New Scientist, May 7, 2008
Edited by Andy Ross
A global civilisation is beginning to emerge. Our
diverse cultures are being crushed together. One response is a retreat into
fundamentalisms. Clearly there is an urgent need for some new thinking.
process of reinventing the sacred requires a fresh understanding of science
that takes into account complexity theory and the ideas of emergence. It
will require a shift from reductionism.
I do not believe that the evolution of biosphere, economy and human culture
are derivable from or reducible to physics.
The second transition in
our view of science is based on Darwinian pre-adaptations. A pre-adaptation
is a property of an organism that is of no selective value in the present
environment, but might become of selective value in some different
environment and therefore be selected.
If we cannot enumerate ahead of
time all possible Darwinian pre-adaptations for all organisms alive now, this breaks the spell cast by
Galileo, that everything in the universe is describable by a natural law. If
a natural law is a compact description of the regularities of a process,
there seems to be no natural law sufficient to describe Darwinian
So the unfolding of the universe appears to be
partially beyond natural law. In its place is a ceaseless creativity, with
no supernatural creator. To believe that the biosphere came into being on
its own, with no creator, and partially lawlessly, is a proposition so
stunning, so worthy of awe and respect, that I am happy to accept this
natural creativity in the universe as a reinvention of "God".
Breaking the Galilean Spell
By Stuart Kauffman
Edited by Andy Ross
My aim is to reinvent the sacred. I present a new view of a fully natural
God and of the sacred, based on a new, emerging scientific worldview. This
new worldview reaches further than science itself. Our current scientific worldview, derived from
Galileo, Newton, and their followers, is the foundation of modern secular
society. At base, it is reductionist.
its evolution cannot be reduced to physics alone but stand in their own
right. Life and agency came naturally in the universe.
With agency came values, meaning, and doing, all of which are as real in the
universe as particles in motion. This stance is called emergence.
Perhaps my most radical
scientific claim is that we can and must break the Galilean spell. Evolution
of the biosphere, human economic life, and human history are partially
indescribable by natural law. This web of life breaks no law of physics, yet
is partially lawless, ceaselessly creative. So, too, are human history and
human lives. This creativity is stunning, awesome, and worthy of reverence.
Jews and Greeks split the ancient Western world. The Jews were the best
historians of the ancient world, stubbornly commemorating the situated
history of a people and their universal Abrahamic God. In contrast, Greek
thought was universalist and sought natural laws. The Greeks were the first
scientists in the West.
We need a place for our spirituality, and a
Creator God is one such place. We invented God
to serve as our most powerful symbol. It is our choice how wisely to use our
own symbol to orient our lives and our civilizations. I believe we can
reinvent the sacred. We can invent a global ethic, in a shared space, safe
to all of us, with one view of God as the natural creativity in the
Biological evolution by Darwinian natural
selection is emergent in two senses. The first is epistemological, meaning
that we cannot from physics deduce upwards to the evolution of the
biosphere. The second is ontological, concerning what entities are real in
the universe. Organisms have causal powers of their own,
and therefore are emergent real entities in the universe.
evolution of the universe, biosphere, the human economy, human culture, and
human action is profoundly creative. We do not know beforehand what
adaptations may arise in the evolution of the biosphere. Nor do we know
beforehand many of the economic evolutions that will arise. My claim is that
future evolution s inherently beyond prediction.
Some Jesuit cosmologists look out into the vast universe
and reason that God cannot know, from multiple possibilities, where life
will arise. This Abrahamic God is neither omniscient nor omnipotent,
although outside of space and time. Such a God is a Generator God who does
not know or control what thereafter occurs in the universe. Such a view is
not utterly different from one in which God is our honored name for the
creativity in the natural universe itself.
We need to reinvent the sacred.
Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion
By Stuart Kauffman
Basic Books, 320 pages
Stuart's 5-min video intro