Socialist Appeal - British section of the International Marxist Tendency

cosmologyblurb.gif During the 1980s and 1990s, advances in chaos and complexity theory began to demonstrate a fact understood more than a century and a half earlier by the founders of scientific socialism, Marx and Engels, that systems which show an apparently high degree of complexity or “design” do not require the hand of a creator but emerge naturally from the apparently mundane interacting and contradictory forces at play inside the system. It may come as a surprise to many then to find that in the field of cosmology there are respected scientists groping towards the revival of the mystical idea of intelligent design.

Intelligent design presupposes an intelligent designer. This means God. Here is how Alan Woods criticizes the theory of intelligent design in his introduction to the second edition of Reason in Revolt.

“Intelligent design is merely the resurrection under a more plausible name of the Creationist movement, which in the USA involves millions of people and is backed by some scientists. The ideas of Darwin are being challenged in the USA by supporters of the so-called intelligent design theory. They demand that American schoolchildren be made to read the First Book of Genesis as an alternative "theory" to Darwinism. If this movement were to succeed, we would be back in the Dark Ages when men and women prostrated themselves before graven idols and burnt witches at the stake.

“The revelations of the Human Genome Project have cut the ground from under the feet of the reactionaries. It has decisively settled the old "nature" versus "nurture" controversy. It shows that the number of genes in humans is not more than 23,000. This has shattered the case for biological-genetic determinism at a single stroke. The relatively small number of genes rules out the possibility of individual genes controlling and shaping behaviour patterns such as criminality and sexual preference.

“We share our genes with other species going far back into the mists of time. Evolution is very economical. It constantly fashions new genes from old parts. Thus, the idea of the supporters of "intelligent design" theory that humans are a special creation of God is exploded. Human beings have only about 3,000 more genes than the humble roundworm, a creature with a body of 959 cells, of which 302 are neurons in what passes for its brain. By contrast, humans have 100 trillion cells in their body, including 100 billion brain cells.

“Thus, the human genome holds important philosophical and political implications. The biological determinists insisted that in some way genes are responsible for things, like homosexuality and criminality. They attempted to reduce all social problems to the level of genetics. We criticised these false theories in the first edition of Reason in Revolt, but at that time we had no means of knowing that in a few years their unscientific character would be so clearly demonstrated.

“As I wrote in the preface to the second Spanish edition in 2001, "The latest discoveries have finally exploded the nonsense of Creationism. It has comprehensively demolished the notion that every species was created separately, and that Man, with his eternal soul, was especially created to sing the praises of the Lord. It is now clearly proved that humans are not at all unique creations. The results of the Human Genome Project show conclusively that we share our genes with other species - that ancient genes helped to make us who we are. In fact, a small part of this common genetic inheritance can be traced back to primitive organisms such as bacteria."

In the 13th century, the Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas, in observing the rich, beautiful and complex world around him observed, “We see that things which lack knowledge, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result.”

From Aquinas' point of view this motion, which apparently acts always towards some “best result”, is the effect of an intelligent designer standing outside of our world. In Medieval Italy this designer was of course the Roman Catholic God. Since the slow feudal epoch of St. Aquinas however, science and technology have developed by leaps and bounds; spurred on by the needs of industry and the profit motive of the modern capitalist.

As mankind has brought the great forces of nature under our control, we have also demystified and exposed the entirely natural origins of previously mystical and wondrous phenomenon. During the 1980s and 1990s, advances in chaos and complexity theory began to demonstrate a fact understood more than a century and a half earlier by the founders of scientific socialism, Marx and Engels, that systems which show an apparently high degree of complexity or “design” do not require the hand of a creator but emerge naturally from the apparently mundane interacting and contradictory forces at play inside the system. It may come as a surprise to many then to find that in the field of cosmology there are respected scientists groping towards the revival of the mystical idea of intelligent design.

The “Anthropic Principle” was first proposed in 1973 by astrophysicist Brandon Carter during a lecture celebrating the 500th birthday of the Polish astronomer Copernicus. Carter's original proposition was in opposition to the fetish which many in the scientific establishment had made of Copernicus' idea that we do not occupy a central position in the universe. Considered historically, Copernicus' ideas had represented a huge leap forward in astronomy, putting the Earth in orbit around the sun instead of the sun and the planets in orbit of the Earth. However, the “Copernican Principle” has now become a tremendous block on developments in cosmology. With little supporting evidence, it has now become the accepted wisdom amongst cosmologists that if nowhere is particularly special, on some grand scale every single point in the universe is essentially the same! Observationally however, even on the largest scale the universe appears to be full of complex and varied structures; much lumpier than many cosmologists might have hoped for!

It was in reaction to the prevailing “Copernicanism” in cosmology that Carter set out to save a special place in the universe for humanity with what later became known as the “Weak Anthropic Principle” (WAP), “The observed values of all physical and cosmological quantities are not equally probable but they take on the values restricted by the requirement that there exist sites where carbon-based life can evolve and by the requirement that the Universe be old enough for it to have already done so.” [The Anthropic Cosmological Principle by John Barrow and Frank Tipler,]

In actual fact, the WAP doesn't say anything particularly profound at all. It can be reduced  to, “Life exists. Therefore a universe with life in it exists.” We could make an equally valid principle relating to any existing thing, not just carbon-based life. The fact that there exists a “Weak Principle” however also suggests that there exists a “Strong” alternative. The “Strong Anthropic Principle” (SAP) tells us, “The Universe must have those properties which allow life to develop within it at some stage in its history.” [The Anthropic Cosmological Principle]

The SAP seeks to go further than the WAP, explaining that the universe has the properties which it has because humanity exists. The justification for the SAP has stemmed from the idea that there appear to be many physical quantities in cosmology which if tweaked ever so slightly would result in a radically different universe: a world without shining stars; a world without hospitable planets; a world without the necessities of life; and therefore presumably a world without humanity. Marxists have long been familiar with the idea that small quantitative changes can transform into huge qualitative differences. Understanding precisely what complex forms of organisation would emerge from changing the most fundamental of constants is beyond any scientist. Despite this, many cosmologists are unsatisfied with (or unaware of) the idea that complexity is inherent in our universe and are convinced that humanity is so special that there must have been a predetermining factor in assuring our evolution. The implication is clear; that factor was Him.

Many prominent physicists, unable to expose the underlying assumptions of the SAP, yet equally unwilling to accept an intelligent designer; have inadvertently given credibility to those who espouse intelligent design by suggesting an even more ludicrous theory as a “natural” explanation. In a lecture entitled “Life in the Universe”, Stephen Hawking instructs us, “For the Strong Anthropic Principle, one supposes that there are many different universes, each with different values of the physical constants.”

Most of these universes presumably don’t contain life. The only reason ours seems to be special is because we are here to observe it. This many universe “theory” is completely divorced from reality, and by capitulating in front of the SAP allows intelligent design to appear to be an equally valid alternative. After all, if Stephen Hawking can create universes willy-nilly, why can’t God?

The Anthropic Principle has many respected defenders in the field of cosmology, not to mention the numerous idiots who have latched on to an opportunity to rehabilitate their theological ideas. This all begs the question, why is it that modern cosmology is lending credibility to such antiquated ideas? The answer is that cosmologists find themselves in circumstances which have pushed them to abandon a scientific method. On the one hand, such science-fiction sells. The whole edifice of modern cosmology; dark matter, dark energy, big bangs, multiple universes and elusive particles; bad science or not, it receives huge amounts of funding whereas alternatives are starved. (For our view of the ‘big bang’ theory, go to www.marxist.com/science/bigbang.html)

As Eric Lerner points out in an article for the New Scientist, “Today, virtually all financial and experimental resources in cosmology are devoted to big bang studies. Funding comes from only a few sources, and all the peer-review committees that control them are dominated by supporters of the big bang. As a result, the dominance of the big bang within the field has become self-sustaining, irrespective of the scientific validity of the theory. [“Bucking the big bang”, New Scientist, 22 May 2004]

Equally significant is the division of labour in capitalist society. The capitalist mode of production, once a cause for advance and progress, has now turned into its opposite. In the same way that the imposed division of labour in cosmology has now become a fetter, so the division of labour within the rest of society has also become an obstacle to each individual being able to fulfil their full potential. Instead of a division of labour based upon enriching the worker; the worker is reduced to a tool in the process of production. Division between one type of labour and another is natural and inevitable in all societies. However, in today’s world this division has been taken to an irrational extreme which, in cosmology, is no longer a cause of advance, but retards research.

On the one hand a division between mental and manual  labour means that the vast majority of the population have very little free time to get to familiarise themselves with developments in science. On the other hand, this division of labour has extended itself within the scientific community. In cosmology this has taken the absurd shape of an artificial division between cosmology and the rest of physics and between the experimental astronomer and the theoretical cosmologist. Cosmology has become more outlandish and mystical the further removed it has become from the practical side of scientific research.