Friday, November 19, 2010

The Human Delusion

Chapter One
Syed Iqbal Zaheer
“Chapter One” of “The God Delusion” touches upon the extra-ordinary respect that is accorded to religion in modern secular societies. Richard Dawkins thinks it is undeserved. Apart from pointing other instances, he discusses in some detail the Muslim agitation against the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten’s twelve cartoons published in September 2005. He defends “the right of free speech” that the West upholds, and severely criticizes the Muslim reaction which he calls “hysterical” to encounter what he think was (i.e., the cartoons) merely “a few daubs of printing ink”, writes SYED IQBAL ZAHEER
This article was published as ‘Editorial’ in October 2008 issue of Young Muslim Digest, Bangalore.
Human beings are much more complicated than the immensely complicated computers they design. Computers are never contradictory, evasive, unpredictable, illogical, or dishonest. Humans are. They do not suffer delusion. Humans do. This is because a computer has a single mind, a single program. The program has to confirm to universally accepted scientific data and so, it cannot give contradictory answers, be evasive, dishonest or suffer delusion. But human beings have several minds within their single brain. They have minds upon minds, in layers, or different minds in different partitioned areas, or minds within minds: interconnected and interdependent, yet each independent.  A close example is the genetic system within the DNA. There are genes that are independent, others are controlled by others. There are master genes that control several genes; and grandmasters over masters. Individual nucleotide chains can be part of several genes, part of several combinations. Genes can shut themselves, go dormant for a holiday, come awake, and become malignant: if so they wish. Nucleotides can combine with distant nucleotides, miles away from them (in terms of the huge distances that separate them at the atomic level), to form a gene. It is something like: you pick a few leaves from a tree in a forest, then travel down several miles, choose a tree and pick a few more leaves from it, and then travel further into the thick forest a few miles away, choose to pluck a few more leaves from another tree. Next, place the leaves of the three trees in some kind of arrangement, and lo, the leaves (read: nucleotides) on the trees (read: DNA strand) become a gene containing the message that a particular hair on your bushy eyebrow (the 23rd from left, the 16th from top: if you want the complete address) will turn white when you are 58 years and three and half a months old! If this is any complication, human mind beats the complications involved in designing computers that allow a pilot who went blind (as it happened recently) to land his aircraft, or guide a spacecraft to the fringes of the Solar System without any human in it.

Decoding the human thought?
Human minds think in criss-cross fashion: the electrical waves travelling at the speed of light, within the few ounces of gray matter, visiting several sites, picking up data, combine with others, and finally, if one area decides to be honest, then an honest answer to a question, or dishonest, then dishonest answer to a question. There is no way you can predict what the answer will be. Most of the times the answers are pre-formulated by the mind, kept tucked somewhere, and out comes one of them: its nature depending upon the questioner, relationship with him, the situation in which the question is asked, and dozens of other details. Variation of any detail will vary the answer. There is no way you can precisely predict what the answer will be; because there is no one who knows how the mind works.
Take an example to understand how mind works in strange ways. The media is widely suspected of pouring out lies, or for blowing up a mole of truth into a mountain of untruth. You tell a Westerner: BBC or CNN say, “The economy will pull up in a couple of months,” or “Russian threat is real,” or, “drinking coffee reduces chances of heart attack.” His response is to shake his head, wince, and say, “Well, you know our media. It is more in the service of interest groups and political parties than in the service of truth. It’s a mafia.” The intelligent public in the West generally does not trust the media. If there is a news piece that concerns them, they would like to double check and find the truth through their own trusted sources instead of simply going by what the media conjures up.
But tell a Westerner, “The media reports that the Palestinians are a threat to US,” or, “Iran is building a nuclear bomb,” or, “The Qur’an promotes terrorism,” and the same Westerner turns into a resolute believer in his media. He does not shake his head, wince and say, “You know, our media is a source of lies.” He says, “There must be good grounds for the media to be reporting these things.” He doesn’t think there is any reason to check on the Qur’an to judge whether it promotes terrorism, or look into the rat holes in which the Palestinians are living in their 10,000-year old ancestral homeland to evaluate their threat to USA. Human mind’s behaviour is difficult to predict.
Famed personalities - scientists, learned men, intellectuals, all sorts of extraordinary people – have suffered the vagaries of the “mind” and have fallen victims to its whims and fancies. The hottest on the scene, “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins (a Black Swan Publications, 2007), provides us with a few examples.
[A biologist, Richard Dawkins is the best-selling science writer of the contemporary world and his “The God Delusion” is the international bestseller. The secular press has heaped praises on it. He is a relentless defender and promoter of the theory of evolution and a champion of atheism. Some people liken him to Thomas Henry Huxley, a contemporary of Darwin. Huxley was called “Darwin’s Bulldog” for his advocacy of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. While Darwin spent the second half of his life quietly with his family, Huxley devoted his time to championing his cause and debating with those scientists who disagreed with the theory. Today, while Darwin rests in his grave, Dawkins tirelessly works to promote his cause.]
Chapter One” of “The God Delusion” touches upon the extra-ordinary respect that is accorded to religion in modern secular societies. Dawkins thinks it is undeserved. Apart from pointing other instances, he discusses in some detail the Muslim agitation against the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten’s twelve cartoons published in September 2005. (The cartoonists were specifically invited - of course with carrots dangling before them – to design the [most provocative possible] cartoons). He defends “the right of free speech” that the West upholds, and severely criticizes the Muslim reaction which he calls “hysterical” to encounter what he think was (i.e., the cartoons) merely “a few daubs of printing ink”. He has no word of criticism for newspapers in Norway, Germany, France, and even the United States that reprinted the cartoons “in gestures of solidarity with Jyllands-Posten.” He does not approve of “the society’s exaggerated respect for religion, over and above ordinary human respect.” He also disapproves of the acknowledgement accorded to Muslims by a section of the press over the ‘offense’ and ‘hurt’ they felt: there was no need for the hurt, and no need for regrets.
But, while Dawkins wrote that stuff, it is obvious that his mind took full charge, relegating Dawkins’ learning and intellect to the inner chambers of the mind and conscience. His mind defends the “the right of free speech” (which includes drawing insulting cartoons, and reproducing them when people feel hurt), but does not approve of the demonstrations against it. His mind forgets that demonstrating against insulting cartoon is also one of the human rights: a kind of “the right of free speech” that the West upholds as holy. Yes, that some went to hysterical level is deplorable, but the demonstrations themselves cannot be criticized.  The Muslims were merely exercising their “right of expression” through those demonstrations. Surely, Dawkins will agree with this. But one can see how his mind deluded him! It allows for one kind of expression, but denies another kind of expression. That is the difference between computers and human minds. Unless allowed free will and given consciousness, computers will never behave like human minds. Yet, this is not our main point. Our point is, human minds can be contradictory, evasive, unpredictable, illogical, dishonest or even deluded.
Another example of the tricks that human minds can play upon its victims, viz., the humans, can be cited from the same “Chapter One” of the “The God Delusion”. When Einstein learnt of the Quantum Theory which asserts that both the position as well as momenta of a sub-atomic particle cannot be together determined at a given moment (the famous Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle), he remarked: “God does not play dice”, If Einstein’s mind had not kept the concept of God, and belief in His existence, hidden at the sub-conscious level, the remark could not have slipped out of his mouth. This is another characteristic of human mind: it can betray man.

Chaotic Confusion
Einstein believed in a God who must necessarily be there revealing Himself through the “lawful harmony of the world,” but who is not concerned with the behaviour or destiny of man. He said, “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God Who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.” (Spinoza was a 17th century Dutch-Jewish philosopher). Einstein also said, “My position concerning God is that of an agnostic. I am convinced that a vivid consciousness of the primary importance of moral principles for the betterment and ennoblement of life does not need the idea of a law-giver, especially a law-giver who works on the basis of reward and punishment.” He is reported to have said, “In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what, really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views.”
So, his opinion and about God is clear. He believes in one; and the concept is not a vague one. It is pretty clear. He defines what He should like: Now, everyone has his own definition of God; Einstein had his own. Fine. Whatever that definition was, what is important to note is that he believed in a God. Indeed, he was not merely a believer in God, he was a believer in a godly people: Israel. He was a proud Zionist. He approved the Balfour Declaration (a dishonest act of the British), and should have become a President of the Zionist State, Israel, if his deeper intelligence had not prevented him from saying no. Indeed, it is widely believed that the God of his definition was a “Judeo-Christian God.” That definition denied him what is collected as “a personal god.” He clarified, “I do not believe in a personal god and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly.” But he remained stuck with God until the end of his life.
With the above in mind, a re-read of the first chapter of Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” reveals the shadowy part of the mind. Dawkins is a staunch proponent of atheism - perhaps the most resolute and outspoken among biologists of the contemporary world. In the first chapter he deals with Einstein’s religion and takes great pains to prove that he did not believe in a God of common concept, but only in one of a special concept. He proves emphatically that Einstein’s God was neither of the Deists, nor of the Theists, but of the Pantheists. (To explain, deism is defined as, “The belief, based solely on reason, in a God who created the universe and then abandoned it, assuming no control over life, exerting no influence on natural phenomena, and giving no supernatural revelation.” On the other hand, theism is defined as, “Belief in the existence of a god or gods, especially belief in a personal God as creator and ruler of the world.” Finally, pantheism is defined as, “A doctrine identifying the Deity with the universe and its phenomena” or, “Belief in and worship of all gods”).
But the “kind” and “quality” of God is, from an atheist’s point of view, of no consequence. For him, God does not exist. Einstein asserted that he was an “agnostic”. (An “agnostic” is, according to the dictionary definition, “One who believes that there can be no proof of the existence of God but does not deny the possibility that God exists;” whereas an “atheist” is, according to the dictionary definition, “One that disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods”). E.g., Einstein was an agnostic, Dawkins is an atheist.
But the impression one gets from the first chapter of “The God Delusion” is that Einstein was an atheist, which the author claims for himself, while Einstein asserted that he was not. He was merely an agnostic. He is reported to have said, “I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervour is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth.” (This statement defines Dawkins’ attitude.) The author seems to deliberately leave the issue dubious. It would not suited him to enlist him, Hawking, Weinberg, Carl Sagan, (the lover of churches, synagogues and mosques) Ursula Goodenough, and (the Church-going) Martin Rees as supporters of his crusade against Religion.
Crusade he may against Religion. Our point here is that human mind is more complicated than computers. To the mind behind this usufruct, the means might not be important, so long as the ends are lofty. This mind can lead its owners into delusions. But computers cannot construct a lie and then hatch a long discussion to cover it, or cover it with robes of truth, or suffer delusion. So long as this characteristic of human mind remains, so long as the mind’s unpredictability remains, as long as belief/disbelief relationship with the media remains, so long as Chapter Ones of books like “The God Delusion” keep appearing, the need for Religion will remain. What scientific discipline can control human mind as successfully as religion can?

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