Exchange 5

Shaun: Judgment on my play

I've had so little response to my play I can't help writing to beg for your final judgment. Did you take in the third podcast? Can you help me judge how acceptable it would be to a general audience? Is it coherent, clear? Amusing, or silly? Is it too British a humor for US audiences? Is the character of Galileo engaging enough?

Any reflections would be welcome.


David: I didn't listen to the podcasts, other than the start of the first. I read the script, though. That's what made me change my mind from thinking you really didn't have any major differences with the Establishment view, to thinking that you were practically calling for the replacement of science with humanitarian meditations, at least in the area of biology and specifically evolutionary biology.

As for how the play is artistically and how it might affect viewers/listeners, especially American ones, I'd say it was mostly just odd enough to leave everyone scratching their heads and wondering where you're coming from. It seems odd to me for someone who rejects the supernatural to set his characters in the "up there." Maybe you could specify it as the Pantheon of Great Thinkers or something similar which everyone will recognize as a sort of purely metaphorical thing. I think I mentioned that I found Galileo to be an unappealing character, quite impish in his clever selfishness and manipulativeness. ("Manipulativeness"? Oh well, you know what I mean.) Darwin seems almost like a dolt at times. According to the introduction, you were going for portraying him as a "simple soul," but not only did you go a bit overboard, it's the wrong target anyway. Darwin was a very complicated man, much conflicted in his own mind in some ways, yet he could be a bulldog in other ways or on certain points; he was shy and retiring in person (literally), but he could be quite aggressive in writing in response to criticism. We creationists have noted the paradox that evolutionists seem to be constantly holding him up as a great genius and original thinker, a fine fellow, and still being proven right about this or that... yet, when we point out how wrong he was about important things, or his character flaws or how he shared (or exhibited more than the usual share of) his time's negative views of women and "savages," suddenly we're told that it doesn't matter what Darwin said or what he was like, so why bring it up? heh. If you can stomach it, here's what one of us turned up when looking for the negative things about Darwin:

I hope you will read Flatland and The Planiverse. I feel like the Square who has seen that there is a higher dimension, an "up" in a direction you can't look, and now I've found, amongst those who are most adamant that there are only two dimensions, someone who sees that the two-dimensional explanations for certain phenomena don't suffice -- and yet rather than join with me in acknowledging there is something more to greater reality (and in our real world there are many who recognize there's a real beyond and above), you shiver at the implications and seek instead some cloudy "anything but that" alternative. I'm afraid that seems too shocking and sad to appreciate any humor with which you may decorate it.

I do think you should check out the Intelligent Design movement material. As I said, you have nothing to fear from it, especially if you're not looking to get into the good graces of evolutionary (or other) scientists. Your Galileo is delighted in the freedom of his ignorance that he "should" be afraid to bring in ID.

If you've got a chance of finding like-minded thinkers (and I think you do), it will be in those armchair evolutionists who haven't engaged in battle with us creationists too much, and don't really know that much about evolution, logic, intelligence, artificial intelligence, etc., but don't want to be religious and maybe even fancy themselves as knowledgeable about evolution, logic, etc. I've seen indications there are quite a few people like that, readers of popular-level science magazines, National Geographic, Scientific American, etc. THEY've been scared away from ID, too, but I've seen stuff on the Uncommon Descent forums that looks pretty similar to your ideas.

You might also want to be more open to ideas such as the Gaia theory and Sheldrake's Morphic Resonances, and for that matter some conventional arguments, such as "the information is in the environment." You have Darwin consider that. Why put all your eggs in the basket of making the genome into some kind of conscious brain thing? Have you talked with anyone who has worked with (studied) DNA, chromosomes, etc.? They have seen much, much more than just that "when a cell divides, all the chromosomes come together, they stay together for a while, then they divide and separate and two new cells form around them." The genome is nothing without the epigenome and the many other parts of the cell that support the DNA molecules and turn the code into information and the information into actions and new structures and supporting parts... yet you seem to have some mysterious intelligence at work to bring the genome together in the first place -- and where else would that reside (if it did reside in nature) except in the environment? What else was there? Yes, I think you should be able to find evolutoinists who will discuss and debate things like that with you, at least, even if you don't find any willing to go along with your idea. Remember that nobody went along entirely with Darwin, they just liked his general idea about variation and natural selection producing new forms of life. I think I mentioned earlier that there are those who see life and us humans as the universe becoming conscious of itself. Didn't Carl Sagan say something like that on Cosmos? That seems pretty much the same thing to me.

But I must conclude by returning to how it all looks to me: As "Galileo" says, "Maybe you got things the wrong way round." All of you evolutionists, but especially one who sees certain things. You see the first living things must have required hundreds of genes, and how would that come together without intelligence? but rather than conclude there was something or someone intelligent at work, you want to ascribe intelligence to the materials that were coming together! And we creationists are accused of "magical thinking"?

You see that from this simple beginning of information being infused into matter and gathered into one place, perhaps a simple bag like a greasy soap bubble, there would have to arise a new kind of cell, which you have Darwin describe as "It was as if everyone’s plodding along and suddenly a whole city leaps up and soars off into space." And again, where do cities come from, and spaceships, and won't it take much more intelligence than we now have to combine the two? But you say we "know" that these new cells with entirely new systems evolved, and so you make the environmental stresses over generations, or (in the case of "you" as you, personally) to make the genome of these cells itself such a marvelous engineer as to come up with all this new stuff and make it work.

In the history of later life, you see "...dozens of different kinds of complicated creatures suddenly pop up ... All the major divisions of animals..." And how did they come about? By the gradual steps of speciation through natural selection? How, then, you wonder, can it be that  "...between more different kinds of creatures, you get
fewer and fewer intermediates." Galileo observes that the creator -- excuse me, tinkerer, "can create entirely new kinds of creatures," but again, you have no real creator or tinkering going on, only evolutes evolving, but somehow the information in their genes is supposed to act as an intelligence that can produce rabbits and cats and dogs and elephants and all the different major designs of mammals out of a hat... oops, with "very few" candidates for intermediates.
So what does all this tell us, "Darwin" asks, what's new that it's trying to teach us? "Galileo" asks what's the most obvious thing, and puts it as a psychologist uses word association, telling him to blurt out the first thing he can think of. Elephants! there weren't elephants before, now there are -- it's creative! Apparently Darwin isn't as spooked by the association of forms of the word "creation" with creationists as he is about intelligence being associated with the ID movement. And when he notes that it woiuld be like us in that way, "Galileo" says maybe that's backwards, and practically sets forth the argument that what science and his logic have discovered is just what the Bible said all along: God the Creator created us in His image, little creators imitating Him. Just substitute a bit: "Maybe, we’re creative because [He's] creative. [He was] creative, first. [Thus, He] could make us creative. Isn’t that the way round it’s got to be? [He] was being creative long before we came along."

Anyway, it works for me like that. Have fun trying to find your own way, but I hope you join me soon. I don't see the world as we know it lasting much longer, one way or another.

(Oh, btw, sorry I haven't looked at your essay yet, I've just shuffled the irons in my fire a bit and it ended up on the back burner, guess I'll just look at the most recent version now.)

Shaun: I obviously still haven't learned how to express my point of view so others can appreciate it. Only now do you seem to see it. "you were practically calling for the replacement of science with humanitarian meditations, at least in the area of biology and specifically evolutionary biology." I'd change "humanitarian" to "humanistic," and the areas to the humanities and the self, changes in biology following as a consequence.

Maybe what I aim to do is so unbelievable that no one can accept it just the way I say it. I see how the play is likely to seem odd, pointless, it still seems to be about darwinism. My newer way of introducing my theme leaves out darwinism altogether, all I'm concerned about is the conscious self, and what understanding our having evolved can do to help us make the most of it, as opposed to what other origin stories propose. That leaves out a lot that otherwise distracts people. In other words, I start with the self, and what it feels like, and say, how can we improve that? My answer: by learning more about where the self came from, how it evolved. That's as direct a line as I can imagine just now.

Where you and I have ended up confirms the opinion I started out with: "In the case of creationists, though, I assume the motivation at root is to preserve conformity with Biblical revelation and their remarks will be configured to achieve that primary concern."  You're unable to see investigation of the origin and nature of the self as having any point except acceptance of Christ. You see my fairly systematic search for meaning in having evolved as merely  for "some cloudy 'anything but that' alternative." I doubt there can be common cause between people aiming at such mutually exclusive accounts of the self, except on incidentals such as being opposed to darwinism. I am wary of such tales as Flatland because all outliers will claim to be the only ones alive in the third dimension. I think it's me, you think it's you. Who's to choose between us? Why be subject to judgment--we'll both just go on believing it's us. Flatland adds nothing to our discussion. My reason for avoiding the ID movement is to avoid being drawn into relations that for the other person have defense of Christian doctrine as their point.

You help me see how inexplicable my quest is to a Christian, and I've already experienced how betrayed darwinists feel by it. I thought I'd find a constituency among humanists concerned to defend the conscious self, but that cause seems to have evaporated. Perhaps people's attention is so entrained by work and media that they have become unaware of having a capacity for independent thought. I may be raising a concern that might revive in the future as a reaction against this entrainment, but for now is dormant. I'll just put my ideas out there, but give up promoting them.

I've been in touch with Sheldrake over his Morphic Resonances, but he wants nothing to do with me. We cranks fear each other most of all. The Gaia Hypothesis I find sound, but parallel and non-intersecting with my path. I'm currently reading Darwin Among the Machines by Dyson, who lays great stress on intelligence lying immanent in the environment, and though I find him brilliant I see him just as much a blind man feeling the elephant as any of the rest of us. I've read Shapiro's "Evolution: View from the 21st Century," re epigenetics. I found him very impressive. But he wasn't interested in communicating. Two things that to me are front and center seem to be peripheral to others: conscious experience, and the creativity of evolution. I see those two colossal and astounding realities as linked. To others, there's nothing there that needs accounting for. What's foreground for me is background for them. I'm totally thrown. I thought my ideas were mainstream.

It's hard to convey to a Christian how arbitrary the idea of God can seem to an atheist. I grew up son of a clergyman, in London, but never a Christian. I grew up taking God to be a holdover in the Established church of England of some Roman Catholic mumbo-jumbo held over in turn from the Roman Empire, a creator of the universe modeled on what people are like but given magical powers, and given a special concern for humans to make sense of why we're here. It's like giving the keystone in an arch mystical powers when really it's just the middle stone in an arch you put in to lock the others into place. Build with steel and concrete and there's no need for a keystone anymore. The keystone to my "arch" is a combination of science and consciousness and evolution. As I said, it's hard to convey how arbitrary God seems to me. Say "God" to me and it's like saying "Karma," or "astral spirit," or "ghost." There's literally nothing there. For me it's an empty concept. To me it's "some cloudy 'anything but that' alternative" to what really does lie behind conscious experience and evolution. Defense of it seems meaningless, valueless.

We're locked in mutually exclusive belief systems. Our belief systems can't be of much interest to each other, except as being "alternative." And that's been my experience with all anti-darwinists, we're all anti-darwinist in defense of different values. To an outsider I think we must seem pretty unconvincing and boring. My live-together partner has no interest in my writing whatsoever, sees no point to it.

I know I'm irrational in continuing to pursue my mission. That's the genome wanting to speak through me. She'll see I'm OK in the end.

Cheers, Shaun