Do Atoms have Instincts?

Human existence is in itself a miracle. The presence of anything else is no less daunting of a reality when you consider that we really have no idea how the cosmos works. For atoms to come into being then form elements, eventually building into biological creatures is in itself fantasy, a mythology (mythos) beyond human understanding. As much as we try to rationalize a materialistic cause, the origin of it all eludes imagination.

“We are alive against the stupendous odds of genetics, infinitely outnumbered by all the alternates who might, except for luck, be in our places. . . We violate probability by our nature. To be able to do this systematically, and in such wild varieties of form, from viruses to whales, is extremely unlikely; to have sustained the effort for successfully for the several billion years of our existence, without drifting back into randomness, was nearly a mathematical impossibility.”

from: “The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher” by Lewis Thomas (1974)

Despite the acknowledgement that existence is technically impossible, the ability for atoms to apparently self-direct into DNA/RNA, the informational molecules of cells, is accepted with little pondering. Thomas may be writing from almost fifty years ago, though the contemporary terms have not really changed. He is more honestly candid about a materialistic view, which gives off mild superstition if not mythos. In the same essay, he states:

“There is, if it goes well, quite a lot to look forward to. Already, by luck, we have seen the assembly of particles of exchanged thought into today’s structure of art and science. It is done by simply passing the bits around from mind to mind, until something like natural selection makes the final selection, all on grounds of fitness.”

Some would argue he used such casual and dogmatic language due to the influence of society and/or him trying to communicate to a wider audience. I think this only plays a small part. Our natural world is so mysteriously magnificent in how it came to be, you cannot help but describe it in metaphysical and religious language. Such is an example from the concluding page:

“The word “chance” does not serve to account well for structures of such magnificence. There may have been elements of luck in the emergence of chloroplasts, but once these things were on the scene, the evolution of the sky became absolutely ordained. Chance suggests alternatives, other possibilities, different solutions. This may be true for gills and swim-bladders and forebrains, matters of detail, but not for the sky. There was simply no other way to go.”

Atoms on their very own do not possess instincts, unless given prime directives from something greater than the universe itself. The natural apparently impossible phenomena of becoming DNA/RNA, countless microscopic libraries of information, attests to higher intelligence. Think I am blowing smoke? Attached is a thought provoking presentation on the nature of atomic particles. https://youtu.be/zU7Lww-sBPg

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

John 1:1-5; 10-13

 

Morality of Modern Science

The title is quite strange. There are advocates of scientific process whom acknowledge it as a human practice. Strangely, there are others who also regard it as the way to human progress. Studying the natural world will eventually rid the world of its ills, that is if the people of the world embrace a scientific literacy to likewise promote said research endeavors. In “A Scientific Society – the Beginnings,” Glenn T. Seaborg, appointed Chair of the United States Atomic Energy Commission in 1961, summarized the relationship between secular science and morals, “Beyond these principles, my confidence in freedom is based upon a personal faith, originating in my interpretation of human experience [history], to which one must appeal when scientific data are lacking or inconclusive.” Yes, science is a fine tool that will change the world for the better, though unlike idealists, there is a recognition that it is subject to individual whims.

Now, the will of the individual is not necessarily a worrisome thing when one believes a person can be near perfect. If man is not mindful of a sinful state, all he needs is the right method of living to succeed. Remember, to have sin is not necessarily to be evil, yet one is vulnerable to error, no less degrees of vice. To confidently be certain in a human method is only inviting pride before an imminent fall. Science is surely a gift from God to understand Creation for worshipful fulfillment of His command for us to have fruitful dominion. What happens to our ambitions in nature upon directing our ambition away from divine authority? According to early proponent of modern scientific education, Thomas Huxley in the late 19th century:

“They must learn that social phenomena are as much the expression of natural laws as any others; that no social arrangements can be permanent unless they harmonize with the requirements of social statics and dynamics; and that, in the nature of things, there is an arbiter whose decisions execute themselves. . . And, if the evils which are inseparable from the good of political liberty, are to be checked, . . . it will be because men will gradually bring themselves to deal with political, as they now deal with scientific questions;”

from: “Science and Culture” (1880)

Whether it is the realism or Weaver or the optimism of Huxley, human will is at the helm of destiny. My favorite atheist thinker, Friedrich Nietzsche, (1844-1900) witnessed the rise of modern science. He had two takes on people who emerge from this academic field. From the shared secular position of man being the highest mind, authority could swing democratic to totalitarian. After all, not all minds are equally desiring of a greater cause, personal or social. We will be diving into what he had to say about scientists in his “On the Genealogy of Morals”.

Nietzsche’s atheism did not possess a preference for scientific research. It was neither a way to prosperity nor a self-correcting method of natural revelation. He observed the people behind it. There were certainly individuals he found to be admirable. Still, he had this to say, “science today is a hiding place for every kind of discontent, disbelief, gnawing worm, despectio sui [disdain of their own kind], bad conscience – it is the unrest of the lack of ideals, the suffering from the lack of any great love,”. For Nietzsche the majority, more so so-called “free thinkers”, were too people of belief/faith, except they lacked active conviction.

Despite not adhering to the presence of original sin, Nietzsche found that scientists (& academics across the board) would fail to initiate anything resembling the optimism of Huxley’s call to check social evils. There is no universal method for all men to follow, so that the ills of the world can be erased. There are men who will boldly, stubbornly execute “a philosophy, a “faith,” [which] must always be there first of all, so that science can acquire from it a direction, a meaning, a limit, a method, a right to exist.” Just like Weaver’s realism about practicing science, it will be used for whatever motivations of the individual. Weaver did think things would improve in the long-run, hence his advocacy for scientific education. Nietzsche, the man who declared “God is dead” within human value, posed a challenging statement to “modern science”:

“Has man perhaps become less desirous of a transcendental [non-materialistic] solution to the riddle of his existence, now that this existence appears more arbitrary, beggarly, and dispensable in the visible order of things? . . . Alas, the faith in the dignity and uniqueness of man, in his irreplaceability in the great chain of being, is a thing of the past – he has become an animal, literally and without reservation or qualification, he who was, according to his old faith, almost God (“child of God,” “God-man”).”

from: section 25 of “On the Genealogy of Morals” (1887) 

I am quite certain that us mortals are capable of much evil as well as good, struggling to discern between the two. Thereby, a progressing road to perfection seems strongly unlikely. Well, holding to original sin, no chance. Regardless, science is a human tool susceptible to human failure. If divinely created by God as said in Scriptures, then at least we are not alone, able to have an eternal covenant with a just and merciful Sovereign. As for simply coming into existence, we are at each other’s mercy, with varying views of justice.

Think I am being a pessimist about contemporary science? Check the YouTube link below for current info on the practical realities of the field.

https://youtu.be/LfHEuWaPh9Q – “The Crisis of Science” February 22nd 2019

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man – and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.”

Romans 1:20-23

What is knowledge?

Defined

Oxford Dictionary – “facts, information, and skill acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject

It is key to notice that what is acquired is not simply repeated or memorized. Neither is quantity taken into account. The effort cultivates a capacity to apply mentally and/or physically. Thereby knowledge will affect the individual, no less the world around them. After all, a person only practices what they understand. In the long run, is one’s understanding rooted in what is evil or holy?

History

Historia in the Greek means “inquiry, knowledge acquired by investigation” according to The Handbook of Historical Linguistics. Investigation of the past ensues through material that is an artifact, document, or commentary (layman or academic) of the period in question. The knowledge gained quite depends on the perspectives taken.

Historical understanding should be more judged by the present virtue in spite of its errors. A rigorous human view of the past can be so shrouded in self will it manifests malicious behavior, an unrestrained arbiter of fact and fiction. In contrast, a mere legend based on scant knowledge can inspire a pursuit for truth, goodness, and beauty in those whom share in it. If anything, history bears strong witness that the amount of knowledge itself is not an accurate indicator of one’s heart.

Surely, there is criticism about this seemingly naïve validation of stories as equal to high profile historical study. The latter can be unequivocally superior in facts, information, and demonstration of skill. The former can be far more morally influential. How many academic works of history are sadly out of touch with heartstrings, unable to stir even curiosity? A timeless tale may be a stepping stone if not bridge in a lifelong journey to understand things seen as well as unseen.

Science

The word itself means “knowledge”. Yes, of the natural world. Like history, one delves into things unwitnessed, not directly accessible to the five senses. The term became common in the late nineteenth century. Prior, ‘natural philosophy’ was the prevalent idea. There was a recognition that one needed to act on presuppositions in order to begin a consistent method. Aristotle, popular ancient Greek philosopher, had this to say in part one of book one for his work – “Physics” –

“Now what is to us plain and obvious at first is rather confused masses, the elements and principles of which become known to us later by analysis. Thus we must advance from generalities to particulars; for it is a whole that is best known to sense-perception, and a generality is a kind of whole . . . Similarly a child begins by calling all men ‘father’ and all women ‘mother’ but later on distinguishes each of them.”

Because what we know (or think we know) about the natural world may not be as accurate as we might believe, it is important to tolerate a degree of error. If one explores the efforts of any notable scientist/inventor, you will discover an extreme ratio of failure over success in experiments. A minority yet significant percentage of discoveries have been unintended. French chemist of the nineteenth century, Louise Pasteur, had this to say, “In the fields of observation, chance favors only the prepared minds”. It is not how much you know but how and an underlying why, which orders your perception. 

Materialism/naturalism is a prevalent mindset among modern scientists. Still, the scientific world at large wonders about things our five senses cannot comprehend. This fascination with the unseen is recognized across generations to be sought after, to be understood. What reenergizes an arguable reverence for the universal why is when those of the white lab coat understand there level of knowledge is still not even scratching the surface of reality. 

Leading physicist/string theorist Brian Greene states within the first page of his book “The Elegant Universe” that the top theories of physics – Einstein’s Relativity & quantum mechanics – “are mutually incompatible.” Both are recognized as insufficient for the increasingly mysterious nature of the cosmos. For the last century, an awkward hybrid of the two has been utilized for any gains in knowledge. What is to be a persistent matter of reflection is how our understanding of scientific knowledge impacts humankind, then the rest of Creation, a topic to be later explored.

Conclusion

Knowledge is an organized understanding of the acquired facts, information, and skills – consequential action will follow. It relies on learning material and immaterial substance. Book learning or labor are sources from human activity. With plenty of precedent, knowledge that turns out to be lacking in facts can still possess the quality to influence greater acquisition, which includes virtue. Is the pursuit of knowledge done with virtuous means for like ends? Does this pursuit and practice mar people, the image of God? Is it in effect deemed holy, separated from Creation as a supreme judge for what is good or evil?

“Feelings, purpose, values, make up our consciousness as much as sense impressions. We follow up the sense impressions and find that they lead into an external world discussed by science; we follow up the other elements of our being and find that they lead – not into a world of space and time, but surely somewhere.”

From chapter 15 of The Nature of the Physical World by Sir Arthur Eddington

“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love. If these are yours and increase in abundance, they will keep you from being idle or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

2 Peter 1:5-8