The Mind of the Universe
Self-Organization and Divine Action

Autor: Mariano Artigas
Publicado en: Unpublished text
Fecha de publicaciónUniversity of Illinois, October 25th, 2000

"What is God? The mind of the universe. What is God? The whole that you see and the whole that you do not see. Thus we return to him his magnitude, because we can think of nothing greater, if he alone is everything, if he sustains his work from within and from without". (Seneca)

"What is God? The mind and reason of the universe. What is God? Everything that we see, because in all things we see his wisdom and assistance, and thus we confess his magnitude, which is so great that we cannot think of a bigger one. And if he alone is everything, it is he who sustains his great work from within and from without". (Luis de Granada)

Index

1. The mind of the universe
2. A new scientific worldview
3. Self-organization
4. The scientific meaning of self-organization
5. The implications of self-organization
6. Self-organization and teleology
Texts
Notes

Yesterday I spoke at the University of Chicago. The title of my lecture was, in its first part, identical with the title of the present lecture, but the subtitle was different. Yesterday I referred to the general lines of my last book *(1); today I'm going to concentrate on one of its parts. Nevertheless, I will begin with a very brief outline of the book, which is necessary in order to understand the rest.

Return to the index1. The Mind of the Universe

In my book I want to show that our present scientific worldview provides a most adequate basis for a perspective which includes purpose and religious values, and I also want to explore the implications of this worldview for our ideas about the universe as God's creation, man as God's collaborator, and God as the ground of being, creativity and values.

Naturalism is widely widespread in our Western societies. Very often naturalism uses empirical science to present metaphysics and religion as meaningless or useless. Nevertheless, this corresponds to a misinterpretation of the methods used by science and, besides, the new scientific worldview suggests new concepts about nature, man and God.

My study is divided into four parts. The first is an Introduction in which I consider which method should be used to study the philosophical and theological implications of science. These implications are analyzed in the three following parts, which deal respectively with the ontological implications and the corresponding image of God (second part), the epistemological implications and the corresponding image of man (third part), and the ethical implications (fourth part). Then the four part includes a Conclusion in which I examine the results of the preceding parts and the plausibility of the naturalistic and the theistic positions by using the criteria which we apply to evaluate scientific hypothesis.

In my opinion, empirical science should not be used as the basis of naturalist approaches, because: (1) it includes not only factual knowledge, but also its necessary conditions which can be considered as presuppositions whose analysis constitute a philosophical and theological task; (2) the philosophical analysis of those presuppositions shows that the current scientific worldview is coherent with a theistic approach.

There are three kinds of such presuppositions. The first refers to the intelligibility or rationality of nature: it can be labeled as ontological, and is closely related with natural order. In fact, empirical science is a search for a better knowledge of natural order, so that the very existence of that order is a necessary condition for science to exist. The second refers to the human ability to know natural order: it can be labeled as epistemological, and includes the different forms of scientific argument. For science to exist it is not enough that natural order exists; it is also required that we, human beings, have the abilities necessary to know it: for example, the capacity of representing the natural world as an object, of creating simplified models of it that can be studied with the intellectual and experimental means available in every moment, of interpreting the results of the experiments, of arguing in order to evaluate the truth or falsity of our conclusions. The third refers to the values implied by the scientific activity itself: it can be labeled as ethical, and includes the search for truth, rigor, objectivity, intellectual modesty, service to other people, cooperation, and other related values.

Besides, there is a feedback of scientific progress on these presuppositions, because the progress of science retro-justifies, enriches and refines them. Actually, as these presuppositions are necessary conditions for the existence of science, scientific progress is a sufficient condition for their existence and enables us to determine their scope.

Seen under the light of that feedback, the analysis of each one of those presuppositions can provide a clue to the philosophical meaning of scientific progress and, therefore, to its theological relevance. In my book I have devoted a whole part to each one of the three presuppositions. Here I will concentrate on the ontological one, namely the rationality of nature, and will try to show that the scientific study of natural order has lead us to represent the natural world as the result of a huge process of self-organization, which is profoundly coherent with an updated view of divine action in an evolving universe.

Return to the index2. A new scientific worldview

For the first time in history, we possess a scientific worldview which provides a unified picture, because it includes all natural levels (micro- and macro-physical, as well as biological) and their mutual relations. I think this is very important. Of course I do not mean that our knowledge of the natural world is absolutely complete. But the fact remains that the present worldview is relatively complete because it includes every one of the great types of natural beings. We have begun to know the atomic level only recently. Along the 19 th century physicists debated over the very existence of atoms; the famous Austrian physicist Ernst Mach opposed the atomic theory and only when he was close to his last days, around 1916, he admitted that atoms really did exist. The existence of the first subatomic particle, the electron, was discovered one hundred years ago, in 1897. Nuclear physics developed already in the 20 th century. Before nuclear physics developed, we could know practically nothing about the real nature of the stars, which are gigantic nuclear reactors. Progress in the knowledge of the microphysical level made possible the emergence of molecular biology which, for the first time in history, has permitted us to know the real mechanisms of life.

I think that by now we can perceive what do I mean when I say that, for the first time in history, we dispose of a scientific worldview which is complete because it includes all natural levels. Until very recent times our knowledge of the natural world not only was limited, as it is today; our ignorance of the basic nature of large parts of the world was enormous. This is not the case now. The more we know, the more we discover the amplitude of what we don't know. But, at the same time, we dispose of a reliable representation of the basic skeleton of the natural world.

The new worldview includes both the synchronic perspective (which refers to the present-day state or the natural world) and also the diachronic perspective (the evolutionary history of the world). The evolutionary perspective first reached its scientific maturity in the field of biology in the nineteenth century and in the twentieth century also embraced genetics and molecular biology. Cosmic evolution had seriously been proposed as early as the end of the 1920s by the Christian astronomer and priest Georges Lemaître on the basis of Einstein's general relativity and the follow-up work of Friedmann and de Sitter. This became the focus of attention when some of its empirical consequences were successfully tested in the 1960s. If we combine cosmic and biological evolution, we obtain a big global process that supposedly started some ten billion years ago from a primeval state in which all matter and energy were concentrated at enormous density and temperature. We do not know exactly how the different components of our world formed after the Big Bang, but we have plausible accounts that can explain this, at least in principle.

One of the main features of the new worldview is to rid the concept of matter of some of the connotations it had in the mechanistic picture of the world. More precisely, the current knowledge of the composition of matter and of its fundamental interactions results in matter not being thought of as something passive and inert, but rather as possessing an inner dynamism at all natural levels. This dynamism is closely related to structure and patterns, insofar as it deploys itself according to temporal patterns and its deployment produces spatial patterns that are the sources of new kinds of dynamism. This scheme, repeated again and again, explains how our world has been built up.

This view does not imply a return to the ancient hylozoism that attributed life to every piece of matter. But it does imply some changes in the usual notion of matter as it has been employed in modern times in the West. Indeed, the dichotomy between inert and living matter interpreted as if inert matter were a merely passive reality cannot be accepted anymore. Of course, the distinction between living and non-living entities is a very important one, but it cannot be explained only by saying that whereas living beings are self-moving, nonliving matter is completely passive by itself.

Our present scientific knowledge shows that the idea of matter as something merely passive does not correspond to reality. Dynamism is a basic characteristic of natural entities at all levels of nature. The microphysical level is completely pervaded by dynamism. Stable structures result from equilibrium between different kinds of dynamism. At the macrophysical level, natural dynamism also appears to be a characteristic trait of nature.

Moreover, the components of matter behave in a cooperative way, producing new structural patterns. If we combine the dynamic character of natural entities with the all-pervasive existence of patterns in nature we can appreciate much better the picture of the world that our present-day science provides us. The present worldview stresses that dynamism and patterns are closely connected and in some way interwoven. Progress in synergetics shows how different kinds of dynamism can cooperate and produce new forms of order. Progress in microphysics shows that huge quantities of microentities collaborate in the production of cooperative patterns. Paul Davies shows his amazement at this fact in this way: "It is one of the universal miracles of nature that huge assemblages of particles, subject only to the blind forces of nature, are nevertheless capable of organising themselves into patterns of cooperative activity." *(2)

Recent progress shows, indeed, how synergy works even at the microphysical level. As Davies puts it: "The unusual property for matter and energy to self-organise into coherent structures and patterns is only very recently becoming appreciated by physicists... Of course, biologists have long studied self-organisation and pattern formation. Today, however, physicists and chemist are joining in, and self-organisation has become a distinctive branch of the New Physics." *(3)

Expressions such as "universal miracles" and "unusual property" show the amazement this kind of phenomenon produces in the scientist who reflects on the new achievements of physics. Obviously, microphysical particles know nothing about physics, but they behave in a way that makes possible the formation of increasingly complex patterns.

Return to the index3. Self-organization

This worldview is centered around a dynamic process of self-organization. Our world is the result of the deployment of a dynamism that produces different natural levels with new emergent characteristics, and therefore with new kinds of dynamisms, in such a way that nature is creative in a real sense.

Self-organization has become the metaphor commonly used to account for the present scientific worldview. The concept of self-organization began in the 1970s. It was thought as a symbol of a broad new interdisciplinary paradigm extending to the entire worldview and even to the field of the humanities. It can be traced back to Kant's Critique of Judgement *(4), and even further back, for ordinary experience shows that living beings are self-organizing systems. That is why this idea makes it possible to recover some important features of the ancient worldview: holism and directionality. Dislodged by the mechanistic worldview, these concepts reappear under the light of a much broader worldview that results from the enormous progress in our knowledge of the systemic aspects of nature.

Self-organization is closely related to patterning. Some authors think that the peculiar combinations of chance and lawfulness provide an explanation for the creativity of nature. I would say, however, that even if we maintain our argument on the natural level, a third element has to be added to obtain a more complete explanation, and it is related to natural tendencies and cooperativity. There are good reasons to think that many cooperative features of nature have yet to be discovered. Our knowledge of self-organization has probably only just begun.

This is easy to see in the field of evolutionary theories. Despite the claims of orthodox Darwinians who consider natural selection as the chief cause of evolution, other scientists continue searching for new structural laws that may help bridge the many gaps within the evolutionary explanations. Empirical research has found some promising clues in the field of genetics, where the complex combinations of different levels of genetic regulation could explain how a particular mutation can sometimes produce a big and yet viable change. Theoretical research, which is more conjectural, provides new hypotheses; for instance, Stuart Kauffman has published two works on this subject: a specialized account *(5), and one aimed at a more popular audience. *(6) In the first book, Stephen Jay Gould argues that Darwinian theory must be expanded to recognize other sources of order besides natural selection.

Information occupies a central place in the present worldview. Natural scientists speak of information mainly when they refer to the genetic information that contains the basic instructions for the building and working of organisms. This concept can be easily extended to other fields of biology and to non-living beings insofar as they also contain an entire set of potentialities that are displayed in definite ways according to individual circumstances.

Natural information is stored, coded and decoded, transmitted, and integrated. All this can be illustrated by using as many examples as we desire. In my book I have chosen an illustration taken from cell communication. The 1994 Nobel Prize for medicine was awarded to professors Alfred G. Gilman and Martin Rodbell for the discovery of G proteins and their role in the transmission of signals in the cells. An article by Gilman *(7) shows how biologists use abundantly a vocabulary where the different aspects of information play a relevant role. Molecules act as if they had a kind of knowledge: they carry and transmit signals, coordinate cellular responses, convey information through intermediaries. Gilman writes about G proteins: "We continue to be fascinated by their machinations, as well as by the central role they play in an ever increasing array of cellular activities."

Obviously, G proteins do not think. They have no watches, nor have they studied chemistry or biology. Nevertheless, their action is polyvalent and extremely efficient. Gilman tells us that there are many puzzles still to be solved, an indication that our present knowledge has uncovered only part of the marvels that make the functioning of our organism possible.

In the last analysis, the world of molecular biology is no different from any other field in nature and science, so that the use of terms such as "information," "instructions," and others only corresponds to the need to explain something that in itself is anything but mysterious. I would not find it hard to agree with this. However, when scientists explain their discoveries, they may need to use a language full of references that remind us of intelligent behavior.

Return to the index4. The scientific meaning of self-organization

We see that, as a result of scientific progress, the ontological presupposition of science has evolved in a most notable way: order has turned into self-organization. We began with a general idea about natural order as expressing the rationality of nature, and this presupposition has been retrojustified, enlarged and refined by the present worldview. It has been retrojustified because self-organization is a particularly strong kind of order, which shows that the presupposition was completely correct. It has been enlarged for that very same reason, and also because the whole process of self-organization includes all natural levels and their mutual relations. And it has been refined because we have discovered the internal potentialities of matter in all its levels, so that the idea of a matter which is purely passive or inert has been replaced by the much richer idea of a matter which contains active principles of interaction that can produce new kinds of organization.

Self-organization includes a peculiar combination of power and subtleties, a balance between internal sources of activity and synergy. It consists in the production of successive levels of organization and, therefore, it is not a once-and-for-all process. This has been expressed by Paul Davies as follows: "The physical world is not arbitrarily regulated; it is ordered in a very particular way, poised between the twin extremes of simple regimented orderliness and random complexity: it is neither a crystal nor a random gas. The universe is undeniably complex, but its complexity is of an organized variety. Moreover, this organization was not built into the universe at its origin. It has emerged from primeval chaos in a sequence of self-organizing processes that have progressively enriched and complexified the evolving universe in a more or less unidirectional matter. It is easy to imagine a world that, while ordered, nevertheless does not possess the right sort of forces or conditions for the emergence of complex organization." *(8)

Certainly, self-organization implies the existence of an intrinsic and spontaneous source of organization in material entities. A basic feature of natural entities, alive and non-living as well, is their spontaneous dynamism which is deployed according to temporal patterns so that it produces new spatial patterns which are the source of new kinds of dynamism, and so on. Natural entities possess a dynamism that is highly sophisticated. I dare say that all subatomic particles "know" the entirety of physics and chemistry much better than we do. The reason is very simple: a single electron can be found in a great variety of circumstances, and in every one of them it will act as corresponds to its nature of a true electron. Electrons are an important part of every atom and molecule that exist in the world, so that they behave in different ways in a practically innumerable kind of circumstances.

Moreover, electrons carry built into them a principle of self-organization that plays a very important role. Indeed, the so-called principle of exclusion of Pauli reflects the fact that two fermions cannot occupy the same quantum state in the same system, as a consequence, microphysical systems are structured according to definite patterns. The basic components of all atoms are fermions (namely, protons, neutrons and electrons), and the successive types of atoms that contain an increasing number of protons in their nucleus also contain an equal number of electrons around the nucleus, so that the peripheral electrons are structured according to Pauli's exclusion principle and form the characteristic patterns of each kind of atom, which are responsible for the physical and chemical properties of atoms and also of the larger systems formed by atoms.

The case of Pauli's principle is important because it shows how an extremely simple "principle of organization" works. That principle is a physical law that accounts for the existence of a great variety of natural patterns. Indeed, self-organization doubtless proceeds according to natural laws and it should therefore be possible to know the principles which govern it.

Paul Davies has written: "If we accept that there exists a propensity in nature for matter and energy to undergo spontaneous transitions into new states of higher organizational complexity, and that the existence of these states is not fully explained or predicted by lower level laws and entities, nor do they ‘just happen' to arise for no particular reason, then it is necessary to find some physical principles additional to the lower level laws to explain them... We seem to be on the verge of discovering not only wholly new laws of nature, but ways of thinking about nature that depart radically from traditional science." *(9). However, Davies does not provide examples of principles of that kind that are generally accepted. After all, this is hardly surprising, as he refers to the discovery of radically new ways of thinking that do not yet exist.

In contrast to Davies, Manfred Stöckler sees little evidence in favor of new specific principles of self-organization. He dismisses Davies' arguments and asserts: "processes of self-organisation can be understood without adopting special principles. In this sense they give evidence for the program of reductionism." *(10). The differences between these two authors are probably due to Stöckler's emphasis on reductionism and Davies's emphasis on emergence, novelty and creativity.

Whether or not new principles of self-organization will be discovered is hard to decide in advance. Nevertheless, the affirmative answer seems more likely than the negative. For instance, in the field of developmental biology it is likely that new discoveries will be made in the line of homeotic genes and gene regulation, which will enable us to understand development and evolution much better than we do now.

In any case, we already know many laws that, in a broad sense, may be considered principles of self-organization. I have already referred to Pauli's exclusion principle, which is such a law. This case shows that, in order to be considered a self-organizing principle, a scientific law need not have any distinctive feature. In some ways, all scientific laws can be considered self-organizing principles. Pauli's exclusion principle, like any other law of physics, merely describes a behavior: in this case, the behavior of fermions which belong to the same system. However, this kind of behavior automatically provokes a type of organization that affects all electrons of all atoms, and therefore many other types of organization and most properties of matter: this is why it can be considered a principle of self-organization. Insofar as all scientific laws intervene as conditions for the existence of a world which has been formed through a huge process of self-organization, every one of them is a kind of principle of self-organization. Obviously, when one or several laws are responsible for the regular production of a well-determined organized result, they should be considered self-organizing principles in a stronger sense.

On the other hand, when thinking about principles of self-organization we should not represent them as having a consistency on their own. Scientific laws and principles do not have a separate existence. They are abstract formulations that express in a symbolic and approximative way the behavior of natural systems. Therefore, when we search for principles of self-organization, we should not imagine them as a kind of plan different or independent from the behavior of natural systems. Such principles either exist as built-in tendencies of natural systems or they do not exist at all, because if they were superimposed from outside we would no longer be dealing with self-organization.

The distinctive trait of self-organization is, precisely, the combination of an inner dynamism ("self") which produces a functional result ("organization"). If we conceptualize the laws in a quasi-Platonic way as if they had a semi-independent existence, then we should ask, following Stephen Hawking in his Conclusion to his book A Brief History of Time : "What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?" *(11), and we could find it most natural for Kitty Ferguson to write an entire book entitled The Fire in the Equations. *(12) Surely, Hawking and Ferguson would agree that the equations do not have an independent existence, and also that they are only an approximative account of what happens in the real world. The real problem is to explain the existence of that world, composed of systems that are capable of combining themselves producing an astonishing range of new patterns.

Return to the index5. The implications of self-organization

Reflection on self-organization leads to pose the following question: Where do new natural patterns come from? Or, in other words, how can we explain the emergence of novelties in the natural world? John Haught rightly attributes great importance to this question. Speaking of the new science of complexity, Haught attributes to the supporter of contact between science and theology (who presumably represents himself) the following interesting assertions: "The new sciences (if we may call them that) focus our attention in a fresh way on the pervasive fact of patterning. In doing so they are dealing with something as fundamental as being itself, and not with just another gap that could conceivably be filled in by fresh scientific discoveries. After all, can we really separate the deep question of a thing's existence or ‘being' from the fact of its patterning? For anything to exist at all would it not have to possess some degree of organized structure? Without at least some internal ordering of its components could anything even have actuality? Our position, as articulated by Whitehead, is that things simply cannot exist without being ordered in a definite way. Indefiniteness would be equivalent to non-existence." *(13)

Haught adds that science presupposes the existence of patterning and also that the question about the very existence of patterning has some metaphysical connotations: "Thus, the question scientists are asking today about why there is complexity in the universe is only a hair's breadth away from the theological question concerning why anything exists at all... The very possibility of doing science in the first place presupposes the fact of patterning as science's field of exploration... science cannot by itself explain the naked fact of patterning. True, it is discovering complex designs that it never noticed before... But can scientists ask the very deep question as to why there is any patterning at all and pretend that they are not thereby steering perilously close to metaphysics? And when they wonder why complex patterning has the features of diversity, emergence, adaptability, and interactivity, can they pursue such inquiry to the very end without making contact to theology?" *(14)

Science presupposes that patterns exist and that they can be explained on the grounds of other natural patterns. The present worldview shows that nature displays an impressive array of patterns which pertain to different levels and are interconnected in a big system which is full of functionality and makes possible the existence of truly rational beings.

Seen under the present worldview, the world is highly rational because it is the result of a great process of self-organization where new patterns emerge that can be integrated in a series of progressively organized systems that provide the basis for the existence of rational human beings. Nature is rational insofar as it has been formed according to rational principles, and also because it provides the basis for the existence of rational beings.

Nature is rational because it includes a huge series of processes which are integrated in a very sophisticated way. One may wonder, indeed, how is it possible to reach so many varied results with so few elements. In the basis of natural phenomena there is a small number of components which can be combined in successive levels by using recursive methods so that they finally produce highly organized systems. Three subatomic particles are the basic constituents of ordinary matter; ninety-two atoms are the components of a great variety of natural systems; four nucleotides are the elements of the highly sophisticated genetic information; twenty amino-acids are the components of proteins. Subtlety in the methods and sophistication in the results are the rule in nature.

Paul Davies refers to the entire process of self-organization with these words: "The fact that this rich and complex variety emerges from the featureless inferno of the Big Bang, and does so as a consequence of laws of stunning simplicity and generality, indicates some sort of matching of means to end that has a distinct teleological flavor to it." *(15)

The rationality of nature points towards the problems related to finality or teleology in nature. Information can be considered as "materialized rationality." It includes plans that are stored in spatio-temporal structures and guide the successive deployment of natural dynamism, and the corresponding formation of increasingly complex patterns. This information is stored, displayed, integrated, coded and decoded in the different natural systems and processes: not only in the biological level, but also in the physical, chemical, astrophysical and geological levels. As already noted, we could even say that an electron ‘knows' a lot of physics and chemistry, as it will act in all sorts of circumstances according to the patterns we discover in the physical science.

All this is very coherent with the existence of a divine action that respects natural agency, because God himself has created it and has associated it to the fulfilments of his plans. The corresponding idea of God is that of a Creator who has conceived the natural dynamism and uses it to produce, according to the natural laws, a world of successive levels of emerging novelties. Our world does not exhaust the possibilities of the creation. God usually acts respecting and protecting the natural capacities of his creatures, and He has given them great and marvelous potentialities which are never exhausted, so that new results can always be produced or expected.

Natural order is contingent, as it is the result of singular circumstances. However, nature is full of organization, directionality, synergy (cooperativity), and very sophisticated activities. All this is most coherent with the "continuous" activity of divine wisdom.

All this means progress in our religious understanding. This can be seen by considering a kind of definition of nature provided 700 years ago by Thomas Aquinas, which is surprisingly modern. Commenting Aristotle, Aquinas surpasses him and writes: "Nature is nothing other than the ratio of a certain art, namely, the divine, inscribed in things, by which things themselves move to a determinate end: just as if the master shipbuilder could impart to the wood something from which it could move itself to taking on the form of the ship." *(16) Now we can say that God acts this way and we can provide many striking examples. Scientific progress turns order into self-organization, and helps us to consider the role that natural and divine creativity play here.

Return to the index6. Self-organization and Teleology

Evolution is often invoked as an argument for naturalism. Some people counterattack denying the very existence of evolution or criticizing the theories that try to explain it, but nothing of this sort is required. Although theories of evolution contain many unexplained enigmas, evolution is a scientifically respectful subject. Moreover, it can help us to understand better divine action in the world. In fact, evolution supposes self-organization. Therefore, it supposes the existence of a big chain of successive potentialities, that have been actualized thanks to a corresponding chain of adequate circumstances. All this is, to say the least, strikingly impressive, and is very coherent with the existence of a divine plan. In this line, Marie George comments: "The fact that random processes can result in living things arising from non-living things presupposes the existence of not just any sort of matter, but one which has the potency to be formed into living things; further, not just any sort of agents will do, but there must be ones apt to impart the appropriate forms to the appropriate matter. In addition, in order for these supposedly randomly formed living things to survive and reproduce, there must be a habitat favorable to them, and the possibility of its development also needs explanation. Just as it is luck that one gets a royal flush, but not that one can get it - the deck is designed that way, so too it may be luck that this or that organism appear, but it cannot be luck that it is able to appear. And this is true even if there are many universes. For even if the combination of factors which gives our universe its life-bearing potential have been ‘dealt' into it alone, and not to any others, these factors still must have a specific design if they are to make life possible. If there are no queens and kings, having five billion cards games going instead of just one still won't get one any closer to drawing a royal flush." *(17)

Chance does not oppose to divine plan. The role that chance plays in evolution is sometimes interpreted as an argument against the existence of a divine plan. I will quote again Marie George who says on this that "a difference of levels, however, leaves room for the same event to be both chance and intended without this involving a contradiction." *(18) Aquinas himself argued that the divine govern of the world is compatible with the existence of contingency, *(19) and it can be shown that chance is required for the great variety of this world to be produced by natural means. Other typical confusion arises when the agency of secondary causes is seen as incompatible with divine agency.

The ultimate argument against teleology eventually stems from the possible existence of many worlds. We should not be surprised by the specific organization of our world, so the argument runs, as it would only be the chance result of evolution of an infinity of possible worlds. This criticism has been used routinely against a book about "the anthropic design argument." *(20) I must confess that I am not very impressed by this argument. In fact, if our world, as the result of an immense evolutionary process of self-organization, has the high degree of specific organization we perceive, this requires the existence of the chain of potentialities and circumstances I have already referred to: in this respect, it does not matter whether there is only one world or many of them. *(21) Actually, our world is so specific that we could even think that God, wanting to form it according to natural principles, created a self-organizing universe so immense that our little world could be formed. As Joseph Zycinski puts it: "Cosmologists for a long time have been intrigued by the question of why life appeared so late in a universe which has been expanding for 20 billion years, and why the density of matter in the universe is so small that successive generations continually relive Pascalian anxiety in their experience of the emptiness of infinite spaces. Modern cosmology supplies a partial explanation. Even if life were to develop in only one place, a large and old universe would have been required. Billions of years of cosmic evolution are necessary for the appearance of carbon producing stars, an indispensable element for the rise of known forms of life." *(22)

Scientific progress provides us with a basis which is richer than ever for teleological reasoning. The present worldview does not by itself prove any metascientific thesis. It cannot be used, under the form of anthropic principles, as a substitute for metaphysical and theological reasoning. It does, however, show that our world is full of directional dimensions, of tendencies and synergy, of rationality. It introduces information, which is materialized rationality, as a concept that plays a central role in explaining our world. It represents our world as the result of a gigantic process of self-organization, where successive specific potentialities have become actualized, producing a series of increasingly organized systems that have culminated in the human organism, which provides the basis for a truly rational existence. Therefore, the present worldview amplifies the basis for teleological reasoning, which is one of the main bridges that may connect the natural and the divine.

I refer to God as "the mind of the universe" not in a pantheistic sense, but to express that our universe exhibits rationality, information and creativity; that it makes possible the existence of human beings who are strictly rational and creative; and that all this requires a divine foundation: a participation in God's creativity. Old and new ideas converge. In fact, I have borrowed the expression "the Mind of the Universe" from the stoic Seneca who wrote: "What is God? The mind of the universe. What is God? The whole that you see and the whole that you do not see. Thus we return to him his magnitude, because we can think of nothing greater, if he alone is everything, if he sustains his work from within and from without." *(23) Seneca's words were borrowed 15 centuries later by Luis de Granada, one of the Spanish classical writers of Christian spirituality, who adopted them without any qualms, and even used them as a part of the argument that leads us from the contemplation of nature to the knowledge of its Creator. *(24) In that time only small fragments of modern empirical science existed. The progress of science has changed our view of nature in a number of significant ways. We can safely conclude, however, that a philosophical reflection on this progress goes hand by hand with a religious view of nature and man.

Return to the indexTexts

"It is one of the universal miracles of nature that huge assemblages of particles, subject only to the blind forces of nature, are nevertheless capable of organising themselves into patterns of cooperative activity." (Paul Davies)

"The unusual property for matter and energy to self-organise into coherent structures and patterns is only very recently becoming appreciated by physicists... Of course, biologists have long studied self-organisation and pattern formation. Today, however, physicists and chemist are joining in, and self-organisation has become a distinctive branch of the New Physics." (Paul Davies)

"We continue to be fascinated by their machinations, as well as by the central role they play in an ever increasing array of cellular activities." (Alfred G. Gilman)

"The physical world is not arbitrarily regulated; it is ordered in a very particular way, poised between the twin extremes of simple regimented orderliness and random complexity: it is neither a crystal nor a random gas. The universe is undeniably complex, but its complexity is of an organized variety. Moreover, this organization was not built into the universe at its origin. It has emerged from primeval chaos in a sequence of self-organizing processes that have progressively enriched and complexified the evolving universe in a more or less unidirectional matter. It is easy to imagine a world that, while ordered, nevertheless does not possess the right sort of forces or conditions for the emergence of complex organization." (Paul Davies)

"If we accept that there exists a propensity in nature for matter and energy to undergo spontaneous transitions into new states of higher organizational complexity, and that the existence of these states is not fully explained or predicted by lower level laws and entities, nor do they ‘just happen' to arise for no particular reason, then it is necessary to find some physical principles additional to the lower level laws to explain them... We seem to be on the verge of discovering not only wholly new laws of nature, but ways of thinking about nature that depart radically from traditional science" (Paul Davies)

"processes of self-organisation can be understood without adopting special principles. In this sense they give evidence for the program of reductionism." (Manfred Stöckler)

"What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?" (Stephen Hawking)

"The new sciences (if we may call them that) focus our attention in a fresh way on the pervasive fact of patterning. In doing so they are dealing with something as fundamental as being itself, and not with just another gap that could conceivably be filled in by fresh scientific discoveries. After all, can we really separate the deep question of a thing's existence or ‘being' from the fact of its patterning? For anything to exist at all would it not have to possess some degree of organized structure? Without at least some internal ordering of its components could anything even have actuality? Our position, as articulated by Whitehead, is that things simply cannot exist without being ordered in a definite way. Indefiniteness would be equivalent to non-existence." (John Haught)

"Thus, the question scientists are asking today about why there is complexity in the universe is only a hair's breadth away from the theological question concerning why anything exists at all... The very possibility of doing science in the first place presupposes the fact of patterning as science's field of exploration... science cannot by itself explain the naked fact of patterning. True, it is discovering complex designs that it never noticed before... But can scientists ask the very deep question as to why there is any patterning at all and pretend that they are not thereby steering perilously close to metaphysics? And when they wonder why complex patterning has the features of diversity, emergence, adaptability, and interactivity, can they pursue such inquiry to the very end without making contact to theology?" (John Haught)

"The fact that this rich and complex variety emerges from the featureless inferno of the Big Bang, and does so as a consequence of laws of stunning simplicity and generality, indicates some sort of matching of means to end that has a distinct teleological flavor to it." (Paul Davies)

"Nature is nothing other than the ratio of a certain art, namely, the divine, inscribed in things, by which things themselves move to a determinate end: just as if the master shipbuilder could impart to the wood something from which it could move itself to taking on the form of the ship" (Thomas Aquinas)

"The fact that random processes can result in living things arising from non-living things presupposes the existence of not just any sort of matter, but one which has the potency to be formed into living things; further, not just any sort of agents will do, but there must be ones apt to impart the appropriate forms to the appropriate matter. In addition, in order for these supposedly randomly formed living things to survive and reproduce, there must be a habitat favorable to them, and the possibility of its development also needs explanation. Just as it is luck that one gets a royal flush, but not that one can get it - the deck is designed that way, so too it may be luck that this or that organism appear, but it cannot be luck that it is able to appear. And this is true even if there are many universes. For even if the combination of factors which gives our universe its life-bearing potential have been ‘dealt' into it alone, and not to any others, these factors still must have a specific design if they are to make life possible. If there are no queens and kings, having five billion cards games going instead of just one still won't get one any closer to drawing a royal flush." (Marie George)

"a difference of levels, however, leaves room for the same event to be both chance and intended without this involving a contradiction." (Marie George)

"Cosmologists for a long time have been intrigued by the question of why life appeared so late in a universe which has been expanding for 20 billion years, and why the density of matter in the universe is so small that successive generations continually relive Pascalian anxiety in their experience of the emptiness of infinite spaces. Modern cosmology supplies a partial explanation. Even if life were to develop in only one place, a large and old universe would have been required. Billions of years of cosmic evolution are necessary for the appearance of carbon producing stars, an indispensable element for the rise of known forms of life." (Joseph Zycinski)

Return to the indexNotes

  1. Mariano Artigas, The Mind of the Universe. Understanding Science and Religion (Philadelphia & London: Templeton Foundation Press, 2000).
  2. Paul Davies, "The New Physics: A Synthesis", in: The New Physics, ed. Paul Davies (Cambridge-New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 4.
  3. Ibid., p. 5.
  4. Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgment (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), Part II, § 65.
  5. Stuart A. Kauffman, The Origins of Order. Self-Organisation and Selection in Evolution (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).
  6. Stuart A. Kauffman, At Home in the Universe. The Search for Laws of Self-Organisation and Complexity (London: Viking, 1995).
  7. Maurine E. Linder and Alfred G. Gilman, "G Proteins", Scientific American, 267, no. 1 (July 1992): 36-43.
  8. Paul Davies, "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Science," in: Evidence of Purpose. Scientists Discover the Creator, ed. John Marks Templeton (New York: Continuum, 1994), p. 45.
  9. Paul Davies, The Cosmic Blueprint. Order and Complexity at the Edge of Chaos (Penguin Books: London, 1989), p. 142.
  10. Manfred Stöckler, "Reductionism and the New Theories of Self-Organisation,, in: Advances in Scientific Philosophy, ed. Gerhard Schurz and Georg J. W. Dorn (Amsterdam and Atlanta, Georgia: Rodopi, 1991), p. 248.
  11. Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York: Bentam, 1988), p. 174.
  12. Kitty Ferguson, The Fire in the Equations. Science, Religion & the Search for God (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1995).
  13. John F. Haught, Science & Religion. From Conflict to Conversation (New York and Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1995), p. 151.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Paul Davies, "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Science", cit., p. 46.
  16. "Natura nihil est aliud quam ratio cuiusdam artis, scilicet divinae, indita rebus, qua ipsae res moventur ad finem determinatum: sicut si artifex factor navis posset lignis tribuere quod ex se ipsis moverentur ad navis formam inducendam": Thomas Aquinas, In octo libros Physicorum Expositio (Torino & Roma: Marietti, 1965), book 2, chapter 8: lectio 14, no. 268.
  17. Marie George, On Attempts to Salvage Paley's Argument from Design : cfr.http://www.nd.edu/Departments/Maritain/ti/george.htm (Thomistic Institute, University of Notre Dame, 23 July 1997).
  18. Ibid.
  19. Thomas Aquinas, In duodecim libros Metaphysicorum Aristotelis Expositio (Torino & Roma: Marietti, 1964), book 6, chapter 3: lecture 3, nos. 1191-1222; Summa Theologiae (Torino & Roma: Marietti, 1952), part 1, question 19, article 8.
  20. Brian Zamulinski, "Review of: M. A. Corey, ‘God and the New Cosmology: The Anthropic Design Argument,'"Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 72 (1994), p. 405.
  21. A similar argument is presented by Marie George (cf. op. cit.), who quotes Arthur Peacocke in the same line.
  22. Joseph Zycinski, "The Anthropic Principle and Teleological Interpretations of Nature," The Review of Metaphysics, 41 (1987): 318.
  23. Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Quaestiones naturales (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1961), I, 13: volume I, pp. 10-11: "Quid est deus? Mens universi. Quid est deus? Quod vides totum et quod non vides totum. Sic demum magnitudo illi sua redditur, quia nihil maius cogitari potest, si solus est omnia, si opus suum et intra et extra tenet."
  24. Luis de Granada, Introducción del Símbolo de la fe, first part, chapter I, ed. José M. Balcells (Madrid: Cátedra, 1989), pp. 129-130: "¿Qué cosa es Dios? Mente y razón del universo. ¿Qué cosa es Dios? Todo lo que vemos, porque en todas las cosas vemos su sabiduría y asistencia, y desta manera confesamos su grandeza, la cual es tanta, que no se puede pensar otra mayor. Y si él solo es todas las cosas, él es el que dentro y fuera sustenta esta grande obra que hizo" (What is God? The mind and reason of the universe. What is God? Everything that we see, because in all things we see his wisdom and assistance, and thus we confess his magnitude, which is so great that we cannot think of a bigger one. And if he alone is everything, it is he who sustains his great work from within and from without).