The coherence of mans understanding seems continually to founder as he tries to match his traditional or commonsense views of his purposes with his scientific views of his nature. The commonsense and traditional notions of his freedom to make choices and his responsibility for his behavior seem denied if he is to believe a scientific view that his mind is nowhere free from some kind of mechanically or electrochemically determined system of his brain. But, even if we could successfully account for mans free will and responsibility for making meaningful and purposive choices in a deterministic world, we are still faced with the question of whether that world is in the end a meaningless chaos in which mans fate is ultimately doomed to disorder and death, a chaos that cares not a whit for man, holds no purpose for man, and where man is merely an accidental freak of circumstances. At least this seems to be the kind of picture that many have claimed to be implied by the scientists. Three world-famous biologists present the first three papers in this issue of Zygon concerning how they as scientists view this problem of how we can speak about human freedom to make value choices and about human purpose, in the context of the deterministic world view of the sciences.
Of course, it may be said that the impulsion to make sense of existence is just the beginning of wish fantasy, a desperate subterfuge to conceal the unbearable truth that existence is indeed absurd. This may be the case. But at least let us give the matter a hearing before we make up our minds to dismiss it.¹
There is a formlessness or yawning in much of modern life that has four obvious aspects:
1. Our inner chaos: the inability to live in harmony with oneself, to accept oneself, to discover ones identity, and to let body, feelings, and thought dwell together in friendship.
2. Our social chaos: the lack of relatedness to others, the inability to live in harmony with others, the generation gap, the problems of the old, polarization within society, and failure to find common national and international goals.
3. Our environmental chaos: the green and varied landscape in which man evolved is swiftly being replaced by a polluted wilderness of concrete and steel; not only has this man-created environment produced physical ills but it seems also to be accentuating psychological disease and lack of rapport with our surroundings. Man himself has become the chief earth pest.
4. Our metaphysical chaos: the sense of separation from the whole scheme of things because we have no conviction that there is any scheme of things or value in the universe. Sartre contends that man must give himself meaning in a universe itself devoid of value, but, as Hartshorne² affirms, if we have no value for the cosmos, we have no value—period. The question then arises, if we have no value for the cosmos, can there be any value or meaning within human life, in human relationships, and in our relationship to our environment? …
¹ John Macquarie, Principles of Christian Theology (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1966), p. 59.
² Charles Hartshorne, Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method (London: S.C.M. Press, 1970), p. 317.
Charles Birch is Challis Professor of Biology, University of Sydney.
Reflections on the Purpose of Life by Hudson Hoagland
The question of the purpose of life is a meaningless one to some, since no acceptable operational procedure has so far been devised for answering it. A variety of answers have been proposed over the ages by philosophers and theologians, but these answers are satisfying only to those with faith in certain metaphysical or religious doctrines. As the doctrines change and wane, many answers, once satisfying, lose their significance. Thus, the widespread Christian belief held for centuries that the purpose of life on earth is to prepare for a life hereafter has ceased to have much meaning for most professing Christians.
The following views are inevitably colored by my work as a biologist, and I make no claim for their originality. We all find ourselves struggling with great amorphous questions of this kind as we go through life, and there often seem to be as many answers as there are questions since, unlike the simpler questions and answers of science, there are no operational procedures for coming to grips with them. It seems to me, however, that certain emergent ideas stemming from scientific investigations may be helpful in our considerations.
The concept of purpose collides head-on with the ancient unresolved problem of free will and determinism, and I would like first to consider certain aspects of this problem before discussing some personal reflections on the purpose of life. …
Hudson Hoagland is president emeritus, Worcester Foundation of Experimental Biology.
For there is a struggle for human freedom to be waged not only against external centers of irresponsible power but against those equally irresponsible internal forces which in varying degrees dominate the mind and heart of every man. Because of them, man may be free politically and economically, yet deeply enslaved. He can be free of all arbitrary external controls, yet live under the power of internal compulsions which make of him an automaton: insatiable in his needs, inflexible in his methods, and incapable of learning intellectually or of maturing emotionally through experience. Because of these inner processes, man may be an absolute monarch or a constitutionally elected president, an abstract artist or a precise scientist, a criminal or a clergyman, yet not possess the greatest of all freedoms—the freedom to change.¹
This is an attempt to define mans freedom of will in a deterministic world. I shall focus attention on this personal freedom and say little of other meanings of freedom. The problem is in part semantic. Freedom is an abstraction. Will is almost as abstract although it commonly connotes a concrete faculty of mind, a discredited idea. Definitions of each word require some circularity. None of the following ideas is original, and there may be no novel outcomes of this discussion. But there are ideas more insightful than those currently in fashion which have been expressed² and need repeating. There are some important gaps in our understanding of freedom of the will. I shall try to identify them. …
¹ L. S. Kubie, Freuds Legacy to Human Freedom, Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 1 (1957): 105.
² Gardner Williams, The Natural Causation of Free Will, Zygon 3 (1968): 72.
Dwight J. Ingle is professor of physiology, University of Chicago.
Notes on the Poverty of Contemporary Philosophy by Ervin Laszlo
Much of the malaise on the contemporary scene comes from the rift between the sciences and the humanities. Whatever the many factors may be which enter into the determination of this rift, the majority of contemporary English and American philosophers contribute to it even if only inadvertently. They examine the perennial questions of philosophy as though no empirical sciences existed—or at least as if their inquiry were prior to the theories of such sciences. Questions concerning knowledge, mind, obligation, value, etc., are pursued by these philosophers on the assumption that whatever evidence is available to a consistent and critical thinker in his daily life is sufficient to decide—at least to discuss cogently—the issues. There is an almost exclusive reliance on direct, everyday information and on the language in which this information is stated.
But these assumptions have come to be rejected in the sciences as insufficient and reliance on them as obsolete. Commonsense knowledge, however critically examined and logically expounded, is regarded as but the layer of prejudice which, Einstein said, impedes scientific progress. And ordinary language is found entirely inadequate to symbolize the meaning of the concepts which constitute the scientific knowledge of our time. Thus, it comes about that scientists look at philosophers with incomprehension mixed with awe and resulting in bewilderment: philosophers appear to be doing much of the time what scientists have rejected as naïve and transcended; yet they are the inheritors of the awesome wisdom of the ages and stand, presumably, on the shoulders of their. gigantic predecessors. Philosophers in turn tend to consider scientific theories as based on assumptions which must first be examined, or to dismiss them as grasping but a limited sphere of reality, and giving partial or inadequate answers to the great questions to which they alone seem to have access. (Unfortunately, the philosophers access to these undoubtedly essential questions turns out to be via a logical scrutiny of everyday information.) As a result, contact between scientists and philosophers tends to be brief and mutually irritating. …
Ervin Laszlo is professor of philosophy. State University College, Geneseo, New York.
Assessing the Impact of Religion: A Critical Review by Gary D. Bouma
Since Max Weber, one of the major concerns in the scientific study of religion has been the question: How do different religious beliefs and moral codes affect human behavior and social structure? Can various forms of behavior be traced to the impact of religious values? Do some of the differences among various groups in this country and between whole societies stem from differences in religious belief, practice, or ethic? In this brief report, I am going to review the available evidence from American sociology which is pertinent to these questions. I must first specify my criteria for evaluating this research before presenting my assessment of our progress. …
Gary D. Bouma is professor of sociology, Dalhousie University.
Systems, Structure, and Experience by Ervin Laszlo, reviewed by Stephen C. Pepper