Natural Creation

By Stuart Kauffman
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.

The 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 pre-adaptations.

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
Edge, 2008

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.

Biology and 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.

The ancient 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 universe.

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.

The 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