Beyond The Human Condition
Page 40 of
Print Edition 2. Science and Religion
(The word ‘science’ comes from the Latin scientia which
means knowledge. ‘Religion’ comes from the Latin re-ligare
which means ‘to bind’ or integrate.)
Is there no meaning to life?
‘What is the meaning of life?’ This question has no answer except in the history of how it came to be asked. There is no answer because words have meaning, not life or persons or the universe itself.
Julian Jaynes (Professor of Psychology at Princeton University, USA), Life, December 1988.
Or is there meaning?
We seem to be on the verge of discovering not only wholly new laws of nature, but ways of thinking about nature that depart radically from traditional science.
Way back in the primeval phase of the universe, gravity triggered a cascade of self-organizing processes — organization begets organization — that led, step by step, to the conscious individuals who now contemplate the history of the cosmos and wonder what it all means.
Page 41 of
Print Edition There exists alongside the entropy arrow another arrow of time, equally fundamental and no less subtle in nature . . . I refer to the fact that the universe is progressing — through the steady growth of structure, organization and complexity — to ever more developed and elaborate states of matter and energy. This unidirectional advance we might call the optimistic arrow, as opposed to the pessimistic arrow of the second law.
There has been a tendency for scientists to simply deny the existence of the optimistic arrow. One wonders why.
Paul Davies (Professor of Mathematical Physics at Adelaide University, Australia), The Cosmic Blueprint, 1987, from Chapters 10, 9 and 2 respectively.
Science has concerned itself with finding understanding of the mechanisms of existence. It has been reductionist, avoiding the overview; mechanistic, not holistic. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines holism as the tendency in nature to form wholes . . .
Holism is a confirmation of the development of order, or integration of matter. But it’s a truth we’ve had to evade because acceptance of integrative meaning unjustly condemned our unavoidable divisiveness. We have been competitive, aggressive and selfish, not cooperative, loving and selfless. Adam Stork coped with unjust criticism by blocking it out or evading it. Now that our divisiveness is defended we can allow ourselves to recognise the truth that matter forms wholes or integrates.
An unmistakable characteristic of matter is its tendency to form more stable and ever larger or more complex wholes. Mathematicians and physicists are still debating the origin of the universe. The ‘big bang’ theory is currently the most popular explanation, but whatever happened in the beginning, time, space and the fundamental particles of matter, the building blocks of our universe, came into being. The first primitive components, mainly helium and hydrogen atoms, aggregated to form stars, star clusters and eventually galaxies. Inside the stars other complex nuclei and thenPage 42 of
Print Edition atoms formed and were spewed out in cataclysmic supernovae to later become planetary systems. Matter continues to form in the thermonuclear reactions within the stars but importantly, the pattern and direction of this genesis is always the same; from the simple to the more complex.
The next level of complexity or order occurred when atoms assembled to form molecules and crystal lattices. Then compounds of various elements came together or integrated to form more complex materials. The greatest breakthrough in the development of order finally came when a complex compound called DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), which happened to be able to copy or replicate itself, was formed. This was highly significant because suddenly there was a complex substance that could not only perpetuate itself, but by virtue of subtle variations in its molecules, could both adapt to changing circumstances and develop, refine or find ways to achieve even greater order. DNA had the ability to develop larger (in space) and more stable (in time) systems of matter. The DNA unit of inheritance is called a gene and the study of the process of change that genes undergo is called genetics. Genes are tools for developing order.
Genetic development (or genetic refinement) is an integrative process that develops or refines greater order. It is not, as mechanistic science has had to evasively maintain, a divisive process. Genetic refinement is not about competition for survival, it’s about developing order. The DNA replicate that persisted was the one that was more stable and able to develop greater order. The search was for order. The existence of division and divisive behaviour indicates incomplete development, not that the purpose of existence is to be divisive. Genetic refinement is an information processing or learning system and what it is learning or creating or refining or developing is greater order of matter.
Subject to the influence of the laws of physics, matter is developed or refined into larger, in space, and more stable (durable or lasting), in time, arrangements or systems.Page 43 of
Print Edition Matter integrates. It becomes ordered. That is what happens to the matter, time and space ingredients of our world. The goal or purpose or meaning of existence (for a conscious being) is to develop order. Genes, with their ability to replicate, are a marvellous tool for developing order, for creating larger and more stable wholes, for learning how to integrate matter.
We can now explain what we meant by ‘life’. DNA’s ability to replicate itself meant that it could defy breakdown and go on to find or develop even greater stability. This property of replication or duplication (called ‘reproduction’ in single-celled organisms and ‘growth’ in multicellular organisms), which had the effect of turning a brief lifetime into a relatively indefinite one, was the advent of what we call ‘life’. This is now an unnecessary demarcation in the story of development. Life or life-time existed before this in all systems of matter, even those below the development level of DNA, but those lower systems were either relatively simple in the variety of matter involved — simple molecules — or relatively unrefined in their ability to develop the order of matter. For instance, they couldn’t replicate. With reproduction, the earliest form of which was asexual, came generations. Reproduction later became sexual because the mixing of genes in mating contributed extra variety for genetic refinement, which speeded up the process considerably.
Through this genetic refinement process or natural selection of more stable and larger systems of matter, compounds eventually integrated to form single-celled organisms which in turn integrated to form multicellular organisms, then societies of multicellular organisms. Each stage was a part of the grand journey to develop maximum stability and complexity, or order.
Integration, or perfect order of matter where all the parts are brought together to work for the maintenance of total order, would be the logical conclusion for this remarkable process. Another way of expressing this idea is that the aim Page 44 of
Print Edition or meaning of life is to achieve universal harmony or ‘peace on Earth’.
The essential ingredient of order is that the individuals or parts consider the welfare of the group, or larger whole, above their own welfare. This is unconditional selflessness, the theme of integration and surely what we mean by love.
And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
The Bible, Colossians 3:14.
Again, the problem with accepting love or selflessness as the meaning of existence and the theme of life is that we would have been confronted by our unjustifiable lack of ‘integrativeness’. (Note: since we don’t have a word for the process of the development of order or integration of matterPage 45 of
Print Edition I have created the word ‘integrativeness’ to describe it.) Integrative meaning condemned us even though deep down we knew we did not deserve condemnation. This inconsistency forced us to evade any acknowledgement of integrative meaning, or the development of order of matter.
Science had no choice but to evade recognition of integrative meaning. In its place, it recognised only random change and termed it evolution. The concept of evolution was an evasion of the fact of the development of order. Development can now replace ‘evolution’. Now that we can see we have been part of it, we can openly acknowledge Development.
The discipline of science dictated that it put aside the big questions of life’s meaning, and our inconsistency with it, and search instead for understanding of the mechanisms behind the workings of our world. Only with this understanding might we one day discover why we had been divisive and be able to confront the truth. Without understanding the mechanisms, we had nothing with which we could explain ourselves.
Religion has been the custodian of absolute or ideal truths, safely describing integration or the development of order as ‘God’. It was ‘safe’ because the term ‘God’ was sufficiently abstract not to confront us directly with the depressing truth of integrative meaning.
Science sensibly turned its back on such dangerous partial truths as integrative meaning. (While integrative meaning is an ‘absolute truth’ it is also a ‘partial truth’ in the sense that the full truth, when found, would not criticise us. On its own, integrative meaning criticises us. As part of the full truth, it doesn’t.) Evading any dangerous partial truths it encountered along the way, science undertook the tedious search for rational understanding. Only with such understanding could the reason for our divisiveness be found and science and theology, mechanism and holism, reductionism and vitalism, objectivity and subjectivity, evasive thinking andPage 46 of
Print Edition unevasive thinking be reconciled from their polarised positions.
We can now see a strong implication in religion that ‘God’ is integrative meaning.
In all theistic religions, whether they are polytheistic or monotheistic, God stands for the highest value, the most desirable good.
Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving, 1957.
From the scientific side, there is actually a physical law that explains integrative meaning. As part of my physics course at school I was taught the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which says that everything breaks down to its basic component parts. In scientific terms this means that all energy systems (and matter is a form of energy) must break down until they become heat energy. Since leaving school I have learnt that this law does not apply to ‘open’ systems which can draw energy from sources outside themselves and which can thereby develop order, or grow in complexity. Earth is an open system, drawing its energy from the Sun. This development of order is known as the ‘Second Path’ of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is also referred to as entropy and its second path as negative entropy.
God is negative entropy, the development of order of matter or, in a word, Development. We can see here that monotheism, the belief that there is only one God, was correct.
God is the laws of physics.
Stephen Hawking (holder of Newton’s Chair as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University) in Master of the Universe, shown on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation television program Quantum, June 6, 1990.
Page 47 of
Print Edition Science concerned itself with understanding the mechanisms behind absolute truth. It evaded the whole view of integrative meaning by looking only at the mechanisms and by denying the development of order of matter, integration or holism.
Science had to deny integrative meaning or God. The Creationist Movement arose to counter that denial. But science had no choice. Only by understanding the mechanisms could we explain why we’ve been divisive.
What has happened in our society in the last half century or so is that our young people in the colleges, universities and schools have been taught the theory of evolution as an established fact. They’ve been taught that evolution is an exclusively naturalistic theory, and that God is not necessary. God, by definition, is excluded from the process. When the student hears this, he thinks we start with hydrogen gas and our only destiny is a pile of dust. [The pile of dust is a reference to the evasive emphasis of science on entropy, which implies that disintegration is our destiny or meaning.]
Dr Duane Gish, Associate Director, Institute of Creation Research, San Diego. Sydney Morning Herald, January 8, 1986.
Humanity has been ‘God fearing’, but now we can confront God. The true role of science has been to liberate humanity from ignorance. The true role of religion has been to comfort humanity while the search went on.
Now we can admit the truth of integrative meaning. We are secure and don’t have to cope by blocking out.
. . . I can see a direction and a line of progress for life, a line and a direction which are in fact so well marked that I am convinced their reality will be universally admitted by the science of tomorrow.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Le Phenomène Humain, written 1938, published 1955 (published in English as The Phenomenon of Man, 1959).
Page 48 of
Print Edition While some scientists have begun to break ranks and acknowledge integrative meaning, the proper (i.e. safe) procedure was to find the defence for human divisiveness then admit integration. What was needed was composure before exposure. Rebellious scientists who have acknowledged integrative meaning include professors David Bohm (who wrote Wholeness and The Implicate Order, 1980), Ilya Prigogine (Order out of Chaos, 1984), Paul Davies (The Cosmic Blueprint, 1987) and Charles Birch (On Purpose, 1990).
The danger for science was that it would become overly mechanistic/reductionist/evasive, becoming meaningless and morally bankrupt.
The world has achieved brilliance . . . without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants.
General Omar N. Bradley, from his Veterans’ Day address, delivered at Boston Massachusetts, November 10, 1948.
It was the appearance of excessive denial in science, not the discovery of the reason/defence for our divisive behaviour, that caused some scientists to abandon mechanism and adopt holism.
Now that mechanism and holism are reconciled they will become an extraordinarily effective and powerful partnership.