Chaos as the Default Mode
Building on John Haught’s insights, as presented in the previous post, I offer a variation on the theme of creation and chaos by affirming that if there is a God-Creator, He does not need to create chaos; chaos is the default mode that exhibits lack of creation. If God is a perfect being, all-in-harmony, then nothingness is all-in-division, complete chaos and disorder.
My description rests on the assumption that “nothingness” remains unthinkable. But if we can imagine nothingness and creation ex nihilo, the first stage of creation would be all-in-division. The process of world-formation would consist first of drawing the most elemental particles into more harmonious configurations such as atoms, then molecules. Once life begins, the story becomes much more interesting, at least for us living creatures on earth.
Atheists, as described in an earlier post, see the ten billion years from the big bang to the beginning of life on earth, and the 3.5 billion years from the beginning of life to emergence of human scientists, as a prodigal waste of time, and evidence that there is no creative intelligence at work. But during this time the heavy elements such as carbon formed in stars and exploded and scattered throughout the universe. These explosions produced the earth with all of the right stuff to allow life to begin.
In both physical and biological evolution two factors oppose each other. The opposing forces include the tendency toward cooperation that accounts for molecules, then cells, ultimately organisms working together to sustain life. But countering the move toward cooperation we find the competitive tendency to see the other as an enemy to be avoided or destroyed.
On the level of inert matter, the elements appear to be impenetrable and repel each other. But they also form bonds and become parts of more complex atoms and molecules. At the level of life on earth, organisms fight to the death for survival, but also form symbiotic communities and develop in complexity. In biological evolution two factors oppose each other. We can see this dual tendency from the most fundamental particles up to and including human society.
Inert matter is impenetrable; organisms fight to the death for survival. The conflict takes place between the original nothingness, the all-in-division, from which beings are called and the harmony to which they are called. The tragic irony consist in the fact that the more reality and integration that an entity has, the more destructive it can be in its pursuit of self-preservation. So the process from non-being to being exhibits the best and the worst.
In the preceding paragraphs I used some problematic phrases such as: “drawing the most elemental particles into more harmonious configurations,” “the harmony to which (beings) are called,” and “pursuit of self-preservation.” These expressions constitute anthropomorphic metaphors, and as I pointed out earlier, materialists also use such metaphors. As Hawking and Mlodinow say of their own work, it makes use of “model-dependent realism.” Whatever view we have of reality, it must be filtered and formulated by human understanding and language. The “inner” working of non-sentient entities remains hidden from us. Even within our conscious life we do not understand the movement of the impulses on which our consciousness depends, for example the impulse that travels from our conscious choice to type a word to the movement of our fingers on the keyboard. Physiologists can explain the movements from the brain to the fingers, but only from the “outside”
Randomness occurs in the firing of neurons in our brain and nervous system but unless we suffer from a debilitating disease, we are able to harness the neuron-firing enough to move meaningfully through life. A materialist might counter that the consciousness is a mere by-product of the neuro-physiological events rather than a power that causes or even directs the impulses. Some refer to consciousness as an “epi-phenomenon” meaning that, in Bertrand Russell’s analogy, consciousness can no more move the nerves than the smoke from the chimney of a locomotive can move the train. The only advantage that this theory has going for it is its ability to maintain the materialist world-view. But even Leonard Mlodinow, in a book emphasizing the predominance of randomness in determining the outcome of whatever happens in life, affirms the ability to put forth effort.
When scientists look at elements from the outside, they can discern both randomness and law. Without randomness there would be no change and therefore no evolution. Without lawfulness, there would be no preservation of change and therefore no science, and no scientists or other living things. The contrast and sometimes conflict between randomness and lawfulness does not constitute a dualism between nature and spirit. A very brief historical synopsis of dualism can help situate the contrast that I am presenting. A dualism between matter and spirit pervaded much, but not all, of ancient and medieval thought. For example, Plato compared the study of philosophy to dying because its purpose was to free the soul from the distractions and limitations of the body. Although official Christianity rejected the view that matter and spirit were in radical opposition to each other, some forms of Christian asceticism saw the need to subdue the body through fasting, suffering, and deprivation, so that the soul could be free.
By contrast, The Enlightenment provided a view of nature as divinely ordered so that Newtonian physics and Jeffersonian democracy were possible.
In my next post I will deal with the nineteenth century undermining of a providentially ordered universe and where we stand today.