Monday, June 18, 2018
Why I Am a Process-theist, Not an Atheist or Creedal Christian
I’m not given to anthropomorphizing nature and strongly dislike writing that does that. HOWEVER, despite the fact that non-sentient matter doesn’t have any will or awareness, there does appear to be some sort incredible drive within the natural process of Life itself.
One of Life’s astounding,staggering facts is that while once--more than 2 billion years ago--there was only inert matter and energy, at some point, somehow LIFE came into existence (biogenesis), Life from non-life.
No doubt this extraordinary, stunning change—nonlife to LIFE--came about via the structural creativity and intelligence inherent in reality of which so many brilliant scientists speak of; they sometimes use the word, emergent, to describe this amazing development. And, of course, the 51% of scientists in the United States who aren’t atheists, attribute this spectacular transformation to ultimate reality.
BUT even all of that—LIFE from non-life--isn’t the most staggering fact:
it’s that despite over-whelming odds,
despite the extinction of over 99% of all life forms in deep time;
despite huge natural disasters including large meteors hitting the Earth,
despite the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, etc.
LIFE on planet earth, a couple billion years later
continues to develop,
to strongly continue to exist.
Despite the popularity of apocalyptic destruction media and novels, it appears that life will continue to exist and thrive in this universe for at least one more billion years!
After that according to cosmologists, our sun will get hotter and hotter, and boil away Earth’s oceans. Probably the end of life.
But until then...
Life is very stubborn:-)
I see this especially almost daily when my wife and I take hikes and our daily walks. Various plants grow out of places that wouldn’t seem possible. Their stems manage to squeak through narrow cracks in sidewalks, blacktop, masonry, rock faces. Tree roots break thick concrete driveways, uplift heavy slabs.
Heck, there is a series of long twining weeds that have squeezed through one door jam in our garage. They trail up the vertical side of the door and over onto the wall. I absolutely know that they have no sentience, that plants have no awareness, no will, no drive,
YET somehow Life ‘urges’ to exist
and overcomes very difficult circumstances.
Some of plants are so life-driven that they drive me and my wife crazy;-)
We have over-and-over, for the umpteen time, killed all unwanted life-plant forms in our front rock and rose garden;
we’ve laid down thick layers of plastic;
repeatedly I've used weed killer;
my wife constantly pulls weeds, etc.
YET there they are again,
driven up through poison,
up through heavy plastic, up past my wife’s persistent fingers,
more ‘determined’ to live than most anything.
So even small ‘persistent’ survival-persistent weeds astound me.
At 71 years of age, I have almost no energy compared to those thick weeds, skinny small vines, ugly intruders:-).
Here's bit of scientific data on DNA:
“The structure of DNA, an abbreviation for deoxyribonucleic acid, illustrates a basic principle common to all biomolecules: the intimate relation between structure and function. The remarkable properties of this chemical substance allow it to function as a very efficient and robust vehicle for storing information.”
“A major role for many sequences of DNA is to encode the sequences of proteins, the workhorses within cells, participating in essentially all processes. Some proteins are key structural components, whereas others are specific catalysts (termed enzymes) that promote chemical reactions. Like DNA and RNA, proteins are linear polymers. However, proteins are more complicated in that they are formed from a selection of 20 building blocks, called amino acids, rather than 4.”
“The functional properties of proteins, like those of other biomolecules, are determined by their three-dimensional structures. Proteins possess an extremely important property: a protein spontaneously folds into a welldefined and elaborate three-dimensional structure that is dictated entirely by the sequence of amino acids along its chain (Figure 1.6). The self-folding nature of proteins constitutes the transition from the one-dimensional world of sequence information to the three-dimensional world of biological function. This marvelous ability of proteins to self assemble into complex structures is responsible for their dominant role in biochemistry."
"Folding of a Protein. The three-dimensional structure of a protein, a linear polymer of amino acids, is dictated by its amino acid sequence.
How is the sequence of bases along DNA translated into a sequence of amino acids along a protein chain? We will consider the details of this process in later chapters, but the important finding is that three bases along a DNA chain encode a single amino acid. The specific correspondence between a set of three bases and 1 of the 20 amino acids is called the genetic code. Like the use of DNA as the genetic material, the genetic code is essentially universal; the same sequences of three bases encode the same amino acids in all life forms from simple microorganisms to complex, multicellular organisms such as human beings.”
Copyright © 2002, W. H. Freeman and Company.
There “...is enough information capacity in a single human cell to store the Encyclopaedia Britannica, all 30 volumes of it, three or four times over."
Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, W.W. Norton, New York, p. 115, 1986
#2 The amazing and intellectually beautiful regularities of the Cosmos (often called the Laws of Physics or Cosmology); Time-Space’s wonder; quantum physics;
The physicist Steven Wineburg wrote that for him the cosmos seems “pointless.”
“The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.”
Dreams of a Final Theory: The Search for the Fundamental Laws of Nature (1993), ISBN 0-09-922391-0
But some other professional scientists, (and me, an average literature and writing teacher who has an amateur fascination with studying science on my own) have come to the extreme opposite conclusion:
The more we discover and learn about the cosmos, the more it seems meaningful and pointfull.
This whole area of astrophysics, cosmology, and astronomy often brings in the G-word, for good or ill, often by anti-religious thinkers who castigate all theists as fundamentalists.
The G-word is problematic because it is so ambiguous, so contradictory, so empty-bucket when it comes to its denotative meaning.
Give a hear to the thoughts of the famous astronomer Carl Sagan:
"The word “god” is used to cover a vast multitude of mutually exclusive ideas. And the distinctions are, I believe in some cases, intentionally fuzzed so that no one will be offended that people are not talking about their god.
"But let me give a sense of two poles of the definition of God. One is the view of, say, Spinoza or Einstein, which is more or less God as the sum total of the laws of physics. Now, it would be foolish to deny that there are laws of physics. If that’s what we mean by God, then surely God exists. All we have to do is watch the apples drop."
"Newtonian gravitation works throughout the entire universe. We could have imagined a universe in which the laws of nature were restricted to only a small portion of space or time. That does not seem to be the case....So that is itself a deep and extraordinary fact: that the laws of nature exist and that they are the same everywhere. So if that is what you mean by God, then I would say that we already have excellent evidence that God exists."
"But now take the opposite pole: the concept of God as an outsize male with a long white beard, sitting in a throne in the sky and tallying the fall of every sparrow. Now, for that kind of god I maintain there is no evidence. And while I’m open to suggestions of evidence for that kind of god, I personally am dubious that there will be powerful evidence for such a god not only in the near future but even in the distant future. And the two examples I’ve given you are hardly the full range of ideas that people mean when they use the word “god.”
I do strongly agree with Sagan that the "concept of God as an outsize male" isn't real, that there is no evidence for such an anthropomorphic god. Indeed, as a small child, I NEVER thought that God was a superhuman man up in the sky, in heaven. On the contrary, I looked at life, existence, and the night sky with awed wonder. My image of God was like of oxygen or some other gas!:-)
God was invisible, everywhere, and necessary for life to exist.
And my own view of the nature of Reality—often called ‘God’ even by famous scientists—is somewhat related to Sagan’s definition: “the sum total” of natural laws.
Only, I think, that Life, reason, ethics, etc. exist inherent within the nature of Reality.
And from Astrophysicist and theoretical cosmologist Janna Levin:
“If I were to ever lean towards spiritual thinking or religious thinking, it would be in that way. It would be, why is it that there is this abstract mathematics that guides the universe? The universe is remarkable because we can understand it. That’s what’s remarkable. All the other things are remarkable, too. It’s really, really astounding that these little creatures on this little planet that seem totally insignificant in the middle of nowhere can look back over the fourteen-billion-year history of the universe and understand so much and in such a short time."
"So that is where I would get a sense, again, of meaning and of purpose and of beauty and of being integrated with the universe so that it doesn’t feel hopeless and meaningless. Now, I don’t personally invoke a God to do that, but I can’t say that mathematics would disprove the existence of God either. It’s just one of those things where over and over again, you come to that point where some people will make that leap and say, “I believe that God initiated this and then stepped away, and the rest was this beautiful mathematical unfolding.” And others will say, “Well, as far back as it goes, there seem to be these mathematical structures. And I don’t feel the need to conjure up any other entity.” And I fall into that camp, and without feeling despair or dissatisfaction.”
Here, Levin seems to be disbelieving in the same god that Sagan and many of us non-scientists emphasize there is no evidence for. This is the god of popular superstition and creedal religion.
Many scientists, on the other hand, use the term, god, to refer to ultimate or essential reality, as Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary's first definition: "1 capitalized : the supreme or ultimate reality:"
For example Albert Einstein: “My religiosity consists in a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit [‘spirit’ meaning the nature of, not meant in the organized religion sense] that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory understanding, can comprehend of reality."
#3 Related to those staggering realities, is the remarkable fact that in this vast, seemingly infinite expanding Time-Space reality, there is on a minor planet in a middling galaxy a finite primate (us), who in historic time only recently became consciously aware, rational, with mental capabilities able to discover these astronomical, cosmological, astrophysical complex theories and facts!
It is humbling true that it appears we human primates have only begun to tap into the whole of Reality; and there may even be a multiverse, beyond the billions of galaxies within our own universe. Like Einstein emphasized we as a species are like a small child who has discovered a vast library far beyond his/her little capabilities. There are billions, trillions of volumes.
Yet, it is so extraordinary that we as a species, with our basic brain, can understand even the barest minimum of Existence.
Various cosmologists, astrophysicists, astronomers, and mathematicians are enthralled by the wonder of it all.
#4 Math; how some mathematicians think that the ultimate nature of Reality is actually mathematical!
I’m a math-light-weight;-) I did make it through algebra, geometry, college math, did fairly well, (mostly B’s) BUT realized that I wasn’t given the brainpower to do heavy lifting when it comes to higher math, so had to give up my childhood dream of becoming a space engineer. However, I still have deep appreciation of math’s amazing complexity in relationship to the cosmos.
Consider the view of math from the perspective of Astrophysicist and theoretical cosmologist Janna Levin:
“I would absolutely say I am also besotted with mathematics. I don’t worry about what’s real and not real in the way that maybe Gödel did. I think what Turing did, which was so beautiful, was to have a very practical approach. He believed that life was, in a way, simple. You could relate to mathematics in a concrete and practical way. It wasn’t about surreal, abstract theories. And that’s why Turing is the one who invents the computer, because he thinks so practically. He can imagine a machine that adds and subtracts, a machine that performs the mathematical operations that the mind performs."
"The modern computers that we have now are these very practical machines that are built on those ideas. So I would say that like Turing, I am absolutely struck with the power of mathematics, and that’s why I’m a theoretical physicist...I love that we can all share the mathematical answers. It’s not about me trying to convince you of what I believe or of my perspective or of my assumptions."
"We can all agree that one plus one is two, and we can all make calculations that come out to be the same, whether you’re from India or Pakistan or Oklahoma, we all have that in common. There’s something about that that’s deeply moving to me and that makes mathematics pure and special. And yet I’m able to have a more practical attitude about it, which is that, well, we can build machines this way. There is a physical reality that we can relate to using mathematics.”
"If I were to ever lean towards spiritual thinking or religious thinking, it would be in that way. It would be, why is it that there is this abstract mathematics that guides the universe? The universe is remarkable because we can understand it. That’s what’s remarkable. All the other things are remarkable, too. It’s really, really astounding that these little creatures on this little planet that seem totally insignificant in the middle of nowhere can look back over the fourteen-billion-year history of the universe and understand so much and in such a short time."
"So that is where I would get a sense, again, of meaning and of purpose and of beauty and of being integrated with the universe so that it doesn’t feel hopeless and meaningless. Now, I don’t personally invoke a God to do that, but I can’t say that mathematics would disprove the existence of God either. It’s just one of those things where over and over again, you come to that point where some people will make that leap and say, “I believe that God initiated this and then stepped away, and the rest was this beautiful mathematical unfolding.” And others will say, “Well, as far back as it goes, there seem to be these mathematical structures. And I don’t feel the need to conjure up any other entity.” And I fall into that camp, and without feeling despair or dissatisfaction."
Astrophysicist and theoretical cosmologist Janna Levin
Einstein's God, Interviews with Scientists by Krista Tippett
Think of the stunning results that humans’ rational abilities have achieved, especially when brilliant humans hypothesize in a number of different scientific, historical, and aesthetic fields.
In contrast, most Atheists and Creedal Christians aren’t moral realists.
It’s baffling that so many Atheists and Creedal Christians claim that morals and ethics, and human rights are subjective.
And many famous Atheist leaders take it one gigantic step further, claiming that human creative choice, moral responsibility, equality, liberty, justice, human rights, etc. are all “myths,” delusions!
And Creedal Christians claim that all humans, since we were foreordained from before the beginning of Time-Space, by their god to be sinful at conception/birth, we are incapable of any choice. Furthermore, God often changes what is moral or immoral. Whatever the Christian god decides—that becomes moral even if it is horrific such as genocide, the slaughter of children, rape, slavery, and so forth.
All reality is coming about by the everlasting but limited cosmic reality that is “becoming.” This is the view of thinkers such as philosopher and mathematician Alfred Lord Whitehead, philosopher Charles Hartshorne, etc.
This cosmic but limited ‘god-ultimate reality’--who is far beyond human understanding--works toward changing matter and energy and conscious life (such as homo sapiens) into increasing patterns and forms of beauty, meaning, and purpose.
This is also the view of some Reform Jews and extremely liberal non-creedal Christians and Muslims.
But where is the evidence for this?
Process thinkers explain that consciousness, reason, ethics, mathematics, natural law, creativity, aesthetics, life itself, etc. are the evidence.
This view is appealing, (though most of the technical philosophical explanations are beyond my understanding).
All reality came about somehow by a temporary, finite, imperfect, even distorted, expression of the perfect eternal Ideal Forms of Platonism.
I already explained that I've been influenced by Platonism though I strongly reject certain portions and claims of the philosophical worldview of Plato.
To be continued--
In the Light of Reality,