Rebuilding the Matrix - by Denis Alexander

This brilliant book gives a wonderful, informed and enlightening account of the historical interactions between science and religion and then addresses some important points for the present day.

It carries well-deserved endorsements from Prof. Lord Winston FRS, Prof. Sir (Sam) Berry FRS, Prof. Sir Brian Heap FRS and Prof. Robert White FRS. Dr Alexander is Chairman of the Molecular Immunology Programme at the Babraham Institute.


Alexander is v good on Dennett - see p351 and 419.

Rennet presents such a worldview as if it were a convincing argument for atheism, maintaining that Darwinism is 'dangerous' because it shows how "Design can emerge from mere Order via an algorithmic process that makes no use of pre-existing Mind" Whether describing natural selection as an 'algorithmic process' really adds anything to our understanding of how it works is open to question, but the important point to note is the Dennett is trying to exclude the notion that anything else other than the evolutionary mechanism itself is required to explain the mechanism. To emphasise the same point, Dennett repeatedly criticises the notion of 'skyhooks' ... As an attack on some of the more deistic ideas ... this critique has some potency... But ... Dennett is clearly under the impression that the concept of 'pre-existing Mind' is contiguous with the Christian concept of God. But ... it makes no sense to invoke God as the 'scientific explanation' of a particular biological mechanism, since by such a manoeuvre we are implicitly denying at least two basic tenets of theism, first that God is continually sustaining the complete created order and second that God is not part of his creation and therefore cannot be invoked as if he were just one further mechanism within the created order to explain how things work. In fact, if we substitute the term 'God-of-the-gaps' for Dennett's term 'skyhook' every time that it appears in Darwin's Dangerous Idea then it reads much more like a work defending traditional theism.

A rhetorical device much loved by writers such as Dennett and Dawkins is to repeatedly describe the processes involved in evolution as being 'mindless', 'blind' or even 'pointless'....The trick, it will be noted, is to attach as often as possible words that describe your personal ideology to a prestigious scientific theory, in this case evolution. It will then prove much easier to use the same words to describe your personal metaphysical view of the world that can be produced like a rabbit out of the hat with a great flourish... But the use of such words...really adds nothing to the biological understanding of such processes. Is there anyone who really believes that natural selection is 'visual' or 'mindful' and, if not, then what can it possibly mean to call evolution 'blind' or 'mindless'? ... People can see or have minds but mechanisms, by definition, cannot. However [this] does not exclude the possibility that [a mechanism] has a meaning and purpose defined by its incorporation into the larger scheme of things... The fact that the various mechanisms that comprise the operating parts of jet engines are 'mindless' has no implication for the existence of Frank Whittle... The existence of God is not an engineering question, a point which both Dawkins and Dennett seem to have missed.

Of course the history of evolution being hijacked to promote bogus ideologies is a long one. See Matrix p205

"It should be said that Darwin...experienced frequent horror at many of the ways in which his theory was used, preferrring to avoid all controversies of religion and politics. The Origin was translated into French by Clemence Royer, complete with an anticlerical harangue as a preface... meanwhile Vladimir Kovalevsky was translating [it] into Russian and part of his evolutionary crusade against Russia's Orthodox autocracy. In Germany, Dawin's main defender ...the zoologist Ernst Haeckel... had imbibed Goethe's mystical philosophy of Nature-worship... and tried to apply the principle of natural selection to the evolution of the whole of society... Haeckel wanted to take the churches over and redecorate them with symbols of nature and science...

[But] when Haeckel's two 500-page volumes of his Generelle Morphologie reached Down House... Darwin was less than happy. Heackel had managed to incorporate natural selection into a 'universal Theory of Development...' To make matters worse, Haeckel envisaged that the laws of ... evolution would lead to a new Teutonic superiority... and that a new phylum of superior people would emerge... In retrospect the sentiments seem sinister; for Darwin at the time they were simply frustrating - the obfuscation of a strictly biological theory by layer upon layer of philosophising."

"The British equivalent to Haeckel was the philosopher Herbert Spencer ... Darwin summarised his own views on Spencer..: 'I am not conscious of having profited in my own work by Spencer's writings. His deductive manner of treating every subject is wholly opposed to my frame of mind.... His fundamental generalisations... are of such a nature that they do not seem to me to be of any strictly scientific use.' "