SCIENCE     versus     MATERIALISM

by     Reginald O. Kapp

SECTION III - THE MATERIAL UNIVERSE

Chapter XXI - INTRODUCTION TO SECTION III


UNTIL we reached the final words of the last chapter our assertions, unphilosophically though they may often have been worded, did not come into conflict with any recognized philosophical doctrine, or so we hope, at least. We were like an amateur yachtsman among other amateur yachtsmen disporting themselves in one of the estuaries which fringe the seas of philosophical thought, an estuary but rarely entered by the captains of the great liners. If we did not possess a captain's certificate, it did not matter much. Neither did any of the others. An engineer is as fit to sail a boat in an estuary as a biologist, or a statesman, or a lawyer, or a physicist.

But when we assert that, in the arrangement of things in the inorganic world, there is chaos, everywhere chaos, we head our frail craft straight for the open sea. Need we take the risk?

We must. For our repudiation of materialism is founded on the contrast between the organic and the inorganic world. The materialist denies this contrast. Sometimes he says that there is chaos in both worlds, sometimes that there is order in both. We, on the other hand, say that there is order in the organic world only and chaos everywhere else.

We have justified the first half of this statement in the preceding section, but not the second. With the help of the concept "specification" we have found a precise way of defining order and chaos, or rather, a precise way of making that distinction which those usually make who speak of order and chaos. We have proved that things found in the organic world meet specified requirements. We have therewith disposed of those materialists who say that there is chaos everywhere.

But the number of materialists who say this is dwindling. A growing number now insist, instead, that there is order in both worlds and that the order to be found everywhere is of the type which biologists find in living organisms. In support of their contention they have pointed to crystals and atoms. We have proved already that these do not meet specified requirements.

Future materialists may agree. But they will concede only that crystals and atoms are bad examples. We have still left them free to insist that a fuller appreciation of the mysteries of science would prove, in some subtle way which an engineer cannot realize, that the whole of the Material Universe with all the details in it meets specified requirements. Living organisms are merely some of the details, they would say. In these the specified requirements are more obvious than in other things, but mere obviousness is no reason for imagining an intrinsic contrast between the two worlds.

In support of their theory concerning the specified nature of all things in the Material Universe they will point to the certainty with which physicists make predictions. "How could this be," they will argue, "if the monkey of chance were allowed to disport himself without restrictions? Sometimes at least, he must be bound to a rock. He may have been given a free hand in selecting the laws of physics and chemistry from all possible alternatives. But once these laws had been selected they provided the stout cords which limit his freedom of action. The existence of these laws proves that Matter cannot behave anyhow. Matter's obedience to these laws everywhere and at all times demonstrates how completely it is in its nature to meet specified requirements. If the monkey, or God for that matter, had made a different selection we might have a world without life just as we might have a world without magnetism or radio-activity1. But it happens that the laws are such that the interplay of the component parts of our Universe must occasionally throw particles together into the form of living organisms. Matter unaided possesses all the necessary qualifications for the production of living organisms because Matter itself is organized."

We think that this represents fairly the reasoning in the materialism which is fashionable today. It contains some sweeping generalizations about the nature of the Material Universe which we have not yet refuted and which cannot be refuted by those who explore but a single philosophical estuary. Those who make these generalizations often disclaim any interest in philosophy. They may express contempt for the yachtsman who voyages on the high seas of philosophical inquiry. But, nevertheless, they tell us with confidence what is to be found on the further shore. This is why we have no choice now but to face the open sea. We will admit freely the poverty of our equipment for the task, and we know that the captains of the great liners may smile when they see us offending again and again against the principles of good seamanship.

But yet we claim that our training as an engineer has not left us quite at the mercy of the elements. It has provided us with a new kind of navigating instrument in the concept "specification". We can, at least, demonstrate its usefulness to the captains. And though we may ourselves fail to make port, we hope that, with the help of this instrument, others may do so.

Let us give a name to the sea on which we propose to set sail. "The Doctrine of Specified Requirements for the Inorganic World" expresses the theme of our investigation completely and accurately. But the title is cumbersome. So we will sometimes employ an alternative title which, if not quite so informative, is better-sounding. We will sometimes speak of "belief in a Cosmic Specification". We propose to ask whether there be a specification to which the whole of the Material Universe must conform and if so what this document may contain.

We shall conclude at the end of our voyage that, at the present stage of scientific knowledge, there is still some doubt as to the contents of the Cosmic Specification. It may contain something or nothing. But its contents are certainly too meagre to obliterate the contrast between the organic and the inorganic world. The little that there may be cannot make for anything commonly described as order. The hopes of those must be dashed for ever who tell us that some day, someone will somehow be able to deduce the structure and behaviour of living organisms from the nature of Matter.

An explorer on his first voyage to a new destination provides himself with such maps and charts as he can secure. He consults the records of those who have navigated the same seas before him. So must we consider what others have had to say about the Doctrine of Specified Requirements for the Inorganic World. Thus may the reader and we hope jointly to obtain in advance some familiarity with the landmarks which past controversies should have plotted on the philosophical charts and with the rocks and shoals which may be concealed by the most smiling sea. Of course we must not expect the doctrine to have been formulated in our words, but we should expect to find, and we do find, that many leading authorities hold strong convictions about it. And the authorities are practically unanimous that there is a Cosmic Specification, though they do not all agree as to its contents.

The Christian Theologian reveals his belief in a Cosmic Specification quite clearly. He speaks of God as the Great Architect, implying thereby that the Material Universe has been constructed to the Creator's Specification. He speaks of God as the Supreme Legislator and tells us that in imposing the laws of physics and chemistry on the Material Universe the Creator brought all things under the Divine Will. The Christian Theologian would, we feel sure, agree with the passage in Jeans paraphrased a few pages back where, recalling Leibnitz's view, we may read that the Creator might have elected to build the Universe to any one of innumerable other sets of laws. He would, we think, agree with those materialists who argue that Matter's obedience to the laws of physics and chemistry everywhere and at all times demonstrates how completely it is in its nature to meet specified requirements. He will disagree, we fear, with anyone who suggests that God may have left all but the tiny organic world to the undisciplined efforts of the monkey of chance. The Christian Theologian seems to find it necessary to see evidence of God's guiding hand everywhere and in every detail of the Creation, be it the remotest star or the tiniest grain of sand.

But we doubt if this is really necessary. Suppose that the Christian Theologian is reduced to finding evidence of God's guiding hand not everywhere but only somewhere? Will he then lose any essential piece of religious belief? "Everywhere" sounds stronger than "somewhere". But is it really stronger? We suggest that it is weaker because it opens the door to materialism.

"Everywhere" is not the essential word in the Christian theologian's statement. The essential word is "evidence". Our investigation will not rob him of his belief in that. In this book we are pointing to overwhelming evidence for the existence of non-material influences. We shall leave the Christian theologian free to believe that God is among these influences. We do not consider it within our province either to support or to deny that belief.

But if the Cosmic Specification were the copious document suggested by the terms Great Architect and Supreme Legislator our evidence would lose its value. The Cosmic Specification would then be just like the specification for a living organism and the materialist would be left free to argue that such organisms are but a few of the many specified structures determined at the beginning of things and implicit in the organized and organizing nature of Matter, structures which must inevitably result from the interplay of the component parts of the Material Universe without the need or even the possibility of Divine Intervention. The Christian theologian's insistence on an elaborate Cosmic Specification plays into the hands of the materialist by obliterating the contrast between living and lifeless things. It lends support, in particular, to such outrageous statements as that made by John Lewis on page 70 of his Introduction to Philosophy: "When we discover that matter itself has the potentiality of new properties, including thought itself, when it takes on new patterns, the conception of a force acting upon matter can be discarded." We do not know which would wince more at this passage, a scientist or a theologian.

We look at our charts and are glad to find that a leading philosopher has marked a fairway which reassures us that we are on the right course here. On page 275 of Philosophy and the Physicists, Professor Stebbing says: "I should have thought that a more hopeful line of argument for the Christian apologist, who wishes to bring the Christian faith into alignment with modern physics, would have been to insist upon the distinction between a dead body and a living body rather than to minimize it." But Christian apologists do not always possess the shrewdness of the trained philosopher. So we shall have many of our friends to contend with as well as our foes. The Christian apologist has the backing of most other idealists. For in the past it has been mostly the idealists who have insisted that there is order everywhere. Materialists have only been driven to say the same thing fairly recently. Idealism had come, indeed, to be identified with belief in universal order and materialism with belief in universal chaos. If now we attempt to oust materialism by pointing to chaos in the inorganic world we may be accused of driving out the Devil with Beelzebub.

We realize that we must not expect to meet only fair weather on our voyage. From the profound convictions of the Christian theologian a storm may arise. We cannot retreat before it and we would rather not have to be defiant and to assert that religious convictions must yield to the facts of science. We would rather suggest that it must be possible to reformulate our problem and our conclusions in such a way that they do not seem to threaten the foundations of religion. The following formulation may serve: "Is the Material Universe with all the lifeless things in it", we are inviting the Christian theologian to consider, "in the eyes of God a manufactured article or is it His raw material?" According to materialism the Material Universe and every lifeless object in it is as much a manufactured article as is a living organism. They are all produced alike by the unaided action of Matter on Matter. We suggest that the Christian theologian can save religion from this kind of materialism best by insisting that the Material Universe is entirely, or almost entirely raw material and that, therefore, the intervention of God is necessary for the production of any specified object in it be it a living organism or a cathedral.

However, this is not the only storm raised by idealists which we may have to weather. The notion that at the beginning of things there was no Material Universe but that this was preceded by an idea of what the Universe should be like is far older than Christianity and does not seem to occur in the New Testament unless it be in the opening sentences of the Gospel according to St. John. With the Golden Age of Greek culture belief in a Cosmic Specification had secured a firm hold. There is nothing tentative in Plato's view of the way in which the Universe meets specified requirements. He taught that a being whom he called the Demiurge had created a world to the model of our world of invisible ideas just as a joiner makes a table to the model which exists in his mind.

As we have pointed out in Chapter XVI, Platonic ideas, like specifications, constitute requirements which exist before the things which they represent. They determine what shall be. Had, according to the Platonic view, the ideas been different, the Universe would have been different. In other words, the Platonic ideas were not derived from the nature of things. The nature of things was based on the ideas. In this respect Platonism differs but little from the Christian teaching that the nature of things is the realization of the Divine Will or from Jeans's view that the nature of things results from the particular set of laws which the Creator selected.

Thus both the Christian and the Platonist believe that in the Creation an aim was followed. Both accept the view that there was a pre-existent description, a "thus and not otherwise". Both deny that things were allowed to happen "anyhow". Both have no doubt that if, instead of meeting specified requirements, the work of the Creation had been left to the monkey of chance, our Universe would have been a very bad one, utterly unfit for human habitation.

Both will insist that there can be no beauty without order and they will remind us that as much beauty is to be found in the inorganic as in the organic world. They will point to the marvellous tapestry of the star-studded night sky. If we say that there is no order in the starry confusion of the heavens they will rejoin that we take too narrow a view of the nature of order when we see it only in symmetry, in regularity and in set patterns and that the surge of emotion which we experience when we contemplate Nature's sublime irregularities is the response of our deep-seated appreciation of an order which transcends the stereotyped repetitions of mere craftsmen. They will say that this order constitutes the fitness of things and that wild Nature reveals it in everything on which our glance may fall, be it the rugged outline of a mountain range, the stately passage of white clouds across a blue sky, the ripples made by a summer breeze over a sheet of water, the straight broad band of the setting sun's reflection from the sea, the green, curving, swirling waters of a brook moulded to the shape of the stones beneath. "How could that ignoble beast, the monkey of chance", Christian and Platonist will join in saying, "have created all this overwhelming beauty?"

In reply we can only state our firm conviction that the beauty which we perceive in the things about us has no objective reality but is only due to the way in which we view things. If we may be permitted to misquote Shakespeare we will say: "Not in the stars but in ourselves is the beauty of the heavens." Or if we may be permitted the even greater impertinence of quoting scripture at the theologian: "The Kingdom of Heaven is within ye." However, this rejoinder may not prove convincing. Our chart of the sea we propose to explore shows here a dangerous rock. This rock is the view held in common by Christian and Platonist that Goodness, Truth and Beauty have objective reality. Nor can we hope to escape the censure of some scientists when we declare that chaos reigns everywhere outside the inorganic world. Charles Singer, for instance, says on page 9 of Greek Science and Modem Science: "But there is another point in which the Science of the Greeks divides them from the ancient East and unites them with us. It is their conviction of Order, their faith that Order reigns in Nature." Again on page 11 we find: "It is this sense of the reign of law together with the personal character of scientific investigation that the Greeks have handed down to us." And there is a remark of Planck's to be found in Nature of l8th April, 1931: "The assumptions of complete orderliness in all physical phenomena must always stand."

It is true that Plato's doctrine of the Creation is not identical with that of Christianity and we will mention two important differences.

The first is rather subtle and elusive, but it is nevertheless of profound significance. We can express it most neatly by saying that Plato would not have considered "Great Architect" to be the happiest title for the Demiurge.

The specification for the world, as Plato saw it, was not an architect's specification. Nor was it an engineer's. It was largely a mathematician's specification. For in Plato's view the structure of the Universe had been made to follow the principles of geometry. He believed that things were not allowed to have any shape or to move in any way but that they were required to aim at those curves which had come under the study of Greek mathematicians and to occur with those proportions which can be measured on simple geometrical figures. In these curves and proportions Plato saw the representation of some of his highest ethical and aesthetic ideals. In particular the circle had, in his view, been copied in the shape and orbits of heavenly bodies because of its geometrical perfection.

The Christian view of the Creator's specification is less abstract and more practical. This is why, for Christianity, God is more aptly described as an architect than as a mathematician. The specification to which the world is built is thought to have a relation to the practical needs of its inhabitants. In their sermons our ministers do not speak of the perfect circularity of the sun and the moon. But they may well speak of the life-giving warmth of the sun and the blessing of the moon's light when the sun is not shining. The Christian doctrine that God's creative work has done something to lighten the struggle for existence would not have occurred to the well-to-do Plato, whose slaves saved him from having to struggle for his existence. But it might have occurred to the slaves. This is why, in its early days, Christianity was called a slave's religion.

Scientists appear always to have favoured the Hellenic rather than the Christian view of the Cosmic Specification. In an earlier age of Western science the Platonic theory was accepted that the smooth paths of planets expressed a preference for cosmic order and, in particular, for that order which can be expressed in the language of geometry. To scientists living in the days of Copernicus and Kepler planetary orbits seemed to provide proof positive that the heavens could not have been constructed by the monkey of chance. The Creator appeared to them, if not as a pure mathematician, at least as an architect with a leaning towards mathematics.

We shall explain in the next chapter why planetary orbits provide no support for belief in a Cosmic Specification. At the moment we want only to compare this early belief with that of a very eminent contemporary scientist.

On page 134 of The Mysterious Universe Jeans says: "We have already considered with disfavour the possibility of the Universe having been planned by a biologist or an engineer; from the intrinsic evidence of his creation, the Great Architect of the Universe now begins to appear as a pure mathematician." The vitality of Plato's teaching was great indeed!

Jeans does not tell us what mathematical scheme was demanded by the Cosmic Specification. Of course, he would not agree with Plato and the earlier Western scientists that this scheme is based on Euclidean geometry and simple conic sections. The specification in which Sir James Jeans believes embodies without doubt a very much more sophisticated type of mathematics, and we should like to know which mathematical possibilities were in his opinion called for in the plan and which were specifically excluded. If Jeans did not believe that some possibilities are excluded he would not say that the Creator was a pure mathematician. He would say that the Creator was the monkey of chance. Given the wide canvas of the whole Material Universe this eclectic animal would have put into it, somewhere or other, every possible mathematical relationship.

More of this later when we come to consider what details the Cosmic Specification could possibly contain. We will pass on to the second significant difference between the Platonic and the Christian view of the Creation.

It is this. Plato's Demiurge was not represented as omnipotent. The Christian God is. Here, too, we can detect the difference between an aristocrat's and a slave's religion. The aristocrat sees the captains and the rulers at close quarters. He may himself be a captain or a ruler. He is aware of the gap between their aim and their achievements. But to the slaves the captains and the rulers appear always to do what they want and get what they want. They are never seen to fail.

Consequently Plato's Demiurge was not supposed to have realized the specified requirements completely. The world in which we live was regarded as but a poor copy of the world of ideas. According to Plato our Universe was not as good as it might be. Perfect circles and other perfect geometrical forms and proportions are not always found. And Plato seems to have given to moral imperfections a significance equal to that of the mathematical imperfections. If there are sickness and corruption on earth, foolishness and sensuality, it seemed to him to be only because the present world falls short of the world of ideas on which it has been modelled.

If we understand him rightly, Plato believed that the world of ideas specified the tendencies of the world of concrete experience rather than the achievement. Though he attached so much objective significance to the goodness and beauty of geometrical forms, we doubt if Plato would have declared that Matter must always fall into these forms. He would rather have declared that Matter tends to fall into geometrical forms. Plato did not consider that the present imperfection was final. In what there is he saw a striving towards something better which is not yet.

Neither do Christians consider that the present imperfection is final. But they do not see imperfection in the inorganic world. They see it only in the souls of men. Of human beings only did Christ say: "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." According to Christianity, God, being omnipotent, was able to ensure that every requirement in His specification was met completely. Consequently it is foreign to the spirit of Christianity to attribute to the behaviour of Matter any tendency towards a more and more perfect realization of specified requirements. The principles governing the Material Universe are regarded as eternal, as changeless. The Christian would rather speak of what Matter is and does than of what it tends to be and to do.

At one time physicists showed some leaning towards the Platonic view of a Universe in which things strive with unequal success towards some ideal condition. Thus they said, in explanation of suction, that Nature abhors a vacuum. They did not say that the laws of physics and chemistry make a vacuum impossible. They knew that this would not be true. For they did observe a vacuum occasionally. What they meant was that a vacuum was incompatible with the Platonic eidos of things and that Matter therefore strove to avoid it.

The modern physicist does not regard the Material Universe in this way. He does not admit that the laws of physics and chemistry permit incomplete compliance. If there were a specified requirement forbidding a vacuum, the modern physicist would say that a vacuum could never occur under any circumstances. In this respect the views of the modern physicist concerning the Cosmic Specification agree with those of Christianity and not with those of Hellenism.

Biologists are, however, nearer to Athens than to Rome. Stripped of its anthropomorphism but left with its Platonism, the old theory of suction could be worded: "Matter has a natural tendency to fall into a place where there is a vacuum." This would not be true. For interstellar space is a high vacuum into which Matter has no tendency to fall. But the statement is exactly parallel to the theory that Matter has a natural tendency to fall into the form of organisms. The implication running through the whole philosophy of the emergent school is that a state of organization is a Platonic idea achieved with varying success by the unaided interaction of Matter on Matter.

Or alternatively, the old theory of suction might have been expressed in the form: "A vessel which has been emptied of all substance repairs the loss by capturing other substance." Such a wording would still imply that a full vessel is the Platonic idea to be aimed at. Matter's occasional failure to avoid a vacuum would still suggest that in the world of lifeless things the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. And again such a wording has its exact counterpart in Haldane's statement that an atom which has lost an electron repairs itself automatically by capturing another electron. To Haldane the text-book atom appears as a sort of Platonic eidos which Nature strives, not always successfully, to copy.

So, to sum up, the Doctrine of Specified Requirements for the Inorganic World has had the fullest support throughout the ages. Great theologians, great philosophers, great scientists have adopted this doctrine. Sometimes they have gone out of their way to emphasize their belief in it. Sometimes they have not troubled to do so. They have taken it for granted that everyone must share the same belief. Their differences have always been in matters of detail. Whether, for instance, the Cosmic Specification is concerned with ethics, or aesthetics, or architecture, or engineering, or mathematics; whether it is met completely or only partially. But there is, indeed, a substantial body of authoritative opinion which accepts the doctrine unquestioningly.

We ought not to expect anything else. When both Christianity and the greatest of Pagan philosophies say the same thing it is likely to pass into current thought without controversy. And a belief which is never even discussed may easily become so deeply instilled into men's minds that they do not know it is there.

The Doctrine of Specified Requirements for the Inorganic World may have been formulated in other words than ours by the great philosophers and it may have been questioned by some of them. Our reading has not been sufficiently extensive to enable us to be sure. But we have never met a formulation or even a signpost which might have shown us the way to an authority who had discussed this doctrine. Professor Stebbing has attacked Jeans's philosophy brilliantly and vigorously in her book Philosophy and the Physicists, but she has allowed his frequent clearly implied acceptance of the doctrine in its crudest form to pass unchallenged.

The nearest to a questioning of the doctrine which we have been able to find occurs from time to time in Eddington's philosophical books where he seems to doubt that the laws of physics and chemistry are specified. We have sometimes thought that, if the doctrine had been formulated in precise language, Eddington would have questioned it. But he has, instead, given it some rather lukewarm advocacy in The Nature of the Physical World, where we may read, beginning on page 68, that the world is becoming ever more disorganized. He refers here to the irreversible conversion of potential to kinetic energy which goes on everywhere and is expressed in the second law of thermo-dynamics. The implication is that potential energy is organized and kinetic energy is not and that, at the time of the Creation, the Universe contained a great deal of organization which has since been lost.

Eddington tells us, in effect, that the Cosmic Specification contained a clause to say that the energy in the Universe shall be organized to begin with, though no means need be provided to maintain the organization.

A system of two stars widely separated contains more potential energy than a system of two stars close together. Why the former system should be better organized than the latter we cannot fathom. But the fact remains that Eddington believes the Material Universe to contain some sort of organization though it seems to be of an odd kind which would find little favour either with Christians or Platonists. The monkey of chance is, by definition, no organizer. For organization, even of the queerest sort, there must be a specification. We confess that when we found the word disorganized used not metaphorically but literally in Eddington we muttered to ourselves: "Et tu. Brute." But again, Stebbing allowed Eddington's implied behef in a Cosmic Specification to pass unchallenged.

We do not say that such a belief is wrong. By the end of our voyage we shall not have succeeded in refuting it. But we do say that this belief like all others ought to be clearly formulated and questioned. And we doubt if this has ever been done. We fear that this doctrine is one of those which all men believe and few profess. Consequently it has escaped notice. The sea to which we have given the long name Doctrine of Specified Requirements for the Inorganic World has never been charted. The captains of the great liners, we fully believe, have never traversed this sea. So there are no well-known arguments in existence either for or against the doctrine. We shall have to devise all the arguments ourselves. It appears that this sea is not even shown on the philosophical maps. This adds to the difficulty of our task. And so the present introductory chapter has been written with the purpose of convincing the reader that there is a real sea. We must now hope to convince him that our traveller's tales of what we have found on the further shore are true.


Notes
1. See Jeans The Mysterious Universe pp. 9 and 10

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