God and Science

(Edited from a letter to the Center for Theology and Natural Science in Berkeley, California. I should have thought about the difference between "theology" and religion before I got involved.)

The bridge between science and religion is well advanced in its development. It seems to me that legends like the Big Bang are based more on faith, imagination and the need to explain than on hard evidence.

Yes, we need some aspects of religion to give science, and life in general, direction. "Religion without science is crippled, and science without religion is blind." But I'm talking about religion as that which tries to answer that ultimate category of question, "why" (see below), not about a specific organized religion.

What we don't need is "scientists" trying to prove that God, the manipulator, is still in the game. We can find purpose without turning to "Him" for it. When we assume the presence of an all-powerful God, scientific evidence, the laws of cause and effect, and even life itself, become meaningless to me. Any explanation of anything becomes viable.

The "anthropic" principle says that the physical laws and constants of the universe had to be "fine-tuned" to make evolution to consciousness possible. It's another version of "how could this much beauty have resulted from random chance?" Random chance and survival of the most adaptable lead to entities which can recognize the beauty of evolutionary forces, which also have the need to find an explanation for their existence, even if they must call on a force whose actions, by definition, can't ever be explained.

Suppose that universes are being formed constantly, each with different constants. Perhaps many have constants that don't allow such evolution. Those that do, evolve self-awareness. The argument is no different if we talk about the probability of just one universe, such as ours, being formed. Many planets in this universe probably never evolved life either. Many forms of life never develop significant self-awareness. Those that do are able to look back and suppose that the universe was created just for them.

If you were shown the basic constants of this universe as a hypothetical supposition, without knowledge of the real constants, could you predict the evolution of conscious life? I think not, but it did evolve here. Therefore how can we say that consciousness won't evolve under any set of constants? If the constants were such that the stars burned out more quickly so that biological life didn't have time to evolve, but produced new generations of stars faster, would the stars themselves maybe have evolved consciousness? Might they yet?

In a recent writing, four consecutive lines happened to start with "of the". Could this have happened by chance, or is it an example of the anthropic principle, proof that there's a conscious supernatural entity who's perhaps trying to emphasize the repetitiveness of everyday life? (This paragraph's first three lines only needed minor editing to put "of the" at the beginning of the second and third, but your web browser probably reformatted it.) In writing a paragraph about black holes, "unjustified" line endings formed a funnel shape. Naw!

I think it's the kind of thing we notice when it happens, and not when it doesn't. (I tend to notice such things.) If the constants of the universe had been wrong for consciousness to develop, no one would have noticed.

It's been suggested that such things as the value of saving humanity cannot be determined through science. Ultimately, true, but at least logic can dig deeper than that.

"...placing a high value on human life is a characteristic of advanced ethical understanding."

"...the central moral feature is `kenosis', or self-emptying and giving up one's own wishes on behalf of others."

I tend to think it's a matter of long-term practicality. See below.

Does the above mean indiscriminately valuing human life, unconditionally helping, not hurting, others? Does this mean abortion is immoral? I find it difficult to deny that a "human" fetus, or even egg and sperm, are at least Homo Sapiens, and alive. But first I define "human" as having a high degree of consciousness, which comes with life experience.

Are some "lower" animals therefore more human than some Homo Sapiens, or are the Charles Mansons of the world equally as valuable as the Gandhis and Hawkings? My guideline is to look at the net expected effect, concentrate on helping those who can, and will, in turn help others. (Unfortunately, those who can and those who will are often not the same people.) One could still say that my judgments of who is most worthwhile is dependent on my culture. So be it.

Maybe some would consider me a fascist. I'm not at all sure that helping the weak and sick is always either moral or practical. While we've pretty well stopped human genetic evolution with hospitals and other social services, the germs continue to evolve, with our help, as we create antibiotics which kill off weaker strains. When we gain so much advantage over our environment that we can afford to, for instance, help the weak, we get soft and begin to lose our lead. I favor taking the long view (sometimes seen as the hard-hearted view), and presently it looks pretty grim.

Rev. Richard Bolles' book, "What Color Is Your Parachute" had an exercise about asking why, again and again. By this route, you identify that which you worship above all else. My end result for this process used to be "understanding and communication". Why is this important? "Enhanced individual and societal consciousness". Later I realized that consciousness serves the higher purpose of "the continuing search for truth". Religion comes into the picture when we can't immediately answer "why" and must accept a principle on faith. Once we think we've found our ultimate principle*, or close to it, we look for other ways to serve it, giving meaning to other value choices. Humanity is the best example of higher consciousness we know of at present, therefore worth saving, as long as it doesn't interfere with other efforts favoring higher principles.

We tend to talk about life being sacred. I say consciousness is much more sacred. Life is sacred to the degree it embodies consciousness. So is AI. Some "animals" are more conscious, and therefore more sacred, than some "humans". Expanding universal consciousness, and/or "The continuing search for Truth" are/is the most sacred, for now.

This process, and resulting "ultimate principle", work for me. I like to think it would work for my culture, and beyond culture, for all humanity.

I used to call this "ultimate principle" one's personal "God", but was recently convinced that some people with religious backgrounds have the traditional meaning of "God" so ingrained in their minds that they can't accept this new adaptation. Lower case "god" may be acceptable.

"God,...whose purpose in creation is to make possible high-level loving and sacrificial action by self-conscious and free individuals."

Why would He want to do this? Why let them evolve rather than just create them exactly as He wants them? If He "knows all", why does He need to do the "experiment"? If He could get them to evolve this way, how are they free? Persuasion rather than compulsion? Since He has the power to demand, it still feels like compulsion to me (or would if I believed it). He'll use the power when He needs to.

Non-theological explanation for the presence of "pure" morality:

There is no line between pragmatism and morality. There is no pure altruism. Taking the higher moral stand is really a matter of taking the longer-term view. We expand from the immediate and personal pleasures of candy, and later, alcohol and sex, to the more distant ones of health and seeing our children and our communities prosper. We extrapolate from that, subconsciously perhaps, that there are even longer-term benefits in expanding our concerns further, to some degree, to all humanity, and to all life. Survival of the fittest has eliminated many who would look for enemies rather than friends.

I have unconditional compassion, but not unconditional love, loving my enemies. "Love" suggests trust, maybe respect, and wanting to be close, as well as compassion. Why do I have "enemies", and who are they? Those who want to take away my right to think as I please, those to whom I don't have a desire to be close.

The theological base for reality sounds rather like the pre-Galilean explanation of the movement of the planets. It gets more and more complex as we gather more data.


Send me your thoughts.
Dan Robinson, danrob@efn.org, Eugene, Oregon
My home page: http://www.efn.org/~danrob/