|In this post:|
The working hypothesis of this blog is that
the Universe has a purpose, and humankind
has as role in that purpose.
We must use both Science and Religion/
Philosophy in order to discover our role.
In the first fourteen posts of this blog, I have proposed (not necessarily correctly) one possible paradigm for a 21st century understanding of cosmology. In doing so, I have tried to address some of the unresolved questions that we have today, such as: Is there a deity or not? Is there an intelligence behind the creation of the Universe, or was that simply a random event? Is there only one Universe, or are there multiple or even an infinite number of Universes?
My line of reasoning has been:
- If we look rationally at what is known about the origin of the Universe, we are led to the concept of a creative force behind the origin of the Universe. That is, a deity of some sort. It is my belief that this hypothesis is far more likely than that of a random set of accidents and coincidences that happened to the infinitesimally small object that already existed before it blew up to become the Universe. [Posts 7, 10]
- That deity, within the confines of this blog, is called yotzer (Hebrew for “creator”). We know nothing about yotzer, other than that it somehow created the Universe. [Posts 8,13]
- The Universe is yotzer’s footprint, and it is reasonable to infer some things about yotzer from the nature of the Universe it created. The Universe has inherent in it laws of physics, as well as a consistent, but not predictable, system of evolution. Although we have observed only an infinitesimally small sampling, what we have learned so far indicates that these laws operate consistently throughout every aspect of the Universe. We have also learned that the Universe seems to be structured toward the creation of life, and the evolution of that life toward intelligence. [Post 10]
- The Universe appears to be consistently evolving towards intelligent life forms that can observe and understand the patterns and rules of evolution. Could it do so without there being a creator (yotzer) with both intelligence and a purpose? (Posts 9,10)
- Thus we can infer a deity (yotzer) that is intelligent, rational and had a purpose in creating the Universe. What was that purpose? We don’t know. But it seems logical that the evolution of intelligent life is part of that purpose, and that we, as part of that purpose, have some role to play.note 1 (Post 14)
- Religion and philosophy together provide one of two paths toward the knowledge that we require to discover our role. Science provides the other path. Neither path alone can provide this knowledge. To learn what we humans must know, we must walk both paths in collaboration. (Post 14)
Does this mean that science, somehow, is failing humankind, or not positively affecting us? Not at all. It is impossible to deny the contribution that science has made during the last half millennium to knowledge, longevity, fabulous toys, and, to at least some degree, an understanding of the Universe we inhabit.
In spite of this, cranky critics may want to blame science for lots of things. We worry that the creation of nuclear science may lead to us blowing up the Earth. We see the Internet leading to the mess of hacking, scamming and electronic theft that we consistently face today. In fact, just about every contribution of science to the progress of humanity has also increased the risks of inappropriate use and its repercussions. Take, for example, the new epidemic of smartphone-driven distracted driving and street crossing.
Those with the ability to reason, however, are fully aware that science leads to information and capability, while it is ignorance, unintended consequences, and nasty, short-sighted and/or misguided people that convert the benefits of science to danger and injury.
How will we, as a species, during the next 1,000 or 10,000 years, use Science? Will we continue to make scientific advances that dazzle and amaze, but do very little to shed light on humanity’s ultimate purpose? Or, will we start to turn the incredible capability of Science toward trying to discover the purpose of the Universe and the part that we can play in that purpose? If so, it is possible that our species could earn the privilege of eventually working with yotzer as a junior partner, to accomplish the purpose for which yotzer created the Universe and life.
Ultimately, it depends on how quickly and well our philosophers and scientists respond to some obstacles along the road to knowledge.
It is my opinion that the first and greatest of such obstacles is humankind’s somewhat uncertain future, and that Science must be deployed to insure the continued existence of our species. This means finding responses to threats such as large asteroids striking the earth (as has happened in the past), nuclear war, mass extinctions and stressed eco-systems resulting from climate change, or even backfiring scientific experiments. In many cases, we must find ways to save our species from ourselves.
The obstacles faced by Science are not, however, limited to dealing with existential threats. Some obstacles have to do with Science itself, both how it is currently structured and how it is practiced.
One such obstacle is the issue of “reality.” As touched on in Post 14, fields such as astrophysics and theoretical physics deal with objects and processes that are beyond our ability to directly perceive and measure. Hence, theories in these fields cannot be subjected to the experimental approach of the scientific method that has guided much of Science for the last several centuries. Computer simulations and models often replace reality. As a result, many of the most popular theories in cosmology are not supported by any form of reality. Even the Big Bang Theory is open to challenge, and String Theory is as far away from reality as is Peter Pan. note 2
A new investigative method needs to be developed for those hypotheses that cannot be tested using the scientific method. Such a method will be effective only if it gets widespread acceptance from the scientific community.
Another type of obstacle faced by humankind in achieving the knowledge that it needs is posed, ironically enough, by some scientists. We have to start with an understanding that not all scientists are Einsteins or Newtons. Not only did half of them graduate in the bottom half of their class, but some copied from their pals. It should be no surprise, then, that not all scientists produce equally powerful and accurate results in their research. Some of them cheat deliberately or unconsciously; others err because they mistake the results they get for the results they want. note 3
Further, the scientific community can be quite conservative, particularly regarding new ideas catching on. Sometimes, important new finds are ignored, or even laughed at, for years, because these ideas don’t fit in with the interests of the more popular theories of the day.
While “dogma” and “fundamentalism” are phenomena most often associated with religion, they occur in Science, as well. For example, the unfounded assumption of materialism makes it “impossible” for some scientists to discuss any “non-physical” topic. (The fact that astrophysics and cosmology deal all the time with (hypothesized) things that cannot be directly detected or measured doesn’t seem to occur to them.) Hence, topics such as ESP, near-death experiences and other supernatural experiences persist as phenomena that are reported, believed, and discussed, but never subjected to rigorous scientific examination. I, personally, am very skeptical of these phenomena, but that is an opinion, not a scientific conclusion, because the scientific method has not been brought to bear on these subjects.
As discussed in Post 14, collaboration between Religion/Philosophy and Science is a necessity. The “why” and the “how” cannot be effectively investigated independently.note 4
Further, Science can benefit from the insights of Religion/Philosophy in dealing with its own obstacles. The nature of reality, the interaction of the observer and the observed, and the concept of objectivity are all subjects of philosophic discourse. I feel strongly that both approaches to knowledge are necessary and neither should be privileged over the other. The degree to which we, as a species, can employ together the modes of knowledge acquisition will likely determine how much progress we can make in discovering our ultimate purpose.