2B or Not:
The Designs of Intelligence
Jay B. Gaskill
Intelligent Design vs. Natural Selection is just a Side Debate.
While our culture teeters on the verge of a descent into full-on moral relativism (a precursor to nihilism), I believe that we have been distracted and confused by the “intelligent design” debate. There is something more fundamental at stake. It is the great “WHY?” question. [There are many such “Why” questions, but the greatest of them is “Why care about doing the right thing?”] The “materialists” can’t answer it. [I refer to those minds trapped in the philosophical notion that matter and energy account for all there is, seen and unseen, that all we hold to be good, beautiful moral and true is just “made up”; these philosophical materialists have disabled themselves from solving life’s “WHY” puzzles.]
I think of the greatest “Why” question in terms of one of those classic fairy tale riddles: The drooling monster at the gate towers over you. As it delivers the ultimatum, you can smell the horrid creature’s hot, fetid breath. Answer the riddle or you’re screwed.
A philosophical materialist is doubly disabled: This is someone who can dissect fluffy the cat, then makes excuses why fluffy can’t be reassembled, and (for much the same reason) is tongue tied at the gate….
Darwin’s Skeptics Are Not All Idiots
The February 2002 issue of Scientific American quoted Richard Dawkin’s famous observation: “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” This is the succinct case against teleology, or at least a concise and chilling summary of the position derived from what I call “TOME” (the Total Mechanical Explanation of Everything).
In a 1997 article in the New York Review of Books, Stephen Jay Gould, a professed humanist atheist, captured the spirit and content of contemporary Darwinism:
“The radicalism of natural selection lies in its power to dethrone some of the deepest and most traditional comforts of Western thought, particularly the notion that nature's benevolence, order, and good design, with humans at a sensible summit of power and excellence, proves the existence of an omnipotent and benevolent creator who loves us most of all (the old-style theological version), or at least that nature has meaningful directions, and that humans fit into a sensible and predictable pattern regulating the totality (the modern and more secular version).
“To these beliefs Darwinian
natural selection presents the most contrary position imaginable. Only one
causal force produces evolutionary change in
Disciples of Gould, Dennett and others will continue to argue about the technical differences in their competing views and versions of the Darwinian account. But the basic point of view remains just as Gould outlined it in the referenced article before his untimely death.
In a Scientific American article
(Darwin’s Influence on Modern Thought,
July 2000), Ernst Mayr
In biological evolution, however, Mayr asserts that “universal laws” are replaced by “probabilistic” regularities, and he makes the observation that “theories in evolutionary biology are based on concepts rather than laws.” Overall, Mayr’s article was a masterful summary of the impact of Darwinism in forming the dominant paradigm in biology and the social sciences.
About forty years earlier, a French biologist turned priest, Pierre Teilhard d’ Chardin (1881-1955) had proposed an entirely different vision of evolution, one that was subtly but firmly directed. Evolution leads progressively from non-life to life, from non-conscious life to humanity, from humanity toward the divine. Teilhard’s views were attacked and ultimately marginalized as non-scientific, just one step from raw creationism. They are not worthy of mention in the ongoing debates between Gould, Dennett and the other contemporary Darwinists. This dismissal was predicated on the notion that any progressive tendency in evolution was bad science because no physical mechanism could account for it. I will return to this topic.
The biblical account of creation is like showing up in a new meadow on a summer day and being told that all these plants and animals arrived in place last year through a single beneficent stroke of creative intelligence. The Darwinian account is like being told that you and the meadow are the product of a series of accidents. I will be arguing that any really plausible explanation requires us to achieve a huge temporal and contextual perspective, the achievement of “meta-context.”
The cosmological account starts with an explosion. An incredibly compressed plasma of energy, (so dense that the entire universe was smaller than a pinpoint), exploded about fifteen billion years ago. The density was so extreme that all physical relationships, laws, electromagnetic waves, subatomic particles did not yet exist, except as a sort of latency. Step back and look at this state of affairs from a fifteen billion year cosmological remove (i.e., as a deity might see it). Notice that, in some way, order has emerged from non-order; first the strong and weak forces, gravitation, elementary particles, the hydrogen atom, then proto-stars. And so on. Imagine the entire process speeded up like those time lapse movies of plant growth. There are a few distinct growth spurts. After a multibillion year period of relative quiescence, biology gains a tiny foothold on a planet, then explodes A second Big Bang of expanding complexity.
An explanation of emergence is in order. This is the process in physical reality whereby a particular novel organization, configuration or arrangement of elements or sub-systems can be said to represent a new existent not otherwise present in the (now) subordinate elements prior to the novel organization, configuration, or arrangement. There are other definitions, but the idea closely parallels that of design, where the process is very clear. For example, the painting is a result of the artist’s configuration of paint. The artist’s vision is an emergent property of the paint configuration.
The central idea is that complex organization cannot be reduced to simplicity without destroying part of its essential nature. This statement is the same as saying that novelty exists. All novelty results from a combination or organization of existing simpler elements. For example, the constituent elements of a functioning toy wagon might be the contents of a bag of plastic parts; a complex organic molecule is composed of a large number of simpler atoms from as few as four chemical elements; a Bach fugue is constructed from a simple set of scales the individual note intervals of which represent discrete frequency relationships. To acknowledge that novel, complex organization is the result of the combination or recombination of less complexly organized elements is not the same thing as saying that reduction to the constituent elements preserves the complex order.
Organization adds a “something” to disorganized elements that was not present before. To watch the death and decomposition of a fellow creature is to see this principle, starkly, in reverse operation. This lost “something” represents an additional level of organized complexity that was neither inherent nor necessary to the existence of the various disorganized constituent elements. In a word, it is novel.
The appearance of new order, seemingly a “mere” reordering of existing elements, is an instance of the emergence of novelty (and heightened overall organized complexity). Reductionism simply cannot account for this process. The miracle of existence is that novelty continues to emerge. Where does novelty come from? What is the mechanism for its emergence?
If, in nature, the new existent simply develops (here the metaphor of a photographic image, emerging in a pan of developing fluid, is helpful) we prefer to use the term of emergence, because there is no “designer.” For example, a group of birds suddenly acts in such a coordinated way that the flock becomes a sort of sky squadron. This dynamic organization is an emergent property of the interaction of the individual birds. In another example, scientists believe that the first multi-cellular animals were the emergent product of colonial organizational patterns of individual cells. In popular parlance, emergence is usually the explanation when “the sum is greater than the parts.”
In this view, a number of organizational or systemic properties or entities are seen to emerge in physical reality as the combinations and relationships among potentially constituent elements achieve a critical developmental stage. Emergence is the converse of reduction. But in physical reality, emergent entities and their reductions are not time reversible. Schrödinger’s cat may be poisoned, then reduced in a crucible to constituent elements, but the process cannot be reversed in real time. No one would seriously contend that the defining elements of cat are captured in the reduced description, ten ounces fur, etc.
Emergence describes the development of novel complex entities from simpler ingredients. In the context of human design activity, the process is as familiar as bread making. In nature, the process is familiar in biological development, and somewhat less familiar in evolution. Conscious intelligence itself can be understood as just such an emergent existent (either in the evolutionary context, as successive species developed the capacity to think and feel or in the biological development context, as an embryo progresses to baby, child and recalcitrant teenager).
Science is discovering that the relationships between physical “law” (or law-like tendencies) and the special properties of random / chaotic processes routinely lead to the emergence of novel organization in nature. This is a highly significant feature of the physical universe. And it suggests to many of us that the Darwinian description of evolutionary development, while certainly valid as a narrow, physical description of the processes of biological evolution, is incomplete as a meta-theory. Cumulatively, these developments have strong implications for a stochastic, but equally significant form of teleology, that I will sketch out later.
In the referenced Scientific American article, professor Mayr credited the Darwinian revolution with the triumph of positivism – arguably still the prevalent intellectual style in all “serious” academic circles. In its most sweeping, doctrinaire form, meta-positivism (as the idea that strict experimental replication is the sole reliable guide to ALL truth) results in epistemological paralysis. Strikingly, Mayr himself points out in the same essay that even Darwinian evolutionary theories are not primarily an empirical exercise. I suppose if meta-positivism is the child of evolutionary theory, it must represent a mutation that eats the parent
The problem is not procedural positivism but meta-positivism. The procedural positivism of the last century was not in formal conflict with the rational universe paradigm. As long as positivism was used as a specialized method, and the scope of its claims was limited to certain classes of physical phenomena, it was a highly useful idea that furthered the scientific enterprise without doing collateral damage to the human enterprise. But, when expanded to the inappropriate status of a general philosophical world-view, positivism, especially in its stridently materialist incarnation, produced epistemological paralysis. No other description of this consequence is adequate; this extreme form of positivism relegated whole realms of human knowledge to the ghetto of subjectivism.
Many of the intellectuals who have begun to criticize Darwinism are simply responding to the kind of metaphysical overreaching I’ve just described. The serious Darwinian skeptics don’t doubt for a moment that the processes of natural selection are currently operating in nature, nor do they doubt the account of a gradual, incremental creation process, measured in billions of years.
The literalistic biblical notion that
everything (including all those “misleading” fossils) was created in a flash a
few thousand years ago, is not favored among the
Some of the
This is no merely academic controversy; the implications touch the very foundations of the ethics that uphold civilization.
Our Species’ First and Best Technology is at Risk.
We humans will survive as long as we can uphold our civilization’s underpinnings (maintaining what I have called its normative infrastructure). Without clear moral boundaries, civilization will succumb to its demons.
All civilizations represent institutionalized systems of allegiance. For any civilization to survive more than generation or two it must rest on a robust underlying moral foundation from which its governing structure, laws and systems for the allocation of accountability derive their legitimacy. This ethical foundation and the implementing rules and norms of governance are a civilization’s normative infrastructure. When that infrastructure fails, a civilization dies.
The survival of a civilization doesn’t require rocket science, but a straightforward combination of unified belief and action. Unity means a mutual commitment to survival. Civilizations are never “equal” by any measure; therefore civilizations will always compete. Inter-civilization competition occurs on several levels, but is primarily expressed in commercial and military venues. The history of our species is the chronicle of competing forms and models of social organization, a clash of civilizations.
The competition among civilizations follows a crude waveform: Dominant civilizations flourish in a state of vigor and self confidence, then begin to mutate into relaxed, complacent and ultimately decadent iterations, then are overtaken by more vigorous neighboring civilizations. Our species could go on this way but for WMD’s.
The late 20th century has produced three developments that, in the current century, may dramatically alter this wave form. These are: (1) The emergence of technologies of war (especially WMD’s) that for the first time in our species’ history could lead to planet-scale destruction of human life and resources; (2) the emergence of radically accelerated technologies of exchange - modalities of transportation and communication that are driving the global economy, a huge intermixing of good, services, information, culture and pathogens; (3) a very serious challenge to the normative infrastructure of civilization itself. This third development – originating in “mere” philosophy - is far more dangerous than the first two.
For the very first time, the moral order itself (as opposed to the flawed and corruptible humans who pretend to be moral) has been challenged on a very fundamental level. The normative infrastructure of modern Western civilization has been damaged by mindless empiricism, doctrinaire philosophical materialism and malignant skepticism. Collectively these forces have done something that has never been accomplished before: they have undermined confidence in morality itself, except as social convention. This is an invitation to nihilism.
Our common moral infrastructure
has been under attack for the last 150 years by intellectuals whose weapon of
choice was the acid of comprehensive doubt. That weapon was originally aimed at
the legitimacy of archaic authoritarian institutions, especially at hereditary
rule and theocracy. The attack proved
very effective in the developed world, but the acid did not return to its
bottle. It has continued its work, eating away at the supporting foundations of
civilization itself, much as it did early in the last century in pre-Nazi
Unless civilization recovers robust confidence in its own value, the tendency of its intelligentsia to wallow in suicidal irresolution will precipitate the actual suicide of the civilized social order. As I write this we in the developed Euro-American West face a concerted challenge from an atavistic form of civilization, ultra-authoritarian Islam, armed with ultra-destructive weapons’ technology. The prospect of a new dark age looms, but is far from inevitable. I propose an optimistic take on our circumstances, one that begins in realism and asks us to see the deep continuities on which reasonable hope is founded.
Some members of the intellectual community have recognized the scope and seriousness of the damage, and are braving the slings and arrows of political correctness in the academy as they work slowly to repair the damage. But their attempts to repair what the skeptics have undermined are being fought at every turn. Just one example: Think of the striking success within intellectual circles of the attacks on religious authority. Consider the blowback if they succeed completely: Suppose religion fails altogether. Is there another equally powerful (and benign) source of moral authority?
Although the immune system of
civilization has been weakened by cultural and moral relativism, until
recently, the so called common people have been inoculated by common sense. But
their immunity is relentlessly being compromised as an amoral ethos invades the
popular culture here and in
The 20th century was dominated by the themes of rebellion against authority and the sacrifice of innocent men, women and children on a monumental scale. Very large forces are still afoot in the world and we humans may not have yet seen the worst they can do. But the cultural and philosophical acids loosed in the last century or so cannot dissolve everything. Even the stubbornly pervasive notion that ethics and morality are merely human constructs is beginning to run its course.
Recovery of our essential moral boundaries and the concomitant commitment to defend them are possible. A secular - religious consensus is within reach, at least within the West. But our version of civilization is more fragile than we would like to think. We can ill afford to wait another century while the professional philosophers grind out solutions piecemeal.
The problem was evident early in the last century:
“It is clear now to everyone that the suicide of civilization is in progress. What yet remains of it is no longer safe. It is still standing, indeed, because it was not exposed to the destructive pressure which overwhelmed the rest, but, like the rest, it is built upon rubble, and the next landslide will very likely carry it away.”
Albert Schweitzer, The Philosophy of Civilization, p 2
“The political and economic conflicts and complexities of the last few decades have brought before our eyes dangers which even the darkest pessimists of the last century did not dream of. The injunctions of the Bible concerning human conduct were then accepted by believer and infidel alike as self-evident demands for individuals and society. No one would have been taken seriously who failed to acknowledge the quest for objective truth and knowledge as man's highest and eternal aim.
“Yet today we must recognize with horror that these pillars of civilized human existence have lost their firmness. Nations that once ranked high bow down low before tyrants who dare openly to assert: Right is that which serves us!”
Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years, pp 9-10)
Schweitzer and Einstein were prescient. In jettisoning the sanctions of traditional religions, the 20th century’s prevalent secular ethical systems suffered an immediate and pervasive crisis of authority. When analyzed carefully, the post-religious belief systems were based on naked normative assertions lacking ultimate authority, or they were an attempt to recast the ethical contents of particular religious belief systems in secular terms. In the worst cases, they were attempts to dress dreadful authoritarian ideologies in neo-religious garb. Eric Hoffer’s classic analysis in The True Believer made the compelling case that Soviet Communism and Hitler’s National Socialism adopted secular-religious organizational forms strikingly similar to that adopted by authoritarian religions.
No ethical system can prevail if it depends solely or crucially on imitation, nor on arbitrary assertion of value. No ethic will be capable of exerting a constructive force in human affairs unless it is grounded in something more fundamental than the transient opinion of political leaders or the fragile consensus of popular preference. And no ethic will long survive if it is not convincingly rooted in the accepted verities of human experience. Twentieth Century secular ideologies offered a hollow solution to the problem, one in which mob enthusiasm temporarily (and disastrously) masked the ridiculous pseudo scientific theories of Marxist social engineering and the malevolently racist eugenics of National Socialism.
We can drift for a time, but not forever. As Dostoevsky wrote, “Without God, everything is permitted.”
In short, the state of affairs foreseen by Schweitzer and Einstein before World War II persists. This culture remains in deep crisis, visible at all levels. With the retreat or outright collapse of supernatural belief systems supporting ethical foundations among the best educated intelligentsia, ethics is in an eerie state of suspension, and imminent free fall.
Years ago, I imagined moral foundations of civilization as a giant bucket of water, in which the outer wall of the bucket represents the network of theistically grounded ethical belief structures, placing the ultimate basis for ethics outside mere human convention and invention. Then I imagined a series of frames. That was frame one. In frame two, the bucket becomes transparent. In frame three, the bucket is suddenly gone. The water, momentarily bucket-shaped, quivers…. This captures the present situation among the prosperous intelligentsia.
And frame four?
At its very core, the acid that has eaten away at the deep moral foundations of civilization is a simple idea:
We humans are not important or valuable because we got into this crazy, unjust universe as a result of some absurd cosmic accident.
But Our Arrival Was Not TRULY Accidental.
The disputants over the attempt to teach Darwinism vs. intelligent design as metaphysics are trapped in an irresolvable argument about whether science can ever definitively prove or disprove the existence of a Great Designer. While the metaphysical Darwinists have greatly overreached the limits of science as a window into deep reality, our best response is to accept the need for a more fundamental inquiry using every tool at our disposal.
The reality and profound significance of our conscious experience is beyond question. Whether the special conditions that allow us to “Be” in that ineffable “I-am” sense can ever be understood as a mere engineering exercise is problematic in the extreme. I am content, for purposes of this discussion, to identify with the biological chauvinist point of view. For me, the threshold of persuasion that that a mechanical robot could also be another person in any meaningful sense is very, very high. Conscious beings emerged within nature. They / we have become the venue of value and significance. They / we were in fact engendered by naturally occurring processes of nature. The capacity to discern purpose and meaning has emerged into the universe, and we are its carriers. Surely the question at hand is Why?
We are not without clues. As we study the etiology of our emergence as thinking, evaluating, feeling, imaginative beings, we can detect in nature the pre-existence of the “design” elements of which we were made. We are therefore able to tease out the implications. The same questions that surround the discovery of any putative design (including our own) also surround its precursors all the way back to the beginning (however that starting point is defined).
We start with the following insight:
All designs are structures or systems that have been assembled from combinations of subordinate design elements that are also designs but are usually not thought of in that way. This is every bit as much the case for the wagon wheel as it is of your laptop or its operating system.
In the same way, intelligence itself is composed of subroutines, subordinate processes and systems. Our brains contain interacting modules that interact with other processors in the body. As a result of our species’ invention of “thinking machines”, we are able to see more clearly than ever how the processes of cognition, specifically those concerned with problem solving and decision making, are made up of separate but (in our case well-interacting) “clever” processes and sub-processes.
In this way, our species’ discoveries of the principles, neural architecture and technologies that contribute to Artificial Intelligence have illuminated our understanding of the occurrences of intelligent processes in nature. Because of our experiences with computer technologies, we are better able to grasp the reality of pre-conscious or non-conscious “smart” systems that exhibit the attributes of intelligence without having the properties of life. Most, if not all, engineering solutions recapitulate nature.
The quest for profound and elegant integrations of theory has driven modern science. I believe that the discovery of the fecundity and heuristic power of integration at all levels of human discourse and thought will rescue human ethics from its current fall toward the abyss. I fail to see any no sharp dualism between intelligent systems as they occur in nature (call this “X” intelligence) and intelligence as it operates in human cognitive systems (call this “I” intelligence). The intelligence of organization and the organization of intelligence are inextricably correlated such that each implies the existence of the other as a matter of deep necessity. This will lead us somewhere: Ethics emerges from “I am”.
Of course the thinking processes that take place in our brains are well ordered and coherent (under normal conditions) while similar processes in our machines and the interacting dynamic systems of nature are less so, at least at the massive level of complexity that is typical of human brain information handling. But nature, both at the level of non-biological physical systems and in biology, is replete with traces and modules of intelligence, not to mention those living active centers of intelligence that constitute persons.
Take a moment to try and understand why a strictly Darwinist philosopher like Daniel Dennett felt compelled to make up an awkward term like “designoid”. Dennett was writing about an evolutionary adaptation so clever that, had it been invented by a human, its creator could anticipate a Nobel Prize. Dennett, an avowed atheist, was so seduced by an “accidental” innovation of nature, one with a powerful resemblance to a clever design by a brilliant designer, that the term “design” could not be fully suppressed.
Ask yourself why the physicist Steven Hawking could not refrain from using the unscientific phrase “Mind of God” when talking about his encounter with the remarkable order of the physical universe. I submit that the answer is fairly clear: Whether the universe had a master designer or not, its ordered complexity so beautifully and impressively mirrors the products of intelligence with which we humans at our best are already familiar, that we feel almost compelled to use the same term to describe each, including references to a divine mind, if only (for some) as a metaphor.
This universe is shot through with rational order and brilliant organization. Let’s agree that these represent aspects, signs and examples of intelligence that are ultimately recapitulated in human cognition.
While we humans remain the only parts of the universe so far that are known to exhibit active, mortal intelligence and monumental immortal stupidity, the prevalence of the design precursors in nature for other working minds strongly implies that we will not always be the only such examples, if in fact there really are none at present.
Surely we are finally smart and humble enough to recognize (and name) the intelligence of natural order even as we see our own species as its most important local expression.
We are the Emerging Venue of Purpose in the Universe.
Given this universe’s immensely fecund reservoir of intelligence, can we really accept the notion that we humans are just some absurd, cosmic accident?
The notion that all that is good, beautiful and valuable in the universe is merely “accidental” is the root notion from which moral relativism and corollary ideas like the “pointless universe” and the “absurdity of existence” ultimately spring. So the truly fundamental inquire, antecedent to the rest, is whether the appearance of intelligence in the universe (which, after all, in its conscious, sentient form is the venue of the good, the beautiful and the valuable) is a central fact of creation or a mere epiphenomenon of mindless physical processes. 
It is no accident that local intelligence (the living kind that we enjoy as individual beings) is capable of recognizing, in the order and design of nature, the signs of the non-local intelligence that permeates the universe. I use the term non-local to describe a general aspect of the universe that does not appear to be limited by space-time location; for example: the interference patterns of light waves (and other electromagnetic wave forms) represent a non-local property of the universe.
For many reflective physical scientists, an inherent deep cleverness is evident in the configuration of the universe in all its phases, forces and parts; this cleverness is not only apparent; it is awe inspiring. We need not posit a master designer-being to appreciate that the exquisitely tuned order of things is appropriately described as an aspect of intelligence itself. This notion is captured by the almost automatic esthetic response: “I wish I’d thought of that!”
That our response could be one of recognition should not be a surprise: Intelligence is pre-equipped to recognize itself.
I’m not here asserting that the universe is itself an intelligent, thinking entity. But I am asserting that the universe is permeated with clever order to such an extent that we can say, without sounding at all unreasonable that the universe is deconstructed intelligence.
This is a revealing paradigm, especially when the sweeping course of physical and biological evolution is described as a whole; I think of one of those speeded-up plant growth movies. From the undifferentiated pre-plasma singularity, to the Big Bang, to the differentiation of particles and forces, to the formation of stars and galaxies, to the emergence - on at least one planet - of complex organic systems, the impression is compelling: the deconstructed intelligence of the universe is reconstructing itself.
Because intelligence is pre-equipped to recognize itself, we are able to witness and participate in the universe’s ongoing process of self-reconstruction. The universe may or may not be an intelligent, thinking entity, but we, as individuals, are. We conscious intelligent beings are the loci of the self-reconstruction process of the universe.
The principles of logic (among our other “thinking” discoveries embedded in nature) are part of the design of the universe in general and of the mind in particular. Such discoveries were possible only because reality itself is a rationally organized relational domain; the design of our own local intelligence mirrors that of the non-local intelligence that permeates the universe. I am persuaded of the view that any full account of reality (of both its material and non-material phases) must necessarily be a relational one. I now propose that a comprehensive relational reality model is fully capable of integrating reality’s essential and existential ontology.
Such a comprehensive view is distinguishable from classical space-time relativism (the construct in which frames of reference, ever mutable and shifting, cannot be anchored without an observer located on yet another shifting platform).
In contrast, a truly comprehensive view of relational reality is coherence-anchored at every level. Coherence is discoverable whenever a sufficiently inclusive context-scale is selected. Even in the subset case of random processes, coherence eventually emerges from local disorder.
The universe is an emergent relational domain governed by spatial-temporal relational constraints that contain processes. Under the rules, both determinate, orderly processes, and indeterminate, order-disrupting processes are allowed.
The fine balance between the law-driven determinate processes and the order-breaking indeterminate ones proves to be a creation-engendering condition. Any rigidly pre-deterministic, law-driven domain, could not allow innovation, while any chaotic, wildly indeterminate domain, could not preserve creation’s fruits.
Cognition replicates the creative processes of nature but in a much more concentrated and efficient way. Our own minds are capable of creative innovation at an accelerated pace. While bio-evolution sacrifices obsolete species and adaptations over millions of years, human creative cognition sacrifices hypotheses and designs over a single pot of coffee.
The late Douglas Adams challenged us in his seriously whimsical way to arrive at the secret of Life, the Universe and Everything. [His answer was “42”.] As I outline here, there is another deceptively simple answer to that question. It is this: The universe is deconstructed intelligence coming awake. You can draw the theistic implications from this creation-in-process (as I do) or not, but the notion that we are an absurd accident is, well… absurd.
Our Faith Capacity is a
Successful Cognitive Adaptation
Faith is nothing less than a state of cognitive openness that allows the mind to accomplish two fundamental steps that are predicate to effective action-in-the-world: (1) to entertain many scenarios as true (even if only provisionally), even where the senses cannot directly detect their essential features; (2) to actually adopt such scenarios as true for purposes of action. Faith can be reasonable or unreasonable, and cannot be separated from courage.
Any rational world view that is large enough to be useful to the human species over time necessarily contains elements of reasonable faith. In this usage, the term reasonable faith is a survival-promoting cognitive adaptation. One form of reasonable faith enables us to form trust relationships; after all, we do not experience the minds and intentions of others.
Reasonable faith enables us to act (as we necessarily must) on provisional, developing information, the best information available within the time constraints imposed by nature. In the world of events, those who are paralyzed by indecision can die; the pursuit of untimely certainty can be suicidal.
Beyond that, the core faith stance of the scientific enterprise itself is that any sufficiently penetrating study of nature will always reveal coherence and rational order. That faith stance has allowed our species to pursue the investigation of nature with huge success.
This is one example of heuristic faith, the faith in a core explanation that operates as a key to further knowledge. Heuristic faith is the cognitive faculty by which our minds operate (when taking the necessary leap that escapes the limitations of arch-materialism) to recognize and take advantage of the deep organizing principles of reality. This faith becomes a powerful cognitive faculty permitting our minds to recognize and exploit the authentic relational operators that link the local and the universal aspects of reality.
All action in the world depends on some measure of faith, because the decision to action permits that which was merely entertained as provisionally true to be adopted as effectively true. It is nearly impossible to make a real-world choice between alternative actions and-or inaction without a measure of faith.
Our species’ single greatest accomplishment, the platform for all our other accomplishments, is the social technology we call of civilization. As a functioning system for mediating and regularizing human exchange interactions, civilization depends crucially on the establishment and maintenance of trust relationships.
All trust depends on the acceptance (even if provisionally) of the reality of the intentions of another thinking being. A significant measure of faith is required to apprehend the inner reality of any consciousness outside one’s own. Reasonable faith is open to correction but proceeds on the basis of high confidence in the core features of one’s reality model. Reasonable faith is heuristic. Trust relationships always depend on faith. All faith, therefore, has a quality of fragility, because it can be broken or weakened by experience, but all faith also has great power, because it propels our most extraordinary accomplishments.
Ambivalence about prospective decisions and retrospective moral anxiety are the results of a crisis of faith in which one’s confidence in the core features of the primary operating reality model is weakened. Despair is the result of serious damage of that confidence, especially when it undermines one’s sense of value integrity.
A major source of despair is the notion that all existence, including being itself (and by extension, human life, and one’s own existence), are mere byproducts of a cosmic accident, therefore arbitrary, and at some deep level, merely absurd.
I believe that this represents a major misunderstanding about the nature of being, non-being, and the role of the random, the uncertain and the indeterminate in nature. Philosophy, never irrelevant to the human condition, is much like the operating system of your computer. The notion that human existence is a meaningless accident is much like a virus. This is why we can never escape philosophy.
The Ur-Choice “To Be” Yields Embedded Meaning.
The “virus repair” process begins with a single, fundamental insight that can be simply stated, but will require development at some length. Here it is:
The presence of meaning in the universe that we creatures-of-meaning inhabit depends in a fundamental way on the existence of a degree of randomness, unpredictability and indeterminacy in the warp and woof of deep reality.
Teleology is the idea that the universe, via a divine agent, a mechanism like karma, some other agency, or just because it is that way, is governed by an overall purpose.
The insight that randomness and indeterminacy are afoot in the world was deeply unsettling to those who clung to the notion of a universe in which the course of events was utterly predetermined, a universe so fully law-driven that there was no room for innovation. What we humans have recently discovered is that the universe is in an ongoing process of development that is governed by large and small scale regularities, rules and physical laws, but that allows for innovation.
At the heart of the Darwinian evolution vs. intelligent design discussion is a fundamental confusion over the relationship between the pre-determinate, law driven model of nature and the random – chaotic processes that are always associated with the emergence of novelty or decay. For reasons that are unclear to me, the disputants in that argument are talking past each other, ignoring what now seems obvious: random – chaotic processes are the way in which nature was able to accommodate our arrival.
The deep defect in the Darwinian paradigm was not its understanding of the mechanisms of the evolutionary process in nature, but the implication that the physical-mechanistic model was a full and adequate account of our emergence onto the stage of physical reality (not to mention its patently inadequacy to explain the inner contents of our minds).
Latent teleology could be embedded in the meta-laws governing development and remain utterly invisible to observers on the local scale, but clearly emerge, like a picture developed from a film emulsion, on a cosmic scale. Strict mechanical causation is not needed, just a set of life-and-consciousness-friendly physical “laws”, sets of brilliant designs (resident in what Plato might have recognized as form-space), a minor destabilization of a deterministic, law driven physical regime (via random – chaotic processes), and one more ingredient: the prodigious resources of time and space on the order of billons and billions of years.
The first clues to the presence embedded teleology of the universe are that:
(a) uncertainty can’t be eradicated
(b) the “to be” state, once emergent, is increasingly robust.
For non-being to have prevailed, ab initio, the threshold conditions necessarily would have entailed a non-being state. Put differently, non-being would have necessarily constituted an absolutely durable ur-state, utterly without indeterminacy, a seamless wall of “nullness”. Arguably, even such an affirmatively established null state would have required an antecedent prohibition of being-ness, in effect a putative antecedent suicidal ur-being.
Uncertainty was the crack in the wall of non-being that allowed being to emerge. Unless absolutely prevented from doing so, uncertainty/indeterminacy ultimately generates “to be”. The fact that being exists at all demonstrates that being has overcome non-being, and that this outcome was foreordained by the deep structure of reality.
This idea represents a major paradigm shift in our understanding of the “accidental” or “contingent” as the mediator of emergent ordered innovation. Three threshold discoveries are implied:
A. At the threshold of ontology, we are poised to discover Ultimate Integration:
B. At the threshold of all creative emergence in event space, we are poised to discover Ultimate Source:
C. At the threshold of natural theology, we are poised to rediscover Ultimate Being:
Without Religion in some form, the Species is Screwed.
The monster asks you “WHY CARE?” The answer to this question is the foundation of ethics.
All ethical problems take place in the world of action, in the context of choices that affect common reality. The same degree of certainty about the features of common reality that ordinarily suffices for survival in the world of action is also sufficient for the resolution of ethical questions that concern the world of action. Therefore, for purposes of ethical analysis, epistemological questions need only be resolved to a satisfying certainty.
An ethic may be defined as a set of values, ideal behaviors, or norms which are asserted to apply to the one who asserts it and to other individuals. An ethic is distinguished from formal law in that an ethic is asserted to apply whether or not the sanctions of organized society will be employed to enforce it. Like law, a principled ethic applies to those who would impose sanctions as well as those who would be sanctioned. An objective ethic does not depend, as does law, for its normative authority on the particular views of individuals, either collectively or separately. An objective ethic implies supra-human validation.
So we must face the first and last ethical question: Why care?
The answer is closely entangled with the following five sub-questions:
Who am I?
What is caring?
What are my choices?
Am I alone?
What are the rules?
I believe the search for the answers to these questions inevitably involve an encounter with Ultimate Reality, one that starts with a:
Alignment & Hope Nihilism & Despair
Among the human belief systems that form up along the fruitful branch are ethical humanism, traditional religions and many of its contemporary, a-traditional forms.
The subject of religion is central to the survival of ethics as a universal discipline, i.e., one that is capable of locating moral authority outside the domain of earthly tyrants and rulers. Religion, with all its acknowledged flaws, is uniquely capable of supplying satisfying answers to “Why care?” And the five subordinate questions above.
Is it possible that Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, and Mao were each right?
The landscape of the 20th century is littered with the casualties of secular, pseudo-scientific ideologies. Nazism and Stalinist Marxism appeared on the world stage, adopting the trappings of neo-religions (as in Eric Hoffer’s classic, The True Believer), infected with an inhumane intolerance whose virulence was more deadly than that exhibited by authoritarian religious institutions at their worst. In gulags, ditches, gas ovens, labor camps, prisons, torture chambers, and forcible relocations, the last century’s totalitarian regimes between them killed more of their own people than the entire casualty list of the Inquisition, the Crusades, the jihads, and all of the religious wars and oppressions before them combined.
If, as Mao said, “religion is
poison,” how was it that just two secular ideologies with scientist pretensions
(Nazism and state communism) have caused more human suffering and death than
all previous secular and religious movements combined? While some secularists (both Marxist and
otherwise) still think that religion is infected with a psychological poison,
history suggests a more persuasive theory.
The problem lies with the deep insecurities of any authoritarian regime
whose ideological underpinnings are deemed essential to stability, yet remains
vulnerable to destabilization through heresy.
The overreaction of the current regime in mainland
In the presence of a psycho-social moral vacuum, when the moral infrastructure seems to give way and the legitimacy of the order itself is called into question, civilizations tend to revert to their most primitive, authoritarian, atavistic, degraded forms. Human society abhors a moral vacuum. Extreme authority rushes in to fill the gap when weaknesses in the normative architecture supporting the political and civil social order reaches a certain critical state.
The desperate economic, social,
and psychological conditions in
During the reign of these two totalitarian movements, all independent religion was suppressed. We might ask – Why? Eventually, the internal and external opposition by religion contributed to the eventual defeat of both Nazism and Russian Communism and their replacement by more democratic institutions. One of the distinguishing features of a world religion is the claim to a basis for moral authority that is binding on the kings, regent, and dictators of the age, as well as the rest of us.
The appeal to trans-human moral authority, the kind of normative judgment to which even tyrants must be subject, is incompatible with the theory and practice of totalitarianism.
If religion is not itself poisonous, (except to totalitarian regimes whose ideology is threatened), can it still properly be dismissed as a primitive artifact of the pre scientific age?
After all, is not God dead?
Is not morality just a feature of anthropology and psychology? Is 21st century religion still relevant, even necessary? Put bluntly, what good is religion, anyway?
I am persuaded that all worthwhile religious modalities form up a three sided axis of connection. At the center of this triangle, a supporting religious community operates as an anchor, safety net, and the repository of institutional ethical and spiritual memory.
Here are the three:
Ultimate Source of Value and Being
Fundamental Ethical Alignments Deep Spiritual & Ethical Tradition
Religious institutions will remain valuable to the human condition only as they succeed as communities of support in the three axis model.
Religions will remain a viable source of ethical guidance in the 21st century so long as their mutual competition is non-destructive. And their viability and relevance will require a unity borne of humility.
Religious humility flows from the recognition that all religious models, modalities, rituals, liturgies and denominative structures remain valuable only as and to the degree that they actually succeed as connectivity software to the Ultimate.
If religions are to fill this essential role during the challenges of the 21st century’s modernism, they need to thrive in humility and relevance. Ultimate Being needs to be recognized as the same for all religions (and therefore beyond sectarian encapsulation, exclusive definition or ownership).
Therefore our species’ religions need to come to terms with a shared, deep fundamentalism. This is a term I refuse to cede to the shallow literalists and doctrinaire parrots. Deep fundamentalism is the understanding that there actually are truly fundamental ethical alignments that, in combination with the overall integrating principle (I say over all, because integrity, coherence and unity are the very nature of ultimate being), form the ur-foundation of all authentic, enduring human ethical systems.
On deep introspective reflection, we are all capable of uncovering an essential Trinitarian unity that underlies all authentic, healthy ethical orientations. This is the discovery of the three truly fundamental ethical alignments that, in combination with one overall integrating principle, make up a single foundation.
These three meta-alignments are:
►The affirmation of life;
►The affirmation of conscious intelligence;
►The affirmation of creation -*
*-as creation of the world, as the creation-in-process throughout the universe and as the creative activities of humanity.
Creation is an intrinsic good when consonant with the affirmation of life and conscious intelligence and the possibility of further creation, life and conscious intelligence. Similarly, conscious intelligence, itself, is capable of operating as a moral agency when moral consciousness is centered in the three alignments and their mutual integration. While the three alignments are necessarily coherent and self reinforcing, the variegated and complex exigencies of reality must leave room for experimentation in the methods of their implementation. Therefore humility leaves room for accommodations as to the competing versions of the good.
But there can be no room for moral accommodation to the truly evil, which is at war with the core ethical alignments and their essential integration. For example:
The enlistment of conscious intelligence against life and the life affirming creative activities of humanity would be an evil mal-alignment.
The enlistment of the affirmation of life against conscious intelligence (here one can think of the elevation of the bacillus and its interests over those of humanity as an example) would be an evil mal-alignment.
And the elevation of creative innovation over the interests of conscious intelligent life, generally, would be another form of evil. After all, the most dangerous forms of evil are its innovative manifestations.
In each example, an evil mal-alignment proceeds from the breaking of the essential unity that binds the meta-affirmation triad together. This unity is the root of the monotheistic insight.
However the 21st century religions may choose to conceptualize or describe deity or quasi-deity, Ultimate Being will be at the center, undivided, and recognized as Ultimate Normative Source, the sole underpinning of the three axes of the good, both normatively and ontologically.
If religions are to survive against secularism, they will share a common nexus to the extrinsic, unlimited being (or being-ness) that contains and represents the source of all that is good.
Whether or not a particular religion is explicitly theistic, religious humility will prevent any religious doctrine from ruling out the understanding of those perspectives – such as my own – for whom Ultimate Being is the Ultimate Person whose Nature is both extrinsic and intrinsic to the human experience.
“On the Origins of the Mind” by David Berlinski As published in the November 2004 issue of the journal, Commentary. Link: http://jaygaskill.com/Berlinskimind.htm
“On the Origins of Life” by David Berlinski As published in the February 2006 issue of the journal, Commentary. Link: http://jaygaskill.com/Berlinskilife.htm
 Regrettably, this view has also led to the notion that all ethics, itself outside the realm of experimental verification, must be founded on the shifting ground of “personal preference.”
 I had the privilege of seeing this passionate, coherent, trenchant self educated longshoreman in person, twice in the sixties; Hoffer maintained from life experience that the common people were “lumpy with talent” and that the idle intellectuals were a dangerous combination of skill and lack of judgment.
 As we humans begin to understand the architecture of human cognition, particularly as it relates to the design-creation function, I propose that we'll eventually discover that the process closely mirrors that of nature though cognition is more coherent and efficient (and operates on a hugely accelerated time scale). This strongly suggests to me that what we’re calling intentionality represents a difference of degree more than kind, and is correlated to the coherent, hierarchical, efficiencies that take place in a mind -- OR -- in a mind imitating mechanism. I've referenced my discussion about what we should mean when describing the emergence of order in any physical setting in later footnotes. As a latter day Platonist (of sorts), I prefer the understanding that emergence represents the instantiation of a particular form/order/design, in effect copied from one phase of existence to another. Design emergence in nature is opportunistic, eventually building up the prototypes of design-facilitating processes (i.e., the creative cognitive processes) that set up “nature-mimicking” systems in which opportunistic emergence is guided and encouraged. The mystery of consciousness (in the sense of our experience of the subjective field-like zone of awareness) is only partly explainable without an excursion into theology. But one important insight has to do with what (in my MS referenced below) I refer to as the information sensitivity of dynamic systems. There, I rename the realm of forms that Plato glimpsed; Plato’s realm of form is the “PBR”, the Plato-Bohm Reservoir, the latter after the physicist David Bohm’s conception of the “implicate order”. I propose that the “BPR” is the information reservoir that contains all possible design and order, far more than can “fit” into any particular space-time constrained context. Bio-evolution takes place in an interacting ecology or proto-ecology that itself constitutes an information sensitive system, but one that operates very slowly. In this model, the conscious mind is the most exquisitely tuned information sensitive system in nature, capable of a huge acceleration of the innovation processes in nature.
 I propose that the processes of evolution, though nominally driven by “accidental” or “random” mutations and genetic variations, develop under engineering and “form/design optimization” constraints in which the general biological forms/designs that emerge as “successful” converge around very similar solutions. Think of the dolphin’s fin, a mammalian design solution originally “discovered” during fish evolution. Footnote 3 describes a recent example of general physical constraints governing design emergence. Following this line of reasoning, we can reasonably expect that the development of intelligence, in the concentrated human-mind form, will always tend to emerge in bio-evolution because of its extraordinary adaptive utility in the context of the pre-existing physical constraints on biological systems.
 Researchers at
 The ongoing emergence of natural law and evolutionary design in nature is powerfully explained by the proposed existence of an “implicate order” that shadows the extant order of (physical) reality as a sort of latent potential. As mentioned, this view is thematically related to that of physicist-philosopher David Bohm and Plato’s realm of form. For Dr. Bohm, the emergent order is “implicate” in the extant order. [“Implicate” is Bohm’s term of art; see Bohm, David Wholeness And The Implicate Order 1980 Routledge ISBN 0-7448-0000-5.] I remain unable to say with confidence whether Dr. Bohm’s view depended on a supposed physical mechanism to contain the implicate order. But it seems implausible that any mere physical mechanism could account for the evolution of form and order in the universe, especially when the natural order incorporates a degree of indeterminacy and the encoded information is infinite. I am therefore tempted to say the Dr. Bohm was a closet Platonist. At any rate, my own view is a modified/updated Platonism; I describe and apply this metaphysical idea in my book-length MS, “The Ghosts Outside Plato’s Cave, Implications of the Relational Universe Model”. Here are some excerpts:
“All natural law and evolutionary development can be accounted for by ‘dynamic Platonic encoding’ embedded in the non-physical realm. This is an integrated reality model, incorporating insights from the views of Plato, Heraclitus, and David Bohm, adding a proposed encoded dynamic. Plato intuitively realized that the material world seems to contain objects that almost, but not quite, resemble their pure, geometric counterparts. Plato’s eternal realm was seen as static, not dynamic, and was “perfect” in the reduced, simplified way that the cube form of geometry is “ideal” as compared with a sculptor’s attempt to realize it in stone. In the 21st century, we are able to use computer aided algorithms to capture dynamic process in a way that ultimately can be recorded in a static medium. As a result of this insight, we are able to understand more clearly than before how, in principle, a kind of dynamic coding could capture all physical processes of any degree of complexity, given sufficient storage space.” In effect, I am proposing infinite information storage in a point and the emergence of design/form mediated by apparently random disruptions in the physical order.
 Reasonable faith is the product of a reasonable mind, a cognitive state that is more fully integrated with normative and physical reality than so called “pure rationality”. I first started thinking about this distinction decades ago. http://www.jaygaskill.com/boas.htm or :http://www.bulletinarchive.org/assembled/browse_results_author.html?author=1690&subject=&search_type=author&new_search=1