Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

In the overwhelming ocean of information available online, I still find the best way to stay afloat is with a book.  For the surprising issue of Intelligent Design, I’ve decided to focus on one particular book by a proponent of the form of Intelligent Design that I find most worthy of scrutiny, William A. DembskiThe Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions about Intelligent Design.

The fundamental claim is this:

There are natural systems that cannot be adequately explained in terms of undirected natural forces and that exhibit features which in any other circumstance we would attribute to intelligence. (p. 27)

Put in the most succinct way possible, if true this would represent as great a challenge to institutional science as Darwin did to traditional religion.

The question, then, is whether or not there are natural systems that cannot be explained in such terms.  Or, as Dembski writes, whether the formula “time plus chance plus matter entails life” is truly tenable.

While I’ll engage this work with as an open mind as possible, my position at the outset is that though Theosophy would agree that natural forces are directed, such direction may not be detectable by “probability theory, computer science, molecular biology, the philosophy of science and the concept of information”, the combination of which Dembski believes will justify an intelligent designer.  Rather, Theosophy states that natural forces are subject to natural law, but that higher forces working on higher planes are the ultimate source of such law and that access to such planes is a spiritual act inseparable from personal development.

But first, let’s look at a key concept in Dembski’s work: specified complexity. (more…)

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In my last blog post I raised the question of the relationship between Theosophy and Intelligent Design.

My first college level philosophy class was a philosophy of biology class intended for post-grad science students.  At that time, Creationism was vying for equal time in the classroom with Darwinism and the contrast between the two was so obvious as to make the former’s claim to ‘science’ laughable.  The situation made a convenient, if charged, test case for defining the parameters of science.  Creationism’s science was actually natural theology, or the study of god’s work in the natural world, with the Judeo-Christian God of revealed scripture as an unquestioned premise.

Intelligent Design, or ID, emerged into public consciousness several years later, initially as an attempt to replace the term ‘creationism’, which the Supreme Court declared in 1987 could not be taught as science in public schools. It was simply a substitute term, not a substantive difference in theory.

As such, when I raised the question of ID, I was fully prepared to find creationism with a mere patina of psuedo-scientific jargon.  What I have found instead makes explicit claims of difference from creationism and aspires to nothing short of a scientific revolution.

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I’ve been trying to get evolution recently. That is: I’ve been trying to see whether I feel that Amit Goswami, in his book Creative Evolution, solves things for me. I’ve studied a bit of quantum mechanics as a chemistry teacher, and am perhaps a bit more equipped than most to see whether Goswami stays true to his roots as a theoretical physicist. The answer is, unfortunately, that to a very real extent he isn’t. (more…)

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In high school, it was, unexpectedly, exposure to biology that first awoke me from the dogmatic slumber of atheism.  I had taken the truth of scientific materialism as a given, assuming with the confidence of a zealot that whatever phenomena had not yet been explained by perfectly rational means would be so soon.  While no doubt in part an adolescent, contrarian reaction to the christian fundamentalism that was the dominant form of spiritual expression around me, religion just seemed . . . well, silly.

However, the more I learned about how much was actually unknown in biology, concurrent with an exposure to to intellectual traditions that took spirituality seriously, theosophy and Joseph Campbell in particular, the more I realized, at the very least, how premature my verdict was.  As a professor later replied to me regarding a direct question about his belief in God, “Well, a whole lot of people a lot smarter than me have taken the idea very seriously.”

So while I ‘believed’ in evolution, or rather, the ability of the theory of evolution to explain observable facts with greater clarity, simplicity, consistency and beauty than any other theory, I saw no discrepancy between such a belief and the possibility of an intelligent order inherent in the universe.  In fact, it began to seem more like evidence of such.

When a classmate followed up my affirmation of evolution with what to her was an obvious and unavoidable consequential, “So you’re an atheist?”, I was surprised and thrown.  Part of the reason the Theosophical Society quickly became such a home for me was that they took it as a given that evolution was both a material and spiritual story.

Does that mean Theosophy is Intelligent Design?

This is a question I’ll be exploring in my next blog post, a response to Will Thackara’s Evolution & Creation: A Theosophic Synthesis.

In the meantime, I’d like to start hearing your thoughts on the debate between evolution, creationism and intelligent design, and theosophy’s place in the discussion.

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In another post, I posed some questions about how artificial intelligence and Theosophy might fit together. The ensuing discussion was riveting, but the question is still burning in my mind. Much was brought into the discussion, including the overall progress of research in artificial intelligence, along with some insights that can be gleaned from the way humanity has evolved.  I’d like to reframe the question, beginning with a quote from The Secret Doctrine:

“Apart from Cosmic Substance, Cosmic Ideation could not manifest as individual consciousness, since it is only through a vehicle of matter that consciousness wells up as ‘I am I,’ a physical basis being necessary to focus a ray of the Universal Mind at a certain stage of complexity. Again, apart from Cosmic Ideation, Cosmic Substance would remain an empty abstraction, and no
emergence of consciousness could ensue.”


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The policy of this blog is to not have too many posts that consist of merely dropping a link. I’m going to break that policy today because I’ve picked up where the deceased Ton den Hartog left off: put the Blavatsky Collected Writings on my website, with the permission of the Wheaton Headquarters obviously.
So without further ado: The H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings

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Religion has a bad name in alternative circles. It’s associated with the Christian church and all it’s crimes (real and perceived). Religion is associated with dogma, stifling rules that don’t fit our day to day lives and worse of all: authority. A preacher to tell me what to do in my personal life? Never!

In my religion classes at Leiden University very different definitions of religion are taught. I’ll use a famous one by Clifford Geertz to sum up the point:

“Religion is (1) a system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.”

[Geertz wrote in 1966, just before political correct formulations would have replaced ‘men’ by ‘people’.]

The basic point here is that religion is that which gives direction to our lives, helps us establish priorities (consciously or unconsciously) and helps us understand our lives – in such a way that our worldview and priorities seem uniquely realistic.

That definition actually includes spirituality. We have symbols: Ying & Yang, the Buddha and the Tibetan flag (1). We have ideas about the universe we live in which often include: holism, karma, alternative health, aura’s etc. (3). These ideas about life and the universe seem real to us (4) and therefore the lifestyle that comes with them does too (2, 5).

The obsession with the difference between religion and spirituality comes, I think, from the bad reputation the Christian churches has with many of us. Religion has often been defined as ‘organised religion’.

Spirituality – taking place in yoga classrooms, alternative bookstores and retreats – is not organized in the same clear way. One can be spiritual within any religious system. The main thing is that one hasn’t settled for dogma’s, thinks for oneself and keeps ones own spiritual and ethical growth as a top priority (2).

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