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AUSTRALIAN
MARXIST
REVIEW

Journal of the Communist Party of Australia

ISSUE 36DECEMBER 1996

The “Big Bang”, creation and materialism

(Part I)

by Peter Symon — General Secretary Communist Party of Australia

In June a team of cosmologists led by Dr James Dunlop of Edinburgh University discovered some stars which according to their calculations were billions of years older than the 12 billion years ago which has been nominated as the date of the “Big Bang” creation of the universe. (The Australian June 30, 1996) This caused “consternation” among some scientists.

In January a report of the findings of the Hubble telescope was published. (Sydney Morning Herald January 20, 1996) Thousands of distant galaxies had been observed for the first time, (not just single stars) in just a very small segment of the sky. No-one has ventured to put a time on the origin of these galaxies which are billions of light years away. More from the Hubble is bound to follow in coming years.

These discoveries are seriously undermining the theory of a “Big Bang” creation of the universe, if not yet finally blasting it out of contention.

Scientific gloss

In the view of this writer, the “Big Bang” theory is an attempt by those who persist in the idea of a “creation” by some super-natural hand, to give such concepts a scientific gloss. Innumerable scientific discoveries have, for many people, made the idea that the world was created by a god in seven days or in some similar fanciful way unacceptable.

The “Big Bang” theory enables those scientists who wish to defend the idea of a “creation” to do so by dressing it up in terms of physics, cosmology, mathematics, etc.

All “creationist” theories of the universe and humankind come with an assault on materialist philosophy. This is not surprising given that materialism rules out a super-natural “creation” of the universe, “god’s will”, “divine providence”, etc.

Nonetheless, belief in the super-natural continues to be widespread. It is difficult for humankind, who’s span in time is very limited and has a beginning and an end, to conceive of an infinite universe without a beginning or an end.

The galaxy in which planet Earth is located is estimated to contain anything from 50 to 100 billion stars — no-one has been able to count them. It is also estimated that there are at least as many galaxies in the universe as there are stars in the Milky Way, that is, billions. Infinity and these magnitudes are impossible to comprehend.

And why should there be a limit? That which humans have not been able to comprehend or explain has often led to an acceptance of a super-natural explanation.

One of the leading protagonists of the “Big Bang” theory of creation is Professor Paul Davies of Adelaide University. He is a prolific and popular writer having written many easy to read science books. He is a sought after lecturer and gives his “creationist” convictions a scientific aura. He is a strong opponent of materialism. Matter and mind.

Materialism is a scientific view which asserts that matter is primary and consciousness, (thought, ideas, theories) are a reflection of the external world obtained through our sense organs.

Thought is a product of matter — the brain. But thought also enables us to see the world around us in all its complexity and beauty, to understand it, to act upon nature, influence and change it. The material world and thought are inextricably interconnected.

Materialism is opposed by idealist philosophy which puts things around the other way, asserting that consciousness, thought, ideas, are primary and that matter is a product of thought.

“I think, therefore I am”, is one expression which illustrates idealist thinking. The various concepts of a super-natural creation of the universe (god’s will, god’s hand, god the creator) are all products of idealist thinking. Giving a creator a scientific mantle does not alter the basic proposition.

The assault of Paul Davies on materialism is explicit. In his book The Matter Myth (co-authored with John Gribbin) he triumphantly proclaims: “Materialism is dead”. He writes: “Many people have rejected scientific values because they regard materialism as a sterile and bleak philosophy, which reduces human beings to automata and leaves no room for free will or creativity. These people can take heart: materialism is dead.”1

Materialism

Interestingly, this particular book was published in 1991, just as some others were triumphantly proclaiming: “Communism is dead”. This was no chance coincidence. Communist philosophy is based on materialism and Paul Davies and anti-communist politicians are fighting the same battle although on different fronts.

Many modern day advocates of religion are not averse to giving super-natural creationist theories a scientific gloss so long as the basic idealist philosophical content is retained.

Something out of nothing

Materialism for its part, does not rule out the possibility of huge cosmic events, including “big bangs” but rejects both the super-natural and “something out of nothing” explanations.

Neither Paul Davies nor other followers of the “creationist” school of thought are original. In his book, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism Lenin wrote in 1908:

Anyone in the least acquainted with philosophical literature, must know that scarcely a single contemporary professor of philosophy (or theology) can be found who is not directly or indirectly engaged in refuting materialism. They have declared materialism refuted a thousand times yet are continuing to refute it for the thousand and first time.2

Caricature

Paul Davies and John Gribbin use a familiar tactic in their attempt to refute materialism. They present a caricature of materialism, reduce it to an absurdity and then proceed to demolish it.

On page 302 of The Matter Myth, the authors write of “clod-like particles of matter in a lumbering Newtonian machine” to describe materialism and compare it with their concept of an “interlocking network of information exchange ... vibrant with potentialities and bestowed with infinite richness.”

Cogs

Paul Davies equates materialism with “machine-mindedness” and having made that equation declares:

People feel a sense of helplessness; they are merely “cogs” in a machine that will lumber on regardless of their feelings or actions.3

Davies and Gribbin quote the writer George Gilder: “the powers of mind are everywhere ascendant over the brute force of things”, transforming “a material world composed of blank and inert particles to a radiant domain rich with sparks of informative energy”.4

There is nothing new in this sort of device. More than a century ago Engels, in criticising those who branded materialism as “mechanical”, wrote: “The most comical part about it is that to make ‘materialist’ equivalent to ‘mechanical’ derives from Hegel, who wanted to throw contempt on materialism by the addition ‘mechanical’ ...”5

Asserting the dynamic nature of modern materialism Engels wrote:

... the motion of matter is not merely crude mechanical motion, mere change of place, it is heat and light, electric and magnetic tension, chemical combination and dissociation, life and, finally, consciousness.

(Ibid, p 332)

Clockwork or network

Waxing lyrical about a Multi-Function Polis that was to have been established in Adelaide, Australia, the authors claim that the MFP “will surely become the norm throughout the world as commodities assume less and less importance and ideas and information take their place. And the new social order will place its emphasis not on the clockwork image of Newtonian materialism, but on the network image of the post-Newtonian world view. For we live not in a cosmic clockwork, but in a cosmic network, a network of forces and fields, of nonlocal quantum connections and nonlinear, creative matter.”6

If “commodities are to assume less and less importance” while “ideas and information take their place”, we might expect that Davies and Gribbin believe it possible to sustain their material existence, not by eating such “clod-like” substances as potatoes and beef steaks, but with an omelette of “ideas” and “information”.

We are certain that both authors in their daily routine do not attempt such a dietary course.

Computing devices

The logical outcome of the replacement of matter with mind is to be found in the concluding chapter of their book, From Matter to Mind. Davies and Gribbin refer to Frank Tipler of Tulane University in New Orleans.

According to Tipler, intelligent life — or more likely a network of computing devices — will spread out from its planet of origin (possibly Earth), and slowly but surely gain control over larger and larger domains.

Tipler envisages not just the Solar System or the Galaxy, but the entire Universe coming under the control of this “manipulative intelligence”.

Although the process may take trillions of years the upshot of this creeping “technologisation” of nature will be the amalgamation of the whole cosmos into a single intelligent computing system!

In effect, intelligence will have hijacked the “natural” information-processing system we call the Universe, and used it for its own ends.7

Tipler’s conjectures, which are apparently supported in their basic philosophy by Davies and Gribbin, are breath-taking in their intellectual arrogance not to mention scientific nonsense.

Man is god

Those who believe that a god created man in his own image — beware! They are to be outdone in this scenario. Man is to overthrow that god and become god himself by “hijacking” nature and turning it into a “single intelligent computing system”.

The new god is, of course, a scientist (probably a computer whizz-kid) in alliance with the corporations.

Davies and Gribbin write:

Today, the ascendant nations and corporations are masters not of land and material resources but of ideas and technologies ... The global network of telecommunications can carry more valuable goods than all the world’s super tankers. Wealth comes not to the rulers of slave labour but to the liberators of human creativity, not to the conquerors of land but to the emancipators of mind.8

  1. Davies P & Gribbin J, The Matter Myth, Penguin Books, England, 1992, p 7.
  2. “Materialism and Empirio-Criticism”, Lenin’s Collected Works
  3. Vol 14, page 22
  4. The Matter Myth, p 7.
  5. Ibid, pp 9-10.
  6. Marx-Engels, Collected Works, Vol 25, p 532.
  7. The Matter Myth, p 11.
  8. Ibid, p 302.
  9. Ibid, p 9.

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