Two Magesteria? No, We Need Just One

Brilliant Stephen Jay Gould wrote of science and religion: Two non-overlapping Magesteria.  It is so characteristic of Gould that he would find the word, “Magesteria."

What, however, was Gould talking about?  Science and religion of course.  And his theme was the familiar one since Newton set us careening off on the view of science that he and Galileo invented: scientific laws of nature, whether deterministic or, under Copenhagen in quantum mechanics, ontological chance described by the Schrodinger equation.  In face of this view, not only religion, but even poetry has caromed.  Alexander Pope: “God said let there be Newton and all was light”, overcome with admiration for the new physics. Yet the Romantic Keats wrote of science, “With its rule and line”, depopulating humanity of its soul.

So too religion. If we in the Abrahamic theistic tradition envision God as both a Creator Agent, and God’s Creativity, maker of all, acting even today in the universe, then we are frozen intellectually.  We both want to believe that the universe is “governed” by natural laws, hence we want to be rational and scientific. Yet we want God to act in the universe, for example in answer to our prayers, in contravention to those natural laws.

Obviously, as we all know, both cannot be true: The laws of physics fully govern what unfolds in the universe.  God intervenes in those laws to answer prayers, work miracles. The second statement flatly contradicts the first.

But there are unspoken assumptions in the claim that both cannot be true.  First, is the full becoming of the universe “governed by natural law”?  I think not, and will expand on this below. More, the claim above, “both cannot be true.”, rests on Aristotle’s law of the excluded middle.   “A” or “Not A”, there is nothing in the middle between these, claimed Aristotle. Hence ‘science and the laws governing the universe’, or ‘“not” the laws governing the universe’. There is nothing in the excluded middle of Aristotle. God acts in the universe only in the latter case. Then, given Aristotle, we are forced to choose between two non-overlapping Magesteria. Gould speaks for millions of us in the Abrahamic tradition about the rift between science and religion.

The consequence of this rift is the growing secularism of the first world, and, profoundly, a loss of living with our own deeply human spirituality.  Not far from this rift is the post-Industrial capitalist society we inhabit, child of our technologies, in the midst of our current economic woes, making, buying and selling purple plastic penguins for the poolside.  As we do so, we deplete natural resources, hence create “Bads” along with our “Goods”, as these come more and more into equal balance on a finite planet.

Our two Magesteria and the vast success of science drive us to a value system that has rendered us monetized price tags, and in due course will destroy our home planet.

We need a new way, or ways, to unite two Magesteria into one Magesterium.  Our full humanity needs this.  Our global community, crushing civilizations together and fomenting fear and religious lethal extremism, needs a new way of being together in one world.

I believe there are two possible pathways forward.  I fully believe the first.  I find the second interesting and worthy of consideration.  The first has to do with whether laws fully “govern” the unfolding of the universe. I think not as I will explore immediately below. The second is more radical: In past blogs I have discussed whether quantum mechanics is fully interpretable in terms on an ONTOLOGICALLY REAL ACTUAL AND SIMULTANEOUSLY AN ONTOLOGICALLY REAL POSSIBLE.  I believe quantum mechanics is so interpretable and thus constitutes evidence in favor of an ontologically real Possible. But given other interpretations of quantum mechancs, that evidence is surely not conclusive. As I note below, however, this interpretation may have the virtue of saving “locality” in physics at the not inconsiderable price of asserting the Reality comes in two flavors, the Actual and the Possible.

Do laws fully describe the unfolding of the universe?

Here I redescribe my arguments from “Reinventing the Sacred”, and past posts. I will be brief.  If we asked Darwin the function of the human heart, he would say it was to pump blood. We might object that the heart makes heart sounds and jiggles water in the pericardial sac.  Darwin would respond that these are not the function of the heart, for the heart was SELECTED, so exists in the universe, because it was of selective advantage to our ancestors to have a heart that pumped blood.

Now Darwin also noted that a causal feature of an organism, say jiggling water in the pericardial sac, of NO selective advantage in the current environment, might become of selective advantage in a different selective environment, so be selected, typically for a new biological function.

I will give but one of many examples of what are called “Darwinian preadaptations”, or in Gould’s terminology, “exaltations."

Some fish have swim bladders, partially filled with air and partially with water. The ratio of these determine neutral buoyancy in the water column.  Paleontologists believe that swim bladders arose from the lungs of lung fish. Water got into some lungs, there was a sac partly filled with air and partly with water, which was poised to evolve into a swim bladder.  Assume the paleontologists are right.

My first question is: Did a new function come to exist in the universe and biosphere? Of course, neutral buoyancy in the water column.

My second question is whether this new function enabled and altered the future evolution of the biosphere?  Of course, new proteins, new daughter species, new niches for yet other species. So this event altered the unfolding history of the whole universe.

My third question is the essential one: Do you think  you could state now, that is, ahead of time, all possible Darwinian preadaptations of all species alive now?  Well, you don’t know all species alive now. I’ll simplify: Could you say ahead of time, or finitely prestate, all possible Darwinian preadaptations just of humans in the next 4 million years?

I trust you can feel your mind going blank, and ask you to focus on this experience.  We all agree, (I’ve asked thousands) that we cannot accomplish this task.  I do NOT know how to prove this claim. But parts of the difficulties are these: 1) How would we state all possible selective conditions that  might arise? 2) How would we know we had completed the list? 3) How would we prespecify the features of organisms, including indefinitely many relational features, that might become preadaptations?  It seems we cannot.

In “Reinventing the Sacred” I present arguments for why we cannot simulate this evolution and all the possible quantum events that might have occurred to influence this evolution.

Now I define The Adjacent Possible. Consider a flask of 1000 kinds of organic molecules, and call them the Actual.  Now consider all one step reactions among the Actual.  It might be that novel molecules are formed. Call these “the Adjacent Possible” given the Actual in the flask.  This Adjacent Possible is perfectly definable given reaction conditions and a minimal lifetime of a chemical species.

Now I ask you to consider the Adjacent Possible of the biosphere when there are lung fish.  Swim bladders are clearly in the Adjacent Possible of this biosphere.  But before there were multicelled organisms, swim bladders were NOT in the Adjacent Possible of the biosphere.

Look critically now at where we have arrived: We do not KNOW ALL THE POSSIBILITIES IN THE ADJACENT POSSIBLE OF THE EVOLUTION OF THE BIOSPHERE!  Not only do we not know what WILL happen, we do not even know what CAN happen.

Then we cannot make familiar probability statements about the evolution of the biosphere. Watch: Flip a fair coin 10,000 times. We can use the binomial distribution to compute the probability of 4750 heads.  But note that we knew ahead of time, ALL THE POSSIBLE OUTCOMES, all heads, all tails, heads-tails-heads-tails, all 2 to the 10,000 power alternative sequences. That is, in knowing ALL THE POSSIBLE OUTCOMES, we know the SAMPLE SPACE of the process, so can construct a probability measure.

Can we do so for the evolution of the biosphere? No!  We do not know the sample space.  So we cannot make any kind of normal probability statement about the evolution of the biosphere.

Then can the emergence of swim bladders be described by a natural law?  No.  A law does not govern. It is, instead, a description of the regularities of a process.  But we do not even have the capacity to make probability statements about the emergence of swim bladders, so certainly cannot have a law about the regularities of that process.

But this implies that the becoming of the biosphere is PARTIALLY BEYOND SUFFICIENT NATURAL  LAW.  We will not find a Theory of Everything that entails the emergence of swim bladders.

As I stress in “Reinventing the Sacred”, this has, it seems, big consequences.   The becoming of the biosphere, economy, and human culture are partially beyond sufficient natural law, whether deterministic, or quantum.  Then there is new room for a fully natural creativity in the becoming of the universe.

We escape the dilemma: All is governed by natural law; God acts in the universe at variance to those laws.

My own view with respect to this, in parallel with Gordon Kaufman - not a relative - a Harvard theologian who wrote In Face Of Mystery, is that we can choose to evolve our sense of God from the Creator Agent God of Abrahamic theistic faith, to a sense of God as the natural creativity in the universe.

Look around you at Darwin’s tangled bank, Dylan Thomas’ ‘froth, flute, fin, and quill.” All that has happened is that the sun has been shining for 5 billion years, plus some other sources of energy, some self organization, some natural selection and all about you that lives came into being - all on its own.  How much God do you need?

Next, we do live in face of Kaufman’s Mystery, for we do not know what can happen. Then reason is an insufficient guide for human life. We do not deduce our lives as optimization problems. We live them, with emotion, intuition, reason, and faith despite the fact that we do know.  How we do so is a profound mystery, but we do so live our lives.

In summary of this part of this blog I fully believe, we need to give up our belief in a supernatural Creator Agent God and live with the fully natural creativity of the universe as a newly evolved sense of God, awesome, and invited to stewardship. Then we have one Magesterium, not two and the split between reason and faith is healed.

I now briefly sketch a more radical view.

I claim that quantum mechanics is interpretable in terms of an ontological real Actual and an ontologically real Possible.  Feynman’s sum over all POSSIBLE histories formulation of quantum mechanics serves as evidence.  All efforts to interpret quantum mechanics in terms of a succession of Actual events have led to the ever mysterious Copenhagen interpretation, favored by most physicists and interpretable in terms of an ontologically real Possible. Then we have the deterministic Bohm interpretation in terms only of Actuals, and the Everett multiple worlds interpretation only in terms of Actuals.

Empedocles taught that what was real in the universe was only what was Actual. Aristotle toyed with Potentia.  Newton gives us the laws for a succession of Actual positions and momenta of balls on the table. Einstein in General Relativity gives us only Actual world lines in a four dimensional space-time. Alfred North Whitehead thought in terms of Actuals giving rise to Possibles giving rise to Actuals in a persistent becoming.

Quantum mechanics gives us a world view in which the Possible avoids Aristotle’s law of the excluded middle: A is true, A is Possible, A is false. As I note in my blog, Res Extensa, Res Potentia, and the Poised Realm, quantum mechanics is open to a different ontological interpretation than is classical physics. I do count this as tentative evidence that the Possible is Ontologically Real. In “What Is Consciousness” I advance the hypothesis that consciousness is a participation in the Possible. Whitehead would say consciousness is a prehension.

More, the hypothesis that the Possible is ontologically real, along with the Actual, may have a profound benefit to physics.  The verification of Bell’s Inequalities, experts state, require EITHER that we give up the concept of LOCALITY in physics for Non-local instantaneous and NON CAUSAL correlation; OR the experts say, we have to GIVE UP THE DEFINITENESS OF COUNTERFACTUAL STATEMENTS.  But most interestingly, the definiteness of counterfactual statements REQUIRES ARISTOTLE’S LAW OF THE EXCLUDED MIDDLE!  Here is a typical example: ‘A causes B. If, contrary to fact, A had not occurred, B would not have occurred.’  Now try to form a sensible counter factual statement using the word “possible”, which is in the middle of Aristotle’s law of the Excluded Middle: A is true, A is possible, A is false.  So:If A occured, true in fact, B possibly occurs and simultaneously B possibly does NOT occur. However, contrary to fact, A does not occur, so B possibly does NOT occur, and simultaneously B possibly does occur.‘   But this try at a counterfactual statement using “Possibles”, is not a DEFINITE COUNTERFACTUAL STATEMENT AT ALL.  It is nonsense.

Then, it seems, the hypothesis of an ontologically real Possible can “save” locality in physics at the price of asserting an ontologically real Actual and simultaneously an ontologically real Possible.   The price may just open an entire new view of reality than we have had since Empedocles, Newton and Einstein, and answer the wonderful mysteries of quantum mechanics.

Do I  believe what I have just written? No. It is not clear what would prove that the Possible is real.  Quantum mechanics, consistently interpretable in terms of an ontologically real Possible, however, is one coherent set of evidence that the Possible COULD be ontologically real.

Then if the Possible is real, a whole new metaphysics is upon us.  The world is both the Actual and the Possible. In quantum mechanics, we have Schrodinger’s equation to tell us how possibilities interact by constructive and destructive interference, whatever is waving in his linear wave equation.  In our own lived lives, we live with the possible all the time.  As I’ve noted in past blogs, consider the entrepreneur explaining the merits and potential risks and mitigating possibilities of a business plan to a venture capitalist.  Both consider all the possibilities they can think of. Possibilities are the stuff of our real lives.

Are there equations for the interweavings of these possibilities? I doubt it.  In my blog, “Hopscotch...” I wonder what enabling constraints are, where the “come from” what they enable - often enabling constraints enable new Possibilities.  It is new turf.

If there is an ontologically real Possible, might a Creator God act via the Possible? This is the ground of Process Theology, derived from Whitehead and explored by philosopher Charles Hartshorne.   I see no reason to say yes or no, although, not believing in a theistic God, I do not wish to embrace this view myself.

So we see potential ways beyond: The laws of physics govern the universe; God acts in contravention to those laws. Hence we live with two Magisteria which leave us impaled and frozen between “reason” and “faith”.

No, I say, we need one Magesterium, a new sense of God to live our full human lives far beyond knowing, in Face of Mystery with a sense of the sacred restored, a sharable sense of values we can find, and a world of diverse civilizations to foster. Perhaps we need to embrace an ontologically real Actual and simultaneously an ontologically real  Possible. Whether such a step would support Process Theology and a theistic God, or “merely” vastly expand our view of reality inherited from Newton, can only be of interest to consider.



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