Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A Thousand Posts (8)

I have often argued for the evolution of a Darwinian liberalism that was first expressed by John Locke and Adam Smith, although there are precursors in the liberal thinkers of ancient Athens and in Lucretius of ancient Rome.  But it might be objected that the English word "liberalism" as a term for a political position did not appear until the 1820s in England.

In January, I wrote a post on the evolutionary origins of the word "liberalism."  The use of the adjective "liberal" in its political sense derived from Adam Smith's language in The Wealth of Nations, where Smith identified "the liberal system of free exportation and free importation," and where he spoke of "allowing every man to pursue his own interest his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty, and justice."  Smith's description of the "liberal system" suggests that it coincides with what he calls the "system of natural liberty," because in both cases, he speaks of a man's freedom "to pursue his own interest his own way." 

Later, in Great Britain, the English noun "liberalism" was coined to refer to this Smithian understanding of "liberal" thought.  The earliest use of "liberalism" that I have noticed is by Alexander von Humboldt in a letter to Thomas Jefferson on May 24, 1804, in which Humboldt writes: "Your writings, your actions, and the liberalism of your ideas have inspired me from my earliest youth."

Although Smith does not use the word "evolution," his account of the "liberal system" does have an evolutionary character to it.  Hayek noticed this and developed it in his account of the liberal idea of "spontaneous evolution" or "spontaneous order."  Smith's system of natural liberty is a spontaneous order that evolves from the bottom-up rather than being designed from the top-down.  It is a natural evolutionary order in that it arises from the natural desire of all individuals to better their condition, which leads to wealth and prosperity whenever the laws secure to individuals the liberty to enjoy the fruits of their own labor.

In the nineteenth century, Herbert Spencer elaborated the principle of equal liberty as fundamental for liberalism, and he presented it as part of a cosmic evolution of order in which the whole history of the Universe could be seen as an evolution from simplicity to complexity.  Modern evolutionary classical liberalism is rooted in the tradition of Spencer, and the recent work of those like Matt Ridley, Jonathan Haidt, and Steven Pinker confirms Spencer's rational optimism about the evolutionary progressive trend across history towards increasing liberty and declining violence (see my post in March 2014).

In August, I wrote posts on Deirdre McCloskey's argument--elaborated in three books--that modern classical liberalism first arose as part of the "Bourgeois Revaluation" that elevated the "bourgeois virtues."  She embraces an evolutionary theory of bourgeois liberalism that is similar to the evolutionary account of liberalism that has been defended by Jonathan Turner, Alexandra Maryanski, Paul Rubin, and me (in various writings as well as on this blog).

The basic idea, as McCloskey says, is that bourgeois liberalism is "reinstating a pre-agricultural equality" by establishing an equal dignity and liberty for ordinary people--including an "equality of genuine comfort"--that restores the equal autonomy of individuals enjoyed in hunter-gatherer bands for hundreds of thousands of years until the establishment of rigid class hierarchies in agrarian societies. 

As I have argued in some earlier posts, this is a restatement of Locke's argument for liberalism as the restoration of the natural liberty and equality that hunter-gatherers had in the "state of nature."  Locke's account of the state of nature depended on the reports of Europeans about the foraging life of native Americans.  "In the beginning," Locke declared, "all the world was America."  Now, after two centuries of scientific studies of the foraging way of life, we can confirm Locke's account of the state of nature as mostly right.  And we can see that the modern liberal ideas of equality, liberty, and dignity can be understood as appealing to that evolved human nature as shaped in the hunter-gatherer bands of our evolutionary ancestors.

And yet, one might object that, as Hayek claimed in his evolutionary account of liberalism, the liberalism of the Great Society--of the extended order of exchange in which millions of people can cooperate anonymously for their mutual benefit--requires a repression of the natural instincts shaped by life in ancient families and small bands.

But, as I have argued in many posts, Hayek is mistaken in his belief that our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived in a completely socialist or collectivist order with no individual autonomy, and therefore our evolved human nature must be suppressed if we are to live in a free society of autonomous individuals who trade with one another for mutual benefit.  In fact, as McCloskey indicates, there is plenty of evidence for long-distance trading networks among our ancient foraging ancestors.  Even Hayek himself sometimes concedes that there is evidence for ancient trading. 

In October, I wrote a post on some speeches on "Socialism and Human Nature" at the Cato Institute by Leda Cosmides, John Tooby, and Jonathan Haidt.  They indicated that Hayek was partly right in that socialist sharing within families and small bands was one of the evolved instinctive rules of cooperation for foragers, but he was partly wrong in failing to see how the evolved instinctive rules of social exchange and resistance to oppressive dominance could be evoked by modern liberal culture.

Haidt declared: "We evolved to do tribalism and trade."  Living within families and small groups, we are collectivists in evoking the social instincts of our foraging mind.  But in the extended order of markets, we are traders in evoking the foraging instincts for social exchange.  The expansion of trading networks over the past five thousand years and the explosive expansion over the past two hundred years have been cultural extensions of the innate propensities for trade.

We are also libertarians in evoking "liberty/oppression" as one of the moral foundations of our evolved human nature, Haidt argued.  Here he appealed to Christopher Boehm's account of how foragers protect their autonomy as free individuals by resistance to the dominance behavior of those who might become bullies or tyrants.  If this is part of our evolved human nature, as Boehm claims, then this would show how Smith's "system of natural liberty" could be rooted in our innate instincts. If this is so, then the bourgeois liberal ideas of equal liberty and dignity for all individuals and resistance to the sort of dominance hierarchies established in agrarian states can be understood as appealing to the original liberalism of the state of nature.

Some anthropologists have objected to looking at hunter-gatherers as models of evolved human nature.  Surely, there is so much variability in the lives of the foraging bands of the past 200 years studied by anthropologists that we cannot generalize about them.  Nor can we assume that their lives are the same as the lives of our ancient prehistoric foraging ancestors.  That's the argument of Robert Kelly in The Lifeways of Hunter-Gatherers, which was the subject of a post in September.

And yet, far from denying human nature, Kelly's book is actually organized around an implicit theory of human nature that is evident in the topics of chapters 3-9 of the book: (3) Foraging and Subsistence, (4) Mobility, (5) Technology, (6) Sharing, Exchange, and Land Tenure, (7) Group Size and Demography, (8) Men, Women, and Foraging, (9) Nonegalitarian Hunting-Gatherers.  Why does he assume that these are the most important topics?  Because they are natural human desires or needs that any human society must satisfy in some manner?  If so, then why can't we judge liberal societies by how well they satisfy those natural desires? 

One of the best surveys of the evidence for these natural desires as grounded in evolved human nature is Stephen Sanderson's Human Nature and the Evolution of Society.  In April and May, I wrote a series of posts on Sanderson's book showing the ways in which he supports my argument for the meaning and purpose of life in 20 natural desires. In particular, Sanderson suggests that capitalist social orders might satisfy the naturally evolved propensities for reciprocal exchange; and he cites Cosmides and Tooby as supporting this in a way that suggests that even they see capitalist social orders as satisfying some evolved propensities of human nature.

Sanderson has suggested that my list of twenty natural desires should be altered to include the natural desire for ethnic identity.  I am not persuaded by his argument, which he derives from Pierre van den Berghe and Frank Salter, that ethnic affiliation is an evolutionary adaptation, in that those who favor their ethnic community over others are practicing an extended form of kin selection that advances their ethnic genetic interests.  Some of the alt-right supporters of Trump have criticized me for not recognizing the evolved natural desire for ethnic genetic identity.

I am persuaded that evolved human nature is inclined to tribal thinking, so that we naturally categorize people as us and them, and we naturally favor our group over others.  And while the social conditions of life have often predisposed people to make this in-group/out-group division along racial and ethnic lines, there is no evidence that this predisposition is an innate adaptation of the human mind. 

On the contrary, there is lots of evidence that while we are innately inclined to look for cues of coalitional affiliation, the content of those cues depends on social learning; and people in multi-racial and multi-ethnic societies can be taught to be cooperative without regard for racial or ethnic boundaries.  In fact, Frank Salter implicitly concedes the truth of this point when he laments that ethnic nepotism is not instinctive, and therefore serving ethnic genetic interests requires artificial cultural strategies devised by modern scientific reasoning, and that no ethnic state has ever succeeded in securing an adaptive ethnic group strategy.  I wrote a post on this in May.

A closely related issue is whether evolutionary psychology can explain the demographic transition (rising wealth linked to declining birth rates).  I see the demographic transition as a natural expression of the prudent flexibility of human beings in adapting their parental desires to changing ecological circumstances.  Because of the natural variability in human temperament, some human beings will choose to be childless.  But most human beings in all societies will have a strong natural desire to care for children.  In the socioeconomic circumstances of modern industrialized and technologically advanced societies, parents will want to have small families, so that they can invest resources in their own education, in their careers, and in the education of a few children, and so that those children can become socially successful adults.  Most parents will desire to have no more than two or three children, and where mortality rates are low, this will be enough to sustain current population levels.  I wrote a post on this in March.

In a liberal society, much of our economic life is organized through social exchange in markets that arise as spontaneous orders without central planning.  But in a small family, the parents can have sufficient knowledge of the needs and capacities of their children and sufficient incentives to care properly for their children, so that parents can deliberately plan the organization of their family to achieve the shared ends of the family.  This explains why abolishing the family is impossible: without the family organized around parental care of children, it's unlikely that anyone would have the knowledge and incentives to do as well as parents do in caring for their children.  So while Hayek believes that spontaneous order is the best way to manage an economy, he also believes that deliberate organization is the best way to manage a family. 

Steven Horwitz has written a book about the importance of family life for a Hayekian classical liberalism.  I wrote a post on Horwitz's book in October.

Horwitz shows how in modern life in liberal societies, we must live in two different worlds with different rules.  On the one hand, we live in families and other organizations (like firms and community groups) based on intimate, face-to-face relationships of moral concern for one another.  On the other hand, we live in the extended order of anonymous exchange in complex market economies based on impersonal rules. 

Socialists have argued that our social world would be more just if it were organized like a large family, so that everyone treated one another as brothers and sisters.  But Hayek insisted that this attempt to turn the spontaneous order of the market into the deliberate organization of a family must fail in ways that will destroy the extended order of impersonal exchange that makes modern economic life possible.

The success of a liberal social order depends on the socialization of children in the family so that they learn the social norms and habits of a liberal society, in which people must live in two worlds at once, without applying the rules of one world to the other.  Children must learn the bourgeois virtues necessary for living in a bourgeois liberal society.

With the full expression of bourgeois society in Europe and North America in the 19th century, many bohemian artists and intellectuals reacted with bitter scorn for the bourgeois life.  Gustave Flaubert, for example, showed us how Emma Bovary was forced to have two adulterous affairs and then commit suicide as a heroic protest against the bourgeois mediocrity of her husband Charles.  In a letter to George Sand, Flaubert proclaimed: "Axiom: Hatred of the Bourgeois is the beginning of all virtue."

Steven Smith quotes this in his chapter on Madame Bovary in his new book Modernity and Its Discontents: Making and Unmaking the Bourgeois from Machiavelli to Bellow. I wrote posts on Smith's book in September.  Smith is a Straussian, and the influence of Leo Strauss permeates his book, including a chapter on Strauss.  According to Smith, Strauss "fulfills the office of the philosopher to the highest degree."

Like most Straussians, Smith scorns bourgeois liberalism because, they insist, it lacks the human excellence, the heroic nobility, and the transcendent longings of life in the premodern world.  As is characteristic of the Straussians, Smith presents his argument through textual interpretations of some books.  As is also characteristic of the Straussians, he almost never looks at any of the empirical evidence that might sustain or deny the claims of the authors he interprets.  He ignores the empirical evidence surveyed by Steven Pinker, Deirdre McCloskey, and others that shows the economic, moral, and intellectual progress achieved in bourgeois societies.

Smith also ignores the fact that even his own account of Ben Franklin as the American model of the bourgeois man contradicts the claims of the antibourgeois writers.  Smith is silent about how McCloskey can look to Franklin as displaying the bourgeois virtues.

Human nature sets the standard for the human good.  By nature the generic goods characterize the human species.  By nature the individualized goods characterize human individuals. The virtue of prudence is required for judging what is best for each individual because of the uniqueness of each individual.

Actually, all animals show individual diversity in their personalities, and thus animal biologists must study the unique personalities of animals in their life history.  As is the case for human beings, we must study not only the generic nature of each animal species and the cultural history of each animal group, but also the individual history of each animal.  A biopolitical science of political animals must move at all three levels.  I wrote a post on this in June.

A bourgeois liberal society conforms best to human nature, because a liberal open society will secure both natural liberty and natural virtue--the liberty of individuals to develop those moral and intellectual virtues that express that ranking of the generic goods of human nature that constitutes the best life for those individuals.  In such a free society, someone like Strauss, who "fulfills the office of philosopher to the highest degree," will be free to live the philosophic life in friendship with other philosophers; and the rest of us will be free to live other kinds of life that best conform to our individual propensities and talents.

Smith concludes his book by declaring that "the narrative of progress is no longer sustainable."  He believes this is true because antibourgeois intellectuals have said that it is true.  He never reflects on the fact that this contradicts the reality of the life that most of us live today in bourgeois liberal societies.  Because of market freedom, cultural pluralism, and the bourgeois virtues, our life today is generally more peaceful, more just, and richer in both material and spiritual goods than has ever been the case for human beings at any previous time in history.  Does Smith really believe that that is not progress?

In November and December, I wrote a series of posts surveying the empirical evidence of global human progress due to the influence of bourgeois liberal ideas and institutions.  Human life today is better than it has ever been in human history, because we enjoy the benefits of two centuries of human progress through the Liberal Enlightenment.  Our time is the best of all times that human beings have ever known.

And yet most human beings around the world deny this.  In surveys asking people whether the world is getting better, most people (94% in the United States, 96% in Great Britain and Germany) say no.  Many of those Americans who believe everything is getting worse voted for Donald Trump, because he appealed to their fear that America and the whole world are in decline, and because he persuaded them that only the leadership of a strongman can save them.

This popular pessimism is contradicted by empirical data that shows more human progress in the past two hundred years than at any time in previous human history.  The Earth today sustains more human lives (over 7 billion) than ever before in history.  Moreover, those lives on average are longer and healthier than has ever been the case.  Life is also more peaceful.  Life shows more equality of opportunity.  Life also shows more freedom--both economic freedom and personal freedom.  Prior to 1800, almost all human beings lived in grinding poverty and mind-numbing ignorance.  Today, only a very few people around the world live in absolute poverty, and most people are literate and have been educated far beyond the level attained by most people in history.  Data collected by various international organizations provides empirical evidence for all of these claims about human progress from the Liberal Enlightenment.

Smith and other Straussians would probably respond to this by arguing that this ignores what they like to call "the problem of the bourgeois":  bourgeois liberalism does improve the material conditions of life for almost everyone--life is healthier, wealthier, and freer--but it does not satisfy the human soul's transcendent longings for heroic excellence, particularly the intellectual excellence of the philosophic life.

But this seems hardly plausible if one notices how a proponent of bourgeois liberalism like Adam Smith defends the "wise and virtuous man" as the standard of moral and intellectual perfection as manifested in the life of philosophic friends. (See my posts in August and September of 2016 and August of 2012.)  He observes that the division of labor in a commercial society allows for the intellectual commerce of philosophers "whose trade it is, not to do anything, but to observe everything."  He presents the life of David Hume as showing how a commercial society provides the conditions for the philosophic life--a life that in Hume's case approached "as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man, as perhaps the nature of human frailty will permit."

This language echoes the end of Plato's Phaedo.  Describing the death of Socrates, Phaedo observes: "Such was the end of our friend, who was, as we may say, of all those of his time whom we have known, the best and wisest and most just man."  Thus, Smith is suggesting that Hume shows how a Socratic life of philosophic inquiry is possible in a modern commercial society.

Moreover, Smith saw his account of virtue as compatible with Aristotle's teaching in the Nicomachean Ethics.  This has led Ryan Hanley and other Smith scholars to interpret Smith as an Aristotelian virtue ethicist.  My explanation of this is that Smith's commercial liberalism coincides most closely with Aristotle's teaching about friendship and philosophy in Books 8 and 9 of the Nicomachean Ethics, which also happens to be one of the sections of Aristotle's moral and political writing that shows a propensity to liberalism, while also showing many references to his biology.

Aristotle thus manifested the liberalism of ancient Athens, which has recently been brought into view by classical scholars like Josiah Ober.  (See my post in September.)  Like McCloskey and Douglass North, Ober sees the evolution of liberalism as moving through three stages.  In the foraging bands of the Paleolithic, hunter-gatherers lived as equally free in their autonomy, because anyone who attempted dominance over others would be punished by others in the band enforcing customary norms of resistance to dominance.

Then, in the agrarian states that came with agricultural settlements, social hierarchy and exploitation of non-elites by elites arose as the prevalent form of order--"natural states" as North calls them.  But occasionally, after the collapse of these exploitative hierarchical orders, societies could fall back into the norms of rough egalitarianism that prevailed in the prehistoric foraging societies, which showed the human capacity for decentralized cooperation, which had evolved in the foraging environments of evolutionary adaptation.  This is what happened in ancient Greece, after the collapse of the Late Bronze-Age-Mycenaean kingdoms (around 1177 BCE), and the Greeks moved from palace-centered regimes to citizen-centered regimes.  Athens became an "open access society."  But even so, such citizen-centered democratic regimes were rare in the premodern world. 

It was not until the 18th and 19th centuries that liberal democratic open access regimes became prominent in the world.  Unlike the natural states, these modern open access regimes show greater adaptive flexibility, which leads to economic, social, and cultural flourishing, because such regimes are rooted in the naturally evolved human capacities for decentralized cooperation.  Through a Darwinian cultural evolution, liberal social orders have emerged as more adaptive than the alternatives.

Ober is persuasive in surveying the evidence against the common assumption of many scholars that ancient Greece was poor and experienced little or no economic growth. In fact, Greece in the classical era (the 5th and 4th centuries BCE) had rates of growth in both consumption and population that were much higher than the premodern normal and higher than any other period in Greek history until the middle of the 20th century.  Ober offers a Northian institutional explanation for this: "Fair rules and competition within a marketlike ecology of states promoted capital investment, innovation, and rational cooperation in a context of low transaction costs."

Ober notes that Athens allowed philosophical schools (like those of Plato and Aristotle) to organize themselves as voluntary associations in which philosophers could pursue the philosophic life in friendship with others, and thus the open access order of Athens applied to ideas as well as market exchanges.

Even Plato in The Republic recognizes that democracy is the only regime that secures the freedom that allows people like Socrates to study philosophy, and thus "anyone by nature free regards this city alone as a fit place to live."  Some readers of The Republic have seen this as Plato's endorsement of liberal democracy.

As I have indicated in some other posts, this shows the Aristotelian liberalism of philosophic friendship in a free society that Smith and Hume saw as emerging in the modern commercial society of Scotland in the 18th century.

This evolutionary classical liberalism can be rooted in a universal history of cosmic evolution like that originally presented by Herbert Spencer and recently presented by Eric Chaisson, David Christian, Fred Spier, and others under the term Big History.  I have written a long series of posts on this--in June 2008, March 2014, and January-March and June-July 2016.    I have also written some posts on the ancient Epicurean history of cosmic evolution as presented by Lucretius--in January and June 2012, and November 2015.

Chaisson is an astrophysicist who sees the entire history of the Universe from the Big Bang 14 billion years ago to the present as showing an evolution from simplicity to complexity that passes through eight epochs: the Particle Epoch, the Galactic Epoch, the Stellar Epoch, the Planetary Epoch, the Chemical Epoch, the Biological Epoch, the Cultural Epoch, and the Future Epoch.

Ever since the emergence of human self-conscious awareness, human beings have wondered about how the world came to be, how humans came to be, and how the human place in the world illuminates the meaning of human life.  To answer their questions, human beings have told themselves myths about cosmic history, and generally these myths have appealed to religious beliefs about the powers of supernatural beings. 

Chaisson says that his story of cosmic evolution is also a "cultural myth" (Epic, 426).  But it's a scientific myth that does not rely on beliefs about supernatural beings or philosophical speculation, because modern science as it began in the Renaissance can achieve true knowledge through the scientific method of gathering relevant data, formulating theories, and then testing those theories through rigorous observation and experimental testing and rejecting those theories that fail to be empirically confirmed.  Without mentioning Karl Popper, Chaisson assumes Popper's standard of falsifiability for science: a theory is not truly scientific if it is not in principle empirically testable, and a theory is falsified when it's empirical predictions fail.

I wonder whether this is true, or whether any science of cosmic evolution must confront the ultimate limits to science in facing fundamental mysteries of nature that are not open to observational or experimental study.  Herbert Spencer set forth a scientific account of cosmic evolution that is very similar to Chaisson's.  Like Chaisson, Spencer saw a cosmic evolution from simplicity to complexity, from homogeneity to heterogeneity, which could be explained through natural laws.  But unlike Chaisson, Spencer thought that increasing scientific knowledge reveals "the ultimate mystery of things," and thus provides "a firmer basis to all true Religion."  Modern science shows the power of the human intellect in explaining everything that comes within the range of human experience.  But it also shows the weakness of the human intellect in dealing with all that transcends human experience.

What happened before the Big Bang?  Are black holes real?  Is the universe that we see only one of an infinite number of universes?  Are such questions answerable through observation and experimentation?  Or do such questions arise from our symbolic imaginations about things that are forever beyond the range of human experience?

We must consider the possibility that the fundamental constituents of nature are either too small, too far away, or too far in the past to be observed directly by us or indirectly through our instruments, and thus nature's secrets are buried so deep or so far away that we have no way to test our theoretical speculations about them.

We must also consider the possibility that the Epic of Cosmic Evolution will not give human beings a privileged position, and that it will predict a future in which human beings and all other forms of life are gone forever, which will confirm the suspicion that the universe does not care for or about us.  Can human beings live with that?  This is what Strauss identified in the science of Lucretius as "the most terrible truth."  Will human beings inevitably turn to religious myths that deny this truth in affirming that it's all about us?

Chaisson agrees that the empirical evidence of the cosmic evolution of complexity as measured by energy rate density shows that human brains and human cultures are some of the most complex systems in the Universe.  And yet he sees no empirical evidence that cosmic evolution follows some grand design leading up to human life as having some privileged position.  While we can hope that the human species will endure into the near future, the empirical evidence of how ordered systems evolve and of the rare conditions required for human life make it clear that human life is unlikely to last for long, and that the eventual death of the Sun will bring earthly life to an end.

In Big History: Between Nothing and Everything (2014), David Christian, Cynthia Stokes Brown, and Craig Benjamin argue that the scientific origin story of Big History can "give us a powerful sense of meaning," and if this new origin story is taught to high school students around the world, this could provide us with a shared global understanding of our human place in the universe that could help us confront the greatest threats to human existence on earth today--such as nuclear war and global warming. 

Bill Gates has supported their project for providing material for high school teachers to teach Big History.  So that, while previously children were taught the religious origin stories of their various societies, which explained the cosmic meaning of their lives within their social order, the new scientifically grounded Big History can teach children around the world an origin story that depends on scientific evidence rather than religious faith, and which can sustain a global ethics comprehensible to human beings in all societies, who otherwise disagree in their religious beliefs.

By contrast, some scientists today claim that science and religion are compatible, and that the modern scientific understanding of the cosmos, and of the human place within the cosmos, supports the cosmic teleology of the theistic origin stories.  For example, Owen Gingerich is Professor of Astronomy and of the History of Science, Emeritus, at Harvard University and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; and he argues that a scientific history of the cosmos shows evidence of divine purposefulness, because the physical and chemical constants of the universe seem to be fine-tuned for the emergence of a world hospitable to intelligent life.  Thus, science can sustain a cosmic teleology in which human life gains meaning as the fulfillment of God's purposes.

To reach this conclusion, however, Gingerich's view of cosmic history must stop at the present moment, with human intelligent life dominant over the Earth, and thus he refuses to reflect on the cosmic future and the likelihood that in the distant future all life will almost certainly be extinguished, because in that case we might as well conclude that the cosmos has been fine-tuned for eternal death.

If we could look at the entire history of the cosmos, we might see that during the first 10 billion years, there was no life; and then after a few billion years of life, the universe became eternally dead again.  So now life, including intelligent life, would seem to be only a momentary event in cosmic history.  Now, it would seem that the cosmos has been fine-tuned for an eternity of mindless death.

Many other prominent scientists have made claims like Gingerich about how the fine-tuning of the universe supports a theistic view of human life as the fulfillment of divine purposefulness.  This is a new version of the old argument from design (first stated by Plato)--that if nature looks like it has been intelligently designed, then this must point to a divinely intelligent designer.

Christian, Brown, and Benjamin do not mention such scientific theism as an alternative to their position.  Although they do not explicitly say so, they imply that modern science must be atheistic.  They certainly make it clear that the Biblical origin story must be rejected as false.

My position falls somewhere in between Gingerich and the Big History folks.  I agree with Gingerich that modern science does not dictate atheism, because scientific answers to questions about how things work fall short of answering questions about why they work that way, which are the questions that open up the possibility of divine purposefulness.  Questions about first causes point to the problem of ultimate explanation--that all explanation depends on some ultimate reality that cannot itself be explained.  All explanation presupposes the observable order of nature as the final ground of explanation.  To the question of why nature exists, or why it has the order that it does, there are only two possible answers.  Either we say this is a brute fact of our experience: that's just the way it is! Or we move beyond nature to nature's God as the creator of nature, but then we cannot explain why God is the way He is.  In looking for an ultimate explanation, we must stop somewhere with something that is unexplained--either an uncaused or self-caused nature or an uncaused or self-caused God.

If we could imagine ourselves somehow--billions of years into the future--being there to observe the end of all life and the approaching darkness of cosmic death, we might say: Well, it was good while it lasted.

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