LIVING IN ANOTHER CULTURE
The Western culture in which most living scientists were raised was originally based on a well-constructed set of religious and philosophical beliefs. (In 1980’s, the scientists that were growing up in the 1950’s and before) Among these, we may include the idea that the earth was the center of the universe and that the time since creation was relatively short, the belief in an irreducible distinction between soul and matter, and the likelihood, if not certainty, of a life after death. These were combined, with an excessive (fundamental) reliance on the alleged doctrine of certain historical figures such as Moses, Jesus Christ, and Muhammad.
Now, the remarkable thing about Western civilisation looked at in the broad sense is that while the residue of many of these beliefs are still held by many people, most modern scientists do not subscribe to any of them. Instead, they have a quite different set of ideas underlying their view of life and the exact nature of matter, light, and the laws that they obey. The size and general nature of the universe, the reality of evolution, and the importance of natural selection, the chemical basis of life, and in particular, the nature of genetic material and many other things.
Some of these theories have the names of scientific prophets associated with them, such as, Newton, Darwin, and Einstein. These men are held in high regard, yet their ideas are not regarded as beyond neither criticism, nor are their lives considered especially praiseworthy, it is their works that are valued. A modern scientist if he is perceptive enough often has the strange feeling that he must be living in another culture. He knows so much, and yet he is actually aware of how much remains to be discovered. He feels keenly that we need to understand these profound mysteries and also that with time, effort, and imagination, we can do so. This gives a great feeling of urgency to his quest, especially as he is not ready to accept uncritical, traditional answers that lack any scientific support.
While there is little active hostility to his point of view, Creationists are a nuisance, but so far only a minor one. He is puzzled by the response to his work. A considerable fraction of the public shows a keen interest in the discoveries of modern science, so that he is frequently requested to give lectures, write articles, and appear on TV, and so on…
Yet, even among those who are interested in science, and many people are indifferent or somewhat hostile, it seems to make very little difference to their general view of life. Either, they cling to outmoded religious beliefs, putting science into a totally distinct compartment of their minds. Or, they absorb the science superficially and happily combine it with very doubtful ideas, such as, extrasensory perception, fortune telling, and communication with the dead. The remark, "Scientists don’t know everything" usually identifies such persons. Scientists are painfully aware that they do not know everything, but they think they can often recognise nonsense when they come across it. It is only in the last ten years (1970’s) that people have recognised many of the implications of the idea that man is a biological animal, who has evolved largely by natural selection. Even now, (1980) very few professors of ethics approach their subject from this point of view.
The plain fact is that the myths of yesterday, which our forebears regarded not as myths, but as living truth, have collapsed, and while we are uncertain whether we can successfully use any of the remaining fragments, they are too rickety to stand as an organised interlocking body of beliefs. Yet most of the general public seems blissfully unaware of all this, as can be seen by the enthusiastic welcome given to the Pope whenever he travels.
(I cannot resist adding here that I personally heard the Pope say on his last visit to the U.K, "That the three great scourges of humankind were, contraception, abortion, and divorce". Any intelligent child could have told him that they were, “Overpopulation, ignorance, and war”)
Of course, many modern philosophers have accepted this general position, but the majority of them seem so devastated by the collapse of the old beliefs that they exude nothing, but a rather dismal pessimism. Only scientists seem to have grasped the nettle, this mainly because they are buoyed up by the tremendous success of science, especially in the last hundred years.
Whilst a scientist is sobered by the economic and political problems, that he sees all around him. He is possessed of an almost boundless optimism concerning his ability to forge a wholly new set of beliefs, solidly based on both, theory and experiment, by a careful study of the world surrounding him, and ultimately of himself and other human beings.
Only someone actively groping with the intricacies of the brain can realise how far we have to go in some of these problems, but even in that case the feeling is that within a few generations we shall have got to the heart of the matter.
It is against this background that we must approach the origin of life. We can then see that it is one of the great mysteries which confront us as we try to discover just how the universe is constructed and in particular, to locate our own place in it. It ranks with the other major questions, many of them first formatted by the Greeks; the nature of matter; light; the origin of man and the nature of consciousness and the soul.
To show no interest in these topics is to be truly uneducated, especially as we now have a very real hope of answering them in ways which would have been regarded as miraculous, even as recently as Shakespeare’s time. These are extracts from a book called, ‘Life Itself’ by Francis Crick who discovered DNA. (Photo of the ‘double helix’ in ‘Album’).
Buddhism – the World’s Largest Religion
When arguments for or against the existence of a God are put forward, some dismiss them as irrelevant. What matters, they say, "is not proof or disproof but the daily experience of living with God". This they say is the reality and beside it all arguments are irrelevant and the truth really resides in the experience of the individual. This is the retreat of religion into the "Citadel of Self". One of the obvious features of the past few centuries has been the shrinking of the area, subject to a religious explanation. At one time, a religious view of the physical world was universally accepted. When that position was lost; religion took refuge in the view that the human species was a special creation of a god, and consequently, involved a special relationship. Now that has been shown to be nonsense. Religion immures itself, in what is said to exist deep in the nature of the individual.
This is a view difficult to refute, since it removes the controversy beyond normal human knowledge and reasoning. In this connection, it is of interest to consider, a commentary from another religion say, "Buddhism", which has no belief in a God, as "Nyanaponika Thera" puts it.
"But for the earnest believer, the God idea is more than a device for explaining external facts like the origin of the World etc. It is for him, or supposed to be, an inner experience that can bestow a strong feeling of certainty, not only as to God’s existence somewhere out there, but as to God’s consoling presence and closeness to the devotee. However, this feeling of certainty requires a close scrutiny. Such scrutiny will reveal that in most cases, the God experience is only the devotee’s projection of his ideal (a more or less noble one) and of his fervent wish, and a deeply felt need to believe. To these projections is given a strong emotional emphasis and they receive life through man’s powerful capacity of imagination, in the sense of image forming, visualization, myth creation, etc. These projections are largely conditioned by the influences of childhood impressions, education, tradition, social environment, etc; and are identified with the images and concepts of whatever religion the devotee follows. In the case of very many of the most sincere believers, a searching self-analysis would show that their God experience, have no more specific content than this".
Those who claim experience of God would reject the above rational explanation. More to the point perhaps would be to ask them, "How they know that their sort of comfort or joy (or whatever emotions are aroused in them) is God"? They cannot know this: as intensity of conviction is not knowledge.
Nor can the proponent of personal experience, explain that experience. That it seems real is not necessarily significant. The experience of a mental patient, who thinks he is Napoleon, seems (to him) equally real.
If the source of experience is inexplicable, then no name should be given to it, and no dogmatic assertions made about it. To go further and make the simplistic allegation that the experience is in fact of a God, merely indicates an attempt at a naively egotistic self-justification.