Hi all, back for a short visit here again.
I’ve just reread my favourite book, Bertrand Russell’s “A History of Western Philosophy”. It’s a masterpiece of clarity and brilliance which I recommend to theists and atheists alike.
One of the abiding themes in the development of western religion, from Plato and Aristotle through Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas to the medieval Scholastics and beyond, is an apparent abhorrence of gradualism and infinite regress. In numerous instances, positions are rejected as absurd because they imply an infinite regress, without ever stating what the heck is wrong with such a concept in the first place. Hence we get, amongst many others, the doctrine of God as the First Cause or Prime Mover, because otherwise the causes or motions would stretch back to infinity. The obvious question, which appears never to have been asked in any seriousness, being so what?
Indeed, traditional western religion appears to positively require such black and white transitions despite the overwhelming consensus provided by modern science that gradualism is the way the world and the universe really work:
Modern cosmology and theoretical physics explore how what we call the universe (which may merely be a subset of a wider Universe) arose from certain fields, not from nothing. And the point is that those fields have never not been there. They are a “something” which gave rise to our “something”. As strange and counterintuitive as that process sounds, it is not a nothing-to-something transition.
If I said that there was nothing north of the north pole, would you imagine standing at the north pole, taking one step north, and finding yourself in a cold dark Land of Nothing? Of course not. You understand that I mean that there is no such thing as “north of the north pole”. Similarly, when theoretical physicists say that “there is nothing before the universe”, they don’t posit a dark vacuum in which the universe began, originated, came into existence, was created, Big-Banged, or any other verb that gets tossed around in careless popular science articles. They mean that there is no such thing as “before the universe”. It has always existed.
Now, as I alluded to with these Higgs/quantum/Kaluza-Klein fields and the like, there might be a “before the Big Bang”, perhaps even comprising “other universes” if cyclical models are correct. But no matter whether that “before” comprises fields, other universes or whatever, there was never nothing. There was never no Universe. (The capitalization serves to encompass fields and other “somethings” which we might not readily associate with this 13.7 Bn year-old, 78 Bn light-year-wide region we call “our” universe.)
[li] For those 13.7 Billion years, gravity pulled clouds of hydrogen together so tightly that they became giant hydrogen bombs called stars, producing most of the elements in the periodic table when they went supernova, with the resulting dust forming planets via a similar process. That so many people in western democracies still cling to a creation ex nihilo story in this respect is a damning indictment of how vulnerable modern education is to outright sabotage outside the school environment.[/li][li] Abiogenesis, the emergence of life from non-life, is traditionally held to require creation ex nihilo of a DNA-based organism capable of reproducing sufficiently reliably. However, while it still has a long long way to go, modern molecular biochemistry has shown that a few nucleotides and bases can combine to form a Spiegelman Monster in the presence of suitable catalysts: catalysts which themselves can be formed by short chains of RNA. I hope that this Explanatory Gap will be filled beyond reasonable doubt in my lifetime, but in my opinion it’s already too small to fit gods into.[/li][li] Over the following 3.5 billion years, those organisms bred and mutated, with said mutations being selected for by the environment. Species died out and were replaced by other species which weren’t there before, over vast timescales. Species were not created ex nihilo. See point #2 regarding the widespread denial of evolution in both fact and theory.[/li][li] This gradualist evolutionary path led to Toumai and Orrorin some 7 million years ago (7Mya), then Lucy 3Mya and Homo Erectus 1 million years ago. Modern humans, which crucially don’t look so different to old Erectus appeared around 0.2 million years ago. Again, while some details are sketchy, science considers creation of modern humans from nothing to be utterly unnecessary given the clear evidence of gradual mutation and selection.[/li][/ul]
Even today, it seems that even reasonable theists seek binary transitions where atheists see only gradual development, stamping “personhood” onto a newly combined DNA strand in a watery bubble and positing a brief journey from “brain” to “heaven” upon death, while atheists see only the gradual, thermodynamically inevitable breakdown of the gooey sponge in our skulls which was solely responsible for this immersive computer game called consciousness. What was so for the 13.7 Bn years (we know of) before my gradual development after birth will be so again for the trillions (and, indeed, infinity) of years after my death.
So, for debate, does rejection of gradualism in any of cosmology, astronomy, molecular biochemistry, paleontology or anthropology not make you a creationist, with all the deservedly negative connotations such a word implies?