by     Reginald O. Kapp



SPECIFIED or unspecified?

We have already referred to the three possible theories: firstly, that nothing conforms to the requirements of a specification; secondly, that everything does so; and, thirdly, that some things do and some do not.

Our answer is, as mentioned already, that everything in the organic world conforms to the requirements of a specification, including, of course, the works of man, and that nothing in the inorganic world does so. We declare that the monkey of chance suffices to account for everything in the latter, but only in the latter, and that something of which Matter is incapable, namely, guidance, selection, control, is exercised in the former, but only in the former.

But which of the three possible answers would be given by most people? In the language of philosophy, what is the judgment of Common Sense?

The title of this chapter may suggest that we intend to claim the judgment of Common Sense on our side. We wish we could. Our task would be easier if we could build on a foundation of common agreement. And the reader's task would be easier, too, if we had to tell him what he knows and believes already. But unfortunately, the beliefs of most people are neither simple, nor consistent.

Let us suppose that the judgment of Common Sense is represented by some person, a Mr. C. S. He may stand for any one of us. It is because on this question "specified or unspecified" his judgment is so vacillating that the various materialistic doctrines which are in turn put forward in the name of Science find such ready acceptance. Mr. C. S. does not notice how inconsistent all our amateur philosophers are because he is just as inconsistent himself.

If he believes that the laws of physics and chemistry fully determine the behaviour of Matter he cannot believe that anything ever meets the requirements of a specification. For, by our definition, a specification calls for a choice between alternatives all equally compatible with physical laws. It demands that things shall be "thus and not otherwise". When we mean that things fall in any way in which the monkey of chance may scatter them we do not say "specified" but "unspecified". If the laws of physics and chemistry allow no "otherwise", things can never meet specified requirements.

Mr. C. S. believes firmly in a Principle of Complete Determinateness. Scientists with more enthusiasm than care for accuracy have told him to scorn the suggestion of a Principle of Incomplete Determinateness. Remembering all this on Monday, Mr. C. S. concludes that nothing whatever conforms to the requirements of a specification. He denies the reality of guidance, selection, control. He asserts that the body of a sparrow together with St. Paul's Cathedral are the result of unselective physical forces. He believes that the dispersal of Matter at the beginning of time alone settled the structure which both objects reveal now. Of course, he denies therewith the possibility of an ever-present Divine Intervention or, indeed, of intervention by any non-material influence. He beheves in the omnipresence and omnipotence of the monkey of chance.

But Tuesday morning comes and Mr. C. S. forgets his insistence on a Principle of Complete Determinateness. He remembers, instead, all that he has been taught about "the architecture of the Universe". The laws of physics and chemistry no longer seem to him to express the vagaries of the monkey of chance. If he tends towards Christianity he sees in these laws the embodiment of the Divine Will. If he is more pagan he regards them as the representation of a great unifying Cosmic Principle itself requiring that things shall happen in a specified manner. On Tuesday morning intervention. by non-material influences is not excluded altogether.

It is assumed to have occurred a long while ago at "the beginning of things" and to have laid down once for all the requirement "thus and not otherwise". The body of a sparrow and St. Paul's Cathedral and a rock salt crystal and the end moraine of a glacier are all regarded as the result of one great Cosmic Specification. The laws of physics and chemistry are spoken of as though they constituted the great Cosmic Statute Book. Selection, guidance, control are assumed to have been exercised in those far-distant days and never since. By Tuesday afternoon Mr. C. S. is ready to be impressed by Viscount Samuel on reading on page 91 of Belief and Action: "It is only when we discern in nature itself the reign of law, and in the law the hand of God, that we may see a divine splendour in the natural that is about us, and may open an access to what lies beyond." Or elsewhere in the same book: "When the mind has once firmly grasped the conception of the eternal laws that rule all things, immutable through the infinities of space-time, and when Deity is seen behind and in the laws. ..." Reading such fine words, Mr. C.S. is enabled to feel that, after all, he is no crude materialist, but that he believes in a God. He declares that this God settled at the beginning of time how everything was to turn out to-day and to-morrow and the next day, and has no further need or opportunity to intervene in our affairs. His belief in a Principle of Complete Determinateness does not enable him to believe in any creative or controlling act by God for the last two thousand million million years or so. Strange, indeed, that many theologians should welcome opinions such as those expressed by Viscount Samuel, who makes it quite clear that he believes in complete physical determinateness.

On Wednesday it occurs to Mr. C. S. that some things do undoubtedly shake down into no discernible order or symmetry. For these he will reinstate the monkey of chance. He will decide that stones rolling down the side of a bank fall "anyhow". He will then cease to speak either as though everything were unspecified or as though everything were specified. He will make distinctions. Noticing that molecules in erratic movement settle into a regular structure when a crystal forms he will find Needham's "element of drill" a satisfactory description of the molecules' behaviour.

Now the monkey of chance is no drill sergeant. A body of soldiers who are being drilled are not allowed to behave anyhow. They perform specified movements and assemble themselves in specified formations. So Wednesday is the day when Mr. C. S. believes that things like crystals and sparrows do meet specified requirements. He believes that they are the result of the same sort of guidance, selection, control as are exercised by drill sergeants on the barrack square. He has ceased to believe that guidance, selection, control are never exercised at all as he did on Monday, or that they were exercised once only at the beginning of time as he did on Tuesday, and he believes, instead, that they are exercised whenever and wherever molecules settle into the form of a crystal.

Thus does Mr. C. S. vacillate between the beliefs that things are specified and that they are unspecified, that there are and there are not such things as guidance, selection, control. And on the days when he believes in guidance, selection, control he vacillates between attributing these effects to this or that influence. Sometimes he is sure that nothing less than a deity can guide, select or control things, at others that such an achievement is quite within the powers of Matter unaided. No wonder there are days when Mr. C. S. decides that he does not care for philosophy.

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