Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Case for Purpose

Over at Greta Christinas blog I have gotten into a discussion with her about theism/atheism. She has written many articles at AlterNet and other places about her encounters with christians and her strong atheist views. I like her writing and feel she has something important to say. Her main "gripe" if you will (which is shared by many of the more prominent atheists) is that religion and religious believers hold their arguments to a completely different standard than they hold atheists arguments. They also act like atheists have no right to argue them or anyone else out of their positions. Well this idea is prevalent among theists, especially evangelical christians, and frankly it is absurd. They would take no other topic and declare it off limits for rational debate but their faith is not to be "offended". First off there is a difference between a person becoming offended by a comment and someone making an offensive comment. Too many evangelicals wear their outrage on their sleeves. They act as if every question about religion is a personal affront. Well honestly that is part of their tactical agenda, declare something too offensive to discuss in public and voila all atheists are just trying to offend people by putting up billboards or teaching their children evolutionary biology. So I really share her frustration with the way the public in this country treats subjects that can and should debated. Especially one like religion and some of its more tenuous claims which have the potential to change the way certain people are treated in this supposedly democratic country.

Anyway over at her site I got into a discussion with her regarding the idea that there may be hints of evidence that our universe has a purpose. Not to point to a particular god that "inspired" a particular text thousands of years ago but some sort of greater force that when we subjugate to it we can actually improve our existence and reach a higher realm of understanding, peace and happiness. I've been inspired by much of Robert Wrights writing. He is a big question guy like I am
(I generally tire quickly of small talk and want to find out deeper stuff about someone fairly soon) and he's a tireless researcher. You may read his books and disagree with some of his conclusions but you cant say he didn't do his homework. Further, you better be able to explain the evidence he uncovers or your claim that he's wrong doesn't hold any water.

Here is my response to her when she tells me to bring it on after I commented that I think there IS at least faint evidence of purpose in our universe.

It seems from studies of evolutionary theory that beyond individual selection pressures there are also group selection pressures. These emerge from the same biologic source (DNA) but do manifest themselves in different manners. Individual selection would best be characterized as zero sum in most cases. Group selection is more non-zero sum, we can all benefit or at least we can all not suffer a loss by working together. It is here that morality emerges it seems. Morality is completely contingent upon "others" being around. It seems that within our DNA there is a "predisposition" to carry out moral actions, group selection constraints if you will. So it looks like DNA as a natural replicator was under some sort of "pressure" to create an array of organisms, which in turn were under some sort of pressure to procreate and multiply, which in turn allows the moral behavior to emerge.

Again I dont believe there was a conscious choice by some omnipotent mind to "make" DNA this way, just that our cosmic environment is tuned so that first DNA emerges, then variety of life, then sentient beings who live in groups, then selection pressures within the groups to behave in ways which maximize the groups chance of survival not just the individuals. If this is true, why is the groups chance of survival an emergent property? Are we becoming all small parts of a larger organism which we will "discover" later? No answers there but certainly legitimate questions.

The discovery in physics that all we are is an existence in a very small corner of reality (4 of maybe 11 dimensions) lends some support to a small part of a greater organism idea. MY next question is, can we extrapolate at all from current conditions and possibly see what might emerge at the next level of understanding. Is the "greater organism" a greater good? Is it something we will find pleasing? Again if you look at what strategies seem to be programmed into our DNA I think we can be hopeful. Its a matter of trusting that the mechanism we've discovered, DNA replicating and producing larger and larger organisms (not individual size per se but collective size), will continue in its present manner. Small changes over billions of iterations make huge changes but each iteration results from a cooperative process.
DNA it self had to be created in much the same process at the molecular level. Each strand of DNA
is composed of thousands of genes which must sit in the correct spot and only pass their information at a very specific time. It too is a "cooperative" process at the smallest level. Cooperation seems to get 'it" done. Understanding that there are "others" whose needs supercede yours at the present time seems to be selected for. Taken to its logical conclusion with universal milieu-- DNA--individual organisms--multiple organisms-- groups of organisms-- groups of groups all operating under "pressure" to cooperate an subjugate individual needs at times, what in the end will/should this mega organism be subjugated to?

Why is cooperation seemingly selected for at so many levels of the universe? What factors at every level seem to influence the greater likelihood of cooperation? In humans certain emotions and mindsets are more conducive to cooperation? Do these appear as more prevalent within a population? I think they do.

These are more questions but I do think that there is a faint hint of something we are "subjugated" to and the best way, it seems, to achieve that is to forget self (a very buddhist notion), sacrifice your individual needs (a very christian notion) and look at our existence as a "spiritual" journey we are going on together( a new age church notion)

Part of the reason i started my blog was so that I would have a place where I could keep my ideas and possibly one day put them into book form. I dont know why anyone would want to read it really but I promise it would be more accurate than Sarah Palins book. Actually I think that is a great reason to like Sarah Palins book (not that I have or ever will read it) because her book sets a standard for what can be accepted as "Non Bullshit". If you ever want to publish something and the publisher says your manuscript is bullshit you can immediately argue that Sarah Palins book has more documented bullshit than any book ever written (except mabe the book titled " On Bullshit" by Harry Frankfurt.