Friday, 15 November 2019

A Tome On Evolution

Updated: June 30, 2012 12:58 pm

It is not surprising that Western society has become increasingly more materialistic over the past few centuries. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the material aspects of the world became increasingly more important to modern society. Meanwhile, the spiritual dimension of the world shrank before the illumination of an ever-growing scientific knowledge. As material objects have become more important to the operation of a healthy economy, the spiritual world appeared to become progressively more marginalised. Against this backdrop the writer proposes a much-needed solution to the great evolution debate between conflicting interpretations of how life arose on Earth.

Materialists contend that it evolved out of an entirely mechanistic random process, leading to the pessimistic and defeatist view that our lives are essentially without meaning, while creationists and advocates of ‘intelligent design’ believe that an unseen creator, or unspecified intelligent designer, created life and that evolution has not happened at all, or at best has played only a minor role in altering the products of creation. Where science goes wrong, the writer maintains, is in its presentation of the facts of evolution using a materialistic approach that is not scientifically defendable. Where religion goes wrong is in equating Darwinism with atheism, and lapsing into fundamentalism.

The 219-page book, which contains 14 chapters, is divided into three parts. The writer begins with the Indian parable of the blind men and the elephant. Each of the men feels a portion of the elephant and each comes away with a different version of reality. This sets the tenor of the book. The part one is a statement of the problem. The writer gives a brief history on the philosophies of science and religion and how they came to diverge. He starts with the geocentric view of natural science expounded by Aristotle and Ptolemy and codified into Catholic dogma by Thomas Aquinas. This was disrupted by the heliocentric observations of Nicholas Copernicus: the sun, not the earth was the centre of the solar system. This work was expanded by Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, and Galileo Galilei and created a rift between observation and religion.

The part two is an excellent summary of the evolution of the universe and of life. In the third part, the book examines the nature of consciousness. Is consciousness merely a result of electrical signals in the brain or is consciousness transcendental and something accessed by the brain? In Nature, as living beings and environments change, new life niches are opened. Does self-consciousness open a new niche for us?

With validity and aplomb, the writer argues that each side has only a partial view of reality, making it impossible to find common ground. Although each side has some valid points to make in the debate, each makes big mistakes in applying their views to reality as a whole. The core of the book is to be found in writer’s espousal of what he has dubbed Teilhardism, a ‘third way’ interpretation of evolution. Teilhard was the first modern scientist to present an explanation for evolution that seriously attempted to integrate the fields of science and religion–he argued that evolution was not simply a mechanistic process, nor solely biological, but also involved spiritual aspects.

In the last chapter the writer recounts the problem presented by quantum physics on the nature of light. Light behaves as both particles and waves depending on how you observe it. This book is food for thought and well worth reading.

By Ashok kumar

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