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Aaron
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PostSubject: God enough   Wed Nov 19, 2008 4:33 pm

I thought this was a very interesting read and it's pertinent to a few of the discussions we've had here recently.

Quote :
God enough

We should see the ceaseless creativity of nature as sacred, argues biologist Stuart Kauffman, despite what Richard Dawkins might say.

By Steve Paulson

Nov. 19, 2008 | Biologist Stuart Kauffman has plenty of experience tilting at windmills. For years he's questioned the Darwinian orthodoxy that natural selection is the sole principle of evolutionary biology. As he put it in his first book, "The Origins of Order," "It is not that Darwin is wrong but that he got hold of only part of the truth." In Kauffman's view, there is another biological principle at work -- what he calls "self-organization" -- that "co-mingles" with natural selection in the evolutionary process.



A physician by training, Kaufmann is a widely admired biologist; in 1987, he was a recipient of a MacArthur "genius" award. He's also one of the gurus of complexity theory, and for years was a fixture at the Santa Fe Institute, the renowned scientific research community. A few years ago, he moved to the University of Calgary to set up the Biocomplexity and Informatics Institute.

If this sounds heady, it is. And getting Kauffman to explain his theory of self-organization, "thermodynamic work cycles" and "autocatalysis" to a non-scientist is challenging. But Kauffman is at heart a philosopher who ranges over vast fields of inquiry, from the origins of life to the philosophy of mind. He's a visionary thinker who's not afraid to play with big ideas.

In his recent book, "Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion," Kauffman has launched an even more audacious project. He seeks to formulate a new scientific worldview and, in the process, reclaim God for nonbelievers. Kauffman argues that our modern scientific paradigm -- reductionism -- breaks down once we try to explain biology and human culture. And this has left us flailing in a sea of meaninglessness. So how do we steer clear of this empty void? By embracing the "ceaseless creativity" of nature itself, which in Kauffman's view is the real meaning of God. It's God without any supernatural tricks.

Kauffman is now approaching 70, and his advancing age may partly account for the urgency he seems to feel in grappling with life's ultimate questions. When I spoke with him, I found him in an expansive mood as we ranged over a host of big ideas, from the prospects of creating life in a test tube to the need for a sacred science.

You've suggested we need a new scientific worldview that goes beyond reductionism and incorporates a religious sensibility. Why?

The first thing to say is that the current scientific paradigm has done extraordinarily good work for at least 350 years. The reigning paradigm of reductionism takes a little bit of explaining.

It goes back to the Greeks in the 1st century A.D., and then it explodes at the time of Newton, who had three laws of motion and a law of universal gravitation. With Newton comes the idea of a deterministic universe. In fact, he took himself to be doing the work of God. The theistic god who reached into the universe and changed its course gave way during the Enlightenment to a deistic god, who wound up the universe at the beginning and let Newton's laws take over. It was the clockwork universe.

So the idea is that if you understand the laws of the universe, you can plug in all the variables and predict what the outcomes will be.

Exactly. It finds its clearest explanation in the French mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace, at the time of Napoleon, who said if you knew the masses and velocities of all the particles in the universe, then you could compute the entire future and past of the universe. As the Nobel laureate physicist Steven Weinberg says, once all the science is completed, all the explanatory arrows will point downward from societies to people to organs to cells to biochemistry to chemistry to physics.

And if you can explain the laws of physics, Weinberg thinks you can explain everything else.

Right. He also says we live in a meaningless universe. Those are the fruits of standard reductionism. And the majority of scientists remain reductionists. It's comforting in that the entire universe is seen to be lawful; we can understand everything, from societies to quarks. Yet a number of physicists, including Nobel laureates Philip Anderson and Robert Laughlin, feel that reductionism is not adequate to understand the real world. In its place, they talk about "emergence." I think they're right.

Can you explain what emergence is?

There are things that we just can't deduce from particle physics -- life, agency, meaning, value and this thing called consciousness. The fact is that we can act on our own behalf and make choices. So agency is real. With agency comes value. Dinner is either good or bad. There's consciousness in the universe. We may not be able to explain it, but it's true. So the first new strand in the scientific worldview is emergence.

And that new scientific view has no room for reductionism?

Right. In physics, and in the meaningless universe of Steven Weinberg, there are only happenings. Balls roll down hills but they don't do anything. "Doing" does not exist in physics. Physics cannot talk about values because you have to have agency to have values. So let's talk about agency for a moment.

You and I are having an interview right now. We're acting on our own behalf and we're changing the world as we do so. The physicist Philip Anderson has a charming way of putting it. He says if you doubt agency, just look at the anguished expression on your dog's face when you say, "Come." When I used to call my sweet dog, who died recently, he would give me a sidelong glance. I think he was thinking, "Well, I've got more time here." Finally, I'd say, "Come, Windsor!" And he'd come.

I don't doubt agency in my dog Windsor. And once you've got agency -- and I think it's sitting there at the origin of life -- then you've got food or poison, which I call "yuck" and "yum." And once you've got food or poison, it is either good or bad for that organism. So you've got value in the universe...

... Most scientists talk about the origins of the world strictly through naturalistic means. Why are you so determined to invoke "God"?

"God" carries with it a sense of awe, reverence and wonder that no other symbol carries. It's a choice. Can we give up the creator God -- the all-powerful, omnipotent, all-loving God who confronts us with the problem of evil -- and instead find reverence for a ceaseless creativity in the unfolding of nature? I think we can.

I also feel parts of the religious person's sense of awe. I sense the solace that prayer to a transcendent God brings. But I don't believe in a transcendent God. I do believe in this new scientific worldview.

Forget the "God" word for a second and just try to feel yourself as a co-creating member of the universe. It changes your stance from the secular humanist lack of spirituality to a sense of awed wonder that all of this has come about. For example, I was sitting on my patio and started thinking about the trees around me. I thought I'm one with all of life. If I'm going to cut down a tree, I better have a good reason. It's not just an object. It's alive. Then I thought about the river I'm sitting next to. I can dam the river if I want to. But I'm going to change the ecosystem downstream from it and change the planet.

So even without talking about God, this new scientific worldview brings with it a sense of membership with all of life and a responsibility for the planet that's largely missing in our secular world. In a materialist society, being spiritual is -- if not frowned upon -- what you do in the privacy of your own mind because there's something flaky about it for those of us who don't believe in God...

You can read the rest here.
http://www.salon.com/env/atoms_eden/2008/11/19/stuart_kauffman/index.html?source=rss&aim=/env/atoms_eden

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PostSubject: Re: God enough   Wed Nov 19, 2008 6:53 pm

Very cool! Thanks for the link

I agree with him BTW
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PostSubject: Re: God enough   Wed Nov 19, 2008 9:54 pm

Uriah wrote:
I agree with him BTW

Me too.

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PostSubject: Re: God enough   Thu Nov 20, 2008 12:23 am

Quote :
It's God without any supernatural tricks.

Kaufman is among the vanguard of scientists who are inventing a new paradigm of reality that includes "ideality"---values, concepts, meanings. consciousness, etc. Some refer to it as the "New Physics". I think of it as a consilience of old physics and old metaphysics; from which emerges a new/old worldview that includes both a wholistic G*d-concept, and a particularistic scientific method. If G*d can't stand-up to analytical thinking, so much the worse for G*d. But if Science can't stand-up to synthetic conceptualization, so much the worse for Science.

The ghostly god died years ago, and has been reborn as a substantial Reality.
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