Friday, August 22, 2008

Is it enough?

In "Reinventing the Sacred", Kauffman’s has chosen to take a fairly noble rode in the recent science-religion debates.  He critiques conventional science based positions as falling into a Galilean spell (pun to Dennett's work probably well intended).  Supernaturalistic religion is, for the most part, implicitly critiqued.  However this is done in a respectful manner that acknowledges the motivational and creative powers such beliefs often entail.  On the science side of the debate, I suspect many will ask, do we really need to play in waters where the predictive, explanatory, or communicative power of science is partially or in specific cases fully eschewed?

The creative spark of the intellect can be lit in many ways. The fuzzy tensions of probed spirituality are one match. The deductive and inductive ferreting of novel fact connections is another. I would also suggest the leveraging of fundamental group dynamics is another.  In this debate many “new atheists” tacitly, or in some cases evangelically, project their own motivational dynamics onto others. It is a dogmatic, perhaps naïve, leap to assume that since religious magesteria doesn’t emerge as a necessary condition to describe reality it has no place in fruitful understandings.

For some extremists it is a case of contamination. The real world, based on natural laws, is logically constructed. False realities hinder description building. The role of interpretation is subordinate to representation. In opposition to the Greek philosophy that has influenced the West, in this new perspective, the mind is the contaminate to continual understanding not the body. Taken to the extreme, some may say the mind, when uncoupled from reality, hasn’t a hope in hell of replicating the natural world. The probability of one's imaginations duplicating the known and yet to be discovered aspects of the universe are woefully small. Minds bounce through cognitive fitness landscapes that drift off in the wonderland of supernaturalism and comfortable circularities.

Wilson bravely takes the position that religious magisterial produce selectively advantageous group benefits (2004, pp. 228).
“If there is a trade-off between the two forms of realism, such that our beliefs can become more adaptive only by becoming factually less true, then factual realism will be the loser every time. To paraphrase evolutionary psychologists, factual realists detached from practical reality were not among our ancestors.”
Survival doesn’t hinge upon setting a proper foundation for future representation, it hinges upon successful competition.   However, the current science/religion debate isn’t about survival, it is about understanding. Wilson’s argument is one of utility not validity. Kauffman steps into the magisterial overlap by proposing the emergence of a motivational God (spiritualism) steeped in the wonderment of scientific naturalism.  This he argues is a plausible replacement for traditional divinity and overextended scientific reductionism.
“In its place we will find a profound partial lawlessness as we invade the adjacent possible in the nonergodic universe. With it we will find ceaseless creativity in the universe, biosphere and human life. In that creativity we can find one sense of God that we can share. This is, I believe, the core of why we have wanted a supernatural God.”  (Kauffman, 2008, pp. 141)
However, proposing a rational alternative doesn't mean it will be adopted.  For religious like dynamics to resonate, numerous criteria need to be superpositioned.  Usually emerging groups are tweaked according to ultimate predispositions.  Ultimate causes, like selection for reproduction are manifest in proximate urges, like satisfaction from sex.  Similarly, latching onto the power of religious like dynamics requires a stage where proximate causes can be superpositioned.  

Single pronged approaches to religious change have to reposition the tensions balancing the spaces around which group selection resides.  We participate in evolutionary selected groups because certain balances feel right. Changing the balance of belief isn’t a rational exercise. When one element of a group directed belief set drifts out of superposition, sprandreled elements must change their own harmonies to create a new superposition. Another way of saying this is that components need to be reinterpreted to produce the correct feeling for any given set of essential tensions. For example, if I move to the works side of the works vs. grace debate, I had better accentuate, or leave space for the accentuation of, some other underlying aspects of grace. If not, the change is overly radical and will feel phony or contrived. Kauffman’s single pronged approach has to play in a very competitive fitness landscape.

By taking a single pronged approach he is hoping the awe/creativity card will let at least some people reside in the overlap of religion/science.  However, evolved group-level adaptations tend to come with associated free-loader protections.  Proximate predispositions to not cheat probably mean religious change isn't just a rational choice.  It is likely a spandreled chore.  As Wilson suggests, pure rationalism may not be a selectively advantageous trait.  If this is the case, I admire Kauffman's attempt to find one way of reinventing a religious like balance. However, I suspect much more work is required before we are able to leverage, not just deny, our natural tendencies.  Do we stick to the descriptive surety of rationalism/reductionism or do we leverage ourselves into the game of creating new understandings?

1 comment:

chris g said...

I am not sure the general approach of finding the "right" religious beliefs to let us accommodate our human natures and apply unhindered scientific inquiry is the most powerful road to take. Nor do I think religious belief should be relegated to a motivational slight of hand. I suspect religious like tendencies are part of a natural law that applies to any emergent, self-reflective entity.

It will be interesting to finish up Kauffman's book to see what I can glean about his take on how to treat various level of emergent entities.