Imagining Science

As I mentioned previously, the fact that the world around us is comprehensible, both rationally and mathematically, is astounding. But it is even more astounding that we are capable of comprehending it, if the widely-held belief of our modern age is true.

The belief I am referring to is best summed up by the words of renowned scientist and best-selling author Richard Dawkins: “There is nothing beyond the natural, physical world, no supernatural, creative intelligence lurking behind the observable universe.” In fact, any belief in a supernatural (literally: “beyond the natural”) dimension to our existence is regarded by many in higher education as backward, superstitious, quaint, and — above all else — irrational.

The fact that the world around us is comprehensible, both rationally and mathematically, is astounding. But it is even more astounding that we are capable of comprehending it, if the widely-held belief of our modern age is true.

The reasoning behind such anti-supernatural sentiment seems to find its roots in the prevalence of scientific thought in our culture. The idea is that, since we have been doing this science thing for so long and have yet to find any evidence for the supernatural, belief in the supernatural is at best grossly unjustified. I have spoken elsewhere how science would come to no other conclusion, but let’s allow for the possibility of such a world that science (actually, scientific naturalism) envisions.

Imagine a world, as Dawkins describes, where there is nothing behind the material Universe. All that exists is matter and energy, operating according to the observable laws of nature, and nothing more.

Now imagine you are observing the Universe, particularly Earth, just before life began. You see a lifeless, turbulent planet where, at the microscopic level, molecules are interacting constantly. Suddenly,  by pure chance, a group of molecules find themselves arranged in such a manner that we would recognize as a building block of life. And, by further chance, that building block finds itself arranged with other by-chance building blocks in a way that we would recognize as the first primitive form of life. Now to be clear: It isn’t really life: It is simply a complex arrangement of molecules. For that is all there is. Life, after all, is a concept, merely a manner we use to describe lifeless matter arranged in a certain way and acted upon by unguided natural laws in a certain manner. That is, there is nothing beyond, or “out there,” making life what it is. Life is not real; matter is. Life is the term we simply use to describe some observable arrangements of matter. And so you recognize this by-chance arrangement of matter as fitting the description of what we call life.

So you  decide to keep your eye on this particular arrangement of matter. Over eons, you observe that, through a strange combination of ongoing chance and unguided processed, more arrangements appear like the first one, a phenomenon we have called “reproduction.” And further, with the same strange combination of chance and unguided processes, the exact configuration of the molecular arrangements begins to change, becoming more diverse, eventually finding itself in a state you recognize to be what we call complex life.

You marvel; you are elated! You are witnessing before your very eyes life evolve! But to be clear, you are not in actuality witnessing life evolve. You are not, because life does not exist, let alone evolve. All that exists is matter and energy acting according to observable scientific laws.

But you cannot help but watch, and as more eons pass, the arrangements change further, finding themselves by chance in ever-peculiar and diverse configurations, till eventually, as a whole, they take on a form that you, with shock, personally recognize: Human life. Thinking, Feeling, Rational Human Life.

But of course, it isn’t really  human life you are observing — nor, for that matter, is it thinking, or feeling or rational. For not only does life not really exist, neither does Thought or Emotion. Nor even, Rationality. These things do not exist because all that exists is matter and energy. Just as life is an illusion, the things we call thought, feelings, and rationality are as well. At best, they are mere descriptors for how molecules arrange themselves, or how they interact in a physical, natural world. And this must be so, for there is nothing beyond the physical, natural world, just as scientific naturalism claims.

And suddenly you realize with horror: You do not exist. Granted you, as simply a by-chance arrangement of molecules, do. But you — as a thinking, feeling, rational entity, who can achieve what we call understanding — do not. That does not mean of course you do not experience what we describe as thought, or feelings, or that you do not experience the belief in what you understand to be rationality. But that is the problem. If all that exists is the material universe, as scientific naturalism claims, that includes you. You therefore, on your very best day, are no more than a highly complex arrangement of molecules in constant interaction. Nor can you be otherwise. The part of you that thinks, feels, reasons, and has the capacity to understand — is an illusion.

No doubt, you struggle against such a realization (even if Dawkins does not). Not because you do not want it to be so, but because everything in you says it cannot be so — including the the you who affirms the claim of scientific naturalism. But the stark reality is that in order to possess understanding, you — at least the understanding part of you — must exist in a dimension beyond the material world, something which scientific naturalism denies.

Troubled by this dilemma, you decide to accept by faith that, although all that exists is confined to the natural, physical universe, your understanding does not. That it exists beyond the natural, and by definition, is super-natural. A supernatural reality you simultaneously deny.

And that, I argue, is faith in a miracle greater than Jesus rising from the dead.

So what do you think? Do you agree with Dawkins that “there is nothing beyond the natural, physical world”? If so, what is the phenomenon we call understanding and rationality? And if you believe there is a supernatural dimension to our understanding, how far does it extend? I welcome your comments.

7 thoughts on “Imagining Science

  1. “And suddenly you realize with horror: You do not exist.” I realized this when I took psyclobin mushrooms. My ego is not me…I am everything…I am the universe….I used to think people who thought that were ‘nutty’, but when I truly observe reality from a distance, it seems bizarrely accurate. Enjoyed your post!

  2. Throughout this article I am reminded of this question: What constitutes life/death? I mean, if one minute I am standing there alive and well, and the next I am dead forever, then what has happened?

    All of the complex interactions between the trillions of bits of matter of which I am made have suddenly ceased and now these bits will simply disassociate. Why? What was binding them together into a sentient, self aware being capable of compound learning that grew exponentially throughout its lifetime?

    Every component that existed within me just prior to death is still there the second after death, and yet, I am now non-functioning – in a way that cannot be reversed no matter how advanced the science. Where did the energy that was “me” go?

    We are assuming that energy and matter are all that exist, right? Well, something drove the matter that was “me.” That must be energy, and, according to the laws of physics, energy can neither be created nor destroyed. So what kind of energy was it and where did it go?

    What has happened to my soul?

      1. You are an obviously intelligent and articulate thinker. I have enjoyed reading your posts.

        I would value your insight into my blog’s articles…

      2. Flattery will get you everywhere, shangreene 😉 Would love to check out your site (subscribing now).

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