Monday, July 30, 2007


Some Notes on The Road to Heresy

Today a brief discussion of my next novel, preliminarily titled The Road to Heresy.

My overall theme is going to be that purely naturalistic science is an epistemological dead end, that in defining science as naturalism, we are unnecessarily limiting the scope of scientific inquiry and thus limiting what science is able to discover. Further, I want to say that the faith placed in science and technology as a means of curing mankind of most, if not all, of its problems is misplaced. Science and technology can only do so much. People will continue to be people, with all their foibles, problems, and inadequacy. In five hundred years, the descendents of 20th century assholes will be 25th century assholes with better technology. Well, maybe better technology-the only thing that is absolutely certain is that they'll be assholes.

And, in fact, we're already seeing signs of that today. Consider, for instance, the world as envisioned by Arthur C. Clarke (one of my absolute favorite science fiction writers) in his novel 2001: A Space Odyssey. According to Clarke, by the 21st century (2001 being as early into the 21st century as you could go--yeh, you heard me: the year 2000 was the LAST year of the 20th century, not the first year of the 21st), mankind was supposed to have: 1) hotels in space, 2) routine flights to space stations comparable to modern-day transatlantic flights on airliners, 3) research stations on the moon, 4) proof of the existence of extraterrestrials, and 5) manned interplanetary flights to investigate such things as mysterious monoliths orbiting Jupiter.

It is now five years past the fictional world as envisioned by Clarke, and what do we have in reality? 1) There are no hotels in space, only one rather insignificant (and pathetic, IMHO) international space station, performing experiments about the effects of weightlessness on bean sprouts. Wah-hoo. There was a Skylab, which fell from space and was quickly incinerated. Oh. And Mir, a floating garbage can made up of chicken wire and duct tape. If Heywood Floyd wants to stay at the Hilton, he's stuck on Earth like the rest of us. 2) Although the space shuttle has provided something akin to regular space flights, it is hardly what you could call an everyday space program. We have nothing at all like what we saw in the film version of 2001: long, sleek, reusable spacecraft with open, spacious, pressurized cabins; stewardesses in magnetic shoes; and nary a soul wearing a spacesuit or needing to bring along his own breathing equipment. Nope, all that stuff is still in planning. And what reusable spacecraft we have is not quite as reusable as we had first hoped it to be. A few measly excursions beyond Earth's gravity, and they start falling apart-literally, and at times with tragic results. 3) We've not only failed to establish research facilities on the moon, we haven't even visited the place in thirty years. 4) Despite all the effort expended into finding E.T. and all the money and facilities thrown into SETI, we have zero evidence that there is life anywhere but on Earth. We continue to search the heavens, likely in vain, telling ourselves that we'll find something if we just keep trying-and I have to wonder what the descendants of the SETI program will have to say in five hundred years. Will they have found anything? And if not, will they still be trying? 5) And we've yet to have a single manned interplanetary flight of any kind. We've sent probes out into space that have brought back some nifty photographs-the Voyager spacecraft, the Pathfinder series, the Spirit and Endeavor rovers--but, other than that, mankind is still decidedly Earth-bound. So what's all this crapola I hear about going boldly where no man has gone before? What? You say that's Roddenberry, not Clarke? Who gives a rat's furry not-space-exploring backside?

So far, the 21st century must seem a bit of a disappointment to visionaries like Clarke. At any rate, it's a disappointment to me, which is one of the things I plan on writing about in Heresy.

Though I'm still quite a ways away from writing even the first draft. So far, I've been doing a lot of reading (I've just finished Robert Heinlein's Revolt in 2100--a truly awful piece of science fiction, if you ask me--and am about to re-read Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale; both are ominous warnings of future ultra-conservative Christian theocracies in the U.S. Oh, 'tis to laugh!), but also a little writing, trying to flesh out some of the major ideas I plan on examining.

What follow are some predictions I have made, given the assumption that I'm wrong about the universe being the product of Intelligent Design and that the materialists are right. In Heresy, the story will concern a future society in which Darwinism has been elevated to State Religion (as I've argued before, Darwinism is a religion; since it's the only religion allowed to be taught in public schools, that makes it a de facto State Religion already, but for argument's sake I'll say that this doesn't happen until the 24th or 25th century).

Darwinism is founded upon a philosophy of naturalistic materialism, so what I'm trying to do here is formulate a few ways of proving how materialism is right, rather than waste time trying to prove it wrong. My thesis will be: if none of the predictions ever pan out, we can conclude that materialism, and therefore Darwinism, is wrong. It IS, of course, but I'm trying to give the Darwinist crowd every opportunity to put up or shut up.

So, without further ado:

If naturalistic materialism is true:

1. We are nothing but the sum of our parts. Our bodies are wholly explicable in terms of nature, and there is no aspect of our bodies that cannot be described in purely naturalistic terms, nor any means of describing ourselves other than naturalistic ones. Human beings are simply organic beings and nothing more, composed of organs which are composed of cells which are composed of molecules which are composed of atoms which are composed of sub-atomic particles (and, if string theory is valid, the particles are composed of various strings of energy), and that's it. We are thus material beings and not spiritual ones. We have no souls. Consciousness is therefore nothing but a curious offshoot of biochemistry, a higher reasoning function of our brains that has arisen from the natural advantage afforded to us by both the size of the human brain and its level of complexity. It is NOT evidence that Man is a creature imago dei, but rather evidence of the power by which natural selection operating in tandem with random genetic mutation can operate.

THEREFORE, I PREDICT that scientists will one day construct a device capable of transporting a human body across vast regions of space--a device comparable to the "teleporter" as portrayed in the "Star Trek" TV series. It will disassemble a living human body at a molecular or sub-molecular level, transport those small bits of living organic material at high speed across great distance, and reassemble them to their original macroscopic configuration, with no ill effects to the body it has transported.

IF, HOWEVER, after several hundred years of scientific advance no such a device will have been formulated, this fact should be taken as an indication that materialism is not true.

2. The biodiversity of this planet is explicable in purely naturalist terms. Organic life on earth has arisen from purely inorganic material. As the fossil record clearly indicates that at one time in its early history earth was lifeless, the subsequent appearance of life on Earth can only be explained as abiogenesis-that is, that life occurred spontaneously out of nonlife. Further, since there is nothing particularly unique about the earth, since life can arise purely on its own given the right ingredients and the right conditions, and since there are assuredly other Earth-like planets in our galaxy as well as in other galaxies, it is inconceivable that we are alone in the universe. Surely on some other planet or planets, life has spontaneously generated much like it did on ours, and since the intractable rule of natural selection is to force the various species into ever-greater levels of complexity, it is reasonable to suppose that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. If we look for it, sooner or later we should find it.

THEREFORE, I PREDICT that scientists will one day find unequivocal evidence of extraterrestrial life. We will either be visited by members of some extraterrestrial race, or we will visit them, or at least detect their activity via radiometry or telemetry or some such means. If there is no intelligent life in the universe other than ours, there should at least be signs of the unintelligent kind: an alien hive or nest, an otherworldly forest, or an ocean filled with algae.

IF, HOWEVER, after several hundred years of searching for life on other planets no such evidence is found, this fact should be taken as an indication that materialism is not true.

3. Darwinism is true. Live evolves in an undirected, unscripted way. It just happens, all on its own, and unassisted by anyone. Nature is thus a closed system, fully capable or self-sustainment.

THEREFORE, I PREDICT that an incident of active evolution will be observed in the field. Now that we know what we are looking for, we will be able to demonstrate what we claim the fossil record indicates. Scientists will be able to tag a species of plant or animal, and by meticulous tracking and tagging of its offspring by generations of scientists yet to come, will eventually identify an incident in which new speciation occurs. They will be able to point to the descendants of the original species and, by careful examination of their DNA, indicate at what point their genetic coding diverged. Further, they will be able to identify the conditions responsible for the divergence, whether via natural selection, random genetic mutation, or some combination of the two.

IF, HOWEVER, after hundreds of years of field observations, no incident of new speciation is ever identified, this should be taken as an indication that materialism is not true.

4. Concomitantly, if Darwinism is true, then morality is subjective--and if it is subjective, then no single standard of morality is required for our survival. There is no higher authority establishing morality or requiring us to live among each other in any particular way. The only code of conduct required is the Rule of Law, and as this code is exclusively of human invention, we should be able to legislate ourselves into Utopia. Religion, the byproduct of primitive superstition, will ultimately disappear, once we discard our fears and emotions and give in to reason and logic.

THEREFORE, I PREDICT that one day a nation will arise that will be a purely secular society with no notion of religion, spirituality, or morality. It should be a society which does far more than merely tolerate atheism, but has atheism at its core as its functioning principle. It will be a Nation Not Under God, and will be able to function without any appeals to religion. It will be a free society, curtailed only by law, the codified product of mutual consent. It will be truly tolerant of all viewpoints, regardless of how extreme, and will accept all modes of behavior without judgment or dissatisfaction. It will be not the product of mere wishful thinking, but an active, living, fully functional entity.

IF, HOWEVER, after hundreds of years of trying to build a wholly secular society, no such society is ever able to establish and sustain itself, this should be taken as an indication that materialism is not true.

5. As we as a species are either a product of our heredity or of our environment, or of some combination of the two, all human characteristics must have their explanations along those lines as well. This includes notions such as higher intelligence, self-awareness, and free will. Therefore, what we call the mind--as separate from the brain-is no esoteric concept but has, as all things do if materialism is true, a perfectly natural explanation. The mind does not operate independently from nature. It therefore has its cause in nature and nowhere else. As the mind is clearly linked with the brain, its source must be somewhere therein.

THEREFORE, I PREDICT that science will one day identify that area or areas of the brain which produce the mind, describing in precise detail the chemical basis for thought. It will demonstrate the biochemical processes from which the mind emerges and by which the mind operates. Schematic diagrams of the mind will be produced, showing with mathematical precision its complexities and programming, displayed in a format similar to an elaborate computer program. Scientists will be able to manipulate the mind just as a neurosurgeon can manipulate the brain, and human thought will be augmented by use of computer drives-actual "thinking caps," surgically installed into the brain, allowing its user to access a wide variety of programs and databases, visually and aurally linked into the user's cerebral cortex; he will be able to manipulate data, store files, watch videos, listen to music, write new programming of his own, and otherwise operate his mind the same way a modern computer operator uses a CPU or BDA; furthermore, he will be able to interface with the minds of those around him, comparable to modern-day internet surfing. Such augmentation of human thinking will accelerate human evolution, and man will attain the Nietzschean ideal. The Uebermensch will emerge.

IF, HOWEVER, after hundreds of years of research into the human brain, the mind is never established as a dependent construct of the brain, this should be taken as an indication that materialism is not true.

6. Furthermore, since higher intelligence can be explained in materialistic terms, we should be able to reproduce it in the laboratory eventually. Thus, our efforts in constructing artificial intelligence will bear fruit.

THEREFORE, I PREDICT that artificial intelligence will continue to be refined until it ceases simply to mimic human intelligence and becomes self-aware, capable of self-reflection and introspection--the so-cammed Turing Machine. It will become sentient.

IF, HOWEVER, future science fails to develop artificial intelligence programs capable of doing everything human intelligence can do, this should be taken as an indication that naturalistic materialism is not true.

7. Knowledge and information are finite. As Carl Sagan once famously remarked, "The universe is all that ever was, is, or will ever be." Because knowledge and information can only be explained in materialistic terms, the amount of knowledge or information available in the universe is limited to the total amount of material of which the universe is comprised, and, as science has demonstrated, the universe is finite. Just as there is a theoretical limit to the amount of information that can be stored in a computer chip, there is a corresponding limit to the amount of information that can be stored in any brain, human or otherwise (or in any organ other than a brain that is capable of storing knowledge and information). Further, there is only a finite amount of material that can be used to form a chip or brain and likewise a limit to the amount of information that can be stored in any computer, however large, or in the mind of any organic being, however complex (infinitely complexity also being an impossibility, as complexity is also limited by a finite source of organic or inorganic material). This suggests that both knowledge and information are finite, limited by both the total numbers of individual entities, living and nonliving, which are capable of storing knowledge and information, and by their capacity for doing so. It is impossible to construct a computer that is larger than the available material out of which to build one; it is also impossible to have more organic beings than the total amount of organic material out of which to build them. If knowledge and information are finite, and if human beings are merely materialistic entities suborned to a material universe, then there is a theoretical limit to human thought. A Theory of Everything is therefore possible, as it would encapsulate the entire set of all things that are knowable.

THEREFORE, I PREDICT a Theory of Everything will be one day formulated and will be born out by repeated experimentation. It will accurately predict knowledge of things we do not yet know, and all future scientific discoveries will flow from it.

IF, HOWEVER, after hundreds of years of research in theoretical physics, in neurology, in psychology, and/or in related sciences no Theory of Everything is forthcoming and no experiment is ever devised to test it, this should be taken as an indication that materialism is not true.

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