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XI - Artificial vs Natural

Science today assumes original sin.

It is one of the conundrums of our secular culture that the underlying assumption of evolutionary biology is that man is the result of the purely physical and natural principles of evolution, and yet, when we exercise our evolutionary brains and adapt to our environment, that exercise is denigrated as “artificial”. If man is just one more natural consequence, then why is that, which man does, not considered natural? If we build a bridge across a river, why do we not consider that natural creatures have built a means of traversing a space? The earth's other creatures do this all the time. Ants will throw their bodies together to build a bridge across a stream for other ants to cross. Beavers as we all know build dams, but we don't regard them as "artificial" in the same dismissive way we regard our own. Why, if man is no more than "star stuff", do we not view our accomplishments as natural?

It is not an idea unique to me that we, made of the stuff of stars, are the universe looking at itself, discovering itself, thinking about itself. Most scientists allow themselves the luxury of wondering how the simplicity of the universe evolved consciousness, but this assumption leaves the universe in the unfortunate state of perpetual infancy. To the modern scientific mind, “man the awakened universe” must forever be a newborn creature dimly making out its fingers and toes. Science fiction occasionally allows the newborn to reach out and throw a leg bone up to the sky, where it morphs into a space shuttle. It brings hope perhaps of a long journey to a distant planet, where we will emerge from a cryogenic state, only to realize that nothing about us has changed, and we are the same gawking star-stuff after the journey as before. Perhaps we start a new colony, a new civilization, but our destiny will be the same as if we discovered a new continent. The headiness of new discovery will eventually put us right back where we are now.

This object of our science fiction was far surpassed 2000 years ago, when the stuff of the universe (“I speak as a fool” as the KJV puts it [II Corinthians 11:23]) recognized that its human nature was the Son of Man, and went beyond merely reaching out to another planet, it reached out to other men, said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life", and offered us eternal Communion with our Creator. Nothing today approaches this transcendence. Show me where our science or our science fiction has gone the Gospels one better.

So why is it that the modern scientific ethos seeks to regress us to infancy, rather than progress us to more profound insight? It is because modernism opposes the Christian ideal. It has come to the conclusion, a process starting at the Reformation and reaching an apex at the Enlightenment, that Christianity, Catholicism in particular, is actually the problem and not the solution. Scientific knowledge has eclipsed, in this process, knowledge of good and evil. Modernism does not state it in these terms, but as a belief system it concludes man’s knowledge of good and evil to be our "original sin". The idea of God, along with the concept of "good and evil", must be wiped from our collective consciousness at all costs. Religion, we are told, is the cause of war, bigotry & persecution. It is a further irony that now scientific knowledge must be regarded as original sin, as well. Feats of engineering, from before the time of the Roman Empire, have enabled imperialism and fashioned engines of siege and war. The scientists we most admire in the 20th century gave us the atomic bomb. The industrial age which has given us so many advances has resulted in global climate change (“I speak as a fool”). It is not just "knowledge of good and evil" now that must be eliminated, it is all knowledge.

So, is the distinction between artifice and nature relevant? The very definitions of artifice and artificial connote contrivance, fabrication and imitation- the imitation of nature. Our very thinking places man-made in opposition to natural as if man is not natural. And I would argue that we, for the most part, think of mankind that way, but in the following sense: that other men, viz those who don’t share our values, are in opposition to nature. How often do we hear someone speak of the evils of mankind, only to soon realize that the speaker is referring to mankind as something other than himself? We tend toward optimism or pessimism, I would argue, in direct proportion to our belief that others can be persuaded to share our values. Given the opportunity to speak openly to like-minded people, how many of us don’t feel the expansiveness of an eloquence that comes with describing that which seems perfectly natural. It is always the other guy who is artificial.

I’m deliberately trying to bring together as many different areas of life as possible- science, psychology, biology, history- so as to discuss what is common to them all, which is, man. Man, the universe-looking-at-itself, has come up with all of these disciplines. Whether we have an outward-seeking expansiveness or a solipsistic narcissism, we are still a product of the material of the universe. In that context, we are natural, and all we do is natural. “Artificial” is a subset of “natural” and cannot be placed in opposition to it. Human action is not less natural because it benefits us or injures us. Competition between “us” and “them” is the same, in this context, as that between trees in a forest stretching upwards to the same source of sunlight, where the taller trees may overshadow the shorter ones.

The further question is whether we also share in the immaterial of the spiritual. Only in this context can we and should we discuss good and evil. And in this context, good is that which stretches toward the source of all life, which is God. And God must be recognized for His True Nature, not a false nature that our minds contrive. Here is where “artificiality” is not “natural”.

Finally, does it really make sense that complete nothingness would evolve intelligence? Doesn’t it make more intuitive sense that complete intelligence seeks to make a copy of itself, which is what we know to be the very nature of life, that of making copies of itself? It makes a lot more sense to imagine DNA fulfilling a cosmic purpose like unto its natural purpose, than it does to imagine DNA fulfilling a cosmic non-purpose. How can something so purposeful as copying oneself possibly be considered purposeless? And yet, that copying of oneself, of Oneself, is precisely the message of Christianity. We "put on Christ", we act "as Christ". Thought of in this way, Life is infinitely purposeful, almost too much so, it is overwhelming. Perhaps this is what truly frightens the atheist.

#science #originalsin #consciousness #modernism #catholic #enlightenment #DNA