Questions about existence have always been dearly held, absolutely essential and vehemently contested. Do we want to be specially designed creations of God or just a by-product of a biological process? Michael Meacher has joined this timeless row with his new book, Destination of the Species: The Riddle of Human Existence. It's like a combination of science textbooks, philosophy, Star Trek and Douglas Adams.
Mr. Meacher is a Labour Member of the British Parliament. He's been in the political field for a long time. His time involved in politics must have jaded him (rightly so, no doubt) so he began this quest to understand the universe and how humanity fits into it. The result of ten years of reading and research is a book that speaks to how difficult this kind of questioning can be.
Attend this caveat: it is obvious that the author has spent time in politics. Each page, each paragraph is packed with a nearly egregious amount of words and a ton of references to other individuals, generally scientists, and their theories. I was just never sure if he really knew all of this or was just repeating what he'd read.
Additionally, I wasn't certain to whom this book was written. Was it intended for the scientific community or the general public? I fear that those of the public who begin reading will feel overwhelmed by the amount of hard science packed into each chapter. I know that's how I felt. Meacher throws about terms like "scalar fields," "Wheeler-DeWit equations" and other things I can't remember in a conversant tone. While this definitely shows Mr. Meacher's diligence, I just think it may bog people down.
Here's a sample:
"Better to accept that reality is ultimately probabilistic than the de-Ockhamized (multiplying entities beyond what is strictly necessary) ontological extravagance of endless branching. "
I'm sure there are some folks out there who dig that. Instead of sentences like that, however, it would have been nice to have theories and scenarios explained via an illustration (no, not a drawing) or an experience. Especially since this needs to be a book that helps anyone analyze science and religion and, really, try to decide if there is a God, the information needs to be far more accessible — put into real world context.
I believe this quote adequately sums up the heart of the book, once you get beyond all the hard science terms:
"The only other explanation for a universe so exceptionally fine-tuned with such incredible precision as to be conducive to life seems to be that it was designed for this purpose. This runs contrary to the whole thrust of scientific inquiry since the Enlightenment 300 years ago which has consistently sought to explain reality in a manner which avoids any hint of supernatural agency and has focused on efficient causation to the exclusion of any teleological basis to the laws of physics."
There's the conflict. The universe is fine-tuned. Religionists will tell you this is proof of God, scientists say it's simply the beauty of science. Well, some of them do. Others say other things and I truthfully got lost. Mr. Meacher points out that his book does not — cannot — provide any final answer on the mystery of human existence; it just asks if there is evidence of purpose within the universe. This doesn't equate to God, he argues. That's a completely different field of study. I was never quite sure what he was getting at, though I did enjoy the science.
I do find it interesting that this quote also seems to say, to me at least, that scientific inquiry took a stance against religious views from the very beginning — which is what scientists were angry about religion doing to them.
In the end, this book solidified in my mind how like a restless sea human belief can be — unstable and sometimes dangerous. Even Mr. Meacher points out that the scientific progress from the 18th century onward has been detrimental to the planet. World views, scientific views, religious views — always in motion they are.