[This essay is part of the Critiques series.]
I’ve focused on critiquing traditionalism and mysticism within our own culture thus far. This was necessary, in order to establish how our civilization lost its strength. The consequence of our weakness, is our domination by the West. Most of the ‘muslims’ in our society pay lip service to the obviously pointless rituals. But when they walk out of their mosques on Friday, they once again join the real world. And in this world, all globally prevalent systems are Occidental. However, the cracks in this golden civilization are clearly beginning to show. The goal here is to analyze the fundamental source of those cracks, by focusing on that one concept which permeates its entire culture, politics, philosophy and most unfortunately, has even corrupted the scientific method, which was invented by a Muslim, Ibn al-Haytham. This core concept is the following principle: “God is dead” i.e. the rejection of an objective absolute reality.
Western commentators these days blame the ‘dumbing down’ of their society on any number of random variables, like post-modernism, celebrity culture, the media etc. They throw around newly invented terms like “post truth,” to describe the present state, in which Trump can become president with his “alternative facts,” neofascists openly campaign in Europe, climate change is denied, and even the definition of human gender is no longer based on the presence/absence of a Y chromosome etc. What’s striking is that such variables, which are themselves symptoms, litter both sides of the political spectrum. The actual driver of this current state is the abandonment of reality altogether. This idea was fully recognized by Friedrich Nietzsche, on who I will focus the first half of this essay. Then I will turn to the connected issue of Western scientists, as they deserve special attention. Nietzsche, although he is unfairly blamed for much more than he is responsible for, believed that humanity could learn to function productively without an objective basis, but as the present state testifies, he was incorrect.
“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?”1 These are the infamous words of Nietzsche that he is most known for. Most usually cite the first sentence, ignoring the rest. But why must the Muslim learn about his insights? Well, because he provides a very accurate commentary on the West. Although, many are initially introduced to him for more superficial reasons, i.e. his vast influence: 2
“With Nietzsche’s books filling college syllabuses; entire courses devoted to his philosophy; our movies, television shows, and popular music peppered with his phrases; and images of his furrowed brow and imposing mustache emblazoned on our coffee cups, T-shirts, and bumper stickers, it was not hard to believe, as Bloom had, that Nietzche is us…. When he wrote, ‘I have a terrible fear that one day I will be pronounced holy,’ perhaps he could see what was coming.”
These are not words of trivial praise. Nietzsche has “haunted” Western philosophy, and the ghosts of his thoughts wander the intellectual landscape, from America to China.3 Unlike most historical philosophers, Nietzsche’s work is incredibly accessible, with a dark and powerful prose, without technical language. Today he is popular with both “serious professors,” literary critics and students.4 But this was not always the case. There was a time, until recently, where Nietzsche was not taken seriously by analytical philosophers.5 The writer T.S. Eliot said that if we detach Nietzsche’s literary qualities from his written works, his philosophy simply evaporates. Another problem is that there is much disagreement on how to classify his thoughts. “Socialists, anarchists, nationalists, Marxists and fascists have at various times and in different circumstances claimed Nietzsche as their own.“6 The Left side of the political spectrum cherishes Nietzsche’s attacks on the bourgeois, while the Right likes how he favored the strong over the weak. Either way, it is generally accepted that Nietzsche can not be ignored.7 His almost universal appeal across the spectrum is the reason why he makes a perfect case study, a lens allowing an analysis of an entire civilization.
Even the level of severe criticism Nietzsche receives from his opponents betrays his importance. Alasdair Maclnty blames Nietzsche for the complete breakdown of rationality in modern society.8 According to Maclnty, Nietzsche’s philosophy is one of “individual authoritarianism” which combats communal harmony. Alan Bloom, the author of The Closing of the American Mind, places the blame for Nazi atrocities on Nietzsche’s shoulders, and also blames him for the nihilism seeping into American culture.9 For Bloom, Nietzsche is used as a tool by the cynical, in modern democratic society, to cloth themselves in a superficial appearance of intellect.10 Cultural and literary historians like Sander L. Gilman, have cited Nietzsche as a primary influence on the 20th century’s unleashing of rhetoric upon society.11 This is a huge laundry list of accusations. But I wouldn’t put much weight in such criticisms, nor the idea that Nietzsche had this level of influence. This indictment of Nietzsche stems more from insecurity and delusion, than from the facts. The real issue lies elsewhere.
The core concept that Nietzsche dealt with was the “death of God” and the abyss that follows. The philosopher Debra Bergoffen has done a great job in summarizing Nietzsche’s message.12 Below are some crucial excerpts from her paper:
“Unlike the atheists in the marketplace, for us, the death of God is no laughing matter. The inescapable dilemma of Nietzsche’s thought, “How and what can Nietzsche affirm after the death of God without stumbling into arbitrary and nonsensical speech,” has become the inescapable dilemma of our times.
“… God is dead. The reign of the absolute collapses. Unable like Hamleťs Gertrude to go directly from the funeral to the festival, we enter a period of mourning. Nihilism, fascism, the terror, the abyss – these are the figures of our loss. These are the politics of our mourning….”
“The lament is over. The loss is acknowledged. The desire for the absolute cannot be fulfilled. Neither can it be silenced. It can be lived. God is dead. We shall have to become gods ourselves. How are we to understand this “We”? What sort of community coalesces around the suspicion of the desire for the absolute? What sort of community is sustained by perspectivism? Here Nietzsche challenges our imagination…. He challenges us to bite the serpent’s head off and to live the eternal recurrence…“
This, above, was the basic goal of Nietzsche’s paradigm: To first acknowledge that all absolute systems of reasoning in his society were dead and then strive to create a new way to exist in ‘perpectivism.’ Instead of acknowledging the truth of this conclusion, his critics lay blame on Nietzsche for a problem he did not create. He merely pointed out the elephant in the room, and in fact tried to provide a solution (ineffectively, as we will see.) It was not Nietzsche who killed their god, it was their own society.
Nietzsche was simply a canary in the coal mine, warning Western Civilization of the oncoming train which would shatter it to pieces, if his society did not figure out how to handle this problem. He was sounding the alarm in an age where the West was super-dominant, much more so than it is today. Back then, its colonies were not delicately administered by financial strings, behind closed doors. They were actual colonies, which had been physically conquered, under direct control of the West. No polite pretense was needed back then. The Westerner didn’t just quietly think he was better than you, he openly told you he was, and rationally explained his right to rule you. It was in this era of total Western domination where Nietzsche was writing words of lament and warning, like the following:13
“Christianity destroyed for us the whole harvest of ancient civilization, and later it also destroyed for us the whole harvest of Mohammedan civilization. The wonderful culture of the Moors in Spain, which was fundamentally nearer to us and appealed more to our senses and tastes than that of Rome and Greece, was trampled down (—I do not say by what sort of feet—) Why? Because it had to thank noble and manly instincts for its origin—because it said yes to life, even to the rare and refined luxuriousness of Moorish life!… The crusaders later made war on something before which it would have been more fitting for them to have grovelled in the dust—a civilization beside which even that of our nineteenth century seems very poor and very “senile”.—What they wanted, of course, was booty: the orient was rich… Let us put aside our prejudices! The crusades were a higher form of piracy, nothing more! The German nobility, which is fundamentally a Viking nobility, was in its element there: the church knew only too well how the German nobility was to be won… The German noble, always the “Swiss guard” of the church, always in the service of every bad instinct of the church—but well paid… Consider the fact that it is precisely the aid of German swords and German blood and valour that has enabled the church to carry through its war to the death upon everything noble on earth! At this point a host of painful questions suggest themselves. The German nobility stands outside the history of the higher civilization: the reason is obvious… Christianity, alcohol—the two great means of corruption… Intrinsically there should be no more choice between Islam and Christianity than there is between an Arab and a Jew. The decision is already reached; nobody remains at liberty to choose here. Either a man is a Chandala or he is not… “War to the knife with Rome! Peace and friendship with Islam!”: this was the feeling, this was the act, of that great free spirit, that genius among German emperors, Frederick II. What! must a German first be a genius, a free spirit, before he can feel decently? I can’t make out how a German could ever feel Christian…”
What are we to make of this? It’s scarcely believable that a man from the most powerful civilization that had ever existed, at the peak of its power, was lamenting its foundation as a “corruption.” But the facts of history vindicate much of what Nietzsche said. As the intellect evolved and developed, Christianity could not stand its onslaught, because of its own internal contradictions and absurdities. The foundation began crumbling. After all, even the rights of man John Locke derived in his Treatise, were based in Christianity. Nietzsche understood the grave implications of all of this, much more so then the ‘post-modernists’ or moral relativists of today.
So while his critics blindly blame Nietzsche for the rise of Hitler, what they ignore is that Europe was a powder keg of pent up insanity, derived from the absurdity into which it had drifted, with or without Nietzsche. That insanity was finally unleashed in an explosion of systematic and mechanical violence like none this planet has ever seen. Europe’s second ’30 Years War’ (commonly known as WWI and WWII) shattered the image of Western Civilization in the eyes of its subjects. This was the real reason why the colonies began to seek independence shortly after WWII. The moral supremacy which the Europeans held over the rest of the world, cracked. Of course the West, as a whole, still possessed immense industrial and military might, relative to everyone else. But it no longer had the will, nor the justification to rule over the colonies directly.
Europe, for the most part, just withdrew into its cave, where it still resides, humiliated. It passed the mantle of leadership to the United States, the last bastion of its “enlightenment.” Of course Russia resisted, offering an alternative ideal. But it was always clear that the leadership of the Western civilization was being bestowed on America. But this was never a long-term solution to the fundamental flaw, which Nietzsche had highlighted, and both the Soviets and the Americans inherited.
So while those like Alan Bloom blame Nietzsche for the rising tide of nihilism in America, they should instead examine the real causes of their civilization’s continuing decline more carefully. The end of the Cold War was not a victory, it was another harbinger. With it fell another ancient house, leaving the last fort standing, of an otherwise exhausted civilization. But even if Nietzsche is not to blame personally, the fact that his ideas resonate so strongly, across the entire Western spectrum, is a very obvious clue that he tapped into something that is inherent. Nietzsche’s popularity has grown exponentially in more recent times, as more and more of his society sheds the superficiality of a flawed absolutism and drifts further into the “abyss,” which Nietzsche himself warned against, ironically.
In Beyond Good & Evil, Nietzsche’s ideas reach their mature and cemented state. The reader must be aware though, that unlike most philosophers, Nietzsche’s methodology is esoteric.14 If his message seems vague, unclear or even incoherent, that is exactly what he intended it to be. Such an approach initially did not earn him any respect among his peers. But there was a method behind his madness (which eventually turned literal.) Nietzsche sums up his attitude as follows:15
“Independence is for the very few; it is a privilege of the strong. And whoever attempts it even with the best right but without inner constraint proves that he is probably not only strong, but also daring to the point of recklessness. He enters into a labyrinth, he multiplies a thousandfold the dangers which life brigs with it in any case, not the least of which is that no one can see how and where he loses his way, becomes lonely, and is torn piecemeal by some minotaur of conscience. Supposing one like that comes to grief, this happens so far from the comprehension of men that neither feel it nor sympathize. And he cannot go back any longer. Nor can he go back to the pity of men.”
Bold words these, and tragic in their truth. It’s a fact that rejecting mainstream paradigms always brings with it such perils. Nietzsche’s actual claims though should have been obvious, or at least they should seem obvious to us, with hindsight:16
“Why athiesm today? – “The father” in God has been thoroughly refuted; ditto “the judge,” “the rewarder.” Also his “free will”; he does not hear – and if he heard he still would not know how to help. Worst of all; he seems incapable of clear communication: Is he unclear? This is what I found to be causes for the decline of European theism… It seems to me that the religious instinct is indeed in the process of growing powerfully – but the thiestic satisfaction it refuses with deep suspicion.”
This perfectly sums up the problem of Western Civilization, which was once built on Judeo-Christian principles, but eventually realized that its foundation could not stand the tests of reason. All the while, the powerful “religious instinct” stays alive, even if its heart is dead inside. The entire edifice had become a zombie, a ‘walking dead,’ devoid of any soul. It’s insights such as these which made Iqbal note that if he had encountered Nietzsche, he would’ve converted him to Islam, or that if Nietzsche was born in the time of the Prophet, he would’ve guided him to “eternal joy.“17 However, Iqbal also thought that Nietzsche was a “failure” and a “psychopath,” albeit, “endowed with a great intellect.”18 But Iqbal’s counterpoint to Nietzsche is a topic for another essay.
What we Muslims must appreciate here, is what followed the death of European theism. The following words, above all in my opinion, most clearly outline the consequence of this, and it is this principle which Nietzsche is criticized for the most by his critics, mostly because they are too afraid to admit that this is the post-theistic core of Western Civilization, whether they like it or not:19
“Indeed, what forces us to suppose that there is an essential opposition of “true” and “false”? Is it not sufficient to assume degrees of apparentness… Suppose nothing else were “given” as real except our world of desires and passions, and we could not get down, or up, to any other “reality” besides the reality of our drives… Suppose, finally, we succeeded in explaining our entire instinctive life as the development and ramification of one basic form of the will – namely, of the will to power… The world viewed from inside, the world defined and determined according to its “intelligible character” – it would be “will to power” and nothing else.”
This is it. This is that demon, that ‘heart of darkness’ that has “haunted” all of Western philosophy, culture, politics, and now even their science, always in the background, inescapable. For a long time, the West kept this demon at bay, but it is easy to see how/why it broke through. A flaw in the foundation will always be exposed eventually. There is no point in blaming Nietzsche for this. He worked within the paradigm his civilization afforded him, found it wanting, and presented the most probable consequence which follows, which he mistook as a solution. Reading this above, can anyone really deny that this perfectly describes the present state of Western civilization? 90% of everything in their culture is just “desire and passions” feeding their “will to power.” That is the only “drive” left.
How ironic then, that the same man who was not afraid to call a spade a spade, his own theory yielded a society not of ‘supermen’/Übermensch but yet another version of the “slave morality,” version 2.0, in the form of the modern hipster, the same brand of weaklings that he so despised. The only difference being that the slaves 2.0 are without even that original “religious instinct” that at least drove a fundamentally crippled civilization to heights never before seen in human history. Now their descendants just coast, aimlessly, gliding into oblivion, riding on the backs of giants long gone. “Independence is for the very few; it is a privilege of the strong,” thus spake Friedrich Nietzsche. Just ask Mr. Donald Trump, he and his horde of psychopaths know exactly what this means. One of the ‘intellectuals’ who publicly endorsed Trump is the social commentator and ‘art critic’ (whatever that means) Roger Kimball. In the early 90’s, Kimball wrote a critique of Nietzsche, in the same vein as Alan Bloom:20
“Nietzsche’s ideal is also modernity’s ideal. It is an ideal that subordinates morality to power in order to transform life into an aesthetic spectacle. It promises freedom and exaltation. But as Novalis points out, it is really the ultimate attainment of the barbarian…This is not to say that Nietzsche would approve of the societies that his ideas have shaped so profoundly. On the contrary, he would regard both the proliferation of democracy and the triumph of mass media and popular culture with a distaste bordering on horror…. Even the casual atheism, relativism, and hedonism of our time—even, that is, behavior and attitudes that might seem (in Nietzsche’s arresting phrase) “beyond good and evil”—would earn his contempt precisely for being adopted casually.“
Nietzsche is perfectly understood by people such as these. What is less understood by them, is how to actually solve the problem. They should first admit that Nietzsche is just a symptom. The probability favoring Nietzsche’s rise, itself arose from that moment Rome adopted Christianity. Ironically, this same aspect, of morality subjugated to power, is also what the violent protesters at Trump’s inauguration rally believe in, running around lighting things on fire. All of this, may just be a preview of things to come. Yeats forewarned of such a possible end, in his early eulogy for Western civilization:
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity…
… And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”
Modern philosophers and commentators on Nietzsche have tried very hard to come up with a strategy of salvaging the remains of sanity, using Nietzsche’s prescriptions. They claim that despite the inherent relativism of abandoning the absolute, it is somehow still possible to come up with a “perpectivist” philosophy which establishes a criteria for “distinguishing better from worse interpretations.”21 Let’s grant them this ridiculous claim, because even if we accept that this approach is theoretically possible, the empirical results are obviously not looking good for the theory. Even if ‘perspectivism’ can yield such a criteria, out of sheer magic, despite lacking an objective foundation, they clearly haven’t found it. So it’s a moot point anyway.
None of these failings should come as a surprise. Kierkegaard highlighted this result in his critique of Kant’s “categorical imperative” centuries ago:22
“Kant was of the opinion that man is his own law (autonomy) – that is, he binds himself under the law which he himself gives himself. Actually, in a profounder sense, this is how lawlessness or experimentation are established.“
This should be obvious. There is no sensible way to deny it, and it applies to all such models, including ‘perspectivism.’ Unfortunately, the problem with Kierkegaard, a thinker who I have much respect for, is that he was also imprisoned in a Judeo-Christian framework, with its foundation set in irrationality. The Quranic counterpoint to Kierkegaard, I will discuss in a following essay, as that is the subject of solutions. For now, let’s make sure we understand the problem.
Sinking into Absurdity
Turning now to science, perhaps the most tragic casualty of this whole fiasco. The reason we still see new toys on the market is because of the lag time between physics and engineering. Technology has been catching up to the physics, which stalled a long time ago. The rate of growth of technology has already been leveling out, which was inevitable, given the lack of progress in physics. Most of us just don’t notice it, because our standards for “innovation” have been lowered, mostly by corporations, desperate to convince us that every new smartphone is a revolution.
The destruction of objectivity in the West has had severe effects on the accumulation of knowledge, and the situation is getting worse. Most of the scientific results being published today, in even the most prestigious journals, can not be reproduced.23 This is the verdict according to Nature‘s own survey (Nature is the world’s most cited scientific journal.) This signals that scientists have lost their intellectual integrity, an outcome that Einstein himself warned about long ago, as I will explain.
The last major strides in fundamental physics all occurred in the time of Einstein. Ever since then, we have only managed to elaborate on those ideas, with Quantum Field Theory (QFT) and observations of General Relativity (GR). QFT, while stunningly successful in some areas, is also responsible for “the worst theoretical prediction in the history of physics! Nobody knows how to make sense of this result.“24 This is a prediction which disagrees with observation by 120 orders of magnitude, and is known as the “vacuum catastrophe.” On the other hand, we now have “dark energy” and “dark matter” to deal with. To put it simply, we have discovered that GR can only account for 4% of the observable universe, and the rest is “dark” i.e. we have no idea what it is.
One of the physicists who was involved in discovering the “vacuum catastrophe” was Paul Davies. He’s an acclaimed physicist, cosmologist, and astrobiologist, who wrote “The Goldilocks Enigma.” In this book, Davies exposes the biases of modern scientists, which directly relate to the same flaw I have been describing. These biases stem from a grudge against Christianity, with due cause. The Church’s verdicts of heresy, like the most famous one against Galileo, will never be forgotten by scientists, nor should they be. But like Nietzsche, who having rejected Christianity, rejected theism itself, so have the scientists in the West fallen into the same trap. Unlike Nietzsche though, most have chosen the abyss, the worst possible option.
The universe, in a sense, is an exceedingly simple system. Everything about the universe can be reduced to a few numbers, the “fundamental constants” in physics. For example, the gravitational constant “G” or the speed of light “c” etc. The problem is that in order to get a universe such as ours, which is conducive to order, life and consciousness, these constants can not be very different than the ones we have. This discovery has come to be known as the “fine tuning” of the universe. Davies gives many examples of this, let’s take a look at a few.
The most obvious fundamental constants are the values of the 4 fundamental forces in nature: Gravity, Electromagnetism, the Strong and Weak forces. If any of these forces were even slightly weaker, or slightly stronger, we would not have the formation of stars and galaxies, which provide the building blocks of everything biological.25 If the Strong Force was different by even 1% of its value, we wouldn’t have had carbon. Without the Weak Force being within a very narrow range, the entire chemical makeup of the universe would be much worse for life. The ratio between the strength of Gravity and Electromagnetism is what allows life-friendly solar systems, with stars like our sun. Even the masses of subatomic particles are important. For example, if the neutron were lighter, even by a fraction of 1%, than it would have less mass than the proton, which would be unstable and decay. Then there would be no atoms, and therefore no chemistry. There are many other examples like these. But they all pale in comparison to the most important example, which Davies calls “The Biggest Fix in the Universe,” and it relates to his own work on the “vacuum catastrophe”. I will quote the relevant passage at length, as this is not only mind blowing stuff, but very important for the thesis of this essay. Note especially the ending sentences I marked in blue:
“The value of the dark energy mass density measured by astronomers is some 120 powers of ten less than the “natural” value obtained by applying quantum theory to the virtual particles in a vacuum. When the value of dark energy seemed to be zero, it was at least plausible that some yet-to-be-discovered mechanism might operate to force an exact cancellation. But, as Leonard Susskind has stressed, a mechanism that cancels to one part in 120 powers of ten, and then fails to cancel after that, is something else entirely. So the big fix somehow works brilliantly (if mysteriously) for 119 powers of ten, but fails at the 120th. Whatever dark energy may be—and it may just be the “natural” energy of empty space—it is dangerous. In fact, it could be the most dangerous stuff known to science. About twenty years ago Steven Weinberg pointed out that if the magnitude of the dark energy were only moderately larger than the observed value, it would have frustrated the formation of galaxies. And as I have already remarked, without galaxies there would probably be no stars or planets or life. So our existence depends on the dark energy’s not being too large. A factor of ten would suffice to preclude life: if space contained ten times as much dark energy as it actually does, the universe would fly apart too fast for galaxies to form. A factor of ten may seem like a wide margin, but one power of ten on a scale of 120 is a pretty close call. The cliché that “life is balanced on a knife-edge” is a staggering understatement in this case: no knife in the universe could have an edge that fine. Logically, it is possible that the laws of physics conspire to create an almost but not quite perfect cancellation. But then it would be an extraordinary coincidence that that level of cancellation—119 powers of ten, after all—just happened by chance to be what is needed to bring about a universe fit for life. How much chance can we buy in scientific explanation? One measure of what is involved can be given in terms of coin flipping: odds of 10^120 to one is like getting heads no fewer than four hundred times in a row. If the existence of life in the universe is completely independent of the big fix mechanism —if it’s just a coincidence—then those are the odds against our being here. That level of flukiness seems too much to swallow.”
If you don’t have goosebumps yet, you should. Because this is the stuff that keeps some of the smartest people on the planet up at night. The question is, how do we explain these ridiculous odds? This level of “flukiness” is built into the fundamental structure of our universe. Davies lists out 7 possible explanations for this:26
- The Absurd Universe: What we see is what we get, so just “shut up and calculate” because there is no grand meaning/purpose/design in nature, with or without any unifying theory.
- The Unique Universe: There is a deep underlying unity in physics, and there must exist some profound mathematical explanation for why everything is the way it is, and why it could not have been any other way.
- The Multiverse: Our universe is just one of an infinite set, and thus there is no ‘fine-tuning’ problem at all.
- Intelligent Design: ‘God did it!’
- The Life Principle: The universe is forced to evolve life due to some overarching teleological law.
- The Self-Explaining Universe: The universe (or universes) creates itself, in a closed/causal loop, which also understands and explains itself.
- The Fake Universe: We are all living in a simulation, like The Matrix!
The last three I will ignore, because they don’t have much support, either in the scientific community or the general public. The real battle these days is between the first four contenders.
Right off the bat, let me make one thing very clear: All of these positions, are on equal footing. The skeptic will find this hard to believe and the atheist will probably reflexively reject #4. Those a little more aware, will counter that “Intelligent Design” was refuted by Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, and therefore is not a valid explanation. But this is incorrect. According to Davies, the Darwinian attack on the Design argument only applies to biology, not to physics: “Here the design argument is largely immune to Darwinian attack.”27 All the fine tuning examples cited above have nothing whatsoever to do with the natural selection in the theory of evolution.
But before the theists jump for joy, they should understand a very important but subtle point. This particular God of Design that Davies is referring to, is not the God of “miracles” that most theists blindly believe in. This God, is the Designer of the laws of this universe. As Davies explains:
“Intelligent design of the laws does not conflict with science because it accepts that the whole universe runs itself according to physical laws and that everything that happens in the universe has a natural explanation. There are no miracles other than the miracle of nature itself. You don’t even need a miracle to bring the universe into existence in the first place because the big bang may be brought within the scope of physical laws too, either by using quantum cosmology to explain the origin of the universe from nothing or by assuming something like eternal inflation. The designer-of-laws is responsible for the universe, and might be thought of as upholding its existence at every moment, but does not tinker with its day-to-day operation. The type of God I am describing comes close, I think, to what many scholarly theologians—and for that matter quite a few scientists—profess to believe in.”
Granted, there are problems with this “God did it” explanation, and Davies points them out. Chief among them, is the critique that this explanation “simply plugs one gap—the mystery of cosmic bio-friendliness—with another—the mystery of an unknown intelligent designer.” This is a completely valid critique, because there is no way for us to figure out where God came from. But even still, the skeptic and the atheist would be wrong to assume that this missing piece makes the other explanations more logically or empirically attractive. The multiverse is a popular explanation these days for the atheists, (especially the non-physicist atheists.) It’s adherents believe that it offers the perfect alternative to God. But does it? Well, according to Davies:28
“If the concept of God runs into a logical and existential quagmire, then the multiverse fares little better. Just as one can mischievously ask who made God or who designed the designer, so one can equally well ask why the multiverse exists and who or what designed it. Although a strong motivation for introducing the multiverse concept is to get rid of the need for design, this bid is only partially successful. Like the proverbial bump in the carpet, the popular multiverse models merely shift the problem elsewhere—up a level from universe to multiverse. To appreciate this, one only has to list the many assumptions that underpin the multiverse theory.”
It’s interesting to note that the motivation behind the multiverse is to get rid of God. I will come back to this point later on. Side note: I would recommend watching this short clip from the documentary “Particle Fever,” in which another renowned physicist, who himself favors the multiverse, briefly explains the significance of this one particular constant, and also briefly talks about explanations #2, #3 and #4 (click here).
Now what about those who favor explanation #2, the “Unique Universe”? This is the idea that one final “theory of everything” can, well, explain everything… But would it? The claim of such a theory would be that only one unique outcome (i.e. our universe) is possible, given the constraints of mathematical consistency. This is considered the ‘holy grail’ of all physics. According to this idea, there would be no “free parameters” and thus no “fine tuning.” All the constants would be set in the only possible way they can be set. Here, God would simply be redundant. But according to Davies, even this explanation, (assuming such a theory can even exist) leaves open a critical door. As Davies says: “Intriguing though the idea of a “no-free-parameters” theory may seem, there is a snag. If it were correct, it would leave the peculiar bio-friendliness of the universe hanging as a complete coincidence… It seems to me that a unique mathematical theory that makes no reference to life, but that nevertheless yields life, is as unbelievable as seeing a face leap out from among the early digits of π.”29 Basically, this theory won’t explain “why” we are all here, nor would it provide any meaning or purpose. So it’s really just another version of explanation #1. Just like the multiverse, which can also be reduced to a version of #1: The Absurd Universe.
This brings us to the last, and in my opinion, the most destructive of all the explanations. Before I even get into the implications of the Absurd Universe, where finding meaning is meaningless, the reader should be aware that according to Davies, this is probably the majority position among scientists.30 Yes, most scientists today would rather believe in absurdity, rather than any of the other 6 positions. And given the fact that #2 and #3 are also versions of absurdity, this means the vast majority of scientists today, are steeped in Absurdism. This alone says a lot about the general health of the scientific community these days, at a psychological level.
The “Absurd Universe”is best described by a quote by Richard Feynman, who was one of the last great physicists of the 20th century, and a beloved figure within the physics community: “The great accumulation of understanding as to how the physical world behaves only convinces one that this behavior has a kind of meaninglessness about it.”31 Here’s another quote by Steven Weinberg, another distinguished physicist who won a Nobel along with Abdus Salam for ElectroWeak Theory: “The more the universe seems comprehensible the more it also seems pointless.” Shockingly, when Weinberg made this remark, he was actually criticized by other scientists, not because he said the universe was probably pointless, but because his words left open the possibility that the universe could have a point! That is how defensive most physicists are about the mere suggestion that our existence could have any meaning whatsoever.
Welcome to Absurdism, the home of modern physics. This all stems from rejecting an objective reality. The general audience might ask ‘how can scientists reject objective reality? They are scientists!‘ Well, scientists, are also just people. They are very smart people, in general, but they are part of a social structure. It didn’t happen over night, the seeds were planted long ago. But the sense of sanity in science eventually ‘collapsed’ at the dawn of Quantum Mechanics (QM.) The critical aspect that must be understood here, is that during the time of Einstein, despite his stern opposition, Western scientists collectively decided to abandon realism (i.e. an objective reality,) not due to any necessity, but simply because they did not care enough to preserve it. Just like they have chosen the “Absurd Universe” when they didn’t have to, they first discarded realism when it was/is possible to preserve it in physics. They simply chose, as a collective, not to defend it.
The Battle that Reality Lost
I’ll first give a summary of what orthodox QM says about nature. When QM was discovered, its first interpretation was known as the Copenhagen Interpretation (CI.) This interpretation, which is still the standard, says the following: In the absence of a measurement to determine a subatomic particle’s properties the particle has no properties.32 Read that again. This view completely destroys the concept of an objective reality i.e. realism, in physics. The position of an electron, its momentum, its “spin,” none of these attributes exist until you measure them, according to CI. Therefore, “reality” does not exist, at the most fundamental subatomic level, unless it is being observed. Only the act of observing reality, brings it into being. According to this interpretation of QM, there is no distinction between the observer and the observed, which was always a fundamental aspect of science.33 Niels Bohr, the leader of the Copenhagen camp, described this position as follows: “an independent reality in the ordinary physical sense can neither be ascribed to the phenomenon nor to the agencies of observation.” In other words, objective reality does not exist, according to Bohr.
Obviously, this bombshell was not easy to accept, nor was it easily accepted. In defense of reality, stood Einstein himself, who not only discovered GR, but was also one of the founders of QM as well. Yet, Einstein hated CI’s anti-realism that was being promoted chiefly by Bohr. Einstein was supported primarily by Schrodinger, and on the other side stood Bohr and his student Heisenberg, with many other legends of Physics involved in the epic drama (e.g. Max Plank, Dirac, Wolfgang Pauli, Max Born, Louis de Broglie, David Bohm, Von Neumann, Ehrenfest, Curie, Lorentz etc.) I don’t think a greater collection of scientific minds has existed in one time and place, together, before or since! This is precisely why this debate, and its result, had such far-reaching consequences.
Bohr stated his position as follows: “It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature.” Whereas his opponent Einstein, believed that: “What we call science has the sole purpose of determining what is.” These two positions are fundamentally opposed to each other. This is what set the stage for an epic battle within the scientific community, which was perhaps the last bastion of objectivity in the Western world:34
“At stake in the debate that was about to begin between Einstein and Bohr was the soul of physics and the nature of reality.”
We are still reeling from the results of this debate. Bohr’s side won the debate in the Solvay conference in 1927, decisively turning the majority of the physicists, except a very few, over to his camp. By the 1950’s the Bohr-Heisenberg “Copenhagen Interpretation” had become synonymous with Quantum Mechanics.35 But this was only because Einstein had personally failed at this conference to defeat Bohr. When Einstein lost the debate at Solvay, those on the sidelines went head-first into Bohr’s camp.36
Once the dust settled, Einstein still refused to accept defeat. He claimed that QM is incomplete. Heisenberg attacked Einstein for being unable to let go of his grip on reality (apparently, that’s a bad thing.) He criticized Einstein for stubbornly refusing to accept that “this objective world of time and space did not even exist.” Other physicists lamented how Einstein and Schrodinger had abandoned their leadership of the physics community, while most of the younger physicists openly gossiped about them going “senile.”37
But there was always an alternative to the Copenhagen Interpretation which preserved realism. It was even brought up at the Solvay conference, by Louis de Broglie. When de Broglie presented his Pilot-Wave Interpretation, his ideas were shot down. Not because they were ridiculous, but simply because of the intense rivalry between the two major camps, that of Einstein/Schrodinger versus Bohr’s camp, did not leave any space for compromises. There simply was not enough intellectual space for another entrant into the fray. de Broglie had hoped to win Einstein’s support, because his model preserved realism, but Einstein remained unmoved, at least during the conference.38 Although afterwords he did offer words of support to de Broglie, privately telling him that he was “on the right path,” but these proved to be insufficient. de Broglie abandoned his own idea and adopted Bohr’s interpretation soon after the conference.39
But this alternative was not dead yet. After a couple of decades had passed, and after Bohr’s side had firmly defeated Einstein in the popularity contest, a young David Bohm realized that the Pilot Wave interpretation had serious potential of avoiding the pitfalls inherent in the Copenhagen interpretation. This time, it seems, Einstein was more helpful, and the two papers Bohm published in 1952, thanked Einstein for the fruitful discussions he had with him in Princeton. In the papers, Bohm argued that “the mere possibility of such an interpretation proves that it is not necessary for us to give up a precise, rational and objective description of individual systems at a quantum level of accuracy.“40
Bohm managed to reproduce a mathematically coherent version of de Broglie’s original idea, which de Broglie had surrendered. In standard QM, the wave function is an abstract wave of probability, but in the Pilot Wave Theory, it is a real physical wave that guides particles “just as an ocean carries along a swimmer.” What this allows, is a precise value of position and velocity in its trajectory, which is still ‘hidden’ by the uncertainty principle.41 Later, when John Bell (the genius theoretician of “Bell’s Theorem” fame) read Bohm’s paper, he remarked that he “saw the impossible done.” Bell could not understand why this interpretation was (and is still) ignored. He asked: “why is is the pilot wave picture ignored in textbooks? Should it not be taught, not as the only way, but as an antidote to the prevailing complacency? To show that the vagueness, subjectivity, and indeterminism, are not forced on us by experimental facts, but by deliberate theoretical choice?”
Perhaps Bell should have read Nietzsche. Maybe then he would have realized why this “deliberate theoretical choice” is made so casually. Pick up any undergrad QM textbook and you will find it consciously directing the student towards the “shut up and calculate” approach towards absurdism, and not worry about the “vagueness, subjectivity, and indeterminism” that Bell was so concerned about. After all, this is the guy that once said: “I am a Quantum Engineer, but on Sundays I have principles.” The problem now is so deeply systemic, it doesn’t even go away on Sundays.
Einstein in his mid 50s, was regarded as a relic of bygone age by other physicists, especially the younger lot, who completely believed in Bohr’s interpretation of QM offering a subjective view of existence. Murray-Glenn Mann, another Nobel winning physicist, believes that Bohr had “brain washed” an entire generation of scientists.42 Oppenheimer, one of the “brain washed,” once remarked that “Einstein is completely cuckoo.”43 But Einstein had his own assessment of events, that has proved to be much more accurate. Einstein explained his problem with the physics community as follows: “Almost all the other fellows do not look from the facts to the theory but from the theory to the facts; they cannot extricate themselves from a once accepted conceptual net, but only flop in it in a grotesque way.”44 This is a very damning indictment. The fact that it came from Einstein himself, speaks volumes.
This upside-down approach to science which Einstein spoke of, has only gotten worse. Copenhagen still “reigns supreme” among theoretical physicist’s today.45 While the second most favored viewpoint, is the “many worlds interpretation” of QM, which is closely linked to the multiverse in cosmology. The other deep problem with the multiverse idea, besides the basic one already mentioned previously, is that it’s a very slippery slope. According to Davies:46 “Once we are in the business of postulating entire other universes on flimsy evidence, where do we stop? And what does it do for our understanding of reality?” Again, we come back to the question of reality versus absurdity. Once an objective basis is abandoned, in any society, the social consequences will eventually effect its scientists.
Davies explains that if the concept of a multiverse is accepted, the odds shift dramatically in the favor of our universe being a fake simulation.47 If there are infinite universes and infinite possibilities, then there’s nothing stopping us from positing advanced super-civilizations who have figured out how to create simulations of universes with conscious beings within them. Such super-civilizations could create an uncountable number of these simulations, and those simulations would spawn other simulations inside them, ad infinitum! In this case, we won’t know what layer of who’s simulation we are part of. “If our universe is part of a multiverse, the balance of probability shifts dramatically in favor of simulation. It’s a matter of basic statistics.,” Davies says. All of this absurdity, why? Well, because of this:48
“Many scientists who are struggling to construct a fully comprehensive theory of the physical universe openly admit that part of the motivation is to finally get rid of God, whom they view as a dangerous and infantile delusion. And not only God, but any vestige of God-talk, such as “meaning” or “purpose” or “design” in nature.”
This is the sad and completely unhinged state of mind of most scientists today. They’d rather choose absurdity, abandon realism, and prefer living in a fake simulation, than accept the theistic position! It’s like they all went to rave, dropped a boat load of acid and collectively lost their minds. I’m at pains to think of a less ridiculous analogy, but I simply can’t. If this is the case with the smartest among Western society, can anyone really be surprised by a Trump victory? Most people aren’t nearly as intelligent as your average theoretical physicist, and if even this lot has lost their minds, what chance does the average Joe have?
Westerners know that something is deeply broken, and they have no idea how to fix it. One doesn’t need a Chomsky-level intellect to point at the shaking ceiling anymore, it’s being highlighted by much more mainstream thinkers, even some among its own warriors. For example, the former Army colonel turned historian, Andrew Bacevich, who recently wrote:49 “‘Where there is no vision,’ the Book of Proverbs tells us, ‘the people perish.’ In the present day, there is no vision to which Americans collectively adhere.” Another former military man who is currently a history professor, the retired USAF Lt. Colonel William J. Astore, wrote recently: “How did America’s ideals become so twisted? And how do we regain our nobility of purpose? One thing is certain — the current path, the one of ever greater military spending, of border walls and extreme vetting, of vilification of the Other, justified in terms of toughness and ‘winning,’ will lead only to further violence and darker (k)nights.”50
At the end of the day, it is true that subjectivity is an inherent part of the human condition. This is not a bad thing. Every human has the gift of experiencing reality in a deeply personal way. We all see the world through our own prisms, yes. But to make the unneeded, unjustified and infinitely disastrous claim, that behind those prisms exists nothing, but more prisms, that is the “abyss.” The greatest tragedy of Western civilization is that it willingly chose this. No one forced it on them. It surrendered realism when it did not have to. As its own foundation crumbled, it could have searched for another foundation. But it refused to, choosing to do away with all foundations, out of sheer despair. That is when the die was cast, and the walls began to crumble. One Western power fell after another, now leaving only a single one standing. What we see before us today, are the last gasps of an ancient giant. One which will be remembered as another cautionary tale in the books of history, like all others before it. To this civilization, humanity will owe much, despite its many evils. It was the West who brought humanity to the moon. It was the West that gave us electricity, penicillin, the internet, and of course lolcats. History will not forget its many accomplishments. Perhaps it will take another century or more for the West to concede defeat. Or maybe it will never do it willingly, until it is finally forced to by a resurgent and authentic Islam based in the Quran, the only other challenger which claims leadership of all humanity. “Rome was not built in a day,” the saying goes. It did not fall overnight either.
- Nietzsche, “The Gay Science,” Sec: 125, trans. Kaufmann ↩
- Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen. “Conventional Iconoclasm: The Cultural Work of the Nietzsche Image in Twentieth-Century America.” The Journal of American History, vol. 93, no. 3, 2006, pp. 29. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4486411 ↩
- Moeller, Hans-Georg. “The ‘Exotic’ Nietzsche—East and West.” Journal of Nietzsche Studies, no. 28, 2004, pp. 57–69. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20717841 ↩
- Bergoffen, Debra B. “POSTHUMOUS POPULARITY: Reading, Privileging, Politicizing Nietzsche.” Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 73, no. 1, 1990, p31. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41178504 ↩
- Magnus, Bernd. “Perfectibility and Attitude in Nietzsche’s ‘Übermensch.’” The Review of Metaphysics, vol. 36, no. 3, 1983, p 651. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20127877 ↩
- Bergoffen, Debra B., pp. 38. ↩
- Bergoffen, Debra B., pp. 31-32. ↩
- Bergoffen, Debra B., pp. 36-37. ↩
- Bergoffen, Debra B. pp. 38. ↩
- Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen. pp 728 ↩
- Bergoffen, Debra B. pp. 51. ↩
- Bergoffen, Debra B. pp. 32, 56-58 ↩
- Nietzsche, The AntiChrist, 60 ↩
- Nietzsche, Beyond Good & Evil, trans. Kaufmann, p42 ↩
- Nietzsche, Beyond Good & Evil, p42 ↩
- Nietzsche, Beyond Good & Evil, p66, 69 ↩
- Bilquees Dar R, “Iqbal and Nietzsche: Perfect man versus Superman.” International Journal of English and Literature. http://www.academicjournals.org/journal/IJEL/article-full-text-pdf/D32162141205 ↩
- Iqbal, “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam,” Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0-8047-8146-6. p 154 ↩
- Nietzsche, Beyond Good & Evil, p46-48 ↩
- Roger Kimball, “The legacy of Friedrich Nietzsche“. The New Criterion, September 1991. ↩
- Bergoffen, Debra B. p53-54 ↩
- Ronald Michael Green (1992). Kierkegaard and Kant: The Hidden Debt. SUNY Press. pp. 90. ISBN 978-0-7914-1107-0 ↩
- Monya Baker. “1,500 scientists lift the lid on reproducibility.” Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science. 25 May 2016. ↩
- M. P. Hobson; G. P. Efstathiou; A. N. Lasenby (2 February 2006). General Relativity: An Introduction for Physicists. Cambridge University Press. pp. 187. ISBN 978-0-521-82951-9. ↩
- Davies, Paul. “The Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the Universe Just Right for Life?“ First Mariner Books edition 2008. ISBN 978-0-618-59226-5, Chapter 7. [NOTE: I have an electronic version of this book which lacks page numbers. It can be downloaded via Libgen. I’ve also included the link on the Resources page.] ↩
- Davies, Afterword ↩
- Davies, Chapter 9, sec: Laws by Design Versus Anthropic Selection in a Multiverse ↩
- Davies, Chapter 9, sec: Who Designed the Multiverse? ↩
- Davies, Chapter 9, sec: If There Were a Unique Final Theory, God Would Be Redundant ↩
- Davies, Afterword ↩
- Davies, Chapter 1, sec: Is the Universe Pointless? ↩
- Manjit Kumar. “Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality” ISBN 978-0-393-33988-8. p 305 ↩
- Manjit Kumar, p262 ↩
- Manjit Kumar p 263 ↩
- Manjit Kumar p 276 ↩
- Manjit Kumar p277 ↩
- Manjit Kumar p 356. ↩
- Manjit Kumar p257-258 ↩
- Manjit Kumar p276 ↩
- Manjit Kumar p335 ↩
- Manjit Kumar p336 ↩
- Manjit Kumar p 358 ↩
- Manjit Kumar p 301 ↩
- Manjit Kumar p 302 ↩
- Maximilian Schlosshauer, Johannes Kofler, and Anton Zeilinger, “A Snapshot of Foundational Attitudes Toward Quantum Mechanics.” Department of Physics, University of Portland, July 2011. https://arxiv.org/pdf/1301.1069.pdf ↩
- Davies, chapter 8, sec: Have Varying “Constants” Already Been Detected? ↩
- Davies, Chatper 8, sec: The Multiverse Must Include Fake as Well as Real Universes ↩
- Davies, Ch 1, Sec. Goodbye God? ↩
- Andrew Bacevich, “Now Is the Time to Fix American Politics: Trump’s election victory ended the ‘Age of Great Expectations’ and left a void“ War is Boring, Jan 11, 2017. ↩
- William J. Astore, “Weapons, Warriors and Never-Ending Conflict in the New America: A collective dark side has supplanted America’s ideals since the end of the Cold War“ War is Boring, Jan 29, 2017. Originally appeared in TomDispatch. ↩