"TESTING GOD: DARWIN AND THE DIVINE"

Programme 2

 

TESTING GOD

Commentary:

Ours is a special universe. It is the one where the laws which govern it are so tuned that from the random bumping of atoms have come creatures who think and love. But why have we turned out the way we are? Once we believed we were unique, blessed with a soul and lovingly created by god in his image and likeness. Today, evolution says we are just a product of natural selection, the descendants of primitive bacteria, not the children of god.

Richard Davies: Evolutionary Biologist University of Oxford

We are certainly special. I mean, we are the only species that has true language with a grammar. Weíre the only species that thinks philosophical thoughts. Weíre the only species that has music and explicit mathematics. So certainly weíre unique in all kinds of ways. Other species are unique in other ways, but itís very easy to agree that we are very, very unique. But that doesnít, in any way, dispose me to think that we need a supernatural explanation.

 

Darwin and the Divine

Commentary:

The theory which has laid claim to godís job as our creator is Darwinís blind and meaningless mechanism of evolution. In its footsteps, the human genome project has produced the master blueprint of our tiny chemical creators, our genes.

John Sulston: Leader,Human Genome Project

What the machines are doing downstairs is separating out pieces of DNA. We call this process sequencing, itís reading out the string of letters from the DNA in to the computer. It allows us to do a great range of thing in terms of discovering more about how we work, because this string of letters is the basic set of instructions to make a human being.

 

This thread of DNA, itís actually my own DNA, not that weíve been using this for sequencing, itís just for fun that Iíve cut some of my own hair, and you can see this little thread floating around. Inside that thread are molecules of DNA which contain all the instructions to make my particular body. We can do exactly the same for you, and weíd have something that looked just the same, but it would have minutely different instructions, and it would make, if it were applied, it would make a you rather than a me.

Commentary:

It has been claimed that this will explain everything we need to know about ourselves, reducing the mystery of our being to a soulless struggle of DNA to reproduce itself.

Anita Lasker-Wallfisch:

My mother was a musician, she was a violinist. I had a tiny cello, and my mother could put it under her chin. My son is a musician, two of my grandsons are musicians. One grandson is a cellist, and also plays the piano, and is very interested in singing, and the other grandson is a composer and he also plays the piano very well and conducts.

Commentary:

Science now has the means to understand this musical family. Inside every one of us are the genes which made us and define us, the same genes which made our ancestors and will make our children. An unbroken line of genes.

 

But what does this mean for our image of ourselves and of god?

John Sulston:

I think that not just reading out this code, but the whole business of molecule biology, of learning in the most microscopically ultimate atomic detail of how our bodies work, completely changes oneís conception, not only of the universe, but of our place in it, and some degree of what we are.

 

You come to realise that you have the power of understanding, where before there was the darkness of ignorance.

Commentary:

The more scientists have studied us, the more evidence they have found that we are built by DNA, not by god. According to science, we exist as the gladiators of our selfish genes, and only the fittest survive.

John Sulston:

The notion of evolutionary is enormously important. Itís the key concept of biology thatís moved us from thinking that we had to have an active thinking creator at every step guiding it, to the saying, no, it could happen by itself.

 

Something that people used to love to invoke was the eye. They would always say, how can that eye have evolved by chance, and people would write long treaties as proving how it couldnít happen by chance. But, of course, the point is it didnít happen by chance, or at least not by a single chance.

Richard Davies:

Although it seems almost conceivable to anyone that you could get something as complicated as a human from a bacterial starting point, itís not inconceivable that you could get something as complicated as a human from something slightly less complicated. And itís not inconceivable that you could get that from something slightly less complicated still. So if you break the whole problem down in to a whole series of tiny steps, then it ceases to be unbelievable and it becomes perfectly credible.

Commentary:

So for many scientists, evolution has killed the god who fashioned us from clay. The new gospel is that we are evolved, we are built by genes, Darwin was right.

Richard Davies:

Biology is the field where god really did his best work, and so in a way, Darwin pulled a much bigger rug out from under godís feet than physics has ever done.

Commentary:

Before long, evolution was no longer seriously challenged as the basic explanation of our existence. The motor of this process was seen as the geneís simple and selfish determination to survive. But there was a problem. How could a selfish motor produce beauty, unselfishness, and the sheer complexity of human behaviour.

Anita lasker-wallfisch

Thereís something that I remember, itís a very trivial story, but I was in a tram, and Jews werenít allowed to sit down, they had to stand up outside, et cetera, and I saw the mother of a school mate of mine, Iím going now back to the school where we are still mixed Arians and Jews, and she saw me and got up - she was sitting. She got up, and stood next to me, never said anything, but it was a silent gesture of "I donít agree with this." I mean, with all the things that I have lived through and seen. This is something that stuck in my mind, so it must have been an important message to me at the time, that not everybody is on the side of the Nazis.

Commentary:

This was the real dilemma at the heart of evolution. If the problem with god was the existence of evil, the problem with the selfish gene was the existence of good. In the Bronx district of New York, this paradox is clear. Amid poverty and deprivation, goodness clearly survives. People were willing to acknowledge evolution, but not its apparent corollary, that unselfishness was just a distortion of our true selfish nature.

Rev. Martha Overal: St Annís Church South Bronx

The gospel of John says, can anything good come out of Nazareth? Well, Nazareth is very much like the South Bronx. Theyíre both poor communities full of outcasts, people who arenít treated very well by society, and the rest of society looks at the South Bronx and says, can anything good come out of the South Bronx? Well, yes, a heck of a lot of good can come out of the South Bronx.

 

SOUTH BRONX

Rev. Martha Overall:

Everyday experience tells me that basically human beings are good at the outset, and children, when theyíre dropped from heaven are good. Itís just the sophistry of the world that messes them up, that makes people feel that itís totally acceptable to step on other people in order to get themselves ahead.

Commentary:

So the good side of human nature became a problem for evolutionists. If they wanted people to understand that they were not the product of godís design, they had to explain how a species driven only by the need to survive could create notions of morality.

Geoffrey Miller: Evolutionary Psychologist London School of Economics

I think a way in which human nature god over-simplified was this phrase, survival of the fittest, was viewed as the only legitimate explanation for human nature. So everything that was of interest, you had to find a "survival value" for it. For many of the most interesting aspects of human nature, like consciousness or poetic language, or a sense of humour, or the moral virtues, itís very hard to find survival pay-offs for those things.

Rev. Martha Overall:

I donít think we can possibly afford to ignore the good side of people, because thatís basically what the truth is, and we get carried away with theories based on incidents, and - and a few statistics, and there are very superficial factual analysis. The real truth is the goodness in the hearts of people, especially the hearts of these children, of mothers who will go out and - and save somebody whoís homeless and drunk and addicted, whoís in trouble out on the street simply because in their words, Iím a mother too. That kind of relationship to another human being on the basis of nothing more than their humanity and their basic goodness, one to another, is far more truthful than a bunch of numbers.

Commentary:

And the more we unravelled the constituent elements of our genetic make up, the more puzzling became the very things we valued about ourselves.With god, it was simple. The nature weíd been given had goodness and altruism within it. But selfish genes, what could they give us but selfishness.

Geoffrey Miller:

It was fashionable to take a sort of evolutionary, reductionist view that said there really isnít any such thing as genuine altruism. What that was reflecting was the relatively simple state of evolutionary theory at the time. At the time, basically the way that you explained kindness was either people are kind to their genetic relatives with whom they share genes, so theyíre really promoting copies of the same genes, so thatís why parents are kind to kids, and why youíre kind to your nieces and nephews as well. Or you have sort of short term trading relationships, reciprocity of relationships, and you can explain those, and everything else tended to be pigeon-holed in to one of those two categories, either itís nepotism, or itís short term reciprocity.There was a tendency to say everything sort of kind and gentle and spiritual about human nature is a sort of facade, is a sort of gloss on selfish genes that are ticking away underneath.I think itís the exact opposite. And I think selfy, nasty and brutish is learned behaviour.

Commentary:

This is the impasse that has held for the last 30 years. As long as evolution failed to offer a full explanation of human nature, the good as well as the bad, then it did seem we had to be more than evolved creatures, and there was a need for something beyond the genes.

Richard Dawkins:

Some people think that there must be something in religion, because they look inside themselves, and they see themselves as being good, or altruistic, or loving, and they think that evolution canít explain that, and so they see this as a deficiency in science, and then they say, well, if science is wrong, therefore god must explain it.

 

You donít immediately say, oh, science canít explain it, therefore God, itís completely illogical. It could be that if science canít explain it, nothing can explain it. Or it could be - this is what I actually believe, if science canít explain it, then weíve got to do better science. Weíve got to improve our science until it can explain it.

 

Commentary:

In part, the battle between religion and evolution has been over whose explanation of human nature is more realistic. Evolution in its simplest form struggled to accommodate anything but the most one-sided view of human nature. So more recently, some evolutionary theorists have been adapting the theory to explain our gentler side.

Geoffrey Miller:

I think itís actually more scientific to say altruism is real, kindness is real, romantic love is real, how do we explain it, rather than to sort of sweep it under the carpet and say, oh, thatís just culture.

Commentary:

Geoffrey Miller is one of a new breed of evolutionary psychologists who are trying to show that evolution need not view the good side of us as something outside biology.

 

GEOFFREY MILLER & FAMILY

Commentary:

Millerís argument is that the survival of the fittest is only part of our evolutionary story.

 

Our ultimate raison díetre is to reproduce. So itís not just natural selection between predator and its prey that shapes us, but sexual selection as well.

Geoffrey Miller:

We think survival of the fittest couldnít go the whole distance in accounting for human nature, and we think there must have been something else to fill that gap, and Iím saying sexual selection is what fills the gap, because itís capable of noticing anything that we can even talk about. If I notice that somebody else has a rich consciousness and I sort of wonder, why do they have that, my capacity for noticing that contains the answer, it says, I noticed that that might influence a sexual choice I make with regard to that person, it might make them more attractive to me, and just by admitting that youíre saying thatís subject to sexual selection. We have this amazing window in to the minds and souls of other people that other animals donít, because we have language, because we have rich social lives. And that means sexual selection has the power to reach in to these moral virtues and these spiritual interests and to shape them in a way that it couldnít do in any other species.

Commentary:

According to Miller, this is the crucible of human evolution. The sexual tension between men and women is what has driven our evolution and shaped our natures.

Geoffrey Miller:

When I think about how sexual attraction might have worked among our ancestors, is they were sort of going through the final spurt on the way to becoming modern homosapiens, I tend to think of them as conspicuously displaying their capacities for sympathy and kindness, so anything that would have been sexually attractive, would have been subject to sexual choice, sexual choice could have amplified these traits, made them more elaborate, more conspicuous, more easily displayed. It is an argument for runaway kindness in the same way that runaway sexual selection can explain the size of the peacockís tail. In our species it explains the size of our hearts and our capacity for romantic commitment, and I think the sort of intricacy and depth of our consciousness as well.

Commentary:

If this version of evolutionary theory is right, the implication seems to be that you can explain morality and goodness in our midst, not to mention beauty and justice, without invoking god.

Commentary:

And for many scientists, once there was no longer a mysterious part of our nature, that only god could explain, then god had to go.

Richard Dawkins:

Evolution undermines the necessity for god. It undermines the positive reason why one might have wanted to believe in him. So it makes god superfluous, it makes it an unnecessary hypothesis.

Commentary:

Many people accepted that line, that evolutionary theory and religion must be completely incompatible.

 

But other leading scientists have utterly rejected it.

 

Dennis Alexander is a scientist at the very heart of current work in genetics and evolution. His work was one of Britainís most respected immunologists, stems directly from the human genome project. And yet, for him, there is nothing in what he knows that is incompatible with the belief in god.

Denis Alexander: Immunologist,Babraham Institute

Well, I think Dawkins is absolutely right. If oneís looking at the origins of biological diversity then the theory of evolution is by far the best theory that weíve got. And I mean all biologists, including myself, obviously operate within the framework of natural selection and our understanding of the current theory of evolution. But I think Dawkins and people like him take an unnecessary next step of trying to imply that it tells us something about the ultimate meaning of life for him, thatís a life really without meaning because itís a life of atheism. So I donít think that next step is really necessary, I just think thatís a bad way of doing philosophy, a bad way of doing science.

Commentary:

So for Alexander, at the end of scientific explanation, there is still something else.

Dennis Alexander:

Weíre still left with the ultimate questions of whether it has any overall meaning, whether there is a god or not, whether weíre going anywhere, and I think those questions are simply not the kind of questions that science can answer.

Richard Dawkins:

Itís not always harmful to believe in the supernatural or, indeed, in anything false. One can make a case for believing falsehoods if they are comforting, if theyíre consoling. But it is rather harmful if it lulls one in to thinking that one has explained things that one hasnít.

Commentary:

One side does not have more knowledge than the other, the differences begin when the facts run out.

Denis Alexander:

I donít bring god in to the equation, because I think we have to have something that makes it all work. I mean, I bring god in to the equation because Iím interested in what is the ultimate purpose and meaning of our existence here on earth. And I think that Christian theism actually is a much more consistent starting point than atheism, because itís consistent with the idea of a personal god whoís actually interested in ethics and morality, and human responses, and has brought us in to being with that very thought in mind. And it so happens the way heís chosen to bring us in to being is by a very long process of evolution.

Richard Dawkins:

The possibility of really understanding the world and life and the universe is such an immensely exciting one, that to be fobbed off with a cheap falsehood, a supernatural explanation that really doesnít explain anything, maybe itís harmless, maybe it gives you solace, but I think it actually is mentally degrading and that it teaches you to be satisfied with a non-explanation, when a real explanation is within our grasp.

Commentary:

Neither side disputes evolution. What separates them is the question of whether or not there can be a god who intended evolution, and who stands behind it.

Denis Alexander:

So here we have two models, we have the model of Christian theism, or we have the other model which says, well, the whole thing really means nothing ultimately.

Commentary:

So according to Alexander, god simply chose to use evolution. But if this is the case, it raises a serious problem, why would an all powerful and loving god use a process that is based on the death and suffering of the weakest? Understanding this would be the key to understanding why there is suffering at all in the creation of the so-called ĎGod of Loveí.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell: Astronomer, The Open University

Thereís always been a problem for the Christian church. You know, we believe in a loving god and an all powerful god, a god whoís in control of the world. If thatís the case, how can there be suffering?

Commentary:

Jocelyn Bell Burnell is one of the worldís leading astronomers and a Quaker. For her, the question of suffering lies at the heart of religious belief.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell:

Suffering has come quite close to me. I come from Northern Ireland originally, as you may recognise from the accent. Thereís a situation there that is not going to heal rapidly. I have a child, only child, with an incurable disease, thatís not going to heal.

 

There are many, many situations I think in all our lives actually, where there are things that wonít heal. And the church comes up with some pretty convoluted answers, to be honest, which, as far as Iím concerned, just donít make sense.

Commentary:

And Bell Burnell is not alone. The church itself has wrestled with this problem for centuries. Professor John Polkinghorne is both a theologian and a physicist at Cambridge.

John Polkinghorne: Physicist and Theologian University of Cambridge

Christian theology, anyway, has to steer a course between two unacceptable pictures of god. One is the god who loves everything, the world is just godís puppet theatre, everything dances to godís tune. Itís the whole thing, itís the performance of a play that god wrote in eternity. That canít be the creation of the god of love because thereís no independence, thereís no freedom in it. Equally, the god of love canít be just an indifferent spectator who set the world spinning, sits back and sees what happens.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell:

What thinking about suffering has actually led me to do, and Iím a scientist through and through, is to go back to those initial assumptions that god is loving, god is all powerful and in charge of the world, and say can those actually all be true, or is there something wrong with one of those assumptions. Now I havenít actually the guts to relax the picture of god being loving, I actually need a loving god, but I said what happens if we drop the assumption that godís running the world? And the problem of suffering, as perceived by the Christian church, then goes away.

Commentary:

So does this mean that god has simply abandoned us? No, say the theologians. Godís hand over of power is, in fact, his greatest act of love, because it is the means by which he gives us free will. And support for this view comes from a surprising quarter, from scientists who are trying to create robots which can think for themselves.

Ron Chrisley: Philosopher of Artificial Intelligence University of Sussex

Traditional thinking, it goes back for centuries about the problem of evil, how can there be evil in a world that god created if god is good. The answer to that, many people have been given, is that well, god created us, but gave us freedom for us to choose, and if we choose evil then thatís a necessary by-product of us being free. Well, I think the same point comes up with artificial intelligence, is that if you really want the agent to be free, and to be autonomous and not just a computer programme that youíve written, then you have to let go in a way similar to how god let go. So you have to let it either evolve for itself or learn for itself, somehow acquire its own mental take on the world, its own beliefs and desires, through its own experience of the world.

Andy Clark: Philosopher and Cognitive Scientist University of Sussex

Itís only when a creator has kind of let go of their system that the system can count us having free will. The line there would be, you know, god couldnít possibly have programmed us in detail, god had to use something a bit like evolution, because only that puts enough distance between godís intentions and my intentions for my acts to actually turn out to be free. Artificial evolution then would be a way of putting the same distance between us and the behaviour of our machines.

Commentary:

Artificial intelligent scientists have found that step one in opening up that gap between creator and created, is to let life evolve its own solutions.

Andy Clark:

Artificial evolution has found solutions to problems that are pretty weird from our point of view. Thereís someone at Sussex, Adrian Thompson, who works on evolving little chips, and after a period of artificial evolution he looked at some of these chips and found that there were bits of the circuitry that, as far as he could tell, werenít doing anything. He couldnít understand what they were doing. But change those bits of the circuitry, and the thing doesnít work any more. So when the problems are even modestly complex, the solutions that artificial evolution throws up can turn out to be very different to the solutions that you would come up with if you sat down to solve the problem.

Commentary:

And when one of these weird solutions involves learning for itself, then evolution is on its way to delivering the kind of free will we have.

Andy Clark:

What you want to do really is use artificial evolution to get to something like the infant state, so you want to evolve systems that are ready to learn by moving around and interacting with the real world. So you evolve it first you set it off, you give it ten or fifteen years, back it comes, and then you can say, you know, how are you doing, are you intelligent yet. Probably say, yeah, Iím doing fine, Iíve just taken my ĎOí Levels.

Denis Alexander:

A lot of people see evolution and believing in god as somehow intention or incompatible, whereas my thinking has been coming round to the idea that god has to use evolution in order to create intelligent life.

Commentary:

Evolution has killed the all controlling god, but in his place a new and more subtle god is emerging.

John Polkinghorne:

God I think interacts with the world, but doesnít over-rule it. God has, if you like - is conducting the improvised performance of the universe. So I think what is settled is much less determinative, and there is much more flexibility and freedom and surprise and openness in whatís going on.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell:

I find Iím still somewhat surprised that I will so cheerfully say god is not in control of the world, and wait for a thunderbolt or the sky to fall in, and it doesnít happen.

Commentary:

So far from being an anathema to god, evolution, it turns out, is the perfect tool for god to create thinking, learning, free will to creatures. Evolution is the mechanism that can let go of its creations, because just as music is more than the notes, so we are more than our genes.

John Sulston:

The individual is something much more than the genes that are in this DNA. Itís our consciousness, the way our brains work, that really makes us what we are, makes us human.

 

What this DNA knows how to do is to make the foetus, the baby. The baby then grows and looks around, and talks and understands and discusses and argues, and thinks, and does all the things that human beings do, and that process comes on top of the genes. And so I think itís quite right to think of the mind as being something above and beyond the genes.

Commentary:

Once evolution was seen as an attack on god, now people can accept that man, in all his subtlety, has evolved from beast, and still believe in god.

 

But one unanswered question is this, was there some time when human beings acquired qualities that set them apart from other creatures? Was there a decisive moment when man first felt the need for god?

 

Unexpectedly, it is archaeology that may offer a clue. Evidence of a specific moment when human creativity exploded. And interestingly, that explosion occurred not at the moment when the modern human brain evolved, but 50,000 years later.

Steven Mithen: Archaeologist, University of Reading

This distinction between the emergence of a species, homosapiens, at about 130,000 years ago, and the major growth in our culture elaboration, that doesnít really occur until after 70,000 years ago, has worried archaeologists for quite some time, but how do you bring those two together.

Commentary:

What was the spark that finally set the human mind and imagination alight? Was that when god gave us a soul?

 

Archaeologist, Stephen Mithan is an atheist, but what fascinates him is that all the physical evidence shows that a sense of god was central to this extraordinary moment.

Stephen Mithen:

Well, the artistic activity of some of the first modern humans is the best example, for instance, of our - best evidence of our early religious beliefs, and when they come, they come with an immense impact.

 

The first representation art is in South West Europe, and these are of animals, and sometimes humans, and sometimes half-animal or half-human beings. Now the exact meaning of those paintings are lost to us, but I think thereís no doubt that these paintings are about a mythical world, and particularly these half-human, half animal beings are spiritual beings, entities that donít live in the real world, but are as real in those peopleís minds as the animals, the reindeer and the bison that they hunt.

 

We donít know what exactlyís going on, but clearly there is something that weíd describe as ritual and as belief and as ideology, and something that is quite separate from, if you like, the real material world in those peopleís lives.

 

This doesnít seem to be something that emerges when people have time on their hands. Itís during the last Ice-Ages, when people were living really difficult lives in Europe that they invested the greatest amount of time in their artistic activity and their religious activity.

Commentary:

The archaeological record suggests that asking these questions about the ultimate meaning of life was an essential ingredient in our journey over the threshold from animal to human.

Steven Mithen:

I think it is really about this questioning, this asking, this desire for meaning, this desperate urge to find meaning. Itís in almost every single domain of human existence. A big cultural explosion. Itís like a whole whoosh in human culture, like a moment of take-off.

Commentary:

Was that moment of take off just another evolutionary step, or a moment of god given inspiration? Either way, the evidence shows it was an exceptional turning point in our existence.

Steven Mithen:

Weíve got the first explorations of art happening, the first religious explorations happening then, and the first scientific explorations appearing all at the same time. And I think it is really about this questioning, this asking, this desire for meaning, this desperate urge to find meaning. Maybe with things that donít affect heavily meaning, you know, they just happen, you know, storms happened, people died. I think if youíre an atheist there isnít fundamental meaning in those, theyíre just things that happen in the world. But sometime after 70,000 years ago, this need to explain then pervades every single aspect of human existence.

Commentary:

And this is a transformation we all still go through in our own lives, as we grow and realise how little we understand.

Steven Mithen:

As weíre growing up we go through an immense period of questioning, and those questions we ask as - when weíre children or young adolescents are some of the most intense, the most important, and itís nice to think of that as a mirror of that human experience as a species, as we become questioning beings.

Commentary:

The sense of wonder our ancestors must have felt is drowned these days in the noise of our material advancement. But it hasnít disappeared. This man was a German schoolboy brought up on science, heedless of religious, when his life suddenly changed.

Jurgen Moltmann: Theologian, University of Tubingen

When I was 16 years old, I wanted to study mathematics and physics. Then I was drafted, together with the whole class, to the anti-aircraft batteries in Hamburg. We were the last generation who had to die so the murderers in the concentration camps could go on with their terrible work. It was the year Ď43.

Commentary:

At 16, Jurgen Moltmann was a confirmed atheist from a long line of atheists. Today, he is considered one of the greatest living theologians.

Jurgen Moltmann:

Then came the last week of July, in Ď43, and I think the Royal Air Force came with more than 1,000 bombers every night for one week.All living beings were burnt, and all houses destroyed - a fire storm.Our anti-aircraft battery was just in the middle of it. Itís a storm going through the streets, which takes everything down. You cannot stand the storm, itís so intensive. And these flames are taking everything in. You can keep to a tree, but it tears you away from the tree in to the fire.And the bomb, who tore a friend of mine standing next to me in to pieces, spared me. It was a kind of a miracle. I donít know why. At least this was a night when I first in my life cried out, "where is god?" I was missing somebody or something.

Steven Mithen:

This must have been one of the great transformation periods of our past, when itís the first time that human communities in a big way were asking these questions about the universe, effectively, which had simply never been asked before.

Jurgen Moltmann:

I was crying out, "god, where are you?". That god was not there, and there was nothing. And if you feel the absence of god, or the absent presence of god, you also feel the dark night of your soul, because all of a sudden you have no orientation any more, and you donít know why you are alive. And then your senses are closing. You listen to nothing, you see nothing, you taste nothing. You just close yourself in.

Steven Mithen:

The activity of religion really exploded pretty rapidly in human society. And itís interesting to speculate about that sudden fear. I think itís a fear of realising your lack of understanding. Terrifying that you suddenly think, hey, I donít actually understand any of that, and we need to know that.

Commentary:

At this moment of take-off, the human mind was liberated from the mute pre-occupations of survival. Instead of a brain which registered warmth, pain or hunger, there was a mind, able to imagine and inquire.Consciousness, in a sense of merely being alive, had developed in to something capable of wonder. Was this just an accident of evolution or design?

John Polkinghorne:

It seems to me that the most astonishing thing that we know about thatís happened in the whole history of the universe, is the coming to be of self consciousness here on earth. In human beings, the universe became aware of itself, which is a very unexpected, I think, and I think significant development.

Denis Alexander:

Our own existence here on planet earth is intimately connected with all the events that have been going on in the cosmos in the very, very early micro-seconds after the Big Bang, in a sense, sort of already was setting the stage for the emergence of life so many billions of years later. Thereís something very odd going on here, thereís something very special about this universe that can bring conscious beings in to existence. and to simply say in an ultimate sense that is a chance or random process, it doesnít look like it, it doesnít look like it. It looks rather organised actually. It looks like something is going on here.

John Polkinghorne:

The universe, immediately following the Big Bang, was pregnant with life, had all the right circumstances for life from the beginning. It isnít an accident itís come about. There are many, of course, accidental things about the particular way itís gone about, and Iím not saying that the universe was pregnant with human beings, with five fingered animals and things of that nature, but that some form of highly complex, highly developed consciousness sustaining life was to be a possibility in its unfolding history was there, in my view, from the start.

Commentary:

At its most basic level, our universe is simple and deterministic. But scientists realise they still have to explain how, through evolution, the mere bumping of molecules has created a spiritual dimension. The answer, they think, is that the universe has built itself level by level, and that each one, whether atoms or consciousness, is more than the sum of its parts.

Steven Mithen:

In all sorts of areas of science today, we recognise that there are emergent phenomena, so to talk of the great elaboration of culture at the moment of take-off and emergent, is a perfectly scientific way to approach this.Whatís very encouraging is that this is clearly now a theme that scientists are now able to have a better stab at explaining, of how you can get more out of individual components than those would simply add up to be.That seems to fit very well on to what happened in the evolution of the human mind, and understanding how we end up as being a being which is more than the small individual parts of evolutionary past.

Commentary:

So at the beginning of the 21st Century, a clearer picture is emerging of creation and the human condition. No longer slave either to an omnipotent god, or remorseless gene, but pregnant with possibility and free to create its own open future.Do believers then, have to cling to a watered down version of the old god? Or do they have a better understanding of their maker?

Jurgen Moltmann:

God is no longer omnipotent, that is no longer omniscient, but he is full of expectation, waiting for us. So itís better to speak about a waiting god, than to speak about an all powerful king in heaven. A good example for this is, you see, a parable of the Prodigal Son, which is, in reality, the parable of the Waiting Father. Because this is a miracle. The son acquitted everything, took his heritage away, and so the father was no longer the father, the son no longer the son, but the father was still waiting for the son. And I think this is a powerful image of god.

 

I think we see the presence of god in the universe, and also in human life more as a presence of his patience, not his intervening power. Because if I have patience with another person, Iím giving that person time. We can feel this if we have children. When they are just born we do everything for them. We are omnipotent, that they are completely dependent on us, but then when they grow up you must take back your influence on them to give them freedom.

Commentary:

The gift of science to religion has been to offer an answer to the problem of suffering. Instead of an all-controlling and wilful god, it offers a god of patience, hope and freedom, and the gift of religion to science is to have provided the well spring of inquiry.

Steven Mithen:

I donít think for a moment you could have the exploration of science in the world without either those same people or other people exploring the world through religious ideas. I think theyíve got to go hand in hand with each other.We would be in error today to say science should have priority over religious experience, or the other way around, because I think the fact that they all start together tells us that they have a common route. We canít ever lose one. They come as a package, if you like, and the package is this peculiar human mind weíve got, and this need to explain and find meaning.

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