The 2017 FQXi Essay Contest, “Wandering Toward a Goal: How Do Mindless Mathematical Laws Give Rise To Aims and Intention” has completed the initial round of competition. The essay, The How and The Why of Emergence and Intention, authored by George Gantz, has done remarkably well among the more than 200 entries, achieving a 5th place in the community scoring. Evaluation now moves to an outside panel of experts, with the award announcements following sometime this summer.
His essay focuses on the process by which increasingly complex and novel behaviors emerge in complex systems. This process, and the remarkable and beautiful phenomena we see in physics, chemistry and biology, cannot be explained from the bottom up, under a model of causal determinism. There is an intentionality, a goal-seeking behavior, inherent in the process. Rather than being merely random, the universe exhibits a purpose. This view is contrasted with the multiverse hypothesis, which denies the possibility that the trajectory of our universe exhibits any form of selection. Instead, adherents speculate that at every point where a divergent possibility exists, e.g. every choice, and every quantum event with multiple possibilities, the universe splits. The fact that we are here in this one is simply a contingency – this particular universe, among the many, is the one that led us here.
The cosmic intentionality we experience is a flowing process that attracts systems to desired outcomes and that affirms cooperative behaviors among units with a system. In addition, the process is fundamentally reciprocal – each level influences the one below and the one above, in an endless chain of reciprocity. What force can be described as a force for attraction, cooperation and reciprocity? That force is love.
Biologist Stephen J. Gould in 1989 (Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History) theorized that evolution is essentially random, and that if “the tape of life” for evolution were to be rerun, the end result would be entirely different. New research is increasingly challenging that view. Certain evolutionary outcomes have emerged more than once — and some appear to be inevitable. These are not exceptions to the laws of nature, but essential outcomes of mathematical and environmental constraints. Purpose seems to be deeply ingrained in the fabric of life.
A new article in Humans and Nature by Christopher Boehm suggests that, contrary to the position of many strict Darwinians, evolution may not be random. “I propose a kind of purpose that could reside inside of, and not outside of, evolutionary process.” As an example, he points to purposeful human decisions that have influenced evolution. “Purposeful decisions enhanced altruistic tendencies, just as they reduced bullying and helped to domesticate us as a species.”
This article is a good update on the relevant arguments, but in my view it hardly goes far enough in admitting the powerful role that purpose plays throughout the entire evolutionary dynamic. In a previous post I wrote: “If, in fact, natural selection answers the question of the development of empathy and perhaps even of religious impulses, what is the role of religion? On the other hand, is it not also possible to see the unfolding of empathy and the religious impulse through natural selection as an affirmation of God’s continuing and divine influence – as evidence for God, rather than a conventional, materialist refutation? Rather than being a random process, the emergence of empathy is the “coming-into-being” of a spiritual potential contained within creation.”
The Social Conquest of Earth (2012) by preeminent entomologist Edward O. Wilson is a marvelous and deep work by a master scientist and storyteller that documents the evolution and advancement of humankind through the intertwined processes of individual and group selection. However, for me the work is marred by a dogmatic anti-religious bias that belies Wilson’s own commitment to dispassionate inquiry. Wilson moreover fails to acknowledge the hard limits to scientific knowledge and understanding – limits that can only be crossed by transcendent forms of understanding which empirical study cannot provide. (more…)
On May 16, 2011, about 20 participants joined in the second ISAS discussion forum. Our guest was Dr. Reuben Bell, and he reviewed his background in science and religion and the “two hats” he experienced growing up in Oklahoma – one a firmly religious, fundamentalist background – the second a positivist, scientifically based education. Eventually he left the first hat behind, but always wondered if the two hats could be united in a consistent spiritual-natural framework. He then gave us a stunning introduction to his current initiative – the development of a theistic synthesis of the science of natural evolution. (more…)
By Reuben P. Bell, DO, MS, MDiv
The dialogue between science and religion has reached an impasse over the claims by some scientists that certain biological structures or processes are just too complex to have come about by the mechanism of Natural Selection as set forth in the doctrines of the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis (the marriage of Darwinian theory with modern genetics). (more…)
From the earliest years after the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859), debates raged about the failure of evolution by natural selection to provide for empathy, that most human of human traits. The controversy has continued ever since – and ISAS will tackle this and related subjects on May 16 at a discussion forum featuring Dr. Reuben Bell. At the same time, noted mathematical biologist Martin A. Nowak has released a groundbreaking book entitled Supercooperators: The Mathematics of Evolution, Altruism and Human Behaviour (Or, Why We Need Each Other to Succeed) (2011). (more…)
The list below is a small handful of sources dealing with an incredibly complex and evolving subject. The science of biology has exploded in recent years, as has the controversy associated with applying some aspects of the science to human issues.
Theistic Model of Organic Evolution – On May 16, about 20 participants joined in the second ISAS discussion forum. Our guest was Dr. Reuben Bell, and he reviewed his background in science and religion and the “two hats” he experienced growing up in Oklahoma – one a firmly religious, fundamentalist background – the second a positivist, scientifically based education. Eventually he left the first hat behind, but always wondered if the two hats could be united in a consistent spiritual-natural framework. He then gave us a stunning introduction to his current initiative – the development of a theistic synthesis of the science of natural evolution.
The event recording is available at New Church audio at this link.