Assumptions and implications of scientific progress
Assumptions and implications of scientific progress
Author: Mariano Artigas
Published in: Scripta Theologica, 30, pp. 205-225.
Date of publication: 1998
The methods and results of experimental science play a very important role in shaping contemporary culture. They are sometimes used to support naturalistic doctrines that dispense with divine action because they consider it impossible or useless in the light of scientific progress. In the reflections that follow I suggest that the analysis goal of that progress rather leads to the opposite conclusion. More specifically, I argue that the analysis of the assumptions and implications of scientific progress leads to a perspective that is fully consistent with the affirmation of a creative God staff , with the recognition of the spiritual dimensions of the human person, and with the existence of ethical values related to the objective pursuit of truth and service to humanity.
Certainly, naturalism has occupied an increasingly prominent position in contemporary culture, either because it is Withdrawal to raise metaphysical problems, or because it seeks to answer these problems through science. agreement For example, in relation to the explanation of the universe and the problem of creation, there is even talk of an alleged "self-creation" of the universe that would have arisen, according to the laws of physics, from a fluctuation of the quantum vacuum: although it is noted that the quantum vacuum is not nothingness, there is no lack of arguments to interpret the origin of the universe according to scientific cosmology as if it were a "creation without Creator" that makes it unnecessary to resource the God staff creator and the divine government of the universe.
Our culture is informed by a science that seems to leave no room for spiritual and supernatural explanations; even if one admits that its agnosticism is only methodological, it is easy to move from "as if God did not exist" to the complete oblivion of God or the denial of his possible action in the world. From the nature-man-God trilogy, we have moved on to a monolithic vision in which it seems sufficient to count on nature: after all, science seems to allow us to dispense with God, and that same science, when applied to the explanation of the human person, seems to progress continuously, achieving an increasing expansion of the explanations of the human at core topic materialist. Ultimately, we are faced with a naturalism that permeates our culture on all four sides. From the "Big Bang" to the present day, everything seems to be explained by a gigantic process of cosmic and biological evolution described by the sciences, and it would seem possible to show that the very beginning, the big bang, would either be the result of a previous phase of contraction, or a partial moment within an eternal cycle of expansions and contractions, or the product of a fluctuation of the quantum vacuum that could explain a self-production of the initial universe without the need to postulate a Creator.
At final, we are witnessing a hegemony of naturalism, which in the contemporary Western world appears to be closely linked to the positivist mentality. Certainly, positivism and its neo-positivist version are officially dead and buried. However, it would be a mistake to consider them definitively gone. Although many of the interpretations they proposed have been devastatingly criticised and their inadequacy has become evident, their basic thesis have not only survived, but have acquired such a persuasive force that they are not even discussed, although they largely condition current ideas. It is a new case of "reigning after death".
Naturalism is linked to the de-enchantment of nature. Friedrich Schiller already referred to this by speaking of a de-enchantment of nature ("Entgötterung der Natur"), and Max Weber, a century later, spoke of a de-enchantment of the world ("Entzaüberung der Welt").
Our scientific civilisation undoubtedly has many positive values, and some of them are closely linked to natural science, which emphasises the importance of reasoning, the search for explanations, the need to subject these explanations to the corresponding criticism, and the importance of seeking explanations that allow us to solve the most immediate problems of human life. In this context we can ask ourselves: what sense does it make to affirm, at the present time, the existence of a God Creator of the universe; can it be argued in its favour, or is it a possible object of subjective belief, which each person can admit if he or she deems it appropriate, but which has nothing to do with objective arguments; does the current scientific worldview have anything to say in this respect?
It seems important to me to underline, first of all, that the natural sciences have their own autonomy. Undoubtedly, they use cognitive resources that can be applied in any other field of knowledge, but it is no less true that they use peculiar methods to study nature by focusing on the research of repeatable spatio-temporal patterns: that is why it is feasible to build models that can be submitted to experimental control.
Therefore, although there are important coincidences between experimental science and philosophical reflection, there is also a methodological gap between them that must always be respected. The natural sciences seek a knowledge that can be subjected to experimental control, and no extra-scientific written request can set itself up as a judge of its results. Philosophical reflection, for its part, studies the conditions of possibility of the sciences: it studies their assumptions and their implications (and, no doubt, other problems: here I am only referring to the Philosophy as it relates to the sciences). Consequently, if we stick rigorously to the possibilities of the respective methods, we will not find problems that can be strictly qualified as borderline questions between science and Philosophy or theology.
Under these conditions, a dialogue between the sciences and Philosophy would seem impossible. However, status is not so hopeless. In fact, I have just indicated a path that is of great importance for such a dialogue: the study of the assumptions and implications of the sciences. Indeed, although the sciences are autonomous at their own level, they nevertheless use assumptions that are a necessary condition for science to be possible and meaningful. Moreover, further scientific progress has implications that can feed back on these assumptions. Along these lines, I propose the following thesis : the sciences are based on philosophical assumptions, and scientific progress retro-acts on these assumptions: it retro-justifies them, expands them and makes them more precise. The reflections that follow are aimed at explaining this thesis and exploring its consequences.
By philosophical assumptions of science I mean the general assumptions of science, i.e. those that are common to all scientific activity. For example, any scientific discipline assumes that there is a certain order in the realm of nature that it seeks to explore, otherwise such exploration would not be possible. I am not referring, on the other hand, to the specific assumptions of the different disciplines or theories; for example, it can be said roughly that biology assumes physics and Chemistry, and that Chemistry assumes physics, and that Genetics assumes molecular biology: but, in these cases, these are strictly scientific assumptions.
As a first step in my analysis, I claim that the general assumptions of the sciences can be classified into three broad types: ontological, epistemological, and anthropological assumptions. Ontological assumptions refer to the existence of a nature independent of our will, which has a consistency of its own and possesses a specific order. Nature must be intelligible, that is, capable of being conceptualised logically and coherently. Epistemological assumptions refer to the human capacity to confront nature as an object, to construct models and to test their validity by means of experimentation: the existence of a subject who possesses an argumentative capacity is therefore assumed, as well as a cognitive structure that allows him to link the Materials and intellectual aspects. The anthropological assumptions refer to the objectives sought in scientific activity; therefore, to the values that determine those ends, and to the means to achieve them. The main goal of the natural sciences is the knowledge of nature, and experimental control constitutes the basic condition that theoretical constructs must fulfil in order to be admitted into the realm of these sciences. Experimental science makes sense as a search for knowledge that allows the mastery of nature and, therefore, progress in the living conditions of mankind.
These assumptions express authentic conditions of possibility for the sciences, because their validity is indispensable for the sciences to exist. They do not impose any specific approach on the sciences: they express nothing more (and nothing less) than dimensions of nature and of the human person without whose existence scientific activity could not exist. In fact, science not only exists but is making remarkable progress, and this can be used as test of the validity of the above assumptions. In that sense, scientific progress retro-justifies the existence and validity of those assumptions. Moreover, as this progress opens up new panoramas, both in the representation of nature and in the modalities of its knowledge and its mastery, it can be said that it broadens and clarifies the assumptions on which it is based. Indeed, the more science progresses, the better we know both the order of nature and our capacities to represent and master it.
Nor is it difficult to see that a systematic reflection on the assumptions of the sciences will lead to central problems of ontology, gnoseology and anthropology, and that if we carry our reflection to the end, the typical problems of natural theology will appear. Philosophical reflection can therefore provide the complement that natural science needs so that its results can be integrated into a unitary worldview that includes the different dimensions of human experience.
In this section I will analyse the ontological assumptions of scientific activity.
One of the most remarkable characteristics of nature is that, being constituted by "blind" components and forces, it can be studied through coherent rational languages. The rationality of nature is one of the ontological assumptions of science and one of the most remarkable characteristics of nature. As befits an assumption, it is often taken for granted that nature is rational and intelligible, but this is far from trivial. Moreover, scientific progress provides ever more confirmation B of the extent of that rationality and of its highly sophisticated character: the more science progresses, the more order we discover in it, for all progress means more laws, more Structures, more order.
The intelligibility of nature is closely related to the existence of order. There are many types of order in nature, but I am particularly interested in underlining the existence of Structures spatial and temporal order. A structure consists of different components that form a unity; therefore, it expresses a subject of order. Moreover, some spatial and temporal Structures in nature repeat themselves; in that case they can be called patterns: spatial patterns are configurations, and temporal patterns are rhythms.
It is not difficult to see that spatio-temporal structuring extends to all levels of nature, and moreover, that although not everything in nature are patterns, everything is articulated around patterns *(1). This explains precisely why we can study nature scientifically, which requires the development of theoretical models that can be subjected to experimental control: that these models represent aspects of nature, and that the experiments are repeatable, is possible because in nature there is a high Degree of stable organisation.
This is not necessary: there might not be such an organisation Degree . Of course, in that case, we would not exist. But this is precisely a point that must be stressed: according to current science, for most of the universe's existence, humanity has not existed and the conditions were not present for it to exist; moreover, there will come a time when the conditions necessary for our existence will not be present, at least on earth and in our solar system: if humanity still survives, it will disappear, unless it has learned to travel to another habitable place in the universe. Therefore, when I state that there is a high Degree of order and organisation in the universe, I am referring to its present state which, in our immediate environment, is a veritable springtime for life. I am not claiming that, in any case, the universe necessarily possesses a lot of order. The order that exists in our immediate environment today has not always existed and, in the future, will cease to exist.
This means that in nature there is a contingent order *(2), which consists of a very sophisticated and stable organisation. There are different natural levels which are interpenetrated in such a way that one is a component of another, or is a condition of possibility of another as external conditions (e.g. the microphysical level enters into the composition of all the other levels, and on the astrophysical level, the sun is a condition of possibility of life on earth). If we also take into account the evolutionary dimension, we notice that this organisation has been built up step by step, slowly, through an enormously long and complex process in which many random factors have intervened, which could not have happened.
The progress of the sciences sample, on the one hand, the existence of many types of order and organisation, and sample also that nature has arrived at its present organisation through a myriad of morphogenetic processes in which genuine novelties have arisen. Nature can therefore be said to be creative in a twofold sense: on the one hand, because it is continually, also at present, producing new beings, individually different from all others, but also, secondly, because in the course of its history it has produced a great variety of types of organisation that did not previously exist.
Moreover, the concept of information plays an important role in today's worldview, especially (but not only) in the field of living things. When describing their achievements, biologists often resort to a language that, while to some extent anthromomorphic, is unavoidable: for example, when they speak of the information Genetics contained in DNA, or of the processes of speech between cells in which there are messengers that carry the information and even pass it on to other second messengers before it reaches its destination and is interpreted. The analysis of these facts shows that this information can be considered as materialised rationality, because it contains instructions that are stored in Structures Materials and are deployed through equally natural processes. This information is stored, encoded and decoded, transmitted, integrated. All of this sample that nature contains a rationality that is also highly sophisticated and efficient. These statements can be illustrated ad nauseam with examples taken from recent scientific progress, and this subject of examples has one great advantage: that there is nothing to fear from future progress, quite the contrary. Indeed, further progress will provide more and more and better illustrations, because it can be said, graphically, that the more science, the more order: all scientific progress means a better knowledge of the organisation of nature.
We now see why I have said that scientific progress retro-acts on its philosophical assumptions in three ways: it retro-justifies, expands and specifies them. We see, in fact, that this happens in the field of ontological assumptions, on which we are now focusing our attention. The rationality of nature is a basic ontological assumption; scientists admit it from the very moment they begin to work as scientists: otherwise, science could not exist, nor would its possibility make sense. But this initial assumption, which was originally closely related to and supported by the Christian cultural matrix that favoured the birth of modern science in the 17th century *(3), receives a kind of feedback from the further progress of science. Specifically, the current scientific worldview retro-justifies this assumption, because sample that nature not only possesses rationality and order, but that it possesses a high level of organisation that includes the existence of levels between which there is continuity, graduality and emergence. Therefore, scientific progress expands the content of the initial ontological assumption, for example, by letting us know how information acts in natural processes. And, furthermore, it makes it more precise: it introduces the processual, evolutionary, emergent dimension, which was previously practically unknown and which is of enormous importance for the knowledge of nature.
The creativity of nature is astonishing. Despite enormous scientific and technological progress, we still do not know how life arose on earth, nor how the major plans for the organisation of living things came into being. There are plausible hypotheses about these and other aspects of the emergence of new natural forms, but these hypotheses place us, time and again, before three possibilities: either morphogenesis is very simple and probable, and so it is astonishing that it is so probable; or it is very improbable, and so it is astonishing that there are so many coincidences that have made it possible; or it is due to a confluence of factors, some more probable and some more improbable, and so it is astonishing that such a complex and multifarious process, developed over a very long time, has led to the highly organised results that we know.
It is even more astonishing when we realise that nature's creativity is not limited to the beings we already know. The development of science and technology has made us aware that there are many, many possibilities that are not realised in nature; many of them have already been produced artificially, but there are undoubtedly many more. In this area, nature's creativity meets human creativity, which I will now consider.
The next step of my exhibition focuses on the epistemological assumptions of experimental science, which refer to the human capacity to know nature. There are thousands of animal species that are very well adapted to environmental conditions and successfully perform a varied and sometimes astonishing activity; but on earth, only the human being is capable of scientific activity: despite our great biological proximity to other species, experimental science is a privilege of ours. This is due to the peculiar combination of sensitivity and rationality in the human being.
Sensibility puts us in an immediate relationship with nature. Undoubtedly, man is a natural being. Our communion with nature is not an extrinsic relationship, since we are part of it. But, at the same time, we transcend it, because we possess dimensions that are beyond the limits of the strictly natural: intelligence, will, freedom, morality, are embodied in a subject that exists in spatio-temporal conditions, but transcends those conditions.
In order to be able to do science, the peculiar combination of sensibility and rationality that is found in the human person is required. Indeed, in experimental science we seek a knowledge of nature that can provide a controlled mastery of nature, and therefore our theories must possess, as a necessary requirement, the capacity to be subjected to experimental control. Scientific activity pursues this double goal, theoretical and practical, in such a way that these two aspects are intertwined: the theory has to be constructed in such a way that it is possible to devise experiments that subject it to test, and experimentation can only be carried out if we have a rational plan for carrying it out and for interpreting its results. All this means, for example, that neither empiricism nor idealism is able to account for the existence and progress of experimental science.
Again, we find here a retro-action of scientific progress on the epistemological assumptions on which it is based: the existence of experimental science and its progress is compatible with a certain spectrum of philosophical positions, but it is incompatible with others, namely those that cannot be reconciled with the epistemological assumptions mentioned.
As was the case on the ontological level, so too on the epistemological level we can affirm that scientific progress not only retro-justifies philosophical assumptions, but also expands and clarifies them. Indeed, new developments in the sciences reveal new aspects of our capacities at knowledge. One need only think, for example, of the very existence of experimental science as it has developed since the 17th century: it is easy to see that it was an enormous novelty, to such an extent that the difficulties in interpreting the value of the scientific knowledge existed from the beginning and have been perpetuated to the present day. There has never been a generalised agreement , even nowadays, about the value of the scientific knowledge . Experimental science departed from the classical ideal of science and constituted a new subject of science, the peculiarities of which are still widely debated. What is clear is that these peculiarities are neither few nor small.
I am interested in underlining that, among these peculiarities, there is one that is of particular interest for my argument: scientific creativity. Undoubtedly, in experimental science we seek the knowledge of a nature that, in its own dimensions, is independent of our will: we cannot create at our whim the laws of nature, although we can produce new entities that will unfold their dynamism through processes that are also new. What I wish to point out, and on this point there is a general agreement among philosophers of science today, is that the progress of experimental science demands that we formulate new hypotheses that go beyond the available data , that we design new experiments to submit these hypotheses to experimental control, and that we also formulate new criteria for interpreting the results of the experiments.
Contemporary epistemology stresses that new hypotheses are not obtained by a simple generalisation of the available data ; or rather, that this case, which is always possible, is not enough to explain the most significant advances in science, which require bold theoretical constructions. And it also underlines that the experimental control of these hypotheses requires no less audacious doses of creativity. An important example of both aspects is to be found in the study of the microphysical domain, far beyond the possibilities of the ordinary knowledge . Theories about subatomic particles and basic forces would never have been formulated if scientists had stuck to the positivist canons that experimental science should be limited to relating observable phenomena.
Creativity is once again a factor closely related to science and its progress. In this case we are dealing with scientific creativity, that is, with the ability of scientists to formulate new hypotheses, to submit them to experimental control, and to interpret the results of experiments. The retro-action of scientific progress on its epistemological assumptions means that this progress retro-justifies the initial assumption concerning the human capacity to know the natural order, and also broadens and specifies it. It broadens it because it manifests new modalities of our knowledge that previously only existed as possibilities or capacities that had not been updated. And it specifies it because it eventually allows us to correct too narrow or unilateral ideas about the possibilities of the human knowledge .
If the creativity of nature is astounding, scientific creativity is no less so. The birth of modern science in the 17th century came about thanks to the pioneering work of geniuses whose achievements will be hard to surpass, when considered in proportion to their starting point and the resources they had at their disposal. Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Newton, among others, deserve enormous admiration as geniuses who were able to venture into a business that was exploratory and discovering, but at the same time eminently creative, since scientific discoveries are only possible thanks to a large dose of theoretical and experimental creativity. For this reason, the admiration of these geniuses, as well as those of later times such as Lavoisier, Maxwell, Darwin, Einstein, Planck, Heisenberg and so many others, is fully justified, even if other aspects of their ideas can sometimes give rise to controversy.
I have considered the ontological assumptions of experimental science, which refer to the conditions of possibility of science on the part of its object, and the epistemological assumptions, which refer to those conditions on the part of its subject. I will now examine the anthropological assumptions, which refer to science as a whole as a human activity directed towards certain goals.
Despite the notable differences in contemporary epistemology, it can be stated that in scientific activity a knowledge of nature is sought that can be subjected to experimental control and, therefore, allows for a controlled mastery of nature. Disagreements among philosophers of science concern the value of scientific theories. Many claim that the truth of any particular theory can never be demonstrated with complete certainty, and therefore that all theories are provisional and revisable; moreover, they consider that this evaluation corresponds to the strictly scientific attitude and should be admitted in other cognitive endeavours as well. Others attribute to truth a more secondary function, because they affirm that theories are paradigms that are admitted for their fecundity, but are replaced by others without a strictly rational comparison between the new paradigms and the old ones, since they would respond to incommensurable points of view. Other, more minority positions could be added. However, these discrepancies do not prevent us from recognising that, at least as a regulative ideal, the truth of knowledge plays an important role in scientific activity, and it is even more evident that science serves as a basis for technological applications.
I assert that, in this case too, scientific progress retro-acts on the anthropological assumptions of science: it retro-justifies them, expands them and makes them more precise.
That progress retro-justifies the double goal of experimental science is obvious to anyone who looks at scientific achievements. If we were to list the knowledge we possess about nature, we would see that most of it has been achieved thanks to the development of science; therefore, although there are discussions about the value of scientific knowledge , it is undeniable that science allows us to achieve enormous advances in our particularised knowledge of nature, and that we could not achieve these results in any other way. If we think, on the other hand, of the practical goal , the magnitude of the achievements is even more overwhelming and indisputable: scientific progress has made possible a technological development that has completely transformed the living conditions of humankind. To be sure, it has also been accompanied by problems and threats; but this negative aspect does not mean that a controlled mastery of nature is not achieved: rather, it is a consequence of it.
In asserting that scientific progress retro-justifies the goals of science, I do not mean to say that it justifies them morally, but only factually: that is, that sample the possibility of achieving them, because they are in fact achieved. Whether it is desirable to continue to develop these goals or not, and in what directions, is an ethical problem of a different kind. In any case, Bacon's prophecies about the impact of the new science on human life have been more than fulfilled, and this sample that scientific progress broadens the scope of scientific goals; that scope, in principle, can continue to expand permanently, since our knowledge and mastery of nature are very limited and can always increase.
In my opinion, it can also be said that progress specifies the objectives of scientific activity. It seems to me that this point is extremely important, which is why I am going to break it down into two aspects: the ethical standards promoted by science, and the new responsibilities that scientific progress places before us.
With regard to the first aspect, I would argue that scientific activity involves a whole set of ethical values and that its progress contributes strongly to the promotion of these values. This is a topic which, although not new, is currently receiving particular attention *(4). Without claiming to be exhaustive or orderly, these values include the following: the search for truth through procedures subject to inter-subjective control, both theoretical and experimental; the rigour that all this implies; intellectual modesty, which recognises the limits of the points of view adopted; critical capacity, because theories are always open to further counter-examples and corresponding modifications; cooperation with other researchers, which is absolutely necessary in scientific activity, because we depend on the knowledge provided by others and, moreover, much research is only possible through a collective work ; improvement of the quality of life, since theoretical progress allows for the development of new technological applications that can improve human life.
Disregarding the somewhat scientistic sense they have in their author (a scientism which, moreover, can be seen in the following quotation ), these values are clearly expressed by Mario Bunge in these words: "The universal adoption of a scientific attitude can make us wiser: it would make us more cautious, no doubt, in the reception of information, in the Admissions Office of beliefs and in the formulation of forecasts; it would make us more demanding in contrasting our opinions, and more tolerant of those of others; it would make us more willing to inquire freely about new possibilities, and to eliminate established myths that are only myths; it would strengthen our confidence in experience, guided by reason, and our confidence in reason contrasted by experience; it would stimulate us to plan and control action better, to select our ends and to seek standards of conduct consistent with those ends and with knowledge available , rather than dominated by habit and authority; it would give more life to the love of truth, to the willingness to acknowledge one's error, to seek perfection and to understand inevitable imperfection; It would give us a vision of the world that is eternally young, based on tested theories, rather than on tradition, which stubbornly shuns all contrast with facts; and it would encourage us to hold a realistic view of human life, a balanced view, neither optimistic nor pessimistic" *(5).
The second aspect of scientific activity that I wish to highlight concerns the new responsibilities that scientific progress places before us. Indeed, science and its technological applications are continually confronting us with new ethical horizons that require us to make responsible choices. This is probably one of the most important challenges facing civilisation today.
Here again we find topic of creativity. Indeed, although there are moral principles which must always be respected, these principles must be applied to situations which, as far as science and technology are concerned, involve major new developments and therefore also require new solutions. Suffice it to mention ecological problems, which are closely related to science and technology; in this area, problems arise from new situations in the history of mankind, which even call for a new sensitivity: for example, to the responsibility towards future generations. It would be easy to mention other problems, but that would take me too far away from my present goal . I will only add that, obviously, responsibility for the effects of nuclear techniques is one of the main responsibilities of political leaders, who must inexcusably develop all the creativity necessary to minimise the enormous risks that still exist today for the whole of humanity.
But creativity also affects the values inherent in scientific activity. After all, the cultivation of values is always the result of responsible decisions, because it belongs to the ethical level. It is important, for example, that scientists develop a love of truth that not only leads them to act cleanly in their scientific work (which is required by the very organisation of that work), but also to act with scrupulous rigour in the field of knowledge dissemination, being aware of the authority that their status as scientists gives them in the eyes of many people. And, in general, the cultivation of an attitude of rigour and intellectual modesty would have enormously beneficial effects on a society that, otherwise, is in serious danger of being manipulated by a propaganda that has increasingly effective and subtle means, achieved precisely thanks to the progress of science and technology.
Many social ills of the past and present are due to attitudes of closed-mindedness and intolerance. The cultivation of the values inherent in scientific activity could and should lead to positions of openness and partnership. In this case, the feedback of scientific progress on its anthropological assumptions not only exists, but can be decisive for humanity.
In examining the current worldview, as well as the assumptions of experimental science and the feedback of scientific progress on them, I have stressed the importance of rationality, information and creativity. I now ask what implications this has for the problem of the ultimate explanation of the universe. I will answer this question by focusing on theism, and making, where appropriate, references to alternative answers.
First of all, the current worldview sample that our world is permeated by a kind of unconscious intelligence. I do not mean to take this expression literally, because an intelligence can only be conscious, even self-conscious. It is, however, a very appropriate metaphor to express that there is a dynamism in nature that unfolds as if it possessed an intelligence, and a rather sophisticated one at that.
The current worldview emphasises the existence of self-organisation in nature, in a complex process in which, through multiple steps, information is unfolded and integrated in such a way as to arrive at highly sophisticated results. Each step, and the process as a whole, responds to natural processes, to the unfolding of natural dynamism that produces successive types of organisation; but the results are not simple aggregations: genuine integrations are achieved that give rise to new unitary systems that possess genuinely new properties, and these systems, in turn, contain new virtualities and unfold them through new dynamisms. The resulting universe possesses a very high Degree of organisation, directionality and cooperativity.
All this indicates that nature's creativity is very much B. Indeed, in the course of this grandiose process of self-organisation, some novelties are produced that provide the basis for others, and in such a way that we arrive at a universe that makes our existence and our properly rational and creative activity possible, thanks to a myriad of very specific and coordinated natural dynamisms. This result, and the processes that have produced it, are possible because, at the microphysical level, there are components and forces that have highly specific characteristics. This status is currently being studied under the degree scroll anthropic principle, based on the incontrovertible fact that the universe as we know it possesses highly specific basic characteristics and, thanks to them, the concrete conditions that make our existence possible have been formed. And with us, rationality and creativity in the strict sense of the word have appeared on earth *(6).
It is often insisted that experimental science is not in a position to say that life in general, and human life in particular, must necessarily arise once the basic conditions of our universe were in place. It is interesting to note, however, that some leading scientists do not share this view. I will refer to some reflections of Christian de Duve, who received the award Nobel Prize for his research in the field of biology. This scientist states: "The thesis that the origin of life was extremely improbable is false (...) Given the nature of the subject and given the conditions on Earth four billion years ago, it was inevitable that life would emerge, in a form not very different, at least in its basic molecular properties, from its present form". And, speaking not only of living things, but of living things endowed with consciousness, he states something similar, so that he concludes: "Life and mind seem to be cosmic imperatives, inscribed in the fabric of the universe" *(7).
Such a view is consistent with the existence of a divine plan. It could be objected that, under such a perspective, the creativity of nature seems to be reduced to an appearance, because, at bottom, we would be dealing with a determinism in which the results are foreseen in advance. However, it should be noted that the civil service examination between the creativity of nature and the existence of a divine plan does not correspond to reality. Rather, it seems logical to admit that the creativity of nature, which develops in a rational way and makes possible the appearance of properly rational beings, requires divine action as the only adequate explanation: the alternatives are either some kind of pantheism that recognises rationality but blurs it in a nature that is not a rational subject, or agnostic positions that renounce the search for rational explanations, or a deism that affirms God but does not recognise the attributes that God must necessarily possess. None of these alternatives seems satisfactory. Theism stumbles into mystery, but it is a mystery that is logical to encounter when we speak of God, and which provides a satisfactory rational explanation.
Although in this case, as is always the case when we look into the divine action, we come up against mystery, we can nevertheless venture analogies that shed some light. For example, let us think of what will happen to an aviator who is at the North Pole and sets off on his flight by deciding his course at random, by means of a roulette wheel; we can be sure that, provided the course is directed towards the south, sooner or later that aviator will reach exactly the South Pole: although the paths he may take in various attempts are different both in their course and in their duration and in many other circumstances, and the course has been decided at random, the end will be exactly the same *(8). In the case of God's plans, a fundamental factor is added: God, as the First Cause of all that exists, knows everything perfectly differently from us, and therefore there is no difficulty in combining divine omniscience and omnipotence with the existence of chance factors in natural events.
Christian de Duve himself affirms, in a graphic way, that God can play dice with the certainty of winning. The basic idea is that He plays with tricked dice, that is, with a subject in which He Himself has placed virtualities whose development will eventually lead to conscious life. Jacques Monod stated that we are the result, not foreseen by anyone, of blind forces that unfold through the combination of chance and necessity; according to his perspective, "Our issue came out in the casino of Monte Carlo". Albert Einstein, on the other hand, held a rather deterministic position with a certain pantheistic air; he famously said: "God does not play dice". In contrast to these two great scientists, Christian de Duve, award Nobel Prize winner like them, affirms that God plays dice without, therefore, falling into uncontrolled chance, and expresses it with this phrase: "Yes, He plays, since He is sure to win". Monod's conclusion was: "Man now knows that he is alone in the indifferent immensity of the universe from which he has emerged by chance". Christian de Duve comments: "This is, of course, absurd. What man knows - or at least should know - is that, with the time and quantity of subject available , not even something resembling the most elementary cell, let alone man, could have originated by blind chance if the universe had not already carried them in its bosom". He adds: "Chance did not operate in a vacuum. It operated in a universe governed by precise laws and constituted by a subject endowed with specific properties. These laws and properties limit the evolutionary roulette wheel and limit the numbers that can come out. Among these numbers are life and all its wonders, including the substratum of the conscious mind. Faced with the enormous sum of lucky games behind the success of the evolutionary game, one might legitimately ask to what extent this success is written in the fabric of the universe. To Einstein, who once said: "God does not play dice", one could reply: "Yes, He does, since He is sure to win". In other words, there may be a plan. And it began with the big bang". *(9).
The current scientific worldview is very consistent with the existence of a creator God staff who governs creation. Do not think that by saying "is very consistent with" I am undervaluing my assertion. On the contrary, as is well known, many scientific achievements of the first magnitude are presented in this way: by saying that the data obtained in the experiments "are consistent with" the theory they were trying to test. In our case, the coherence of theism with the scientific worldview is very great; but there are other factors, from subject staff , that always influence the consequences that each person can draw from that coherence. It can be noted, however, that this worldview is not very coherent with atheism and agnosticism. On the other hand, it is quite coherent with pantheism and deism, but these positions lack internal coherence.
On the other hand, if I may speak of our "models" of divine action (this terminology is currently used by fully credible theologians), the "model" of divine action suggested by the current worldview is very interesting. Instead of thinking of divine creation as referring to an originating event in which the whole universe as we know it is produced, and of divine conservation as referring to maintaining in being the kinds of beings that already exist, the current worldview suggests a theological explanation which, of course, maintains the complete dependence of all creatures on God, but stresses certain nuances that deserve careful consideration.
Indeed, it seems logical to affirm that the world has not always existed in its present state, but that it comes from previous states in which it possessed Degrees lesser organisation, and that going back into the past, we would arrive at a primitive state enormously different from the present one and from what can be produced with present means in laboratories. We do not know with complete certainty whether the model of the "big bang" is true, and even if it were true, we could not say that it coincided with the creation of the universe: it could have been the result of earlier physical processes. But it seems clear that there has been a cosmic and biological evolution in which beings endowed with successive Degrees of complexity have appeared.
In such a case, it would seem logical to admit that God did not want to create everything that exists all at once, but preferred to create the universe in an incomplete state, with the capacity to unfold virtualities whose update leads to new states which, in turn, possess new virtualities, and so on, until the present state is reached. This representation implies that the creative plan seems to extend over enormous periods of time, also counting on the continuous partnership of creatures. The creativity of nature would go hand in hand with the divine action that makes it possible and at the same time uses it to reach the desired results. This model of divine action seems to go more agreement with a God who, because He Himself has willed it, wants to count on the action of the creatures of agreement habitually with the virtualities that He Himself has given them.
The production of novelties in the course of this process attracts the attention even of those who do not adopt a religious attitude in the usual sense. Many of them, such as Karl Popper, speak of the "emergence" of novelties. Popper openly acknowledges that the main moments of this emergence, especially in the case of the human person, are very mysterious and probably always will be. Konrad Lorenz, on the other hand, proposes to use the term fulguratio (fulguration), used by ancient authors to refer to the creation of new things by direct divine intervention, although Lorenz dispenses with divine action and only intends to stress the emergence of unpredictable novelties. Both Popper and Lorenz stress that a multitude of ontological novelties have occurred in evolution, some of them particularly significant *(10).
If we add to this the fact that, to refer both to the whole process and to each of its parts, we usually speak of self-organisation, it might seem that naturalism has won the battle. Are we not perhaps proposing a representation of divine action that reduces it to something superadded to the natural, like an ornament that could be dispensed with at any time?
The danger is undoubtedly real. But it is not new. More than seven centuries ago, Thomas Aquinas proposed a characterisation of nature that I find simply masterful and almost inexplicably appropriate for my purpose. It reads as follows: "Nature is nothing else than the plan of a certain art (namely, the divine art), impressed on things, by which the things themselves move towards a certain end: as if the artificer who makes a ship could give the logs to move of their own accord to form the structure of the ship" .11 Of course, Thomas Aquinas was not thinking of an evolutionary worldview. However, his words apply perfectly to today's worldview and explicitly allude to self-organisation. It seems to me that this Thomistic characterisation of nature is far superior to the one usually found at quotation, taken from Aristotle. It is a masterly characterisation. And sample that divine action goes hand in hand with the action of creatures. To discover God, the ordinary way is the ordinary development of natural activity. Divine providence manifests itself when appropriate in extraordinary ways; but it usually does so through the ordinary. And scientific progress provides us with an ever more detailed knowledge of nature and its ways. An objective look at this progress will lead to admiration and to the question of its radical explanation.
All this takes on new relevance when we consider that the course of nature has led to the emergence of successive novelties which are truly sophisticated patterns and types of organisation, and which have resulted in the production of the conditions that make human life possible. The creativity of nature, which implies high Degrees of rationality and organisation, can be understood in the light of the divine action that continually embraces all creation. With the emergence of the human person, a natural being who at the same time transcends nature, a new subject of creativity begins to exist. It can be said that scientific creativity is a palpable manifestation of human uniqueness, and therefore to reduce the human person to the purely material or natural is to make him an undeserving victim of his own products, going against all logic. Scientific progress sample, rather, both the creativity of nature and, on another level, human creativity (and perhaps it is possible that the former is a condition of the latter). Moreover, we encounter a new level of creativity when we consider moral problems, which place us at the level of humanity more specifically proper to the person. Scientific progress places us, time and again, before ethical challenges that we have to face with creativity and imagination, which are always necessary qualities, even if it is admitted that these challenges must be faced on the basis of basic moral principles.
There are new challenges, and very important ones indeed, involving ever larger parts of humanity and even humanity as a whole, both now and in the future. Progress has been made in many areas, but it can be reversed at any time. Awareness of our creative capacity leads to greater ethical responsibility, to the realisation that our actions have good or bad consequences for which we are responsible, to the recognition that God is counting on us, on our freedom, on our responsibility, on our creativity, to realise his plans.
Today's scientific progress is fully consistent with a God who is transcendent, distinct from the universe, but at the same time immanent to it, present in the whole universe and in each of its parts, continually giving them being and all their virtualities, and making possible the unfolding of these virtualities, also in the production of new ways of being and, ultimately, of new human persons who have in their hands the responsibility for their present and their future. This perspective financial aid helps us to understand that belief in God has nothing to do with an attitude of resignation or passivity: on the contrary, it encourages responsibility and creativity.
This connection was extensively documented by Pierre Duhem, in his monumental work Le système du monde. Histoire des doctrines cosmologiques de Platon à Copernic, 10 volumes, Hermann, Paris 1913-1917 and 1954-1959. Of particular interest in this line: S. L. Jaki, Science and Creation: From Eternal Cycles to an Oscillating Universe, 2nd edition, Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh 1986.
There are different formulations of this principle, which are of unequal value. An analysis of these formulations, together with a very balanced evaluation of the discussions around the anthropic principle, can be found in: J. Zycinski, "The Anthropic Principle and Teleological Interpretations of Nature", Review of Metaphysics, 41 (1987), pp. 317-333.
I base myself on a comparison by Carsten Bresch, collected in: R. Isak, Evolution ohne Ziel?, Herder, Freiburg in Br. 1992, p. 380. In this case, the spherical shape of the Earth provides the conditions that limit chance.
Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle's Physics, book II, chapter 8, lectio 14: "Natura nihil est aliud quam ratio cuiusdam artis, scilicet divinae, indita rebus, qua ipsae res moventur in finem determinatum: sicut si artifex factor navis posset lignis tribuere, quod ex se ipsis moverentur ad navis formam inducendam".