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Differing World Views

July 21, 2008 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 86, ISSUE 29

July 7, page 11: Germany's Wacker Chemie is the world's second largest producer of polysilicon, not Norway's REC Group.

In the editorial "A New Kind of God," Ivan Amato, reporting on Stuart A. Kauffman's book "Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion," relays the author's view that "the 'relentless creativity of the universe' should be spoken of as God," supplanting the belief of billions in a transcendent creator God (C&EN, June 2, page 5). In the editor's words, "There are harmonics of pantheism in his sermon."

It is curious that this admonition comes on the heels of the Myanmar cyclone and the earthquake in China, not to mention other events that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and caused incredible suffering. Now I allow that some have difficulty accepting a transcendent personal God who allows suffering. However, I doubt that replacing such a God with an immanent deaf and mute god, which causes suffering, will be the answer to anything.

The editorial states that as far as Kauffman's motivations are concerned, "There's no calling from a transcendent God involved." It appears that there is only a calling from a self-anointed prophet who claims to be speaking on behalf of a deaf and mute god and who claims that "the science itself compels it." I am reminded of an old Sidney Harris cartoon, the one that has a blackboard with a mathematical proof, one step of which was, "Then a miracle occurs" ( I am certain that if the proof of Kauffman's pantheism were subjected to a rigorous analysis, the missing steps in the logic would be quickly recognized, freeing "science" from the burden of compelling that which it has no power to compel.

The deaf and mute pantheistic god of Kauffman reveals its "inherent creative power" while blindly killing and maiming. One can only hope that humanity does not emulate this god and achieve its science-compelled aims in the same way.

John F. Wójcik
Berwyn, Pa.

Most readers will see the proposal for "a new kind of God" as a version of secular humanism. However, Kauffman's ideas neatly fit into the worship of a true God, Chance. This God's laws have never been violated and rule every aspect of our existence. God Chance defined the creation of the universe and has no problem with the question of what came before him. He rules infinite space and time. Like most liturgy, we have words and equations that describe him, but he will not be seen. He is not a new God, but the oldest, and was present to enfold all other Gods as they evolved. As of now I am the only member of the Church of Chance, although I am sure that many already worship at his altar.

Sy Friedman
Fair Lawn, N.J.

It was refreshing to "see a new face" on the Editor's Page in C&EN, and to read a well-written book review. I will indeed read this new book by Kauffman. I was also interested to read in that issue that Francis S. Collins will leave his post as director of the National Insitute of Health's National Human Genome Research Institute (page 35).

I just finished reading Collins' "The Language of God," which is another courageous book. Collins also dared to urge the reader to consider that God can intervene in your life. He also gave an interesting but brief account of the early days of the human genome work, many historical and present-day references to discussions on the creation-evolution topic, and he fully embraces Darwin's theories as well. However, in what you say about Kauffman's God, He sounds little more "reinvented" than what I read on Collins' God.

Geoffrey A. Lindsay
Ridgecrest, Calif.

I have suffered through Rudy Baum's leftist editorials for a long time now, and I have written numerous letters in complaint of his materialistic worldview. Now Ivan Amato has written an editorial in the same naturalistic vein. Does everyone at C&EN think this way? I certainly hope not!

Amato says he has "revered the universe for its inherent creative power." How so? The universe has no mind; it cannot think and therefore has no creative power. All the universe can do is blindly obey fixed natural laws and follow the probabilities of chance.

Amato supports theorist Kauffman's "new conception of God." So-called emergent phenomena in nature, according to Kauffman, suggest that creativity in the universe is somehow a "god." What nonsense! The real God is transcendent. He exists outside of the physical universe. The mind of God (not the universe) is the real Creator.

Amato thinks that Kauffman's idea of a new god may be just what the "human community could use right now." I don't think so. The old God—the God of the Bible—is still the one to believe in. He doesn't change and certainly does not need to be reinvented!

Empirical science is possible because God created a universe with fixed laws and predictable phenomena. Early scientists like Newton and Galileo knew this and viewed science and theology as inseparable partners. Materialists like Amato and Kauffman may choose to invent a new god, but for many of us the God of the Bible is still the one who makes sense of the universe.

Robert Lattimer
Hudson, Ohio

Amato's concise review was indeed interesting and brought many thoughts to mind, but I present just a few.

I concur with the rejection of reductionism, which assumes that if a given phenomenon does not lend itself to measurement in the usual fashions, then it cannot be called "real." Such an assumption, I believe, has no defensible, rational foundation. Practically speaking, I think most of us could agree the scientific endeavor is largely a systematic cataloging of observables that happen to be convenient to observe. Then we have the difficult task of interpreting what the observables mean when predicting the behavior of physical systems. Science is null regarding phenomena that are inconvenient or impossible to observe systematically, but I think most of us can list some such phenomena that are "real" in any pragmatic sense.

Yes, Kauffman does have courage to write about the subject, since I think today we are much less free to express unpopular views in professional and academic settings without some sort of retaliation. However, I see nothing new in Kauffman's formulation of pantheism with a scientific veneer, which has been done in the previous century. I do not buy Kauffman's statement that "the science itself compels it" anymore than believing a screwdriver compels us to accept any philosophy or religion. Science is simply a tool.

Finally, I know "fundamentalisms" are the bugbear of many intellectuals today, including Kauffman, but isn't the problem actually evil? Kauffman's religion and any philosophy or religion, assuming it contained any good to begin with, can be corrupted by humankind's penchant for evil and become, as Amato put it, "globally ruinous." Science, as a type of philosophy, has been used for evil purposes as well. I believe history unequivocally shows us humankind's enormous capacity to sully even the best of beliefs for monstrous ends.

Jon Ball
Crystal Lake, Ill.



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