In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1
Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. Letter of Paul to the Romans 1:20
How did they know?
Of course, no one today could miss the drawing used for this post as the Covid-19 virus. We are not biologists, but we know that whether viruses are alive is a matter of definition and debate. We also know viruses cannot exist without host cells like bacteria, which have one cell, or without human cells. Furthermore, human cells are different from standalone bacteria in that they create and preserve the human body.
Here’s a longer version (7:21) of the fascinating video above of what a cell is. The micro world is as or more fascinating than outer space, and the two are closely linked through the worldview idea. If Paul could have only seen a cell. Today we offer a few thoughts about viruses and the universe. In the process we hope you will better see that how one thinks about Covid-19 and science’s story offers excellent clues indicating one’s worldview.
In our last post we introduced a chart that appears at the very bottom here. The chart lists the three most basic types of worldviews: mindism, dualism, and matterism. While these three big worldview stories are mutually exclusive, the many sub-stories within each vary so widely they often create extensive overlap across the worldview spectrum. We think most people adopt one of these three stories over time because it produces a more accurate and useful representation of perceived reality and because it better suits personal purpose and intent.
It’s also clear people will move from one story to the next and even blend them to suit the need of the moment. Again, as the Rolling Stones say, “You can’t always get what you want,” but if you want to get what you want, it can really help to serve up the most self-serving worldview, or even to switch it on a dime. Now, whether that worldview of-the-moment might be “correct” is a different matter.
No doubt whatsoever, especially today: The truth of the matter is irrelevant after accomplishing a desired goal. Not that we approve of this at all; we just believe today it’s accepted by many as fact.
To return to viruses, some important worldview questions to consider in thinking about Covid-19 are the following:
1. What is this virus?
2. Where did it come from? (Wuhan, China might be correct, but that doesn’t answer the “Where?” question we’re asking.)
3. How did it get there?
4. Is it alive or mechanical?
5. What is “being alive”?
6. Are there degrees of being alive?
7. Is it really different from bacteria? (We gave the generally-accepted answer above, but we mean “How so?”) Is it different from a monkey? How so?
8. Is a monkey different from a person?
9. Is a person different from all other known things in the world and the universe?
10. What happens to living things when they die? Are fates of living beings all the same?
Each worldview answers these questions differently. When the human mind adds Time to the Space/Time worldview pillar, as illustrated in the chart at bottom, it begins considering cause and effect. Such happenings naturally involve human language in producing large and small stories to describe them.
Today the scientific story of creation, the universe, earth, life, and people, of course, involves the Big Bang. A Catholic priest and mathematician, Georges Lemaître, proposed the idea in the late 1920’s, and Edwin Hubble’s observations and evidence from the Hubble Telescope later showed an expanding universe. The theory became widely accepted in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Physicists and most of the public today believe the Big Bang occurred an estimated 14 billion years ago, with life appearing about 4 billion years ago, modern humans 200,000 years ago, and recorded history beginning in the range of 5,000 years ago. The universe’s narrative really becomes complex when human storytellers begin stressing randomness and, very recently, human freedom in the historical equation.
Here are three ways science’s current, generally-accepted story of creation are being told: The Time Lapse of the Entire Universe (10:49) portrays the Big Bang’s key events mentioned above to today in proportion to actual time over the 14 billion year period; The Beginning of Everything (5:54) tells the same factual story honestly without trying to hide any worldview biases; Origins of the Universe (5:49), after admitting there are many creation stories, then gets pretty technical in science’s story about what we “know.” Its detail might lose some of our viewers by the end. It did us.
Of course, good scientists know that if enough time is added over the course of the story, it’s easy to argue just about anything was possible before human consciousness could audit and record the situation, assuming consciousness is part of one’s story.
But when we look at the complexity of cells in the videos above and consider all of scientific discovery just in the last 100 years, we can easily see why so many scientists today question certain random-chaotic aspects of Darwin’s evolution story, at a minimum, which then leads to inferences of a Designer. In the highest academic arenas across the world, scientists are strenuously disagreeing on these questions.
We believe that how world leaders answered the ten questions above became a matter of life and death to millions during the 20th century. With that in mind, and in order to show how widely people can vary within any of the three basic worldviews under examination here, let’s consider immediately below a quote from one of the most noted “matterists” (materialists) today, Terry Eagleton. Dr. Eagleton is a Marxist and a distinguished professor of English literature, University of Lancaster, living in Northern Ireland. He is author of over 50 books. The quote is from his book, Materialism (2016), pages 11 – 13. It’s quite a gem, if you enjoy readable philosophy:
Like many an apparent innovation, . . . the New Materialism is by no means as new as it seems. It shares post-structuralism’s suspicion of humanism – of the belief that human beings occupy a privileged place in the world – and seeks to discredit this view with a vision of material forces that flow indifferently across both human and natural spheres. But you cannot play down what is peculiar to humanity by animating everything around it. Matter may be alive, but it is not alive in the sense that human beings are. It cannot despair, embezzle, murder or get married. The moon may be in some sense a living being, but it cannot prefer Schoenberg to Stravinsky. Particles of matter do not move within a world of meaning, as people do. Humans can have history, but poppies and bagpipes cannot. Matter may be self-activating, but this is not the same as achieving one’s ends. Matter has no ends to achieve. . . .
The truth is that men and women are neither set apart from the material world (as for idealist humanism), or mere pieces of matter (as for mechanical materialism). They are indeed pieces of matter, but pieces of a particular kind . . . Or, as Marx puts it: Human beings are part of Nature, which is to think of the two as inseparable; but we also speak of them as being ‘linked’, which is to point up their difference. . . .
Human beings are outcrops of the material world, but that is not to say that they are not different from toadstools. They differ from them not because they are spiritual while toadstools are material, but because they are instances of that peculiar form of materiality known as being an animal. They also have a peculiar status within the animal kingdom, which is by no means to say an unambiguously ‘higher’ one. The New Materialism, by contrast is too quick to see talk of the special nature of humanity only as arrogance or idealism. It is a postmodern brand of materialism. Alarmed by the prospect of privilege – of a disabling division between human creatures and the rest of Nature – it risks levelling such distinctions in the spirit of cosmic egalitarianism, while pluralizing matter itself. In doing so, it ends up with the kind of contemplative vision of the world that . . . Marx criticizes in Feuerbach. You do not escape such a standpoint by seeing everything as vital and dynamic rather than mechanical and inert.
One of Dr. Eagleton’s purposes in Materialism as a naturalist is to take soul and spirit of a non-material kind out of the human being and the universe. His big issue with the so-called “New Materialists” mentioned above is that, as materialists, they’re putting soul and spirit of an immaterial or spiritual kind back into the materialist story. In fact, he even accuses them of bordering on committing the sin of matterism’s opposite worldview “enemy,” idealist mindism.
We are not bothered when Dr. Eagleton later gets Thomas Aquinas wrong in referring to him as a materialist. There is no question that Aquinas believed man’s mind is unique in the animal kingdom, a gift from God, and that it continues on a basis after death. No, the great Catholic St. Thomas Aquinas was a Dualist.
In any case, in sum here, we just wanted you to see that materialists who fit under the Matterism column vary widely. In other words, by no means do they always agree or get along worldview-wise. We will see serious disagreement occurring among those who hold all three basic worldviews, as we walk through each major worldview this year.
We will end by taking you back in time cinematically to the popular scene in 2001 Space Odyssey (1968) where that fateful monkey discovers weapons by learning how to use an animal bone as a club. The scene compliments our recent post on the movie Shane and guns that illustrates where evil might originate and our last post about three ways to think about evil. Then we will forward you back to today, where Steven Colbert interviews Dr. Lawrence Krauss (June 21, 2012), an accomplished physicist and astronomer, about how the universe originated in the beginning.
To introduce the “2001 Monkey Scene,” we believe the 2001 Space Odyssey movie itself was intended to help the materialist, Darwinian argument along in a way that would support Dr. Eagleton today. The futuristic movie goes back in time to show how monkeys and thus humans really started going bad.
In other words, it portrays how pre-humans probably began splitting up into tribes to both advantage and protect themselves against violence, and how the most “successful” tribes took that fateful turn, thus becoming human, to use extreme violence to supreme advantage. Marxists believe this move made them fabulously wealthy capitalists over the very long haul through exploitation of the rest, the vast and most unequal majority, still today. It was monkey capitalists who first used force and systems to exploit their fellow primates. It should be said: In the beginning, domination and property was theirs.
Do these monkeys remind you of anyone you know? How about your business partners or competitors? Rival political parties or even countries? Could they be conspiring well enough this very day, those ingenious monkeys, to turn a hip bone into a virus?
The big mystery of 2001 Space Odyssey is not so much the monkeys or Hal, the nice but very evil supercomputer who predated AI. No, 2001‘s big mystery is “the Monolith” that appears near the beginning of the above scene, as well as three other times at similarly key moments. While most see Space Odyssey, in part, as an endorsement of materialism on some basis, the existence of the Monolith just might be the script writer’s admission that the story of the universe’s development and man’s evolution needs a boost of Designer Mind at critical moments to be plausible. That is, to get to the next scene.
In other words, something more is needed to explain the jaw-dropping detail of cells, life, human beings, and the universe. If it’s hard to see how a cell can become a monkey and a monkey a human without some outside help, and you’re not willing to allow for a Designer or even space aliens, perhaps inventing a Monolith is the only answer we have left.
Finally, we end this rather heavy post with a light, funny clip (7:20). In 2012, Dr. Lawrence Krauss had just published his book, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, and Dr. Krauss’ appearance on The Colbert Report was part of the book’s promotional tour. We understand at his core Stephen Colbert is a Catholic. As a result, he has to be pleased that he truly demolishes Dr. Krauss’ theory that something could ever produce itself from nothing, at least from the average Colbert Report viewer’s perspective. Mr. Colbert did this without scientific knowledge approaching Dr. Krauss’, and, indeed, without relying on scientific argument at all.
In Dr. Krauss’ defense, if you read his book you will see that he really doesn’t argue that something can come from nothing on its own; instead, he argues that matter goes from something to apparently nothing and back to something on a fairly regular basis. Such is suggested in The Beginning of Everything (5:54) video linked above. It’s an interesting theory; however, it’s fair to say that if we had had a more accurate book title, then we would not have had as funny a Colbert Report.
So, thank you, Mr. Colbert and Dr. Krauss.