Thursday, April 24, 2008

Kaufman's Reinvention of the Sacred

An excerpt from biochemist-physicist Stuart Kaufman's Reinvention of the Sacred is on

Kaufman writes against a scientific reductionism that reduces life to sheer matter. He's anti-physicalist and anti-materialist. The word for Kaufman is "emergence." Life emerged from matter as something new and distinct from matter and non-reducible to matter. It's a non-reductionist theory of biogenesis. And, he's totally jaw-droppingly amazed by this, as he well should be. He uses the word "God" to describe this, but not "God" in the sense of classical theism.

The Edge excerpt simply states "emergence, not reductionism." Kaufman here makes no actual argument. Presumably, that will be found in the rest of his book. But for now note this. Kaufman writes:

[In scientific reductionism] "There are no meanings, no values, no doings. The reductionist worldview led the existentialists in the mid-twentieth century to try to find value in an absurd, meaningless universe, in our human choices. But to the reductionist, the existentialists’ arguments are as void as the spacetime in which their particles move. Our human choices, made by ourselves as human agents, are still, when the full science shall have been done, mere happenings, ultimately to be explained by physics.

Reductionism is inadequate reductionism. Even major physicists now doubt its full legitimacy. Biology and its evolution cannot be reduced to physics alone but stand in their own right. Life, and with it agency, came naturally to exist in the universe. With agency came values, meaning, and doing, all of which are as real in the universe as particles in motion. “Real” here has a particular meaning: while life, agency, value, and doing presumably have physical explanations in any specific organism, the evolutionary emergence of these cannot be derived from or reduced to physics alone. Thus, life, agency, value, and doing are real in the universe. This stance is called emergence. Weinberg notwithstanding, there are explanatory arrows in the universe that do not point downward. A couple in love walking along the banks of the Seine are, in real fact, a couple in love walking along the banks of the Seine, not mere particles in motion. More, all this came to exist without our need to call upon a Creator God.

Emergence is therefore a major part of the new scientific worldview. Emergence says that, while no laws of physics are violated, life in the biosphere, the evolution of the biosphere, the fullness of our human historicity, and our practical everyday worlds are also real, are not reducible to physics nor explicable from it, and are central to our lives. Emergence, already both contentious and transformative, is but one part of the new scientific worldview I embrace."

As a theist I can agree with Kaufman's analysis that, on scientific reductionism, life has no meaning. I am also with him in saying that "love" is not reducible to mere matter in motion. But merely to say that, e.g., "love's explanatory arrows" do not point downward and can be explained with God remains to be seen. I doubt this can be done without God.