Re: [asa] Sense and nonsense

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Date: Thu Jun 21 2007 - 20:02:58 EDT

Christine Smith wrote:

> To this I will repost an earlier question of mine
> which no one ventured an answer--it is evident, as Pim
> pointed out, that brain and thought, emotions, etc.
> are *correlated*, but *correlation does not prove
> causation*--can someone please point me towards
> specific research studies that *mechanistically* show
> how non-sentient electrical impulses and atoms can
> give rise to sentience? Do you propose that this is
> another fundamental property of substances, as I
> believe it was Don(?) argued earlier? Or do you
> propose another *mechanism* which directly causes
> these properties to emerge? I find the argument of
> "complexity" in and of itself to be an inadequate
> explanation. Maybe I just don't understand the research
> though...

I would largely take the same position as Iain did
here. That is largely why I didn't answer it the
last time. I don't have any real idea and have to
wait and see. When we think we are close to an answer,
it is reasonable to speculate, but this seems far from
resolved -- though strong AIs assert to already know
the answer.

I would only add to this that electrical impulses add
even more puzzle. If you have some stable source of
energy flow somewhere that remains stable for long enough,
it might be that something like life would emerge. But
how would we know about it even if it did? To us, it may
just appear as flashing lights with no discernible pattern
or intelligence whatsoever.

All this is to say, if we don't know, we really cannot say,
and we must wait either until we do know, or we can demonstrate
that it cannot be true. The latter is usually more difficult.

> Likewise, on a theological level, I posed the question
> earlier (which none but David Buller ventured an
> answer)--if we ascribe all the "intangible" qualities
> of humanity to physical causes, do we also ascribe
> God's "intangible" qualities (God is love, God is the
> great I AM, etc.) to this process? If not, on what
> basis do we presume that our intangible qualities stem
> from a physical, tangible body/brain structure, but
> God's do not?

Again this is not easy to answer. One way to look
at it (if physical causes really can explain this)
is that God has hard wired the universe so that
these qualities emerge. Quite likely, there is
some of that. But whether they emerge "physically"
or not, the point of focus is not that what can
be explained by physics needs no God and is diluted
in value for that reason, rather, it is to ask "what
is right and just and good?". If fairness, equity,
justice, love, etc., are somehow explainable by
physical laws, so what? They would still be right
because God called them "good". In the final analysis,
the important thing is that we _live_ according to
this and do what is right because God called it good.

So it is deception that people claim that because
something can be explained by physics (if such things
even can be, I will add), then that eliminates God from
the picture and we can go our merry way giving all such
notions the finger. That almost by itself indicates that
it is not so in fact.

I do confess it is a bit arrogant to even think that
my puny domain of specialty should explain it all. For
measurement of "stuff", physics and engineering have a
good handle on it. But whether "stuff" is all that is
was and ever will be, is a matter that is well beyond
my ability to answer as a physicist. I suspect it is
myopic at best, possibly dangerous to think that way.
But I could be wrong too.

> To me, it seems logical that certain substantive steps
> are not possible without God's help--specifically,
> bringing something out of nothing, bringing life out
> of lifelessness, and bringing sentience out of
> non-sentience. The only way I can envision God's
> direct intervention not being required to cause these
> "jumps" in nature is if Don's position is true...

It really is hard to know. Some scientist think they
can really do these things. I simply don't know. One
thing to see of the practice of science is that it is
a bit like what you see in the Greek tragedy of Sophocles'
Oedipus. Just where you might want him to not go there and ask that
question, he says "we must know the truth". I cannot say what his
solution afterward should have been, but a scientist is obliged to seek
the truth and answer with the best assessment he or she can.

The obligation for a scientist who is also a Christian, a follower of
Christ, is to see what he or she finds through the eyes of faith. If
science leads us to discover that consciousness comes naturally
from unconscious matter, what is important is to try to see and
understand God in the picture. If it would seem disappointing, maybe
it is because we are not looking at it from God's view point. Maybe
we think we are more important than the rocks he made, but God called
the whole creation "good". In that way, the rocks did (and could have,
in the case of Jesus) become "bread" by his command. Yet maybe not by
the drama and grand display we love so much to use to intimidate our
peers with. We humans are impressed by majesty and power, God is
impressed by humility and faithfulness.

This is what the struggle with science and faith is all about.

by Grace we proceed,

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Received on Thu Jun 21 20:03:50 2007

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