Shattering the Sacred Myths - Chapter 17

Evolutionary Metaphysics

 
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Discusses extending the theory of evolution to include the struggle for political power and the development of advanced technology.

Most people who believe in God also believe that their ancient religious scriptures are evidence for the existence of God. They pray for miracles to help them through life and they hope for a heavenly reward after death. Their faith may give them comfort, but unless they are prepared to question the beliefs that were passed down to them by tradition, then they will never have anything meaningful to contribute to a philosophical debate about God's existence.

The problem with trying to debate the existence of God is that the word 'God' means so many different things to different people. God is described by the various religions as being anything from an interventionist judge to an incomprehensible observer. Traditional religious myths have 'him' doing everything from angrily flooding the world in order to punish the sinners, to walking around in the form of a man, preaching love and forgiveness.

Until only recently, it was dangerous to openly debate the existence of God. Even today, in some parts of the world, religious leaders still condition their followers to react violently whenever their teachings are questioned. However, with the total freedom of expression now made possible by the Internet, with the ideological battle heating up between traditional religious morality and modern democratic freedom, and with potential nuclear conflicts brewing around the world between the followers of different faiths, it seems like the inevitable showdown over the existence of God has finally begun.

For thousands of years, the traditional religions have undoubtedly played an important role in promoting social justice and preserving community and family values. But now the moral dictates of ancient religious scriptures often cause more problems than they solve. Religious opposition to birth control has condemned much of the developing world to overpopulation and poverty, and strict religious morality still forces many women to remain uneducated, live in fear, and cover their faces in public.

The traditional religions are now so heavily associated with ignorance, superstition, and oppression, and they have such a long history of being opposed to science and democracy that it seems like a miracle that any educated person can still believe in them. It is not surprising that many people living in free democratic societies today reject the idea of God, when the only God they are familiar with is so burdened by conflicting myths, oppressive morals, and hateful prejudices.

A question of purpose

One way to debate the existence of God without causing confusion or provoking anger is not to mention the word 'God' at all. The question can instead be phrased ... whether or not there is any purpose behind the existence of the universe or any intention behind the evolution of intelligent life.

There is more than enough evidence to safely assume that human beings evolved from self-replicating organic molecules through the process of random mutation and natural selection. However, despite the passionate claims of both theists and atheists, we simply do not have enough evidence to conclude whether or not our collective consciousness is progressing towards greater awareness in order to fulfill some kind of higher purpose.

Although it is possible that the entire cosmos is just a mindless cosmic machine that has either existed forever for no reason or else somehow sprang into existence like an island of order in a sea of chaos, it is also possible that the formation of this universe, the evolution of life, and the rise of consciousness happened in accordance with some kind of purposeful creative process.

Religious ideologies

One of the more compelling reasons why some people hope for the existence of a purposeful creative process is because it can give a sense of meaning to their lives. Believing in a purposeful process is like having faith that our existence is orderly and meaningful, whereas to reject the possibility of purpose is like resigning yourself to the notion that our existence is ultimately meaningless, mindless, and possibly chaotic.

The idea that consciousness has some kind of higher purpose has always been popular because it offers people a more meaningful reason to live other than to simply pursue their selfish needs and desires. Believing in a higher purpose can motivate people to sacrifice their selfish desires and unite their efforts to carry out whatever they believe to be their common cosmic purpose.

Without any higher purpose, there would be no ultimate justification for unconditional cooperation or personal self-sacrifice. Our only arguable reason for caring about each other, other than feelings of affection or sympathy, would be for the anticipation of some mutual benefit. As long as we continued to enjoy advantages, and as long as we perceived no future disadvantage, we would have no reason not to indulge ourselves at the expense of powerless strangers. This entire universe would never be anything more than a cosmic battlefield for evolutionary competition and the conscious struggle for power. As evil as this sounds, it describes exactly how much of the world has always behaved.

Faced with the choice between a selfish meaninglessness struggle and unification through common purpose, throughout history, priests, prophets, and moral philosophers have used every technique in the art of religious persuasion to convince people to believe that human consciousness does have some kind of cosmic purpose. Without any evidence to prove it, the most common strategy has been to craft myths in order to uphold the kinds of moral values that bring strangers together to work selflessly for the pursuit of some perceived common cause.

The possibility that consciousness might have a higher purpose has created an opportunity around which myths and morals have been able to evolve, usually introduced at revolutionary times by charismatic thinkers who were able to attract enthusiastic followings, and then perpetuated by priesthoods who continued to reinvent these myths and morals in ways that accommodated the prevailing cultural conditions. Unfortunately, the formation of religious myths and morals has also created opportunities for political extremists to manipulate believers, often in ways that continue to threaten peace and prosperity.

Secular ideologies

In recent centuries, as religious myths have been dispelled by scientific discoveries, secular political idealists have used distorted interpretations of history and human nature in order to establish collective moral frameworks like socialism and humanism. These ideals grew in opposition to the predictable greed-driven opportunism that always aspires to manipulate and enslave the masses. Without modern political idealism, pure greed and ambition might continue to provoke wars for profit, and the global political power struggle could eventually escalate into a nuclear apocalypse.

However, no secular moral ideology can justifiably claim that in a meaningless universe we still have an unselfish obligation to make personal sacrifices for the sake of others.

Secular Humanism, for example, is only really a recognition of the selfish notion that by generally helping others we generally help ourselves. The only solid foundation for humanist principles is that they have been learned through the lessons of history. But there is no authoritative guideline for what these principles are, other than collective perceptions, and the interpretation of history will always be a battleground for political debate.

Secular socialist ideologies like Marxism might have succeeded in rallying the poor and oppressed to unite in their struggle for a greater share of power, but if life is ultimately meaningless, then why should the rest of society sacrifice its own economic advantages and opportunities to help the poor and oppressed? In any case, the Marxist economic model, its ideas about human nature, and its socially engineered utopian dream were all myths invented as propaganda to recruit more misguided idealists to join the socialist cause.

Unfortunately, the most common political strategy used throughout history to unite people behind a common cause and convince them to make sacrifices, sometimes even sacrificing their lives, has been to demonize whoever might be conveniently perceived to be a common enemy.

God of the gaps

A common argument against the existence of God is that gods only exist in the minds of believers because they offer a convenient explanation to fill the gaps in our knowledge about the universe. Before science, many people believed that the gods were responsible for natural events like thunder and lightning, but then as people gained more scientific knowledge, the unknowns that they attributed to the gods became fewer, until eventually, as some people now believe, there is nothing left in nature for a god to explain.

The flaw in this argument is that science might never be able to explain why the universe exists. And science might never be able to disprove the idea that the evolution of intelligent life had some kind of cosmic purpose. These 'higher mysteries' will probably always be open to speculation, and so no matter how much knowledge we acquire, there will probably always be a gap in our knowledge that can be filled by a religious explanation. And because of the sense of common purpose that religion can inspire, such explanations will probably always be dominant.

Judging by the continued popularity of religion around the world today, it is doubtful whether the majority of people would ever accept the idea that our world has no true purpose in nature. They will probably always want to believe that their lives have some kind of cosmic significance and that humankind has some special relationship to the forces that created the universe.

Without any rational explanation for our existence that gives people a sense of purpose and meaning, they will continue to follow the irrational teachings of their ancient religious scriptures, and they will continue to be manipulated by their traditional religious institutions. They will continue to reject the theory of evolution because their religious leaders will keep telling them that evolution is a godless philosophy, and they will continue to be doubtful of scientific explanations because atheist academics will keep telling them that life is essentially absurd and meaningless.

Due to the popular desire for cosmic purpose and the unarguable possibility that there might be one, religious explanations will probably always exist, and so religious persuasion will probably always have an enormous influence over the political power struggle. However, there is no good reason to continue to tolerate political and religious extremism. The opportunity now exists for us to dispel the kinds of myths that continue to create opportunities for extremists to manipulate believers.

Rather than complaining about the god of the gaps, we now have the knowledge and freedom to develop a purposeful progressive scientific philosophy to fill the gap and displace the traditional religious myths by leaving no uncertainties that can be exploited by conservative anti-science opportunists.

Politics and religion

In recent years, the progressive side of politics has been seriously disadvantaged because people with progressive political ideals are generally educated enough to reject religious myths. But because the reactionary rejection of traditional religion commonly leads to the rejection of all metaphysical considerations, most progressive political thinkers are unable to perceive the importance of the relationship between politics and metaphysics.

Metaphysical arguments can be powerful weapons in the arsenal of progressive political persuasion. Metaphysical concepts like 'purpose' and 'meaning' are much more suited to the progressive political agenda, as they help people to see themselves as members of a universal community whose goals transcend the selfish desires of any single individual's lifetime. Whereas purposelessness only really supports the conservative political agenda of encouraging short-term economic growth through greed and envy by convincing people to see themselves as separate selfish individuals competing for their own selfish interests.

In any case, when progressive political activists publicly dismiss the possibility of a purposeful creative process, they only really succeed in polarizing society into those who believe and those who do not, rather than those who care and those who do not. This not only gives the conservatives more votes, it also radicalizes believers, making them more fanatical, and so religion becomes more potentially dangerous, especially as the tensions between differing religious beliefs continue to rise.

Ultimately, the only way to calm the rising religious tensions is by developing a purposeful progressive scientific philosophy that can challenge the traditional religions by deconstructing their myths and showing how cosmic purpose and natural evolution might work seamlessly together, thereby forcing the religions to reform towards accepting scientific understandings in order to compete.

Evolutionary Metaphysics

Choosing to either believe or not believe in a cosmic purpose requires having blind faith in some unproven assumption. The only understanding that requires no leap of faith, and so therefore the only understanding in which we can be totally confident, is to keep our minds open to both possibilities, and to thoroughly examine them both to their eventual conclusions.

Examining both possibilities requires two strands of science: one science based on the assumption that the evolution of humankind was an accident of nature and the discovery of advanced technology was an unintended consequence; and a second strand of science based on the assumption that events in this universe are unfolding according to some kind of mysterious cosmic plan.

If there is a plan, then we should be able to find clues that tell us something about this plan by searching for patterns in the unfolding of history. Our goal should be to extend the theory of evolution to explain the rise of intelligent life, the conscious struggle for power and wealth, the discovery of advanced technology, and the change from natural evolution to 'consciously controlled evolution' through genetic engineering and artificial intelligence.

Extending the theory of evolution is something that is beyond the scope of biological science, and it is something that secular social science has refused to do for ideological reasons, because it cannot allow itself to admit that technological progress has any kind of purpose or value.

Extending the theory of evolution is the work of a new scientific philosophy called 'Evolutionary Metaphysics' whose purpose is to investigate all of the possibilities, to develop a reliable scientific alternative to traditional religion, and to establish a dependable theoretical foundation for a forward-looking community-focused political agenda.

Continue to chapter 18 ... Peace and Properity