Monday, December 4, 2006

Kauffman's Emergentism (Pt. II)

The other day we took a look at the thinking of a scientist named Stuart Kauffman who believes the God of classical theism does not exist and who seeks to substitute in His place a universe which somehow (It's not clear exactly how) gives rise to meaning, value, consciousness, etc. Kauffman writes:

Meaning and value have a scientific base. 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.

As we said last week, whether fairness "emerges" among Homo sapiens or not is pretty much irrelevant. In order for there to be morality what has to emerge is an obligation to be fair. There can, however, be no obligation unless someone imposes it upon us or we arbitrarily impose it upon ourselves. To suggest that natural selection or evolution can somehow impose moral obligations is simply risible.

Shall we use the God word? It is our choice. Mine is a tentative "yes". I want God to mean the vast ceaseless creativity of the only universe we know of, ours. What do we gain by using the God word? I suspect a great deal, for the word carries with it awe and reverence. If we can transfer that awe and reverence, not to the transcendental Abrahamic God of my Israelite tribe long ago, but to the stunning reality that confronts us, we will grant permission for a renewed spirituality, and awe, reverence and responsibility for all that lives, for the planet.

In other words, Kauffman believes that we need to pretend that the universe is sentient because otherwise it doesn't inspire us quite enough. I think it's true that beauty and grandeur are far more inspiring when we think them to be deliberate products of artistic and mathematical genius than if we think them to be purely accidental, but to suggest that we think of the universe as God in order to somehow fool ourselves into thinking that its beauty is intentional seems a bit perverse. If it's all an accident, a freakish fluke, then let's just say so and resign ourselves to live with the existential consequences.

Does one know that such a transformation of human sensibilities will happen? Of course not. But the sense of justice matured in the Abrahamic tradition from 10 eyes for an eye, to an eye for an eye, to love thine enemy as thyself. Then can a heightened consciousness bring about a global ethic? I believe so. I believe, I hope correctly, that what I have sketched above is true, points to a new vision of our co-creating reality, that it invites precisely an enhancement of our sense of spirituality, reverence, wonder, and responsibility, and can form the basis of a trans-national mythic structure for an emerging global civilization.

Kauffman seems to ignore the fact that "love thine enemy" arises out of a theistic religious milieu and is found nowhere else. Nor is there reason to adopt such an ethic unless one believes that a personal, intelligent Creator demands it. If there is no such moral authority it's hard to see how we could ever justify any ethical principle other than look out for #1. Furthermore, why should we wish to enhance our sense of spirituality, etc.? Why is enhancing these things the right thing to do? All a materialist like Kauffman can say by way of reply is that he appreciates these things, so we should too.

To ever succeed, this new view needs to be soft spoken. You see, we can say, here is reality, is it not worthy of stunned wonder? What more could we want of a God? Yes, we give up a God who intervenes on our behalf. We give up heaven and hell. But we gain ourselves, responsibility, and maturity of spirit. I know that saying that ethics derives from evolution undercuts the authority of God as its source. But do we need such a God now? I think not.

If this is the sort of empty rhetoric to which his view leads then he better re-think. What does Kauffman actually mean when he writes that "we gain ourselves, responsibility, and maturity of spirit"? These are just empty words employed to paper over the profound hollowness of the naturalistic worldview he advocates.

What more could we want of a God? How about a ground for morality, for meaning, for purpose, for justice, for human worth, dignity, and human rights? How about a reason to believe that reason leads to truth, to believe that death is not the end, and that love is not doomed to end in death? Kauffman's pantheism gives us none of that because Kauffman's "god" doesn't care and is not aware of you and I. Kauffman's religion leads anyone who might actually embrace it into the abyss of moral, metaphysical, and epistemological nihilism. It is a god of meaninglessness, hopelessness and despair because it is, alas, no God at all.

Some god that is.

Christmas Gift Idea

This ad in Human Events caught my eye:

The U.S. economy and the stock market are booming, right? But conventional wisdom holds that gold moves in the opposite direction of economic prosperity. So why is gold on the rise, now?

Today, gold is on the move for many reasons. A falling U.S. dollar, rising debt levels and the instability of governments in many energy producing countries are all factors that could effect precious metal prices. The conditions that exist today may cause gold's value to actually double or even triple!

With all of the uncertainty around the world, experts are now calling for $1,000 plus gold prices by 2010. "Gold could easily move above $700/oz. by year's end," reports

So. A piece of lovely gold jewelry as a Christmas gift will cost more this year, but it could also be worth a lot more a couple of years from now. Think of the purchase as an investment.

That's all the recommendations I have for Christmas gift buying. From here on you're on your own.