Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Science And Religion

The dialog between science and religion has often been extremely simplistic. The epistemology of faith has led some theologians to a totally literal interpretation of Scripture, which opponents attempt to refute when it disagrees with the scientific view on issues such as age of the Earth. For some scientists, the fear of teleology had led to a cavalier assumption that each step along the history of life or even before represents an accident, so that the whole unfolding in time is a matter of chance. I contend that both views are wrong and make dialog virtually impossible.

I hope that the previous chapters have demonstrated that the emergences are not completely matters of chance, but are governed by physics, chemistry, geophysics, ecological principle, and other laws of science that reduce the universe of chance to zones of the probable...

To the theological, the selection rules are at least the intermediate between God's immanence and the development of our world. The trinitarians would designate this as the Holy Spirit. It is the path by which the word (the laws of nature) becomes flesh. While there has been 2,000 years of argument about the relation between God the Father and the Son, there has been remarkably little attempt to understand the Spirit as intermediate between physical law and humanness. I argue that the understanding of emergence is not only vital to understanding science, it is crucial to a natural theology in the ongoing effort to seek the relation of the created to the creator.

Thus far we have been dealing with 15 billion years of emergence. Sometime over the last 5 million years, something radically different occurred: the emergence of a species capable of attempting to understand cosmic history and purpose and capable of altering some small portion of the universe in ways far more radical than anything in the past. We can only trace this history in a vague way, but it appears that, after two or more million years, the early hominids of the genus Australopithecus gave rise to Paranthropus, which went extinct about 2 million years ago, and Homo, one species of which still persists. About 2 million years ago also saw the appearance of Homo habilis, a toolmaking hominid who left evidence of his work. There is then a more or less continuous series leading to Homo sapiens about 200,000 years ago. The uncertainty in this record does not affect our main argument of a continuous development of brain size, manual dexterity, and social organization.

Agriculture, language, technology, war, and religion were major transitions. The last of these was part of an attempt to understand the world and to control it. Control was also exercised in the transition from hunter-gatherers to agrarians, with major alteration of forests and savannahs.

Twelve billion years of emergence finally led to a creature who had the ability and chose to ask, "What does it all mean?" Eating at the tree of knowledge seems like an inevitable consequence of the development of the universe. There is little doubt from current understanding that there must be a large number of planets upon which intelligent beings may be asking for the meaning of the universe.

In any case the laws of nature (the immanent God) operating under the rules of selection (the Spirit) gave rise to Homo sapiens and human society. In this context, the metaphor of man being made in God's image seems appropriate. The interaction of God and man still seems remote.

To move ahead, consider two aspects of God, immanence and tran-responsive to the needs of humanity and capable of contravening natural law for the benefit of individuals or peoples. The transcendent God is very anthropomorphic, hearing prayers and answering them. The two views of God are logically inconsistent. We return to Spinoza's essay on miracles and think of a transcendent God violating laws he created as an immanent God. It is a paradox.

Note that God's transcendence was not meaningful before the emergence of humans and human culture. Violation of natural law is only meaningful to individuals capable of knowing natural law. Divine transcendence arose from immanence and emergence and coevolved with Homo sapiens. Transcendence is an emergent property of God's immanence and rules of emergence. We Homo sapiens are the mode of action of divine transcendence. Consider an example: an ill child is close to death with an infectious disease. In the classical mode, one would pray to the transcendent God to interfere with the disease process and cure the child. In the modern mode one would give the appropriate antibiotic to inhibit or stop the growth of the disease-causing bacteria. In both cases, there is a miracle. The natural process of bacterial growth is stopped in a specific way, and a life is saved. In the first case the transcendence interfered with the immanent process of bacterial growth. In the second, the transcendence is the power of the human mind to study and understand the process of bacterial growth and to devise nontoxic methods of interfering with that growth. Transcendence in this context means that, with the evolution of the human mind, we can generate new emergences that were not part of the presapient world of immanences and emergences.

The antibiotic example is a rather poignant one, and there are no limits to the process. Transcendence leads to agriculture to prevent starvation and to aerodynamics that permit us to fly. It leads to governments to allow us to live in peace with each other and electric lights that allow us to function at night.

But the kind of transcendence that comes with the human mind is a two-edged sword. The same kind of activity that leads to antibiotics can lead to germ warfare. With transcendence comes the awesome power to choose good or evil.

Choice emerges with consciousness. We have argued that the fitness of consciousness is that, given the huge variety of environments, one can distinguish far more states than can be encoded for. Making the fit choice then becomes advantageous. This is the beginning of free will. When it is finally combined with the ability to understand the consequences of inter-conclusion. If our evolving minds are the transcendence of the immanent God, then the responsibility of making a better world is ours, as is the responsibility of figuring out what we mean by a better world. Our exemplars, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, and many more are those who have struggled the most in the search for the path of life. We have no one to turn to except ourselves and our exemplars... 

... The Emergence of Everything: How The World Became Complex, Harold J Morowitz

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