An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
David Christopher Lane, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Lecturer in Religious Studies, California State University, Long Beach Author of Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1994) and The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Succession (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1992).
It was a serene evening and all the foreign visitors at the Dera from various countries around the world, but particularly the United States, the United Kingdom, and Brazil, were gathered at the Dera Guest house’s upper meeting room to have an evening session of questions and answers with Charan Singh, the spiritual leader of Radhasoami Satsang Beas.
I remember that the discussion turned to science and evolution and at one point in the proceedings it seemed as if Charan Singh was positing a creationist position. I raised my hand and explained to my guru that I taught evolution in my Chaminade College Preparatory’s classes and went on to say something to the effect about whether I should be more nebulous about it, given his own questioning comments on the subject. Charan laughed and then proceeded to say that science should be taught in science classes and that in any case it was a mystery beyond our mental comprehension. I think Charan also commented that maybe the monkeys wouldn’t be happy knowing about our relationship with them (reversing the usual critique of how humans don’t like being related to primates).
I wasn’t rankled at the time by his answer, since he didn’t categorically dismiss Darwin or evolution by natural selection, even if he did suggest a more mystical interpretation of the how varying species came into being.
However, I did become perturbed eight years later at the Dera where I got into a relatively heated discussion with a fellow satsangi and author John Davidson when we were standing in line to do our laundry. Our conversation started off friendly enough as he was working on a book about Christianity and was keenly interested in early Gnosticism. However, and I am not quite sure how the topic came up, we soon started talking about evolution and I was wonder struck by Davidson’s own creationist leanings. I said something to the effect that his ideas were not evidential or scientific. I also asked him if he had ever received criticism for what he had written and I was a bit flabbergasted by his apparent unwillingness to have his theories critiqued by others more versed in the subject. Davidson then tried to shore up his argument by saying that Charan Singh and apparently all the other masters in the Beas lineage, held a view similar to his own. I then said something a bit impolite (given the surroundings) about how our guru really didn’t know science very well and therefore shouldn’t be cited as an authority on the subject. Well, our conversation went from bad to worse and finally Davidson tapped me on the nose to silence my increasingly vocalized skepticism of his nuanced version of intelligent design. I don’t think we talked much after that.
Over the years I dismissed Davidson’s books on how the universe and life came into being and related subjects as mostly New Age silliness. It didn’t occur to me that many of his peculiar views on creation would later be rehashed and published by the Radhasoami Beas organization. I must confess that I was a bit surprised and disheartened to see Davidson’s deeply questionable perspective given the apparent imprimatur of the “Science of the Soul Research Centre”, particularly since his views are anything but scientific.
The following critique therefore is aimed both at Davidson and Radhasoami Beas since both seem to behold similar views on creationism and evolution. Given that Radhasoami under the direction of its current leader, Gurinder Singh, wants to advertise itself worldwide as a scientific enterprise, even if of the spiritual variety, it must be more open to critical views from both inside and outside of their sangat. Science is after all predicated and built upon that most necessary and highly treasured feature that permeates its entire edifice..... the ability to question and to doubt.
Quite frankly, One Being One is a dishonest book written not so much to bridge the gap between science and religion, but to not so subtly proselytize for Radhasoami's version of intelligent design.
The first problem we confront with Radhasoami’s attempt to advertise itself under the all encompassing banner of “Science of the Soul Research Centre” is figuring out what exactly they mean by science. In the Publisher’s Note to John Davidson’s book it states, “One Being One presents a reconciliatory perspective within the current dialogue between science and religion. It is hoped that it will contribute to a better understanding of these two fields, which are often presented as contradictory.”
In his preface to his tome, Davidson explains that he has had a life-long interest in “nature, science, and mysticism.” He mentions that a week after getting initiated by Charan Singh into the Radhasoami faith in 1967, he got his “first real job at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge,” where he apparently assisted others in computing which he states “became my profession.”
Book cover "One Being One"
Davidson is very clearly attempting to show the reader that he has a background both in science and mysticism and because of this is well suited to guide us on the “relationship between scientific and mystical traditions.” As I will try to show, however, Davidson’s understanding of science is fraught with difficulties. At one end, he wants to argue that Radhsoami’s version of mysticism is a scientific endeavor on par with physics and chemistry, and on the other end he wishes to severely criticize science’s naturalistic methodologies. In doing this, it becomes readily apparent that Davidson’s overall agenda is to have science fit in with Radhasoami’s mystical worldview and when it doesn’t he invariably finds fault with science but he never (not once) questions Radhasoami’s obvious theological purview.
Thus he is not reconciling science with mysticism, but rather championing Radhasoami’s viewpoint above all else. Although he might be loathe to admit such a comparison, Davidson’s apologetics are not dissimilar to how certain Christian fundamentalists cherry pick science to support their Biblical worldview. Yet when the science doesn’t dovetail with their belief system (as in the case of Darwinian evolution), they dismiss it and then pontificate on the superiority of what the Bible says about creation. Ironically, this is almost precisely what Davidson does throughout his book, except that he elevates mysticism (and not the Bible) at each and every turn.
Davidson laments on page 11 of his book that “modern science suffers from the lack of an inherent spiritual perspective” and goes on to categorically allege that this absence has led science down a “road of self-destruction” which have “led to the rape and wreck of our planet in a previously unprecedented manner,” a claim he will later contradict on page 172 when he writes, “It’s not science itself that is to blame for all the environmental havoc.”
Contrary to Davidson’s lamentation, science is a process of discovery and succeeds best when it is not weighed down by metaphysical considerations. Indeed, it is precisely when science got divorced from religion that it made its greatest progress. Moreover, what Davidson takes to be spiritual is not necessarily what a Christian or a Muslim or a Buddhist might mean by the term.
Davidson also mistakenly limits the import of what science can potentially achieve when he misleadingly claims that “science as a logically consistent description of the mechanics of the material universe rigorously excludes [my emphasis] anything but raw empirical data and intellectual theorizing thereon.”
This is simply untrue. Science doesn’t exclude anything a priori and there is nothing whatsoever holding any scientist (professional or amateur) back from exploring anything that strikes his or her interests. For example, there have been pioneering studies done on consciousness at M.I.T., Harvard, U.C. San Diego, and other top notch hard science universities. In addition, for decades studies have been conducted at Duke and Stanford on such paranormal subjects as E.S.P and telepathy. More recently, meta studies have been conducted on remote viewing and astrology. Several universities have even funded research into out-of-body and near-death experiences. Thus, Davidson’s sweeping generalization overlooks what scientists are actually doing.
In science one can proffer any sort of guess one wishes about how and why a certain phenomena occurs. The key, however, is that science demands that such guesses eventually be tested to see how well they explain a given object or event. If they fail to live up to their hyped billing, then the scientist must be willing to admit to their insufficiency and try to find a better hypothesis which explains the data more accurately or more comprehensively. Interestingly, it is because science and scientists must be willing to be proven wrong which has led to the explosion of our current knowledge about how the world works.
Yet, the real thorn in Davidson’s side appears to be the theory of evolution by natural selection as first developed by Charles Darwin and his later intellectual heirs such as Julian Huxley, R.A. Fisher, Theodosius Dobzhansky, Ernst Mayr, George Simpson, W.D. Hamilton, E.O. Wilson, James Watson, Francis Crick, and others.
It is here that Davidson echoes his earlier books on creationism and evolution, none of which have received any serious consideration by mainstream science and for good reason. He wants to reintroduce, even if hesitatingly. a variant version of Intelligent Design but not have it hitched to the Bible. As Davidson writes, “That makes no sense to me [connecting Intelligent Design to Genesis, but the idea of nature being permeated by an essential Intelligence or Consciousness that gives rise to all the natural ‘laws’ and ‘principles’ known (and unknown) does not seem like such a bad idea.”
The powerful thing about science is that one’s personal preferences (whether one finds Biblical Intelligent Design or Mystical Intelligent Design persuasive) are besides the point since what is ultimately important is whether a theory is evidential or not and how well it can withstand critical scrutiny. In other words, what may make no sense to one person may make lots of sense to another. But in either case such hunches mean nothing until they are tested and that is where science comes in. Yes, we may have all sorts of hunches and predispositions about how nature “should” work, but as Richard Feynman, the noted physicist reminds us, science is only concerned with discovering how nature does indeed operate, sans our own biases. And in this way, we must have a never-ending ability and openness to being wrong. This is primarily why Karl Popper’s notion of falsification has been so widely cited as a way of differentiating potentially viable scientific ideas from merely pseudo-scientific claptrap. We must not fool ourselves and we are the ones that can be most easily duped. Science is a form of systematic doubt and successful experiments in science are those that can withstand doubt (as in rigorous testing, etc.) from varying quarters best.
Yet, does Davidson or Radhasoami Beas, for that matter, posit the same skepticism of their own mystical traditions as they do with evolution or any scientific claim that contravenes their “a priori reasoning”? In Davidson’s book we never see him raise even the tiniest of doubts about mysticism and its methods. Why is this so? Why be skeptical in one arena but not the other?
Science cannot diminish the spiritual quest if that quest is concerned with truth and not merely dogmatic assertions taken at face value.
Science cannot diminish the spiritual quest if that quest is concerned with truth and not merely dogmatic assertions taken at face value. However, spiritual paths must be open to varying interpretations and must (and this is the kicker that most paths tend to resist) be open to falsification. In other words, for any endeavor to be justifiably regarded as "scientific" it must be willing to be corrected, to be changed, to be wrong.
While much of spiritual literature advertises itself as scientific, we find that the very basis of almost all scientific endeavors, that of theory making, is dismissed since it interferes with certain strongly held religious beliefs.
For example, when a particular guru instructs the neophyte to go within the laboratory of one’s own body to verify the factualness of their respective theology, he doesn’t mention that such subjective experiences should be open to varying interpretations of what they could possibly mean or how they may be a byproduct of the brain.
This version of science is more akin to an elaborate food recipe, where the would-be chef needs to follow a set of given instructions in order to know how to make a chocolate cake or a vegetarian pizza. Applied science is successful only after certain facts are well established and known. But at this juncture, any proposed spiritual science is still in its infancy, even if some traditions would like to suggest otherwise.
Such versions of science are similar to a computer program like Basic or Unix where if you follow just the right set of protocols you will invariably end up with a repeatable outcome. But this leaves out the most vitally important aspect of science, something which only few meditational teachers seemed to grasp, which is that science isn’t a thing but rather a process of discovery and along that pathway there will be false starts, differences of opinion, falsifications, tentative hypotheses, and theories and even facts that are always subject to alteration or even wholesale elimination.
For instance, it may be one thing for a religious tradition to say, "There is no better method than that of the Sound Current, which is an ancient and natural science. It was designed by the Creator Himself, is within every one of us, yet whole nations and entire countries of the world are ignorant of it.” But, it is quite another thing to then claim that such a description is part and parcel of a genuine science. Notice that the preceding quote concerning shabd yoga isn’t alleging to be merely a scientific endeavor to be placed alongside biology or chemistry, but rather is emphatically stating (quite categorically one might add) to be more fundamental than even physics since it was created by God himself as a path back to him. While a devotee may believe this to be the case, it is fairly obvious to an outsider that this assertion is not a scientific claim as much as a dogmatic one in the guise of scientific dressing.
This is important to understand since a genuine scientific endeavor worthy of its name cannot arbitrarily pick which aspect of science they wish to utilize. In cases like this it is as if science is employed as a form of advertising to reach interested seekers who may have been turned off by more exclusive forms of religious dogmatism. While it appeals to the rational authority of science, it does so by claiming that shabd yoga is the highest of all sciences, apparently forgetting in the process that any scientific endeavor worth the appellation must be open to revaluation and correction. Nowhere do we find in most meditational literature a consistent theme of falsification, where past gurus and their ideas are corrected, changed, or overthrown. What we do find, however, is a paradoxical selection of quasi scientific language which appears to be offering a potential experimental procedure to validate inner spiritual experiences.
But as we have previously noted, when closely examined this type of rhetoric is more an instructional formula to achieve an already agreed upon result (similar to baking a pie) and less a scientific method with all its unforeseen trajectories.
Surprisingly, shabd yoga or any meditational discipline that wishes to be viewed as a genuine science would be best served if, instead of first resorting to dogmatic axioms about its ultimate truth claims or appealing to unassailable authorities in its lineal past, it looked for ways to falsify itself. A good example of how to do this can be found in Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, where in just one sentence he explained how his whole theory of evolution by natural selection could be wrong. Wrote Darwin,
"If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down."
Here Darwin points the pathway by which his whole theory could be turned upside down. Any spiritual endeavor desiring to be taken seriously as a science should do the same.
One of the chief methodological problems with Davidson’s book (as he readily admits on page 14) is that it “relies on a priori reasoning, on taking certain things for granted. I’ve tried to present things in a logical manner, but I do presume the existence of an all-persuasive, unseen Being or Intelligence.”
With such a metaphysical bias running throughout his book, the reader knows right from the outset that he or she is not in Kansas anymore. Regretfully, Davidson doesn’t stop there but tries to equate his speculative reasoning with scientific naturalism (which grounds itself in the empirical universe around us) incorrectly suggesting that they are the same. Lest Davidson ignore the obvious, science first focuses on correlations and causations that can be verified in this world. But it doesn’t claim, as he wrongly infers, that there cannot be something that transcends terra firma. Science, unlike Davidson’s mysticism, doesn’t have such an over-arching transcendental philosophy. Here Davidson has mistaken science’s practicality with an underlying metaphysic.
Take for example the issue of whether science can indeed decide the physicality of consciousness, even despite its powerful tool of methodological naturalism. Quite simply, if consciousness is indeed beyond physics or anything within its known laws, then no matter how hard we try to ground mind to its neural structures there will always be something missing in such reductions. And, interestingly, this gap will loom even larger because our physical science will be unable to adequately explain it. Thus, one could argue that such a physicalist approach will shine a much more illuminating light upon the problem by showing exactly where, when, and how awareness is not the result of physical properties. But if we forego this grounded scientific quest prematurely because of already accepted quadrant categorizations (the type that religions wants to pose as already confirmed hierarchies) then we can and will succumb too easily and too readily and too naively to the Transcendental Temptation. Or, to invoke Ken Wilber's pithy parlance, you cannot make a pre-rational and trans-rational fallacy distinction (distinguishing that which is truly within the five senses from that which is not) unless you have a deep and rich and nuanced understanding of all that is indeed pre-rational. How else can one determine that which is truly trans-rational?
A science of consciousness, therefore, must start with the brain. Science, in other words, can indeed point to that which is not physical because of its ultra-focused aim. Science can upend itself quite easily. The fact that it hasn't yet is why we remain so confident in its methods and its discoveries. But if in the future it comes across something that cannot be reduced to the four forces of the universe, we will be forced to reconsider. But what has happened in the past and what is still happening today is that we want to invoke transcendent explanations too quickly in order to salvage a sense of the numinous, forgetting in the process that even if all things are indeed material bits the mystery of all this (and here comes the pun) isn't lessened by one bit.
While I can appreciate that Davidson and others believe in a higher intelligence, we should not confuse our own faith with how the world works. We should also not provide false caricatures of how science is done in order to elevate our own theological biases.
Davidson in his desire to make a Consciousness Is All proposition succumbs to making a number of solipsistic errors. On page 147 and 148, for instance, he argues that we cannot “compare” or “tally” our experiences of the world with others. He writes, “I look at a chair, you look at a chair. What’s the problem? The problem is that we have no way of comparing our two experiences to see if they tally. Perception is subjective.”
While it is certainly true that perceptions are subjective, it doesn’t then follow that we cannot correlate our experiences of a chair with others. We do it all the time. That is why we don’t see two or three or more people sitting in the same chair, unless indulging in some sort of sophomoric prank. Moreover, neuroscience has made tremendous progress in developing ways for our subjective experiences to be understood and explained in more objective ways. Just recently New Scientist reported that, “Philip Low, of Stanford University in California, is testing a portable device called the iBrain to record Stephen Hawking’s brain activity and identify what they mean.”
I think the fundamental difficulty Davidson and perhaps other of a similar ilk have with science is that they have a mistaken understanding of the term matter and what it portends. Matter itself is not one thing and thus it isn’t surprising that there is an almost infinite spectrum of possible variations, including different perceptual modes (from a dolphins using 3-D sonar or a bat using ultrasound or a dog extreme sensitivity to smells, to cite but three of Davidson’s examples on page 148).
But Davidson doesn’t want to explain these variations as the result of material processes but rather of a mind that he believes is “a separate and more subtle entity than both the brain and physical reality.” This unnecessary dualism, of course, is richly ironic given the title of Davidson’s book, One Being One.
It is here that Davidson’s overall metaphysical agenda comes into full relief. He cannot imagine how matter could be responsible for consciousness and thus argues that the “the fundamental reality of all things is being or consciousness, not material substance.”
But how does Davidson know this to be ontologically true? By his a priori reasoning skills? Thankfully issuing such grandiose statements as if by a divine fiat is not how science progresses. The very hubris he projects on science boomerangs back on Davidson when he makes such dogmatic remarks. Is it any wonder that skeptics will not find his rhetorical arguments convincing?
Davidson adds more to his mystic dogmatism when he asserts (without qualification) that “The One Being’s primary ‘unit’ of creation is not made of matter. His fundamental unit is a little being, the soul, made of His own ‘substance’. In his own image--being or consciousness.”
I can appreciate that such religious axioms might be expected for a catechism class for newly indoctrinated members of Radhasoami, but to pass it off in a book that pretends to be scientific is (and I will try to be polite here) a tad ridiculous.
Davidson believes that it is the mind that “creates the multiplicity of changing forms.” He also points out that “most scientists don’t like the idea of a ‘ghost in the machine,’ holy or otherwise.” But he then proceeds to complain that science should not “always have the last word on everything.”
But science never does claim to have the last word on anything. That is precisely why it is progressive and why technologies change and improve over time.
But science never does claim to have the last word on anything. That is precisely why it is progressive and why technologies change and improve over time. Science is never at a standstill and is constantly questioning and correcting itself. Can the same be said of Radhasoami? When was the last time a mystic in such a tradition contradicted a previous master or a previous doctrine in the lineage? Radhasoami, and similar mystical schools, are the ones attempting to have the “last” word and Davidson repeatedly displays an unquestioning acceptance of shabd yoga mysticism over and above what science discovers. His book is not a reconciliation of science and religion. Rather, it is an unabashed apologetic to elevate a mystical worldview above all others and never deeply question his own religious tradition.
Davidson argues on page 123 that the “universe itself is supremely and surprisingly biofriendly.” While those who are presently alive and kicking on this planet may think so, the facts tell us another story. Perhaps a laundry list of where life doesn’t flourish will give us a better context in which to appreciate the not so “biofriendliness” of the cosmos at large. There is apparently no life (as we presently recognize it) on any of the billions of stars or countless black holes or innumerable planets throughout our own milky way, since they are in essence uninhabitable. Where then does life bubble forth? As far as we can decipher (given our limited resources at this moment) life occurs very rarely and then usually in fairly horrific conditions where eat or being eaten rules the day and night. Most of life that issues forth does so only after massive deaths of organisms that survive only briefly and even then under such dire circumstances that one can only wonder what anyone means by such a term as “friendly.” In any case, the universe is filled with an astronomical amount of unusable and unlivable territory (statistically speaking, 99.9 percent or more of the cosmos is mostly not kind to life), which, of course, led one astute thinker to quip, “If there really is a God of this universe, one thing is certain: He is very fond of lots of empty parking spaces.”
Clearly, we suffer from a myopic vision of how the universe operates when we only look our own survival as indicating something about how the everything is constructed. Viewed from a less anthropic purview, one can better appreciate Darwin’s quote from Tennyson when he insightfully (and with an ear for a good pun) opined, “nature is read [red?] in tooth and claw.”
A winner of a super lottery may reflect upon how fortunate she is to win such a large prize given the circumstances, and may think that it was “meant to be” given that any change in her routine would have led to a different outcome, since she allowed the computer to pick her number at random. Indeed, she might even think of every event up to that moment being special and interrelated since it led to such a stupendous result. However, what she doesn’t think about are the millions of ticket buyers who lost and how they were not so fortunate. And how did she win? Simple answer: by chance. Understanding probability and how it applies in such circumstances gives us a much deeper insight than does our misguided belief in “it was our karma” type of thinking.
The same applies, even if we are resistant to admit it, to why our planet houses life and others do not. Or, to put this in sharper relief, if creating life forms was the purpose of the universe, the designer has surely done a terrible job given the overwhelming abundance of unused space and the torturous ways that even the simplest of creatures must endure to survive for barely seconds given the abundance of “eating” competition.
But Davidson sees none of that and instead claims on page 132 “that everything seems to be perfectly arranged for the existence and maintenance of life.” Perfectly arranged? Apparently there must be a typo in his use of the word arranged, since a better choice would have been deranged.
Yet, it is in his chapter entitled “A Bunch of Old Fossils” near the end of the book where Davidson truly goes off the rails and indulges in exaggerations bordering on dishonesty. For reasons I cannot understand (to echo a similar refrain from Davidson about Christians and their take on creation), Davidson consistently misrepresents the current work being done on evolution and in so doing sideswipes a proper understanding of the revolutionary discoveries that have been made in the past fifty years. He even goes so far as to butcher a quote (without attribution) in his rush to make a sweeping (and inaccurate) allegation that “many” [his words] scientists have reached the conclusion that the “dynamic complexity of living organisms” cannot be reconciled with “underlying statistical probabilities.” Of course, no names are mentioned, no references are provided, and his use of the quote “The probability that random chance created life is roughly the same as the probability that a hurricane could blow through a junkyard and create a jumbo jet,” comes from Fred Hoyle and has now become known among evolutionary theorists as “Hoyle’s Fallacy.” Ian Musgrave’s widely cited book [from talkorigins.org to Wikipedia, etc) Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics and Probability of Abiogenesis Calculations explains it thusly,
“These people, including Fred [Hoyle[, have committed one or more of the following errors. They calculate the probability of the formation of a "modern" protein, or even a complete bacterium with all "modern" proteins, by random events. This is not the abiogenesis theory at all. They assume that there is a fixed number of proteins, with fixed sequences for each protein, that are required for life. They calculate the probability of sequential trials, rather than simultaneous trials. They misunderstand what is meant by a probability calculation. They underestimate the number of functional enzymes/ribozymes present in a group of random sequences.”
Davidson on page 157 even cites the widely criticized canard (best epitomized in Michael Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box) on page 157 that “The biochemistry of even the simplest microorganism is just too incredibly complex for it to have come into being by chance.”
One wonders whether Davidson is even aware that this very notion of irreducible complexity has been severely criticized by molecular biologists who have gone out of their way to explain how evolution at such a level works.
“Michael Behe's term ‘irreducible complexity’ is, to be frank, plainly silly — and here's why.
‘Irreducible complexity’ is a simple concept. According to Behe, a system is irreducibly complex if its function is lost when a part is removed. Behe believes that irreducibly complex systems cannot evolve by direct, gradual evolutionary mechanisms. However, standard genetic processes easily produce these structures. Nearly a century ago, these exact systems were predicted, described, and explained by the Nobel prize-winning geneticist H.J. Muller using evolutionary theory. Thus, as explained below, so-called ‘irreducibly complex’ structures are in fact evolvable and reducible. Behe gave irreducible complexity the wrong name.
Behe claims that irreducibly complex systems cannot be produced directly by gradual evolution. But why not? Behe's reckoning goes like this:
(P1) Direct, gradual evolution proceeds only by stepwise addition of parts.
(P2) By definition, an irreducibly complex system lacking a part is nonfunctional.
(C) Therefore, all possible direct gradual evolutionary precursors to an irreducibly complex system must be nonfunctional.
Of course, Behe's argument is invalid since the first premise is false: gradual evolution can do much more than just add parts. For instance, evolution can also change or remove parts (pretty simple, eh?). In contrast, Behe's irreducible complexity is restricted to only reversing the addition of parts. This is why irreducible complexity cannot tell us anything useful about how a structure did or did not evolve.
With Behe's error now in hand, we immediately have the following embarrassingly facile solution to Behe's "irreducible" conundrum. Only two basic steps are needed to gradually evolve an irreducibly complex system from a functioning precursor:
Add a part.
Make it necessary.
It's that simple. After these two steps, removing the part will kill the function, yet the system was produced directly and gradually from a simpler, functional precursor. And this is exactly what Behe alleges is impossible.
As a scientific explanation, the Mullerian two-step is extremely general and powerful, since it is independent of the biological specifics of the system in question. In fact, both steps can happen simultaneously, in a single event, even a single mutation. The function of the system can remain constant during the process or it can change. The steps can be functionally beneficial (adaptive) or not (neutral). We don't even need to invoke natural selection in the process — genetic drift or neutral evolution will do. The number of ways to add a part to a biological structure is virtually unlimited, as is the number of different ways to change a system so that a part becomes functionally essential. Plain, ordinary genetic processes can easily do both.”
But Davidson appears uninterested in a real dialogue with science since it would point by point contravene each of his contentious and outdated pastiches. How else can he write (apparently with a clear conscience) such howlers as “There is certainly no clear evidence that life and consciousness originated from material substance.” To the contrary, there is overwhelming evidence that life and consciousness are indeed the result of material processes. It is so obvious, in point of fact, that one winces at Davidson’s arrogance when making such an all encompassing and wrong-headed statement, particularly in light of the discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick (at Davidson’s alma mater no less) at Cambridge University in 1953 and the astonishing breakthroughs in unraveling the genome of human beings and other organic creatures.
And adding to his apparent ignorance of the field, Davidson goes on to univocally state on page 160 that such empirical study is “an entirely speculative theory, an unsupported extrapolation of the available data into the realm of scientific mythology.”
It is at this point that any reasonable reader may reflect on why Davidson is being so dishonest and disingenuous about the vast array of evidence that the varying sciences have marshaled in support of evolution by natural selection. The answer, sadly enough, is too obvious: Davidson is a religious devotee who believes (apparently absolutely and apparently quite dogmatically) in the metaphysical theology of Radhasoami Beas and anything which upends his cherished belief system is open game, even if it means being duplicitous in his presentations of the “other” side.
One Being One isn’t genuinely interested in a science-religion dialogue, but rather is bent on being a polemic against all that which contravenes Davidson’s and Radhasoami’s somewhat medieval metaphysical schema. He even impugns the integrity of evolutionists alleging that “such an interest [in that which would contradict the current Darwinian paradigm] is likely to be seriously bad for their career prospects.”
Yet, Davidson doesn’t seem to realize that if a scientist (following the evidence and not merely mystical dogmatism) was to discover something that upended some or all of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, he or she would be heralded as a pioneer in the field. Scientific awards, lest we forget, are given to those who discover things we don’t know. The Nobel Prize in physics, chemistry, or medicine, for instance, is not given to those who merely confirm what we already know, but to those who make a singular or unique contribution.
In assailing Darwinian evolution (but without mustering convincing evidence), Davidson on page 164 juxtaposes molecular biology with his own mystical theology, one where “behind all the physical processes lie the patterning processes of the formative mind, projecting subtle inner mental patterns into physical reality. This is all part of what some folk call the law of karma.”
Does Davidson give us even a scant of evidence for this theory? No. So how does he know that his subtle mind theory is correct, especially in contradistinction to the plethora of evidences provided by the hard sciences? The answer again is a revealing one: because his religion says so and because he believes in the veridicality of meditational experiences. Yet, what is so alarming, particularly in a book that wants to be taken seriously, is that Davidson doesn’t once find even the tiniest fault or crack in his own theological superstructure. In this sense, he is no different than fundamentalist Christians or Muslims who take their respective holy books as inerrant.
Davidson, not the science and scientists he so mistakenly criticizes, is the one proffering a dogmatic mythology, especially when he can make such axiomatic statements (as on pages 164-165) as “In the divine process, consciousness gives rise to matter, not the reverse. Mind and spirit give rise to bodies. That’s a fundamental principle [my emphasis].
Davidson isn’t providing us with a “science” of the soul, but a well worn dogma disguised in pseudo-scientific language which pretends to be something that it is not. Quite frankly, One Being One is a dishonest book written not so much to bridge the gap between science and religion, but to not so subtly proselytize for Radhasoami’s version of intelligent design. Even most young earth creationists are more upfront about their agendas than Davidson is in his tome.
What is it about matter than makes erstwhile monists succumb to the very dualism they wish to transcend? Davidson harps throughout his text about the One Being One, but repeatedly resorts to a series of outdated models, based more on Hindu philosophy than anything offered by neuroscience, which display a dualistic chain of being, more similar to gnosticism than to absolute monism.
The penultimate chapter, “Present in the Presence,” of Davidson’s book, betrays its real thesis and it is here that he gives up all pretense at being objective and simply tries to persuade his reader to convert to his religious way of thinking, even as he still tries to soft pedal his spiritual counseling as a some sort of universal dictum without cultural restrictions. On page 177 Davidson preaches, “The divine Beloved is our guide, drawing us ever one. Our effort is simply a response to his call. ‘If we taken one step towards Him, He takes a hundred steps toward us.’ And He is the one who makes us take that one step. His grace is inestimable, His love is incalculable.”
While such proselytizing and preaching may be appropriate for a religious catechism book, it seem entirely inappropriate and even knavish in a text that wishes to honestly present a “reconciliatory perspective” between science and religion. Even the imprint “Science of the Soul Research Centre”, which is now how the Radhasoami Beas religion wants to advertise itself in the West, seems contrived and designed to give the impression of some sort of objective science enterprise which it is clearly not.
What kind of open research is Radhasoami Beas truly engaged in, except the reiteration of their own philosophy and the regurgitation of their own mystical practice--one which is guided by a supreme leader who the majority of followers believe to be god in human form? There is something deeply unseemly in this approach, particularly when Radhasoami is anything but a science in the general sense of that term and when using such an advertising ploy never engages in a critical analysis of its own belief system. Science progresses precisely because it allows for corrections and is willing to change its core ideas over time when better and more accurate theories emerge. Has Radhasoami Beas done anything akin to this? No. Perhaps it would be better for all concerned if Gurinder Singh and Radhasoami Satsang Beas stopped the charade of pretending to be a science and came to grips with the fact that it is a mystically oriented religion like many others around the world.
Perhaps if John Davidson dropped the ruse that his book was about science and more about his own theological belief system his readers would be better informed about his real purposes and could accept it for what it ultimately turns out to be: a fundamentalist religious tract for Radhasoami Satsang Beas.