(Let’s get to some Metaphysical Speculation! But like Mary Poppins sang, “Just a Spoonful of Sugar will help the medicine go down”, so I have sweetened this load with some savory sidelights and poignant pictures. I think you will find it a pleasant exercise for the imagination and a deep dive into what is worthy of belief!)
“God and Evolution: Can You Get Something from Nothing?” was the title of one of the first posts written for the naturereligionconnection, almost two years ago. “Enhance the Design” is how “to get more from less,” was the answer given, (https://wordpress.com/post/naturereligionconnection.org/52). But, of course, there is more to be asked and more to be said than that.
Especially, if you are interested in Persons! A person is the most complicated object in the universe, so far as we know. That is a bold statement. Even the massive equations and strange speculations of modern physics are not clear in their relation to “Persons.” Persons are more interesting than most things and more than just biologically human. Persons are a complex enhancement of the biological world—with language-use, science, ethics, art, democratic government; persons surpass other primates by far. Or at least, seemingly so. When we ask, “Where do things come from?”; in this post series we are asking about Persons, this very unique and highly Designed kind of object.
(Kekule [pronounced Ke-koo-lay) discovered a large group of Carbon Based Structures that are still called Kekule Structures. Each feature a basic set of carbon atoms, as in Benzene, above. They Function importantly in all living things and his work was prominent in the origins of organic chemistry. [Right] The Ouroboros as drawn in an alchemical text from 1478. There are several accepted pronunciations of this name; some featuring an “aw” at the start, others “or” and differences with the end too!)
(Drawing of The Ouroboros from a 3rd century Egyptian text by Cleopatra the Alchemist. Inscribed in the middle are the words “hen to pan” meaning “All is One”)
If You Really Had Nothing
Of course, if you really have absolutely nothing at the start, then it seems clear—seems reasonable—that that is all you will ever have, nothing. So the Design Position, being argued for here, cannot start with nothing, and not even just a total mess. “Not utter chaos”, not “a random confetti of atoms in motion” is adequate, writes our favorite philosopher, Dan Dennett.*
The Design Position is based on the intuition that as far ‘down’ as you go, you will always find more designs, more structures, into which to take things to pieces. Designs in designs; structures made of smaller and quicker structures; processes in processes.: All the way down, for how would you know when to stop, or stop trying to analyze ‘a thing’ further? Maybe there would just be no more point to it; if you already Knew (could predict) Everything That Was Going To Happen Next!
The Living World
Design is especially apparent in The Living World. Dennett argues that we should embrace it; design is real and it is Design without any god-like designer. Evolution by Natural Selection is the largest part of the answer to this.
(DESIGN IS UBIQUTIOUS IN THE WORLD OF LIFE! A Bowerbird’s bower is designed to attract the female mate: It does look enticing! Can you believe that this bird collects and organizes and builds this well? But also, the cycle of a Frog’s Life [or of any living thing]; and the structure of the Human Eye [or any complex organ]: Each of these designs are re-occurring and functional. They Work, and these are “designs without a designer”! No conscious plan exists nor premeditation occurred for the designs in which these creations are composed and participate, contends Dennett.)
Life, starting out as things as simple as the barest self-replicators like bacteria and viruses, Doubled Back On Itself many, many times. It varied and did so Gradually, and the variations themselves Gradually Varied, and the result was a living environment that was like a finely grated sieve or a finely knit net. It was a natural living background that, in effect, said to each new round of Replicants: “Can you fit in?” “Can you find your place?” “If not, you are rejected; you are Not Selected by Nature!” That is what we call Evolution by Natural Selection, and it is still designing new organisms without a conscious plan, without a conscious Designer!
Design allows not just breaking down into smaller units — analysis; it is also building up– synthesis. Many trees make a forest that can then establish a set of patterns and rhythms of its own: a Design at a larger scale. Many cells make an animal. Some well respected biologists and researchers have sought to understand the Earth and its biosphere as a single incipient organism, as if it was life itself first forming, because clearly it had no parent.
A Human Society is such a larger unit, and it has in some senses a reality and significance that transcends its individual members. It is vital that children learn their society’s language, that they behave in many ways that are congruent to their traditions. “Socialization precedes individualization” is a standard tenet for the design position. A member of society needs the ability to respond appropriately in many situations; a response their society sees as “fit”. That is what we call “Response-ability”, and we consider such members as full blown “persons”. If a member does not wish to “respond appropriately”, they need good reasons and put forth the effort to explain them or they will cease being a responsible member, a full-blown Person.
(Examples of Society Transcending Its Individuals: the Family, the Classroom and Education, the Law and Courts, the Nation and its leaders and citizens. Thanks to these particular sites for these photos. It was hard to find images of family without handsome actors all smiling, or classrooms scenes that looked real. Left, from CDC on Parenting; second left, from the ELA (English as Second Language) web site; third, from Time magazine–courtroom sketch; far right, Joe and his promise to try to pull this nation closer together. All is not always Harmony in our larger, and even smaller, Units of Design!)
But even ‘below’ the living world in the prebiotic universe, The Design Position must find suggestions of patterns: Designs or their precursors. Complex design must itself “bubble-up” from less complex and simpler units of process. PART II will explore that world, our world in that simpler Form.
*all quotes in this post from Dennett’s 2017 book, From Bacteria to Bach and Back