The usual way of creating a myth is very straightforward: You simply take an entity as it has come to be defined in ordinary experience and grandly alter some of its basic attributes to remove its limitations.

In Christianity, for example, the god myth was created by taking the concept of an ordinary man and turning off the accepted human limitations on power and knowledge. When you do that, you get an omniscient, omnipotent, infallible god, someone who always knows everything about you and everything else, never makes mistakes, and can make human affairs in general and your affairs in particular turn out the way he wants them to.

Interestingly enough, mechanistic philosophy, which is (in my experience) the dominant belief system in the scientific community, has done exactly the same kind of thing in creating the myth of the universe as a machine.

In ordinary experience, the concept of a machine always includes these attributes: (1) It has been created by intelligent life forms, and (2) it was created for a purpose – the purpose of increasing the level of effective intelligence that intelligent life forms can bring to bear in solving one or more of the problems that they have to deal with.

Nothing that is commonly called a machine fails to have these two attributes. These attributes are an essential part of the concept.

But when the universe is called a machine in scientific and philosophical circles, these attributes are (to my knowledge) always discarded out of hand because they cannot be made to serve the the preconceived purpose of the myth. They are never even considered as possibilities – and that makes the scientific and philosophical concept a myth, just as much as the Christian concept of a god is a myth.

It both cases, it is an insightful exercise to reverse the myth-making process, just to see what you get and to ask yourself a few questions about your belief system, no matter which camp you belong to.

When you do this with the central myth of Christianity, god doesn't come off very well.

That is, when you think of the Christian god as a normal human being, what you get is a kind of monster – an old guy who led a married child into committing adultery, got her pregnant, completely abandoned the mother, left the offspring of their union for other people to raise, never paid a cent of child support, and didn't show up to help even when his son was dying the most painful kind of death.

The Christian picture of god in terms of modern human standards is not anything that any decent person in today's world would wish to emulate.

To put the situation bluntly:

Remembering that the married child in this case was a virgin and therefore too young for her husband to even consider getting her pregnant (which makes her at most thirteen and perhaps as young as eight or nine), what we get in demythologizing this figure is someone we would label today as a child molester, a sexual predator, and a deadbeat dad – who would also be a registered sex offender, if our modern justice system actually works in his case.

This is such an undesirable model for human conduct that one has to marvel at the blinding effect that myths can have on the human mind on a very large scale.

Now let's give the myth of the universe as a machine the same demythologizing treatment.

First of all, we need to specify intelligent life forms who could have created such a machine, and there is really only one scientifically acceptable possibility that comes to my mind: They would have to be intelligent life forms from a previous universe because the only other conceivable option is to attribute the origin of this universe to some supremely intelligent supernatural life form – which science as the study of purely natural phenomena cannot even consider.

The second step involves attributing some purpose to the creation of this machine we think of as the universe, and that purpose is clearly evident in the idea that intelligent life forms from an earlier universe created this universe.

That is, the idea that intelligent life forms in a previous universe created this one along with the fact that this universe has in turn created new intelligent life forms clearly shows us that this machine serves the purpose of allowing truly intelligent life forms to reproduce themselves on the largest scale.

This does not imply, of course, that the intelligent life forms on this particular planet will last long enough to create a new universe. It only tells us that intelligent life forms somewhere in this universe are extremely likely to do so.

All we can really hope for is that our chances of completing our reproductive task in this large-scale process are better than the chances of an individual sperm in the small-scale human reproductive process.

And putting the situation that way leads us a step further.

Since mechanistic philosophy conceives of living creatures as machines, it is perfectly consistent to regard the universe as a machine that is also a living entity, in which case we would expect to find an irresistible reward built into the reproductive system of the universe to make sure that intelligent life forms who are intelligent enough to figure out the situation do indeed go on to create a new universe, if they measure up to the task.

That's just the way that living systems work when it comes to reproduction.

So, when we demythologize the myth of the machine as it is widely conceived in the scientific community we get precisely the same bottom-line result that I suggested in an earlier post: The universe becomes a living entity that is absolutely uncompromising in achieving its own self-reproduction and that is very cleverly designed by intelligent life forms from a previous universe to make sure that the job gets done.

I am not absolutely sure, of course, that members of the scientific community will regard this outcome as much better that the result of demythologizing the Christian god myth, but I personally think of this result as a much more palatable possibility to contemplate.

Still, the situation is a sad one because what we have uncovered here is the meaning of life for our species, the reason that the universe created us.

Demythologizing the machine myth that has long been firmly rooted in the scientific community clearly tells us what is going on here and why we find ourselves right in the middle of it.

And if the scientific community had not been blinded for so long by the myth of the universe as a machine – blinded as thoroughly as any religious fanatic has ever been blinded by a religious myth – its members, with the social prestige that science has had for centuries, could long ago have proclaimed to the world what the meaning of life really is and could have moved the human adventure into a new and higher gear.

If such a thing had occurred in timely fashion, it is even possible that religious strife and wars would now be just an embarrassing part of our past instead of such a completely embarrassing part of our present affairs.

In fact, we might even be living right now in a world as promising as any vision of paradise from our religions at their best.

The persistence in human affairs of pursuing myths – scientific or religious – long past the point of any personal or social usefulness is truly a sad thing to consider.

Views: 47

Tags: god, mechanistic, myth, philosophy, religion, science

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Comment by Craigart14 on July 24, 2014 at 8:28pm

Do biologists actually think living organisms are machines, or do they compare them to machines?  Machines do have intelligent designers; natural selection is mindless.  ID proponents take the "machine" label literally and consider it as proof of God.  Argh!

Comment by Luara on July 21, 2014 at 5:31am

I have not noticed that scientists regard the universe as a machine.  Biologists do regard living creatures as machines - designed by natural selection.

Another possibility is the mathematical universe hypothesis.  The idea is that our universe is  mathematical structure.  All mathematical structures (satisfying some conditions) exist in some sense, and we are conscious mathematical substructures. 

In Christianity, for example, the god myth was created by taking the concept of an ordinary man and turning off the accepted human limitations on power and knowledge. When you do that, you get an omniscient, omnipotent, infallible god, someone who always knows everything about you and everything else, never makes mistakes, and can make human affairs in general and your affairs in particular turn out the way he wants them to.

The God-concept seems like a memory of one's parents from the time one was a baby or a very young child. 

Comment by Tom Sarbeck on July 21, 2014 at 4:55am

Joseph, I find your post most interesting and especially like your reversing the myth-making process. I will study your post further.

I majored in math and science and worked in computer manufacturing but not as a professional scientist. In science as elsewhere, people have wildly divergent views and I'm trying to recall reading or hearing of the universe as a machine. Other than the deus ex machina of literature, of course.

In reading of the early stages of several specific kinds of knowledge, the universe especially, I saw mention of people making myths that helped them understand that knowledge. Their myths seem religious and survived until improved knowledge destroyed them. In my opinion the Big Bang story is such a myth.

I appreciate your admission of uncertainty. There are people here who brought with them some of the certainty of their more religious years.

Comment by Andrew Bradford Hoke on July 20, 2014 at 11:25pm

Hi Joseph,

I'm not sure this is a fair characterization:

"Interestingly enough, mechanistic philosophy, which is (in my experience) the dominant belief system in the scientific community, has done exactly the same kind of thing in creating the myth of the universe as a machine."

 

I looked over the Wikipedia entry for 'mechanistic philosophy.' The closest match was 'mechanism' under philosophy. Speaking for myself, I think a) it's our job to learn about the world around us, and b) something beyond description interlaces us.

 

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