Apologies for the lateness of this post; a number of circumstances conspired to impact the schedule. Hope it proves to be worth the wait.
There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception. - Aldous Huxley
The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper. - W.B. Yeats
The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend. - Robertson Davies , Tempest-Tost
|In this post:|
Humankind seems driven to understand the
Universe, and our role in it.
This drive may be built into us by yotzer.
Science and religion/philosophy are the two
main tools we use to reach understanding.
We have seen In Posts 10 to 12 that the two most popular myths of how our Universe and our species came to be — the scriptural God myth and the random accident myth — do not hold up to the scrutiny of scientific investigation and common sense.
Religious theology — the source of the scriptural God myth — has played a major role in the intellectual growth and early scientific discoveries of our species (except for the period of state-controlled fundamentalism). However, the major myths of religious theology have been, for the most part, discredited, their sources identified, and authors and redactors differentiated.
Atheism — the source of the random accident myth — has not fared any better. In fact, it has probably done worse. If the scriptural God made His contribution to philosophy and inspired somewhat the early pursuit of science, atheism has made no contribution to human intellectual growth or early science. Its basic premise of a totally accidental explosion somehow resulting in a Universe with consistent physical and natural laws, a set of basic properties that support life, and a set of rules for the evolution of that life, just doesn’t work.
This has led me (Post 13) to the conclusion that there has to be a god, but this god is not God. yotzer is the name I have given to the concept that such a god exists, and to that god itself. In this formulation, yotzer has the intelligence necessary to create the Universe and ensure it can produce life and, eventually, intelligent life forms such as us. This indicates it is rational and has some kind of purpose.
Although I believe, knowing only what we know and can infer, that this is a rational conclusion, that does not guarantee that it is correct. We have no way to know at this time, and the odds that this analysis is a million light-years off the mark are pretty good. Nonetheless, by adopting it as the most rational conclusion we can arrive at about the creation of the Universe and everything that has followed that event, we can proceed.
If we buy into the yotzer concept (at least until we learn differently) then there are several implications. We are at least a means to whatever end yotzer has. The spirituality gene and the fact that there is a specific part of our brain that responds to spiritual stimuli (see Post 9) points to the development over time of a communication channel. Our scientific drive to understand our Universe is probably also a result of yotzer’s evolutionary plan. If so, then we must at some point try to assess our progress towards deciphering the kosmic code and discovering our role, in order to accomplish it.
In Post 9 I listed nine primary questions note 1 that almost every human asks from time to time. Any effort to answer these questions leads to a consideration of how and why the Universe came to be, whether the Universe has intelligence, purpose and direction, and other questions for which at this time we do not have answers. In other words, the primary questions, which are asked at the personal level, lead to the fundamental question we must ask at the species level: What, in return for the Universe and the anthropic (human-friendly) environment we have been given, is to be our role in the Universe? What is the purpose that yotzer had in mind when it launched the creation and evolution process that has produced us?
As a species, our awareness of the world developed very slowly. We likely did not think about much except for survival until, say, about 50,000 years ago. Then, from about 5,500 years ago there was steady progress in our learning about our Universe, (with the exception of the dark ages from about 476 CE to about 1000 CE), By the 17tth century came both the beginnings of the scientific method and the realization that our study target was so much bigger than the Earth, the sun and the moon. The two major paths that humans have taken towards knowledge about our Universe have been religion/philosophy and science.
Throughout history, wise people have consistently speculated about the primary questions and blended what they thought and observed into myths, legends and codes to live by. They added their own explanations of phenomena they saw, and invented narratives to explain why things were as they were. Some who were most intelligent and, perhaps, most spiritually sensitive, probably envisioned and dialogued with the supernatural beings that they imagined must exist. In any event, these geniuses spoke and wrote about their visions, and formed religions. They gradually attracted adherents, and the most charismatic of them were able to draw sufficient adherents to develop major sustainable religions. Thus most major religions of today had formed by 1,000 CE.
Philosophy first developed in the same period, but with a slightly different focus. The focus of Religion (Post 8) is on customs and practices, on how to live and behave and cooperate with one another; the most important element is belief. and prescribed practices in support of belief. Philosophy, on the other hand, is driven not by belief, but by logic; it seeks to determine not how people should behave, but how they should think.
Eventually, when philosophy looked at religion, it saw too many claims of a supernatural nature and too many improbable narratives. Philosophy began to focus on how to separate truth from invention. By the modern period philosophy had developed a much wider scope of thought, utilizing reasoning to uncover issues of metaphysics, logic, epistemology, language, ethics, aesthetics, and many other disciplines.
Most subjects that we now call science were originally explored through philosophy. Initially, the words science and philosophy were virtually synonymous. Gradually, though, science shifted its focus to the study of natural phenomena, and then, beginning in the 17th century, to the development and use of the scientific method. This process matured in the 20th century.
By the 20th century, science had become systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical world, using research disciplines and tools such as the scientific method. Scientific research followed a process of observation, theorizing, and then testing to either prove or disprove these theories. In modern science, a certain amount of thought also goes into the significance of its findings, and how they correlate with other findings in the same or other disciplines. Peer review confirms the logic and usefulness of what is proposed. Sometimes, over time, even after acceptance, some theories are disproved, but for the most part, the method works incredibly well, and provides us with a lot of accepted knowledge.
If it is true that religion/philosophy and science are the two major paths towards understanding our Universe, its purpose, and our species’ role, then it is also true that we have a long way to go before we arrive at definitive answers. Instead of these paths converging towards the truth, they are both missing the mark. In 1940, Albert Einstein stated:
...for science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain, value judgments of all kinds remain necessary. Religion, on the other hand, deals only with evaluations of human thought and action; it cannot justifiably speak of facts and relationships between facts… Now, even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other, nevertheless there exists between the two strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies. Though religion may be that which determines the goals, it has, nevertheless, learned from science, in the broadest sense, what means will contribute to the attainment of the goals it has set up.As necessary as it may be, religion/philosophy becomes fossilized when it continues to address the world of thousands of years ago, using texts from that ancient period, rather than focusing on the Universe as it is understood today. In making this statement, I’m not referring only to religious fundamentalism; I’m making a statement about the failure of religion in general to stay relevant.
Science, too, has some deficiencies. Although the scientific method has been a remarkably versatile tool, it is, in some ways, not well adapted for fields such as astrophysics and theoretical physics.
Theoretical physics employs mathematical models and abstractions of physical objects and systems to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena. This is in contrast to experimental physics, which uses experimental tools to probe these phenomena.
Astrophysics uses the principles of physics and chemistry to determine the nature of stars, galaxies, extrasolar planets, the interstellar medium. It draws substantially on the realms of theoretical and observational physics.
Neither field lends itself to the design and implementation of experiments to either prove or disprove hypotheses.
Both astrophysics and theoretical physics are like walking in the garden in total darkness, with no flashlight or other aids. You can pick up the occasional sniff of an odorous flower, you can hear (and feel) the insects, but it's very hard to confirm your impression of what the garden looks like. You can produce models and theories, but you can’t necessarily produce provable knowledge.
Assume, as I have speculated in Post 13, simply because it seems less improbable than any other likelihood, that the Universe has an intelligence and a direction, and that we have some role to play in that purpose. Then our species has to learn what that role is before we can evolve to carry it out. A number of things have to happen before we can do that, (see Post 16 when it happens), but I’d like to just mention one or two here:
1 - Astrophysics and theoretical physics must find a way to treat currently untestable theories; science needs a new category for hypotheses that can neither be proven nor disproven.
2 - A number of forms of fundamentalism must disappear from serious religions and from serious science. Religions must abandon the stance that Scriptures are divinely written and therefore true and unchangeable. Science must let go of materialism, which does not allow for the existence of anything in our Universe that doesn’t evidence itself as matter.