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Ian Morton's picture

Shake 'N Bake: some quick thoughts on emergence and religion

These are just some thoughts I had that connect to Paul’s paper on emergence and to the article on resistance to science.

A point I would like to touch on here are the implications of Paul’s paper for religion. Paul's paper on emergence presents a view of the universe that proposes the possible emergence of complex life (humanity) through a process of simple objects (starting with the “active inanimate”) interacting to yield ultimately more complex entities. Such a process is not directional, but rather more of a random movement with the potential to yield surprisingly complex outcomes. That is to say, this process does not necessitate a conductor with the intent to arrive at some particular outcome. This has implications on the existence or role of a god behind the emergence of life and the human condition. While this far from disproves God’s existence, this “story” offers an alternative possibility for the appearance of human beings possessing “free will” on Earth.

I believe that the importance of God/religion in many people’s lives has the potentiality to drive a resistance to hearing Paul’s story, to blind them, not from the “truth,” but from an alternative explanation that may be “less wrong” (this is not directed at you, Ashley). My concern here is that due to the manner in which religion has become engrained in societies, some people may feel that to propose a view of the universe devoid of a god is to devalue the nature of existence, in particular, to devalue the human condition. I instead offer that the emergence of the universe from a process lacking ultimate intent could perhaps be viewed as even more “valuable” than a universe created by God. While such a universe would lack any ultimate Meaning, such a universe is no less awe inspiring when one considers the process in its entirety and how it lead to the creation of creatures with the capacity to reflect on their experiences and thus alter their future activities. [How could one’s mind not be blown when considering the possibility that consciousness is the result of simple entities interacting in simple ways for billions of years? That what started as an “active inanimate” became active, free-willed, animate beings?] The value of considering the universe in these terms stems from the wealth of questions it inspires as to the process and nature of existence.

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