"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

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Sunday, 5 September 2010

A New Emerging Scientific Worldview of God

Since yesterday's posting I have finished Kauffman's book, Reinventing the Sacred,and this is a copy of the review I have posted on Amazon:

Kauffman trained in philosophy and medicine, and now specialises in Bio-complexity and Informatics. In this sometimes provocative but enormously fascinating book, he sets out to demonstrate the inadequacy of reductionism alone in explaining our world, and offers ideas for a future evolution steered by us for a safer and better global place to live. He aims to address the schism between faith and reason, between science and arts, between reason and other sensibilities, in a new way; it is time, he writes, to “heal the split,” for the sake of our world.

He starts by dismissing the once widely held scientific view (not now so widely believed by the physicists it seems), that everything in the universe can be reduced to natural physical laws. He looks around him and perceives many things that whilst not contravening the laws of physics, nevertheless cannot be reduced to physics in this way, including the evolution of the biosphere, our world economy, our history and indeed life itself. And he carefully and thoroughly explains why.

Through such observations he maintains that we can break what he calls the “Galilean Spell,” which we have lived with since Galileo and Newton; the idea deeply rooted in our Western worldview since those great minds, that all that happens in our universe is governed by natural laws. He shows that we need more than this to explain many phenomena. Without rejecting reductionism entirely, he carefully and fully shows why it is inadequate to explain everything, as he describes a new emerging scientific world view, proposing that we are all members of a natural universe of “ceaseless creativity, in which life, agency, meaning, value, consciousness and the full richness of human action have emerged.” In physics, he says, there are only “happenings,” not “doings,” and in the natural physical laws there is no logical possibility of signs, interpretations, mistakes. Not only does he demonstrate that his concept of “ceaseless creativity” is possible, he also describes it as awesome, stunning and worthy of reverence, something we can all view as sacred. He explains why, from the evidence of the origins of life in the universe, we do not need a creator God. (But what about the origin of the universe itself?) Instead he calls for one global view of a common God as being the natural creativity itself in the universe. This is his reinvention of the sacred that he proposes.

Kauffman explains why he thinks his ideas based on a broader scientific world view may provide a shared religious and spiritual space for us all, within which he hopes we can heal what he describes as the four injuries of the modern world, these being the artificial division between the sciences and humanities, the need for more value and meaning in our lives, the need for spirituality for all, atheists, humanists, agnostics as well as those of faith, and finally the need for a global ethic.

Clearly this is controversial, provocative. As a Christian who believes in an Abrahamic God I obviously cannot agree with all he writes. But I do have respect for others’ beliefs, although I hope that the Creationists may be even partly persuaded by Kauffman’s reasoning that their beliefs cannot be so and that those without faith can see it is legitimate for them to experience spirituality.

I am not sure for whom this book has been written? It deserves a wide readership by the thoughtful and intelligent public but I did find much of the logic in many of his examples quite hard work to follow through, sometimes having to skim over to get to the conclusion – and I am a scientist! But I did find much of this book truly fascinating and absorbing, although I cannot do full justice to the sheer depth and breadth of Kauffman’s analyses in this short review.

I am always interested in any ideas put forward that may shed some light on how we may be able to heal this dangerously wounded world. Thus I was drawn to Kauffman’s work and in particular his vision that by harnessing our personal and collective responsibilities we have the wisdom, ability and knowledge to develop a new global ethics, and steer our evolution forwards through his proposed “reinvention” of the sacred. May it be so.

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