Purpose in Evolution: All or Nothing?
The argument today, at least in the popular culture, seems to favor a take-it-or leave-it choice: either the universe proceeds from an Intelligent Designer or results from blind chance.
The argument for the blind chance position holds that the process of evolution bears no resemblance to what would be the work of an Intelligent Designer. This argument takes the form of the classical atheist argument based on the problem of evil.
If there were a good and almighty and all wise God as Creator, the universe would be a very nice place; but the universe is not a very nice place. The second premise bears a lot of weight. The world does not look like the product of a good Creator.
While things are messy and violent on earth, the ancients, even up to the time of Immanuel Kant in the eighteenth century thought that at least the heavens reflected a rational order. We know now that, in the heavens, whole galaxies are colliding into each other and on earth the development of life is “red in tooth and claw.”
The materialist's response
One response to the denial of a clean product from a good Creator with a clear purpose is to reject the notion of good, creation, and purpose, and posit a world that emerges by blind chance. Many if not most of the materialists hold this position as their main premise. They appeal to the notion that in the vastness of time and space an infinite number of universes evolve. Ours happens to have beings with life, consciousness, and a degree of intelligence. This idea seems to have worked its way into the popular culture where characters on TV and in movies casually mention alternative universes.
Does logic force us to accept the notion that only blind chance could have produced our world?
What do you think?
I intend to offer an interpretation that diverges radically from the materialist views that effectively deny the significance of consciousness. This post concludes with a sketch of the position that will be elaborated and applied in the remaining posts. Any attempt to explain reality, whether attempted by a philosopher, a theologian, or a physicist, must involve at least a little hubris. Honesty requires Platonic humility, which means that we call our ideas “a likely story,” or in the words of Charles Sanders Peirce, “A guess at the riddle.”
As a minimum requirement, a worldview must be possible, meaning that it exhibits both logical consistency and compatibility with known facts. The writer must then show that the view presented is probably true and at least as feasible, or more so, than other alternatives.
We begin with the recognition of brute facts, which constitute chaos and apparently no sign of any kind of consciousness, order, or benevolence.
This statement applies to the period following the “big bang,” to the development of stars and planet, and to the evolution of life on earth from the first protozoa to the “origin of species,” and even to the history of the human race. The fundamental particles seem to be inert unconscious, impenetrable, and determined by the conflicting blind forces of both necessity and chance.
They do not display completely random behavior, but follow a regularity that scientists discern as laws of physics. Yet, their behavior also displays some randomness and uncertainty. Moving from fundamental particles to biology, the forces of chance and necessity are still at work. The whole premise of evolution rests on the notion that random mutations occur but then become genetically fixed. This description does not go beyond the reality of brute facts although the elements become entangled in patterns that give rise to consciousness and the ability to find patterns and study them scientifically.
But we human beings, at this stage of our evolution have the ability to discern something different from brute facts. We experience beauty:
Do you think beauty is real or just "in the eye of the beholder"?
We see beauty in each other, in nature, in music and art, in our own creative ideas, and in scientific theories. We see enough order and what we call by the name of goodness to make many believe that a Creator-God is at work.
This form of consciousness constitutes my title phrase, “the problem of good.” Just as atheists deem the “problem of evil” as proof of God’s non-existence, those who believe in a spiritual reality may see “the problem of good” as a challenge to materialism.
Of course, the materialists will pass all of this off as illusion, or at best, a quirk of a particular set of random mutations in our brain. The dogma of materialism holds that whatever we cannot understand at this stage of our evolution, meaning anything that does not fit the method and content of science, does not exist. With a relatively high level of intelligence, scientists can describe objectively the movement of elementary particles and energy. The assumption of popular materialism holds that the consciousness by which we know physical nature must be a product of nature as we know it.
Must we choose between materialism an creationism?
In posing the problem of consciousness and matter, the danger of a simplistic all-or-nothing dualism looms.
A person might think that we must choose between materialism and a kind of creationism. But the complexity and depth of reality should cause us to reject both religious and scientific fundamentalism. A person can reject a literal interpretation of the Bible, in fact reject the whole Bible, without being a materialist. Likewise a person can reject materialism without being biblical fundamentalist.
An alternative vision sees the universe as a process of moving from absolute chaos to a cosmos that expresses: order, beauty, harmony, consciousness, freedom, joy, and, love.
The materialists might consistently maintain that these qualities are subjective and fleeting. But the materialist view is not the only rational alternative. We can rationally maintain that these qualities are prior to our known world and that they are powerful, creative, and productive. Whatever is the source of these qualities---call it God or don’t---we may rationally maintain that evolution consists of these powers overcoming the chaos, necessity, and inertness of the elemental brute facts.
To the extent that this vision is true, the qualities such as consciousness, freedom, love, and creativity, which we experience to a degree in our own lives, have their seeds in the very formation of the universe.
Can we posit a chaos of blind, inert, purposeless, and brutal realities tending toward further chaos and division, and also a Creator Spirit working in the whole development of the universe including human evolution on earth to bring about purpose, intelligence, freedom and cooperation? To affirm both does not mean a dualism of two layers, one material and the other spiritual. Rather the world itself reflects the interaction of the two opposing forces. In the posts to follow, I will elaborate on this interpretation and argue that it stands out as the most rational view that we can hold