Religion, Science, Darwinism and Quantum Physics

These are a few thoughts about a recent article by Walt McLaughlin where he says that “the single greatest challenge is the false choice between God and science”, which “is the most absurd one of all”, and that “this kind of thinking gets us nowhere”. I would wholeheartedly agree; since both science and religion are essentially a search for truth, there can ultimately be no conflict between them. That does not mean, of course, that they may not sometimes make errors.

It is important how we define ‘God’. McLaughlin quotes Richard Dawkins, who distinguishes between “the metaphorical or pantheistic God of the physicists” and the “interventionist, miracle-wreaking, thought-reading, sin-punishing, prayer-answering God of the Bible, of priest, mullahs and rabbis, and of ordinary language”. Dawkins further says that “deliberately to confuse the two is, in my opinion, an act of intellectual high treason”. This might be one of the rare occasions where I agree with Dawkins, so let’s go along with him and not confuse the two; let’s stick with the (so-called) ‘pantheistic’ God of the physicists.

To understand God in those terms, McLaughlin uses phrases like “a force in the universe greater than ourselves”, and “the Great Mystery that is nature”. I would prefer to think of God rather as the ultimate source of that mystery, a force indeed greater than ourselves, as long as we accept that this force stands outside, and I would say above, the material universe.

I completely agree with the main thrust of McLaughlin’s article, so my purpose here is to draw attention to his treatment of Darwinism, which is somewhat confusing. On the one hand he declares Darwinism to be science, saying that Darwin explained how life forms have evolved through the millennia, and that there is overwhelming evidence of evolution in the fossil record and genetics. I believe that it would be more accurate to say that Darwin offered a hypothesis (i.e. natural selection) about how evolution might have taken place. There may indeed be overwhelming evidence for evolution in the fossil record, but ‘evolution’ merely means ‘change over time’. That does not prove that such change took place through a process of natural selection. That is merely an assumption, a scientific hypothesis about how evolution might have taken place, if no supernatural factors were involved. Darwinism is, I believe, atheism or materialism posing as science, as I argued in this article. (We can note, in passing, the great appeal of Darwinism to vociferous atheists like Richard Dawkins and Edward Wilson.)

However, later in the article McLaughlin appears to say something different, that “evolution — the mechanism by which organisms change over time, by which the whole universe changes — is beyond comprehension, a true mystery. What drives it? The quickest, easiest answers to this question, whether they are theistic or atheistic, are the farthest from the truth”. I would completely agree, yet he had earlier suggested that Darwin did indeed explain evolution accurately with what in reality was a quick and easy answer (i.e. natural selection). He further says: “When it comes to knowing what is absolutely true about the universe at large and the driving force behind it, humankind is out of its depth”. Again I would agree, and that is presumably true about evolution and Darwinian theories about it.

Darwinism is almost certainly preferable to the usually quoted alternative of Biblical Creationism, which is what McLaughlin contrasts it with. That is presumably why Darwinism was so successful in the first place, since it appeared to be more scientific, and therefore more credible. Biblical Creationism, however, is not the only ‘religious’ alternative, especially if we use one of the vaguer pantheistic definitions of God, as discussed above.

Materialist and atheistic biologists still believe fervently in Darwinian-type theories, but they do not seem to have taken on board the implications of the quantum physics revolution, frequently described as the most successful scientific theory of all time. It’s interesting therefore that some modern physicists are critical of Darwinian theories, for example The Cosmic Blueprint by Paul Davies, The Quantum Self by Danah Zohar, and Creative Evolution by Amit Goswami. Also worth mentioning is the former Darwinian biologist Bruce Lipton, who completely changed his views following his discovery of quantum physics. He tells his story in The Biology of Belief.

The relationship between quantum physics and spiritual/religious beliefs is an extremely complicated topic, which I have discussed in a long series of articles (for a guide click here). Here I’ll just try to extract the main idea. Quantum physicists believe that the material universe emerges from other hidden levels (just as spiritual traditions suggest). There therefore appears to be some creative force bringing the universe into manifestation, which would be one possible definition of God. This would obviously apply to DNA and genes, so that what appear to be random mutations to neo-Darwinians might not be so random after all.

On that theme, one of the physicists just mentioned says the following: “If we think of God as something embodied within, or something which uses, the laws of physics, then the relationship between the vacuum and the existing universe suggests a God who might be identified with the basic sense of direction in the unfolding universe… This immanent God would be at every moment involved in a mutually creative dialogue with His world”¹. That, I would suggest, in the light of quantum physics is a more accurate description of evolution than Darwinism. At the very least, it is based on what is perceived by the author to be science, not on religious texts.

McLaughlin refers to the widely held belief that scientific inquiry and rational thought have dispensed with any notion of God and that “time and again the sacred texts have been proven wrong by science”. As many readers will know, this is far from the truth; it all depends on which sacred texts you read. The discoveries of quantum physics seem to be in accord with the beliefs of the ancient Eastern religions, as argued most notably by Fritjof Capra in The Tao of Physics.

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I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics and astrology. All these articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here).

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Footnote:

1. Danah Zohar, The Quantum Self, Flamingo, 1991, p208

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I am a singer/songwriter interested in spirituality, politics, psychology, science, and their interrelationships. grahampemberton.com spiritualityinpolitics.com

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Graham Pemberton

Graham Pemberton

I am a singer/songwriter interested in spirituality, politics, psychology, science, and their interrelationships. grahampemberton.com spiritualityinpolitics.com

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