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”.