Faith and Reason
The idea of teleology brings up the specter of God, which the materialists find abhorrent. They do so because they associate God with faith, and faith with blind trust and apostasy to reason. Dawkins, after defining faith as “blind trust” writes:
" The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry…Blind faith can justify anything. If a man believes in a different god, or even if he uses different rituals for worshiping the same god, blind faith can decree that he should die--on the cross, at the stake, skewered on a Crusader’s sword, shot in a Beirut street, or blown up in a bar in Belfast. Memes have their own ruthless way of propagating themselves. This is true of patriotic and political as well as religious blind faith."
Must faaith be blind as Dawkins describes it?
Dawkins convicts faith, as the apostasy to reason, and as the generator of much of the violence and evil in human history.
The notion that faith excludes reason runs contrary to the traditional notion of Natural Law that requires that we strive to “know the truth about God.” Natural law requires believers to think rationally about God, a task which thinkers such as Dawkins believe constitutes a self-contradiction.
Can a twenty-first century person accept the method and content of science and still affirm a non-materialist view of reality?
This question is a paraphrase of the question that Josiah Royce (1855 -1916) asked in 1913:”In what sense, if any, can the modern man consistently be, in creed, a Christian?” Our intention here is to go beyond Christianity, as Royce also did, to include any non-materialist view. Royce’s answer to this question will be the subject of a later post, but for now we can begin to answer the question of whether we can be scientific without being materialistic by looking closely at evolution.
Evolution seems to be a trial and error attempt toward a teleological unity. Is this seeming teleology a reality or an illusion? How can we think of the process beginning? Pure nothingness is incomprehensible. Of course, we can think of “nothing” between particles or beyond the expanding universe. But in these cases we think of “nothing” juxtaposed to something. But what if nothing at all - neither God nor nature - existed? We can say the words but can have no comprehension of such hypothetical situations of nothingness.
Do you agree that we cannot think of pure nothingness?
Fortunately, we can think of a material world, composed of elementary particles, whether it is created or non-created. Finding language that describes reality below human consciousness poses problem as daunting as describing reality above the level of our consciousness. We can come closest by means of analogies, metaphors, and stories about the things that we can understand.
We can imagine the world beginning in a chaos of brute facts. Does this sentence describe reality right before or right after the big bang? Such a concept of brute facts would be nightmarish and perhaps would constitute the terror and horror of some forms of psychosis. But what if there is a redeeming agape-love at work amid the chaos of brute facts? How long would it take to create a world with intelligent life? Is that what is happening as we speak? If so, how far along are we?
Evolution is a movement away from the chaos of brute facts toward a conscious universal community. We can at last come to the seeds of a contemporary Natural Law theory. In the thirteenth century St. Thomas defined eternal law as “the order by which all things are directed to their end.” We can interpret this statement in a way infinitely richer than he could since he was limited to a pre-Copernican world-view. We can see the “order” to which all things are directed as the teleological harmony to which the brute elemental facts are being called. An understanding of the “order” must include Darwinian evolution but need not be limited to the materialist interpretations of some contemporary Darwinists.
The principle that genetically brought about the replications of molecules becomes conscious in us. The struggle against the separateness of brute facts is the reason that we are here. The same struggle gives us a purpose and direction in which we can progress. The four main precepts of traditional natural law are as pertinent as ever:
1. Preserve yourself,
2. Preserve your species,
3. Know the truth about ultimate reality, and
4. Create social justice.
The first three of these are easily understood. Self-preservation means that we strive to maintain and enhance our individual physical and psychological integrity. Preservation of our species means that we follow Dawkins’s “selfish genes” to perpetuate the human race. Materialists and teleologists agree that we should strive to know the ultimate nature of reality, although they disagree extremely on what this means. As for social justice, the materialist might see it as one meme among countless others; a teleologist more likely sees social justice as the goal of evolution.
Social justice can be described as an arrangement of practices that would allow for both freedom and unity. Evolution is working to overcome separateness and integrating all into community. Natural Law enjoins us to take part in that enterprise of creating such a community. But social justice cannot survive in a unity based on tyranny or conformity. Rather, justice would further the evolutionary process by allowing as much freedom as possible to each. Anything that would hinder any person from evolving to his or her full potential, whether the hindrance is oppression, deliberate exclusion, marginalization, or neglect, would stand out as injustice
The conscious movement toward a just community would constitute the culmination of the whole process of evolution from the absolute chaos of brute facts. If the freedom and unity were universal it would constitute what Josiah Royce called the “Great Community” or the “Beloved Community.” Our purpose here is not to describe a Utopia but to imagine what we could be at our best. What is the ontological status of such an idea? To some extent it already exists. You and I have a degree of freedom and a degree of unity. Many of us can actualize our potential and do not suffer oppression, exclusion and marginalization. Tragically, far too many people suffer these life choking evils, and are cut off from any sense of community. And even for those who are better off, the freedom and communal connectedness falls short of what we think it ought to be.