now embark on this journey - towards an integral worldview!
And, I think the best way to start is, as in so many other cases, by first looking a little bit back. Let’s do like in the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge, in the fairy tale by Charles Dickens: let’s listen to the Ghost of Christmases Past, and understand how we actually got to the situation where we are now.
From complete integration to full-blown materialism – the first climax
Let us first recall that this current sub-division we have between the various parts of our knowledge-system, and between these parts and the entire worldview, has not always been the case. On the contrary, in the old Antique developments, there was basically only one scientific discipline – called philosophy – and it included all relevant aspects that we consider here, both regarding the outer and the inner worlds. All of these aspects were viewed as things that naturally goes together, and that cannot be understood in a good way if considered separately.
Let us then go to the early 16th century, and to the birth of modern science. At this point, the church had complete control of all allowed truths, both regarding spiritual things, and regarding worldly matters, and these two sides weren’t really distinguished. Part of this prevailing worldview was that the Earth was in the middle of the Universe, a fact that was based on some related statements in the Bible, which then was the ultimate source of knowledge. Into this picture enters now some scientists: Copernicus, Kepler, Galilei, Newton, etc. Of perhaps most interest right now is Galileo Galilei, since it was he that laid down many of the principles behind modern science. With quite some justification, he is often referred to as the father of modern science. Perhaps most importantly, what he introduced was the principle of experimental tests. The type of things he said was of the following character: “I have another idea of how the world works: that the Sun is in the middle. I think that we should find out who is right, by experimentally testing which of our two theories gives the best predictions. Let’s ask the Book of Nature, not the Book of the Bible” Noteworthy here is that, although he was widely condemned and punished by the church for his writings, he was – in fact – a quite religious man. He also had a relatively sound view of how to combine the two aspects of his belief: for matters regarding how the world works, go to the Book of Nature, and for matters that has to do with the upliftenment of the human spirits, go to the Bible. The two books come from the same author, so they cannot be in true conflict, he believed.
This religiousness, and this complete and non-problematic integration of the religious beliefs with his natural science investigations, also held for Isaac Newton. What is characteristic with him, is that he introduced physical laws, laws that are universal and works in the same way for small objects in everyday life as they do for the heavenly bodies in the sky. He could use these very simple laws to derive the old predictions of the previous scientists, and could thereby predict the stellar movements in a quite detailed fashion. There were, however, some things he could not explain, and these observed abnormalities and deviations he simply said were evidence of God’s intervention. Newton’s laws were then prevailing for several centuries, and the predictive power and the universality of these laws were starting to impress more and more people. So, when Laplace in the 18th century were able to find natural explanations for one after the other of the previously identified abnormalities – which had been used as evidences for the interventions and existence of God – this then logically led to the interesting question of whether there at all was a God? Was God just an unnecessary hypothesis, one that science could do equally well without. The idea of the completely deterministic and law-abiding universe was a fact, and was a theory that, once formulated, started to get a stronger and stronger foothold within peoples’ consciousness.
Galileo Galilei, the Father of Modern Science, who introduced many of the most important scientific principles that we go by also today. Picture from Wikipedia.
A temporary return to spirituality before the next big debate starts
After this peak during the enlightenment came the Romantic age. During this era, the spiritual side got a little re-boost, and people were starting to revere Nature, which often was referred to with a capital N. If the Book of Nature is the best and most reliable source of knowledge, let us revere it. At this point, it was still typically believed that even though physical laws existed, the human mind and its free will was not under their influence. Similarly, Man was with his mental capacities higher than the beasts, and that was the way God – who now was thought of often as the clock-maker, who at the beginning of time had set everything in motion – had intended it. In other words, religion had been forced to a big retreat, but a new balance had been restored.
in mind, it is not so strange that the theories of Darwin still were perceived
as such a serious threat. If Man was not special, and if Nature hadn’t been
designed by a God – if God also in biology turned out to be an unnecessary
hypotheses – then the newly found balance was lost, and they would be forced to
new retreats. Therefore, huge fights broke out, partially within the religious
and academic societies, but most importantly between them. And, as always in fights, the other side is painted in the bleakest possible colors. In bitter
fights, you define yourself not only in positive terms, but in negative terms.
“I am nothing like them”. I think that this is one of the reasons for the,
since then, quite hostile attitude that exists within science towards anything
that could be viewed as non-physical or spiritual. Those are things that have
to do with religion, and we – scientists – are nothing like those idiots. It would therefore be interesting to know if things would have played out differently if religion already from the onset had taken the viewpoint that already Galilei had: to embrace new scientific results as steps forward in the overall search for Truth. Perhaps then the divide might not be so big today, and perhaps then science would still deal with the big overall challenge of producing worldviews?
Illustration in the New York Times of the so-called Monkey trial, July 12, 1925.
The counter-acting trends: the system and integration trends
At this point in history, in the early 1900s, we are more or less at the point of division that has remained ever since. The Darwin debate is often said to have had its climax around 1925, with the so-called Monkey trial. In Europe, this trial was followed with some irony and distance, almost as if it was the final remains of a debate that was more or less over already, whereas in the U.S. the following was much more fierce. Amazingly, this debate is still ongoing in the U.S., e.g. regarding what must, can, and cannot be taught in school regarding evolution. The key thing is that religious people want evolution to be explained as just another theory. I hope that I through these texts can pervey to those for whom it is not clear already that all scientific claims are just theories, but that that does not mean that all theories are equally credible.
However, let us finally examine shortly some of the parallel trends that have occurred during the previous century within the science/spirituality interface, which also are what leads up to the worldview that will be outlined here. As explained already in the first video, much of these developments have to do with the developments within theoretical physics, i.e. within quantum mechanics and relativity theory. These theories lead to insights that are so far away from everyday experiences that they invariably leads to questions of a philosophical/worldview nature.
Also, some of these results are a reversal of the reductionism-trend that had been going on for the last 4 centuries. As described above, the first such separation was that of physics and astronomy from philosphy/religion, and this continued with the splitting off of chemistry, biology, biochemistry, etc, i.e. to create ever smaller and ever more specialized fields. Similarly, this reductionism also implied the belief that it was enough to understand each component, the smallest components, in isolation, and that once that was done, the rest was just logical consequences; no higher orders of organization exists as independent units of their own. This started to be challenged within quantum mechanics. In this, it was realized that really small particles behave in a quite different way from our normal big particles: they can be viewed as non-local, i.e. as existing virtually everywhere, but with different probabilities. Similarly, if these particles come together, e.g. as a proton and an electron does in a hydrogen atom, the connected atom is not just the sum of the two individual components, but something different (technically, because a coupling term appears). This and other similar results within theoretical physics can be seen as the start of the systems trend, saying that reductionism has a limit. This insight has then been followed in many other fields as well. One of these is systems biology, which is the field within which I am active, and which takes the view that a cell can not be understood by studying its constituent proteins isolated from the cell one-by-one, but that these proteins must be studied in their living context. But there are also other examples, including sociology, cultural history, systems theory, etc. Finally, these developments have also been paralleled in worldview developments. Already in the early developments, several of the foreground figures had quite philosophical, sometimes even spiritual, interpretations of the results. And this has then been further developed in other fields, which for instance include systems theology, which basically is a way to interpret Christianity which embraces and fully incorporates the latest results within modern science. But a more detailed discussion of these things will have to wait for future posts.
Essay and further reading
As I said already in the first blog post, it is my clear intent to try to merge this worldview development with mainstream science as much as possible, and to thereby create an almost continuous bridge from the really popular science summary view in the youtube videos, to these slightly more detailed blog posts, via more extensive text books, all the way in to ordinary scientific publications. Associated to this blog post, I therefore want to point to an essay that I wrote about 8-9 years ago, which deals with almost the exact same topic. In this, you will have a slightly more extensive description of the above historical processes, which also contains references to text books, papers, and other material for even further reading. This essay has not been published in a scientific journal, but it was approved as an essay in a course I took within the university. Finally, this essay also deals with much of the material that will be posted in the last two posts in this preparatory series: “Is this really a possible goal?”, and “Can one define God in a strict yet useful manner?”. After that foundation is laid, we will go in to a new series of 8-10 blogs with some really cool stuff!
I therefore end this blog post in the same way as I begin the above essay: with a quote from Einstein.
What is our lives' meaning, what meaning is there at all for living
creatures? To be able to give an answer to these questions is to be
religious. You ask: Is there then any point in asking that question?
I answer: A person that does not consider his own, and his fellow
human being's life as meaningful, is not only unhappy, he is hardly
Albert Einstein, Mein Weltbild-1934