• Dr. Timothy X. Merritt

Emergentism - God

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The Return of the God Hypothesis by Stephen C. Meyer:

My interest in Emergence and Emergentism led me to question some of the popular applications of Evolutionary theory to social change. Everybody understands evolution. Even little kids can tell you about the evolution of dinosaurs and other cool things they learn in school and see in cartoons. Blockbuster movies feature superheroes that “evolve” through weird mutations that give them superpowers. The theory of evolution permeates our culture and our understanding of the world.

But is that how it all really works? We know that biologically, genetic mutations occur. Through natural selection, some creatures prove more fit for their environment and pass on their adaptive DNA through their offspring. But how is that same evolutionary process supposed to work in society? Where is the physical “DNA of Society” in which the presumed societal mutations occur?

In 1989 Richard Dawkins introduced the idea of the Meme as Evolutionary Theory is adapted to explain the success of prominent ideas in society. But Memes don't arise spontaneously out of the environment. There is an intelligence (a person) who intentionally designs and creates them. Also, Memes do not mutate by themselves. At each step, intelligent design, not evolution is involved in the process.

There is social change, and Evolutionary Theory is at best a metaphor to describe it. Cultural Theory also describes it. Progress Theory also describes it. Market Theory also describes it. Conflict Theory also describes it, etc., etc. I believe that Emergence Theory, which comes from the computer sciences and systems-thinking provides the best description and explanation for the dramatic social changes that are now taking place around us with exponentially increasing frequency.

What’s the difference? The short answer is that in Evolutionary Theory, the source of change is the EXTERNAL environment. The Environment selects. While in Emergence Theory, the source of change is the INTERNAL motivation of the individual agent. The Individual selects. Emergence Theory also predicts the input of information into the system, and that’s where the Return of the God Hypothesis comes in.

I came looking for a little bit of insight about evolution, and instead, I got my mind blown by the sheer scale and magnitude of Meyer’s carefully arraigned arguments. It is not an overstatement to say that this book is likely life-changing for me. The Return of the God Hypothesis took on everything I thought I knew about science and challenged it:

  • Almost against their will, modern astrophysicists have provided evidence that the universe started from a singular event rather than simply enduring eternally. Meyer asks, what caused the Big Bang?

  • The Fine-Tuning of the Universe is such a powerful concept that philosophers cannot ignore its implications. Yet, in my view, this concept is not widely understood. I think I could do a lot of work trying to popularize it. The existence of God has not been proved through either deductive or inductive reasoning, but the Fine-Tuning of the Universe combined with abductive reasoning shows clearly that the odds are massively overwhelming that God exists.

  • On a young planet where life does not yet exist, and only entropy and decay drive chemical reactions, what caused the rise of living creatures? Where did the massive amounts of information come from to construct the first DNA?

  • Meyer shows that the process of genetic mutation could not have caused the Cambrian (and other) explosions of new life forms on earth. Where did the information come from?

There is a pattern to the questions: What caused the Big Bang? What caused the Fine-Tuning? What caused the first life? What caused the subsequent explosions of life? In each case, the best answer is The Return of the God Hypothesis. This book is a tour-de-force and an absolute masterpiece. I believe these ideas may prove foundational to Emergence Theory. Only dare to read it if you are prepared to have your fundamental assumptions of reality challenged!

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