Christian Engström, Pirat

29 mars 2013

Kopimism, Richard Dawkins, and the Paradox of the Cheerful Atheist Scientists

Filed under: English,kopimism — Christian Engström @ 13:38
Click to read the earlier parts of Kopimism: The Creation

Click to read the earlier parts of Kopimism: The Creation

(This is a continuation of the Kopimist Creation Myth, which is also available in Swedish)

In the previous Kopimist sermons, we have seen how the laws of nature predict doom and gloom, and preach that everything is just a meaningless consequence of how it accidentally happens to be. Does this mean that scientists generally feel gloomy and sad when they think about the universe?

No, not at all, quite the opposite in fact.

You don’t have to see many science documentaries about life, the universe and everything to be drawn in by the enthusiasm and sense of wonder that both the narrator and any scientists that appear in the program communicate. The mathematical formulas that they have discovered to describe the universe may be ever so depressing. The scientists who say they believe in those formulas, and only in the formulas, tend to be as cheerful and optimistic about the future as ever.

Richard Dawkins is a leading evangelist for believing in science, and science alone. Dawkins came to prominence with his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, which popularised the gene-centred view of evolution and introduced the term meme, Wikipedia tells us.

In his book The Magic of Reality from 2011, Dawkins summarises his views like this [in my translation back from Swedish]:

The real world, as seen by science, has its own magic — the kind of magic I call poetic magic: an inspiring beauty that is so much more magical because it is real, and because we can understand how it works. Compared to the true beauty and magic of the real word, magical formulas and sorcerers’ tricks seem cheap and superficial. The magic of reality is neither supernatural nor a trick, but quite simply wonderful. Wonderful and real. Wonderful just because it is real.

This is a very good, sensible and beautiful position, and in fact very similar to what Kopimism is saying as well. We Kopmists see the world as a magic, exciting work in progress, driven by the four fundamental principles Creativity, Copying, Cooperation, and Quality. The quote from Dawkins expresses what we Kopimists believe, in a very concise and beautiful way.

In the Kopimist faith, we have added the four fundamental principles, in particular Creativity and Quality, to the foundation of science that we share with Dawkins. This makes it easy for us Kopimists to justify our positive outlook on life.

We believe that there is Quality that guides us in the right direction towards the good, we believe that Creativity will continue to spur us onwards, and we believe that Copying and Cooperation provide tools to transform creative ideas into new reality. When the beauty of nature fills us with a sense of wonder in the way that Dawkins describes so well, we have a sound theological and philosophical argument to justify the happy smiles on our faces.

But Dawkins himself has a lot less theoretical justification for his positive world view, if he wants to base it entirely on science, and nothing but science.

According to evolutionary biology, which is Dawkins’ primary field of science, the entire miracle of life on earth can be described as the influence of random noise in the sexual reproduction process, combined with a crude mechanism for weeding out individuals that are unsuccessful in the all-out conflict over scarce resources. What’s so wonderful about that?

If there is beauty in a universe controlled entirely by chance and mechanical laws, that beauty would have no meaning anyway. According to science and Dawkins, that beauty has just appeared by accident, like if there happens to be beautiful reflections in the pieces of glass on the ground after someone has broken a shop window. Even if it looks like a heap of sparkling and valuable diamonds on the ground, this is just an illusion, and there is little to miss once it gets swept away by the street cleaners.

Dawkins of course has every right in the world to have his positive and confident view of the universe and the future, and we Kopimists share it. We believe that many people would become happier if they joined us in this belief. But if Dawkins wants to maintain that he is basing his positive world view on science alone, there appears to be quite a gap between what the scientific laws say about the universe, and how the scientists actually perceive it on an emotional level.

Albert Einstein is another example of an eminent scientist holding a world view that is atheistic, but filled with a sense of wonder and trust in the future. Dawkins uses Einstein as an example in the book The God Delusion, and (on page 36) he quotes Einstein saying:

I am a deeply religious nonbeliever. This is a somewhat new kind of religion.

I have never imputed to Nature a purpose or a goal, or anything that could be understood as anthropomorphic. What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.

Again, a very sensible and positive way of looking at the world, but the positive emotion seems to be quite out of touch with the equations he was basing his model of the universe on.

According to Einstein’s theory of gravity, the destiny of the universe is to become either a black hole where everything has been crushed, or an ever thinner emptiness where everything is too far away from everything else to do anything interesting. Which version of infinite boredom represents the future of the universe, according to Einstein’s theory, depends on the value of a cosmological constant that may or may not exist, and that nobody likes anyway.

This is what Einstein’s theory says about the universe we live in. What does he have to be so confident and positive about?

Kopimism solves the apparent contradiction between the scientists’ gloomy theories and cheerful outlook on life by adding the four fundamental principles to the laws described by science, in particular Creativity and Quality. These principles do not contradict science. They are merely an addition to the strict scientific natural laws, and help explain the magic of reality and give us a reason to feel trust in the future, even though we cannot say what that future will contain.

When Dawkins speaks about the inspiring beauty of reality, he is absolutely right. Nature is filled with the most stunning beauty, from the tiniest detail of an insect’s antenna up to magnificent ecosystems that go from horizon to horizon. This is what Robert M. Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance calls Romantic beauty, the kind of beauty that is immediately apparent to the eye.

Dawkins is also right when he talks about how wonderful it is that we can understand how reality works, that we can learn to see and appreciate what Pirsig would call the Classic beauty of the universe, the structural beauty that makes it all fit together.

For a Kopimist, it is easy to agree with both Dawkins and Einstein in their sense of awe an wonder. This is how we feel as well.

But even if we agree, we should note that the minute these prominent scientists started to talk about beauty, they left the realm of science and entered that of philosophical speculation.

”Beauty” is not a scientific term within either physics or biochemistry. As Pirsig points out, there are no scientific instruments that can measure beauty or Quality objectively, and nobody expects that anybody will be able to design such instruments in the future either. A cornerstone in Pirsig’s philosophical reasoning is that he refuses to provide a scientific definition of Quality, as any attempt to do so would reduce it into something different and smaller.

The Quality that Pirsig is talking about is not a part of science as we know it, but neither is it opposed to science in any way. It is an addition, not a replacement. The reason that Pirsig started to think about Quality in the first place was that he wanted to defend Science, which he called The Church of Reason, from real or imagined metaphysical threats.

So even if both Dawkins and Einstein and Pirsig are outside the realm of science when they are talking about beauty, there is noting wrong with that. Beauty is not anti-sientific concept, it is an extra-sientific one. It does not contradict science, it just goes outside it, and talks about things that are not described by the mathematical formulas that represent our laws of nature.

Nothing wrong with that, but it deserves to be pointed out for clarity.

I think Dawkins and other evangelists for what they call a ”scientific” atheist world view would do well to admit that their belief system does not just consist of the laws of science and nothing more, but of additional components as well.

I think many people who are considering giving up their old religious beliefs in favour of a more atheist world view get a feeling of philosophical claustrophobia when the case for a scientifically based world view is presented as ”science, and nothing but science”.

Since Dawkins is talking about ”beauty”, which is not a scientific concept, he has obviously  taken at least one step beyond science as such in the world view he is preaching.

Why not admit that, when doing so would remove a barrier that at least some people feel they must overcome before they can seriously consider the message that Dawkins and others who agree with him are trying to share?

We Kopimists believe in the laws of science, but we believe there is more to the universe than just that. We believe not only in science, but also in the four Fundamental Principles, the Four Kopimist K’s of Creativity, Copying, Cooperation, and Quality.

With Quality as one of our Fundamental Principles, we can agree wholeheartedly that reality is indeed beautiful, both in a Romantic and Classic sense, as Pirsig explains those terms in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Kopimism does not go against science, so just like for Dawkins, our beliefs are not anti-scientific. But we point out that in order to believe in the beauty of science, it is not enough to believe in science alone. You have to believe that there is something worth calling ”beauty” as well.

We Kopimists acknowledge that we do, that we see a universe that is full of it.

This is an insight and a world view that we want to share.

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CC-BY-NC Christian Engström

7 kommentarer

  1. ”I think Dawkins and other evangelists for what they call a ”scientific” atheist world view would do well to admit that their belief system does not just consist of the laws of science and nothing more, but of additional components as well.”

    This is simply wrong… First of all, a scientific atheist, has no belief system… Atheism is the LACK of belief… And science does not believe anything so also lacking belief… Combining two subjects who both are based in NON belief, does not make it a belief… It’s just as wrong as your claim that beauty cannot be measurted objectively or by scientific methods… I suggest you read a couple of the science journals from Daniel Cohen, one of the co-founders of ”Center for the Study of Human Polymorphisms”… Beauty basicly boils down to math.. angles, distances and shapes between various features of your body and face… But even if we discard this fact, you still havnt shown anything about how Dawkins or others are going beyond science for their beliefs… The human mind and all it percieves in various ways, are also science… So even if we assume beauty cannot in any way be measured and that it’s not part of science in any way… Then you still havnt removed the fact that our perceptions are… EVERYTHING, except supernatural stuff, is part of science, no matter how little it can be measured… Science means the study of the natural world and that means exactly this… Everything except supernatural is part of science, regardless of how small or obscure the subject may be as long as it is not something supernatural… You’re also showing that you have absolutely no understanding what atheism even IS when you make statements like ” in favour of a more atheist world view ” which is just completely absurd… atheism has no world view, and it’s not a scale of any kind… Atheist is the lack of belief in any god… Nothing more, nothing less… You cannot have have less belief in something, than not believing in it… And if you have ANY belief in it, you are not an atheist.. Hence, there is no scale…

    I used to have a lot of respect for you, but you just failed, HORRIBLY at knowledge, logic and understanding…

    Kommentar av EtherMan — 29 mars 2013 @ 15:33

  2. […] i högtids-tider fylls tidningarna och bloggosfären av diverse artiklar som på olika sätt knyter an till påsken. Traditioner är traditioner, så jag ska inte vara sämre själv. Sålunda […]

    Pingback av Påskevangelium för Råstasjön | Calandrellas blogg — 29 mars 2013 @ 16:57

  3. I think that Beauty is a feeling that we experience when we regard some aspect of the universe. It exists because, somehow, it is reproductionally beneficial for us. I see no mysticism in the concept.

    By the way, EtherMan, I think you have your terms wrong. Atheism is not ”lack of belief”, but rather the faith in the non-existence of deities. The rejection of faith is called Agnosticism.

    Kommentar av Fredrik — 29 mars 2013 @ 18:31

  4. Umm no no… That’s a common missconception about what atheism stands for… Atheism really is just lack of belief. The assertion that there is no gods, is either called ”STRONG atheism”, or antitheism… As for agnosticism and atheism, they are not mutually exclusive… Atheism is about what you BELIEVE, and agnosticism is about what you KNOW. A gnostic atheist, is the same as strong atheist, or antitheist… But an agnostic atheist, AKA ”weak atheist”, is just lack of belief… Same works in reverse… A gnostic theist, is a theist that KNOWS there is a god, and an agnostic theist, is someone that does not know, but believes there is… The missconception that atheism means the belief that no gods exist, comes from some theists that do not understand the diffrence between ”I do not believe any god exist”, and ”I believe that no god exists”… The first is an atheist, the second is an antitheist..

    Kommentar av EtherMan — 29 mars 2013 @ 20:25

  5. Any real scientist could not be a ”strong atheist” in the sense above, because God (in most contexts which I am aware of) is assumed to have properties / powers which are impossible to falsify with the scientific method. Given how sceptic so many religious people are of Science, it is not strange that people like Dawkins gain popularity by doing aggressive provocation and methods such as ridicule.

    Being positive, confident (and motivated) is good, so if Religion can give you that, why not?

    Kommentar av gurra — 30 mars 2013 @ 16:03

  6. It’s very much possible to be a real scientist and be a strong atheist…Plenty of scientists are, but they are few in comparison to the whole… Being a scientist does not mean you suddenly lose your own beliefs or that you only believe in science, and just like there are scientists that are strong atheists, there are also scientists who are believers in various religions. We do know from studies though that the higher the education of the scientists, the lower percentage of believers, but they do exist, even among the most educated ones.. You have people there that say things like ”I know I have no rational reason for believing, but regardless of what you say or prove, I will still believe”.

    As for religion giving confidence, motivation and so on… Well, first of all, I have no reason to believe that is actually the case, but even if it is… Should I then be allowed to hurt you because it gives me the same feeling? Because that is something religion does on a daily basis you know… Which is why me and several others say that no, we wont have that in our society…

    Kommentar av EtherMan — 30 mars 2013 @ 16:52

  7. If you’re looking for facts rather than the opinion of someone that clearly have no idea what the hell he’s talking about, then you’re better off actually asking people that do know what they’re talking about, such as an atheist group if your question is about atheism in this case, or places like dawkins foundation if your question is about dawkins or the claimed paradox that isnt a paradox, and wouldnt even be a paradox if the claims in this blogpost was true… And as you can see, Engström isnt even standing up for his mistakes in the post which is sad to see and quite a downer for the PP’s credability…

    Kommentar av ether009 — 9 april 2013 @ 12:55

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