Dawkins doesn't seem to realise is that these people ascribed a numinous intelligence to the natural world, believing that what we call 'God' revealed him/her/itself through Creation. In other words, the physical world was 'alive' in some way, suffused with some life-giving energy which lay behind the harmony we can see throughout it. It was contained something transcendent as well as immanent. Thus Einstein is not saying what Dawkins says he is saying ie that Cosmic Religion is just worship of the processes of Nature. St Francis, for instance, could not by any stretch of the imagination be regarded as someone who did not believe in God, and yet Einstein includes him in his roll call of geniuses. Now, this should invalidate Dawkin's argument, but it doesn't, or if it has, he hasn't noticed. So how can a bunch of hoodoo merchants possibly come up with something akin to what Einstein believed? Or rather what Dawkins THINKS Einstein believed? Well, at the risk of getting totally bogged down in 'definitions' and 'proofs' of God's and his/her/its existence, here goes at having a look...

The notion of a God which reveals itself through Creation is common to every single Mystical Tradition. In almost every instance this 'God' is not non-personal and both immanent and transcendent, therefore corresponding exactly to Einstein's definition of Cosmic Religion. Here are a few examples:

"God is whole and constant. In himself he is motionless, yet he is self-moving... He is hidden yet obvious everywhere. His being is known through thought alone, yet we see his form before our eyes. He is bodiless yet embodied in everything. There is nothing which he is not... He is the unity of all things... He is the Whole which contains everything. He is One, not two. He is all, not many. The All is not many separate things, but the Oneness that subsumes the parts. The All and the One are identical. You think that things are many when you view them as separate, but when you see they all hang on the One and flow from the One you will realise they are united - linked together and connected by a chain of Being from the highest to the lowest, all subject to the will of God" - the Hermetica

"The journey to God begins with the awakening to the concept that the phenomenal world is a veil which conceals the Divine. We begin the Quest by removing the veil, only to become aware that the veil and the Divine are one and the same thing. The veil is the theophany itself: the manifestation of the Divine through Its Names and Qualities. When we see the veil, we are seeing nothing but the Divine." - Laleh Bakhtiar (Sufi Mystic)

"The Ancient of Ancients, the Unknown of the Unknown, has a form, yet also has not any form. It has a form through which is the universe is maintained. It also has not any form, as It cannot be comprehended." - the Zohar

"There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." - St Paul

"Exalted in songs has been Brahman. In him are God and the world and the soul, and he is the imperishable supporter of all. When the seers of Brahman see him in all creation, they find peace in Brahman and are free from all sorrow." - the Upanishads

Oh dear! Does this mean that Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jews and a whole lot of other nutty deluded fools were closer to Einstein than we think? To be fair on Squawkins, his view is a LITTLE subtler than this. Here he is on Einstein's Cosmic Relgion:

"As I continue to clarify the distinction between supernatural religion on the one hand and Einsteinian religion on the other, bear in mind that I am calling only supernatural gods delusional." - the God Delusion.

Okay! I get it! In fact Dawkins is a closet Mystic who is united with the 'greatest religious geniuses of all ages' and would be happy to rub shoulders with the likes of Ibn Arabi, Meister Eckhardt and Rabbi Isaac Luria. Or maybe he believes in Tree Spirits and Water Nymphs? They at least are natural. Or the Great God Pan? Or Ogun? Or maybe Dionysus, the God of Indestructible Life? Somehow I think not, although he gets close to saying something like it when he says, quoting Einstein again:

"'To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious [says Einstein]'. In this sense I too am religious, with the reservation that 'cannot grasp' does not have to mean 'forever ungraspable'. But I prefer not to call myself religious because it is misleading. It is destructively misleading because, for the vast majority of people, 'religion' implies 'supernatural'. Carl Sagan put it well: '...if by God one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying... it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity'." - the God Delusion

The muddle of this passage needs a little unravelling. Firstly, no-one did more to make 'graspable' the workings of the Universe than Einstein (considerably more than Ricardo himself), so it is fair to assume he didn't mean what Dawkins thinks he meant. This throws up another point which is what we mean by a Mystic. Dawkins says that a Mystic believes there are things which are beyond understanding 'and we should leave it at that' when in fact if anyone looks into Mysticism they will know that the opposite is the truth. The origin of the word Mystic is from the notion of the Initiate into Mysteries - in other words someone who is NOT leaving anything 'at that' but is trying to penetrate the inner Mysteries of the Universe. Dawkins assumes Mystics operate on Ignorance, when in fact a key element of all Mystical systems is the defeat of Ignorance, hence terms such as Gnosis or Enlightenment and the unusual fact that a lot of Mysticism deals with issues of Consciousness, the nature of Reality and the processes of the Cosmos regardless of the existence or non-existence of God. This is why so much esoteric study is as much about processes of Creation, study of natural phenomena an states of Consciousness as it is about spirituality, morality and 'God'. The writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, for instance, are a case in point. Whole chunks read like Science lessons and indeed it comes as no surprise that this most esoteric of books was a profound influence on people like Kepler, Newton and even, it would seem, the first splitter of the atom Ernest Rutherford, who included Hermes Trismegistus on his coat of arms, presumably not because he wanted to identify himself as a deluded idiot.

The Sagan quote shows, once again, the low level of understanding in evidence here. As Dawkins says 'for the vast majority of people, 'religion' implies 'supernatural' ". Alas, this applies to Dawkins too. In spite of his polymathic-telepathic knowledge of all the different things the world's religions 'imply', for Dawkins, 'God' is to be defined on the most primitive and basic of levels - a supernatural being outside Time and Space who punishes bad guys and rewards good guys, responds to prayers and favours his followers. Thus he is fighting on the same low level most of his opponents are on. The absence of a personal God is central to Mysticism, as Einstein pointed out. The Kabbalists, for instance, characterised God as an Infinite Field of Conscious Light (an interesting idea given Relativity Theory and E=MC2 as a paradigm for existence), with our world of physical things as an expression of that Light (again, see Relativity Theory). Granted, one doesn't find this spoken of much in Synagogues, but it is nevertheless a major part of Judaic thought. If one looks further than the Cornflakes Packet Guide To World Spirituality, one finds that the same definition holds true in Greek Orthodox Christianity, Platonism and neo-Platonism and - hey - pretty much all the other spiritualities of the world from Zoroastrianism, in which God's name is 'Right Thought' (Ahura Mazda) and all of Creation is made out of Light, to the Supreme Intelligence of Buddhism of which we are all part which is also pictured as an iridescent light. Out of all these visions of Light the material Universe unfolds, suffused by that Light even in its most dense forms of Matter. Once again, we are close to the ideas a certain Einstein came up with...

A God of limitless energy which reveals itself in created things is exactly what Sagan is clumsily lurching towards, defeating his own argument by suggesting that any God which is not anthropomorphic is 'emotionally unsatisfying'. Thus believers in any kind of 'God' are in a Catch 22 situation. An Anthropomorphic God is emotionally satisyfing but silly while a Universal God revealed in Nature is not silly but emotionally unsatisfying. So where does that leave us? Well, given the ubiquitous nature of of the latter vision of the Divine throughout the Mystical Traditions of the world, one would have to conclude that Carl is wrong, at least about the 'emotionally unsatisying' part. But I like the idea of Richard Dawkins the believer in a natural God. That would be fun, don't you think? He does, after all, say that Pantheism is 'sexed up Atheism'. Sounds plausible to me. If we look at the history of Pantheism as evinced, for instance, by pre-Christian cultures, they all thought along the lines of Dawkins, did they not? I would have thought so. Pop in a time machine back to the era of Paganism and ask them if their worship of the Great Mother was 'sexed up Atheism' and they would be bound to tell you 'Oh yes, Mr Dawkins! It certainly is! We are just pretending to worship the creative power of Nature as personified in Eoster/ Astarte /Danu /Ishtar /Isis etc. And while we are at it, what do you think of our theory of the structure of the atom?'

What Dawkins is doing is confusing his hatred of Religion with the possible existence of something more than the material. Dawkins' anger is towards the hypocrisy, double standards, superstition and repressiveness of so much Religion, be it Caste oppression in India, female circumcision in Muslim Africa, Creationism in the Christian Right in the US or hatred of homosexuals in the Catholic Church etc etc. Well, we can most of us sign up to that. Einstein certainly did! Dammit I can sign up to that! But because these practises take the existence of God as their justification has nothing to do with whether God, however we chose to define him/her or it, exists or does not exist. Many spiritually-minded people refuse to follow any religion because they dislike its excesses in much the same way as Dawkins does (me for instance). Equally, many people within religions retain a clear-sighted awareness of where their religions have gone wrong without losing their own personal faith. Likewise being interested in the existence of things like 'God' or the Soul does not mean you suddenly have to subscribe to what a bunch of Rabbis, Priests or Imams tell you. In other words, the reality of all these things is infinitely more subtle than Dawkins is willing to admit. Better minds than his have grappled with these issues from a religious/spiritual and non-religious point of view and come up with more fascinating and compelling answers.

Besides which, as a Scientist, Dawkins should be aware that the most current theories about the origin and workings of the Universe are so extraordinary that even ideas such as his take on Evolution become rather paltry in the light of what is really going on. In a recent book on Quantum Theory I found Cosmology described as 'the ultimate science', operating on a scale which dwarfs almost every other discipline we have, and yet this seems to be something he knows little about... which brings me rather neatly round to where I was going to come in: Quantum and Relativity Theory... Shall we take a look and see where these take us?

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