Unification News for September 2002
This is the first in a series of three articles dealing with human nature and interactions. This one focuses on its material (as in "chemical") aspects.
In part, we’ll discuss what the general public thinks about chemicals. In addition, we’ll consider what the public itself is composed of.
My own interest in science was piqued by lectures given in the mid-1960s by Louis S. B. Leakey and Arthur C. Clarke. Despite this interest, which has never waned, I ended up pursuing a different course in life.
I got into an alternative ‘back to the land’ lifestyle, then a stringently religious one, and now have a family and a blue collar job. Still, I manage to attend conferences where top scientists speak. I hope this has given me a well-rounded perspective.
"Chemistry" is a popular slang term for personal interactions. Could this be more literal than people think? Secular Humanists claim that the world is material in essence, and some go so far as to assert that the mind itself doesn’t exist.
Side note: If anyone didn’t take humanists seriously, the Ninth Circuit Court’s banning of the Pledge of Allegiance ought to be a wake-up call. One determined activist did all that! Even though, according to news reports, his entire case was based on false premises.
Few Americans know much about chemistry, or science in general. Many harbor vague, uncomfortable feelings about chemicals. They have an emotional affinity for natural products, as opposed to synthetic materials. Whether it’s fabrics or medicines, natural is supposed to be better.
In contrast, many people will recall the Periodic Table of the Elements, and the fact that every physical object is made of chemicals. As radio’s Dr. Edell likes to say, poison oak, rattlesnakes, and tornadoes are entirely natural.
Without synthetic materials, our clothing and possessions would wear out quickly. Our modern lifestyle is based upon chemistry. I’ll take a verdant, dew sparkled meadow over a traffic jam any day -- but only if my peaceful village has modems and a good dentist.
Big chemical companies manufacture a whole range of products, most of which are shipped out plastered with ominous warning labels. Once in a while a crash dumps loads the stuff, causing nasty fumes and headlines. That makes people really nervous.
Educated people have the opportunity, if not a duty, to help inform the public on such issues.
Reductionism is a popular scientific philosophy. Reductionists love to point out that all life is biology, all biology is chemistry, and all chemistry is physics. Especially, that we humans are biological creatures.
In one sense it’s true. This opens up some fascinating debates about behavior, mind/brain studies, and evolution.
The relationship between people’s minds and chemistry is made clear by the pills they swallow, whether for medicine or recreation. Caffeine, were it discovered today, would be isolated as a white powder, and likely banned. Opposite this, anesthetics can silence any debate.
Pharmaceutical companies like to market ‘single molecule’ drugs. With these, physical ailments are being cured at an impressive rate. Mentally ill people can also be helped, but in their unfortunate case, no known treatment is without major side effects.
That’s one place where natural products can play a vital role. An herbalist’s remedies can be just as powerful, but they contain intricate combinations of bioactive molecules. Wisdom and experience are required.
Another tidbit about biology: it turns out that, while still in the womb, babies can ‘taste’ the food their mother ingests. This influences their solid-food preferences after birth. Do you like sauerkraut? Natto? Kimchi? Is this free choice, or can you blame chemistry?
Virtually all scientists accept Darwinian evolution, as modified by DNA research, Stephen J. Gould’s ‘punctuated equilibrium’ theory, and more. Creationists keep poking holes in their models, but it’s pretty obvious that the Earth is billions of years old, and has hosted countless now-extinct species.
Biology textbooks often refer to some dusty English trees, with their camouflaged black moths. When coal soot blackened the landscape, then got cleaned up, the common local moths went from white to black, then to white again.
Despite this variation, no one has ever witnessed a new species come into being. Not even close to home, as biologists have yet to determine the crossover point where wolves became dogs.
The story of humanity itself, and how we learned to think in the abstract, create fine art, and to honor our dead, has yet to be told in full. I hope I live to see this, but even if I don’t, I’ll be watching from the spirit world.
Philosophers of all stripes love to debate morality. Is it spiritual, genetic, or cultural? Even secular humanists use terms such as good and evil, implicitly accepting that there are (or at least should be) basic standards for human behavior. Whatever their fancy rhetoric, no one wants to be murdered, or to see a common murderer go unpunished.
Scholars, especially humanistic ones, agonize over the ‘altruism question.’ There is no scientific reason why anyone would sacrifice, especially their very life, for the sake of others. Evolutionary Psychologists try to explain this, but end up way out on some rather odd limbs.
The best theory they’ve offered is that the "daring warrior type" (ancestor of today’s High School football quarterback?) gets all the girls. That is, those guys manage to sire more children before getting wiped out. Not exactly a comforting theory, even if it were accurate . . .
Of course, the entire question is moot. As the Principle explains, there is a Self Purpose and a Whole Purpose. We were shaped by God; imbued with unselfishness from the beginning. The conscience did not arise from cut-throat Nature. And we all have one -- unless you’re planning on a long stay in a criminal medical institution.
As True Father says, unselfish people attract friends and supporters, while the selfish drive people away. For example, celebrities will draw a big crowd, yet at the end of the day, might find themselves very much alone. On the other hand, in defiance of every scientific theory, ordinary people who raise adopted children are honored.
Scientists have done some amazing things with chemistry, and predict much more. Recently they put together an artificial polio virus. Viruses are the smallest form of life, and polio an especially simple one. Such progress, if you wish to call it that, will continue.
What about advanced life, and the mind? Medieval scholars had their Golem, while modern nerds have Commander Data. For decades scientists had great hopes for Artificial Intelligence research. Problem is, they’ve come nowhere near developing a synthetic mind.
Robots can walk, just barely, and computers can play chess. It’ll be a while yet before a robot can go shopping and cook your dinner, or do good stand-up comedy. Even if they do manage those feats, will they ever grasp all the richness and depth of existence?
When it comes to conscious minds, reductionism has hit the rocks and is not-so-quietly sinking. Instead of obedient, brick-like particles, physicists have discovered a weird quantum realm. An unpredictable place that’s connected at a deep level with everyday life.
I’ll go out on a limb here, and posit that no combination of lifeless chemicals can, or ever will, become an autonomous living creature. Much less, fully recreate a human being.
However, I must admit, I’d be very excited if that did happen. I challenge theologians to prepare for such eventualities, just as I encourage scientists to look for the spiritual world, and consider those aspects of life that defy chemical analysis.
It’s a good thing the Principal embraces both science and religion. There’s a lot of excitement ahead!
Adoption against the odds:
The Family Nobody Wanted by Helen Doss. (1954, Scholastic)
Our famous brother’s book:
Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth? by Jonathan Wells
An easily readable overview:
The Undiscovered Mind by John Horgan
The elusive origins of life:
The Fifth Miracle by Paul Davies
Does Genetics Support Creation or Evolution? http://www.parentcompany.com/creation_essays/essay32.htm.
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