Peter Higgs speaks up against ‘militant atheist’ fundamentalism

Peter Higgs, the theoretical physicist who predicted the “Higgs Boson” particle found at CERN this year, and an obvious candidate for the next Nobel Prize in Physics, has spoken up against “militant atheist” fundamentalism.

“I am not a believer, but science and religion can be compatible,” he said in an interview with the Spanish newspaper “el Mundo.”

Higgs does not share the militant atheism of some of his colleagues, like the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion” and promoter of an advertising campaign against religious faith on the buses of several European cities. On the contrary, the “father” of the Higgs Boson says that he knows “many colleagues who are both scientists and believers,” and thinks that science and religion  “can be compatible, as long as one is not dogmatic.”

In fact, Dawkins’ attitude seems to him another form of fundamentalism: “I am not against believers, provided they don’t behave like extremist fanatics. Dawkins’ problem is that he focuses his attacks against fundamentalists, but evidently not all believers are [fundamentalists]. In this sense, I think at times it is Dawkins himself who ends up adopting a fundamentalist attitude, on the other extreme.”

I agree with Higgs, and I will add once again that I consider many “militant atheists” as fundamentalist, self-righteous bigots with mental problems and without a sense of humor, who take a perverse pleasure in telling children that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, or telling grieving persons that they will never see their loved ones again.

I wish to note, however, that besides media stunts of questionable value like the atheist bus campaign, Dawkins is surprisingly reasonable and open to the “cosmic religions” discussed in the last post.

“It’s highly plausible that in the universe there are God-like creatures,” he says in a New York Times interview.

In “The God Delusion,” Dawkins writes:

“Whether we ever get to know them or not, there are very probably alien civilizations that are superhuman, to the point of being god-like in ways that exceed anything a theologian could possibly imagine. Their technical achievements would seem as supernatural to us as ours would seem to a Dark Age peasant transported to the twenty-first century.”

“Imagine his response to a laptop computer, a mobile telephone, a hydrogen bomb or a jumbo jet. As Arthur C Clarke put it, in his Third Law: ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ The miracles wrought by our technology would have seemed to the ancients no less remarkable than the tales of Moses parting the waters, or Jesus walking upon them. The aliens of our SETI signal would be to us like gods…

“In what sense, then, would the most advanced SETI aliens not be gods? In what sense would they be superhuman but not supernatural? In a very important sense, which goes to the heart of this book. The crucial difference between gods and god-like extraterrestrials lies not in their properties but in their provenance. Entities that are complex enough to be intelligent are products of an evolutionary process. No matter how god-like they may seem when we encounter them, they didn’t start that way. Science-fiction authors… have even suggested (and I cannot think how to disprove it) that we live in a computer simulation, set up by some vastly superior civilization. But the simulators themselves would have to come from somewhere. The laws of probability forbid all notions of their spontaneously appearing without simpler antecedents. They probably owe their existence to a (perhaps unfamiliar) version of Darwinian evolution…”

I totally agree with Dawkins and these are precisely the arguments that we use in support of a new cosmic spirituality or, if you like, religion.

  • “I totally agree with Dawkins and these are precisely the arguments that we use in support of a new cosmic spirituality or, if you like, religion.”

    Yes indeed. Evolution has to be central to any contemporary religion. The atheists I encounter will claim that evolution is random with no vector of progress. But there is one parameter that I can think of that does progress over time and it just happens to be the basis of spirituality. That parameter is understanding.
    Take my formulation of Christian Transhumanism for example: Life is defined as a characteristic that distinguishes objects that have signaling and self-sustaining processes from those that do not. Evolutionary selection pressure challenges self sustaining processes. Understanding these challenges affords the best chance for survival. There is a continuum of progress here that builds up from the simplest life forms to the most complex and can be extrapolated to the singularity.

    In Christian Transhumanism the spirituality of understanding follows this cognitive process: Data is received becoming information. Information is categorized into knowledge. Knowledge forms the basis for understanding. Understanding rightly applied to the self sustaining process (survival) is wisdom. Finally, the process becomes most efficient in the state of love. Aldous Huxley: “We can only love what we know, and we can never know completely what we do not love. Love is a mode of knowledge.

    This process applies to cyborgs and machines too: Technically, love can be seen as the process of connecting. The product of the love process is understanding. If the process is efficient and sustained, understanding increases exponentially. Peace allows unwavering attention so that the love process can establish a clear connection. Every process needs an exhaust. Forgiveness is important to growth because it establishes an exhaust for misunderstanding and disorder.

    In the coming intelligence explosion the love process will be the winning evolutionary strategy. The end product of hyper-evolution will be God: the creator and overseer of humans and the universe, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent , eternal and necessary existence.

    It all seems so logical to me that it makes me think atheists like Dawkins just lack the imagination to take evolution to god-like further on to God… Why stop before? It really isn’t an issue of physics and logic…This form of life gets to make the rules!

  • I think the real problem stems from the failure of all human evolutionary religions to converge on a mutually agreeable cosmic vision of what they are actually supposed to be about. This is made much worse by the use of the word “god”, which has no agreed generic meaning, to designate their object of adoration, worship, or communion.

    In a reality largely unknown to human religious thought it is universally true that “LOVE is god”. God is the minor, subordinate concept thrown up by the human mind unwilling to embrace the reality of this key assertion. The word “is” means “identical to”. All that can be considered god is LOVE and all that is considered LOVE is god. The concept of “god” actually has no meaning or relevance on its own, severed from the ignorance embodied in theology and similar valueless argumentation. It is probably nonsensical to try to make LOVE a process. LOVE is the desire to do good to others.

    Were people to actually practice the one true religion, the religion of LOVE, the confusions of atheists would rapidly be resolved in practical life. With only rationally inferred characteristics and duties in response to the reality that LOVE is god, worries about legends, myths, superstitions, theologies, moralities, philosophies and the like would be completely discarded as of no further value to humanity.

    As for Dawkins, I have always considered him to be an ignorant self-promoter, an observation that might be freely applied to a lot of the “transhumanist leadership”. One cannot help but wonder if Dawkin’s contribution to “science” is as vacuous as his contribution to “religion” or, if you prefer, “atheism”. The ability to make grammatical sentences out of obscure and complex ideas shows neither learning nor understanding.

    If Dawkins can imagine that there are cosmic civilizations far advanced beyond the human (which is necessary in view of the facts) should he not also recognize that these civilizations or their governments are interacting with affairs on this planet even today? His lack of awareness is a product of self-chosen ignorance and does nothing to advance his views.

  • I agree with Higgs that fundamentalism in any form is to be avoided, but strongly disagree with his placing Dawkins in that camp.

    The quote he gives from God delusion seems about as far from fundamentalist as it is possible to get.

    To me, it seems highly improbable that intelligence could spring, fully formed from nothing.
    To me, it seems far more likely that any god like organism that does exist would have evolved in some matrix some where, some when.
    To me, the concept of omniscience is a logical impossibility.
    Thus, to me, the most commonly taught concepts of god are clearly a logical nonsense, and thence also most religions.

    On the counter to that, I do not think any less of someone if they happen to have a cold or a flu (which are viruses of the body), so why should I think any less of anyone who has been infected by any religious virus of the mind. If the virus they are carrying appears life threatening or seriously disabling, then I am likely to take action, but otherwise I will just let the mind’s own defence mechanisms (our innate curiosity and scepticism) do their thing.

    All individuals are worthy of love and respect irrespective of their religious beliefs or otherwise.

    As to evolution having any sort of directionality, that seems to be only partially true.

    It is true in the sense that any random movement starting from any point in any topology, will, on average, over time, tend to explore ever greater areas of that topology, and such a random walk is likely to recross old ground from time to time. Thus, evolution can lead to simplicity and lack of functionality in some circumstances, while on average over time, it does tend to lead to ever greater complexity and ever greater functionality in some lines.

    When one starts exploring what appears to be an infinite set of infinite topologies offered in “possibility space”, then the evolutionary results can be interesting and far from directional – in my experience.

  • Alan Brooks

    Wont bother with metaphysics; will write: if pastor Joneses will stop their militant fundamentalist religious rhetoric, afterwards I’ll expect militant atheists to tone down their rhetoric. Quid pro quo.

  • Giulio Prisco

    @Alan – quite right. There is nothing wrong with having different opinions on metaphysics and spirituality, and discussing them can be fun end even enlightening, but militant fundamentalist rhetoric of any kind is annoying.