Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Framing of the Universe, Part 4: Rethinking Science

Today’s Post

In the last few posts, we looked at the basic structure of the universe from the insights of Teilhard. He not only saw the process of evolution as a basic aspect of the unfolding of the universe, his concept of cosmic evolution extended it both in time, in that he included both pre-life and conscious life, and in depth. With this extension, as we saw, the integrated forces of the universe now is seen to expand science’s intuition of the universe’s intelligibility and unity to include personality.

Such extension is not universally embraced by the world of science. Today’s post will overview some contrary positions of adherents to materialism.

Many Theories of Many Things?

While materialists are generally in agreement with the Standard Model of Physics and the theory of Natural selection, they strongly resist a synthesis such as proposed by Teilhard. Some examples:

  • Denial: “The human person does not exist as such. We are all just giant molecules, and ultimately human activity will be explained by a better understanding of the interaction among complex molecules.” This approach also denies such things as free will (we can’t choose, molecules simply react), objectivity (thought is simply the electromagnetic activity of neurons) and even the aspect of ‘person’ (we’re not unique, we’re all just different combinations of molecules)
  • Accidents: “Science relies on matter being repeatable and predictable, which higher mammals and humans clearly aren’t. Therefore the appearance of complex neurological systems must be accidental, and in any replay of evolution, has an extremely low probability of recurring.” Since science cannot address such things as random accidents and highly improbable events, then consciousness, and particularly human consciousness, are clearly outside of the domain of science.
  • ‘Divine Foot in the Door’: As geneticist Richard Lewontin states:

“The problem is to get them (the public) to reject irrational and supernatural explanation of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations, and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the lonely begetter of truth. We take the side of Science…because we have a prior commitment…to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”

So it would seem that all of science is not ‘on board’ the belief that the universe is intelligible as an integrated, cohesive thing.

  • Evolution is a series of accidents, perhaps unique to our planet
  • It is impossible to be replicated elsewhere
  • Even if it could be replicated, it wouldn’t have necessarily resulted in a rise in complexity resulting in reflective consciousness
  • Even if it did, it must be denied because it leads to the poisonous concept of God.


Or Perhaps Not

Then there’s the contradictory argument by the famous atheist, Richard Dawkins, who responsds to the insistence of theists that God can be found in the concept of ‘the first cause’:

“(The theists claim that) There must have been a first cause of everything, and we might as well give it the name God. Yes, but it must have been simple and therefore whatever else we call it, God is not an appropriate name (unless we very explicitly divest it of all the baggage that the word ‘God’ carries in the minds of most religious believers). The first cause that we seek must have been the simple basis for a self-bootstrapping crane (eg a universe which makes itself) which eventually raised the world as we know it into its present complex existence.”

This argument very much supports the idea of a ‘first cause’ as the basis for all of reality (eg present at the big bang), but only if it is:

“..divested of all the baggage..(that exists) in the minds of most religious believers” and “must have been the simple basis for (the process which) eventually raised the world as we know it into its present existence”

Instead of an argument against the existence of God (which is his point in “The God Delusion”) it instead states the very insightful positions that:

  • The universe as understood by science and agreed upon by materialists certainly rises in complexity as evolution proceeds
  • The personal aspect of the ground of being can be seen in the evolution of the universe from the big bang to the person once we allow ourselves to rethink the conventional statements of current religions (eg to “divest it of all the baggage”)
  • But beware: such ‘rethinking’ of religion, while it might divest the concept of God of all its ‘baggage’ will also divest religion of its relevant content.

Professor Dawkins is effectively issuing a challenge here:

Can it be shown that such divestment of ‘baggage’ can identify a “first cause of all things” without stripping religion of its relevance to human life?

I can think of no better way to summarize the concept of “The Secular Side of God”.

The possibility of an understanding of the universe which is inclusive of all its products is thusly possible, even by the mechanistic perspective of atheists, when we rethink both science and religion.

The possibility of a personal ‘ground of being’, seen as one of many facets of the integrated forces which frame the universe, falls naturally not only from the findings of science, but also from such an integrated understanding as expressed by Professor Dawkins.

The Next Post

We have spent considerable time in this blog rethinking the tenets of science, as expressed in the theories of physics and that of Natural Selection, through the insights of Teilhard. In the next post, we will turn our inquiry to rethinking the many aspects of religion to explore the possibility of its potential for “relevance to human life”.

The Framing of the Universe, Part 3: The Integrated Forces

Today’s Post

In the last post, we saw that the addition of complexity into the basic framing forces of the universe rendered the universe both coherent in itself and, through the action of evolution, inclusive of all its products. With this addition the basic scientific intuition that the universe is both intelligible and integrated comes nearer to being realized.

Such coherence of both process and products provides a vantage point for addressing the basic forces at work in the universe.  Today’s post will begin to look at the Universe from this perspective.

The Evolutionary Context

In keeping with the basic theories expressed in the Standard Model (June 11 – The Framing of the Universe, Part 1: Science’s Basic Perspective), and in that of Natural Selection, science would agree that for every antecedent there is a precedent. It would also agree that everything that appears assumes a potential for its appearance in its precedent.  Examples:

  • The unification of quarks results in electrons, so something in the quark had a potential for becoming an electron once it was subjected to the proper force.
  • The same is true with atoms, molecules, cells, multicellular animals, consciousness and finally, with the human, awareness of consciousness.

Every rung on the ladder of evolution assumes a ‘parent’ rung influenced by some force to produce an ‘offspring’ rung.  While we might not be able to understand how evolution crossed the critical points of cellular organization and reflective consciousness, they are nonetheless continuations of the preceding activity, not discontinuities, or accidents.

That said, the original effluvia from the big bang must have had the potential for everything that followed, otherwise what followed wouldn’t have followed.

‘What followed’ can be generally categorized into two things: entities and energy. Every step of evolution can be seen as the unification of entities at one level of complexity resulting in a new entity of a higher level of complexity under the influence of some field of energy.  This can be seen in the evolution of atoms into molecules:

  • Gravity pulls simple atoms (Helium and Hydrogen) into clouds which eventually form stars
  • In the stars, gravitational force overcomes the atomic forces, stripping the nuclei of their electrons and fusing them into more complex atoms
  • These more complex atoms, such as Oxygen and Carbon, are strewn into space as the star explodes
  • They are drawn together again by gravity, in which they unite to become components of molecules and so on.

In this process, two types of atoms of lower complexity (He and H) are drawn into stars via the force of gravity and become hundreds of types of atoms of higher complexity (the atomic table) via atomic forces, then into millions of types of molecules via chemical forces, and so on.

As Teilhard put it, looking backwards in time:

“In a coherent perspective of the world: life inevitably assumes a ‘pre-life’ for as far back as the eye can see.”

This process can be followed forward to the level of the human, with the entity of the human person and his potential for unity under the integrating forces of relationship that we refer to as ‘love’.

None of this can be explained without referring to the plethora of forces by which the unfolding of the universe begins and continues.   Science believes that although we experience these forces discretely, they are all ultimately facets of a single ‘super-force’ which will one day be described by a ‘Theory of Everything’ (ToE, addressed in the last two posts).

This manifold but highly integrated manifestation of force can be referred to by many terms, but once it is acknowledged that the process of evolution can be seen to rise through the human person, the personal aspect of this integrated force becomes clear. If the universe has the potential of producing such a highly complex entity as the human person, then one of its facets must be recognized as ‘personal’.

The Personal Aspect of the Universe

So, taking a look at the data that science has accumulated on the history of the universe, it is possible to see every major rung of evolution from the first precipitation of energy into the form of matter to the mega molecules which are the raw materials of the cell.  During the three-some billion years of ‘pre –life’, the universe rises in complexity. The more science measures the more it ‘intuits’ two things:

  • the same thing happens everywhere
  • it is evidence of a rise in complexity

More scientific findings are shoring up the first ‘intuition’, and the second one is self-evident.

That gets us to the ‘biosphere’, the venue of biological life. Given that science does not yet have an explanation for how the cell appeared, we do know that it is made up of the stuff which evolved in the previous stage.   Even the materialists continue to study how this new product of evolution could have emerged from its molecular precedent, and how it quickly ramified into what we call ‘the tree of life’, in which each branch evidences various manifestations of diversity under the ‘engine’ of Natural Selection.

Where it gets less objective is following the thread of complexity past the era of pre-life: where in the tree does complexity manifest the most increase?

That’s obvious, at least.  The increase of complexity is most paramount in the evolution of sensory functions found in the development of neurological systems in the mammalian fork of the animal branch.  This becomes most clearly seen in the mammalian brain with its unparalleled high densities of complex components (neurons) in small areas. Continuing along this path, of course, we come to the human with his unequalled density and population of neurons in the neocortex, and the potential for billions of synapses and a self-awareness that gives him the ability to inhabit a limitless population of habitats and continue the process of evolution through non-morphological means.

Yes, but, it did happen, and as such meaning-seeking entities, we try to make sense of it.

Science posits the big bang with the potential to make the universe make itself. For example, it has no problem granting gravity the power to effect stellar systems which produce complex atoms, which then combine with the laws of chemistry to produce molecules.  When we assume that the universe had the capability of atom-production through gravity and chemistry, we effectively understand these forces as facets of the integrated force of the universe.

By the same token, the universe must also have the potential for the production of humans (or some entity of high complexity) as well.  Taking this a bit further, noting that humans have evolved the characteristic of “person-ness”, the universe must have not only gravity, the strong and weak forces, and the osmotic principles of cellular energy transformation, but also the characterization of ‘person’.

The idea of the six cosmological constants (June 11 – The Framing of the Universe, Part 1: Science’s Basic Perspective) doesn’t really require an understanding of the specific forces which make up the constants, just that they’re what science uses to understand how the universe holds together.  Teilhard’s point is that when we add the undeniable phenomenon of complexity to the mix, the whole idea of a personal ‘ground of being’ becomes scientifically tenable.  Further, this ‘insertion’ isn’t accomplished supernaturally from the ‘outside’, it emerges naturally as required to round out science’s understanding of the universe.  Without it science cannot explain the unfolding of the universe in a manner which includes the human.

Just as inclusion of the law of complexity-consciousness rounds out the scientific concept of the ToE to account for the axis of evolution and the appearance of the human, recognizing this inclusion also incorporates ‘the person’ into the fundamental principles of the universe.  Acknowledgement that the ‘energy of love’ produces the ‘entity of the person’ is the next step to understanding how the universal framing forces play themselves out in the present stage of evolution.

To understand the Universe as an integrated, cohesive whole is to recognize it as ultimately, personal.

Summing Up

So now we have come to see that a true understanding of the forces of the universe which effect its evolution from the pure energy of the ‘big bang’ to the manifold expressions of complexity found in the tree of life requires the action of ‘complexity’ to be truly comprehensive and explanative of all the products of evolution.  We have come to this conclusion by following the scientific mode of thinking: observation and postulation.  It has not been necessary to invoke any more ‘supernatural’ agents to include this characteristic of universal force than were necessary for the inclusion of gravity, the atomic forces, or any of the other forces which science recognizes as framing our universe.  With the simple addition of the observable effect of complexity, the scientific perspective on the framing of the universe becomes truly comprehensive.  The universe can now be understood as capable of producing ‘persons’ as a natural consequence of its basic workings.

The Next Post

Now that the forces of the universe can be seen to include that of ‘the personal’ we can go to the next step of fitting God into the picture.