Breaking The Galilean Spell

April 23, 2008

Stuart Kauffman writes about the shortcomings and ultimate failure of reductionism in science.

If no natural law suffices to describe the evolution of the biosphere, of technological evolution, of human history, what replaces it? In its place is a wondrous radical creativity without a supernatural Creator. Look out your window at the life teeming about you. All that has been going on is that the sun has been shining on the earth for some 5 billion years. Life is about 3.8 billion years old. The vast tangled bank of life, as Darwin phrased it, arose all on its own. This web of life, the most complex system we know of in the universe, breaks no law of physics, yet is partially lawless, ceaselessly creative. So, too, are human history and human lives. This creativity is stunning, awesome, and worthy of reverence. One view of God is that God is our chosen name for the ceaseless creativity in the natural universe, biosphere, and human cultures.

Because of this ceaseless creativity, we typically do not and cannot know what will happen. We live our lives forward, as Kierkegaard said. We live as if we knew, as Nietzsche said. We live our lives forward into mystery, and do so with faith and courage, for that is the mandate of life itself.


Across our globe, about half of us believe in a Creator God. Some billions of us believe in an Abrahamic supernatural God, and some in the ancient Hindu gods. Wisdom traditions such as Buddhism often have no gods. About a billion of us are secular but bereft of our spirituality and reduced to being materialist consumers in a secular society. If we the secular hold to anything it is to “humanism.” But humanism, in a narrow sense, is too thin to nourish us as human agents in the vast universe we partially cocreate. I believe we need a domain for our lives as wide as reality. If half of us believe in a supernatural God, science will not disprove that belief.

We need a place for our spirituality, and a Creator God is one such place. I hold that it is we who have invented God, to serve as our most powerful symbol. It is our choice how wisely to use our own symbol to orient our lives and our civilizations. I believe we can reinvent the sacred. We can invent a global ethic, in a shared space, safe to all of us, with one view of God as the natural creativity in the universe.


Catholics – cf. CCC, 31-35. This is interesting writing. As a Christian, of course, I also believe that it’s seriously deficient, but interesting nevertheless. A god of strictly vegetative spirit is no god at all, but rather instead a convenient shorthand. A spirituality centered on it worships the painting at the expense of the artist. Prof. Kauffman gets a little close to Anselm’s ontological proof, but this is still a long way from the idea of Emmanuel, God-with-us. Still, he is to be commended for continuing to seek and knock. The section at the end about the “four injuries” bears particular scrutiny.


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