Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Kauffman's Emergentism (Pt. I)

Stuart Kauffman is a very bright man who, despite being an atheistic materialist, rejects the reductionism that most materialists embrace and advocates instead a philosophical notion called emergentism.

Simply put, emergentism is the view that when matter reaches a certain critical mass it gives rise to phenomena which cannot be explained in terms of matter alone. Think, for instance, of the picture produced by thousands of color dots on the tv screen. To try to explain the meaning of the picture as nothing but excited dots of color misses something significant about the picture, namely the information and importance it conveys. The emergentist believes that life, consciousness, meaning, and value all emerge out of the universe in somewhat analogous fashion.

Kauffman writes:

In the West, those who hold to a view of a theistic God, including the Christian fundamentalists of such power in the United States, find themselves in a cultural war with those who do not believe in a transcendent God, whether agnostic or atheistic. This war is evidenced by the fierce battle over Intelligent Design being waged politically and in the court systems of the United States. While the battleground is Darwinism, the deeply emotional issues are more fundamental. These include the belief of many religious people that without God's authority, morality has no basis. Literally, for those in the West who hold to these views, part of the passion underlying religious conviction is the fear that the very foundations of Western society will tumble if faith in a transcendent God is not upheld.

Indeed, it's interesting that Dr. Kauffman doesn't assay to refute this belief. He doesn't, of course, because there is no refutation available to him. In order for someone to have a right, say, not to be harmed, others must have an obligation not to harm him, but whence comes this obligation if we are all alone in the cosmos? In order for us to be "obligated" something or someone must lay that obligation upon us and in the naturalistic metaphysics of Dr. Kauffman there's nothing that is up to that task. Even if he's correct that moral value is an emergent property of the universe, which we will see is highly dubious, it is a long and treacherous logical road from the appearance of a value to an obligation to somehow promote that value.

Beyond that, reductionism, wrought by the successes of Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Planck, and Schrodinger, and all that has followed, preeminently in physics, has, as I will expand upon in a moment, left us in world of fact - cold fact with no scientific place for value. "The more we know of the cosmos, the more meaningless it appears", said Stephen Weinberg in Dreams of a Final Theory.

Precisely so. If everything that exists can ultimately be explained completely in terms of quarks and energy, if there's no intelligence out there, nothing beyond death but annihiliation, then life is just a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. This is where the materialist's reductionism takes us. Unfortunately what Kauffman seeks to put in its stead offers no more satisfaction than does reductionism.

In this scientific world view, we can ask: Is it more astonishing that a God created all that exists in six days, or that the natural processes of the creative universe have yielded galaxies, chemistry, life, agency, meaning, value, consciousness, culture without a Creator. In my mind and heart, the overwhelming answer is that the truth as best we know it, that all arose with no Creator agent, all on its wondrous own, is so awesome and stunning that it is God enough for me and I hope much of humankind.

First, Kauffman sets up a choice as ridiculous as it is false - he tells us we must either believe in a six day creation or accept atheism - and then concludes that it is more reasonable to believe that consciousness, agency, meaning, and value have somehow emerged out of the aforementioned energy and quarks than to believe that these phenomena, as well as the material world itself, are the product of an intelligent Being.

Thus, beyond the new science that glimmers a new world view, we have a new view of God, not as transcendent, not as an agent, but as the very creativity of the universe itself.

The universe is God and God just is the universe. But the universe is intellectually inert. Kauffman still hasn't explained how physical matter can give rise to meaning and value. He just holds out the hope that it has.

In short, in wondrous ways, these our universe, biosphere, econosphere, and culture are ceaselessly creative and emergent. The two cultures, science and humanities, stand united in this world view. Meaning and value have a scientific base.

Actually, nothing he has said in this essay supports this claim. He offers not a single testable assertion in support of his belief. Kauffman is a scientist doing speculative metaphysics and the speculations are based on nothing more than his hope that such things as meaning and value really exist.

And ethics? At a recent meeting on science and religion on Star Island, we heard more than one lecture on animal emotions and the sense of fairness in chimpanzees. Group selection, we were told, is now making its way into evolutionary biology. With it, natural selection can get its grip on behaviors that are advantageous to the group, like fairness, so it emerges. Far from evolution being anathema to ethics, evolution is the first source of human morality. But not the last, for we can argue whether we should want what we want.

This takes us back to what we said above. Even if a sense of fairness has emerged through natural selection, we still are given no reason why we should actually be fair to others. The fact that evolution produces some behavior is not an argument for that behavior being morally right or obligatory. Natural selection produces a lot of behaviors that we do not regard as particularly moral - war being one example - so why pick out fairness as an example of a behavior we should cultivate rather than war. The only way Kauffman can do this is by holding war and fairness up to some other standard and seeing which one conforms to the standard and which doesn't. But where does this higher standard come from? Neither Kauffman, nor any atheist, has an answer to that question.

I'll have more on Kauffman's emergentism later.

Listing Toward Fascism

Ralph Peters rejects the pessimistic prognosis of those who predict that Europe will be Islamified by the the middle of the present century. He believes that the increasing Arabification of Europe will give rise to a nascent fascism which will stem the Islamic tide through forced deportations or, since Europe is so good at it, genocide. Herewith some excerpts:

The notion that continental Europeans, who are world-champion haters, will let the impoverished Muslim immigrants they confine to ghettos take over their societies and extend the caliphate from the Amalfi Coast to Amsterdam has it exactly wrong.

The endangered species isn't the "peace loving" European lolling in his or her welfare state, but the continent's Muslims immigrants - and their multi-generation descendents - who were foolish enough to imagine that Europeans would share their toys.

In fact, Muslims are hardly welcome to pick up the trash on Europe's playgrounds.

Don't let Europe's current round of playing pacifist dress-up fool you: This is the continent that perfected genocide and ethnic cleansing, the happy-go-lucky slice of humanity that brought us such recent hits as the Holocaust and Srebrenica.

The historical patterns are clear: When Europeans feel sufficiently threatened - even when the threat's concocted nonsense - they don't just react, they over-react with stunning ferocity. One of their more-humane (and frequently employed) techniques has been ethnic cleansing.

And Europe's Muslims don't even have roots, by historical standards. For the Europeans, they're just the detritus of colonial history. When Europeans feel sufficiently provoked and threatened - a few serious terrorist attacks could do it - Europe's Muslims will be lucky just to be deported.

Sound impossible? Have the Europeans become too soft for that sort of thing? Has narcotic socialism destroyed their ability to hate? Is their atheism a prelude to total surrender to faith-intoxicated Muslim jihadis?

The answer to all of the above questions is a booming "No!" The Europeans have enjoyed a comfy ride for the last 60 years - but the very fact that they don't want it to stop increases their rage and sense of being besieged by Muslim minorities they've long refused to assimilate (and which no longer want to assimilate).

We don't need to gloss over the many Muslim acts of barbarism down the centuries to recognize that the Europeans are just better at the extermination process.

Mark Steyn, author of the highly acclaimed America Alone, disagrees. He sees the emergence of an Islamic caliphate covering almost all of Europe as inevitable, and although he doesn't say this, exactly, Christian dhimmitude would be an ineluctable concommitant along with death to any infidels who refuse to submit.

Good grief! Are these our choices? Have we allowed things to come to the place where someone who augurs the reappearance of fascism actually sounds like an optimist?

Change Toward What?

A friend sends along this meditation on the voters' decision to heed the Democrats' call for a change in Washington:

By now, he writes, you've all seen the Democrats' latest slogan: "A New Direction For America!" Let's analyze this promise:

The stock market is at a new all-time high and America's 401K's are back. A new direction from there means what?

Unemployment is at 25 year lows. A new direction from there means what?

Oil prices are plummeting. A new direction from there means what?

Taxes are at 20 year lows. A new direction from there means what?

Federal tax revenues are at all-time highs. A new direction from there means what?

The Federal deficit is down almost 50%, just as predicted over last year. A new direction from there means what?

Home valuations are up 200% over the past 3.5 years. A new direction from there means what?

Inflation is in check, hovering at 20 year lows. A new direction from there means what?

Not a single terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11/01. A new direction from there means what?

Osama bin Laden is living under a rock in a dark cave, having not surfaced in years, if he's alive at all, while 95% of Al Queda's top dogs are either dead or in custody, cooperating with US Intel. A new direction from there means what?

Several major terrorist attacks already thwarted by US and British Intel, including the recent planned attack involving 10 Jumbo Jets being exploded in mid-air over major US cities in order to celebrate the anniversary of the 9/11/01 attacks A new direction from there means what?

Just as Bush had planned and foretold us of on a number of occasions, Iraq was to be made "ground zero" for the war on terrorism -- and just as Bush said they would, terrorist cells from all over the region are alighting the shadows of their hiding places and flooding into Iraq in order to get their faces blown off by US Marines rather than boarding planes and heading to the United States to wage war on us here. A new direction from there means what?

Moreover, bear in mind that all of the above occurred in the face of the 1999 tech crash, the epidemic of corporate scandals throughout the 90's, and the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks on NYC years in the planning which collectively sucked 24 trillions dollars and 7.8 million jobs out of the US economy even before G. W. Bush had time to unpack his suitcases in the White House.

It's easy for the Democrats to attempt to discredit, disgrace and defame our commander in chief, George W. Bush -- that's what they do. What's not so easy for them to do is to refute irrefutable facts no matter how they might try.

I suppose the voters who wanted "a change" knew what they were doing three weeks ago. I just wish they'd explain it to the rest of us.