Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Law of Accident

Spearheaded by Richard Dawkins, the atheist contingency in the world of evolutionary theory proudly insists that everything produced by the force of evolution—bafflingly sophisticated organisms and organs, and even more sophisticated symbiotic relationships--happens completely by accident. This brave new theory emerges from recent understandings in biology, largely derived from the latest understandings about how DNA works, and supposedly “proves” there is no God.

Sorry, gentlemen. The idea is not new at all.

Long ago, Gurdjieff taught his pupils that accident was a law—that is to say, at certain levels of the universe (ours, as it happens) things inexorably proceeded under this influence. So Gurdjieff anticipated this “new” development in scientific understanding by many decades.

In Gurdjieff’s cosmology, God was forced to create a universe ruled by laws which even he himself was unable to violate. This is recounted in the story he told Ouspensky (see In Search of the Miraculous) in which the seminary student pointed out to his teacher that even the Lord himself could not beat the ace of spades with a deuce. The law of accident is merely one of forty-eight laws active on our level of the universe.

Dawkins, who will never subscribe to Gurdjieff’s cosmology, would probably squirm if he knew that the “discovery” of this fulcrum from which they leverage their weighty atheism off the ground—was pre-empted by an eccentric Yogi with a theatrical handlebar moustache in the early years of the twentieth century.

So just what does it mean, that accident is a law?

What it means that even randomness itself is not random. It’s a subset, a single law that has to be considered within the context of the entire system of laws in the universe. Put differently, accident isn’t the element that determines the course of events; it’s an element--among many.

In science, a “law” is a rule of order. It states that in the known universe, events must proceed in a certain manner, that they are unable to proceed in any other way. The constraints placed upon the physical basis of reality by what are referred to as the constants of nature require that effects absolutely and inescapably must flow consistently from lawful causes.

So, if accident, or randomness, is a law, it means that it, too, lays down a definite set of rules according to the natural order. Along with the other laws, it serves the communally directed universal purpose. It provides, in a delightfully Zenlike paradox, the absolutely predictable condition of randomness itself. Or, as my original group leader Betty Brown likes to put it, “constant change is here to stay.”

Why does the universe need a law of accident?

Accident—change—unpredictability—is what creates possibility. And it appears to be a brilliant stroke of not only risk-taking, but intelligence: to create a universe where radical new possibilities are realized through a remarkably strict structural order which nonetheless incorporates an inherent unpredictability. Humans find themselves in a universe with an essential randomness at the very heart of the machine—the quantum state--, from which all observable levels of order inevitably emerge. That’s pretty darned amazing.

Come to think of it, how else could one create a universe? If there were no accidents, no randomness within the structure of the other laws, nothing new could ever happen. We might say that in such a universe, only one thing would ever happen, whatever that one thing was. The suggestion seems to describe the universe before it was created, that is, an undifferentiated singularity.

Viewed from this perspective, the big bang was perhaps above all the creative act of unleashing accident. Creating a situation in which choice could operate. Defining the territory between judgment and compassion—stasis and movement-- where action becomes meaningful.

The scientific atheists would have us believe that everything that ever happens is accidental and meaningless; undirected; random.

At the same time, they would have us believe that it all takes place within a meaningful context, that is, it operates according to what are called laws. Laws assign a fundamental order to the whole ball of wax, and order is meaningful.

…Or isn’t it?

Can we have it both ways? Or are they just presenting an idea that ends up being a self-indulgent paradox--one that makes them look knowledgeable, very wise, and inordinately important?

We have to watch out here. We all know from history that scientists are all too prone to suffusing their “objective” discipline with very unscientific types of motivation—lust, greed, pride, and anger are no strangers to the supposedly hallowed halls of academia. Just about every deadly sin you can name has been prosecuted in the name of science.

Here, their contention smells suspiciously like a rank form of egoism and homocentrism, thickly cloaked in a disguise of bogus authority. After all, it’s a way lot of fun to be loudly smarter and more knowledgeable than anyone else. We all know that.

Underlying the entire premise of science itself is the fundamental assumption that there are laws. That is, that the universe is a certain way, and that it cannot be any different. Why it is that way is another question which no one, even the hardcore atheists, presumes to know the answer to. In the narrow definitions of real science, at our current stage of understanding, any purported answer must remain a belief.

The argument between atheists and theists is an argument about whether or not there is an intelligence behind law. No one argues about whether there is an intelligence within law, which may be where the question ought to be more properly focused. If intelligence is an inherent property of matter, rather than an acquired one, that would change all the rules of the game.

And, as the Episcopalians say:

May light perpetual shine upon you.

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