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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 4/5/10

Worrying a Fragile Social Cohesion

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So why aren't scientists all over this problem? Why are they not at least talking about it as an unresolved issue? It is because science has no formalism to deal with such a question. By the same token, science also does not have the formalism to resolve the issue of the existence of God. Believers and atheists are necessarily acting on faith. The only scientifically defensible position is that of agnosticism.

Nevertheless, we can mine the existence of mental telepathy for additional insights: As already stated, the communication between minds at a distance implies that consciousness cannot be strictly identified with processes going on in one brain. This says something about the universe at large, and not just about brains. It says that the universe had to accommodate the existence of consciousness from the outset. That is to say, the universe did not acquire this property in the same way we came by consciousness, namely by evolution. The laws of nature were in place before we had consciousness as a species.

One could argue that the universe is now, and likely always has been, congenial to consciousness. So one is prompted to ask: Were the states of the universe that facilitate the interpersonal communication of consciousness empty until we came along? Or were they occupied even before we and our animal ancestors came along? Physicists tend to believe that if something does not violate the laws of nature, chances are good that it actually happens. In any event, the option does not seem to be foreclosed. Some humility is called for in the face of such ambiguity. The question is intrinsically unresolvable.

Am I here just doing the same thing the creationists have been trying to do, using scientific arguments to secure a place for God? Not quite. Science describes life in prose. But we live life in poetry. Just as Steven Weinberg can see the night sky as indicating a cold universe, we can look at our connectedness through the realm of consciousness and see a warm one. One view looks outward for certainty; the other looks inward. If God lives anywhere, that is where He is to be found---in our interiority and in our connectedness.

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Albert Einstein suggested that there are only two ways to live your life: "One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." These two perspectives ought to be able to exist harmoniously because the choice cannot finally be resolved. The problem in the real world is that both sides are hegemonic. Our own religious tradition tends to be hegemonic in principle, and our scientific enterprise is increasingly becoming hegemonic in practice.

All of the history of science has been characterized by a lack of openness to an even richer universe than we imagined at the time. Many times along the way, we were ready to regard our worldview of the time as essentially complete. Up to now, this has always been a mistake. Prudence would argue for humility in the face of the mysteries that still confront us. The political manifestation of such humility is tolerance of different perspectives. The growing intolerance confronting the religious world view outruns the facts. We must, therefore, allow the conjecture of Intelligent Design its place.

The Path Forward

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The above issues, and others like them, are not resolved by winners and losers simply exchanging places. We must move toward an accommodationist agenda. The last thing our society needs is a militant atheism to go up against sectarian militancy. The former is intellectually driven, and it is up against deeply rooted, passionate belief. God is bigger than Richard Dawkins---irrespective of whether He exists or not.

My immediate concern here is continuing societal cohesion and stability, which is not at all assured. Al Qaeda's real victory is the empowerment of the disaffected. The power to disrupt and to cause major mayhem is now moving down to the retail level in many areas. It is increasingly an issue domestically, ranging from the destruction of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma to the abortion-related killings of doctors to ACORN activist James O'Keefe declaring "It is time for conservative activists to create chaos for glory." And now we have Joseph Stack.

Here we see the kind of total disaffection from the society, tinged with religious fervor, that should worry us. History offers us relevant examples. The nascent democracy of the Weimar Republic in Germany could not survive the societal stresses unleashed by World War I and the Versailles Treaty. Our own nation suffered through the Civil War, in which one in eleven Americans was killed or wounded. To this day, the consciousness of that war is still alive in the South. The war did not really resolve the issue of slavery. Institutions adapted and we got Jim Crow for an entire century. One-third of Southern Republicans would still favor secession even to this day, despite the fact that they've been running the country since President Carter's presidency.

Our politics today are like the battle lines in World War I. There was lots of carnage, but little progress, and certainly no victory. Never were more human resources expended over such barren terrain, in the words of Patricia Noonan. We contend with an unnatural alignment of much of the faith community with predatory capitalism because both want to limit the power of government. Our real adversary as progressives is a political system rendered subservient to economics and finance. The apparent hostility to religion undermines this agenda and needlessly galvanizes and solidifies our opposition.

The movement toward a more diverse culture requires a more inclusionary politics and a more accommodationist agenda. Some lines in the sand just shouldn't be drawn, so that we can get those things done that only governments can and must do. As my post-election euphoria balloon continues to deflate, I hold on to the hope that this is what President Obama is trying to do.

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Siegfried Othmer is a physicist who over the last 33 years has been engaged with neurofeedback as a technique for the rehabilitation and enhancement of brain function. He is Chief Scientist at the EEG Institute in Los Angeles. Coming to (more...)

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