We’ve discovered the correlation between the software that operates in our cells (DNA) and the software we create for computers—it turns out that they work the same way.
So the question becomes: must there be a programmer? This comes down to an understanding of the limitations of considering life only “as we know it”—and what exactly do we “know” and what do we merely believe?
In philosophy the fierce dualistic battle wages between Secularists or Science– and proponents of “Intelligent Design”; the problem with the latter is their conviction that they “know the Programmer.”
It’s generally viewed as an either/or proposition.
Barbara Forrest, a well known critic of Creationism who wants only conventional evolution taught in schools, she is professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. She is a critic of intelligent design and the Discovery Institute. She is a believer in Science with a capital “S”. Interestingly she has the intention of making sense (meaning) out of the unquestioned existence of consciousness purely on the basis of a “naturalistic” concept of Evolution:
She writes in Zygon, a Journal of Religion and Science, “Science undermines the certitude of non-naturalistic answers to the question of whether human life has meaning. I explore whether evolution can provide a naturalistic basis for existential meaning. Using the work of philosopher Daniel Dennett and scientist Ursula Goodenough, I argue that evolution is the locus of the possibility of meaning because it has produced intentionality, the matrix of consciousness. I conclude that the question of the meaning of human life is an existentialist one: existential meaning is a product of the individual and collective tasks human beings undertake.”
In other words, we’re all that exists and if we did not exist, there would be no meaning in the universe. Since we’re all we currently “know” anything else is speculation and “supernatural” or non-naturalistic.
But what exactly is “non-naturalistic”? Was epigenetics non-naturalistic a few years ago—the now known fact that environment affects how genes express? By what energy or force does this happen? Since Life proceeds intentionally toward survival and evolution, how can it not precede the functions that it affects—DNA itself?
There is no proof that evolution gave rise to intentionality, only that it manifests or occurs intentionally. If we see how DNA works as the expression of symbols that can be decoded, as software, it would seem to be the reverse—namely, difficult as it may be to understand or comprehend logically—it is intention that gives rise to evolution and “runs” the processes of life itself.
A well known thought scenario that addresses this issue, first posed by English theologian William Paley (who made a case for “Creationism”) is the problem of finding a watch in a forest. His argument was that since life is far more complex than a watch, it could not have come about by “chance” and needed a creator – or in the terms of software – a Programmer.
This becomes a “proof” for those who forward Intelligent Design as the basis for a belief in the fundamental tenet of many religions – a Supreme Being who created everything and also a skepticism about science—the debate of course has led to conflicts about the teaching of Evolution in schools as scientific truth.
Scientists like Forrest, addressing this argument on behalf of Darwinism as the key representation of scientific thought, point out that Evolution alone, when considered with natural selection and the immense spans of time through which it operates, is sufficient to adequately explain the complexity of life.
But the issue of programming and intentionality is different from the issue of complexity, in its very “nature.”
Like the watch, the quality that software (and DNA by extension) possesses is not mere complexity (that it took a supercomputer to decode the genome is impressive but not the point).
The quality that is undeniable and that we take for granted–because we ourselves manifest it every day–is that the operation of DNA epigenetically represents the activity of a Mind.
Chance alone, and no amount of rolling dice would ever have produced Microsoft Word—we can fully understand that computer software is the product of a huge team of programmers who thought out what they wanted to achieve – it manifests the epitome of intentionality.
By its nature, therefore, DNA also suggests a high degree of conscious intention—it is a program by any modern definition, as troubling as that conclusion may be for today’s scientists—and “meaning” is an undeniable “feature” of our software that they choose to ignore.
Mind is an inconvenient subject for science, because how do we know Mind exists? Not through knowledge or logic but undeniably — by experience.
Interestingly this is the same way physicists have come upon the troubling inconsistencies and apparent paradoxes brought to light by quantum mechanics. They had to go with their experimental experience—even though it seems to suggest that on the subatomic level an object may be in two places “at once”—and that nothing manifests in reality without an observer.
We know through our experience that we manifest Mind–although until now its obvious presence has not given way to rigorous scientific experimentation. We Live as Mind – what the rogue philosophy of phenomenology calls “Being in the World”; Sartre and Camus’ Existentialism is philosophical another approach to trying to understand what is the 800 lb gorilla in the room we all try to ignore — Being itself “happens” or “unfolds.”
And apparently behind or underneath it all is Mind or Consciousness.
(And the fact that we have not known or seemingly encountered a higher, a greater or an unembodied Mind doesn’t mean it cannot or does not exist. We didn’t know a neutrino either, or a ganglion, until fairly recently.)
The problem with this type of inquiry is that most people prefer to remain oblivious to its troubling consequences, so that indulging in it can make you feel very separate and alone.
Up until now it has meant filling in the value of the variable “God” with a sense of certainty that may not be warranted and cannot be proven scientifically.
But the presence of the variable as the empty space, container or “no-thingness” as Eckhart Tolle among others calls it as a reality of existence becomes apparent through our experience.
But that Life operates as a “program” based on conceptual instructions now seems an unavoidable truth of nature, as does the fact that subatomic particles behave in ways that suggest that the presence of an observer affects their location or movement.
It may not “make sense” to our current myopic view of Nature, but neither did a subatomic particle traveling faster than the speed of light a few weeks ago—or Epigenetics—or the vastness of our galaxy and then our universe of immense galaxies. So my attempt to find the faith that sustained my father intellectually may be doomed to failure.
I believe this is a function of the limitations on the part of our mind, within our brains, that thinks in words like “God” in order survive, and reacts in a necessary 0 or 1 duality—Good or Bad, Hot or Cold, Male or Female – while Life operates at a much higher level or frequency—beyond this duality. If we observe ourselves carefully we can connect with a faculty that is separate from such dualistic thought—at first briefly—and eventually for longer periods of peace and calm.
In our connection with this “higher frequency”, sometimes through mediation, many of us are becoming more acutely aware that our survival as a species actually hangs in the balance—the very meaning of our own planetary evolution—if we can connect with such higher meaning or intelligence.
A program without a Programmer? It makes no “sense.” And neither does much of quantum physics–or when you “think” about it, the vastness of infinite space discovered by astrophysics. So the ultimate source of any “meaning” in nature may not lie in our limited scientific deconstruction of the world, as advanced as we have become, but rather in our approaching sense of the very boundaries of our intellectual understanding, and the need to connect with what is unmistakably Higher and more Intelligent than we are—with a different faculty beyond the intellect–our hearts.